Short Takes: November 7, 2014

Short Takes: November 7, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including yet another Surface PR fiasco, more fear and loathing from Windows fans, a big week for patches, the world's biggest brands, Xbox Live goes down at start of the holiday season, and a debate over video game visual quality.

Another embarrassment for Microsoft? CNN commentator uses Surface Pro 3 as iPad stand

The big story this week, such as it is, is that some CNN commentators were caught using their own iPads during Tuesday's election night coverage instead of the CNN-supplied Surface Pro 3 tablets that were on the desks. Adding to the ignominy, some of these outside commentators—a classy, educated bunch, no doubt—actually propped up their iPads with the Surface Pro 3s, leading to titters on Apple blogs and elsewhere. According to CNN, however, this wasn't as silly as some delighted in making it appear, and while the network won't prevent guests from using their own devices—to use Twitter, allegedly—all the election info they were getting was coming from the Microsoft devices. Honestly, none of this matters. Because in the end, Surface just looks silly. Which is a shame.

"How to text and work at a desk without destroying your body"

Two words. Stand up.

More fear and loathing from the Windows community

If you want to get a rise out any Windows enthusiast, here's the easiest way: Just mention some Microsoft app that work better on Android or iOS—or was released first on those platforms—than on Windows or Windows Phone. As a Microsoft beat reporter for 20 years now, I've never witnessed the sheer level of fear and loathing we see now every time Microsoft pragmatically supports popular mobile platforms (Android, iOS) rather than its own far-less popular platforms. This is a serious maturity issue, and while I can't exactly put each of these people on the couch, I would at least offer this little bit of advice. Relax. The goal is to make Microsoft's apps and services work equally well everywhere, but it really does make sense for them to support the platforms people are actually using.

Oh, and you may be wondering. What triggered this little bit of thinking out loud? It was this:

"Microsoft, Changing Tack, Makes Office Suite Free on Mobile"

"Office Apps on iOS Are Now Free, Sort of "

So which is it? Free? Or sort of free?

Next week should be a big one for Microsoft patches

Patch Tuesday—a shortened form of the original Gaelic, Mì na Patch Samhna, or "time to set things right"—will be a bit more momentous this coming week: the software giant will issue 16 security fixes, and fully five of them will be labeled as critical. But the big news, sort of, is that even the Windows 10 Technical Preview will be patched—with four updates, no less—on Tuesday. I wonder if Microsoft plans to update that in-testing OS on Patch Tuesdays going forward instead of releasing big-band upgrades.

"20 Years Of SMS/Configuration Manager"

SMS is 20 years old? How? Wait. What?

Apple, Microsoft and Google are the world's three biggest brands

So much for that second tech bubble: According to Forbes, the three biggest brands in the world are Apple, Microsoft and Google, in that order. And Apple is bigger than the next two combined, worth $124 billion to Microsoft's $63 billion and Google's $57 billion. But the good news for Microsoft is that the growth is back: After two straight years of flat valuation, Microsoft's worth grew 11 percent this year. The bad news? Apple and Google both grew 19 percent. But still, with Microsoft somehow seen as a more old-fashioned company than the other two, this kind of placement says a lot about the differences between perception and reality. Microsoft matters.

"Windows 10 excitement growing among Dell customers"

"Excitement?" Dell's customers? Really.

Xbox Live goes down for the count, but only on Xbox One

With Microsoft pinning its holiday 2014 hopes on a resurgent Xbox One, the console got off to a bad start this week when Xbox Live went down on Wednesday, preventing millions of users from playing the new game "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare"—or doing almost anything else on the console—for most of the day. My favorite part of this little screwup was that the console actually provided an error code—in hexadecimal, no less—and then recommended that you search for the code on the Xbox support site. And when you did as instructed, the site told you it had no idea what that even meant. Classic.

So what's better: Rock-solid 60 fps or higher resolution?

And speaking of the Xbox One, a defining issue for this console generation is the resolution quality differences between the same games played on Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4, and let's just say that the PS4 has been winning this particular battle handily. But maybe there's a more nuanced view of this issue: With "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare," Digital Foundry reports that the Xbox One version of the game jumps between 1360 x 1080 and 1920 x 1080, depending on the intensity of the on-screen action, but that it maintains a rock-solid 60 fps frame rate. The PS4 version naturally sticks to 1920 x 1080, but the frame rate is all over the map and sometimes falls into the 40 fps area. So what's really "worse"? A beautifully scaled version of the game that never wobbles or a technically perfect looking game that is sometimes almost unplayable? Here's the decider, I think: Most people would never notice a single visual difference between the two. But almost anyone would notice the frame rate issues.

Buy the books!

I'm trying to change the book publishing model, and would appreciate your support: Windows 8.1 Field Guide is available directly from me for only $2 in PDF, MOBI and EPUB formats. And it is now available on Amazon Kindle for $4.99 too. I also have other free and inexpensive e-books available too, including Windows Phone 8 Field Guide (free from that site, or available from both Kindle and Nook too) and the in-progress Windows Phone 8.1 Field Guide and Xbox Music Field Guide. Coming soon: Windows 10 Field Guide.

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