Small Fish, Big Pond

Tag: microsoft

Halo 2600: Halo for Atari

by Kerensky97 on Aug.03, 2010, under Internet

It’s not April fools, not a concept, it’s for real.

Ed Fries, former VP of Microsoft’s Gaming Division created it as a pet project. You can read more about it here.

Best part of all you can play it now, even if you don’t have an old Atari 2600 hanging around.

Play “Halo 2600″ Now

Thanks Engadget

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The intrigue of the Microsoft Courier.

by Kerensky97 on Mar.10, 2010, under Handheld

Since the Apple iPad has come out and been somewhat disappointing eyes have turned to the Microsoft Courier for hope. It’s hard to guess about what a currently non-existent device is going to be like; although in comparison to the iPad hype at least we have some concept videos to work with.

Amazingly people seem to be really interested in the Courier, especially since the iPad turned out to be a big iPhone touch without flash. The big question is why?

First off is that the interface is much more different than existing interface on laptops and smartphones; I think this is what people were expecting from the iPad. There is naturally going to be some interesting things you can do with two screens that you can’t do with one. Although at home I’ve found the only thing I use a second screen for is to watch TV and get distracted while I’m trying to do real work on the other screen.

Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo seems a bit negative on the “devolution” of the device now that the iPad is out; maybe hoping against all hope that a device created by crazy Ballmer won’t turn out to be the Mac fan’s dream. But he makes a good point that the graphical interface that Courier seems to have a ton of complex hand gestures to operate. This is actually one of my gripes about the iPad is that it’s rumored to have a ton of new but needlessly complex touch gestures to do simple tasks that can be better served with simpler inputs. But when it’s on an iPad its revolutionary, when it’s on a MS device its needlessly complex (reality is it will suck on both).

As far as inputs are concerned I also like that it is going to have a stylus input. So much of the tech community seems to be anti-stylus now ever since the iPhone dropped it for big giant buttons that take up 1/4 of the screen. It’s actually a great interface and perfect for a tablet sized device. You don’t see lawyers and doctors walking around with notepad jabbing big giant crayons or markers onto the page. When you have a small interface you need some to do fine work.

I think the main draw for the courier and the reason why people seem so optimistic about it is that from the concepts it looks like it’s built to actually be used as a tool to make you more productive. Seriously, it’s cool that Microsoft sees this as a something that can do something other than watch youtube videos in bed. I think that either consciously or subconsciously the current zeitgeist in the handheld tech world is that we want something that that can make us better at doing actual work and not a recreational product. We’ve had enough fun with the fart apps and the smartphone lightsaber duels that with a larger device we want something that can be use to make work easier or at least less chaotic.

The very design of the courier makes it more work related than recreation; it’s hard to imagine using it in a traditional tablet use like watching videos or surfing the web with that split down the screen. However I’ve noticed that the interface is really only good for graphics artists or people who are making ads for Nike. 99% of my work involves punching things in with a keyboard, either writing, programming, or configuring via command line. Still coming from the PDA side of handhelds vs. feature rich dumbphones I really want a device that is suited towards productivity, kind of like how I’m really tempted to trade my phones for a Dell Mini 5.

However on the recreational side the courier would make a great e-reader being about the same size and form of a medium book. Engadget is even guessing that Microsoft is positioning this as their e-reader solution. And contrary to what some misguided people say I believe that the page by page form factor is the perfect way to read (but not with changing pages with stupid finger swipes on a screen). Reading really needs a break every few paragraphs for the mind to take a breath. I’m sure you’re seen a page online that was just a huge long scroll of text that went on far longer than you could bother to read. If you haven’t seen anything like that check out some of my older posts and some upcoming posts (or this post come to think of it).

Anyway the Courier really looks to be all that we had hoped that Steve might have made the iPad into. At the very least its’ another innovative and new product that Microsoft seems to be toying with. After a decade of being fat and lazy while the upstarts stole market share it looks like they could hit a few home runs out of the park this year and make 2010 the year of Microsoft. Or Windows Phone 7 could fizzle and this concept never become reality. We won’t know for sure until we actually some them hit the streets.

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“Minority Report” interfaces are cool but not practical to ever be used by you and me.

by Kerensky97 on Feb.16, 2010, under Technology

TechCrunch has a great post on a new company coming out that built the interface for the movie Minority Report where they’re actually making it real. They have actual video of it in progress and it looks spectacular; I would love to play with this.

The company is Oblong Industries, and their product is definitely well worth checking out.

g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

However as I’ve posted before (in reference to Microsoft Surface) this type of computing isn’t as practical as it seems. MG Siegler falls into the mindset that many of us techies have with cool ultra tech like this. It really does seem to be the way of the future from our perspectives; the problem is that being neck deep in new tech everyday our perspectives aren’t exactly grounded in reality. To try to ground myself I always think, “If I walked my grandmother or my parents up to this device, would they have any idea how to use it or would they prefer something else?” Or in this case, would I myself really still want to keep using this after the initial novelty wears off.

I wanted to say here what I basically said there that while this is super cool for specific interactions it doesn’t translate to real world applications like email and surfing the web. When watching the video keep in mind that this is a promo video where things are carefully orchestrated to make it look as seamless as possible but much pre-production was likely done (like how the computer knows how to perfectly crop elements out of videos to be thrown into a haphazard mess on the screen in front of the user).

First off is how much it will cost, and how much room it takes up. It looks cool for massive government installations but do the same thing in front of a 11″ netbook and you’ll look like a moron.

Second is that it’s not as intuitive as it looks, this isn’t pinch to zoom, you’re going to need to learn alot of complex 3D gestures to use this. And for what? Complex interaction with photos?

Third, lack of accuracy. It’s nice for virtually grabbing an image and rotating it but notice the lack of clarity while drawing with fingers. People who use Photoshop will know how useless it is unless you have nearly pixel perfect control.

Finally, is simple human nature. People are lazy and if there is an easier way to do things people will prefer that. Almost everything done onscreen can be done with a keyboard and mouse with next to no physical effort. As fun as it would be to command fleets in a 3D world using my hands in the game series Homeworld, I can do it just as well slouched in my chair with a keyboard and mouse with less effort, significantly less room, and significantly less price.

I love the “Minority Report” ideal as much as any techie but it’s not practical for mainstream use. I’m sure the government will have fun with it as well as some major companies; plus it will become a staple on CSI and related crime dramas. But it’s not the future of home computing.

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Windows Phone 7: Everybody is excited, I’m hesitant but optimistic.

by Kerensky97 on Feb.15, 2010, under Handheld

Well another big release day with Windows Phone 7 Series, not nearly the hype of the iPad but initial impressions seem to be much better. Check the reviews here, here,here, here, here, and here.

Firstly, I agree that the UI looks absolutely beautiful for properly bringing together Social Media info, Games, Music, and Photos. Even Jesus Diaz, one of the big pro-iPhone fans on Gizmodo is saying that “Microsoft Has Out-Appled Apple” and I agree 100%.

They do a really good job of pulling in info from multiple disparate sources and putting them together nicely on their “hubs” this very idea is basically what many people think the future of computing will entail; instead of separate apps for each outlet it can all come together in one place.

And it looks so advanced compared to iPhone with good reason. iPhone is still the basic app menu homescreen it has been for the last 3 years; Windows Mobile has always been derided because it seems sold compared to iPhone. Now Microsoft has leap fogged Apple and makes iPhone look like it is, an interface design that is nearly a third of a decade old.

And here is my first problem with Windows Phone 7 (WP7), I didn’t like how restrictive iPhone was. When it’s apps came out it got better but it’s still what Apple wants you to do and nothing else. WP7 is starting to look like the exact same thing. Microsoft’s integration of Social Media, Games, and Photos is damn near perfect; however I shun social media, never use my phone for games (I don’t even have an xbox 360 and no live account), and I think photos taken from phones are a waste where a real camera should have been used.

The only thing in Microsoft’s hubs I’d really use is Zune. And when I tried Zune out on my computer I hated it; it’s the last thing I want to be FORCED to sync music through. It’s as bad as iTunes but with a different look.

And a lot of the nasty rumors that I think are no-gos for a phone for me are now official are pretty much a given.

No custom skinning by third party manufacturers (HTC Sense, Toshiba 3D, TAT Home).
Apps only come through Windows Marketplace.
No Backward Compatibility for old programs.
Limited Multitasking.
Possibly no stylus support.
Possibly no keyboard.
Possibly no COPY AND PASTE!
Yes, TechCrunch hinted at limited to no C&P. Although that’s not certain at all.

My gripes with the phone are the same as my iPhone gripes. For all the slick, pretty, shock and awe interface stuff at the end of the day I want functionality. Unfortunately all the WP7 functionality seems to be focused on helping you waste time on social media, or waste time playing games, or waste time staring at pictures (I’m single with no kids, I understand this sentiment changes with children).

I came from PDAs, for me my phone is a computer in my pocket, a resource I can look up important data, keep my life in order with PIM applications, track when I’ve spent too much time on a subject and need to move on, translate info or languages I don’t know, remotely connect to server resources I don’t have direct access to, etc. Just about every use I’m going to have for my smartphone are things that don’t exist on the WP7 phone as it stands. They’re going to need to create a lot of apps to be able to keep up with the functionality of my Windows Mobile 6.5 phone.

So ironically it looks like I may be transitioning to Android in the near future to have a phone that is diverse as the Windows Phone I have now. However it’s too early to tell on anything, so many amazing things are happening in the handheld device space this year that all we can do is wait.

The only current phone up for play is the Nexus One that looks like a killer Android device. The HTC HD2 isn’t released yet but may be the pinnacle of what Windows Mobile reached before moving to WP7. Dell is creating a smartphone-tablet transitional with the Mini 5 that looks incredibly tempting if I can justify carrying around something that big. Windows Phone 7 Series deivces will be dropping by fall. And by time all players are onstage Apple with have the iPhone 4G shipping.

The future looks bright but difficult if you’re shopping for a new toy but undecided like me.

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Windows Mobile 7 is going to suck if the rumor mill is true.

by Kerensky97 on Feb.12, 2010, under Handheld

My Phone uses WM6.5 and sometimes it feels like I’m the only one defending it; many people attack it because the interface isn’t “iPhonesie” enough for them. In other words they don’t have the eye hand coordination to hit buttons smaller than 2in square.

Plus I like that Windows Mobile is actually more open than iPhone OS or Android to tinkering and changing. Not only does it make the phone customizable to my tastes but it means that any programmer can go in there and make the Os do what they want to. Ironic since I know so many Open Source gurus that lament my choice of Windows 7 on my desktop saying Linux is the way to go. But they have iPhones…

Anyway BGR has new rumors on the specs Windows Mobile 7 will have when it’s revealed in a couple weeks. And it’s all bad news.

- The traditional Home Screen will get a whole new look and will not support custom interfaces like Sense and TouchFLO
- No Flash support as time constraints prevented its inclusion
- Applications will be installed through the Windows Mobile Marketplace only, manual installation from a storage card will not be allowed
- Say no to multitasking and yes to push notifications which may be provided by a Microsoft hosted push notifications environment
- No .NET Compact Framework backwards compatibility so all those old apps will not work, but a portion of the data and business logic .NET CF may be ported at some point
- Browser is based upon desktop IE7 codebase, but with some IE8 functionality and is currently faster / better than the iPhone 3G
- No more active sync or Windows Mobile Device center. Zune software will handle all syncing

Basically they’re going to make WinMo suck as hard as iPhone. I’m frankly sick of the world striving to emulate the iPhone and focusing on all the worst aspects of the iPhone to adopt. First it was taking away the stylus, now where locking down the device and not allowing third party companies to improve upon the design.

I REALLY hope that either this is all bunk. Or the rumors that the phone OS is splitting into a Business and Consumer version; and that this is the consumer version and the Business version will retain the openness of the current OS.

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Transitioning to Bing

by admin on Jan.16, 2010, under Technology

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to start trying out Microsoft’s bing search at work as the default search field in firefox. I’m starting to like it, enough that I’m converting over my home computer browsers as well. Apparently they’re getting more market share now and while it’s hard to say if most of that is because MS pushes it as the default in their OS I think some of it must be others like me who see some definite advantages over the almighty google.

I like the look a little bit better, I hate to think that it’s just a little background picture that is making such a big difference but the single column of google against all that whitespace is kind of irritating by comparison. It bugs me because I don’t watch TV much and the one Bing commercial I saw made a big deal out of this. The commercial was stupid but it was right.

Same with their tag line, “Make a *decision* with Bing” or whatever it was. I’m a master of finding what I need on google but it usually takes some time to trackdown useful data; like pouring through raw data to find hidden nuggets of useful info. Bing seems to parse what I need a little bit better without being an epic fail like Wolfram Alpha was. I’m not sure if it’s google’s popularity ranking for searches but they seem to bring a lot of the pointless chaff to the surface, when what I’m looking for is the actual data the chaff is based on (sorry if that is a bit confusing, it’s hard to describe).

The layout is a bit nicer with Bing; having a lefthand column again was cluttered at first but indispensable one I was used to it.

The video section plays an excerpt of the video when you hover over it, that’s a nice feature. It’s low quality preview thumbnails but that means it doesn’t take 20 seconds to download a preview. Type in your favorite band and try it out.

I don’t like the image search section as much as google, but mostly because I’m not used to the way they open the image back in the same window. I have to train myself not to middle click images into new windows, very annoying.

Google maps feature beats Bing hands down. And my two most used sections in Google, iGoogle and Google Reader don’t even exist in Bing.

I always liked google because it was a simple search engine but at the time things like Yahoo’s annoying ultra sponsored search was the comparison. Google is always making their search seem more simple but it’s still actually quite complex, all they change is the looks and frankly making your search engine into a giant whitespace is visually irritating to me. And even with the results all you have is a single column of result, the only other column is sponsored ads. Bing is still simple but a bit more visually appealing and the results seem to fit what you’re looking for a bit better.

Which is ironic because Google just started making their searches more location specific and it seems to have made searches worse in my opinion. Another instance of them over thinking a basic job and making it worse, maybe I’ll write a post on that later.

But for general web search, video, and possibly image search I think Bing actually has the better engine. I think people should give it a try for a couple weeks, they might be pleasantly surprised.

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No, it’s not significant. Bing and the Apple App Store

by admin on Dec.16, 2009, under Technology

MG Siegler is blowing more into the fact that Microsoft’s Bing search includes Apple Apps.

Not technically a web page, it would seem that Bing is injecting this data right into its results to make sure the user gets what they’re looking for. And that’s great, especially considering that Microsoft, of course, has a rival app store with Windows Marketplace. And their store contains many of the same apps that yield App Store results on Bing, such as Facebook and AIM .

First off I agree with him that it’s smart for Bing to put an emphasis on iPhone apps because the iPhone is so popular that when many people who are searching for “facebook app” are searching for the iPhone facebook app. In fact most people that search for “*blank* app” are looking for iPhone apps. There are a few more smartphone options out there but most people searching for those are smart enough to know that app means apple and will search for “Facebook windows mobile” or “Facebook android”.

However this isn’t some concession where MS is giving in to Apple. If you want a search to be the best you try to give people what they want first. Pushing your sponsored crap over what a person is actually looking for makes for a negative search experience.

Siegler tries to play this off as if Bing is advertising it’s competitor as if this were some fanboy face off. He is completely wrong that the Apple iTunes App store is a competitor with windows Market Place. Apple iPhone apps don’t work on non-apple phones and Windows Mobile apps don’t work on iPhone. The Phones themselves may be in competition with each other but once you got one or the other you don’t have the option of choosing between the two app stores. The stores are not competitors, if somebody already has an iPhone they’re not going to be shopping your store. But you can still cash in by getting some search revenue off them. And imagine if the iTunes App store had an affiliate option like amazon where somebody could get money for referring a sale to them (I know stop laughing. We know that Apple would never thing of letting others in on their action!)

Making a big deal about this is trying to pit MS against Apple where no competition exists making it a non-issue. Although it does make for an interesting social commentary on how people feel the need to create an “Us vs. Them” situation.

On a related note I’ve set my firefox search box to Bing instead of Google to try it out. There was a blog post somewhere where somebody mentioned how Bing was a decent search engine that is automatically looked over since Google is just assumed to be the defacto best. I figured it was worth giving Bing a try to see that if once I’m past the “This is odd and not what I’m comfortable to” phase if it will be a decent search engine.

Additional, Additional: Don’t search for “Bing” with google’s image safe search set to “off”.

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Upgraded to Windows 7 over the weekend.

by admin on Oct.26, 2009, under Technology

I usually don’t get a new OS until it’s been out for at least 6 months so it can work out all its bugs. This was a godsend for Vista since I missed out on all the compatibility issues and had a smooth transition from XP. But since the WIN 7 beta went so well for me, and 7 is just a refinement of Vista I decided to install from day one.

Before I mention the install I want to point that Vista is a GREAT OS and light-years beyond XP. People who bad-mouth Vista (looking at you Gizmodo bloggers), either A: just parrot other articles on the web or are Mac fanboys, B: were dumb enough to install a new OS on a 5 year old computer built for XP, or C: installed on day one, got frustrated with the driver issues and never came back or fixed the issues.

Like I said, I installed Vista about 6 months after it came out, on a new system built with up to date components that were Vista certified, and I NEVER had any issues with it. Even now, 2 or 3 years later I can count the number of times I had a system crash on one hand (and I load a lot of buggy betas on my PC), where as XP I could count the number of blue screens I had in a week on one hand. Shadow copy saved ALL of my contacts, notes, tasks, and other PIM info one time when my synch schedules conflicted (due to me tampering where I shouldn’t). And frankly it’s nice not seeing the system slow down to a halt when you get within 10% of C drive being full.

Vista was a great OS and people who say XP was better were fools of one kind or another. That being said Win 7 is MUCH better. Vista was great but is was a bit bloated, Win 7 is a refinement that smoothes the rough corners and makes things a bit more efficient.

That being said, how did the transition go?

Again my system is very good and up to date hardware wise. I have a geforce 9800 GTS video card that can handle high end games. Quad core 6600 intel processor that can handle more than one thing at once. The whole system is 64 bit rather than 32 so I maxed out at 8GB memory, memory is dirt cheap so there is no reason to skimp (Vista and 7 use 1 Gig just to run). And finally for this install I got rid of my last IDE drive and filled the system with SATA2 500GB drives, and two 250GB drives in a RAID0 config to hold the OS.

Again, Win 7 is about 8 years older than XP, don’t install it on 8 year old technology.

The biggest hang-up was that the discounted copy of the Win7 I got is an upgrade edition, not standalone. I didn’t notice when I bought it so I was caught off guard when I couldn’t enter the product key on the newly formatted RAID array. 4 hours later I figured out what was wrong, threw Vista on in 30 minutes and then dropped Win7 on top in another 30 minutes.

So the install of the OS took me:

  • 5 hours on Friday to organize and document everything I wanted to carryover (my system was a mess). And like I said before, I prefer to install a new OS clean just to “clean house”. Mac ads describe doing this as a detraction; with as messy as my system (and mine is cleaner than most) is it’s a benefit.
  • 5 hours Saturday night to install the OS. 4 was me not noticing my mistake, 30mins me fixing that mistake, and 30 mins to install the OS on the new machine. People gripe about 8 hour install times. Even prepping my files the day before and installing the OS took less time than that. Again don’t upgrade from a mess, install on a newly formatted machine (or throw an old OS on a newly formatted machine and upgrade from that).
  • 1 hour to reinstall the programs I wanted on the new machine and to run Windows update.

Except for a 4 hour mistake on my part wondering why I couldn’t load things putting Win 7 on was virtually painless. In a half days amount of time I’m upgraded and have a much cleaner, more organized computer. I’m sure I’ll still discover small tweaks to be made over the next week or two of use but for now everything is back to full operation.

Some key points people upgrading might want to be aware of:

  • Upgrade disks need to be run from an existing OS, not to a blank reformatted drive. I don’t know how Microsoft detects the old OS but it needs to be there before it will install.
  • When I installed Win 7 from the freshly installed Vista, I reformatted the drive during install and it worked. Again I don’t know how it knew Vista had been there, it must have left some hint in the temporary install setup files.
  • All devices were discovered immediately and drivers installed on their own except for a Rosewill dual SATA port card; even the HDTV tuner card was automatic and immediately integrated into Windows Media Center. Most of my hardware is a year old or more.
  • Windows Media Player data couldn’t be manually transferred over from Vista, it had to re-detect the library. The ratings and album art are embedded in the tags so they carried over but the Play-Counts are reset to zero; kind of a bummer but I use to track my music anyway. And with over 45k tracks even in 4 years most still said 0 anyway.
  • I couldn’t figure out a way to move the Speech Recognition Training files over. But I hardly use it so it’s no big deal to me.

Bottom line. Easy and cheap if you have a student email address, all for a snappy upto date machine. Ars also has a great overview of of installation and quirks incase you’ve been living in a cave the last 6 months.

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Windows Mobile Store gets a remote kill switch.

by admin on Sep.16, 2009, under Technology


The new Windows Mobile App store is going to have the ability to remote kill applications that get approved and later rejected.

Every other mobile phone app store has the same ability, and from a company perspective I can see why you’d want the ability to remote kill something that should be there to avoid bad press and litigation. But it still sucks that they want to reach their grubby paws into our phones.

Even though Microsoft has the reputation of the Evil Empire/Big Brother company that controls your lives they’re really not. Microsoft is far more open and free to do as you please with your equipment than Apple, especially in the mobile phone market. For so long Windows Mobile has been dependant on outside programmers to write apps in their free time to make full use of the OS and to add or improve features and programs. Without an official application store WM app development has been a no-mans land where apps are built by individuals on their own time with no distribution method other than their own website and word of mouth; similar to the open source world of Linux.

Obviously there are some major questions about how heavy handed windows will be in their marketplace. Some of my favorite apps are for profit programs that replace all the core PIM functionality of the phone with more complex feature rich versions. That may be a no-go in the WM app store if it’s as locked down as the Apple app store.

The good thing is that not only will people find a way to disable this, but we don’t even need to disable it. WM still allows installation of programs without an app store without the need to hack or jailbreak the phone; it’s the way the WM “Market” has run for the last decade.

But for the apps that we do get through the store, it will suck that Microsoft can take those back.

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Foolish reporting: 60% of businesses don’t plan to upgrade to Windows 7 (yet).

by Kerensky97 on Jul.13, 2009, under Technology

I added the “yet” at the end of the blog title because that reflects the findings of the survey and that survey is hardly surprising. By leaving off the “yet” the title mirrors the hundreds of business-tech stories today, and blurs the truth.

This is a perfect example of what I’ve mentioned many times before that the tech community gets too wrapped up itself and forgets how the rest of the world sees technology. Survey says:

6% are going to Win 7 in 2009 (ie immediately)
34% are likely upgrading in 2010
60% have no definitive plans.

Tech blogs and news sites are focusing on the 60% number and changing it to the statement “60% of businesses AREN’T upgrading to Windows 7.”

In reality this is an entirely normal breakdown of businesses trepidation at upgrading their computer infrastructure. Considering that Win XP –> Win 7 also involves a huge requirements upgrade (nearly 8yrs of computer evolution) I’m surprised that 40% are switching over in the first year; time to invest in Dell computers. Although I shouldn’t be too surprised, my personal upgrade path for Vista was inline with the 40% group, for Win 7 I was onboard through beta and will convert at least one computer immediately.

Of course I believe Win 7 is really nothing more than a service pack of Vista, and since I was on Vista a year late and missed all the compatibility issues I’ve never had any bad experiences with that.

My point is that this idiotic story is just a way for tech media to make a big deal out of nothing. Some are saying it puts Microsoft on shaky ground since Vista didn’t go over well (they have 90% of the OS market, they’re not in trouble), other are even saying that businesses may go to new competition like the new Google Chrome OS, which is probably the dumbest comment I’ve heard in regards to this story so far. If you think there’s apprehension about Windows 7 ask a business what they think about an OS whose only specs and capabilities consist of some blog announcements and a lot of speculation.

I bet if the same poll was reissued with another option that said “Are you going to switch from Windows to ANY other competitor in the next two years?” the percentage would be 6% or lower.

Ignore the media hype, this is a non-news item. Businesses are always resistant to change, and hesitant to upgrade in the first year or two. It’s actually good business policy because by staying off the bleeding edge you don’t get cut by the initial growing pains. Once the bugs are fully worked out you’ll see a lot more adoption (so long as companies are willing to update 2001 era computers to something a bit more modern to run Win 7).

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