Windows Vista is Coming (Really)

Windows Vista Ultimate packaging

As anyone in the business knows, once a product’s packaging is announced its release must just be around the corner. For Windows Vista, “around the corner” could not come too soon. To the right is an image of the final packaging of the “Ultimate” edition of Windows Vista (aka, “The Kitchen Sink Edition”).

Start saving your nickels today so you can buy a new machine that takes full advantage of these new products. And, before you start bellyaching about buying a new machine, just remember anyone who wanted Apple’s new OS had to buy new hardware as well.

And, while I’m at it, here are a few new sites from Microsoft promoting several new offerings in some clever and creative ways:

Tip: Inline Search Add-In for Internet Explorer

Now that Windows Vista is nearing release, I will start posting short tricks and tips to help newbies navigate the new interface and associated applications. This will only happen occasionally as I stumble across little-known features I find useful.

I have been running pre-release builds on my laptop (IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad T43p) since Beta 2. There are many substantial changes so there will be many frustrating moments as we unlearn familiar techniques and become more efficient with this “operating system of the future.”

These hints will help me down the road as well when I forget how to do something or while upgrading another machine. I have also created a new Tips & Tricks category for future reference.

Today’s entry: Improving the default Find (not Search) behavior of Internet Explorer (IE).

Find is what do when you select the Edit / Find on this Page… menu (or press Ctrl+F). Whereas search is what you do when using Live Search, Google, Ask, etc.  Find, for the purposes of this post, is for finding text on the page you are currently viewing while search is for locating all sorts of content and information on the Web.  Now that that is all cleared up.

This tip works for IE 5.5 and later including the new IE 7.0 for Windows XP and IE 7.0 for Windows Vista.

Follow the steps below to get going:

  1. Download & Install the Inline Search for Internet Explorer Add-In (requires you to close your browser)
  2. Re-open IE
  3. Visit your favorite page (http://www.msn.com is my default homepage)
  4. Press Ctrl+F (or use the menu as described above)
  5. Start typing in the pane that appears at the bottom of your browser window

As you type, matches will be highlighted.

  • To find the next match, press F3
  • To find a previous match, press Shift+F3
  • Highlight all matching strings on the page by clicking the ‘Highlight’ button
  • To stop searching and close the pane, press Esc

That’s it. Now you can search a page quickly using the keyboard. Also, you no longer have an ugly window appear and partially block the page you are searching in your browser. Even cooler is how the add-in highlights matching terms as you type and includes the option to highlight all matches.

 

Ten Months on the Job: People Management + Beta Release

October 14th marked the ten-month point of my change in roles. Major developments this month included the annual company meeting on September 21st followed by a week tying up loose ends in preparation for the last of this year’s trade shows and technical conferences.  The biggest developments happened over the past 2 weeks which is why this post is a week late. What happened? I returned to people management on October 9th and we shipped the ASP.NET AJAX v1.0 Beta on October 20th.

People Management

I enjoyed being a people manager when on the engineering side of the shop.  I started managing two people back in 2000 and was managing an org of 16 regular employees with 2 contractors when I changed jobs ten months ago.  While I entered my current job as an individual contributor, I hoped to have the opportunity to move back into management once my management team and I felt the time was right for the team and me. That time came quicker than anticipated as I took over management responsibilities for the Core Web Platform & Tools (CWPT) team two weeks ago. My new team is small just like my very first team. I am currently managing 2 regular employees and 1 contractor.

Between the four of us, we oversee some of Microsoft’s most important Web technologies including Internet Information Services (IIS), ASP.NET, Visual Web Developer (VWD) and Visual Studio (VS) for Web development. Our small size is indicative of how lean and mean we run in Developer Tools product management, specifically, and our parent Application Platform & Tools organization, in general.  AppPlat consists of about 125 people responsible for products produced by well over 2000 engineers. I am excited about my new responsibilities and return to people management. I have an energetic, smart and passionate couple of guys to work with on some of the most important and strategic products in the company’s future. They say the reward for doing a good job is getting more work and I have definitely been a lot busier lately.

Beta Release

Ramping up on my new responsibilities while getting my normal work done has required me to invest more hours at work. However, the biggest hit to my schedule came from the work leading up to the the successful v1.0 Beta release of ASP.NET AJAX culminating around 3AM PDT, Friday, October 20. Anyone who has had the pleasure and pain of shipping a major release of a v1.0 product knows it can at times feel like organized chaos. All we can do is push, refine, push, refine and hold on for dear life as best we can as the beast takes on a life of its own and limps across the finished line.

This release was not much different in that regard and there were many incidents of individual and team heroics to pull it off. I wrote so many positioning statements and wrote or edited so much content I felt like I was moonlighting on the White House Rapid Response and Speechwriting teams at the same time. One learns a lot about his colleagues and their talents when in crunch time and it is time to either ship or shut up.  We had our share of snafus, false starts, miscommunications and long days/nights…and it was just a beta. Regardless, unadulterated elation best describes the feeling when it is finished.

Now it is time to lather, rinse and repeat as we spend the next months removing that “beta” label by shipping the actual, supported product. (In the software business, we call that RTM‘ing or RTW‘ing for software distributed via the Internet.)

Next up: Microsoft Tech-Ed Europe: Developers conference in Barcelona, Spain, Nov 7-10

My First Zune Experience

A little over a week ago, I had the opportunity to actually hold and play around with the new Microsoft Zune digital media player. My hunch was correct: This device rocks and if the software and services supporting it are as beautiful and seamless as the display, navigation and overall user experience of the physical hardware, holiday shoppers will have a tough decision to make come November 14, 2006. Is it finally time to demand both form & function (Zune) in their next/new portable device or will they continue to follow the herd and choose form & marketing (iPod) instead?

30GB White iPod vs. 30GB White ZuneThe 30GB Zune equals the 30GB iPod in form as far as both design and specifications are concerned. Go compare them side-by-side yourself. The first thing you notice while reviewing the pictures is the Zune will be slightly bigger in both length and height/depth. Looking at the specs in the table below the pictures on that page, you see the devices are the same width but the Zune is slightly heavier.

A quick look at the screens shows the primary reason for the size and weight disparity. The Zune screen is huge and gorgeous, let me tell you, and the UI and navigation run circles around the dated iPod interface. Personally, I will readily accept a few more millimeters in each dimension and several grams in weight for the experience the larger screen provides.  This is particularly true for watching videos while traveling — the primary selling point of the newest generation of iPods with their larger capacities and the wider selection of content available through iTunes.

The iPod screen looks like a postage stamp compared to the Zune’s. Who cares if you can buy and store dozens of videos if you will never watch them on the device? One thing we know is our eyes do not improve with age. A larger screen could attract more seniors to the market and everybody wins. Tweens and Metrosexuals can have their iPods. Boomers and Gamers their Zunes. Split everyone else.Abraham Simpson

The Zune does not have a click-wheel which I am sure will draw the rancor of iPod fans everywhere. I never bought into the whole click-wheel thing. Sure, it is innovative and cool but it is neither an ergonomic nor efficient way to traverse vast, hierarchical collections of music as simple up/down/right/left/select gestures. It is akin to navigating the folders and files on a computer using a trackball or by rotating the mouse in a circle . There is a lot of energy expended moving the selection device in directions that are not relevant to the structure of the data.

I also find song selection with a click-wheel to be aggravatingly imprecise over short distances (e.g., move one song up or down). This applies to both my iPod and my Sonos controller (which also employs touch-wheel technology). Picture a senior citizen with rheumatoid arthritis trying to use a click-wheel. Speed of navigation with the Zune’s directional keypad vs. the iPod’s click-wheel is a non-issue. Also, the Zune UI ups the ante in content organization. Try it. I bet you’ll like it.

I haven’t even mentioned the Zune’s customizability or wireless capabilities. (Yes, its wireless is standard 802.11b/g so it has the potential to tap into wireless networks at home, work and on the road. Sweet!)

Here is my scorecard:

  • Function: The Zune wins hands down but Apple isn’t standing still.
  • Form: This one is a tie as the Zune’s screen easily neutralizes any coolness attributed to the iPod’s click-wheel, industrial design and workmanship.
  • Marketing: Apple is brilliant and the iPod brand is well-engrained but Microsoft isn’t standing still.

I’m eager to see what new functions/features Apple is cooking up and how soon they will go to market with their newest lineup. As for marketing, Microsoft has a solid product and price. If the company can nail the positioning and promotion over the next six months, Apple may have a real fight on its hands.