Posts Tagged ‘microsoft’

How not to write (part 1)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

A techcrunch post begins with:

First, it was reported that Apple was talking to Verizon about getting the iPhone on its network in 2010. Then it was reported that Apple was actually working on new mobile devices for Verizon. With so much Apple blood in the Verizon water, it was only a matter of time before the Microsoft shark surfaced.

How is Apple bleeding in this analogy? Apple is considering jumping in to Verizon’s “water”, but the blood analogy doesn’t work. Nice try.

I make plenty of writing mistakes myself, but I at least try to make analogies coherent.

Goodbye, Encarta

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Microsoft recently announced that they’re shutting down Encarta, but their FAQ page didn’t answer the first question that came to mind: can you release the data? It would be nice to have another high-quality corpus like that in circulation, for research, scholarship, etc.

Chrome Experiments, IE8 and browser speed

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

(This post consists of biased personal opinions, as always)

Chrome Experiments has some pretty cool stuff. The idea of the site was to create some javascript demos to show off Chrome‘s speed. Some of them also run in firefox (and maybe safari), though I wasn’t able to find any that ran in IE, mostly because IE doesn’t support <canvas>.

I’m running beta 3 of firefox 3.1 on all my computers now. Its javascript execution is definitely faster than 3.0. It didn’t perform too well on a some of the chrome experiments, though. Unlike IE, it could typically run them, it just wouldn’t be as smooth as Chrome (for example, 3D rendering). My favorite experiments are all among the top-rated, so try some of those out if you have a chance. Some of them are really clever.

I installed IE8 on my windows partition tonight. I haven’t used it enough to do a full review or anything. I don’t expect IE to return to the Mac any time soon, so I don’t really have incentive to try it. I stumbled upon this video on Microsoft’s site regarding browser speed. The video consists of a lot of flashes and text flying around to techno music, so I’ll save you some time and summarize:

Everyone talking about browser speed seems to think that micro-benchmarks are important, but those benchmarks are just made up and regular people have never heard of them anyway. The real way to test is in the load times of popular websites.

They then show load times from IE8, Firefox 3.05 and Chrome 1.0 on popular sites. As you might expect, IE8 did pretty well. They conclude that “IE8 is fast just like other browsers”

The type of speed Microsoft is talking about here is important, but it’s not what most of the browser speed discussion has been about. Their analysis is on the top 25 most visited sites, e.g. google.com. To time the rendering of google.com has a high ratio of time spent rendering HTML to time spent running javascript. The same is true for most of the top 25: these aren’t javascript applications, they’re web pages. Rendering these quickly definitely has value, and I’m glad that the IE team has worked on rendering speed, but the claims of this video are a bit simplistic. Although IE does well on these simple pages, it can’t keep up on the javascript-heavy applications used on the web (e.g. Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Google Docs, etc). When the ratio of HTML rendering time to javascript execution time goes down, javascript benchmarks become more important.

I ran Firefox 3.1b3, Chrome 1.0 and IE 8 through the Sunspider javascript benchmark test. From the description:

This test mostly avoids microbenchmarks, and tries to focus on the kinds of actual problems developers solve with JavaScript today, and the problems they may want to tackle in the future as the language gets faster. This includes tests to generate a tagcloud from JSON input, a 3D raytracer, cryptography tests, code decompression, and many more examples. There are a few microbenchmarkish things, but they mostly represent real performance problems that developers have encountered.

I’m not asserting that this is a perfect test (it doesn’t test DOM manipulation, for example), but it’s not a bad way to get a rough idea about how a javascript engine is performing. Here are my results on an Intel 2.33GHz quad-core with 8GB RAM:
Chrome: 1193ms
Firefox: 2033ms
Internet Explorer: 5753ms
(click the links for a more detailed breakdown)

This speed difference doesn’t make mainstream web apps unusable today, but I worry that it inhibits the web apps of the future. Chrome Experiments is a good showcase for the types of things that are doable in javascript with a fast interpreter. If you showed me these a year or two ago, I’d think that they were implemented in Flash. Speeding up javascript and enhancing multimedia APIs (canvas, video, SVG) will expand the range of things possible in web applications, and I’m really looking forward to this faster generation of browsers becoming mainstream.

Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

When I got a new computer, I ended up using Windows for the first couple of weeks I had it. I’m now back to using linux 90% of the time, but I used my time in Windows to try out some windows-only software. Today, I’m writing about Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D. I hope to write a bit about Google Chrome later. As always, these are my own biased opinions, so BYO-grains-of-salt.

OK, here we go.

Virtual Earth 3D is a free browser plugin available at maps.live.com (just click 3D on that page). It works in IE and Firefox on Windows. The plugin itself has an API that can be used to do some interesting things, but I’m just focusing on the 3D integration with Live Search Maps. Google has a similar browser plugin, but it’s not integrated with Google Maps, so it’s not quite the same. Google Earth itself seems to be the most similar product, so I’ll compare those.

I like Virtual Earth’s integration with the live search web app. Moving between the plugin and the web page generally feels seamless, as most of the UI is the same between 2D and 3D modes. Perhaps I just had trouble transitioning from Google Maps, but parts of the UI seemed rather difficult to figure out. For example, to get directions from near home to near work, I just type “94115 to 94043″ into the google maps search box. Not only did this not work in on Live, but none of the search box options allowed me to get directions (I had to hunt for a link in the sidebar). Also, I just discovered that the edges of the 3D view are invisible hotspots where you can do different types of panning, which makes 3D navigation a bit better, but it still didn’t feel comfortable.

The quality of the 3D models and textures is quite good. It seemed like there were more 3D models in San Francisco in Virtual Earth than Google Earth, with similar quality. Here’s a screenshot I took of Manhattan:
nyc
Had this been any other building, I wouldn’t nitpick, but, uh why does Google’s NYC office have a gaping hole in it? 😛

Other than that, the buildings look really beautiful, though.

Another feature I liked was the cloud rendering. It’s exceptionally hard to demonstrate it in a screen shot, but here’s a view of San Francisco from the East:
clouds
They used code from Microsoft Flight Simulator for this. For some reason, I couldn’t figure out why I could sometimes see clouds and sometimes not. I had to reload the page in order to get the above screenshot- if anyone knows a secret, I’m curious to know.

One thing that bothered me was the way that images and text were handled. First, text is rendered on the map images themselves, so it’s essentially bolted to the ground. This means that when you rotate the map, the text often appears sideways and upside-down. Also, if you view something from far away, the text is inscrutable. Second, satellite imagery at different zoom levels often comes from different data sources. This means, as you zoom in, lakes change color, some buildings can appear and disappear, etc. Also, if you view the map from an angle, some of the view may be from one data source while the rest is from another:
imageborder
(also: almost none of the text on this map is legible)

That screenshot isn’t a loading phase, that’s the steady state.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why someone would think that this is a good idea, but I eventually realized that it was to avoid making the map look patchy. Here’s the problem: Let’s say you have high-quality imagery for San Francisco and high-quality imagery taken on a different day from Oakland. When people are zoomed in to either city, you’ll want to show them the best imagery you have. As they zoom out, though, both Oakland and San Francisco will be in view, so if you continue to use separate data sources, the two cities will look different (lighting conditions, etc), and it could be quite jarring. If you switched to a slightly lower-res, and let’s say older, view of the whole bay when the user zooms out to see the region, you’ll avoid showing the cities in different conditions, but it makes zooming feel weird as shown above. Google Earth takes the opposite approach, which makes the map look patchy when zoomed out. Here’s a clear example of this:
missouri
Missouri isn’t actually a different color, there’s just a different data source for that area. All those rectangles are the same effect. It’s a bit ugly out here, but zooming in is much smoother.

Here’s the same region in Virtual Earth:
missouri_ve

While the VE method does make Missouri look better, I prefer the Google Earth method here. On 2D map sites, like Google Maps, the zoom levels are discrete, so switching data sources between zoom levels isn’t as jarring (Google Maps and Live Maps do this, by the way), but in 3D, the zoom is continuous, and the effect is seriously distracting and removes a bit of the suspension of disbelief when flying around.

New Computer

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I got a new desktop for home last week. I settled on this HP desktop on amazon. It’s been running really well so far- quiet, fast and can handle 2560×1600 monitor output without much problem.

I’ve been running Windows this week for the first time in a while, though I plan to install Linux soon. I had never used Windows Vista before.. it runs alright, though people really weren’t kidding about how terrible the security alert system is. It’s surprising how much Windows stuff I’ve forgotten already, but it came back soon enough. I how have to deal with 4 keyboard configurations day-to-day: Windows, Linux, Mac, and Mac with a windows keyboard. Windows + L on the mac with a windows keyboard puts the keyboard focus in the address bar in firefox, but in windows it locks the computer, so I learned pretty quickly to stop doing that.

I’ll post some thoughts on some windows-only software that I’ve been trying sometime soon.

Every story needs conflict, I guess…

Friday, January 16th, 2009

TechCrunch’s post YouTube Comes To The Wii And PS3, But Not Xbox contains several suggestions that the Xbox360 “omission” was because Google doesn’t like Microsoft, but then the article ends with: “Of course, it would help if the Xbox had a browser.” Wow.

This is a common theme among industry press (and press in general, I guess): everything needs to be about a battle in some way.

Ugh, I shouldn’t let them get to me.

Market Share

Sunday, November 30th, 2008


(via asa)

I’ll admit it- IE isn’t as bad for the Internet as it used to be, but it’s certainly not pioneering anything great these days, so it’s good to see people switching to better browsers.

In case you’re new here…
Get Mozilla Firefox
Get Google Chrome

Seven

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Apparently, the next release of Windows will be named Windows 7. I doubt I’m the only one who immediately thought of the Seinfeld episode in which George wants to name his child “Seven”.

JERRY: Seven? Yeah, I guess I could see it. Seven. Seven periods of school, seven beatings a day. Roughly seven stitches a beating, and eventually seven years to life. Yeah, you’re doing that child quite a service.
GEORGE: Yes I am. I defy you to come up with a better name than Seven.
Jerry walks toward the kitchen. He sees an item on the counter.
JERRY: Alright, let’s see. How about Mug? Mug Costanza, that’s original. Or uh, Ketchup? Pretty name for a girl.
GEORGE: Alright, you having a good time there?
JERRY: I got fifty right here in the cupboard. How about Bisquik? Pimento. Gherkin. Sauce. Maxwell House.
GEORGE: Alright already!! This is a very key issue with me, Jerry. I had this name for a long time.