Monthly Archives: December 2006

What is my disclosure policy?

One of the people that linked to my blog over the last couple of days is “VC Dan” who has the blog over on DisclosurePolicy.org. The same folks that are behind DisclosurePolicy.org are behind PayPerPost which I hadn’t actually heard of until Robert Scoble mentioned it on his blog a few days ago. I guess having a disclosure policy is required if you are going to pay bloggers for giving positivie reviews about your “stuff”.

Anyway, the main point of Dan’s post was that a lot of the bloggers (like me) that received a laptop from Microsoft and AMD for review purposes were a little haphazard in their approach to disclosing the fact. I think that most disclosed it front was good but without a policy on disclosure how can readers of our blogs be sure that we always will. So there is a difference between simply disclosing something at the time and stating at some point in the time that you will disclose something if you need to (action vs. policy).

The Disclosure Policy Blog links to their own disclosure policy which looks like a fairly reasonable document. The cool thing is that if you go to the main Disclosure Policy site there is a generator where you can step through a wizard to generate your own.

I decided to give it a stab and I have come up with this policy (its one generated by the wizard with a few tweaks). Hopefully by being explicit about this people can feel more comfortable with the way that I write the content that I post on my blog. Of course whether content on my blog has ever been influenced is probably subjective but I am happy to defend what I write especially considering that I have outlined some key affiliations.

Note that I am not planning on participating in PayPerPost, its just a bit to fake for my liking (personal opinion).

 

But where is the JasJar Mk.2?

Engadget has posted up some photos of the latest HTC mobile devices which will be coming to the market in 2007.

I’ve been a fan of the HTC devices (branded as i-mate’s in this instance) since I first got a SmartPhone (SP2) and latter picked up a JasJar (HTC Universal) which sports a 3G antenna and a 640×480 screen along with a reasonable size keyboard. While everyone around me got smaller devices I went for the heavy weight. I’ve been pretty happy with a device and I think that it has been mostly trouble free (except o`r a very specific problem that the device has).

I know that within the next twelve to eighteen months I am probably going to need to upgrade the device but I haven’t really seen anything that replaces the JasJar. What I want to know is, where is the JasJar Mk.2.

Unique Features and Usual Refinements

The hallmark of a JasJar Mk.2 will be what it keeps the same as the original. Here are some of the unique features of the JasJar that I wouldn’t want to see change.

  • Keyboard size and layout.
  • Screen size and resolution.
  • Flip and rotate screen.

On top of that there are a few things that all PDA/Phone devices can expect to have moving forward:

  • Dual cameras – one for video calls and one for taking photos, although to be honest I haven’t really used the video call feature of the JasJar.
  • Decent external speakers and microphone for doing things like recording and listening to podcasts.

So that is what they need to do to “not screw up the JasJar” but there are a few extra things that I think that they need to add in to the unit.

New and Improved

So I am going to layout a few improvements that I want to see to the device, those who have a JasJar will know what I am talking about for most of these, but some are just general innovations that I’d love to see road tested on the JasJar.

  • External caller ID/Windows SideShow display; one of the great things about JasJars is that the screen is protected but that can make it hard to screen calls because there are no visible indicators of who is calling on the outside of the device. It would be nice to have a small 1×1 inch screen which does caller ID, music select and Windows SideShow – the screen would need to be tough and scratch resistant and below it would be controls for answering calls (the ones on the spine are terrible). In addition to call control there would need to be be media controls.
  • Thinner and lighter; OK, so the thing is a brick, but given technology enhancements over the past couple of years I reckon they could stand to shrink the base of the unit by half and still fit everything in.
  • Fix the cell broadcast issue.
  • Light my way; I have to say that I often use my JasJar as a torch, so why not make it a key feature. Across one edge of the device insert a series of bright LCD lights (may four of the one that is next to the camera) then have a quick access button for turning on the light.
  • Address the issue of loose stylus docks; over the course of the first six months of use the dock for the stylus gets very loose. Either tether it so you can’t loose it or come up with a better locking mechanism.
  • Act as a router; add the ability for the device to act as a router to 3G and nextG networks so rather than having to dial out from a laptop you can just plug in the USB lead and have it look like a USB network adapter, and while you are at it make sure you don’t use a prototype hardware vendor ID like you did with the USB Modem feature.
  • Come with wrist straps; I want to wear my JasJar on my arm (left).

If the HTC guys want some more design tips you know where to find me :)

Ferrari 1000: The Windows Experience Index (WEI)

Now the the recent unpleasantness seems to be behind us I thought I would knuckle down and start reviewing the Acer Ferrari 1000 that Microsoft and AMD sent me. One of the things that seems to be the cool thing to do when you get a new laptop running Windows Vista is to check out the Windows Experience Index.

What is the Windows Experience Index?

The Windows Experience Index is a number which rates the hardware and software configuration on your machine as it relates to its ability to run Windows Vista. The one number you get is actually a base score which is actually the lowest of a number of sub-component scores. Wikipedia has a great entry with several links which describes which tests are performed in order to determine the scores.

If you have a Vista machine handy you can get in and look at the Windows Experience Index by clicking on Start and typing “performance” into the search box, then selecting “Performance Information and Tools” from the results (usually the second in the list).

One thing that I will council you on is that sometimes the WEI is way wrong for whatever reason and you need to get it to recalculate. Ed Bott’s post reminded me of this as he re-ran the score on his Ferrari 5000 review machine.

How did the Ferrari 1000 score?

For example on the Ferrari 1000 the base score is 2.8 which I thought was pretty low, but if we look at the break down we can see what the problem is.

As you can see under the Graphics component it is saying that there is a sub-score of 2.8 which is the lowest so that becomes the base score. Since I’ve got three machines (laptops) on my desk here running Vista I thought that I would do a side by side comparison to see if we can figure out what kind of configuration settings make a difference. The machines are:

So lets look at processor performance first. On the processor the Acer scored 4.7 which is on an AMD Turion 64 X2 mobile processor (dual core jobbie). I compared this with the Fujitsu (4.7) and the Dell (4.7) both of which were running Intel Centrino Duo processors. Since they all came out the same I can probably take from that that the tests were really designed to use the 32-bit processors, it would be nice for WEI to be updated at some point in the future to leverage the unique capabilities of 64-bit processors but that would invalidate comparisons between 32-bit and 64-bit machines (although 32-bit machines are an endangered species anyway).

Next up is the memory performance and this is where I saw some differences between the Microsoft supplied machine and the Dell and Fujitsu that I already had. The Ferrari clocked in at 5.3 for memory performance where both the Fujitsu and the Dell came in at 4.7. I wonder if this is down to the 64-bit processor and some optimised instructions and it would be interesting to compare to the Core2 processor (anyone want to provide their stats here?).

Graphics performance is actually comprised of two numbers, what I call your standard desktop/shell graphics performance and your gaming graphics. On the Ferrari the desktop graphics performance came in at 2.8, where as the Fujitsu score 3.4 and the Dell 3.6. In my experience with Vista the drivers that you are using make a lot of difference. On the Acer I am using the configuration that was supplied by Microsoft and AMD which I suspect are problably the approved out of the box drivers that came with Vista for this particular ATI card. On the Fujitsu I am running the bog standard Intel 945GM drivers for Vista and on the Dell I am running some hacked NVIDIA drivers from LaptopVideo2Go.com. So at the moment the NVIDIA drivers are giving better performance but I wonder whether updating the ATI drivers would yield better results – I won’t do it now half way through the review but I will retouch on this later and try the latest drivers from ATI (if I can find them).

On the gaming graphics score the Acer, Fujitsu and Dell scored 3.1, 3.0 and 3.2 respectively. So they are all pretty close to each other there. Both the Acer and the Dell support up to 512MB of RAM allocated to the task of doing high-end 3D graphics and both of them have 256MB discreet and then share the rest with the operating system. The strange thing about the ATI driver was that it said it was actually capable of sharing up to 895MB of RAM for graphics from the OS – so I am actually quite suspect on that driver right now.

Still – this card is going to be OK for most gaming tasks and can certainly hold its head high in laptop circles (I am sure some of the desktop GPUs would really leave it to shame and I have heard some good things about the Dell M90’s from co-workers).

Finally lets look at disk performance. Disk performance is often one of those things that is overlooked when configuring a laptop, and if you do anything that requires lots of disk I/O like running virtual machines, compiling code or reading 3D models and textures then you are going to want a fast disk. Both the Acer and the Dell are configured with 7200RPM drives and they scored 4.8 and 4.9 respectively which is OK I suppose. The Fujitsu only scored 4.4, but it only has a 5600RPM drive (or whatever) so whatever is tested there obviously doesn’t stress the metal too much (I expected much lower for the Fujitsu).

Overall the Ferrari 1000 probably sits somewhere between the Fujitsu and the Dell in terms of performance but if you have memory I/O intensive applications then the Ferrari is probably going to get the job done better. It would be interesting to compare these results to the Core2 chips from Intel but I think that AMD has a reasonable offering here which was actually news to me.

What do I think about WEI?

When Microsoft invented WEI they basically generated the profits for hardware vendors for years to come. Even within Readify reporting your WEI has become the new status symbol and people are actually spending serious time comparing their ratings and optimising their machines – its yet another geek status symbol and I don’t think it’ll be long before we see WEI status proudly displayed on the front of computers and geeks sporting WEI t-shirts.

Obviously the devil is in the detail so you really need to look at the sub-component scores and if you are actually going to go out and buy hardware to optimise your system then I suggest reading up on exactly what the scores are testing and figure out if you really need that. Despite what some people say, Vista will run fine on existing computers. I used to run Vista on an Inspiron 6000 which was quite good, it just didn’t support Aero (or at least it didn’t during the BETA) and I needed that for some of my development work.

From the development perspective it is interesting to speculate how we could use the WEI statistics to optimise the behaviour of our software. Deepak Kapoor has an example on his blog on how to get access to WEI information using WMI and C#. How much more complex would your code get if you started optimising for WEI stats along with your program logic – probably something best left to the runtime.

The Java Inverse Reality Sphere

When I read this article by Calvin Austin, this image popped into my head and I couldn’t help but put it down on paper.

Years ago I was talking to a Microsoft employee who mentioned that sometimes he thinks that there is an inverse reality sphere around Redmond, but I think it is a general problem in this industry that we believe that 2 + 2 = 5, hrm, maybe the Java folks have raced ahead and implemented the “because” operator :)

Example usage:

Platforms.Rank[0] = “Java” !! Platforms.Options == PlatformOptions.DotNet && PlatformOptions.Ruby;

Sometimes I kill me, I really do :)

Microsoft giveth (for review), and the blogosphere taketh away.

On the first day, Microsoft giveth . . .

“No good deed goes unpunished” is how my latest e-mail from Aaron Coldiron started. It seems that the reaction in the blogosphere to some bloggers being treated to a new Ferrari laptop pre-loaded with Windows Vista Ultimate and Office 2007 has caused Microsoft to rethink what they want the future of the laptops to be. Marshall got the same e-mail that I did from Aaron.

To be honest I kinda feel for the marketing folks at Microsoft. They have this product that they have worked on for over four years, and then sit down and decide out they want to market it. Of course they have all the usual channels like TV advertisements, technical events and launch parties but since Windows XP and Windows Vista something magical has occured – the citizen media was born where individuals like you and I get to publish our own opinions. They sat down and thought lets get some fully baked kit out for them to review – in fact, lets work with one of our hardware partners (AMD) to see if we can give away the machines.

So – they set their plan in motion and they go out and find bloggers to seed the kit with, some people are likely to give positive reviews, whilst others not so positive, they are bloggers, their individual reactions are difficult to predict as is (as we have seen) the reaction of their readers.

Bloggers being bloggers blog about this new kit arriving on their door step, in fact most even disclose where it is from (even though they don’t have to – they aren’t journalists, disclosure is a good idea, even for bloggers). As far as I can tell, after that some folks started pointing figures at the bloggers suggesting that they had been compromised. The news explodes all over the blogosphere and suddenly the marketing folks at Microsoft are thinking “what just happened”. As far as I can tell, a few things seem to be going on:

  • People are ascribing journalist ethics to bloggers (Dan Warne).
  • People are thinking that getting a laptop is going to move the dial.

To be honest, I am beyond caring. I’m going to do the review at two levels, from a user level which I am hoping that my wife will help me with and also from a software developer level. After that (probably end of January/beginning of February) I will take the laptop away from my wife and give it away on my blog somehow – Microsoft has requested those that received a laptop to do this to help avoid any more unpleasantness.

To be honest its not what I wanted to to, I was excited to be able to give my wife a new laptop that I would envy (which I would also happen to be able to test 64-bit builds of my software out on).

. . . on the second day the blogosphere taketh away.

Anyway, I think CrunchGear said it best when:

The real problem here is that there are hundreds — even thousands — of BLOLGGGERS who feel they they, too, should receive free laptops. Back when it was just PC World and PC Mag fighting over red hot back-up software at PC Expo, the PR world was a simpler place. Now, when Marshall gets a laptop, JoesHardwareGearSiteAndAmazonSplogBlog.org wants one as well and will get all pissy and ethical when they don’t get the access they so richly deserve.

And with that, this is my last post on the topic (the digg bubble seems to be curving over now anyway). In the coming weeks I’ll be posting the reviews from the software end.

 

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Can a free laptop move the dial?

So I log in this morning and open up my e-mail to see what kind of blogstorm this free/gift/review Acer Ferrari laptop from Microsoft and AMD has caused. It seems that the blogosphere is interested in the news and that opinions vary widely between in implying that I’ve been bought as a blogger to congratulations on a great score.

Some of the choice comments that I got on my blog so far:

  • a.hoc: If you keep it you’ll never be viewed as someone who is capable of having an unbiased opinion. Cout me in as one of many who won’t be returning to your blog. Unsubscribed.
  • fred: notgartner blog: bought and paid for
  • allison: Have you figured out why you only got a 1000 and others got a 5000? [reply: Not sure Allison, although I think it might be something to do with my dainty fingers :P]
  • Callie: the entire blogosphere is aware of all the other bloggers who’ve received this same gift, and that’s what it is – aka, a bribe.

First off, thanks to all that seem to be interested and passionate enough about this to respond. Some of the comments seem a bit harsh or misdirected at best, but I will address that in a moment. There has also been a fairly large number of trackbacks to other peoples blogs, I’ve categorised them (mostly for myself):

That is a lot of feedback in under 24-hours, especially for a B-list (if even) blogger like myself. In fact the whole affair has caused a spike in my blogs traffic:

But what can I say to those that imply that I’ve been bought because its something that doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

Moving the Dial

The idea of a bribe is to effectively change the behavior of someone by giving them something they want, like money, lovin’, or as proposed in this case, a gadget. But before you can go around suggesting that I’ve been bribed to say good things about Vista, Acer or AMD you first need to determine that my behavior has changed – did Microsoft move the dial?

Because I don’t know all of the people that suggested that I had been bought (a.hoc, fred, Callie) I am not sure how long they have been reading my blog or whether they know much about me, but here are some facts:

  1. I am a software developer that has been working with Microsoft’s .NET platform pretty much exclusively since the year 2000.
  2. I co-founded the Melbourne .NET User Group (although I have since moved interstate and it is run by others now as the Victoria .NET Special Interest Group).
  3. I have represented Australia to the International .NET Association.
  4. I have been awarded as a member of the Microsoft MVP program for five consecutive years (or is it more) – full disclosure, MVPs get access to a MSDN Premium subscription for free.
  5. I have been a member of the ASPInsiders group since inception.
  6. I work as a Senior Consultant for a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner called Readify which does a lot of work for Microsoft and Microsoft Consulting Services.
  7. I’ve spoken at a number of major Microsoft technical events, in particular TechEd Australia 2004, 2005 and 2006.
  8. I am a co-organiser of Code Camp Oz, a Microsoft-centric community event held in Australia each year (third year coming up).
  9. Most recently I was a guest editor on TechTalkBlogs which was started by Microsoft’s very own Frank Arrigo.
  10. During November I toured Australia (six cities) presenting at the partner-orientated Ready Summit where I presented in UI, security and data enhancements in Vista.

That is a fair bit of Microsoft centric activity right there so to argue that Microsoft could move the dial on the tone of my blogging is simply laughable, I am already a fan of their technology, and if you are coming to my blog expecting me to encourage people to avoid Microsoft products you are probably barking up the wrong tree.

I write my blog for me, and to be honest I am still amused that anyone would bother downloading the content that I write, I guess its for my technical observations and the other stuff that I dig up. I doubt it is for my unbiased writing style :)

What is happening to the laptop?

Well, to be honest I’ve been running Vista on and off for the past three years (back when it was called Longhorn) and pretty much non-stop for the past six to nine months, so there isn’t much in the platform that I don’t already know about (although as a developer I am always finding new APIs to tinker with). That is why I started out with a mostly hardware orientated review because I thought I could definately do it justice (it is new hardware territory for me).

Next I am going to give the laptop to my wife who has hardly used Vista at all and has actually being resisting until it came out of BETA. This will be her first laptop and her first time running Vista and my plan is to somehow capture her feedback as a “Vista-newbie”. Some of the things that I thought would be a good outcome was:

  1. Nicola starts a blog and journals her experiences there.
  2. Nicola guest writes on my blog and journals her experiences here.
  3. Nicola and I do some screencasts together playing with Vista.
  4. What do you think?

All of this is part of my goal of getting my wife blogging, so far I’ve been unsuccessful but to be honest, given the reactions of some people on this blog you can hardly blame her for being a little bit gun shy.

Summary

I am not even sure if this whole thing would have been noticed if folks like Robert Scoble didn’t blog about it, but I think even he is swinging around to the idea that this is a pretty good marketing ploy. As he points out I think one of the key issues is disclosure, and in my case I did disclose that I was sent the laptop for free from Microsoft – and even in this post I’ve disclosed more about myself that some of my new subscribers didn’t know about (regular subscribers would know most of the above about me anyway).

Ironically I posted up this piece the day before the laptop arrived about marketeers earning mindshare rather than buying it. On the surface this might look like a circumstance where my advice wasn’t heeded, however, I actually believe that this is a perfect example of how the blogosphere can actually “arrive early”. In this case I think that the Vanishing Point Game is more newsworthy than a few geek bloggers getting laptops.

Finally, this blog is about me and who I am, it is not about what I am trying to sell (or what others are trying to sell). It reflects my thoughts, interests and passions, I am not a journalist so don’t try to hold me to a set of standards which I have not signed on to uphold.