Return to Windows

There’s a Windows machine back in my house. That’s right, after 14 years of Mac OS, I’ve shifted my OS back to Windows…on my primary computer!

Windows? WTF?

So, Mac OSX is still a superior operating system. But the gap between Windows and OSX has shrunk considerably with the launch of Windows 10, but that’s hardly a good reason to leave behind the most simple, well-designed and usable OS out there.

But Apple is steadily closing the noose on what computer users can do with their machines and this has really rubbed me the wrong way.

Besides, I had a dream. A dream to build a dream machine, that is. I wanted to build my own ‘Adobe Machine’ for home use and also be able to swap out hardware over time. In Apple’s ultra-controlled ecosystem, building such a device would be very, very costly and also fail to really expand over time. And for very practical reasons, relying on a finicky Hacitosh was out of the picture.

So, fed up with the self-imposed limitations of Mac, I went back to Windows…and this is my experience.

First Impressions

desktopSo, the design of Windows 10 is actually quite pleasant. The modern ‘Metro’ UI is very pleasant (I only wish it was applied uniformly across the OS–more on that later).

The Start (menu) is actually a great way to tuck all of your most important apps out of sight. And I love that it’s flexible, allowing you to organize apps and folders however you want. There are even ways to label and group apps however you wish. The librarian in me sings with these kind of organizational features.

I’ve found that I actually use the Start Menu as a replacement for not only my Desktop but also the Task Bar, which I only keep visible so I have the clock visible.

Maybe it’s the OSXer in me, but there are parts of Windows 10 that feel like redundant re-thinks of more familiar features. For example, the Action Center has quick access icons for things like VPN and creating Notes, all of which, one would expect would be handled by the Start Menu. There’s also the little arrow-thingy on the task bar where certain background apps live. Why?

An Unfinished OS?

As I began customizing and exploring Windows 10, I began to realize that Microsoft must have pushed Windows 10 out the door before the pain was dry. There are odd discontinuities you the pleasantly designed Metro aesthetic ends and you’re suddenly thrown into some god-awful old-school Windows environment. This happens in the Settings panel often, for example, once you get a couple levels down.

Uh, guys, the Metro thing really works. Did you not have time to reskin the old Windows 7/XP UI sections? Please do this soon. It’s like you drove up in a super sweet ride, with designer shades on your face and then you get out of the car and you’re not wearing pants! Actually, you’re wearing tighty-whities.

Also, what’s up with the VPN workflow? As it currently works, it takes no less than four clicks to connect to my VPN. This should be one or two clicks, really. Please fix.

There’s a very nice dark theme, but, alas, it only applies to certain top-level sections of the OS. The File Explorer (a heavily used part of the UI), actually does not inherit the dark theme. There are hacks out there, but seriously, this should be as universal as setting your color scheme.

Can’t wait for Windows 10 to get all grow’d up.

Privacy

I’m going to write an entire blog on this, but Privacy is the biggest issue with this OS. Readers of my blog will know my personal feelings on this issue run strong. So I spent considerable time fighting Microsoft’s defaults, configuring privacy settings, messing with the registry (really?) and even doing a few hacks to lock this computer down.

Microsoft is really doing a number on its users. Windows 10 users are handing over unconscionable amounts of personal information over to Microsoft’s servers, their advertising partners and, if this info ever gets hacked (won’t happen, right?), to whoever wants to do a number on Windows 10 users.

Anyway, needless to say, I had to forgo using Cortana, which is sad because I’m very interested in these kinds of proto-AI tools. But as long as their phoning home, I just unplug them. Did the same to all the “Modern Apps” like Maps, News, etc.

Bottom Line

Breaking up with OSX was actually not as painful as I had expected. And I’m really enjoying Windows 10, save for a few frustration points as outlined above. Overall, it’s well worth the trade offs.

And my Dream Machine, which I christened Sith Lord (because it’s a big, dark beast), is running Adobe CC, rendering at light speed and could probably do the Kessel Run in less than 12 Parsecs.

Is Apple Pay Really Private?

Apply Pay, the new payment system unveiled by Apple yesterday was an intriguing alternative to using Debit and Credit Cards. But how private, and how secure, is this new payment system going to really be?

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, made it very clear that Apple intends to never collect data on you or what you purchase via Apple Pay. The service, in fact, adds a few new layers of security to transactions. But you have to wonder.

A typical model for data collection business models is to promise robust privacy assurances in their service agreements and marketing even though the long-term strategy is to leverage that data for profit. Anyone who was with Facebook early on knows how quickly these terms can change.

So, when we’re assured that our purchases will remain wholly private and marketing firms will never have access to them, how can we really be confident that this will always remain the case? We can’t. So, as users, we should approach such services with skepticism.

As with anything related to personal data, we should assume that enterprising hackers or government agents can and will figure out a way to access and exploit our information. Just last week, celebrities using Apple’s iCloud had their accounts compromised and embarrassing photos were made public. And while Apple has done a pretty good job at securing Apple Pay, it’s still possible someone could figure out a way in…and then you’re not just dealing with incriminating photos, you’ve got your financial history exposed.

So ask yourself:

  1. Can you think of things you buy that could prove embarrassing or might give people with malign intent a way to blackmail or do financial damage to me?
  2. If my most embarrassing purchases were to become permanently public, can I live with that?
  3. How would such public exposure impact my reputation, professionally and personally?
  4. Does the convenience of purchasing something with my phone outweigh the risks to my financial security?

Depending on how you answer this, you may want to stick with your credit card.

Or just go the analog route and use the most anonymous medium of exchange: cash.

Tomorrow’s Tool Library on Steroids

The pace of change (and of devices) is outpacing the consumer’s ability to purchase the latest and greatest. Couple that with asset-light trends toward sharing commodities and you can see a niche for libraries.

The public has just spent billions on touch screen devices, smartphones and upgrades to our computers. And now, this year, we’re being presented with Microsoft’s Surface and soon wearable computers. Even the most savvy techsumers, wielding the latest MacRumors Buyer’s Guide is having trouble keeping up with the dot.joneses.

And, if Ray Kurzweil is to be believed (and I am a Kurzweilian true believer), the rate of technological change, and therefore consumer gadget innovations, will surely decimate our Google Wallets in short order.

But a recent trend in libraries to rethink themselves as gadget bars, maker spaces and digital media delivery centers could very well be the cure to the world’s ever-quickening pulse rate.

My favorite library of all time was the Berkeley Public Library’s Tool Library which I once used to turn the urban waste dump behind my old East Bay apartment into tranquil, solar-powered salad delivery system. Fast-forward a decade or two and you can see the slightly different, yet similar need that is arising from the gadget frenzy that is only getting worse.

Actually, many public library’s have been delivering computer power, laptop checkout and even courses for some time. But let’s add some Lance Armstrong-strength steroids to this model and see what we can come up with.

But first, what are the gaps that need filling?

  1. Devices are being upgraded and made obsolete at an increasingly fast pace. Why not just provide our users with the lastest and greatest either free or at a small subscription rate…rent by the hour, the week or by the month.
  2. Include in our offerings all kinds of equipment from laptops to tablets, cameras to e-readers, 3D printers to digital drawing tablets…and oh yes! The latest versions of software!!!
  3. And for those that opt for the hourly model, let’s support them by moving their digital content to the cloud…a sort of cloud migration service.
  4. But the cloud is such a drag. There are so many options out there: Evernote, iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox. How’s your average person supposed to make sure they do it right? How about we librarians come up with consultant staff that can recommend solutions based on the user’s specific needs…ala the Geek Squads and Apple Store models.

The Library Website Will Disappear

A new year always elicits thoughts about the future, but this month, my library has been considering our next strategic plan, which has focused those thoughts for me on my library and the profession in general.

Since I’m principally charged with managing the online aspects of my library, I come to these kinds of discussions focused on web platforms, online communication and consumer technology trends. One of the biggest trends (you may have noticed) has been the adoption of mobile, touch screen devices like iPhones and tablets. I include even Microsoft’s attempt at reinventing the PC with its Surface Tablet, despite early failures to woo consumers. And given this apparently irresistable move toward mobile, tablet-like computing, I have to ask: what does this ultimately mean for the library’s web properties: our websites, our online instruction guides, our discovery systems and our digital collections?

Palo Alto Venture Capital firm KPCB recently explored this very issue in their 2012 Internet Trends Report. Some major insights from their report include:

  • Mobile traffic is now 13% of all global Internet traffic, up from just 1% in 2009. In some countries, like India, mobile Internet traffic has surpassed desktop traffic.
  • Almost 1/3 of US adults own a tablet or e-reader
  • Together, iOS and Android are 45% of the OS market share, vs. 35% for Windows
  • The install base of Tablets + Smartphones will surpass PCs + Notebooks this year

But one trend that stands out in KPCB’s analysis is that of the Asset-Light generation. A long-form definition can be found via a very Asset-Light resource: Quib.ly. But to put it more succinctly, being asset-light means your lifestyle is one less reliant on physical commodities and personal know-how, but instead, relies on cloud and crowd-sourcing just about everything. You don’t carry around notepads, you don’t buy maps, you don’t rely on “experts” for medical advice or which movie to see next. Asset-lighters, meet their needs by streaming, connecting and sharing.

From KPCB’s perspective, this is quite important in terms of where the web is heading. Some notable examples relavent to libraries include: MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Amazon Textbook Rental and of course, good-ole Wikipedia.

So, socially, we’re moving toward a very different economy and radically different means of information distribution, especially when it comes to learning.

Add to this, two major and imminent innovations and you will get a glimpse at just how different the world will be in only 5 years:

  1. Wearable devices, especially eyeware will give people the ability to navigate the Internet by voice command, gesture and all through lenses fixed to their faces. Status: Google Glasses are expected to enter the market in early 2013 and Apple won’t be far behind.
  2. Artificially-intelligent agents will not quite resemble HAL from 2001, but be very capable of understanding your vocal commands and then ferreting quite reliable answers to your questions or carrying out mundane tasks, like creating appointments or sending messages for you. Status: Did you see IBM Watson slaughter Jeopardy’s world champions or used SIRI on your iPhone?

So, the way we gather information and where we go to get it is already changing. And the interfaces are already being revolutionized and that pace will accelerate dramatically over the next 5 years as voice and sight overtake the the very impractical and immobile keyboard…even the touchscreen may be reduced to the point where iPads seem like a whimsical dead-end much like 8 track or Beta tapes.

All of these changes will have an immediate effect on the core of our current Internet paradigm: the Web Page.

Text and links with a smattering of images have been the key content types of of web pages since Tim Berners Lee first formulated the WWW. Mobile devices have changed all that. Not only do they steer away from typical web interfaces in favor of “apps,” they actually de-link parts of the web from each other. The result, in most cases is a much more curated and manageable Internet.

And this is important for libraries, whose pages are almost hard-wired around interconnecting pages together in rather daunting tangles of hyperlinks, portals and gateways. Unfortunately, this paradigm is increasingly less relevant to today’s devices and today’s Asset-lighters, who expect a web page to cut through the clutter and get them the answer. In fact, they want an app to do the heavy-lifting for them.

And add to this, semi-intelligent software agents and a re-conceived commercial Internet based around voice and sight and you can see how much work libraries have ahead of them.

The users 5 years from now that enter our libraries’ virtual spaces, will expect a curated, largely automated experience. Already, we see this on the ground where incoming students are completely beside themselves in the antiquated library environment. One recent Facebook post on my library’s newsfeed noted: “The Library has a website?”

Another telling anecdote: One colleague of mine defined her job as teaching people to fish. I then asked: How many people actually go fishing anymore. Fishing to them is dropping by the supermarket. Full-stop.

The world is just getting too complicated for people to be expected to take the time to find information on their own. Information will continue to be a commodity, yes. Information will continue to badger the human mind. But AI servants and wildly different means of gathering information, will mean that single individuals will never have to tackle almost any information problem alone. The crowd, the bots and the apps will do the fishing.

And the web page will be like Matrix code that few ever need to concern themselves with. Get ready…

Below the Microsoft Surface

Silverlight required to get product info: #FAIL

Coming back from Thanksgiving with my family, I came across a Microsoft Surface demo in the airport. Normally, I would have dismissed it immediately, the same way you might dismiss suggestions about trying a new dish at Chipotle after that first, stale burrito you had on your initial visit. But, I was trapped in airport limbo for 40 minutes, so the Surface seemed like a good way to pass some time.

Microsoft’s new tablet is really a new spin on the laptop, which, if you’re like me and need to create more than you consume online, is a much better solution than the typical Android or Apple tablet. That is, Microsoft kept the keyboard in mind when looking for their much required business strategy. Unfortunately, the new tablet does not come equipped with the full-blown Windows 8 OS, which seems like a big, bad burrito. That won’t come until after Xmas (did someone say missed opportunity here?).

Anyway, I was impressed, generally. Of course, we’re still talking Windoze, so the experience was fraught with so many error messages and OS-fails, that even the woman giving the demo seemed annoyed. But is still had enough new takes on what is now an old market (for tablets), that I had to give Microsoft some credit.

The most telling experience, though, came after the demo when I was asked to take a brief survey. The questions just said it all:

  • What would you buy before seeing the Surface/after seeing the Surface? (Apple)
  • Did you consider MSFT an innovative company before seeing the Surface? How about now? (If you have to ask, the answer is no)

But at least they woke up to the bleakness of their market position to even start asking these questions and try to change things, albeit soooooo late. On the train back from the airport, a fellow passenger and I discussed the Surface. He noted that MSFT is opening retail shops beside Apple Stores in shopping malls across the country. When I mentioned this to a colleague at work, he laughed, mentioning that he’d seen one of these shops. Apparently the Apple Store was jam-packed, while the MSFT store went ignored.

For now, at least, people will get their tacos from the place with the fresh ingredients.

Apple is the New Enemy

I was pretty shocked by the jury verdict that allowed Apple to assert proprietorship over things like pinch zoom and icon design in their proxy war with Google via Samsung. Apparently, others are too. Slate urged us to imagine the state of our world had a single car company been allowed to claim rights to the design of the steering wheel, forcing all others to create different means for directing a vehicle. Never mind if the steering wheel was the most obvious, best design. Had a single auto manufacturer been allowed to patent the steering wheel, all others would be using levers, knobs and joysticks for cars and the auto market would effectively be captured by a single company that filed its patent first.

Watching TED tonight, I saw this reality check on where patent law has brought us. Take a look:

Future is More than just Mobile

Prediction season is upon us. We’re coming up on 02012, and prepping for my library’s 6 month review of our annual plan. So, why not a few thoughts on the future of libraries?

Obviously annual plans only look a year out and so immediate technologies are top of mind in that particular document: mobile, Quick Response Codes (QRC’s), location-based services (LBS) and eBooks, to name a few. But I’m a far-focused futurist, so allow me to indulge that perspective as I consider the future of libraries and what we’re doing at DePaul University’s Libraries.

Let’s start with mobile. This is a hot topic among librarians, but few understand that the long-term mobile story is just getting started. In just a few years, brands such as Android and Apple will offer the truly killer app of mobile technology: Google Goggles and iShades. And when that happens, those augmented reality devices will dwarf the techno-social impacts the Internet has stirred thus far.

Think back to when Bill Clinton began heralding the age of the Information Super Highway back in the mid-1990s. Readers of Mondo2000, that shining, but short-lived Silicon Valley technobabble magazine (before there was Wired!), will recall its pages filled with dreams of global social uprisings spawned by the freeing of information from the oppressive clutches of the physical world. Anything would be possible…perhaps, gulp, a psychedelic, neo-anarchistic Utopia that would make Occupy Wall Street shudder!

Mondo2000 and the Clintonians had big ideas and many have come true in one way or another. But nowhere in that vision was mobile.

Fast forward to 02012 and mobile is changing the Internet once again. We hear about “responsive design” for our websites that take the mobile view as the starting place and build out from there. We hear about mobile reference services. QRC’s in the stacks. Mobile-friendly knowledge management services embedded in our web services.

But this is near-focused planning that, by 02022, will prove as naive as Mondo2000’s 01991 musings on Mandelbrot fractals that will one-day synch with your CD Player!

Google Goggles and iShades will be about taking the Internet and laying it over the physical landscape: Your street, your friends, your sports, your own person and, yes, your libraries. Information formerly at your fingertips, will now be on your eyeballs, on demand, curated to your personal, social and professional history with relevancy also weighted by your actual location. And I might emphasize, that physical location itself will be embedded with a history of FAQs built up by previous Killroys that stood there before you.

So, you might ask, if I’ve got Wikipedia, Yelp, Google and Angry Birds super-imposed over my world, why do I even need a library in my town or university?

Let’s be honest, many people will not. Quasi-intelligent web services (akin to today’s forerunners like IBM’s Watson and Apple’s Siri) will be able to field most public library-type questions, basing their answers on all the kinds of data curation variables listed above. Information commons will also be made redundant for most people as software moves to web versions that you can manipulate in the air just in front of your physical body. And books…give me a break. Print…and text for that matter…will soon be confined to a narrow set of use cases. Video, web-demos and avatar instructors will be the new medium of most communication in the world of Augmented Reality. And I would add, web pages will be as antiquated in 02022 as the yellow pages are in 02012.

But all this said, the library will still have a role, some of it fulfilling its traditional mission of bringing information to those without the means or skills to access it on their own. And let’s face it, we are moving into a world of reduced resources and scaled-back prosperity; a world that will need to go through some painful transitions in how it supplies affordable energy, right down to affordable calories for those 7+billion human engines going viral on Spaceship Earth. So, there will be no shortage of people requiring a central technology and information access point…that place we will call the library.

But new services will also be core to their work. Despite a more humble economic outlook, the world of 02022 and beyond will hardly be standing still. Technological change will be accelerating and with it, there will be pressure for even extraordinary people to cope. Enter the techbrarian: an expert in emerging devices, web services and information resources whose job it will be to train students, business people and the general public on how to keep up with the dizzying changes hurdling us into Tomorrow.

At DePaul’s Libraries, we’re laying the groundwork for this Age of Augmentation (and disruption). QRC’s are our starting point, even though they are really just a bridge technology like the Prius is to Electric Vehicles and the Walkman was to the iPod. Layering our stacks with those distorted crossword-puzzle-looking codes is akin to assigning a URI to a physical location, which is a baby-step toward augmented reality.

Our plan comes in three initial phases, starting with creating QRC access points to reference services, leading to integration of our LibGuide Research Guides with relevant sections of our stacks and then on toward taking the QRCs outside the library to other locations around campus. Eventually, we envision applying this technology to allow users to check out computer terminals and reserve rooms.

But QRCs are small potatoes. Ultimately, we envision taking the URI’s assigned to physical locations and generating augmented reality services. Imagine walking into our library with your iShades on and being able to instantly identify available rooms based on green indicators super-imposed over our library doors. Imagine being able to have a virtual chat with a reference librarian/machine whose avatar appears in a window hovering over the rare book you are examining…a librarian who can see what you see on the page and help you understand the nuances of the book’s illustrations. Imagine coming in to the library broke and confused, but with an urgent information need that requires you to visit the sub-surface oceans of Ganymede to understand the recently discovered xenocology swimming in all that Jovian brine.

Welcome to DePaul’s Libraries of 02022! This is your techbrarian speaking: Check out the latest in augmented eyeware, sit back and prepare for liftoff!