Microsoft Photos – Still a Disaster After All These Years

Our local village community organisation – Heelwegs Belang – is holding its annual New Year’s Reception today. I thought that I would make a slide presentation to run continuously during the reception and be displayed on a screen in the village hall.

I thought about what tool I would use to make the presentation; would it be PowerPoint, or something else? Initially, I thought I would try using Microsoft’s new presentation tool Sway. It seemed promising, but I quickly discovered that it requires a permanent connection to the internet to work. Since there is no WiFi in the village hall at the moment, that ruled out Sway from consideration.

Then I realised that the much-maligned (by me and others) Microsoft Photos app now has a so-called “video creation” mode, which can be used to assemble slide presentations, and even put music to them. So I fired up Photos and set about assembling my presentation.

Photos 01

Dear lord, but what a painful experience that proved to be. The Photos app is slow as molasses in this mode, and crashes frequently. The workflow involved in assembling a presentation is primitive – for example, you must apply effects one at a time to each slide; you can’t select a group of slides and apply an effect or effects to the group. So if you want to change the default display time of 3 seconds to, say, 5 seconds – you have to plod through the presentation and change each slide timing individually. Given that “plodding” is the order of the day with the Photos app, I felt I was fighting the app every damn step of the way. Add to that the frequent crashes, and losing the last few minutes of work each time, I was ready to put my fist through the screen at several points.

Frankly, next time, it will be back to PowerPoint. It may be old-school, but at least it works, and does what it says on the tin.

Posted in Computers and Internet, Photography | Tagged | 1 Comment

Facepalm Time Again

I see that Microsoft has at last introduced a much-requested feature into their Photos app for Windows 10. Unfortunately, this being Microsoft, the feature is half-baked and not useful. Let me explain.

With the Fall Creators Update, the Photos app started to be able to recognise faces in photos. There was no way to add names to the faces, or to group photos of the same face together under one name, as we could do in Microsoft’s Windows Photo Gallery 2012, but at least it appeared as though Microsoft was starting down the road to make the Photos app more useful by adding People Tags.

There’s now at last a build (2017.39101.16720.0) of the Photos app released to Windows Insiders that allows you to assign names to faces. However, the names are local to the PC on which they are done, so they reside in the local database of the Photos app, rather than being written back to the file as metadata. That means that the information does not travel with the file. If the file is held in OneDrive, and accessed from another device, the People Tags are not available to that device. The experience is broken. If you want the People Tags to be available on the new device, you have to go through the manual process of adding names to faces again (and again and again on each new device that the files are copied to).

What is truly depressing is that Microsoft helped define a metadata standard for tagging faces in the Metadata Working Group – and that standard has been available since 2010. It’s been implemented in products such as Adobe Lightroom, Photo Supreme and Google’s Picasa, so People tags created in any one of these products travel with the file, and can be read in any of the others.

Here we are in 2018, and Microsoft still hasn’t learned how to build a seamless experience for People Tagging.

And to add insult to injury, the Search facility for descriptive tags is also still broken.

Posted in Computers and Internet, Photography | Tagged | 10 Comments

Cockups on all fronts…

God knows, I need to stop thinking about how much of a disaster Donald J. Trump is, so I suppose this will do nicely… Doesn’t make me feel any better, mind you.

Posted in News and politics | 2 Comments

The Great Work Begins…

The last time I blogged about our Broadband saga was back in September – time for an update.

Back then I wrote that there was good news – the company (the Communications Infrastructure Fund – CIF) financing the rollout of fibre optic cables had announced the green light to financing a further 5,000 FttH (Fibre to the Home) connections this year, which encompass all of the countryside addresses in our municipality (Oude IJsselstreek), plus parts of a further three (Montferland, Doetinchem and Bronckhorst).

However, there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip – Bronckhorst decided that they weren’t going to play ball with CIF, and instead go ahead with their own plan to lay empty ducts, hoping that they can do a deal with KPN (the largest Dutch telecom provider) to put network cables in them. As a result, CIF has rejigged their plan, and now intend to implement 5,670 FttH connections to all countryside addresses in Oude IJsselstreek, Montferland, Doetinchem, and a further small municipality: Doesburg. They’re calling this area “Achterhoek Zuid” (South Achterhoek).

Achterhoek Zuid 2

CIF work together with a cable infrastructure company, COGAS, under the name “Glasvezel buitenaf” and last week, they organised a meeting for local volunteers (“ambassadors”) to give out information about the campaign.

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The campaign starts in earnest in the last week of November, when all 5,670 households will receive information about the project, and invitations to public meetings.

The Great Work Begins…

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Aibo – Mark II

I see that Sony have just announced a new version of Aibo, the robot dog.

I must admit I was rather taken with the first version of Aibo and half-seriously thought about getting one until Sony pulled the plug in January 2006.

This new version looks like a major advance, in that it will be connected to AI services in the cloud to power its learning capabilities. Of course, that probably also introduces all sorts of cybersecurity risks as well, so I hope Sony are prepared for the day when all the Aibos in the world rise up against their owners.

However, I think that if I were to get a second generation Aibo, Watson would not be best pleased, as shown in this test of a first generation Aibo in a Sony laboratory.

I suspect that Watson would make equally short work of an Aibo.

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Temptation

Yesterday I went to Arnhem to listen to a pair of the Kii Three speakers. They were being demonstrated in WiFi Media. They are a new product from a young company, and have had very good reviews in the audiophile press.

I have to admit that the speakers sounded very good. I’ve lived with a pair of Quad ESL57s for forty years (refurbished last year), and the Kii speakers were the first I’ve heard to make me think about a divorce.

I think if the Kiis were Roon Ready, I’d be signing papers. I asked about this, but Thomas Jansen, the Kii product manager, wouldn’t be drawn other than to say it would require a new model of the Kii Control to deliver this (and I’ve since heard that there is a rumour than a new control unit with expanded capabilities is under development).

I should probably sleep on the idea of selling all my Quad kit just at the moment, but I am rather tempted to ask for a home trial…

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Le Roi Est Mort – enfin

Belfiore 01So Microsoft has finally admitted that the Windows Phone (or more precisely, the Windows Mobile operating system) is frozen. And as befitting the times where formal policy statements are apparently no longer issued via press announcements, the news was delivered via a series of tweets from Joe Belfiore.

This may not be quite the same as saying that it’s dead – but that is how the news has been greeted by the technical press and the market. It may not be dead, but it’s certainly on life support, and Microsoft will finally switch it off in the not too distant future. There will be no new Windows Phone hardware, and Microsoft stopped manufacture of its last phones (the Lumia 950 and the Lumia 950XL) back in mid-2016.

The sad and sorry saga of Windows Phone and all the attempts at trying to craft the software and hardware are well covered by Peter Bright in his Ars Technica article.

I’ve been using a Windows Phone since December 2011, and I continue to love it. The user interface is still a joy in comparison with iOS or Android. However, it is undeniable that the market does not love Windows Mobile, and frankly, many of us continue to harbour the suspicion that neither did Microsoft. As Peter points out in his article, there have been fumbles and missteps made.

Up until now I’ve not been bothered by the limited number of apps available for the phone – I’ve always found an app to do what I want.

wp_ss_20171010_0003However, this month my bank has dropped its banking app from Windows 10 Mobile, and I now have to use the web browser to access the internet banking service. I personally find that this is not as good an experience as with the old app. I also am not impressed by the way the bank casually rubs salt into the wound by displaying the “update” button. If you click it, it doesn’t actually deliver an update. Basically, it’s more of a “tough shit” button.

I’ve also noticed a trend that for many new networked devices, they are increasingly reliant on being set up via a smartphone app, rather than via a web browser. And naturally, the app is only available for iOS and Android. Similarly for new services delivered via the internet – if there’s an app, there won’t be a version for Windows 10 Mobile.

So I fully expect that at some point in the (near?) future, there will be a device or service that I need that will force me to acquire an iPhone or Android phone to use it.

I really don’t look forward to that day. My current phone is a Lumia 950, and despite it being no longer manufactured, it still has advantages (to me) over the current range of Apple and Android phones. The camera, in particular, is still outstanding. And I have a spare battery waiting in the drawer for when my current battery runs out of puff. Replaceable batteries in smartphones are a rarity in these days of throwaway consumer goods.

As Peter Bright says in his article:

For now, all we can do is mourn: the best mobile platform isn’t under active development any more, and the prospects of new hardware to run it on are slim to non-existent.

As for me, I switched to an iPhone more than a year ago. Every day, I’m struck at how the main user interface is basically that of Windows 3.1’s Program Manager, and iOS 11 has been fantastically unstable for me. I don’t enjoy iOS in the way I enjoyed Windows Phone. But it’s actively developed, and third-party developers love it, and, ultimately, those factors both win out over Windows Mobile’s good looks and comfortable developer platform.

I get the distinct impression that Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, is much more focused on the business world and cloud services than on consumer devices.  Windows Phone has just joined Zune, Microsoft Band, the KIN phone, Windows RT, the Surface Mini, and Windows Home Server on the scrapheap.

Addendum: Peter Bright has followed up with an article titled: With the end of Windows on phones, how does Microsoft avoid being the next IBM?

It’s a damn good question. IBM is totally irrelevant these days as far as consumers are concerned. Microsoft seems hell-bent on heading the same way. In ten years time, will people be asking: Windows? What is Windows?

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