Results tagged “windows”

The Decade-Long Campaign to Lock Down Your Computer

May 29, 2012

This month's Wired magazine includes a milestone I'm incredibly excited about: My first published print column! You can read Safe In Its Shell, my exploration of the long history of introducing software lockdown mechanisms to mainstream computer operating systems. I keyed on the Gatekeeper feature in Apple's upcoming version of OS X which locks down which applications can run on your computer, and how it uses a method that was first broadly described by Microsoft as part of its Trustworthy Computing efforts a decade ago.

I'm happy with how the piece came out (I've never worked with an editor before!) but I thought that, before I republish the piece on my own site, I'd share some of the key resources that I found valuable in understanding the ideas which informed by column.Put another way, if that column were a movie, these are the DVD extras.

Microsoft's History With Palladium

Microsoft's "Palladium" effort to begin providing a framework for software security that was controlled by the software behemoth inspired an immense amount of controversy from the moment it was announced. Some key resources:

The blowback to the Palladium announcement in 2002:

Lots of folks took exception to Palladium's announcement. Some highlights from the time:

Apple resources on Gatekeeper

Meanwhile, Apple's rollout of Gatekeeper has been very deliberate, and fairly low-key:

"Advanced features in OS X already help protect you from malware no matter where you download apps. Gatekeeper brings you even more security options — and even more control. For maximum security, you can install and run only apps from the Mac App Store. You can choose to install and run apps from the Mac App Store and apps that have a Developer ID. Or you can install all apps from anywhere, just as you can today. You can even temporarily override your setting by Control-clicking, and install any app at any time. Gatekeeper leaves it all up to you."

"I have a personal flaw in the form of a small conspiracy theorist who lives in my head. He worried that this may have been created as just a temporary stepping stone — like Rosetta for the Intel transition, or Carbon for the OS 9 to OS X transition — and that one day, the Mac App Store-only option might still be enforced.
But I can’t find it in me to disparage this goodwill effort that Apple has undertaken to not turn every third-party developer upside-down with regard to app distribution. To me it’s a great sign that they’re aware and at some level sympathetic to our concerns, while remaining committed to a high-security experience for users."

SmartScreen in Windows 8:

Finally, the new SmartScreen features in the upcoming Windows 8 bring the whole thing full circle:

This first Wired column was a great experiment for me in learning how to write without hyperlinks, but I'm enjoying the process greatly and hope that sharing some of the links behind the piece make it even more interesting.

Flags, Windows, Lucky Numbers and Hidden Mickeys

May 21, 2009

Another new version of Windows is nearly upon us, as Microsoft will release Windows 7 later this year. Vista was greeted with probably a few too many jeers, which in the tech industry means Windows 7 will probably be greeted with a few too many cheers as compensation. I've used it for a while, and Windows 7 is fine or even great if you like Windows, and will not be fine if you don't. But I found some interesting points in the initial marketing materials that are starting to become visible across the web.

Windows 3.1 flag logoMicrosoft's gradual design evolution from Windows 3.1-era "What's design?" to XP-era "We're trying our best!" has graduated with Windows 7 into the first visual design touches that are thoughtful, clever, and perhaps even witty. It starts with the logo and promotional graphics for the new version.

There's been a (likely-unplanned) public reveal of the branding around the new release thanks to a site called Windows Lounge. Staying true to Microsoft's uncomfortably awkward corporate culture, the Windows Lounge site is a standalone one-page website that features a YouTube video and some text instructions, all designed to get Microsoft employees to join a Facebook group where they can talk privately about what's planned for the new Windows release. Yes, they're using Google's video service and a private Facebook group to have a conversation that, being aimed at Microsoft employees only, could take place on their own intranet. But I'm not judging that part!

windows-7-green Instead, look at the clever "7" graphic I've included here, which I cropped from one of the Microsoft promo sites. It's clear and simple, like the "7" name itself — no inscrutable "XP", no overly-broad "Vista", just a version number like software used to have in the olden days. Sure, the overdone lens flare gives it a little bit of that I'm-blinded-by-your-brilliance presumptuousness that made squinting my way through the otherwise-delightful new Star Trek movie a little painful. But overall? It's as good a job as any logo Microsoft's done, and it maybe even suggests a > greater-than sign, subtly indicating that this new product represents an actual improvement over whatever version of Windows you're enduring now.

But the moment of delight in truly pleasing designs comes in the reveal, in the sense of discovery that maybe there's something unexpected or unexpectedly familiar in a graphic. It's that moment of FedEx arrows and hidden Mickeys. Which hit me when looking at the familiar Windows flag logo. What if we take this new 7 logo and overlay it on that old standby Windows flag? We get something like this:


Hey, that's pretty cool! It's not perfect, probably as the result of some hand-tuning of the 7 logo. But to take a familiar icon like the Windows flag and use an element of it in a new way — that's a step forward for Microsoft's visual design efforts in terms of thoughtfulness and care. It even echoes the simple, understandable branding of the new platform itself, which uses a lucky number to try to get back some of that feeling (now almost completely forgotten) of when people used to be curious and excited about new Windows releases. You can imagine exactly how they'd animate this luminescent logo in an advertisement, without even having to see it done — that kind of evocative immediacy has rarely characterized any past Microsoft design efforts.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the larger corporate culture at Microsoft outside of groups like the Zune team is largely indifferent to design, except where it's actively and aggressively anti-design. Take the official corporate logos page on the company's press site. It features the usual array of Microsoft, Office and Windows logos, along with other smaller products and whatever the hell the Forefront/System Server mesh-typhoon thing is supposed to be. (It's a logo that screams "this product is not for people who like having sex!") But then there's that familiar Windows flag, in large and small versions, laid out however you might want it.

The small version is basically the same as the Windows 7 logo you see above. And the big version, designed for print editors to use in their publications? It looks like this. You can almost hear the folks who were just celebrating their success with the 7 logo sighing and shaking their heads when you click on that link.

How To Get Windows

December 30, 2008

If you'd like to open up the package for your licensed copy of Microsoft Windows Vista, you only need to follow these three helpfully-illustrated steps.

Vista package

"The Windows Vista box opens with a swing-out section that holds your DVD and manuals. The box has two security seals that need to be cut or removed before it can be opened." The first time I opened a copy of Windows Vista Ultimate, it took me a solid 5 minutes to figure out how to do it without breaking the box.

Fanboys Are Stupid, But You Are Not

November 2, 2007

Phew! A warm welcome to my regular readers, now that I've had the misfortune of being visited by the worst of the rest of the web's audience. I should have known that writing anything even mildly critical of Apple, or anything that appeared to be a Mac-vs.-Windows post would have brought the idiocy, but even my jaded expectations couldn't anticipate how stupid things got after I mentioned that I didn't like smugness, as typified by an icon.

Some highlights from the rest of the web, in response to the post:

  • A nice How-To from Engadget, for people who want to switch out that icon on their Macs running OS X 10.5. Ryan Block also sent me a really nice email about my post, which was not only flattering but made me realize he probably knows exactly what it's like to be in front of a fanboy shitstorm and can see one coming a mile away.
  • An amusing take from Fake Steve Jobs, which I particularly appreciated because Dan Lyons was being a mensch after I vented about his dissing of blogs when he was first outed. And I wouldn't want to be perceived as a negative person; Negative people upset me. Of course, his comments probably set the record for the race to the bottom -- this guy called me "Anal" in the very first comment, which usually takes at least four or five comments. I'd have thought this guy was in my junior high school, given how quickly he went to that tired-ass taunt, but since he's almost fifty years old, according to his profile, he probably did not. (Honorable mention to this kid from Brooklyn, who figured I must work in a call center, because I'm Indian. GET IT?!)
  • Significantly more satisfying is Chris Owens' response, which includes his own custom icon that does exactly what I'd thought OS X should do -- use a variation of the Boot Camp logo to represent Windows. Consistent, still slightly deprecating (pulls all the color out of the Windows logo, and rotates it so there's a cleverly dismissive negative-space "X", but doesn't actually go for the Calvin-pees-on-your-logo gag) but overall very sensible.
  • A couple of actual Windows pundits weighed in, Paul Thurrott and Ed Bott. I said in my post, "I'm just pretty consistent in my assessments of technology", but what I should have said is that I try to do that. Part of the reason is because being a Windows fanboy is as awkward and ugly as being a Mac fanboy is sneering and arrogant. Yuck.
  • And then in my own comments, the world's most compelling argument for getting rid of anonymity on the web. There's a couple of dozen "get a life" comments, paired with an equal number of appeals asking me to get a sense of humor. (Hey, I'm the goatse guy! Mr. Lolcat) There are the expected number of people who didn't read the post, accusing me of either being a Mac or Windows partisan (I use both.). From there to Dennis adding a comment that says, in its entirety, "dick", followed by guys masquerading as Steve Jobs (predictable), Steve Ballmer (unsurprising), and Osama Bin Laden (what the fuck?), things get increasingly disturbing.

What I learned is that I have really thick skin -- the personal attacks, even the couple of emails saying I should be the victim of violence for my feelings about icons, didn't really bother me at all. What can I say, I guess I'm just used to stupidity on the Internet. If the traffic from an Engadget post isn't enough to bring the stupid, then that post getting on Digg's homepage will do the trick.

But what I did find disheartening is being reminded just how many people don't even try to think about or rethink their preconceptions. They'd picked teams on this completely meaningless debate ages ago, and are still spending time fighting some war that will never be won. I can be kind of bothered by it, shrug my shoulders, get over it, and move on, and they'll be off to the next thread or the next article looking to restate their same completely unconsidered opinion, in the same words, but maybe just a little bit more shrill. All this despite the fact that the general is not at war. I wish I had contact info for more of them -- I want to understand them at an anthropological level. Was mom's cooking tonight lousy? Did the Xbox get a red ring? Was that Facebook poke just there to mock you? What was it, son, that made you want to click from Digg to Engadget to my blog just to say say "BSOD??! I thought it was teh [sic] Vista spalsh [sic] screen.. But seriuously.. [sic] get a life. Compalining [sic] about this is so anally retentive, so MS."

And these guys miss really obvious stuff. I'd assumed that, as soon as I put a photo of myself looking like a deadly serious member of a boy band on the top of my blog, people would know that I was kind of mocking my self-importance a little bit. Not so. There's lots of comments about "you have a picture of yourself in a pink shirt trying to look all serious on your blog!" I find it comforting to think that at least you, my regular readers, know that I'm making fun of myself.

Now, who should I piss off next?

Telling the Backup Story

March 21, 2007

This is one of those "how to market a product effectively" examples that's been kicking around in my brain for a while, I thought I'd share it. About half a decade ago, Microsoft implemented a technology called Volume Shadow Copy, which maintains old versions of your files (or the difference between the current version of a file and its past revisions) so that you can restore past states for a file if it gets corrupted or deleted.

It's a smart, automatic way of doing backup, and takes smart advantage of the fact that disk storage space is so cheap. The user interface for enabling Volume Shadow Copy on a Windows 2003 machine looks something like this:

Microsoft's Time Machine

In the upcoming Leopard version of OS X, Apple has introduced a similar feature. In Apple's case, it's called "Time Machine" instead of "Volume Shadow Copy". And while I strongly recommend that you check out the Apple's own marketing for the feature, you can probably tell the whole story from the screenshot of Apple's implementation of the same feature:

Apple Time Machine

Now, the whole starry-background thing is way over the top, to the point that it's off-putting. But Apple will get credit for innovation for a feature that Microsoft shipped almost half a decade ago. And they'll deserve it.

Names Behind the New Face of Windows

November 7, 2006

Windows Vista's astoundingly long beta period is winding down (they just sent out the "what did you think of the beta?" surveys to testers), which means a whole wave of analyses of the new user interface is about to be unleashed.

Windows Interface Guidelines Amongst the hand-wringing over the choice of colors and animations, and the inevitable kvetching about the need for new video cards, it's worth pointing out the rise of some interesting personalities from within Microsoft. In fact, the most notable thing to learn from Microsoft's recent enormous leaps in the usability and attractiveness of its flagship products is that there actually are personalities at Microsoft.

Take Tjeerd (pronounced "Cheered", as is noted every time his name is mentioned) Hoek, a design director at Microsoft. There's a brief profile of him on the Microsoft Design site (did you know Microsoft had a design site? I didn't.) Having worked his way through various versions of Office from 95 to XP, Tjeerd moved to Windows and became one of the driving forces behind trying to make Vista not just pleasant, but possibly even enjoyable. I think they've done a fairly good job, just based on some admittedly superficial testing of Vista betas. But you might want to take that with a grain of salt given my effusive praise for Microsoft Office 2007 and my earlier kudos for Jensen Harris, who is roughly Tjeerd's counterpart on the Office team.

Caveats aside, take a look at this 2004 Paul Thurrott interview with Tjeerd and Hillel Cooperman:

Hillel: It's a funny thing. It's very easy to look at a company -- and I'm not saying you're doing this, but I did do this -- and see some of the very obvious spots where we could be less boring, less formulaic, or whatever those things are.


Hillel: We make it hard on ourselves because our style is not to push a single personality as the genius behind all of it.

Paul: Are you sure about that? [Laughter]
Hillel: No, when it comes to the UI ... Look, we certainly have a single personality when it comes to the guy that is running the company. But even there, there are a lot of people on stage during keynotes, and it's not just people doing a demo for Bill Gates. I mean, that was my job, but ...

I'm talking about, from the UI perspective, this is a real team effort. The bench that we have around the UI is so exciting, but you're only seeing two of us today. When you come back in April, you have to meet everyone else.

Here's the truth. The reason we've never been great at telling this story is that ultimately, if we have to choose between making it as great a product as possible and getting the story out, we'll always choose the former. We don't really care about the credit. We've only started to care recently because we've realized that it sets the tone for what users expect from the product. So it's not so much that we really care about getting credit, but if we're going to talk about what we're trying to accomplish, the credit goes to a broad group of people.

Another great look at the team's attempts at being more human, not just in the user interfaces they create, but in their interactions with customers outside Microsoft, is in this 2004 Discover article by Steven Johnson.

A growing awareness of the inextricable connection between emotion and cognition sparked Microsoft’s push toward aesthetically pleasing software. For many years their products were the virtual equivalent of the barren cubicle mazes of many modern offices: functional, but devoid of life, of personality. Neglecting aesthetics might have made a kind of cruel sense in an older, assembly-line context, in which work revolved around mindless, repetitive labor. Factory owners didn’t want to inspire creativity among their employees; they wanted to drill it out of them. But the keyboard jockeys of the information age -- precisely the people using Microsoft Windows -- do their best work when they’re rewarded, rather than discouraged, for creativity and mental agility.

I find the parallel between the humanization of Microsoft as a company and Microsoft's software products to be fascinating. Given that Apple is considered (fairly on unfairly) the reference standard for usability and delightful experience, I wonder what impact it will have in the long run that none of the many rank-and-file designers within the company are allowed to speak publicly with their own voices about the work they do. Either way, increasing competition to make software more pleasant can only be a good thing.

Some of my best friends are Mac users

October 23, 2006

Sometimes I just can't resist amusing myself when talking in a public forum. My wife recently got a MacBook, which marks the first time I've ever had a Mac in the house. I actually like Macs, but I find the idiocy of platform wars so heart-warming that I like to troll play the part of a Windows afficionado sometimes.

This leads to unexpected consequences. Today, this story about the iPod's influence on the perception of Apple, especially by non-Mac-users, is linked on the homepage of It features some quotes that make me look like a drooling Bill Gates fanboy, but unfortunately has not yet inspired any real frothing at the mouth by commenters yet.

Here's the best/worst of what I said:

To Dash, the iPod has helped transform his view of Apple “from a company that makes me roll my eyes because of all my zealot friends, to [one] that I buy things from regularly. Albeit begrudgingly.

The truth is, I’ve been around creative people or digital artists my whole life, exactly the people that have always been Mac diehards," Dash said. "And the fact that they acted like zealots was completely off-putting to me. I don’t want a lifestyle change, I just want to use computers!

"The iPod acted as a great gateway drug to Apple usage. It doesn’t require a wholesale change of my daily digital habits, and I don’t have to throw away my experience as a Windows expert—yes, those exist," Dash continued. "The best part is that the iPod can stand on its own merits; I don't have to drink the Steve Jobs Kool Aid to recognize it’s worth having."

Of course, the key here was working in the words "zealots", "Steve Jobs Kool Aid" and worst of all, "Windows expert". If I could have said "Windows just works for me", it would have been a Mac-trolling perfect storm. I should mention, this is all in good spirits. If I can get into PC Magazine on a similar story, I'll be sure to point out how Apple invented all of this 20 years ago. Just to keep everyone happy.

The Windows Apps You Never Need To Install

August 17, 2006

One of the interesting things about being a serious Windows user is that very little attention is paid to efficient users of Windows, and that we suffer from a lot of folklore or misinformation that gets passed around.

Useless Crap

Now, I'm not referring to the alleged power users who like to have every toolbar enabled on every program they use, but more the class of Windows users who are as particular about their operating system as most Mac users are about theirs. I count myself in that group, and I'd say there are roughly as many picky Windows users as there are OS X users.

So, the folklore. Due to the proliferation of anything-goes download sites and word-of-mouth system recommendations from well-intentioned experts such as Your Cousin or That Guy At Best Buy, people do all kinds of stupid things to their Windows machines. Some of this advice might even have been relevant 5 or 10 or 15 years ago, but people still keep blindly following along, and then wondering why using their PC is so unpleasant. (Mac users: This is the same as the Cult of Repair Permissions. It bugs the hell out of me for the same computers-are-not-voodoo reasons.)

All that preface aside, it makes sense to point out some mistakes that I still see even savvy Windows users make, and perhaps convince you to break the habit. Here, then, are Windows applicaitons you should never need to install on your system.

Never Install: WinZip

This one makes me poke my eyes out. Guys who grew up using WinZip on Windows 3.1 are always foisting this on newbie users, who are then doomed to spend the rest of their days clicking on the "please stop making me feel bad" nag button. All they're trying to do is unzip a file -- it's built into Windows! This was something Windows actually got right before the Mac did, and there are still people suffering through the bloated, overbuilt WinZip experience.

If you must extract some of the more esoteric compression formats out there, go get 7-Zip. It's free, open source, supports every common format out there, and doesn't spew links all over the place when you install it.

Never Install: Sketchy Codec Packs

There are tons of bogus codec packs out there for download, which promise to let you play back virtually any media file. What most people find after downloading them is that their media players become permanently brain damaged and they're stuck not being able to play the movie or music they carefully pirated acquired. That sucks. Chris Lanier covered the subject in detail and knows of what he speaks. "If you have not figured it out yet, there is ZERO reason to ever install a Codec Pack."

Again, there are people who need support for less common formats, and again, there's a great free and open source option that won't leave you screwed. The abominably-named ffdshow lets you record or play in almost any format, including DivX and XviD movies.

There are many, many more applications that cause more annoyance or harm than they prevent, but this is a pretty good starting point for most people. Of course, a lot of people would also include Internet Explorer on this list, and there's no reason not to Get Firefox. It's also worth noting that all the recommendations here are free, open source tools, but that's not why I recommended them. They just plain work better.

Discontiguous Extended Selection Fun!

August 8, 2006

One of the most obscure keyboard shortcuts in Windows, Shift+F8 has magical powers. Thanks to Andre for this completely useless pointer.

Would You Like Some Links?

July 20, 2006

I enjoy links myself, so I thought you might want some too. Here, then:

  • Graphs as art: Werner Vogels picks up the site graph meme with some nice visualizations of Amazon and A9.
  • Knowing enough to be dangerous: Bad advice about Windows tweaking, debunked by Dr. Jason, who's never happier than when he's correcting misinformation.
  • The response to the Mumbai bombings has been rather hushed. Both the attacks and the lack of discussion have been on my mind, Sepia Mutiny covers the topic well.
  • And then, finally, Concerning the platinum bitch. I've been meaning to write a post about Khia for about two years; Stephen beat me to it and now I don't have to.