Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Writing to Microsoft

by alec on August 29, 2007

After a long battle last night with my Windows Vista PC I got up this morning and saw that Computerworld is reporting that one in six new laptops sold in the US is a Mac.  It touched a nerve, so much so that I sat down and penned this piece of email to senior managers at Microsoft.

UPDATE: Within minutes of mailing this, I got a speedy reply from Jeff.  Fabulous!  Within 45 minutes I had mail back from Steven Sinofsky as well, explaining the steps they were taking to address these issues.  Application compatibility and the video subsystem are two areas they're focused on at the moment, he told me. 


From: Alec Saunders
Sent: August-29-07 9:54 AM
To: Steve Ballmer; Jeff Raikes; Steve Sinofsky

Subject: regarding Windows Vista

Steve, Jeff and Steve…

I am writing you both because I know you from my days at Microsoft from 1992 to 2001.  And to put what I’m about to say in context, I have been a Windows PC user since Windows version 1.02, and my home is stuffed full of PC’s, networks and servers… all running Windows – XP, Vista, Home Server.  I worked on the launches of MS-DOS 6, MS-DOS 6.2, Windows 3.1, WFW, NT 3.1, NT 3.51, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows CE, Windows 98 SE, and Windows ME before leaving the company.  I’m a self-professed geek and will willing put up with a lot of pain in order to have the latest technology as well. 

Now that you have the context for who I am, I want to tell you that I am seriously losing faith.  My experience with Windows Vista has been a rank disaster.  At this point, I believe it to be worse than Windows 98, which many consider to be the worst quality Windows product that Microsoft ever released.  Specifically:

1. Driver quality is low.  The ATI graphics card I have installed in my PC regularly causes a spontaneous reboot.  My HP scanner doesn’t have a supported driver anymore. 

2. Partner software quality is even worse.  For example, over the weekend I installed Sony’s software for the HDR-SR1 (their new high definition camcorder) and lived through a series of spontaneous reboots.  On one PC I was able to do a system restore.  On another, uninstall worked.  However, at this point I am simply unable to retrieve or view video files from that Camera, as they are all recorded in the new AVCHD format.

3. The OS quality is also low.  Subsystems sometimes stop working for no reason.  The PC I have printers attached to simply decides not to print, periodically.  Then the print spooler on all of the other Vista PC’s attached to it simply stops and has to be manually restarted.

4. Microsoft software hasn’t been fully tested on Vista either.  I use Foldershare, quite a bit, which works intermittently.  My Windows Live OneCare software sometimes works and sometimes not… on some PC’s and not others.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say it’s no surprise to me that one of the top stories on Techmeme this morning is that one in six new laptops are Macbooks, and not Windows.  I myself have seriously looked at abandoning my investment in Windows. My Macintosh owner friends encourage me to do so, and don’t seem to have the same kind of trials with PC’s that I do.  They appear to be able to just open them, use them, and put them away.  Parents I know are opting to buy their children Mac’s, apparently because it relieves them of the need to be IS manager for the home. 

The driver, Microsoft software and OS quality issues are Microsoft’s alone. However, the partner quality issue is an evangelism and certification issue.  It seems, from where I sit, that the evangelism effort that the Windows 95 launch team undertook was not matched by the Windows Vista launch team. 

This issue impacts me daily.  I spend at least an hour a day fixing PC problems, whether on my tablet PC in my office, or at home.  I can’t continue this way, and if I can’t I would imagine a lot of other customers can’t either.




A New Brunswick Travelogue

by alec on August 29, 2007

Ten days, over 4,200 kilometers traveled, and nearly 50 hours behind the wheel.  That was my experience from Friday the 17th of August to Sunday the 26th.  Janice had been talking about taking the family to the east coast of Canada for a vacation for several years. We finally did it, traveling from Ottawa to Quebec City, and from there through New Brunswick to the beach town of Shediac on the Northumberland Strait.

Along the way we visited the spectacular Montmorency Falls in Quebec City.  Taller than Niagara Falls, these were also the site of English General Wolfe's encampment from where his successful assault on Quebec City was launched in 1759.  The remains of the earthen works are still visible in a park beside the falls.

montmorency falls panorama

We ate dinner Friday night at Cafe Resto le Hobbit, with dessert at Tutto Gelato.  Both highly recommended.  Eighteen year old Chris, ever the adventurous eater, ordered sweetbreads in a grape sauce at the Hobbit, accompanied by a Blanche de Chambly belgian-style white beer and gave them a big thumbs up. 

While in Quebec City, we also visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, including the crypt below.  The history of Quebec (and thus the early history of Canada) is written in the names inscribed on the tombstones.  The kids were disappointed that it wasn't creepier down there, but it did have these lovely bronze doors commemorating the life of Monseigneur Laval, first Bishop of Quebec.

laval doors no flash

While in Quebec City we also toured the Citadel (home of Canada's Van Doos infantry), the old town, and the walls of the city.  Quebec City is the only North American walled city north of Mexico. The walls give it a very medieval feel.  Below is the St. John Gate, on the western edge of the old city.

st. john gate

Five hours north from Quebec City, over the border into New Brunswick, you come to the the town of Grand Sault on the mighty St. John River.  Famous for the Grand Sault cataract, and the St. John Gorge, it makes a spectacular short hike.

grand sault dam St. John Gorge

Escaping from the rain that poured down on us in Grand Sault, we drove three hours east to the coast of New Brunswick, and the tiny village of Shediac.  On the Northumberland Strait, Shediac has warm water for swimming, a beautiful sandy beach at Parlee Beach, and provides easy access to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Maine in the United States.

Dinner that night was at l'Auberge Gabriele restaurant.  Fabulous seafood, albeit a little pricey. 

We had rented a cottage on Parlee Beach, which claimed to be able to sleep 10.  Perhaps a family with 8 infants, but not our boisterous bunch.  The next morning Janice checked out the neighborhood, and we were lucky enough to be able to rent this pretty little place, and get a full refund on our other cottage. 


We spent an afternoon at Fundy National Park. The Bay of Fundy, which splits New Brunswick from Nova Scotia, has the worlds highest tides.  The afternoon when this photograph was taken, the tide was on the way out, beaching all of the fishing boats in the town of Alma. 

boats at Alma

more boats

You can walk far far out into the Bay on the rocks and mud of the exposed sea floor.  This photograph was taken looking back at the village of Alma, at low tide. 

alma beach

And if you're very lucky, you might spot a great blue heron in flight across the bay.


Further south in Fundy National Park is an area called Wolfe's Point, with a spectacular natural harbour.  In the photograph below, the gravelly spit extending into the center of the picture is the the site of a former pier.  At one time, boats would come in from the open sea, tie up at the pier, and take on cargoes of wood to be taken to market.

point wolfe

Further upstream the inlet narrows…


… and ultimately takes to you to a covered bridge, above wooden pilings which are all that remain of the saw mill that was once located at this site.

covered bridge

As amazing as Fundy National Park is, to the north you find Kouchibouguac — another park — with a completely different ecosystem.  Kouchibouguac is a place of small tidal variation, sand dunes, beautiful beaches, and all kinds of wildlife in and around the water. An enormous sand spit, it's the perfect place to build a castle…

 2007 8 24 New Brunswick Vacation 048

… or laze in the sun on the beach among the dunes.

 2007 8 24 New Brunswick Vacation 046

Travelling further east brings you over the Confederation Bridge, to Prince Edward Island.  In North Rustico, on the far side of the island, we chartered a fishing trip with Aiden's Deep Sea Fishing.  On the docks in North Rustico, you can find abundant evidence of the island's fishing industry.

 2007 8 24 New Brunswick Vacation 066

We went fishing for cod and mackerel, and in a few hours brought back a small haul to eat at home.  I had no idea that fresh cod could be so tender and delicious.

Chartering one of these boats is a pretty easy way to go fishing.  The crew does just about everything except set the hooks for you, right down to baiting hooks, landing fish and cleaning and filleting the catch as you head back to land.  What do you think that flock of gulls trailing the boat is looking for?

cleaning fish

And that, of course, leaves you all kinds of time to photograph lighthouses…


… other fishing boats leaving the harbour…

boat leaving harbour

.. and other fishing boats tied up in the harbour.

harbour scene

Just six kilometers from North Rustico is the fabeled Anne of Green Gables cottage.  Over the protests of the boys, we went there… for their mothers sake.  This is a major tourist attraction, with an attractive period home and gardens. It takes about an hour to see everything, and perhaps 45 minutes more to walk some of the trails through the woods.

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While in PEI it makes sense to take in any of the Lobster Suppers offered.  Originally started as fund raisers for churches, they've become massive feeding stations for starving tourists.  New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, where we ate, has been known to feed as many as 1200 people in an evening.  Fresh lobster plus unlimited pails of mussels and delicious desserts is certainly hard to take.

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After dinner, we got a quick tour of the lobster "pound"… rooms full of storage tanks capable of storing up to 20,000 pounds of lobster in various shapes and sizes. 

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At the south end of the Bay of Fundy, sandwiched between St. John and the Maine border there a series of small towns and villages doing double duty as resorts and fishing towns. On thursday, through pouring rain and fog, we made the three hour trip to St. Andrews-by-the-sea to catch a whale watching trip with Quoddy Link.  We chose them specifically because they had an enclosed catamaran and the weather reports were iffy.  In addition, with two naturalists aboard (Danielle has a blog here with some great photos), there were plenty of experts to question.

We set out in the fog to head further out into the Bay, where Quoddy's spotter boat had been tracking several finback whales all morning.


The fog cleared, and soon we came upon the whales.  The finback is the second largest whale in existence, after the blue whale, and averaging 73 tons in weight.  Close in to the boat, the finback whales were remarkable to see, surfacing and blowing every few minutes in their hunt for food.  This part of the Bay of Fundy attracts a large population of sea l

ife because of the abundance of herring and other food, to support these incredible creatures.


In addition the finback, the Bay also supports a population of porpoises (we saw several), minke and humpback whales (we saw none on our trip).  We did however, visit a colony of seals resting on exposed rocks…


… spot four bald eagles…


… and more lighthouses.

lighthouse 2

lighthouse 3

On the way back we paid a visit to the Oven Head Smokehouse where we grabbed a couple of pounds of beautifully smoked atlantic salmon.  Cold smoked over maple, this is a real delicacy.

At the north end of the Bay of Fundy, where the tides are the highest, there are some spectacular rock formations called the Hopewell Rocks.  Accessible at low tide, you can walk on the exposed beaches and explore the "flower pots" and "arches" and other formations.  It's like walking in some kind of bizarre alien landscape.

 hopewell 5

 hopewell 1

hopewell 3

hopewell 4

Also at the north end of the Bay of Fundy, you can find the ruins of the historic Fort Beausejour / Fort Cumberland, where the French defended New Brunswick from the English, and after their defeat, where the English organized the infamous deportations of the Acadians, leading pockets of French speaking people throughout North America, including the Cajun culture in New Orleans.

Throughout the trip we were ably guided by the Escort c550 (made by Garmin) GPS, there and back. Having never been east of Montreal, I decided to buy a GPS before we left.  The c550 was easy to use, inexpensive, and mostly accurate.  Recommended… especially if you have to travel 4200 kilometers in just 10 days.  There's no time to be lost.


Belated news: Jajah launches in Canada

August 29, 2007

One last bit of unfinished business from last week was this announcement from Jajah — they've now officially launched the service in Canada, which means that we Canucks can pay for it with our own money rather than the greenback…. amongst other things.  Shaherose Charania, the marketing person responsible for this, is an expat Canadian […]

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