Details matter


Apple pays more attention to the details then anyone else. Sometimes the details they pay attention to are so small, you don’t notice them at all for a long time… but once you see what they’ve done, you can never unsee it, or accept anything less.

Here’s a great example from OS X Yosemite. Compare the two images above. The top is from OS X Yosemite, the bottom from Windows 7. Notice anything? One of these images has much better typography than the other. But can you tell why?

Apple has tweaked the typography in OS X Yosemite so that link underlines skup over the descenders. What’a descender? It’s the little dangling parts on letters, like the tail of the lowercase ‘p’, ‘g’ or ‘y’.

Once you see this small typography tweak Apple made in OS X Yosemite, you can’t unsee it – John Brownlee, Cult of Mac (27 October)

I love this stuff. It’s like the way you can tell when a writer cares or has just knocked a piece out for the cash. Previously I’ve thought this about things like the way Microsoft can’t be bothered to translate all of Windows’ dialogue boxes: you can be working a PC in France and after a few French warnings, there’s an important one in English. I think details matter anyway, always, forever, but when you’re making something that literally millions and millions of people will use and see for eight hours or more every day, details are special.

Read the full piece.

Microsoft releases new Outlook for Mac, says Office coming

I’m not very keen on Outlook but it is a gigantically popular app and it’s good to see it being updated:

Today we are announcing the new Outlook for the Mac, which delivers improved performance and reliability and a fresh look and feel that is unmistakably Microsoft Office. This release offers a more familiar and consistent experience between Outlook on the PC, Outlook on the web and Outlook Web App (OWA) for iPad, iPhone and Android devices.

The new Outlook for Mac includes:

Better performance and reliability as a result of a new threading model and database improvements.
A new modern user interface with improved scrolling and agility when switching between Ribbon tabs.

New Outlook for Mac available to Office 365 customers – Office Blogs

Read the full piece for more about Outlook and the future of Office on the Mac.

Band on the wrist

Microsoft has release Band, a health, er, thing. There’s a Band app for iPhone, Android and Windows phones plus there is an actual band that you wear. It looks a lot like various smart watch-like bracelets I’ve seen people wearing, except this one just feels like Windows:

Tell the truth, you were expecting it to look like this:

Microsoft Health is a new service that helps you live healthier by providing actionable insights based on data gathered from the fitness devices and apps that you use every day. It’s designed to work for you, no matter what phone you have, device you wear, or services you use. Microsoft Health makes tracking personal fitness easier, more insightful, and more holistic.

Microsoft Band, the smart band powered by Microsoft Health – Microsoft Band official site (retrieved 30 October 2014)

Read the full piece and watch videos on the official site.

Microsoft updates OneNote for iOS

I’m an Evernote user so I have little experience of Microsoft’s equivalent but I did work with a guy last week who has the most impressive use of it I’ve seen. And he uses it on a Surface, so it took some impressing. If I weren’t so comfortably settled into Evernote with several gigabytes of data in it, I’d look at OneNote, especially as Microsoft seems to be updating for iOS pretty promptly these days.

Since I don’t use it, here’s someone who knows it better enough to tell you what’s new:

Microsoft has pushed out updates for its OneNote client on both iPhone and iPad, adding support for new features added in iOS 8 and a design that’s optimized for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Users can now password protect sections of documents directly from mobile devices (a feature that used to require a Windows PC). Those with an iPhone 5s or newer will also find that they can now unlock password-protected sections of documents using Touch ID. That feature isn’t mentioned in the iPad change log, so users on the iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 3 might need to wait for a future update to enable it.

Microsoft OneNote for iPhone and iPad updated with iOS 8 support, iPhone 6 design, and more –Mike Beasley, 9to5Mac (28 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

Blimey: Microsoft gives unlimited OneDrive storage

Today, storage limits just became a thing of the past with Office 365. Moving forward, all Office 365 customers will get unlimited OneDrive storage at no additional cost. We’ve started rolling this out today to Office 365 Home, Personal, and University customers.

OneDrive delivers unlimited cloud storage to Office 365 subscribers – Chris Jones, OneDrive Blog (27 October 2014)

It’s only about a heartbeat since they upped the free storage to one terabyte. Read the full piece for who gets this and when.

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The case for ditching Microsoft Office if you have a Mac

Well, I think this is part of the case. It’s a fine enough argument but maybe it’s not stating anything new: Apple’s Pages, Numbers and especially Keynote are in many ways better than Microsoft Word, Excel and especially PowerPoint. For better, I don’t just mean free or that they are installed when you buy a new Mac, I mean actually better.

That’s an easy claim to make when one’s work is not stretching the limits of what word processing, spreadsheets or presentations are doing. Except Keynote vs PowerPoint. That’s a separate argument, less because Keynote is as good as it is and more because PowerPoint isn’t.

But it’s this kind of more-complex, depends-on-your-needs argument that maybe this article from Apple Gazette lacks. But for an otherwise good laying out of the situation, take a look:

For years, Microsoft Office has been the gold standard for productivity software for business. If you took an inventory of the applications on most computers used in the corporate environment, chances are you’d find some version of Word, Powerpoint, and Excel installed on the majority of hard drives. MS Office has gotten so ubiquitous in fact, that it is installed on more than 85% of business workstations worldwide, making it as dominant in the productivity software space as Window is amongst operating systems. Fortunately, Apple has created a viable alternative to Office in the form of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, collectively known as iWork. These apps provide most of the same functionality as Microsoft’s software, but with the simplicity and ease of use that we expect from an Apple product. Here’s iWork is the better software solution for Mac users.

Why Apple’s Productivity Apps Should Replace Microsoft Office for Mac Users – (no byline), Apple Gazette (24 October 2014)

Read the full piece.


Microsoft is launching a smart watch that will help with your fitness, according to Forbes. Maybe it’s just the cheesy photo but I want to look at Microsoft and give them a friendly tilt of my head, a warm moment’s crinkling of my nose. Microsoft is a gigantic, astonishingly gigantic corporation yet it acts like a little kid, “we can do that, we can do it too, in fact we did it first, yeah, no comebacks, to infinity”.

Apple tends to roll up late to a category of product and then just totally change how everybody ever makes that stuff again. (Look at mobile phones before the iPhone and then look at mobile phones after it. It’s equal parts impressive, laughable and a bit depressing how you can spot a massive seachange and pin it down to the single hour when Steve Jobs unveiled that iPhone.)

Whereas Microsoft, not so much. I didn’t know that Microsoft would bring out a smart watch but I should’ve bet. I did read the top of the Forbes article and know this much for certain, for absolute certain: whether it was a leaked report or a formal Microsoft press release, it would still end with information that the company isn’t saying when it will be released or what it will cost. And to think I wasn’t impressed that Apple said “early 2015” for its watch. At least they gave a starting price.

Here’s Forbes, doing its thing:

Microsoft MSFT +2.08% is gearing up to launch a wearable device within the next few weeks, Forbes has learned. The gadget is a smart watch that will passively track a wearer’s heart rate and work across different mobile platforms. It will also boast a battery life of more than two days of regular use, sources close to the project say.

That could put it ahead of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smart watch and Moto 360 which both need to be charged around once a day. The wearable will hit stores soon after launch in a bid to capture the lucrative holiday season, a timeline Apple AAPL +1.46% was reportedly targeting before it delayed its own Watch to early 2015.

Forbes first reported in May that Microsoft was working on a smart watch that drew on optical engineering expertise from its Kinect division, and which would sync with iPhones, Android devices and Windows Phones. It is unclear what Microsoft will name the device, or what it will cost at retail

Microsoft Plans To Launch A Wearable Device Within Weeks – Parmy Olson, Forbes (10 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

Ironically, we miscounted and missed Spreadsheet Day

Well, certainly I did. If you had a party and spent last Friday dancing on pivot tables, you are a far better spreadsheety kind of person than I am. But where it seems as if every day of the year is now a Day of Something, the fact is that you probably just thought yes, there’s bound to be a spreadsheet listing all those days.

Spreadsheets are used for lists, they are used for sorting, they are are used to create the most almighty huge cockups in history. But they are also used for numbers. There isn’t a company in the world that doesn’t have a spreadsheet. Microsoft used to run adverts for its spreadsheet with a strapline that went something like this: “Excel is used in 99% of companies. What are we doing wrong?”

Microsoft Excel is a weird one. Even though it has similar issues to Microsoft Word, it’s also clearly got different DNA. I think that it’s typical Microsoft that the company doesn’t care how one of its major apps works in a different way to another one – look at how you change size of the displayed page on screen – but it’s also a sign that the teams are different. Somehow I like that even as I don’t like it, it’s simultaneously sloppy and individual.

If you think that it’s ridiculous to project individuality and sloppiness onto a piece of software, well, there is nothing I can say to change your mind. Equally, if you’d told me 35 years ago that spreadsheets would become the power they are, it would’ve helped. I’d have invested in VisiCalc.

Sorry? Never heard of VisiCalc? You’ve seen its influence. You’ve felt its influence, both for good and bad.

On this day in 1979, a computer program called VisiCalc first shipped for the Apple II platform, marking the birth of the spreadsheet, a now-ubiquitous tool used to compile everything from grocery lists to Fortune-500 company accounts. And that’s why October 17th is Spreadsheet Day, celebrated by fans of the form.

Behold the awesome power of the spreadsheet, destroyer of worlds – Jason Karaian, Quartz (October 17, 2014)

As I say, before you celebrate by taking the rest of the day off, this 35th anniversary was last Friday. Look at the title of that piece celebrating it, though. Celebrating. With the words ‘destroyer of worlds’ in the title. It’s not as if Karaian is kidding, either. Read the full piece.

Weekend read: Vanity Fair on Microsoft

This is the kind of reporting that gets me back interested in computers: the endless grey boxes and blue screens of death drove my head away into drama and fiction and I’m good with that. But it really is a fascinating world for how it’s an incredibly fast-paced summary of all business issues. Problems come and they topple firms. Today’s right decision is tomorrow’s end of the company.

Quick aside? I once went to some talk or other where the speaker held up Dell as as an example of how to do business brilliantly. That’s a presenter who hasn’t updated his slides in a very long while and who isn’t actually interested in his own topic. Dell was a superb success but it shot itself in the foot and unless his next slide had praised their aim, I knew he didn’t know his stuff.

Back to the point. Vanity Fair has run a rather good piece about Microsoft and specifically about the pretty tumultuous changes it has faced and as yet has failed to conquer. There’s a really nice line in it:

In the old world, corporations owned and ran Windows P.C.’s and Window servers in their own facilities, with the necessary software installed on them. Everyone used Windows, so everything was developed for Windows. It was a virtuous circle for Microsoft. Now the processing power is in the cloud, and very sophisticated applications, from e-mail to tools you need to run a business, can be run by logging onto a Web site, not from pre-installed software. In addition, the way we work (and play) has shifted from P.C.’s to mobile devices—where Android and Apple’s iOS each outsell Windows by more than 10 to 1. Why develop software to run on Windows if no one is using Windows? Why use Windows if nothing you want can run on it? The virtuous circle has turned vicious.

The Empire Reboots – Bethany McLean, Vanity Fair (November 2014)

Do read the full piece. It’s a three-biscuit article and terribly interesting.

The One Where They Probably Don’t Even Remember

Flashback twenty years. Friends has just begun on US television and it is an immediate hit. Now, it would progress from hit to smash to phenomenon (there are very specific rules about which is which) but right then, it was merely a hit. Do you know what else was coming around twenty years ago? Windows 95.

Now, I am a little confused here. Twenty years ago is 1994. Not 95. And I think Windows 95 did just squeak in before the end of 1995 but if so, it really was a squeak. I was the UK launch and I remember it being hosted by Jonathan Ross who made jokes about how the hall had been booked for this event months before.


I also remember being on the press conference call when the name Windows 95 was announced. Up to then, the operating system had been known as Chicago. (I think. Is that tight? Suddenly blank on that bit.) I can remember thinking oh, is that it? That’s rubbish. And then later on getting to use Windows 95 and thinking oh, is that it? That’s rubbish.

Windows 95 had one killer feature and I won’t even pretend to deny that it didn’t. I may dislike Windows 95 but it was better than Windows 3.1. But if you’re going to rip off the Mac’s easy-to-use system, I think it says a gigantic amount about how badly you did it that you need to make instructional videos on how to use your copy. That’s what this becomes, it becomes a guide to what in the hell have you just bought. But the first twenty minutes or so are different.

The first twenty minutes or so are actors Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston being required to not-really play their Friends characters – they very pointedly refer to each by their real names so don’t you go suing Microsoft, whoever owns Friends – and to make some pretty wretched dialogue sound audible. These are two talented people but they’re doing this for money and while you can’t fault struggling actors for that – Friends lasted years but you don’t know that at the beginning – it’d be nice not to see it so plainly.

Mind you, if they had hidden it better, if the script had been better, if this ‘cyber-sitcom’ were funny, maybe we wouldn’t have quite so much fun watching it now.

You won’t make it all the way through. But grab some tea, plonk yourself down and be agog at the Windows 95 Cyber Sitcom starring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry. “Look, Matty, I’m computing!”