Windows 8 Activation Process

For anyone whose Windows 8 OEM or MSDN installation fails to activate with a “DNS does not exist” error, you can solve the problem fairly easily by retriggering Microsoft’s activation process by doing the following:

  1. From the Start screen, press Win+R to get to the traditional desktop and bring up the run dialog.
  2. Type cmd and press enter.
  3. Once running, right-click the taskbar icon and select “Pin this program to taskbar.”
  4. Once pinned, right-click the icon again, and then right-click the “Command Prompt” menu item, and select “Run as administrator” from that menu.
  5. Exit, and re-run the command prompt from the taskbar.
  6. At the command prompt, type: slmgr.vbs -ipk XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX where the X’s represent your product key. Just reuse your original key. You’ll get a notice that the key has been applied.
  7. Clear the dialog, then type: slmgr.vbs -ato. You should now get a notice that Windows has properly activated, and everything should be working as expected.

Technology at its Worst

Every once in a while, a completely ridiculous activity is needed on a computer, and it seriously makes me question my entire profession. In the past 16 hours, I’ve had two fully baffling user experience situations that have almost had me ready to toss my computer.

Microsoft’s User Experience

The first involved Windows. I run Windows 7 in a virtual machine (VM) on my MacBook Pro. I do this every day, and usually, I just close the lid at the end of the day to go home, leaving OS X and Windows simply running while the lid is down. Everything suspends, no big deal. OS X rarely needs to be restarted, but I reboot about once a month or so (usually as part of my monthly password reset). Windows on the other hand, needs to be rebooted about once a week, usually once it reaches a point where it’s mostly non-functional. Yesterday I decided I’d actually “shut down” my Windows VM, leaving only OS X running so that today would be a fresh restart. So at 4:30pm, I click Start > Shutdown.

Windows tells me it needs to update my computer (with whatever stuff it downloaded in the background), and it begins immediately applying those updates (without prompting me, I might add), and I can’t shut off or unplug my computer while it’s doing so. Swell. Bad user experience there, Microsoft. If you want to hijack my machine to apply updates, do it at the beginning of my day, not the end. I’m almost never in a rush to start working, but I’m always ready to go home at the end of the day. If I were using a desktop, that might be fine. But on a laptop, you need to flip the process around. I’m shutting down because I’m ready to leave… with my computer.

And so, I sat. For 15 minutes waiting for Windows to do its thing. That 15 minute delay also translated to me being caught by a train on my way home, contributing to an extra 25 minutes on my drive. All in all, a 20-minute drive home at 4:30 that should have had me home by 4:50, resulted in a 75-minute trip, and I got home at 5:45. My kids are visiting my parents, except for the youngest, Noah, who, although exhausted, greeted me with a smile an numerous hugs, just before going to bed. Thanks to Microsoft’s dumb implementation of an update, I lost out on a good hour that I could have spent with that little guy, and instead just kissed him goodnight and watched him go.

Adobe’s User Experience

The second bad experience involves Adobe. In fact, I’m still sitting in the middle of this experience right now. I decided I needed to test Adobe Dreamweaver temporarily to see if some of the problems I’m having with my current code-editing tool could be alleviated for the next few weeks by switching to another platform temporarily. My current development environment is actually causing errors and code problems.

One such crazy feature (that can’t be turned off by the way, due to a bug) is “quote completion.” This means that when you type a quote, like “, the program automatically adds a second quote, but leaves your cursor in the middle, like “|”. So in code, if you want to type: $fred = “sample”; you would start typing the characters: $fred = , but as soon as you type the first quote, the program automatically adds the second, and you see this on the screen: $fred = “|” with your cursor flashing where the vertical line is. You can then proceed to type the word sample, and you’ll see this: $fred = “sample|” with your cursor flashing at the line.

Now the problem is, in code (for this particular language), the semi-colon is necessary at the end of the line. Normally, you would have just typed your ending quote and then a semicolon. But because the quote was inserted, you have to either delete the quote, then type the quote and a semicolon, or use your right arrow to move past the quote and then type a semicolon. In other words: automatically inserting the quote saved me no keystrokes whatsoever, and in fact, made me have to rethink the process of typing that line of text, making it slower and harder to type. Pain in the neck.

Anyway… back to Adobe. I decided to download a trial of Dreamweaver. You’d think it would be a simple process. Go to Adobe’s site, find the trial, click a download button, wait for the download to finish, then install it. At least, that’s how it should be. Here’s how it really went. (Incidentally, I’m going to put “DBC=#” throughout, meaning “Dialog Box Count” every time I’m prompted with a dialog box that I have to answer):

  1. Since I was using Chrome, I just opened a new tab and typed “Dreamweaver trial” in the address bar, and got Google search results. The first result took me straight there.
  2. On the page it talks about downloading the trial, but there’s no download button. It turns out that the download button is a Flash object, and I have a flash blocker installed, so the button doesn’t appear. I have to click a blank space on the page to activate the download button, which I can then click.
  3. I get a notice that there’s an Adobe Flash update. [DBC=1] I do the update, which also requires me to answer Windows’ prompt [DBC=2] that I need to be an administrator to do this. When complete, I have to close the Flash installer [DBC=3]. The Flash update reveals nothing new for me.
  4. I then restart my browser and repeat steps 1 and 2 [DBC=5].
  5. I click the download button, and get a Flash dialog [DBC=6] telling me that I must use the Adobe Download Assistant (I’ll call it “ADA”) to download Dreamweaver, and that the download assistant will launch automatically. This is an Adobe Air application.
  6. The ADA starts to launch, but I get a notice [DBC=7] that there is an update to Adobe Air. I start the update, which prompts the Windows dialog again [DBC=8] asking me to prove I’m an administrator. The update runs, and then tells me (after three dialogs [DBC=11]) that I can now run ADA.
  7. ADA launches. I get a notice [DBC=12] that there’s an ADA update as well, and I can’t download my program until the ADA update is applied.
  8. I download the ADA update, close the updater [DBC=13], which relaunches everything. It’s been about 10 minutes by now.
  9. Once ADA finally launches, it tells me that I need to sign in to my Adobe account [DBC=14] to download my program. I sign in. I forgot the password on my first attempt, but got it on my second.
  10. Once I sign in, I have to accept the new terms and conditions for ADA [DBC=15]. I agree to the terms.
  11. ADA just sits there looking at me, not downloading anything. It’s recommending various applications like Photoshop that I can download. I don’t want that, I want Dreamweaver, but that’s not in the list.
  12. Then a dialog pops up [DBC=16] saying that Adobe Air has now finished updating (I had thought it was done in step 6, but apparently it was still updating in the background). This triggers another Windows dialog [DBC=17] asking for confirmation of the changes because I have to be an administrator. ADA restarts as a result.
  13. ADA then prompts me [DBC=18] to log in to my Adobe account to complete my download. I log in again. Again, ADA just sits there, not giving any indication that it’s downloading Dreamweaver. It’s a good 15 or 16 minutes by now.
  14. I close ADA [DBC=19], and go back to the Adobe web page and repeat step 2 again. This causes step 5 to happen again [DBC=20]. Then ADA launches.
  15. ADA again prompts me [DBC=21] to log in to complete my download. I log in.
  16. Now it sees that I’m trying to download Dreamweaver, and begins downloading the file. It’s going to take about 15 minutes, so I start writing this blog entry while I wait. I’m now basically done, and there’s still about 10% more to download.

All of that–21 dialog boxes confirming my actions–just to download a single EXE file to test an application. And then from there (now that the download has just finished), I have several dialogs to step through including yet another Windows prompt asking me to confirm that I’m an administrator.

And people wonder why I’m trying to eliminate using computers and somehow run my entire life off an iPad which typically has only one prompt when I want to do something.

On Microsoft’s Surface…

For those who didn’t see it, Microsoft’s mystery announcement yesterday was the introduction of the Microsoft Surface–their “answer to the iPad.” You can watch the video here.

Personally, I think last night’s presentation was a step in the right direction for Microsoft, but only a step, when what they really needed was a jump. RIM introduced their PlayBook too early, and look where it got them. Microsoft tried this once before with the HP Slate. And it crashed and burned. And while I don’t think Microsoft should be more “Apple-like” in its culture, it definitely needs to take more cues from Apple in its strategy. Apple’s $500+ billion value is evidence of this. They’re worth double what Microsoft is worth, and they have less than 10% of Microsoft’s market.

The presentation was decent. Good, even. They did several right things: Announce the product, as they did. Focus on the business usage, as they did. Acknowledge that they came late to the game, as they did. But they should have also acknowledged that Apple achieved something in this market that they couldn’t. When the economy was going down the tubes, Apple was still selling strong, because they had brand loyalty, and people who use Apple products are passionate about them. Microsoft should have accepted that reality, and taken a stand that they’re looking to compete, and that they are committed to competing in every way. And that means making a few changes to Microsoft’s old way.

Here’s what they should have done to nail that:

What Microsoft Missed

  1. Emphasize the Windows Marketplace ecosystem. Show how it integrates, seamlessly, with the OS. Perhaps it’s obvious to some people, but not to average consumers who are used to the iOS App Store’s simplicity.
  2. Set a release date. The fact that this is still months away was a bad call. Building up hype 5 months in advance may as well be a year. They’ll miss the Christmas rush, and with Surface Pro coming out 90 days later, Apple will have a fourth iPad model at the same time Microsoft will be releasing their first professional tablet.
  3. Set a price. Saying you’ll price competitively is nonsense. It’s competitive if it’s competitive. When it doesn’t exist yet, it’s not competitive. And if you can’t do a feature-by-feature comparison, it’s hard to be competitive, or to measure a competitive price. They could argue that $1,000 for the product is competitive, because it has “USB and HDMI.” But who wants to pay more than what they pay for the highest-priced iPad?
  4. Integrate 3G/4G. Apple did it, so Microsoft should too. Not having 24/7 connectivity on a business device is bad news.
  5. Show the feature comparison. Not to single out Apple, but with Apple’s retina display and 10-hour battery life, I would think that knowing the exact screen quality and battery life would matter to most people.
  6. Make it a portrait and landscape device. If you watched the video, did you notice that the screen never rotated into portrait mode? What if I want to work on a long document? The iPad’s portrait mode plus a keyboard makes it a perfect 8.5×11 ratio for editing a full document, and on retina, it’s crystal clear, like real paper. That shortcoming in the Surface might be a fundamental flaw.
  7. Get Ballmer’s vacuous stares out of the presentation. Leave up the people who can actually smile and not look like they’re searching for Apple employees in the crowd. All kidding aside though, Ballmer’s hard-nosed, out-of-touch, corporate mentality introduces an element of Windows that may attract business users, but as the traditional business model is moving into a more “freelance” or “entrepreneurial” mindset, that kind of corporate rigidity is losing favor with people. There’s a reason why the relaxed atmosphere of companies like Google and Facebook are highly sought after.

But… to credit Microsoft, they did some things very well.

What Microsoft Nailed

  1. Those covers, and the keyboard. Assuming it works (none of the testers were apparently allowed to use the keyboard), it looks like a game-changer. I would love a soft-touch cover like that for the iPad. Rethinking the input devices (something that I think Microsoft has been a leader in for many years; they made great mice and great keyboards) is a wise strategy, and really helps to bridge the PC and tablet market in a way Apple never did. Apple’s keyboard solution was more of an afterthought product, rather than an integrated solution. Microsoft nailed this on an all-in-one product.
  2. The magnesium casing. That’s slick, and tasteful. Their focus on the strength and lightness of design was critical, if this tablet is to compete with the iPad. Furthermore, it raises the standard from the cheap form factor of other devices (laptops and PCs) that are made from cheap plastic and sharp metal.
  3. The kickstand. No need to buy lots of extra accessories: the stock products from Microsoft cover all the bases. Well done. It locks the device into a single landscape orientation (meaning, you can’t flip it upside down), but that might be a result of the tablet being a landscape-only device anyway. On my iPad, I am forever rotating it from one landscape side to the other, depending on how I’m using my case. If I want to hold the iPad in landscape mode, my case is only comfortable in one orientation. But when I want to use it as a desktop tablet with slight elevation, I need to rotate it the other way for the case to be in its propped up mode. The kickstand eliminates that constant rotating.
  4. A better presentation. Finally, Microsoft has started to show some artistic culture, and it wasn’t a “PowerPoint presentation.” I don’t know… maybe it was using PowerPoint, but it didn’t feel like it, and that’s the point. It didn’t feel like a presentation from 1995. It felt like a metro-infused art gallery. Notice the minimal text during the talks. One and two word sentences. Unfortunately, the speakers’ enthusiasm still felt a little forced, like they were trying to communicate a culture they hadn’t fully adopted yet, but it’s better than they’ve done before.
  5. A consumer and a pro version. While Apple’s “one product fits all” approach is good for Apple’s culture, Microsoft’s statement that Windows has always been “all about choice” is a good statement to make (though in the past, that would be a lie, as was proven with Internet Explorer: Microsoft did not want anyone to choose another browser). The point is, they’re providing choice, but not too much. Just two. Great call.

All in all, a job well done. We need a price, and a launch date. Microsoft has been notorious in the past for failing to meet their targets (they even started their own presentation 40 minutes late), but it’s time for them to step up their game and meet some deliverables.

Well done, Microsoft. Keep it up.

Windows 8 is Getting There…

I like what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8. I really do. But they still have three fundamental flaws they don’t seem able to overcome.

  1. They still have Ballmer at the helm. Get someone with a character like Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook and they’d be all set.
  2. They still don’t have a clue how to market to the average consumer. Stop telling us how cool Windows is because of its specs, and start showing us how to use it in every day life. Use words like “magical.”
  3. They need to build their own hardware. Don’t release “Windows 8 for Tablets”… MAKE a tablet. Make it beautiful, reliable, and don’t quit on it two years later. Make Windows 8 work perfectly on it. Then rebrand ALL of your software with the Metro look and feel so it’s a consistent experience.

They’ve got a good shot at making this thing work. Here’s hoping they get it right.

iPhone “4S” is for Strategy

In the wake of yesterday’s Apple keynote announcing the iPhone 4S, which left many people disappointed and dropped Apple’s stock by 5%, I’ve noticed that there are a few things that the industry is waiting to catch their breath on and adjust their rumor mills accordingly. Just like the jokes that cropped up over the iPad’s name, the disappointment of receiving a “4S” instead of a “5” will also fade, which is why it will be available in a week. You should never need to wait for speed…

Speaking of which, although the “S” officially stands for “speed,” as it did with the 3S, there’s a subtlety that it also means “strategy.” Bear with me on a few deductions:

  1. This release model and timing were planned long before Steve Jobs’ departure from the company. The fact that the industry expected this to be Tim Cook’s moment to shine was irrelevant. Cook’s presentation was no different than what Jobs himself would have presented, so it’s a hint that most things at Apple are continuing on exactly the same momentum as they have been. Jobs’ absence was an acknowledgement of that.
  2. Cook set the stage for future presentations: it’s less about him, and more about Apple as a whole. In other words, he let Jobs continue to be Jobs, and continue to be regarded and respected for his role, while also showing more of Apple’s cards. The “one more thing” hallmark of Jobs was notably absent, because that’s Jobs, and will forever be Jobs only. There is no “one more thing” with Cook, because the future is going to be less about Cook, and more about Apple.
  3. The 4S is an iPhone 3/3S replacement product. Not enough of an upgrade to woo iPhone 4 early adopters, but significant enough to be a “must have” for iPhone 3 users, who, internationally are just ending their 3-year contracts. It’s also the perfect model to attract the iPhone 3S users who have already proven they want the stepped-up model, and whose 2-year contracts are just ending in the US.
  4. It coincides with iOS 5 which has a one-year life, because iOS 6 will launch just after the iPhone 5 next year, and both will be a major rewrite. Why? Because iOS 6 will also need to service the 4th generation iPad (the 3rd will come out next spring*) which will be a major technology advancement, and for which the iPhone 5 will need some huge upgrades to match. Since the iPhone 4 was a complete redesign, there needed to be a pacifying model to keep the supply chain of complementary products functioning for one more year while the phone is completely re-engineered.
  5. There was a brief jab at HP, Dell and Microsoft with the statement that consumers don’t want tablets: they want iPads. It’s a hint that Windows 8, while it will still be successful in its own way, will only truly work on tablets that are intended to function like desktops.**
  6. The hardware changes are mainly intended to be hints at the future. The upgraded processor and increased RAM brings the iPhone to desktop-like production. The addition of software tools like voice instructions and online card printing are a hint at the future of services.***
  7. The brief stock drop is actually great news for shareholders. Apple knew what this would do, and let it happen. Shareholders can now buy more stock at the reduced rate, knowing that next year’s iPad 3 and iPhone 5 will boost the value tremendously, and investors now will get a great return on their money over the next year.

In the end, a purely strategic move for Apple, and a real hint at things to come.


* I expect the iPad 3 to be another technology hinting product. The iPad 2 brought minor revisions and a speed boost. Essentially, it was a 1S, but for strategic reasons, it needed to be called the iPad 2. The iPad 3 however, will introduce groundbreaking new features, like a retina-style display, improved cameras, a processor and RAM boost, and very likely a software tool for remote desktop capabilities to OS X Lion (something like “AirDisplay for Everything Else”). The 4th generation iPad, in spring or summer 2013 however, will likely come shortly after an iOS 6 announcement, and a developer announcement about the next version of OS X (which will probably get a new name). Something will blend OS X and iOS together, and it won’t happen until about 18 months after Lion’s release, which would mean some time around early 2013. iPhone 5 will be the first hint, and iOS 6 along with iPad 4 will be the main iteration of it, followed by a new line of Macs (something in the MacBook Air family) sporting the new OS.

** Watch for this. Windows 8 will be released along with a slew of tablet-laptop hybrids. Consumers will jump on them quickly, but will soon recognize how much it differs from an iPad. And by the time Microsoft releases a fully trustworthy tablet (remember that HP has already failed at this, so that really only leaves Dell to get it right; and Dell has a bad reputation with home users), Apple will already be on their third model of iPad. And since iPad 3 will have groundbreaking new features, the new Windows tablets will look antiquated the day they’re launched. By the time there’s widespread consumer adoption, Apple will have responded with a new OS that will marry iOS and OS X making the iPad even more desirable for the consumer, and making Windows 8 look like Windows 3.1. Consumers still won’t want tablets… they’ll want iPads. And when the new OS is released, within a year of Windows 8, Microsoft will still be three years out from catching up, and the iPad will be on version 7 by then.

*** The future of services is inevitable. Apple has a business enemy in Google because of Android, but Apple has a more stable revenue model. Google makes its money from involuntary participation (revenue derived from advertising, which is why their products are all free: no one wants to pay for stuff associated with Google, as is evidenced with non-free Android apps). Apple on the other hand, makes its money from completely voluntary participation, almost to the point of absolute dependency (consumers crave Apple products, and would step over their own mothers to get one). Because of this difference in revenue methods, consumers are willing to pay Apple for the next big thing. And the next big thing Apple is betting on, is that people won’t want to continue “searching” but will want to start “doing.” With Google, you type your queries, find your results, and then try to apply those results to what you’re trying to do. For example, typing “Meeting with Fred at 10am” into Google yields nothing of value. If you want that to be a calendar entry, you have to switch to Google Calendar. In other words, with Google, you have to know how to do something before you can tell Google what you want. Apple is putting that all in one place, so all you need to know is what you want to do, and it will show you how. It’s a hint that Google will get less relevant for the average consumer. Similarly, the cards app is another service hint: print is still important, but it’s less about you, and more about the people you engage with. Cards is an example of remote printing at its finest. Print this, and send it where it needs to go. The old model is, print this, and then I have to figure out what to do with it. Again, with Apple, tell it what you need to do, and it will show you how.