Tag: windows

EC investigating chip makers price fixing

The European Commission is currently investigating various major players in the chip market, sources close to the investigation told news agency Reuters.

According to four deep throats, chip makers Infineon, Samsung, Hynix, Micron, Elpida, NEC Electronics, Hitachi, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Electric and Nanya fixed prices for their products.

The allegations led to various offices being raided in autumn last year. Former Siemens chip unit Infineon found its offices searched in December, as the company had to admit. The sources said they expect an official announcement to be made on Friday this week or next week Monday.

Neelie Kroes, the commissioner who currently heads the EC’s competition directorate, slapped a fine of $€1.06 billion on chip giant Intel last year May, for “abusing its dominant position on the x86 central processing unit (CPU) market.”

Her directorate also managed to whack Microsoft in the browser wars, forcing the software maker to let consumers in the EU decide if they want to use a different browser than IE. From March 2010 onwards, Windows users will be faced with a choice screen – considering IE has been garnering tons of negative publicity since China hacked the Google Mail accounts of various dissidents using IE, a ton of not-so tech savvy users will opt for either Firefox or Opera.

In other news, the EC is also checking price-fixing between Siemens and Swedish company ABB. The two companies apparently had a talk under four eyes and agreed on prices for Flexible Alternating Current Transmission Systems (FACTS). FACTS are used to increase the amount of power that can be sent over electric transmission networks.

Windows 7 saves Microsoft's bacon

Microsoft says it garnered a revenue of $19.02 billion in its second fiscal quarter. Compared with the same quarter one year earlier, revenue grew by 14 percent. Everyone’s favourite OS maker declared it had managed to sell 60 million Windows 7 licences, apparently making it “the fastest selling operating system in history,” thereby even outpacing Apple fanboys. Hardly surprising, as everyone who didn’t need a new PC or Windows OS refrained from switching to Vista and waited for Windows 7 instead.

Nonetheless, the picture isn’t rosy at all. Microsoft’s Windows & Windows Live unit may have grown revenues from $4.06 billion to $6.9 billion year-over-year, the other units, however, were either flat or contracted. Server & Tools only increased marginally, from $3.75 billion to $3.84 billion, whereas Online Services saw its revenue fall from $609 million. to $581 million. Microsoft Business Division also witnessed revenue march southwards, namely from $4.88 billion to $4.74 billion. Entertainment and Devices also performed poorly. Revenue in the unit fell from $3.25 billion in the second fiscal quarter 2008 to $2.9 billion in 2009.

Seeing the numbers, Microsoft would not have been able to find a growth story anywhere to mask its downfall, as people slowly switch to mobile devices and notebooks not based on Windows software, nor, in most cases, Intel chipsets.

TuneUp 2010 revives old dud of a machine

TuneUp Utilities 2010 – $49.95 (trial available)

Having been raised on DOS and defragging and refragging and registry cleanups and windows installs and manually reformatting PCs again and again and again and over and over and over to try and squeeze the last life out of the buggers, I’ve always been strangely sceptical of optimisation software. Which is stupid, because as I’ve just learned, they really take the pain out of it for you,

TuneUp Utilities 2010 is a ridiculously easy to use and powerful product, bringing together all the stuff you can do to make your PC run that much smoother in a slick and minimal UI. A quick and dirty analysis of your rig’s shortcomings takes about a minute, and as soon as it’s done you’re presented with a bunch of options to make it run faster.

That green tick makes the pain go away.

While many of the options presented to you won’t be a surprise to those familiar with Windows, having them all in front of you and explained in laymens is a nice touch. I said “OK, whatever” to everything and let TuneUp get to it.

It took about a good five minutes to be through with. That’s to say, it cleaned up my admittedly cluttered registry, defrag’d my registry, got rid of broken shortcuts, deleted cached and temp files I didn’t want or need, boosted my system startup and shutdown by getting rid of crap that I manually closed every single time I booted up and defrag’d my hard drive. Again, all fairly obvious stuff to keep in mind, but the kind of thing I, and I suspect other PC users, get lazy about – I had recently doomed my laptop to the dangerous mindset of “It’s borked. Oh well.” My laptop is still borked, but it’s borked a hell of a lot faster and runs really smoothly.

A report shows you just how lazy you've been.

One feature I really dig about TuneUp 2010 is the ‘Turbo Mode’ – while conjuring up images of third-party joysticks from the Amiga days, it promises a lot more than you’d think it does. By putting turbo mode on, TuneUp disables or lowers the priority of all the other system processes in the background, meaning you can get along smoothly with whatever heavy-duty application you happen to be running at the time.

This sits neatly in your taskbar for instant info.

TuneUp Utilities isn’t essential, but it’s damn useful and it’s got a recommendation from the Eye.

Review machine: Acer Ferrari 5000, AMD Turion 64 X2, 2GB Memory, Windows Vista

Software GUI design going to Hell in a basket

In the early days of graphical user interfaces, there were no common standards on user interface design and every vendor placed buttons and menu options in the places they saw fit. Eventually, standards and GUI design guidelines appeared, thanks in part to IBM. Sadly, Google´s Chrome browser throws years of standardisation work down the toilet, all in the name of “simplicity”.

“Masqueraders paintin pictures flip the scriptures
Dont even know his name” –
Ian Brown, “All Ablaze”

The new generations don’t know what “CUA” means, but any of us whom used the early Amiga computer graphical user interfaces know very well what kind of application-Hell lack of standards can bring. The whackypedia describes the mess as follows: “There were also no obliged user interface design guidelines regarding fixed menu options for software in general (i.e. the user must learn the various orderings of basic commands like Load, Save, Open, Close, Quit, etc.). This fact was more than once argued as a diminishing feature of Amiga by its detractors”. After AmigaOS 2.0 Commodore released a guide book and made a lot of emphasis on a set of “user interface guidelines” that developers should follow and the UI situation somewhat improved.

On the PC side, the mess was also present in the world of DOS based applications, where every vendor defined hotkeys and placement of menu options as they saw fit -if in doubt just ask any user of Wordperfect for DOS, the Wordstar word processor or Lotus 1-2-3 what it was like to jump from one application you’re familiar with to another. The learning curve was as steep as climbing Mt. Everest.


It was Big Blue which worked on CUA -Common User Access-, a set of guidelines for designing graphical interfaces in software applications. Among other issues, CUA included definitions for the menu structure of applications, the familiar “File”, “Edit”, “View” structure of menus that ends with “Help” as the last option. Power users, regardless of operating system used (be it Windows, Linux, or graphical flavours of Unix like OpenSolaris) can count on Ctrl-O to bring the “File open” menu, and Alt-F to bring the file menu, and the familiar Alt-F, x to exit.

cua - jimmy

Widget-like applets – the early offenders
One of the most popular Windows applications not to feature a menu bar was Winamp. However, Winamp does to this day implement many of the CUA keystrokes, so the pop-up menu that is called with a right click of the mouse can also be called by pressing Alt-F, so in a sense it’s a “hidden” File menu, including the “x” keystroke for exit, so Alt-F, followed by ‘x’ exits the program. In a sense, music players are like widgets: designed to be as visually small as possible, and their function is not so much user interaction but to function in the background doing its work -in this case, play music-. The second most popular offender was ironically Windows Media Player. Microsoft, in the name of “maximizing screen real state” made the menu bar hidden. But it’s there, it’s just hidden from plain view depending on the skin used until you press any of the menu hotkeys. When you do, the full array of menu options appear (File, edit, view, etc.)

Netscape 8.1, a creative solution.
When AOL released version 8.1 of its Netscape browser for Windows a few years ago -a browser which used Firefox as its underlying web engine-, it did something clever: it recovered screen real state by moving the CUA menu bar up and into the window´s title bar. That way, you could read the web page title along with browser name, and still have full access to the CUA-compliant menus like File, Edit, and the like. Why can´t Google do the same with Chrome?. Good question.

dearie me

Google follows, then breaks CUA. Right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing?
Ironically, Google´s “GDocs” -Google Docs- team is fully aware of what CUA is, and implements a CUA-style menu bar in Google Docs. So the question comes to mind: if Google is aware that users are used to CUA-style menus, and implemented such menus in its Google Docs user interface, why subject Chrome users to a CUA-less user interface?. Can´t they do auto-hide of the menu bar like Microsoft´s Windows Media Player does? Can´t they replicate Netscape 8.1´s “Menu bar in the title bar” design?. The industry has copied good user interface designs from each other after the Borland-Lotus lawsuit -where Lotus sued Borland for copying its spreadsheet user interface, and Borland won, in a landmark legal case of the IT industry, around two decades and a half ago. Microsoft, it should be noted, has patented its ribbon UI, which could allow them to use it as a weapon against OpenOffice.org, proving the evil nature of software patents.

Due to the lack of a CUA style menu structure, at the time of the Chrome browser release, user confusion was evident, with one user for instance asking in the Chrome blog: “Yeah, I don’t really like the Chrome UI either. I haven’t even found out how to print something, for example.” -the answer was “press Ctrl-P”, ironically a CUA standard for printing, only that nobody can tell because there´s no “File” menu. Actually, what would be the File menu, is invoked in Chrome by clicking on the “Monkey Wrench” graphical button that has no text. Will Google replace all of its software to use a Monkey Wrench icon for the File menu?. If not, why break user interface guidelines and CUA standards in the browser UI?.  Just because?. That´s not a good explanation. The point is that if every software developer starts replacing easy-to-understand text menus for its own graphical buttons located anywhere they please, the Pandora´s box would be open by then.

CUA-style menus are however alive and kicking in Google Docs.
Perhaps users do prefer text menus to graphic Egyptian hieroglyphs?

CUA style menus is the “single common denominator” of user interfaces. Of course you can innovate with ribbon bars, tabbed toolbars and the like. But replacing basic CUA menus with graphics buttons can only lead to UI-confusion, and ditches years of hard work -voluntary or not- to make CUA menus the de-facto standard.

This isn´t an anti-Chrome rant
We can anticipate an avalanche of hate mail on this news story, from rabid Google Chrome fans -or its GUI designers- saying that this is “a storm in a tea pot”, and that this scribbler makes much ado about nothing. Believe me, this is not an anti-Chrome rant. This scribbler uses Chrome - says the about box, for the record-, and I have little trouble hitting Alt-F to bring the “Monkey Wrench” menu. But it´s not Chrome what we are talking about.  The point is that fiddling with the user interface and ditching CUA style menus for good under the false pretense of saving screen vertical space -all 23 pixels of it!- as if it would somehow improve productivity is ridiculous. Yet, we get some in the IT press drooling over the “improved screen real state”. The only way to prevent vertical scrolling would be to have 10-feet long vertical screens. Saving 23 vertical pixels does _not_ prevent anyone from scrolling down on a document. Any web page that is not a splash screen and contains meaningful information will have to be scrolled at some point. Otherwise the scroll wheel on mice wouldn´t exist. Get a grip, GUI designers!.

Conclusion – Text is better than egyptian hieroglyphics
The killing of CUA style menus in the name of “innovation” is wrong. It’s a level playing field that has simplified user interfaces and made jumping from one application to another easier for users of different levels of computing experience. The whackypedia agrees: ” Most of the standard keystrokes and basic GUI widgets specified by the CUA remain a feature of Windows. The newest major Unix/Linux environments —GNOME and KDE also feature extensive CUA compatibility. The subset of CUA implemented in Microsoft Windows or OSF/Motif is generally considered a de-facto standard to be followed by any new Unix GUI environment.”

If every software vendor stars replacing text menus with custom icons of a monkey wrench for File, a donkey for tools – I am making this up, but “why not?”, if standards do not matter, there´s no limit- and shuffling locations of these until-now basic standards, soon we´ll be left in a world where switching from one application to another won´t be intuitive at all, and we´ll have to learn whatever “egyptian hieroglyphics” the software designers choose to use for its application.

“Some say that´s progress, I say that´s cruel” -Midnight Oil
One last comment: if Google´s user interface rocket scientists are _so_ obsessed with “screen real state”, they can make the menus auto-hide, or move them to the title bar, as Netscape 8.1 did. Curiously, these designers seem to have no say in the biggest waster of screen vertical space: Google Toolbar, which the company flogs left and right to users of the Firefox and Internet Explorer web browsers. I guess vertical space doesn´t bother IE and Firefox users, then?. Then why cripple the Chrome UI?. User interface standards and guidelines were not agreed upon to restrict user interface creativity -Windows Media Player with its multiple “skins”, Real Player with its round borders, and other applications like Mozilla SeaMonkey show that you can innovate while keeping CUA menus in place.

Ditching those guidelines in the name of innovation is akin to car manufacturers suddenly deciding to place the steering wheel in a different place, so new drivers would need to re-learn to drive every brand of car. The placement of basic UI items is a standard, you can innovate everywhere else, but changing the shape of the steering wheel or its placement “just because” would only hurt the consumer.

Sadly Firefox seems to be going the same way. And of course, eveyone is doing things any way they please, without consulting each other on agreeing on new standards. Watch out for the GUI mess to continue “improving” in the 21th century, where bold new software developers suddenly feel the established standards nad user interface guidelines don´t matter anymore. In the words of E.L:O. “Fly across the city
Rise above the land. You can do most anything. Now you’re a 21st century man.”