Hi, got a Dell? Outlook slow? Let me fix it

I enjoyed this comment from Thad Leingang who found one of my posts on Outlook 2007 performance problems. He is one of many to suffer from a Dell add-in installed by default called Media Direct; I’m not sure what this is meant to do, but as a side-effect it apparently slows Outlook 2007 to a crawl. Leingang fixed the issue thanks to an earlier comment here, but for him that was not enough:

I have made it a personal mission to seek out every DELL XPS1210 customer and tell him to ditch Media Direct. I am in sales and travel quite a bit. So in the past 3 weeks, I have interacted with 7 M1210 users. For instance, in Airports it is easy to spot the other Business travelers and it is customary to size-up each other’s package (PC that it). “Hi there, I see you have a M1210. Are you having a performance problem with your Outlook?” At first, I often get this “who the heck are you” look but after I explain more, I see tears form in their eyes. Tears of gratitude! Last Sunday in salt Lake airport, I help a guy named Dave delete Media Direct from his Dell. I was rewarded with free beer until I could drink no more (I had to catch my flight.) I even receive an unsolicited hug from a lovely lady in Irvine.

But why are users resorting to peer-to-peer support in airport lounges? Mainly because of the failure of the official alternative:

After I fixed my PC, My IT guy (Charlie) called Dell support and they said, “Oh yea, we are aware of this issue.” THEN WHY THE #@&K did you not tell us in the last 6 support emails we entered? “I am sorry sir, I will report this to my manager” BULL. This is undoubtedly a Dell problem!

I would be interested to know, first, whether Dell has fixed the issue with this add-in; and second, whether it has bothered to email its registered customers with the information Leingang is dispensing on his travels.


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Linn Records adopts FLAC for hi-res downloads

I was interested to see that Linn Records now offers FLAC downloads in its music download store. This is a download store done right – no DRM, no lossy compression (unless you specifically choose MP3).

It’s still something of a struggle finding a file format to please everybody. Linn now has three: MP3, lossless WMA, and FLAC. MP3 is no hassle. WMA is tiresome for Mac users. FLAC won’t play in Windows Media Player without an add-on. It’s even worse when it comes to high-res (typically 96/24) files. Linn says that high-res WMA won’t play at all in iTunes on the Mac, and that high-res FLAC won’t play in Windows Media Player.

Personally I shall choose FLAC if I buy any of these, as I have done with Robert Fripp’s DGM download store.

It’s great to see a small but highly regarded label adopting an open-source format for its downloads. How about it Apple?


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Mono may implement Silverlight for Linux

Mono lead Miguel de Icaza likes Silverlight. He says:

It makes tons of sense for us to start looking at an implementation of Silverlight on Linux with Mono. There is already a XAML loader, it is the perfect excuse to use Antigrain for high-speed graphics and that only leaves the pesky media issue to be solved.

In fact, am kind of happy that Microsoft did not do the port themselves as implementing this sounds incredibly fun and interesting.

Microsoft should grab this offer, if it is serious about cross-platform. Although Linux currently only forms a small proportion of desktop operating systems, it is nevertheless significant; Ubuntu in particular is making a big impact. Mac/Windows only may be kind-of good enough for the USA, but that’s not the case worldwide.


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Times Reader and offline Silverlight at Mix07

I’m attending a panel discussion on the WPF-based Times Reader, with Tom Bodkin, Assistant Managing Editor and Design Director at the New York Times, and media designers Roger Black, and Filipe Fortes.

Bodkin is talking about the Times Reader, which is sees as offering the best of both worlds – print and web. He is an enthusiast for the tablet PC, but prefers the smaller ones like the Fujitsu P1610 [I agree 100%, I’m on a Toshiba Portege M400 now, but still miss my old, smaller Acer C110]. He thinks that multi-purpose tablets have more future than dedicated devices like Sony’s reader.

He likes the fact that Times Reader publications feel like a publication – “it’s not webby”, he says. He’s showing off some of the features of Reader, including newer features like “news in pictures”, which is a slideshow of images, and the ability to add ink notes to stories when using a Tablet PC. “It’s a print publication plus”, he says. He demonstrates the intelligent reformatting that Reader provides. There’s also a great new search feature, which includes word search and a graphical topic map that shows related stories.

I asked about the cross-platform issue. According to Bodkin a Silverlight implementation is on the way, which includes most of the features in the full version, in “a matter of months.”

This intrigues me, as I had been told by some Microsoft people that Reader would be difficult to implement in Silverlight. Two obvious issues are the limited text features, and the lack of offline storage. There is isolated storage coming in Silverlight 1.1 (far more than a matter of months away), but this will be inadequate for Reader.

It turns out that Nick Thuesen is here, the lead developer for Times Reader. I spoke to him afterwards. He has a neat solution for Silverlight’s limitations. The plan is to use an embedded browser (Safari web kit) and to host Silverlight within that. This way, the native desktop app can handle offline storage; Silverlight becomes more like Adobe’s Apollo, a desktop rich internet application.     

Why not Adobe PDF? “There’s no reflowing, PDFs are really limited,” says Bodkin. “We had an electronic New York Times in PDF, but to read anything… it’s just impractical.” “And this can update,” adds Roger Black, “But the big thing to me is the type. How this will work in Silverlight is not completely worked out.”

Fortes talks about magazine publishing through a WPF Reader, with a more intensively visual appearance, embedded video, and community features like most popular articles, most popular ads. He is also saying that typical web content still lacks the sophistication that print provides (think fashion images, carefully designed text). I find this thought-provoking: is the Web really so bad for this? Clearly this is impossible for naked HTML, but when supplemented by Flash and/or clever CSS?

There’s discussion about the continuing bias towards metaphors that work in the print world but not in the web world. The suggestion is that we still have a lot to learn about how to present content electronically.

Bodkin says that the NY Times writes two sets of headlines; web headlines are more literal than print in order to work well for search engines. This reminds me of a post I made three years ago called Google edits the internet:

…how much of what we read on the Web is influenced by Google’s search and advertising algorithms?

Black talks about a problem with the Reader, which is its dependence on templates into which XML content is poured. Good though they are, this is restrictive in design terms, compared to the complete flexibility of print.

What’s coming in Times Reader? Bodkin mentions plans for video, downloaded on demand, and the possibility of interactive features such as those Fortes has described.

Finally the panel considers some of the business issues. Income from web sites such as nytimes.com remains only a tiny fraction of what is needed to run a newsroom with a global network of reporters; armies bloggers do not remove the need for professional journalists. If print is slowly declining (and I think it is – Thuessen mentions that he has never bought a newspaper), then the question of “who pays” is important and largely unanswered.

Sadly, I stopped using the Times Reader when it went pay-only.


Pay and play: how the Silverlight .Net runtime is kept small

Silverlight 1.1, currently in Alpha, will include a cross-platform version of the .NET runtime. The desktop version of this runtime is over 22MB, yet Microsoft is promising to keep Silverlight at around 4MB. How is this size reduction achieved? In part by stripping down the libraries to a minimal core, but Microsoft is also using another technique which it calls pay and play. This means that further class libraries are downloaded as needed, increasing the effective range of available libraries without impacting the size of the core runtime. Sleight of hand perhaps, but it does make sense for online apps.

Developers coding for Silverlight will need to know which of the libraries available in desktop .NET are also in the Silverlight framework. Because of pay and play, some will be in the core, some will be available on demand, and others will never be available. Apparently Visual Studio will give you a visual indication of which is which.

How big will the Silverlight runtime be if you include all the pay and play libraries? Here at Mix07, Microsoft’s Joe Stegman would not say, but I got the impression it will be substantially larger. Of course this is still Alpha; everything can change, and final decisions about what is core and what is pay and play are yet to come. Stegman was also uncertain about some aspects of delivery. You would imagine that pay and play DLLs would be downloaded from Microsoft’s servers, and that once downloaded they would be persisted and shared so that other applications can use them without a further download. Stegman says this is probably what will happen, but there seems to be some doubt.

The Silverlight 1.1 runtime will not be as small as it first appears.


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