Why I Don't Like Macs

I freely admit that I am fiercely loyal where my employer is concerned, but my loyalty pre-dates my employment. I was a big fan of Microsoft long before I went to work for them, which was one of the reasons why I was so thrilled when they offered me a job.

My affection for Microsoft goes back to when they were the "Little Guy" standing up to "Big Bad IBM," and at the time everyone loved Microsoft for that reason. (At that time, Macs were still pretty much toys.) But I became a huge fan of Microsoft when I started working in IT departments in the early to mid-1990s. At the time, the licensing fees for WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Ashton Tate's dBASE, etc., were astronomical, and our little IT budgets spent more on those licensing fees than we did on hardware, so our PCs were sub-par due to price-gouging. Then Microsoft came along and offered all of Microsoft Office with per-seat licensing that was 50% less than any other single software application, so we suddenly had software for every PC and budget to buy more hardware. This cannot be understated - Microsoft made it possible for us to actually focus on having great computers. To us, Microsoft was the greatest company on the planet.

MetroLogo

By way of contrast, let's take a look at what Macs were like. In each place where I worked, we had some Macs, and the experiences were nowhere near similar. First of all, the Macs were hideously over-priced. (And they still are.) When a PC died, the data was nearly-always recoverable, and usually the majority of a PC could be salvaged as well. (It was usually only a single part that failed.) Not so with a Mac - when a Mac died (which was just as often as a PC), the user's data was gone, and we couldn't fix the computer because we couldn't walk into a store and buy over-the-counter parts for a Mac. When a brand-name PC failed, its manufacturer was generally helpful with troubleshooting and repairs, whereas Apple had one answer - send us the Mac and we'll get to it when we can. Seriously. Apple was so unwilling to help their users that we grew tired of even bothering to try. We just boxed up dead Macs and sent them (at our expense) back to Apple and forgot about them until Apple got around to shipping something back to us.

To be perfectly honest, I really tried to like Macs - and I used one for quite a while. I had heard that "Macs are better for [this reason]" or "Macs are better for [that reason]," but in my actual experience most of those claims had little basis in reality (with a few exceptions). Macs simply had a loyal fanbase of apologists who ignored the bad parts of their user experience and evangelized the good parts of their user experience. (Which is pretty much what I do for PCs, right? ;-] ) But after months of using a Mac and wrangling with what I still think is a terrible user interface, coupled with the realization that I could be doing my work considerably faster on a PC, it was my actual use of a Mac that turned me off to Macs in general.

no_apple

I realize that a lot of time has gone by, and both Apple and their products have gotten better, but years of abuse are not easily forgotten by me. There was a time when Apple could have won me over, but their sub-par products and crappy customer service lost me. (Probably forever.) And make no mistake, for all of the blogosphere regurgitation that Microsoft is a "monopoly," Apple is one of the most-closed and highly-controlled architectures on the planet. What's more, prior to the release of OSX, Macs were a tiny niche, but for the most part they were a social experiment masquerading as a computer company that failed to reach more than 5% of the desktop computer market. In short, Apple was a sinking ship until Steve Jobs returned and Apple saved itself through iPod and iTunes sales. This gave Apple enough capital to abandon their failing computer design and rebuild the Mac as a pretty user interface on top of a UNIX operating system. This was a stroke of genius on someone's part, but you have to admit - when your 15-year-old computer business drives your company to the point of bankruptcy and you have to save your company by selling music players, that's pretty pathetic.

Ultimately, Apple users are a cult, Steve Jobs is their prophet (even though Woz is the real hero), and Apple products have always had half the features at twice the price. And that is why I don't like Macs. ;-]

Proper Use of Acronyms In Business Communications

I caught some people at work overusing some obscure acronyms in business emails that have considerably more popular uses, so I had to tell them to get used to spelling out phrases at least the first time in order to provide context for everyone else in the conversation. This should be obvious to everyone, but too many people fail to realize that their recipients may have no idea what the sender is talking about based on their individual knowledge.

For example:

  • HTML - This should always mean "HyperText Markup Language," and it should never mean "Happy To Make Lemonade" With that in mind, you should always write "Happy To Make Lemonade (HTML)" when you first use it, and you should probably use it throughout your email. But still, you should consider writing "HyperText Markup Language (HTML)" when you first use it, just to make everything perfectly clear to your readers, and then you can use just the acronym for subsequent references.
  • VS - This could be short for "versus," or it could mean "Visual Studio." Many English-speaking readers will probably be able to determine the correct meaning based on the surrounding text, but in a diverse work environment there is no guarantee that the intended meaning will be perfectly clear to everyone. This means that some recipients will have to re-read what the sender has written in order to verify their understanding, which could have been alleviated by simply using "A versus B" or "Visual Studio (VS)."
  • OMG - This is often used colloquially to mean "Oh My Gosh," but I've seen it used to mean "On Middle Ground." Needless to say, the sentence can have dramatically different meanings depending on how that acronym is understood by the reader. For example: "Right now both parties are having a difficult time finding issues OMG where everyone can agree."

Social media acronyms should not be used in a business context; this includes the following examples:

  • BTW - "By The Way"
  • FWIW - "For What It's Worth"
  • PDQ - "Pretty Darn Quick"
  • SOL - "Sh** Outta Luck"
  • etc.

There are a few possible exceptions which may be commonly-understood business acronyms, but you should still consider your recipients when deciding which of these acronyms you should use and which you should spell out. Here are a few examples:

  • ASAP - "As Soon As Possible"
  • FYI - "For Your Information"
  • FAQ - "Frequently-Asked Questions"
  • Q&A - "Questions and Answers"
  • PS - "Postscript"

There is one simple rule that you should always remember when writing for others:

In business communications, brevity is not always better, and ambiguity will be the death of us all. Winking smile

What I Do For A Living

It seems that I have always had a difficult time explaining to people what I do at Microsoft. It's not that I'm unsure about what I do - the details of my job have always been crystal-clear to me and I love what I am doing. It's just that I can't find a way to explain things in a way that doesn't result in blank stares from anyone who isn't a geek. (This problem isn't limited to me, though; my non-technical wife simply responds "I have no idea what he does" when someone asks her what I do for a living.)

Here's a perfect example: when I was a Program Manager on the Internet Information Services (IIS) team, people would often ask me what I did for Microsoft, and I would reply with something like, "I help design and implement the web publishing protocols for Microsoft's web server."

Other Person: [Blank Stare]

I would attempt to remedy the situation by adding, "You know, I design Microsoft's implementation of Internet technologies like the File Transfer Protocol, WebDAV, and the FrontPage Server Extensions."

Other Person: [Blank Stare]

In a sometimes-futile effort to salvage the conversation from complete disaster, I would interject, "You like to use the Internet, right? Well, your computer is on one side of the Internet, and my team helps build the other side of the Internet. That's kind of what I do."

That comment would usually be met with a slight spark of recognition, which was sometimes followed by a half-muttered, "That's nice."

At one time or other during my tenure as a Program Manager on the IIS team I was responsible for a smattering of disparate technologies; things like FTP, WebDAV, FPSE, FastCGI, PHP, URL Rewrite, IIS Express, Log Parser, etc. Most of those technologies garnered little to no interest for the average person, and many of my coworkers found them pretty boring as well. Just the same, I personally found every one of those technologies completely fascinating. (Why else would I spend eight years trying to get just one new command added to FTP?)

A couple of years ago I left the IIS program management team and I joined the writing team which is responsible for documenting Microsoft's ASP.NET framework; and if you have to ask what that means, then you are probably not interested in the answer.

Still, people would ask me what I do for Microsoft, and I would try to explain my job with statements like, "I document the Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs) for Microsoft's ASP.NET."

Other Person: [Blank Stare]

I would try to nudge the conversation along by saying things like, "I help people write web code."

Other Person: [Blank Stare]

Skipping ahead in the conversation, I would usually make a last-ditch attempt by stating, "Let's say you wanted to create a website; if so, you might read something that I wrote in order to help you get started."

Sometimes this remark would illicit a hint of acknowledgment, but usually I just got another blank stare.

This leads me to a few days ago. My wife and I were at dinner, and a waiter asked me what I did for a living. In the back of my mind I started to say something like, "Well, these days I'm documenting a set of APIs that Java programmers will use with Microsoft Azure technologies [blah blah blah]..."

But what actually came out of my mouth was, "I could explain it to you, but I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want me to. Trust me."

I like that answer. I think I'll stick with it in the future. :-)

Happy New Year!

2006 is rapidly coming to a close, and the new year is almost upon us. Before I go home for the weekend I wanted to wish everyone:

Happy New Year! 

Gutes Neues Jahr!

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Bonne Année!

С Новым годом!

To geek, or not to geek...

Like most of the computer-obsessed friends that I hang out with, I am often called a geek by the non-techie types that I have to interact with. (That list of non-techies includes my wife, by the way. ;-])

I wondered if that was a label that I should wear with pride, then I saw a great quote the other day:

"A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one."

Given my over-interest in computers, maybe the "Geek" title fits.

When discussing several subjects with some other geeks the other day, one of my friends asked, "Is it possible that there is anything that you're not a geek in?"

I had to give that some thought, but then I replied, "Shoes."

To be honest, I wear a set of sneakers just about everywhere. I wouldn't know a good set of dress shoes if they snuck up behind me and kicked me in the rear.

Maybe that's why I have such a hard time understanding why my wife owns 40 pairs of shoes... To me, I figure what's the point?

To be honest, I actually do own a couple of other pairs of shoes, but my wife bought them for me. When all is said and done, all I ever wear is the sneakers. (Even to church... ;-])

I think my wife buys my other shoes for me in the hopes that I will either: 1) empathize with her plight, 2) convert to the dark side, or 3) develop some form of shoe-fetish gland. I think the fact that I work for Microsoft has still escaped her.

I've told my daughters that I'm making them a simple deal: I'll wear a tuxedo for their weddings. If I foot the bill for the wedding, then I'm wearing sneakers with the tux. If they pay for their own wedding, then I'll wear whatever shoes they like.

Seems fair to me.  ;-]

But the question remains, am I a socially hopeless cause? I hope not. (After all, I do get out a lot.)

Am I a geek? Hmm... I guess I should consider the old adage:

"If the shoe fits..."

Well, you know the rest. ;-]

Merry Christmas 2005!

Okay, it's a couple of days late because I took the past few days off to celebrate Christmas with my family, but I wanted to make sure that I wished everyone a Merry Christmas...! [:)]

Веселое Рождество!

Christmas Alegre!

¡Feliz Navidad!

Frohe Weihnachten!

Joyeux Noël!

Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

Natale allegro!

Vrolijke Kerstmis!