Bing Search is Impressive

Last week, Microsoft rolled out it’s new search engine named Bing. This is Microsoft’s latest attempt to capture a larger portion of the search market, since MSN and Live Search haven’t been able to put a dent in Google and Yahoo’s market share. I have taken Bing through a few personal trials, and I have to say that I’m impressed with it. Microsoft has exceeded my expectations with this one.

Bing appears to produce solid search results, and displays those results in a clever format that Google currently lacks. Results for video and images are displayed in a clean layout. Simply hovering your mouse over a video box provides an instant preview of the video. I am very impressed with the seamless video preview! Previews are likewise provided for page links in the search results. Related searches and your personal search history are listed in a pane on the left side of the page.

Overall, I think Bing is a big move in the right direction. While some have mocked its name, it has the potential to make major waves in the realm of Internet search. Microsoft may have finally got it right this time. Nicely done.

Six Editions of Windows 7?

It has been announced this week that the upcoming Windows 7 release will come in six different versions! I find this to be utterly ridiculous.

Back in the 1990s, I always lamented the dual Windows offerings, which at the time were Windows 95/98 for home users and Windows NT/2000 for business users. Later, when Windows XP was released, it still had two flavors, with Home and Professional editions available. I was at least pleased that both of them fell under the umbrella of a single product, XP. Fast-forward many more years, and Windows Vista came in four versions: Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate. I think this confusing lineup has been partly to blame for Vista’s slow acceptance, though that is only one small aspect of what people have not liked about Vista.

Microsoft has apparently not learned any lessons from their past decisions, and seem content to confuse their customers all the more. They are charging forward with six editions of Windows 7. Really? This is completely asinine to say the least. Upgrading from any of the four different Vista releases to any one of the six new Windows 7 releases is sure to be a complete nightmare. I am really fed up with the state of Windows today. I believe that at this point, adding even more editions of Windows to the already absurd lineup is a monumental mistake. It gives the public a perception that the new Windows is going to be even more bloated and confusing than the last one.

In 2006, I bailed on the Windows world and became an overnight Mac user. As such, I can confidently say that I use the one and only Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system. Every other Mac user has the same installation and feature set that I have on my Mac. As Steve Jobs once said, mocking Microsoft, “Everybody gets the ‘Ultimate’ edition.” Microsoft should do likewise, with one single Windows 7 product to debut on the market. Then again, I suppose that would be too easy on the end user, which is something that Microsoft has not shown much interest in over the years.

MS Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

Over the past several years, I’ve grown accustomed to using a split-style keyboard. It is easier on the hands, and allows me to type faster with fewer mistakes. In the past, I’ve owned a Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite, both at home and at work. When I bought my Mac Mini last year, I also picked up the small Apple keyboard to go with my Mac. I ended up giving my MS Natural Elite Keyboard away.

After a year has passed, I’ve finally grown sick and tired of typing on that small, uncomfortable keyboard. I wanted a new one, preferably one that was ergonomically split. I went to Staples to buy my keyboard, as they had the best prices that I could find in a brief online search. When I got to the store, they didn’t end up carrying the old Elite keyboard, but they did have a newer, more spiffy one called the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which conveniently was on sale.

This is the nicest, most comfortable keyboard I have ever used. It is virtually silent, and the keys fit my hands like a glove. The soft, fuzzy palm rest is a great addition, too. It came with software for Windows and Mac. I’m using it on my Mac now, and all the extra buttons work just as they should. The volume, browse forward/back, calculator, all work great. I will mention that the space bar is a little stiff when I push from the far end of either side. Hopefully that is simply because it is brand new. I’ll recommend this keyboard to anyone who prefers to compute in first class.

Microsoft Entourage 2008

I have taken quite a liking to Entourage 2008, part of the Office 2008 suite for Mac. I didn’t have much experience with its 2004 predecessor. It is quite a robust application. I don’t use most of the advanced features included with it, but it does everything that I normally would do using Mail, iCal, and Address Book. The difference is that Entourage has many more options, and I like how it all is handled by a single application instead of using three. Having the calendar built-in has me actually using it, unlike my forgetfulness to launch up iCal to add information.

I’ll admit that a cold launch of Entourage is noticeably slower than the other programs. I did a memory test of Mail, iCal, and Address Book, and they totaled a use of 78 MB real memory combined. Mail.app alone was using 47 MB all by itself. In comparison, Entourage, after extensive use, used 78.5 MB of real memory — Roughly the same as the combined others.

At first run, my Mail data was imported with ease into Entourage. The address book was not so easy, and ended up doing most of it by cut/paste. I wasn’t able to find an exporter that would arrange my data so that Entourage would be happy with it. There is a sync option in Entourage for the Mac Address Book, but I didn’t try it.

In Entourage, I like the flexibility in assigning categories and rules to my mail. There is so much you can customize. Data searches are powered by Spotlight, which are lightning fast. I like how I get a message preview popup when mail arrives. That said, it would be nice if Office would use Growl as an option for popups, but it works just fine as-is. Personally, I like how Entourage stores all of my data in a single file on the hard drive, but this does create a burden with Time Machine. A single change of any kind to your information in Entourage will cause Time Machine to back up the whole Entourage data file again the next time it comes around. (This is one reason I chose to set Time Machine to backup manually.)

One possible annoyance to me is that there is no simple way to “auto Bcc” myself, or another address. I like to shoot a copy of my outbound mail to Gmail, so I can store it there, too. The only way to do this, that I’ve seen, is to create a Rule to redirect outgoing mail to another account. It does work, but it creates a duplicate message in your Sent mailbox for every piece of mail you send out. I can’t figure out how to automatically delete that extra copy, either.

My liking of Entourage mostly boils down to the fact that when I was a Windows user, I preferred Outlook 2003 to any other client. Entourage is the closest match to that on the Mac. It may not always behave in the same way that you have come to expect from Outlook, but it is a very powerful application in its own right. I plan to use Entourage 2008 exclusively for the near future on my Mac.

Yahoo Must Kill Microsoft Bid

I have to finally weigh in on the potential takeover of Yahoo by Microsoft. As you probably know by now, Microsoft has offered up $40B in an effort to buy rival Yahoo. So far, the powers-that-be at Yahoo have not been warm to the offer. Still, Microsoft will probably go to any length necessary to make this a reality, even if the takeover becomes a hostile one. The company claims they need Yahoo in order to compete with Internet star Google.

Personally, I hope they fail…and fail miserably. I am no fan of Microsoft. Their decades of corporate greed and endless bullying of their rivals has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I think the company should have been broken up years ago. I believe they still operate a monopoly today, at least in the business world, and they abuse that power at every opportunity. Microsoft is all about stealing others’ ideas and claiming them as their own. I have watched for years as they relentlessly stomped on anyone trying to get a foothold in the business. The systematic destruction of the Netscape browser was among the most personal.

I think Microsoft’s web services stink. I do not like MSN or the new Live.com. Funny, I remember when Microsoft bought Hotmail.com and made it their own. It went from being a cool, hip place to send mail via the web, to a bloated, cumbersome service littered with advertisements. I remember once, years ago, when Microsoft updated individual user preferences for Hotmail account holders to include incorporate new privacy options. In doing so, Microsoft forcefully and deliberately set each and every user account to allow their addresses to be used for targeted advertising. Is that what you expect from a company you supposedly trust?

I happen to like Yahoo. The site is still a great online destination, and they have an immense array of product offerings. I admit that I use Gmail instead Yahoo Mail, but that doesn’t mean Yahoo is lacking. I do read Yahoo News and visit My Yahoo on a daily basis. I also use the Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo Widgets, Yahoo Answers, Flickr, and Del.icio.us, just to name a few.

If Microsoft becomes the controller of Yahoo’s services, I am planning to cancel each and every one one of those services when/if it goes into effect. I won’t have any part of being a Microsoft web customer. Period.

Go away, Microsoft. Leave Yahoo alone!

Remembering Microsoft Comic Chat

Does anyone remember the cool comic-strip chat program on Windows that Microsoft called Comic Chat? I was just remembering that program today, and decided to look up a few screenshots to remember it by. At the time, I used to think this was the coolest program. Microsoft made the program in 1996, but killed it after the last release in 1998 (version 2.5). It was so much fun to play with! I wish they’d make a new version of this, perhaps web-based, that we can all enjoy. What fun it would be.

Comic Chat Snippet

MS Office/Windows Alt-Tab Issue

When I am at work, I use Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003. It absolutely drives me nuts that the alt-tab option of switching between programs gives priority to the Office applications. This seems to happen with all of them, but I notice it the most in Outlook. All normal programs behave in such a way that when you minimize its window, it is placed last in the chain of alt-tab switches. Not so with Outlook! As soon as you minimize the program and then hit alt-tab to leave the window you are then looking at, it immediately restores Outlook into view. What?! Microsoft should not be coding their apps to change the behavior of how Windows works for every other application.