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#852: Switching from Sales to Tech, An Open Letter to Microsoft, Update Software Without the App Store

 
     
 

Hello all,

Welcome to the first full Tech Tails of the New Year! We certainly had a white Christmas and then some. At least a foot and a half here by the lake, and some recent temps as low as -10F, or what we used to call “almost cold.” “Cold” is when you feel your nostrils freeze when you step outside, which doesn’t happen until about -20F. I don’t see that coming here anytime soon.

Like all things, service, too, is marked and changed by the passage of time. We have a relatively new tech (who is both the son of an original employee, and a long-time employee himself) who has written about a great Terminal trick, and a letter to Microsoft (gasp!) from one of our consultants. It will certainly provide you with food for thought.

Thanks for reading.

Liam
liam@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Switching from Sales to Tech  
   
 

I have worked with Small Dog Electronics for a long time now — almost seven years all told, starting when I was in high school. In that time, I have worked in a few different areas. I started in shipping and for the past few years, have worked on the sales floor in Waitsfield. In the past four or five months, I have moved to the tech department. I must say, it’s been an interesting transition.

Earlier this year I decided to move to Burlington from the (Mad River) Valley and moving to the South Burlington Small Dog store was a logical step in that move. When I started there, I was asked to be service writer, the person who checks machine in and out and is the main point of customer contact for service.

After about a month of working that position, Jen and Jason (the Retail and Service Managers) approached me and asked me if I wanted to move into the tech department to fix machines. I took this as an opportunity to learn some new things about the business, and jumped right in. A week of studying later, I took my ACMT certification so I could be authorized to work on Apple desktops and portables.

Here in the tech department, you learn anything from good problem solving techniques to how to actually install new parts, and finally, a lot more about how computers really work. All of these skills can come in handy no matter what you’re working on. Dissecting the internal components and learning about how they fit together to make the machine work has been very interesting, and I’ve been enjoying the whole process!

 
   
     
  An Open Letter to Microsoft  
   
 

Dear Microsoft,

I thought you might like to hear from an outside voice about some of your products and your future. While I am a professional consultant who works mostly with Apple products, I spend plenty of time with Windows (mostly in Parallels), and I have been an Xbox gamer since the beginning.

I know you have struggled to figure out your place in the world where Apple has surprised you with the iPhone and iPad, and Google has done so much in the internet realm. I applaud you for your bravery in making some bold changes with Windows 8. I had my first look at it on a consult recently. It certainly looks much different from any other Windows on the surface, and I think the tile-based interface is intriguing. I still think it may need some more interface tweaking, as I found it a bit difficult to figure out how to change things and set things up.

I see that you are now requiring anyone who wants to use the built-in email program to register a Microsoft account. While I can sort of relate to this, since you have to have an Apple ID to use the iTunes Store, App Store, or iCloud, it has never been required to simply configure email. I had to create two accounts and jump through several hoops since I was setting up an account for a child. I had originally created an account for the parent to buy Office online for Windows, but had to go through a totally different interface for the same parent to get a new license for the Mac version of office. Then, after those two purchases, I still had to go through additional purchase-based id verification when configuring the parental stuff on the child’s PC.

Wasn’t it verification enough when we used the credit card to buy an office license? Please unify these things. I also could not use self-signed SSL certificates that are fairly common for hosted small business email. I had to setup email without SSL, which I hate doing, and then enable it later. I was happy that it at least let me do that.

Microsoft, while I don’t think you will win over most Mac OS or iOS users with Windows 8, I really do appreciate the fact that you are taking risks with your user interface and trying to make a big leap forward instead of little incremental moves from the XP lineage. I do wish that you would ditch the backslash for paths and follow the *nix OSes of the world, and web addresses, and just use slashes. This is just nitpicking, I know. Having an actual *nix core might make things really interesting in the future, but that is another topic.

Now, I want to let you know what I think you are doing right, and what I think should be your template or inspiration as you move forward: firstly, the Xbox and Xbox 360. You have earned my loyalty in my living living room by providing a solid gaming platform, with (and this is really important), the best gaming controller on the market. When the Xbox first came out, I bought adapters so I could use Sony PS2 controllers on it, and then when the smaller Japanese Xbox controllers hit the market, I paid extra to use those. I am very happy that those are basically the standardized controllers that the Xbox 360 shipped with. While Kinect is cool, and it is great that you released a developer SDK for it, don’t forget that millions of gamers, however athletic we might be outside the home, just want to sit on the couch with friends and family and game with a controller in our hands.

The Xbox interface has evolved over the years, and it now seems to be some of the inspiration for the Windows 8 interface. I think that whenever your customers tell you that something is difficult to figure out in Windows 8, you should keep going back to the Xbox dashboard to see how you did it easily there. I find the Xbox interface to be very easy to use, and it really helps bring some consistency among games. The fact that things like audio music control, chatting and friend management are system-wide and not dependent on other developers to get them right, are very important.

The next piece you have gotten right for years running is Xbox Live. I signed up on the first day (for Mech Assault) in November of 2002, and have been a happy customer every since. While Sony Playstation customers may argue that they get to play for free online, I am happy to pay a yearly fee for dedicated servers, reliable matchmaking, consistent chat interface, and other benefits. I think that by paying for this service, it makes you accountable to your customers to deliver good service year after year. I think Xbox Live is one of the best things you have ever done. Please don’t forget what makes it a success!

Finally, thank you very much for your new SmartGlass iOS app! I really appreciate that you understand that those of us who are loyal to you in the living room might have chosen other platforms for our mobile devices. Now that I can use my iPad or iPhone with my Xbox as a supplemental interface, I think you have already countered some of the things that Nintendo might be doing with its new system. Please make the next Xbox even more friendly in interfacing with Macs and iOS devices. While you might hope to grow your ecosystem with Windows PC and phone tie-ins, please resist the urge to lock out Mac and iOS users. You live in a mixed world. Embrace it.

Thanks for listening.

 
   
     
  Update Software Without the App Store  
   
 

You may have noticed that Apple recently moved all software updates to the App Store and they are treated like purchases. While it makes sense as part of another step in their quest to fully integrate iOS and OS X, this particular choice can be inconvenient if you don’t have an existing Apple ID or if you run into a problem with your iTunes account. Unfortunately, in the Service department, we have been running into all kinds of problems running non-system updates for customers.

Recently, I found another way to do system updates using the application Terminal. I should explain further — this tip will only work with Apple system updates, which means basically anything you didn’t pay for. So it will not work with iLife updates or updates for any other apps you purchased. Updating those apps still requires an Apple ID and password.

That said, I found that the updates downloaded much faster than they did through the App Store, so when you can take advantage, it can be worth it — system updates are routinely several hundred MB in size, and over a GB in total isn’t unusual.

Here we go with the usual caveat that damaging your system severely is pretty easy in Terminal, so go boldly but carefully.

  • Open Terminal
  • At the prompt exactly as follows: sudo softwareupdate -l
  • Hit enter. 
You will be asked to enter your admin password. After that, the argument -l will ask the softwareupdate command to list all available updates.
  • Assuming you want to install all of the available updates, type: sudo softwareupdate -a
  • Hit enter. Alternatively if you only want to install recommended updates you can change the argument to -r: sudo softwareupdate -r
  • Changing the argument to -h will list all the possible commands you can use with software update.
 
   
     
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