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Eating the Dogfood

So I admit it, I ‘Google’ stuff. I’ve used it for years as my default search engine; I love the maps component especially. It’s quick, well put together, and pretty bug free. It’s probably the only piece of mobile software I used regularly on my Windows Mobile phone (Blackjack II, meaning no GPS) so the more recent version with cellular-based location identification is a neat touch. I mainly use it for traffic data as my car has a DVD-based navigation system.

Yet since being involved with the MVP program I’ve gotten more and more involved with internal Microsoft meetings and processes were I have both insight and input into products during testing and development stages. In doing so I’ve been trying to ‘walk the walk’ and use more of their products and services in an effort give feedback on how the experience might be improved. I’ve always used the latest versions of software and operating systems but I usually wait until post-beta to install it on my primary computer as reliability is my main concern as a flaky business tool doesn’t help anyone be very productive. So this year I decided to take a leap and start using the latest of everything I could get my hands on.

Windows 7

After struggling with some hardware-related issues when switching laptops I decided that I’d had enough of Vista’s quirky UI issues and had read that Windows 7 was nearly (if not more) stable than it’s predecessor. I’ve got another blog entry on how I got it working on my current Dell laptop. In short: I love it. Goodbye Vista.

One of the things they finally got right was detailed views in Windows Explorer. In Vista views would constantly change back to icon or tile views, or folders full of regular documents would revert to a photo-centric view, the size column would never stay in the place I put it. I’m still not sure how useful the library views will be, other than browsing for a file you can’t find but know what type it is.

Also, network file copying is no longer a terrible, foul-mouth-inducing, painful process. Moving files between my laptop and desktop, both running Vista, was just an agonizing process that was slow at best and required reboots at worst. I swear it took longer to ‘calculate’ the file copy then the actual copy itself for anything smaller than a few MBs. But Windows 7 just gets to it. No messing around. I no longer worry that a moving a large file between computers is going to blow up Explorer.

Internet Explorer 8

I took a look at the initial beta release and revert back to IE7 almost immediately; there were zoom issues with computers on non-default DPI settings and many of my favorite sites didn’t work 100%. But since using IE8 with W7 I have no noticed any of those issues. I’ve never been a Mozilla user as coming from a support background I always wanted to work with the products I would be supporting; and using them yourself is the best practice.

Live Search

Last year Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer presented a challenge to all MVPs to switch their default search browser to Microsoft’s Live Search for just one week and then asked for our input. Unfortunately I was on vacation that week and barely touched my computer so I really couldn’t participate. But now that I’m using IE8 beta and the Google Toolbar didn’t install on it initially I decided to leave the default Live search setting and see how I adapted. Once I got over the initial differences I haven’t found myself wanting to switch back. I still think that the Virtual Earth application is not as good as Google Maps, and since I use Google Earth for GPS-related activities and devices I doubt I’ll switch that behavior, although I do find that (at least in the Chicago area) the traffic data is more accurate in Live than in Google.

Virtual PC and Hyper-V

Ok, here’s one I probably won’t budge on, yet. I used VMware Server and Workstation on my laptop and home lab and have countess virtual guest built and configured on that platform. I’ve played around with Hyper-V and it’s worlds better than Virtual Server was but with the investment of time I have into my current setup I won’t be changing any of that any time soon. About the only thing I’ve used VPC for is to support Windows Mobile emulators and occasionally looking at the pre-built Microsoft VMs showcasing new products.

Windows Mobile

To me a cell phone is for calling people and keeping a eye on email. I occasionally use Communicator Mobile to contact co-workers but I almost never browse the Internet from it. The mobile Google Maps and Live Search apps are about as data intensive as I go, so I just don’t see the need for an expensive iPhone or similar newer generation device and the costly data plan. Plus tethering on rare occasions that I need access in remote areas is a big benefit my WM6 device has over some others. I also spent a fair amount of time learning how to customize the Home XML page so that I could get a better experience then the default WM6 home screens, in which I also learned how to use the Windows Mobile Emulator to speed up the development time. I used some sample code to reverse-engineer the process along with some discussion forums to figure out how to align the tiles in the correct spacing to match the background images I used with them.

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Zune

Although I actually come from a strong Apple/Macintosh background I’ve never been much of an Apple fanboy. That said, the 30GB iPod 5G I bought a few years back to replace a bricked Creative Labs media player was by far the best player on the market. No news there. This past year I received a 4GB Zune (2.0) player that I’ve been using more often for bus rides and short trips where it’s handy to have the small player, and I really like the interface on the Zune more than my iPod. I haven’t had any hands on experience with the latest generation of the Touch interface so I imagine this probably trumps the Zune experience, but maybe not. I never use these media players for video so maybe I’m not a typical target user.

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