BlackBerry Z10 Problems

February 1, 2013

Okay, so now I’m not quite as happy.

First, Wi-Fi access to the Z10 suddenly stopped working. Where before I had not been asked for the password, now attempting to open a folder on the Z10 instantly displays a pop-up asking for the password. Worse, the password is simply never accepted. I tried rebooting everything, changing the password, connecting the Z10 via a different access point, switching from 2.4GHz to 5GHz. You name it. Same problem: password not accepted.

So I broke down and installed the BlackBerry Link app. Ugh.

It’s not quite as ugly as iTunes. But it’s up there. I’m giving BlackBerry the benefit of the doubt and assuming a lot of the junk has to do with enterprise access. But whatever it is, I don’t need any of it. Plain old USB file access would do me fine. Whereas the Link software went ahead and installed at least two services, plus several other even less-obvious things that want to autorun with Windows. PeerManager.exe runs all the time, consuming 0.01% of my CPU capacity and about 5MB of memory. Is this really necessary, just to support a device that may be connected once every day or two? (Or even more rarely, depending on the user.)

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What’s more, I immediately got a firewall warning, informing me that mDNSresponder was trying to receive a connection from the Internet. I had to Google that one. Turns out this is a standard component of Apple’s thrice-cursed Bonjour service. So I’m almost back to iTunes levels of intrusiveness. Apparently, mDNSresponder is also included with all sorts of other shovelware, including the drivers you get with a lot of cheap peripherals. In any case, it is not something I asked for in so many words.

You can get rid of it, apparently. I found the executable file in

Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Research in Motion\TunnelManager

Fortunately, if you run mDNSresponder -remove from a command prompt, it seems to go away. USB access to the Z10 still seems to work. But I still have multiple services running all the time, even when I have no intention of connecting to the Z10. This is just sloppy, rude and ugly. A huge win for Android.

To be sure, this is something that most users of the BlackBerry Z10 will never know about, or care about. Well, call me crazy, but I resent having my PC treated as a doormat. Software should either be a single executable with a single function, or it should come with discrete options for every piece of resident junk it wants to install. Period. No exceptions. Not even for a nice device like the Z10.

Some of the complexity is probably aimed at providing secure access for enterprise users. That’s understandable. But there’s an obvious trade-off between capability and complexity. It would be nice if there were tiered installation installation options, with simple USB access as a default for private use. Enterprise users taking advantage of the BlackBerry Balance work/home capability may need something more secure. And even then, I have to wonder if it couldn’t be implemented in a simpler and more direct way than it is now.


Obnoxious Office

December 18, 2012

It’s amazing that Microsoft Office still manages to dominate the world of ‘productivity’ applications. The feature set is good (though stuck firmly in the 1990s), but the under the hood it’s the worst-programmed mess I’ve ever encountered. What’s particularly galling is that a lot of the problems are there not by accident, but by design. Case in point:

  • I need to install holidays in the Outlook calendar for 2013. No can do. Outlook 2007 only goes up to 2012.
  • Is there a simple fix? A tiny download, perhaps? No. You need, at minimum, a Microsoft executable ‘hotfix.’
  • Can you just download it? No. You need to request a link to be sent to your email address.
  • Can you just install it? No. You need at least Outlook SP2.

Remember: I’m not having any particular problems with Outlook that need a whole service pack. I just want holidays for 2013.

  • Does SP2 just install itself politely and go away? No. It needs a Windows reboot. Which means shutting down all the stuff I was working on when I discovered I needed holidays for 2013.
  • Upon rebooting, does Outlook just run? No. It pops up a dialog cryptically (and incorrectly) reporting “Preparing Outlook for first use.” Then proceeds to process all my data, for compatibility with the update.
  • Does this process complete quickly? No. In fact, I can hear my disk thrashing as I type. Why?? Outlook itself is running from my SSD, and the data files will easily fit into my 16GB of system RAM. So no disk access should be required.
  • The process completes after about 10 minutes. Are my problems over? Hardly! A warning pops up: “Microsoft Office Outlook has not been installed for the current user. Please run setup to install the application.” There is only one user: me. When I click “OK” (my only option), Outlook shuts down. Now I have to find my original disks, or something.
  • The installer runs, but now Outlook won’t recognize itself as legitimate. Neither Internet nor phone activation will work. Microsoft’s automated phone-registration robot implies that I’ve got an ‘illegitimate’ copy. I most definitely don’t… it’s a review copy I got directly from Microsoft. (The big plastic box is in front of me now… although I still can’t figure out how to open it.)
  • Does tech support have an answer? Oh, sure, but it’s not very satisfying: “This product is very old, there’s no free support, so pay up for support or pay up for a newer version.” (The support rep was very nice about it, and even confirmed that my product key was indeed legitimate. I’m afraid I was a bit testy with him, which I regret… none of this is his fault.)

What an incredible productivity-suck. If Outlook were just a regular program, with clearly-defined data structures, and without low-level hooks or obnoxious DRM, I’d have had the data I needed in a minute or two and been on my way. Instead, my afternoon is shot, I have no access to my huge file of email, and I still don’t have the 2013 holidays for my calendar. At the very least, I’m looking at a full re-install and probable loss of all my settings.

All for what? A tiny calendar-data update. This is just plain bad.

In fairness, I have to add that Outlook is the only email client that comes close to giving me the features I need. In particular, the ability to define custom columns, which allow me quickly access all messages relating to a particular company. Ironically, this feature seems to be gone in recent versions of the software. Fortunately, the columns I originally created in Outlook 2003 remain.

Despite the creeping de-featuring, Outlook remains my best option. But I’m always painfully aware that it’s a pale shadow of what it could be. The masses of priceless information in its store are only barely accessible to me. The tools for finding, correlating and exploiting all that information are rudimentary at best. The data files are monolithic, inaccessible to third-party tools. Performance, even on my Core i7 system is often lethargic. And every so often, it dumps me into a pit… like it has today.


The Dual Irony of Windows 8

July 16, 2012

I’ve been writing about the upcoming Microsoft Surface, and studying the keynote presentation describing it. It has struck me that with Windows 8, Microsoft has managed to screw up not once but twice, in a single release:

  • Windows 8 RT looks like a pretty good tablet solution. But, apart from the highly misleading name, it offers absolutely no continuity whatsoever with the 30-year-old Windows ecosystem.
  • Meanwhile, Windows 8 Pro breaks violently with that same 30-year tradition. Yet it fails to deliver a touch-based solution for existing Windows applications, with not even a token effort at making the desktop mode more finger-friendly.

This really is the worst of both worlds. Microsoft has belatedly launched a brand-new mobile OS, that’s going to have to catch up in stability and app support with two huge contenders, iOS and Android. (Even the BlackBerry OS has more of a track record at this point.) Yet it’s squandered its one undeniable advantage, by not playing off of the huge success of Windows on the PC. As Microsoft has pointed out, the potential audience for a truly Windows-like mobile OS was on the order of a half-billion users. The audience for brand-new MetrOS, dramatically less Windows-like than any of its competitors? Who knows.

At the same time, Microsoft has launched a new desktop OS without adding much-needed touch support. Windows 8 slaps on the goofy new Metro mode like a coat of paint… but, astoundingly, offers no improvement whatsoever in touch facilities for existing applications. Simply enlarging the red X ‘close window’ button might have been a start; how hard would that have been??? Microsoft has done so pathetically little to make the desktop more usable by touch that you simply can’t help thinking the company plans to kill it entirely. Thereby discarding its own most important asset: the continuity of applications, skills and user acceptance that Windows has built up over three decades. Microsoft has ensured that Windows users looking for a touch-based solution will find more continuity by switching to a competing OS.

Nice work. It’s not all that rare to see a big company shoot itself in the foot. But both feet with one pull of the trigger? That takes real genius.