Surface Pro – How to Ruin a Launch

Brad Feld recently referred to me as an “unapologetic Microsoft fanboy” – he wasn’t wrong. Back in October I purchased the Microsoft Surface RT tablet and happily gave up my iPad, my last piece of Apple tech. While the Surface RT isn’t perfect for me it’s been a far better device than the iPad.

On Saturday Microsoft released the follow-up, the Surface Pro (full review coming soon). No matter your brand loyalties this is a very important device. It’s Microsoft’s first computer, designed by them, built by them, sold by them. It’s one of the first Windows 8 Pro tablet form factor devices. It’s a fantastic, Apple-level piece of hardware. And it runs full Windows 8 Pro – meaning it runs any and every Windows app you’ve ever owned. Then when you want you can take it to the couch and touch/swipe away just like an iPad. It also is the first main-stream device to begin to tap the power of Windows 8, the merging of the tablet/touch world with the desktop/mouse world. They couldn’t have fucked up the launch more.

As I’ve been looking forward to the Pro for several months I was ready to pre-order, just like I did with my RT. Nope, no pre-orders. Ok, looks like I’ll be standing in line like I did way back for the iPhone 1. The only launch partners, save for Microsoft Stores, were BestBuy and Staples. So I begin calling to see what stock levels will be like and where I should go wait. This is where the fail begins.

On Friday night and Saturday morning I called 4 different BestBuy stores and 3 different Staples. Of the 7 stores five of them got 1. One. Uno. And only the 64GB one. 2 of the stores got 2, again only the 64GB one. Shocked by this I was left with one choice – drive 50 miles one-way to the Microsoft Store in Denver. I got there about 9:30 for a 10 a.m. opening and was shocked at the line. I was number #36 in line – of 40 available 128gb units. We chatted with the employees prior to opening and found out the other MS Store in Denver (even further south) got the same allocation – 40.

So let’s do the math here. There are 10 BestBuy stores in the Denver metro area and 9 Staples. Let’s assume 1.5 units per store (being generous) and that’s roughly 30 units. Now let’s add in the 80 128GB units at the Microsoft Stores and it looks like there are roughly 120 units total in Denver (and 1/3 no one wants). A quick Google search shows Denver metro’s population at 2.6 million. Let’s be extreme and triple these numbers, 300 total units for a population of 2.6 million. From media reports this has apparently been the case country wide.

This is beyond ridiculous. It’s utterly embarrassing. Whether this was due to the marketing or fulfillment teams is irrelevant. I’ve read in the press some think this was intentional as Microsoft wanted to ensure that it would sell out. The way to make a product sell out is to first build an amazing product (in my opinion they’ve done that), second market the shit out of it (which they have clearly failed) and finally have the product available to those excited to buy it. When someone shows up 10 minutes before launch to see a short line and then be told “sorry, we’re already out” is unbelievable. I saw them turn away at least 10 people. Had the line been 200 people fine. Oh and to add insult to injury you can’t even order one now – they are simply “Out of stock” on all sites.

Are you kidding Microsoft? Why do you constantly let yourself down so badly with these little things. This is the primary reason Apple is killing you in the hearts and minds of consumers. You built an amazing product that people want. When a store gets one in stock people can’t buy it, only a person can. Brad I’m officially apologizing for Microsoft – and I don’t like it.

When 64GB <> 64GB – Why it Doesn’t Matter

Yesterday there were stories making the rounds that the new 64GB Surface Pro would only have 23GB of usable space. The stories were all doom and gloom – how can this be?? There should be a lawsuit! Total and complete fail. This immediately puzzled me as I have a 64GB Surface RT (not Pro) and I’ve never once worried about disk space. There are a few reasons for this and why this is a non-story.

First, the Surface Pro isn’t a tablet – it’s a computer – and for me this is an important distinction. While it can be used as a tablet it’s really a hybrid laptop – and laptops have always been marketed this way. When the original Macbook Air was released it arrived with a 64GB SSD – just like the Surface Pro. While the Air had more usable space (about 38GB if I remember) it was not upgradeable via MicroSD cards like the Surface.  Only now with tablets and smartphones have we become accustomed to 64GB = 64GB available.

I do agree that 23GB of free space is pretty horrible. But let’s remember for under $60 you can add an additional 64GB of space (or simply opt for the 128GB model). The other reason this is a non-issue is cloud/network storage. I have virtually all my data – around 150GB – in Dropbox. Since the Surface runs Windows I can connect to my existing network shares and copy/stream all my media just like I’ve always done. And finally the Surface has a USB port. I have a 500GB pocket drive with a huge amount of media on it (TV, Movies, Music) and when I travel I just take that drive with me. I don’t have to deal with any iTunes bullshit and there is no change to my behavior as I’ve used this drive for years with all previous laptops.

I do agree that Microsoft has 2 big problems, marketing and 3rd party app support. Fortunately with the Surface Pro 3rd party app support is no longer a big issue as it runs virtually every Windows app ever written. As for it being a fail – 1080p display, kick stand, folding keyboard, stylus, under 2 lbs, 13mm thin, MicroSD, MicroHDMI, USB, 2 cameras and runs any Windows app for $900. Not sure why that’s a fail.

It’s easy to see the Surface Pro as an expensive tablet rather than the affordable and unique Windows 8 convertible that it really is. My prediction – Apple will release a hybrid iOS/OSX device within 24 months. The convergence of mobile and desktop is beginning.

Forwarding Between Gmail Accounts – Don’t Forget the Spam

Today we realized something rather important – if you are forwarding messages between two Gmail accounts (in our case both really Google Apps accounts) then it’s quiet possible you are missing some email thanks to Google’s spam filtering. Let me explain.

When a Gmail account processes mail one of the first things it does it test it for spam (and other custom filters). When it finds spam it marks it as such and removes it from the inbox. The kicker is that all of this happens before the email is forwarded. Only when the email reaches the inbox does it get forwarded to our second account.

Fortunately there’s a rather easy way to fix this – by creating our own filter to make sure that messages marked as spam are moved into the inbox so they will be forwarded (effectively turning off the spam filter). To do this follow these steps:

  • Start a search in Gmail for “in:spam”
  • Click the drop down arrow to the right of the search field and choose “Create filter with this search”
  • You’ll next get an error about using “in”, etc. labels in searches. Just click “OK”
  • Now choose “Never send it to Spam” and click “Create Filter”
  • Sit back and enjoy your spam being forwarded

Don’t worry, so long as the account your forwarding your messages to doesn’t have this filter created it’ll do the spam filtering for you keeping all your messages in one account. Sure wish this was the default behavior and that we’d found this out before we saw the 7400 spam messages.

Makerbot Replicator 2 – unboxing and impressions

Sometimes (most times) my job is pretty fantastic. I get to play with some amazing toys and tech as a part of the investments we make. But few get me as excited as when a new model from Makerbot arrives in our office. Yesterday was one of these magical days.

Enter the Replicator 2. If you’ve followed me in the past you know that we first built a Thing-o-matic and then moved to the Replicator (that came pre-built). Now the Replicator 2 – not only is it fully assembled but it looks fantastic. It looks like something you’d walk down to BestBuy right now and plunk down $2k for. It is, finally, a real product. Gone is the wooden hobbyist look, replaced by nice plastics and black metals. Makerbot has gone big time.

Unboxing couldn’t be easier. When you open the top you are presented with 2 handles to help you lift the machine out of the box (pretty sweet they used a new-style grocery bag for this, something I plan on reusing). It’s as simple as taking the machine out, cutting off the stabilizers (smartly those are printed on other bots back at HQ), connecting power and beginning the initial setup. That setup entails you adjusting the build platform height to get it level relative to the extruder (print) head. While this isn’t a hard task I did have trouble with it as our platform simply wouldn’t go low enough to pass the tests. As we had little options we pushed forward and began our first print.

As with the original Replicator there is a small panel on the front so you can control the bot without having to be connected to your PC (speeding your time to first print). I selected the shark print (as I’d done one on the previous machine to compare) and let it go. It’s noticeable quieter than the previous model and seems to heat up quicker too. Print times felt on par with the previous device as well.

Next up – let’s print from the PC. Enter the new MakerWare application. I could write an entire post on it alone – it is a HUGE improvement over the open source app they were using before (I’m not sure this app is open source, but given their mantra I hope so). I loaded in a Vase I downloaded from Thingiverse, adjusted it’s size and hit Make. This time I was prompted for quality settings (a new feature this time around) so I choose highest quality. This took a long time. No, I mean a LONG time. When I went home it had been printing for almost 4 hours and I had little confidence that this morning when I arrived I’d have a finished product (as on the old machine long prints like that would almost always fail). I was shocked to find a fantastic looking vase sitting on the bot when I arrived. It is by far the highest quality thing I’ve ever printed – I was stunned by the quality.

It’s rare that I get an opportunity to play with the products from our companies in such a deep way, and for such a long time. It’s been really impressive to see what Makerbot and their team have built over the past few years. Thinking back to the first box of parts we received (and spent 40 hours building) seeing this product arrive at my desk really shows how far these guys have been able to come in a relatively short time. They want to be the Laserjet of 3D printing – in my opinion they are there. This is the future.

If you want to see it being created stop by anytime. Warning, I’ll talk about it almost as long as I do about cars…

Not all 4G is built equally

So you’ve no doubt taken the plunge and some device you own has been upgraded to 4G. Maybe it’s your new iPhone 5, maybe you’ve had a Galaxy Nexus since last year or maybe you just got a shinny new MiFi device. Either way how can you know that you’re getting the fastest bandwidth possible for your mobile needs? Well we’ve found that the actual device itself can mean almost as much as the network you’re using.

The chart below shows some simple testing I did with a number of 4G devices around our office. While this isn’t the most scientific test ever devised all the devices are on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. They were all in the same physical location, my desk in our office in downtown Boulder. All tests were done using Speedtest.net – again not the most scientific testing ever but something that would give us a real world idea of what to expect.


(each device ran 5 tests and these are the averages)

The results are fairly interesting. You’ll see the clear winner, as much as those who know me know I hate to admit this – the iPhone 5. While it’s up speeds weren’t the fastest they were rather consistent and it easily was the fastest for downloads (spiking to 22MB on occasion). While I’ve seen my Galaxy Nexus hit 45MB (in Las Vegas at CES last year) I haven’t gotten anywhere near that speed here in Boulder.

The chart also shows another clear thing – the dedicated MiFi devices are consistently slower than their multi-function brothers (even bested by an iPad 3). What did we learn from all this testing – it’s time to ditch our MiFi’s and live in an iPhone/iPad world for tethering. Not only is it a less expensive option it’s clearly the faster one – at least if your travels include my desk.

Migrating between cloud providers made easy – StandingCloud

Recently I needed to setup 5 WordPress based websites as quickly as possible to begin work on a new project. As there was quite a bit to be done customizing WordPress I wanted a solution to bring the sites online as quickly as possible but in such a way that I could move them to production in the future. Enter StandingCloud.

StandingCloud is cloud application marketplace that allows you to bring up applications in the cloud extremely quickly and easily. You can choose what application you’d like (from dozens), then what cloud provider you’d like to host your application with. Finally you choose how much memory and bandwidth you’d like and you’re on your way. Within a matter of minutes you’ll have your own cloud based server online and ready for use.

As I worked through all 5 of our sites I realized I’d made a mistake when setting up the initial server. As I wanted to be cheap I’d only given it 512MB of memory, not enough to run the 5 apps I’d launched. Disappointingly I found that there is no way to simply increase the amount of memory for an entire server. As StandingCloud takes an application focused approach (vs. server based) they had no way to adjust the base settings for the server.

While a little frustrating all was not lost as one of the most powerful features of StandingCloud is the ability to move applications between cloud providers. So I spun up a new server (this time with SoftLayer and 2GB of RAM). As that server was coming online I shutdown and backed up all 5 of my applications. Then once the new server was online I simply restored the applications to the new SoftLayer server. As StandingCloud also handles DNS for me (using simple CNAMES) I simply had to wait a few minutes (about 15) for everything to come online.

Less than 30 minutes later I’d moved 5 websites from one cloud provider on a small server to a new cloud provider on a much more powerful one. In a matter of a few mouse clicks. And I did it all without setting up any sort of account with the independent providers – StandingCloud took care of all of it for me.

Next time you need to quickly spin up a cloud based application I hope you’ll give StandingCloud a try.