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How to iCloud unlock an iPad or iPhone?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on October 21, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsA lot of people seem to be asking this question. So, let’s explore if there are any solutions to the iCloud unlock problem.

Apple’s iCloud Lock: What is it?

Let’s examine what exactly is an iCloud lock. When you use an iPhone or iPad, a big part of that experience is using iCloud. You may not even know it. You may not know how much iCloud you are actually using (which is how Apple likes it) as it is heavily integrated into every Apple device. The iCloud service uses your Apple ID to gain access. Your Apple ID consists of your username (an email address) and a password. You can enable extended security features like two factor authentication, but for simplicity, I will discuss devices using only a standard login ID and password… nothing fancy.

iCloud is Apple’s cloud network services layer that support service synchronization between devices like calendaring, email contacts, phone data, iMessage, iCloud Drive, Apple Music, iTunes Playlists, etc. As long as your Apple ID remains logged into these services, you will have access to the same data across all of your devices. Note, your devices don’t have to use iCloud at all. You can disable it and not use any of it. However, Apple makes it terribly convenient to use iCloud’s services including such features as Find my iPhone, which allows you to lock or erase your iPhone if it’s ever lost or stolen.

One feature that automatically comes along for the ride when using iCloud services is an iCloud lock. If you have ever logged your iPhone or iPad into iCloud, your device is now locked to your Apple ID. This means that if it’s ever lost or stolen, no one can use your device because it is locked to your iCloud Apple ID and locked to Find my iPhone for that user (which I believe is now enabled by default upon logging into iCloud).

This also means that any recipient of such an iCloud locked device cannot use that device as their own without first disassociating that device from the previous Apple ID. This lock type is known as an iCloud lock. This type of Apple lock is separate from a phone carrier lock which limits with which carriers a phone can be used. Don’t confuse or conflate the two.

I should further qualify what “use your device” actually means after an iCloud lock is in place. A thief cannot clean off your device and then log it into their own Apple ID and use the phone for themselves. Because the phone is iCloud locked to your account, it’s locked to your account forever (or until you manually disassociate it). This means that unless you explicitly remove the association between your Apple ID and that specific device, no one can use that device again on Apple’s network. The best a would-be thief can do with your stolen phone is open it up and break it down for limited parts. Or, they can sell the iCloud locked device to an unsuspecting buyer before the buyer has a chance to notice that it’s iCloud locked.

Buying Used Devices

If you’re thinking of buying a used iPhone from an individual or any online business who is not Apple and because the iCloud lock is an implicit and automatic feature enabled simply by using iCloud services, you will always need to ask any seller if the device is iCloud unlocked before you pay. Or, more specifically, you will need to ask if the previous owner of the device has logged out and removed the device from Find my iPhone services and all other iCloud and Apple ID services. If this action has not been performed, then the device will remain iCloud locked to that specific Apple ID. You should also avoid the purchase and look for a reputable seller.

What this means to you as a would-be buyer of used Apple product is that you need to check for this problem immediately before you walk away from the seller. If the battery on the device is dead, walk away from the sale. If you’re buying a device sight unseen over the Internet, you should be extremely wary before clicking ‘Submit’. In fact, I’d recommend not buying used Apple equipment from eBay or Craigslist because of how easy it is to buy bricked equipment and lose your money. Anything you buy from Apple shouldn’t be a problem. Anything you buy from a random third party, particularly if they’re in China, might be a scam.

Can iCloud Lock be Removed?

Technically yes, but none of the solutions are terribly easy or in some cases practical. Here is a possible list of solutions:

1) This one requires technical skills, equipment and repair of the device. With this solution, you must take the device apart, unsolder a flash RAM chip, reflash it with a new serial number, then reassemble the unit.

Pros: This will fix the iPad or iPhone and allow it to work
Cons: May not work forever if Apple notices the faked and changed serial number. If the soldering job was performed poorly, the device hardware could fail.

Let’s watch a video of this one in action:

2) Ask the original owner of the device, if you know who they are, to disassociate the iDevice from their account. This will unlock it.

Pros: Makes the device 100% functional. No soldering.
Cons: Requires knowing the original owner and asking them to disassociate the device.

3) Contact Apple with your original purchase receipt and give Apple all of the necessary information from the device. Ask them to remove the iCloud lock. They can iCloud unlock the device if they so choose and if they deem your device purchase as valid.

Pros: Makes the device 100% functional.
Cons: Unlocking Apple devices through Apple Support can be difficult, if not impossible. Your mileage may vary.

4) Replace the logic board in the iPad / iPhone with one from another. Again, this one requires repair knowledge, tools, experience and necessary parts.

Pros: May restore most functionality to the device.
Cons: Certain features, like the touch ID button and other internal systems may not work 100% after a logic board replacement.

As you can see, none of these are particularly easy, but none are all that impossible either. If you’re not comfortable cracking open your gear, you might need to ask a repair center if they can do any of this for you. However, reflashing a new serial number might raise eyebrows at some repair centers with the assumption that your device is stolen. Be careful when asking a repair center to perform #1 above for you.

iCloud Locking

It seems that the reason the iCloud Lock came into existence is to thwart thieves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually solve that problem. Instead, it creates a whole new set of consumer problems. Now, not only are would-be thieves stealing iPads still, they’re selling these devices iCloud locked to unsuspecting buyers and scamming them out of their money. The thieves don’t care. The only thing this feature does is screw used device consumers out of their money.

Thieves

That Apple thought they could stop thievery by implementing the iCloud lock shows just how idealistically naïve Apple’s technical team really is. Instead, they created a whole new scamming market for iCloud locked Apple devices. In fact, the whole reason this article exists is to explain this problem.

For the former owner of an iPad which was stolen, there’s likely no hope of ever getting it back. The iCloud lock feature does nothing to identify the thief or return stolen property to its rightful owner. The iCloud lock simply makes it a tiny nuisance to the thief and would-be scammer. As long as they can get $100 or $200 for selling an iCloud locked iPad, they don’t care if it’s iCloud locked. In fact, the fact that this feature exists makes no difference at all to a thief.

It may reduce the “value” of the stolen property some, but not enough to worry about. If it was five finger discounted, then any money had is money gained, even if it’s a smaller amount than anticipated. For thieves, the iCloud lock does absolutely nothing to stop thievery.

Buyers

Here’s the place where the iCloud lock technology hurts the most. Instead of thwarting would-be thieves, it ends up placing the burden of the iCloud lock squarely on the consumer. If you are considering buying a used device, which should be a simple straightforward transaction, you now have to worry about whether the device is iCloud locked.

It also means that buying an iPhone or iPad used could scam you out of your money if you’re not careful. It’s very easy to buy these used devices sight unseen from online sellers. Yet, when you get the box open, you may find the device is iCloud locked to an existing Apple ID. At that point, unless you’re willing to jump through one of the four hoops listed above, you may have just been scammed.

If you can’t return the device, then you’re out money. The only organization that stands to benefit from the iCloud lock is Apple and that’s only because they’ll claim you should have bought your device new from them. If this is Apple’s attempt at thwarting or reducing used hardware sales, it doesn’t seem to be working. For the consumer, the iCloud lock seems intent on harming consumer satisfaction for device purchases of used Apple equipment… a market that Apple should want to exist because it helps them sell more software product (their highest grossing product).

Sellers

For actually honest sellers, an iCloud lock makes selling used iPad and iPhone devices a small problem. For unscrupulous sellers, then there is no problem here at all. An honest seller must make sure that the device has been disassociated from its former Apple ID before putting the item up for sale. If an honest seller doesn’t know the original owner and the device is locked, it should not be sold. For the unscrupulous sellers, the situation then becomes the scammer selling locked gear and potentially trafficking stolen goods.

It should be said that it is naturally assumed that an iCloud locked device is stolen. It makes sense. If the owner had really wanted the item sold as used, they would have removed the device from iCloud services… except that Apple doesn’t make this process at all easy to understand.

Here’s where Apple fails would-be sellers. Apple doesn’t make it perfectly clear that selling the device requires removing the Apple ID information fully and completely from the device. Even wiping the device doesn’t always do this as there are many silent errors in the reset process. Many owners think that doing a wipe and reset of the device is enough to iCloud unlock the device. It isn’t.

As a would-be seller and before wiping it, you must go into your iPad or iPhone and manually remove the device from Find my iPhone and log the phone out of all Apple ID services. This includes not only logging it out of iCloud, but also logging out out of iTunes and Email and every other place where Apple requires you to enter your Apple ID credentials. Because iOS requires logging in multiple times separately to each of these services, you must log out of these services separately on the device. Then, wipe the device. Even after all of that, you should double check Find my iPhone from another device to make sure the old device no longer shows up there. In fact, you should walk through the setup process once to the point where it asks you for your Apple ID to confirm the device is not locked to your Apple ID.

This is where it’s easy to sell a device thinking you’ve cleared it all out, but you actually haven’t. It also means that this device was legitimately sold as used, but wasn’t properly removed from iCloud implying that it’s now stolen. Instead, Apple needs to offer a ‘Prep for Resell’ setting in Settings. This means this setting will not only wipe the device in the end, but it will also 100% ensure an iCloud unlock of the device and log it out of all logged Apple ID services. This setting will truly wipe the device clean as though it were an unregistered, brand new device. If it’s phone device, it should also carrier unlock the phone so that it can accept a SIM card from any carrier.

Apple makes it very easy to set up brand new devices, but Apple makes it equally difficult to properly clear off a device for resale. Apple should make this part a whole lot easier for would-be sellers. If need be, maybe Apple needs to sell a reseller toolkit to scan and ensure devices are not only iCloud unlocked, but run diagnostic checks to ensure they are worthy of being sold.


 

If you like what you’ve just read, please leave a comment below and give me your experiences.

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How To: Killing Apps on iOS and Android

Posted in Android, Apple, best practices, howto by commorancy on September 4, 2018

Kill_AppsHere’s a quick how-to tutorial. This tutorial will show you how to kill running applications on your Apple or Android phone or tablet device. Let’s explore.

Killing Apps

You might be asking, “Well, why would I want to do that?” There are times where apps misbehave or hang leaving a dead app on your phone or tablet. These can drag down the performance of your phone. For this reason, killing an app allows you to restart them to get them working again. Without further adieu, let’s get started…

Apple iOS

To kill apps on iOS 11, it’s simple. For Apple devices that have a home button (this excludes iPhone X), double click the home button. The home button is the button located at the bottom or side of your device (depending on orientation). It’s the only front facing button on the bezel. With the device logged in, double click this home button.

For the iPhone X, the line at the bottom kind of acts like a home button. From the line at the bottom, with your finger drag upwards to minimize the apps into a stacked list. This is similar to double clicking the home button.

Once in the stacked list, kill any specific app or all apps as follows:

  • Press and hold your finger on top of one of the stacked app screens and with a fluid motion, drag your finger to the top of the screen.
    • If you perform this motion correctly, the screen will disappear. The app is now killed.
    • If you notice the screen moving side to side and not up and down, you dragged sideways.
    • Scrolling side to side lets you selectively choose which app to kill. Try again to pull the app screen upwards.
    • If you touch the app screen once, it will bring that app to the foreground.
    • If you touch the background outside of the app, it will bring you to your home screen of icons.
  • To kill all apps, perform this motion on each and every stack app screen until there are no more left.
  • No, iOS does not provide a ‘kill all’ feature. You must kill app separately. Note, you can’t hear the double-clicking of the home button. Here’s an iOS demonstration:

Android

To kill apps on Android 6.x or above, you’ll need to locate the double rectangle button either on the bezel of your phone or on the display of your phone (at the bottom). This double-rectangle button drops you into the screen that shows you all of your currently running apps.

Click this button, then follow along based on the videos:

Obvious isn’t always

Because Apple and Android have both hidden this feature behind cryptic buttons, it isn’t sometimes obvious how to do this. Also note that even if you reboot your device, the apps may still continue to run from the state where they formerly were. To kill an app and start it fresh (particularly on iOS), the only way is to kill the app as described above. I find that, for example, I regularly have to kill Hulu as it likes to hang.

Good Luck!

As always, if you like what you read hear at Randocity, please click the follow button, like and comment below.

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How to fix Touch ID purchasing after Apple ID unlock

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on August 14, 2018

Touch ID App store purchasing no longer works after your Apple ID is unlocked? How do you get it working again? Let’s explore.

Apple ID Locked

I’ve recently begun having problems with Apple locking my Apple ID account about every 3 weeks with no explanation. After I’ve unlocked my account, I find that the App store app refuses to use Touch ID and forces entry of my password to download an app. Hey Apple, I set up Touch ID so I don’t have to type in a password.

I’ve called Apple twice about this problem and they are of no help. I had to figure this one out on my own. Thanks Apple… not!

Not only does Apple have no logs to determine why the account is locked, they simply don’t care about this problem. Their login system has become shit in the last few months beginning in June of 2018. I have no explanation for this lockout problem except that Apple needs to get their shit together. I’ve never had this problem before this point. Anyway, once an Apple ID is locked, you’ll need to unlock it to proceed cleaning up the mess Apple leaves behind.

Note, I have no problems unlocking my account. In fact, it takes about 5 minutes or less. However, there’s a bunch of crap to do to clean up Apple’s mess.

Unlocking an Apple ID

To unlock your account, go to appleid.apple.com. Note, I have chosen not to linkify in the address in this article for security reasons. This is why it’s not clickable in this paragraph.

Instead, simply select the text => appleid.apple.com . Then copy and paste it into your browser’s address bar. Or better, type it into your browser’s address bar manually. Next, browse to this destination. Because this is Apple’s security site which manages your Apple ID security settings, I urge you to make sure you type it in exactly and carefully. If you mistype this address, it’s possible that you could land on a malicious web site that looks identical to Apple’s site and which could collect your Apple ID and password. Alway be cautious, alert and careful when visiting sites which manage the security of your account(s). Here are the steps to get you started:

  • Once you’re on the Apple ID site, under the ‘Manage your Apple account’ text, enter your Apple ID username and click the arrow pointing right →
  • Now enter your current password and click the arrow →
  • It will tell you your account is locked
  • At this point, follow the prompts to unlock your account

You’ll need to need to know the following info (as of 2018) to unlock your account:

  • Birthdate
  • Answers to the security questions you set up previously

This section assumes you have not set up two-factor authentication. You can choose to unlock by email or by answering security questions. It’s up to you which path to follow. Whichever path you choose, complete the process to unlock your Apple ID. After unlocking, here’s where the fun begins. /sarc

If you can’t remember your security questions or birthdate, you’ll need to contact Apple Support and request for them to help you with unlocking your Apple ID. If you have set up two-factor authentication (2FA), you will need to know your recovery key. If you’ve lost you recovery key and access to your trusted device after setting up 2FA, you’re out of luck. If you have access to your trusted device, Apple can send you a text to finish the unlocking process. You cannot recover your Apple ID when using 2FA if you have lost the recovery key and lost access to your trusted device. For this reason alone, I cannot recommend setting up 2FA on your Apple ID. Stick with a strong password and avoid 2FA.

Note, I strongly recommend unlocking your account via this web browser method only. Even if your iPhone or iPad prompts to unlock your account directly on your device, don’t. Do not rely on the methods built into iOS devices as I have found them to be problematic and unreliable. Using the browser method, you will have no troubles.

Account Unlocked / Touch ID problems

Once your account is unlocked, you’ll find that all devices that were formerly logged into this account will have been force logged out. This force logout method is different than the method you would use to logout on the device. If you log out of the device, you will be prompted for both the account name and the password. With Apple’s force logout due to a lock, you are only required to reenter your password. Your login ID will be remembered and cached.

An account lockout wreaks havoc on certain features in iOS like Touch ID. Because the account was force logged out, then unlocked, Touch ID will fail to work on both the Music and the App store app. As I said above, you’ll find that the App store now prompts you to enter your password rather than using Touch ID.

Worse, you can go to settings and clearly see that Touch ID is still enabled for the App store app, but it is not working. This is demonstrably a bug that Apple simply won’t fix. How do we resolve this? Let’s continue.

Fixing Touch ID in the iTunes and App store app after a lockout

Here are the steps to fix this problem:

  • Kill the Music and App store apps on your iOS device. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. You do this by double clicking the home button. Then scroll through the apps running, then drag the app up to the top of the screen with your finger until it disappears from the list. This will kill that app. It’s always a good idea to periodically kill all running apps on your phone to improve performance. Be sure to kill the App store app before proceeding. If you have many apps in the list to scroll through, you can bring the app to the front of the list easily by launching the app before trying to kill it.
  • Once the apps are killed, proceed to the Home screen and touch the Settings app
  • Scroll down to Touch ID & Passcode and touch it
  • Enter your pincode (if requested)
  • This is the screen you’ll see next
  • On this screen, you’ll see the iTunes & App store is already enabled (green). This setting is a lie. After a force lock and unlock, Apple automatically disables this feature internally even though the button shows green and enabled. That this button remains enabled is a bug and is the reason Touch ID doesn’t work.
  • Click the green slider button next to iTunes & App Store to disable this setting.
  • Wait for a moment for this to register and turn grey, like so 
  • Now, click it a second time to re-enable it. This time, it will prompt you for your Apple ID password.
  • Enter your current Apple ID password in the password prompt
  • Wait for the button to do a little jig before leaving this screen. The jig is described like so: the button starts off green, then turns grey for a moment, then slides back to green. This jig confirms that Touch ID for the App store is now truly enabled
  • Exit to the home screen and launch the App store app
  • Browse to any free app in the store and click ‘Get’. Touch ID should now prompt you for your fingerprint instead of prompting for your password.

If you skip killing the apps where I asked you to do that, you’ll find that the App store app still prompts for a password. The reason for this is that the App has cached the forced logout. To break that cache, you perform all of the steps described above. Following the order of these steps is important.

If you leave the App store app running when you reset the Touch ID settings, you’ll find that the password prompt problem remains. You may find that killing and relaunching the app even after resetting the Touch ID after-the-fact also won’t work. That’s why the order the steps is important.

Stupid Problems, Debugging and Network Settings

Problems this stupid shouldn’t exist on iOS devices, but here we are. I’ve already discussed this issue with Apple Support, but they simply won’t do anything about it. In fact, because this problem was formerly a rare occurrence, Apple Support isn’t even aware of this workaround.

In fact, while on the phone, Apple Support “recommended” that I reset my network settings. Never reset network settings as a first step. Resetting network settings should be the absolute last step and only when nothing else resolves a problem. The difficulty with resetting network settings is that it wipes all iCloud stored network passwords and access point information, like WiFi passwords. Not only does it wipe all WiFi networks and passwords on iCloud for the device where you wiped network settings, it wipes it for every device also using iCloud. This means if your Apple ID is being used on a MacBook, an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod or any combination of several of these devices, you’ll have to reinter the password on every device manually. It will also have forgotten all of the access points that iCloud formerly knew. Each new device will need to relearn them all.

You can somewhat solve this problem by first signing your device out of iCloud before wiping network settings. However, when you log your device back into iCloud, it might still wipe some settings from iCloud once logged back in and synced with iCloud. Be cautious with doing this.

I’ve been there and done that. This is a pain-in-the-ass. If Apple Support ever requests you to wipe network settings, tell them politely but firmly, “No.” Then state, “I only wipe network settings as a last ditch effort. Let’s exhaust all other workarounds and possibilities first.”

Wiping network settings usually only resolves actual networking problems, such as the phone refusing to connect to a WiFi access point. Touch ID has nothing to do with networking. Be wary of Support Team members requesting you to wipe network settings to help resolve non-network problems. The last thing you want to do is spend hours fixing all of your other devices in addition to not resolving the original problem. The Apple Support team is very good at causing more problems without actually solving the original problem. It is up to you to always exercise your best judgement to prevent Apple Support slip ups.

I really wish that Apple would just fix these stupid bugs. I also wish that they would tell me why my account keeps getting locked out.

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iPhone Risk: Your Employer and Personal Devices

Posted in best practices, cloud computing, computers, data security, Employment by commorancy on May 5, 2013

So, you go to work every day with your iPhone, Android phone or even an iPod. You bring it with you because you like having the convenience of people being able to reach you or because you listen to music. Let’s get started so you can understand your risks.

Employment Agreements

We all know these agreements. We typically sign one whenever we start a new job. Employers want to make sure that each employee remains responsible all during employment and some even require that employee to remain responsible even after leaving the company for a specified (or sometimes unspecified) period of time.  That is, these agreements make you, as an employee, personally responsible for not sharing things that shouldn’t be shared. Did you realize that many of these agreements extend to anything on your person and can include your iPhone, iPod, Android Phone, Blackberry or any other personal electronic device that you carry onto the property? Thus, the Employment Agreement may allow your employer to seize these devices to determine if they contain any data they shouldn’t contain.

You should always take the time to read these agreements carefully and thoroughly. If you don’t or can’t decipher the legalese, you should take it to an attorney and pay the fee for them to review it before signing it.  You might be signing away too many of your own personal rights including anything you may be carrying on your person.

Your Personal Phone versus Your Employer

We carry our personal devices to our offices each and every day without really thinking about the consequences. The danger, though, is that many employers now allow you to load up personal email on your own personal iDevices. Doing this can especially leave your device at risk of legal seizure or forfeiture under certain conditions.  So, always read Employment Agreements carefully. Better, if your employer requires you to be available remotely, they should supply you with all of the devices you need to support that remote access. If that support means you need to be available by phone or text messaging, then they should supply you with a device that supports these requirements.

Cheap Employers and Expensive Devices

As anyone who has bought an iPhone or an Android phone can attest, these devices are not cheap. Because many people are buying these for their own personal use, employers have become jaded by this and leech into this freebie and allow employees to use their own devices for corporate communication purposes. This is called a subsidy. You are paying your cell phone bill and giving part of that usage to your employer, unless your employer is reimbursing you part or all of your plan rate.  If you are paying your own bill without reimbursement, but using the device to connect to your company’s network or to corporate email, your device is likely at high risk should there be a legal need to investigate the company for any wrong doing. This could leave your device at risk of being pulled from your grasp, potentially forever.

If you let the company reimburse part or all of your phone bill, especially on a post-paid plan, the company could seize your phone on termination as company property.  The reason, post-paid plans pay for the cost of the phone as part of your bill. If the company reimburses more than 50% of the phone cost as part of your bill, they could legally own the phone at the end of your employment. If the company doesn’t reimburse your plan, your employer could still seize your device if you put corporate communication on your phone because it then contains company property.

What should I do?

If the company requires that you work remotely or have access to company communication after hours, they need to provide you with a device that supports this access. If they are unwilling to provide you with a device, you should decline to use your personal device for that purpose. At least, you should decline unless the employment agreement specifically states that they can’t seize your personal electronics. Although, most employers likely won’t put a provision in that explicitly forbids them from taking your device. Once you bring your device on the property, your employer can claim that your device contains company property and seize it anyway. Note that even leaving it in your car could be enough if the company WiFi reaches your car in its parking space.

Buy a dumb phone and use that at work. By this I mean, buy a phone that doesn’t support WiFi, doesn’t support a data plan, doesn’t support email, doesn’t support bluetooth and that doesn’t support any storage that can be removed. If your phone is a dumb phone, it cannot be claimed that it could contain any company file data.  If it doesn’t support WiFi, it can’t be listening in on company secrets.  This dumb phone basically requires your company to buy you a smart phone if they need you to have remote access to email and always on Internet. It also prevents them from leeching off your personal iPhone plan.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have an iPhone, but you should leave it at home during work days. Bring your dumb phone to work. People can still call and text you, but the phone cannot be used as a storage vehicle for company secrets (unless you start entering corporate contacts into the phone book). You should avoid entering any company contact information in your personal phone’s address book. Even this information could be construed as confidential data and could be enough to have even your dumb phone seized.

If they do decide to seize your dumb phone, you’ve only lost a small amount of money in the phone and it’s simple to replace the SIM card in most devices. So, you can probably pick up a replacement phone and get it working the same day for under $100 (many times under $30).

Request to Strike Language from the Employment Agreement

Reading through your Employment Agreement can make or break the deal of whether or not you decide to hire on. Some Employment Agreements are way overreaching in their goals. Depending on how the management reacts to your request to strike language from the Employment Agreement may tell you the kind of company you are considering. In some cases, I’ve personally had language struck from the agreement and replaced with an addendum to which we both agreed and signed. In another case, I walked away from the position because both the hiring and HR managers refused to alter the Employment Agreement containing overreaching language. Depending on how badly they want to fill the position, you may or may not have bargaining power here. However, if it’s important to you, you should always ask. If they decline to amend the agreement, then you have to decide whether or not the position is important enough to justify signing the Agreement with that language still in place.

But, I like my iPhone/iPad/iPod too much

Then, you take your chances with your employer. Only you can judge your employer for their intent (and by reading your employment agreement).  When it comes down to brass tacks, your employer will do what’s right for the company, not for you. The bigger the company gets, the more likely they are to take your phone and not care about you or the situation. If you work in a 1000+ employee company, your phone seizure risk greatly increases.  This is especially true if you work in any position where you have may access to extremely sensitive company data.

If you really like your device, then you should protect it by leaving it someplace away from the office (and not in your car parked on company property). This will ensure they cannot seize it from you when you’re on company property. However, it won’t stop them from visiting your home and confiscating it from you there.

On the other hand, unlike the dumb phone example above, if they size your iPhone, you’re looking at a $200-500 expense to replace the phone plus the SIM card and possibly other expenses. If you have synced your iPhone with your computer at home and data resides there, that could leave your home computer at risk of seizure, especially if the Federal Government is involved. Also, because iCloud now stores backups of your iDevices, they could petition the court to seize your Apple ID from Apple to gain access to your iDevice backups.

For company issued iPhones, create a brand new Apple ID using your company email address. Have your company issued phone create its backups in your company created Apple ID. If they seize this Apple ID, there is no loss to you. You should always, whenever possible create separate IDs for company issued devices and for your personal devices. Never overlap this personal and company login IDs matter how tempting it may be. This includes doing such things as linking in your personal Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo or any other personal site accounts to your corporate issued iPhone or Apps. If you take any personal photographs using your company phone, you should make sure to get them off of the phone quickly.  Better, don’t take personal pictures with your company phone. If you must sync your iPhone with a computer, make sure it is only a company computer. Never sync your company issued iPhone or iPad with your personally owned computer. Only sync your device with a company issued computer.

Personal Device Liabilities

Even if during an investigation nothing is turned up on your device related to the company’s investigation, if they find anything incriminating on your device (i.e., child porn, piracy or any other illegal things), you will be held liable for those things they find as a separate case. If something is turned up on your personal device related to the company’s investigation, it could be permanently seized and never returned.  So, you should be aware that if you carry any device onto your company’s premises, your device can become the company’s property.

Caution is Always Wise

With the use of smart phones comes unknown liabilities when used at your place of employment. You should always treat your employer and place of business as a professional relationship. Never feel that you are ‘safe’ because you know everyone there. That doesn’t matter when legal investigations begin. If a court wants to find out everything about a situation, that could include seizing anything they feel is relevant to the investigation. That could include your phone, your home computer, your accounts or anything else that may be relevant. Your Employment Agreement may also allow your employer to seize things that they need if they feel you have violated the terms of your employment. Your employer can also petition the court to require you to relinquish your devices to the court.

Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t get your devices, computers or accounts back. But, it could take months if the investigation drags on and on. To protect your belongings from this situation, here are some …

Tips

  • Read your Employment Agreement carefully
  • Ask to strike language from Agreements that you don’t agree with
  • Make sure agreements with companies eventually expire after you leave the company
  • NDAs should expire after 5-10 years after termination
  • Non-compete agreements should expire 1 year after termination
  • Bring devices to the office that you are willing to lose
  • Use cheap dumb phones (lessens your liability)
  • Leave memory sticks and other memory devices at home
  • Don’t use personal devices for company communication (i.e., email or texting)
  • Don’t let the company pay for your personal device bills (especially post-paid cell plans)
  • Prepaid plans are your friend at your office
  • Require your employer to supply and pay for iDevices to support your job function
  • Turn WiFi off on all personal devices and never connect them to corporate networks
  • Don’t connect personal phones to corporate email systems
  • Don’t text any co-workers about company business on personal devices
  • Ask Employees to refrain from texting your personal phone
  • Use a cheap mp3 player without WiFi or internet features when at the office
  • Turn your personal cell phone off when at work, if at all possible
  • Step outside the office building to make personal calls
  • Don’t use your personal Apple ID when setting up your corporate issued iPhone
  • Create a new separate Apple ID for corporate issued iPhones
  • Don’t link iPhone or Android apps to personal accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc)
  • Don’t take personal photos with a company issued phone
  • Don’t sync company issued phones with your personally owned computer
  • Don’t sync personal phones with company owned computers
  • Replace your device after leaving employment of a company

Nothing can prevent your device from being confiscated under all conditions. But, you can help reduce this outcome by following these tips and by segregating your personal devices and accounts from your work devices and work accounts. Keeping your personal devices away from your company’s property is the only real way to help prevent it from being seized. But, the company could still seize it believing that it may contain something about the company simply because you were or are an employee. Using a dumb prepaid phone is probably the only way to ensure that on seizure, you can get a phone set up and your service back quickly and with the least expense involved. I should also point out that having your phone seized does not count as being stolen, so your insurance won’t pay to replace your phone for this event.

Create custom ringtones from mp3s in iTunes

Posted in itunes by commorancy on October 10, 2010

You might think that creating ringtones from imported music in iTunes is complex.  It’s not.  It’s pretty simple and it’s free.  Assuming that you’ve imported your music from CD as mp3, it’s easy.  Note, this doesn’t work for AAC files (files downloaded from the iTunes store).  For this reason, it’s really a better idea to rip your music as mp3 format.  I recommend this anyway strictly because not all mp3 players can play AAC.  Yes, AAC may be a slightly better format, but it’s less compatible across the board.  There are no digital music  players that I’m aware of that don’t understand mp3 files.  Should you decide to get rid of your iPhone or iPod and go with another digital player, your AAC files may not work on your new player.  Worse, if you’ve purchased any DRM protected AAC files, these definitely won’t play.  So, buying music from the iTunes store basically locks you into an Apple music player. Anyway,  I digress.

Steps to creating ringtones

  1. Identify the music files you want to convert and ensure they are not in AAC format (use right-click Get Info and look at Where under the summary tab)
  2. Listen to the track and determine the start and end points you want for your ringtone.  You might want to choose the chorus of the song, but make sure it totals less than 40 seconds.
  3. Use right-click Get Info and then under the Options tab, type in the start and end times.  Times are mm:ss.frame format.  If you supply mm:ss only, it assumes the frame is 0 (zero).
  4. Click OK to save your start and end settings on the song.  Double click the song to ensure proper start and end.
  5. Right-click the song again and this time choose ‘Create AAC version’.  If this option is missing from the menu, you will need to change your import settings to import as AAC (to allow creation of ringtones) through the iTunes’ Preferences menu (Edit->Preferences).
  6. Once iTunes is done creating the AAC version, drag the song from iTunes and drop it on the Desktop
  7. Now, rename the song from song.m4a to song.m4r
  8. Move song.m4r into a ringtones folder somewhere on your hard drive where you remember.  Place all your created ringtones here.  From that folder, drag and drop ‘song.m4r’ onto iTunes.
  9. A ‘Ringtones’ folder will now appear in iTunes.  This ringtone will now be available on your iPhone or iPod Touch under ‘Custom’ once you sync.

For example, to create Aqua’s Barbie Girl ringtone, you would set the start to 0:26.2 and ending to 0:41.  Note the .2 frame.  The frame part allows you to fine tune exactly where the ringtone begins and ends.  This part is a little bit fiddly if you want an exact start and end. Note, after you have set the start and end times, you should double click to listen to ensure the ringtone is starting and ending exactly where you want before you convert and rename the file and before syncing with your device.

When you’re done creating the AAC file, renaming it and dropping it on iTunes, be sure to right-click the original song (not the ringtone) and choose ‘Get Info’. Under options, uncheck start and end so the track goes back to the song’s real beginning and ending. You’ll want to do this before syncing your device again. Otherwise, your music will end up clipped on your device as well.  So, don’t forget to reset the start and end times. Yeah, there’s more than a few steps, but it’s easy once you’ve done it a few times and it’s also a whole lot cheaper than buying ringtones.

If you import CDs regularly, don’t forget to change your Preferences back to mp3 when you go to import.  Otherwise, the music will import as AAC.

That’s pretty much it.  If you have questions, please leave a comment below.

iPad or iPod?

Posted in Apple by commorancy on May 12, 2010

If you’re considering an iPad purchase, you’ll want to contemplate the following before you buy. The iPad has several ergonomic design problems that really prevent it from being truly hand and body friendly. Let’s explore and then compare that with the iPod Touch.

Curved back

All of Apple’s mobile products tend to have a curved back (excluding notebooks). I guess they like this design because they keep producing it. In the iPod, this isn’t so much of an issue. With the iPad, however, the curved back is a problem. If you lay it down, it wobbles and spins. So, if you want to put it on a surface, it will have to be a soft surface (a pillow, rug or other conforming surface). If you place it onto a hard surface, you’ll need to be prepared for the wobble. You will have a similar problem with an iPod, but if you add a case, you can somewhat manage this issue.

Higher power requirements

To operate an iPad, it needs a higher power requirement to charge and use it when plugged in. So, you may find that some notebooks cannot charge the iPad when docked. You may have to plug it into an outlet to adequately charge the iPad. With the iPod, however, it requires a much smaller power footprint, so charging off of a USB port is not a problem.

Weight

The iPad is heavy. It may only weigh in at 1.5 or 1.6 pounds with 3G, but when you’re holding that in your hand for a while, it does start to get heavy. So, don’t expect for this weight to remain comfortable in your hand for long. That means, for a book reading experience where you might want to hold it for several hours, you’re going to have to find a way to prop it up. The iPod touch is a comfortable weight and fits in the hand nicely.

Kickstand (or lack thereof)

It’s quite clear that due to the curvature of the back and the weight of this device, it desperately needs a kickstand to hold it in a proper position and still allow it to be touchable. Without such an accessory, the iPad quickly becomes unwieldy and clumsy (as if it wasn’t clumsy already).

Design

Some people think the design is sleek and simple. I’m not really convinced of that. The thick black border looks dated. The curved back prevents it from sitting flat. The weight of it is too heavy. The battery only lasts 10 hours and requires a higher power charging adapter. So, don’t expect to plug it into your old iPhone or iPod chargers and have it work on the iPad. It might power it, but it’s not going to charge it.

The touch interface is both at once sleek and cumbersome. It works, but in some cases it doesn’t (when wearing gloves). The glossy screen looks slick until you have thousands of smeary fingerprints and oil all over it. Then it’s just gross.

It’s not truly a portable device. The physical size of the device precludes putting it in your pocket. So, you have to carry it around in a case. It may look cool when you take it out to use it, but it’s still clumsy and big. If I’m going to carry around a device of this size, I would prefer to carry around a netbook with a real keyboard and real mouse pad.

Price

The iPad is effectively Apple’s netbook. They didn’t want to do a netbook, so they compromised by producing a large iPod touch (the iPad). This device has a larger screen and bigger touch surface, but that also means it has more chances of breakage if bumped, jarred or dropped. So, if you buy one, you need a case for it.

Overall

The iPad’s design is a bit clumsy. It tries to improve on the iPod touch, but the only thing that is really an improvement is the screen size. If Apple would release a 3G iPod Touch or a paperback book sized iPad with 3G, I might actually consider one. The iPad’s current size is too big and needs to be scaled back. The weight needs to be about a quarter of the iPad (or less). A smaller screen means that it’s probably harder to break. Finally, the price needs to get down to $250 or so. Right now, the price is too high at $629 with 3G for a glorified iPod touch. If it had a full Mac OS X system on it, then it could be worth it.

Apple’s got a lot of work to be done before the next iteration of the iPad. Let’s hope the device actually succeeds. I’m just not so sure of that with past tablet device successes.

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iPad: After the dust settles

Posted in Apple, cloud computing, computers, itunes by commorancy on May 3, 2010

We are now a month post iPad launch and where are we? Some news sites are postulating the the use of iPad in the enterprise world. I can’t even fathom a use for it at home, much less putting it into the hands of corporate users. Let’s examine this platform more carefully to understand the reasons for its lack of viability in Enterprise, much less for simple home uses.

Multitasking

I know a lot of media outlets have harped endlessly on the lack of multitasking. Granted, it is a computing device and most computing devices do require some level of multitasking. I know that the iPod and the iPhone had very little internal memory (at least up to 3rd gen editions). So, it could only comfortably run one app. That was primarily a memory limitation. With the latest iPhone and iPod touch, that may have all changed. To be perfectly honest, I don’t keep up with Apple’s hardware spec details. Why? Because it’s not really that much of an interest. I mean, that’s the point. It shouldn’t be. Apple has always touted their devices ‘just work’. So, why should I need to dig inside one of their devices to find out the gritty details? I shouldn’t need to.

This issue is also what bites Apple many times over. They decide to under design the device by putting in not enough resources. So, they have to make concessions in the operating system by removing things like multitasking. Of course, with the iPod touch and the iPhone, we’re talking about very small devices that may not have the physical room to hold the amount of resources necessary to support multitasking.

The iPad’s physical size should no longer hinder their ability to put in the necessary resources to fully support multitasking (and then some). So, there is no reason why the iPad shouldn’t have supported multitasking out of the gate. But, it doesn’t. The iPhone 4.0 OS is supposed to address this issue, but not until the fall of 2010.

Multitasking and how it relates to computing

So, is it required that a PC support multitasking? Good question. It’s also a question not easily answered. In general, though, the answer should be ‘yes’. It should be ‘yes’ because the ability to run multiple apps is necessary to get things done. For example, to copy and paste between two different documents or to share information through application conduits. Even the simple act of embedding one app inside another requires multitasking. Quitting and restarting each app to move between them is cumbersome and time wasting.

In the end, yes, multitasking is required to make the computing experience be what we’ve come to expect. In the iPad, that computing experience isn’t there. So, for this reason, iPad won’t be fully accepted without multitasking. We’ll revisit this topic, however, once multitasking is (re) introduced in iPhone 4.0 OS.

Enterprise computing and the iPad

Is it ready for enterprise? I personally would say no. I’ve owned an iPod touch for several years and since the iPad really has no better selection in enterprise apps than does the iPod touch, the answer to this question is still no. Even though the screen on iPad is larger, it doesn’t offer the necessary productivity apps to fully work in a corporate enterprise. Yes, it does have a mail app. That’s a big part of what makes it work in Enterprise. Unfortunately, that mail app is so locked down and limited, that it may not fully work for the enterprise. That’s not to say that the mail app isn’t good in a pinch or to read a quick current email or two. But, don’t try to go searching for emails buried in your folders, that just doesn’t work well.

For enterprise computing, the current incarnation of the iPad is nowhere near ready.

What uses does the iPad offer?

Good question, once again. It isn’t a media PC, so that’s out. It isn’t good for enterprise level computing, that’s out. It can watch movies and read books, so coffee table literature, ok. Ignoring the touch screen and sleek design (which are just amenities, after all), it has to come down to the apps and features. The apps are limited, at this point, and I don’t really see much of that changing due to Apple’s app lockout situation.

Until Apple opens the platform up for general development, the platform will continue to be tightly controlled and, thus, limiting the applications that are available. Until this situation is resolved, this device may never end up anything more than a novelty.

HP’s slate cancelled

Looking back at history shows us that the tablet has had an extremely rocky past that always leads to failure. I’m not sure that even Apple can overcome this rocky past even with the success of the iPhone. The iPad is really too big and clunky to be truly portable. It’s too closed to allow open development. So, it’s no surprise that HP and other companies who had previously announced their intent to release a tablet are now reconsidering that release. In fact, HP announced the slate on the heels of Apple’s iPad announcement and has now cancelled the slate completely before it was even released.

Some people blame the ‘success’ of the iPad. Well, success is very much subjective. Putting 500,000 of the iPad into circulation is nothing to sneeze at. But, that doesn’t necessarily indicate success. The Newton comes to mind here. It was a hot new item that all but died in about two years. Where is the Newton now? Apple has a past history of deleting products rapidly and the iPad may be one of those items.

Apple’s past failures

If you really want an iPad, then get it now while it’s hot. Don’t wait. The reason I say this is that in 6-12 months, you could find yourself with a doorstop that Apple no longer supports. Apple has a history of killing off failing devices rapidly. So, with this particular device, don’t wait to buy it. If you wait until spring of 2011, you may find that the device is dead and buried. You could be holding a flat doorstop that iTunes no longer supports and with no active development. I can very easily see this device becoming one of Apple’s most recent failures.

Working while traveling

The tablet format has a questionable past anyway. The form factor isn’t pleasing to use. It isn’t easy to carry and, getting past the touch screen, it’s cumbersome to write text into it. So, it’s going to need a dock with a keyboard and mouse. A real keyboard and a real mouse. But, that takes the portability out of it. If you’re sitting on a plane, you’re locked into using the touch surface. Now consider that you can’t lay the device flat and work easily. I mean, you can lay it down, but then it’s not at the correct viewing angle. To get it into the correct viewing angle, you have to hold it in one hand, you have to balance it in your lap in a contorted way or you have to carry along a kickstand when you’re on a plane.

In this instance, a notebook, iphone, itouch or netbook works much better. For a netbook, the top pops open at the correct viewing angle and you have a real keyboard and mouse available. Granted, it’s not a touch surface, but that’s just a novelty anyway. Once the novelty of touch wears off, then you have to determine how to make use of this input method in an actual usable way.

Using an iPod touch or iPhone is also easy. It fits easily in one hand, is light in weight and works without the need for kickstands, contorted positions or clumsy positioning issues. Clearly, not a lot of usability was discussed when the iPad was designed. Usability is one of the things Apple usually prides itself in its designs. In the iPad, usability was clearly an afterthought.

3G iPad

This is the one and only one saving grace of the iPad. Internet everywhere is where we need to be. The supposed $29.95 monthly plan associated with the 3G version of the iPad is a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the iPad itself is marked up by an additional $130. So, instead of $499, it’s $629 (and that’s the smallest iPad). But, the iPad with 3G is the only version that I would personally consider. I already have an iPod touch and its uses are extremely limited unless you have WiFi handy (which isn’t very often). And, even when you do find a place that claims to have WiFi, 8 times out of 10, the connectivity is either slow or limited. So much for free WiFi. While 3G isn’t that fast, it’s at least always on pretty much anywhere you need it.

Form factor is the key to success

The problem with the current iPad is its size. This is the wrong form factor to release. It’s the wrong size and wrong weight. The size that the iPad should have been was about the size of a paperback book. Bigger than an iPod touch, small enough to fit in a pocket. This will take computing to the truly portable level. The screen will be bigger than a Sony PSP (which is a decent size to watch movies), but small enough to still be portable. Combine that with 3G and you have a device that people will want to use. The iPad is not that portable and still requires a case with handles. After all, you don’t really want to drop a $600+ device. But, a device the size of a paperback book at the cost of maybe $399, that’s in a price range that could work.

First Gen iPad

Remember that this is the first generation iPad. You really have to wait until the third gen of an Apple device to get to the features that make it worthwhile. The question remains, will the iPad even make it to a third incarnation? Only time will tell. Apple won’t abandon the iPhone OS on devices for quite some time. But, the form factor of the iPad is likely to change several times before it’s over. Like I said, if you want this thing, buy into it now. Otherwise, if you want to wait a year, you may not be able to get this form factor again and you may find that Apple has backtracked into smaller more portable devices.

Apple’s iPad: 10 inch iPod Touch or iDisaster?

Posted in Apple, ipod, itunes by commorancy on January 28, 2010

Recently, I wrote the article “What is it about tablets?”.  In that article, I discussed what Apple must do to make the newly announced iPad (tablet computer) successful.  Apple needs a paradigm shifting technology embedded in the iPad that would make the usability of such a tablet go leaps ahead of previous tablet attempts.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Failure to launch (and type!)

The iPad may look like a pad, but it functions nothing like a pad.  In fact, this device looks and acts like an iPod touch on steroids.  But, Apple failed this device on so many levels.  First, let’s start with the design.  The iPad back is not flat (which is just like the newest thin iPod touch).  The back is curved. So, laying the iPad on a flat surface leads to wobbly typing or surfing.  This forces you to put it on a soft surface or hold it in your hand.  Not an optimal or convenient design.

Typing input

On the touch, however, it was small enough to hold in one hand and type with the other.  In fact, you could hold it with two hands and thumb type.  With a 10 inch sized device, one hand typing isn’t really an option.  But, this whole typing issue just goes back to the fundamental input problem with tablets.  How do you reliably get input into a tablet computer?  The options are voice, handwriting recognition and touch typing.  None of these input styles make for a truly usable computer experience.  So, on this level, Apple has failed.  Funny too, because Apple is usually the leader when it comes to innovative ways to improve user interface experience.

Finger Friendly?

I’d like to point out another possible problem.  On the iPod Touch, the touch screen surface only works with an actual finger touch.  It doesn’t work with gloves on or by using your fingernail.  As a result, this makes the touch surface a problem in the winter or for women with long nails.  I do not presently know that the iPad uses this same touch screen technology, but it’s very probable.  Therefore, this could make the iPad not friendly for glove wearers or women with long nails.

Lack of ports

Most computers today need to support the latest in port technology.  More and more, however, Apple seems to shun standards and try for their own proprietary connectors.  Sometimes it works.  More often than not, it fails.  In this case with this device, it adds to the design failure.  With the iPad, Apple should have added standard ports like HDMI and a Secure Digital slot.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do this and this device suffers as a result.  This is especially bad considering most Netbooks offer most of these ports.  Yes, some Netbooks even offer HDMI ports.

iPod Touch Clone

Unfortunately for the iPad, it appears to be a 10 inch iPod touch.  The interface is, of course, 10 inches.  This means it uses the same interface that’s on the iPhone and iPod touch.  On a small handheld device, that interface works well.  On a 10 inch screen, the oddness of it all is quite apparent.  The resolution is higher on the 10 inch screen and, thus, the iPad scales up most apps to accommodate.  The problem is the scaling.  Some apps look fine scaled.  Some can actually take advantage of the larger screen (mapping softwares).  With low res apps, the iPad scales up the app window to fill the 10 inch screen which looks quite lame.  Granted, all of this can be fixed by developers reworking their apps.  But, for now, it makes this device all the more clumsy.

App Store Tie-In

This is yet another in a series of devices that Apple is requiring the user to use solely with iTunes and the App store.  Inevitably, the iPad will be jailbroken.  Until then, the audience is captive to the Apple store.  So, if you want apps or media, that’s where you must go.  Of course, you can import media into iTunes app and sync that, but you cannot load any apps other than those that come from Apple’s app store until it is jailbroken (probably the day after it gets released).

This also means that tried and tested apps you’ve come to know on Windows or even Mac OS X may never become available on the iPad due to iTunes App Store restrictions.

A must have? No.  Not yet anyway.

Apple has yet to convince me (and many others) of the necessity of this device.  There’s no wow-factor here or anything compelling to make the iPad stand out as must have.  There’s nothing here to say that it is even useful for anything beyond what a Netbook can accomplish for less money.  The iPod touch is still much more useful due to its size.  The iPad is sitting in a cost space near Netbook pricing (the iPad is more costly), but Netbooks still have much more functionality due to a real keyboard and better use of the screen (not to mention, full fledged apps).

At the entry level pricing of $499, which will mean a bare bones model, you’re sure to get as little as possible.   To get all the bells and whistles, you’re likely to pay well over $1000 for the equivalent of a large iPod touch.

In other words, Apple did not provide a paradigm shifting technology necessary to make the iPad absolutely compelling.  In fact, the whole big clumsy nature of this tablet is quite apparent even from the image of Steve Jobs holding it.

This is a 1.0 device that feels like a 0.5 device with poorly thought out software.  The iPod/iPhone interface and its apps were designed to be used on handheld small screen devices.  Putting this interface onto a 10 inch sized display and expecting full fledged computing out of portable apps is stretching this device to its limits.  Granted, Apple can generally get the kinks out of new devices.  But, the tablet has such a long history of failure going back to Grid Computers in the early 90s that Apple has a steep bank to climb to get out of this trench they’ve dug themselves into.

Overall, I’m still underwhelmed and I’ve seen nothing yet that screams, must have.  An iPod touch screams that due to its sheer size and portability.  The iPad definitely does not!

Reef

Posted in images, iphone, ipod, landscapes, render, terragen, wallpaper by commorancy on January 20, 2009

The Microsoft Botch — Part II

Posted in botch, microsoft, redmond, windows by commorancy on January 17, 2009

In a question to The Microsoft Botch blog article, jan_j on Twitter asks, “Do you think Microsoft is going down?”  In commentary to that question, I put forth this article.

I’ll start by saying, “No”.  I do not think that Microsoft is ‘going down’.  Microsoft is certainly in a bad way at this point in time, but they still have far too much market share with Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 server as well as Exchange and several other enterprise products.  So, the monies they are making off of these existing installations (and licenses) will carry them on for quite some time.  Combine that with Xbox Live and the licensing of the Xbox 360 games… Microsoft isn’t going anywhere for quite a while.  The real question to ask, though, is.. Is Microsoft’s userbase dwindling?  At this point, it’s unclear, but likely.  Since the Vista debacle, many users and IT managers have contemplated less expensive alternative installations including Linux.  The sheer fact that people are looking for alternatives doesn’t say good things about Microsoft.  

As far as alternatives, MacOS X isn’t necessarily less expensive than Windows, but it is being considered as one possible replacement for Windows by some.   Some people have already switched.  MacOS X may, however, be less expensive in the long term strictly due to maintenance and repair costs.  Linux can be less expensive than Windows (as far as installation software costs and continuing licenses), but it requires someone who’s knowledgable to maintain them.

In comparison…

To compare Microsoft to another company from the past, IBM comes to mind.  IBM was flying high with their PCs in the early days, but that quickly crumbled when IBM started botching things up.  That and PC clones took off.  To date, there has not been a Windows OS clone to compete head-to-head with Microsoft.  So, Microsoft has been safe from that issue.  But, Linux and MacOS X do represent alternative operating systems that do function quite well in their own environments.  Although, MacOS X and Linux interoperate poorly, in many specific cases, with Windows (primarily thanks to Microsoft).

Linux as a replacement

While it is possible to replace Windows with Linux and have a functional system, the Windows compatibility limitations become readily apparent rapidly.  Since most of the rest of the world uses Windows, Linux doesn’t have fully compatible replacement softwares for the Windows world.  Because of Microsoft’s close-to-the-vest approach to software combined with their release-just-enough-information to allow half-baked Windows compatibility.  Thus, Linux (and other non-Microsoft OSes) can’t compete in a Windows world.  This is a ‘glass is half empty or half full’ argument.  On its own, Linux interoperates well with other Linux systems.  But, when you try to pair that together with Windows, certain aspects just fall apart.

That doesn’t mean Linux is at fault.  What it usually means is that Microsoft has intentionally withheld enough information so as to prevent Linux from interoperating.  Note, there is no need to go into the gritty details of these issues in this article.  There are plenty of sites on the Internet that can explain it all in excruciating detail.

However, if your company or home system doesn’t need to interoperate with Windows, then Linux is a perfectly suitable solution for nearly every task (i.e., reading email, browsing, writing blogs, etc).  If, however, someone wants to pass you an Adobe Illustrator file or you receive a Winmail.dat file in your email, you’re kind of stuck.  That’s not to say you can’t find a workable solution with some DIY Linux tools, but you won’t find these out of the box.

This is not meant to berate Linux.  This is just a decision specifically by Microsoft to limit compatibility and interoperability of non-Microsoft products.  This decision by Microsoft is intentional and, thus, Windows is specifically and intentionally designed that way.

Microsoft’s days ahead

Looking at Microsoft’s coming days, it’s going to be a bit rough even when Windows 7 arrives.  If Windows 7 is based on Vista and also requires the same hardware requirements as Vista, Windows 7 won’t be any more of a winner than Vista.

Microsoft needs to do some serious rethinking.  They need to rethink not only how their products are perceived by the public, they need to rethink what they think is good for the public.  Clearly, Microsoft is not listening to their customers.  In Vista, Microsoft made a lot of changes without really consulting with their target userbase and, as a result, ended up with a mostly disliked operating system.

Apple, on the other hand, is able to introduce new innovative tools that, instead of making life more of a hassle, it simplifies things.  Microsoft isn’t doing this.  

Rocky Road

While this flavor of ice cream might be appealing, Microsoft’s road ahead won’t be quite so much that way.  They are heading for a few rocky years coming.  Combine their bad software design decisions with a bad economy and you’ve got a real problem.  Microsoft’s problems, though, primarily stem from lack of vision.  Windows roadmap is not clear.  Instead of actually trying to lay out design goals for the next several revisions, Microsoft appears to be making it up as they go along… all the while hoping that the users will like it.   But, their designers really do not have much in the way of vision.  The biggest change that Microsoft made to Windows was the Start button.  That’s probably the single most innovative thing that Microsoft has done (note that the start button is not really that great of a design anyway).  

Microsoft forces everyone else to do it the Windows way

Microsoft’s main problem with Windows stems from its lack of interoperability between Windows and other operating systems.  While Windows always plays well with Windows (and other Microsoft products), it rarely plays well with other OSes.  In fact, Microsoft effectively forces the other OSes and devices to become compatible with Windows.  Apple has been the one exception to this with many of their products.  Apple has managed to keep their own proprietary devices mostly off of Windows (with the exception of the iPhone and iPods).   Even Apple has had to succumb to the pressures of Microsoft (with certain products) and compete in the Microsoft world even when Apple has its own successful operating system.  Note, however, that Apple’s softwares on Windows leave a lot to be desired as far as full compatibility goes.

 Microsoft has an initiative to allow open source projects access to deeper Microsoft technologies to allow for better compatibility between open source projects and Windows.  There’s two sides to this ‘access’.  The first is that it does help open source projects become more compatible.  On the other side, the developer must sign certain legal agreements that could put the open source project in jeopardy if Microsoft were to press the legal agreements.   So, to get the interoperability, it becomes a double-edged sword.

The tide is turning

Microsoft’s somewhat dwindling installations of Windows, lack of quality control and bungling of major products may lead more and more people away from Microsoft to more stable devices.  But, the market is fickle.  As long as people continue to generally like Microsoft products and solutions, Microsoft will never be gone.

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