Start Me Up

We’ve reached a point where it is obvious that spatial user interfaces no longer work for file management. Our files are scattered over too many different places and services, and we have too many of them.

For application launchers, though, a spatial view is still the preferred approach. This is why Windows 11’s Start menu is so confusing to me.

This is what my Start menu looked like in Windows 10:

full-screen start menu with lots of spatially arranged applications
(click to zoom)

This is by far the best home screen experience any operating system currently offers. Better than the app launcher on OS X, better than Android, better than iOS, better than any Linux distro I’ve seen.

It’s fantastic.

This is what it looks like in Windows 11:

centered start menu with small icons
(click to zoom)

I guess I’m not really angry. I’m not even disappointed. I’m a bit sad, but mostly I’m confused, because I truly do not understand what the purpose of this change is.

I like a lot of the changes in Windows 11. I think the visual design is nice. I love the improvements for WSL. Snap Layouts are great, and the way Windows 11 supports restoring windows on multiple screens is a welcome improvement.

But the Start menu, and everything related to it, including the way the Start icon itself dances around the screen and is always in a different place, never allowing you to develop a habit for clicking it, is just odd.

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/786

Bookfeed.io

Bookfeed.io is a simple tool that allows you to specify a list of authors, and generates an RSS feed with each author’s most recently released book.1 I made this because I don’t want a recommendation algorithm to tell me what to read, I just want to know when my favorite authors release new books.

Go to Bookfeed.io, and then:

  1. Click on «Make my Feed»
  2. Enter a list of author names (I use Google Books’ APIs, so if you’re unsure how to spell an author’s name, verify the spelling on books.google.com)

bookfeed.io edit feed ui

That’s it. Simply add the feed to your RSS reader, and you’ll get a new entry in your feed when an author in your list releases a new book. To add a new author, or remove an author, just go to the link defined in the feed. In feedly, for example, click on the feed’s title.

bookfeed.io feed in feedly

I’ll do my best to keep this running, but I don’t have any control over Google Books, so don’t yell at me when this goes down, or misses a book. Thank you.


  1. Just to avoid any confusion, it doesn’t contain the actual content of the book, it links to the Google Books page for the book. ↩︎

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/781

Switching to Windows

Around 2015, I started to realize that I was no longer part of Apple’s target audience. I’ve since found that Windows, and the devices available on the Windows side, from gaming laptops to convertibles to custom-built PCs, are just a better match for my requirements.

At this point, I have only one piece of Apple hardware still in active use: a 17-inch MacBook Pro1 that runs Coda and EagleFiler.

Since a lot of people seem to be making the switch now, maybe it’s helpful to talk about some things I’m doing to make Windows more amenable to my Mac habits. Here’s what I do when I set up a new Windows PC.

Things to Install

QuickLook

QuickLook is one thing I genuinely miss on Windows. Fortunately, there’s a great open-source alternative available on GitHub. It even has a plugin system, which makes it possible to preview even more obscure file formats - STLs, for example.

PowerToys

On Macs, I always launch apps using Spotlight’s Cmd-Space shortcut. On Windows, you can just hit the Windows key to open the Start menu, and type the app’s name to launch it, but if you prefer the lightweight OS X-style Spotlight UI, PowerToys makes it available on Windows. It also does a bunch of other really cool stuff, like providing a global color picker, and adding an image resizer and a bulk file renamer to the Explorer’s context menu.

FileMarker.NET Pro

I often made use of the ability to tag files in OS X, and Windows lacks a similar feature, but FileMarker.NET Pro2 solves that problem.

PeaZIP

Windows does support file compression natively, but I prefer PeaZip. As far as I can tell, 7-zip is more widely recommended amongst Windows users, but what do they know? PeaZip has a very clean UI, and nice green icons, so it’s very obviously the better choice.

WinDirStat

One of the first things I install on any Mac I use, because I’ll always need it sooner or later, is OmniDiskSweeper. There’s no OmniDiskSweeper on Windows, but there is WinDirStat, which does the same thing, with the added benefit of having Pac-Man.

An alternative to WinDirStat is WizTree. Its main advantage is that it is insanely fast. It analyzes my whole disk in a few seconds.

AutoHotKey

I was a little worried about not having AppleScript, but nowadays, it really doesn’t work all that well on Macs, either, and when I found AutoHotKey, all was well.

Other Stuff

I’m now using Edraw Max instead of OmniGraffle, but I’m not entirely satisfied with it. I’m using PDF Compressor Pro as an alternative to shrinking PDFs with Preview on the Mac. Also, I use WSL2 for Unix-y goodness, the new Windows Terminal, and Chocolatey or winget instead of Homebrew.

I also usually install MSI Afterburner to customize the graphic card fan curve, and the official GPU drivers from Nvidia or AMD, instead of relying on whatever Windows auto-installs.

Finally, Windows has built-in screen sharing, but only if you have a Pro license. You can upgrade your license if your computer didn’t come with a Pro license.

Settings I Change

Here are some of the settings I change on all Windows PCs I use.

Make the Start Menu Full-Screen

When I hit the start menu, it’s because I want to launch an application. I don’t need to see the rest of the desktop. So why is the Start menu by default only occupying a small portion of the screen, and wasting the remaining space? I switch my Start menu to full-screen. It looks good, and it gives Windows a nice little home screen.3

Windows Full-Screen Start Menu

Turn Off Wallpaper Sync

By default, if you log in with the same account on multiple PCs, Microsoft will sync some settings between these devices. That’s nice. One of these settings is the wallpaper. That’s not nice. I turn it off in the Accounts settings.

Set Up Clipboard Sharing and Multi-Clipboard

In the Clipboard settings, I turn on «Save multiple items in the clipboard to use later.» It’s super annoying to forget to turn it on, because when you need it, it’s too late. Why isn’t this just turned on by default? Also, I turn on «Sync across devices,» so I can copy on one device, and paste on another. I also set up the Smartphone app, so I can copy on my Android phone, and paste on Windows - great for things like two-factor authentication codes.

Make the Cursor Black

Black with a white outline is the correct color for the mouse pointer. Most of the stuff on most people’s screens is white. It makes no sense to have a white mouse pointer.

Fortunately, it’s easy to change the default Windows cursor to the correct color in the Mouse pointer settings. Unfortunately, even when changed to black, the misshapen Windows mouse pointer’s stem still doesn’t align with its point.

Add the Trash to the Start Menu, and Remove It from the Desktop

Since Windows’ window management works much better than what OS X’s does, and guides users towards tiling their windows, the desktop on Windows is almost always covered by windows. So I just add the Trash can (or, as these peculiar Windows users like to wrongly call it, «Recycle bin») to the Start menu, and then remove it from the Desktop altogether. This can be done in the Theme settings by clicking on «Desktop Icon Settings.»

Stuff to Remember

Here are some additional things to keep in mind when switching from a Mac to Windows.

Screenshots

Hit Win-Shift-S instead of Cmd-Shift-4. «S» does kind of make a little more sense for «screenshot» than «4», I think. You might want to install the Snip & Sketch tool if it isn’t installed by default, and turn on its notifications, so that after creating a screenshot, you get a popup of the screenshot you just took. Click on the popup to edit the screenshot.

Screen Recordings

You can make screen recordings using the Xbox Dashboard by hitting Win-G.

Launching Apps

Instead of Shift-Space, just hit Win, and start typing the name of the app you want to launch.

Further Reading

I like this list from Scott Hanselman.


  1. Also known as the best MacBook Pro. ↩︎

  2. I can’t help myself, I still always read that as «FileMaker Pro.» ↩︎

  3. Windows 8 was the best version of Windows. And that’s just a fact. ↩︎

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/780

How User Tracking Devalues Ads

Facebook recently took out full-page ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal attacking the way Apple protects its users’ privacy. In the ad, they make the point that Apple harms Facebook’s ability to track people who see Facebook’s ads, and run personalized ads, which, according to Facebook, harms the effectiveness and thus the value of these ads.

This is kind of strange, if you think about it.

Why would Facebook take out a huge non-personalized ad to make the point that, for ads to really work, they need to be personalized? Why advertise in a newspaper if they think that personalized ads are so much more effective?

It’s because the idea that personalization increases the value of ads is wrong. Personalization harms the value of ads, because it measures the value of ads based on a metric that doesn’t really apply to most ads.

Personalized ads that use user tracking measure ads based on a direct causal relationship between users seeing an ad, and users acting on that ad by buying the product advertised in the ad. By that metric, the vast majority of ads just don’t work. People don’t see an ad for a product, and then buy that product immediately, or perhaps a few days later.

(In fact, every time scientists try to measure the effectiveness of advertising, it turns out to not be very effective at all.)

Instead, the way ads work is that when people decide to buy a product, they will have more trust in products whose ads they see consistently, and whose products they associate with publications they trust. In other words, if you consistently see a car brand advertised in the New York Times, you will assume that this brand is trustworthy. When you decide to buy a new car, you will have a preference for that brand.

This doesn’t just work for large publications and huge brands. If you see LTT consistently have sponsorships from Seasonic, you will be more likely to trust a Seasonic power supply for your next PC. If you see Kandji regularly sponsor Daring Fireball, you’ll remember their name if you ever need the kind of product they offer.

But you will never see an ad for Mercedes on a website, and then just arbitrarily decide to buy a Mercedes based on having seen that ad. You will never see a Seasonic sponsorship, and just randomly decide to throw out your old power supply, and buy one from Seasonic. You’ll never see a Kandji sponsorship, and just decide that you suddenly, urgently need their product. Thus, by the metric we value user-tracked ads, most of them have no value at all.

If Facebook wanted to increase the value of its ads, they would join Apple in fighting against user tracking, because in the end, it will increase the value of its ads. The less advertisers know about the direct causal effects their ads have, the higher they will value them.

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/779

The Failure of the iPad

Two days ago, ZDNet published this article: Meet the iPad, your work computer: These 10 apps make real productivity possible. These kinds of articles, where writers explain how they use their iPads productively, musicians talk about how the iPad is truly a professional tool, or painters show how they use the iPad for professional illustrations, are published regularly. There’s probably a new one every week.

Isn’t that weird?

The iPad is now ten years old, and people still have to write articles about how, no, really, you can do real work on an iPad!

In 1994, ten years after the Mac was originally introduced, I got my first computer, a Performa 450. Nobody wrote any articles about how, actually, real work on a Mac is possible. Everybody who had a Mac used it for real work.

There was no need to write articles about how you could use Macs for real work, because for Macs, it was - and still is - actually true.


When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, he introduced it as a productivity device with an «entirely new user interface.» He called iWork on iPad «magnificent.» Schiller came on Stage and showed off Keynote, Pages, and Numbers.

Jobs called the iPad a car, and proclaimed that, for most people, it would replace the PC, the truck of the computing world. It would usher in the next era of personal computing.1

Somehow, Apple managed to snatch a glorified graphics tablet from the jaws of the next era of personal computing.


Part of the problem is the iPad’s operating system.

The fact that it is based on Apps as first-level objects, instead of files, is what hurts it most as a productivity device. An App-oriented user interface works well for playing games, browsing the web, and answering an email once in a while, but real work is typically file-centric.2 Even just writing an article means that you have collected sources like PDFs or links, images you want to include in your article, maybe spreadsheet files that contain data for a graph you want to show, a (hopefully versioned) text file for the actual body of your article, and so on.

This works great on a Mac, which presents a file-centric user interface, but on an iPad? It doesn’t.

Another problem is multi-tasking, and interoperability between apps. It’s still difficult to move data between apps, and to see multiple things at once, or switch between them.

There are other problems with the OS, but honestly? I don’t think any of those are what truly hurt the iPad.


The thing that truly hurts the iPad is the App Store.

When the original Mac came out, it didn’t have multitasking, either. But it also didn’t have an App Store. There was no gatekeeper deciding what was allowed on the Mac. So when Andy Hertzfeld wrote Switcher, he knew that he could sell and distribute it.

Who is going to write something like Switcher for the iPad? Nobody, because it can’t get on the App Store, so it can’t be sold.

Who is going to write a real, truly integrated file manager for the iPad? Nobody.

Who is going to invest a year - or more - into creating an incredible, groundbreaking new app, the killer app, the desktop publishing equivalent for the iPad? Knowing that Apple could (and probably will) just decide to not put in the App Store, destroying all of that work?

Nobody.


Why does this matter? It’s not that the iPad is a bad device, or that it is a problem that it only works for work-related tasks for a minority of people. But I do think that the iPad is a missed opportunity. PCs are too complicated, and the iPad could have been the car to the PC’s truck.

But Apple’s decisions prevented it from becoming that.


  1. Some people take exception with the word «failure» in the title of this post. To be clear, when I say «failure,» I mean it in the context of this section of the article: Apple wanted the iPad to be the PC for the rest of us, and it failed to achieve that. Clearly, the iPad is making Apple money, so it’s not a failure in that sense.
    If you still want to yell at me about this, feel free to join the lovely people of hacker news↩︎

  2. I do get that there is real work that is not file-centric. The context we’re talking about here is the one Jobs introduced, the one where the iPad replaces the PC, or at least surpasses it as the primary computing device for work. Pointing out that pilots use iPads for pre-flight checks is technically correct, and that is real work, but it hardly qualifies as being «the car of the computing world.» ↩︎

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/773

Metro.co.uk:

Mario Kart Tour is a disgrace that Nintendo should be ashamed of

Forbes:

‘Mario Kart Tour’ Has A Bad Subscription Model That Costs As Much As Apple Arcade

The Verge:

Mario Kart Tour is too cynical to be fun

The contrast between Mario Kart Tour and Apple Arcade is just brutal. At which point can we all acknowledge that making mobile games was a mistake for Nintendo? I’m sure they make a ton of money, but it’s clearly coming at the cost of Nintendo’s most valuable assets: its image, the way people perceive the company, and people’s trust in Nintendo’s ability to create amazing games.

Previously:

I’m not sure that free-to-play games can work as ads for console games. You know, the ones where the developer’s incentive is to create a good game and get people to buy it, not the ones where the developer’s incentive is to trick people into constantly coming back to something that’s actually not very enjoyable. I’m buying Nintendo consoles exactly because I want to avoid these kinds of games.

I have no doubt that Nintendo will make a lot of money from this, at least in the short run. I’m just not convinced that this isn’t going to do more damage than good in the long run.

Here’s a collection of essays I wrote together with Jon Bell a while ago: The Thing About Jetpacks.

Remember when people said that consoles were dead, and that Nintendo’s only chance for survival (and probably Apple’s only chance to get really good high-budget games on iOS) would be for Nintendo to make iPhone games?

Well, Nintendo’s new console is doing really well,1 their good iOS game «disappointed» Nintendo, while their shitty manipulative gambling-based mobile games seem to be doing well enough. And now, great iOS devs are leaving the platform.

Telling Nintendo to abandon its hardware platform for iOS was never a good idea. It doesn’t help Nintendo, and it doesn’t help iOS. There is no sustainable market on iOS for really good, non-abusive, fairly priced mid- to high-budget games, and Nintendo can’t fix that. The only company that can fix that is Apple.

I don’t think anyone should be surprised by any of this.


  1. Importantly, so is the PS4. The Xbox One is doing okay, but considering that Microsoft nowadays seems to view the Xbox as merely a platform for playing Windows games without the hassle of actually running Windows, that’s probably not particularly surprising, either. ↩︎

Switch

Jon wrote:

NINTENDO SWITCH. Discuss.

Lukas wrote:

With games like Splatoon, Zelda, and that new amazing looking Mario, it’s going to do better than the Wii U, but it really feels like Nintendo is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They don’t seem to understand what makes Nintendo consoles both successful and unique. The Wii didn’t sell well because it did something weird (although that helped). It sold well because when all other consoles went for online social experiences, it went for offline social experiences. It’s the console you play with friends at your house. It’s the console you play when you have people sitting next to you on the sofa.

The games that make Nintendo successful are games like Mario Party and Wii Bowling and Mario Kart. Games that you want to play with friends, who then want to play them with their friends because they’re so much fun.

The Switch fails to add anything to that experience, when it could have done something really cool: it could have introduced the ability to play offline multiplayer games and give each player secrets that their friends can’t see - by giving everybody a screen.

Look, I’ll pick one up, and I’ll play all of the games, and I’ll have fun playing them, but unless they get amazing third-party support and people will start wanting to play these games on the Switch instead of the PS4 or Xbox One, this is not a console that’ll sell a hundred million units.

Combining TV and portable consoles into one was the right move, it just wasn’t done ruthlessly enough. When you combine your TV console and your portable console into one, your TV experience should benefit from what portable consoles bring to the table; the portable’s screen shouldn’t disappear in a freaking docking station.

What do you think?

Jon wrote:

I’m not sure I have a long email in me right now. Let’s see what happens.

You’re proposing that Nintendo’s success came from party games and playing with your friends. And I think it’s true that they’re great at party games. But in a pie chart that explains their success, I think you’d attribute a larger part of the pie to in-person social interaction than I would. I’d say it’s big but not the primary thing.

I love playing Splatoon online. I love playing Zelda all by myself. Both are possible with in-person friends, but they don’t demand it. And trust me, I’m the biggest fan of party games I know. Easily. So I get it. When Mario added ways to let a second person play in Sunshine and then in New Super Mario Brothers I just about died with happiness.

Now. The second screen. I am all in on the second screen. But I have two thoughts here:

  1. I’m pretty sure average users care about the secret-showing second screen far less than us
  2. Designing for the second screen is a whole new thing for devs. It’s a good thing, but it adds time.

And here’s a third thing:

  1. I’m fearful enough about Nintendo’s future that I’d rather they get a bit more pragmatic.

So would it be cooler if the base station could power a TV separately from the tablet, opening two screen stuff? Yes. And maybe it’s still possible, I dunno. But let’s assume there’s a cost to developers designing for it, and a cost to the hardware, and that not all games will support it. None are insurmountable issues, but I’m drawn to the simplicity of «the tablet is the CPU period.»

And 100,000,000 units? Whatever. If it’s profitable and good, I’m ok with that. I’m suspecting it will be both. But if it’s not, Wii U tells us it’s not because of a lack of a second screen. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a «gimmick» but people are perfectly fine without it. Even though I personally love it.

Lukas wrote:

Apologies for the length of this response.

~

Think of it like this: how do people decide which console to buy? Basically, I think there are three kinds of customers for consoles, and they have different kinds of approaches.

1: There are core gamers, who read stuff about videogames online, and know what kinds of things they like, and talk to other gamers about these things. These are the people for whom Zelda and Splatoon and Metroid are created. But in the last few generations, most of these people have gone for Microsoft and Sony consoles, not for Nintendo consoles. Nintendo could sometimes get them to also buy a Wii or a Gamecube in addition to their other console, but I think it’s highly unlikely that Nintendo will truly be able to compete for these people, particularly now that they’ve given up competing on specs. The Gamecube was the last console that had a real shot at this audience, and it failed to attract many core gamers.

2: There are people who like playing videogames, but don’t see it as part of their identity, and are only vaguely informed about what’s happening on the market. For these people, social interactions matter. Most of the people who bought a Wii bought one because they played it at a friend’s place. That’s how the console spread. I think it’s easier for Nintendo to convince these people to buy a Switch, than to convert people who usually buy Sony or Microsoft consoles.

3: Finally, there are kids, who don’t make their own buying decisions. Their parents make these decisions for them. Here, again, social interactions matter. Parents talking to each other about games they’ve experienced themselves; if you’ve played Wii Bowling, the concept of giving your kid a Wii is way less scary than giving them a PS4.

~

I agree that people don’t care about a second screen, but they do care about games. Here’s an example. A lot of people like playing board games, but most people play them only rarely, because you have to read the manual, set everything up, explain the rules to everybody, it just takes a lot of time to get it going. Virtual board games would be nice, but most board games only work when players can have secret information. You can’t have secret information on a TV console, where everybody can see the screen.

How well do you think something like Settlers of Catan would do on a Nintendo console, where you play the actual game with your actual friends, but you don’t have to set up the board, and don’t really have to explain the rules all that well (the game guides you)? I think it might do quite well, and might actually be a reason for a lot of people to get a Switch.

~

I don’t think pragmatic works for Nintendo. The N64 was pragmatic; it was a better version of the PS1. It did much worse than its predecessors, the NES and SNES. The Gamecube was pragmatic (it even had discs). It did worse than even the N64. In the context of the Wii, the Wii U was pragmatic, and it ended up being Nintendo’s worst-selling console.

The Wii was not pragmatic, and it did well. The DS was not pragmatic, and it did well. The 3DS was not pragmatic, and it’s still doing well.

The thing is, I think Nintendo isn’t in the console business. They’re in the toy business. And toys have to be interesting. With a toy, you don’t care about processing power and memory, you care about whether it’s unique and novel and fun and whether you can talk to your friends about it.

To some degree, this does apply to the Switch. I don’t think the Switch is a bad toy; I think it’s fine. I’m looking forward to having one, and the idea of being able to play TV games on a handheld console appeals to me (that’s what I use my Vita for, streaming PS4 games).

The Switch isn’t bad. I just think it could have been a lot more interesting.

~

About the 100 million units: the console that does the best in any given generation usually does around a 100 million units. After the Wii and the DS, this has become the way people measure Nintendo’s success. The 3DS is only going to end up selling about 80 million when it’s taken off the market? What a failure!

I agree that, from a financial point of view, selling 30 or 40 million units of the Switch would probably be okay for Nintendo, and would give them a good market for selling their games. Hell, even the Wii U probably made them some money, all things considered. It outsold the Vita quite easily, and has plenty of games that sold over (or almost) a million copies, all from Nintendo.

But Nintendo is a publicly traded company. «Making some money» isn’t enough.

So my fear is not that Nintendo can’t be profitable.

My fear is that, when the Switch «only» sells 40 million units, the people complaining about Nintendo making its own hardware instead of being a third-party software developer for Apple will effectively force Nintendo to become another Sega - to everybody’s detriment.

Jon wrote:

I agree with a lot of this.

I think everyone is always going to complain about Nintendo, regardless of how much they sell. And people like us are always going to be fearful that they’re about to disappear if they don’t get their numbers up.

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/759

Of course, just days after I point out that Nintendo has been consistently profitable for a while, they post a loss. Just my luck.

It should be noted, though, that this is not indicative of a problem with the console market as a whole. The PS4 and Xbox One are still outselling their predecessors, with the PS4 doing particularly well. Instead, this is the result of Nintendo transitioning to a new console generation. Nintendo announced the NX, the Wii U’s successor, back in April, which flatlined software sales, and cratered hardware sales. What’s more, Nintendo has not released any major games for the Wii U since around February,1 instead apparently opting to focus on developing for the NX.

What’s more, Nintendo’s mobile game Miitomo is underperforming, with Nintendo’s whole smart devices section contributing just $15 million to this quarter.

Obviously, not releasing any games for your current console, telling people that they’ll soon be able to buy a totally new console, and hoping that a mobile game will save your bacon, is not good for your bottom line.


  1. No, I don’t think Star Fox Zero, released in April, counts as a major game. ↩︎