Gilles Vandenoostende

Hi, I'm Gilles Vandenoostende - designer, illustrator and digital busybody with a love of language, based in Ghent, Belgium.

100,000 Stars

Cool Google Chrome experiment, showcasing Web GL and lots and lots of stars.

Microsoft has failed

 paints a depressing picture of Microsoft’s past failings and how they all add up to a company that’s entering (or is close to entering) a death-spiral. This paragraph in particular is brutal in its summary:

So here we sit, Microsoft has utterly failed in phones, utterly failed in tablets, and is seen as a has been by the next generation. The company can point to technical superiority all day, but people aren’t buying. Windows 8 itself seems to be dropping sales of PCs too, and that will have a knock on effect to their server OS as well, something that is also losing share at a frightening pace. To stop the decline after only losing the majority of their marketshare, Microsoft took the unfathomable move of forcing a touch UI on servers. If this doesn’t make clear the depths of how lost Microsoft is, and how reactionary their fixes are, nothing will.

It’s really sad to see how Microsoft has been consistently failing to do almost anything right these last 10+ years (their XBox brand seems to be the lone exception). We need strong competition in the personal computing space to foster innovation, and it’s sad to see one of the biggest players fumble quite so badly in this regard.

And it’s hard not to point the finger at Ballmer and Microsoft’s insanely machiavellian office politics for an explanation why one of the richest companies in the world (both in terms of money and engineering talent) could appear to be so utterly incompetent. They were in a position to be first in both the smartphone and tablet race, but they fumbled it.

Instead of the Courier, they gave us Silverlight, the Kin and Bing. Think about that and ask yourself why the hell Ballmer hasn’t been thrown out yet.

Optimize Legibility

UsabilityPost… erm… post on the (non-standard) text-rendering: optimizeLegibility; CSS property, which enables certain type specific features like ligatures and more accurate kerning. However, be aware that this extra functionality comes with a cost: performance. Read Marco Arment’s post on the topic for more details on these caveats.

Stables and Volatiles

It reads like an inspirational story. The whole team mobilizing for one last push to get the product out the door. Except Stephen didn’t mobilize the whole team, he marshaled three-quarters of it.  While the folks who weren’t sleeping in the ping-pong room clapped just as loudly when they saw the product, they knew the corners Stephen had cut to get it done because they’d seen the code. They knew many features were smoke-and-mirrors placeholders, they had big questions about scale, and most of all, they knew it’d be their job to clean up the mess because they’d seen Stephen’s ilk before. They knew he was a Volatile.

Excellent essay from Michael Lopp (Rands). Highly recognizable for anyone with more than a few years’ experience in software development.

It does beg the question though: if there are Stables and Volatiles in (software) engineering, then who are the Ultimates*?


* If you get this reference, you earn a cookie.

The Sin(ofsky)s Of The Father

MG Siegler offers more insight into Sinofsky’s sudden ousting from Microsoft:

Sinofsky was the driving force behind the “no compromise” approach to Windows 8. I believe that approach is at the heart of the ultimate problem with the OS. As two separate halves, Windows 8 and Metro seem fine. As a whole, the OS seems like a schizophrenic mess. Microsoft should have copied the Apple approach with OS X/iOS, keeping them separate and slowly merging them over time by taking the best of both.

Guess I was wrong yesterday when I wrote:

Maybe he wasn’t as convinced by the “no compromises“-schtick as everybody else?

Turns out he was the “no compromise”-guy.

Windows Head Steven Sinofsky To Leave Microsoft

Windows unit president Steven Sinofsky is leaving the company, effective immediately, AllThingsD has confirmed.

The move comes less than a month after Sinofsky presided over the launch of Windows 8 and Microsoft’s Surface tablet–products seen as key to the future if the PC software pioneer is to retain its position amid a market increasingly dominated by phones and tablets.

Strange timing for something like this. Is Microsoft reaching new levels of Apple-mimicry (“They threw out Forstall! Quick, throw out our equivalent!”) or is there something deeper at work here?

Sinofsky was the guy who cleaned up after the Vista-debacle and headed up development of Windows 7, which was (or still is?) the best version of Windows in nearly a decade. Maybe he wasn’t as convinced by the “no compromises“-schtick as everybody else?

Still, with all these high-level firings going on, after everyone’s garden leave is up we might start seeing some interesting new start-ups. That or sales in super-yachts will go up.

Thoughts on FiftyThree's Paper

I came across an interesting article on how Paper’s new color mixer works:

In the new version of Paper released last week, you mix colors with your fingers, like it’s paint–only somehow more beautiful. This one magical feature burned a year of development time, resurrected the work of two dead German scientists, and got Apple’s attention.

It’s a good article so go read it. I made the color-mixer in-app-purchase last week and I’ve had some opportunities to play around with it. Here are my thoughts on it, and Paper as a whole.

I’m not sure how I feel about Paper and its new color mixer. I love the app for sketching, and I felt that the originally limited (and fixed) color palette was an interesting creative constraint: you worked with what you had. Some people felt the same way and described it as the Instagram for people who draw, which I feel is apt: even those of us with little to no art skills could make something aesthetically pleasing with it, in the same way that Instagram’s filters can make crappy cell-phone pictures look better than they ought to, simply by virtue of its pleasantly analogue feel.

But now they added a color mixer the app is climbing out of the toy-box and is inching into more professional territory. It portends you should be able to utilize every color in existence, yet I feel as though I’m constantly struggling against the app’s skeuomorphic design. I feel like it’s holding me back, unlike purely digital painting apps like Brushes 3 or Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro which are much closer to giving you the power usually reserved for professional tools like Photoshop.

One thing that irks me is that with certain tools Paper decides wether a color should multiply when blending (i.e. darkening whatever’s underneath) or if it should be opaque (i.e. cover up what’s underneath) in a very digital on/off way. For instance, if you have 49% white and 51% color, it multiplies, but if you’re at 51%-49% it suddenly covers. Since you have no precision control over this mix it’s easy to mess up.

I know it’s emulating traditional painting in this regard, but in real life you have some control over the paint/thinner ratio (the analog equivalent of opacity), which Paper doesn’t give you any real control over (but then Paper also gives you the ability to undo, so there’s that).

That said, I still love playing around with it (and I really should post some more of my drawings). If you think of it as a sketchbook (and give yourself permission to mess up) it’s great, but at the end of the day it’s still a toy app, whereas apps like Brushes 3 could be used to make finished artwork that I could drop into Photoshop and use in production. I think that’s a shame when you consider how great the rest of the app feels to use.

I wish Photoshop also had a similar sketchbook mode so I wouldn’t have to mess with the file system when I just want to do a quick speed-painting, sketch or finger-exercise.

Microsofts skips the middle man, makes own adware for Windows 8

There hasn’t been that much coverage on this, but Microsoft is heavily pushing their new advertising platform which just happens to be the OS that you paid for. This isn’t really widely used yet, but the effects are already obvious in many of the bundled Metro UI applications already displaying ads.

I haven’t seen this for myself (as I’ve yet to see a Surface in real life) but this sounds just lovely. And I’ve seen the ads they put on the XBox dashboard in the last update, but to do this to your flagship OS at launch? Didn’t Microsoft run this ad campaign a while back against Google attacking this exact same sort of thing? What’s changed?

Maybe it’s all done in the spirit of continuity? After all, for 90% of existing Windows users buying a new PC that comes loaded with crappy adware is what’s expected. Wouldn’t want to confuse your users now would you?

So Obama won I guess

I’ve always taken the Bill Hicks approach when viewing politics in America:

“I’ll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. ‘I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.’ ‘I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.’ ‘Hey, wait a minute, there’s one guy holding out both puppets!’” – Bill Hicks

I’d love for Obama to prove me wrong in the next 4 years and actually changes a few things, but for now I’m just glad someone who believes in magic underwear isn’t allowed near the nuclear launch codes.

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