Monday tech roundupLast week was a busy one and dominated largely by news about the two old rivals; Microsoft and Apple. This week we also talk about Facebook being accused of poking with users’ privacy, contracting is the new nine to five and finally, whatever happened to the print button?

Windows 10 design driven by partners and users

Microsoft product development is a bit of a dichotomy. Over the three decades I’ve covered the company, it has both listened intently to customers and had super techie developers build their hard-to-use visions into the products.

CNN Money is now reporting that with Windows 10, the company has turned a corner and is now driven by users and partners, leaving the techie developers adapting their designs to meet those needs. With Windows 8, CNN argues, Microsoft focused too much on what it wanted in the product, and not enough on customers. The result was a near disaster. As a tablet interface, it was cobbled onto old-style Windows, creating a schizophrenic experience.

I interviewed a dozen early Windows 8 users when the operating system came out – half loved it, half were confused by having to move from old style to new, and not having the start menu (which was restored in Windows 8.1) but it made for an interesting reader review of Windows 8.

For Microsoft, listening to users is nothing new. Back in the late 80s, Bill Gates spent weeks every year on the road visiting users, and chided his software rivals for failing to do the same. The folks at the Boston Computer Society would regularly say the same thing – Gates was always there, always interested in what users had to say, and other CEOs were too busy to show.

Fast forward to 2015 and Microsoft seem to be going back to their roots. One OEM partner has this to say. “It’s pretty cool how responsive Microsoft has been to feedback, we were right there in the room planning Windows 10 with them from very beginning,” remarked Mike Nash, HP’s head of product strategy. An interesting note here – Nash was formerly vice president of Windows Platform Strategy.

Facebook knocked for privacy, this time unfairly

Facebook has had its share of privacy woes, for example exposing users’ location – sometimes their every move – through Facebook Messenger.

A new report by the Huffington Post finds a new fault where fault really doesn’t exist. The big revelation – Facebook tracks how much time we spend in our newsfeeds – even when we aren’t really doing anything. The goal is to see what you are spending time with, and then give you more of the same.

“Based on the fact that you didn’t scroll straight past this post and it was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, we infer that it was something you found interesting and we may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future,” Facebook wrote in a blog.

Sounds like a positive. The downside is if this information is sold and companies blast you with ads. The good news is Facebook said it only use this data to give users a better experience, and will not sell it to advertisers.

Working 9 to 5 no way to make a living – contracting is

Decades ago, nine to five was the typical work day and we stayed at the same company for decades. There were even pensions. These days the nine to five concept has expanded to a much longer work week – especially with laptops, tablets and smartphones that keep us always connected.

Now, there is another change afoot. Contract work is an increasingly common way to make a living and technology helps make it so.

Techcrunchlooked at this issue, and used Uber, a car service that is giving traditional taxi drivers fits, as an example. The service now employees, or semi-employs, some 160,000 people who work as contractors. And this is very much similar to the model used by YouTube with its more popular video producers. Microsoft has long used contractors, and now 2 out of 3 workers are contractors.

There are also services that help contractors get work and run their businesses.  Upwork, for instance, helps knowledge workers find work, and those in need of say web developers or writers find help. Maybe it’s time to look into a career upgrade?

Blackberry no longer proprietary?

Blackberry was the first mobile phone really designed for work, and it sold in droves mainly due to its integration with company email. Over the years it got totally outclassed by true smartphones such as the iPhone. Rather than rolling over, Blackberry has been working like mad to adapt. Now the company is really wising up, and reportedly forging a new class of devices that use the more open Android operating system according to a report on Network World. The move supports the company’s recent strategy of selling add-on software for mobile devices, the software that distinguished Blackberry in the first place.

Fake Steve Jobs now real TV writer

Fake Steve Jobs  is now helping drive HBO’s hit show Silicon Valley. Dan Lyons, senior editor at Forbes and former editor of ReadWrite invented this crazy blog character ‘Fake Steve Jobs’ back in 2007. Dan also forged a path into content marketing where companies use compelling independent content to connect with customers. Here Dan helped brands develop their voice but also analyzed how this impacts the world of journalism.

In his spare time, whatever time that is, he has been writing for the hit HBO series. Wired took notice and did a profile of Dan’s latest move.

As a long-time follower of all things high tech, the Silicon Valley series rings especially true. Especially its take on startup culture and their entire goings on. “The plot twists in the past year of Dan Lyons’ life seem far-fetched. It’s as if Pied Piper could compress time: Lyons’ year has contained about a decade’s worth of drama. He went from a marketing job to a screenwriting gig back to a marketing job to an editorial stint to having no full-time job. He lived on two coasts, landed a book deal, had his body rebel against him, and elicited the ire of e-detractors. He helped write season two of Silicon Valley, and then he learned he won’t be back for season three,” Wired wrote.

Will the iPad ever grow up?

Speaking of ReadWrite.com, it has a speculative report that Apple may be close releasing the iPad Pro, a larger version that is not only better for reading books and watching video, but may actually be more useful for work – which is still largely the domain of real computers.

Much of this hinges on a new version of iOS that is more productivity-friendly. From reports, it seems the bigger iPad Pro will be more serviceable, but it is nowhere as powerful as the productivity beast that is the MacBook or a Windows PC.

And probably this is where Apple continually get it wrong. The Mac is great at productivity but it has nothing that the iPad has to offer, and this goes for the iPad when compared to the Mac. Apple could merge the iPad and Mac and have a device that could kick the Surface out of the park. My take is that Apple, for some bizarre reason, is content with the Mac being an expensive niche machine.

Microsoft preps mega-tablet with mega price

IPad sales are starting to falter because, let’s face it, anyone who wants one now has one, and it is just a tablet. It is not a real productivity machine. On the other hand, Microsoft Surface is not nearly as good as a tablet, but it is a darned sight better as a real computer. It even fundamentally knows how to print!

Basking in the Surface sales glow, Microsoft is apparently prepping new machines designed to be the centerpiece of conference rooms, trade shows, and CEO offices. The upcoming Surface Hub is a giant tablet and a white board all in one. The 84-incher is expected to sell for a cool $20,000.

By replacing all your video conferencing and projection gear, this might be a good deal but white boarding is built into many Microsoft apps and operating systems and an 84-inch display sells for chump change these days. The trick will be for Microsoft to integrate real value into these mammoth touchscreens.

Whatever happened to the print button?

Finally a personal rant ahead. Remember those early days of the Internet, when it started replacing print magazines and newspapers? During the transition, media web sites all had print buttons so you could read the articles on hard copy. Today our tablets can barely print, and when it comes to smart phones, you can just forget about it. The younger generation has no more use for a printer than they do a cd player. But I have 54 year-old eyes so I love to print (in increasingly large fonts). The only problem is that the print button is nowhere to be seen. And when I do print from the web, it is often a disaster. These pages are not designed to print, so I end up with pages that make no sense, or half the copy never getting produced. Can we bring back print responsiveness please?