Monthly Archives: August 2011

Messenger-inspired magnet brings back handwriting

magnet Saw this a while back and forgot to post it.  Dealextreme is offering a 4-piece “MSN Dialog Box Style” magnet for all your fridge writing needs.  It also includes a pen for the low price of $9.90.

Alternatively as Messenger 2011 killed handwriting, you can now get one of these, write or draw something and mail it to your friends… or scan it… or show it on webcam. 

Though seriously, it’s rather fun and the styling works out not too bad.  I do wonder why they don’t have the handwriting tab in focus though.

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The Skype Home 5.5 mess and other upgrade pains

Like a lot of people recently, I started up Skype last week and it automatically updated itself to 5.5 (from 5.3).  Now, I had tried one of the initial betas of 5.5, but it excluded a dial pad to make DTMF tones and its Facebook integration was fairly intrusive (I certainly don’t need an alert/toast message every time someone logs on to Facebook) so I downgraded and forgot about it until it was automatically installed.

Thankfully my dial pad had rematerialized, as had an option to exclude Facebook from showing alerts. 

Skype Home is the unwelcome guest that won’t leave
But, the first thing that was thrown at me was the ‘Skype Home’ window:

Skype Home

The purpose of the Skype Home window is to show your most recent contacts for easy access and any status updates they’ve posted.   In the earlier 5.0 betas, there was an outcry over this same window and the feature was less intrusive in the final release.  Now, it’s back with a vengeance. 

Not only can you not turn it off from displaying every time you sign in, the window also periodically opens on its own, which in some cases will interrupt what you’re doing.

One important detail of note – to see this behaviour you have to switch to Skype’s “Compact View” (see the View menu for the option).  This isn’t the default viewing option in Skype, and presumably one of the reasons why it has not gotten much attention.  But a big problem of this is, a good chunk of the business (that is, paying) users of Skype I know prefer Compact View and they’re the ones who pay Skype’s bills presently.

A bug was filed against this “feature” on Skype’s bug tracker on the 11th of this month and so far 179 comments have been left.  A lot of the comments blame Microsoft (since most of people consider them the current owner of Skype, despite the acquisition not having gone through yet) and even cite Messenger out for the “feature”. 

For example, BartVP says, “Features like this will see Skype’s user experience go down the path of ICQ and MSN in a matter of days, leaving me no choice but to switch to Google Voice or other competitors for phone and messenger use.”  Matt Langley asks people in the discussion, “How many people do you know who still use MSN since it started to get bloated? It’s a show stopper and there are alternatives.”  And indeed, many people indicate they’ve uninstalled Skype and have started using Google Voice or other SIP providers to make calls. 

We don’t want you to sign out either
Also missing after the upgrade was Skype’s Windows 7 jump list:

Before:
before

After:
after

Before you could quickly sign out or shut down Skype by just right-clicking the menu and choosing the option, but with this gone, you now have to travel to the notification area icon (by default hidden by Windows 7) and do it there. 

I installed Skype 5.5 on a new Windows installation (that is on, one which had never had Skype on it), and the jump list magically appeared on that machine, so this is strictly a problem upgrading from previous versions.  I’ve only done a small bit of investigation so far to get it to re-add its jump list, but no success yet.  But if you’re suffering from this problem, you can use a tool like Jumplist Extender to add the option back yourself (use Skype.exe /shutdown as the command line) until this problem is resolved.

Going forward
A lot people have invested in the Skype platform.  They run their businesses from it, they have incoming numbers directed towards it, they use it for conference calls with friends or for online gaming.  Even people like myself have gotten used to answering incoming calls using Skype Call Button or other software solutions which depend on Skype.

Switching away from that ecosystem (and there are plenty of alternatives) can be almost impossible without another big investment and so I don’t think Skype has much to worry about (their future is guaranteed by Redmond), but these blunders just do more to damage their reputation. 

Beyond user interface problems, Skype has suffered a number of outages over the past few years, and I think the Messenger service is actually more stable “outage-wise” than Skype for the time being (and you can turn off the Live Today screen). 

If it were up to me, as they move towards being owned by the Microsoft Corporation, I think they should freeze all feature development and concentrate on fixing these and other longer-term bugs.  Certainly I think the Skype user base would be much happy if they did.