Category Archives: Review

ASUS products support is crap

About a year an a half ago, in September 2013, I bought an ASUS laptop which came with a 2-year warranty. It’s an OK laptop that’s been used as the family PC and did what was expected.

Recently it broke. It would not boot up and occasionally the screen would show something of a static at start up. Taking advantage of the warranty, I contacted ASUS, explained them my situation and was offered to ship the laptop to them for free for a repair. The shipping process was straightforward and in about a week-and-a-half, I got the laptop back. I quickly turned it on and realized that they did not fix it. At first, I thought that I was doing something wrong, because having a just-repaired product behave broken, just as though no-one touched it would probably raise some concerns from people whose job it is to verify that a product works before sending it back after repair.

After fiddling with it for about 20 minutes I realized that they simply did not fix it. I called back started to complain about the failure of this repair exercise. The person on the phone would not confirm the failure, but could only offer me to have the product shipped to them again so that they will “fix it for sure“. I wish I had known better to have asked to have it fixed for sure the first time. I did not expect to have to have been so specific. Who knew that the magic “fix it for sure” requirement is required when sending broken products for repair.

I tried to escalate the situation to someone who can adjust the process, such as by sending me a working replacement product first, so that I can send in the broken product to them later, but no matter who picked up the phone, they would not agree to this. The best they could offer me was to give me a faster shipping label (down to 3 days from 5 originally) so that the broken laptop would reach them faster. The promise to “fix it for sure” was repeated several times and I finally resolved to follow their process again, to send their laptop to them again, and to wait for it to be fixed and sent it back to me again.

Another week-and-a-half later, I received the laptop back. Without waiting too long, I plugged it in and was pleasantly surprised to see the screen light up with a familiar logo. Soon, it booted up to a brand new installation of Windows. I felt delighted and a little sorry for having raised so much hell about it the first time. Perhaps, on occasion, even the good guys screw up and let things fall through the cracks.

I began the process of re-configuring the OS to my needs and upgrading and installing stuff that we need, but soon the system asked me to activate Windows. At this point, any shred of remorse I may have had left quickly dissipated. I was left with an unusable laptop again and feeling helpless because ASUS’s promise to fix it for sure was not, really, a promise one could rely on.

I decided to give them another chance. I called up their support team and was told that they, actually, have a systematic way of handling this problem without having to send the laptop in again. Seems like the routinely ‘forget’ to activate windows during their repair process. WTF? The support tech opened another ticket and pretty soon I had an email instructing me to login to their website, register the laptop and click the special button to get access to the Windows Activation Key. I began feeling better again. I quickly followed the procedure, but after clicking the magic button I saw this message instead

asus

So I called them back again and was told that they would do something special for me – they would send me another email with an actual activation key later same day.  I hung up and waited, waited and waited some more, but such email never arrived.

So a few days later I followed up with them only to find out that they cannot have promised me that.  The guy on the phone did, actually, note that I was promised such email, but he was at a loss about how one would make such promise.  I can only imagine is was done to get me off the phone.  Again, the best they could do was to offer me to have my laptop sent to them again and to wait for it to be “fixed it for sure” again.

I dropped it with fedex for the 3rd time earlier today.  I hope that 3 times is the charm.  I don’t know why anyone would accept such treatment from any vendor.  I will never buy anything ASUS again and strongly recommend against anyone buying their products.

What is Runtime Broker and why does it eat memory for lunch?

It started happening soon after I got my Surface.  I started noticing that it would slow down considerably.  I began rebooting it just to get it back to its happy, snappy state.  I decided to dig a little deeper.  Because WinRT is, basically, Window 8 compiled for the ARM processor, I can use familiar Windows tools, like Task Manager to look under the hood.

I sorted by Memory in descending order like this:

TMSortByMemory

and noticed that the top offender was a process called “Runtime Broker”.  I started a thread about this on the forums and soon learned that the Runtime Broker process is responsible for ensuring that the new Windows Store Apps behave.  But there was no explanation as to why its memory consumption grows over time.  Someone mentioned that  a misbehaving app can cause the Runtime Broker process to bloat, but there was no indication as to which app that was.

Recently, my thread was updated with a more detailed information.  Apparently, one of the early-released clock apps has a bug which causes Runtime Broker to grow in size like that, and it does not only affect Surface, it affects any Windows 8 PC running the rogue clock app.

So uninstalling the app worked. My Broker Manager never grows beyond its normal memory size of under 10MB and Surface runs well. But can we really blame the App Developer for this? The answer is a definite No. AFAIK a good operating system isolates processes in such a way that one process cannot cause others to suffer. But this is exactly what’s happening here. I am not sure whether Microsoft knew about this problem before they released Windows 8, but if they did, they should have been a lot more vigilant in their App approval process in order to block any such rogue app from making it into the Windows Store. This is a serious FAIL on Microsoft part. It shows that not only were they in a hurry to release Windows 8 and in haste missed a few critical issues, but they also were or are very lax in their app approval process, as they a aim for quantity, not quality of the app. This is not going to help them in the long run. I hope they adjust their strategy, at least on the app approval part.

My Support Thread:http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_rt-performance/runtime-broker-uses-too-much-memory/9484a1bc-b302-4451-af7d-a2db4f266b2e

Similar Thread: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_8-performance/what-is-runtime-broker-and-why-does-it-use-so-much/44cf8012-3d0f-48fb-8802-100fb88143b2

PS.  I ended up in this situation because Windows 8 does not display a clock in it’s Modern Start menu, a normal main window when running Windows on a tablet.  I referred to this as a major omission in my earlier blog. This is, IMHO, a big deal

Microsoft’s New Products

Now that Microsoft released all the products they would use to compete against Apple and Google, it’s worth reviewing how the offering from the three major players stack up.  Apple pretty much defined the three categories below.

  • Computers
  • Smartphone
  • Tablets

They are also the most successful and the most admired for it.  It makes sense to start with them.  I started using Apple products when I got my iPhone.  I was impressed with the product and saw it as a solid contender.  Back then the only real competitors to iPhone were phones running Google’s Android.  Microsoft was trying with their Windows 7, and overall hardware quality was not up-to par with the iPhone.  In fact not until recently, neither Google’s Android, nor Microsoft’s Windows Phone based devices had a contender with hardware that was good enough to rival experience one would have using an iPhone.  The Galaxy SIII, IHMO, is equal or even better than the iPhone, while latest Windows 8 devices are also up there.  I am using Nokia 920 and am very happy with the device.  I did not commit myself to too many apps on the iPhone, so did not feel as much pain when switching to a new ecosystem.

My reason for writing this post is to air my frustration with Microsoft.  I am a Software Developer, whose fortunes were tied to the success of Microsoft in the enterprise.  It was a successful relationship for me.  I understood their philosophy and was comfortable around their APIs.  I learned .NET and enjoy developing GUI applications that ran on Windows computers.  Microsoft’s languages and frameworks held their own against Java and open-source offerings from Computer Science perspective, while Microsoft’s clout provided a reliable base of customers who need new software and can hire me to write it for them.  As new products such as Smartphones and tablets gained popularity being an enterprise Microsoft developer seems a bit less comforting then before.  So naturally, I waited for Microsoft to come out with propose a set of products which I, the developer can start coding against, without making a gigantic leap away from the languages, frameworks and philosophy with which I was comfortable for years.  Well, my wait is over.  Let’s see what I got.

A small review first.

Apple

They are the only ones that go it alone.  They create hardware, software, even the chips on which their systems run.  Their Mac computers use Intel chips, but they are reviewing the possibility of switching to ARM-based processors, which they would, likely, produce themselves. Their products are phenomenally successful and by being first at creating a usable smartphone and a tablet, they established a fairly high bar for competitors to clear as they consider competing in this segment.

Here’s how Apple’s products fall into the three categories above.  All products are made and completely controlled by Apple from software to hardware.

  • Computers – iMacs running MacOS
  • Smartphones – iPhone running iOS
  • Tablets – iPad + iPad mini running iOS

By being first, they also created and nurtured a large ecosystem consisting of apps, services. developers and fanboys which helps reinforce their dominance in this game.  This creates a strong level of stickiness, making it more difficult for users to switch, because they are used to a large number of apps in the store, a strong level of support and even something as simple as familiarity with the way their products work.  I recently switched away from my iPhone and I even found it difficult to adjust to the new set of sounds on my phone.  Like Pavlov’s dog I was trained to react to sounds of text messages differently than sounds of arriving emails.

Google

Google competes in all three categories, and has some success influencing the tablet category by popularizing the 7″ form factor.  Unlike Apple, they are all about partnerships.  They do not make their own hardware.  They license their software which is used by others to build finished products.  To make some products stand out as Google-signature products they use Nexus brand as a halo brand on devices which enjoyed higher level of Google influence during their development.

Here’s how Google’s products fall into the three categories above

  • Computers – Chromebooks – developed by partners using Google’s Chrome OS
  • Smartphones – phones developed by partners, Samsung, LG, HTC, SONY and others. They run a version of Android OS.  Nexus is currently developed by LG
  • Tablets – tablets developed by partners running a tablet-adopted version Android OS.  Nexus is currently developed by ASUS

Google began competing against Apple early on.  Unlike apple which had a single iPhone to offer, Google cast their Android net as widely as possible.  Phones running Android OS came in different shapes and sizes, with and without touch screen or keyboards.  Thanks to aggressive push from Google along with an open approach to their app store, the number of phones running android is greater than the number of iPhones in the wild.  The ecosystem is also well established with most important apps being available on Android as well as on iOS.

Chromebooks are not a real competitors to laptops running Windows or MacOS, they are weaker and can’t run any apps developed for other platforms.  But Google is trying to make them relevant by creating an internet-based ecosystem into which these Chromebooks would plug-in.  And once this ecosystem is robust enough, Google should be able to show us that we don’t need powerful PCs or Macs to be as productive or as entertained, we should be able to just have Chromebooks and use the internet as brought to you by Google for everything else. Consumers were first to use GMail for mail and Google Docs for apps.  As software matured Google turned to enterprises.  They succeeded by turning quite a few enterprises away from using in-house email and document management system in favor of their internet-based apps.

Microsoft (finally!)

For a while it seemed as though Microsoft did not want to participate as Apple and Google were having all the fun.  Since 2007, the year when iPhone came out, they saw their main product, Windows and Office taking losing their relevance as more people skip investing in PCs altogether as non-PC devices gain more power and ability and are able to truly replace the PC with all the functionality they offer.  By not being in the game Microsoft could become completely irrelevant.  As alternatives became real and viable, people were finally able to turn away from the PC.

Microsoft woke up in 2011.  They created internet-based versions of Office and Outlook to counteract Google’s offerings on the internet.  On the OS front, they bet on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.  Just as Google and Apple, Microsoft offers two OS, but the unlike their competitors they use a mobile Phone OS, Windows Phone 8 solely for the phone.

Here’s Microsoft’s breakdown of products into categories.

  • Computers – Windows 8 – based PCs developed by partners.  Some PCs carry a Microsoft Signature brand to separate them in the crowded PC market.
  • Smartphones – phones developed by partners, Nokia, Samsung, HTC, running Windows Phone 8.
  • Tablets – Windows8/WindowsRT – based tablets developed mostly by partners.  Microsoft Surface is made completely by Microsoft.  This is a special case.

Notice that unlike Google and Apple, Microsoft decided that Windows 8, the full-featured OS that branched from the Windows tree is the OS of choice for their tablet universe. Was this the right choice?

As of right now, my answer is No.  It’s not “mobile” enough.  It’s definitely a lot more touch friendly than any previous version of Windows.  It’s also lighter, faster and can run on the low-powered ARM chips. But its missing some fundamental feature we are used to when using mobile devices.  These are simple feature we take for granted, such as:

  • Ability to see current time, usually on top of the screen
  • Ability to see battery status, usually on top as well
  • Ability to see the status of the Wi-Fi connection, usually on top too
  • Ability to select all items in their native mail app.  You can do this by popup – opening an On-Screen-Keyboard and doing a CTRL-A (really Microsoft? a keyboard for this)

Basically, it’s not mobile enough.  Along with general glitchiness to which I can devote a whole blog post, their Surface is not a good product. But even if they can fix the glitchiness by releasing new drivers, I think they are still going to be held back my the choice of the OS they used on their mobile device.  In the meantime, some of the design choices they made in the OS are wrong.  Here’s a link to an issue I had raised in the community.  Basically, the problem is that badly written apps can affect the performance of the whole OS!

There are some positives by choosing Windows as an OS for the tablet. I wish I could add more, but for me only these were important.

  • Ability to have multiple users, as Windows is inherently multiuser
  • Ability to run Office.  I proof-read my wife’s college paper on the Surface running Word. I also edited a spreadsheet I had created for the purchase of my new home.
  • Ability to code for the device using Microsoft Visual Studio

This last one is, probably, the most important reason.  I really want it to succeed.  I can write Java and, I did write a demo app for the iPhone in Objective C.  But I would really like to continue using the tools with which I am comfortable.  As of now, it does not look good for Microsoft.