Thursday, March 17, 2011

Microsoft BizSpark

I bought a new computer last year, and bought Microsoft Office along with it. As part of the installation procedure, MS Office invited me to subscribe to an online newsletter called Microsoft BizSpark.

After a couple of issues, I realized that the newsletter wasn't useful to me. I tried to unsubscribe. I have tried repeatedly to unsubscribe, and haven't been successful yet. BizSpark always responds to my Unsubscribe request with a question. No matter how I answer the question, my response is not acknowledged. I know there's still a live body at the other end of the line, because an ungrammatical period at the end of the question, a ".", has been quietly replaced with a dash. But they keep sending me this stupid newsletter.

I post this here in the hope that some poor contractor or intern at Microsoft, whose job it is to troll the Web on boring afternoons when there's nothing better to do, will see this posting and take care of unsubscribing me. Actually, since I truly did add BizSpark to my spam bucket, I may never know if it worked.

Here's the email trail for you to follow.

1. The newsletter

Startup success with Windows Azure, Windows Phone 7 and Internet Explorer 9 announcements, Twitter news and much more!
Tue, 01 Mar 2011 22:10:45 -0600
Microsoft BizSpark

[... newsletter deleted ...]
Microsoft respects your privacy. Please read our online Privacy Statement.

If you would no longer like to receive this newsletter, please email with the word “unsubscribe” in the subject line.

(That "Reply-To" address contained enough alphabet soup for a competent server to figure out exactly which subscriber was sending the Unsubscribe request, especially if the subscriber forwarded the whole newsletter to bzsnews as part of their Unsubscribe request, with headers intact.)

2. My unsubscribe request
From: Xxxxxxx []
Sent: Monday, March 07, 2011 7:47 PM
To: BizSpark Newsletter
Subject: Unsubscribe
-------- Original Message --------
Startup success with Windows
[... rest of newsletter deleted here, but it was all in my Unsub request, with headers intact ...]

3. BizSpark's response

Subject: RE: Unsubscribe
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2011 18:12:53 +0000

What is the Company Name you are registered under in the BizSpark Program – we need that info to process your unsubscribe request.
[... and they left my entire Unsub request intact, even the attached newsletter ...]

4. My response to BizSpark's response, this time

You tell me. You're the ones with the big database of subscribers and all. Besides, I've already told you three or four times. (Check your email records; you'll see.) Why didn't you pay any attention those other times?
At least this time you fixed the grammar in your canned response to my Unsubscribe request.
You know what? I'll do your job for you. From now on, anything from goes into my spam filter.
It's an MSN/Hotmail/Live spam filter.
Brought to you by Microsoft.

End note: I want to make it clear that I'm not badmouthing Microsoft as a monolithic entity. A lot of people do that, and it's not right. Microsoft is a huge corporation, with business segments and divisions you don't even know about. Some of them deserve praise, and some of them don't. I have praised them in the past, right here at Zyzmog Galactic Headquarters. But this group doesn't deserve praise.

UPDATE, Nov 9, 2011:  My Hotmail/MSN account dumps directly into my mail readers, and so I seldom go online to see what's in my online InBox, etc.  Today I was online and I noticed two pieces of mail in my online Junk folder.  They were two identical copies of the Microsoft Bizspark 11/02/11 newsletter.  Microsoft's Hotmail had detected them as junk mail, and treated them accordingly.  They will automatically be deleted in a few days.

One great app for iPad

UPDATE, 25 SEP 2017: The Jot! app has become an orphaned app. If you have it on your device, keep it. It will never be updated. If you don't have it, I'm sorry. I don't know of a suitable replacement. The link to the author's website contains a short explanation for its discontinuance. The link to the app store points nowhere. I've left both links intact.

Unfortunately, the two screenshots in this article have also disappeared. Blogger detected an HTTPS issue with them and offered to fix the page for me. I accepted its offer, and now it won't give me back my pictures.
I have already written about the fact that, although Apple's App Store has thousands of apps for the iPod, iPad and iPhone, the vast majority of them are junk. Because of this fact, I have been very choosy about the apps that I download. But I finally found a really good one - two, actually.

Autodesk made their name and their fortune on AutoCAD, arguably the most well-known CAD software on the planet. They added to their product portfolio over the years, through clever R&D and through judicious acquisitions. I never thought of them as players in the app market.

This week I was looking for a quick and easy sketching app. I found one called Jot!, which works very well. (I think the exclamation point on the name is stupid, but everybody else likes it...) I'm increasingly pleased with it - the more I use it, the more I like it. It's simple and it's well executed. It's uncluttered. It's fast. It has some limitations, but for the purposes of brainstorming and doing quick sketches, it's fine.

Jot! is delightfully intuitive. It's meant to replace a pencil and yellow pad of paper in a meeting, or even the Expo markers and whiteboard at the front of the conference room. It doesn't try to do more than that, and that focus on simplicity is the key to its success. And then the fact that you can share Jot! sketches with other Jot! users around the globe, or that you can email them as PDF files to anybody in the world, serves to make it universally useful.

A Jot! screenshot. Yes, it really is that simple.

Jot! comes in three flavors:
  • Jot! for iPhone, $2.99
  • Jot! for iPad, $4.99
  • Jot!Free for iPad
Then I thought I might like something with more features and more horsepower than Jot!. After snooping around for a long time (way too long) in the App Store, I found SketchBook, from Autodesk. It also comes in several flavors:
  • SketchBook Mobile, $0.99 for iPhone/iPod Touch
  • SketchBook MobileX, free for iPhone/iPod Touch ("X" for "Express")
  • SketchBook Pro, $7.99 for iPad
  • SketchBook Express, free for iPad
I had no idea that big companies like AutoDesk were writing stuff for iOS. If you're familiar with the full-size SketchBook Pro on the Mac OS X, then it should come as no surprise to you when I say that this is the best app I've seen yet for the iOS platforms. This is a well-crafted application, and once you get to know it, it does almost everything that the full-size version does.

The "Express" versions of SketchBook go far beyond Jot!'s simple capabilities. I like both Jot! and SketchBook. They were written for different purposes: Jot! for simple sketching tasks, and SketchBook for serious artistic creation. There is considerable overlap between the two.

The current "Express" versions of SketchBook also have a couple of serious bugs. For one thing, if you try to import a photo into SBX, or SBMobileX, the app crashes. Eh. So don't do that. If you pay real money for the Pro version (come on, only 8 bucks for the iPad, one buck for the iPod), you avoid those limitations entirely.

The SketchBook user interface takes some getting used to - about ten minutes the first time you use it, and about two minutes every time after that. That's not much. Serious artists may be frustrated by the limitations of the software, which are naturally dictated by the limitations of the hardware. Eh again. Go find a real Mac with a full-size screen.

iPhone Screenshot 1
A SketchBook screenshot. The real thing looks a lot better than this.

Jot! is from a two-person company called Tabula Rasa Labs. I know it's not even fair putting them in an article alongside Autodesk. That's like putting a jet ski in a photo next to a cabin cruiser - or an aircraft carrier. Honestly, I sat down to write an entry extolling the virtues of SketchBook Pro, and Jot! just kept working its way into the article. So even though the title of this entry is "One great app," I'm not averse to endorsing two great apps which, on the surface, do pretty much the same thing but which, after a closer look, are vastly different in scale and horsepower. I say get 'em both.

p.s. Remember, I'm not a shill. My opinions are not for sale. I only write what I feel like writing. See my "blogging for dollars" entry if you're not sure you believe me.

p.p.s. Friday, March 18: After using Jot! at home last night, I revised this article this morning. The more I use Jot!, the more I like it. I still can't believe I sat down to write an article about SketchBook Pro and ended up with this article.