Microsoft or Google’s Productivity Apps

My original post was going to be about the two different AI assistants that Microsoft and Google offer, Cortana and Google Assistant respectively. However while writing and reviewing the post the theme of productivity and how the two assistants are making life simpler kept appearing. So instead I discarded that post and started this one. I try to streamline and make my life easier by looking for ways to automate, digitally organise, and remove redundant or boring tasks while taking advantage of applications on both mobile and PC to keep everything together.

As someone with an Android phone and has/is still using Google’s products on a number of platforms it would make sense that I lean towards Google’s ecosystem and productivity apps. But, Microsoft’s own products are just as good (if not better IMO) than Google’s. Are there other productivity products out there that do the same job or better? There could be but I generally only like using first party products because I don’t like giving other applications access to my account information. If others have suggestions about other apps that are useful let me know in the comments and I’ll potentially take a look at them and break my rule.

Email

Be it personal or for work, I use email a good amount. On my Android phone I have disabled the Gmail app and have opted for the Outlook app. There are several reasons for this. Aesthetically the Gmail app is pleasing and the performance is great, you never see any slowness or lag. Outlook is not as visually pleasing and appears more formal but it too performs well with little to no lag or slowness. If you are on PC then you can use both Gmail and Outlook through your web browser of choice, and if you subscribe to Office 365 (like I do) you can get access to the Outlook application where you can have both your Gmail and Outlook accounts synced up. The features that you get with Outlook on their apps and the web are also far superior than what Google offers. Outlook can be far more complicated and daunting with all your options, etc while Gmail is more user friendly, streamlined but lacks the options that Outlook offers. Score one to Microsoft here with the number of email features on offer when using Outlook.

Calendar

This one is a no brainer. For some reason Google has a separate app for your calendar which is a little bit of a pain. But the calendar app they do have is like the Gmail app aesthetically pleasing. Not only does it look good but it also performs very well. However the major draw back is that it will only sync with your Gmail account (perhaps I have not found the right setting but I cannot sync other calendars to it). Microsoft’s Outlook app has an inbuilt calendar (yay, less apps) and it has all the features the Google Calendar app offers. On the PC you can again use a web browser to access both Google and Microsoft account calendars. The Outlook app to manage your calendar on PC is a power user’s dream. There are a number of features that are either really hard to find in Google Calendar or are not present. So again Microsoft takes the win here by making Outlook such a powerful app on both Android and PC.

Tasks, To-Dos, and Reminders

I decided to bundle tasks, to-dos and reminders together because I generally treat and use all three in a similar way. Microsoft allows you to handle these either through the dedicated To-Do app (would have loved to be able to do this through the Outlook app like everything else unless you use Outlook on PC) or the AI assistant Cortana, plus there is the Microsoft Launcher, but I won’t discuss the details about that app here. I just want to point out that aesthetically Microsoft’s apps on Android feel very corporate and formal, but the To-Do app feels very consumer friendly and welcoming like Google’s apps. Google handles tasks, to-dos and reminders in a much similar fashion. Google has Google Keep and a new Google Tasks app, plus there is the Google Assistant. I previously used Google Keep and it did the job really well, but after moving to Office 365 and Microsoft’s products I found that Google Keep was/is fairly basic. From what I have read about Google Tasks, that product is also basic and has only the very bare minimum features with more coming the future. If you want a number of features for your tasks, to-dos and reminders then Microsoft’s products are the way to go, but what Google offers do the job just fine.

AI Assistant

The AI assistant of choice really depends on which ecosystem you are using. If you are in the Google ecosystem using Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Tasks, Google Keep, etc. then the Google Assistant is the one you should be using IMO. If you use Outlook and To-Do then Cortana is the AI assistant you need to use. Google Assistant on Android is integrated so well it is really a shame that Cortana does not integrate as well. If I could identify one area where Google is leaps and bounds above Microsoft is the quality, performance and appearance of the app on Android. I believe Cortana does not look as good as Google Assistant and also is not as responsive. There have been graphical issues when I launch the app at times, there is the occasional lag, etc. However with every new update of Cortana on Android it gets better. Cortana on PC however does not have the same issues as it does on Android in regard to performance and appearance. Both AI  assistants perform very similar when I ask them questions in my day to day use so if you’re worried about not being able to answer or perform a task during day to day use then you shouldn’t. They have their own ways to perform the same task but it is just a matter of getting used to it. Google’s feels a little more natural than Microsoft, but it is not a major issue. If I had to lean one way, Google’s integration with all their platforms, products and services, aesthetics and performance makes this one a win for it.

Overall Google and Microsoft offer a number of products and services that can pretty much handle everything that you throw at them. Google’s products are simpler, easy to use and are very consumer friendly. They perform very well and visually are superior to the ones offered by Microsoft. Microsoft’s products feel more business, formal and professional oriented. The number of features that they have is also far superior to that of the features the Google products have. If you are a power user and really want to streamline, organise and stay on top of all your things then Microsoft has you covered. At the end of the day you cannot go wrong with either ecosystem and it is all about what you want out of your apps.

Kaspersky Anti-Virus + Microsoft Windows 10 + Microsoft Office 365 Issue

Recently I had updated three of my household’s Windows 10 machines (one Surface Book 2, one custom built gaming PC, and one ASUS laptop) to the latest stable/release version of Windows (Microsoft Windows April 2018 Update). Each of machines also have a copy of Microsoft Office 365 installed, along with the latest version of Kaspersky Anti-Virus.

What I have found after the Windows 10 April 2018 Update installation; Microsoft Office 365 fails to properly recognise that I have a registered version. I can still use the products in the suite such as Word, Excel and Outlook, but am given 3 days to rectify the problem before the product runs in a limited capacity. I have the correct account logged in, the credentials are correct, and if I try to register and authenticate via the Internet option (phone option is not available) it completely fails. Googling or Binging the error code that is produced does not show any resolution or worthwhile results.

Restarting the machine, restarting any of the Microsoft Office 365 products also does not seem to resolve the problem. Initially I thought that communication to the Microsoft servers was unavailable (sometimes servers go down), but trying to use the product at any time resulted in the register/authenticate prompt to appear on all the machines. So out of sheer desperation and curiosity I thought perhaps I should disable my anti-virus because sometimes they can cause problems with certain applications. Low and behold when I booted up any of the Microsoft Office 365 products the registration/authentication prompt no longer appeared. It appeared that Kaspersky Anti-Virus was blocking or limiting my ability to properly communicate with the Microsoft servers.

Now that Microsoft Office 365 could be restarted without the register/authenticate prompt appearing I decided to re-enable my Kaspersky Anti-Virus, restart my machine and launch the Microsoft Office 365 products. Still no more register/authenticate prompts; great news. Whatever happened between the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, Kaspersky Anti-Virus and Microsoft Office 365; it seemed like it invalidated my copy of Microsoft Office 365. If you encounter the same problem after updating your Windows 10 machine then try the following steps because they worked for me:

  1. Close any open Microsoft Office 365 product you have open.
  2. Disable any anti-virus that you have running (if possible).
  3. Open a Microsoft Office 365 product.
  4. Close the Microsoft Office 365 product.
  5. Turn on your anti-virus.
  6. Restart your Windows 10 machine (this is optional).
  7. Open a Microsoft Office 365 product (the register/authenticate pop up should no longer appear).

Hopefully the above steps helps to resolve your problem.

My Artificial Neural Network Application & Podcast

The last month my blog has been fairly quiet.

I have been a little busy working on my artificial neural network, practising BJJ and playing some video games; plus I was sick for a couple of days. Initially my plan (which I stuck to for an extended period) was to put out a blog post every one to two weeks. However coming up with meaningful content that often can be fairly difficult.

This month I plan on writing about my artificial neural network with some emphasis on how a multi-layer perceptron works and how my application works/be used. It can be viewed on my GitHub page.

The current state of my artificial neural network on GitHub is just the skeleton with the majority of the code still not pushed to the repository. As I start to push the meat of the artificial neural network components such as the feed-forward, backward propagation, etc I will be creating specific blog posts.

The podcast that I was working on has not turned out as expected so I am in the process of re-evaluating the tools and topics that I will cover. I still plan on creating a podcast and with the new Content Creator version of Skype it should make the process  much simpler.

The MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

As I work on more side projects the concept/idea of a minimum viable product is becoming more and more important; especially for someone like me who generally builds products alone with limited resources. I have started, put on hold, never finished or completely shelved a large number of side projects since I started programming. The reasons range from I lost motivation (which is a shame) to I didn’t have a complete understanding of what the applications true purpose was anymore (poor planning and design) and how it would benefit the user (complete lack of understanding of the market and what users are after). The last one started to become very common and I needed a new way to approach my side projects. Working on something cool and fun is great and all but there is a high chance if you don’t have a clear picture of what you want to achieve and the minimum requirements needed to distribute your app to users then your enthusiasm will at some point dwindle away. Also if you start with an idea that is so big it can become daunting and you will never finish it.

I started taking a new approach to my side projects now. Whenever I start, I note down what I exactly want to build (at a high level only), how I feel it would benefit the users (very important to understand), and what are the minimum features needed to ensure that I can get it to user’s devices to make it worthwhile using in a timely manner (the details are important here). Not only is this process helping me focus and know exactly what I need to achieve but it also allows me to mentally picture a roadmap of sort. I can easily see that features A and B need to be done for the application to be worthwhile and features C, D and E can be easily added later in patches and with feedback from users I can continue to refine and craft an app better tailored to them.

Why am I posting this you may ask? Well several weeks ago I posted about how I am/was going to be working on either one or two new applications. In that time I managed to get a clearer picture of what I wanted to achieve, how it would benefit someone and what the minimum features needed to be implemented for it to be worthwhile. If I didn’t spend this time understanding this then my new project probably would have eventually been shelved at a later point and I would not have built an end to end product for people to use. With this new approach I not only get to showcase my skills with complete apps (fundamentally the absolute minimum to be worthwhile, but apps nonetheless) and provide a product people will hopefully find useful in a timeframe that isn’t insane.

Just in time for the start of the new financial year I will be releasing an alpha version of my bill tracking UWP app in either late July or early August for the Windows Store (more information about this when the release date gets closer). I have a very basic prototype up and running and will be working on refining that to be the final app (took under three hours to get something I wanted functional thanks to the great documentation Microsoft has on UWP development, C# and XAML). Until the app is released I will be trying to write more frequently covering certain aspects of the app, what I have enjoyed programming and what I have had difficulty doing. Stay tuned for that because July and August are going to be jam packed full of programming goodness.