Skype Preview, now with Skype Bots!

As part of the recent Windows 10 Anniversary update, Skype was updated to Skype Preview.  Part of the preview is the new Skype Bots system.  Bots are the new Apps, which are the new Websites, or something…  Everyone is doing Bots these days.  These early bots are about what you might expect, simple interactions that may or may not be useful.  I did some testing with some of the bots.

There is also an If This Then That Bot, which I’m not going into detail on here.  I think it would be better served with it’s own separate write up.

Big News Bot

Bing News BotSimple enough, enter a topic, it returns 3 news stories related to the topic.  It seems to be pretty good about returning newer stories as well, though in some cases a bit repetitive.  I did a test search for the following…

Halt and Catch Fire, because I’ve been watching the show.  I got 3 results, all behind the scenes write ups, but all different angles on it.  They clearly invited people by to build up buzz for Season 3

Gene Wilder, because he passed away today.  It’s possibly the biggest story of the day.   I got 3 stories returned, all about his passing.

Pana, IL, because it’s where I live.  We don’t get a lot of news around here relating to the town, but it did return a story that was in the news recently.  As well as a couple of others that were more just “area news”.

Taylor Swift, because she’s in the gossipy news a lot.  I received three stories about her reporting for Jury Duty.  This topic and the Gene Wilder results kind of give an idea of the sameness problem.  I don’t really need the same story three times.  There isn’t any obvious sources listed wither so it’s not as if you can choose your preferred source.  Clicking a headline is a blind shot for where you’re going.

Honestly, I’m not sure how useful this really is.  Chances are you’re looking for news on a topic because you already know what the news is, ala Gene Wilder dying.  Otherwise, you’ve probably seen it already on some social media.

Bing Image Bot

Similar to the News Bot except it returns 3 images.  I did a test search for Cats.  It doesn’t even return the images, just links to the images.  You’d be way better off just going to and getting all the results, in a nice visual grid.

Trivia Master

Trivia MasterMoving on to some of the game bots.  Trivia Master is just as it sounds.  You tell it to start, it asks ten trivia questions on a topic, then gives a score.  The answers are multiple choice, so you don’t have to worry about spelling or exact wording.

It’s alright, but kind of a one trick horse that’s old as the hills.  The individual scoring flies by too fast as well, meaning you’ll have to keep scrolling back up to see if you were correct or not.  This problem is compounded by all of the wasted space in each of the message boxes.  It would make for a better party game or maybe some sort of back and forth with another Skype friend.

Candy Escape

Candy Escape 02Probably the most complex bot that I tried out was Candy Escape, a game that is reminiscent of the old Interactive Fiction games (ie ZORK).  You must solve puzzles and escape the candy prison.  You are the Walking Meat imprisoned by Candy.  It’s mostly pre-definined choices based, though not entirely.  For example, I was asked “What is the password”, which was just typed out with no choices offered.

It’s not without it’s quirky bugs though.  Early on I retrieved a rope from a skeleton after examining it.  Later, upon a second examination, the rope was gone from the image shown, but there was still an option to take it.  I also seemed to get stuck in a loop and the game’s hint wasn’t helpful at all.  I needed to escape from two guards, but my only option was to tell them to leave, which they refused to do, or to remove the crown, which just gave me the option to put the crown back on during my next choice, which brought me back where I started.

One Month on Windows 10

windows-10-logoI held off a bit on the whole “Free Update to Windows 10” thing.  I’m still a bit apprehensive on the whole issue, it feels like there might eventually be a “catch” of some kind.  There probably isn’t, more likely, it’s just an attempt to get everyone on the same page so to speak.  It makes everything better and easier for them.  Easier for security, easier to maintain, easier for developers to make apps they “know” will work.

It’s part of the beauty of phones, on some level, they are all mostly the same.  Except of course for the 50 different versions of Android floating around due to manufacturer cruft and skins and carrier differences and phones that don’t get updated, etc etc.  Still, even if 50 wasn’t an exaggeration, it’s a small fraction of the potential different versions of Windows out there from XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10, Monthly and weekly patches, Service Packs and updates.

So, anyway, it’s been about a month since I did the upgrade on my Windows 7 desktop.  I’m generally happy with it all around, aside from my one major issue.

The Good

It’s not Windows 8.  Windows 10 has a lot of the best features of Windows 8, but it doesn’t have the annoyances.  The goofy full screen start screen mostly, I have no idea how that would work on my multi monitor set up.  It doesn’t have the annoying charms bar or crap popping in and out all over on the edges.  It does have the live tiles and all that jazz.

It runs just fine, I haven’t really noticed an increase or decrease in performance honestly.

It also has the store, which is a nice optional way to get programs and apps and other things.

The Bad

ScreenShot394Apps and live tiles are great, if they work.  They don’t seem to work very smoothly at all.  Most of the time they just show their basic icon.  On the other hand, it’s kind of frustrating when they have a live tile photo of some kind because now the app isn’t obvious.  I don’t know how many time I went looking for the Facebook app because it had someone’s profile photo on it.

Groove Music is a horrible piece of crap.  This is Microsoft’s music store/player.  I had similar issues on my phone with Xbox Music.  I have a decent collection of music, from the free promo Microsoft ran last year to the 10 cent sale they ran this year, I have quite a few albums.  The thing is, I also have music from Google, and a lot fo music from Amazon and some ripped from CDs.  I manage all my music as local files, or with the Synology Music player on my NAS.  This means downloading the files, which you can do with Groove music, when it doesn’t time out or fail, or reload thinking it hasn’t downloaded any files yet.  There also isn’t any way to manage the download Queue at all, even basic controls like a pause function would be nice.  Instead, I can start some downloads, then walk away, but if I want to halt things to clear up bandwidth, I have to close the program, which screws everything up again.

The Really Really Ugly…

I don’t know the root cause, I new will, but the Windows 10 November Update totally screwed up my machine.  In searching for the fix, I found others had had the same issue and it’s a relatively special case.

I dual boot Ubuntu Linux, which means when the machine boots, it brings up the boot loader, GRUB, which has configuration files on the Linux partition.  I rarely actually use this other OS, especially since I get my Linux fix on  my Laptop these days, but it’s there.  Honestly, part of the reason I still keep it around is because I don’t want to hassle with removing GRUB.

This update, apparently messes witht he partition tables, and potentially the partitions themselves, because during the update, my machine became unable to boot.  It restarted and I got an error in GRUB that it couldn’t detect any OSes.  I went and found a boot repair tool from Ubuntu, but the tool did nothing.  Eventually I opted to simply reinstall Ubuntu, thus reinstalling and restoring GRUB, and I found what seemed to be a large chunk of “Empty Space” on my main drive.  I reinstall Ubuntu into the hole, ran the repair tool, which fixed the base install since it could now see an OS, then reconfigured GRUB to see Windows.

I fixed it, but it was a massive hassle, one that shouldn’t have been an issue.

I seriously hope this doesn’t happen with any future major releases, the next should be in 2016 with Redstone 1.