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Thoughts on Sears Canada’s News

News of Sears Canada seeking creditor protection was not a surprise to anyone that follows retail trends. I myself was surprised it took this long.

Many have commented (blamed) changing shopping habits particularly in the online space but that is not that only reason for Sear’s demise. There are several reasons and many of them will be similar to other brands who are no longer here.

Let’s start with their online strategy. For generations like Eatons, Sears was known for their catalogs. I remember as a kid looking forward to the Christmas wish book which would show up around the end of August and look through all the amazing things. No matter where you were in this vast country you could order something from the catalog and it would show up in a matter of weeks at your local depot.

When the online revolution came, many stores thought the growth would be very slow. Sears could have used its institutional knowledge of mail order sales and start to transition to an online model. They had done this in the past with telephone orders decades before. When they acquired Eatons in 1999 it would have been another change to use that institutional knowledge.

The next thing was the change in consumers buying habits. The growth of low-end stores like Walmart and Dollerama and the rise of specialty stores hollowed out the middle ground that traditional department stores had. This affects many stores in that space and successful ones have moved to redefine their market. Most have moved upmarket with varying results.

One of Sears largest mistakes IMHO was selling off several of their exclusive brands that they were famous for. Craftsman tools for example. Craftsman tools had a large loyal clientele who would continue to buy from the brand for its quality and the fact you could return a broker tool no questions asked. Customers were willing to pay a higher amount for the quality.

The last issue was selling off many of their higher profile locations. Malls are experiencing a change as “anchor” stores like Sears and Target close. Most experts agree and it has been seen that smaller neighborhood malls are disappearing with larger regional malls surviving while changing as well. Many of these locations would have been ideal holding to keep, now they have to rely on small stores with smaller margins.

I haven’t begun to talk about the various management issues but as it is very clear Sears has an uphill battle ahead of it. The company must overcome quite a bit and it is far from certain that it will survive.

 

Surface Pro 3 Quick Review

The Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft’s third version of their tablet device.

The model I reviewed features a 12” touchscreen, an I5 processor, 4gb of ram and 64gb of SSD storage. The unit weighs in at a respectable 1.76lbs

Microsoft is advertising this unit as a laptop replacement, specifically Apples Macbook Air. Having used a MacBook Air for close to two years, I was curious to see if the Surface Pro 3 lived up to the hype.

A first glance the unit does seem very compelling, for many people these days this is all the computer they need. The ability to plug it into a docking station makes it suitable for use as a workstation during the day and then unplug to take home for other uses at night.

The Surface runs Windows 10 and runs it quite well. Performance is similar to a desktop for standard apps like web browsers and Microsoft Office. Video services like Netflix and Youtube also run very well.

Windows 10 will sense if you remove the keyboard and will offer to put the unit into tablet mode, which aids in making the touch interface easier to use.

Tablet mode includes the following features. (List provided by Reddit user “silentcrs”)

  • Keyboard automatically opens
  • Maximizes windows by default.
  • Makes start menu tiles and taskbar targets larger for touch.
  • Allows you to close apps by dragging from the top.
  • Split apps (“see-saw”) equally across the screen when opening two or more apps; lets you resize these apps using the separator bar instead of trying to find the edge of each window.

Now for the stuff that I find annoying.

The keyboard cover is a nice piece of kit with a well-made keyboard with good travel on the keys. Being a keyboard snob, this impresses me quite a bit.

If you are using the surface on a table this works very well. However unlike a laptop there is no way to adjust the position, so working on it anywhere else like your lap is very difficult.

The most annoying thing of the MS Surface experience has to be the power management. In particularly the seemingly random way the surface will decide to go into sleep mode. Now I’m spoiled as I use a MacBook as a primary laptop and the sleep mode there just works. I can close the lid and the unit holds the charge for days. With the surface even though Microsoft has issues updates to fix this issue, sleep mode still is hit and miss. I have found it very frustrated to take the Surface out of the house to find when the battery has been drained. The recommended solution is to shut the unit down complete or try hibernation mode. In short, this is an issue that Microsoft should have solved by now and I’m very disappointed in that.

Overall, if Microsoft can solve the power issues and create a keyboard that could allow me to use the Surface on my lap then it would be a better option for me. It is a very compelling option for some people depending on their work style,

In the end, my perfect machine still does not exist. Something the size and weight of a Mac Air which would allow the screen to flip all the back into a tablet mode.

My thanks to Techdoz.ca for the use of the review unit.

Forcing a Windows 10 upgrade on users

Microsoft has made no secret of the fact that they want as many PC’s as possible to upgrade to the company’s latest Operating system Windows 10. Having more of your user base on the latest version of your O/S makes sense in many ways.

What is not OK is the manner of which they are doing it. Recently Microsoft made a small change in the way the upgrade notification is displayed. Previously a dialog box would appear on the bottom right of your screen asking you if you wanted to upgrade. Closing this window would prevent the upgrade from happening.

Now they have changed what is in the dialog boxes. You are now presented with a date and time when your PC will be upgraded. The two choices displayed are “Upgrade Now” or “Ok”. Also in very small text just above that is an option to change or cancel the upgrade. Closing the window will still allow the upgrade to proceed at the time displayed. This behavior is very similar to what ‘crapware’ and ‘spyware’ vendors to get people to download their products.

win 10 upgrade 2

I’ve seen many people already hit by this and although many times the upgrade works, it is not right for Microsoft to do this automatically without a clear consent to the user.

For various reasons if you don’t want to upgrade to Windows 10, there is several free utilities that can help. The one I recommend is “Never 10” from Steve Gibson. Steve is a security professional and is highly trusted in the IT world. You download this very small program and then run it. You click on the “Disable Win10 upgrade” button and you are done.

If you decide in future you want the Windows 10 upgrade, you can run the program again and re-enable the upgrade.

The program will also tell you if there are any Windows 10 install files that have already been downloaded and offer to remove them. This can save you several gigs of disk space.

Although Windows 10 has proven to be popular, I’m very disappointed in Microsoft in choosing to engage in this sort of behavior. Fortunately, there are workarounds that can help with this issue.

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