Free Mac OS X? What? Apple, what gives?

mavericksApple, in a ploy to garner more coverage (which worked), announced that its Mac OS X upgrade, called Mavericks, would be free. In addition, it would be made available to users of machines as old as six years and running ‘ancient’ versions of the OS, all the way back to ‘Snow Leopard.’ While I applaud them for the move (Microsoft, your turn) I have to wonder what it really means.

Way back when the iPad came out, I speculated then that iOS and OS X would, one day, merge.  I am thinking that ‘Mavericks’ is OS X’s swan song. Oh, they may release another point upgrade and struggle with pointing ‘features’ (and, sorry, tagging is not a feature that screams ‘hey, buy a Mac, look what it can do.’) No, I think Mavericks is the end of the innovation line and that a combined operating system (OS XI?) will come out in two years which will move the Mac line into iPad territory. Sure, they will have one, maybe two Macs running something for development, but consumer ‘Macs’ will be iPads with keyboards. This is a tact that Microsoft has begun: Surface Pro and Surface 2 are the start of the blending of the two worlds.  Microsoft has even hidden the traditional desktop in RT for Surface 2 (they removed the tile on the Start page.) I’m thinking Windows, as we know it, has two, maybe three, years left. 

The introduction of the iPad Air pretty much confirms that the next generation Macbook Air will be an iPad with a keyboard. Now, this is my supposition, but why else would they stick an Mac moniker on an iPad? Apple is very thoughtful and deliberate in its actions. This is more than just reusing a corporate brand name.  Personally, I think it is a great idea.  Put the iPad in a nice case with a sturdy keyboard, and you have a very nice, fast and easy to use laptop.  iOS, even version 7, is way more easy to use than Mac OS X, which, for me, is one of the most cumbersome operating systems out there. I’d rather use BeOS-which was just awful.

And then there are iLife and iWork. Both products received substantial upgrades, with iWork, finally, getting some real productivity chops that could actually give Microsoft reason to pause. Microsoft really, really needs to get Office Touch out there for both the Surface 2 (and Windows RT) as well as the iPad if it wants to stay in the game. Otherwise, Goolge and Apple will be competing heavily and Microsoft will be scratching its collective head trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

Apple, you are one sneaky company.  And…that’s good for competition. Keep it up.

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New Surface Tablets, Blackberry rots and Nokia

In the past week, there were three major product announcements. One, that of Blackberry, essentially, throwing in the towel, will have ramifications greater than just losing a once mighty product and service. Blackberry’s retreat will, no doubt, give Microsoft and Windows Phone 8 a badly needed shot in the arm. How? One less target to shoot at and the possibility of those former customers headed Microsoft’s way. A percentage will, no doubt, go to Apple and iPhone but, perhaps, a larger percentage will head to Windows Phone 8 as the capability of that platform is closest to what they know.

The other two announcements, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, while interesting, will not have much impact on the world of computing.  But, they are bound to sell more than just a few and, perhaps, serve to force the other manufacturers to improve their offerings. 

The Surface 2 is the Surface RT, 2.0. Faster hardware and RT 8.1 will make for a more useful tablet. Surface Pro 2 is Haswell based and offers better performance, Windows 8.1, a slew of new accessories and better battery life.  Problem, however, is that they look like the tablets they are replacing. And that could be bad.

With the recent announcement that Nokia was releasing a Windows RT (yep, RT) tablet and then the subsequent announcement that Microsoft was purchasing the phone and hardware end of Nokia, one wonders about the fate of said Nokia ‘Sirius’ Tablet.  I have a feeling we will see the tablet released, before November of this year.  The completion of the Nokia acquisition is probably six months to a year out, so that would give Nokia plenty of time to release the tablet.

A recent Microsoft event reiterated that company’s commitment to Windows RT.  But, Steve Ballmer is due to step down fairly soon and hand the reigns over to a new CEO.  That incoming CEO may decide that RT is NOT the path Windows needs to take.  I think that would be a mistake.  Windows needs to evolve and getting rid of the baggage would certainly help.

[BEGIN RANT] Along those lines, it amazes me that Windows and Microsoft has to travel a different path than any other company. Apple completely changes the way Mac OS X works, CHANGES PROCESSORS mid stream, rendering machines obsolete over night; overhauls, completely, iOS and people CHEER them on and give them more money. Android forks every day and no one cares. Microsoft removes a button and the world is ready to roast them alive.  I’m not sure, but I think this actually means that people LOVE Windows? Could that be? Could it be that people are actually MORE passionate about Windows than Apple fans are of Apple? Huh…[/END RANT]

I am looking forward to checking out the new Surfaces.  I won’t be buying one as I have an Asus VivoTab Smart, but I still want to check them out. Who knows, maybe my Asus might show up on eBay…

In other news, Amazon introduced three new Kindle Fire tablets.  They feature faster processors, better screens, better battery life and new versions of Android.  Check them out at Amazon.com.

So many tablets…iPad, Android, Surface or ?

surfacertA decade ago, I was hungry for what I called the ‘perfect form factor’ PC. This perfect form factor was something without a physical keyboard (but, I could connect one if I wanted), feature some kind of Palm like touch interface (because Palm did touch right) and run full Windows OR the Palm operating system. The device could be between 7 and 10 inches. Yep, I wanted a tablet.  Wanted one, really, since I first saw the PADD in Star Trek the Next Generation.

Well, in 2010, I got my wish, finally. The iPad opened the flood gates. While I purchased the first gen iPad, three weeks after its release, I still really wanted that Windows or Palm (by then, it was webOS) tablet. But, I loved-absolutely loved-the iPad. So much so that I went and bought my first new Mac (a 2010 Mac Mini) to do some development and get my feet dirty in the Apple world.

In late 2010, I got my first Android tablet, a pathetic attempt by Pandigital (I see why they are history now.) In 2012, it was the Kindle Fire-by far, the best attempt at making Android usable. The Fire was brilliant: comfortable size, decent speed (I really, truly, do not understand what the speed criticism was about) and decent UI. While it is still Android under the covers, it does not feel like Android.

2013 ushered in the device I truly wanted: a full on Windows tablet. This baby, the Asus VivoTab Smart, runs full Windows 8 and runs it well. Coupled with a Bluetooth keyboard, I can use it for both fun and business. 

So, there you have the three main tablet types: Apple and the iOS, any number of Android tablets and Windows.  So, lets take a quick look at them and do a quick comparison.

Apple and iOS

ipadminiThe iPad is the predominate tablet, but Android is closing and fast.  iOS offers a fairly clean ecosystem, mainly because it is tightly controlled by Apple. Apps must undergo some kind of evaluation by Apple in order to get into the App Store.  Most of the ‘big’ app types are there: some kind of productivity suite, plethora of games and multimedia consumption and creation.  The software can be quite good, but is, mostly, just variations of other apps to varying quality. Want a fart app? Check. Want a flashlight? Got that too.  Want a word find game? Easy. Want Microsoft Office…oops! Well, you still have those fart apps.

Android

sylvania7The Samsung tablets are the best of breed with the Kindle Fires hot on the heels.  Like iOS, Android has an amazing app ecosystem, but also suffers from the same problem: Lots of junk. In Androids case, most of the software is crap and of little value.  Most of the Android tablets are crap as well. Because Android is FREE, any company with a tablet reference design can tailor Android to work on that design and these companies want to maximize any potential profit, so these designs end up being junk. Take a look at Craig, Coby, Kobo and any number of ‘off’ brands. Even known brands like Vizio have missed the boat. Samsung, Motorola, Amazon, Acer and a few others have figured it out, but, on the whole, Android is just too messy.

Windows

vivotabfrontNow, it gets interesting.  There are, currently, three flavors out: Windows 7, Windows RT and Windows 8.  Windows 7 tablets are meant for non-consumer and are targeted to medical and other business use. Windows RT is aimed squarely at consumers and the Windows 8 devices are marketed to both business and consumers. With WIndows 7 and 8, there are tons of applications out and most will work fine with a touch device. Many are less than optimal, but will work. Windows RT requires a new library of apps. This should not be a problem since most would likely buy new apps for any Android or iOS device, so why not for Windows RT?  The problem, though, is the device itself. While not quite as bad as the Android world, the Windows RT world could face similar low cost devices too. This has yet to happen, but…be on the look out for tablet that purport to be Windows. Craig and Coby both sell Windows tablets, but these are WINDOWS CE tablets and that is a HUGE difference from RT or 7 and 8.

So, which ones stand out? Apple’s latest iPads, of course, are good choices. The iPad mini is proving to be a worthy machine and one that many seem to want. In the Android world, Samsung’s devices are a good bet as is the Kindle Fire HD. In Windows land, there are several good ones: Of course, the Surface RT and Pro, Asus’ VivoTabs (RT and Smart) and Acer’s offerings.  If price is your driving factor, then the Kindle Fire HD is the hands down winner.  If you want productivity out of the box, the VivoTabs are an excellent choice and my personal favorite. But…for the best of both (and if you don’t mind starting over in the software area) the iPad Mini is the best choice. Its size, price and software offerings make it the clear winner.

It is interesting, though, to read and listen to the tech pundits write off Microsoft and, now, even Apple.  It is definitely too early to be writing off either. The big reason Android dominates in phone and tablets is because it is free. This is will bite Google in the rear if it does not do something to stem the tide of cheap and dirt cheap hardware. I know many retailers moved a ton of these cheap tablets (from Sylvania, Coby and the others) over the holidays. I have to wonder how many were either returned or are sitting in a drawer while an Apple iPad is being used instead.

2013 will be even more interesting with the addition of the Ubuntu Touch devices. For once, I’m kind of excited about a Linux based product. Ubuntu Touch does not look like something you would need a masters degree in order to use.  I hope the final product lives up to the pre-release promise. The tablet and phones could be pretty interesting and give everyone a run for the money.

After a decade, though, I am still looking for that Palm tablet. Sigh.  I missed the boat on the HP TouchPad.  Maybe LG will fulfill my desire. Sigh.

Windows 8 split personality confusion: what to do and what Microsoft should do

win8startshortcutWindows 8.  Talk about split personality.  On the one hand, you have the sleek, modern and sexy ‘RT’ interface. On the other hand, you’ve got the comfortable, somewhat aging and mellow Windows Classic interface. As with everything, ones acceptance of something new depends on how easily one can adapt. For some, this has been a real problem with the RT side of Windows 8. Others, like myself, have had little to no problems adapting.

Windows 8 RT, with the standard mouse and keyboard (i.e. non-touch) is pretty easy to use.  At least, once you understand a few things first. Same for the touch side, though I think the mouse and keyboard are easier to learn whereas touch is easier to use-once you LEARN it.

So, for everyone with a mouse and keyboard, just remember: the upper left, lower left and lower right of your screen are hotspots. All the cool new stuff can be accessed via those three corners.  Click in the lower right to activate the Charms bar.  Charms are simply context sensitive icons that let you access things like search, device settings, Windows settings, etc.  Lower left activates a toggle. You can toggle between the RT start page and the most recently used application, including the Windows Classic desktop. The upper left corner does two things: hover over it to show the last application used, hover and move the mouse down to reveal a task bar showing the last few apps used.  If you grab the top of the screen by moving the mouse up to the edge and hold down the left mouse button while dragging all the way down, you close the current application.  Right clicking will expose a button bar with more options, if any, for the current application.

Of course, there are similar gestures for touch: swipe down from the top of the screen to close the application; drag from left over most of the screen to switch to the previous app; drag for a second and let go to reveal the list of previous apps used; drag just a bit from the top to reveal options for the current app.

The not-so obvious thing, however, are the gestures-be it from the mouse or your finger. It is not intuitive and this is the hard sell for Microsoft and Windows 8. Once you show someone what to do, they generally get it. However, someone just starting and not having any advance knowledge will, likely, not know what to do.  And that’s the problem.

I almost missed the little movie that shows how gestures work because, once the operating system started to do its thing on first boot, I did other stuff. It was only when the video was nearly over did I actually see any of it.

Word of mouth and knowledgeable friends and family will help, but Microsoft needs to do more. A series of commercials that, you know, actually show people using the product is a good place to start.  Maybe something on Microsoft.com.  Certainly, more than a short video on first boot.

I find myself gravitating toward the RT side. It’s easier to use, looks much, much better and, frankly, isn’t as bloated as the Windows Classic side of the house. It makes Windows Classic look sort of dated.

The dual personality is both a plus and a major negative. It’s a plus in that you can still take advantage of what ever Windows software you have, be it Office, Visual Studio or that particular game you like.  It’s a big negative because the transition between RT and Classic is jarring, even after you have used the OS for a period of time, that unexpected transition when you forget that a function is on the other side of the house.  Microsoft made it somewhat better by getting rid of Aero (the cool, glassy look introduced with Vista-and something I miss) and replacing the ‘chrome’ chromelessbuttonsbits with RT like buttons (i.e. the title bar buttons for close, min and max.)  However, it still can be a jarring experience.

Of course, I have been writing about full on Windows, be it Pro or just Windows 8 (the ‘Home’ edition in previous releases.) Windows RT, which still has a desktop mode, is not as bad.  Windows RT (not to be confused with the RT interface) was designed to run on ARM processors (and Intel based chips as well) so your classic applications will not work. Nor should they. 

Windows RT is a shift in operating systems.  Yes, it requires you to buy or acquire all new software.  But, then again, if you bought an Android or iOS based device, you have to do that anyway. (And that’s a big problem that Microsoft needs to address: why is it OK for you to have to buy new apps for Android or iOS, yet it isn’t for Windows RT? Microsoft needs to point this out more.)

I’ve had an Asus VivoTab Smart tablet for awhile now.  I use it everyday. It is Windows 8. Not RT.  However, I find myself using the IE10RT, OneNote RT, the very addictive Wordament game, the RT video player and a number of RT apps.  I do go into the desktop, but not really as much as I thought. When I get into full Windows 8 development mode, of course, I will be in desktop much more, but for my daily use, an Windows RT tablet would probably do just fine.

surfacertI suspect most people, especially those who would buy an iPad, would get by just fine with an RT tablet.  The app selection is steadily getting better, RT is very robust and RT tablets are a little cheaper than the full Windows 8 tablets. Microsoft sold out of its Surface Pro tablets, yet the RT tablets – while popular – did not. While the Pro tablets are nearly twice as much, there is far more interest in them than straight RT tablets.  I think they are pricey and overkill for most, but, because of the software compatibility issue, most will believe that they need the Pro when, likely, they do not.

MIcrosoft, you need to get the word out about RT. And fast. If you want RT to succeed-and kill of classic, then you need to do better. Much better.

Big tech week: Microsoft steals Apple’s thunder

It’s been a big, no huge week in the tech world.  Microsoft released both Windows 8 and Surface. Apple announced a slate of new products including a new ‘new’ iPad and the iPad mini. While Apple garnered its share of press on it’s announcement, it’s been a longer stream of Microsoft news for most of the week.

Microsoft

surfacertIndeed, Microsoft has managed to pull of something that only Apple had been doing: maintain and strengthen excitement for its products for more than 15 minutes.

With the release of Windows 8 and earlier than expected reviews of Surface RT, Microsoft has kept itself in the limelight longer than many had expected.

All was not rosy, however, as many of those early reviews for Surface RT were glowing for the hardware, but less so for the included software.

Windows RT, so it seems, while innovative and beautiful to look at, is full of inconsistencies and bugs. And many of the RT apps appear to be missing features or little more than tech demos. One hopes that has changed by now since release day has come and gone.  I have yet to personally try one out as I live in the majority of the country that is not served by a Microsoft Store. And that brings up another point: how can this product be successful if you cannot go to a brick and mortar store like a Best Buy and try one? I don’t mind ordering online, but I would like to try one first.

Windows 8, however, has been getting good to glowing reviews.  Indeed, it is deserved too.  Windows 8, whether used on a touch or non-touch device really is an innovative and worthwhile upgrade.  I really like the RT side (formerly called Metro) of the house better than the traditional side, however I will probably spend more time in the traditional environment more than the RT environment. That is because of the software I use. Which brings to mind the question: why is the traditional environment in the pure RT release anyway? Seems odd and a bit confusing.

Apple

ipadminiApple’s announcement of a ‘mini’ iPad smacks of desperation. This is a company who is beginning to lose it’s luster with its old fan base and its new ‘fans’ probably just don’t care enough.  Priced at a staggering $329(US), the iPad mini (terrible, terrible name) is too expensive and offers little in the way of features to justify the high price (for seventy dollars more, you get a full sized device) or make it any better than the Kindle Fire HD (which is a hundred and change less.)

The ‘new’ new iPad.  Seriously? The apologists will defend it, saying things like ‘well, they needed to do this so they could get the Thunderchicken connector on all of their devices’ or some other lame excuse. No, they did it because they could. It is the holiday shopping season and this is a way to cash in for them. The ecosystem for the Thunderchicken connector is ramping up and what better way to sell those new connectors and accessories than to confuse the consumer into buying a device that requires them.

They introduced new Mac’s as well.  It’s about time too. I won’t say anything further about them as they are very nice (except for the ridiculous omission of the optical drives) machines and you can get specs galore from just about any Apple site.

Back To Microsoft.

I will be upgrading two machines to Windows 8 over the next few days. I will be documenting the process and will write a post or two about the experience, so stay tuned!

Surface devices…what we now know

Microsoft, finally, released a few details on the Windows 8 and Windows RT Surface tablets.  Dell, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung are all going to make and market the RT flavored devices. Toshiba and Vizio will follow later in the year.  Microsoft, of course, is also going to sell RT and 8 Surface devices with the RT flavor to be available October 26.

Windows RT also went gold at the same time as 8, which is not surprising given that they both share a common code set.

Microsoft claims that battery will be outstanding: Windows RT devices will yield about 8 to 13 hours of battery time while playing HD video. I’m guessing it will be more if doing something less intensive.

They also talked about Connected Standby.  Connected Standby is a mode whereby the device is ‘on’, so it can quietly update things like email and other notification so that when you turn ‘on’ the device, it is ready, immediately. They Connected Standby is good for 320 hours to  409 hours, depending on the device.

Pricing was not discussed, though columnist Paul Thurrot (source of this particular post) says that from what he has seen, it falls in line with the pricing of the iPad. So, figure about $499 for the low end model.  Which, I might add, is way too high for such devices and the iPad.

The devices will also feature NFC, which is similar in concept to Bluetooth. NFC works by tapping two NFC enabled devices together and sharing things like URL’s, photos, music, etc.

The release date is currently set for October 26 for Win RT.

Windows 8 is complete and ready to rock and roll…are you ready?

Microsoft has released Windows 8 to manufacturing. This simply means that companies like Dell and HP now have the ‘final code’ for the new operating system and can begin to pre-install it on their products. Microsoft also released the server version to manufacturing as well. October 26 is the general release date for the product (and, by extension, the Surface tablets running Windows RT will also be available.)

Win8LogoWhile the near final version of Windows 8 has been available for several months, the final version will, no doubt, yield a few surprises.  The removal of Aero and other changes to the look and feel of the operating system have yet to be revealed.

There are still those who feel that the operating system will be ‘another Vista.’  Hmm…if I were Microsoft, I would not feel bad at all about that.  Vista sold 300 million copies, hardly anything to sneeze at, not at all. However, I understand the analogy and I don’t think it will be the case. Windows 8 is, dare I say, beautiful. The ‘metro’ (I understand that Microsoft is now shying away from that word, yet I’ve not seen a replacement name for the style) style is gorgeous and, contrary to what some would want you to think, it is very easy to navigate with a keyboard and mouse. 

So, now that the operating system is going ‘gold’, here’s a few things you should know…

PRICE

Windows 8 will be available as an upgrade only. For the time being, it will sell for $40 (US). If you are running any version of Windows from XP up, you are eligible for the $40 upgrade through January 31, 2013. That is for the download version. If you want a disc, it will cost you thirty bucks more.

If you buy a new PC now, you can get the upgrade for $14.95 (US).

If you have MSDN or TechNet, you can download the RTM on August 15th.

HARDWARE

If your computer can run Vista or Windows 7, it will run Windows 8. 

Microsoft is releasing a line of keyboards, touchpads and mice that are designed to work with Windows 8 and Metro.  This line of hardware is designed to make the non-touch PC ‘easier’ to use with Windows 8.

Compatibility may be a problem for things like printers, serial and parallel devices and video cards.  It is now known that some older printers will not work with the operating system and, since most modern computers now lack serial and parallel ports, I’m not sure that is going to be a problem for most. However, if you have such a device and are using a USB adaptor, THAT could be a problem, especially if specialized drivers are involved. You might want to download and install the Release Preview first and try your hardware on that.  You can install it on a separate partition without losing your current installation.

APPLICATIONS

If your application runs under Windows 7, it should run under Windows 8.  Windows Vista software should also run. Software designed for older versions of Windows, like XP, should, generally, work with Windows 8 but, as with Vista and 7, no 16 bit applications will work. However, you can still use applications like VirtualBox or other virtual machines and install an older version of Windows and run the old software that way.

USABILITY

win8startWindows 8 boots really fast, faster than any previous version of Windows.  That won’t be the only thing you notice. No, the operating system will take you to a new start page. The start page resembles Windows Phone 7/8 in that instead of the standard desktop, you have tiles with the app icon. Tiles can be ‘live’ in that the associated application can present information in the tiles, like weather, free space, etc. When you switch to the standard desktop, the thing you see-or don’t see-is the lack of the Start orb. Microsoft removed the orb to force people to use the start page to launch applications.  However, you can still pin things to the task bar as well as create desktop shortcuts, so I don’t understand the furor over the removal of the Start orb.  I rarely use it under 7 and do not miss it for Windows 8 at all.  While it is true that ‘metro’ is best suited for touch devices, it is very easy to use with the mouse and keyboard, though a certain learning curve does exist.  For some information on using the keyboard and mouse, go here.

Windows 7 is the best version of Windows yet, but I feel that Windows 8 may give it a run for the money.  Windows 7 will, likely, have the same very long legs as Windows XP and will, likely, outlive Windows 8. However, the success of the operating system is largely dependent on the success of several products: Surface and Windows 8 tablets, Windows Phone 8 and developers.  Yep, developers.  No, developers are not products, but they produce products and if there are few compelling ‘metro’ applications, then 8 will be relegated to the bargain bin.  With everything that Microsoft is doing to entice developers, I am confident that there will be a plethora of apps that will make 8 worthwhile (or, rather, metro.)