Windows 10, the consumer rules

Win10_Windows_ProductFamily_WebMicrosoft unveiled a near complete Windows 10 platform at an event they hosted this past week (Jan 21, 2015.)  During the keynotes, several key features were shown off, which are sure to make just about everyone happy about the new addition to the Windows family.  Among the features highlighted were:

  • Continuum, the ability to rather seamlessly transition from desktop mode to tablet and back again, depending on whether or not you have your tablet docked or not.
  • Cortana, the Windows Phone assistant now comes to the desktop and tablet experiences as well.
  • Universal apps, which have been talked about for a long time, are a reality. These apps will work on phone, tablet or PC and the experience will be very similar across devices.
  • Spartan, the ‘new’ browser based on the old browser’s Javascript and rendering engines.
  • Clean and consistent user interface spans all types of devices, from phone to XBOX One.

Windows 10: The Next Chapter press event (day 2 of 2)Windows 10 not only gives desktop features to mobile devices, but some of those features are headed to PC land (and some to XBOX as well) including the notification area. On phone, you swipe down from the top edge of the screen. On PC, it will be near the tray. Either way, you will see the same things. And, perhaps the biggest feature of all, Cortana, the Siri like assistant, comes to the desktop.

There were also two huge announcements made, that really kind of overshadow all of the other stuff:  Windows as a service and Windows 10 upgrades will be free to Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 users, for the first year the product is available.  Yes, that gives you a year to get off your seat and upgrade those Windows 7 computers.  For free.

Windows as a service is currently aimed at the business area, but it could to consumer land at some point. The Windows as a service plan is very much like Office 365 and, in fact, includes Office 365 for business.  Pricing was not announced, but it is speculated to be around $12 per user per month.

Perhaps an overlooked aspect of the announcements Win10_Xbox_Devices_Webwas the XBOX One.  Windows 10 will be coming to that platform as well. And it will require a new interface…the XBOX controller.  Game streaming from XBOX One to any Windows 10 device will be baked in. You will be able to start a game on your console, continue on your tablet or desktop and finish back on your console.  The XBOX app for Windows will also be included and will be very similar to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One apps that are out today.

Microsoft will be releasing two huge Windows 10 computers, a 55 inch and an 84 inch device that is ‘tuned’ for conferencing and aimed at business (which means they will be expensive.) They will be from the Perceptive Pixel company that Microsoft purchased a while back. Called Surface Hub, you can see them in action here.

Oh, and there was one more thing…

Win10_HoloLens_LivingRoom_WebHOLOLENS. HoloLens is an augmented reality headset in the form of glasses. Among the things it can do…use your eye as a mouse.  This device is very intriguing and nothing I write here will convey that, so…I will point you to Youtube and to Engadget, where they had some hands on with the device and a nice write up too boot.

 

OFFICE

Win10_Windows_Mail_PrintA new version of Office was briefly shown. Office for Windows 10 is a touch enabled version of the productivity suite.  It will be available for all Windows devices (not sure about XBOX) and will be consistent across them.  Outlook on Mobile will use the Word engine so you will be able to, finally, create really nice email messages on your phone.  The suite will be available for free on all device that are under 8 inches.  Pricing for the other devices was not revealed.

If  you want to play around with the new bits, you can enter the preview program and download Windows 10 for your computer today.  The mobile version is coming out in February of 2015.

RIP, Windows XP, it was a heck of a ride

Windows xp ProfessionalWindows XP is nearing the end of its long run.  Microsoft pulls the plug on support for the dinosaur of operating systems.  What this means is that it will no longer be patched for security issues.  It also means that, as time goes on, fewer applications will run on the beast. 

For whatever reason, people are clinging to it for dear life. Granted, most of the remaining installations are at corporations, corporations that may have internal apps that will not work on newer operating systems. However, there are a fair number of people who just do not wish to upgrade. Many think that moving on to Vista, Windows 7 or 8 would be a ‘downgrade’. Well, sorry people, that’s just nonsense. Many of its supporters now say it is ‘tried and true.’

It might be ‘tried and true’ now, but, when it was released, it was a disaster. So much so that Microsoft put off development on its replacement to focus on XP’s problems. Among them was a security hole big enough for Jupiter to go through.  And, People HATED it. Hated it worse than Vista or Windows 8 today. I recall many, negative reviews, articles and such that just skewered it.

There were Windows 98 diehards still. There were those who were clinging to Windows NT 4. It’s look and feel was called ‘Fisher Price’. Many thought its hardware requirements were ridiculous. It’s bundled apps, like Movie Maker, were laughed at (even though it was quite functional.) And, consider this:

  • George W Bush was in his first year of his two terms
  • The World Trade Center had only ceased to exist just weeks before
  • We still had a Space Shuttle program with all orbiters (but Challenger and Columbia broke up years later)
  • No one knew who this Obama guy was
  • Compaq was still a big name
  • Apple was still pretty insignificant

It wasn’t until the second service pack that XP became robust and stable. By that time, most Windows users had made the switch.  Those who disliked the Fisher Price interface switched back to the old, battleship gray, 3D-ish UI that adorned 95,98, Me, NT and 2000. There were all kinds of third party tools available to alter its appearance and the way it worked.  This indicated that its users still were not happy with XP.  Indeed, most business did not begin to switch to XP until 2006 or later.  By the time most business had switched, Microsoft had released Vista, at which point, there was this sudden XP fanboy thing.  Suddenly, it seemed, everyone who hated XP suddenly LOVED it and began hating Vista. The hate for Vista was so bad, that Microsoft, very quickly for them, got Windows 7 ready and out the door. Windows 7 seemed to be what people wanted and the mass migration, among ‘normal’ people started. They all skipped over Vista. The XP diehards, however, still clung to it.  At that point, Microsoft announced its imminent demise. And, then, NETBOOKS saved XP. Microsoft practically gave it away. And, in doing so, moved its death sentence way out.

Well, now that day is upon us.  It will be interesting to see how many stay on the aging platform and how many will, begrudgingly, move on Windows 7 or 8. Or, GASP! onto Mac or, worse, Linux. I doubt many will go that far.

Now, just because XP is being buried by Microsoft, does not mean it will just stop working. Quite the contrary, if you are careful, keep your antivirus updated, don’t do anything funky on the Internet, you should be able to continue to safely use XP for a long time.  Sure, as time goes on, those hot new games or applications will not run or even install on XP, but there is still enough of a user base that that will be a year or two off before it becomes a real problem for you.  If you move to Windows 7, you can still use Windows XP via XP mode. For Windows 8, you can always install a virtual machine and run it, safely, there. Of course, you can always just unplug it from the Internet and you know it should be nice and safe.

So, lets hear it for XP one more time…hip, hip, hoorah!

Using your smartphone as a Windows or Mac secondary display: iDisplay

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about ways to use your old smartphone once you got a new one.  A reader asked that I expand on this post, so I am.

idisplay4One of my suggestions was to use it as a secondary display.  There are several apps out that will do this, for the iPhone/iPad and for Android.  The one I am writing about today is for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch.

Called iDisplay, this little gem does a terrific job at adding a second display to your Windows or Mac PC (because, you know, the Mac IS a PC.)

There are two parts to the setup: the iDisplay app for the phone and the desktop app that streams to the phone.  Installing on the phone is as easy as going to the App Store, searching for iDisplay, purchasing (it is .99) and downloading. Then, go to the iDisplay web site and download the appropriate desktop app and install that.  Please Note: it is also available on Android via the Google Play Store, but I am focusing on the iOS version here.

idisplay1Once running, the desktop server uses Bonjour and Wi-Fi to talk to the phone.  In Windows, it acts as a driver, allowing full video and audio as well as adding touch to a non-touch computer.  On my Windows 8 desktop that does not have touch, using this app on my iPhone adds touch.  And, works very, very well.

On my desktop, I let it use the default, which is to extend my display to the second device. The cool thing is that in the Windows 8 desktop, I get the full experience, task bar and right click action all work.  Apps that were running already, will remain on the primary display, apps that you start from the phone will display on the phone. I have to admit, I rather like seeing Windows on my iPhone.

idisplay3Among the features in the phone app are: gestures, integrated on screen keyboard, audio playback, touch, full interaction with your desktop.  From my desktop, I could even watch a video that was streaming from the desktop with relatively high frame rate. Of course, that will depend on your Wi-Fi network and how busy it is.  Also, the phone app works great with Windows 8 Start Page.  So far, it all seems to work nicely. One really nice feature is that the phone app can show you a list of currently running apps on the main display and allow you to move them to the secondary display, pretty nifty and useful. And for an application that has multiple windows or instances, you can select which one to view.

idisplay5I tried running the server app from my VivoTab Smart tablet running Windows 8.1 preview. It works, but only to a point.  I think it is a problem with the video driver and the Atom processor. It is slow and the only mode supported is mirror of the desktop, not very useful. And, really, for a tablet, you won’t need a second screen, but I had to try anyway.

Now, even though this app works very, very well, there are a couple of drawbacks.  One, it does put a load on your Wi-Fi network, so keep that in mind; two, using the Windows Desktop on an iPhone screen is a laborious task. The ‘chrome’, so to speak, is just too small. I had a difficult time closing windows or tapping on the address box to enter a URL. Now, you can zoom, which helps, but using full screen is pretty tough.  Using the extended mode on the phone app allows this.

Overall, I think this is a very well and highly useful application.  Not only is it a secondary display, but it also acts as a remote desktop as well.  Well worth the purchase price.

UPDATE:

I downloaded the Android version to my Kindle Fire. While I am still evaluating it, it looks just as good as the iOS version. Since the Kindle Fire is somewhat bigger than the iPhone, it is much easier to use Windows on the this device. It also works better with the system mouse. In addition, you can use USB to connect your Android device to the PC (or, presumably, your Mac.)  I have a Mac Mini, so I think I may try that as well. How about full Mac OS X on your Android or iPad?

Windows and Internet Explorer, still the most popular?

NOTE: This is a post that originated on HalfByte’s sister blog on SquareSpace.

One of the nicer things about Squarespace is the stats that you get for your blog. I can see who or what referred traffic to the blog, what browser is being used, operating system and more.

Interestingly, from the stats, I have a wide variety of users hitting this blog: Windows, Linux, Mac and mobile. So, just how do the numbers break down?  Have a look…

Browsers  

IE7

24.14%

Gecko(Firefox)

22.90%

Chrome

11.07%

Unknown

9.47%

Opera9

9.23%

IE6

6.69%

Safari

6.15%

Opera7

3.43%

IE8

3.25%

IE

2.37%

IE9

1.01%

KHTML

0.30%

As you can see, IE7 is the most popular, followed by Firefox. Chrome is a distant third. Mobile browsers, likely, make up the ‘unknown’ followed, surprisingly, by Opera. Now, Opera is in a variety of devices, including the Wii and a host of feature phones and Android devices. That last one, KHTML, surprised me. Seriously, people actually use that. Huh. Collectively, however, Internet Explorer is, by far, the most popular browser. 

Next, operating systems…

Operating Systems  
Win7
34.44%
WinXP 27.75%
WinNT 10.47%
Unknown 9.47%
WinVista 5.68%
Win2000 4.26%
Android 3.43%
MacOSX 3.08%
iPhone 0.59%
Win2003 0.47%
Linux 0.30%
Win 0.06%

Several things stand out here. First, the high percentage of people still using Windows XP. The ‘Win’ is even more surprising as that represents the Windows 9x family (including ME.)  I think Windows 8 may fall in the ‘WinNT’ category, but I am not positive. At any rate, the high percentages of Windows prior to Vista is just odd. Who still uses them?  I am also a bit surprised by the low percentage of iPhone  and Android.  Though, I think the higher Android numbers reflect the overall type of reader for this blog: more techie types, though by that line of thought, I would think the Linux numbers would be higher. But, once again, the majority of readers are Windows users.

Now, it would really be easy-and the numbers would back it up-to conclude that the majority of readers use Internet Explorers and Windows. I suppose I could be like other sites and extrapolate that to mean that Windows is the most popular operating system used and Internet Explorer is the most used browser.  HOWEVER…I also know that my blog is one tiny, miniscule sliver of the Internet and that it is NOT a destination for, what I think, is the most prevalent type of computing consumer on the planet: the mobile user.  While Windows is still the king of desktop/laptop computing, it is not king of mobile computing.  For now, that’s Android with iOS in second.  I would expect, however, that Windows Phone will gain even more traction and Windows RT/8 to pick up some of the tablet space.

While it is nice to see that the material I write is pertinent to the majority of readers of the blog, I am also a bit disappointed that my readership is not more diverse.  But, it is a changing landscape and I, too, must change and accept that the world I am comfortable with is changing. Microsoft knows this and they are trying to adapt. And, so do I.

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.

Choosing a tablet is as bad as buying a car

ipadminiSo, this is the time of year when shopping is in full swing for the holidays.  Every year, there seems to be that one standout, must have category and, so it seems, this year it is the tablet computer.  As such, I thought I would give some pointers on how to shop. I don’t want to come out and recommend a specific tablet, but I will share my thoughts on several categories of tablets.

How to determine which category you belong in

First thing to decide is who is the tablet going to go to, it is the important part of the puzzle. If it is going to a child, then skip ahead.  If to an adult, or yourself, then you need to know the following:

  • Does the recipient have an iPhone already? If they do, they, likely, already have a multitude of accessories and applications.  Things like power adaptors, bluetooth keyboards, cables, etc. will work on the iPad and, if they do not have one, that it is the best and easiest way to go.
  • Does the recipient have an Android phone? If yes, then skip to the buying an Android tablet.
  • Does the recipient have a Kindle or use the Kindle software? If yes, there are three choices: the Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 7 inch or Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch.  Here’s where you need to figure out which is better. If they have a hard time seeing, then get the 8.9 inch otherwise, the 7 inch is probably the best way to go.  Amazon has a nice ecosystem already and if they use Amazon Prime, then there is a whole world of streaming possibilities. Plus, anything you purchase from Amazon (like apps or media) will be store in the cloud and the device.
  • Does the recipient need or want an e-reader more than a tablet? If yes, then the aforementioned Kindle Fire or the Barnes and Noble Nook HD are good choices.  The Nook runs a more standard Android operating system while the Kindle Fire (and HD) run a modified Android OS.  Also, there is the KOBO e-reader with table like features and the low end Kindle and Nooks (with some tablety features) for under $80.
  • Does the recipient eschew Android and iOS (the operating system of the Apple iPad) and want something different? Well, if so, there are not many choices. You have Windows 7 tablets, Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro. The Windows tablets are still on the pricey side, however if you want something more like an iPad, but not iPad, the Windows RT tablet may fit the bill. There are several brands, including the MIcrosoft Surface as well as one from Asus.  Keep in mind, Windows 8 RT Store is rather new and no where near as complete as the Android and Apple’s App Store.

If an Android tablet is in the offering, then read on…

Buying an Android Tablet

Android tablets are plentiful and run the gamut from 1.0 to 4.1.  Price is a big factor here, the cheaper the tablet, the crappier the tablet, with a few exceptions.  Generally speaking, stay away from brands that you have never heard of, as well as low end names like Craig, Emerson and, sadly, Sylvania.  These are going to be cheap, slow, lack performance and battery life and, likely, the Google Play Store.  You will have to get your apps from, shall we say, more questionable sources. Plus, many of these tablets will run older versions of Android (CVS carries one – a Craig – with Android 1.6) which may be wholly incompatible with most apps.

It is better to stay with names you know, like Motorola, Samsung and LG.  Samsung has the best Android tablet, the Galaxy 10.1. It rocks the latest Android, has the performance and battery life to make it useful.  Motorola’s tablet is nice, but lacks some of the prowess of the Samsung. Others to look for include Acer (which always makes good products) and Asus.  These are going to be pricier tablet, in the $300 to $600 range, but will be worth the cash.

Stay away, far away…

…from places like CVS, Big Lots, Wal-Greens or any such store.  They are likely to have the aforementioned low end brands and nothing worth laying down your cash. (One possible exception is thesylvania7 Sylvania 7 inch in the BLACK BOX. I don’t have the model number, but it has Android 4.1 and sports a 1.2ghz processor and seems fairly responsive. I would ONLY get this if you need a spare device to use for music or internet and it’s under $80.)  Be careful if you do decide to get a tablet at one of these retailers (which I really have nothing against, they just aren’t the place to go buy a tablet) since some tablets are being sold with WINDOWS CE. Read the box, carefully. You DO NOT WANT WINDOWS CE.  Not in a tablet, phone, ‘netbook’ or anything else. Trust me on this, that is one dog you just do not want.  Also, Pandigital is a brand to now stay far away from as they are no longer an active company. You can still find their stuff in the channel, but you will get NO SUPPORT. And, I’m pretty sure that most of the other tablets will render you supportless as well.

Buying for a child or for a family

There are many tablets for children that are really nothing more than toys. Some of these are fine and are inexpensive, like the Innotab. However, if you want a real tablet that is safe for kids, your choices are limited.  Ideally, you will want a tablet that lets you set up profiles for the kids and profiles for the adults.  Currently, the Kindle Fire and FIre HD will do this, as will the Nook and Samsung Galaxy (a combination of manufacturer software and Android.)  The Windows tablets will as well, but they are far too pricey for kids. iPad does not currently do this, but it does have the best selection of children friendly games and software, bar none.  The Kindle offering has a good selection as well.  Another thing to consider is durability. Currently, there are bumpers and cases for the iPad, Galaxy and Fire that will protect the tablet from drops and other oopsies.  Price is also a factor as well as size. The bigger the tablet, the harder it is for them to hold.  Here, the iPad MIni is a great choice. Children’s eyes are usually better than ours, so the difference in the screen won’t mean much. It is also cheaper than it’s much larger brother.

Ok, I’m still not sure what to get…

surfacertAlright, let’s look at it a different way…what does the recipient do most: play games, use Facebook or other social network, surf the net, be productive?  For simple net surfing and Facebook, pretty much any of the under $200 tablets will do that, hell, even those cheap ones I just warned you about will do that (still, stay away from them) but you want to get one that COULD do more,  Here’s where the Kindle Fire or Barnes and Nobel Nook HD would be excellent choices. Both are under two hundred bucks, both have a fairly decent ecosystem, both are easy to use.

If the recipient wants to play games, again most of the mid to upper end units will work, but the iPad has the advantage here. Every major game publisher supports the iPad and you can bet they will for a long time to come. Forget the iPad mini and get the real deal and go for the 32gb version, they will burn through 16gb in no time. The Samsung Galaxy, Kindle Fire and Fire HD and the B&N Nook HD also make nice game players. Not sure about Windows RT as the RT market is rather limited at the moment.

Being productive is the big limitation here.  This is the area where the Windows devices shine best. The Windows 7 tablets, while functional, should be ignored as they are nothing more than Windows 7 computers shoehorned into a tablet. Get a Windows 8 Pro device. You can use full size keyboard and mice and also use them as full desktops. Plus, they have the mobility factor.  The Windows RT devices CAN be used this way, but the PRO version is better. Also, iPad and the Samsung Galaxy are good, if not incomplete, choices.sylvania10inch

Ultimately, money is likely your deciding factor. Get the most for the least is my motto and you can do that with tablets, but you have to shop around. Best Buy will have most of them out so you can at least play around with them and their prices aren’t awful either.  Surprisingly, Target is another place to purchase them, but the selection is extremely limited.

A good resource to use for comparing features and reviews is CNet. Amazon is decent too, but can be confusing.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

Using Windows 8: Be one with the mouse and don’t worry about touch

(For reference, when I speak of Windows RT or just RT, I am referring to the ‘metro’ or Windows 8 store style.)

halfbytestartpageSince it’s release, Windows 8 has been equally praised and panned. Haters have heralded it as the death knell for both Microsoft and Windows. Recently, Microsoft said it had sold 40 million copies. 40 million.  That’s slightly better than what Windows 7 had done at this point in its release. While hardly the runaway hit that Microsoft hopes for, Windows 8 has, nonetheless, done well. Now, it is true that the majority of those installs are on new computers and tablets, and there is no number on how many of them have now been downgraded to Windows 7 or earlier (shudder!)

Still, there are millions of people using Windows 8 and, I am guessing, the vast majority of them have already figured out how to live with and even love the new RT interface.  RT apps are, for the most part, just nice (gorgeous, perhaps) to look at and use. Many are prettier than anything from any of the competition, including Apple.  Just look at Cookbook. It is stunning for a piece of software.

So, what are the basics you need to know when using the RT interface?

Well, for non-touch devices, you really just need a two button mouse with a scroll wheel, pretty standard these days. And, if you have ever moved things around a photo or art app with the mouse, then you have already mastered Windows 8.

Closing an RT app

There are many ways (keyboard shortcuts do work, like ALT-F4) but the best and easiest way is to place the mouse at the top of the screen, hold down the left button and drag the app to the bottom of the screen and let go. In one swoop, you’ve closed the application. 

Switching to another app

Move the mouse to the upper left corner and the last app you used (provided it is still open) will show its tile. Move the mouse down and the list of currently running RT apps will reveal their tiles. Simply move the mouse the one you want and click it. You can also close an app here by right clicking and choosing CLOSE.

Charming, to the last

Moving your mouse to the lower right corner will reveal the charms bar. From here, you can search, share data or access hardware and settings.

But, where do I go for the Start page?

When you are in any other app, move your mouse to the lower left to access the Start page.  Alternately, if you have a Windows keyboard, press the Windows key.

Ok, this IS Windows, how the hell do I see more than one app?

twoappsatonceMicrosoft may need to rethink the name of the product when the ditch the desktop altogether. However, there is a way to see TWO (oohhh, ahhhh) apps at once, though one will be much smaller.  Open the first app you want to use, then open the second (it can be a desktop app too.) Switch back to the first app (an RT app) then drag it down like are going to close it, but about midway down, move it to the left or right side, like you would dock a Windows 7 window. The application should rest there, though dramatically smaller, almost like a sidebar. Next, switch to the second app (by moussing to the upper left, and then selecting the app) and it should fall into the larger section of your screen. Viola! TWO, count ‘em, TWO apps at the same time!  Now, keep in mind, not all Windows thingies will be available, such as drag and drop and not all RT will work in this mode. But, hey, it is a start.

Your scroll wheel is your friend

Now, since RT was designed, primarily, with touch in mind, the applications are linear. That is, most of them will scroll sideways instead of vertically.  They are meant to be swiped left and right. So, no touchscreen means these apps are difficult, right? Well, no.  If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, you can use the wheel to ‘swipe’ left and right. It works surprisingly well.  You could use the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen, but what fun is that?

win8startshortcutOK, that’s nice that I can scroll over on my Start page, but what if I want to see it all at once? (Huh? I can name my groups too?)

Easy. Along the very bottom of the Start page is the scroll bar. In the very right hand bottom, you will see a small box with a minus sign. Click it. Go on, you KNOW you want to. Ah, there. Doesn’t that feel good? Oh, win8startfullwhat’s that? You see all of your tiles? Well, yeah, you are supposed to see them. This gives you two things: the ability to see all of your tiles and…check this out…you can name your groups of tiles.  To do so, arrange the tiles the way you want. Next, click the minus sign in the scroll bar. Move the mouse over each group and right click. In the options customizeStartbar, click the ‘Name group’ button. Enter the name for the group in the box and press ENTER. The name appears over the group. Pretty cool and a nice way to organize your Start page.

One way of seeing all of your apps, desktop or RT, is to right click anywhere on your Start page and click ‘All Apps’ in the lower right of the screen. Every app that is installed on your computer will be displayed. Even the hidden Windows desktop apps (like Command or Character Map) will display and will be grouped as well.  Right clicking an app reveals more options. You can, for example, pin to the taskbar, open in a new window, etc.

It’s a mystery…where DID I put that file?

win8searchPerhaps the nicest feature of Windows 8 is its search ability.  From the Start page, just begin to type. The search bar pops up on the right side and a real time search commences as you type. You can specify the types of files to be searched or let Windows look in all files.  It will break down the types of files that it found your search term and display it in the info bar along the top of the screen. The search is quick and reliable. It was an eye opener for me and I’m glad that Microsoft finally put Bing in my computer.

So, we’ve seen some pretty cool stuff and it is all in the RT side of the house. Your mouse is your best friend in Windows 8/RT on a PC.  Touchpads seem to work as well, but, for us diehards, the mouse is still our trusty companion.