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!

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Windows 8.1 Update, it will be here soon

win8startctober 18, 2013…that’s the day Microsoft releases Windows 8.1, it’s fantastic update to the belittled Windows 8 release of a year ago.  If you are still running plain WIndows 8, you really have nothing to do other than just install the update. It will take care of that for you. IF, however, you are like me and like living dangerously, you have installed the ‘PREVIEW’ edition of 8.1.  And, well, you will have a  problem going to the official release.  ALL of your currently installed DESKTOP applications will have to be re-installed.  Your Windows Store Apps, while needing to be redownloaded in some cases, should weather the storm a bit better. Some of those apps, like Calendar and Mail, will have to be redownloaded since they are receiving major updates as well. We did not see all of them or all of the changes to them in the preview. Mail gets the biggest change as it was just junk anyway. However, more inoccuous apps like Music will also be updated, but not as drastically as Mail.

Be sure you make a backup of your system prior to the upgrade.  At the very least, you should:

  • gather all of your Desktop install media (if it had it) and any licensing info (like keys)
  • backup your photos, documents, source code (if you develop), art/graphics and any other filetypes you deem important
  • MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR WINDOWS 8 KEY. This is very important.
  • All the patience you can muster.

It might be best to wait a day or two to download as their servers will be hit hard. This update fixes many things, enhances a few things and takes a couple small step backward, but I think it is a worthwhile updata and there will be quite a few who will want it as well.

I’d set aside a couple of hours, at least, to do the upgrade.

Remember, October 18 is the day.

Adafruit, USBTinyISP, Digital Signature and Windows 8: hoop jumping time

I do development work on a variety of PC’s in my home, Windows 7, Windows 8 and, yes, even on a Windows Vista laptop.  So far, it’s not been a problem. Oh, sure, my ancient copy of Visual Studio 2005 tells me it is not compatible with Windows 8, but ignore the warning and keep on going…no issues yet and I’ve been running it for awhile now.  However, drivers for things like USB programmers have not been an issue (well, OK, there was the one Radio Shack Serial to USB cable that Windows 8 hates) until now.

IMG_2603I go to setup one of my Windows 8 desktops with the Arduino IDE so I can do some work with the Adafruit Trinket. The IDE installs just fine. I make all of the changes that Adafruit says I need to make to the IDE so it can support the Trinket.  Everything is great…until I try to install USBTinyISP. It’s drivers are not digitally signed.  Windows 8 does not allow unsigned drivers.  Well, damn. So, off to the ‘net I go.

I BING ‘USBTinyISP and Windows 8’ and get this site, Next of Windows. Here, they have a short tutorial on how to enable the ability to install unsigned drivers. Now, I understand why Microsoft did this…it was designed to protect consumers and help ensure only good stuff gets on your computer.

Rather than retread what Next of Windows has already done, just go there and follow the instructions. There are a few restarts involved as you are accessing settings that are only mean to be accessed if your PC is having issues with Windows.

Now, while Microsoft may be partly to blame, I also wonder why Adafruit does not supply a signed driver or, at least, tell you how to install it under Windows 8. It is, after all, on the LEARNING System.

Once I got the driver installed, Arduino IDE was able to program the Trinket and all is well with the universe.

UPDATE: It seems that Adafruit DID, in fact, post instructions for installing on Windows 8. Apologies to Adafruit are in order [wipes egg from face.] Here’s the link to the page that actually says ‘Don’t forget, for Windows 8, you will have to turn off driver signing checking..’. I don’t know how I missed that.

Record earnings result in an 11% drop in stock price…seriously?

There is a technology company that reported a ten percent rise in sales, earnings of five billion dollars or 59 cents a share and totals sales of $20.7 billion(US).  Yet, despite these great numbers, its stock sank 11% on the news.

What company? Microsoft. Why? Because they reported a $900 million write down on the Windows RT version of Surface. NOT the Pro Surface, which has been deemed a failure because it is lumped in with RT.  Indeed, the RT Surface is hardly a failure either. The write down is from where Microsoft lowered the device’s price by as much as $150 each.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Surface RT is not taking the retail market by storm. Far from it.  It is not selling all that well. There are a variety of reasons why, but, the biggest reason…it’s initial price was just too damn high.  $499 for an RT tablet is way too much.  Yes, it is a terrific device. Nice display, cool design, good feel and all around very nice hardware. BUT. There’s always a but.  Windows RT simply isn’t mature enough to command that kind of price. Microsoft needed to take a loss up front to get the machines out in the public hands.

Armchair quarterbacking aside, Microsoft has recognized what it did wrong and is making the necessary changes to right the ship. I think they will and I don’t think Ballmer’s head needs to roll. Yes, he should have realized they are not Apple and Surface RT is not the iPad. However, it is close now and lowering the price to $349 is a big step in the right direction.

The news was not all bad for the company. Office sales were up, Windows was steady and Windows Phone 8 is making big strides. In fact, Nokia reported selling more Lumia Windows Phone devices than Blackberry sold in its entire lineup.  Though, given that Apple moved 30 million iPhones compared to Nokia’s 7.5 million Lumias and one quickly realizes just how bad Blackberry is doing and also begs the question about Nokia as well.

Windows 8 devices, overall, are doing well, but not nearly as well as they could be.  The press is partly to blame and Microsoft is partly to blame but, the biggest offenders? The hardware partners. Mediocre hardware is killing the Windows devices market.  There are standouts, but, generally speaking, the state of the hardware is abysmal. You have a dynamite operating system that works equally well with touch and non-touch devices and, yet, the hardware is barely adequate for Windows XP. And these little 8 inch ‘saviour’ tablets? They will do more harm. Witness the poorly received Acer W3 8 inch tablet. The screen has been vilified. It is so bad that even Acer admits they need to do something about it. Question is what and when. In the mean, this overpriced tablet is leaving a bad taste in customer’s mouths. 

And, eight inches? Seriously? As long as that damned desktop mode is in Windows, you cannot have a touch screen under ten inches and be usable. Hell, I can barely use it at 10.6 inches.  I can’t imaging using it on an 8 inch screen.

The funeral that many are calling for is very premature. Microsoft will get it right.  They still have a huge advantage, contrary to what others may write, in Windows. Tablets, while handy, are not the end all and be all of computers.  I love them, but, we will still need our desktops. One day, that many not be the case, but, for the foreseeable future, it is.

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?

OneNote like: ArcNotes

OneNote is, perhaps, one of the most useful applications EVER. I use it everyday on my Windows and iOS devices.  Even though I love the application, I still look for that ‘perfect’ note taking and data organizing application. So far, I’ve not found anything better than OneNote, but there are a few apps that are close. Here’s one that’s really close and it’s a Windows 8 style application too.

ArcNotes, from ArcSoft, is pretty darn close to OneNote in features and ease of use. Screenshot (24)Like OneNote, you can categorize your notes, create collections, tag your notes, include photos, drawings, video and audio files. For images, it has a nice feature that will correct distortions in the image. 

Screenshot (27)

Creating a note is simple, click or tap the new tile and a blank page pops up. Write or type your note, add whatever files you want and…that’s it. You can tap the information icon and up pops an info page where you can name your note, tag it and add a location.Screenshot (29)

Other features include PDF Preview and Share as PDF.  This is a really cool feature. It will let you share a set of notes with someone who does not have the application or just preserve your notes in a universal format.

 

Currently, the application is free and available in the Windows 8 store.

Windows 8.1: Start Button, animated backgrounds, more choices and new boot options are coming in June

Microsoft, finally, released details on the point release of Windows 8.  Windows 8.1 will feature more customizations for the Start Page, deeper search functionality (ala Bing) and will mark the return of Start button…sort of.

win81startFirst, and most importantly, Windows 8.1 will feature more robust applets and a new store.  The release will also give the user a lot of new customization options for the Start Page.  Among those features: a background that matches the antiquated desktop. I’d say it’s about time too! Though, it will render my ‘Decor8’ app from Stardock a bit less useful.  Users will also get more choices in the size of the tiles. New sizes include a small one that puts four tiles in the space of one current tile; a double height tile for more information and more.  In addition to matching the antiquated desktop background, Start Page now supports animated backgrounds (a feature from Vista that seemed to have disappeared with 7.)  I loved the animated backgrounds from Windows Vista and am glad to see them return. Photo slide shows make an appearance on the lock screen now. 

An interesting change that will be made to the Windows Store is that apps you purchase will no longer automatically appear on your Start Page.  They will go into the list of apps (swipe from the bottom of the Start Page or right click a blank spot on your Start Page and the select the ALL APPS icon) after which you can pin to the Start Page if you wish.  I didn’t realize this was an issue for some, but, apparently, it was.

The boot options have been changed as well. You will be able to boot to the Start Page, antiquated desktop, ALL APPS or some other view of the Start Page.  I like this.  I was opposed to only have the antique desktop as an option, but these other options make sense and I’m glad to see them.

Mouse and keyboard navigation has been improved as well. Perhaps the most asked for change-return of the Start MENU-was ignored, fortunately. However, Microsoft has restored the Start BUTTON. On the non-desktop (antique desktop, that is) screens, the Start ‘tip’ (as they are now calling it) will only display if you hover the mouse over the lower left corner of the page. On the desktop, it will display in the same spot as the Start Button. No matter where you see it, tapping or clicking it will take you to the START PAGE.  However, with the new options, you can make the Start Page appear to have the same or similar functionality as the old and lame Start Menu.

Other interesting changes and additions include the excision of IE 10 and appearance of IE 11. There are more settings available on the Metro side and SkyDrive (or, I’m guessing, a similar service) is even more integrated.

Perhaps the most important thing that Microsoft stated: a date for the ‘preview’ version: June 26, 2013. I’ll be ready to download and install the update the day it is ready.  These changes (there were more, read about it all here) appear to make Windows 8 more appealing to more people and, perhaps, quell some of the negativity about this nice operating system.

PS: Microsoft, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ditch the damn desktop.  That is all.