Windows 9…make that 10…

Tech-Preview_Start-menuMicrosoft, today, introduced Windows 10, the successor to Windows 8.x, Windows Phone 8.x and Windows RT.  While today’s presentation was aimed solely at the Enterprise, there were nuggets for everyone else as well, especially those who did not like the current version (and probably did not even bother to try it) and its Start Page and tiles.

Indeed, todays presentation showed off changes for the desktop and how Windows will handle the variety of devices.  This means figuring out what it is running on and, in the case of tablet/laptop hybrids.  If it detects a touch screen, it will default to the Windows 8 style with the Start Page, touch centricity and tiles.  If it detects a mouse and keyboard, it defaults to the desktop and the keyboard/mouse centricity.  It is something called Continuum and looks rather nice.

The desktop receives a welcome upgrade in the inclusion of the Start Menu with Tiles.  The Charms bar, still in the Technical Preview showed at the presentation, is accessible in much the same way. The task manager has a new button on the task bar and the ability to create, manage and use multiple desktops is built in. The feature resembles similar features found in Linux and Mac OS X.Tech-Preview_Task-view-500x281

Even the Command window got updated: copy and paste now work IN the window, no need to use an inconvenient context menu.

Windows 8 Style apps can now run in windows right on the desktop, which, for some, increases their usefulness.  The Start Menu is both old and new and incorporates a pared down Start Page. Part of it is the old style menu, the other half is the pared down start page.  A nice compromise.

Another interesting thing Microsoft has done is enhance the Windows 7 Snap feature. Previously, you could drag a window to the right side and snap it in place and then drag another to the left and snap it. Now, from the new task list, you snap up to four windows, certainly something a power user or developer will welcome.Tech-Preview_Three-program-snap-and-suggestions-500x281

Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore stuck around for questions after the presentation. Among the questions asked was what this does to Windows RT and Windows Phone. The answer was that Windows 10 would be available to the majority of devices running Windows. Previously, they had said it would, in fact, run on ARM based devices…which includes Windows RT tablets. Now, recently, it was revealed that the majority of Tablets are, in fact, RT. So, I cannot imagine that this segment will get ignored. Windows Phone will be replaced with Windows 10, something we already knew.

All in all, the new version looks promising and you can get your hands on a very early build, starting Wednesday, October 1, 2014.  Go to http://preview.windows.com/ to download the ISO file.

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.

Windows 8: it isn’t bad and it is not difficult to use

win8startMicrosoft is readying an upgrade to Windows 8 (surprisingly called Windows 8.1) which should address some issues with the operating system as well as add new features.  Microsoft is hoping the changes will help the operating system, which the tech press is now panning after heaping praise on the OS.  Among the improvements: ‘metro’ updates to more of the system settings, less dependencies on the antique desktop mode (they should ditch that now.)

Now, noted CNet/ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley is saying that ‘sources’ are now saying that there will be options to boot to the antique desktop and add the now useless Start Orb back (this, after Microsoft claimed to have removed the plumbing for it…riiiight.)  While I am all for the ‘metro’ additions, I can’t say I support the option to boot to the let-it-go-already desktop.  Seriously. The old Windows dressings need to go and go now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying ditch Win32 all together, but there is zero reason to leave the desktop intact.  None. It is holding back the operating system. Seriously holding it back. As long as it is there, people, who do not want to change, will continue to use.

Mary Jo herself proclaims this line reasoning as the number one reason Microsoft defaults boot to the Start Page. She is right.

The biggest gripe I see and hear is that Metro is difficult on non-touch devices. I use it on two desktops with decidedly non-touch interfaces and have no problems getting around. In fact, I find it just as easy, if not a bit more so, than with touch. The other criticism is discoverability.  Well, if that is the case, then every touch device currently out suffers from this very same issue.  Did you know that the iPad uses gestures?  Can you name them? Do you use them? My guess would be no. Most people just swipe and tap.  That is it. Well, guess what? It is the same for Windows 8 RT. With or with out touch, it is the same.

I think part of the problem is the name. “Windows” really does not suit it, but it is still Windows underneath.  And Windows has the recognition (good or bad.) Windows RT denotes the non-Win32 stuff, but still is confusing. Microsoft would have been better off naming that something completely different and explain that “Windows” is compatible with what ever that is.  Say, WinTab RT.  That would be a lot less confusing.

At any rate, the grumbling about using a mouse and keyboard with RT is silly. It is no less useful than that damned old desktop.  And, lets be honest, not every facet of the desktop is obvious. You have to right click to do certain things. That is NOT intuitive at all. We do it because we know or someone told us.  Well, same thing can happen for RT.

My point is that people seem resistant to Windows 8 solely because it is different. Not for silly reasons like ‘it isn’t very discoverable.’ Its funny that my five year old stepson can pick up the mouse and use Windows 8 like it is second nature. I did not show him how. He figured it out. In just a few minutes.  If a five year old can do this, certainly adults can.

Look for Windows 8.1 preview to be available sometime in June.

SkyDrive: sync your OneNote notebooks, access all your PC’s, and share your photos

skydrive1Years ago, Microsoft introduced it’s Windows Live brand and, with it, a set of applications, including the Photo Gallery, Movie Maker and something called Live Mesh. Mesh was a syncing tool that also had a really nice remote access feature. This was, perhaps, its best feature. You could remotely access and control any PC that had Mesh and was linked to your Live Account. I used it extensively. Mesh also allowed file syncing between all of the machines in your mesh.

Alas, Microsoft dinkyed around with Mesh over the years and have now killed the product. All is not lost, though.

Enter SkyDrive.

When I first heard that SkyDrive was replacing Mesh, I cringed. Having seen it, I was thoroughly unimpressed. But…

Things change, time passes and software gets better. And, so did SkyDrive.

Microsoft has SkyDrive client software available for Windows, Android, iOS and Windows Phone. There is also a browser based client. Of all the choices, the web based SkyDrive is the better choice.

I’m not going to go over the clients, they offer only basic options, like file sharing.  The web site, however, is more.

While it will not provide the remote access, Microsoft is leaving that up to its partners, it does allow access to the file systems of any machines that you’ve linked to your SkyDrive account.  And this feature alone makes SkyDrive-the web site-a must.

If you are using Windows 8, that machine is automagically linked. I found my three Windows 8 devices are all linked to my SkyDrive account and let me access the file systems on the other devices.

skydrive2Other features include photo sharing, online versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint and access to Outlook.  Microsoft keeps making SkyDrive more and more useful. It’s a shame they are not making the applications more useful, especially the rather lame XBox 360 version. I have yet to figure out why I would want that one.

For me, the ability to sync my OneNote notebooks is about as useful as the access to my devices, perhaps more so. I can now sync my notebooks between my PC’s, iPad, iPhone and my Asus tablet. Having access to that data has proven invaluable and, couple with the online Office apps, have eliminated my desire to put Office on my new machines. My Asus tablet does have Open Office, but mainly for use at work, where my access to SkyDrive is limited.

If you have not tried SkyDrive lately, give it a shot, you will be pleasantly surprised.

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 RT: better than Classic Windows?

filecopystatusWhile the question of which is better, RT or Classic, Windows 8 on touch devices is both awesome and REALLY not so awesome. Microsoft did a disservice by not fixing the Classic desktop in Windows 8 for touch.

What do I mean?  Well, I’ve been using an Asus VivoTab Smart with Windows 8.  It’s a nice device and I’ve already written about, so I’ll spare the praise I have for the device.  I have installed a number of Classic applications, including Visual Studio, Firefox and VLC.  Much of the Classic desktop works well enough with touch, but some of it is just a pain in the butt to use with touch. So much so, in fact, that it is nearly enough to sour me on using the desktop with touch. 

The problem is that things are just too small. The desktop does not scale properly to be really useful on a touch device.  Things like scroll bars do not work correctly; the min, max and close buttons are too close together and picking from list or even trying to highlight something is just awful. It is very clear that Windows was NEVER meant to be used with any touch device.

The big problem is the graphical subsystems.  However the scaling is handled, that’s what’s broken. In order to make things big enough, you’d have to resort to lower resolution, in which case you lose precious real estate.  For whatever reason, this would be acceptable on an Android device or an iOS device. But, this is Windows and we need our massive 27 inch monitors and impossible to see resolution.  It just won’t fly on a portable device, though. On a 10 inch screen, that resolution would make things just too small. So, you lower the resolution and, bingo, you see the text and widgets.  But, then your finger is just too big. If you increase the text size, everything else increases and makes things easy to touch, but then you lose space and the text looks wrong.

There should be an easier way to make the widgets and chrome bigger, while maintaining the correct sizing for the text.  Sounds easy, but, apparently, it is rather difficult since Microsoft has yet to do so.

The RT side works well.  Text is bigger, but not too big. Much of the cruft in Windows is gone, replace by lighter weight components and fewer graphical parts.  It is touch friendly and works very well. Microsoft makes it works as it was designed with touch in mind and keyboard/mouse was the afterthought.

There will come a time when the Classic Desktop is removed altogether. I can’t wait. Hopefully, it comes sooner rather than later.

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.