Windows 8 Update (8.1) – Features More Metro, Less Desktop

Microsoft wants to steer us away from the familiar Windows 7-style Desktop interface with the Windows 8 update, called Windows 8.1. Details from a leaked video preview, found a couple weeks ago by The Verge, suggest Microsoft plans to do so by improving the Metro interface.*

Die-hard Desktop fans, lay down your pitchforks and extinguish your torches…for now. According to Mary Jo Foley writing for ZDNet, our beloved Desktop isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but Microsoft may do away with it in the long term by making Metro more functional. However, why go through the hassle of Metro if it’s going to be as functional as Desktop? The basic answer to that is Metro is faster, more stable and more secure than Desktop.

One major functionality improvement the update will bring us is the integration of Desktop’s Control Panel ** into Metro. This could resolve usability issues in apps such as Skype, which can only be opened in Metro, yet forces users to make intricate audio adjustments in Desktop.

Keeping in mind that this is Microsoft’s first Windows 8 update, we’re still not seeing any improvements to Windows 8’s split personality. Desktop fans will find that, even with shortcuts to certain apps in Desktop, they will still open via Metro. Forcing users to switch between Metro and Desktop to use certain apps causes frustration and confusion, resulting in unfavorable reactions and controversy towards Windows 8.

If you’re raising your pitchfork again, take a look at this to find out why Metro is, in essence, better than Windows 7/Desktop. Operating systems are written in computer code, and Desktop’s aging code has become too inefficient and unsecure to compete  in today’s world. A replacement was inevitable and Microsoft is slowly making users transition to Metro so PCs can keep up with a  more web-centric, app-based and virus-filled world.

For now, I’m sticking to my glorious Windows 7, but Microsoft is going in the right direction. I look forward to further Windows 8 updates which will undoubtedly entice me to switch over to the Metro side of things.

* Metro is the primary user-interface for WIndows 8, leaving the familiar Desktop interface for more intricate uses, such as file management and computer settings.

** That’s System Preferences for you Mac users.

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Windows Phone 8 – for iPhone users who want a larger screen

I love Windows Phone 8. It reminded me of when I picked up a 1st generation iPod Touch when it was first released (before iPhone!) and how intuitively easy it was to become familiar with iOS (1.0?). WP8 seems to lean towards users who don’t really care so much about customization and love intuitive functionality.

It would be PERFECT for an iPhone user who wants a bigger screen using phones such as the Lumia 920 or HTC 8X. I want it to be a huge competitor, but the WP8 app store needs to build up its catalog. And Microsoft, for the love of digital god, please fix Skype. You know you own it, right?

The Bad

With all that cash under its mattress, Microsoft MUST encourage popular app developers to make apps for WP8. I’m sure they’ve been doing just that, but not well enough. I was most disappointed to find (or not find) that Flipboard hasn’t made it to WP8 (yet).

I know this isn’t specifically WP8, but the Skype app is inexcusably bad. Despite Microsoft buying Skype a couple years ago, WP8’s version is by far the worst out of all OS’. Skype itself claims it’s still in beta (preview) for WP8, which is an excuse so people won’t grumble too much when they encounter bugs. But this charade has gone on long enough. There are barely any features, such as switching front and back cameras, to even have bugs. For this, I cast binary shame upon thee, Microsoft.

The Good

I am a great fan of the side-scrolling navigation. You’ll quickly become accustomed to side-scrolling by visual cues and clues.

In some apps, like Shazam, it feels like the phone contains a page or tapestry that is wider than the phone itself. You scroll from left to right so the display focuses on what you want.

Notice the "r" on the right as a visual clue to swipe right to left. Also notice how "Shazam" and the background shifts as you swipe right to left

Notice the seemingly random “r” on the left, it’s a visual clue to swipe right to left. Also notice how “Shazam” and the background shifts as you swipe right to left

The live tiles and the way they occupy the home screen is pretty cool; I didn’t miss wallpapers at all. The tiles display information from the app on the home screen without having to go into it, which is similar to Android’s Widgets. You can adjust tile sizes, rearrange them and change color themes. Even the brown theme looks good on this thing.

For everyday functionality, such as phone, texts, email, calendar, etc, WP8’s native apps are intuitive and work perfectly well. However, only Nokia phones will have their brand of map features (HERE) which are on par with Google Maps. Other WP8 phones are stuck with Bing Maps which is OK, but you’ll find it lags behind Google Maps.

8/10 on a Nokia because of map features

7/10 on other WP8 phones

Your Windows PC Is A Compulsive Hoarder – 2 Super Quick Tips To Cure It

Your computer is a compulsive hoarder and its house looks like this:

hoarder_320x245

All those boxes in the picture represent a bunch of files and folders (which we’ll call “crap” from now on) that you never see or use and that your computer never uses either. But for one demented reason or the other, your computer is compelled to “hang on” to this crap…just in case. The truth is, that “just in case” moment rarely comes up. And whenever you want to do anything useful on your computer, this crap will slow you down; much like the crap in the picture would slow down the “inhabitant” of that house.

As tools of intervention, I use two pieces of free software that will, basically, clean up your computer. These are CCleaner and Spybot SD.

CCleaner takes care of files that are stuck in a kind of computer “purgatory.” It will remove files that you never see or use but that also actively clog up your PC such as temporary files and a bunch of other crap that your computer decides to horde for no reason. To get rid of this stuff, follow these instructions:

1. Click this link, download, install. (It’s default settings will be just fine, but if you want a deeper scrub and know what you’re doing, you can choose what CCleaner cleans really easily by ticking the boxes on the center left. Careful though, the defaults include your recycle bin, so if there’s something in there you might actually want later, uncheck the “Empty recycle bin” box. I actually choose not to clean my internet browser (Firefox) stuff because I have stored passwords and histories I’d rather keep. I’ll do it once in a while, though.

2. Click “Analyze” on the bottom left. CCleaner will then scan your computer for all the crap it doesn’t need to hold on to; much like a concerned family member going through that house in the picture. You don’t actually need to click “analyze” first, it’s mostly so you can see what CCleaner picked up to. Makes it more satisfying when you delete it all, too.

3. Click “Run cleaner” on the bottom right and it will delete all the offending items.

CCleaner can also clean up your registry by deleting registry keys that are no longer used, such as leftover files from a program you uninstalled.

1. Just click “Registry” on the very left, then click “Scan for issues” on the bottom left and it shows you all the registry crap that your computer processes for no reason whatsoever which slows it down.

2. Click “Fix selected issues” on the bottom right to get rid of it all.

Spybot SD (Search and Destroy) will, quite literally, search and destroy any malware/adware you’ve piled up without knowing.

1. Click this link, download, install.

2. Click “Check for problems” on the main menu. It will scan your computer, taking about 10-15 minutes, and list all the extra crap that’s been slowing down your computer and internet speeds.

3. Satisfyingly click “Fix selected issues” and it will delete this malware/adware.

Once in a while, like any other software, you’ll need to update CCleaner. For Spybot SD, I suggest clicking “Search for updates” and downloading the updates every time you open it because new malware/adware emerges all the time. To do so, click “Search for updates”, don’t bother choosing a country, just click “Continue” at the bottom, then click “Download.” Then click “Check for problems.” You should do this every couple months if you want to keep your computer running almost like new.

Windows RT – Stands For “Rather Terrible”

I wanted to love it. I was a strong advocate for it. Yet, the Microsoft Surface is losing favor with me. To be more specific, I am referring to the Surface’s OS, Windows RT. Many say this is surprising because software is what Microsoft’s does. But have we already forgotten the Vista fiasco? I can safely say, and many will agree, that the design and hardware quality far exceeds the software.

I like the gestures and ways to navigate my way around the RT. And having MS Office is pretty cool. Other than that, it’s awful. Enough is enough and it’s time for me to pull back the self-imposed veil and see clearly what is in front of me. What Microsoft has released is a rushed and unfinished product, much like Vista (some may argue that Windows 7 is simply a finished version of Vista). What is Windows RT? What does RT even stand for? Most say it means RunTime, but what does that even mean? There’s already a WinRT out there, and Microsoft already had a “Surface” which was basically huge tablet with four legs…you know what, I’m not even going to bother, it’s too confusing.

I am annoyed that Microsoft sold me me this beautiful tablet with an OS that is incompatible with regular Windows apps and software. Incompatibility within Windows’ own products is simply unforgivable. Imagine needing to switch shoes between the sidewalk and crossing a street because the sidewalk shoes weren’t “compatible” with the street. Total compatibility with Microsoft products would really set it apart against the competition. It’s going to take more than a fancy keyboard cover to set it apart because keyboard covers for iPad are popping up like whack-a-moles. I am also annoyed with myself. I knew about this before buying, but I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. How wrong I was.

Windows RT is dressed almost identically like Windows 8, therefore you’d think it would function like Windows 8. But no. For example, we’re told RT supports flash *for Microsoft approved sites* which feels like 3 sites. On about 99.9% of flash sites I visit, I am told I have an outdated version of flash and the site graciously offers me to update to the latest version. But I can’t install the latest version. So what’s the point of directing me to the regular websites? That should be RT’s tag line – “RT. What’s The Point?” I’d rather be directed to the mobile version of the site. So, realistically, it doesn’t really have flash. I might as well just use my laptop to roam the internet. And can someone explain to me why Outlook or Media Player is not supported?

You feel so restricted with RT, so so restricted. RT is so barren and app-less. Again, what’s the point? The Surface is my first tablet (yes, I know, late to the tablet game) and I wanted a tablet to do the stuff I do on my iPhone like casual web browsing, reading news, games, calendar management, emails etc, just on a bigger screen without having to carry around a fragile laptop. But RT just feels like I’m doing all those things on a ten year old computer. Apps are slow to open and slow to refresh (news and mail to name a couple).

Microsoft should have used its resources to encourage app developers to make apps for RT. It actually looks like RT has many of the  most-used iPad apps found on a few “official lists.” But once I’m done with Skype and the various news apps at home, I’m pretty much done and I have no further reason to keep the Surface in my hands. It hardly has any games at all and therefore lacks entertainment value. For example, let’s take travel. Sure, I can watch movies or listen to music, but what if I want to speed up time by playing games on the subway or on a flight? With interest in films and music exhausted, I have no games to play as I jealously watch iPad owners play “The Walking Dead” or “Need for Speed.” Instead, I’m stuck with Solitaire, Pong or Pinball (to be fair, these are free games offered in the Windows store, but these are the only ones that remotely entice me). Yes, I know, boo hoo, read a book says you. But I didn’t pay $600 to watch iPad owners have all the fun! Of course, games aren’t what everyone use their iPads for. This is merely one example of Windows RT and Surface’s lack of, well, use.

I’d say wait  while for more apps to become available, but Windows/RT is in  a cacth 22. App developers don’t want to waste resources on building apps for tiny number of RT users. At the same time, users don’t want to buy a machine with an OS where the app store looks like Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

Went to the Apple store today and played around with the iPad mini. Replacement in progress.

The Tabtop Revolution

I am really liking these hybrid tabtops/laplets that are emerging. Namely those that have keyboard covers/docks like the HP TouchPad 2, Lenovo ThinkPad 2. I really wouldn’t be surprised if these hybrids become a new norm to replace the traditional laptops, at least for Windows hardware. The only thing that is limiting the growth of these hybrids is getting higher performance laptop components to fit into the tablet part itself. But, as technology continues to improve at blistering speed, it will happen. All the important stuff that runs the computer will be in the tablet portion and the keyboard will merely be a dock that could potentially carry extra battery, RAM, disk space, ports (USB and friends), graphics card, pretty much anything to give the tablet portion extra juice when you want it to be a laptop (for work and games, too!). It’s just that, right now, the components available at a reasonable price point for tablets aren’t yet powerful enough to allow tabtops to replace laptops. Imagine a Surface Pro but for $500 instead of the ridiculous $899 they are asking for it now (ridiculous because you might as well buy an Ultrabook for that price).

Many seem to lament this potential laptop revolution with headlines like “Surface Pro: Overpriced tablet, half an Ultrabook, or yet another Tablet PC?”(1) Why “yet” another Tablet PC? Everyone’s about the Ultrabooks because they’re light and powerful. But one day, you’ll be able to detach the screen from the keyboard on one of these Ultrabooks and use it as a tablet. And what’s that called? A hybrid! A tablet PC!

(1) Ars Technica article headline

Skype on Surface RT – So Buggy It Gets a Blog Post

There are bugs. Lots of them. Most notably whilst using the Skype app. People I’m speaking with sometimes turn green, but I don’t tell them to avoid confusion and hang-ups and continue talking to the green person.

Sometimes my video will freeze and plays a 1 second loop of my head bobbing or nodding or whatever movement I was making at the time of the screen freeze. The repetitive head/face motions from the looping makes me look deranged/possessed to the other person.

Other times, Skype seems to think I need to be reminded of old instant messages whenever it feels I need reminding. A barrage of notifications that take up the entire top right of the screen accompanied by an annoying sound is thrown at you in all its buggy glory. Cue old adage: “that’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”

The user interface is pretty horrid, too. Again with the tiny buttons only a Swiss watchmaker could love. For example, it’s not very easy to switch between front and back camera. Nor is it easy to mute the microphone. To do so, whilst holding the tablet landscape style (the only way to hold it), one must either let go with one hand, hold the tablet with the other and press the button on the bottom center of the screen with an index finger. Or, you can reach with your thumb for the bottom center of the screen which is awkward because the Surface is long and thumbs are generally short. Skype is not making use of RT’s screen edge navigation* that eliminates the need to move hands and arms around whilst using this thing. It seems as if the designers have yet to discover “design.” Harsh, but to make it more comfortable/easier, they could move the options bar (which contains camera switch; mic mute; options etc) from the bottom center of the screen to a menu that is summoned when you swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen. Then, with logically placed buttons around where the thumbs are, you can easily use the functions!

But, it does what it’s built for, it makes video calls. Buggy and awful, but functioning. Their iPhone/iPad app isn’t great either; it actually doesn’t function as well, but has fewer bugs. It’s like Skype is giving us a life lesson  about compromise: “Sorry, kid, ya can’t have it all.”

* Edge navigation is when you can use your thumb to swipe from the all four edges of the screen to bring out a menu/options for whatever app your using, including Windows RT itself.

Microsoft Surface – If You Have One, You Know What I Mean

Since receiving my Microsoft Surface a couple weeks ago, I have had many thoughts regarding its pluses and minuses. I think it would be fitting to write this organization of thoughts on the Surface itself using the touch cover, and that’s what I’ll begin with.

LOVE it. Love the touch cover. It’s a screen cover and a keyboard that, as the commercials explain far more effectively than I possibly could, you just click it in and get to work. Many reviewers expressed difficulty in typing on a flat surface, saying it takes them some time to get used to it. Poppycock. My fingers seamlessly reached all the right keys on my first go as if it were a regular keyboard. I actually really like a flat surface (Ha!) to type on. I can make a really satisfying “thump” sound when my fingers hit these suede/felt pads of tablet typing innovation. Almost as satisfying as mechanical keyboards. I say almost because the touch cover requires a little more precision and timing to be as fluid as a regular keyboard. At times, it fails to register a couple keys if I’m typing particularly fast. But not a problem, this touch keyboard is an awesome, seamless dual-purpose tool and it greatly improves functionality/usability of a tablet. Especially since it has a mouse pad, too. If you want to do more typing-oriented work, MS has got you covered. I would suggest the type cover since that has a regular keyboard with actual physical keys.

I always felt confident about its looks. From the very first rumored and leaked photos I saw online, it looked like a solid and beautifully built tablet. I think part of that is due to MS’ VaporMg casing. It looks smart and sophisticated. It would be just as comfortable at the office as it is at home which I am sure was intentional. The kickstand is another mega plus; it has become indispensable. In my eyes, any tablet without a built-in kickstand will be shrugged off as if it were an old calculator. By the way, I don’t think I read one single negative thing about the hardware and looks of the Surface.

Windows RT. Now, there are A LOT of haters out there who are loving to hate on the Surface and the software it comes with: Windows RT. These haters will post headlines such as “Love the hardware, tolerate the software.” Well, haters, I’m glad software is the issue and not the hardware. By hardware, I mean the externals of the Surface, the internals are on par, give or take, with similarly priced tablets. The reason I’m glad it’s the software is because that is the ONE thing that can be changed/updated. All you Apple and Android fanboys, what do you think you are doing when you update iOS or stupidly-named Android version (like Ice Cream Sandwich…seriously, wtf…)? You are updating the software because new functionality and improvements have been made! I think that all you haters out there have completely missed this point and “haters gonna hate.”

I think Windows RT is awesome. I don’t know what the haters were expecting. They seems to want either a tablet OS or a full Windows OS and they say it doesn’t know what it is. Do I really need to spell it out? This is a tablet. It works as a tablet. The additional stuff like the keyboard and familiar Windows desktop are pluses. What MS have done here is made a fully functioning tablet and added *some* of the functionality of a full on laptop/desktop that you can choose whether to use or not.

Love the gestures to navigate on RT, albeit it did take some time to get used to. But once you got it, you fly on this thing. And it doesn’t take long, it will only take a while if you want to hate it (UNSUBTLE NOD TO MY GF, SYDNEY). I digress. No, I’m not going to go into each and every gesture. If you want a manual on the Surface, read any other review.

Now for a minus. I gotta say, whoever thought that the little touch buttons would be adequately large enough to use was GREATLY misinformed…or has tiny, laser-guided, gps-enabled finger tips. What I am talking about here are touch buttons like the back arrow on Internet Explorer. The tiles are big and easy enough to touch, but why make some functionality buttons so…dysfunctional? Some training with a Marine sniper would help too; you have to get your finger ON the button, not around it…at all…not even its border…ever.

Another minus. Despite its fairly good internals, it’s a little slow at times. This has been a wailing note of chagrin by the haters, of course. Sometimes, the surface acts just like your Windows computer; you have to restart it to make it work smoothly again if it’s been a little sluggish. This, I do not agree with at all, and may have to join the dark, hatred-laden hater side. BUT, this is something that can be fixed since it is a software issue; the hardware is more than adequate to run this stuff. But that is something that can be fixed as the bugs and software is smoothed out over time.

This Surface, namely Windows RT actually, needs a lot of polishing up…a LOT. BUT, don’t hate on it! Please don’t! This is a legitimate 3rd option for a tablet, opposed to the old, dreary Apple and Android interfaces. Imagine if we only had the choice between Coors Light and Bud Light, Ford or Chevy, regular and diet Coke…you get the point. There are many options of beer, many options of cars and many options of soft drink. All you mega Apple/Android fanboys, stop trying to make your platforms the only ones in existence and trying to eliminate the others. That’s called dictatorship and no one likes it. Let the technology democracy and capitalism flow. If you review negatively on the Surface/Windows RT without an ounce of “this has so much potential, let’s give it a chance to learn and improve”…I invite you to the flagpole at 11pm for some fisticuffs.

Who Dunnit? Nokia and the Elusive Lumia 920 Contract

Disappointment. The 920 will be an AT&T exclusive. Everyone who has even vaguely been keeping up with the Lumia 920 madness has been looking forward to its release. No, I don’t care about the 820 or Nokia’s other variants in its 8 series; its screen isn’t large enough.

Various sources state that both AT&T and Verizon are in the 70 million user range, each. I have no idea what percentage of these users were even looking at the Lumia 920 as their next device, but whatever that number is, it is now half of what it could have been before this tragic news. I’m not saying there was a feverish madness over the 920 like there was over the iPhone 5, but that is kind of the point. Why is it being released in the same, antiquated marketing strategy that Apple employed for the first 3 iPhone generations? Whosever’s fault it is (yes, FAULT) that the 920 will be an AT&T exclusive, I cast digital shame upon thee with a hefty dose of binary fire and brimstone. But who’s fault is it? I am in a finger pointing mood.

Only speculation has been published so far as to why the Lumia 920 will only be released on one of the US’ four major wireless networks. Every other blog is as sure as the next that it’s the carriers’ fault. The other thinks it’s Nokia’s or Microsoft’s fault. I am going to take a food chain look at this question.

Top of the Food Chain: Microsoft

I simply don’t know how much MS is at fault here. As far as I can tell, they just make the software and hand it to phone makers. They don’t deal so much with the carriers. BUT, if MS was truly involved and really wanted to see their WP8 baby be born and live a long successful life, they would have more of a say in which carriers should/can have their phones. HOWEVER, MS has shown it genuinely and honestly wants to be a powerful competitor in the smartphone market; WP8 truly does look promising, beautiful and different. Therefore, MS might be as pissed as I am that WP8’s flagship Lumia 920 will be available to less than a quarter of the smartphone market.

Microsoft is the bigger company with a wider variety of products in various forms (hardware, software). They have the least to lose in terms of being able to keep its doors open if WP8 fails. There are various Windows Phone 8 phones out there, such as the ATIV S and HTC 8X (or S, or whatever), so MS isn’t relying so much on a specific phone to get WP8 out there. BUT, it is skating on thin ice, and bad press from associating with third party partners will lower image and trust and therefore, sales. MS literally needs everything to go well and they need to appear like a company that has it together against the iOS and Android behemoths. Yet there is only so much MS can do when it has a three way partnerships with phone makers and network carriers (or lack thereof). MS will be somewhat linked to their misbehaving partners, no matter how irrelevant (920’s PureView camera showcase fiasco) or relevant (920’s exclusivity to AT&T) the issue.

Solution: MS makes their own smart phone, which they are rumored to be making/releasing sooner than we think.

Second in the Food Chain: Verizon

If Verizon is to fault here, BIG BAD BOO ON YOU BIG RED. I know you (Verizon) don’t need it, just like you didn’t need the iPhones for a while. But then you did need the iPhones, didn’t you? Additionally, Apple really would not be where it is today if Verizon et al did not offer the iPhone 4 onwards.

Looking at the past, many people did not think the iPhone would actually take off at all; high profile tech leader Steve Ballmer said it would never catch on (despite his MSness.) In the end, it worked out with the iPhones; it revolutionized our lives and became a huge success and Verizon et al had to get on the band wagon. WP8 and its beautifully different flagship Lumia 920 could follow history and use iPhone marketing tactics, right? This “carrier exclusivity” approach makes me skeptical because Nokia/MS is NOT Apple and they have to work much harder to break into this market. The 920, as cool as it looks, will simply not have the impact the first iPhone had.

Solution: Network carriers stop playing with our emotions.

Third in the Food Chain: Nokia

Nokia is under huge pressure to the extent that if it does not perform this time around, good luck.

If Nokia decided that it would be a great move to restrict the 920 to only the 2nd best wireless network in this vast country, then they absolutely deserve miserable failure, digital shame and binary fire and brimstone. But I don’t think it was entirely you, Nokia. You are desperate, but you’re not a masochist, or are you?

There are times when many of us believe (know) we can do a better job than the person in charge of a particular service. For example, NYC’s subway system could benefit from, say, competence. I am experiencing one of those times when I think of this matter. I refuse to believe that Nokia’s head or marketing does not see that their premium device’s exclusivity to AT&T is a.bad.thing. I am sure there are reasons/groveling excuses, but those reasons don’t put Lumia 920s into as many hands as possible. It just seems illogical for a company that is grasping at twigs to offer its flagship company-saving product to only one network in the US. It’s like a drowning person making only a mild effort to save themselves. So, it looks like Nokia, despite it’s desperation, may have been masochistic in its actions.

On the flip-side, Apple was none the wiser their iPhone would take off as well as Psy’s “Gangnam Style” music video. So perhaps Apple’s cautious strategy to test the waters before making the iPhone openly available on most carriers is an appropriate approach that Nokia should take with its Lumia 920. Pffff…

Simple answer to a very complex question: it’s Nokia’s and Verizon’s faults, but AT&T is taking advantage of a desperate Nokia crack head by offering the biggest, juiciest crack rock. After all this attention, love and patience, Nokia spits in our eyes and goes for the crack rock.

Solution: Nokia, stop selling out to AT&T and just offer it to everyone. You know this is your last ditch effort, so why hold back?

Whatever the deal, Nokia and Verizon need to tell us more instead of this “hiding information from the consumer to create hype” BS. Apple’s got that down. Nokia/Verizon does not as we can see from their confused and fumbling marketing and PR.