BUSINESS, Computers, Microsoft, TECH, WHATS GOING ON

A Few Good Apps

mewindowsI installed Windows 10 on to my laptop a few weeks ago. I have been considering upgrading my main machine to 10 for a while, so dropping it onto the lappy seemed like a good way to take it for a test drive.

I had upgraded my ASUS Windows 8 tablet to 10 shortly after the free offer appeared. It started out great, but the lack of good apps (which I have complained about) turned it into a mini-laptop. Having a mini-laptop is cool, but I wanted to use my tablet as, well, a tablet, so the ASUS has collected dust in favor of my more app-centric iPad mini.

Back to the laptop: While waiting for app updates to download in the Store, I poked around and found the page for the Facebook app. I had used it previously and it actually wasn’t too bad until Microsoft stopped updating it.  I think somewhere down the way MS and FB had a fight, but that’s neither here nor there. As new features kept getting added to Facebook, the Windows app was stuck in time. Thinking back, its obsolescence and overall lack of apps was likely one of the things that drove me away from Windows Phone.  Old news, I know.

A sentence on the page intrigued me, though: “New for Windows 10!” Why not? I download the app and prepared to be underwhelmed. As a test, I hovered over one of the ‘Like’ links to see if the additional options would appear. Much to my surprise, they did! I did some more clicking around and was delighted to see that the app had all the features that had been missing from the previous version. It isn’t perfect, but it is much more usable than it was before.

Encouraged by that success, I decided to re-download some other apps. I was surprised to find that they too had been updated, with improved results. I then turned on ‘Tablet Mode’ (which fullscreens all programs and apps) and was astounded that I could now use my Windows 10 tablet AS A TABLET.  What a country!

All it took was a few good apps. Given my iPhone 6’s lackluster performance in buildings as of late, I might be willing to give Windows Phone another shot if Microsoft can get its apps together.

Maybe.

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Computers, Eduardo Soliz, JUST SAYING, Microsoft, RANDOM REVIEW, Tablets, TECH

It’s the Apps, Stupid!

windowsAfter months of learning to live with Windows 8 on the desktop, I picked up an ASUS VivoTab 8 tablet back in early 2015.  Finally, I would get to experience Windows 8 with a touchscreen, just like God Microsoft had intended!

As much as I like to think that I ‘got’ Windows 8 before, using it with a touch screen was wonderful.  No more fumbling with sides and screen corners!  The stupid charms on the right side of the screen finally made sense and I could bring them up by swiping in from the right side instead of madly fumbling around for for the magic spot with my mouse!  Life was great!

That euphoria lasted for about five minutes until I tried to pull up the News app and it crashed.  I checked for app updates in the Store, and there were none to be had.  So much for that.

I am totally on board with the idea that there should be desktop apps Just like the ones we have on our phones and tablets.  I shouldn’t have to go back to my web browser to do things.  Indeed, I would love nothing better than pick up my Windows 8 tablet and left-swipe from app to app to get things done instead of having to go back to Ye Olde Desktop unless I want to.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s apps suck.  Everywhere.  They sucked on Windows Phone, sucked on Windows 8 and continue to suck on Windows 10.  Until they stop sucking, I’ll find myself going back to my desktop and my browser or using my iPhone or iPad.  Don’t like it, Microsoft?  THEN MAKE YOUR APPS STOP SUCKING!

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BUSINESS, Computers, Microsoft, TECH, WHATS GOING ON

Change of Screenery

technology2I have owned a iMac for five years now.  At the time, I figured that if nothing else, the improved hardware would be worth the expense.  It has been a pleasant experience for the most part…mainly because I installed Windows 7 onto it.  Thus, I don’t have to deal with OS X unless I really have to…like when I’m publishing an e-book to the iBookstore.

OS X is nice, but when I need to Get Things Done, I find myself gravitating back to Windows.  I also own a Windows laptop and thanks to The Cloud (or OneDrive to be more precise), I can easily keep my files in sync between my various devices instead of relying on the ol’ ‘sneaker-net’ like I used to back in my netbook days.

I will concede that the Mac is good at certain things, like organizing pictures and iTunes and all that good ‘not-computery’ stuff.  I also like that Time Machine keeps a full backup of my system in the event that something awful happens.  While I (fortunately) haven’t put it to the test yet, I have faith that it will work as advertised.  Sadly, my lack of being in OS X means I’ve accumulated quite a few pictures that I haven’t file away yet for safe keeping or kept very well organized, for that matter.

And so I have decided to start using my Mac, as, well, a Mac.  My 12″ laptop will serve as my ‘desktop PC’ and so I will be able to finally get all my pictures organized and keep all of my music in one place for what that’s worth.  Of course, when there’s Serious Work to be done, I’ll be booting back into Windows 7.  I’ve even gone as far to consider buying a new Windows desktop for the first time in a number of years.

Windows 8 makes that proposition a little trickier than it should be, but not for the reason you might suspect.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t mind Windows 8; the 8.1 update has made it much more usable with a keyboard and mouse (TIP: On the Start Screen, click the arrow pointing down to easily find all of your programs).

My issue is that I kinda want a touch screen.  The Metro/Modern user interface is made for touch and having (literally!) poked at Windows 8 on Windows tablets I’ve grown to appreciate it for what it is.  The issue is that touchscreen monitors are expensive and ‘all in one’ computers generally don’t have as much horsepower as a tower.  While I am not a big gamer, when I’m rendering a video it would be nice to not have to wait a half hour for it to finish.  There’s also something about having some  BIG IRON sitting under my desk chugging away at Important Stuff.

I’m tempted to build a new PC from scratch, but part of me says ‘I don’t have the time’ and the cost savings isn’t quite as dramatic as it used to be.  In the end, I may end up going to Ye Olde Eletronics Store to plunk down a few c-notes for a tower.  While I may lose nerd points for that, I’m pretty sure I don’t have many left after buying that iMac in the first place. 😉

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Computers, JUST SAYING, RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH, Ubuntu, WHATS GOING ON, WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT

Eww-buntu

wtflinux

Dafuq?

Well, that didn’t take long.  Within 24 hours of installing Ubuntu (see previous post) onto my laptop, I found myself reaching for my Windows 7 restore discs.  While wasn’t bad, it possessed one major flaw that kept it from staying on my laptop: it was horribly inefficient and significantly cut down its battery life.

I found that to be odd because one of the things I distinctly remembered about Linux was that it was efficient, but the fan on my laptop just wouldn’t stop spinning as I installed programs on it and got re-accustomed to the Ubuntu UI.  While doing so, I had forgotten how convenient it was to have multiple desktops.

Getting back to my main point, running Ubuntu reduced the laptop’s battery life from 4-5 hours on Windows to under 3…and that was with Wi-Fi turned off.  While  I was processing that unfortunate turn of events, my screen started to glitch.  This was a fresh install with all updates installed and barely any additional software on it.  As awful as Windows supposedly is, I’ve NEVER had something like that happen so quickly.  I have to say, I was very disappointed with the experience.

Already annoyed with the battery performance, I (metaphorically) flipped the table, opened the laptop’s DVD drive and inserted the first restore disc.

Ahh.  That new Windows smell!

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RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH, Ubuntu, Uncategorized, WHATS GOING ON

Hello, Ubuntu

technology2After spending way too much time arguing with Windows 8 and kludgey USB microphone drivers last week, I finally got tired of arguing with it and decided to banish it from my laptop…again.  As I mentioned in my write-up, I like the idea of Windows 8, but the fact that I can’t do everything with a snazzy full-screen app and continually have keep going back to the desktop and browser (to say nothing of all the old Windows stuff I still use) made it fairly pointless.  Thus, I dug out my restore discs and prepared to breath that fresh new Windows smell on my computer again.  You know, the way a new computer runs all fast and stuff until you bog it down with all the security drek that is a fact of life on Windows.

I popped in the first of four DVD-ROMs and got to thinking…maybe, just maybe, I should give Linux another try.  I was originally exposed to it in college and never really used it much until Ubuntu came along.  I would poke at Ubuntu every so often out of curiosity, but I never thought about running it as my main operating system, not even on my laptop.  I was too wedded to Windows-based programs and the alternatives just weren’t very good at the time.  In particular, it was a long time before good alternatives to Microsoft Word came around, in my opinion.  Gaming on Linux also wasn’t much to brag about in those days, either.

Times have changed since then: I find myself using more and more open-source software and less Windows-exclusive stuff, viable Microsoft Word alternatives now exist and I don’t play games on my PC much any more.  I also use a cloud-based service to store most of the files I work with on a daily basis, so it is easier for me to (figuratively) trash my laptop on a whim and start all over again with a new system.

I ejected that recovery disk, set up a flash drive and prepared to install Ubuntu on my laptop.  What the hey, I can always go back to 7, right?

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BUSINESS, Computers, JUST SAYING, Microsoft, RANDOMIZER9.COM, TECH, TECH SUPPORT, WHATS GOING ON

Closing Windows

technology2I don’t drink alcohol, but it is going to be hard to resist the urge to raise a glass of something on April 8, 2014.  That particular Tuesday is going to be a special day for many of my fellow techies around the world and I have no doubt that many of my I.T. brethren will be celebrating the momentous occasion that takes place on that day.  What is it, you ask?

It is the day that Windows XP finally DIES.

Don’t get me wrong, Windows XP has had a hell of a run since August 2001.  It was a good OS and was definitely a step up from the awful Windows Me that preceded it.   Heck, it was so good Microsoft kept it around when Netbooks came into vogue a few years ago.  Those netbooks and the terrible Windows Vista probably helped to keep it alive probably well past its originally intended expiration date, but all good things must come to an end, so here we are…or at least here we will be in just under seven months.

Windows 7 is goodness and I finally decided to eat my Windows 8 peas, so XP is but a fond memory for me except for when I have to deal with customers that still use it at work.  I can’t give them too much grief, because I still use WinAmp 2.9 and Microsoft Money 2000!  That said, I’ll be happy as a clam when I no longer have to worry about whether users should click on ‘Add/Remove Programs’ or ‘Programs and Features’ in the Control Panel!

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RANDOM REACTION: Windows 8 Developer Preview

Just when I was growing to love Windows 7, Microsoft has to come up with something new. Windows 8 is expected to drop in late 2012, but that’s a wild guess from people that get paid to make wild guesses.  For now, though, there is the Developer Preview, which was introduced on September 13th at Microsoft’s BUILD developer conference.  In a pretty smart move, Microsoft made it available to the public, which only makes sense because everyone was going to share it anyway, and it gave Microsoft something to brag about: 8 was download half a million times within its first 12 hours of release.

Like any good geek, I wanted to poke at the latest thingamabobber from the depths of Redmond.  I started my download, went to bed, and burned a Windows 8 install DVD before going to work the next morning.  I figured I could install it while I was at work and poke at it during the day.  I started the installer, and about an hour or so later, after using my Windows Live ID for maximum effect, I had a nice purdy Windows 8 screen thingie looking back at me.  FYI, this screenshot was taken after I’d set up the Socialite (Facebook) and Weather apps, so it isn’t quite the default:

Windows 8 Start Screen

Its Hip to be Square!

Windows 8 eschews the Start Menu (almost) completely and give you a Start Screen.  The Start Screen uses the “Metro” interface found on Windows Phone.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.  Its good because it places lots of information and apps in front of you but its bad because well, most of the information presented wasn’t too important. The Facebook tile seemed to display just random images of friends, and the Tweet@rama (Twitter) tile was set to one of Microsoft’s feeds.  While I’m sure that the UI and tiles will be more customizable the closer we get to release, right now the constant stream of data just feels like overkill on a desktop.

One thing that became rapidly apparent was that the Windows 8 user interface was clearly designed with touch screens in mind; the Start Screen’s big chunky tiles appear to be more suited for finger tapping than mouse clicking.  Since I was using a mouse, I had to make do with horizontal scroll bars that constantly appeared at the bottom of the screen which got more than a little bit annoying.

Luckily, for those of us dinosaurs that still want to work with the Desktop, clicking the “Desktop” tile pulls up a Windows 7 desktop that looks like the one we’ve grown to love over the past two years or so.  Programs can be stuck onto the taskbar just like in Windows 7 but getting to them isn’t quite as simple as it used to be:

Windows 8 Apps list

Get'cher apps and programs here!

In order to get to your list of programs and apps you have to click “Search” which pops up in a menu that appears when you move your mouse to the lower right hand corner of the screen.  You can then type in a search term or scroll through the list until you find what you want.

The Start Menu?  Gone.  Kaputski.  No Mas.  Frankly, I think that is a horrible decision on Microsoft’s part.  Here’s why:

Windows 8 Start Screen after Office install

I only needed Word, doggone it!

That is my Start Screen after installing Word in Microsoft Office 2003.  Most of the programs on the right hand side of that screen I am never, ever going to use.  Normally, they stay tucked away in the Start Menu unless, by some miracle of fate, I actually need one of them.  When I install Word, I take the Word icon and drop it onto my taskbar because that’s all I need.  Now all those extra icons are all over my Start Screen, cluttering it up unless I take the time to go in and delete each individual one.  This sucks.

Yes, it may be used less often these days, but when you aren’t using it, the Start Menu stays out of the way.  If Microsoft insists on keeping backwards-compatibility with earlier Windows versions, it needs to keep the Start Menu lest they risk pissing off their userbase, because I guarantee you that the first thing everyone is going to look for after starting up their shiny new Windows 8 machine is look for the Start Menu.

That quibble aside, Windows  8 is a pleasure to get around, the teeny-tiny Notification area that used to be on the right side of the Start Menu has been moved over to the Settings area, which is accessed using the lower-left corner menu:

Windows 8 Settings Sub-screen

Very niiiice!

As you can tell, the Settings area is easy to view and read, and is definitely an improvement.  Apps written for the Windows 8 Metro interface also have a different look to them, such as Internet Explorer which you can see below.  The screenshot shows the pop-up menus that appear when  you right-click.

Internet Explorer 9 in Windows 8

Shiny!

While older programs run within the Desktop, apps run in full-screen mode.  Right clicking the mouse brings up menus that are different from the usual “File, Edit…” ones we’ve used to using all these years.  I think this is a definite improvement and should make Windows much easier for people to use, assuming, of course, that the interfaces are done right.  That may become an issue when we’re talking about more complicated software packages like Excel and Visual Studio, but the Desktop is available as a fallback.

As far as performance goes, Windows 8 seemed to run okay on my Toshiba Satellite T115D-S1125 laptop with 4GB of RAM.  All of my hardware appeared to work and the Frowny Blue Screen of Death was nowhere to be seen.  It did chug a little bit at times, but as this is a pre-beta, so that is forgivable and it did work well enough to be usable during the time that I had it installed.  Older Windows software such as Office 2003, WinAmp 2.9 and Microsoft Money 2000 also worked just fine.

Windows 8 is looking like a pretty nice update so far.  The Metro interface is very different from the old Desktop we’ve been using all these years and should make using Windows a much easier experience for less-technically savvy people.  Unfortunately, 8 also has to work with software written for previous versions of Windows, and the lack of a Start Menu is going to make the Start Screen pretty unusable for folks that are going to be installing a bunch of legacy programs onto it.  Microsoft may have been testing the waters by leaving out the Start Menu, but it is a bad move unless they decide to rip out backwards compatibility altogether, which I severely doubt is going to happen.

My other big beef with Windows 8 is its tablet-centricness.  This is not necessarily a Bad Thing, but I felt as if I was not able to make full use of it because I was using a mouse and keyboard.  In fact, a few of the programs were all but unusable because I did not have multi-touch, so I couldn’t pinch or widen two fingers onto the screen.  I would love to see this running on a tablet, but on a desktop, it feels a bit clunky right now.

In my opinion, Windows 8 is a step in the right direction and a long-needed shift for operating systems in general.  Metro is clean, sharp and very user friendly.  I look forward to seeing 8 evolve as the devs hammer at it and hopefully take user feedback (like this!) into account.  I just hope that Microsoft does not leave us old fogey mouse-and-keyboard users out in the cold in favor of the cool kids with their tablets and touchscreens.

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