Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Window 8 – Twenty Second Pass: Windows 8.1 The Start Button Treachery

One of the biggest changes to Windows 8 with Windows 8.1 is the addition of the Start Button back into the operating system.  While some may cheer this as a victory against the man it really isn’t all that big of a deal and is mostly just a trick to make you think Microsoft likes you.

It is very important to point out that while the Start Button has returned to the place where it has live on the desktop since 1995 it does not function the same way in terms of opening a Start Menu.  The Start Menu essentially is still dead. 

The “new” Start Button allows users to click what they have been used to clicking for decades in order to access their apps but instead of opening the Start Menu it simply takes you back to the Start Screen.  The same thing could be accomplished by pressing the Windows button on the keyboard or by tapping or clicking the Start icon on the charms menu. Again, it just allows users to have the familiar icon to click on.

The real value to this new button however is the right click.  Right clicking on the Start Button brings up an improved system menu.  You could access this same menu in Windows 8 by pressing Windows-X.  The new system menu includes the option Shut Down or Sign Out, which expands into the familiar Sign Out, Sleep, Shut Down, and Restart options.  This is an improvement because now with the mouse, I can log out or I can reboot like I used to by clicking on the Start Button without having to get the charms menu up or go back to the Start Screen or lock screen.  I think this will make it easier for desktop users to make the switch to Windows 8 as a familiar routine has returned.

The real treachery though is that the use of the Start Button is not consistent throughout the Windows 8.1 experience.  It only appears when running the desktop or running desktop apps.  It does not appear on the Start Screen or when running any of the Start Screen apps.  In that experience, you have to use the Windows key or the charms menu.  That means the user has to be more aware of what mode they are using the hardware in – for some users that isn’t a big deal but for others it may be very confusing.  Think about your grandma.

A unified operating system experience should be unified, not just between devices but also between operating modes for the same device.

Window 8 – Twenty First Pass: Windows 8.1 Touch Screen Updates

One of the challenges early on with Windows 8 was the heavy emphasis on the touch environment in a world lacking touch devices.  Much has changed over the past year as almost any new device you’d purchase; with the exception of most desktop monitors and some laptops are touch screen devices.  As a result, the touch interface is becoming more and more prevalent.

While that is great for home users and most personal machines the vast majority of business machines still do not have touch screens.  That makes it fun for users who are used to a touch device at home and then get frustrated tapping the screen at work and watching as nothing happens.  This could explain the increase in pen holes in LCD monitors the world over.  This may also create an increase in BYOD as folks get used to and want to maintain their touch environment.

That said the touch features in Windows 8.1 have been improved upon.  I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that some of these features are very similar to operating systems like iOS and Android.

There have been several swiping improvements:
  • You can now swipe down to get to the camera from the lock screen.  Very handy if you use your Surface or other device for taking pictures while locked.
  • In Windows 8, you could swipe an app in from the left and it would take up half the screen.  In Windows 8.1, you can swipe the app in from the left and then drag it to determine how much of the screen you want each app to have.  Windows 8.1 also allows you to have multiple apps doing this based on your resolution.  A Surface can only split the screen and do 2 apps however, a larger monitor can do up to 5 apps depending on the resolution.  Of course, if you were doing this on a larger monitor you wouldn’t be using the touch interface but rather the mouse to drag each app in.
  • Some apps will also automatically launch splitting the screen in side-by-side mode.  This is for things like reading your email and opening a picture.  Instead of your email going away, the screen would split and you’d see the picture in the photo app next to the email app allowing you to automatically view both at once.
  • All apps from the start menu can now be accessed by simply swiping up, but not up from the bottom of the screen, you want to swipe up from above the bottom otherwise you get the bottom menu.  This makes it easy to see All Apps and not just those on the Start Menu.
  • The PC Configuration settings have also been improved so you can control more with the touch interface and slide switches to turn things off.  This means you don’t have to visit the desktop control pane as often.
  • Several of the build in Start Screen apps like Mail and Calendar have also been improve to provide much greater functionality from the touch screen.  I have found both to be very useful when using my Surface without a mouse or keyboard or even the touch pen.
Fortunately you can still do all of this with the mouse.  Granted you have to learn how to do everything 2 different ways but that may help make the transition from touch to non-touch devices either.

The ultimate goal is for Windows 8 and future version to be the all-in-one OS allowing for touch, non-touch, phone, and tablet to all be the same user experience.  Whether Microsoft can pull this off and keep the rest of us going along with it remains to be seen.

Touch or not to touch, that is the question.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Emergency Landing and a Website Failure

When you travel a lot, the odds are in your favor that something is going to happen at some point at some time that delays you, jams you up, leave you stranded somewhere, and generally adds a bit of excitement to your life.

This morning was my morning to catch up on that.  I boarded a Delta flight headed for San Francisco from Indianapolis with a brief stop in Minneapolis.  Our MD-90 aircraft took off and I promptly dozed off.  I was awakened when a flight attendant rushed passed me bumping my shoulder.  A few seconds later, she said we were making an emergency landing in Chicago.

The announcement woke me up and I looked around trying to figure out why.  The ascent had been pretty bumpy due to some weather in the area but I didn’t notice anything else wrong.  She then came back on and said there was a problem in the galley and we would be landing in Chicago in 10 minutes.  She told us not to be afraid but as the flight crew walked up and down the aisle, you could tell they were nervous.

I tried to jump online to inform my faithful followers of the fun I was about to experience but the internet wasn’t on.  Either we never reached 10,000 feet or they left it off due to the emergency. It was difficult to tell what our altitude was as we were flying through clouds and a lot of rain.

With the nose of the plane pointing down we began one of the fastest descents I’ve ever been through on our way to land at O’Hare.  As we descended and all started feeling lighter I felt a tap on my shoulder from the kid sitting behind me.  He had to be a teenager.  I turned around and he had slipped off his noise cancelling headphones and due to the rapid descent had a pressing question.  He said, "Dude, what's going on." Before I could mess with him and say something like, "Nothing much, the plane is just going down." the guy sitting across the aisle from him told him the true story.

Our pilots declared an emergency so after our quick descent we landed with full emergency vehicle escort at O’Hare.  We landed hard, probably due to the plane being heavy with fuel, and then stopped briefly on the runway while the emergency vehicles on the ground surrounded the plane.  The pilot told us to stay seated. 

After a minute, we taxied off the runway and stopped.  The pilot then told us there was an item overheating in the galley and the fire department was going to inspect the plane.  He then reminded us to stay seated. I figured we were good since it was pouring rain outside.

A few minutes later, we started to taxi towards the gate.  The fire trucks stayed right with us.  The pilot told us when we got to the gate to leave anything in the overhead bins behind and quickly exit the plane into the terminal.  In no time, we were at the gate and quickly filing off as firemen walked around the aircraft.

I typically fly with a carry-on bag but this time all I had was my backpack as I’m going to be gone for over a week and had to check my bag.  I grabbed my backpack and walked off the plane.  The jet bridge was full of fire fighters and fire extinguishers.  Once in the terminal I breathed a small sigh of relief and then started working on my next problem – getting from Chicago to San Francisco.

I quickly jumped on my Delta app but was not able to login.  I tried several times but the app wouldn’t work so I wasn’t able to rebook myself. The lines at the gate were rather long as 120 people were also trying to get rebooked.  Therefore, I went old school.  I took a page from my 1997 playbook and actually called the 800 number for Delta while standing in one of the lines.

I found out later that Delta had a complete site failure and that no one could check in for a flight or do anything.  I’m pretty sure the two incidents aren’t related but trying to rebook old school and not being able to look up any data online was interesting to say the least.  Even the airport kiosks weren’t working and were unable to find my confirmation number. 

A quick side note, as an IT person who deals with system failures all the time it was nice to know that even the big guys have major issues. 

I was hoping to catch a direct flight from Chicago to San Francisco but Delta doesn’t have one.  The best bet for me was to continue on with the broken plane once it got fixed to Minneapolis and then catch a later flight to San Francisco.  That also kept me with my bags that were still on the broken plane.  All told, I would end up getting to SFO 3 hours later than originally scheduled.  Not only that, but she also provided me with guaranteed upgrades to first on both legs of the flight, to MSP and to SFO.  It sounded good to me, so I took the deal.  I had my problem solved long before the majority of the folks standing in the long lines.  The only variable was whether they would get the plane fixed in time for me to get to MSP to catch the later flight to SFO.

The folks at Delta in Chicago did a great job keeping us informed.  They replaced the part but they also had another part coming in on another flight from Atlanta just in case the fix they had already completed didn’t completely solve the problem. 

Two and a half hours later, they boarded the plane again to continue.  There were only 27 people left as most had been rebooked and I heard one guy say he wasn’t getting back on that plane no matter what.

When we arrived in Minneapolis, we were all given a $10 food voucher for our trouble.  As I write this I’m on a different MD-90 making my way west.  My thanks to all the folks at Delta who worked hard to keep us safe and get us to our destinations.  I hope that if you ever hear the words “emergency landing” over the PA on a flight you are on that you are treated as professionally as the Delta folks treated us.

Oh, I guess I should finish the story.  Turns out the module just behind the cockpit that controls the flight attendant intercom went bad and ended up melting a few wires.  We saw several of the wires that had the protecting coating melting off.  This module didn’t affect the PA but my guess is since the intercom is important during flight and since it got so hot do close to the flight deck that they thought it best to land quickly and get it fixed.  A fire in the air would have been a very bad thing.

Update: 10/19/13
Yesterday I received an email from the Delta VP of Customer Relations apologizing for the "report of smoke in the cabin" that caused our troubles.  The email acknowledged that such events can be disturbing and said we would each be getting 10,000 miles added to our accounts.  It would appear that Delta gets it.  Not only did they apologize profusely for something that wasn't their fault but they took responsibility and are compensating their customers.  This is why I fly Delta and will continue to do so.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Window 8 - Twentith Pass: Windows 8.1 Upgrade Gotcha's

Since Microsoft relented and finally agreed to give IT Pros access to Windows 8.1 RTM, I was able to install it on my Surface Pro. The install was easy enough. I installed it from a USB stick that contained the ISO files. Why the download is only in an ISO format when the Surface line and most tablets don’t have optical drive is a bit beyond me but it is easy enough to convert to a USB stick.

The install went pretty quick but there are a few gotchas after the upgrade that I don’t fully understand. Here is what to look out for:
  1. The drivers for my Toshiba DynaDock disappeared. They were totally gone. I’m not sure why but I had to reinstall them as there is an August update that includes support for Windows 8.1. I’m not sure if the install removes drivers not compatible with 8.1 or not but I had to reinstall the Toshiba drivers for 8.1 and then the dock started working again.

  2. SkyDrive is majorly updated in 8.1. With Windows 8, I ran the desktop app to keep my SkyDrive folder up-to-date. When I logged in after upgrading, I noticed SkyDrive was no longer an app. Again, the entire app was gone. All that was left in the SkyDrive folder in Programs and Drivers was an install file. The reason for the change is the Start Screen version of SkyDrive included in Windows 8.1 now does all the stuff the desktop app used to have to do. To enable the app to keep your files available offline in the SkyDrive folder on This PC (it is no longer called My Computer) launch SkyDrive from the Start Screen, go to settings from the Charms Menu and then enable Offline Files. Now there is no longer a need for the desktop version, although you can install it and duplicate the effort if you want to.

  3. The Start Button is back but it just opens the Start Screen. What is nice though is the Windows-X command now has a Shutdown and Restart option on it like the old Start menu had. You can also get this by right clicking on the Start Button.

  4. A few other options that are nice:
  • You can now make your Windows Desktop wallpaper your Start Screen image. 
  • You can now boot directly to your desktop and make the desktop your default go-to as opposed to the Start Screen. 
These options are available by right clicking the taskbar and selecting Properties. Then go to the Navigation Tab and look under Start Screen. 
More to come I’m sure as Windows 8.1 gets closer to the public release on October 18. Although most corporate environments are still running Windows XP and 7 it remains to be seen if Microsoft will continue upgrading on an annual basis and if the gap between the real world and the latest releases continues to grow wider.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Window 8 - Nineteenth Pass: Windows 8.1 Fiasco

Why is it that Microsoft can’t seem to get even the simplest of things right with Windows 8?  First, as I’ve mentioned a few times, they really goofed up Windows 8.  Second, they decide to release Windows 8.1 and capitulate a few things by bringing back the Start Button and allowing you to boot directly to the desktop.  Third, they announce Windows 8.1 is done but won’t let the usual folks have it early, you know, developers and folks like me – you know, like they’ve done with every other OS release in their history.  Fourth, they decide to capitulate on that too and now are going to release all flavors of Windows 8.1 (except RT) to developers and IT Pros before the end of the month.

It remains to be seen if Windows 8.1 will solve any of the issues Windows 8 created.  This whole RTM fiasco certainly isn’t going to help adoption rates and get folks moving away from XP and 7.  It seems as though Microsoft is determined to take the hard road each and every time.  You’d think they’d get tired of going to the school of hard knocks on oh so many issues but each time they announce something they later change and do what everyone hoped they would do in the first place.

Rumor is that later this month they are going to announce the Surface 2.  I wonder how much of that announcement will have to be re-announced once they alienate yet another section of their customer base.  I love my Surface Pro, if the Surface Pro 2 has more power then I may upgrade but with their recent record of accomplishment I’m guessing the Surface Pro 2 will be bigger, heavier, slower, come loaded with Windows 3.1, be on back order for 8-10 weeks, have a 1 hour battery life, and be totally text based with the GUI replaced by a batch file menu system.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Apparently I Fall Now

Yesterday I had to work at our west campus and since my wife and kids were out of town I thought I’d get some Panda Express from their location on the west side near Purdue.  I love Panda Express and we eat there often – after this experience I hope they build a drive thru location on the east side of town close to where we live soon.

Things went well enough as I found a close parking spot on the street and went inside.  I always get the same thing at Panda, a 3-entre platter with brown fried rice, orange chicken, beef with broccoli and a third entre that is different each time – in other words, my usual. This time I sampled the potato chicken and it was rather tasty so I added it as my third entre.

She packed the order to go with the brown fried rice, potato chicken, and beef with broccoli in the white Styrofoam to go container and then put the orange chicken in a smaller take out box.  I paid my $8.75 and headed for the car.  This is where things turned ugly and for the life of me, I can’t figure out what happened.

As I crossed the street towards the sidewalk, I noticed a low hanging branch on a tree and thought to myself, “duck your head a little”.  The next thing I knew I was flying forward with my legs desperate to keep up with the top half of my body as I flew across the sidewalk towards a building.  In the split second this happened I realized I wasn’t going to gain control and I needed to stop fighting it and just roll into the fall.  Just like when your car is sliding on the ice, you don’t fight it, you steer into it.  Otherwise, I was going to plow into a building and I was pretty sure the building would win.

So I rolled into it and ended up sitting on the sidewalk with torn pants, a torn shirt, Chinese food everywhere, and a very sore right leg.  A group of students from India came up and before they laughed, asked me if I was ok and helped me up.  Stunned I looked around and tried to figure out what went wrong.  I didn’t find a hole in the ground or anything I could have tripped over and I’m pretty sure no one shoved me.  I was even sober at the time so how did I end up covered in Chinese food sitting on the sidewalk?

The only thing I can figure is that I ducked my head at the same time I stepped up onto the curb.  The shoes I was wearing don’t have much traction and my foot must have slipped off the curb and propelled my top half forward faster than my bottom half could keep up.  I’ve inquired as to if there is any surveillance camera footage of the area around 1pm yesterday and haven’t heard back yet.

I headed home with what food I had left to find that the only thing that survived was the orange chicken since it had been packed in its own box.  The white Styrofoam had opened and thrown the beef with broccoli and the potato chicken all over the sidewalk.  All that stayed in the bag was some brown fried rice, 1 floret of broccoli and 1 piece of chicken.  I dumped that out of the plastic bag onto a plate and had lunch, along with a dose of Ibuprofen.

Today, feeling bad for me, my wife went and got us Panda Express for dinner tonight however, to add insult to my stiff right leg’s injury, the potato chicken is only available at the west side location.  If someone wants to bring me some that’d be great.

Oh, and I tossed the shoes.  Not sure why, just seemed prudent.

Friday, July 19, 2013

An Unlucky Day

Yesterday started out to be a lucky day and then went south fast. I started by having a bowl of Lucky Charms and a cup of coffee. Before heading to the office, and out of respect for my co-workers, I stopped to brush my teeth before leaving the house.

Whilst brushing my cell phone started going crazy getting text messages. I tried ignoring it but my phone kept going off. Thinking it might be important, texts rarely are, I turned to silence the menace. As I turned, I caught the corner of a hand mirror and quickly sent it to the floor. Gravity doing its thing the mirror hit the floor and shattered into the obligatory million pieces.

My 7 years of bad luck began instantly. First, the incoming text messages weren’t from anyone important. Second, while I was clearing out the massive text message thread someone even less important called my cell phone adding to the annoying menace. Third, I wasn’t going to be home until well after the family got home so I needed to stop and clean up the shattered glass and silver flakes. Fourth, when my wife went to get me a replacement mirror the only color Meijer had was bright purple.

Why do I need a hand mirror? I use it to watch the hair thinning on the back of my head.

The moral of the story? Don’t brush your teeth.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Windows 8 - Eighteenth Pass: Is the @Surface Really Built for Business?

One of the most baffling things about the Microsoft Surface Pro is that while the commercials portray the device as a business machine designed for synchronized dancing young professionals who like sound of the keyboard “click” as it attaches to the device the Surface Pro itself is not running a version of Windows 8 designed for the enterprise.

What version of Windows 8 is designed for enterprise users, you ask? Great question. It’s called Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise. Why it doesn’t come on the Surface Pro…well…baffles me. It is probably a marketing ploy to run the same OS flavor as the device is titled. The Surface Pro runs Windows 8 Pro and while that may be cool and all it isn’t functional and all.

Microsoft probably also didn’t want to have yet another flavor of the Surface. We have the RT version and the Pro version. They may not have wanted and Enterprise version because they wanted to stick with shorter version names. I’d suggest they have a Surface ENT version.

Why all the fuss? Another great question. In our enterprise, we use a Microsoft product called Direct Access. Many enterprises the world over use this feature as it allows you to connect your device to your network for file access and management is if the device was actually on your domain without the need for a VPN client or a physical connection to your network. This is great for remote workers and road warrior as their machine is always on the network and always able to phone home without the need for the user to run VPN or authenticate with any other methods.

Windows 8 Pro, as with Windows 7 Pro, doesn’t include Direct Access nor is there any way to add it to the Pro version. Direct Access is only available in Windows 8/7 Enterprise. This brings us back to our question, why is Microsoft marketing a device for business and enterprise users that lacks this key business and enterprise feature.

The news is not all bad though if your company wants to deploy the Surface and use Direct Access. For a small investment of around 2 hours per device you can manually wipe the device, install Windows 8 Enterprise (there is no upgrade from Windows 8 Pro), and then manually reinstall all of the device drivers. In other words, do all those things that Microsoft should have done for you in the first place.

This means the TCO of the Surface just went up IT shops are going to hate when folks bring them in – otherwise it seems the Surface Pro is a perfect fit for business.

That said, I like mine and use it all the time. I work around the lack of Direct Access by using a VPN client however that is slow and requires me to maintain another piece of software and our network to maintain another service. I’m putting up with it because the form factor and touch screen on the Surface work very well for me. That may not be the case for you.

I hope that Microsoft will see the error of their ways and either release the Surface with Windows 8 Enterprise or release an install option to add Direct Access into Windows 8 Pro, thus avoiding the need to start over again with your new hardware. Did I mention the drivers for the Surface are not all located in one place and you have to download them from other users online who have gone to the effort of consolidating them for you?

After all, they have reversed course on the Start Button so maybe this will change to with the next version of the Surface. This just seems like such a simple thing to get right from the beginning. Then again, I don’t work in an office where we dance around clicking our Surface keyboards on in a synchronized dance with multi-colored touch covers.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Windows 8 - BREAKING: The Start Button is Back

At long last the rumors have been confirmed and the Start Button, among other things, is coming back to Windows.  The next version of Window, called Windows 8.1, will include a Start Button on the desktop as well as the option to boot directly to the desktop bypassing the entire Start Screen.

While this is a huge step towards making Windows 8 work on both touch and non-touch devices they seem to be only going about it half heartedly.  For instance, the Start Button is back but can't be turned off, at least as it stands now.  I'd encourage my friends in Redmond to make the Start Button a user configurable option as to whether it is on or off - further helping Windows 8 serve all types of devices.

Lest you get too excited here, while the Start Button is back Microsoft has said it doesn't work the same as the Start Button and Start Menu do in Windows 7.  It remains to be seen how that specifically will play out.

At least we know it is coming back.  I wonder if any business will also now return to Windows 8 or if Microsoft waiting too long and already burned those bridges by not listening to us in the first place?

Windows 8 - Seventeenth Pass: The @Surface in the Real World

Where I think the Surface shines is in travel. It is great on a plane and fits very well on a tray table even if the person in front of you reclines. It is light and can be used typing on the screen or with the touch cover. The only challenge is using it if your tray table is in the armrest and not on the seat in front of you – for instance sitting at a bulkhead. I found the tray tables there didn’t move out far enough so I was a bit scrunched trying to type and since the Surface is support by the kick stand and not by a hinge to the keyboard like a laptop you can’t really push it any further away. When in this situation I typically just type on the screen.

The brightness of the Surface screen can’t complete with bright sunlight on a beach or in the desert. Even all the way up it is hard to see and at full power really drains your battery. Of course using the Surface in an office environment I turn the brightness down to 25% to save battery and keep my co-workers from seeing what I’m saying about them on Twitter – they can find out with everyone else. In fairness, the iPad also doesn’t do very well in bright sunlight.

I’ve found the battery life to be acceptable although with an active cooling system it isn’t near what it could be or what my iPad is. It lasts on most flights and if it doesn’t last on a long flight, I always have my iDevices to fall back on.

As a result of having an active cooling system the back of the case does get very warm. It is important not to store it in a case unless it is in standby or sleep mode, or just plain off. Otherwise, it can get very hot. I’m hoping in the next release of the device they are able to go to a passive cooling system, which will increase battery life and keep the unit much cooler.

The more I use my Surface the more Windows 8 makes sense. The touch screen is what really sells it however, the majority of folks running Windows 8, or that will be running Windows 8, are not using a touch screen. Even the ribbon in Office makes sense because they are large and easy to tap without having to use the pen or mouse.

Despite that, and I’m sure due to my previous posts on this subject, the rumor mill is very strong that SP1 for Windows is going to bring back the Start Button and allow you to boot directly to the desktop and bypass the Start Screen. This change will make Windows 8 much more capable of fulfilling its dual role as a tablet OS and a desktop OS. It remains to be seen if these rumors come true.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Windows 8 - Sixteenth Pass: Getting used to Using the @Surface

Using the Surface seemed easy enough but there are a few things that take a little getting used to. Like the keyboard.

I purchased the Touch Pro keyboard, the one that has actual keys you can type on as opposed to the soft touch one where the keys are just slightly raised on the cover. I really like it but it did take some getting used to.

First, the layout is different. The Home, End, and Del keys are not where you’d expect them to be and even now, I have to think about where they are. Second, the backspace key isn’t in the top right corner; I’m constantly hitting Del when I am going for Backspace. Third, the touchpad, while nice, isn’t nice and I prefer to use my Bluetooth mouse whenever possible.

The touchpad requires two hands to click and drag and isn’t as tap sensitive as I’d like. It also suffers from the problem that is universal to all touchpads in that if your wrist bumps it your mouse goes places you’d rather it not. I had an old HP laptop many years ago that had a button on the keyboard itself that allowed you to disable the touchpad to avoid wrist bumps. I haven’t seen that on a laptop since.

The other interface feature to get used to is the pen. While the pen is nice, I find that I don’t use it very much at all. Even when using the Surface as a tablet without the keyboard and using the touch screen interface for things I don’t find myself hunting for the pen. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to an iPad, which doesn’t have a pen, but in the case of the Surface, I don’t find it critical to have. Those that draw a lot may want one but for me it isn’t a big deal and the buttons and touch screen apps are large enough that my finger works fine.

The other challenge is where do you store the pen? If you aren’t charging the Surface the pen fits nicely and holds using magnets in the charging port but if you want to charge the Surface and use the pen there is no on board storage and the pen has to be carried, and then probably lost, separately.

A little tip on the pen: to right click press the button on the side and then tap the screen. The button on the side of the pen is the same part that sticks in the charging slot to hold the pen to the side of the Surface.

There is one big drawback to the touch covers, whether the hard one or the soft one – they tend to drop out a lot while in use. Several firmware updates have been released but I’ve noticed the problem continue on mine especially when I’m working on a soft surface, like typing on my lap or in bed. Randomly the touchpad and the keyboard will stop responding. In order to fix it I have to press the Windows key and go back to the start screen. Opening the desktop again usually fixes this. Sometime it happens when I’m working on a hard surface but that’s not as frequent, hopefully due to the firmware updates.

Another fix is to press the keys harder, which makes me wonder about the longevity of their sensitivity. Sometimes that works and sometimes my wife thinks I’m mad at my keyboard.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

14 Years With Me

Today my wife and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. That is remarkable because that means my wife has lived with me for 14 years.

As is the case for all men, I married up and I shudder to think where I’d be today if it weren’t for my wife. So, since she has lived with me for 14 years I’m going to brag on her a bit.

She's smokin' hot.

My wife works a full time job, 50+ hours a week in addition to fixing all the mistakes I make while helping raise our children. She works because she wants to, not because she has to and she beautifully balances her career and ministry with our family.

In addition to that, she helps me tag team maintaining our home, although to be completely honest I don’t tag her out very often.

My wife is low key. She isn’t worked up very easily and she isn’t full of drama, in fact, she is the opposite of a drama queen.

She's smokin' hot.

She isn’t selfish. She shares our family with folks all over the place and doesn’t grumble about my being gone, working long hours, or occasionally having to miss birthdays and anniversaries. She let me miss our anniversary one year and her birthday another year attending space shuttle launches.

My wife is an awesome mother. She helps teach our kids what’s important in life and what isn’t. She makes sure we have fun together as a family.

She's smokin' hot.

She sets a good example of what it means to work hard, serve hard, and love your family completely. She also sets a good example of what it means to have a good attitude.

My wife is an awesome cook. The only evidence you need there is to look at the size of my belly.

She's smokin' hot.

I look forward to the rest of my life with my wife, although I do hope the belly trend subsides somewhere along the way.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Windows Blue, or Green, or Periwinkle – Just Tell us Already

Can someone explain to my why Microsoft won’t just come out and say what they plan to do with Windows 8.1, or Windows Blue, or whatever other color they are calling it? I fail to see the benefit of keeping us all in suspense as to whether or not they are going to bring back the start button and allow us to boot straight to the desktop.

It seems to me that Microsoft and their users would benefit from knowing what changes they are going to make so they can plan how they might implement Windows 8 in their IT shops, enterprises, and places of work. One of the biggest holdups seems to be the lack of a start button and difficulty in re-training users. If Microsoft would tell us now those plans could be made and sales of Windows 8 might increase.

The only reason I can come up with to withhold this information is that Microsoft doesn’t know what they plan to do yet. They admit they’ve created a problem, they admit something needs to be done but perhaps this close to the release of Windows Blue (or 8.1 or whatever they’re calling it) they still haven’t made up their minds.

I’d encourage them to make us all happy, allow the user to set the mode they want, announce it quickly, so we can all start planning. Summer is a great time for schools to make upgrades and not telling them until the end of June really jams up their schedules.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Codeshare Secrets

When you spend a lot of time on the road, or more accurately, in the air, you learn a few tricks to dealing with the airlines that make spending time in the air possible. One recent learning experience for me was with the whole code sharing of flights between airlines.

As airlines merge and try to compete and increase their offerings codeshares are a big way for them to be bigger than they are and serve more cities than they really do. I fly Delta almost exclusively and they have a codeshare with Alaska Airlines that I’ve found myself using numerous times. I book the flight through delta.com but part of the trip is on an Alaska Airlines plane operated by an Alaska crew.

This really isn’t anything new; it has just become more prevalent as airlines continue to merge. Eventually when they have all merged together and there is only one airline this problem will go away but for now it is something we all deal with.

In the ideal world you don’t even know the codeshare of the flight exists. Your bags transfer seamlessly, you go from gate to gate without issue and as a passenger the only difference is plane livery and crew uniforms. However, there are several things that don’t seamlessly integrate because after all, remember, you are dealing with two independent companies who have just decided to play nice with each other.

In my case the issue arose due to my seat preference. I like to sit in the economy plus section on longer flights to the west coast. On Delta you pay for this privilege but on Alaska they reserve those rows for their mileage elite and premier status customers. My question was how do I get an economy plus seat because on the Delta website all the seats on my Alaska codeshare flight were taken and it wouldn’t even let me select a seat at all.

Here are some tricks:
  • Even though you bought your codeshare through one airline you actually have two separate reservations and confirmation codes, one for each airline. Find out what both of these codes are and then login to the website of the codeshare operator and you can see more seats that are available.
  • In this case I had to actually call Alaska Airlines to get my confirmation number with them. The Delta website only shows your Delta confirmation number but once I got my Alaska confirmation number their site showed both numbers. I also called Delta and found them to be of little help as they didn’t have either my Alaska confirmation or ticket number. I waited 24 minutes to talk to someone at Delta and only 1 minute to talk to someone at Alaska.
  • When you check in for your flight on your primary carrier you may not get all the seat options available due to difference in how each airline allocates seats. For instance, Delta charges for better seats while Alaska holds them for elites and premiers up until 24 hours before flight time. At that point it’s a free for all.
  • In order to cheat the system I actually checked in twice to get the seat I wanted. I checked in on Delta for my Delta flights and then went to the Alaska website and checked in again just for their segment so I could get the seat I wanted.
  • Remember, the 24 hour window starts from the local time of your flight for that segment. That’s why when I first checked in on the Delta site it still didn’t show me the seats I wanted. I waited another 3 hours until my Alaska flight was within check in range and tried on delta.com again and it showed me more seats but it did not let me pick them. I went to the Alaska website and quickly and easily got the seat I wanted. Granted I had a boarding pass from Delta for their flight and Alaska for their flight but at least I got the seat I wanted. Trust me, on longer flights across the country it is well worth it. 
Codeshare flights definitely have a benefit for both passengers and airlines. I personally prefer Alaska flights to Delta flights as the service on board is better, the crews are nicer, and they offer hot food for purchase in economy, the only US airline to do that I think.

Disclaimer: While this process has worked for me it is important to note that even though you can change your seat on the codeshare flights and print a boarding pass with your new seat the Delta site and the Alaska sites will still show you in your old seat.  I tweeted with Alaska to confirm my seat had changed and they confirmed it had, and their website showed it changed once I opened my actual reservation but the apps for both airlines never reflected my seat being changed.

Back to the (insert your own adjective here) skies.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Windows 8 - Fifteenth Pass: Setting up the @Surface

Unpacking and setting up my Surface was relatively easy and enjoyable experience. The packaging was well done and the box is worthy of keeping for when the next generation model comes out and you want to pass your current Surface on down the line. It is obvious that Microsoft has learned a few things from other companies that do a great job with packaging.

I also found the packaging to be very durable. I purchased my Surface in Phoenix and didn’t open it until I got home. The box was placed in my checked luggage and flown across the country. It held up well with no signs of wear and tear from airline baggage handlers throwing my suitcase around.

The next step was to setup my account on the Surface and activate it with my Microsoft account, for me that’s an MSN account. I’ll eventually add my Surface to a domain but for now, it just has a local account. This was a bit confusing as I wasn’t sure if I needed to create a local account first and if I did if that would merge with my MSN account or create a duplicate account on my Surface.

Turns out you create your local account and then when you connect it to your Microsoft account it merges them together so you end up with a single, unified account and not multiples or duplicates. Since I already have Windows 8, running on my laptop it didn’t take long before those settings started to populate on my Surface once I connected me new local Surface account with my Microsoft account. Isn’t the cloud great?

Setting up my apps was very easy however; it did not automatically download my apps from my other Windows 8 machine. Rather it listed them in My Apps in the App Store and I had to select the ones I wanted on my Surface. That wasn’t difficult and it’s great that you don’t have to pay for the apps multiple times to use them provided they are all connected through your Microsoft account. Most of my setup challenges came from learning how to navigate the Surface, use the keyboard, and figure out which apps were happening on the touch screen and which apps were happening on the desktop and which apps could do both.

Windows 8 Pro on the Surface activated itself without effort. I would suggest doing that early on in the process otherwise, you get zillions of prompts that are constantly preventing you from continuing and enjoying the setup process.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

18,000 Browser Favorites

In my playing around with Windows 8 I found a small issue that can come up if you attempt to sync your IE favorites using both Windows 8 browser sync and iCloud.

My current setup is a Windows 7 PC at work, a Windows 8 laptop, a Windows 8 Surface, an iPhone and an iPad.  Before Windows 8 came along I used iCloud to sync IE favorites between my work PC, laptop, iPhone and iPad.  When I added my Surface Pro I turned on the browser sync through my Microsoft account and I setup iCloud so my pictures would still appear on my Surface and my favorites would come forward.

Turns out if you do this you are setting yourself up for a bit of trouble.  I understand I could just use Chrome everywhere but for various reasons I still use IE for some things.

Apparently the iCloud browser sync causes the Windows 8 sync to keep creating duplicates favorites.  I would end up with Shortcut (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) and so on.  Same would happen to folders.  It didn’t stop until I turned off the Windows 8 browser sync.  Once I did that things went back to normal and I now have me IE favorites on my Surface, laptop, Windows 7 desktop, iPhone and iPad – all through iCloud.

Granted turning off the browser sync means my history and passwords don’t sync with IE but that’s why I use Chrome and that’s better than having 18,000 favorites.

I’ve searched the net and tried to find documentation on this and maybe even a work around but so far I haven’t found anything.  The fix is simple enough but I was hoping for a way where I could have my cake and eat it too.  Since I still use IDevices I still need iCloud but I guess it’s too much to ask that they play nice together.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Morning with my Wife, a Random old Lady, and my Haircut

Today was one of those days in my life that I’m certain my biographers will struggle with in the future.  It all started yesterday when my wife and I were discussing my pending haircut.  As you know if you pay too close of attention to my life, I get my haircut every 2 weeks.  Heather wanted me to get something different done as she thought my hair was thinning too much on the top and was starting to look like a comb over.

I asked her what she wanted me to have done so I could tell the lady who cuts my hair.  To me a haircut is more function over fashion but I wanted to do my best to please my wife.  As Heather explained what she wanted, I started to get that deer-in-the-headlights look in my eyes and Heather opted to come with me instead of relying on me to get it right.  She knows me too well.

Before my haircut this morning, I had to record a few radio commercials.  Back in the mid-1990’s I worked for a group of radio stations in Lafayette, IN.  While we were dating sometimes, Heather would come in to the studios and bring me dinner and such.  Every once in a while I still voice some commercials so this morning we stopped by.  It was fun to take a stroll down memory lane with my wife.  She was able to see how the station has changed over the past decade and we were able to remember all the spots where we used to smooch during long songs and commercial breaks.  Maybe someday I'll posts some of my old demo reels.

After the recording session (I did it in 1 take thank you very much) we headed off to get my haircut.  I knew things were going to be different when we walked in to balloons and birthday cake.  One of the ladies who cuts hair was celebrating her birthday.  I sat down in the chair and Heather started to explain how she wanted my hair cut in order to try to cover my thinning top. 

As she started to cut my hair the older lady in the chair next to me, let’s call her Louise, was checking out how much hair I did or did not have.  Everyone, Louise, Heather, and the lady that cuts my hair agreed that my hair was thinning and it was getting harder and harder to hide.  At first I thought Louise was out to support my wife’s goal of getting my haircut to hide the balding but then she came over and started running her fingers through my thinning hair.  I called out, “Heather, there is a strange lady running her hands through my hair!”  By the time it was over everyone there had touched my head as if I was some sort of good luck charm.  Everyone was laughing, I can only assume at me and not with me.

Then the other lady who cuts hair their came over to indeed confirm that my hair was thinning.  Again, being a function over fashion kinda guy I told Heather we should just buzz it all nice and short – something my wife has not been in favor of.  This is when Louise changed teams and started helping me out.  She walked over to Heather and said, “Honey, grow up.  There’s nothing up there and getting it cut shorter will be better.  Just deal with it.”  This was the final push Heather needed.  She finally agreed that my hair should be cut shorter so Heather, Louise, and the lady that actually cuts my hair agreed on the current length in a goal to not create a comb over but also to not totally buzz my head, as accordingly to Heather, my scalp is ugly.

So the next time you see me, please note that while my hair is shorter and more to my liking it was not totally my choice, but rather my new best friend, Louise.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My Fame has Reached a New Level - as an Astronaut

Recently I had an experience with Twitter that could be either amusing, terrifying, confusing or all the above.  I haven’t decided where I land but I have decided to share this experience, for good or for bad.  At the very least, I hope the perpetrators get a good laugh out of it.

A few weeks ago I checked into a hotel in Bothell, WA, a suburb just north of Seattle.  I’ve stayed at this hotel many times before and checked in not thinking anything special about this time.

I got to my room around 10:45pm and shortly after at 10:55pm the phone in my room started to ring.  I figured it was someone in my traveling party calling so I picked it up.

A young voice on the other end asks if I was “Jonathan Smith.”  I said yes.  He then asked, “Are you an astronaut?”  I found that an interesting question as I recently spoke to an elementary school of K-6 grade students about space and some of my NASA experiences and I often found myself reminding them that I am not an astronaut.

I responded that I was not an astronaut.  The young man then asked why I had a NASA logo on my Twitter picture.  I explained that it was called a Twibbon and that anyone could get one.  He again asked if I was an astronaut and I said no.  Then there was 10 seconds of nothing although I could hear a little scuffling.  Then the voice told me I could hang up now.  I said nothing and 10 seconds later, he hung up.

I called down to the front desk and asked if they had caller ID available for incoming calls.  I was told they didn’t and when I explained what happened the desk agent told me that they had asked for me as if they knew me.  That made sense if they were looking at my Twitter profile, which is public after all.

I told the desk agent that it was either a prank call or some kids who were trying to talk to an actual astronaut and were sorely disappointed when I answered the phone.  The hotel manager then got involved and they placed a block on outside calls to my room by placing my on their VIP list.

Unfortunately, for my young friends I was not able to make their night, however they made mine as I had finally arrived and my fame required the hotel to treat me like an A-lister.  I'm posting this from yet another hotel so who knows what this stay will hold. Should I warn the front desk now?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

TweetDeck’s #EpicFail

Yesterday TweetDeck announced that they are forgetting their humble beginnings and screwing over most of their users by dropping support for all mobile apps and dropping support for Facebook.

Instead of reading the rest of this rant if you use the Adobe Air app for TweetDeck or still use TweetDeck on your iPhone or iPad you may want to start looking for a new option.  You only have until May to find something else as the apps will disappear and stop working around that time.

TweetDeck came on the scene and actually made Twitter useful back in 2008 and 2009.  Its integration of Facebook originally allowed users to post the same thing to post social networking sites without having to enter things twice.  Then later editions allowed you to see your responses and feedback on both social networks from a single place.  Today’s announcement sends TweetDeck back to 2009 as it drops Facebook support and limits Twitter interaction strictly to a desktop.

Even the way they announced it was a bit insulting:

“In many ways, doubling down on the TweetDeck web experience and discontinuing our app support is a reflection of where our TweetDeck power-users are going.  Over the past few years, we’ve seen a steady trend towards people using TweetDeck on their computers and Twitter on their mobile devices.  This trend coincides with an increased investment in Twitter for iPhone and Twitter for Android –– adding photo filters and other editing capabilities, revamping user profiles and enhancing search.  That said, we know this applies to most of our users –– not all of them.  And for those of you who are inconvenienced by this shift, our sincere apologies.”

So they are saying that since they think we use Twitter on our mobile devices and TweetDeck on our computers that we don’t need TweetDeck for our mobile devices.  Well, duh.  The fact that they haven’t updated TweetDeck for any mobile platform in over a year kinda already said that.  Plus this comparing TweetDeck to the Twitter apps isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison.  Twitter only works with Twitter while TweetDeck works, at least for now, with both Twitter and Facebook.

They also say:

“We’ll also discontinue support for our Facebook integration.”

What?  That’s it?  You are abandoning one of the key features that make you what you are and all you give it is eight words?  The primary reason I use TweetDeck on my desktop is because it can post to both Twitter and Facebook and because TweetDeck posts to Facebook directly as opposed to going through the Facebook API there aren’t any rate limits imposed, like what HootSuite struggled with.  You can read more about that here. 

Because of the limits Facebook imposes on HootSuite, I’ve used TweetDeck on my desktops and laptops and HootSuite on my iDevices.  That has worked well but now it appears I’ve got to go back to HootSuite and then when I get limited go back to posting directly to each social network.  It appears TweetDeck wants to be like Google + and not play nice with anyone.

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming.  In 2011 when Twitter bought TweetDeck, I figured the days of Facebook integration were numbered.  I also can’t say I’m totally surprised they are dropping the mobile apps instead of updating them for Twitter API v1.1.  Twitter has made no secret of the fact that they want to limit API access and close the ecosystem so you have to get access to Twitter only through them.  The fact that they bought TweetDeck at least keeps that platform alive but everyone else is going to be subject to huge rate limits.

In addition, since being acquired by Twitter, TweetDeck has slowly dropped of connections to other social networks like Foursquare, MySpace, and LinkedIn, to name a few.

I predict that in the near feature all the social networks will be islands not connected to each other at all.  Perhaps Google + has it right after all and instead of technology making our lives easier and saving us time we will all be investing more time in updated our social networks separately.  That or one of the big three will die a slow death as folks eventually get bored trying to update them individually.

I recently bought a Microsoft Surface tablet and was excited that I had a tablet that could run TweetDeck.  That excitement has been short lived as I’ m back to looking for an app that works across platforms and isn’t subject to rate limiting from Twitter or Facebook. 

Way to go technology!  Thanks for helping us take one-step forward and two steps back.  Seems before too long we won’t be able to post anything to Twitter unless we are standing on our heads, rubbing our bellies and jumping up and down when we do it.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Window 8 - Fourteenth Pass: The Surface Plunge

After a lot of research I finally took the plunge and purchased a Surface Pro.  As you know I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best hardware application that maximizes the touch screen abilities of Windows 8, among other things.

I'm currently in Phoenix and had the opportunity to visit a physical Microsoft store.  The closet real store to me is in Chicago and the store in Indy is just a pop-up store so it only has Microsoft hardware. The benefit to being able to spend time in a physical store is that Microsoft wisely sells their hardware and hardware from other manufacturers.  That's smart as it gave me the chance to play not only with the Surface but with the Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Sony, and Lenovo options I've been exploring.

My biggest concern was RAM as the Surface is limited to only 4gb of RAM while the competition could go up to 8gb of RAM with varying form factors. My other concern, due to the amount of travel I do, was weight.  My goal is to lighten my load and not make my backpack heavier.

A friend at the conference I'm attending pointed out that the majority of the time 4gb of RAM, for what I'm doing will be plenty and if not and paging is required for memory the SSD HD makes it fast enough for most needs.  That helps relieve my fears about wanting more than 4gb of RAM.

The sales guy at the store did a great job with the company line on why the Surface is better.  He used the Apple model, Microsoft owns the hardware from the bottom up so the Surface is the best option as it was built for Windows 8.  Again, that sounds just like Apple and why iOS only runs on Apple hardware.  That does make a bit of sense.

The other factor was weight and the Surface was lighter than most of the other options on the table.  It also had the ability to go completely without the keyboard while other hardware either had the keyboard permanently attached or had a much heavier detachable keyboard.

I opted to go with the Touch keyboard vs. the type cover.  I'm pretty good typing on the glass on my iPad but there is no doubt in my mind that a physical keyboard is faster for me.  I also purchased a case so I can protect the Surface and keyboard while having a single way to carry the device, keyboard, pen, and power adapter.

So now the Beta test begins.  Can I use a dock and replace my desktop and laptop with the Surface Pro?  Can I find a dock that works great with 2 screens?  Can I figure out how to type on the glass because the Surface doesn't lay flat at a short angle like the iPad does for typing on the glass?  With 16 hours of flying ahead of me is the Surface Pro as easy to use as my iPad on a plane?  How does the battery life hold out?

All these questions and more to be answered soon.  Stay tuned and be sure to share your experiences.  If you've already figured something out I don't want to reinvent that wheel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Relocating a Database (Shelby)

If you've ever had to relocate your Shelby Systems database to another server then you might want to continue reading.  Shelby Systems is a Church Management database used by a lot of churches and non-profits.  I've had to move our Shelby database to a different server twice.  The first time I had to move it was in crisis mode because the hard drives in the server had failed.  Once we rebuilt the data we relocated it to a new server and the following article was very helpful.


The second time we moved the database to our new virtual sequel server cluster.  This move was a bit more challenging as the above article was written for Windows XP clients and not Windows 7 clients, which is what we run.

Ideally the above article on their Community is all you would need to know but for Windows 7 the location of some key files changed and that made the process a lot more challenging.  The biggest thing to note that is not in their article are the changes to various INI files in the DAT folder.

All Shelby installs have an ssv5.dat folder and an ssv5.prg folder.  Inside these folders are a few INI files that it would be good to check and confirm that you've changed the server paths and IP address to point to your new server.  Then all you would need to do to update the clients is change the shortcut on the client to point to the new database server.  This works well except on Windows 7 machines.  Depending on how you have Windows 7 configured for your users (local admins, not, redirected profiles, etc.) there is another set of INI files that need to be updated.

I did everything listed in the article but I couldn't get any reports to run.  This is the error I kept getting.

The client Event Viewer then showed an application event stating that PowerMerge could not find the report path.  It then listed the wrong report path.  It wasn't until I found this second copy of the INI file that I knew why the wrong path was being used.

In C:\Windows there is a formsetini file that I had manually updated.  There is a second copy of the file located in the user's profile at C:\Users\%usersname%\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Windows.  This file is the one that was not being updated by the application and it wasn't until I manually updated this file that the clients were able to run reports again.

The C:\windows\formset.ini file can only be changed if you are running Shelby as the admin.  Otherwise the local profile version of the file is what the software looks for.  The C:\Windows version is used when you login to Shelby as a new user and is copied to that users profile on the local machine.

We have many clients running this program so to make it easier I used Group Policy Preferences to automatically update the files on all our clients.  This policy will then allow me to easily make this change again should we for whatever reason have to relocate to another SQL server.

It took me hours to figure this out and get our reports working again, if I was smarter it might not have taken so long.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Window 8 - Thirteenth Pass: Windows To Go

Another creative way to handle the hardware issues I mentioned in my last post is Windows To Go. This basically allows you to place your entire Windows 8 environment on a USB drive and take it with you wherever you go. Regardless of the hardware you are using so long as it has a USB drive you can run Windows 8 with all of your settings and apps booting off the USB port.

It's a pretty cool concept that could help you work around hardware issues as well as take your environment easily between home and work regardless of hardware changes. At the launch event however the demo for Windows To Go failed. Plus I'm sure many network admins will prevent corporate users from taking their entire environment, including apps, home with them for numerous valid and invalid privacy and security reasons.

Regardless the potential is there for this to be very cool. I could keep using my Lenovo T400 with a 250gb SSD HD, 8gb of RAM and run Windows 8 in my work environment while still keeping the local version running that I have now. Granted this doesn't solve any immediate hardware issues or allow me to take advantage of the touch screen options but it does make trying new hardware much easier. I can get a device; take my environment with me from device to device until I find something I like without having to set everything up over and over again.

The future of this is exciting.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Window 8 - Twelfth Pass: New Hardware Options

If you're a regular reading of this blog, and why would you be, please let me know if you are, you know that I have a 6 year old Lenovo ThinkPad T400 laptop. As you also know Windows 8 has been released and presents a whole bunch of new features that are hardware related, like touch screens.

That puts folks like me in a real dilemma when it comes to upgrading hardware. Do I upgrade now with what's presently available or do I wait and see what new hardware options come out over the next few months? The Microsoft Surface is of definite interest to me but it is very limited in growth potential. It is a one-size-fits-all piece of hardware that has no future growth potential. It can't be upgraded, you can't get it with a bigger processor or more RAM, the screen size is set, etc. That may work well for most but I'm trying to find a piece of hardware that is both the best tablet experience out there but also the best laptop experience out there.

Windows 8 is best experienced with a touch screen. The upside of having both a desktop OS and a tablet OS together in a single operating system is that with the right hardware you can use it in any environment. On a plane I exclusively use my iPad. It is small, light, and easy to use no matter what seat I'm in or if the person in front of me is reclined or not. I'm also pretty quick typing on glass so not having a keyboard allows me to enjoy my beverage and keep working with room to spare on my tray table.

This changes when I get to my hotel room or am working at home. There I prefer a regular keyword and mouse. I have much more space on my desk and can get a lot done in a more traditional setting. Doing more complex tasks is simpler having access to traditional desktop style hardware.

Taking advantage of the beauty of everything combined into one in Windows 8 means that if there was a piece of hardware that could do all the above would mean I'd have one less device weighing down my backpack. I'd have a device that had 6-8gb of RAM, a screaming processor, at least 4 USB ports, a keyboard, a tablet screen for portability that detaches from the keyboard, a decent graphics processor, a long life battery, at least a 150gb SSD HD, and very light weight.

It doesn't appear that I'm dreaming. There are some new pieces of hardware that are starting to come out but it seems we are on the beginning of these releases. Again, the Surface is too limiting for what I'm looking for in terms of a full powered laptop replacement that functions as a tablet. While the Windows 8 touch screen options really mess with a typical desktop user in a combo configuration they start to come to life.

Toshiba, Sony, and Lenovo currently have hybrid devices on the market with many more to come. The challenge becomes do I wait or do I buy something now? If I buy now which one is best? I've played with a few of the options and I like what I've seen but I also like what I'm hearing is coming next.

Granted new technology is a moving target. The software part of this has landed, at least for the time being, now to see what the hardware will do.

If you have hardware that you like please comment and let me know what you've got and why you got it. I start to hit the road pretty hard again later next month. Do I buy something out there now or would it be worth it for me to wait until later this spring to get a device that will better meet my needs over the long haul? I can handle a few more months of my heavy T400 and my iPad.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Windows 8 - Eleventh Pass: Start Screen Email vs Desktop Email

One of the challenges with Windows 8 is that many of the same apps we use every day come in two flavors for Windows 8. One is the Start Screen, or old Metro style, that runs on the Surface RT, and the other is a full desktop version of the app.

A few examples include Skype, SkyDrive, and Email. So what’s the difference between apps for the Start Screen and apps for the desktop? Do you need both? What about disk space of running the same app twice on your traditional laptop or desktop?

For starters, there is a big difference. Start Screen apps work on a small cache and prefer to be online. Start Screen apps are also the only apps that can provide notification icons on the Windows 8 lock screen. Those are the little icons below the time and date when the computer is locked. However, these apps are also limited in functionality, as they need to be online and designed for touch screen functionality.

In terms of email, you have the default Start Screen email app and you have Outlook. Outlook is my preferred email client however, Outlook (any version) doesn’t have Live Tile that can update to show you recent messages, Outlook can’t update a lock screen icon with the number of new messages you have, and Outlook can’t provide a fade in/fade out notification on the Start Screen in Windows 8. Outlook can only provide a fade in/fade out notification down above the taskbar if you are in the Windows 8 desktop.

Conversely the Windows 8 Start Screen email app can do all of the above but how much disk space does it take up? My Outlook profile is 3-4 GB and I definitely didn’t want to have two PST files containing the same Outlook profile on my laptop.

The default Start Screen Email app doesn’t take up any disk space. I set it up to access the same Exchange account that Outlook accesses and my disk space didn’t change at all. The reason being the email app works online and doesn’t cache very much. The downside to that being if you aren’t online you won’t see much of your email but the Start Screen email app assumes you are always online via a Wi-Fi or cellular connection on a touch screen type device like the Surface.

So my recommendation is if you have a cloud based email account that you run both the Start Screen Email app and Outlook so you can have the best of all the above worlds. That way you can access your email whether you are online or offline, can take advantage of all the Windows 8 notification mechanisms, have easy access on a traditional piece of hardware, and maximize your access to email if you are using a touch screen only or hybrid device.

Oddly enough, the Start Screen app notices pop up several seconds before any Outlook notices.

Similarly, you may want to run both the desktop version and Start Screen version of Skype and SkyDrive. For example, with SkyDrive, the Start Screen app doesn’t download and store anything. It simply provides you with online access to your SkyDrive files. If you want your files downloaded and updated to the SkyDrive folder on your laptop/desktop then you will also need to run the desktop version of the app.

There are also benefits to running both version of Skype especially as Windows Live Messenger will be retired the first quarter of 2013 according to Microsoft.

In other words, with the variety of hardware types available to run Windows 8 and the various methods of interacting with it you will want to research based on the type of hardware you plan to use what the benefits are to running each type of Windows 8 app. This is all part of the fun when you try to combine too many uses into a single platform.