Windows 8 Release Preview

Aside from being a "tech enthusiast" I am an outlier in Microsoft’s core target audience. The boundaries I push in Windows 7 (UNCs, Offline Folders, Live Mesh) etc. aren’t that normal but they are what make me like the Windows experience versus an Apple experience. As it currently stands in the Release Preview, Windows 8 deprecates my power user experience making a Mac an equally appealing and for once a truly viable option. I’m actually quite floored and saddened by this having been a Microsoft evangelist for more than two decades. I kept hoping that subsequent milestone builds (developer preview, consumer preview, release preview) that somehow these functional gaps would be fixed but that never materialized. What you see now is largely what you’ll get then (at RTM).

There’s a part of me that wishes I could keep all of the new features that appear in the classic Windows desktop (task manager, copying/moving files) and never have to use the Metro start screen. You might think that I don’t like learning new things which couldn’t be further from the truth. If it improves my productivity I’ll embrace it wholeheartedly. Over the past 15 years I like leveraging the incredible depth of knowledge I have about Windows. The only place that knowledge is useful at all is in legacy desktop. I was never in-love with the start menu but I find it much more simple than the Metro start screen. Welcome to my life as an "outlier."

While Windows 8 has been dissected by the most knowledgeable (Paul Thurrott) to the people who wouldn’t know technology if their robot tied them to a bed and beat them, I will offer my two cents.  If you know an answer/workaround to any of my comments, please let me know.  I love being unblocked. 

Things I like:

  • The home screen with next calendar appointment is nice. Getting to the login screen is more cumbersome than it should be. Fortunately, fingerprint logon negates the need.
  • Live tiles are nice. Ripping off (ahem, sharing intellectual property with) Windows Phone 7 has paid big dividends.
  • Copying and moving files in Windows has never been better.
  • Hyper-V support to test Windows Server is great. It eliminates the need for dual-booting (I know I could run VMWare vBang or Parallels but I’m cheap)
  • On a convertible tablet (in laptop mode) being able to touch and swipe the screen works very well. Especially when the machine is truly on your lap. I still think a touch display in an office setting is very unnatural (see my previous Windows 8 post).
  • The new task manager is fantastic except for my complaint below.
  • As Windows apps slowly convert to Metro apps (it’ll take 15 years so don’t break out the party hats too soon) I wonder if large amounts of RAM will still be needed? As you can see, there are four suspended apps but the PC is only using 19% of the PC’s total system memory. Suspended apps usually show less than a I can understand suspending apps when the PC is getting close to paging to disk but why suspend apps when there’s loads of unused memory left?

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The one upside is awakening a suspended app is so far it happens very quickly. Hopefully, that responsiveness is always like that as I load up the PC with more Metro apps. At that same time I can’t help but feel that my PC’s abundant memory is going to waste. Time to load a VM!

Things I don’t like:

  • Discoverability of using a Microsoft Account (FKA, Windows Live ID, .NET ID, Passport, etc.) in a legacy NTLM such as accessing file shares (e.g. \\server\foo). If it weren’t for Paul Thorrott’s excellent tip I never would have known that I had to use Vault to store a Windows credential. Without adding a Vault Windows credential when I log onto the Microsoft Account  account I couldn’t get to any of the server shares. Perhaps Homegroup eliminates the need but workgroup users like me will have to do a search to fix what formerly “just worked.”
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  • Even if you do login with a Microsoft Account many of the app preview apps such as Finance and Weather do not automatically sync your settings. Obviously the OS is beta and the apps are "previews" but I’m shocked that Microsoft hasn’t hired a consultant (this happens a lot) to show off just what sync means. Apple sure as heck does on their iCloud advertisements!
  • Discoverability is horrible. How do you shutdown your PC with Win8? A: Windows Key + I or Ctrl-Alt-Delete !? That is certainly top of mind. Perhaps this is Microsoft’s way of forcing users to walk away from their PC and let their PCs go to sleep after some timeout period (shutdown and restarts make the OS look BAD). You can also get to Sleep/Shutdown/Restart from the settings charm although that takes some out of the box thinking to think that that is the place to go.
  • Wordwheeling at the Start Screen only shows results from Apps unless you move your mouse and click the Settings or Files "tiles" that appear below Apps. In Win7 you’d get an amalgamation of the most recently used/accessed apps, settings, files, and email. No more without click the appropriate button. On the plus side, you can now choose from any number of other apps who have elected through coding to make it possible to search them as well.
  • In a multi-monitor scenarios as soon as an app the runs on the classic/legacy Windows Desktop is active the Metro Shell/Start Screen disappears. That means that I either pin every app to the taskbar to prevent having to venture back to the Start Screen or I have to click the Windows Key
  • For all of the demos I’ve seen with the soft keyboard (the one that you touch vs a physical one) it does not invoke on my year old Tablet PC/Notebook (sometimes called a convertible). The soft keyboard in Windows 7 was an abomination but now except for a few apps like Internet Explorer 10 its as if it’s disappeared altogether. How is that possible?
  • I’m not in love with the way Photos in the Photo "preview app" app are arranged (either by folder name or date). I like EXIF data, people tags, etc. but they’re no where to be found.  I like the search charm but I’d like to simply wordwheel (typing Cat would narrow the photos to only those whose file name or metadata included those letters) to find the photos I’m looking for.
  • While talking app the Photo app, why is it that it only recognizes the default folder in the Picture even if there are multiple locations listed? It’s great to pull from the cloud and all but WFT Microsoft? Have you given up on SMB?
  • Speaking of the preview apps, I’m amazed at how underwhelming most of them are (especially those that had Windows Live Essentials lineage). Some take poor advantage of the screen’s real estate (e.g. People). I know the Windows Live team that developed Windows Live Essentials for Windows 7 aren’t sitting on their hands but given the glide scope to shipping I know the apps that ship at RTM won’t be much better.  Hopefully they’ll rev these as often as Apple developers rev iOS apps. 
  • I find Start screen tile management to be frustrating.  For example, I somehow took one group of tiles on the Start Screen and abutted them against another group. I have no idea how to separate them into groups again other than to drag them one at a time to a new area farthest to the right or left. The Windows knowledge and conventions I’ve obtained over the past 18 years are no longer valid. I tried holding the left mouse button and dragging it around the six tiles. Nothing. I tried right mouse click dragging. Nada. It appears I have to click each one of them one by one. Even Windows 3.1 did a better job of handling multiple files. I tried right mouse clicking each icon which added a check but I can’t do anything en masse with them other than unpin them from the start screen. Dragging one moves only one of them.
  • Why can’t I Alt – Tab to the start screen?
  • I would like to add all of the Office apps to the start screen en masse but there doesn’t appear to be a way to do that. I tried navigating to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Microsoft Office but that only allowed me to add the to the taskbar one at a time. Wordwheeling from the start screen gives you the ability to pin them one at a time, hit the Win key, wordwheel next name, pin, rinse, repeat ad nauseum. WTF? You’re better off uninstalling office and then reinstalling it. That’ll put an amazing number of Office apps on the start screen some of which I’ll bet 99% of the population never knew existed.
  • Attempting to use touch in the Windows classic/desktop is very challenging. If an app is maximized (on my touch-enabled tablet they have to be or they’re tiny) closing the app by clicking the upper right corner "X" is very challenging.
  • Within the new Metro apps all of the toolbars are hidden by default (e.g. Internet Explorer). I find that I too often have to swipe up/down, right mouse click or press Windows + Z to refresh an app (e.g. Mail), none of which seem to refresh automatically, or type in a different URL. I’m really surprised users can’t pin a toolbar at least for those apps where toolbar access is needed more often than not.
  • I know this is a by-product of my two-touch screen, but the soft keyboard does a poor job of fixing typing errors. The Windows Phone is infinitely better. Zero comparison. Windows hasn’t had a good soft keyboard since the first one appeared in Windows XP Tablet PC edition. I’m bummed that an expensive 18 month old laptop is out dated. The Surface looks nice but I am super hesitant about any Microsoft hardware other than a keyboard or a mouse. Every other piece of Microsoft-related hardware I’ve purchased has been abandoned (the Nokia Lumia 900 being the latest).
  • I had a secondary HDD that contained some data fail so I had hoped to use File History to restore the files to my primary HDD. Unfortunately, it failed to back up some of my folders. Also, all of the file folders under the Library are treated as peers and don’t maintain the parent folder. This makes restoration a royal PITA.
  • The total percentage for the Task Manager’s Processes tab and Performance tab don’t seem match each other.  For example, look at the percentages below.  The performance tab indicates it’s getting pounded (100%) but the processes tab that gives you the per process breakdown only says it’s 50% in use. Is that because I also have a Q: drive where the recovery bits are stored by the OEM? 

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Windows “8” Developer Preview First Look

On Tuesday evening I spent several hours downloading (kudos to my 35 Mb FIOS) and installing the Windows “8” Developer Preview that Microsoft graciously made available to everyone. Since that time I’ve been tweaking its settings and running it through a variety of scenarios.  Developer Previews by definition are created so the people who make an operating system succeed or fail ("developers, developers, developers”) can kick the tires and build apps to take advantage of the new architecture/APIs.  A DP isn’t a good indicator of fit and finish, typically lacks driver support for all the peripherals on your desk, and is definitely not something you’d use as your day-to-day desktop (serious dogfooders need not apply).   Reviewing the OS based on these traits would simply be grossly unfair since there are still many months of development left to complete.  I’m not going rehash the high-level reviews others have already done but want to share my thoughts on the nuances in key scenarios and some new features.

Net Net (for those who aren’t inclined to read)

In short, I believe consumers are going to love Windows 8 running on a new PC or notebook and will be delighted if they purchase it with a new slate/tablet computer.  The Metro start screen/interface/shell is highly functional and attractive even though its flat/two dimensional. 

Enthusiasts such as myself will face a steep learning curve because we’ve learned how to personalize, drive via keyboard shortcuts and push the hell out of Windows.  Fortunately, we’ll be able to run wild due to its support for “granular personalization” (more on this later). 

With the exceptional benefit of simplified app development, I believe IT departments are likely going to altogether skip Windows 8.  This has to do with the fact that most are in the process of or have deployed Windows 7, IT is always concerned about cost and since displays last forever they won’t be in a rush to replace them with more expensive, touch-friendly screens, and finally today their user base entire corporate lives are in classic Windows apps that won’t support any/most Win8 features without being touched/rewritten.  This creates a chicken or egg problem but since most IT departments are anything but cutting edge I don’t expect a jump any time soon.  Legacy apps make Windows 8’s first screen a poor replacement for classic Windows’ task bar.  It’ll be interesting to see how many group policy objects are created that give IT control over each of the knobs.  Windows 8 only saving grace for the corporate crowd will be enterprise-specific features which Microsoft have yet to disclose.  

This first look was written mostly from the perspective of an enthusiast. 

I Like

It’s good to see Microsoft embrace the future while continuing to support their massive legacy.  Windows 8 appears to do a good job of keeping a foot in classic Windows while revolutionizing the development, display and social services integration that occurs via the new modern shell (aka Metro). Moving hundreds of millions users forward is a super-hard balancing act and I think Microsoft has done an admirable job.  Kudos.

Imitation is the best form of flattery and I applaud the Windows’ program managers and user experience folks for taking the best ideas from Windows Phone 7 [WP and Windows are different orgs and sharing is not something that comes easily].  WP7 has successfully garnered very good, well-deserved reviews (albeit not market share) for its super friendly user interface and deep cross-app/service integration.  Windows 8 took those same concepts and ran with them. 

Using live tiles on the start page is brilliant because they’re both dynamic and somewhat functional.  Windows has had mini-apps on the desktop called Gadgets since Vista but they weren’t necessarily isolated from each other or the OS nor were they well managed (some consumed ungodly amounts of resources).  They mostly gave you quick lance information such as the weather temperature.   The Windows 8 tiles are highly personalized and mostly give the user the information they want to see.  They are especially interesting because virtually anything can be pinned even it’s an object deep within a application (Microsoft calls this deep linking).   A great example of this is the ability to pin a specific friend from Facebook to your home page.  Via the concept Socialite application, I was able to pin my wife’s FB contact and photo to the start screen.  While the proof of concept app doesn’t do it, I expect the live tile to eventually show her latest post via a “peek” similar to the way Windows Phone 7 does (it alternates between her photo, half her photo/half her name and her name only).  They sky’s the limit and developers will undoubtedly do some amazing things with tiles.    

“Contracts”

Windows 8 uses a new concept Microsoft calls “contracts” which allow modern apps (Metro apps written for Win8) to interact with each other.  From what I’ve seen there are three contracts: Share, Search and Picker.   As far as I can tell most of the contracts are accessed/invoked from “charms”  which can be accessed by swiping left from the right hand side of a touch screen or by pressing the Windows + C keys on the keyboard (I do the latter because I’m not ready to commit my only touch-ready tablet to Win8 yet).  

The Share contract allows apps to share content with each other in a one-to-many fashion.  For example, by highlighting a block of text in an application such as Internet Explorer and invoking the Share charm, you can choose which app (and perhaps audience) you want to share that text block with.   In the social setting, the share charm eliminates need for interim steps such as copying the text block, opening the browser, navigating to the site, and then pasting the copied content.  The two apps supporting a share contract and installed with the Win8 DP are Socialite (Facebook) and Tweet@rama (Twitter).  Share Contract

It’s quite foreseeable that apps like Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Writer, etc. will have share contracts. In fact, it’s a safe bet that all apps will want to play.  I imagine that if Gmail or Hotmail wanted to support the share contract they’ll have to create locally installed apps (Hotmail’s is arguably WL Mail) as sending to a browser could be a challenge. 

The Search contract works allows you to search a text block from within any modern application. Classic Windows applications have done this per app (e.g. Alt + Left mouse click in most Office apps brings up the research pane) for a while. It’ll be nice to be able highlight a word or words in any modern app, invoke the Search charm, and find everyplace that word(s) was used in Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I do this with word(s) in Internet Explorer using Accelerators today but having it system-wide will be a step forward. 

Search Contract

The Picker contract will be extremely useful because it’ll bring together the best of Libraries and Windows Live Connected Services (more about them below) while taking that functionality to the next level.   For example, Windows 8 makes it simple to pick a photo that you or a friend have posted to Facebook or downloaded from your digital camera and paste it into another modern app.  (For my sake, I hope there’s an updated version of Office coming that’ll support the Picker contract). 

Windows Libraries let imageyou point a specific library such as Pictures, to a multitude of locations on the PC or network. Starting with Windows 7, I pointed my Pictures’ Library at my local HDD’s picture folder, our shared network folder on Windows Home Server plus a few other folders. When I want to grab a photo today (I’m fortunately anal retentive about saving them to the proper locations) I only have to on the Pictures Library in Windows Explorer (see right side). The challenge is that Libraries are completely unknown by most people and since they’re a classic Windows feature it’ll be interesting to see if they’re enhanced beyond the new ribbon.

If you want to get a taste of the Picker contract works as far today, create a Windows Live ID, connect services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. to it (see screen capture below), and then launch the social tab in Windows Live Messenger .    

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Roaming Settings

If you’ve installed Windows Live Essentials on Windows 7, by default your PC also has the Windows Live Mesh application.  WL Mesh allows Office settings (e.g. Outlook’s Autosignature) and Favorites to be synced between multiple PCs which I love (I also totally use its file syncing but I digress).  Windows 8 is standing on Windows Live’s shoulders in a big way (the DoJ monopoly restrictions have been removed so let’s bundle!) because the latter is providing the storage, synching mechanism, etc.  Fortunately, unlike some monopolies our collective experience is going to be much better because Windows and Windows Live are working together.  Supporting the full roaming of all of a user’s settings is non-trivial because in aggregate those settings can use a lot of disk space (and Windows has hundreds of millions of users!).  Apple charges for that similar support in iCloud/MobileMe. That makes Microsoft’s support almost noble albeit costly (although they realize that keeping the Windows franchise alive is paramount). 

Today when I get or build a new PC I spend a couple of hours tweaking Windows and the apps so the new is exactly like my old PCs.  A sample rundown of my tweaks are: customizing the task bar, re-adding the Quick Launch bar, redirecting Desktop, Documents, Pictures, Video, Music, Photos, Favorites and links folder to our Windows Home Server, adjusting offline folders quotas, adding/removing folders from Libraries, installing apps, setting screen saver, adding Gadgets, etc.  I look forward to logging in with my Windows Live ID and just having most (all?) those settings flow down to my new computer from the cloud or a peer PC.  

File History

A feature called File History hasn’t gotten any attention but made it into the DP build.  File History is a backup-like utility that periodically copies files on folders (the default is once an hour) determined by your Libraries to an external drive or network share. If you’ve ever tried to backup and restore a file or folder using Windows 7’s Windows Backup you’ll appreciate File History. As a power user, I have had good success using Previous Versions which used the volume shadow copy service.  Unfortunately, it was relatively buried in the UI and without the right setup (e.g. network share) it wouldn’t work.  File History reminds me of Apple’s Time Machine without all of the graphical overhead.

While there are a number of months before Windows 8 RTMs the app is already very functional (the developers working on it clearly are very good). When people begin to use Windows 8 in production this feature will be a godsend because it’ll become their file’s guardian angel. 

Setting File History up is easy.  Plug in an external hard hard drive (Autorun-esc) and you’ll receive a prompt asking if you want to use it for File History. File History doesn’t require the external HDD to be formatted—it just needs storage. If you initially dismissed the external HDD (I did) when you were first prompt you can set it up later via the control panel:

File History Settings

To use History, you first have to get to Windows Explorer. Note: it’ll be interesting to see if Metro apps can leverage File History so the user doesn’t have to leave Metro and go Retro (pun intended). Next single mouse left click on the file or folder that was added, changed or deleted and then History on the ribbon (circled below). 

Windows Explorer

Clicking History brings up the File History application window.  Clicking on the Back/Forward buttons toggles through the various versions.  Notice in the screen capture below that the lower left hand corner shows 2 versions.  To restore another version of the file click on the arrowed button in the lower center. 

File History

If you’d rather drill down yourself you can open up Windows Explorer, click on the File History’s “backup” location (in my case an external hard disk drive) then drill down ad infinitum until you get to the folder containing the file you’re looking for.   In the screen capture below, the Live Tiles file on the left is the original and the edited file (I added a border) is to its right.  

File History Ext HDD

Advanced settings let you’ configure the more granular settings like the backup interval or how many versioned files you want to keep on the external HDD:

File History Advanced Settings

File History lacks the ability for a full PC restore but that’ll be accomplished via another feature in Windows 8.  It also can’t copy/backup locked files (a Word doc is left open) like Windows 7/Vista’s Previous Versions feature can.  Since both Windows Backup and Previous Versions created a false since of security but often didn’t work (have you actually ever tried to successfully restore a file/folder/PC using Windows Backup?) even with those shortcomings File History is a great step forward.  If you don’t believe me, let me know how relieved you are in a couple of years when your hard drive crashes. 

Miscellaneous

I still haven’t found out how a Windows Live ID Account can coexist with a Local Account. In our house we have a single workgroup and a single set of User IDs and Passwords so traversing between the machines and Windows Home Server is simple. When I went through the initial Win8 DP set up I used one of my Windows Live IDs. In order to silently pass my credentials to the other PCs/server in our family workgroup I had to create another Local Account. This problem could be one of those power user degradations (Microsoft’s term for taking something away that was previously a feature/function).

I’m glad I can quickly get to the application I want to go from the Metro start screen by simply typing the first few letters of the app.  I did this all of the time in Windows 7 by clicking the Windows keyboard key and then starting to type (e.g. Word would bring up Word, Wordpad, etc).  Windows 8 eliminates the need to click the Windows key.  That saves me time. 

I’m on the Fence

Metro versus Windows Explorer

Will the Metro Start screen and the Windows Explorer coexist on multiple monitors? As you can see by the two photos below, I run three displays.  The top photo is my Windows 7 configuration.  The bottom photos shows Windows 8 running on center monitor and Windows 7 running on outer monitors.  The mixed OS shot was created because the center display is on a KVM so I’m actually showing two different PCs.  

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I want the mixed Metro/Windows Explorer shown in the bottom photo only running from a single PC.  One of the Windows Explorer screens should display the legacy task bar.  I have grown to love Windows 7’s jump list and my Quick Launch toolbar for frequently used apps that don’t support jump lists so giving them up will be a big step backwards.

I am concerned about the deprioritization of Windows Explorer (and the and classic UI) because of the potential negative cascading effects.  For example, I’m not completely sold on multitasking in Win8 (not the keeping multiple apps running but the working back and forth with multiple apps).  The legacy task bar’s ability to display multiple running apps worked well. Thankfully, the Alt + Tab key combination is still supported because going to the left edge to go back one app is lousy.   Unfortunately, I’d bet 90% of Windows users have no idea about Alt + Tab so the Metro start screen will be a step backwards productivity-wise.   On the plus side, I really like how modern apps suspend thus prolonging battery life on portables.

It’ll take some getting used to the Metro page being the start screen. I’d prefer if classic Windows was the start screen (as I suspect many IT groups will) and the task bar was the launching point. Bold bets mean breaking out of your comfort zone and Microsoft has certainly done that—I’m just not sure I like it. This is partly because of my multi-monitor setup, partly because of metro style full screen apps but mostly because today I live in Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint which are legacy apps. Assuming the Office team took the plunge and committed Office “15” to Windows 8’s new shell this may be rectified. Schedule alignment in two huge orgs like Windows and Office is super challenging (as it would be in any large company) so I’m not overly optimistic this will happen as soon as I’d (or Microsoft) would like it to.

Full Screen Apps

Since large displays are becoming commonplace (the left two displays in the above photos are 24”), are full screen apps really the best way to utilize the space?  I hardly ever run apps full screen except for my right-hand portrait-oriented display which I use to read/edit portrait oriented documents and web sites with unfixed widths.  While most (all?) modern apps must support snap views (1/3 of screen is taken by one app, 2/3 by the other app) what happens when you want to view two web sites side-by-side?  The ability to snap/be seen two tabs side-by-side doesn’t work to work on my PC (Windows key + Right/Left arrow).  Hopefully, that’ll be fixed before RTM or like many other instances I’ll have to go back to Windows Explorer and it’s task bars list of pinned apps to launch IE/Firefox. 

Discoverability

How will the average user (most of which are afraid to try new things because they think they’ll “break something”) find out what mouse buttons and/or keyboard shortcuts?  As I mentioned earlier, many users don’t know about Alt + Tab which has got to be the most powerful keyboard shortcut there is.  Not everyone is going to take the time to find a list like this one:  http://www.windowsphonemetro.com/2011/09/14/windows-8-keyboardmouse-shortcuts/  Microsoft likes clean startup sequences so it’ll be interesting to see how they “teach” people to use the new OS.  Will there be a “welcome screen” for keyboard/mouse only machines (assuming touch is not recognized as an option)? 

Miscellaneous

I have two tablet PCs—one that is pen only (Motion 1700) and one that is touch/pen/keyboard/mouse (Lenovo X201).  Because the Win8 DP is the earliest public build (aka “not ready for prime time”) I am not yet willing to take the plunge and drop it on my Lenovo.  However, I have seen the soft keyboard demoed and I’m a little concerned how it’ll handle autocorrect or word wheeling.  I want it to be be as amazing as Windows Phone 7’s soft keyboard.  That said, the touch-only focus of Windows 8 is second to none so the software keyboard is one area they will hold the schedule for until its perfect.  I’ll give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt.

In the minor nitpick category I think I’m going to miss the wallpaper feature of legacy windows.  The Win8 lock screen is great (better than the default Win7 blue with a dove) but I’ve gotten used to the dynamic Bing wallpaper RSS feed and it’s gorgeous images.  Making Bing’s wallpapers available for the locked screen would be nice but if my screen is locked I’m probably not looking at it a whole lot.

I Don’t Like

Touch is everything and the mouse appears to be all but dead in the new OS. Undoubtedly the mouse and keyboard in a Windows 8 world will have to evolve to be more like Apple’s Touchpad.   I believe that is the direction the new Windows Touch Mouse is trying to achieve.  While Microsoft employees are likely ordering touch screen displays as fast as they ordered Windows Phone 7 the majority of us don’t have touch-enabled displays.  A display last forever so getting rid of it is not something most people will do without serious consideration (admit it, I know there’s a few of you who still have CRTs).  Even if I fell into Warren Buffett money and could drop the money on a touch screen display(s!) I’m not sure I want (or it’d be recommended) my desktop display within touching distance.  Currently I’m ~36” away and I’m still bathed in white light.  There are ergonomic rules to display positioning and having it a foot from you can’t be within the parameters.  Until proven otherwise, I have to agree with Steve Jobs on the touch display topic when he said  “It doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical.”  Tablets and slates are another thing.  Windows 8, like the iOS/iPad combo, looks great on them.  Unless we all start living in a Wacom-like world I’m afraid the latter is going to less than ideal.

In the DP build, Explorer.exe drives both the Metro start screen and classic Windows interface (aka Desktop in Windows 8). This concerns me because in Windows 7 I all to frequently have to kill the explorer.exe process (I did this literally one minute ago on the PC I’m writing this blog post). I’d like to see the Metro interface be a separate process from explorer.exe so that a hang in shell wouldn’t crash the other shell. A hung shell is a horrible experience because it prevents clicking on any buttons which for most people is how they drive Windows. As an power user I know to kill the explorer.exe (now called Windows Explorer in Win8) which typically fixes the hung shell. In Windows 7, in order to have the task bar and Windows Explorer reappear you had to click File, New Task (Run…), type Explorer and then click “OK” after you killed the explorer.exe process. Windows 8 has simplified this workflow because when you click on the Windows Explorer process, the button in the lower right hand corner changes to “Restart”. Sadly while all Windows users will likely continue to have to learn about and use Task Manager, the “restart” change at least puts the PC back in a usable state for mere mortals.

As an aside, it’s interesting that the Windows Explorer process is shown as a Windows Process when the Metro shell and the classic shell are running (left screen capture below) while starting the actual Windows Explorer moves the process to the Application grouping (right screen capture below).

WindowsExplorerTaskMetro     WindowsExplorerTask

To be Determined

I have a super high-end*, 18 month old, self-built PC that really takes advantage of the capabilities of Windows 7.  Unfortunately, in one area it pushes the limit a bit too much and falls down—the PC cannot wake up from a sleep state.  The PC is built with an ASUS (P6T) motherboard which I was told firsthand by a Windows Program Manager in power management that Windows has always had issues with.   I’m hoping this “bug” will be fixed in Windows 8.  A good start would be a further enhanced version of POWERCFG which in Windows 7 still won’t tell me which device/driver is causing the wake up issue.  Technology involves rapidly so I’ll likely cheat this problem by simply getting another non-ASUS motherboard.  That new MoBo should fix the current wake problem and benefit me by supporting USB 3.0 which is orders of magnitude faster than USB 2.0.  I’m notoriously cheap though and would like to fully depreciate that P6T. <grin>

*High-end defined:

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PS  I heart dogfood straighted but not so much that I’m willing to run it in production. Smile

TheSpreadsheetStore.com Balance Sheet template

For the past few months I have been building a financial model for a new company.  I modeled all of the company’s financial and inventory using Excel, but I still lacked a Balance Sheet.  After doing numerous searches on the Internet in hopes of finding a suitable (hopefully free) balance sheet template it appeared that the clear leader was TheSpreadsheetStore.com’s template.  They sell it for $29.95.  I tried to find feedback on the template but found none.  Thus, the purpose of this post.

TheSpreadsheetStore.com Balance Sheet template is absolutely not worth $29.95.  I would argue it’s barely worth downloading even it was free.   It certainly isn’t useful for creating a financial model since its built around the current year (or quarter) and then works backwards two years (or quarters).   Actually, the Quarter functionality doesn’t completely work:

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Unless you are an extreme novice with Excel formulas (by definition, we all are at some point), there is simply no reason to buy this template.  There are a few =iserror, average, and addition functions but they’re very simple.  The most “robust” function is the one that factors the quarter on row 6 but it fails to be carried forward on row 45.  I’m not sure why the “developer” didn’t just use a =B6, =C6, and =D6 on row 45 to pull the values from row 6.  Over engineered?  That seems like a pretty amateurish mistake IMHO.   Additionally, it doesn’t actually perform any calculation between assets and liabilities to let you know if the numbers are out of balance.  The template is in an older format so I’m guessing it was developed before conditional formatting. 

Anyway, you’ve been forewarned.  Hopefully, Google and Bing index WordPress so if you are trying to find feedback on the template, you’ll find this blog post.  I wish someone had blogged about its shortcoming before I’d dropped $30

Cheers

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Sh*t my Windows Tablet PC Says

I have a couple of years old Motion LE1700 “slate” (no physical keyboard or mouse) Tablet PC running Windows 7 Ultimate Edition.  Although OEMs have had “slate PCs” and Windows has supported “tablet PCs” since 2002 unfortunately it isn’t even remotely in the same class as Apple’s iPad from a consumption (reading/browsing) or  usability perspective.  Fortunately, it runs all Windows apps and in my case interoperates with our home network including Windows Home Server, a network-connected Brother printer, etc.  Those are the only reasons I use it versus an iPad. 

Whereas finger(s) are used to interact with an iPad, interaction with Windows/apps requires a “digitizer” (a sort of electronic pen) to interact with Windows and the installed applications.  The digitizer works well for starting applications and to capture your handwriting. Capturing handwriting is especially useful with an application like Microsoft’s OneNote since you can write your notes digitally as fast as you can write.  Where the digitizer and Windows falls down is when you’re trying to type in a URL into a browser, a word(s) or sentence(s) into Facebook, Word, etc.   Hopefully, in the version of Windows Microsoft uses the excellent software keyboard their Windows Phone team developed for Windows Phone 7 (see my review).   So you can see how much Windows soft keyboard needs to evolve below is how Windows captured my handwriting (admittedly not great) when I rewrote this and the previous paragraph using only the digitizer (the bold indicate incorrect handwriting interpretations).  Enjoy. Smile

I have a Couple of years old Motion LE 1700 "slate" (no physical keyboard or rouge) Tablet PC running Windows 7 Utility Edition. Although OEMs here had "data pcs" and Windows his support. "Tablet PCs" Since 2002  unfortunately it isn’t even remotely in there class as Apple’s i Pad from a consumption (reading/ Browsing) or usability perspective. fortunately, it runs all Windows apps and in my case interoperates with our home network including Windows the Server, a network-connected Brother printer, etc. Those are the reasons I use it versus getting a, i Pad.

Whereas finger (2) are used to interact with an iPad in (are fin with Windous/apps requires a "digitizer" (a hurt of electronic pen) to interact with Windows and  the installed application}. The digitizer works well for starting applications and to capture your handwriting. Capturing handwriting is especially useful with an application like Microsoft’s OneNote find you can write your notes digitally as fact as you can write. Where the digitizer and when fall down is when housetrain, to type a USC into a browser, a words) on sentence(s) into facebook, Word, etc. Hopefully, in the next version of Windows microsoft user the excellent software keyboard their Windows Phone team developed for Windous Phone 7 Gee way review). Sohyou an see how much Windous Scott keyboard reeds to evolve below is how Windous captioned my handwriting (admittedly rot great) when I rewrites this and the previous paragraph using only the digitizer (the bold indicate incorrect handwriting interpretations). Enjoy. it

Hands on with HTC’s HD7 Windows Phone 7

I purchased the HTC HD7 Windows Phone 7 (on T-Mobile’s network) on November 8 (the first day it was available in the US). For the benefit of my friends and family I wanted to share my experiences with the phone during the first week. I wanted to go above and beyond the focus of most reviewers up to this point. If you haven’t read an "official review, I highly recommend Anandtech.com’s review. If you want to see a polar opposite opinion read this review. WP7 may or may not be the smashing success the iPhone was but it won’t be for any of the reasons the latter "author" mentioned.

Bottom Line: the Samsung, HTC, LG and Dell phones based on the Windows Phone 7 operating system will delight 99% of the smartphone purchasing population and I would be very surprised if told me you were disappointed if you used it for a couple of days. Microsoft nailed the end-to-end scenarios and we are the better for it. If you’re thinking of an alternative OS, I believe WP7 provides a great alternative to the chaos Google is creating for themselves by seemingly having no control over the manufacturers/mobile operators (Windows Mobile had that issue) and Apple’s locked-down approach with the iPhone. There are some functional gaps that Apple has nailed (e.g. Facetime) that hopefully over time Microsoft and their partners will fill. Speaking of iPhone and Android, WP7 mostly has the apps available that you’ll want. Although I question the value of 95% of the iPhone apps, there are some that are very creative and useful that you might miss (I don’t because I’ve never had an iPhone).

Likes:

  • Speed. The interface is amazingly fluid, snappy and is really a pleasure to use.
  • Information at your fingertips. The start screen’s "live tiles" and locked screen at-a-glance info very useful.
  • The connection to various "cloud services" is well thought out. It has seamless integration with Facebook, the various Windows Live services, Microsoft Exchange and others.
    • OneNote/SkyDrive integration. I’ve used and loved OneNote on Windows when the 1st version was still in beta so being able to use it on my phone, have it sync to the cloud and then be available in OneNote on my PCs is a godsend. OneNote (and the keyboard) works so well that I wrote almost a third of this post on my phone.
    • Camera/SkyDrive integration. I like knowing that whatever photos I take are automatically uploaded to the cloud and are shared to those people I designate. However, there are a couple of changes that would improve the experience for me–see Nits.
  • The soft keyboard’s accuracy is phenomenal. It works so well that I honestly can’t imagine it working any better. IMHO, it completely eliminates the need for a physical keyboard. Mini-rant: it’s infinitely better than the soft keyboard on my pen-based, Windows 7 Motion Tablet PC. If I were Microsoft, for Windows 8 I’d port WP7’s keyboard code (assuming it can be internationalized well)–it’s that good.
  • Installing a number of apps, even one right after the other, is simple and dare I say "smooth." Zero prompts, restarts, or need to finish one app’s installation before starting another makes for a great experience.
  • Memory management is just the way it should be–invisible. Never having to open task manager to kill a thread/app/whatnot is super nice. There are a few instances (and very few IMHO) where multi-tasking would nice such as when I tried to listen to music on Last.fm and jump to another app but otherwise so far I can’t say that I’ve missed it. The only concern I have had with multi-tasking is when I switch from one app to another. That is because while the OS supports multi-tasking for some apps (e.g. Music player) I’m not quite sure which ones it doesn’t support. For example, when I’m in OneNote (an app that comes with the OS), click "sync" and then jump to the start screen does OneNote’s sync continue in the background or stop?

Dislikes:

  • Lack of a "universal" email app. I have 3 different email accounts so in order to quickly access them I have 3 different start screen tiles. Some reviewers have called for a universal inbox where all emails are intermixed. I absolutely do NOT want a universal inbox–I like my work email to be separate from my personal email. I would just like one app that lets me jump between multiple email accounts.
  • Battery life. Unless I don’t use the phone most of the day the battery would go dead somewhere between 3 pm and 7 pm. My usage disclosure: On a typical day, I’m mostly using data (apps) and talking on it for ~15 minutes. I don’t play games or watch/listen to video/music so your own mileage may vary. I have the GPS turned on for various apps and to track the phone and I have connected Facebook and Windows Live. Bluetooth is always on (for car connectivity) and WiFi is off 95% of the time.
  • The soft keyboard takes up about 2/3 of the total screen real estate which only lets me see 5-6 lines of text in whatever text app I’m in (e.g. OneNote, Messaging).

Nits (but by no means showstoppers):

  • Appointments on your calendar don’t automatically toggle the ringer to "vibrate." This was a nice Windows Mobile feature that had existed for many years (although it didn’t consistently work on the HD2) and eliminated the concern that your phone ring when you’re in a meeting.
  • I miss being able to sync Tasks wirelessly with Exchange (which then get synced to Outlook). Fortunately, being able to use Mobile OneNote with SkyDrive is a pretty good work around but I still miss being able to set a reminder.
  • One of the smartphone differentiators that WP7 has are "live tiles" on the start screen. Inexplicably all of the Microsoft-written apps available via download don’t have live tiles (e.g. Weather and Stocks). Fortunately, Weatherbug and The Weather Channel provide an alternative for the former although I haven’t found a good alternative app for the latter.
  • The calendar appointments’ location field automatically is hyperlinked which launches Bing Maps when touched ASSUMING the address is in the correct format (e.g. 1 Microsoft Way, Redmond). When the address’ format is correct the feature obviates the need for WP7 to support copy & paste [in fact, if the phone OS requires me to copy and paste to map an appointment’s address, they have FAILED miserably]. However, if the address is in the wrong format a Bing-enabled hypertext link is NOT created so there’s no way to bring up a map of the address short of retyping it. Ironically, copying an address searched from Bing on a PC and then pasting it into the Location field creates an incorrectly formatted/unlinked address. For example, the address for "Meadowdale High School, Lynnwood" comes back as "6002 168th St SW · Lynnwood" The bullet between SW and Lynnwood is an unrecognized format. My workaround is a byproduct of being slightly OCD. I normally will fix the address’ format in Outlook which is then synced to the phone.
  • The dedicated camera button is both a blessing and a curse. When pressed for a few seconds it is supposed to start the camera even when the phone is "locked" (a policy that most corporations push to the phone when it connects to Exchange for email). Unfortunately, periodically pressing the button will NOT start the camera . That is the only inconsistency I’ve seen on WP7. Update: A friend in the Windows Phone group told me that the camera won’t be opened when you cover the proximity sensor that’s in the upper right corner. This is so it does end up taking a picture when it’s in your pocket. Interestingly, that too doesn’t always work as it’s intended because after feeling my pocket warm up the other day I took out the phone to discover that the camera had engaged (but not taken a picture).
  • When typing a review for an app the "cancel" and "submit" buttons are just below the soft keyboard. This makes it far too easy to accidentally hit cancel/submit when you’re actually trying to hit "space" or some other bottom-row keyboard button.
  • While searching the Market for apps songs and artists from Zune are mixed in with the results. I want to be able to filter on only WP7 results. This is going to be more problematic when/if the Windows Phone market gets more generically named apps.
  • This is more of an overall Zune issue, but the music content "featured" in marketplace isn’t filtered based on the music I like. For example today Susan Boyle and Cee-Lo are featured. While Susan is a tremendous vocalist I don’t have any other music that should lead Zune to think she’d be someone I’m interested in. I have never even heard of Cee-Lo and don’t have a single piece of music of his genre.
  • There isn’t a single-step way to toggle WiFi on and off. I’d like to create a WiFi setting tile on the start screen but can’t. As a bonus feature, I’d love for WiFi to enable itself when the phone is externally powered (Android has this) because it’d simplify syncing up with the Zune desktop client and eliminate the need to use T-Mobile’s network.
  • I cannot "word wheel" a contact by just typing the first few letters of their name or phone number. This was one of the killer features in previous versions of Windows Mobile.
  • I’m fine with the decision to mostly hide the battery and wireless signal strength indicators since they’re just a touch away from being seen. However, in apps that don’t ship "in the box" with WP7 they aren’t always a touch away. I’ve had to go back to the start screen to expose them. I want to be able to check the battery level and wireless signal strength regardless of which app I’m using.
  • As much as I like the Camera/SkyDrive integration there are a couple of issues.
    • I wish that WP7 would upload the photos with their full fidelity (e.g. 5 megapixel) and not a lesser quality version (or what Microsoft calls "web quality"). What that means is a landscape photo is 717×538 pixels. That might have been web quality in 1996 but its not by today’s standards.
    • Because the full fidelity photos aren’t uploaded I have to physically connect the phone to transfer them to my PC. Although I haven’t tried it yet I’m hopeful that the wireless Zune sync takes care of this for me. While on the subject of downloading photos, I’d also like to be able to download the SkyDrive-stored photos en masse without having to retrieve all of them via a zip file or having to launch Windows Live Photo Gallery (although the latter works well).
    • The uploaded photos "Author" metadata for photos I took in Redmond, Washington where inexplicably tagged with "Hello from Seattle" I could not find a setting to change the Author tag to my name. I would think at the least the would use the GPS data to upload "Hello from Redmond" since the Geotag metadata had that information.
  • Another issue I have with the keyboard has been when I’ve needed to go back and insert a word or add a letter somewhere up in the body of text I’d just typed. If you press and hold your finger on the screen an insert cursor (looks kind of like a capital I) appears which you can drag around. The insert cursor works OK as relatively smart about snappy to the right place. However, I’ve found it especially difficult to move the insert cursor to the left most part of the screen (in other words, to the left part of the leftmost word). The reason the insert cursor is needed is because in order to minimize the size of the keyboard it doesn’t have left arrow, right arrow, up arrow or down arrow like a hardware keyboard has.

Open Questions:

  • I haven’t (and hopefully will never have to) "hard reset" the device (wiping everything from it) but I’ll be curious if it’ll be easy to do an en masse reinstallation of all of the apps. I haven’t found a "my apps" section in Market or in the desktop-side Zune client Marketplace that shows me only what I’ve installed.
  • I haven’t found a centralized location to find which apps friends have "recommended." I believe this prevents apps from being more viral. The desktop Zune client’s Social area is focused on letting me see the music my friends like and the Marketplace doesn’t seem to have a social component. On occasion, I’ve stumbled across a "share" button which sends an email containing a Zune URL (e.g. zune://navigate/?appID=0c17d153-b5d5-df11-a844-00237de2db9e) to anyone I pick from my address book. The person receiving the email really needs to open it with Windows Phone 7 because the phone will make the URL a hyperlink which launches Marketplace. In the desktop Zune software, you must copy and paste the URL into Run because zune:// does is not a hypertext link.
  • After I installed a couple of apps today (Nov 12) I switched over to a couple of other apps before eventually trying to go back to the Marketplace. However, for seem reason the app wouldn’t start. The screen would go black, the "loading" indicator ellipses crawled across the screen, and then the start screen reappeared.
  • The 2 games I installed today aren’t appearing in my apps list. When I go to marketplace I only option is to "share." WP7 clearly thinks they’re installed (maybe they are). I’m not sure why this happened or how I recover from it. Perhaps it’s tied to the previous Marketplace failure.

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Hudson Hero Pilot’s life prepared him for ‘miracle’ flight

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Karl should be proud. smile_regular

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