Category Archives: Technology

Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a Laptop–Day 1


It’s been about 24 hours since Microsoft released (and I installed) Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Since I didn’t have any classes today, I took the opportunity to do some more looking around the build. Here’s the result of that exploration

A Note on Dual-Booting

I highly recommend my set-up, which eschews the easiest method in favor of finding the ISO on Microsoft’s download page – it’s surprisingly hidden—, booting from that, and putting a fresh install of Windows 8 onto a separate partition. Though you’ll lose the advantage of immediately having all your old applications and settings transferred over, I think this is better for two much more important reasons: first, you may not be able to use many of your old apps on Windows 8, and second, it’s just not quite ready for use as your primary computer OS.

For the first time in Microsoft’s history, the boot selection screen when you dual-boot actually looks nice, so you don’t even have to worry about that. It’s definitely the better option.

Logging In

To me, the biggest feature in Windows 8 isn’t any of the fancy-schmancy new UI; it’s the integration with the cloud that makes Windows 8 so interesting. When you first sign in, you do so with a Windows Live ID much like Windows Phone; your password is thus your Windows Live Password. However, that’s not really the consequence that I like so much: the consequence I like so much is the fact that you then can access files from Skydrive (Microsoft’s Dropbox-like cloud storage service) and they’ll be saved and up to date on any computer you go to. I wasn’t able to test this, but I’m guessing that your Start screen, wallpaper, and Windows 8 settings will also follow you from Windows 8 PC to Windows 8 PC.

The process of Logging in itself is very reminiscent of Windows Phone. Like Windows Phone, you unlock the device by dragging a picture upwards to uncover the login prompt. Here are some photos of it in action:

Here, the picture hasn’t been dragged out of the way at all:

Here, the picture has been dragged up about a third of the way to reveal part of the login screen:

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to save screenshots from the login screen (probably a good thing really), so I had to take these with my phone, but I think you get the idea.

The Start Screen and The Windows Desktop

I don’t have any pictures of this, so you’ll just have to take my word that it’s there. It’s REALLY there. I don’t know if it’s because I’m just not used to it and know that the Windows Desktop is right there waiting for me underneath it, or because I just don’t like it, but I constantly found myself constantly wanting to peel away this new shell and go back to the old Windows experience.

As you probably already know, there is a button on the start screen to do exactly that; press it and you’re whisked away to the land of familiarity:

Notice something’s missing? That’s right; there’s no Start button on the Windows desktop anymore. There’s also no start menu; if you want to launch an application, you have three cumbersome options. You can:

  1. Use the Windows Key + R keyboard shortcut to open up the Run window then type in the path or command to open a give application.
  2. Use Windows Explorer (through the Recycle Bin or the separate Windows Explorer icon on the Start Screen) to navigate to the .exe file and then double-click it.
  3. Go back to the Start Screen by hitting the Windows Key or clicking on the far left side of the taskbar (yes, even though there’s no button there anymore, it still launches the Start Screen), right click to bring up the Start Screen’s menu, choose “View All Apps,” find it on the list, then click on it once to launch it back inside the Windows Desktop, which you should be automatically sent back to.

Not exactly intuitive. Well, at least my favorite bulk installation tool, Ninite, still works on Windows 8:

Also, I’d just like to say that it’s stupid that this is the only way to run Microsoft Office. Why not make a Metro version of it? How can people take your product seriously if you don’t seem to be drinking your own kool-aid?

 

Touch Gestures and their Mouse-based Equivalents

I think this could be a really great tablet OS. Everything’s really quick to respond and the touch gestures are awesome. However, when Microsoft designed their “touch first” UI, they seemed to also put the mouse and keyboard last. The ways you bring up menus and work with the OS are nearly impossible to find without any help (it took me hours to figure out multi-tasking and almost as long to find the way to bring up the application-specific menu). So, for your pleasure, I have created a table to help you out.

Purpose Touch Gesture Mouse Gesture
Multi-tasking Swipe from the left side of the screen. Hover mouse in the upper left corner of the screen.
Bring up “Charms” menu (for settings and a shortcut to the Start Screen) Swipe from the right side of the screen. Hover mouse in the bottom right corner of the screen.
Bring up Application-based menu for more commands. Swipe from the bottom of the screen. Right click anywhere while inside a Metro application.

They aren’t intuitive, but once you figure them out, they seem to work well enough. In fact, their response time was quick enough I soon found myself zipping around the UI surprisingly quickly.

Multitasking and the Windows App Store

After some work, I figured out how to do the side-by-side multitasking trick that Microsoft always shows in their videos. The trick is to drag the application preview from the upper right down into the workspace like you’re doing normal multitasking, then hold it over either the left or right quarters of the screen. If it’s compatible, the app will make a black silhouette appear in that region. Just drop it and you have two things going on at once.

Here’s a shot of the result (it also includes the Windows App Store, so you get an idea of what that looks like):

 

Internet Explorer 10 (Metro Version)

The Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 included with Windows 8 looks really nice. It may not have a lot of features, but it seems fast enough and has a very elegant way of handling multiple tabs.

Here it is asking me if it should remember a password:

And here it is displaying Twitter. You’ll notice that all the chrome disappears when you’re displaying a page without the Application-specific menu open.

That’s about all for now, but I’ll update you as I find more about Windows 8 to love or to hate.

Internet Fun: Vertu


In the “stuff for people with more dollars than sense” category, I submit for your enjoyment Vertu, purveyors of ridiculously expensive cell phones.

This site consists of about half a dozen different cell phone models, ranging in price from a couple thousand to a couple hundred thousand dollars. Yes, you read that correctly. Vertu actually expects people to pay $200,000+ for a cell phone.

What makes these cell phones so special, you ask? Well, it seems that they vary. The entry level phones are made of brushed steel and real leather, but the top-of-the-line phones can be made from sterling silver, yellow gold, white gold, and even platinum. Buttons are often made of sapphires and- in at least one case- the “select” button at the center of the archaic five-way navigation pad is a diamond.

The crown jewel, as it were, of this company, though, can only be found in an area of the site so exclusive that you have to go through a 20 second registration process before you get access. (This is the internet, after all; nothing can take too long.) Here you find even fancier phones, such as the Signature Precious(shown above), which – in addition to being made of white gold – is bordered on each side by hand placed diamonds. Like many items on this site, all phones in this “private showroom” section are on an “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” basis. No prices are listed and purchase is only by appointment.

As icing on the cake, the technology in these incredibly expensive phones is terrible. Vertu has only recently introduced their first smart phone and touch-screen phone. These are two separate products; if you want a touch-screen smart phone, you’re out of luck. The touch screen phone uses the inferior resistive technology found on old Palm devices like the Treo, and even the smart phone runs Nokia’s dying Symbian platform, which the company has since replaced with Windows Phone.

If you want one of these phones, you will have to fly your private jet to one of their flagship boutiques in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, or  Manhattan. Only the most rudimentary models are sold online.

Why I Switched from Rdio to Spotify


Remember when I reviewed the United States coming of streaming music service Spotify? Well, it looks like I was dead wrong. I complained about the price point, the usability of the software, and the way it presented gapless albums. Well, now I’m switching my streaming music solution from a cocktail of Music Beta by Google and Rdio  to Spotify. Here’s why.

1. Aesthetics

I’m not gonna lie. I may be an  Android user at heart, but I still care about shallow appearance and user interface. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at these apps.

Here’s what Rdio looks like on Android:

Rdio for Android

And here’s what Spotify looks like on Android:

Spotify on Android

Spotify just plain looks better. Since neither has a tablet app, this becomes doubly important on Honeycomb Tablets. Since I just bought an Acer Iconia Tab a500, this is a huge issue for me. The Spotify app just fits the design language for Honeycomb better.

2. Streaming Quality and Fidelity

Since I started using primarily Rdio, I have noticed how poor the streaming quality really is. The tracks sound like they’re coming out of a tin can, even at High Quality. Furthermore, streaming is rarely available or practical. Even on my home Wi-Fi (802.11N connected to a DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem with Comcast’s Blast Internet Package- up to 50 mbps), it can take 10-15 min to buffer enough of a song that it will stream. Then each subsequent track takes up to 5 minutes to buffer as I progress through the album! Since one of my major complaints about Spotify was the interstitial advertisements that interrupted album playback, I decided I couldn’t stand what amounts to a five minute advertisement for silence.

Worse yet, when I set it to high quality, I also lose the ability to stream at all. In any Wi-Fi, choosing to stream a song does nothing. This is unacceptable. Since my interstitial ads disappear with the paid version of Spotify, it was looking more and more logical.

3. Social

One of the most attractive elements of any streaming music service is the Social aspect. However, as with any social network, they are only as good as the friends on the service. For me, the number of friends I have on Rdio is zero. Since Spotify connects to Facebook, every single friend there is a potential friend on Spotify. I already have three, and expect this number to keep growing as the free version of Spotify opens up to everybody (it currently has a limited sign-up).

Spotify’s social experience is also significantly better than Rdio’s. Rdio has a social model similar to Twitter or Last.fm. What you listen to, add to your music library, and synchronize to your phone appears in a timeline that others can subscribe to. Initially, this sounds great. It means you’re able to follow big infulencers on the music scene and get an idea of what they think without them following you. However, this is a very skin deep way of having a relationship, and not suitable for something as personal as music. Spotify takes more of a Facebook-like approach. Your Facebook friends appear in a sidebar on the right of your screen. You can see what they’re listening to, listen to it yourself, and send them song recommendations, which arrive in their Spotify Inbox. This inbox is treated like a playlist that can then be played on the computer or phone. It’s a very elegant system and seems to work fantastically well.

For $10 a month, my streaming music service has to be good. Hopefully Spotify will fit that bill better than Rdio. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.