Monthly Archives: July 2012

Desktop Windows 8 survival guide

Microsoft’s new Windows is its best yet, under the covers. It does have peculiarities though, thanks to its combination of a new touch-friendly user interface which I will call Metro, and the old Desktop user interface. The first encounter with Windows 8 is usually pretty painful, as you struggle to do things which are second nature for seasoned Windows 7 or Windows XP users. It is not really so bad though: most things still work once you have figured out how to find them. Here is a brief survival guide for keyboard and mouse users – no mention of touch here. I am also mostly avoiding third-party utilities. This is for out-of-the-box Windows 8 as far as possible.

If you have a Windows 8 machine with a touch screen, see here for tips specific to touch.

Options are shown a, b , c etc where they are alternatives. Steps are shown as 1, 2, 3 where needed.

Where is the Start menu?

The Start menu is a now a full-screen Metro application. You can find it in several ways. Press the Windows key, or Ctrl-Esc together, or put the mouse in the bottom left corner where the Start button used to be and click.

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I have the Start menu or a Metro app running. How do I get back to the desktop?

Click the Desktop tile in the Start menu, or press Windows and D together, or put the mouse to the top left corner of the screen and click the desktop image that appears.

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I hate the “live tiles” in the start menu, how can you turn off all the flickering activity?

Yes, I’m not sure about them either. In the Start screen, right-click a live tile so a tick appears in the top right corner. Then click Turn live tile off at the foot of the screen.

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There is also an option to remove personal data from live tiles. To get this, display the Start screen, move the mouse to the bottom right corner of the screen, then click Settings – Tiles. Click Clear.

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How do I organize the Start screen into groups?

The new Start screen is not hierarchical, but does support named groups. Two things you need to know:

1. To create a group, click and drag a tile right until it passes a grey vertical bar. Release to start the new group.

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Add further tiles to the group by dragging them under one of the existing tiles in the group.

2. To name and/or move the group, click the tiny horizontal bar at bottom right of the the Start screen.

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This will zoom out. Now, right-click the group you want to name. This selects the group. Then you can click Name group to name or rename it, or drag the group elsewhere on the Start screen.

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How do I start an application when I can’t even see it in the Start screen?

Can be a problem. Before you give up though, there are a few things to try:

a. The quickest way to find an application is by typing a search. Display the Start screen and type a few letters; all the matching applications are listed.

b. Right-click on the Start screen and click All apps in the bottom right corner to display all the icons in a smaller size. If you can’t find it in the alphabetical list (maybe you forget the name) scroll right to see the grouped list which follows.

c. Still can’t see it? Try showing Administrative tools. Mouse bottom right or press Windows key and C, settings, Tiles, Show administrative tools.

d. Still stuck? Windows key and R together brings up the Run dialog. Type the name of the executable, or click Browse to find the executable, which is most often somewhere in Program Files or Program Files (x86).

How can I avoid the Start screen? It is jarring to have it occupy the full screen when I am working in the Desktop.

a. Make sure your usual applications are pinned to the taskbar and start them from there. If you use lots of applications, you can make it double-height to fit more on, or it will scroll.

b. Use Windows key and R together to bring up the Run dialog and start an application there.

c. Right-click in the bottom left corner to show the Administrative menu. Here you can start most of the utilities that can be tricky to find. You can also get this with Windows – X.

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d. Put more shortcuts on the Desktop and use Windows – D to bring up the desktop when you need it.

Where is control panel? The real one, that is.

If you have read this far, you should know several ways to find it.

a. Start screen, type control, click Control Panel

b. On the desktop, mouse bottom left corner, right-click, choose Control Panel.

c. On the desktop, mouse button bottom right or press Windows – C for Charms, Settings, Control Panel.

d. Right-click in the bottom left corner for the Administrative menu, or press Windows – X.

How do I switch between applications, since Metro apps do not appear in the taskbar?

Annoying I agree, presuming you use both Metro and Desktop apps. The only thing that really works properly is pressing Alt and Tab together. This brings up a program switcher. Press tab again until you get where you want.

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Another thing you can do is to move the mouse top left of the screen and drag down. An odd movement at first but it works; or you can use Windows and Tab together. This shows all the running Metro apps as well as the current Desktop app. It is a bit hopeless though because it does not show all the Desktop apps. Then again, you can use the taskbar as your switcher for Desktop apps so it is just about viable.

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. Where are the menus and settings?

There are two places to look. To get menus, like the tabs and address bar in Metro Internet Explorer, right-click with the mouse. To get settings, mouse to top or bottom right corner or press Windows key and C, and click Settings. The settings are contextual, so you will get the settings for the current app.

I’m in a Metro app. Where is the search function?

Quick answer: Press Windows key and Q.

Long answer: I was surprised to see reviews of the Wikipedia app bemoaning the lack of a search function. How could an encyclopaedia app not have search?

It does of course. It is just that it is not obvious where to find it.

The reason is that Windows 8 has a system search feature. You summon by displaying the Charms bar (Windows key + C, or mouse to top or bottom left corner) and clicking Search. Search defaults to the current app, but you can search elsewhere by clicking another option.

Better still, learn the following keyboard shortcuts:

Windows key and Q: Search apps

Windows key and F: Search files

Windows key and W: Search settings

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How I can see the on-screen clock?

This annoys me as well. However, Windows key and C will show it temporarily.

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How do I close it?

The idea is that you don’t normally need to close an app. Rather, you switch away from it, which you can do using techniques already described: Windows key, or alt-tab, or mouse to top left and (if necessary) drag down.

Metro apps may be hibernated when not in use, so they do not grab system resources in the way desktop apps sometimes do.

However, you might want to close an app because it is misbehaving, or just because you have a tidy mind. You can use alt-F4, which works here as it has done is Windows forever.

If you prefer to use the mouse, move the mouse to the top of the screen so it becomes a hand cursor. Hold the left button down, and drag down the screen and off the bottom. This closes the app.

Alternatively, switch to another app, then do the mouse to top left corner and drag down move. Right-click the app icon you want to close, and click Close.

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Having two versions of IE is confusing. I keep losing track of which sites are open in which browser.

Agreed. The best solution is to make Desktop IE the default, so that Metro IE rarely opens. Go to Control Panel, type Internet in the search box, and click on Internet Options. Click the Programs tab, and under Choose how you open links, select Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop. Finally, check Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop.

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How do I play a DVD?

Windows 8 does not include a DVD player. However your PC may come with DVD playing software bundled by the PC manufacturer. If not, download Videolan (VLC) from here. It’s free, and DVDs will play fine.

How do I shut down or restart the computer?

Windows key and I brings up the Power menu.

Alternatively, Windows key and C, or mouse to bottom right corner, and click Settings, then Power.

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This is somewhat hidden because Microsoft intends that normally power management, or shutting the lid on a laptop, or the soft power-off on a tablet, will be enough. Still, some of us like to turn the PC off completely.

If you want a quicker way to do this with the mouse, it is trivial to create a single short-cut. Right-click the desktop and choose New – shortcut. In the dialogue that appears, type:

shutdown -s

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Click Next, name it as you like, and then Finish. For a restart, use:

shutdown -r

These commands also work in batch files or in the Run dialog.

How do I log off or switch user?

Go to the Start screen and click the user name at top right to display a menu, including Lock, Sign out, and Switch account.

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How can I stop PDF documents opening in Metro?

Windows 8 is set up to open PDF documents in the Metro-style Windows Reader. It is not too bad, but can be annoying and does not have the range of features in the Adobe reader. To fix this, make sure that the latest Adobe reader is installed by downloading it from here. Once installed, right-click a PDF file and click Open With and then Choose Default program.

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In the dialog that appears, click Adobe Reader:

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Now PDF documents will open on the desktop in Adobe Reader.

Where has backup gone in Windows 8?

It’s still there, but for reasons best known to Microsoft it is now called Windows 7 File Recovery. Open desktop Control Panel, type recovery top right and press Enter. Click Windows 7 File Recovery.

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How do you run an application as administrator?

Several ways, but these are the easiest:

a. Hold down Ctrl and Shift together, then click the icon in the taskbar (for an application pinned to the taskbar)

b. Go to the Start screen (Windows Key), find the application icon and right-click. Then click Run as administrator from the menu bar at the foot of the screen.

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Internet hotspot tethering comes to the Lumia 800

Nokia’s first Windows Phone, the Lumia 800, has gained Internet Sharing in a recent update.

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This is a fantastically useful feature if you have a data plan that includes a reasonable amount of data transfer. For example, perhaps you bought one of Google’s great value Nexus 7 tablets, reviewed here. This is Wi-Fi only, but combine it with a smartphone hotspot like this one and you can be online anywhere.

One snag is that the Lumia already has short battery life and this will drain it even faster, if enabled. If I am stuck in an airport and can find a mains point, one workaround I use is to attach the phone to a laptop via USB so that it continues to charge while you are online.

This feature removes what was to me the biggest flaw in the Lumia 800, which is an excellent phone. Unfortunately too many customers have had technical problems, the worst of which is the will not charge bug that is one of the most-read posts on this site. I have not experienced this myself for a while, so there is hope that Nokia has fixed this one too.

Enable Adobe Flash and BBC iPlayer on the Google Nexus 7

Annoyed that BBC iPlayer does not work on Google’s Nexus 7? There is a fix; though note that Adobe Flash is not supported on Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” and the official advice is to put up with the lack of Flash, and wait for the BBC to provide a non-Flash option for Nexus 7 and other recent Android devices. The steps below may stop working as the Nexus 7 update itself, who knows?

If you are impatient though, here is what you have to do.

1. Download the Flash APK, for example from XDA Developers here.

2. Rename it from .zip to .apk if necessary, and tap it on your Nexus 7 device. It will tell you that it cannot be installed, but prompt to access settings where you can tick to allow installation from unknown sources:

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3. Now retry installation and it will work.

4. Install Firefox Beta from the Play Store. Flash does not work with Chrome on the Nexus.

5. Tap the 3 dots in Firefox, go to Plugins, and tap Enabled.

6. Power off your Nexus 7 and restart (it did not work for me until I did that).

7. Go to watch an iPlayer video. You get a message informing you that your phone is not supported. Tap the three dots again and then Request Desktop Site.

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8. Enjoy iPlayer. Full screen works; though I have to admit, Firefox crashed when I switched to another app and I had to Force Stop. Nevertheless, the video played sweetly enough while I was watching.

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Canon PowerShot S100 vs Ixus 80 IS

I am not a photographer but take lots of snaps. I’ve been conscious for a while that my four-year old Canon Ixus 80 IS is not getting quite the results I would like so I have upgraded to a PowerShot S100, still relatively compact though larger and more expensive than the Ixus.

I expected an improvement but I am surprised how much better the S100 is. Here are a couple of comparisons. They are not all that scientific; they are what I got taking a snap at the default settings. This is the Ixus:

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and this is the PowerShot:

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Even more striking is this snap of a bee. This is a detail from a much larger shot as I did not get all that close to the bee, but the distance was similar. Here is the Ixus:

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and the S100:

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I hope that one of the outcomes will be better illustrations for this blog so keep reading!

 

Google Nexus 7: a little bit of everything you do

Google’s Nexus 7 is more than just a tablet. It is Google through and through: a trade where you get a cool device, and Google gets your data and the opportunity to sell you stuff, both advertising and content.

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That is why it is such good value; and it is good value. You get a 7″ 1280×800 display with toughened Corning glass; a Quad-core NVidia Tegra processor; WiFi; Bluetooth; NFC (Near Field Communications) with Android Beam; Accelerometer; GPS; Magnetometer, Gyroscope, 8 hours or so battery life, 1GB RAM, and 8 or 16GB (non-expandable) storage. It runs Android 4.1, “Jelly Bean”.

Not only is the spec decent, but the device is nicely done, though it has been put together quickly. The manufacturer, Asus, says that the Nexus was conceived at a meeting with Google in January, at CES 2012. A few points of interest from Asus:

  • The textured back cover is meant to “feel like a pair of premium driving gloves that will not slip out of your hands”.
  • There are two microphones, one on the top and one on the side, to avoid the chance of blocking audio input with your hand.
  • The display uses a single glass panel with a touch film layer, which Asus says makes it 42% thinner than a “standard touch display module”.

The display is excellent, bright to view and responsive to touch. I compared it to an HTC Flyer, another decent 7” Android tablet though now 18 months old, and the Nexus is sharper, more detailed and more vibrant.

The Nexus is also lighter and thinner than the Flyer, and performs better with its quad-core Tegra 3 vs the Flyer’s 1.%GHzz Snapdragon.

It is not all one way. The Flyer has a rear-facing camera, a microSD slot, and a stylus, all lacking on the Nexus. Still, the 16GB Flyer cost over £400 when it was released, and checking Amazon.co.uk today it is still over £200. The Nexus is £199.00 for 16GB, or £159.00 for 8GB, and comes with £15.00 credit towards content on the Google Play store.

In other words, the Nexus is fantastic value, and makes much of the competition look over-priced.

Nexus and you

First impressions of the Nexus are good. The device is easy to set up, though it insists that you sign in to a Google account. I had no problem setting up Exchange email alongside Gmail though.

There is an emphasis on content and one of the first things I noticed was the covers of a couple of CDs I recently purchased and ripped to my PC. The reason is that I have Google Music Manager installed on the PC, which had automatically uploaded them to Google Music, and now the Nexus was showing me recently uploaded music. It is what you can expect from a Google-connected life; stuff just shows up.

The home page is dominated by widgets recommending purchases. You can remove these but they set the tone: Google is trying to drive content sales.

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There is also a Google strip along the top of the home page which allows text or voice search. The first time you tap this, you get an invitation to sign up for Google Now, a service which mines your personal information, such as location, calendars and other data from Google and from third parties, in order to deliver alerts and reminders.

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Google Now is exactly in line with what former CEO Eric Schmidt said at Mobile World Congress back in 2010:

Google will know more about the customer because it benefits the customer if we know more about them.

Is it worth it? Does it matter if Google knows where you are, who your friends are, and where you are going? Can you trust Google not to misuse that information?

Those are big questions; and while I doubt that anything worse than occasional annoying advertising will happen if you switch on Google Now, it is also spooky and disturbing if you care about privacy.

Leaving aside the big issues, it is a great advertising opportunity for Google which can do targeting based not only on what it knows about you, but also on the context of where you are and what you are doing.

Nexus in use

What is the use of a 7” tablet? Quite a lot. It is a good size for personal media consumption, though it could do with a case that doubles as a stand for watching video. Web browsing works well using the Chrome browser. There is Maps, Skype, Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote, Kindle, music and games, calendar and email. The main limitation is that you need to be on WiFi, but most of the time that is not a problem.

The Nexus has three soft buttons: Home, Back and Recent apps.

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Recent apps shows thumbnails of what you have opened recently and feels like multitasking even though it does not guarantee that those apps are actually running.

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There are a few niggles. The Nexus has speech to text built-in. It kind-of works but so slowly that most will not bother with it. Typing is much quicker and more accurate, even on the soft keyboard.

No Adobe Flash, which is a disappointment, especially in the UK where BBC iPlayer is popular. Adobe is not making a version of Flash for Jelly Bean, though apparently older versions can be installed with a bit of manual effort. Flash cannot be installed directly from the Play store.

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Conclusion

I think Nexus will fly off the shelves. No it is not as good as an Apple iPad, but it is smaller, lighter and cheaper, all of which count for a lot.

With deals like this, Google is making life tough for its third-party partners, Asus aside, and giving Amazon (perhaps the immediate target) a challenge too. Nor will it be easy for the likes of Microsoft, RIM and Nokia coming into the market with new tablets, given everything that the Nexus does perfectly well and at a keen price.

Tablets, laptops, smartphones: which form factors will win?

There have been several thoughtful pieces recently on device form factors and what you can and cannot easily do with tablets versus laptops versus smartphones.

Richard Gaywood says the iPad (it’s an Apple site) is “heavily skewed towards, but not entirely about, consumption” rather than creation. His observation is based partly on app statistics, partly on the lack of a keyboard (if you add a Bluetooth keyboard, he argues, an iPad becomes as bulky as a laptop), and partly on weak multitasking and the lack of an accessible file system.

Tim Bray currently carries a laptop, a small tablet (a Nexus 7 I guess) and a phone. He does not seem to be considering abandoning the laptop, but suggests that he might be able to manage without a phone:

I spent several months back in 2010-11 carrying around the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, which may have only been Gingerbread, but included a first-rate phone, and my handset rarely left my pocket.

John Gruber writes at unusual length about why Apple might or might not do a smaller iPad.

On the eve of the Windows 8 launch this is an interesting discussion. Windows 8 will renew the debate: is a tablet all I need, at least when travelling? And where will Google’s 7” Nexus fit in? I foresee this selling well simply because it is great value, but will it be packed in the flight case alongside a laptop and a phone, or left at home, or could it even replace laptops and bigger tablets?

We in the the great unknown; but I will make a few predictions.

First, laptops and indeed desktop applications (that is, not apps) are in permanent decline. That does not mean they will disappear soon, just that they will be used less and less.

The implication is that tablets will be used for content creation as well as consumption, and for work as well as for play. Will developers and designers still want huge multi-display setups? Yes, of course; but most people will get most of their work done with tablets.

Second, that unadorned tablets will win over complicated solutions like laptops with twisty screens (the old Tablet PC concept), styluses, transformers, and the like. My guess is that we will see lots of clever and expensive Windows 8 x86 devices that will only achieve niche sales. The ones that succeed will be the slates, and the traditional laptops.

Third, there may be merit in the keyboard case concept, particularly when the keyboard is very thin, as in Microsoft’s Surface with Touch Cover. On the other hand, keyboard cases that make tablets into laptops, like one I tried for the iPad, also tend to give tablets the same disadvantages as laptops: clam shell design, difficult to use without a desk, and so on. I have found that I prefer a loose keyboard in my bag. It does not take much space, and does not get in the way when not needed.

What about mid-sized devices like the Nexus? I am not convinced. They are too small for all your work, and too big to be phones. The large-size Smartphones like Samsung’s 5.2-inch Galaxy Note sort-of work: they sell to people who do not mind having a large phone. But most of us will end up with two devices in constant use, a phone and a tablet. In the office or study, add a large screen and keyboard to taste.

USB flash drives: a modern design canvas

USB flash drives were invented around 12 years ago. They soon became commonplace, so designers differentiate with creative designs. I have a drawer full of them and have picked out some that caught my eye.

I like the understated elegance of this Adobe stick.

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though for elegance perhaps this Kingston is the winner. Paperclip included so you get the scale:

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This Huawei stick pays homage to Rubik’s Cube:

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This Google man is a favourite:

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though for the full effect you have to plug him in:

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The designer of this Asus stick plays on the fact that they are sometimes called USB keys:

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This one from Supertooth is a fake music player or something:

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Marley goes for the natural wood effect of course:

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Finally a reminder of where we started. I am not sure of the date of this stick but I have not attended a Borland event for many years:

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It has an LED that lights when plugged in. But the real shocker is the size, shown on the back along with a rather obscure warning:

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Still, bearing in mind that a floppy disk was not normally bigger than 1.44MB, 16MB is not to be sniffed at.

I also suggest that the era of USB flash drives will soon pass. Apple does not support USB storage in iOS, other than to a limited extent for cameras, and just as CDs gave way to USB drives, the USB devices will be replaced by wireless transfer, either locally or via the internet. Some press releases now arrive with links to Dropbox folders. How sensible.