Looking through my snaps from Microsoft’s Times Square launch of Windows 8 and Surface RT, I was struck by this image of a man capturing the event on his Apple iPad.
The picture was snapped in New York City on Wednesday 25th October 2012.
Microsoft has launched Windows Phone 8 at a press event in San Francisco, streamed around the world. Joe Belfiore presented the new features in his usual enthusiastic style (complete with kids on stage to show Kids Corner), and the phone was endorsed by CEO Steve Ballmer and celebrity Jessica Alba.
Key new features:
This was not an event for developers, though we did learn that the SDK will be made available to everyone from tomorrow 30th October.
Phones themselves will be available from this weekend in Europe and from November 14th in the USA.
I got a quick look at the HTX 8x, and was struck by how slim it is, with a 720X1280 4.3″ screen.
It is curved at the back and has a quality feel, though I am not sure HTC quite matches Nokia for hardware design.
I like Windows Phone and there are some tempting new features here. Will this improve Microsoft’s market share and Nokia’s fortunes? This may sound like ducking this issue, but I do not think the fortunes of Windows Phone depend on its features or even the quality of the phones. It is all about operator and retail partnerships, and what customers get told when they walk in to buy a phone and a contract. Windows Phone launched to near-invisibility on the high street. Matters have improved a little since then, especially after Nokia came out with the Lumia (Ballmer said that Nokia sells more Windows Phones than any other vendor), but Microsoft’s phone was still an also-ran after iOS and Android. How does Microsoft get into those in-store conversations, yet alone win them?
I also think Windows 8 is a factor here. If devices like Surface RT are popular, then Live Tiles and other elements of Windows Phone 8 will become familiar. On the other hand if Windows 8 users rush to install substitute Start menus and ignore the new app platform, not much will have been achieved.
I have been surprised by how much of the Windows 8 desktop is present in Windows RT. I had been expecting something more cut-down, to support Office, Explorer, Control Panel and a few other utilities. In fact, it seems to me pretty much the desktop we are used to, though there are differences such as the inability to join a domain. Here are a few screen grabs.
Control Panel is here, though despite the presence of Office 2013, it claims that no programs are installed.
PowerShell is there – interesting, since you could write your own desktop utilities as scripts, making the desktop less locked down (and possibly less secure) that I had expected. The Windows Scripting Host is here too.
and a command prompt, of course:
Incidentally, for screen grabs the Snipping Tool is present. There is no Print Screen key on the touch keyboard cover, but this works fine with a Bluetooth keyboard (I don’t have a Type keyboard).
I’m intrigued by the presence of Windows Easy Transfer. Who might be upgrading their PC to Windows RT?
Not quite everything is here. There is no Windows Media Player; you have to use the new-style apps.
Regedit is here, and prompts for UAC elevation just like on x86.
Remote Desktop Connection is here. So is VPN connection, which works fine for me from the USA to my ISA Sever in the UK, but will depend on your setup (I am trying to clarify this point).
Broadly, everything seems to be here other than a few bits Microsoft chose to pull out. I had thought the reverse would be true.
Note: I attempted to write this post on Surface with Word as the blog authoring tool, but got stuck with the images. Live Writer is far better, which is a concern.
Since there is a certain amount of puzzlement around concerning Microsoft’s new version of Windows, or I should say, two new versions of Windows, here are the answers to the questions many are asking.
Why is Windows 8 so odd?
Windows is the most popular desktop operating system in the world; but is on a trajectory of slow decline. A combination of Macs at the high end and iPad or Android tablets in mobile is eroding its market share. You might not mind that, but Microsoft does, and Windows 8 is its answer. It has a tablet personality which is Microsoft’s tablet play, and a desktop personality which lets you run your existing Windows applications. The two are melded together, which makes Windows 8 a little odd, but ensures that neither one will be ignored.
Why did Microsoft not make a separate tablet version of Windows, like Apple’s iOS and OSX?
Many users think Microsoft should have made the tablet personality in Windows 8 a separate operating system. However, when they say that this would have made more sense and be less odd and intrusive, what they mean is that if it were a separate operating system they could ignore it and get on with their work in old-style Windows. That would achieve nothing for Microsoft, since the tablet-only OS would fail in the market.
Furthermore, Microsoft did in fact make a separate tablet version of Windows. It is called Windows RT (see below).
Why did Microsoft make the desktop side of Windows 8 impossible to use without touch input?
Actually it is fine to use with keyboard and mouse, it just takes some getting used to. When people say it is impossible to use, they mean that they have only tried it for five minutes in a virtual machine and did not like it. If you stick at it, you discover that Microsoft actually thought hard about keyboard and mouse users, and that the new Start screen is a better application launcher than the old Start menu, particularly in combination with the most used applications pinned to the taskbar. Some will not get that far, in which case they will stick with Windows 7 or even buy Macs. That is Microsoft’s calculated risk.
Why didn’t Microsoft simply make desktop Windows easy to use with touch input?
Microsoft tried, in Tablet PC and in Windows 7, but could not make it work. The biggest problem is that while Microsoft conceivably could have made the Windows desktop work well with touch input alone, it had no chance of fixing third-party applications, or older versions of Microsoft’s own software like Office.
Why did Microsoft remove the Start menu from the desktop?
This was not just to annoy you; but Microsoft would rather risk annoying you than have the new app platform in Windows be ignored. That said, there are third-party utilities that put something very like the Start menu back on the desktop if you prefer.
Why is the tablet side of Windows 8 locked down so you can only install apps from the Store?
Well, there are ways. But Microsoft observed Apple’s success with this model on the iPhone and iPad. Easy app discovery, no malware, and a stream of income from third-party sales. Aiming for lock-down was an easy decision; but the Intel version of Windows 8 will never be truly locked down.
Why are the apps in the Windows Store so few and so poor?
This is because the tablet personality in Windows 8 is a new and unproven platform. Software vendors and app developers are not sure whether it will succeed; and they are busy making apps for the two tablet platforms that already have a market, iOS and Android. If Windows 8 takes off, then the apps will start to flow. Unfortunately, the poor quality of the apps so far makes that less likely. Microsoft is countering by seeding the market with a few high quality apps, like OneNote MX, and hoping that Windows 8 users will create a strong demand for apps as the operating system becomes well-known.
What is Windows RT?
Windows RT is Windows 8 running on the ARM processor. The difference from the user’s perspective is that only new-style tablet apps will run on Windows RT. Your existing Windows apps will not run. It is not all bad news though. A Windows RT tablet or notebook will be more secure and run more efficiently than Windows 8 on Intel. If Microsoft has done its job, it should be more stable too, since apps are isolated from each other and from the operating system. Another bonus is that Windows RT comes with Microsoft Office bundled for free – though business users should beware of licensing issues which prohibit commercial use, unless you have an additional license to use Office.
Why are there so few Windows RT devices?
Microsoft’s third-party partners are not sure that Windows RT will succeed. They are a conservative bunch, and think that users will prefer compatibility with the past over the advantages in security, efficiency, and usability with touch, that Windows RT offers.
Why are most Windows 8 tablets complex and expensive hybrids with twisty screens and keyboards?
See above. Most of Microsoft’s hardware partners are not sure that users will buy into the idea of using Windows with simple touch-only slates, so they are playing safe, as they think, with hybrid devices that can be used either as slates or like laptops. Unfortunately the high price of such complex devices will limit demand. Microsoft is doing its own devices, called Surface, as examples of hardware that shows off Windows 8 to best advantage.
Should I upgrade to Windows 8?
If you don’t mind trying something new, yes. It runs better than Windows 7 in most respects. Yes, it is a little odd and has some annoyances, but nothing too serious. Give yourself a little time to learn it. If you hate change though, stick with what you like.
Will Windows 8 succeed, or is it the beginning of the end for Windows?
Ask me that a year from now. Let me add though, that the thing to watch is the Windows Store. If the Store flourishes and quality apps start to flow, it is working. If not, then Microsoft will have failed to achieve its goal with Windows 8, which is to establish a new app ecosystem.
I am someone who records interviews and events frequently, so have a keen interest in digital recorders. Earlier this year I started using a Philips Voice Tracer, reviewed here, so was interested to take a look at a new model, the DVT 3500.
It is the same kind of thing: a handheld recorder with a built-in microphone on the end and a small speaker so you can listen on the device itself if you have to, though you will get better quality from headphones.
Like my other Voice Tracer, this one feels a bit flimsy, but benefits from being small and lightweight, and the older one has proved perfectly durable.
You get quite a few bits in the box: digital recorder with 2GB storage, rechargeable batteries, short USB cable (now micro USB), a standard set of earbuds, a cheap and not very cheerful pouch, and as a special bonus, a telephone pickup.
2GB is on the small side in my opinion, but there is a microSD card slot so you can easily expand it.
Here are some of the things i like about the DVT 3500:
The supplied telephone pickup works like this. It is a mono earbud/microphone which you plug into the microphone socket and stick in your ear. Hold the phone to your ear, and if you can hear the other person, then so can the microphone. I tried it and it is effective, but somewhat intrusive since you get a lower quality of call than you would get without it.
The ear buds on the other hand are remarkably good, clear and with surprisingly deep bass. They are fine for music as well as playing back interviews for transcription.
I compared it to my older model. Quality of recording is similar, though the built-in microphone on the DVT 3500 seems a bit better than the older one. Storage capacity is less but my old model lacks a card slot. The new model has an LED which glows red when recording, and flashing red when paused, a nice feature. Another neat touch is pre-recording mode, where it records a five-second loop in standby mode so that when you hit record, you get the previous five seconds as well.
What is most noticeable is that Philips has worked hard on the firmware, which is much improved. I would not call the DVT 3500 a pleasure to operate, but it is much less fiddly than before. A great feature is that when you scroll though recordings, it auto-plays the first few seconds of each, making it easy to find the right one.
In the old user interface, you use the central joypad to page through incomprehensible icons. The new interface has just four icons along the top, representing File, Record settings, Display settings, and Device settings.
Select a menu with the joypad, and then navigate up and down the sub-menu. The new higher resolution screen allows the choices to be spelt out clearly, such as Format memory in place of the old FORM.
The settings are rather extensive, to the point of confusion. There are separate settings for Auto Adjust Rec, Mic sensitivity, Wind Filter, and noise reduction; I think I understand what all these do, but trying all the combinations to find the optimal results would take time.
If you are recording music I suggest turning off all the automatic adjustments and filters, but for voice where all I care about is a clearly intelligible recording, I leave it on auto adjust and it seems to work out fine.
Make sure you find the real manual, which is a PDF on the device or on the Philips web site. The printed getting started leaflet is short and confusing.
Note there is no radio in this model. It is mentioned in the manual, but that is because the manual covers several models which have different features. This bother me not at all.
When you connect to a PC or Mac the device shows as external storage and it is trivial to import the audio files. The supplied USB cable is irritatingly short though.
The only thing to add is that I personally prefer an external microphone. I did some test recordings, and found that you get much better quality when holding the device in your hand close to your mouth, as opposed on the table in front of you, but that is impractical in many scenarios like interviews. Another snag with the internal microphone is that you get inevitable slight noise when operating the controls.
My old model came with a tie clip mic as well, which I use all the time, sometimes as a tie clip mic, and sometimes just placed on the table. Be careful though If you use a mic other than an official accessory; I tried a Sony mic but its output was too low and the recordings far too noisy. Try to test before purchase.
An excellent device though, which does the job for which it is designed very nicely indeed.
Anyone who questions the need for Microsoft’s radical reinvention of Windows need look no further than Amazon’s sales stats.
I was on Amazon.com checking out the specs for Samsung’s new Ativ slate, and happened to click the link for best sellers in Computers and Accessories.
On the morning of 17th October 2012, here is how the top 20 looked:
A mix of networking devices, screens and accessories make up the other eight places; I chose the entire sector because it puts tablets and laptops alongside each other.
This is not about price. That Dell laptop is $429.99, little different from the 16GB iPad 2 at $399.99 and 42.5% of the cost of the MacBook Pro.
Windows still outsells the Mac overall. Gartner gave Apple just 13.6% of the US PC market (excluding tablets) for the third quarter of 2012. However, Windows is boosted by large corporate sales, where the Mac is still a minority taste; Amazon is largely a consumer vendor.
Further, Amazon’s figures change hourly and I may have hit a low spot; check out the current list yourself.
Finally, the large number of Windows laptops on offer dilute the ranking of any one – though there are a lot of Android tablets on sale too.
For Microsoft though, this is still a worrying list to see. Today’s Windows 7 devices are not what consumers want. Reinventing Windows for tablets was the right thing to do – though that does not, of course, prove that Windows 8 will succeed. Windows 8 pre-orders are not high on the list either – and yes, they are on the list; the Samsung Ativ convertible is currently at 60.
Today Microsoft showed full details and prices for its Surface RT tablet with an ARM processor – an Intel variant is to follow – and you can order now.
Surface is a distinctive device. Here are the key points:
I doubt you will buy Surface RT for its specs: not bad, but not special either:
On the plus side, this should be the most reliable Windows yet. With desktop application installs blocked and only sandboxed Windows Runtime apps allowed, there is little opportunity for badly behaved applications or OEM foistware to foul up the system.
Surface RT realises the Windows 8 vision more fully than the Intel models, which are less efficient, less secure, and odd hybrids of old and new Windows. There is still a desktop in Surface RT, but it is limited and it would not be surprising if it disappears in future versions.
This means that Surface RT is in some respects better than the x86 Surface Pro which is promised at a later date. Surface Pro is heavier (up to 2lbs total), more power hungry, does not come with Office bundled, and will not be as secure. Further, Surface Pro will have greater need of keyboard and mouse thanks to those old desktop applications that users will install. I know which one I would rather take on a plane.
The problem with Surface RT: the Windows Store currently has around 3000 apps, most of them trivial and/or poor. How viable is Surface RT right now for getting all your work done when on the road?
That is an open question, and makes this a risky purchase for most users right now.
Then again, with Office, a web browser and a remote desktop client you are covered for many needs.
As the Windows 8 app ecosystem matures, Surface RT will get correspondingly more attractive. If Microsoft has got the design right (and early reports are good) this could be the ideal device for work and play. I want one.
Many features of Microsoft’s new Windows are designed for touch control on tablets – or perhaps a touch screen on your desktop or laptop. If you have one of those, congratulations: you are set to get the best from Windows 8. Even so, finding your way around does take a bit of time to learn, thanks to some non-obvious features. Here is a brief survival guide for tablet and touch users – if you only have keyboard and mouse see here. If you have a hybrid with both, I suggest reading both survival guides; some things are easier with a keyboard and mouse.
That said, I have found that almost anything can be accomplished with touch alone; and it is worth persevering since it gets easier with practice. A slate without a keyboard is smaller and more convenient that a laptop or slate with loose keyboard. The exception: if I need to type a lengthy piece, a keyboard is worth the inconvenience.
I am mostly avoiding third-party utilities. This is for out-of-the-box Windows 8.
Options are shown a, b , c etc where they are alternatives. Steps are shown as 1, 2, 3 where needed.
How do you right-click an icon without a mouse?
In the Desktop, you can do the equivalent of a right-click by tapping and holding an item until a rectangle outline appears under your finger. Release to show the right-click menu (context menu).
How do you type in a desktop app when the keyboard does not appear?
Tap the Touch keyboard icon in the notification area at bottom right of the screen.
How do I stop the keyboard covering what I am typing in a desktop app?
Very annoying and I do not have a perfect solution. One option is to dock the on-screen keyboard by tapping the dock icon at top right of the keyboard:
In this mode, it will not overlap any apps. I find it annoying though since you now have a short screen, and when you hide the keyboard apps remain in the position the keyboard pushed them to, so I have to resize them.
Tap the icon when docked to undock.
My tip: try typing in portrait mode. Docked or undocked, this gives you a better chance of not having to type into the void.
How do you get back to the Start screen?
a. The Start menu is a now a full-screen Metro application. You can find it in several ways. Press the Windows key, which is present even on tablets as the solitary key under the display.
b. You can also swipe in from the right to display the Charms bar, then tap Start.
c. A third way is to swipe in from the left and then immediately out again. This brings up the app history bar. Tap the Start tile at the bottom.
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, tap on a tile and drag up slightly as if you were going to flick to select, but don’t lift your finger. An outline appears on the tile and you can drag a tile right or left until it passes a grey vertical bar. Release to start the new group, or drag further to add to a different group. You can drag past the end of the screen to have further groups scroll into view.
Add further tiles to a new group by dragging them under one of the existing tiles in the group.
2. To name and/or move the group, put two fingers on the screen and pinch inwards. This will zoom out. Now, flick up on the group you want to name. This selects the group. Then you can tap Name group to name or rename it.
3. To move a group, use the same technique you used to move a tile – flick up, but do not lift your finger. Now you can drag the whole group to a new position.
I turned my tablet on and the logon screen comes up, but it does not respond to touch.
I hope this never happens to you, but I have seen it regularly on a Samsung Slate and guess it may happen on other models too. The only solution I have found is to reset the machine. To do this:
1. Hold down the power button until the unit turns off.
2. Now hold does the power button again. When the unit seems to be turning on, keep the button held down. Eventually it will turn off again. Now it is completely off. Turn on again in the normal way, and your touch control should be OK again.
I have the Start screen or a Metro app running. How do I get to the desktop?
You can go back to the Start screen and tap the Desktop tile. There is a better way though. Unless you are already at the Start screen, it is quicker to raise the app history bar by swiping in from the left and then out again. Then tap the Desktop tile.
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, swipe in from the top or bottom of the screen. To get settings, swipe in from the right to show the Charms bar, and tap 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?
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 (swipe from the right) and tapping Search. Search defaults to the current app, but you can search elsewhere by tapping another option.
I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How I can see the on-screen clock?
This annoys me as well. However, swiping in from the right 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: swipe in from the left and immediately out again, to show the app history bar.
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. Swipe in from the left and out again to show the app history bar, then press on an app, do not lift your finger but drag it down and off the bottom of the screen to close it (throw it away).
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, flick up on a live tile so a tick appears in the top right corner. Then tap Turn live tile off at the foot of the screen.
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 tap Settings – Tiles. Tap Clear.
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. Swipe in from the right to display the Charms bar, and tap Search. Then type a few letters on the on-screen keyboard; all the matching applications are listed.
b. Swipe up in the Start screen and tap the All Apps button that appears in the app bar. Swipe through the entire list to find an app.
c. Still can’t see it? Try showing Administrative tools. From the Start screen, swipe in from the right to show the Charms menu. Tap Settings, then Tiles, Show administrative tools.
d. If you are really stuck, you might need to use Explorer in the desktop to find the application in Program Files or Program Files (x86).
How do I switch between applications, since Metro apps do not appear in the taskbar?
Swipe in from the left and then immediately out to show the app history bar. This shows all the running Metro apps as well as the current Desktop app. It is not ideal 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.
How do I shut down or restart the computer?
Swipe in from the right to show the Charms menu, then tap Settings and then Power.
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.
How do I log off or switch user?
Go to the Start screen and tap the user name at top right to display a menu, including Lock, Sign out, and Switch account.
Having two versions of IE is confusing. I keep losing track of which sites are open in which browser.
Agreed. One solution is to make Metro IE the default, so that Desktop IE rarely opens, though this is not ideal since some web sites only work properly in Desktop IE.
If you do want to do this. go to Control Panel, type Internet in the search box, and tap on Internet Options. Tap the Programs tab, and under Choose how you open links, select Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop. Finally, make sure Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop is NOT checked.
How can I avoid going back to the Start 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. 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, search apps, type “control”, tap Control Panel
b. On the desktop, swipe from right for Charms, tap Settings, Control Panel.
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 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, tap and hold a PDF file until a rectangle outline appears, and release to show the context menu. Tap Open With and then Choose Default program.
In the dialog that appears, tap Adobe Reader:
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 tap Enter. Tap Windows 7 File Recovery.
How do you run an application as administrator?
Go to the Start screen find the application icon and flick up to select. Then tap Run as administrator from the menu bar at the foot of the screen.
How do you capture a screenshot without a keyboard?
Use the Snipping tool by searching the Start screen. Tap New to capture all or part of the screen.
Where is the alt key on the touch keyboard?
Microsoft has made every effort to prevent you finding the alt key (and a few other useful things like function keys) if you are using the touch keyboard.
Enabling these is a two-stage process. First, show the Charms menu, tap Settings, and then Change PC Settings. Tap General. and then under the heading Touch keyboard, select Make the standard keyboard layout available.
Now tap to show the touch keyboard and tap the keyboard icon at bottom right. This lets you select a keyboard mode such as the split keyboard. Select the full keyboard, second icon from the right in the screen grab below.
The touch keyboard now shows Alt, Fn and other useful keys.
The hi-fi industry is on its knees, or so I had thought. That may be true for traditional home stereos; but at a gadget briefing for UK press yesterday I saw more audio stands and stands highlighting audio products than I can recall. The themes: headgear (both headphones and earbuds) and wireless speakers.
As an example, Cygnett was highlighting its noise cancelling headphones and various earbuds, and told me that this is a fast-growing market.
I enjoyed the exotic things more of course, like the Edifier Spinnaker Bluetooth speakers – that little round thing is a wireless remote.
Even more striking are the Opalum wall speakers, like this FLOW.4810 model, with an array of 48 1″ drivers in each active speaker.
You can hang them on your wall like this:
At the other end of the scale, BoomBotix showed its Boombot2 Bluetooth mini attached to the handlebars of a bike; a good way to make yourself unpopular, perhaps, but fun to see.
Canadian speaker company PSB was showing its high-end M4U noise cancelling headphones
I had a quick listen and they sounded good, though it is always hard to tell for sure in a crowded room. Neat feature: a press-button remote on the cable enables an external microphone so you can hear someone talking to you without removing the headphones.
Another company with striking designs was Libratone, showing its Zipp AirPlay portable wireless speakers.
One thing I did not see much of: old-style iPhone / iPod speaker docks that charge while you play. One exhibitor told me that users will think twice about buying docks with physical connectors now that Apple has changed the design and made everything incompatible without an adapter. In any case, wireless is more stylish. Bluetooth seems most favoured, since it is widely compatible; Android is making its mark and Apple-specific devices are becoming less attractive.
Also worth a mention is Urbanista, which showed its stylish headphones and earbuds, though the focus seems more on fashion than sound; like the London earbuds designed, I was told, to look like cuff links.
The home stereo may be dead; but there is still innovation in audio. One factor is that almost any portable device – whether dedicated music player, smartphone or tablet – is capable of producing a high quality signal. Connect to the right headphones or active speakers and the magic begins.
Today I met with a professional software developer and at the end of the meeting brought out a laptop with Windows 8 installed. Had he ever used it? No.
This particular laptop has the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) build of Windows 8 and Office 2010 installed. I logged on with a new profile and put it in front of him. This was good, because Windows 8 ran its start-up sequence exhorting the user to “move your mouse into any corner” and showing the Charms menu.
This intro was not a success. My contact thought he was being instructed to move the mouse, but at this point in the start-up sequence, the mouse is disabled; it is a kind of pre-roll slideshow.
Microsoft would have done better to show a video of a user performing common actions.
Next, the Start screen came up.
The user soon found the Desktop tile and clicked it. I then asked him to run Word.
“Ah, no Start menu” he said. Then, being resourceful, he right-clicked the desktop and clicked “New Microsoft Word Document.” Next he double-clicked the new document.
Very good, I said, but now run Word without making a new document.
This was a struggle. Although the new Start screen is called Start, it was not obvious to him that this was in fact the Start menu and he looked for some other launcher on the desktop. He probably could have done something else clever like Ctrl-Alt-Del, Task Manager, File – New Task, but knew that was not what I was looking for.
It did not help that some quirk or bug in Office or Windows 8 meant that there were no shortcuts for Office showing by default in the Start screen. In other words, the Office apps were not “pinned to Start.” I had not intended this.
After some clicking around he stabbed the keyboard a few times which had the effect of performing random searches in the Start screen. This changes the view from big tiles to small tiles, quite disconcerting when you see it for the first time.
At this point I gave him some more help; once he got the idea of typing a few letters to find an application he was fine with it.
“What is the point of removing the Start menu?” he asked me.
I know the answer to that one. The purpose is not to trip up users like him; but nor is it to help him – though personally I do now find the Start screen a better launcher than the old Start menu.
Microsoft designed Windows 8 so that users cannot avoid the Start screen, which is the gateway to the new world of Windows Store apps.
Despite his uncertain start, my victim thought he would be fine with Windows 8 after a few days. I agree.
Nevertheless, most Windows users will have a few painful moments as they get used to the new user interface.
Users less steeped in the old familiar ways of Windows may actually find it easier. I have seen children using Windows 8 and having no problem with it.
Expect fireworks when Windows 8 goes fully public, and more users like David Gerwirtz declare:
… despite the operating itself being a marvel of engineering, ease of use, speed, and underlying functionality — I’m forced to say that it’s unusable for desktops out of the box. Un-frakin’-usable.
He is wrong. Even as a desktop operating system, with mouse and keyboard, Windows 8 works fine. Take the trouble to learn how to use it, and you will soon be just as productive as before.
Those first moments are hard though; and no doubt some will adjust quicker than others, and some will never adjust.
It is also true that while Windows 8 is just as productive as Windows 7, and probably a bit more productive, it is less coherent in its design, thanks to its split personality.
I understand why Microsoft removed the Start menu, but it seems to me the company could have done better in showing new users how to get going. Of course this is an opportunity for OEM vendors to show how they can add value, though history is not encouraging in this respect.
Windows 8 is a brave move for Microsoft; but remember this. Without the new tablet personality, Windows would be doomed to irrelevance in a few years. As it is, Windows is getting a new Start.