Category Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse



Touchpads and touchscreens are great, but sometimes you just need the ultimate precision of a mouse.Microsoft Arc Mouse Bluetooth

Microsoft has always made great computer mice. The Microsoft Mouse has never tried to pretend to be a fashion computing accessory. It’s always been a reliable workhorse that feels great in the hand, does what it is supposed to do, but otherwise just gets out of the way.

Modern portable computing is all about compactness. A traditional mouse shape isn’t ideal for a portable computer accessory.

I was recently looking for a new portable wireless mouse, and I came across the Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse.

The Ark Touch Mouse consists of a clever arcing design. The arc snaps into the flat position for storage, and into the raised arc position when in use. Cleverly the arc/flat position also serves as the on/off switch – arced is on, and flat is off.

It uses BlueTrack technology that works precisely on virtually any surface, including reflective surfaces such as glass or rough surfaces such as wood or even carpet. I can confirm this claim – it works precisely on every surface I’ve tried, making it extremely useful for portable computing situations.

It has physical left and right mouse buttons, but in the center it has a narrow touch surface that functions as a virtual scroll wheel. The touch surface simulates a scroll wheel with the use of an integrated vibrator that does a pretty good job of mimicking the feel of its physical counterpart. The center touch surface also has an accelerated scrolling function that responds to faster up and down finger motions for fast window scrolling. The palm portion of the mouse is constructed of a smooth rubber material that has a velvety feel that offers a good gripping surface. The mouse runs on two AAA batteries, which are included.

The basic Microsoft Arc Mouse comes in two versions – one with a tiny nano-sized USB dongle that is cleverly magnetized and sticks to the back of the mouse for storage, and the other version with integrated Bluetooth for a few dollars more. On Amazon the Arc Touch Mouse dongle version is currently selling for $39.93 and the Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse is selling at Amazon for $44.30.

There is also a new Microsoft Arc Touch Arc Mouse Surface Edition that Amazon sells at $58.57 that uses Bluetooth 4.0 that will work with compatible “SmartReady” PC’s and tablets.

The dongle version Arc Touch Mouse is Mac OS/X compatible.

For the Bluetooth versions I would make sure to research specific devices to make certain they can recognize and work with the mouse.

I don’t need the mouse for every task because my Surface Pro 3 type cover has an integrated touchpad that works fine for many jobs. For tasks such as precision video editing, the mouse is easy to pull out of the storage bag, plug the USB dongle in, snap the mouse into the arced “on” position, and it’s ready to go.

If you are looking for a very capable mouse that is easy to store in a flattened state and will work precisely on virtually every surface portable computing situations might force you to encounter, the Arc Touch Mouse is a mouse to consider.


Computers Re-thought



Ergonomics plays a large role in how appealing and useful we find electronic devices, thus ergonomics ends up affecting out behavior more than we realize.Lenovo C40

Like many people back in the 1990’s I was heavily into building my own computers, typically using the ever-popular tower case to house things in. The basic machine included a tower, a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. We figured out ways of placing the various elements to make using these machines as comfortable as possible, and this basic configuration is still dominant today in most offices.

Over the years, especially early on, I was able to sell many of my old cast-off machines when I would get new equipment. By the time the 2000’s came, computers had saturated the market and older machines weren’t as easily gotten rid of. So, thus began somewhat of a psychological barrier to remain on the upgrade path.

Also at some point I felt that performance had gotten good enough that it really wasn’t as necessary to continually change out the hardware. I ended up keeping machines longer, and they sort of morphed into appliances. I bought a few Macs and they are all still hanging around, including two Mac Minis. Mac Minis, though they are small, still follow the same familiar tower-monitor-keyboard-mouse paradigm.

My recent purchase of a Surface Pro 3 256 did something I didn’t think was possible. It got me excited over the possibilities of an all-in-one touch form factor running Windows 10.

As a result, I’ve been looking at all-in-one desktop touch computers from companies such as HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung. I developed a bit of a feel for features versus price in the current all-in-one market.

For $449 dollars at my local Office Depot store, I ended up buying a Lenovo C40 series machine with an AMD processor, 8 gigs of RAM expandable to 16, Windows 10 preinstalled, 3 USB 2.0’s, 2 USB 3.0’s, 2 HDMI’s out, a 1920 x 1080 21.5” inch capacitive touch display, integrated CD/DVD writer, Bluetooth 4.0, SD card reader, wired USB keyboard, wired USB mouse, and a one terabyte hard drive. The display machine set up in the store also passed my cursory performance tests, which include how fast menus snap open, as well as how quickly the machine can reboot.

I am enjoying the all-in-one form factor even more than I thought I would. A large portion of the enjoyment surprisingly comes from the ergonomics afforded by the all-in-one form itself. This particular Lenovo model on its stand sits about 4 inches above the surface of the desk. This gets it up high enough that it becomes easier to look at. Also, the USB ports on the side are extremely handy – no fumbling around on the floor behind a machine to try to plug in a USB memory key or SD card – the USB 3.0 ports and SD card reader are conveniently located along the left side of the machine as you are facing it thus placing the ports right where in my case plenty of light falls on them making using them a snap.

Another aspect is that it is easy to bring the entire machine forward far enough that I can encourage myself to keep good posture as opposed to realizing that I’ve unconsciously hunched over into an uncomfortable position.

As noted above the memory can be boosted to 16 gigabytes and the hard drive is also accessible. Rudimentary instructions are included on how the machine comes apart to get at these items.

Despite the fact that the machine is quick and responsive even with video editing, certain processor-intensive tasks such as video rendering are not as fast as the performance one would get out of an Intel i5 or i7. The slow video rendering is likely exposing one of the key weaknesses of the AMD A6-7310 processor. Nonetheless, for basic everyday tasks this model is snappy enough.

The all-in-one touchscreen computer does seem to be catching on with consumers. Windows 10 is the right operating system at the right time. Millions of people have grown quite comfortable with the touchscreen experience and an entire new generation of kids that were born after the advent of the modern capacitive touchscreen are simply expecting it.


Outlook for IOS – My First Look



Screen shot 2015-10-29 at 10.18.28 AMOutlook for iOS has been out awhile, but this is my first look. 

Since I made the switch from Microsoft products to “other” products in 2008 or so, I haven’t looked back…. Until now.  

My wife started a new job and received a Microsoft Surface (Not sure exactly what model) as her work machine.  It came with Windows 8.1 which I wasn’t really impressed with.  When windows 10 came out, I upgraded it for her.  What a world of difference!  I have to say, windows just became usable again.  I have one older laptop that I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and it works great for what little I use it for. I’m not switching back from Apple for my desktop anytime soon, but I am impressed.

That being said, I notice that Microsoft is now putting out new office apps for iOS and Mac.  I decided I would try Outlook for iOS for email.

I use gmail for my main email and my work email.  I also have an icloud email account.  I figured I would give it a full test and put all 3 in it.  It was really easy, no server addresses, no SSL selections, it just worked (when is the last time you said that about a Microsoft Product?).

Outlook for IOS organizes things a lot like Gmail does.  In threads.  You can turn that off if you want.  It also handles “priority inbox” in Gmail in what is called “Focused Inbox”.   All in all, it’s a great email app and I’m 90% sure I’m going to dump Gmail for IOS as my go-to mobile email app.

Outlook also picked up my calendars from both iCloud and Google. The good thing is it didn’t make dupes like some calendar apps do.  I’m thinking if Microsoft keeps making good stuff like this, they may convert some of the die-hard Apple Fanboys.  

To check out Outlook for IOS, see it in the Apple App Store 


Pickup Trucks



When the late Steve Jobs introduced the iPad a few years ago, he made the analogy comparing the iPad to cars and conventional computers to trucks.

h3tAt its essence it is a good analogy. Cars provide comfortable transportation for a limited number of passengers. Trucks can haul massive payloads. There are a myriad of vehicle sizes in between that serve many different functions. Overall in this blend, there are more cars on the road than trucks, but there are plenty of vehicles that fall into the hybrid category.

What would happen if we press the analogy farther? Where do vehicles such as pickup trucks and the ever-popular SUV variants fit in to Jobs’ vision? Vehicles of different sizes perform different functions

Modern computers also come in many different shapes and sizes. We started out with massive mainframes in corporate and government computing centers, and we have ended up with extremely powerful miniaturized computers that are so inexpensive and useful they are virtually everywhere.

If smartphones could be considered the computer equivalent of the chopped-off looking “Smart” two passenger car, and iPads and other tablets could be considered normal four and five passenger sedans, while desktop and laptop computers are trucks, then where does the ever-popular pickup truck fit in?

Enter the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and 4 tablets that are also powerful PC’s in their own right. After buying and using a Surface Pro 3 for a variety of computing tasks, I’m sold on the Surface Pro 3 form factor. This category of computer – the convertible – has legs.

The Surface Pro 3 and 4 could be considered pickup trucks in Steve Jobs’ analogy. It functions well as a capacitive touchscreen tablet media consumption device, but it also is a full-fledged, no compromises PC that can handle real-world productivity tasks. This is the computer I’ve been looking for since becoming intimately familiar with my first iPad.

I feel the need to reiterate once again that I am a fan of technology. I own many Apple devices as well as Windows and Android devices – I feel no monolithic loyalty to any of them. Setting aside irrational emotional reactions for or against companies or operating systems, the convertible tablet PC is a fantastic computing concept that through blood, sweat and tears Microsoft has made into a reality.

Will the convertible tablet PC catch on? My prediction is yes. Will Apple produce the Mac OS/X version of the Microsoft Surface Pro? Again, my prediction is yes, though they may stubbornly resist for a while the same way they resisted producing larger-screen iPhones — they pivoted when they realized they were leaving money and mindshare on the table.


Barriers To Productivity



logosIt’s been just a few days since purchasing a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 256 gigabyte tablet with the type cover. I am finding that I really enjoy the experience. Microsoft really has struck a chord I find myself responding to.

I believe this is the computing experience I have been seeking for a while now. Over the years I’ve had multiple desktop and laptop machines, both Mac and Windows. Certainly over the years I’ve had my fair share of problems with Windows, and to be honest fewer problems with Macs. I’ve also gone through the modern capacitive touchscreen experience with both iPads and Android tablets. The iPad media consumption experience is superior, but newer Android devices have mostly caught up and offer tremendous value for money when compared to over-priced iPads.

As I’ve noted in prior articles, over time I hoped to somehow transform the tablet experience from being perhaps the best media consumption devices developed to date into genuine productivity devices. The sheer portability of a tablet is dramatic when compared to laptops, the necessary bulky laptop bags, and the sheer weight of their accumulated accessories.

After trying three separate Bluetooth keyboards on two different iPad models, I found typing on an undersized netbook-sized keyboard was a notably unpleasant experience. Posting articles to the web from a tablet can be done but it’s not the most pleasant experience without the aid of a mouse.

Laptop computers have shrunk in size in recent years, but a laptop is still a laptop and does not offer the same portability and overall ease of use of a modern tablet. The non-touch, laptops I still bring with me have ended up not being used nearly as much as they once did.

Now that I’ve experienced the sheer portability and convenience of a tablet with a real keyboard and touchpad, I find myself being a lot more productive.

I believe there has been a subtle psychological barrier that has developed over the past few years that has limited my overall computing productivity. The sheer ease of use of touchscreen phones and tablets contrasted with the much more clunky experience of non-touch conventional laptop computing ended up making it easy for me to justify in my own mind being less productive. I would have ideas for articles to write or videos or other media to compile that would necessitate me digging a laptop out of its bag, plugging it in so I wouldn’t run down the battery, booting it up, etc. and this psychological inertia made it easier to just procrastinate instead.

My Windows 10 experience so far has been exemplary. It takes the Surface Pro 3 less than 5 seconds to boot up completely from a cold state. That encourages me to simply turn it off when I’m not using it. I can turn it on and immediately start using it. That’s a far cry from machines of old running off of hard drives. I find it amazing that I have a full, powerful PC that can run real productivity software in a tablet form factor.

The Surface line of computers running the Intel version of Windows is a genuine game changer. I can already hear the howls and catcalls from some quarters, but the combination of Windows 10 and the surface has brought me back actively to the Windows platform.

 


Microsoft Offers Easy Trade Up Program



Microsoft logoNow might be a good time to trade in that old laptop that you aren’t using anymore and upgrade to a new one. Microsoft is offering a program that can help you do that. It is called Easy Trade Up and it gives consumers a rebate for trading in a laptop, or a Macbook, and purchasing a Windows 10 machine.

In short, Microsoft will offer a minimum $200 trade up reward for a laptop. It will offer a $300 trade up reward for a MacBook. In order for your device to qualify for the Easy Trade Up offer, it must be a maximum of six years old. It can be an “all-in-one”, a laptop or 2-in-1, an Apple Macbook, or an Apple iMac.

It doesn’t matter what operating system your trade in is running. Microsoft will accept devices that are running any operating system. It is important to note that for your trade-in to qualify for the Easy Trade Up promotion it “must be a working, complete and undamaged laptop or Macbook.” Your laptop or MacBook must have a minimum 11.3” display and must be complete with a working battery and power supply.

In order to take advantage of the Easy Trade Up promotion, you must purchase a new product from a Microsoft Store that is located in the United States between October 14, 2015, and October 20, 2015. You must make a minimum purchase of $599.

Next, submit your claim online on the Easy Trade Up website within 14 days of the date of your qualifying purchase. Then, send Microsoft your old laptop or Macbook (after your claim has been approved). You will receive your Trade In Reward payment within 28 days of the validation of your claim.


Adobe Premiere Elements 14



Adobe Premiere Elements 14

Back in the heyday of the FireWire interface, I became fairly proficient with Final Cut Express. However, in 2011 Apple stopped developing it, and Final Cut express just wasn’t designed to work natively with compressed video file formats that virtually all modern cameras output. I really liked the Final Cut Express interface and was sad to see it be left behind.

Many people rave about iMovie. Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those people that doesn’t like the iMovie interface. Just give me a linear editor with stackable clips and I can easily and quickly find my way around.

In the meantime, my 2007 MacBook Pro 17” inch became quite long in the tooth and I started leaving it at home. For the past year I’ve been doing relatively simple video editing on my phone.

The recent purchase of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 256 gigabyte machine inspired me to try out a trial version of Adobe Premiere Elements 14, the latest version of Adobe’s consumer verson of Premiere, which is aimed at high-end professional video editors. Premier Elements 14 is somewhat different than Final Cut Express, but actually very similar since it is a linear editing approach.

Unlike Final Cut Express, Premiere Elements 14 is quite up to date and handles all of the modern compressed digital file formats. It is even capable of editing 4k video. It’s quite flexible in output formats, and is capable of uploading directly to YouTube and Facebook.

I am still learning my way around the interface. My biggest complaint so far is that using the animated titles seems a bit clunky. I’m sure I will become proficient with them over time as I continue to use the software. Some of the options at first blush seem to be a bit hidden.

Before I pulled the trigger and purchased the unlock key from the Adobe website, I watched a number of tutorial videos on YouTube to make certain that the program could do everything I expected it to be able to do. It turns out that all of the features are present, but proficiency requires a bit of time and effort. Alas, this is video editing after all!

Version 14 of the software has 4 modes, Live, Quick, Guided and Expert. The two most useful modes for my needs are Quick and Expert. Though I am spending most of my time in Expert mode, switching to Quick mode can be useful from time to time in order to gain quick access to certain features. To instantly switch from one mode to another it’s as easy as clicking on the appropriate word just below the title bar.

Premiere Elements 14 sells for $99 dollars US and is available for download at the Adobe website. The 30 day trial version is easily converted to the full purchased version by purchasing a license key from Adobe.

Overall, I like the software. I will be happy to purchase the next upgrade.


Device Wars



surface-bookAs technology relentlessly moves forward, functions continually consolidate and devices get smaller as capabilities increase. This march forward has caused form factors to shift. The first desktop computers were relatively large and boxy and certainly not portable. Over time as laptop computers improved, desktop sales began to fall.

Imagine the succession of devices you have gone through over a long period of time. They start out as clunky and single purpose, and over time as the tech improves they get smaller and some of them are simply absorbed such as camcorder and point-and-shoot cameras. Imagine them endlessly changing and continually morphing as your expectations changed over long periods of time. There is an ongoing war not only between devices, their capabilities and their form factors, but there is also a war going on inside of each end user of these devices as to which one is better and performing specific tasks.

The first mobile phones were large and clunky. Mobile phones went through a long progression over time of getting smaller as capability increased and eventually turned into the ubiquitous smartphones we know and love today.
The ongoing warfront is now between smartphones, tablets running apps such as the iPad, and conventional laptop computers. Which one is better at performing what task?

Up until about 2011, I did all of my mobile computing on laptop machines. I got an iPad 2 in 2011. I found the iPad 2 to be a great media consumption device, so between the iPad 2 and my Android phone, I gradually stopped using my laptops for all but real productivity tasks, where the iPad and other tablets really seem to fall flat.

In 2013, I bought an iPad Air. In retrospect, I justified the purchase to myself thinking that the faster processor in the iPad air might enable me to move completely away from laptop computers altogether. Sadly, this was not the case. The iPad remains a great media consumption device, but as a productivity device it is still quite lacking.

My primary use for computers includes writing articles, editing video, editing my websites, and recording and publishing audio podcasts. While it is possible to do all of these tasks on an iPad or an Android tablet, it’s an unnecessarily painful, slow experience necessitating jumping through multiple hoops.

I believe many people did exactly the same thing I did, trying to turn the iPad into a small ultraportable laptop. The iPad makes a lousy laptop. There is no mouse, and though the iOS apps are great for media consumption, the apps make lousy productivity impostors. The iPad makes a poor netbook. I believe that is why Apple forbids the iPad from using a mouse.
The conventional laptop makes an inferior media consumption device.

Beginning in May of 2014, a new entrant entered the ongoing device war. I believe a significant portion of the future of computing resides in the so-called 2 in 1’s. I don’t believe that conventional laptops or tablets running apps will go away, but I believe the 2 in 1’s such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and above will eat into laptop and tablet sales. Apple has yet to enter this 2 in 1 market, despite the recently-announced iPad Pro. The iPad Pro running iOS apps will be a bigger iPad and thus a bigger media consumption device that can’t run genuine productivity software.

I personally see a future for myself with a large screen smartphone, and a 2 in 1 tablet/computer, with some room left over for inexpensive mid-sized tablets that function as media consumption devices and offer mapping and GPS functions. I will allow my conventional desktop and laptop computers, the majority of them now-older out-of-date Macs, die of attrition as they inevitably quit working over time.


“Cheat Code” Activates Cortana on Xbox One



Cortana logoVoice-activated “virtual assistants” have been growing in popularity. The fervor began with Apple’s Siri, then increased with Google’s Hey Google! service. More recently, Microsoft made news with its virtual assistant Cortana, announcing that it would be coming to the Xbox One gaming console in 2016.

But right now, it’s early October and the notion of waiting thru the entire fourth quarter of 2015 for Cortana’s arrival was too much for some Xbox One owners to bare. Using the time-honored method of “button mashing” around different screens in the Xbox One’s settings, industrious gamers (with perhaps a little too much time on their hands) found a “cheat code” that will unlock some of Cortana’s basic features today.

By accessing the Settings page in the latest Xbox One Preview and repeatedly pressing the A button on an Xbox controller, users can access some of Cortana’s basic functions. It’s a short list compared to what’s being promised with the full rollout next year. But it does provide at least a basic glimpse of what it’ll be like to use the virtual assistant in between sessions of Halo or Call of Duty.

 


Coming Full Circle



Surface Pro 3
Surface Pro 3

Over the years I’ve made use of most every personal computing device as it came along. I’ve have been through a long succession of desktop and laptop computers (both Windows and OS/X), along with expensive but rather limited use PDA type devices, and in more recent years smartphones and tablets (both iOS and Android).The capacitive glass touchscreen smartphone era was ushered in by the iPhone. Next came the capacitive glass touchscreen tablet, a device that ate into laptop usage. In the past couple of years larger screen smartphones have taken a bite out of both tablet and laptop usage.

Admit it, it’s happened to you. You are sitting there in front of your desktop or laptop computer with a keyboard and mouse, and you find yourself reaching up and touching the monitor screen trying to pinch and zoom. You are in good company — it’s happened to virtually everyone that’s gotten used to using a capacitive touchscreen phone or tablet.

When I first got an iPad, I realized pretty quickly it was quite good at being a media consumption device. Naturally over time, I found myself trying to figure out ways of doing more with it. It was a bit frustrating, because I almost wanted it to be more of a laptop with real productivity software (not limited “apps”) that I could use a mouse with (specifically forbidden by Apple for use on the iPad).

I have to admit to never using Windows 7, 8 or 8.1. Windows Vista had been such a frustrating experience that around 2006 I jumped over to Apple machines in a big way — three Mac Minis, two Macbooks, one original Apple TV, two iPod Classics, one iPod Touch 4th gen, and two iPads.

Microsoft has to be given credit for trying to blend the capacitive touchscreen interface with the traditional computer interface. Of course, their first attempt at it — Windows 8 and 8.1 — was badly bungled.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has really nailed the blending of the capacitive touchscreen experience with the traditional mouse interface.

Lately I’ve found myself getting excited by the idea of being able to have a high-performance tablet device that could also run real software applications — not just very limited “apps” — that could also function as a desktop class computer. Importantly, real productivity software demands the option of being able to use a mouse instead of fingers if need be. Editing audio or video, for example, demands the precision of a nimble pointing device that can’t be matched by fingers on capacitive glass obscuring the image.

All that being said, I’ve come full circle. I want a high performance tablet that has a great screen, fantastic performance, plenty of storage and a real computer operating system that when attached to a keyboard essentially turns into a high performance laptop computer.

One of the things that has driven me a bit insane about the world of Apple and OS/X (along with iOS) is their penchant for routinely taking valuable things away. I became fairly proficient with Final Cut Express, and Apple arbitrarily decided to stop developing it. For years I used a podcast recording application for OS/X called Ubercaster that pretty much stopped working with OS/X Lion, and the developer stopped developing it. My choice was to stop upgrading OS/X or stop using Ubercaster with no one piece of software that could directly replace it.

My Macbook Pro 17″ from 2007 still works, except the moust button is stuck in the “on” position, rendering it useless. I could get it fixed, but the machine is at least 8 years old and has a high-hour LCD — probably not worth spending any money on at all.

I am not very loyal when it comes to brands or technology. Though I started out with DOS and Windows and mostly moved over to OS/X about 9 years ago, I can easily move back to Windows.

Two days ago I purchased a Microsoft Surface 3 Pro tablet and keyboard with a 256 gigabyte SSD. So far, the experience has been great. The Microsoft keyboard offers a great typing experience. Unlike the cramped and compromised netbook sized keyboards, the optional Surface Pro 3 keyboard works as well as any laptop keybaord I’ve ever used.

To Microsoft’s credit, much vintage/legacy software works just fine on Windows 10. Adobe Audition 1.5, which is at least 10 years old at this point, loaded and functions on Windows 10.

I now have a 12″ high resolution tablet that offers incredible performance. It can turn completely on and off in seconds. I can use it either as a tablet or as a laptop. I have a capacitive touchscreen that I can pinch and zoom if I want, but I’ve also got a touchpad and mouse cursor, completely my choice — whatever I reach for without having to think about it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the two-in-one experience — a tablet that can function as a high performance laptop — is the new next step in the ongoing story of my usage of computing devices.