Category Archives: Microsoft

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.

 


Cortana arrives on the Android platform



Cortana-image-3-576x1024Apple has Siri, Google has, well…Ok Google — a less clever name, but it works well enough. Then there’s Microsoft, which has Cortana. It began life on Windows Phone, but then it spread to the new Windows 10. Now it spreads further, expanding on Google territory with a beta version for Android phones and tablets.

So which service do you want to use? I installed Cortana on an LG G4 and it worked flawlessly, though it requires a bit of setup. It will ask a series of questions, though they are easy to answer.

Microsoft claims “The Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone. With the app, you can manage your hectic lifestyle by setting and getting reminders, searching the web on-the-go, tracking important information such as flight details as well as starting and completing tasks across all of your devices”.

This open beta also improves on the closed one that previously existed. You can now set Cortana as your destination when you press the Home button.

“You will also see a few differences between what Cortana can do today in her “native” environment (Windows) and in the app on Android. For example toggling settings, opening apps or invoking Cortana hands-free by saying “Hey Cortana” are only available on Windows for now. As with all betas, we are continually improving the experience and will incorporate feedback along the way”, Microsoft claims.

You can grab the app here. It’s not compatible with all devices, though, so pay attention.


Microsoft Surface set to expand its business footprint



Family_v4_Hero_01Surface Pro 3 has seen widespread adoption, at least if Microsoft is to be believed. The tablet-laptop hybrid is heading into the business world, where it provides portability for those on the go. Now the company would like to expand on that market, announcing new plans to do just that.

Microsoft laments that it’s business channel has been a bit limited thus far, but now it’s time to change that with many new offerings.

“We are expanding our channel and will go from having a few hundred partners selling and servicing Surface to a few thousand globally in the coming months”.

Microsoft claims it’s excited to welcome new hardware integrators to the world of Surface, anxiously expecting to grow its market share. “Interested partners should go to the Microsoft Partner Network Device Partner Portal and contact an Authorized Device Distributor to learn how to become a partner”, the company’s Brian Hall claims.

As for Hub that was recently announced, that will be delayed. “We started taking pre-orders on July 1 and we’ve seen strong demand out of the gate. Based on the early interest we see, we’re tuning our manufacturing process to prepare for production at broader scale. To do this, we are adjusting our product roll-out schedule to ensure we deliver a great customer experience and set our partners up for success. We will not start shipping on September 1 now. We’ll have more details on our updated shipment schedule in early August. In the meantime, we will continue to take pre-orders”.


Windows 10 Gets an Official Release Date



Windows logo blueMicrosoft is probably in a bit of a hurry to release its next version of Windows. After all, the current installment of the venerable operating system, Windows 8, hasn’t been well received. And while in some ways, Microsoft deserves credit for trying to break with old ways in the design of 8, the company was also smart to realize that it had some work to do in bringing the next iteration of Windows to market.

Windows 10 (Microsoft has curiously skipped over Windows 9) has been in the beta oven for awhile. And it looks like Microsoft believes its newest operating system has been baked long enough. Today, the Redmond, WA based technology giant announced that Windows 10 will be officially released on July 29th. Windows 10 will not only run on laptop and desktop computers but it’ll also power a plethora of mobile phones and tablets as well as other connected “Internet of Things” devices. Windows 10 is also planned to work on Microsoft’s new Hololens augmented-realty headset as well as the Xbox gaming console.

Windows 8 users who miss the familiar Start Menu function that Microsoft first implemented in Windows 95 will be happy to know that this function is returning with Windows 10. And while it may seem as tho Microsoft is looking backward with this move, the company is also trying some new initiatives that are true firsts; Windows 10 will be released as a free download even tho all previous Windows upgrades had to be paid for. Also, Microsoft is offering tools to developers to help them port apps from platforms such as iOS and Android to Windows 10. This could greatly increase the number of apps available to Windows mobile devices, which is important as the overall lack of developer support for the platform has led to slow adoption rates among consumers.

Check our the official Windows 10 website to learn more about how you can make the upgrade next month.


PlayStation and Xbox Live Experiencing Outages



Sony PlayStation LogoThere’s a reason why you had difficulties accessing Sony’s online PlayStation store and Microsoft’s Xbox Live network during Christmas. Each has been experiencing disruptions from a DDoS attack that began on Christmas Eve, continued through Christmas Day, and is still ongoing.

The group that has claimed responsibility for the disruptions is the same one that has a history of destroying other people’s fun by making it impossible for them to access online games. This is especially problematic during Christmas as people who received new games try to get online to play them. Some have noted that Sony’s decision to let people download the controversial movie The Interview through Xbox Video could be adding to the problem.

The PlayStation Knowledge Center has mentioned the issue. At the time I am writing this, the PSN Status is “Offline”. Further information says: “We are aware that some users are experiencing difficulty logging into the PSN. We will update this article with any changes that occur in regards to this issue. Thank you for your patience.”

Similarly, Microsoft has posted some information about the outage on their Xbox Live Support page. At the time I am writing this, the Xbox Live Core Services is “Limited”. Further information says: “Xbox members, are you experiencing issues when attempting to sign in? We’re aware of this issue, and we’re working to find a fix ASAP! We appreciate your patience in the meantime, and we encourage you to retry signing in when you get a chance. We’ll update you as soon as we know more”.