Windows 8. A step too far?

 

One of the most frequent complaints against Microsoft in the past is that they have not been innovative enough and that they tend to follow meekly behind others who have been far more ready to take risks in the past such as Apple. I’ve even been guilty of that accusation myself. But as a user, here’s my take on things for what its worth.

In the past, Microsoft has been the main company serving the corporate technological world. During the years when it was generally only companies and/or institutions who used PC’s, and when most of us ‘none corporate’ users didn’t dream of owning a home computer, Microsoft aimed their sights firmly at the business sector and their usage needs. Word processing, Spread sheets, Databases, and an operating system geared to the running of a business  meant that most of Microsoft’s main focus was squarely aimed at the corporate  user. And rightly so. But in the meantime and certainly since the launch of Windows XP, the user base has slowly shifted from being just the corporate sector usage to the ordinary consumer ‘in the street.’

Microsoft seemed to be oblivious to the shift taking place from the corporate user to the consumer user. It was as if they had their eyes firmly set in only one direction. Others such as Apple and Google were never as focused on the corporate usage side of computers, and therefore they have been quicker to see the demographic shift in needs. There is a huge difference in how an ordinary consumer at home uses technology and their PC to how they are used in the workplace. Consumers tend to prefer to share, photos, short messages, music, etc, and this need has mainly been met  by social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Not only that but most prefer  to do this ‘on the move’ and to not be tied down to a static home PC, hence the rise of laptops, tablets and ‘smart’ mobile phones. The consumer user base has slowly grown since the launch of XP, but meantime most of the corporate sector has not kept pace and most  remain still using Windows XP.

For them, ( I should imagine) its a very big undertaking to move forward to a new operating system as it involves the training of all of your staff in its usage. I was shocked last year to realise that the entire NHS is still using Windows XP whilst I’m now running Windows 8 Consumer Preview!  What I am trying to say here is that whilst corporate usage has not moved on, the consumer usage has grown and grown and has become far more advanced.

Now suddenly its as if Microsoft have glanced around from the direction they have always faced and suddenly noticed that its the consumer who is rapidly becoming the de facto user and their usage of technology needs to be met.  The big question is, are they too late? The tablet market is currently dominated by Apple with the iPad with even Android having difficulty making any dint in that area, and despite the fact that Windows phone is fantastic to use, they have an uphill battle all the way.  Talking of Apple, one of the paths that they have not taken was to try and merge the same operating system on both their iMacs and also the iPhone and IPad.  Now, Microsoft are planning the risky step of doing exactly that, serving both the static PC user (which by definition includes the corporate user) AND also the mobile phone/tablet market. Can it be done? Is it possible to meet every type of users needs with just one OS?

Paul Thurrott sums it all up for me in one of his recent posts on the subject of Windows 8 here at http://www.winsupersite.com/article/windows8/windows-8-release-preview-rip-aero-20032012-143133  and I agree that in ‘bending over backwards’ to enter the tablet and mobile hardware market, where of course battery life is crucial, are Microsoft going too far and forgetting the static PC user who up until now have been their bread and butter?  Should they instead have one operating system for mobile devices (i.e Metro) and simply keep Windows OS for those users who run a static PC or who want to remain with the Windows environment?

Personally, I am now quite used to using Windows 8 on my static PC with a mouse and keyboard and I really like it, but I have to admit that the Metro interface does look (and work) far better on my phone working with touch input.  Nor am I needing several programs open at once or to do any word-processing or work of any kind, my needs and usage is  far removed from those of the corporate user. And there is the big question mark. If most of the corporate world is still using Windows XP, can I see them rushing to move to Windows 8 anytime soon? To be honest with you, no I can’t. Nor can I envisage users such as the NHS equipping all of their staff with tablets either!

It’s all a very big gamble and one that is sort of surprising in a way coming from Microsoft, a company that most consider to be a ‘dinosaur’ who never innovate or do anything new. Can they pull it off? It’s certainly going to be a very interesting year finding out!

TG

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Windows 8: One OS to rule them all?

It doesn’t seem all that long ago in time that the only people who used a PC were business users. If you worked in an office environment then you may have had to use one daily, but other people didn’t own a personal computer at home. At that time there really seemed no need to do so, unless of course you were a business owner and perhaps needed to take work home with you. Ordinary users (and in this context, I mean none corporate users) either couldn’t afford one or didn’t feel the need to own one. During the eighties I first encountered using a PC when I decided to update my skills at a training centre to include word processing, spreadsheets, databases etc. and most of my learning took place on an IBM computer. During that training we did not access the internet of course, as the internet was not available at that time as it is today. There was little incentive therefore for the ordinary man or woman in the street to own a PC.

Slowly over the years, the user base of just the corporate user has changed, and with it the needs of users. Whereas corporate usage tends to err on the productive side, the consumer usage tends to be of an entirely different nature. None corporate users aren’t all that interested in using Office programs or in productivity, for them its all about sharing. Sharing thoughts, sharing what they are doing, sharing their day to day lives, their favourite music or photos of their latest exploits or family, or simply keeping in touch and making new friends. Though most corporate users probably tend to think of this usage as ‘flippant’ in contrast to the way that they use computers, it simply can’t be ignored by those who provide the software on PC’s as the none corporate user base has continued  to grow and grow over the years. Combined with this growth in the consumer user base, has also come the need for mobile devices instead of the static none movable PC usually used by businesses. The consumer user prefers their usage of technology and  the internet to be always available as they travel, either on a mobile phone or alternatively a laptop or tablet.  This change of user base and their needs must have created something of a dilemma for Microsoft who have now to try and provide an operating system that can work both on a static desktop PC for their corporate user and at the same time work on a tablet and/or mobile phone.

How can anyone create an operating system that meets both the needs of your corporate user and the entirely different needs of the growing band of consumers? During the growth of this much more personal usage of new technology and the internet by consumers has also come the growth of touch screens and voice control, a much more tactile user interface. This by itself then requires a huge rethink about how your operating system works, it no longer has to sync with the usual keyboard and mouse, but also work with touch screens as well. Others have managed to create their own operating systems to work with these new  tactile interfaces, Google with its Android OS and Apple with its iPhone and iPad iOS. But neither Google nor Apple have attempted to ‘straddle’ both the static desktop PC user interface of keyboard and mouse AND the touch screen interface of portable tablets and phones. Can it work? Is it possible to do?  Can Microsoft achieve what seems to many as a near impossible task, and cater for every user and every user interface currently available at this time? Not only that, how can the apps you offer on your different platforms meet the needs of both your corporate users and at the same time your consumer user base?

A tall order and one that I certainly wouldn’t want to face. One answer would be to simply create another separate operating system for the extremely different usage of the none corporate user on those types of devices that they prefer such as phones and tablets, and keep your desktop operating with perhaps enhanced updates, but leaving its core functionality more or less as it is at this time. After all, Windows 7 is a brilliant OS, easy to use and maintain although despite this, I was amazed to find out this last year just how many corporate users in this country are still using Windows XP!  Whilst this ‘ordinary’ consumer Granny has moved on from Windows XP, to Vista and then finally to Windows 7, it seems that many of our big organisations such as the NHS have not for whatever reason.  It must be a very big undertaking and cost of course to retrain all of your employees to use a new operating system, but still, this fact to me signals that if they haven’t yet moved on to Windows 7, then they are hardly likely to introduce touch screen technology into the workplace no matter how brilliant a new OS that makes full use of it might be to use.  The point I am trying to get across here is that we have now arrived at a state where (in this country at least) the corporate users seem to be lagging way way behind the consumer in their usage of technology and PC’s. They may be using Windows XP on a static desktop PC at work, and then on their way home be making use of  a touch screen device to contact their family and friends! Who would have thought that it would be this way twenty or so years ago? It is now the none corporate consumer user and their usage and needs that is dictating the progress of technology as we know it today.

But Microsoft’s problem is not just about creating an interface which works with both a keyboard and mouse and a touch device, its also about covering all bases for corporate usage and consumer usage. Here we come to the big dilemma of whether or not to include Office. Incorporate it in mobile devices or not? How do we make it completely usable with a touch device? Will consumer users who buy tablets and smart phones require office apps? Do we provide Office only on static desktop PC’s? Do users really want to be able to share their documents, work productivity etc. via a mobile phone or tablet whilst they are on the move? Or do they tend to do that on a laptop PC? Not easy decisions are they?  Microsoft have now stated that a version of Office, Office 15 will be available on their mobile hardware such as tablets, but it isn’t clear at this time if this new version will be free to use. However, including Office on the mobile and touch ARM hardware has also meant the inclusion of the desktop, albeit in a tighter format as only Microsoft will be able to supply desktop programs for this area thereby limiting its use. In fact, I would argue that if including some form of Office on these devices was not necessary in order to keep corporate users happy, then surely it would not have been necessary to include the desktop at all and only the Metro tile interface and associated apps would have been needed. So anyone buying a mobile or touch device will not be able to download and make use of any third party program on the desktop on ARM devices. It will in essence be ‘closed’

Many journalists who follow Microsoft closely have noted how there has been little news available about the new operating system, but I feel that this can partly be explained by how difficult the whole exercise must have been for Microsoft. Apple have not attempted it. Google have not attempted it. It seems to be an exercise fraught with ifs and buts not only because you are trying to cover all bases as far as hardware and user interfaces go, but because you are also trying to keep a very wide user base happy, one who’s needs range from a corporate production environment to sending a quick message to Facebook from the consumer user.

I’ve been trying out the Windows 8 developer preview myself on my Dell desktop using a keyboard and mouse, and it has not been much of a pleasure using the Metro start screen with a mouse. However, using the Metro tile interface on my Windows phone via touch is an absolute joy, but it has prompted me to question just how the corporate user is going to be persuaded to update to Windows 8 or how any Office programs are going to be fully functional with a touch device, but I’m willing to be convinced and so on February 29th I’ll be eagerly downloading Windows 8 Consumer Preview just to find out if Microsoft have managed to do the impossible and created the one OS to rule them all.

TG

What’s in a name? The G+ question.

Though I hate to bring up the pseudonym argument again, this post is about my own personal reasons for wanting to use my pseudonym on Google+ and why I feel that pseudonyms should be allowed. I have thought about the whole argument for a long time, since joining Google+ as a matter of fact. I’ve been on Google+ since the very beginning and I joined as Technogran, my online name and the name that just about everyone knows me by. I have used that name since first buying a computer all those years ago and my reasons for wishing to use a pseudonym are varied and I won’t bore you by going into them in detail here. As far as I’m concerned my reasons for using my pseudonym hinge on the way that Google+ differs in its intended usage as a social network from for example Facebook, which is its closest equivalent.

Facebook began as a means of socialising in college and keeping in touch. I should imagine its first initial remit was usability by students who either knew one another personally or if not, were in fairly close proximity to one another and therefore could in theory meet up at say a coffee house etc. In other words, its aim was a user base of a fairly close nature as its users would all be students. Now of course it has a user base which is world wide, but how do the majority of us tend to use Facebook now? In my case most of those I share with on Facebook are either family or friends who know me personally and who I can meet face to face any day of the week. The same is true for them also. I know where they live and they know where I live. We might not see each other for months at a time or we might see each other every week, but we all know one another personally.  Although I would have loved to also use Technogran on Facebook, I am not so bothered about using my real name on there as the public never see it because my posts on there are for my family and friends only.

Now in contrast, let’s look at how Google+ got off the ground. Google invited lot’s of technically minded and corporate users to the beta of Google+. These people were chosen by Google for a reason. They wanted feedback of course, but I also believe that they did not want or intend that Google+ be a Facebook clone. By selecting a certain type of user such as technology bloggers and journalists, corporate users, professional photographers and those who work in the technology field, they automatically set the tone for how Google + tends to still be used by everyone today, for mainly serious discussion with like minded individuals who share the same interests.  For me as a self confessed geek,  its has been a wonderful and enlightening experience and I  have learned so much from the countless users who are so expert in their own chosen fields of expertise. But, the big question is, do I KNOW any of these people personally?

The chances of me bumping into (for example) Robert Scoble down at my local pub, or seeing Louis Gray in my local Tesco’s and having a friendly chat with either of them is about as likely as this Granny going to Mars. I knew OF them before the birth of Google+ simply because I’m such a Geek and into technology myself. I know of other technology journalists and bloggers as well by name because I read their articles about subjects that interest me.  It’s one of the main reasons why I begged for an invite and once on G+ felt so at home. But I don’t know any of them personally.  I could recognise them if they passed me in the street because I’ve seen photos and watched videos of them on the internet or in other social sites that they are part of. But knowing OF someone is not the same as KNOWING them. They probably also know me. I’ve maybe commented on their blog posts or joined in a discussion on other sites as Technogran in the past.

So THAT is the big difference between Facebook and Google+ and one of my main reasons for wanting to be allowed to use my pseudonym on there. There is also another reason,  the way that Google+ works. If I post and make it public then anyone can read that post and if they are on Google+ they can add me to one of their circles WITHOUT MY PERMISSION.  I am well aware that the simple answer to that is don’t post to Public. But is that how Google really want us to use Google+?  I could also call myself by my real name (which incidentally is not the one I was born with as that changed once I  married) and then only have two circles, one for family and one for personal friends and only post to those two circles. However in doing so,  I would be essentially cloning my Facebook usage and so there would be no real reason that I can think of to be on Google+! Besides which I don’t think for one moment that Vic Gundotra and the Google+ team intend us to use Google+ in the same way as any of us tend to use Facebook. The posts I usually make on Google+ are of little or no interest to my family and friends. I know this because I do sometimes post on there with the odd link or some other interest on Facebook and I never get any response whatsoever whereas those in my Google+ circles are usually very interested. In other words, its a whole different audience on Google+. 

So, its horses for courses as the saying goes, and on Google+ where none of my audience know me personally and never will, and where by the same token I don’t know them either, I prefer NOT to use my real name but to be able to call myself Technogran which is the name I am commonly known by on the internet. Don’t believe me? Just Google it!

TG

My new Mobile. Using the Nokia Lumia 800 Windows phone.

Last year I finally tried out an iPhone. It was the first time that I had used a so called ‘smart phone’ and I suppose I was late to try one compared to the rest of the world, but I couldn’t quite see how I needed to use one. Was it important for me to be able to take a picture when travelling about and then immediately share it with my social networks? Or let my online friends know where I was at any particular moment in time? All I seemed to be using a mobile for was calls and messages. I have enjoyed using the iPhone, but I didn’t feel the need to download all that many applications to it, nor did I feel that I had to have it constantly by my side all the time.  I didn’t feel the need to use most of its features apart from receiving/making calls or texting my family and friends. At the end of last year, I decided to upgrade to a Nokia Lumia 800 Windows phone and for me, its the best thing I have ever done.

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Flickr’s new Photo Page.

For those of you who make use of Flickr to store, share and display all of your photos (and also make friends into the bargain!) you might not have noticed the brilliant new Photo page which was released recently. Its not compulsory to use it, you can still use the older version if you wish, but its so fantastic with some very useful additions which are all available from that page that I thought I would post about it. 

First of all, your photos are now displayed in a larger size than was previously used in the old photo page. 

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Talking about the new Flock Browser.

I am currently testing out the new beta version of Flock which is now using Chromium as its base. I think the Flock team decided to use Chromium in preference to Firefox, which had formed the engine of all the previous versions of Flock, simply because its faster. As Flock has always been far more than a simple browser, with its ability to allow the user to access all of their social feeds from the one ‘My World’ page, then obviously all of that extra data takes more time to load and access, and Flock was tending to become slow and cumbersome.

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Has Facebook become too big for it’s boots?

Facebook icon

The recent controversy surrounding Facebook and its use of users data set me thinking. Of course there are many who consider that if you are willing to access the Internet and place any of your personal data on any website for whatever reason,  then you can more or less kiss your privacy goodbye and that none of us should expect anything different.  But is it really inevitable? An impossibility to be able to use social networking sites and still keep most of your details private? Or allow some users to view some data but not others? And should we expect social networking sites to have the right to use our data in whatever way they like?

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Using the LifeCam Cinema with Windows Live.

I recently purchased the LifeCam Cinema Webcam from Microsoft, and I thought that I would do a post about how well it all works with the Windows Live Essentials Suite of programs. I was quite surprised at how small this Webcam is considering its features. To look at it  resembles a tiny version of an ‘outside’ camera and uses the ‘bendy’ clip so that you can ‘mould’ it around the top of  your monitor or laptop. Once you have done this its quite stable. It comes complete with a CD containing the software and of course a USB cable to connect it to your computer. Set up is very straight forward.

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Talking about the new Bing Bar.

Today I  have been trying out the new Bing bar in Internet Explorer 8 and thought it might be useful  to  write a post about how useful I have found it.  It is actually almost a carbon copy of the MSN toolbar that I posted about recently and works in more or less the same way, in fact it has replaced the MSN Toolbar beta.  You will need to have Silverlight on board in order to use the new Bing bar which is available from HERE..

New Bing BarOnce you have downloaded the new Bing Bar from HERE , you can customize it fully to suit your tastes and interests. You can choose which buttons to have available for use by simply dragging them to and fro from the buttons drop down list which  is accessible  by clicking on the plus sign to the right of the default buttons,  and there are some very useful ones to choose from. For example in my case,  I don’t need the cars, money, sport or travel buttons, but I will make use of the TV, Tech and Gadgets, Weather, Windows Live and Life and Style buttons so you can fully tailor the choice of buttons to use to suit you, your interests and your lifestyle.

All buttons to choose fromAs with the MSN Toolbar, by clicking on the Spanner icon on the right hand side of the toolbar, you can also choose the colour and a seasonal theme as well for your Bing Bar. On the far right hand side, you can input your Live ID by clicking on the small down arrow and inserting your  Live ID credentials. The Toolbar will then show your Live ID icon on the far right hand side. . Once you are signed in, you can then click again on the small black arrow to either sign out or alternatively click on view your profile to be taken straight to your Windows Live profile page. A nice touch. To the immediate left of the spanner icon is a small green shield containing a tick which when clicked on states whether or not your computer is at the recommended safely level. I presume that when this is not so, the shield turns red to warn you that all  is not well.

Safety shieldClicking on each of your chosen buttons on the toolbar instigates a  drop down list of choices depending on the button in question, and I try to show some of the choices available to you here. For example, clicking  on the Windows Live button if you have chosen it for your Toolbar  will then display a drop down list allowing  you the choice of going or accessing Live Photo Gallery, Spaces, SkyDrive, your Profile, your photos or alternatively your Mobile. So a quick and easy way to access all of your Windows Live pages and applications whilst you are  browsing the web.

Windows Live dropdownThe weather button is fully customisable and once you have input your location either via your postcode or town, shows your local weather in a very attractive format for the next five days complete with descriptive icons ably illustrated by the picture below.

setting up your weatherOne button I was very keen to include  in my Bar was of course the Tech and Gadgets button, and again this when clicked on shows a variety of technological news about the latest Gadgets and includes News, Features, Photos, Shopping, Mobiles and also an MSN blog about Technology and Gadgets. I had better use this particular button with some caution or I might end up going on a  big spending spree!

Tech and Gadgets buttonThe News button features the news  from your particular  location, so in my case the top news in the drop down list is from the UK. Similarly, the TV button features news about the  TV programs currently being shown in your location so in my particular case, the drop down features the latest news from ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of here.’ which is currently showing this week on ITV. All the news in the list  features a small screen of the person being talked about in each news feature. Again in the TV button list, there is quite a choice available to peruse, such as news, Features, Photos, Video, Soaps and another blog to read.  Quite a comprehensive list to work through!

TV drop down is location savvyI  am certainly going to use this Bing Bar from now on, it is definitely as good if not better than the MSN Toolbar that I was previously using and I thoroughly recommend that you give it a try. it is fully customisable to suit you and your interests and that is always a winning feature in my book!  So take a look at this video about the new Bing Bar and then  why don’t you give it a try! It works in both Internet Explorer and Firefox.

TG   Enjoy.

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Talking about the MSN Toolbar.

Although I usually use the Windows Live toolbar that comes with the Windows Live Essentials suite of programs when I use an toolbar, I have recently switched to using the new MSN Toolbar instead. In my view it supplies a far better integration with all the Live services than the Live toolbar does, is far more customisable  and looks very attractive into the bargain. I have used this toolbar before when it was in beta but at that time the Windows Live services were not as fully incorporated into it as they are now.

New MSN toolbar

Once you have downloaded the MSN Toolbar from http://toolbar.msn.com/ you can  then begin to customize it for your own use. First of all  you will need to sign in on the right hand side of the toolbar with your Live ID. Then moving on to the next  icon on the left  which  is a  small spanner (Toolbar Options)  you can set up just how you would like your toolbar to look. There is a wide choice of colours to choose from,  a choice of scenes which include the seasons and some seasonal events such as Christmas, Valentines Day, New Year, Autumn and  Winter etc.  In the Quality choice  you can also choose to give feedback to Microsoft or not and find our more information about the MSN Toolbar such as the current version that you are using under About.

Setting seasons and colours Clicking on the Cogwheel icon (Customise your buttons) allows you to choose which ‘news’ buttons you wish to have on your toolbar by dragging each button from the provided list to the toolbar or dragging from the toolbar to the list if you wish to remove a button. from those already provided by default.  To enable the five day weather feature for your area, you simply click on the weather icon and then insert your location into the Options. You can choose to  display this as Fahrenheit or Centigrade.

Choose your weather

When you click on each news button, you are  shown a list of news in a drop down list, and can then choose which news ‘headline’ you wish to read about by simply clicking on Read More. At the far left of the toolbar is the Bing search box and to the left of that, the MSN butterfly which when clicked will  take you to the MSN home page.

 Reading the news headlines Gadgets menu

So I hear you ask, where is all the Windows Live integration that you mentioned at the beginning of this post? Well the MSN Toolbar has a trick up its sleeve!  See that up arrow button in between the ‘spanner’ icon and the ‘cogwheel’ icon?   Click on that  ‘Flip’ arrow and viola!  There are all the Windows Live buttons!  Click on Windows Live to be taken straight to your Windows Live homepage! Click on the Hotmail tab to see all of your Hotmail emails and also write a new email as well. . Click on Email this page to send the entire page in an email message or perhaps you would prefer to send it via Instant message instead? If so, click on the next button on IM this Page.  However, the best part of this toolbar in my estimation  is to be found when you click on the last button in this list, the More services button.

Windows Live services in MSN

Clicking on More Services displays a list of ALL the live services including Photo Gallery, Spaces, SkyDrive, Profile, Photos, Mobile, Groups, Events, Calendar, Family Safety, Writer, Movie Maker and Mail.  You are also shown exactly where each service is available from.  In the case of Spaces for example, you are shown that you  can access your Space  from both online and also your mobile. You can also see which other applications work well with that particular program or service. So in the case of Spaces you are told it works well with Writer, Events and Mobile.

More Live services availableBy clicking on the bottom of each one you can then go directly to that service as long as it is online. It all works quite well with the online services such as Profile, Calendar, SkyDrive, Photos Groups and Mobile, but Spaces does not take you directly to your Spaces page, instead it takes you to your Spaces home page. All of the included Live Essentials Suite of programs such as Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer and Live Mail take you to their relevant download pages. 

In summary, I liked the MSN Toolbar when i was testing it out whilst it was in beta, it really looks attractive, and its news tabs contain some very useful buttons. Because the user is able to fully configure it to suit them it becomes far more useful than many of its rivals.  But for me, its the integration with all of the Live services that I find the most useful, and I could argue that this has now become the definitive toolbar to use if you also make use of Windows Live and its services. . This is what the Live Toolbar could and should  have been.

TG