Surface RT, Windows 10, and Why I don’t have a Surface Pro

Damien has extended thoughts on the Surface Devices and Windows 10

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The Build Experience

Recently, Zack had the privilege of going to the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco.

Check out what happened

Jetpack Joyride for Windows 8

Have some time to kill? Awesome! Then spend a little of it with Jetpack Joyride. Our resident gamer Tom Hall gives you the skinny on this fun title.

Read the review

Welcome to 88 Acres!

Thanks for stopping by. Pardon our dust as we get settled into our new place. In the meantime, check out a little bit about us.

What we're all about

Initial Thoughts on Windows 10 Technical Preview

I’ve been using Windows 10 as my daily driver on my production machine for a little over 96 hours to this point, and I’m impressed. When Windows 8 was first in the Developer Preview stage, I tried to use that for a few weeks, but couldn’t get past the bugs. And by ‘past the bugs,” I mean I couldn’t get past the fact that it was Metro (now-Modern), and I wasn’t ready for all the changes.

Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to, and even fond of, the Modern system – or whatever they’re calling it now. I know that the Windows 10 Technical Preview is mostly meant for Enterprise and Business customers, but I like to live on the bleeding edge of things.

When the first build of the preview came out, I installed it on a ThinkPad T500 with 8 gigabytes of RAM, but once Build 9860 was released, I took the dive and installed it on my T520 with the fancy i7 processor and 16 gigabytes of RAM.

This is a list of the applications I use on a daily basis:

  • Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote (part of Microsoft’s Office suite)
  • Spotify and Xbox Music
  • CrashPlan
  • Internet Explorer
  • Google Chrome
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, and Audition (part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud)
  • Visual Studio (very infrequently)

So, based on the list you can tell that I’m an information worker most of the time. Between 88 Acres, I manage the More Than a Fan Digital Network and all of its digital assets which are located in Amazon’s Web Services Cloud and MediaTemple.

I do a lot.

And I wanted to make sure Windows 10 would be useable for me when I installed it as my main operating system, and it’s more than shown me that it is.

The only “real” problem that I’ve had here is that when the T520 is docked, it feels significantly slower than when it isn’t. I’m not sure if that’s because when I installed the OS that I didn’t install it while docked, or if there’s a driver I need to install.

I attempted to troubleshoot the issue by installing the latest version of NVIDIA’s driver for the NVS 4200M that’s installed on the machine, but that didn’t have any immediately visible effect. It could just be something that will adjust itself over time, or it could be something that improves with the next build.

Reminder: If your system is very important to you, and you can’t live with these types of issues, do NOT install Windows 10 on a production-type machine.

Return of the Start Menu

In Windows 8, Update 1 we got the Start Button back, and at the time I was OK with it. At this point in my computing life, I’m pretty good with just hitting the start key on my keyboard and typing in whatever I need. Microsoft made that really easy in Windows 7, and obviously that continued with the integrated search in windows 8. In Windows 10, however the full Start Menu has made its return. And, for someone who didn’t miss, I initially wanted to hate it.

In many respects, I do hate it. I understand that I can go back to the Start Screen if I want to, but sometimes I wish Microsoft would just do what they think is best for the future. It’s one of the things I admire most about Apple. When they do something, they do it, and consequences be damned. Microsoft’s biggest problem is they have no media support behind them.

Their biggest, but not most publicly vocal customers are enterprise and medium size corporations. For obvious reasons they want to keep upgrade paths for their users simple. I get it, people are sheep and hate change. “Don’t move my cheese.”

All that said, for most the Start Menu will be a welcome return. If you’re hoping for the Start Menu of Windows 7 though, you can forget it. That’s the part I like the most. The live tiles of the Start Screen are integrated into the new Start Menu. I think that’s a good balance for the tens of us who enjoyed the old-fashioned Start Screen.

My one issue with the Start Menu is the same one that I have with the Start Screen: I cannot arbitrarily place tiles where I want them.

start-screen

I’d like to be able to fill these tiles from top to bottom, not from left to right. I know this is a small complaint, but let me put the tires where I want them. I also thought you were supposed to be able to stretch and move the Start Menu however you wanted, but I cannot do it. The taskbar isn’t locked, and it’s probably something easy I’m missing.

Virtual Desktops

For many years, I’ve had an infatuation with Linux because of their ability to place items on different virtual desktops. I’ve been of the thought process, that I’d like to always have Outlook open for easy access, but not necessarily the need to know that it’s open all the time. In Linux, you can take infrequently used applications that you want to keep open and send them to another “desktop.” I believe this functionality exists in the same sort of way in OS X.

Finally, Microsoft has made this available. The rumor is that Microsoft has had this virtual desktoping ability for some years, but for whatever reason hasn’t turned it on for the masses. It’s on. Finally.

So, for someone like me who has a million things open at once, I can separate my production into different virtual desktops.

  • Desktop 1: Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Spotify or Xbox Music. Any application that doesn’t need my total and undivided attention.
  • Desktop 2: Microsoft Outlook, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Lync. These are communications applications. They need to be in their own space so that I’m not always focusing on them.
  • Desktop 3: Microsoft Word, Excel, Visual Studio, Adobe products. Any application that deserves my full and undivided attention. Since it takes a physical effort to move from one desktop to another, siloing these applications in their own place should make me a touch more productive. The goal here is to only have one application open at a time. The only exception to this is if I need to have OneNote (desktop) open to copy notes from.

I believe the maximum number of virtual desktops you can have right now is four, and I cannot imagine a scenario in which you’d more than four, but I’m sure someone will come up with something.

Note: Lied, I discovered throwing movies and videos on the fourth desktop makes a ton of sense.

What I’d like to see

I’m sure this will happen at some point, but there are few things I’d like to see in an upcoming build:

The ability to pin live tiles to desktop. Right now you can link to Modern apps, but you can’t have live tiles on the desktop. In Windows 7, before a security flaw was revealed, Windows had gadgets, and they’re basically the first version of live tiles – even though they weren’t tiles. I’d like to see something like that return to the current Windows setup. I’d like to be able to pin the News, Calendar, or Music app to my desktop so I can see it at all times.

BitLocker on by default. FBI dudes will probably hate this, but I think Microsoft should turn their hard drive encrypting software on by default. BitLocker is about 50 years ahead of where it was when it went ‘mainstream’ with Windows 7. I remember the days where I was entering the long unlock code after every reboot. It’s grown and matured to the point where it should be enabled by default on at least the system partition. This probably wouldn’t work for most business and enterprise customers, but they’re most likely on a different SKU or can disable this through group policy objects.

What Isn’t Going To Change

I think there’s one thing that isn’t going anyway anytime soon. And by anytime soon, I’ll say by the time Windows 10 is RTM: Control Panel.

As Microsoft moves through the process of trying to move items from the old Desktop-style applications to the new Modern UI, they created PC Settings. PC Settings is very nice, and it’s very functional, but it won’t be replacing Control Panel anytime soon. There’s just too much there to move. It will happen, but probably not before Windows 10 is released.

In closing, I’ll say despite the few things that I’ve found with Windows 10 that don’t work awesomely for me, I’m sticking with this thing through the build process until RTM. It’s fast and “fluid” in many ways, just not while docked. That’s sort of an issue for me, but it isn’t a deal breaker. Yet. Ask me in two weeks when it takes 10 minutes to render a file in Adobe Audition.

I have no thoughts on how Windows 10 works with touch-enabled devices because the only one that I have daily access to is the original Surface RT, and Microsoft hasn’t even acknowledged that devices existence in about a year.

For a complete guide to Windows 10, check out Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows.

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below or e-mail me at damien@88acr.es. You can also find me on Twitter at @damiEnbowman.

Surface RT, Windows 10, and Why I don’t have a Surface Pro

Alright, when Zack and I launched this thing last year, he and I went through a lot of personal changes immediately after. So, if you want to know where we’ve been, that’s it. We’re back. For good. My personal goal is to write in this space about Microsoft once a week. I also invite you to do the same. Zack and I want your thoughts and opinions on all things Microsoft…and how what Microsoft does affects their competition.

This week, I’d like to talk about three things, two of which are devices. Let’s get started.

Surface RT

Yeah, I still have one, and I haven’t upgraded from the original. I love the thing. I use it almost exclusively as a consumption device and very little as a content creation device. If you don’t know, I’m the Executive Editor (how, I don’t know) of the College Football Roundtable (@CFBRoundtable). The site is a monster. We receive a good number of unique visitors per month, with about 35 very dedicated writers. I use my Surface RT on an almost daily basis to read the content those writers create and to check out what our competition is doing.

Believe it or not, a device like the Surface RT is perfect for this type of work. I can quickly navigate to our webpage, open OneNote (modern), copy text or take screenshot and make notes and send those off to our writers, or to another one of the editors as notes or tasks.

Yes, I could do each of these tasks with a regular machine – namely my ThinkPad T520 – but it’s nice to be able to do these things while riding around in a car or sitting on the … couch. The screen size of the RT isn’t great, but I knew what it was when I bought it. Still, the most compelling feature of the device is the integration with all of Microsoft’s services.

I still use Office 365 Midsize Business for e-mail and document management, and Office Professional Plus is included. Obviously those features come in handy on the RT even though Office is included on the device.

I know the Surface RT 2, or whatever it’s called, has an excellent screen, and the processor is significantly faster, but I also know the original RT works, and I’ll probably use it until Microsoft discontinues support or I buy a Surface Pro device.

Windows 10

The new task-view button on the task bar gives you one-click access to all of your running apps and programs. Photo: Microsoft

The new task-view button on the task bar gives you one-click access to all of your running apps and programs. Photo: Microsoft

Today, Microsoft unveiled Windows 10. I’m excited. And it isn’t because I hate Windows 8, I actually love Windows 8. I know I’m one of the few [millions] that actually like the software. I’ve used Windows 8 since the Developer Preview, which was probably like a million years ago. I’m not the typical user, but I’ve seen enough people make the transition from Windows XP and 7 to Windows 8 to understand the angst and pain that many have felt.

I’m also very appreciative of what Microsoft did with the various updates to one of its least popular versions of Windows. That said, I don’t get the naming here. They skipped Windows 9 – for some reason vaguely explained – to go to Windows 10. I’ll be honest, the first thing I thought of when I heard Windows 10 was OS X. I’m not an Apple guy, outside the iPhone that I carry, but I’d rather they just call it “Windows” over adopting the “name” of their chief competitor in the space.

Note: it isn’t an adoption, but it certainly feels like one.

That said, the features they showed off were impressive. I included the first look video for you to watch. It’s worth spending 40 minutes watching to figuring it all out.

On 10/1 a public preview will be released, and I’ll be downloading and installing, but not using as my production operating system. I tried that with the Developer Preview and that did not go that well.

I have a few questions around virtual desktops, multiple instances of applications, and why we’re now calling Modern Universal, but I’ll address those in the coming days.

Where’s my Surface Pro

The truth is, I’m not sure I want one. On one hand, I love the device. There’s an original Surface Pro floating around that I have access to, but I don’t have a docking station for it. My thoughts are that if I don’t have a docking station for it, that I can’t seriously consider using it as a replacement for my ThinkPad. I don’t *need* the Surface to drive two monitors, but it would help. Therefore, if I ever take the Pro on an extended test drive, I’ll try it with one monitor instead of the two, and sometimes three, that I use now.

My most important applications right now are, and in no particular order:

  1. Microsoft Office – including Outlook
  2. Adobe Creative Cloud
  3. Visual Studio – mostly so I can update it, since I never open it.
  4. IE, Chrome, Firefox – for testing how sites look in different browsers and such.

That’s really about it. I do podcasting, and need to record my audio locally and need some decently heavy processing power to render all that stuff, so I need the Surface to be able to handle that.

Can it? I’m sure it can, because the i7 that’s in my T520 is several years older and has no significant issues with it.

I’d miss multiple USB ports, a GREAT Lenovo keyboard, SD card slot for my camera, and the vastly underrated feature of a built-in gigabit Ethernet port.

My friend Dan (@CommonmanDZ), whom I do the Fancy Tech Cast with, says he won’t consider a Surface Pro device until it comes with LTE. That isn’t much of an important feature to me because I use a MiFi whenever I travel with my laptop or Surface RT.

Another reason I don’t have a Pro is because my Thinkpad still works, and is still a tank. I just replaced the keyboard – under warranty – and the computer has an mSATA primary disk and a large secondary drive.

For whatever reason, I feel like I still need to keep hordes of data locally. I think once I get out of that habit, the transition to a tablet type machine over a five pound monster will be much more palatable.

Oh, and my back will appreciate it to…

So, what do you think of Windows 10, my lack of Surface Pro love, and most importantly do you still have a Surface RT?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter at @damiEnbowman.

The Art of Finding a Vendor or Service Provider

When I was asked to write about my experiences in the IT profession, my second thought (the first being who would care) was how much of what I do on a regular basis isn’t found in college textbooks, the Microsoft Knowledge Base or the endless (and quite useful) How to Blogs. My introspection brought me to the realization that my toughest challenges revolved around dealing with non-technical professionals. Of all the non-techie types you will encounter, two stand out in my mind as the people you will need to build a good relationship with for you to succeed.  I know the lack of the “R” word is often the punch line of jokes about IT people. It is often the case that we “Techies” have a better relationship with our machines than actual human beings. Scarred from events ranging from unplugged cords through users not knowing login/passwords to individual’s with bizarre troubles best described as PEBKAC, we shudder at the thought of talking to anyone, let alone the expert talker, The Salesmen. In our defense we typically begin our careers after a grueling tech laden college or tech school regiment most people wouldn’t understand or would burst like a piñata if they were subjected to it, by being placed in isolation chambers in the bowels of buildings surrounded by like minded individuals. Regardless of your background, strengths or personality the goal of running an entire enterprise is probably on your “To Do” list. If you are lucky enough to get to admin a medium sized or better enterprise the first day you sit in that chair can be frightening.

Fifteen minutes into your first day, you will probably have spoken to more people than you did in your first year in this profession. Thirty minutes in, you will have figured out the secret of IT. To save you from your own Sixth Sense moment, I will tell you the secret: Accountants run IT. You will begin to become familiar with Quarterly Expenses, Semi Annual Expenses, Annual Budgets, Multi-year Budgets, and the dreaded 5 Year Plan. Accountants want only two things, the first being no surprises, and the second is to squeeze every ounce of service or product out of every dollar in your budget. All of this interaction with bean counters will lead to an inevitable conclusion. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) will be to examine every service provider contract for price point and termination date, determine if you are actually getting the services agreed upon, and if anyone else can provide equivalent service for a lower price. This mission will expose you to the wild vicious animal known as The Salesman.

Your first contact will probably not be with the beast itself, but with their pesky agent known as The Scheduler. This creature has the daunting task of cold calling decision makers and influencers to introduce the product or service and to arrange a face to face meeting with the sales representative. You can try avoiding them with voice-mail or hiding under the desk, but they will call you relentlessly until you speak to them directly. I have found that The Scheduler and The Salesmen respond well to a direct appeal to the reality of your interest in the thing they are selling. Let’s face it: like you, their time is limited, so lines like “I want to be respectful your time” can often relay your disinterest without poisoning any potential relationship. You never know what your potential needs may be, so resist the urge to scream “NEVER CALL ME AGAIN” and slam the phone back on its receiver. Although there will be a few that will end this way, it will never be on the first call.

Once in a while The Scheduler will call you when you actually are actively looking for a product or service. Often, the first interaction they push is a Webinar. This can be a great introduction to a product, but keep this in mind: this is a demonstration that is scripted to be a perfect display of functionality.  A vendor wouldn’t record a pre-sales introduction that contained any glitches in it, so take what you see with a grain of salt. If you like what you saw in the Webinar, arrange a face to face meeting if possible. I strongly recommend when dealing with Copier/Printer Salesmen you use someone local. For LAN & WAN hardware this will be next to impossible.

After you arrange this meeting, do your homework. Every product has faults and detractors, find out what the users are complaining about. If this item is going to have a service plan, such as a copier, ask if the company uses an incentive based service program. Basically, a service Tech gets a bonus for every month that a service call isn’t made. Machines will be set to notify Techs of click readings, service thresholds, and they will do preventive maintenance to make sure your machines keep working. I would also do some research about the industry The Salesman works in. Knowing the challenges and rising technology in their industry will help you identify a person committed to their industry. Now you are ready to face The Beast.

The meeting will feel very similar to entering a used car lot, or at least you may feel like it. After the pleasantries and a basic introduction about the product or service, you should seize control of the conversation with the research that you wisely spent 30 minutes on. One of my favorite things to do is to ask a technical question that I already know the answer to. This accomplishes two things: it identifies less experienced people, and (if you’re lucky) it will gauge the level of honesty that you can expect. What The Salesmen never know, and the Techs always know, is that the complexity and broad scope of technology makes it impossible for anyone to know everything. This is where that Engineering Ethics course you were forced to take in college actually comes in handy. Engineers are trained like Scientists and certainty is a big deal.  We learn very early to not give answers you are unsure of, and that there is nothing wrong with saying that you don’t know the answer, followed by “this is how I will find the answer.”  If you ask The Salesman this question and the wrong answer comes out, especially a long winded pseudo technical one, you will have a pretty good idea you’re talking to someone who will say anything to win your business.  The best answer you will ever get is “I don’t know but I will find out.” If this is followed up later with a phone call to provide you with the answer, you hit the jackpot. The person who passes this test gets to move on to the next step.

If it is a local company, you should take a tour of their location, including service departments. For non-local companies, I like to arrange a site visit to a company near me that uses the product or service. A product or service worth your business should have no problem arranging a current client to show you the product in a live environment. A side note to this type of visit is that once you are their client, they may ask you to show a potential client the product or ask if a potential client could call you. If you are happy with the product or service and are comfortable with the salesmen then a few of these are a nice payback for hoops he jumps through to win your business.

The last thing I want to point out is a personal preference, but something that I think is worth mentioning. Often The Salesman has a thing that is foreign to IT people called an expense account. Depending on the size of the potential account, he will try to use his expense account to win your influence. My rule is that I never engage in these activities with a Salesman that isn’t a current provider of a good or service. I may go to lunch or a ballgame with a salesmen I plan to renew a contract with but never with someone trying to win my business. Even the illusion that your objectivity is for sale can make the underlying goal of finding better products or services for a lower price difficult to complete.

I hope you found something in this that can help your career and I appreciate you taking the time to read this.

Google Not Being Genuine With Microsoft, Windows Phone Users over YouTube

I get it. Google and Microsoft are competitors. They don’t like each other for many reasons, and they share a common enemy. Google’s mantra is “Do No Evil,” but the problem is, no one believes it. Google shut off EAS access to users of Microsoft’s phone and Windows 8.

I won’t pretend Microsoft is perfect. Their Scroogled ads weren’t awesome, but at the end of the day the only people who look stupid were Microsoft’s own people.
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Trying to Move My Digital Life into the Cloud

I listen to a lot of music, and watch a lot of movies and television shows. This is not uncommon to most people in 2013, but when I grew up the big thing was downloading illegal music and buying compact discs. The times have certainly changed, haven’t they? In 2013, the amount of people who prefer to have physical media to the convenience of having that media in the “cloud” is getting smaller and smaller every day.
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88 Acres is Open for Business!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Damien and I are proud to figuratively cut the ceremonial ribbon and declare 88 Acres officially open for business! We’ve already posted our welcome speeches (one from Damien, one from me), but I wanted to take a moment and get a little more personal. This site is, after all, something very near and dear to us here at 88, and we hope that it’ll be that way for you, too.

We plan on having a LOT of content here, but we need help from you – the Microsoft user community. Wanna help us shape the next generation of community-driven content? Read on to find out how.
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What Damien Uses (July 2013 Edition)

I know, I know, I’m late to the party, but here I am. When Zack yells at me, I jump to action like a recruit in boot camp. My setup isn’t nearly as exciting as his, but here it is. My hardware setup is static compared to the fluidity of Zack’s setup.

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What Zack Uses (July 2013 Edition)

So I talked with Damien and decided that I should probably take inventory of my tech and figure out what’s what. I mean, I have a LOT of toys, and sometimes it can be kinda hard to figure out which ones I want to use. So I made some decisions and have compiled the most important ones into a nice, pretty list. It’s your July 2013 edition of “What Zack Uses”. Let’s take a look at what I use on a “regular” basis (whatever “regular” means).
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The Build Experience

As an IT professional from a small town in Georgia, it’s been quite a new experience during the last five years to be part of a much larger tech community. In fact, my hometown really had no tech community to speak of, so when I joined the one in Tampa, I felt a sense of camaraderie like I never had before. During my time here in Tampa, I’ve met quite a few talented individuals who have been a big part of the Microsoft development community in Florida for quite some time. After going to local events like User Group meetings and Code Camps, I made the decision last year to go to the big leagues.

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Welcome to 88 Acres, Part Deux

You’ve already heard it once from Damien, but welcome to 88 Acres! We’re glad to have you here. I want to take a quick moment to expand on what he said in his welcome statement and discuss a few more things with you about the site.
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