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Microsoft Surface – The ultimate tablet?

A few weeks ago in New York I was at a demo of Windows 8 and the new Surface tablet. There was nothing new on Windows 8 but getting to use the Surface did enforce just what a powerful tool Microsoft are bringing to the party.

From other posts here you will know that I really do like the iPad. Unfortunately, it could never replace my laptop for certain aspects of my work. Thus on days like today when travelling I am forced to carry the iPad and laptop and appropriate chargers. Granted the iPad is not a large device and not a huge inconvenience to carry but still.

The Surface will change that. The Surface (not the RT version) runs full apps like Excel and Word. They demo’d a little docking station for it and advised that you could hang 2 monitors off it and it also connected to your keyboard and mouse. So it became your full desktop solution. This little slab of tech could do it all. No more laptop and iPad needed. No more dropping stuff in dropbox so I could grab off the iPad. No more switching between devices depending on what I needed to do.

The device was very fast and responsive. Windows 8 was very easy to use on it. Of course as with any new OS there will be a learning curve and bugs to work out but initial view was very positive. The new version of Office interface was very clean with similarities to Outlook.com new interface. An added bonus was the pen\stylus. Unlike the iPad, that needs capacitive touch tip for writing, the Surface can us a fine tipped stylus. This tool meant that accurate writing was easily achievable and it means hand written note taking on the device is a real option.

The iPad is a wonderful device. For many it will continue to be so. The Surface however is a more complete tool especially for business. The ability to have full applications installed, the integration of the operating system with SkyDrive, the ability to dock it and use external monitors, a mouse and keyboard, the fine stylus all mean that it’s not just a real iPad competitor but it could spell the end for PCs and laptops as we currently know them. For the majority of people this device should be enough. There will be exceptions as there always is for those who need lots of processing power and memory. However, for the majority, like me, who need to access email, the Internet, and run Office applications for the most part then this device is ideal.

Over time as apps are added to the Microsoft store then it may turn from the ideal device into the perfect one. I hope it lives up to that potential.

The Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone

So as we gear up for Windows 8 with new phones and tablets a few thoughts on the current Windows Nokia Lumia 900 phone after using one for a few weeks.

Positives

  • Really liked the form factor.  Nice phone in the hand for shape, weight and size and easy to operate.
  • The device was very fast.  Never felt the device was struggling to do anything with always quick response in apps.
  • A nice touch screen that was very responsive. The slightly curved aspect made interacting with it very easy (pleasant even!).
  • Excellent integration with Windows Live, Office 365, Twitter and Facebook. E.g. from a text message I could jump onto my Live skydrive and attach an image. Posting to Twitter or Facebook from within apps worked better without logins such as those you get on the iPhone.
  • The OS was very clean with a real Windows 8 feel to it based on my exposure.  I really like the minimalistic aspect.  In parts it made the iPhone feel dated and clunky (and I love my iPhone!)
  • Phone piece of it was excellent with very nice interface and excellent call quality – a piece Apple all too often have forgotten.
  • Good battery life.  Better than both Blackberry and iPhone in recent comparison.
  • MS Office mobile such as Word, Excel, Onenote and Powerpoint.
  • Really liked the customisable tiles on your home screen.

Negatives

  • While I liked the OS it did have an unfinished look and feel to it at times.
  • Poor Camera – especially indoors and in poorer light compared with other phones.  It  often was quite difficult to take a good quality picture, or a picture with the same quality as the iPhone.  The camera app does has a lot more ‘real’ camera settings that many may like but for me I want to point and click and not spend 10 mins picking from 20 different settings just to get a good picture.
  • Obviously not the same volume of apps available for it so I could not replicate everything from my iPhone.
  • The phone was expensive.  The same cost roughly as recent iPhones or other devices we have got.  Considering it can’t quite offer what other devices offer they should be cutting their margins to make it more appealing.

So overall I was very pleasantly surprised with it.  I will seriously consider switching to the new Windows 8 version when it comes out if the camera is better and once the selection of apps improve.  Personally it would work better for me as my email is with Microsoft Outlook.com and work is on Microsoft Office 365.  The excellent integration with these products that the Windows phone offers might just get me to give up my iPhone!

A cluttered desktop on your computer? Get some Fences!

I like a clean desk. Both physically and virtually. Many will be familiar with the above situation where all shortcuts, files and folders are basically just dumped on the left side of the screen. Sometimes we organise them but often they just stay where they fall.  Often the number of items growing until the complete screen gets filled up with icons making it hard to find anything. How nice would it be to be able to put some structure to this? Organise logically, illogically or any way you wished to group them? Would you like to be able to hide them when doing a presentation from your laptop or even just when someone is sitting beside you at your desk as you both work on something?

Well you can!  A little product called Fences.  In the shot above you can get a sense for what it offers.  You can create, size and name fenced areas of your desktop where your icons reside. You can resize the areas as you need and keep areas of your desktop clean as I have above.  You can control the opacity of the fenced area.  The icons stay within each area unless of course you move them back to your desktop or to another fence so the fences are not just an image they are actual containers where the icons reside.  Move a fence and the icons move with it!

With a double-click of the mouse anywhere on the desktop the fences and icons all disappear and you are left with a completely clean desktop as above!  Another double-click and they return.  I love this feature for doing presentations as it means I can have a clean desktop on display and not worried be about what is sitting out on top.  The same applies to situations when at my desk or sharing my desktop with a colleague in another office it’s just a double-click and everything is gone.

The basic version is free so this is not a sales pitch!  I just like clever solutions and smart tech.  Get yours here http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/

Side Note: I get the pic and the quote so please no corrections on how it is in fact incorrect.  I just like it.  It brings a smile to my face.  I can’t recall where I got it but a search on the web returns many sources.  So to whoever created it congrats and thanks. This hasn’t got old for me yet!

Microsoft, Nokia, Facebook, Skype. The teaming of tech companies makes the future look bright!

So with the Facebook announcement yesterday it ties Microsoft, Skype, Facebook and Nokia all together into a big hot-pot of giant technology developers working together.  Talking with a colleague today we were trying to imagine if there was anything they were missing.  You could possibly say Twitter but as with Apple they could simply build its integration into any future developments of a new operating system.  Imagine if they get things right what their future mobiles, pads, laptops or computer devices could be like?

  • Microsoft gives you XBox gaming with over 50 million users.  Windows 7 has over 350 million licenses sold and when you consider the amount of XP or Vista still in the market place that adds a few hundred million more.  The Office365 platform offers web apps for the user but more importantly is offering some great options for business with hosted services and Sharepoint is one of the better if not best collaboration technology for the enterprise out there.  That combined with all the other obvious pieces such as Bing search, 350 odd million Hotmail accounts and Windows Live it’s a very impressive list.
  • Nokia gives you fantastic mobile hardware experience and build quality with the infrastructure to deliver high quantities of high quality devices.  They shipped 450 million devices in 2010 (YES 450 million!) and while their market share has slipped of late the ability to deliver that volume could be very important if they get the hardware and user experience right so as to meet consumer demand in the future.
  • Facebook gives you currently 600 million users in a platform that is constantly used to share massive volumes of information and something a large portion use regularly from their mobile device.
  • Skype has over 500 million users, is already now integrated with Facebook and again a product regularly accessed from mobile devices.

So that is a very simplistic view but you can see the numbers are just huge with true global penetration.  There is a huge population that already know these companies and their products.  Imagine if they keep the best bits of what they already have, that link to a product well used and they deliver with it the user experience of an iOS device with single sign on at home, at work, at play with everything in the cloud if you wish so your experience is the same irrespective of where you are.  That is an awesome package.  That is something has been fantasized about by us techies for a while but honestly thought it was a bit further away but getting closer with the likes of iCloud (which I can’t wait for!).  Yes you can get a sense of it now by using different apps and pieces of software but imagine a platform that delivered it all seamlessly automatically with one ID and this is something they can deliver now or at the very least in the very near future because as they said in an old favourite 70’s show of mine ‘We can rebuild …. We have the technology’

NOTE: Ok yes so I am a little optimistic and I realise combining these behemoths of industry will not be easy and integrating the different tech will be even harder so it wont be next month that they deliver devices but what I have seen of Windows 8 is very impressive so if they can combine that properly with the other pieces the future looks bright and might mean better competition and more options than just an iPhone or Andriod device.