iOS 8 Beta 5 – Finally… PROGRESS!

iOS 8 Beta 5 has been released. Let’s take a look to see how (well) things have progressed…

iOS-8-beta-5-630x208

 Introduction

Over the past ten weeks or so, Apple has been releasing betas of iOS 8, their new mobile operating system. I’ve covered the first four betas with some rants that have left me (and I would assume other developers and testers) lamenting. You can read up on how things have progressed here:

Beta releases of iOS 8, to put it politely, have been a train wreck at best. They have been nearly unusable, crashing and causing issues and problems with nearly each and every core, as well as nearly every third party app I have had installed, too. Apple recently released iOS 8 Beta 5. Let’s take a look at how things are going and see if iOS 8 is (finally?) ready for a wider audience as well as some other third party app work by developers worldwide.

I’m also going to touch on a few OS X Yosemite Beta 5 issues, as I bumped into updates on them while looking at iOS 8 Beta 5. So much of what is cool about iOS 8 requires Yosemite and a Mac, that it’s hard to draw the line between the two devices and operating systems… at least when they are close by (and vice-versa)

 Installation

Installation of iOS 8 Beta 5 was only slightly smoother than previous versions of iOS 8. I did have problems with iTunes Match again (see Music, below), and almost had to blow the device and reinstall, but thankfully, have not… Yet.

There are still a number of know issues with iOS 8 Beta 5, and as always, caution should be used when deciding to install any kind of beta on any mission critical equipment. Generally, it’s not a good idea. For example in Beta 5, updating iCloud settings may appear to hang when you try to change them. The thought is that the device will eventually come back. Try to see if you can wait it out before you kill the app, or perform a hard reset (power + home button until the Apple logo appears), which will clear all settings and reboot the device.

While using Beta 4, I didn’t blow the device and rebuild it from scratch. I toughed it out and made it the entire two weeks. However, during the 2-3 days prior to the release of Beta 5, I REALLY did want to. I didn’t as I knew that I would be doing exactly that for Beta 5 soon. However getting to that release wasn’t a lot of fun (though it was mildly better than with Betas 1 – 3).

The question of stability of iOS 8 Beta 5 is still to be determined.

 Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

According to Apple’s release notes, there aren’t any known issues with Bluetooth in iOS 8 Beta 5. There weren’t any documented issues in Beta 4 either, but it was still a mess. I am pleased to say that things are a bit better here in Beta 5.

BT-LE (Bluetooth Low Energy) seems to be working and communicating with my Pebble Steel smartwatch. However, the Pebble app does seem to be sending some corrupted data, as the watch doesn’t always vibrate at configured intervals and the display often gets corrupted. I haven’t had to hard reset the watch (return it to factory settings), but I’ve wanted to at least once since repairing it with my iPhone 5.

Now, the only issue I need to verify is the secret sauce connection (Continuity and Handoff) my iPhone shares with my MacBook Pro.

Speaking of secret sauce connectivity, little to nothing related to Handoff or connectivity (both relying on Wi-Fi and home network connectivity) worked well for me in the iOS 8 Beta 4 – Yosemite Beta 4/Consumer Preview 1 combination.

There are currently two huge known issues with Handoff

  1. Handoff will not work on systems configured with multiple user accounts.
  2. Handoff icons may not appear in the Dock after using the corresponding app on another device. Trying another Handoff-supported app may resolve this issue.

At this point, Handoff should be considered a work in progress. Though when it does work, it IS pretty cool, especially if you’re using apps that save to documents in iCloud Drive.

 FaceTime, Phone and Contacts

In previous versions of OS X as well as iOS, Apple had a clear line of separation between the Phone app and FaceTime. With Yosemite and iOS 8, that line is SERIOUSLY blurred. This is both good and bad. Now, you have a choice in how you communicate with someone given the type and speed of the network you are connected to. On your Mac, all of your calls regardless of type – FaceTime or cellular – all show up in FaceTime. It looks like it wants to function as the main phone app for your Mac, though you can dial from just about anywhere you can find or see a phone number, Calendar, Contacts and Safari included. In Beta 4 of both OS X and iOS 8, this was nothing more than a total train wreck.

I have no idea if this is because of development issues with Phone on my iPhone 5, with Contacts on either my device or my Mac or with FaceTime on either my iPhone or my Mac. There are too many possible integration points for me as a tester (without direct access to design docs, code and/ or developer resources) to determine. I’m going to have to give this a shot when I get a moment back at the house.

Besides the “progress” made, above, Apple has also fixed the ability for users to use FaceTime in landscape orientations on your iDevice. In earlier betas, this didn’t work. It does now, in Beta 5. Fixed – at least somewhat – is also the ability to determine which number to specify as a Favorite, though the Favorite chooser in Phone. Favorites now provides a contact method picker, but force quits the Phone app when a contact method is chosen. We’re close, but no kewpie doll yet. Unless Apple has gotten the iPhone integration working correctly with both Beta 5 releases of iOS 8 and Yosemite, it’s going to be a very long beta period for both operating systems.

UPDATE: While this article was being written, a new <a href=”http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/08/05/apple-to-hold-iphone-6-media-event-on-sept-9—report”>rumor was breaking</a> regarding a reported Apple media even scheduled for 2014-09-09. <a href=”http://recode.net/2014/08/05/codered-apple-to-hold-iphone-event-on-sept-9/”>Re/code</a> is reporting that both new iPhone 6 devices – the 4.7″ and the 5.5″ iDevices – will be announced with a projected order rate of 80M units. It is not known if the iWatch will be announced at the same event or not. However, you can expect new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina models to be announced with TouchID sensors.

UPDATE 2: The integration between iPhone with iOS 8 Beta 5 and OS X Yosemite Beta 5 is MUCH better than in the Beta 4 release of both operating systems. Previously, while a call could be established by your Mac through you iPhone, no audio would come across. In short, the feature was only partially implemented and didn’t work.

Now, not only is the connection established, but I was able to use my Mac as a speakerphone as intended without too many call quality issues. There does seem to be a volume issue for the person that you’re talking to. The caller I spoke with initially had trouble hearing me, though the call quality for them did improve over the length of the call.

Provided that audio quality and reliability improves on both sides of the call, I can see where this would be very usable as a way to conduct conference calls in a home office. I have my doubts however, how this kind of feature would work in the enterprise. Unless Apple builds some kind of partnership with, say, Cisco, Avaya or some other VoIP vender where the feature was totally integrated into their server(s), I’m not sure how this would be considered valuable or usable in any kind of corporate setting. The feature (even if mic and volume issues were totally resolved and call quality was continuously in the upper 90th percentile), as currently implemented doesn’t seem well suited for anyone else other than regular consumers or SOHO users.

However, it was really kinda cool to be able to get up away from the computer and still be able to converse with the caller without having to wear a Bluetooth headset. This is an area where I will need to do further testing, however, as its clear that this is a work in progress for Apple as well.

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Apple Rumors – What to do? What to do..??

There are a number of Apple rumors floating around.  Here’s how you should interpret them…

I’ve been covering the tech industry for almost 20 years. If there’s one thing I know to do – and can do well – its keep my ear to the ground and listen for the whispers.  After a while you get a Jedi like sense about some of this stuff, and like Michael Keaton in Johnny Dangerously (you know your last name’s an adverb..?), you learn to interpret the grape vine and can divine the truth out of the many tech rumors you hear.

Apple-question-markMost of the time with companies like Blackberry, it’s totally easy – especially over the past few years. You know the industry, you know the trends and you know the product.  You just KNOW what their chances are – slim to none.  With Microsoft, it’s not quite as easy. Under Ballmer, yeah… after covering MS under Ballmer for 20 or so years, you can dope it out.  It’s still early with Nadella, so, it’s a bit more difficult.  Apple however, is a completely different story.

There have been a number of rumors about the iPhone 6 – launch dates, release dates (they’re usually a month apart, so you divine one, you have the other…), model types, form factors, components, etc. The list goes on and on.  However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned after covering them for nearly 10 years – it’s don’t even try.

Apple is the most secretive tech company without a US military contract in the country, if not the world.  Sure… checking the Magic 8 Ball and getting the rumors right is real easy the night BEFORE an Apple Press Event, but that’s nothing and not very impressive at all. Any good rumor monger with at least an OK source or a bit of experience can do that.  I don’t know of many people at all that can do that months and months before the event and get it right.  Many have tried. Nearly all have failed. Those that have gotten it right have been merely lucky.

So what should you do with the rumors that you hear about on the internet regarding any unreleased Apple product?

That’s simple – smile, nod your head and move on.

Apple rumors are fun to read. Apple rumors are fun to talk about… but unless you get Tim Cook drunk AND are able to get him to spill his guts (which, by the way will never, EVER happen, because Tim is just NOT that way; but I’m trying to illustrate a point here, so work with me for just a sec…), and can get it on video with some kind of certificate of authenticity, I would treat any Apple rumor you hear as nothing more than a rumor.  Enjoy the story, hope for the best, but in the end… smile, nod your head and move on.

The latest rumors include not only the release of a 4.7″ iPhone 6, but also a second 5.5″ iPhone 6.  One, the other or both are supposed to have a saphire-glass touch screen.  The screen yields of one, the other or both models are said to have good yields, bad yields or other manufacturing problems that may delay the release of either model until late this year or early next year.

OR

We could get the 4.7″ model with or with out a saphire-glass touch screen as early as mid-September.  Or, we could also get the 5.5″ model at the same time, or after the First of the New Year. Maybe… MacRumors is also reporting an iPhone 6 release date of October 14, 2014, based on a rumored press event thought to take place sometime in mid-September.

And what happens in the background at Apple..?  Nothing.  They sit back and smile, basking in glory of the massive amounts of free publicity and hype that will likely send initial sales of the newest (and rumored to be the biggest) iPhone into the tens of millions in the first quarter of sales after its announcement, if you believe all the rumors, that is…

The point, kids is that you should treat these rumors as nothing more than what they actually are… a rumor.  Enjoy them. Talk about them.  Spread the living schtako out of them if you like; but don’t put any stock in them what-so-ever.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about covering Apple over the last 10 years, it’s that you aren’t going to be able to figure out which way they’re going to go until you get there.

Apple is very good at keeping secrets, and divining what they really WILL do with this, that or the other product has proven to be next to impossible.  So again, enjoy the rumors… have fun with them; but don’t buy into them at all.  You’re likely not going to do anything else other than confuse yourself and your friends if you put any stock in them.

So, move along… these aren’t the ‘droids you’re looking for…

Have you heard any new Apple rumors?  Any of them fun or exciting?  If you’d like to share them or have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear about all of them.  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and tell me all about it?

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Facebook is Killing Me

This whole, “splitting-off-FB-Messenger-into-a-different-app-thing” is making be bang my head against a wall. Here’s why…

facebook-messenger-transparent-300x300It started with Apple, I think.  I think… and it was in early 2012 with the release of Messages Beta.  I published an article on InformationWeek about two years ago that covered this.  I also wrote a feature length review of Messages, which was new at the time.

While others may disagree and provide other info and stats, (and I welcome that in the Discussion area, below…) sending text messages via IP instead of GSM/CDMA has started a huge in-flux of messaging and texting apps to hit the market.  Now, Facebook is tossing their hat into the ring with Facebook Messenger.

Facebook has somewhere in the neighborhood of, like, one billion users. If each and every one of them send just one message a day, to just one of their friends, that’s one billion messages exchanged via their social network each and every day. That’s seven billion a week and 30.44 billion each month.

That’s a lot of messages (and only if each user sends just one message a day).

Facebook has been saying for months that it would be breaking the messaging function out of its mobile app and would be moving it to a separate app all together.  I find this very painful.  I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my mobile experience.  The last thing I want on my phone is yet ANOTHER mobile messaging app.

I’ve been reviewing software for Windows, Mac, Pocket PC/ Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, Android and iOS for almost 20 years. I’m a software QA manager/ director and I can tell you with 100% accuracy – there’s a great deal of crappy software on the market.  Installing and uninstalling apps on to my mobile phone – a mission critical, communications tool for me – isn’t something I really like to do.  It tends to clutter up your device and trashes its performance, stability; and in many cases requires a wipe and reconfigure when its performance tanks and it acts buggy.    The LAST thing I want to have to do in order to keep current functionality, is install two apps to provide the current functionality I have in just one.

However, that’s what Facebook is doing.

In a recent note to its customers, Facebook states, “We wanted to let you know that messages are moving out of the Facebook app to our Messenger app, a free app that’s faster and more reliable for everyday messaging…. Soon, we’ll start guiding you to get started with Messenger. After a few days, you’ll also see a reminder notice in the Facebook app, where you’d normally see your messages. At that point, we’ll ask you to install Messenger or go to the Facebook website to view and send messages. You’ll still see new message notifications in the Facebook app, and it’ll be easy to switch between Facebook and Messenger.”

In short, if you do any PM-ing in Facebook on a regular basis, you’ll have to start using FB Messenger if you want to PM someone from your mobile device, from within Facebook. Facebook states that the swap to their Messaging app from the Facebook mobile app should be seamless, or nearly seamless. These changes won’t affect functionality experienced on the FB website on any platform or in any browser.

I’m not certain how Facebook monetizes all those messages people send and receive; but you have to think that there must be some financial angle for them to pursue this.  Perhaps they’re planning on implementing an ad supported app. I’m not certain… Any way you cut this, though, it’s another messaging app that I HAVE to install (if I wish to trade or view PM’s sent to me while I am using the Facebook mobile app). I hate that. I’ve got enough junk on my phone as it is with Angry Birds and Candy Crush… I don’t want to have to install another app, despite the messaging experience it’s supposed to provide.

Do you communicate via Facebook messaging with your friends a lot?  Will you continue to do so on your mobile device after Facebook removes its messaging functionality from its mobile app?  Will you install Facebook Messenger on your mobile phone and use it, or is it something that you’re just going to HAVE to install to keep all your current functionality?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the discussion area, below. This is just killing me.  I hate installing separate apps for this stuff.  How about you?

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OS X Yosemite Beta 4/ Public Preview Beta 1: Mac and iOS integration

Beta 4 of Yosemite was recently released to the public as a Beta 1 public preview. In part 2 of this 3 part series, I’m going to talk about Mac and iOS integration.

If you remember last time, I talked about Yosemite Installation and Setup. Here, I’m going to talk about integration between a Yosemite enabled Mac and your iOS 8 enabled iDevice.

Yosemite

 Mac and iOS integration

There is some pretty cool stuff going on with Apple’s Mac + iDevice pairings under Yosemite. However, please note that in order to get some of this stuff to work, especially when everything is released, you’re going to have to run not only Yosemite on your Mac (these features simply will NOT exist under Windows…), but iOS 8 on your iDevice. If your iDevice gets left behind at iOS 7, I don’t care what kind of Mac you have Yosemite install on, this kind of integration won’t exist. Be aware both new operating systems will be required on both ends.

FYI – Please note that these features will always require at least matching beta versions during the Beta Period. For example, Yosemite Beta 4 and iOS 8 Beta 4. They’re both going to be revved at the same time (though the public won’t get newer beta versions of Yosemite, but WILL receive some minor OS updates via the AppStore; and the only way to get iOS 8 is via the iOS Developer Program), so the versions will have to match. You won’t be able to have Yosemite Beta 4 and iOS 8 Beta 3 or vice versa on your gear and have this stuff work right now.

  • Phone Calls
    This is probably the neatest thing I’ve seen yet when pairing a Mac and an iPhone running iOS 8. If you have iOS 8 on your iPhone and Yosemite on your Mac, you can use your Mac as a speakerphone. Calls coming into your iPhone will cause your Mac to ring and a notification of the call to display in the upper right corner of your default monitor. You can answer the call, decline the call or reply with an iMessage if needed.You can also place a call from your Mac. Open Contacts, Calendar, Messages or Safari and click a phone number you see displayed. Your iPhone will place the call and your Mac will act as a speaker phone. Dialing into conference calls is super easy now, and totally hands free. Where was this a year ago? I really could have used it then, as conference calls were my life…The cool deal here, though is that you do NOT need to have your iPhone physically tethered to your Mac for this all to work. Through the magic of Wi-Fi, there’s nothing to setup. As long as your iPhone and Mac are connected to the same network, you’re good to go. This means you get this feature at home, at work or at Starbucks…which is cool. Wi-Fi is the magic sauce.
  • Messages
    When you have Yosemite and iOS 8, you can also send and receive text messages with individuals running not only iOS, but Android and Windows Phone – or any other OS that can send and receive SMS/MMS messages – all from your Mac. All messages that appear on your iPhone, appear on your Mac, and vice-versa. You can also begin a text message conversation on your Mac by clicking a phone number in either Safari, Contacts, or Calendar.Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble with this. I’ve tried this with a couple Android users over the past couple of days, and they never got any of the messages I sent from my Mac. None of those messages ever synchronized with my iPhone. Messages sent from my iPhone got to the user I was texting with, and eventually synchronized to my Mac; but none of the messages that I typed on my Mac in the Message conversation actually sent or were received by the users I was communicating with. There’s obviously still work to do here, as it appears the “send” functionality for non-iMessage users is broken in Yosemite.I have a lot of hope for this feature, as it makes Messages and iMessage a universal way to communicate via text with anyone, on any device, with any mobile OS, at any time. This is a natural progression for the iMessage service, and I’m very excited – or I will be – to be able to use this feature.
  • FaceTime
    While I am on contract with a state government agency and out of town, I use FaceTime as a major communications tool with my family. We speak via cell during the day; but we visit with each other via FaceTime at night. Everyone either has a Mac, iPhone or iPad to communicate with, provided they can get the target iDevice away from my 22 month old granddaughter, that is. She likes to talk to papa, too; but unfortunately, she doesn’t like to share, or can’t necessarily remember where she put her mother’s or grandmother’s iDevice. It makes for an interesting time…I’ve noticed that the new version of FaceTime for Mac has issues searching through large Contact lists. There’s always a huge delay – 30 seconds or more – when typing in a contact name, address or number in FaceTime. It improves slightly after the first search is completed, but there are still lags, especially with larger Contact lists like mine (I have nearly 3000 contacts in my Contacts list).
  • Instant Hot Spot
    One of the coolest features of iOS 6.x and later is the ability to use your iPhone as a mobile hot spot. You turn on the feature, set a password, and then turn on Wi-Fi on your phone and on your Mac. The feature was supported in Lion, Mountain Lion and is supported in Mavericks. Further, if you physically connected your iPhone to your Mac, with the hot spot feature turned on, your Mac connected to the internet automatically without the need to have Wi-Fi on or to configure any password.Apple has taken the feature a bit further now with Yosemite. Now, your Mac can use the personal hot spot feature on your iPhone via Wi-Fi just like it did via USB cable – no setup is required. Your Mac will also display the signal strength and battery life of your iPhone as well. You don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket, bag or anything else. The feature…just works; and now, you don’t even have to turn on the feature on your iPhone beforehand. Your Mac will list your iPhone in the network list of the Wi-Fi menu on your Mac. Selecting your iPhone will turn on the hot spot feature and you’re on the internet.I’m still experimenting with this feature. I haven’t played with it too much yet. However, I would suspect that the bridging technology is not necessarily accomplished not by Wi-Fi, but by BT-LE. You’ll also need to make certain that you’re logged into your iCloud account on your iDevice in order to make all of this work. So here, you need to mix both BT-LE and your iCloud account in order to create the secret sauce. Your cellular carrier will also need to allow the hot spot feature on their network, but that’s really a given…In the end, this looks like a much better implementation of the instant hot spot feature than in previous versions of OS X and iOS. In the end, it’s just on, click, connect and surf.
  • Handoff
    I know when I get home after a long day at the office, the last thing I want to do is get behind the desk in my home office because I HAVE to. Having a laptop makes it easier to compute in places other than an office, but having a hot laptop on your lap for a few hours is neither good for you NOR the laptop. Thankfully, Handoff allows you to use another device.Again, when you pair an Apple iDevice and a Mac running OS X Yosemite, your Mac and iDevices will automatically pass whatever you’re working on between them. You can start working on one device – say your Mac at the office (but it could be the other way around…) – and when you’re ready to go home you save your work to iCloud. When you get home, you can pick up what you were working on at the office on your iPad, at the exact spot where you left off… the availability of the file and the spot where you left off is instantaneous (or as soon as the information get saved to iCloud)…And that’s the secret sauce here – iCloud. As long as your iDevices and Mac share the same iCloud account, the information is traded back and forth with every save. Now you can go to meetings with confidence that the latest information you put in your presentation will show up on the iPad you’re presenting from; and you don’t’ have to do anything else other than save the file. This… is TOTALLY cool; and something that is WAY overdue as a feature not only in OS X, but in Windows AND Linux. Something like this should be available on every platform and computing device; but that’s just me, and probably way too Star Trek for everyone…Currently, Handoff works with Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts. What is even more important, is that app developers can easily build Handoff into their apps. This is a feature of the OS and not necessarily just Apple’s Core Apps.

Do you have any questions about OS X Yosemite’ integration between your Mac and an iOS 8 enabled iDevice? Let me know in the Discussion area below, and I’ll do my best to give you a hand.

Come back next time, and I’ll talk about changes to Apple’s Core Apps and I’ll wrap everything up.

Go back to First Impressions | Go to Apple Core Apps

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Windows 8 is the New Windows Vista

Microsoft on Windows 8 – You don’t see anything…

Windows8 is the new Windows Vista

I think it’s safe for nearly anyone and everyone to say and agree that Windows 8.x is a total train wreck. That’s sad, because it isn’t the OS itself that’s horrible, it’s just Metro, or what Microsoft officially calls “ModernUI” (though I fail to see much that’s “modern” about it. It’s very similar to Windows 1.0 in look and feel…). Microsoft is officially looking forward to putting Windows 8 far, behind it, much as they did with Windows Vista.

When Windows 7 was released, Microsoft went on a huge media blitz. They contracted with a company called, House Party – a company that does classic “Tupperware” styled parties for just about everything – to help them get people across the country to host Windows 7 Launch Parties. If you were chosen to host one, you got a party kit, which included a free Windows 7 license so you could demo the new OS and talk up its new features. I actually got a local newspaper – The Aurora Beacon – to help with the coverage and started a 12 week freelancing stint with them where I started off with a cool series on Setting up Windows 7 for the first time. In the end, they really did great job on moving the limelight away from Windows Vista – the old and busted – to Windows 7 – the new hotness.

Microsoft would very much like to repeat that kind of activity with similar results. In fact, I’d wager that their tactics will be nearly identical. They’ll do anything and everything they can to make the public forget Windows 8.x, and especially MetroUI.

For example, in the months leading up to Windows 7’s release, Microsoft did everything it could to make users forget about Windows Vista. All formal communications released from Microsoft either downplayed the former OS release and/ or played up the new OS release. Microsoft did everything it could to help users forget that Windows Vista ever existed.

For Windows 8, it’s going to be a little more difficult, but in the end the results will be the same. Microsoft has one more major update to Windows 8.1 scheduled for release on 2014-08-12. Windows 8.1 Update 2 (or whatever they end up calling) was supposed to be the update that had the new, revamped Start Menu in it. However, that update was pulled from the release many months ago and will instead come as part of Threshold, largely believed to be called, Windows 9. New – read reinstated – Start Menu with a revamped – read MetroUI removed – user interface, plus some other, yet to be announced, features = new version of Windows that Microsoft hopes everyone will embrace. In an effort to help that, Microsoft will likely have little to no press or released information about the 2014-08-12 Patch Tuesday and the release of Windows 8.1 Update 2 (if, in fact, that is what it called).

Another tactic, as noted by ComputerWorld would be to change the naming convention of the next version of Windows. As I stated above, the next version of Windows is rumored to be called Windows 9. When Microsoft released Windows 7, instead of giving it a name – like XP or Vista – Microsoft instead switched to a numeral based designation. They did this because XP was the OS that just wouldn’t die no matter how hard they tried and Vista was the marketing and sales thud heard round the world. Since Windows 8 is just as much of a dud as Windows Vista is, Microsoft may decide to remake the brand entirely and leave the numeric designations behind.

Perhaps they’ll move back to a product name. The next version of Windows is codenamed, “Threshold.” So, for example, calling it Windows Threshold, or something else may help Microsoft move away from the failure of Windows 8. Perhaps they’ll return to a year designation like they did with Windows 98 and Windows 2000 and call this version of Windows, “Windows 2015,” as the OS is supposed to become available for download and distribution in the early Spring of 2015.

Whatever its name, Microsoft is going to have to put some heavy marketing capitol behind it in order to reduce and remove the market share that Windows 8 has. Windows 7 had three to four years of exclusivity before Microsoft started talking up Windows 8.x. Microsoft is hoping to bury Windows 8 after only 2-3 years of exclusivity. Yes… it’s really that bad for Windows 8.x.

(BTW, it’s not the OS itself that’s bad, just MetroUI, which unfortunately, is nearly everywhere within the OS. While you can’t get away from it, with tools like Stardock’s Start8, and other very cheap utilities, you can nearly turn Windows 8 into a Windows 7 look alike. The OS in and of itself, is fast, optimized, and it will run on cheaper, more affordable hardware. That means your older notebooks and netbooks can use it too, extending their value and life.)

Some pundits – as well as many people in the tech circles that I frequent – that are talking about this issue are saying that Microsoft needs to do something spectacular to help remove Windows 8 from the annals of history. Some feel that giving away Threshold may be the best way to do that. Those that ARE saying that are calling that the, “smart thing to do.”

Nearly every version of every distribution of Linux is free to end users. Apple is making OS X Yosemite free to all Mavericks users. For Microsoft to continue to charge end users for upgrades and new versions is becoming problematic. Only Macs can run OS X, but nearly every Windows machine can run Linux, and their user interfaces are becoming more and more Windows-like and end-user friendly than they were before. With online versions of Microsoft Office and other online office suites that run on any and every OS that has a web browser, a compelling reason to pay for Windows on your PC is quickly disappearing, despite any reasoning behind Microsoft’s One Windows vision and streamlining.

What do you think of all of this? Is Windows 8 a boat anchor drowning Microsoft and holding them back? Should they do their best to erase it from history as they did with Windows Vista? Should they give Threshold away? Let me know in the Discussion area, below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the whole issue.

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One Windows

Say goodbye to Windows RT…

Untitlddded

I saw a report by The Verge yesterday and it kinda got me thinking. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been busy over the past couple of weeks. He cut over 18,000 jobs from the new combined Microsoft after the deal with Nokia closed and they had time to figure out where the redundancies were. He’s killed Ballmer’s devices and services focus for the company and has everyone focusing on the cloud and on productivity. Now, he’s taking a shot at one of Microsoft’s major products – Windows.

There can be only one…

According to Nadella, Microsoft will “streamline the next version of Windows from three operating systems into one single converged operating system.” Windows will be built by a single team with one common architecture. The details of how this will actually happen aren’t known as of yet, but that means that desktop Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox will be unified. This is huge for developers, as they can now create universal apps, meaning they will only have to code and compile once and their app should run anywhere Windows does.

This has been something that Microsoft has been moving towards for months. At BUILD, Microsoft showed of dev tools that support this. While this works better for developers, how it will work in the wild remains to be seen. This ultimately means the death of Windows RT and Microsoft Surface RT/Surface 2 tablets.

THAT isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Microsoft never really got behind RT and pushed it as their competitors – both Apple and Google – push their mobile operating systems. RT was confusing to users who often mistook it for the Pro version of Windows, only without any real apps. The problem with RT was the Windows Desktop. RT still had it and Windows [File] Explorer, making it look and feel a great deal like its bigger brother, but without the ability to run any desktop apps. Quite honestly, no one knew what to do with Windows RT and Surface RT. Microsoft didn’t push it, users didn’t understand what to do with it, and it just kinda died.

As I have stated many times, Mary Jo Foley is a friend of mine, and I trust her take on the inner-workings at Microsoft more than anyone else’s. Well, maybe not as much as a Microsoft press release, but you get my meaning.

Anyway, I took a long hard look at the report by The Verge, and it didn’t quite sit right. Based on what I know MJF has said before, creating one, single Windows SKU that runs on all devices and only differentiates based on the box its running on is NOT what Microsoft has been all about…EVER. Thankfully, MJF has come to rescue again and provided some clarification.

In a nutshell, this is what “One Windows” means:

One Team – a single team developing the core of Microsoft Windows has been in place under Terry Myerson since July 2013. They will continue to take direction from one set of notes.

One “Core” – All Windows variants (and there will continue to be a few) will continue to come from a single Windows Core. Each SKU and variant will be built via a layered architecture, but will be built on top of this common core

One Store – Microsoft isn’t closing the Windows Store simply because RT is dying. Microsoft has been working to unify the Windows Phone Store and Windows Store over the past year and will continue to do so. The unified store should debut with Threshold sometime next year. How or when Xbox apps and games will be made available in the Store isn’t known yet.

One Development Platform – Microsoft will make a single set of developer API’s and developer’s toolset available. Developers won’t necessarily get the code/ compile once functionality as reported by The Verge; but they are still shooting for having developers write “universal apps.” What “universal” actually means is still a bit unclear; but many of those pieces are in place now.

According to MJF what One Windows does not mean is a single Windows SKU. There will be multiple versions of Windows, in much the same way as we’ve always seen Windows – Enterprise, Consumer, OEM and Industrial (Windows Embedded). We should be able to see this come to fruition this Fall when the public preview of Threshold is still scheduled to be made available.

What do you think of these developments? Is Microsoft getting it together, or is their strategy still too segmented/ fragmented and confusing? Does this kind of “unification” make sense to you, or is this all just a coat of paint on a busted wagon? Does the reported death of Windows RT matter? Does the reported death of Windows RT and the apparent loss of the Surface RT/ Surface 2 (not the Surface Pro line, which includes the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2/3). Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and let me know what you think?

UPDATE – After trading a few Tweets with @MaryJoFoley on Twitter, just before this went into 2013-12-09 report, Microsoft isn’t killing RT. It still plans on making it one SKU with Windows Phone that runs on smartphones and tablets. This fits with the “One Windows” MO, noted above.

I know this is all a bit confusing, but again, I trust Mary Jo Foley. Her sources are known and trusted, and she has yet to lead me down a wrong path.

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An interesting way to keep track of your stuff with Tile

An interesting way to keep track of your stuff…

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About 20 months ago, Tile – a new company initially funded as a Kick Starter project has started shipping its product. I was really hot-to-trot for them, as the solution they offered provided a quick and easy way for you to find things you often misplace. For $50 bucks, you got four Tiles (three plus one bonus tile). I jumped on in January 2013, a number of months after the program had been initially announced in either late 2011 or H1 2012. (However, my timing may be slightly off. Please correct me if I’m wrong in the Comments, below…)

The process was fairly simple, you attach a Tile to an object, pair it with your smartphone and then if you lose it, you can use your phone to track it down. The app on your phone provides you with the last known GPS location of the Tile; and use play a game of Hot-Cold until you actually find the object that the Tile is connected to.

Tile recently began shipping their products to its initial backers, and I received mine a few weeks ago. I’ve had a chance to stick one on my keys (of which I am CONSTANTLY misplacing..!) and I have the following commentary on the app and the product; and I have a few suggestions for Tile as well…

My Biggest Use Case
Tiles product itself is pretty ingenious. It uses Bluetooth 4.x and BT-LE to help you find the object you’ve attached the actual Tile to. As long as the Tile isn’t over a year old (more on that later) and as long as the Tile is in range of your smartphone, you’ll be able to find what you’ve lost.

This was a HUGE deal for me, as my family has a HORRIBLE habit of misplacing the universal TV remote in the family room. The kids don’t put it back where it’s supposed to be, it gets shoved between couch or chair cushions, the baby walks it to another room, or some other weird result. I often spend more time looking for the remote than I do actually watching my beautiful, 51″, plasma HDTV.

I have about 5 TV’s in the house and a universal remote for each. None of them are the same brand, so each remote is really tied to the TV it’s paired with. Unfortunately, the family tends to take remotes from one room to the other (as the cable boxes all use the same signals)

I thought this was going to be the best thing in the world! I could attach a Tile to the remote and then instead of spending hours looking for it, I could simply track it down with my iPhone and start watching TV. My Backer’s shipment of Tiles even included a way to attach a Tile to my often wayward remote. I really thought I would be ecstatic with this solution. This was really the only reason why

Tile – It’s a [Huge] Mamma-Jamma
When you back something on Kickstarter or other crowd-source funding site, you really have no idea what you’re buying or funding. I love the idea of Tile, but I’ll tell you this – I’m very disappointed. The darn thing is HUGE! I thought it would be about half the size it actually is.

The concept is right: a water-tight, one piece BT-LE widget that easily attaches to items, allowing you to track them down if they get misplaced. If your spouse forgets their purse or wallet at a diner you stopped at while travelling down the road, you can go back and easily find it. If you’ve lost your keys, but you know they’re SOMEWHERE in the house, you can quickly track them down. If your granddaughter walked away with the universal remote in each room and she’s not quite two, and doesn’t speak sentences yet… You get the picture. It’s pretty awesome.

Unfortunately, the devices themselves are very large – about 1.5 to 2.0 inches square, with a large hole in the upper left corner allowing you to put them on a key ring or other fob. They’re also about a quarter of an inch thick. When I said they should be about half that size… Yeah. You see what I mean. These things are LARGE.

The device can’t be end user serviced. It has a battery in it, but they last about one year and then need to be replaced. The letter “E” serves as a button for the device. It allows you to turn discovery on and then be paired with your smartphone. The devices also have an electronic speaker that plays a cute little melody to let you know where it is.

Tile also provides you with two different pieces of specially shaped and sized two sided tape that will allow you to attach your Tile to the side of something you want to keep track of – like my remote – so you don’t have to worry about fixing it to something so that it can be successfully paired without falling off of the object you want it to help you locate.

Don’t get me wrong. The devices work. They work well. However, they’re about two times as big as they should be. I understand that these are 1.0 versions of this hardware; but you’d think that we would be able to engineer a smaller device that fulfilled its charter.

The speaker on it also isn’t very loud, so if you’re hard of hearing (like me), you may have trouble hearing it as it calls out its location to you. It’s a good thing that your smartphone can determine distance (but not necessarily bearing) from your current location. Just remember that if you frequently use the device to shout out its location, its battery may not last its stated year of life; and at $20 bucks PER Tile, the replacement costs are a bit steep, too.

The Tile App
Unfortunately, I’m not entirely happy with the app, either. While it again, does a decent job, I expected a bit more. I’m not ENTIRELY certain just WHAT that was… maybe a better UI and/ or design. I’m not certain. However, it doesn’t do that Hot-Cold thing I mentioned earlier, and I really thought that it would.

The app shows you a GPS location, and that’s nice; but if I KNOW my keys are in the house and I’m just not sure what room they’re in, a GPS or map location isn’t going to help me. I need to know how close I am (or am not) to my target. Having some sort of “compass-styled” locator or other UI that would give me a “warmer… warmer…, cooler, colder…” kind of look would be better.

The musical tones and chirping that Tile does is nice, but if the thing you’re looking for is underneath some couch or chair cushions, you may not hear it. Having some kind of real time directional locator as part of the app would really be much more value-added and a bigger help. Having my phone vibrate also doesn’t help. All that tells me is that “it’s close.” It doesn’t tell me exactly where it is.

While the Tile app will give you a GPS location of the Tile’s last known GPS location, it won’t tell you where it is if what you’re looking for grew legs and decided to walk away. If someone took your purse or wallet from that diner and drove away with it, Tile won’t broadcast its GPS location to your phone and let you know where it is. That could be problematic, and would be really cool if it did do that. Unfortunately, there’s no way for your Tile to “call home” if it goes out of range of your smartphone.

Conclusion
I’m really torn here. I want to like these so much; but Tile has three big problems going against it.

1. They’re big
2. They need to be replaced annually
3. They’re expensive

When I bought these, I imagined something, as I’ve said, about half its current size. Tile adds a huge amount of bulk to an already crowded key ring. I don’t have unnecessary or old keys on my ring. I use each one, almost every day. If all I had was a car and a house key, that would be one thing, but with office keys, car keys, house keys and filing cabinet keys on my key ring, a 2×2 square, plastic widget takes up a lot of space.

If you look at the Tile website, you get the impression that each Tile has a 12 month life span. From the way their documentation reads, you get the idea that on each Tile’s anniversary, they stop functioning whether their battery dies or not. That’s totally NOT cool. I know Tile has to have some sort of working business model, but I honestly wouldn’t have bought into these if I knew they had a 12 month shelf life.

At $50 bucks for four Tiles, that’s $12.50 a Tile; and a bit much in my opinion. At regular price, these are $19.99 for one. That’s way too much (and $30 more a year for the original 4 I bought.) I’d rather see these priced at $9.99, since they have to be replaced annually.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate that I have to turn my family room upside down to find my remote for my TV nearly every day. I don’t like misplacing my keys. However, it’s unlikely that either of those conditions are going to change. I was wishing for something like this when Tile came around. The only thing that I can say is that I hope version 2.0 is much improved over version 1.0.

While Tile fulfills its mission, its current version software can use a huge upgrade and its hardware should be sent to a fat farm. The app should do a lot more than it does in terms of local location. I’d like a better hot-cold UI than what I have now. It would also be cool to see Tile do more with Location Services. The initial GPS and map data that Tile captures after it locates a device is nice, but having it phone home would be much better for those things that can grow legs and walk away.

Tile works and does a decent job, but its hardware size makes it a bit impractical for some of the things I’d really like to track with it. Having a smaller form factor would make it easier to attach to my universal TV remote… and easier to hide. I’m also not pleased with the shelf life or their cost.

It’s a good accessory; but I’m not as happy with its execution as I thought it would be. I also think that the effort will ultimately fail, as the annual cost won’t be seen as value added as it would or should be at a lower price point. Tile is a nice to have convenience; but not much more than that.

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Keep your PC’s hardware working to the best of its ability with Smart Driver Updater

Keep your PC’s hardware working to the best of its ability with this important Windows utility.

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One of the most important parts of any operating system as the drivers for each component under the hood or connected to your computer.  Having really good drivers can mean the difference between your PC running well, your performance tanking or not being to use either an accessory or peripheral or the entire PC.  This is especially important with newer operating systems, as updates to drivers can come, literally, all the time.  At that point, versioning can become an issue as app and driver installers are notorious for leaving artifacts behind and in some cases, drivers can even become outdated. This is why I really like Smart Driver Updater.  It helps you find and keep the best drivers for your Windows PC, up to date.

Just because a file is a driver file, doesn’t mean that it’s excluded from errors and other kinds of file corruptions that happen to other Windows components.  As peripherals and accessories move through their life cycle, drivers get updated and your copies can become out dated, quickly; and you often won’t know if that happens. Most computer connected devices don’t have auto-updaters.

Sometimes, installation processes can go sideways and an update gets applied incorrectly.  Or sometimes OTHER drivers get updated, and that update effects the performance of another peripheral or accessory because they share some kind of soft-component…  When something like this happens, it can take one, the other or both drivers – and devices – down.

Provided that the device or accessory isn’t damaged, all you likely need to do is update the actual driver file(s) for any related accessories and you’re back in business. Unfortunately, trying manually track this stuff down can be a HUGE headache. I know from firsthand experience. It can be a nightmare, especially if you’re trying to update drivers for more than one device at a time. This is where Smart Driver Updater comes to your rescue.

Smart Driver Updater has a database of over 600,000 drivers. The app’s database is constantly updated and edited to make sure that the best driver updates are available. With Smart Driver Updater, you’ll always have the latest driver updates available to you.

Having a Windows PC – especially for someone like me who is constantly testing both software and hardware – means that you’re always only a few months away from a complete tear down and rebuild of your PC.  If you ever have to nuke the hard drive and start from scratch, getting right back where you were with all of your drivers is very easy with Smart Driver Updater. It backs up all of your drivers to a zip file that is easily exported, giving you a quick, easy way to get back to where you were.

Smart Driver Updater isn’t the kind of application that has a lot of bells and whistles. It’s no nonsense, pragmatic approach to keeping your computer’s and peripheral’s drivers updated and current isn’t going to be the application that you ache to run every time you boot up your PC… That is, until it saves your bacon.  Then, you’re probably not going to want to run your computer without it.

The app’s Scheduler gives you standard “set it and forget it” functionality. Once activated, the app will scan your drivers at startup or at a day and time during the week or month and tell you what needs updating.  Putting that in place should be part of EVERY Windows PC’s boot process so that your PC is always running at peak performance.

 

Download Smart Driver Updater

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