Feature Review – OS X 10.11 – El Capitan

Introduction

os_x_el_capitan_roundup

Security!

Stability!!

Give me these or give me, well… give me another operating system!

Out of the darkness and the despair, the cry of the people went up; and the benevolent wizards in the magic land called Cupertino heard them. They toiled long and hard. They worked day and night. They sent forth version after (public beta) version of their magic spells until finally on 2015-09-30, shortly after the final rendering that was heralded by the appearance of the blood moon… it was completed.

El Capitan… OS X 10.11… and the Wizards of Cupertino saw that it was good… and so, wishing to protect their progeny, they sent it forth…

If you have a Mac running OS X 10.10.x, then you can run Yosemite. Is it the operating system for you? Will it run well, even on a Late 2008 or Early 2009 MacBook? Does it offer the kind of performance boot and security enhancements that you’ve been looking for? Is it safe for you to upgrade, knowing that some apps might not be ready yet?

We’re going to take a look at these questions and others as we look at El Capitan and its natural progression and growth from Yosemite into, what Apple (and all the Wizards of Cupertino) hope will be the best version of their desktop OS yet.

Let’s see if we can wade through the hype (and yeah… my BS…) and take a look and see what El Capitan brings to the table. Is it worth putting on your Mac? Let’s find out…

Experience

It started with Yosemite; and Apple said it when they announced OS X El Capitan – they’ve called the name of the mountain; and given everyone a natural progression of what Yosemite was. El Capitan is what comes next.

I’m making a big deal about the name of the new OS and the name of the mountain that’s depicted as the default desktop wall paper in both OS X 10.10 and 10.11. The mountain is in the park; and the park’s most notable and biggest attraction is the mountain. By drawing this analogy between the mountain and both operating systems, Apple is basically telling you that OS 10.11 is a natural progression of OS X 10.10. And that’s basically true… at least from what I’ve been able to see of the new OS during the time that I’ve been able to use it.

Changes to OS X in El Capitan can really be divided into two different categories – Experience and Performance. El Capitan is a gives you even simpler, smarter ways to do the things you do the most with your Mac – Like working in multiple apps at the same time, searching for information, keeping tabs on your favorite websites, or checking email, or taking notes.

And there are some changes. All of them add value to the OS X experience. Some of them create issues and problems for users. I’ll touch on some of those later.

However, what you should take from this “tock” styled update, is that the El Capitan experience is familiar and something that nearly every Yosemite user is going to feel comfortable with; and (should be) instantly productive in (again, provided your core apps aren’t broken under El Capitan. I have more on that below…

Performance

Improvements under the hood make your Mac snappier and more efficient in all kinds of everyday tasks — from opening PDFs to accessing your email. And with Metal for Mac, you get faster and more fluid graphics performance in games, high-performance apps, and many other places.

In OS X El Capitan we’ve made all kinds of things run faster — like accessing email and launching or switching between apps. It’s these little things that make your Mac feel faster and more responsive. And we’ve brought Metal to Mac, so you experience more fluid performance in games, high-performance apps, and key system-level graphics operations.

Now things you do every day — like launching and switching apps, opening PDFs, and accessing email — are faster and snappier. OS X El Capitan makes your Mac feel more fluid and responsive.

  • Up to 1.4x faster app launch
  • Up to 2x faster app switching
  • Up to 2x faster display of first mail messages
  • Up to 4x faster pdf opening in preview

    Metal

One of the biggest developments and improvements in OS X 10.11 is Metal. Metal is a new graphics core technology. It gives games and apps near-direct access to the graphics processor on your Mac, allowing for enhanced performance and a richer graphical experience. Metal speeds system-level graphics rendering by up to 50%, as well as making it up to 40%more efficient on resources, compared with Yosemite, on equivalently speced Macs.

In a nut shell, Metal allows your Mac’s CPU and its graphics processor to work more effectively together, boosting high-performance apps. The most obvious benefit of Metal will be to games, but any high performance app – like Photoshop, iMovie, or any other graphic or video intensive app – will benefit from its up to 10x performance boost

Core Application Issues

When I say “core application” I really don’t mean apps that Apple has written, like any of the iWork components or Mail or iTunes. What I’m really talking about is Office 2016 for Mac. When El Capitan was released, it was released AFTER Office 2016 for Mac hit the streets. If you upgraded Yosemite to El Capitan with Office 2016 for Mac installed, you were – unfortunately and unknowingly – in for a very serious problem.

Office 2016 for Mac doesn’t run on El Capitan 10.11.0.

Since I started writing this review AND since the release of OS X 10.11.1, both Apple and Microsoft have released updates to the OS and to the suite to resolve the issues. However, it got dicey there for a while…

Features & Improvements

Security Updates

OS X 10.11 builds on the security model in Yosemite and takes it to the next level. Security is a big part of the El Capitan Update over OS X 10.10. Here, I’m going to touch on three of the biggest updates that Apple has made to its flagship OS’ security underpinnings.

System Integrity Protection (SIP)

Over the years, Macs have enjoyed a bit of anonymity. Hackers and malware writers didn’t target them because, quite honestly, they didn’t have the user base for most of these bad guys to bother with. That’s changing now.

In earlier versions of OS X, Apple introduced things like Sandboxing and Gate Keeper to help protect users from malignant code. Sandboxing requires programs to run in a defined memory segment, without the ability to write code to other parts of the computer. Gate Keeper effectively limits application installs from everywhere but trusted sources. In El Capitan, Apple is hardening its security model with System Integrity Protection (or SIP for short).

SIP prevents programs or users with insufficient security credentials to writing any files to /System, /bin, /usr (except /usr/local), and /sbin. This prevents malignant programs from In other words, it provides a type of root-level protection to the Mac similar to what the iPhone and iPad have benefited from for years.

Code injection and runtime attachments are no longer permitted, though expert users who really want to will still be able to access the system as deeply can still make system level changes that will allow them to do so. If you run apps like or TotalFinder, you’re going to find that they either do not work now, or you have to either fully or in part, disable SIP.

You can find instructions on disabling SIP here.

Some apps like Bartender, only need SIP disabled during install. After that, SIP can be reenabled.

System Integrity Protection helps keep your computer secure by preventing unwanted and malicious, privilege escalations.

App Transport Security

Web apps are gaining in popularity. Apps like Outlook.com and Gmail are hugely popular, and that TYPE of app are only going to become more prevalent. In order to insure that the data transmissions between your computer and the web server that the app is actually running on are secure, Apple added Application Transport Security to OS X. In El Capitan, that’s TLS 1.2, but as stronger transports become available, ATS will push everyone towards them as well. This type of security is insanely important in that without this secure layer, not only will productivity apps like Gmail and Outlook transmit data in the open for nearly everyone with a packet sniffer to see, but shopping apps that use the same secure transports will also pass insecure payment and credit card data back and forth.

Security protocols like this help make the future of online activity – whether that’s mail, or productivity (like Google Apps or Microsoft Office Online) or shopping apps safe to use

Privacy

El Capitan helps make computing more secure by protecting your privacy. Apple inverts the current cloud computing model by bringing the cloud down to your Mac, and not the more traditional model, which is the other way around. The easiest way to see a tangible example of this, is Spotlight.

When you search for data through Spotlight, you simply type a question and the search results are brought to your desktop. In a more traditional search model, you go to a web site – say Google or Bing – and search for something. You… go to the data, putting your security and your privacy at risk. In the Mac model, this is reversed. The data, comes to you, as it should be.

The best thing here is that when you use an Apple Online service, your personal data and the data you searched for and retrieved isn’t shared with any online service. You just get your results. This lowers the risk of your personal and/ or private data being inappropriately or inadvertently shared with other individuals or other companies. How well this works over time in terms of service quality and what you can and cannot search for based on what’s shared and retrieved, remains to be completely seen.

Feature Updates

El Capitan makes several updates to many of OS X’s key features. I’m going to highlight some of the more visible and more important feature updates in OS X 10.11.

Split View

Everyone is used to running multiple apps on their computer or laptop screens. I mean, we’ve been doing this really since 1990 blah-blah-blah and Windows 3.x. You get from one open app to the other by using ALT-Tab. Its very easy.

On the Mac side of the world, it’s the same way. We’ve been able to swap bits between apps since 1984 and Finder 1.0, if you really want to get down to brass tacks. You get from one app to another by using Command-Tab. Its also very easy here.

The big problem is that some times, all the other apps you might have open are nothing more than noise. Yes, you can try to Tile your open windows, but in many cases, if you don’t watch it, you can wind up with every open app window sitting next to every OTHER app window on your computer screen. When all you wanted was two apps side by side, this is hugely annoying.

Split View 01

In El Capitan, Apple takes a queue from Microsoft’s Snap feature and has given us Split View. With Split View, you can automatically fill your computer screen with two apps of choice. To get to Split View, you can either get there from Mission Control or from a full screen app. If you already have an app running full screen, you can drag another Split View compatible app to its desktop thumbnail at the top of the Mission Control Screen. Both apps will appear in Split View.

The other way is to click and hold the green full screen button with your mouse. The left half of the screen will become shaded in blue. Release your mouse button to open the current window on the left half of your screen. Any other compatible, non-minimized apps will show up on the other half of the screen as thumbnails. Simply click the other app you want to use in Split view.

Microsoft does this on the Windows side with Snap. You can get there in a similar fashion, and popping content back and forth between apps is just as easy via Windows Snap as it is with OS X Split View.

Mission Control

Mission Control 01

A streamlined Mission Control makes it easier to see and organize everything you have open on your Mac. With a single swipe, all the windows on your desktop arrange themselves in a single layer, with nothing stacked or hidden. Mission Control places your windows in the same relative location, so you can spot the one you’re looking for more quickly. And when you have lots of windows competing for real estate, it’s now even simpler to make more room for them. Just drag any window to the top of your screen, and drop it into a new desktop space. It’s never been this easy to spread out your work.

Mission Control 02

 

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Unboxing the Olio Model One

The latest – and last – candidate in our 2015 smartwatch roundup has finally arrived.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been doing a very extended roundup of smartwatches. The final piece of hardware for the roundup arrived yesterday (and there’s quite a story wrapped around its shipment and delivery…). I present for your consideration – the Olio Model One.

As you can see in the unboxing video, above, the Olio Model one just oozes luxury from the very beginning. I knew I was unboxing something special when I saw that the packing material inside the shipment box was custom cut foam.

The box and packing materials are of the type that you’d think you’d find with the purchase of a luxury time piece. The watch box is bound in soft, black leather, and the watch itself is securely packed with a suede wrapped liner. The box has two small compartments on either side of the watch – the left one containing the micro USB power cable and the right containing a cleaning cloth, extra watch bracelet links, a safety and user guide and a getting started guide.

Here are my first impressions on the watch and my initial out of box experience with it.

Hardware
Olio Model OneThe hardware is flawless. It looks great, feels great, and is solidly made. The build quality is high and Olio gets top marks in this regard. Unfortunately, it goes straight south after coming out of the box.

The getting started instructions tell you to plug the charging cable into the magnetic charging plate and to attach it to the back of the watch. After that, the watch turns on and you’re instructed to run through the watch’s setup procedure.

That was fine, but the watch gets HOT when charging.

I mean it gets, “burn your hands and I can’t pick this up or hold it” hot when it is charging. I had a VERY difficult time completing the setup procedure because I had to put the watch down multiple times. It was simply too hot to handle. It took me over two hours to complete the setup because the watch was too hot to handle, and I made a few mistakes with it while trying to work with the watch.

After I was finally able to finish setup, the Model One wasn’t done charging so I placed it on my desk and left it to charge overnight. I actually wondered if the watch would get hot enough to burn my desk or cause a fire, it got so hot… and no. I’m not exaggerating.

Watch UI
So far, the UI on the watch seems about as intuitive as a nuclear missile silo. Moving through the available screens doesn’t seem to work very well, because for some reason, my touch screen doesn’t seem to do anything when I tap it. I have to give it the ol’ “hello…! McFly..!!” treatment to try to get the screen to turn on so I can even see what time it is. It doesn’t seem to have a “lift to display” feature like the Apple Watch does. There are no buttons on the watch and it doesn’t have a crown – digital or otherwise – to turn or push to try to get the display to turn on.

One of the first thing that Olio tells you to do is to go through its tutorials; and it’s a good thing, because the print on the getting started guide is very, VERY small and it was very difficult for me to read, even with my glasses on.

Once you know how to move through the watch screens and to get to its Settings and other function screens, there appears to be a particular “touch” that you need to employ in order to actually get to the screens.

This is not easy to master.

It takes a while to find just the right amount of pressure and just the right spot on the screen in order for the UI to correctly interpret your intent. I still haven’t gotten this right consistently.

Companion Software
I really need to spend more time with the Model One’s app. There are some initial items of concern here; but it’s entirely possible that those concerns may disappear after I become more familiar with it. I don’t want to comment too much on this just yet.

Conclusion
Yeah…

I dunno.

The jury is definitely still out on this one. Unfortunately, the Olio Model One didn’t hit the home run out of the box that I was hoping for; and I’m somewhat disappointed the morning after doing the unboxing.

I’m going to do my best to get through this as unbiased as possible, but out of the gate, while the hardware – the Olio Model One itself – is nearly everything that you thought it would be by looking at Olio’s product offering on their website, the hardware isn’t worth squat if there are UI, companion software or worse yet, charging issues.

I’m targeting the end of November 2015 for the completion of this review. If there’s anything in particular that you’d like me to look at specifically – device software/ UI, companion software, battery charging and battery life or hardware – I’d love to hear from you. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and post your questions or concerns. I’ll do my best to address them during the review and to keep everyone posted on how things go.

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Microsoft Changes OneDrive Storage Options

Now this truly sucks, as it was one of the reasons why I bought Office 365 in the first place...

In a surprise move that took many off guard, Microsoft has announced sweeping storage changes to its OneDrive online storage product, which is similar in function and scope to both Dropbox and to Google Drive. Users will now be limited to 1TB of storage. Here is the complete list of changes that users can find on the OneDrive Blog.

  • We’re no longer planning to offer unlimited storage to Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscribers. Starting now, those subscriptions will include 1 TB of OneDrive storage.
  • 100 GB and 200 GB paid plans are going away as an option for new users and will be replaced with a 50 GB plan for $1.99 per month in early 2016.
  • Free OneDrive storage will decrease from 15 GB to 5 GB for all users, current and new. The 15 GB camera roll storage bonus will also be discontinued. These changes will start rolling out in early 2016.

Microsoft is taking the following actions to help users make the transition:

  • If you are an Office 365 consumer subscriber and have stored in excess of 1 TB, you will be notified of this change and will be able to keep your increased storage for at least 12 months.
  • If you are an Office 365 consumer subscriber and find that Office 365 no longer meets your needs, a pro-rated refund will be given.
  • If you are using more than 5 GB of free storage, you will continue to have access to all files for at least 12 months after these changes go into effect in early 2016. In addition, you can redeem a free one-year Office 365 Personal subscription (credit card required), which includes 1 TB of OneDrive storage.
  • Current customers of standalone OneDrive storage plans (such as a 100 or 200 GB plans) are not affected by these changes.

onedrive-logo-microsoft-212x212Like all things in life that get ruined, Microsoft is blaming a “small number of users” who had more than the “average” of 1TB. In these cases, it was found that these users had pushed over 75TB of space (or 14,000 times the normal user). These users pushed files like PC backups, DVR collections, or their entire digital movie collection up to OneDrive.

And who could blame them – Microsoft had PROMISED, and users had paid for (via their paid Office 365 subscription), unlimited storage. I’m not certain why Microsoft seems to be taking this retaliatory step against its users. Isn’t unlimited, unlimited??

To be honest, I never saw unlimited storage. To be honest, I called Microsoft and they ASSURED me (after unlimited storage was announced earlier this year) that I had unlimited storage space. I didn’t buy it then… and I’m OBVIOUSLY seeing the end results very clearly – NO UNLIMITED STORAGE FOR YOU!

I honestly do NOT think that this is a case of a few bad apples (spoiling the whole bunch girl). I honestly think this is a case of someone finally waking up and having, what I like to call, a V8 moment.

If you offer unlimited (and people have purchased it) people are going to make use of unlimited . It’s stupid to think that someone would not put all of this content in OneDrive if they could.

I mean, is “unlimited” unlimited or not?

It’s a simple yes or no question. One year ago, the answer was yes. Today’s move seems to say, “Psych! We weren’t really serious. Did y’all think we were serious?!”

While I’m being, perhaps a bit sarcastic and maybe a bit callous, the move to unlimited storage was a huge benefit for Office 365 Home and Business users (users of Office 365 Personal got only one (1) account with unlimited storage, even though they could share their subscription benefits). As I mentioned earlier, it’s what finally pushed me over the edge and made me bite. It was a better deal than Dropbox (still is) and a better deal than Google Drive.

I’ve been reading and researching information on this on and off all day. The biggest possible reasons behind a change in product alignment may be

  1. The marketing promotion on OneDrive and Office 365 that offered unlimited storage may have ended.
  2. Microsoft may have realized that they can’t sustain an “unlimited storage” offering. It may be too costly or too unwieldly to manage (or both)
  3. With the 2015 Holidays on the horizon, they may see a wave of new, potential Office 365 subscribers coming, and may not want or be able to provide unlimited storage to existing and new customers.

Any way you cut it, though, this is not being received very well.

This doesn’t affect me much. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 35GB of documents and files on OneDrive. The new 1TB limit doesn’t affect me much, as I am not likely to put all of my photos or other media files on OneDrive, though I had been considering placing some of my unboxing videos there. That likely won’t happen now.

What’s still up in the air about all of this is OneDrive for Business.

At one point, Microsoft said they would extend the unlimited storage option to OneDrive for Business customers. That didn’t happen, and at this point, Microsoft isn’t saying whether or not OneDrive for Business will get unlimited storage or not. Their Office 365 roadmap still shows that offering as “in development.”

Users are truly up in arms about this , as Microsoft was effectively offering (depending on how you look at it) unlimited OneDrive storage with free Office 365 use for $11 per month or the other way around. That is huge compared to companies like Dropbox, iCloud and Google whose product offerings can be seen in the table below:

OneDrive Dropbox Google Drive iCloud
Free

5GB

2GB

30GB

5GB

30GB

N/A

N/A

Free

N/A

50GB

$2

N/A

N/A

$1

100GB

N/A

N/A

$2

N/A

200GB

N/A

N/A

N/A

$3

1TB

$7/ $10*

$10

$10

$10

10TB

N/A

N/A

$100

N/A

20TB

N/A

N/A

$200

N/A

30TB

N/A

N/A

$300

N/A

*Office 365 Personal is $7 a month, and gives a single user access to 1TB of OneDrive Storage. Office 365 Home is $10 a month and gives up to five (5) users access to 1TB of OneDrive Storage.
All costs are rounded to the nearest US Dollar, and are charged monthly.

These are the big storage players out there. Given that OneDrive was really the one to start the cloud storage war, their retreat back to such a small product offering seems a bit strange. Given the costs outlined above, Google Drive is back on top as the most cost effective STORAGE plan out there. However, Microsoft still offers both Office 2016 (or the most current version) plus the online/ cloud based storage amounts I’ve noted. How that plays out and what that might actually mean to you in terms of monthly cost, clearly falls under the “your mileage may vary” category.

What does this actually mean for Microsoft??

That’s a very good question. At this point, it’s all up in the air.

However, you have to think of a few things, here.

  1. Microsoft realized they bit off more than they could chew with unlimited storage and decided that the bad PR was worth what they estimated they could save in storage costs
  2. Bandwidth and enterprise storage is expensive, even for someone like Microsoft who decided to get into the storage business, when they started offering what is now called OneDrive a few years ago
  3. Microsoft has focused the identification of their target customer as either an Office 365 Home or Office 365 Personal customer who isn’t storing more than 1TB of data (obviously) in the cloud.
  4. Microsoft is likely fine/ ok with losing customers who do not fit this mold and doesn’t seem to be concerned about
  5. Microsoft doesn’t seem concerned with the bad press they are likely to get as a result of these decisions
  6. Given Microsoft’s track record in the “bad decision department,” I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see them reverse this decision within the next week or so

What do you make of all of this? Are you an Office 365 Home or Personal customer? Are you one of the naughty users who had more than 1TB of data in OneDrive? Are you a OneDrive for Business customer? Do you expect Microsoft to make good on the unlimited storage offer still on their roadmap, or will that also fall victim to this new product refinement?

Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on the matter?

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Microsoft Releases Windows 10 Build 10576 to Fast Ring Insiders

The latest build of Windows 10 has been issued. Here’s what it’s got…

Windows10mic

If you’ve been following me over the past year, you know that I’ve been a Microsoft Windows 10 Insider since the first released build of Windows 10 to Insiders back in October of 2014. Over the past year or so, there’s been a boat load of new builds released to the Fast Ring. Some have been good.  Others… not so good.

While the jury is still out on the quality of Windows 10 Build 10576, it is the next item up for bids…

New Features

  • Media Casting in Microsoft Edge: You can now use Microsoft Edge to cast video, picture, and audio content from your browser to any Miracast and DLNA enabled device on your network. Please note: Casting protected content (content from places like Netflix and Hulu) is not supported.
  • Ask Cortana inside PDFs in Microsoft Edge: You can now highlight text while reading a PDF in Microsoft Edge and right-click to “Ask Cortana” to find additional information.
  • Updated Xbox beta app for Windows 10: The Xbox beta app for Windows 10 was updated last Friday which includes the ability to easily find and add Facebook friends who are also on Xbox Live to play, chat, and share clips – a top requested feature. In addition to that new feature, voiceover recording functionality has been added to Game DVR, and the Store in the Xbox beta app will allow you to search for and purchase Xbox One games – including Games with Gold and Deals with Gold promotions, and Xbox One 25-digit codes will be redeemable within the app.

Fixes

  • We fixed the issue where the Xbox app for Windows 10 would consume gigabytes of memory on your PC if you have any Win32 games (non -Windows Store games) installed on your PC that have been identified as games or added by you in the Xbox app.
  • We introduced an early preview of nested virtualization so that people could run Hyper-V Containers in Hyper-V virtual machines with Build 10565. This build includes performance improvements.
  • We’ve been addressing a lot of feedback around localization text UI in various languages and you’ll see a lot of that work in this build.
  • The search box should now work in this build if you are in a locale where Cortana is not available.

Known Issues:

  • To continue receiving missed call notifications and send texts from Cortana, you will need to be on this build and higher. We’ve made a change that improves this experience that requires newer builds.
  • When notifications pop up from Action Center, any audio playing (like music from Groove, or videos from the Movies & TV app) gets reduced by 75% for a period of time.
  • After upgrading to this build, all your Skype messages and contacts are gone in the Messaging app. The workaround for this is to navigate to this folder in File Explorer:
  • C:\Users\<USERNAME>\AppData\Local\Packages\
  • Microsoft.Messaging_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalCache
  • Delete or rename the “PrivateTransportId” file.
  • Then restart the Messaging app.
  • Small form-factor devices, like the Dell Venue 8 Pro, that boot with rotation or virtual mode screen size set larger than the physical screen size will experience a bluescreen on upgrade and will roll back to the previous build.
  • After upgrading to this build, the power button on your Surface Pro 3 may no longer put your Surface Pro 3 to sleep and instead shut down.
  • WebM and VP9 have been temporarily removed from builds. We continue to develop a VP9 implementation that we intend to ship in Windows. Expect VP9 to return soon in a future build.

Conclusion

I give top marks to the Windows 10 Team here. They’re really trying to get this thing ready for release. They’ve also had a number of different quality and stability (as well as privacy) issues to deal with. Not everyone, myself included, is happy with the current state of Windows 10, either in a released or prerelease state.

It still need a great deal of work.

It’s still not ready… though it’s slightly better than it was.

However, it’s clear that there are still a number of issues with Windows 10’s update mechanism – Windows Update – still… especially on a Surface Pro device and especially when it comes to firmware updates.

I know that I’m not the only one that continually sees the download of firmware or hardware updates for their Surface Pro device.  They can get repeated many, many times in both failed and successful installs.

The biggest problem here is that my Surface Pro 3 very rarely actually runs through the firmware update process.  Yes, Windows Update restarts my Surface Pro 3; but it doesn’t always update the firmware, even if it hasn’t been applied (or truly updated) on the device.  And before anyone asks, yes, it has actually reapplied a firmware update more than once, though more often than not, it just redownloads the firmware update, SAYS that it’s going to reinstall it, doesn’t finish the firmware update, but lists the reapplication as successful anyway.

Go figure…

Are you (still) on the Windows 10 Insider Fast Ring?  Have you been installing all the updates?  Have you installed the latest build, Build 10576?  What do you think of the current state of Windows 10?  Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts on these and other Windows 10 related issues. I’d love to hear them…

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The Surface Pro 3 and the Surface Pro 4 Head to Head

I was recently fortunate enough to have an extended hands on with a friends, Surface Pro 4…

Over the past ten (10) months, I’ve been working with a Surface Pro 3. It’s been a good supplemental work PC for me, in that I can use it to take hand written notes in meetings… that is, when I can get it to do that without the ink disappearing.

The Surface Pro 3 is a GREAT machine (again, when it works correctly and when it has a stable OS, but I most certainly digress. That’s a rant for another day, another time…), but nearly everyone is wondering if the Surface Pro 4 is compelling enough for those that own the Surface Pro 3 to upgrade.

Again, I’ve been fortunate enough to be friends with someone in the office who has purchased a Surface Pro 4. I was able to place the two devices head to head today and have the following to report.

Pen
These are general pen observations and comments. I was able to use the Surface Pen 4 on the Surface Pro 3 without any kind of pairing or other convincing. I just took the device in hand and was able to tap, select and ink with it. It worked very well.

The Surface Pen 4 is nice, and it will stick to the Surface Pro 3, but only on either the left device side or the right device side. Unfortunately, these are at spots where the Pen really wasn’t meant to sit – like on top of the power port, covering it up. This is problematic, as there really doesn’t seem to be a good spot for the Surface Pen 4 on the Surface Pro 3.

The following are additional observations I was able to make about the Surface Pen 4.

  • Magnet is strong, but not strong enough
  • Doesn’t stick on all sides of the device
  • Can be knocked off without you really knowing it
  • Surface Pen 4 only has a single button along its magnetic strip
  • Surface Pen 4 has an “eraser” function on the top button of the pen
  • Surface Pen 4 has a top button that starts OneNote when clicked
  • Surface Pen 3 has a top button that makes a sound when it clicks (grrr… this should work, Microsoft. It did under Windows 8.1)

Keyboard
The keyboard works with Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 3, but there seem to be driver issues with the Surface Pro 3, especially with Fast Ring Insider Builds on it. It was just a bit more than a tad quirky.

For example, when I tried to bring up the device’s About screen (All Settings –System – About), Settings froze. I tried to close Settings and relaunch it, but Settings wouldn’t restart; and I had to bounce the device. Bounding the device produced the same results. Ultimately, I had to remove the Surface Pro 4 keyboard from my Surface Pro 3 in order to get All Settings – System – About to display.

I noticed that when I originally attached the Surface Pro 4 keyboard to my Surface Pro 3, a “You must restart your computer for these hardware changes to take place,” dialog appeared, indicating that the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 3 keyboard drivers are different. Since I’ve got the latest Fast Ring Insider’s Build installed on my Surface Pro 3, I think there might be a driver issue here…

By far, this is – or will be when the driver issues I noted above are resolved – the biggest, best overall hands, on, noticeable improvement on the device. Now, before you go losing your mind wondering what about the better, upgraded processor, and other enhanced guts the Surface Pro 4 has over the Surface Pro 3, you have to admit, that all things being equal between the two devices, the keyboard is the best reason to upgrade. However, if that isn’t compelling enough on its own (and it’s not, at least not in my opinion…) then you can always go and purchase the Surface Pro 4 keyboard and use it with your Surface Pro 3.

The following are additional observations I was able to make about the Surface Pro 4 keyboard.

  • Biggest hands on improvement
  • Same overall size as the SP3 keyboard
  • Keys are “island-styled” and set further apart. The Surface Pro 4 keyboard offers better key travel
  • Better overall typing experience
  • Trackpad is bigger than the one on the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover
  • Better trackpad experience, as its more responsive and has a different overall feel
  • Issues when working with SP3. All Settings – About wouldn’t display until I removed the keyboard, indicating some level of driver incompatibility (perhaps with the latest Windows 10 Fast Ring Build…??)

The Devices
Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t too amenable to me taking the device for a couple of weeks so that I could review it… and I really can’t blame him. I love my Surface Pro 3. If I had a Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book, I wouldn’t want to part with it for very long, either. The point to all of this, is that you should take the following with a grain of salt. I didn’t have a lot of time with the device… only about an hour or so.

Screenshot (1) Screenshot (1) SP3
The Settings – System – About screen for the Surface Pro 4 The Settings – System – About screen for the Surface Pro 3

The two devices weren’t completely identical. The most glaring being the difference in processors and the amount of device RAM each had. The Surface Pro 4 had 8GB, twice the amount of my Surface Pro 3. I think that, more than anything, would through the task comparisons between the two off; and… quite honestly, it did. Everything on the Surface Pro 4 was much smoother and more natural.

Aside from the external, physical differences – and there are a few – for example,

  • The bezel on the Surface Pro 3 is a tad larger on all four sides,
  • The Surface Pro 4 doesn’t have a haptic-enabled Windows button on the bezel,
  • The volume rocker on the Surface Pro 4 is on the top to make room for the Surface Pen 4 on its left, landscape-oriented side

the devices are nearly identical. Telling them apart is difficult without a real, hard look at the two. Once you know what to look for, telling them apart is fairly easy. The point is, however, that the devices are very similar.

The following are additional observations I was able to make about the Surface Pro 4.

  • Surface Pro 3 seems slightly bigger
  • Left edge, top edge device variations to allow for pen placement (volume rocker moved to the top)
  • Ports don’t align exactly
  • No active Windows button on the device bezel of the Surface Pro 4

 

IMG_2356 IMG_2357 IMG_2358
Head to Head! SP3 & SP4 left edges, vertical with Kickstand Left Edge – SP4 on top
IMG_2359 IMG_2361 IMG_2362
Top Edge – SP4 on top Right Edge – SP4 on Top Bottom Edge – SP4 on Top
IMG_2363 IMG_2364 IMG_2365
Notice the slight size difference – SP4 on top Keyboards – SP4 keyboard on the right SP3 keyboard up close
IMG_2366
SP4 keyboard up close

 

Conclusion
I think it’s pretty obvious… The Surface Pro 4 is a great device and worthy of a purchase – if you don’t have a Surface Pro 3. If you have a Surface Pro 3, then the Surface Pro 4 keyboard is the best and most value added way to get perhaps, an additional year or more out of the device, especially if (theoretically) you purchase the new Type Cover with the Windows Hello compatible finger print sensor.

Between now and the time that Threshold 2 is released (as the Windows 10 Fall Update), I would wait. There are driver issues with the new keyboards, that even with the released version of Windows 10, may cause issues. However, after that, the keyboards should be 100% compatible with Surface Pro 3, as Microsoft indicates.

Do you have a Surface Pro 3? Have you considered purchasing either a Surface Pro 4 (to replace your Surface Pro 3 or as a new device), or the new Surface Pro 4 Type Cover as an upgrade for your Surface Pro 3? If you have the Surface Pro 4, what are your thoughts on the device? Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below, and give me your thoughts on the subject?

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Unboxing the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock for 15″ MacBook Pro Retina

It’s here! It’s here! It’s here! It’s just like Christmas!!

I’ve been waiting for this product for well over three years. The Henge Docks Horizontal Dock for 15″ MacBook Pro has finally been released to Henge Docks Early Adopter program users.

The unboxing, shown above, goes over a few key features of the Horizontal Dock as well as gives a brief background on the project’s timeline. Here are some interesting elements I’ve learned after using the Dock for a short period of time and after having an Apple FaceTime call with Henge Docks itself:

  1. You can’t use any kind of hard shell case with version 1.0 Horizontal Dock Hardware
    Cases vary too much, and there was no way to insure that the dock would line up all of the ports when any kind of hard shell case is used
  2. The Dock’s button doesn’t turn the Mac on
    Apple doesn’t permit access to power through any of its ports, according to Henge Docks, so you have to dock the Mac, then open it up to turn it on, then close the lid if you want to run your Mac with ONLY external displays
  3. Dock App is very basic right now
    It doesn’t do much, but it should with additional releases of the app and with Dock firmware updates, scheduled for the coming weeks

I’ll have a full review of the Henge Dock’s Horizontal Dock for 15″ MacBook Pro Retina in the coming days and weeks. I’d like to wait until I’ve had a chance to get into the Dock a bit and Henge Docks has released a new version of Dock App and perhaps a new Dock firmware.

Between now and then, you can watch the unboxing or you can check out the pictures of my before and after setup, below.

IMG_2268 IMG_2269 IMG_2270
All the cords… The desk… A better view of the desk…
IMG_2271 IMG_2272 IMG_2355
All the plug and chug When its all turned on The end result…

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Release-a-palooza – Apple Releases Multiple OS Updates

Today Apple released updates to watchOS, iOS and OS X.

update banner

I knew things were close to being done for all three of these releases, but I wasn’t certain when Apple would greenlight changes to watchOS 2.0.1, iOS 9.1 and OS X 10.11.1.  Today, Apple released all three of these updates to a much awaiting public.  The big news (as far as the OS carrousel, though) is the fact nearly no one saw the release of watchOS 2.0.1 coming. Apple didn’t announce or release it to its Developer Community at all.

I’m going to run down all of the changes for each and then I’ll have a bit to say on the changes overall, before I wrap it all up.

watchOS 2.0.1

watchOS 2.0.1 is now available to download via the official Apple Watch app on iPhone. It weighs in between  62.8 to 68.4 megabytes.
watchOS 2.0.1Apple’s new watchOS update features support for the latest emoji characters also found in iOS 9.1 and OS X 10.11.1. They include unicorn, taco, burrito, and middle finger emoji’s.
Changes from Apple in watchOS 2.0.1 include:

  • A fix for an issue that could cause software updates to stall
  • A fix for issues that were impacting battery life and performance
  • A fix that resolves an issue that prevented a managed iPhone from synching iOS Calendar events to Apple Watch
  • A fix that Addresses an issue that could prevent location information from properly updating
  • A fix for an issue that could cause Digital Touch to send from an email address instead of from a phone number
  • A fix that addresses an issue that could cause instability when using a Live Photo as a watch face
  • A fix that resolves an issue that allows a sensor to stay on indefinitely, when using Siri to measure your heart rate

Additional information and details can be found here.

IOS 9.1

iOS 9.1 is now available for download for iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch either over the air (OTA) or through iTunes on a Mac or PC. According to Apple, the update includes new features, improvements and bug fixes.

Changes from Apple in iOS 9.1 include:

  • A fix to Live Photos so they now intelligently sense when you raise or lower your iPhone, so that Live Photos will automatically not record those movements
  • Over 150 new emoji characters will full support for Unicode 7.0 and 8.0 emoji’s
  • Support for the 4th generation Apple TV
  • Support for the iPad Pro
  • An update to the iOS virtual keyboard that improved the shift key icon, making it easier to see when the shift key has been pressed, or double tapped (for CAPS Lock).
  • New device wallpapers of Mars, Jupiter and Neptune

Emoji’s seem to be the order of the day. All three of the updates noted in this article have huge emoji updates in them.  Like watchOS 2.0.1, iOS 9.1 includes new emoji’s for a taco, burrito, hot dog, cheese, popping champagne bottle, ice hockey, ping pong, archery, and even a middle finger.

The big thing to note in iOS 9.1 is that this is the version that is required for the iPad Pro.  The biggest change here for it, has to do with multi-tasking and the Apple Pencil; but that’s old news, and I’m not going to go into the virtues or lack thereof, of the iPad Pro.

Release notes for iOS 9.1 can be found here.

OS X 10.11.1

OS X 10.11.1 is now available as a free download on the Mac App Store. In the release notes, Apple states that the update improves the stability, compatibility, and security of a user’s Mac.

Specific changes made in OS X 10.11.1, according to Apple, include:

  • Improves installer reliability when upgrading to OS X El Capitan
  • Improves compatibility with Microsoft Office 2016
  • Fixes an issue where outgoing server information may be missing from Mail
  • Resolves an issue that prevented display of messages and mailboxes in Mail
  • Resolves an issue that prevents certain Audio Unit plug-ins from functioning properly
  • Improves Voice Over reliability
  • Adds over 150 new emoji characters with full Unicode 7.0 and 8.0 support

The big item of note here is Office 2016 compatibility. I’ve held off updating any of the Macs in the house until Microsoft and Apple got their respective acts together as it relates to Office 2016.  I use Office 2016 for all of my writing and other productivity tasks, and so do my daughter and her husband. They need it for all of their school work.  Without this, any move to El Capitan would have been very premature on our parts.  Now that this is resolved, we should be good to go.

UPDATE:  As I was writing this, I updated my MacBook Pro to El Capitan, and the Office 2016 apps that I use (Word, Excel and PowerPoint… Outlook is still – and will continue to be – a train wreck until they get a better handle on some of its data store issues.  It’s also NOT a feature parity with Outlook for Windows and I can’t help but wonder WHY at this point…but that’s another story entirely and I don’t really need to get started on that here…)

Release notes for OS X 10.11.1 can be found here.

There’s a lot here. If you’re an Apple user on any level, today was a day of updates for you.  I’ve updated nearly all of my gear, including my Apple Watch (that’s a link to Part 4 of my four part review.  It’s got links to the other three parts, in case you haven’t seen it).

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Microsoft Redefines Surface

Microsoft has redefined their Surface Pro line of devices

The big Microsoft hardware announcement was 2015-10-06. Everyone and their brother was anticipating the unveiling of the two new flagship Windows Mobile 10 devices (the 950 and the 950XL) as well as a Surface Pro 4. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I think everyone got a little bit more than we initially thought we were going to get.

The flagship class phones were desperately needed. Microsoft hasn’t released a flagship classed phone in – literally – years. So both the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950-XL are very well received. Features that include the Continuum Dock, provide for a complete mobile to desktop experience. Something like that might work very well in an existing desktop, and would make it a lot easier to use existing equipment with your current notebook setup.

Honestly, I have doubts about how useful its going to be, given that the current computing paradigm hasn’t completely changed over to Mobile… at least not yet; and at least not in the enterprise (where this may have the best opportunity for success).

surface book

The Microsoft Surface Book (shown off in a video by Microsoft on YouTube, here) is a really neat ultrabook. Unlike the Surface Pro line of devices, the Surface Book is marketed as a laptop, and not a tablet. In fact, the tablet isn’t called a tablet, it’s called a “clip board.” It has touch and while the device will come away from its keyboard, its clearly NOT meant to be used as a slate device, without its keyboard (containing extra battery and discrete graphics adapter – at least in the higher end models) for an extended period of time. It only has three (3) hours of battery life as a clip board device.

The table above compares the Surface Book to both the MacBook Pro and the Dell XPS 13. The Dell is a decent computer; but it’s clearly outclassed by both the MacBook Pro and the Surface Book. The only REAL thing that it has going for it is affordability, due in large part to the premium price tags of both the MacBook Pro and the Surface Book.

There’s something to be said for that.

Build and component quality on the Dell may be far below the other two, but it IS approximately half the price of both, making it much more likely to end up in a work situation near you. The MacBook Pro is a premium laptop. Its components and build materials are high quality, and Macs have been known to last for seven to ten years – if well cared for – before having to be replaced due to breakage or parts simply wearing out. The Dell doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of having that happen. Its components are composites and plastics.

The build quality on the Surface Book may be on par with the MacBook Pro; but I haven’t really had a chance to put my hands on one, so I really don’t know for certain. However, there are serious issues when it comes to the Surface Book and its price point.

  1. Microsoft is NOT Apple
    Bluntly put, there’s no way this device is worth a maximum of $3,200 ($3462.92 after tax in Chicago, IL). Microsoft products don’t have the same level of build quality or longevity that Apple products do. Based on this point alone, the Surface Book is seen by many to be grossly overpriced.
  2. The Surface Book is a New Class of MS Device
    The main idea behind the Surface line of products was for Microsoft to show the capabilities of Surface, hoping that OEM’s would build similar features into their own products. While that’s morphed a bit with the release of Surface Pro 2, Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3 – they’re more finished products than Surface RT/2 and Surface Pro 1/ 2 – Surface Book is a 1.0 product. If it follows the same product strategy, then the Surface Book is grossly overpriced. No other Windows PC (that I’m thinking of/ aware of) is priced this high (and those that may be aren’t selling well or aren’t targeted at the consumer market).

Microsoft needs to reevaluate the price points around Surface Book before the device actually hits the streets. It could have a much bigger launch and a vastly more successful product line if the price point was cut in half. I’d certainly buy one at half the current price without thinking twice… However, at its current price point, Surface Book will never see the inside of my office.

My original intent with this article was to discuss both Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, however, Surface Pro 4 is really nothing more than an evolutionary update of Surface Pro 3. From what I’ve been able to see, while it gets a nice performance boost, it’s really a “meh” kind of update. Surface Book took all of Surface Pro 4’s thunder. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.

Microsoft did, however, produce a cool vide on the new product. You can see it, here.

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