Why I Ultimately Dumped my Surface Pro 3

There comes a time when enough, is just enough…

Surface pro 3

Its hard to know where to start with this one.  I’ve been a Windows guy for so long – nearly 20 years – that in the end… I feel like I abandoned my post, or something.  However, there comes a time when you know you’ve fought the good fight and that you just can’t fight any more. I never thought I would ever say this, but personally, I really think I’m done with Windows and Windows 10. So much so, that I’ve sold my Surface Pro 3.

Over the past year, I’ve written a bit on how much of a problem OneNote and Windows 10 can be together. Funny thing is, I thought it was limited to Office 2013.  Unfortunately, its not.

Even with OneNote 2016 ink still disappears on all Surface Pro tablets running both Windows 10 and OneNote.

I’ve also noticed that while things should be getting more and more stable on Windows 10, they aren’t.  They just aren’t.  Not on my Surface Pro 3.

And to be quite honest, I was willing to live with it. I was going to figure out some way to work through it. I wasn’t going to be easy, but I was resigned to it, in a sense.

That is until I found this thread.

This is not going to end during the life cycle of this device. Period.

The problem exists on the Surface Pro 4. Though it’s a bit different, it’s the same type of problem.

It became clear to me after reading through that thread, that its not going to end. So… I sold my Surface Pro 3. What have I replaced it with?

Nothing yet.

Honestly, I’m not certain what I should do at this point.

The Surface Pro line is proving to be a bit unstable and honestly, unreliable for what I need it to do.  Its also a bit more expensive than I want or need it to be.  I am looking for a way to take hand written, notes in meetings.  The Surface Pro 3 was perfect for that, to a point. It ran OneNote 2013 well enough.

So why not return my Surface Pro 3 to Windows 8.1?  That’s a fair question…

There are really two big issues here:

  1. Windows 8.1 is Clumsy
    Windows 8.1 still has the Windows 8 UI. While there are apps like Start8 and ModernMix that can help hide some of the issues and problems; but its really just a coat of paint for both the Start Screen and ModernUI based apps, nothing more.
  2. Windows 10 isn’t Going Away
    Microsoft is getting aggressive with Windows 10. Their Windows 10 upgrade stub that installs as part of a Windows Update component.  While you can defer it for a while, its going to do its best to assert itself on your computer. I’m not entirely certain you can say no forever. I may be wrong – I hope I am – but it may be true.The OS has been downloading to computers without the consent of their owners. It could install itself overnight, also without their consent.

I thought long and hard about just taking my Surface Pro 3 back to Windows 8.1 and just using Office 2013 or Office 2016 (and ultimately OneNote) there. However, in the end, I decided against that, largely because of number 2, above.

So, out the door it went.  I just wasn’t willing to deal with its problems and issues any longer. I had had enough.

At the end, when I went to take my Surface Pro 3 back to Factory fresh with Windows 10, I had all sorts of trouble, too. Windows 10 would not reset itself on my Surface Pro 3.  Most of the time, it prepped itself and then simply restarted and went back to my Windows 10 account. When I tried to use the Advanced Restart Settings – which booted to the UEFI where you can also refresh, reset and even wipe the drive if you wanted – my Surface Pro 3 froze when trying to reset itself… more than once (I know because it sat at that screen for over three hours each time I tried. I tried three times…).

I had to pull the Windows 8.1 recovery USB I made many months ago and use it; and even then, it wasn’t smooth sailing with that either. I had trouble resetting the device with that too. I had to try ore than once with it, and then ultimately I had to wipe the drive to get MY data off when it sold.

What does this mean for you?

Probably not too much, unless you’re having similar ink and stability issues with Windows 10 on your Surface Pro device (the thread that I’ve been referencing with disappearing ink has a couple posts in it which indicate that it also happens with the original Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 2 as well).

If you are, then you have some kind of decision to make – either put up with it, stay on or move back to Windows 8.1, or sell yours, like I did.

Do you have a Surface Pro device?  Are you having issues with disappearing ink?  Is yours unstable?  Are you using Windows 8.1 or Windows 10? Are you using Office 2013 or Office 2016? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and give me your thoughts on this and tell me what you think you’re going to do?

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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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UPDATE – OneNote 2013 and Windows 10 – Potentially Lethal

It’s been a long time coming, but there finally seems to be light at the end of the tunnel…

onenote and windows 10

I’ve been using the Surface Pro 3 at the office since December of 2014.  Prior to that, I used a Surface Pro 1 for a couple of years. It was the best and easiest way to really organize work at the office; and I say this to any and everyone who asks why I use it:

  1. It’s the best digital notepad (with OneNote) I’ve ever been to find and use
  2. With OneNote on the web and/ or OneNote’s sync capabilities, you have access to your notes nearly everywhere you have a device with internet access
  3. Paper notepads, notebooks and portfolios get lost. You’re never going to leave a tablet in a conference or meeting room (they’re too expensive to forget)

It’s a nearly flawless system, and it’s one of the best out there. Other software and hardware tools just don’t have the same capabilities or use cases due to one limitation or another.

When the Surface Pro 3 was released, I knew it was worth the upgrade from my Surface Pro 1, so off it went toGazelle, and over to the Microsoft Store I went.  While Windows 8.1 wasn’t as optimal a notebook experience as I wanted, and while (in my opinion) Windows still doesn’t know if it wants to be a desktop or tablet OS (even with Windows 10); with either Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 (and the right utilities, like Start8  from Stardock Software) it can still be a very productive tool in either an corporate or academic setting.

Until, however, you move to Windows 10 and you bump into the problems I mentioned in March of 2015.  The Disappearing Ink Bug is a huge problem for users of the Surface Pro 3.

It completely negates nearly all the value out of the device.

The reliability of the inking system is nearly gone. You never know when you’re going to lose anything you’ve written down, as the bug is completely random, and in end, you’re left with two very real choices – downgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 8.1 or take your chances with Windows 10, the bug, and maybe you lose some notes or maybe you don’t.

Well, I have a bit of an update for you.  There appears to be, what may be, a final fix for this problem.  There are two very active threads on this issue over at the Microsoft Support Community (here and here).

Microsoft has released KB3093266 in response to disappearing ink on the Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10.  This cumulative update addresses not only disappearing ink, but tap becomes right click as well.  Both of these issues were contributing factors to the conditions being experienced (where ink would vanish in OneNote on a Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10).

The cumulative update available via Windows Update on your Windows 10 PC, may take a while to appear on your Windows 10 PC. Like all Windows Updates, Microsoft rolls them out in batches.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had it show up for me yet.

However, one really good point came up out of (this support thread. I wish that I could take credit for it, but I really can’t.  Credit for that goes to Clayton Dittman

“Can you possibly tell the Windows OS team to check with the surface team and tell the surface team to check with your team before releasing an Operating System which breaks core functionality of your Staple Devices?

I cannot in good conscious use a Surface (Pro or not) again because of the way this migration to Windows 10 was handled in lieu of Office 2016 and the Surface Pro 4.

I want to trust Windows, I want to depend on you guys for quality control and solutions my customers can trust. I just can’t…”

While it seems obvious, the reliability and trustability of Windows 10 for many users has greatly diminished.  It’s not just this issue, there are still huge privacy, stability and (other) reliability concerns.  You can check just about any and every Windows blog on the internet today and find at least 2-3 articles covering all that.

The cumulative update I mentioned may resolve the disappearing ink issue… it may not.  KB3093266 is not the first fix that was released to address the issue.  There were individual updates made to Windows 10, OneNote 2013/2016 as well as Office 2016 that failed to resolve the problems between May and September of 2015.

Results from those that have received this update have been generally positive, though somewhat mixed.  Generally, it seems to be working; but like Dittman noted above, how much damage has TRULY occurred for the Windows and Surface Pro brands?

How easily Microsoft can recover from this is going to depend on a couple of things:

  1. Does the cumulative update truly resolve the bug for all users of both the Surface Pro 3 and the Surface 3 (its actually experienced on nearly all Surface Pro devices as well as the Surface 3)
  2. How well the Surface Pro 4 is received
  3. How well the bug stays resolved (especially on the Surface Pro 4)

Every time Microsoft releases a cumulative update or a new build, this issue is going to have to be retested. It’s very possible given the depth and severity of the problem(s) that Microsoft may resurrect the issue in future builds and updates. While that’s not ideal and certainly won’t be intentional, it does happen quite often with software development. It’s simply the nature of the beast – sometimes, it comes back.

The Surface Pro 4 has been anticipated for many months now. While there’s no real evidence that any industry pundit can provide regarding a credible rumor on the device’s ACTUAL existence, it is said that Microsoft will announce something next week (2015-10-05 to 2015-10-09) with an actual release date also rumored to be SOMETIME this month (October 2015).  While it totally misses Back to School, it should hit the 2015 Holiday Buying Season, provided its already being manufactured.

Do you have a Surface Pro device (1, 2 or 3)?  Do you have a Surface 3?  Are you using OneNote and the Surface Pen to take notes?  Are you experiencing issues with floating and disappearing ink?  Have you been following any of the Microsoft support threads I mentioned (here or here)?  Have you received the Windows 10 Cumulative Update (KB3093266) that I mentioned?

If you have, do, etc. and have received the update, I would REALLY appreciate hearing back from you on this.  Please provide the appropriate comments and/ or information in the Discussion area, below, so that I can get your information back to Microsoft.  This is a huge bug, and really needs to be resolved once and for all.

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Updating Windows 10 Mobile After it goes RTM

Microsoft says that it wants to push rapid updates to users; but there are issues…

Windows 10 mobile

I saw an interesting update on the Supersite for Windows this morning, and I answered a comment asking what the issues were on this in the US. I wanted to expound a bit more, so I thought I’d gather what I wrote and then start shooting my mouth off.

The original article deals with Microsoft taking control of OS related updates from the mobile carriers – in the States, that’s basically, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, but may also include a number of larger regional or budget carriers like US Cellular, Cricket and Boost Mobile – and making updates available roughly four to six (4 – 6) weeks after the updates go RTM. Based on a report from Ed Bott, Microsoft is serious about it. According to Terry Myerson,

“Here at Microsoft, we take our responsibility to keep Windows secure seriously. We follow up on all reported security issues, continuously probe our software with leading edge techniques, and proactively update supported devices with necessary updates to address issues. And today, we’re announcing this continuous update process applies to all Windows 10 devices, including phones.”

The only way that Windows as a Service (WaaS) REALLY works, is if Microsoft can release updates to users as they are ready.

The problem is that mobile broadband carriers in the US don’t allow just anything to ride their networks and don’t allow hardware manufacturers or OEM’s to release just any device update without that update going through a testing and certification process. Well, at least everyone but Apple; users of any cellular capable iDevice get iOS updates all the time…as soon as they’re released, in fact. I’ll deal with Apple in just a bit. However, every other device and device manufacturer/ OEM has to jump through a lot of hoops.

There are two parts to this issue: Control of the (enterprise) network and control of support. The second one is easy to understand. The first one is a PITA.

Control of Support
Many users don’t know much of anything about their smartphone past how to make and take calls, send and receive text messages, and change a status update on Facebook (or other social network). Most carriers like these types of users, because they generally accept what they are given, even if they don’t like it (which leads to the first thing, but I’ll get to that in a minute).

Because most users aren’t very tech savvy, they don’t know how to trouble shoot issues when they bump into problems, so they call their mobile carrier for support. The mobile carrier knows that support is a big issue, and don’t want to HAVE to support each and every problem that can arise, especially with exotic or little/unknown 3rd party software. So, they offer crapware that may have much the same functionality that most users are looking for and do their best to push users that way. They pay their support people to troubleshoot the crapware, and to try to get users to use it instead of a similar, and likely much more popular app that does the same thing. They can’t pay their people to know everything about every chat client, social network, photo enhancer, etc. it costs too much money to train and support them.

Control of the (Enterprise) Network
(Most) Mobile carriers don’t allow just ANY smartphone on their network. Unknown or rogue mobile devices can eat up bandwidth; and as much as they want to charge you for the bandwidth you use, mobile carriers certify devices and updates because if it rides on their network, users are going to demand support, so… they limit what can actually get on the network… or they at least try to.

Historically, this is why mobile carriers take so long to test individual devices before they actually offer them for sale; or take so long to test and certify updates before they actually go out to users of devices that use the mobile network.

Think of this the same way you think of your work computer. Your office’s IT department doesn’t let you install everything from any and every download site on the internet. Many sites are blocked to protect the network from viruses and other malware. It’s the same thing here.

All you do is use the network. You don’t own it, so the mobile carrier doesn’t allow you to do any and everything you want…. just like the office. The purpose is public communication. Your use effects the public, and the carrier has an obligation to insure that its available to all that pay to use it.

Now, all of this is SOMEWHAT based on older information. I really ran into this face first when I was a Verizon customer, living in Nashville, TN back in 2003/ 2004. I had two separate talks with a VzW store manager and a Tier 2 install technician (I had a car kit installed for my then, state of the art new, Samsung i700). The install tech who put the car kit in my Honda CRV laughed at me when I asked him why the store staff wouldn’t talk to me. I have to admit, it was kinda funny. However, he explained that I gave them fits because I knew more than they did, and had issues they couldn’t support (smartphones were new back then…). I later confirmed this with the store manager, who apologized, but didn’t offer any helpful suggestions, either.

However, the general principals here are the same now as they were then. Control… at least until you pay me (me, being the mobile carrier). Apple cut a lot of deals to get the iPhone on AT&T (and eventually VzW and T-Mo). Part of that was specifically that Apple has control of OS updates. It worked, and continues to work because Apple sells a BOAT load of iPhones. Mobile carriers make a lot of money via mobile accounts, upgrades, and other add-on related iDevice purchases.

…and volume. Let’s not forget the amount of sales volume they get. The carriers tolerate it because they make a lot of money based on iDevice sales volume.

Microsoft has a huge issue here. They simply don’t – and won’t – have the device sales volume to help them convince mobile carriers not to relinquish they’re control of their networks so Microsoft can deliver both software and firmware updates as needed. I have no idea what incentive Microsoft thinks it’s going to come up with to convince the carriers to allow this to happen. However, you would have to think that it may involve a bit of that ol’ happy cabbage… We’ll have to wait and see what and how MS does to make this happen.

What do you think about all of this? Will Microsoft be able to release updates to Windows 10 Mobile device owners as they want to; or will the US mobile carriers put a halt to it? Would these OS and firmware updates attract you to a Windows 10 Mobile device over, say, an Android device or iDevice?

I’d really like to hear from you on this, so why don’t you join me in the discussion area, below, and give me your thoughts on it all.

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OneNote 2013 and Windows 10 – Potentially Lethal

The union is proving to be very problematic…

onenote and windows 10

I’m a huge OneNote advocate. In fact, it’s the major reason why I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface Pro series tablet since their initial release in 2012. The ultrabook’s active digitizer, pen and OneNote create a digital notepad experience that can’t be beat in a corporate meeting setting. I wouldn’t want to take notes in a meeting any other way.

When Windows 10 came out, it was natural for me to pursue placing it on my Surface Pro 3. I was a formal part of the Microsoft Technical Beta Team between 1996 and 2002. I’ve been an active Windows beta tester via my company’s IT department since time began, so I’m used to working on systems and with hardware with beta software on it. It’s become second nature to me.

OneNote on my Surface Pro 3 under Windows 8.x worked as intended and expected. It’s all released software with some maturity on it, so I expected everything to go smoothly; and it did.

With Windows 10, its been somewhat of a different story.  With Builds 9879 and older, things were fine.  While the OS may have been a bit buggy, OneNote appeared to be functioning as a mature, released productivity application running on a buggy, beta OS. In other words – situation normal.

With build 9926, however, things have taken a drastic step backwards.

The OS is still buggy and problematic, but that’s to be expected. It’s still a beta of an unreleased OS.  However, OneNote has become increasingly unreliable.  Unfortunately for me, this behavior has bled outside of the OS.  There seems to be something going on with OneNote 2013, specifically in Windows 10, as I’m not seeing this behavior anywhere else I have the software running.  And that… I find very concerning.

Pen and inking services are directly controlled by Windows.  This is where I’m having the issue and problems, and since OneNote 2013 is relying on Windows 10 to create digital ink, interaction between OneNote 2013 and Windows 10 Build 9926, seems to be at the heart of the matter.

OneNote 2013

OneNote 2013 exhibits a disappearing ink problem where drawn, digital ink just vanishes, never to be seen again, regardless of whether or not a notebook has synchronized or not.  It usually starts happening 3-5 minutes after the application has been opened.

Desktop OneNote doesn’t show any symptoms of the problem prior to ink disappearing.  Ink just…vanishes. It’s not ALL ink, or all ink after a specific amount of time has elapsed or a specific even occurs.  Some in may vanish.  Other ink may not vanish. Disappearing ink can be letters, words, sentences or whole passages of digital ink.

There’s no pattern to this. There’s no “tell.” There’s no way for me to state or predict with any level of accuracy what so ever, that after “this” point in the app, after being open for a specific period of time, or after writing a section of digital ink, that any, some or all of the ink will disappear; and it doesn’t disappear immediately after you stop writing.

It might take 15-45 seconds or so and then, when it does disappear, it doesn’t blip, blink or otherwise show you that it’s there, but invisible or merely “forgotten.” It’s truly no longer part of the file.

It may be removed as part of the “save,” as that part of the file was never part of the file to begin with. It may not.  I have no idea… and I think THAT more than anything annoys me the most.  I can’t catch the pattern, and either reproduce the issue on demand, or prevent it from happening.

OneNote Preview

OneNote Preview for Windows 10 also has a disappearing ink problem; but there’s a bit of a difference here.  OneNote Preview has a tell.  The current page you’re working with, freezes.  you can still ink on the page, but the page won’t move up, down left or right.  The app may then stutter, and/or closes and all of the ink that was written to a page from the point of the stutter forward – when the page freezes or refuses to move – disappears.

OneNote Preview also auto-minimizes at times. When its window is restored, the app displays its splash screen and then hangs or appears to hang. You can minimize/ restore the window all you want, but the app may or may not “reactivate” at that point. Your may have to force quit it and restart it. On many occasions, I’ve had to bounce my SP3 to get OneNote Preview for Windows 10 to run correctly again.

OR…

The app may recover and may or may not have had ink disappear.  I’ve noticed this behavior in OneNote Preview, and the app can “recover,” but the ink that was written while the app was in that “bad state” is lost. Ink written after that (i.e. when the screen “unfreezes,” is saved.  OR, the app may have a state so severe, that the Window won’t restore, and you have to quit the app via Task Manager or, if possible, tap and hold the icon on the Task bar and then choose “Close.”

I’ve been dealing with this now on and off for the past 3-4 weeks.  Its put a huge dent in  my productivity at the office, as I can and have lost whole paragraphs of written notes that I thought were “safe,” and ultimately were not.

While writing this, it was announced that Microsoft may be releasing a new Windows 10 build as early as 2015-03-13; and also announced plans to step up the frequency of its Windows 10 builds in its Insider’s “Fast” release ring.  If and how any resolution to this issue is introduced in any new builds of Windows 10 or Office 2013 will of course, be the subject of an update here on Soft32, and I will definitely keep everyone posted.  If you having issues with OneNote and Windows 10, I’d love to get the details from you in the comments section, below.

OneNote Tweet 01 OneNote Tweet 02

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FEATURE REVIEW: Microsoft Band – Part 1

 

MSB-01

Introduction

When I was a kid, I was always skinny. When I was a young, married adult, I was always skinny. In fact, I was 135 pounds (61.24 kilos) until I was about 35. I was skinny my entire life until we moved from Chicago to Nashville in 2000 where I had a group of kind hearted, good natured rednecks introduce me to the REAL meaning of fried chicken and biscuits and gravy.

Now, I’m a fat slob. I should never have learned the recipe.

My weight jumped from 135 pounds to about 170 pounds (77.11 kilos). After I turned 40, I began fluctuating between 170 and 180 pounds (81.65 kilos). Now that I’m nearly 50 (Lord, that seems so OLD!), I’m weighing in at a hefty 191 pounds (86.64 kilos); and I lost my feet. I think they’re still attached and below me because I haven’t fallen down yet.

My wife has been wanting to lose some medically added weight for a number of years and I’m finally ready to get rid of the inner tube around my waist, so for Christmas in 2014, I purchased both of us a Microsoft Band at a local brick and mortar location near the office.

Microsoft’s first entry into the wearables market is a smartwatch and fitness band unremarkably named, Microsoft Band. Microsoft Band is really the FIRST commercially available, actual and totally genuine, platform independent Smartwatch available on the market today; and it’s all about the quantitative self – the end user’s need/ want/ desire to learn more about how much calories they’re burning, how far they’ve walked or run on a given day, what their active and resting heartbeats are like, etc.

This review is part one of a four part series. I’m reviewing the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge and the Apple Watch (when its released, currently expected in April of 2015). The last part will be a round-up based article where I will try to compare and contrast the good and the bad of all three to help everyone pick the device that’s the best for them.

For now, let’s sit down (or, perhaps a more appropriate colloquialism would be, “let’s get up and jump around”) and really take a look at how the Microsoft Band works (or doesn’t).

Hardware

Microsoft Band is an interesting accessory. The design is a bit on the rigid side, however…and there are some strange and curious design decisions that were made, that are clearly evident, as you become more and more familiar with the device.

For example – the device isn’t water proof or even water resistant. That last one really is confusing. Depending on how hydrated you are, or like to be during a workout, you can sweat. Not to be gross or anything, but I’ve been in karate classes where I’ve soaked a gi. I’ve done walk or elliptical workouts where I’ve been equally as sweaty; and I’m certain I’m not alone.

Microsoft Band may be encased in rubber and plastic; but there are many seams in the device where it’s easy for water to get in. I do not understand why Microsoft would make and market a device that’s meant to get somewhat wet (with sweat at least) and not make it water resistant at least. Microsoft says Band is “splash resistant” meaning that if you accidentally splash water on it, it’s likely to survive, but you’re going to want to wipe it up right away.

However, you should not swim, shower or do any other kind of activity (like run any kind of marathon or other activity where you’re going to potentially pour water on yourself or get wet) while wearing Band. You’ll ruin it.

Totally the most stupid design decision I’ve heard or seen on an exercise and activity band… Why in the WORLD is this thing not water resistant at least?! I can understand the issue of being water proof… they may have issues with the heart rate sensor and such; but if Band has issues with excessive amounts of sweat and other moisture, how useful is the device going to be, REALLY?? This is a huge hole that really needs to get resolved in future hardware updates of Band.

Wearability and Usability

Microsoft Band is VERY bulky. Aside from the lack of water resistance, this is probably the device’s biggest issue and problem. As you can see from some of the graphics and photographs of the device, its thick, its bulky and very inflexible.

I’ve been wearing the device daily since Christmas Day 2014, as of this writing. There have been times when Band has loosened on my wrist, and has turned at an awkward angle. Due to its rigidity, its pressed against my wrist bones and can be very painful to wear.

I’ve also heard people say that it’s very difficult to sleep with because it’s so bulky. This hasn’t been my experience. The only problem that I’ve had sleeping with the device is when I forget to turn sleep monitoring on. I have the device in Watch Mode (it displays the date and time in a dim, white font when Watch Mode is turned on), and the screen never turns off when it’s in Watch Mode. While the full graphic and color screen isn’t active unless the device is actually “on,” Watch Mode is none-the-less, very bright at 2:37am, and has woken both me and my wife up from a sound sleep because its shining in our eyes. Obviously, during the day, and in bright sunlight, the Band’s Watch Mode isn’t very bright at all, and is in some cases, difficult to read, but in a dark theatre or other dimly lit area, it can be brighter than you think. If you’re using Watch Mode, as I am, and NOT using the sleep functions, you’re likely going to want to remove Band and charge it overnight. As I said, even its dim, Watch Mode, the display is VERY bright in a dark room.

Notifications

Microsoft Band does notifications rather well. The only other smartwatch that I’ve seen so far that does them as well or better is my Pebble Steel; and that’s feeling very, VERY tired and old (and it’s not even a year old yet). That’s both good and bad for Pebble, as they seem to understand what Notifications can and should do on a smartwatch (dismissing also deletes, and you can send a call to VM, directly from the watch). It’s bad because some of this really shouldn’t be old and long in the tooth at just shy of a year old, but that’s technology and Moore’s Law for you…

However, with the Microsoft Health software on your smartphone, you can configure Microsoft Band to send over every single notification that hits your phone (via Band’s Notification Center widget), or you can choose any number of predefined notifications, for example – Facebook, Mail, Calendar, phone calls, etc.

If you enable Band’s Notification Center, then don’t have it send over notifications for any of the other specific tiles like Messaging, Mail, Calendar, etc. You’re just going to get duplicate notifications that you’ll either need to clear or allow to expire when they hit your Band. The only thing about this is that Notification Center then becomes a huge dumping ground for duplicate notifications, and going through more than a handful at a time is messy.

The big problem with notifications on Microsoft Band is that even if you dismiss them when they pop up on Band, they don’t dismiss from your smartphone; and they also never leave your band, either. You can dismiss the notification, but there’s no real way of deleting a notification from Band, that I can find at least.

I’m hoping this is simply a work in progress and that Microsoft will soon have a software update for Band that will resolve some of this. Notifications can be really cool, but the hodge-podge of a mess that you have in Notification Center really needs to be addressed (the simple fix is that if you have both Notification Center and any of the other app/ notification specific tiles turned on, they don’t show up in Notification Center; but that’s just a start…)

MSB-03

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Take control of the heart of your computer with this Ashampoo HDD Control

Take control of the heart of your computer with this essential Windows utility.HDC-01

Your hard drive is the heart of your computer. If the CPU is the brain, then your hard drive is definitely the heart. It pumps information throughout your PC and allows you to perform and complete tasks that can make your life a lot easier. However, like any body, when the heart is sick, the body can’t do well. This is why you need to keep your PC’s heart – your hard drive – working as well as it can. This is where applications like Ashampoo’s HDD Control come in. It’s a Windows app that can help you keep your hard drive working at its best possible ability.

Ashampoo HDD Control monitors, maintains and defragments hard drives. The software supports not only all common IDE and SATA hard drives, but also provides improved support for external USB hard drives and SSD’s. The extended user interface gives an overview of the status of your hard drive’s health, performance and temperature. It also offers lots of technical information on the drive’s supported features and current status. The software supports S.M.A.R.T and will check for electric and mechanic problems of hard drives as well as adjustment of the noise level and power management, if supported by the drive.

With just a few clicks, HDD Control finds unused files and Internet traces, and then delete the data, with support for different erasing methods. If something goes south and you accidentally remove the wrong information from your drive, HDD Control can also help you get it back. Once you’ve got the space you need, the app can also proactively defragment your drive as well.

Speaking of SSD’s, HDD Control works well with Windows-based SSD’s. Its Duplicate Finder can help locate and delete duplicate files so you don’t waste space on these limited volumes. You can use its filtering mechanism to search for specific file types and extensions, to help you keep a handle on your disk usage.

Ashampoo HDD Control bundles all of the essential information about your PC’s hard drive on its start screen in a clear and concise manner. From here, you have a clear, detailed picture of the state of your drives within seconds and can take instant action of you need to.

The app’s history view can show you drive’s long term performance trends and allow you to predict if and when your drive may fail. You’ll be able to take the appropriate precautions in order to save your data from corruption or overall drive failure.

The app’s interface is non-standard; but it’s a decent application and it does a great job of keeping an eye on your drive and its performance. The app is a bit on the expensive side by today’s prices, but if you’ve got a home network and have a great deal of storage on it, this could be the tool that helps you keep things running at peak performance.

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Microsoft to Release Another Browser

But it’s not all sunshine and daisies, like you’d think…

Microsoft to Release Another BrowserHonestly, I’ve struggled with this bit of news over the past couple of days. Initially, I wasn’t going to cover it, because there really isn’t too much to say about it. There aren’t any screenshots. There isn’t an alpha or beta version to play with; and knowing Microsoft, things could change long before ANYTHING is released. However, the latest scuttlebutt out of Redmond has Microsoft working on a new browser for Windows 10.

There’s good news and bad news related to this. The good news, obviously, is that Microsoft is leaving IE behind. The bad news is that they aren’t moving to WebKit. They’re sticking with Trident – IE’s current rendering engine – and it looks like even THAT engine is getting a rewrite; at least according to Brad Sams at Neowin.

According to my friend, Mary Jo Foley, Trident’s rewrite is part of an effort not to (necessarily) replace IE; but to create a new, light weight browser, currently code named, “Spartan.” While Spartan isn’t IE12, it does seem to be a new animal all together. The new browser should look and feel more like popular WebKit browsers, Chrome and Firefox, and it will support extensions. All of this is going to be done as part of the work behind Windows 10.

Microsoft may or may not show off their new browsers on 2015-01-21 when the company reveals the Windows 10 Consumer Preview. It’s very possible that it won’t be in a state to show off until later in 2015.

What Microsoft decides to do with IE and the IE brand is also up in the air. MJF made no mention of Microsoft discontinuing IE or totally replacing it with Spartan or any other new or revised browser.

All of this is a bit annoying if you ask me. IE has been such a pain in the butt over the past 15 or so years. Its broken the internet a number of times, and has really created more problems for web developers than it solved during that time as well. Why Microsoft is hell bent on staying with their own, proprietary rendering engine, is also completely beyond me. If they’re going to write something new for Windows 10, and knows that their development community and partners (as well as the general public) has issues with IE and Trident, why not totally embrace their new philosophy of customer – not Microsoft – first, and dump Trident for WebKit?

I’m fairly certain that the world won’t see the new browser and kick their love of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and other WebKit compatible browsers to the curb. Unfortunately, we’ll just have to wait and see where Microsoft takes this new effort, and how it’s received not only by the tech press and tech savvy, but the general public as well…. and if there’s one thing I really HATE doing when it comes to technology is, “waiting and seeing.”

What do you think? Is a new MS browser a good thing? Is sticking with Trident good or bad, regardless of its pending rewrite? Is this something that you’re looking forward to as part of Windows 10, or is this something that just seems to be an unneeded, unwanted, or misdirected effort? Why not sound off in the Discussion area below and let me know what you think?

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