Surface Book Supplies are Constrained – Part 1

This is not something you want to hear when you’ve got a fatal problem with your Surface Book…

A short while ago, I got a Surface Book. After searching for something to replace my Surface Pro 3, I have, in a sense, come home. During this journey, I have found that the old adage is true; and that you truly do get what you pay for.

So, realizing that a Surface device is really what I wanted, I sold the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA in late January 2017. About a month later, since there is a Microsoft Store located near the office, I ran over and purchased an entry level Surface Book in mid-February 2017. When I purchased the device, the President’s Day sale was still going on, and the price was $250 cheaper.

On the whole, I’ve been fairly satisfied with the purchase and the model choice. It gets the job done, has all of the Surface features that I’m looking for, and didn’t break the bank.

Yeah… the clouds darken somewhat at this point.

So, I bumped into a problem with my Surface Book and needed to go back to a previous version of Windows. I plugged the Surface Book into its AC adapter and began the Restore Process that I detailed out in a two part columnar series here on Soft32 (Part 1, Part 2). I have done this before, and after you get through the preliminaries in making choices about what you want to keep and what you can live without, it’s really nothing more than letting the machine do its work.

So, I was very surprised after I started the restore and noticed that the device would only boot to its UEFI screen and then wouldn’t go any farther. In the upper right corner of the UEFI screen, you could see an icon that appears to look like a hard drive with some kind of “X” in the middle of it.

As the device was just about three (3) months old, I decided to take a two pronged approach here.

1. Follow the instructions noted on the support page Surface Turns on but Windows won’t Start. This included downloading a recovery image for my Surface Book, and then building and starting my Surface Book with the bootable USB drive that the process created.
2. Make an appointment at the Microsoft Store for service – just in case the above steps didn’t work.

To be very honest, the instructions in step number one, above, haven’t really failed me. Ever… until now.

In one previous case, I had to go to the Microsoft Store and THEY got the recovery image to boot, so when I tried and couldn’t get past the UEFI screen, I thought that they certainly would be able to.

I was wrong.

Even THEY couldn’t get my three month old Surface Book to boot from the USB based recovery image. From what we were able to determine that hard drive icon with the “X” through it indicates a bad drive controller. They declared the device dead in the water, and it qualified for a free replacement, being only 3 months old.

At this point, I was a bit upset, as I was looking at a three month old brick. There was nothing that the Microsoft Store could do to get the device to boot. However, it did qualify for a free replacement, and I thought I would be back up and running shortly.

Unfortunately, they told me, they didn’t have any replacement units available in the store. They also informed me that Microsoft’s Online Store also didn’t have any available. I gave them the whole “deer in the headlights” look. I had a difficult time understanding – there were no Surface Books to be had. From anywhere… I was dumbfounded.

What was worse, the only explanation that I got was that Surface Book supplies were, “constrained.” And that’s all anyone was able to tell me. They had no other information to share.

At this point, my options were few:

1. Leave the store with a non-functional device
This option had me calling the store to determine if they received any stock of the entry level Surface Book that could be set aside as a replacement for my defective unit. They weren’t especially confident that I’d be able to get anything from them any time soon. Again, Surface Book supplies were “constrained” was the only explanation they could give me.
2. Contact Microsoft Complete Advanced Replacement Program
Microsoft Complete provides additional and advanced warranty options for your Microsoft Surface device, should you need them. The service is $249USD and like Apple’s Apple Care, adds an additional 2 years of warranty coverage. They’ll also send you an advanced replacement if you’re a Microsoft Complete customer, should your device need immediate replacement.

There are a couple of problems with these options – because supplies of Surface Book are currently constrained, neither gets me a replacement any time soon. Due to the supply constraint, it’s also not known when a device would become available to replace my defective Surface Book. The Microsoft Complete option would also cost me $1750.00, plus tax ($249 for the privilege of having them charge me – and hold on my credit card, indefinitely – $1500 for a replacement device that they will send to me, again whenever they get one, requiring me to send my defective unit back to them).

After speaking to a manager and not finding any solution, I turned around to leave (effectively choosing option 1…).

I stopped about 5 steps away from the counter and turned back around. There were Surface Books – floor/ demo units – all over the store. Surely they could give me one of those…

NOPE! Those are demo units, and are not part of store inventory. (Awesome…!)

At that point, the manager came back over and I asked her about any other possible avenues. She quietly asked the tech that I was working with if there were any business orders prepped in the back with an appropriate Surface Book unit.

The tech nodded his head, excused himself and went into the back room again. A few moments later, he returned with a replacement unit. The Microsoft Store Manager cannibalized a business order to satisfy a consumer warranty replacement issue.

Shortly after the replacement was finished, I walked back to the office and began setting up my new Surface Book, a happy man.

Come back next time when I wrap everything up and attempt to look into a potential constraint cause, as well.

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Turn your laptop into a WiFi hotspot with mHotspot

Getting access to the internet is increasingly important in today’s always on, connected world. This is one of the big reasons why I like apps like mHotspot. It turns any Windows 7 /8 laptop into a Wi-Fi hotspot; and it’s free.

mHotspot converts your Windows 7/8 laptop into a virtual Wi-Fi router and creates a secure Wi-Fi hotspot without installation of additional networking components. With it, you can share your single internet connection with multiple devices. You can share your existing LAN, Ethernet, Data-Card, 3G/4G, or Wi-Fi connection with devices like laptops, smartphones, PDAs, tablets etc. No additional router or external hardware is required.

mHotspot

If you’re out and about and have a mobile broadband capable laptop, this application is a must have. It quickly and easily creates a mobile hotspot that you can share with all of your internet capable devices. This can be very important to those that need to give access to friends using other devices. The only issue that may be encountered with this is that it uses bandwidth from your existing mobile data plan.

While this can also be great for those times when you need to access the company network from your personal laptop while at work, it does require an existing internet connection in order for it to work. The interface is simple and easy to use, and its free price tag makes it a must have for nearly everyone.

Download mHotspot

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Run your favorite Android Apps and Games on a Windows PC or Mac

Android has thousands of useful apps to socialise, entertain and help with just about anything you can think off. Until now, they have been exclusively available on an Android phone or tablet.

BlueStacks App Player brings together your Android apps on your desktop with the rest of your software onto your Windows or Mac.

Apps launch on your screen quickly, filling the full screen of your computer or laptop. They often also run faster and smoother than on your phone when run on your more powerful Windows or Mac device.

Most apps are easy to control with your mouse and laptop, but some games designed specifically for touch screen devices become more difficult to control on your Windows or Mac.

All your Apps are organised in an attractive and easy to use interface, similar to that of Apple’s popular iOS software. It’s simple to organize your apps into folders and launch the app you’re looking for quickly.
If you don’t own an Android device, the App Player allows you to try out all the features available before you buy a new phone or tablet.

Whilst the software is one of the first on the market to allow you to run Android apps on your Windows or Mac, it doesn’t replace an Android device. There are a few bugs in the software, most notably one that recognised upward scrolls of the mouse as a tap, which will hopefully be improved over time.

Download BlueStacks App Player for Windows | Download BlueStacks App Player for Mac

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OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Developer Preview 3

There’s a lot of iOS based improvement going into Apple’s newest Operating System, OS X 10.8, code named, Mountain Lion. Let’s take a look at how it and iOS are converging.

There’s been a lot going on in Cupertino since February of this year. Apple has been hard at work pulling together the latest version of its new desktop operating system, OS X 10.8, code named Mountain Lion. Apple is, at least in some sense, converging their two most successful platforms – iOS, which it uses to power all of its mobile devices; and OS X, which powers all of its desktops and laptops. With the iPad parked squarely between the two platforms (but powered by iOS), Apple is trying to build synergy between the two platforms so that users can easily use both without a experiencing any jarring transitions.

The effort is commendable. There are a great many Apple customers who own not only an iPod Touch or iPhone, but an iPad as well as a desktop/laptop Mac. Bringing the two together was something that Steve wanted to do. Let’s take a look at where the two converge and the value they provide, if any.

Messages Beta
Byte covered Messages Beta, and the features it brings to the desktop, in an extensive deep dive. Messages Beta is available for download on Mac’s running Lion, and will be usable until the new OS is officially available for purchase in the App Store. At that point, Messages will stop functioning in Lion, and those users who wish to keep using it will need to upgrade to Mountain Lion.

Notifications
Applications like Growl have been providing system notifications in OS X for quite some time. Apple has finally brought the same kind of functionality as you see in Growl, to Mountain Lion by integrating system wide notification into the operating system. The actual implementation takes its queues directly from iOS. They share a similar tray background, look and feel.

When system or app events occur on your Mac, those notifications will appear in the upper right corner of your screen, in a self-hiding event tray that slides out on the right side, as opposed to coming down from the center of the screen as it does on your iPad or iPhone. System event notifications disappear after a few moments have passed. Other notification types need to be dismissed by the user.

How, if at all, this will work or conflict with notification apps like Growl is yet to be known or understood. Growl is a long standing, value added application that many have used for YEARS simply because OS X didn’t support this type of functionality. It’s quite possible that Growl may be out of a job…

Reminders
Combining Reminders with Siri on the iPhone 4S is pretty awesome. All you have to do to set one on your iPhone is to ask Siri to, “remind [you] to do ‘X’ [at] ‘Y’, ” with X being the thing you want the reminder to remind you to do, and Y being when you want the reminder to go off. In Mountain Lion, Apple brings the Reminders app to the desktop, but without Siri. You get everything you’ve got on the iPhone (again, minus Siri) as well as a couple other cool additions.

On the desktop, Reminders allows you to create a task or to-do list, set the date and time you want the reminders to go off and the ability to push them to all of your iDevices. Having this on your Mac also means you get the ability to search through your reminders and view them on your calendar.

The one feature that Reminders doesn’t do on your Mac is “remind [you] to do ‘X’ when you get to ‘Z’,” with X again being the thing you want to do, and Z being the location where you want to do it. For example, again on your iPhone, “Siri, remind me to call home when I leave the office.” Location services aren’t built into Mountain Lion, so reminders on the desktop aren’t location aware.

iCloud Integration
Mountain Lion is the first edition of OS X that includes built in iCloud integration from its initial release. Yes, Lion has it; but it’s an update introduced add-on. With Mountain Lion, Apple gives you access to cloud-based sync services for Notes, Reminders and Messages/iMessage between your Mac and your iDevice.

Documents and changes to those documents stored there will also sync back and forth between your Mac and iDevice. An additional feature coming for documents in the cloud is Document Library. Aside from giving you access to the latest revision of any document created with an iCloud supported app, Document Library also gives you the ability to create folders by dragging one document on top of another, as you do with shortcuts on an iDevice home page, today. Document Library will also support file sharing, making it easy for you to share stuff with those you know via Mail, Messages and AirDrop.

Continue reading…

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Remember things big and small from your everyday life with Evernote

One of the most important things that you can do with your mobile device, your computer or laptop is take notes. If you’re a student, educator, or business professional, then you know what I’m talking about. Keeping track of action items, assignments, lesson plans, etc., is something that everyone has an interest in. That’s one of the reasons why I like Evernote. This multifunction tool has specialized functionality in order to keep you organized.

Evernote makes it easy to remember big and small things from your everyday life, using your computer, phone, tablet and the web. With Evernote, all of your notes, web clips, files and images are made available on every device and computer you use, anytime, anywhere. All you need is a connected device and available bandwidth. Evernote does the rest.

With Evernote, you can remember the things that YOU like. You can instantly save everything cool and exciting you see online. You can snap a photo, record some audio and save it to a note and have that note, with that cool content sync to every one of your connected endpoints. As such, you can take notes anywhere. If you’re always on the move, your notes and important information should be too. With Evernote, those important items are on every computer, phone and device you use.

Since notebooks sync instantly, Evernote makes it easy to work with remote friends and colleagues. You can share your notes and collaborate on projects with friends, colleagues and classmates regardless of their location, time zone, etc.  Evernote can be used to bring project information and teams together regardless of who is working on which parts, and can centralize all your information.

Read full Review | Download Evernote for WindowsDownload Evernote for Mac

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If it Ain’t Dirty, Don’t Clean it

Amid all the Holiday Hullaballoo, malware attacks can be nasty. However, beware where the warnings are coming from.

You must have a malware scanner on your computer – Mac, Windows or Linux – don’t compute without one. Period. You also need to heed the warning dialogs they display. If you’ve got a bug, or if it catches one before it infects you, do what it tells you in order to get rid of it. However, do yourself a favor, mind where the dialog boxes are coming from.

Case in point, last year, my wife got hit by a nasty piece of malware that totally hijacked her computer, down to the BIOS level, making it useful as nothing more than a door stop. I couldn’t even replace the hard drive. The infection had corrupted the laptop’s BIOS. In the end, I had to replace the PC; and the lesson from this is CLEAR – when you’re surfing the internet and you see a dialog box popup informing you that you may already be infected, or are infected with malware, make sure that the dialog box is coming from your malware scanner.

Unlike Soft32, some download sites have software that are infected with malware. Some sites permit popups and pop-unders that advertise malware scanners that aren’t malware scanners at all. They’re really nothing more than applications that steal your personal information, and hijack your PC unless you either pay to get rid of them, or pay a subscription fee. The popups or pop-unders I’m referencing look like legitimate system utility or malware scanner dialog boxes.

Don’t trust them; or any of the information they contain.

Be sure you know which malware scanner you use. Insure that THAT program’s name is listed in the title bar of the dialog box you’re reading. My wife thought she was protecting herself and her computer. In the end, she lost not only her PC, but some pictures and videos we’ll never get back.

I was recently talking to a family member who had a similar issue happen to them. They knew enough to call me and ask me about what they were seeing before they clicked the OK button on the dialog box. It’s a good thing they did. We were able to bypass the dialog box and save their PC and data.

In the end, you need to be mindful of the following:

  • The name of your malware scanner
  • That program’s name will appear in the title bar of any dialog box that displays on your computer.
  • Malware warning dialogs that come from your web browser can usually be considered as suspected, malware.
  • When in doubt, click the “X” button that closes the dialog.
  • Do NOT dismiss the dialog by using the OK or Cancel buttons on it.

Keep yourself safe. Become familiar with your malware scanner, allow it to update itself; and MOST of all, schedule regular scans, regardless of the time of day that they want to run. Better to suffer through a bit of performance lag than to lose all your data AND your PC.

If you want to download free antivirus and anti-spyware security software for Windows, pick one below…

Avast | AVG Antivirus | Microsoft Security Essentials

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Use TuneUp Utilities 2012 to get your PC running like it did the day you bought it

As many other computer users, I like to install all kind of programs from the Internet. First of all because it’s part of my job and second, for the sake of exploring what’s new out there in terms of software. However, this can mess up any PC quite shortly and there is always the speed issues over time as applications are installed and uninstalled. Actually – to be realistic – in time, any Windows PC become more sluggish and it’s performance degrade just by using it.

Now, to prevent this from happening, you can use a tool such as TuneUp Utilities 2012 that reduces clutter and ensures that all systems are running as they should. TuneUp Utilities has been around for quite a while and it’s clear that this software will stay on the market due to the simple fact that it does the job and it can really optimize your computer for the best performance – not just on paper. Well, considering that just a few days back, the new ‘2012 version’ has been officially released, let’s take a look at the new features.

First of all, there is TuneUp Economy Mode – a feature which prolongs the battery life on your laptop, netbook, and tablet PC and guarantees significantly improved battery life and power consumption. It extends battery run-time on notebooks, netbooks and tablet PCs running Windows by up to 30%, while also reducing energy consumption by up to 30%.

What’s behind the magic?

  • Reduced processor power consumption: TuneUp Economy Mode reduces your processors’ performance and optimizes their power consumption for maximum battery life and sufficient power for basic, everyday use.
  • Great power savings for your devices: TuneUp Economy Mode reduces the power consumption of many built-in and connected devices.
  • Turn off energy-sapping programs: TuneUp Economy Mode switches off unnecessary background processes that slow PC performance down.

Second, there is an improved TuneUp Program Deactivator – a feature which takes care of all those programs which run in the background whether they are used or not, slowing your computer down considerably for no good reason. The new Full Automatic Mode in TuneUp Program Deactivator eliminates these unnecessary slowdowns and makes sure your PC always operates at its peak performance. But relevant programs such as antivirus software or drivers will not be deactivated.

  • Start-Stop Mode automatically turns off selected programs when you don’t need them, speeding up your surfing, working, and gaming.
  • Optimized PC / Windows performance
  • Faster boot speeds, applications and gaming.

There is also also Turbo Mode, a feature which for example, enables you to shut down over 70 applications that bring your PC to a crawl with just a single click. In addition, proven maintenance features allow you to perform a full registry clean-up and much, much more.

TuneUp Utilities 2012 costs $49.95, but you can get a free trial for testing purposes prior to purchase from here.

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Logitech Multi-Touch Lapdesk – a retractable touchpad with multi-touch navigation to scroll and swipe your way through the Web – comfortably

After a while, almost every laptop gets hot and using the touch-pad becomes quite uncomfortable

Well, Logitech has come up with a new idea for those who hate the heat from their laptops on their laps.

Logitech’s Touch Lapdesk N600 –  a large touchpad that can be connected to your laptop and helps you  scroll and swipe your way through the Web – comfortably.

“We’ve seen people using everything from pillows to pets to shield their laps from the heat their laptops generate, ” said Denis Pavillard, vice president of product marketing for laptop accessories. “Our lapdesks are much more effective and, with the addition of a multi-touch touchpad, you’ll get the added capability to more easily move through your favorite content without attaching additional peripherals.”

The Logitech Touch Lapdesk N600 features a 5-inch, retractable touchpad with multi-touch navigation. You can move the pointer with one finger, scroll using two, and swipe through pages or pictures with three.

The multi-layer, heat-shielding design of the lapdesk protects you from laptop heat so you can browse in cool comfort, and the anti-slip surface helps keep your laptop in place. To get started, you just plug the tiny Logitech Unifying receiver into the USB port and start navigating. For your convenience, Logitech’s newest lapdesk offers up to six months of battery life.

For more information please visit the product page.

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