Category Archives: Ramblings

My general blog on all things technical

Windows 8, better than you think…

OK, last year I posted a piece about Windows 8, and that I was not too keen on the changes.  I was wrong.  Now that I’m using Windows 8 full time, and that 3rd party software has come out to help with the transition I’ve completely done a 180 on my views of Windows 8.  A little credit to Microsoft, but only because they’ve built another incredible OS with Windows 8.  A lot of credit goes to the avid developers who stepped up to the challenges of Windows 8, and have transformed it into an OS worth every bit of your attention.

First, Windows 8 is obviously made for the new world of mobile computing, though not entirely as I’ve found out.  Over the past few months I’ve learned it does actually work quite well on the desktop with a keyboard and mouse.   And much better than I expected in the new Modern UI.  But I like most others are creatures of habit, and have built a style of work around the old desktop.  Great news!  It’s still there and still 100% usable as ever before.  And with improvements too!  But it’s a mystery to a lot of people as to how to use Windows 8 as if nothing changed.  It’s easy.

I recommend a few free software installs, easily obtained from http://ninite.com.  The first is “Classic Shell”.  This little jewel will bring back the old start menu, in any past format you prefer with a lot of tweaks if you want.  I still like the Windows 7 format, so I always choose that from the default Windows NT style very old setup.  The second is “CCCP” or “K-Lite Codecs”.  CCCP is a light install of codecs and most importantly the old Classic Media Player.  Once Classic Media Player is configured and associated with all media file types it will remove the need for the Modern UI media tools popping up on every video or song that happens.  K-Lite is more robust, but I prefer light weight installations overall.  Last install is Adobe PDF Reader.  Windows 8 is very cool in that it provides PDF ability inside the Modern UI.  But on the desktop, nothing beats the good ol’ Adobe Reader.  A few other small things may bring up the Modern UI from time to time, but there are programs to help that, and it’s easy to get back to the desktop if ever you need.  But, if you like a heavy mix of both desktop and Modern UI, check out ModernMix from Stardock.  A $5 program to put Modern UI apps inside desktop windows.

Some other free installs of consideration are Cute PDF for creating PDF files from everything, GIMP or Paint.NET whichever you prefer for graphics, Skydrive which has a Modern UI app but doesn’t integrate well on the desktop so the desktop program fixes that.  Auslogics defrag if you have an old fashion hard drive and not an SSD, and finally 7-Zip.  That’s my basic mix, but there are a lot to choose from.  Remember you don’t need Flash Player or and Anti-Virus in Windows 8.  Microsoft now includes those as standard fare in Windows 8.  Let them worry about these tools so you don’t have to.  Sure there are better AV programs, but the best AV today is not a program, it’s you and your Internet habits.  But that’s another post…

With those minor changes, which are not different than any other Windows setup in the past as everyone usually installs something if it hasn’t already been installed by Dell or HP or any other computer hardware OEM, you’ll find Windows 8 to really be the same good old Windows you’ve always known.  And of course with many newer features too, like better hardware support, better security, a more robust task manager and improved speed and reliability.

There’s a lot of people right now on the Web bashing the hell out of Windows 8.  And at one point I was one of those.  But, since Windows 8 has been released and a few 3rd party developers stepped up to challenge a few missing things, I now find Windows 8 to be the best Windows Microsoft has ever released.  Hands down!  All of the arguments of those that hate Windows 8 have been remedied.  If they can’t use Windows 8 now, they are no good at computers to begin with.  Being “old school” is not a problem, unless you make it a problem like so many otherwise good computer literate people are doing.  I for one am thankful that Microsoft continues to make Windows a very open and configurable OS.  One that’s easy to change and configure into the OS that I want it to be.

One of the biggest plusses to Windows 8 is that you get the best of two worlds now.  Windows 8 is mostly a change to a style of computing that has taken off for every other major OS vendor except Microsoft until now.  That’s the “app” world and mobile computing.  Where software is no longer sold as programs, but now as apps through a cloud connected store supported by the OS developer.  And giving the apps closer connection between the users to their app developers too.  To simplify things for me I still refer to old school software for the desktop as “programs”, and the newer software distributed through the Microsoft Store are now “apps”.  Apps are also much more safer than in the past, as Microsoft tests every app that hits their store before allowing it to be downloaded.  And the experience is easier than ever on getting new apps, installing them and keeping them up to date.  You can even get old school programs from the Store, but they are few in number right now.  Not sure why on that, but we’ll most likely see even fewer in the future.

So, if you meet anyone that says they hate Windows 8, then you’ve met someone who probably would not hate it, and just hasn’t spent any time with it.  In my view they are just looking for an excuse to complain about something.  100% of their concerns can be remedied quickly and easily.  So don’t buy into their smoke and mirrors routine about the bad of Windows 8.  They are wrong, just as I was at one time.  And, if they are a computer professional, I’d say they are just being a wimp of a computer professional.  Any pro can handle Windows 8 with ease.  If they can’t then they are not a pro.

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I want to love Windows 8…

I truly want to love Windows 8, I really do.  To see Microsoft finally moving into the Tablet market and other possible markets is a breath of fresh air.  To have a REAL operating system on this small touch devices, or on larger interactive devices will be a God send to those who could use such a device.  There are plenty of examples where this would be a boon to productivity and usefulness.  One of my favorite examples is in the medical fields.  Right now the doctor’s office I visit has switched to a paperless environment (as much as they could…)  And all Doctors carry around Lenovo laptops to enter data while consulting with patients.  It’s obviously a burden to some extent.  The input seems slow, and they must have power bricks lined around the office to keep these machines powered up and running.  For a paper-less endeavor, I’m not impressed.  However, with a low power touch tablet this could be 100% the opposite.  The devices would be less burdensome, and much more productive if the software was written well.  iPads might work, but we all know that an iPad is not a full computer.  Close, but still not quite full in comparison to a computer that sits on your desk or a well designed laptop.  Windows 8 can change this.  Windows 8 IS a full OS, and most hardware designs I’ve seen so far do not have any limitations like those found on iPads or Android based tables.  Retail could benefit too, mobile sales forces, inventory takers.  Or technical staff, not computer technical but other technical work like repairmen or folks that inspect work etc etc.  They could really benefit from not having to be tied down to a desk for most of the data entry and manipulation.  Windows 8 could open the world up immensely.

However, the product I’ve seen so far in Windows 8 just simply can not replace the power and needs of a full desktop computer.  There are too many jobs where the speed, control and power is not of the type where a touch enabled interface will assist well.  Not even if it does allow keyboard and mouse use.

As a person who is suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, keyboard and mouse use are a key factor in my consideration.  Windows 8 Metro interface blows the amount of mouse use needed up my a LOT!  I feel I need to move the mouse twice as much to get things done as I used to.  This is not good, and quite frankly HURTS!  While if the work I needed to do could be handled by touch only, I’d be glad.  No, I’d be ecstatic!  But a lot of it just doesn’t fit the style needed in touch interfaces.  Some of it does, and I’ll eventually purchase and use a tablet device with Windows 8 on it.  But, I’ll never be able to replace my desktop 100%.  A lot of folks won’t be able to.

I applaud Microsoft for taking this move.  But not without trepidation.  I really believe they’d done better by forking Windows between tablet and desktop versions.  I pray they at least allow this as an option on the release version of Windows 8.  Please allow me to choose which Start Menu I use on each device I install Windows 8 on!!

Fun with Microsoft Volume Licensing

Ok, not fun.  Not fun at all.  After starting a new position at a very good company, I quickly found that the anti-virus situation here was in a complete disarray.  So, I set out to find a solution.  In my experience with Microsoft’s Security Essentials, I decided to give their ForeFront product a try.  I only needed about 100 licenses, and a way to centrally manage this setup.  Microsoft seemed to have a good solution.  However…

First, upon the purchase I did not receive the completed transaction for a few weeks.  Turned out Microsoft had changed in midstream the way they centrally manage Forefront desktop security.  So my retail source had to re-submit the order and change what was ordered.  This was upsetting because I had already researched the product as I thought I would have to manage it.  Now, I don’t have a product to use, and everything I’ve learned is trash.  Not fun.

Then, finally the order was placed and I received a handful of e-mails from Microsoft to go to their Licensing web site and finish the setup.  OK, well first of all my e-mail had changed recently and my Live ID was no longer properly setup for this transaction.  The retail folks setup the license on my new e-mail and I only had a Live ID on my old e-mail.  So, I had to go through multiple attempts to finalize that part of the mess to get a new Live ID, everything old transferred to the new ID and who knows what I’ve missed or forgotten!  Not fun.

Then, I get this e-mail from Microsoft on what to expect.  It had about a dozen things in it!  They called it their “Microsoft Notification Life cycle Summary.”  Wow, what a long list for such a simple purchase.  I only wanted a single software package, and a simple transaction followed by a simple setup.  Why do I need to have a dozen things occur to get this done??!!  They called this license “Open Value”.  Well, so far I see NO value in it.  None.  Not fun.

OK, I finished the Licensing agreement process and go back to the Volume Licensing Service Center web page.  I click on “Software Download”.  Nothing.  The web site reports an error.  Great.  I go back and click on “Product Keys”, but no keys are available.  Great.  What went wrong?  Why didn’t I receive a simple notification that the process was not finished yet?  From what appears to have been the last step, now looks like I’ve got a long wait and more frustration ahead of me.  Not fun.

Now, I’ve used dozens of AV products over the years.  If you’ve read some of my past stuff, you know that feel that most AV is about as bad as actually having a virus anyway.  It either gets in the way of real productivity, or fails or who knows what kind of headaches.  Security Essentials had change my perspective on this somewhat, as it seemed quickly simple and quite easy.  All I can hope as this point is that the install and management of Forefront client security is much easier that what I’ve had to deal with so far with this product.  Microsoft seems to have really lost its way in their licensing practices.  I purchase a LOT of software in the internet today, many of which have very good licensing methods and results.  Microsoft get’s a “F” from me so far.

I hope that this passes soon so I can get back to having fun.

WP7 is here

Wow it took a long time, but Microsoft finally got into the modern smartphone game.  And it seems like a good showing too!

My history:  I was a long time user and quite frankly a fan of Windows Mobile phones.  Yes, they were clunky and cumbersome.  BUT, I could get things done.  A lot of things.  I relequished my WM platform love to the iPhone in the form of the 3GS.  This is a great phone.  I now own an iPhone 4 and love it too.  But, I miss some of the more open and ultimately more configurable platforms.  I have looked longingly at Android, but have been afraid of the open source style of programming for this phone.  That type of programming leads to slowing support and quite frankly, a real lack of security.  Don’t get me wrong, I support Open Source very strongly.  But there are places for it, and places where it’s not quite that simple.  The mobile platform still has a long way to go, and Android is not quite the pavement that will carry that travel.

When I first heard of WP7 I was excited.  Then I heard it would NOT be business friendly at first and was depressed.  But I am enlighted that the platform does look really really good.  Apps for this platform should flow as quickly as they did for the iPhone, though I hope it doesn’t turn into the “1 out of 1000” ordeal that the iTunes app store has turned into where you are lucky to find an app that fits your needs due to the sheer number of utterly useless or extremely poor apps there.  My iPhone crashes often these days due to those really poorly written apps.  iTunes’ app store is a mess today.  Sad.

Microsoft seems to be taking a middle ground between Android and the iPhone.  Somewhat open like Android in an application sense, not in an Open Source sense.  Though they might allow this type of programming, well just have to wait and see.  And somewhat like the iPhone were their app store will probably have a much tighter control to not allow apps that mis-behave like they do on Android.  It should turn out quite nicely.

Add to that the simplified and much more robust application development platform that stems from decades of experience from Microsoft, and the apps that come to the WP7 platform should be top knotch, if it the top period.  People seem worried that apps won’t come to WP7.  I’m 100% convinced they will come, and come quickly and easily.  This is a BIG plus for Microsoft, and should pay off soon.

I’m also highly impressed by the hardware.  3D games already look better than on other platforms.  And the specs for most phones match at the least all other higher end devices on the market.  I read that all of the HTC phones have HD video recording.  And some have 3D Dolby sound processing.  That blows anything Apple out of the water.  Which in my opinion, Apple has always had 2nd rate sound abilities.  Sad for such a big player in the audio market.  Also, I love that they use the Zune audio library, which is much bigger than iTunes.  I own an original Zune 30Gig, and an original iPod touch.  My total CD colletion returns only about 1/2 of the album covers in iTunes, but almost 90% of the covers show up in Zune.  That speaks LOUDLY to me that Zune has more market ability than does iTunes.  That and the Zune software is 10 times more stable and easy to navigate than is the iTunes junk software.  Talk about bloatware, just install iTunes then try to un-install it.  You’ll be working hours to get all of the Apple mess off your computer.  Zune software is one quick install, and is clean, small and very efficient in comparison to iTunes.  Plus no add-ons that you just don’t need.

I will say though that I will treat WP7 the same way I did the iPhone on launch.  I won’t get the V.1 hardware.  I’ll wait for at least version 2, to see how things iron out.  I still need strong business support in the phone and right now it just doesn’t seem to have it yet.  Microsoft will pull through I’m sure on this.  (fingers crossed)

Anti-Virus? How good are they?

As per expecatations, I would never recommend running a system without antivirus software installed.  It’s just not a good idea.  (few exceptions, very very few)  But I often wonder what is worse:  The virus?  Or the anti-virus?  Why do I say that, you might ask.  Simple, if you check the definition of a virus it is a piece of code that causes your system to slow down, hang up and run poorly.  Well, unfortuantly most anti-viruses fit that same description.  So what do you do?  There’s a lot of opinion out there on what anti-virus software is the best.  I even have my own.  But for each his own on this, because none of them are 100% perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

One very interesting thing I’ve found over the years is that the paid anti-viruses often tend to be the worst.  Not always, but most of the time they are the culprit for causing all types of system problems.  In the past 10 years many versions of free anti-virus software have become available.  They have all turned out to be quite good in comparison to paid versions.  But they too can be troublesome at times.  There are some rather expensive options, and those I’ve found to be among the best for keep your system running well and still provide a good amount of protection.  So, in a sense you do get what you pay for.  Not all the time though.

At this time, I’m using the Microsoft Security Essentials AV on all my home machines.  I’ve found it to be extremely good at not slowing down my systems or causing grief with other software packages.  It’s also quite high on marks for catching things.  Keep in mind though that NO AV software will ever catch a zero day virus.  AV software is a “block known bad things” type of software.  If the virus is not known yet, they can’t block it.  With e-mail and web sites being lightning fast these days, viruses can propagate the internet in minutes.  It usually takes most AV software days to find, catagorize and update their known list of viruses.

The best anti-virus?  YOU!  Learn how to surf safely.  Don’t open any e-mail attachment or a link in an e-mail unless you know that you are supposed to get it.  Even if the e-mail is from a friend, keep in mind that the “From” field in an e-mail can be forged to look like it’s from someone you know but can actually be from a virus maker.  Links in e-mails can also be manipulated to give false information.  And, don’t just Google anything and go to any site without consideration of what site you are visiting before you click that search engine link.  Virus writers love to pick on well searched topics to make a temporary web site, push it into the search engines and catch unaware users.  Basically try to stick to known sites.  In the real world a dark alley is easy to see, easy to recognize and you don’t go down it.  On the Internet the “dark alleys” are well lit, sometimes even inviting and even can look like a familiar place.  Very dangerous.   So, in today’s internet I would never recommend surfing aimlessly.  Know where you are going and go there only.  That way you know you are as safe as possible.