Windows Technical Preview

I’m having a play with the new Windows Technical Preview / Windows 10 and find myself pleasantly impressed.

I’ve installed it onto two machines, both machines around 8 years old. One a Pentium D based device, the other with an AMD Athlon processor, both of these computers originally came with XP. So we’re not talking about modern hi-tech stuff but rather antiquated hardware somewhat on the wrong side of their ‘best before’ dates.

From starting up the install process (via DVD) to having a running system  took between 20 to 30 minutes. No crashes or hiccups, in fact these were some of the smoothest installs that I’ve done in ages.

The AMD processor’d device is a HP machine which came with on-board graphics; this I’d quickly upgraded with a base model NVIDIA graphics card. The support for this specific card ended with Windows Vista so when I installed Windows 7 onto this machine the graphics did give problems, but with a bit of effort I did manage to get it all sorted out. When I then went to Windows 8 the graphics moved from ‘a problem’ to that of a real pain, though again I managed to get things sorted. However with this new Windows Technical Preview the default graphic drivers worked the card without any real problems, and when I did my first series of Windows Updates it automatically installed some NVIDIA drivers which got the card working really nicely.

The only drivers I had to specifically download was for the audio. As with the NVIDIA card, the support for this machine’s particular Realteck on-board sound chip-set ended with Vista, but downloading and installing the Realteck Vista drivers sorted that out. So overall very happy with the way things went. On the Pentium machine nothing special needed to be done beyond the basic install routine. Considering the age of these machines I was quite (pleasantly) surprised

Perhaps the best thing for many people is that there’s a real ‘Start Menu’ to use again. Initially it appears like a blend of the Windows 8 live tiles combined with the more conventional Windows menu system. However it can be quickly re-configured to have the look and feel of earlier Windows (or if you prefer tiles, to the look of windows 8).

I’ve installed the usual round of programs (Microsoft Office, Firefox, Chrome, Dropbox, Evernote, VLC…) and all have run without any problems. One or two more demanding programs (not yet officially supporting Win 10) have also gone on (such as LabVIEW) and have also worked quite happily. I’ve played briefly with the virtual desktops (about time Widows had this feature built-in). Being able to snap application windows to corners / sides of the screen is handy and helps to keep things tidy. One slight annoyance is how the control settings seem to be split across the new PC Settings and old Control Panel. I wish they’d have one of the other, not both.

So, so far so good. As someone who has always configured his screen layout to have a look and feel of a basic Windows 95 / XP desktop, I’d class this Windows Technical Preview as a case of ‘familiar but different’. Assuming things continue on the way they are then I will be looking forward to the full release some time next year – and if anyone has a spare PC (or even space on their existing hard drive) then I’ll encourage them to give this Technical Preview a try.

4k video

I must confess I would quite like a 4k video camera.

It’s not that I have any intention in producing any 4k video for upload to the internet, but for two other specific reasons. Recording in 4k but downscaling to 1080 can give an improved picture by reducing the amount of noise, this is especially true for dark or low light recording. The other reason is the flexibility of being able to pan around or crop your 4k clip and so ‘zoom in’ down to 1080 level without any worry of reduced quality through pixilation.

At the time of writing this my choice of camera would be the recently released Panasonic GH4, however in reality we are looking at around £1300 (body only) which is money I don’t really have for spending on non-essentials. After all I currently have a perfectly good GH3 which can produce great quality stills and video, I have some other older camera and even smartphone devices all capable of recording quality video.

So a reality-check is needed here and wait for perhaps the GH5 to come out – Panasonic tend to have an annual update cycle – which would in turn give me time to put some extra funds to one side for this sort of purchase.

On the other hand I really would like a GH4….

Too much Cloud

Here a cloud, there a cloud, everywhere a cloud!

I guess my first experience of The Cloud (as we currently accept it) was with Dropbox and Evernote. Dropbox worked well for my files and Evernote for memos and the smaller documents. Pictures went up to Flickr, videos to YouTube. For chat, then text messaging when on the move or Skype when at my desk. Everything had its place.

However as time went by I found myself using Google’s services more and more. Having everything integrated together seemed to make sense. Google’s docs and spread sheet offerings were more than powerful enough for my needs. Integrated e-mail and the general ‘stuff’ that Google provided all worked well for me. As a back-up for large files and similar I got a separate 100 gig cloud storage space from GoDaddy at a suitably cheap price.

However this GoDaddy storage is quite slow to use, but then it’s only there as a back-up so this is not a big problem. What did get me annoyed was the way Google was going. Mucking up YouTube, closing down services (such as Google Reader) at quite short notice, forcing Google+ onto everyone… so I thought I’d kick back into life some old Yahoo accounts I had. One problem with Yahoo is that it’s very disjointed, there’s no consistency across its services. This didn’t worry me too much, but just as I was shifting stuff across to Yahoo they started locking me out! Not sure what was going on, but I’d go through the password reset routine and that would get me back in – for a while, then I’d be locked out again. This was across different accounts and different machines and totally destroyed my confidence in their abilities. So I started looking back to Dropbox and Evernote.

On the Evernote side I found myself wanting just that bit more than Evernote was providing, especially in the way Evernote organises and catalogues things – I just was not settling down to its user-interface. On the Dropbox side I suddenly realised how many other alternative similar services I now had access to. In addition to Dropbox (and my GoDaddy storage) I have Google Drive(s) (across various Gmail accounts), OneDrive(s) (also across a mix of old Hotmail and new Live accounts), iCloud, Box, Amazon, and Adobe, all giving me various quantities of storage space. One problem is that each time you start using a new internet connected service they give you some free space, but linked through to their preferred service supplier. So an Android phone will default to Google’s Drive, anything Apple to iCloud, Windows phones to OneDrive, BlackBerry gives you Box, Kindle devices to Amazon cloud drive…and so on. Each one of these providing a ‘great service’ but there’s just too many of them now splattered across my desktop!

At the same time as this was happening I’d also got hold of a Nokia 520 Windows phone to play with and was unexpectedly impressed with it. So if I wasn’t happy with both Google and Yahoo and getting a bit drowned in all the other space-providing organisations, what about Microsoft and their services? Microsoft seems to have been going through a bit of a reinvention at to what it actually is and does, and where a few years ago I wouldn’t have touched it with the proverbial barge pole, now with its cross-platform and cross-operating system services I find it rather tempting. They’ve ‘discovered’ (be it rather late in the game) the importance of not just providing services for Windows, but if they want to keep their users then they must support those other (rival) platforms that their users also access. I’ve been pleasantly impressed with this thing of having Office on my computers but my data backed up in the cloud, so when on the move (and with cloud syncing) having access to everything through a web browser. So at the moment I’ve seem to have settled down to Microsoft’s services for notes, documents and spreadsheet type stuff, and Dropbox for program and large file storage.

No doubt it won’t be long before something else ‘new and exciting’ comes along and I’ll change again, but that’s for the future, not right now.

What do I want for a 4G phone.

The 3 network is about to bring fast 4G coverage to my area.

Other networks already provide it, but at ridiculous prices and with some quite restrictive download limits. However 3 is offering 4G (that’s 4G LTE to our colonial cousins) at their current 3G prices with sensible or even unlimited data usage.

Currently I have some very nice smartphones but none are 4G capable, so it’s time to be looking around for something to fill that gap. I’m not in a great rush as my current contract is not due for renewal for many months yet, but it’s still good to keep an eye on things. For routine e-mail and that sort of thing standard 2G speeds are quite sufficient for me. Doing internet related stuff on my phones I’ve found 3G / HSDPA speeds sufficient, however the way the system has been implemented the networks seem to have very rarely achieved their advertised speeds. This does become a bit of a pain when using my phones for laptop tethering type activities. So a move across to 4G would make my phone usage experience somewhat nicer. Likewise if I only got say one third of the 4G speeds possible then my laptop experience would be vastly improved. Taking this one stage further, if a 4G connection at my home location proved to be fast and reliable then I could well be tempted to drop my current physical phone line and associated broadband connection and go totally 4G mobile-connected.

This would not be the first time I would have done this sort of thing. A few years back I got rid of my land line and lived off a (T-Mobile) 3G tethered connection. It worked ‘all right’ (it did give occasional connection problems, but I could work with them) until after a couple of year I discovered and seriously started to use YouTube. That really bumped up my networking demands and resulted in a move back to a fixed landline / broadband set-up.

So what about a new 4G enabled phone? My first modern smartphone was an iPhone 3GS. A great device however as time went by I started getting more and more fed up and annoyed with Apple’s attitude to its customers; one of ‘you, the customer, may think you know what you want but we know better’ and giving you (forcing on you) what THEY have decided that YOU want. So when it came time for a phone upgrade I shifted across to Android, Google, and their ‘Don’t Be Evil’ informal motto. The trouble is that Google over the last few years has become as bad, if not worse than Apple in their desire to control their users so I really would like to avoid Google. So unless some company (Nokia, Amazon?) produce a really nice forked Android device (and so free of the Google services) I’m looking to either a 4G Windows or 4G BlackBerry device (or just accept Apple may be evil, but is now less evil than Google, and go iPhone).

Both BlackBerry and Windows phones would cover my principle needs – e-mail, web, maps / GPS and tethering. BlackBerry may be on a massive downer but their Z10 phone, at a current discounted prices of well under £200, is an amazing bargain. As well running the rather limited selection of BB apps the latest software update lets it run a vast number of Android apps too, and what’s more the BB system gives you far greater control over those app’s permissions compared to a standard Android phone. Also the BB 10 internet browser has a reputation for being the fastest phone browser around. Thinking Windows, the Nokia Lumia 625 can compete with the Z10 on price and has the advantage of the backing of Microsoft with their operating system and app store that’s being rapidly developed, but this app store is still very limited in scope. The Z10 is generally better specified than the 625, but one thing that really does let the Nokia down is its poor resolution screen. So if I was going to do this right now, I’d probably go Z10.

Something to remember is that this is not going to totally replace my current phone, so I still have access to all the Google based services via that, but this will provide an alternative phone (on a PAYG SIM) that will give me 4G services.

New academic year for 2013.

It’s getting near to the start of the new academic year.

Time I kicked this blog back into life with a few student observed projects and some comments on anything technological that happens to catch my eye.

I really used to like The Register as a source of information. The nice thing with it is that the .co.uk version highlighted a lot of the British and European technology stories where so many other web sites were totally American biased.  However for reasons I’m not too sure of I seem to have gone off that site. I still do look at it, but usually as a third or fourth place to go to.

At the moment my favourite is The Verge which I’m usually monitoring through the day. If on my mobile then I’m browsing my Flipboard, the results of which are very much based on my social media links. One thing nice about The Verge is that it does include occasional links and stories about culture and other non-technical events, however they usually are of the type that will interest a technology-orientated readership.

Perhaps I’ll add a few other things here as well (or possibly totally forget about it!!!).

 

4K monitors

It appears ASUS is launching a new monitor with a 3840 by 2160 display; a 4K device with a screen the equivalent of four current HD displays.

I assume this first one will be horribly expensive, however once one company has brought something to market the rest will soon follow and prices will tumble.

So I guess we are now talking about 4K screens arriving for home consumption, yet much of the population is not yet HD! Perhaps they are the lucky ones in that those who have recently spent vast amounts of money on fancy HD 1920 x 1080 displays are about to find themselves out of date.

4K video cameras are falling in price too. Still currently well above my level but now at a price some of the more serious YouTube vloggers I know are happy to pay.

This will also require an even faster internet connection for the vastly increased data transfer required to service 4K streams. A never ending circle – just as you think you’ve got things sorted technology come along and gives you a swift kick in the nuts and demands another round of upgrades from you.

Toilets not telephones

According to a U.N. report, of the 7 billion people who live on this planet, 6 billion have access to mobile phones but only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines.

That 2.5 billion without basic sanitation represents around 37% of the population, and of this 2.5 billion, over 1 billion still defecate out in the open. No surprise to learn that the countries with the higher levels of open defecation also have the highest number of under-five child deaths.

A bit of a sad reflection on the world’s priorities where phones come before even the most basic levels of hygiene.

Future for Apple.

Noticed an interesting story on brg.com regarding where Apple’s future may be.

Apple has something like 500 million iTunes accounts linked to credit cards. So add a fingerprint reader to your future iPhone or other iTunes connected device and you have the potential for a secure mobile payment system with Apple / iTunes acting as a known, established intermediary between the purchaser and the credit card company.

This would enable you to buy anything and pay for it through your iTunes account, obviously with Apple taking a small commission. If going through a fingerprint reader then iTunes  could help to reduce credit card fraud, then the savings to the finance and commercial organisations would be far greater than any cost charged by Apple so possibly resulting in a general lowering of prices.

With credit card spending up in the $ many trillions each year, getting even a small % of this turnover could turn Apple into a major force in the mobile financial transaction world and without any real competition.

http://bgr.com/2013/03/19/apple-mobile-payments-analysis-itunes-371912/
Update.
It may have taken a couple of years, but I’m now the (reasonably) happy owner of a finger print controlled iPhone, and a regular user of its Apple Pay functionality.

Microsoft price cut

It looks like Microsoft is cutting the price of Windows 8 and Office to PC makers, especially those doing small screen and touch screen devices. I assume they are deliberately targeting those devices competing against the iPad and hoping this software price reduction will be reflected in equivalent hardware price reduction. Also assume that it’s to encourage more manufacturers to start producing Windows tablet devices.

I actually quite like Windows 8 and run it on various (quite old) machines, however I do run it using the conventional Win XP type screen display, not the fancy what was called Metro style with its blocks for icons. (If I had a touch screen tablet, then perhaps things would be different, but on a desk top set-up I find it so annoying.)

I have no interest in a Surface RT tablet device. If it looks like Windows and feels like Windows and the screen has the size and resolution to run my Windows compatible programs then I want to be able to run them, so the proper Surface Pro tablet could interest me. However only at a price significantly less than any similarly sized iPad. If an unknown and untested device such as the Surface is priced right against the iPad and doesn’t appear to have anything really special about it, then I’m either going iPad (they are great devices) or cheap Windows netbook.

These Microsoft tablets have not sold well and unless they do a significant price cut I’m remaining uninterested.

A new meaning to having (microprocessor) chips for tea!

The Kinetis KL02 is a fully working ARM microprocessor system on a chip which the chip-maker say is swallowable.

If they can make a microprocessor system 2 mm square then I assume adding sensors to match this size should not be a problem, so suddenly seeing what’s going on inside you takes on a new meaning.  Instead of an endoscope probe fed down your oesophagus just swallow a KL02 ‘pill’ with built in micro-cameras and light and see what’s happening (possibly on your mobile phone!) as it goes down.

Have sensors on it (processor controlled) looking for specific conditions. If the data’s being relayed back in real time, then the possibility of re-programming the processor as things are happening, giving the ability to fine-tune its investigation activities to suit that specific situation.

Design it to stick to the stomach wall and then have it release medicines only when it detects certain body conditions.

Internal body monitoring without having to carry out any intrusive actions that may require sedation or even surgery, and in the end it just gets passed out through natural body functions.

If this turns out successful, then like so many things that involve computing activities, its uses really would be limited only by imagination of its users.

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-02/27/tiny-arm-chip