Category Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft Take On the iPad

Last night Microsoft announced their new tablet, the Surface. There is a good summary of the key points here: .

However it is an interesting move, as the article above says, this is a big change for Microsoft who aside from the XBox haven’t ever built hardware – you’ll never have seen a PC actually made by Microsoft for example. This however is how Apple have made their money and built their platform by tightly controlling everything.

There is still more we need to find out though, Microsoft haven’t talked prices, although we can take a fair guess that the price points will be competitive, and the release dates are a bit vague.

The other thing that may well cause confusion is that what they’ve announced is actually two machines, one is an ARM based iPad rival, the other is an Intel based PC that will be able to run normal Windows applications. Whilst you could say that Apple do the same with the MacBook Air which is a similarly portable computer, Apple clearly delineates the Air from the iPad.

Despite all the trumpeting, this is going to be a difficult sell for Microsoft, they are a long way behind, and maybe more so than in the phone market, iPad is synonymous with tablet, indeed much as people refer to vacuum cleaners as a Hoover, people refer to all brands of tablet as an iPad.

However it will certainly be a positive move if Apple has some serious competition, and whilst only time will tell whether this will be the tablet to really compete, this certainly seems to me to have a better chance as unlike Android and iOS devices there is a level of compatibility already with what is in use in corporate environments.

BBC News – Windows 8: Taking a look at Microsoft's latest operating system

If you’re wondering what all the fuss about is with Windows 8 it’s worth taking a look at this video from the BBC’s tech correspondent Rory Cellan Jones: .

You’ll see that what Microsoft are trying to do is produce an OS that will produce a tablet experience on iPad like devices, but also keep backwards compatibility with the familiar windows interface. Whilst it’s true that underneath MacOS X and iOS are the same, they are distinct entities, so on iOS you’re not going to find yourself dumped to a MacOS desktop which is something you’ll see in the video.

It remains to be seen how the average user will take to having both the Metro interface and a pointer based interface on the same device – certainly it seems like using old style windows touch based may be frustrating with small buttons designed for mouse clicking, as will using the Metro interface with a mouse.

Late to the Party – Windows Phone 7 Series

Yesterday afternoon the internet was buzzing with details of the launch of Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series in Barcelona. Only it wasn’t really a launch, it was more a demonstration of a preview version of the platform. It’s predecessor was only launched last autumn, and this pretty well complete rewrite of the Microsoft mobile phone platform isn’t going to be available to buy until around the same time this year.

Whilst it certainly seems to have innovative features – a user interface that does things rather differently from the current favoured multiple pages of icon design that is almost ubiquitous, along with an XBox Live tie up to link your mobile and console gaming – it does seem a pretty brave move to show your rivals what you’ve got planned months and months before anything is going to be released. Even when you take into account that Microsoft are often much more open about showing preview releases of upcoming products than Apple for example, it still seems very early to be showing.

However, when you think about it, if Microsoft wants any part of the rapidly growing mobile applications market, it had to do something.

Microsoft, just like Nokia, Sony/Ericsson and all the rest were caught massively on the hop three years ago by the launch of the iPhone. Smart phones were very much of a niche market, and most regular consumers used a phone to make calls. It was possible to add applications onto smart phones, but again it wasn’t something that many people did.

Roll forward three years and the iPhone has really gone mainstream, it still surprises me how many people have them, and who they are. Many of them, even relatively non-technical are comfortable with the idea of adding applications, reading e-mail, browsing the web and playing games from a phone handset. On top of this Google has moved in on the market making waves with it’s Android operating system. Established players like Nokia have found their market share falling after years of failing to ignite the smart phone market.

Then we get to Microsoft.

They had a niche in corporate markets, and certainly I’d come across techies from time to time using (and more often than not cursing) their Windows Mobile handsets. The ability to program applications in the same languages as desktop applications certainly helped adoption. However they largely dropped the ball. Whilst they have carried on releasing updated versions of their platform they’ve largely been left behind, giving the impression – intentionally or not – that they weren’t interested, that they were happy to relinquish their market share to Apple and Google. In the corporate space Blackberry has grown, certainly in our company those users who are issued with a smart phone are issued with a Blackberry, and many of the executives ask for one by name. Any mobile applications would have to be developed for Blackberry, not Windows Mobile now, and Blackberry provide the tools to do that.

As I’ve said, the iPhone seems to have really gone mainstream, introducing a growing range of people to a smart phone, and the techie space seems to be being filled by Google Android. The iPhone is selling by the million, and producing billions of application downloads.

What Microsoft were showing looks interesting, and if they can sort out the reliability and stability problems that established wisdom say plagued previous versions it would be a good platform, but it would be a good platform if the phones were on the market now. Between now and release Apple, Google and the rest will certainly be releasing updated and new versions of their phones and software. The Microsoft gamble is that having seen the show yesterday, people will be willing to wait, and that come the autumn they will be willing to put aside the previous reputation for being buggy, put down their iPhones, Blackberry and Android phones, write off the money they’ve spent on apps for those platforms – or in the corporate environment infrastructure, and switch over to a Microsoft phone. I’m sure there will be a good few techies who will do so, but the average consumer or the corporate user? It remains to be seen.

Where Have All the Colours Gone?

I hate it when software upgrades stuff things up. A new 2008 release of Pocket Informant, the diary software I’ve got on my PocketPC to replace the frankly woeful Pocket Outlook has just been produced, and whilst the upgrade went smoothly, and the application itself works fine, all the category colours on the Today screen plug-in have vanished. Oddly enough the plug-in thinks it’s getting the colour details – just seems they are all coming out in white…

iPod Touch First Impressions

iPod Touch Web Browsing

So having had an iPod Touch to play with for a couple of days, I thought I’d give my first impressions.

Firstly, being an Apple device, the integration between the iPod Touch and the Mac is great. Effectively all you have to do is plug the iPod Touch into the computer and you can sync music from iTunes and pictures from iPhoto straight down onto the device. Needless to say, in my situation where both databases are much larger than the capacity of the device you need to take some level of manual control, but compared to getting stuff onto the Nokia N770 it’s a lot more straightforward. By way of comparison, putting music onto the Nokia involved a bit of care with file formats – and also remembering that anything protected probably wouldn’t work, putting on pictures you’d have to manually ensure they were the right dimensions – with the iPod that is all automatic.

Once loaded onto the iPod the slick experience continues. You can browse through music either in familiar list form, or alternatively turning the device to a landscape orientation automatically activates cover flow mode where you can flip through albums via their album art. Pictures are similarly presented, again allowing you to flick through the images.

All of the interface operates through a touch-screen – in total the device has only two buttons, the ‘power’ button on the top, and a home button that always takes you back to the main menu. Unlike almost all similar devices there is no stylus – you operate the interface with your finger. Flicking through photographs or songs is all carried out by sliding your finger across the screen. Surprisingly there isn’t too much of a problem with finger marks on the screen either – although the metal casing shows them up, the screen is readable even after quite heavy use of the screen.

The other great feature of the interface is the momentum. When you flick, much as if you push an object in the real world, it carries on moving and slowly decelerates. If you are scrolling down a long list of tracks for example you can also catch the list by touching the screen, which brings the scrolling to an immediate halt. Comparing this to other interfaces where you’re repeatedly pressing an arrow key to scroll down, or that come to an immediate halt, it is much more intuitive, and even though I have over 2000 songs loaded onto it is still relatively quick to locate them.

The momentum in the interface also extends to the built in web browser, which in part goes towards making the iPod Touch far and away the best mobile browsing experience I have come across. The Nokia N770 may have the best screen (well at least until it failed), but the iPod more than makes up for it with the ease with which I can move around a web page and zoom in and out onto content. Hitting links accurately with a finger rather than a stylus takes some work, as does typing on the on-screen keyboard, but it is still streaks ahead of anything else.

Perhaps the only disappointment is the YouTube application. Whilst it does manage to make videos from YouTube look considerably better than they do on the web, it has one major flaw – when it is running it hogs the machine, and if the flow of data from the site stalls, so does the application. It doesn’t actually crash the iPod, but it does render it unresponsive until the data stream settles down again.

Looking at other things you can do with it, one of the big criticisms when compared to the iPhone was the lack of an e-mail application. Whilst you can add mail by copying the app over from an iPhone, you can do it without hacking the device using a site called Mail Coaster. This very simply provides an iPod Touch style web interface to whatever mail server you specify. It’s not the most feature rich application, but for a simple mail check it is fine. Google Reader is also among the sites that now also have an iPod Touch friendly user interface.

By far the most impressive thing about the whole device, especially having used Windows Mobile, Symbian and the Nokia N770 is how rock solid the whole device feels. That’s not to say there aren’t bugs – the aforementioned problem with the YouTube application for a start, and on one occasion it has inexplicably lost the wi-fi connection – but it has yet to properly crash, unlike the multitude of mobile devices I’ve owned from the other stables. It also doesn’t suffer from the annoying and inexplicable pauses that those suffer too, aside from the YouTube problems everything moves along at a nice responsive speed.

It may be being marketed purely as a music player, but alongside this Apple have converged enough with the features of the PDA that they’ve produced a pretty good stand-alone PDA too!