Tag Archives: Windows 8

Fortnightly web reading list

Here are some of the interesting articles I’ve read over the last fortnight:
The Rouble. Making Bitcoin seem stable since October 2014.
The Rouble. Making Bitcoin seem stable since October 2014.

Everything You Create Is a Product – I really liked this article, which reinforces the importance of first impressions, even for employees who turn up at the same office every day.

Inside RadioShack’s Slow-Motion Collapse – Bloomberg Business – A good, in-depth article on the demise of RadioShack. Hindsight is such a wonderful tool in business – but what would you have done differently?

Bitcoin Price – It’s been an interesting week for Bitcoin. As one customer remarked, “If you think Bitcoin is volatile, look at the Rubble as well”. Point taken. Here are various well written articles on Bitcoin including This Bitcoin Price Chart Shows What’s Blocking Faster Adoption – NASDAQ.com.

Continue reading Fortnightly web reading list

Dell XPS 12 six month review

Dell XPS 12 - with only 2 USB ports, you'll need a hub
Dell XPS 12 – with only 2 USB ports, you’ll need a hub

The article on my new Dell XPS 12 laptop appears to have had received positive results from Google’s new search algorithm because traffic to the post has increased significantly in the last month along with a few emails and comments.

It’s been six months since I wrote the article so I thought I’d provide an update.

To remind readers, the Dell XPS 12 is a ‘convertible ultrabook’, which means it’s a Windows 8 laptop with a screen that swivels around to simulate a tablet PC.

Six months on, and the laptop is still very fast. It boots up in about five seconds from completely switched off and about three seconds from standby. iPad owners will scoff that their tablet switches on immediately, however, iPads take about a minute to switch on from a totally ‘off’ state, and ‘totally off’ is the most power efficient state to be in.

Searching through ten years’ worth of email, across several offline Outlook files (PSTs) is almost instant. Switching between apps is also instant. In fact I haven’t found anything that produces a significant lag, and I have monthly spreadsheets of over 28Mb that I need to manipulate.

I think the biggest factor in the laptop is the solid state hard drive which most new laptops have. Solid state drives are faster than traditional ones because there are no moving parts, and this also means they consume less power.

I originally selected the XPS was because I wanted to combine my paper notepad and laptop into one. And I thought the touch screen would do this.

The reality is that while the touch screen is excellent, it’s not a substitute for paper. It’s almost impossible to write, or draw, on the touch screen because if you rest your wrist on the screen while using a stylus, the screen thinks your wrist is also trying to write or draw.

Nevertheless, the touch screen is much better to use for navigation than I first thought. I use it for selecting icons and applications so much that when I hook the laptop up to an external monitor, I find myself naturally pressing the monitor screen by mistake. It makes you realise how inefficient a mouse is.

Using the Windows home screen with a touch screen feels very natural. I don’t understand how people without a touch screen use Windows 8, because it feels slower, too clunky and unobvious with a mouse. I don’t miss the Windows menu any more, but I read articles condemning Microsoft that it’s been removed. I guess those users don’t have a touch screen.

With touch screen, I’ve started using OneNote more. In fact, I sometimes use OneNote, with the keyboard, on the laptop instead of taking my paper notepad around.

Back to the XPS 12 instead of Windows 8, major gripes are the video connector which is now an Apple mini-DisplayPort which I’ve forgotten to pack with me on a couple of occasions for presentations. The min-DisplayPort adapters cost £25 each, so I have one at work and one in my laptop bag (just in case I forget it) – £50 for hooking up a laptop to an external display seems expensive though.

Another adapter that’s annoying is the power cable. I’ve had two previous Dells, so I have a power adapter at home, at work and in my laptop bag. But the XPS 12 uses a new type of connector, so I had to buy a new one for work and one for my laptop bag – each one is £20 (they were £30 when I first got the laptop). This means I still have one power block without a connector and luckily I’ve only been caught without a converter once.

My final gripe is that the laptop is quite heavy. I cycle to work and when I have to carry my laptop to or from the office, it’s an unwelcome 1.5kg.

The battery is much better than all previous laptops. I think it’s mainly thanks to the solid state hard drive. I can eek out about 4.5 hours by turning Wifi off, the screen brightness down and so on. It’s enough for a full flight to New York (taking into account you can’t use it during take-off and landing and probably won’t use it during the meal).

The touch screen really comes into its own on flights because I’ve seen peoples’ screens broken when the passenger in front leans their seat back and compresses the screen of the passenger behind in the alcove where the meal tray is stored. So on all flights I use the XPS in laptop mode.

In summary I’m delighted with the laptop because it’s fast and the battery is great. I haven’t quite discarded my paper notepad yet, although I use it less and work on OneNote more. Yes the flip screen is a bit gimmicky but the touch screen makes Windows 8 more usable, and less accident prone on flights.

On Google Glasses, Xbox IllumiRoom and Windows 8

Here are some favourite links that I’ve been sharing over the last week:

Yes, that's a bookshelf on the left and a plant on the right
Yes, that’s a bookshelf on the left and a plant on the right

LittleOutliner.com is a super simple editor with autosave. Come to think of it, why doesn’t the Windows 8 notepad auto save? In fact, why isn’t Windows 8 notepad a full/ trimmed down version of OneNote?

Windows 8 shortcuts (Windows + I is the most useful)

Microsoft IllumiRoom demo video – the next generation of Xbox Kinect?

Review of Google Glasses, particularly interesting are the comments the author receives about the glasses.

Dell XPS 12 review


I finally got it!

After two months of frustration, trying to spend some money with Dell, I finally got my new work laptop, the XPS 12.

Regular readers will know that I have been searching for a single device to replace my paper notepad that I carry around everywhere, and my laptop. I need a fully functional laptop for working with documents, so an iPad is out of the question. I have been considering a Surface Pro for a while, but my current laptop kept crashing due to bad sectors on the hard drive and the Surface Pro is having even more supply chain issues than Dell (note to Microsoft and Dell – look at Apple for how to run a supply chain). And the battery was on its way out. And it was over four years old.

I did some research and went for a Dell XPS 12. It’s a ‘convertible ultrabook’, which means it’s a Windows 8 laptop with a screen that swivels around to simulate a tablet PC. Convertibles have been around for a while, but with modern battery technology and more importantly, modern hard drive technology, convertibles are now useful rather than huge cumbersome slabs.

I’ve been using Windows 8 for eleven months and I like it. I hadn’t used it with a touch screen and thought that the touch screen wouldn’t make a difference anyway. I’m sure I’m faster with a mouse than moving my hand to the screen. How completely wrong. Touch screens and much quicker and easier to use.

Well, they are if they’ve been designed for a touch screen.

Most websites have tiny, tiny links, making it difficult to get the accuracy. Using the rest of the apps though, such as Outlook, is much faster. I also thought I’d hate seeing a dirty screen, but oddly that’s subsided.

On the Dell XPS 12, the battery life is much better than my previous Dell laptop. It lasts for at least four hours, although charging it back to maximum also seems to take four to five hours.

Booting up is so fast. I can’t tell whether the laptop was in Sleep mode or was shut down – they both seem to fire up the laptop in less than ten seconds.

The hard drive makes a huge difference when using applications or Internet browsing. It is lightning fast at the moment (there’s an i5 processor and 8Mb of RAM) – certainly faster than an iPad switching between apps or browses the web.

I mentioned that I wanted the touch screen to carry around fewer items (i.e. stop using a paper notepad).

Two comments on this – firstly you need to buy a stylus to see whether handwriting recognition is good enough, but a stylus costs £20, and secondly, I might be able to resign from paper, but I now need to carry around a monitor cable.

The XPS 12 comes with a mini-display port, so I need to carry around a mini-display to VGA cable! That was £20 from PC World. Just when we have standardised every peripheral to use a USB connection, display connections have changed to various types!

Talking of USB, the XPS comes with two ports. I used to have a docking station with four USB ports, so that I could connect a keyboard, mouse, headset and external hard drive, so now I need to keep swapping them out.

And finally, back to the touch screen. It doesn’t always work. It has a nasty habit of not working when I demo the device (in tablet form) to people. To get the screen working again, I have to flip the screen back to laptop mode, send to sleep and wake up. It’s not exactly the best way to recommend the laptop!

The important question – would I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s slightly lighter than a standard laptop. It looks and feels nice with its carbon fibre shell, and is the fastest laptop I’ve seen for a while, regardless of Windows 8 or the touchscreen.

As for being able to discard the paper notepad – I’ll let you know once I’ve got a stylus.

So bear in mind, if you are going to buy the XPS, which I recommend, factor in the external cable and a USB hub and a stylus into the cost.

2012 favourites

For the last couple of years (2011 and 2010) I’ve listed my highlights of the previous year. Continuing the tradition, here are the highlights of 2012.

Favourite new gadget

iPlayer on the Xbox is simply superb. You don’t need the handset at all – just switch on the Xbox, use Kinect to fire up the iPlayer app and choose a programme, and then it’s voice activated from then on. It’s also the only way to watch programmes in HD on iPlayer.

Battlefield 3 has been my favourite game of the year so far, although I haven’t played the latest Call of Duty Black Ops 2 yet.

I installed Windows 8 at the start of the year on a Virtual PC and liked it a lot. Some of the staff at Endava are using it as their primary operating system. I haven’t done that yet because I haven’t had the time to spend a couple of days transferring everything from Windows 7 to 8 – backing up, restoring and all that.

However I have moved over to Office 2013. It’s super stable (I’m still using the Preview release)and there’s a few new features (such as opening and working in PDF documents) and it’s just ‘nicer’ to use.

Favourite book

I started reading Bear Grylls’ autobiography Mud, Sweat & Tears, and couldn’t put the thing down. I don’t read particularly quickly, but three days after picking it up I’d finished it. It’s one of those books where you wish it was longer. Bear has had a remarkable journey so far, and I share some of his values – the outdoors and Scouts being prime examples. Definitely worth a read.

Chris Hoy’s autobiography was also enjoyable. I received some feedback about last year’s favourites all relating to cycling, so I won’t go into any more detail about the book here!

Favourite iPhone app

Continuing the don’t-mention-cycling theme, Strava is my favourite app of the year. It’s brilliant. Strava records all your cycle journeys, split’s them into ‘segments’ such as a stretch of a single road, or even a mile long set of roads, and then compares all the cyclists (or runners) who have travelled that segment. It turns your commute and weekend rides into an addictive competition.

After Apple completely messed up maps, there was a void left with free, decent, mapping apps and after my summer holiday to Israel where I found M8, it’s my favourite app for car journeys.

Favourite award

I’m truly honoured to have won Sitecore Site of the Year for the second year running. This year’s award went to The Open, and I know how hard the team at Endava work on the site both year-round, and during the event. A huge well done to all the team.


Steve Ballmer showcasing Kinect

One of my favourite pieces of technology is Kinect. Until you’ve used it, it’s difficult to believe that this level of technology exists, let alone for under $200.

My preferred BBC iPlayer device is the XBox – it’s voice controlled, easily the nicest menu structure to use, and has HD – but most importantly, it works on my TV and I still don’t like watching long formats on my laptop or desktop.

Windows 8 has been released, and I’m suspicious of it’s heavy reliance on touch screens. My monitors at work and home are already dirty enough, and I try not to touch the screens already.

If I had to swipe a web page with my fingers after eating a sandwich and bag of crisps, it would be revolting!

I don’t know how I originally missed this video of Steve Ballmer and the Kinect team demonstrating features which are already live, but it gives some further insight into the future of entertainment, whether it’s video games or television or work devices – the term PC doesn’t seem correct in this context.

Windows 8 first review


It’s funny how the ‘computer busy’ state is shown on PCs. 15 years ago we all got frustrated when we kept seeing an hourglass that prevented us from doing some work. So Microsoft rebranded the egg timer/ hourglass, probably because some psychologist recommended taking our mind off of ‘time’ being wasted. And so we ended up with a circle. Well in Windows 8, even the circle has been replaced (perhaps Google trademarked ‘the circle’ as part of Google+?) – this time it’s dots flying around the screen, usually in some oddly attractive patterns.

The ‘please wait’ icon isn’t the only change to Windows 8. It’s very, very different throughout. I’ve been using Windows 8 for a couple of weeks now.


I remember the acronym “WIMP” when Windows 3.1 was launched. It stood for Windows, Icons, [dropdown] Menus and Pointer. It was the move away from black and white text terminals into graphical interfaces so that humans could start using computers without a Computer Science degree.

In Windows 8, the only part of WIMP that is left is the ‘I’. Windows have been replaced by full screen, errrr, Windows. It’s a bit like using a tablet on your PC – more of that later. You can switch back to a desktop that looks like the current Windows XP or Windows 7 desktop, and I guess that users will spend most of their time in this view.

Where to start 

One of the most obvious missing features in the desktop view is the start menu. ‘Start’ has been totally overhauled into a separate interface. If you’ve used an Xbox before, it will look very familiar. And if you haven’t used an Xbox before, well, Start is like a games console.

Start is the default screen, not the desktop. In ‘Start’, you see a link to the commonly used apps, and some of the icons contain extra information. For example, the email icon contains some of the subject lines of your emails. The first time I saw this it was really disconcerting because I’d just installed Windows 8, and I was looking at the icons, when a personal message caught my eye and I thought “How does the computer know about that???” – only to realise soon afterwards that it was an email subject line from my wife.

And disconcerting is a recurring theme. It’s only natural to use a different interface and wonder where certain familiar features have been moved to.

Then, by luck, you realise that if you right click on various areas of the screen, you get a simple, context menu appear at the bottom or sometimes the side of the screen and have a Eureka moment.

Right click back

I remember going to the launch of Windows Vista when Microsoft announced that their usability strategy was to remove right clicks from as many operations as possible because it’s just not obvious to end users. I get the feeling that guy left Microsoft before Windows 8 was created, because right click is everywhere.

As well as using your mouse’s right button more, you’re also going to be using the Windows key on your keyboard more during Windows 8. I already use shortcuts like Windows +E (to get a new File Explorer window), Windows+M (to minimise everything) and Windows+L (to lock my PC), however in reality I hardly need any of those commands over a working day. To use Windows 8, you’re constantly pressing Windows+C to get the context menu working. I can’t remember how I heard about it, but before you know about Windows+C, it is almost impossible to use Windows 8 because you can’t ‘get to’ any other installed programs.

Similar to when you use any Google product where you use your Google account to sign in, Windows has the same feature with its Live ID. In fact, you sign into Windows 8 with your Live ID. Anyone with a Hotmail account will have a Live ID already.

Like all new Operating Systems, half the previous functionality feels like it’s playing hide and seek. Doing Windows Update for example, I had to go to desktop view, open IE, press the Alt button to get the old drop down menus back, and then select Windows Update.

New apps

Some of the apps aren’t quite finished. Windows 8 comes with SkyDrive, which is a bit like Dropbox – a file system ‘in the Cloud’. Skydrive shows all the files you’ve uploaded, but when you want to edit say, a Word document, the interface to use Office Live is quite clunky and doesn’t even start to compete with say, Google Docs. Also, because the Windows 8 SkyDrive and Windows 8 Internet Explorer are all full screen experiences, you start getting a bit lost after opening a couple of documents.


Finally, the performance: I’m running Windows 8 in a virtual machine (perversely it only runs inOracle’s VirtualBox, not Microsoft’s Virtual PC) and it’s very, very fast. It’s faster than running Windows XP in Virtual PC, and just as responsive as my native Windows 7 installation. Bearing in mind the virtual machines only uses 2Mb RAM (half my laptop), I’ve been very impressed.


In summary, Windows 8 is very different. It’s clearly targeted at consumers more than corporates, and just as much a tablet Operating System as a desktop. It will take a lot of getting used to, and with the refined start menu, although using ‘classic’ apps such as Word or Excel it will feel the same as Windows 7. Perhaps that’s Microsoft’s strategy – it’s like releasing two Operating Systems at the same time for its different sets of users.

The one thing that will drive you annoy you within a couple of hours are those dots! Bring back the egg timer.


Windows 8 review

So, the covers have started to be lifted from Windows 8. Take 5 minutes to watch the video to see a glimpse of Microsoft’s new operating system.

Some immediate feedback:

  1. “We’re watching Google”. Google believe the [Chrome] browser is the future, so Microsoft are looking to pull as many Internet services out of the browser into small apps.
  2. “Touch my screen”. I hate fingermarks on my screen. Walk up to someone else’s screen at work today and touch their screen – you’ll get a reaction as if you invaded their privacy! No one likes fingermarks on their screen. Windows 8 will be all about touch screens though. We recently bought a new PC at home and I decided not to get a touch screen because I was concerned the kids would have wrecked it within weeks. And a keyboard on the screen? A vertical keyboard? No thanks.
  3. “It looks so beautiful until you want to do anything productive”. All the screens in the video look really nice – it’s like ‘Windows 7 mobile meets XBox‘. And then the video shows Excel and Word, which are straight back to square one.
  4. “Multiple windows – hmmmm”. I get the slider to show multiple windows, but the sad thing is that this is a world away from how people really multi-task with many smaller windows. Have a vertical slider is very inefficient with wasted space.
  5. “Files haven’t changed”. Whilst Microsoft should be commended from abstracting the C: hierarchy to users folders (it started in Windows Vista and Windows 7 makes it even easier), the abstraction should continue. Why do we still care about files? The only point of a file it to email it to someone else, and Google Docs has solved this already (by sharing it from a central place).
  6. “Why no Kinnect?”. After using Kinnect over the weekend with the family, you start wondering why objects in the rest of the world need you to touch them! Kinnect (aka waving at things) is the future and a smaller one to one style interface would be much better than touch (see #2).

However the OS does look lovely. It’s like a ‘Windows 7 meets XBox‘ interface (and both are good). I’m just concerned they’re fine on a 5″ screen or when you sit 5″ away from it. Sitting a foot away from it at a desk for 8 hours a day requires a different style of UI.