Tag Archives: microsoft

Evernote thoughts

What’s happening in the world of Evernote?

Came across an interesting article in Business Insider about the ups and now downs of Evernote that highlighting their recent laying-off of staff, and I’m afraid I do agree with the overall conclusion that Evernote, unless it gives itself a big kick up the backside, has had its day.

I first started using Evernote a bit over 4 years ago and found it a really useful cloud storage cross platform note taking application with a versatile screen clipping function. However as time’s gone by Evernote seems to have stood relatively still whereas other providers have either tweaked their existing services or brought on-board newer more comprehensive applications. Google Docs has vastly improved since its conception, Microsoft has developed OneNote and its other OneDrive services, Dropbox (as well as others) can seamlessly cloud store your documents as you work on them. It was only when I read this Evernote article that I realised how little I’d been using it recently. Not any conscious decision to avoid it, but just finding other services so much nicer to use such that Evernote’s usage just naturally fell away. One problem with it is that it’s yet another application that I need to be logged in to. I use various services from both Google and Microsoft (even when I’m using my Apple products) so I have to be logged into them. It’s a bit of a pain but I accept that it’s now part of my computer related life. As they provide overlapping / greater functionality to that of Evernote I really don’t want to be logging into another application to do something I can already do.

I suspect in reality it’s been Microsoft’s recent expansion away from concentrating its services just on Windows to encompassing Apple and Android that’s changed me. That cross-platform expansion then got me looking at Google’s services in greater detail. As much as I like my MacBook and iPad I find the Apple world too restricting considering I also use Windows both at home and at work, so at the moment I am writing this (in Starbucks tethering via my phone) using Google Docs on my MacBook, which incidentally is running Windows 10.

I do hope Evernote can develop itself and compete with the other players in the field. Competition (and choice) is good, but at the moment my choice is not to use Evernote.

Which Cloud System

Which cloud system for my day to day use?

I’ve been running Windows 10 since they first released their developers preview versions and have generally liked it. Microsoft also has its Onedrive, desktop and web-based Office stuff, all that sort of thing… so I thought I’d give the integrated Microsoft cloud world a try. So services like Dropbox (and Evernote) for backups, and linking / synchronising my desktop Outlook, documents, and all the other associated services I use together through my Microsoft account.

Like it or not, it did work quite well. Whether Word on the desktop or Word through a browser, Excel, or Calendar in Outlook, everything did seem to integrate in a sensible fashion.

However my love affair with Windows 10 now seems to be wearing a bit thin. It’s one thing for Google, as a service, to be monitoring your activity, but having the whole operating system reporting back to its controller everything you are doing, programs you have installed, even what you say… then there are other irritations like the way Onedrive now works its selective sync, or even a small change in your computer hardware and Windows 10 deactivates itself as it thinks it’s a new machine – and reactivating it can be a real pain. (I’ll be curious to see what happens when Microsoft brings out their Enterprise version of Win 10, I don’t think much of commerce and industry will want an outside organisation to be monitoring what their employees are doing!)

So on my Win 10 installs I worked my way through as many of the (numerous) privacy settings that I can find and sorted them out, and for the time being have switched back to the Big Brother of Google for my calendar, word processing and other cloud based activities.

I will give Google one thing – I do find their cloud services more integrated compared to Microsoft, even though I think Word is a far better word processor than Google’s document editor (likewise for Excel), however Google’s various different services seem to flow together in a far smoother way.

I have no particular loyalty to any one system, I use Apple products, Microsoft ones, Android, a Blackberry Z10 is my main mobile to laptop tethering / hotspot device. In the past I’ve played with Linux and BSD. They are all just devices and services there to do a job. So maybe I’ll stay with Windows 10, perhaps move back to an earlier version, or return to Apple; a little uncertain at the moment. Just have to see how things develop, especially looking to Microsoft’s new Surface Pro and / or Apple’s next Mac Mini update. After all both of these will be able to ‘cloud out’ for services and storage to whoever I choose. Though I think at the moment, regardless of operating system, Google is winning my cloud war.

Windows 10 Tecnical 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 around 8 years old. One a Pentium D based device, the other with an AMD Athlon processor, both of which 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 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 had quickly upgraded with a base model NVIDIA graphics card. The support for this specific card ended at Windows Vista, and when I installed Windows 7 onto this machine the graphics did give problems. When I then went to Windows 8 the graphics moved from ‘a problem’ to that of a real pain, though I did get it sorted. However with this new Technical Preview the default graphic drivers worked the card without any real problems, and when I did my first run of Windows Updates it automatically installed some NVIDIA drivers which got the card working nicely.

The only drivers I had to specifically download was for the HP’s audio. As with the NVIDIA card, the support for this machine’s particular Realtek on-board sound ended with Vista, but downloading and installing the Realtek Vista drivers sorted that out.

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

I’ve installed the usual round of programs (Microsoft Office, Firefox, Chrome, Dropbox, Evernote, VLC…) and all (so far) have run without any problems. No delay in opening programs or speed issues that’s made me think I’d want to go back to using an earlier system. 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. It is slightly annoying how the control settings seem to be split across the new PC Settings and old Control Panel. As someone who has always configured his screen layout to have a look and feel of a basic Windows 95 desktop, I’d class this Windows Technical Preview as a case of ‘familiar but different’.

It’s still early days and I’ve not yet done anything too demanding or stressful to the either of the two systems. That will come once I’ve built up a little more general usage time (and confidence) in their operation, but first impressions are definitely very favourable.


Google+ and Windows Phone 8 surprise

Google forcing Google+ onto YouTubers has had an unexpected result for me.

I do use (and now rely on doing things through) the cloud. Whether e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet work or general video or photo storage, it’s all done remotely and for some time now I’ve been happy enough using Google. However the way they’ve handled this forcing of YouTube commenters to use Google+ has irritated me in the extreme. The result of this was to go and look around at alternative cloud sources including Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Up till now I had rather ignored it but was pleasantly surprised to see how they had integrated Office functionality into it. This in turn got me thinking about mobile cloud access.

For years I’ve had two phones on me. One working through an on-going contract, the other (an elderly iPhone 3GS) working off a PAYG SIM (and on a different network). This means that if my contract network is out of service or the phone battery flat I still have internet / cloud access through the PAYG device. (It also provides me with an alternative mobile number for when I don’t want to give out my personal one.)

Having found this SkyDrive was unexpectedly good I thought I’d give a try with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 as a back-up mobile system (my current main phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, so therefore Android). So went out and got a Nokia Lumia 520 as a PAYG upgrade which was the cheapest Windows Phone 8 that I could find.

I was absolutely amazed by it. Despite being a low specification / bottom of the range model the screen was nice and clear, apps and programs opened quickly and ran smoothly, there was no hesitation in scrolling, and from an initial charge it gave me three days use (and even then was still at 25% battery level). I really had not expected such a positive experience both from the phone itself and from the operating system. Where the icons and tiles on a desk-top Windows 8 machine annoy me (and I always switch across to the standard old style desktop) here they suit the environment really well.

The Windows Phone App store is nothing like as well populated as its Android or Apple counterpart, however almost everything I want is there. As for anything that I’m not happy with I can always access it from its web page anyway, so that’s not a great problem. The one irritation with the phone is that the screen does seem like a magnet for finger prints and smudges. I must see if I can get a screen protector for it which may improve this, but it’s not really a big issue, after all this is as smart phones go about the cheapest one on the market. I can quite see why I’ve seen reports that in parts of the world it is the best-selling smartphone!

So from being almost a Google fan-boy – Chrome, Gmail, Google documents / Drive, relying on Google Calendar,  Android user –  from their poorly executed action of forcing Google+ upon its YouTube users (me) I’ve ‘discovered’ a whole new alternative cloud structure which I’m slowly moving across to.

Thank’s Google.

My YouTube thoughts on this and the Nokia 520

Google Reader

So Google is shutting down Reader.

In one way I’m not too concerned, I never seriously used Google Reader so I won’t miss it. However it makes me wonder how much I can rely on Google’s current services. They do seem to be developing a habit of just as people are getting used to something or getting to rely on it they’ll either close it down or ‘integrate’ it into something else. For some things it really doesn’t matter, but where you’ve spent time and money developing your own system around it or you use it in some financial way then things may be different.

I hadn’t realised how many services they had killed off till I did a Wiki search on the subject, and that threw up a list of over 70 of them. Okay, sometimes something can quite simply be a failure and is just a drain on resources so needs to go. Other times technology (or life) has moved on so the service needs to be re-developed, but when something like Reader is killed off at virtually no notice I’ve got to be thinking what’s next on the chopping block – perhaps something I do regularly use and rely on.

This has got me thinking that perhaps I should be duplicating more of my Google based services across onto Yahoo or see what Microsoft are doing regarding ‘the cloud’. I can’t say that I’m that keen on Yahoo and don’t particularly like Microsoft, it will mean that even more of ‘big brother’ will be watching me, but then they’re watching me anyway!

One thing it will be and that is a bit of a pain keeping things synchronised when copied across to different service providers,  however this has been a wake-up call / reminder of the importance of having alternative back-ups!


Mac or Windows – its upgrade time.

It’s almost decision time, but will it be Mac or will it be windows?

My original move to using a Mac was relatively indirect. I, like many people, had started my video editing with Windows MovieMaker. However soon upgraded to a basic budget priced editing package which did me for nearly a year. I could see it had a potential greater than what I was using it for, but there was very little support and virtually no tutorials around for it.

So time for something new. I hunted around on the web to find sites with good general video editing tutorials. Came across the IzzyVideo site where there was some excellent Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Express examples. FCP 7 was both a bit of an overkill for my uses plus too expensive, however the education price of Express was within my budget. Next, what did Express run on; OS X. This coincided with a need for replacement hardware anyway, but as I couldn’t afford a new Mac I ended up with a second-hand MacBook. So began my Apple adventure. I’ve ended up with a 3GS iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, and with an external monitor and keyboard attached, the MacBook used as a desktop machine.

However the MacBook is now seriously showing its age. One reason for using it as a desktop machine is that its battery is screwed. It has trouble running some programs and others won’t install because of its outdated graphics, its processor is constantly being hammered to death (cooling fan often freaking out!) and it’s got it’s fill of RAM but needs more.

Add to that my 3GS, as good as it is, is also showing its age. It’s battery still gives OK life however there are cracks creeping up its back cover, the On/Off button is missing, many new iOS features and more and more Apps coming out will not run on it… You get the idea.

So it’s decision time. Stay with Apple or move on? Apple does make some excellent products, but they are very overpriced (even after education discount). Are they worth the price premium?

The thing is Apple appears to be losing its innovative edge; at one time it was the undisputed leader in design an innovation, but now seems to be playing catch-up.
Going back a few years, the first iPod revolutionised the portable music scene (and helped to pull the company back from a very poor financial situation), the first iPhone showed what a difference a good interface can make, the iPad opened up the world of the tablet. The MacBook Air showed how to make a really nice portable laptop, iMacs had their own unique design.

However so many recent product releases have just been incremental rather than trend-setting. Android now more than competes with its smoothness of system operation. Many other screens give a better viewing experience that a Retina display. In numbers, Google’s Play store competes with Apple’s App store and is catching up in quality and range of Apps, Google’s Now voice search more than competes with Siri. A year or so ago Apple would never have released something like its Maps App in such a poor state of dysfunction.

My phone contract renewal time coincided with the Apple autumn announcement season, so I had been waiting with the proverbial bated breath to see what was coming up, and as a result I’m now the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

There were two ‘final things’ that made me not stay iPhone. First, I had hoped the iPhone 5 would have been something exciting and new, not just a slightly stretched screen and updated processor. Second, iCloud. Over the last year I’ve moved from just being an internet user to that of using the cloud for more and more for my data storage and services, and iCloud just does not do it for me. Google was born in the cloud and inherently seems to do this sort of thing so much better than Apple.

This leaves me thinking about what may happen early next year when I look towards a computer upgrade.

The new iMacs look very tempting, but at a price. However I find myself using Adobe’s CS6 photo products more and more, so for video moving across to CS6 or even Avid’s Media Composer (both Adobe and Avid are cross-platform and both have competitive education prices) would give me the option to stay Mac, but not the absolute need which staying with FCP X would require.

For less than an iMac I can get a similarly specified non-Apple machine, either Adobe or Avid software, and have money to spare for extras like external back-ups. So, as much as I like Macs it’s far from certain that I’ll stay Mac for my computing.

(One final thing, I’ve been surprised at how quickly Macs age. I have a 10 year old Windows laptop which is still in regular productive use. Ten years ago means G3 powered iBooks. I wonder how many of them are still as useful?)

Windows 8, RT and Tablets

What’s going to happen when Microsoft brings out both Windows 8 and the Surface tablet (running Windows RT) together.

I can see quite a few problems with people assuming that their nice new Surface will be able to run their existing Windows programs. After all, it came out at the same time as Windows 8, it has the look of 8, the feel of 8, and it’s even called Windows (be it Windows RT). So why can’t it run my programs!

This version of the Surface is powered by an ARM processor, targeting the battery / low power consumption devices of the portable market. It makes it no different to that of the iPad; the iPad runs apps downloaded from the App Store while the Apple desktops and laptops run OSX and the programs related to that. This Surface runs applications downloaded from Microsoft’s own marketplace while Windows 8 runs programs for desktop computers.

However Microsoft seems very lax in highlighting the differences between the ARM powered Surface tablet and Windows 8 for the Intel powered machines. I’ve read a few reports and surveys indicating the Microsoft support staff don’t seem to know the differences either.

I guess there is the added complication that in a few month’s time there should be the Surface Pro model which will be Intel powered and run full Windows 8.

I’ve never known people to be confused over the differences between the iPhone / iPad and the MacBooks and iMacs, Apple have kept them quite distinct (even if they are starting to give a common look and feel to their operating systems), but the way Microsoft has handled the release of their new systems has not been well thought out.

Coming in confusing their potential customers with almost identical but operationally very different systems as a way of trying to break into an established tablet market is not really the best way to do things.

But then this is Microsoft, not known for doing things the easy way!

Windows 8 future potential

 Windows 8, how’s it going to go.

Very shortly Windows 8 / Windows Phone 8 will be out; what’s going to happen?
I assume on the computer side of things, as new machines arrive with Windows 8 pre-installed the operating system will naturally spread through the user world. Microsoft has already ended its mainstream support for both XP and Vista, and XP’s extended support will end in the not too distant future, so corporations still hanging on to XP are going to have to upgrade soon.
Microsoft has already announced that its service pack support for 7 will end next year, so again, more reasons for looking towards 8.

What about the phones and tablets, will it break into the Android / Apple duopoly.
One thing that could give it an advantage is that it’s relatively free from the legal arguments going on between the Android and Apple communities. This could make it very tempting for the business world that does *not* like getting involved in other people’s legal wrangles. At the moment they don’t have much choice, Blackberry seems in terminal decline which really just leaves them looking towards the two arguing ‘big boys’.

So if Microsoft can come along and provide a user system with some quality phones and tablets (devices announced by Nokia, HTC and Samsung seem to be getting some good press) that will seamlessly integrate in with their desktop machines and without these Apple / Android uncertainties, then I could see business being quite tempted. Combine this business use with those individuals who want to give it a try and this should provide a more than big enough user base to get developers interested.

So I would not be too surprised if in a couple of years time it had sorted itself out to be something like 40% Android, 40% Apple and 20% Windows 8, and (unless they can do something quite amazing really quickly) RIM / Blackberry seriously struggling.

One thing to remember; before the iPhone came along, in places like the USA those earlier Windows Mobile based phones had about 40% of the market, so if they’ve done it before then there’s a fair chance they can do it again.