Thursday, September 20, 2012

Windows 8 RTM Part III - The Windows Spin on Social

[Article first published as Windows 8 RTM Part III - The Windows Spin on Social on Blogcritics.]

Over the first two parts of this Windows 8 feature I described the OS as turning my laptop into some sort of giant phone.  Today we're going to get into that a little further by looking at something that's going to be used by every Windows 8 user in both the desktop and mobile space- and that's the social aspect.  Built-in apps to manage your social networks and photos look pretty good so far, and again it makes operation more like a big smartphone than a traditional Windows system.  One of the things that makes social possible are networks of "friends."  Be it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or any other social service you use, without them your social network becomes very... well... antisocial, I suppose (womp woooomp).  The problem is that you're probably connected with them on a variety of networks and sometimes that can be hard to track.

Having all your friends' information in one place makes it that easier to manage, now that a decent chnk of internet communication these days is conducted through social.  Mobile gets that - one of the things I like about my Android devices is that they consolidate my contacts into single, detailed entries, making it a lot easier to keep track of everything that's going on.  So if I have three entries in my phone for one person - a phone number entry, a Facebook entry and a Twitter entry, the device will automatically link them together if they have similar name and email addresses, or give me the option to manually link entries for those that don't really look the same.  Thankfully, that's also the case with the Windows 8 mobile interface.

This was the case with my friend Mikey.  Yeah that's right Mikey, we're on YOU now.  He goes by his real name on Facebook, but on Twitter he goes by the much more sleek and numeric "Ocho."  Much like my Android device, Windows had a bit of trouble reconciling the two, as nothing about the name "Michael" corresponds with the Spanish language or the number 8 at all.  But also like my Android device, I was able to manually link Mikey with his "Ocho" persona.  Linking the two together let me see all of his updates and notifications in one steady stream instead of having to jump back and forth between the two.  Outside of keeping your contacts in order, the People app lets you consolidate your own profile, setting status updates for the supported social media services you have you have connected to your Microsoft account.  Right now all I've really been able to play with is Facebook and Twitter.  Consolidated messaging works the same way with your messaging services.  Right now all I can see is MSN and Facebook chat, but it works with the same idea.

No Google+ though... weird, right?

Next is pictures.  Just like social, Windows 8 can aggregate all of your albums in one place.  From the photos app tile, a user can see both their local pictures as well as any albums on synced accounts like Facebook albums.  So far it will let you add Flickr albums, whatever's on your SkyDrive, and any devices you manage through SkyDrive.  Again, it's one of those minor conveniences that make things a bit quicker, but a lot of minor conveniences can add up to a noticeable increase in a decent user experience.

I've actually grown kind of fond of the new social interface, and could definitely see myself using it, especially on a tablet.  I've been working on a laptop so far and it's worked, and I actually have been finding myself using the tiles from the new interface over the Windows 7 style desktop.  Naturally there's going to be a pretty decent learning curve for most standard Windows users, but I think for users that are all about social media and photo sharing on the go that it's intuitive enough to pick up in a few minutes.  On the upcoming Surface tablets that can provide the touch interface this was designed for, this OS will allow the most social of butterflies to get it done. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gear and the Value of Time in World of Warcraft [tf charts]

I've got part III of my Windows 8 series pretty much buttoned up, but figured I'd get this in before I get to my final thoughts on the OS.

Today I logged into World of Warcraft after a long while, and had to download all of the updated tools and the pre-patch for the upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion set to drop in just a couple weeks.  Having played since WoW original recipe, I've spent a sick number of hours in the realms of Azeroth - enough that I'm a little frightened to see the "/played" stat that the game provides for all of its players.  Through that time there was one very real statistic that all players would agree to - and that's the gear grind.  It takes countless hours to level up a character to max and at that point go through the motions to get the gear to allow seeing end-game content.  Cataclysm made that a little easier in one of its later patches with the Raid Finder feature, but the main idea stays the same:

With all the time it takes to equip those delicious epic items, which may add up to days, at least a couple of them can be replaced after 5-10 quests in the next expansion's starting zone.  And the trend looks like it's going to hold - straight through level 100 when the time comes.

Welcome to Pandaria, kids.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Windows 8 RTM Part II - Now with Notes of MacOS and Linux

[Article first published as Windows 8 RTM Part II - Now with Notes of MacOS and Linux on Blogcritics.]

Windows 8 is one of the biggest departures from what we know of Microsoft operating systems since Windows 2000 and the introduction of Active Directory over a decade ago.  So I thought it would be a good idea to show you fine folks what it's all about so you're not met with huge surprises when it drops in October.  Last time we took a look at basic navigationand operation in Windows 8 Professional - namely what's different from Windows 7 as far as the user interface and your UI experience.  The biggest glaring difference was of course what I called 8 Mode, the touch-friendly cell phone style skin than lays on top of the 7-style desktop.  Today we'll be going into a few of more functional features that Windows 8 is packing - one page borrowed from Apple's playbook and another from Linux.

One of the biggest points I try to drill into everyone is the importance of data backups.  I've seen people lose a lot of data, from something easily retrievable like music to something irreplaceable like baby photos.  And unfortunately it's generally not until some sort of data loss like that before people start heeding the advice of their local IT nerd.  Microsoft did actually have a native backup program built into previous versions of Windows, but not many people used it - in fact the Windows engineering team estimates that the total number of users is less than 5% of all windows users.  It just never really took off, and there were a number of improvements that could have been made.  So traditionally I advised people to burn data to discs or an external hard drive, or even to use a consumer cloud solution.  Windows 8 seems to have improved on that backup and recovery solution with their new file history feature.

It works kind of like Time Machine if you're familiar with MacOS.  Instead of periodically taking a snapshot of files on your backup schedule like the occasional copy or burn, file history is something that continually runs to check for changes to files that are flagged for file history.  To set it up the only thing that a user has to do is to configure a destination drive to backup to, and that's it.  Outside of any exceptions selected,  from that point on every file (excluding the exceptions set by the user) is checked every hour for changes and backed up if needed.  File history is designed only for a user's local libraries and not windows system files.  This means that users will take less of a resource hit when it scans for file changes, and who really cares about OS files anyway?  They can always be re-installed with little issue.

Now if you've got some computer nerdery in you, you've probably already got a solution for full system backup should you need one.  Windows 8 file history is really aimed primarily at tech civilians as an easy "no work involved" backup solution.  The screenshots in this post are from setting it up on my 2GB USB drive called nenemicro2.  And it really did only take a few clicks.  And for those of you that use file encryption, it's set up to work with BitLocker too.

So file history was the taste of MacOS.  Those of you who are familiar with flavors of Linux are probably familiar with Live CD's and USB drives that let users plug into a computer and boot up into a portable Linux system.  There's shades of this present in Windows 8 Enterprise with Windows to Go, a mobile workspace that lets users plug into any machine and get down to business.  It works pretty much the same way - plug in and power on to boot into your USB image of Windows 8 Enterprise, except without access to the computer's local drives - only the space that's on your USB device.  It works pretty well though, and the ability to carry around an OS  in your pocket could be a handy little tool for Enterprise users on the go.  Since you're packing an entire OS on your USB device with some additional room to work, make sure that you're using a 32GB device or larger.

The problem with it though is that that particular feature is targeted at business users, but I don't know any of my colleagues (including my own) that are scheduling Windows 8 rollouts over Windows 7 to replace Windows XP.  Cool feature, but not sure how much play it's going to get.
So after part II of this series I'm still of the same mind - It's a good OS and I'd like it on a tablet, wouldn't mind using it on my desktop, but don't see rolling it out in the enterprise just yet.

Coming up in part III - More of a consumer focus, your social scene in Windows 8.