Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Moving from Droid to WP8 (HTC 8x)

After working with Windows 8 since May or June (release preview, then RTM version) on both my desktop and laptop and enjoying the experience, and then after buying a Surface and seeing the huge benefit of that, I decided last week to upgrade from a Droid device to a WP8 device.  I really wanted to have a consistent environment across the board.  But this was the one choice the choices I had.  I really liked my HTC Droid Incredible device.  I have enjoyed the Android OS.

Best Buy was having their Black Friday sale, which meant I could get the HTC 8x for $99 or the Nokia Lumia 822 for $49, both with a new two-year contract.  I had read plenty more reviews of the Nokia than the HTC, with the reviewers generally stating that the Lumia offers more features while also noting that the HTC device looked and felt better.  I saw both in the store, and the feel of the 8x in my hand was enough to push me toward that over the Lumia 822.  I don't regret my decision, even though I currently don't have access to built-in voice navigation (that is supposedly coming) like the Lumia has.

I immediately appreciated both the WP8 OS and the HTC hardware.  But the first day or two I also was a little nervous that I would be giving up some of the things I enjoyed on the Droid, including Google Maps and Google Drive.  But the more I use WP8, the more I am confident I made the right decision.  (Bing Maps is fine, but Google Maps provides a few more features. I've also been using SkyDrive more and more lately, so a native Google Drive client isn't really a concern anymore.)

Here's a few items I think are noteworthy:
  • Live Tiles (WP8) vs Widgets (Droid): I was concerned at first about the lack of widgets that you get with Droids.  But the Live Tiles make this a non-issue for me.  I can see at a glance what I need on the tile.
  • One screen (WP8) vs 7 screens (Droid): Quicker access to what I need on WP8 and simpler navigation if you lay out your tiles categorically.
  • Office suite (WP8) vs Drive (Droid): Haven't used Office yet enough to make a good comparison, but I will say that OneNote on WP8 is excellent.
  • Single mail app (WP8) vs multiple mail apps (Droid):  On Droid, the Gmail app was nice, but the other generic mail app (for exchange, Hotmail, etc) was totally different.  WP8 provides the same mail app for all accounts, and I think it is easier to use than the Gmail app.
  • Calendar integration:  much better on WP8 than my Droid.  Exchange email, calendar, contacts, etc., simply works.  Not so much on my Droid.
  • Text app:  The conversation view is much easier to view on WP8 than on the Droid, in my opinion.
  • Kid's Corner - ability to provide my kids a safe, restricted area on the phone to use that keeps them from sending texts/emails and making calls accidentally.  They only have those apps I share to their profile.
  • Skype (WP8) vs Google Chat (Droid):  I abandoned Skype a couple years ago due to poor quality and switched to Google Chat.  I still use Google Chat, but Skype on both the Surface and WP8 device is quite nice and works pretty well.
  • Apps in general:  while the Google app store has many more options, I've found just about everything I've needed or wanted on WP8.  Again, the exception is here is Google Maps or Drive.  But the alternatives on WP8 are fine.
To summarize - I have no regrets in switching to WP8, and with each additional day of using the 8x I am more confident I made the right decision.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Surface - First Impressions

Our Surface was delivered yesterday, and last night I had the an opportunity to use it for a couple hours.  I'm quite impressed.
  • The Windows 8-style interface is nice and quite functional on a normal desktop/laptop.  It shines on the Surface.
  • The Touch Cover takes some getting used to.  But it turns a traditional tablet into a productive computer when you want it to be.  Even sitting in a comfortable chair with my feet kicked up and the Surface on my lap, I could use the touch cover reasonably well.
  • Office 2013 is included, and it keeps the consistent feel that you're used to on your desktop, which further makes the Surface much more than just a device on which to check email, browse the web or play Angry Birds.
Citrix has a beta Citrix Receiver app in the Store that is supposed to let you access your company's Citrix gateway, but so far it hasn't let me authenticate.  Not sure if that's a problem with the app, or with the older version of  citrix used at my work.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A pretty important line of code in a Windows 8 app...

I've been working the past few hours trying to figure out why, all of a sudden, my Windows 8 app couldn't get past the splash screen.  I did find one hit online that I was hoping would help, but my problem had nothing to do with Visual Studio acting up.  As usual, when tearing things apart and trying to put them back together, I inadvertently missed adding a crucial line of code in the main page's OnLaunched event:

                // Place the frame in the current Window and ensure that it is active

rootFrame.Navigate(typeof(Views.MainPage)) doesn't do the trick by itself.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TFS in the Cloud? Yes!

I was debating today on what to use for personal source control.  I had just installed VisualSVN (which looks pretty nice) when I decided to do one more look online for any option related to TFS, since I'm familiar with that at work and it obviously integrates nicely with Visual Studio.

I found a link related to the new TFS 2012 Express version, which is a good option.  But in reading about that, I saw someone mention the cloud-based TFS Preview.  That's Team Foundation Service (not Server).  I've been using Windows Azure hosting services recently along with SQL Azure and I've been quite impressed.

I am blown away by the ease of use with the new TFS Preview.  And it is free.  Check it out:  http://tfspreview.com/

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Windows 8...on a Desktop...for the average user

I really like Windows 8.  I've been running it on my main workstation for a couple months now with the release preview.  I haven't yet installed the RTM that came out a couple weeks ago, so I suspect there are some notable improvements.  A few of the things I like:

  • It's quick.  Great performance.
  • Nice UX for a number of preview apps targeting the WinRT (although they have limited functionality to some degree)
  • The ability to download apps from the store
  • The task manager
There are some things that are annoying, too, but I'll save my comments on those until after I install the RTM in hopes that they have been addressed.

I installed the release preview a few weeks ago on my wife's new HP Touchsmart all-in-one.  (BTW - it is soooo nice to have a clean desk without any cables except for the power cord. All-in-ones might carry additional risks if anything internal breaks, but it was definitely a good choice for us.)  We don't use the touch interaction that much since it is kind of awkward reaching across the desk to the screen, but it is neat to see Windows 8 shine there.

One thing has me concerned that has come to light during the times when I'm helping my wife navigate the changes in Win 8.  Here's an example of a recent exchange on the matter:
[she opens the WinRT browser and goes to a site with flash content and the site doesn't function properly]
My Wife:  what's wrong with this?
Me:  Oh, you're in the metro* browser and that site has a flash plug-in. You need to open the desktop browser instead.
The reality is - she doesn't know what a plug-in is, or understand why they're not allowed on the WinRT side, and she really doesn't care why they won't run.  For that matter, she doesn't know what the "WinRT" is and she doesn't care, either.  She just wants it to work.

(* the "metro" term has been dropped by Microsoft in favor of "Windows 8"...but it's just easier to say)

I'm fine with all that when I'm using it.  I know ahead of time if I'm going to a site where I expect to interact with Flash or Silverlight content, and therefore I'll choose the desktop browser.  But the average user?  The average user will get used to that on a tablet...they've done fine on the iPad.  But when you mix the two on a desktop, the user is going to have to think a lot more about what they're doing.  Perhaps there's a setting for the scenario I describe above, where the user can flag certain sites to always open the desktop browser, even if the user started out in the WinRT browser.  I may just be unaware of other ways Win 8 already helps users deal with this.  But so far this has me a little worried about the frustrations the average user will experience.  That said, the user experience with Win 8 apps is fresh and compelling.  I don't have an iPad, but having used one a few times I really think the iOS interface is going to look stale next to Win 8.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Windows 8 experience so far

I've been running the Windows 8 release preview for over a month now on a virtual machine (using VirtualBox) on my laptop - a Dell Vostro with a 15" screen and max res of 1280x800 running Windows 7.

I really like the metro interface, but my experience hadn't been superb because (1) it was on a VM sharing resources with the host OS and other VMs, and (2) the max resolution didn't allow me to enjoy the benefits that come with the metro interface.  Either VirtualBox or my laptop's video card restricted the Windows 8 guest OS from utilizing the full screen.  So I got a limited taste of what Windows 8 was like.

Well, yesterday I set up a new Lenovo desktop machine with decent specs and a new Samsung 21.5" widescreen monitor.  I installed Windows 8 as the main OS, and the difference from my laptop is night and day.  I'm very impressed.  It has taken a little bit to get used to the mix of the metro interface and the traditional desktop interface on a non-tablet device, but I like it so far and am getting more comfortable with it.  

Looking forward to the Surface tablet this Fall.