Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

January 2008 - Posts

  • Engadget Needs To Fact Check Regarding (Dell XPS One) RED

    Man, you know, I'm sick and tired of Engadget getting all the Bill Gates interviews and crap, when they are constantly bashing Microsoft, and can't even get their facts straight. Take today for example. They took a screenshot of the landing page for the Dell XPS One, and used it to launch this huge diatribe about how the PRODUCT RED version is a ripoff to the consumer.

    Had Engadget taken about 5  minutes to go through and try to configure the baseline XPS One in a similar configuration as the PRODUCT RED version, they would have discovered several things:

    1. The baseline comes with Home Premium, which cannot be upgraded to Ultimate (at least, not through Dell).
    2. The baseline version comes with Works and not Office.
    3. If you click through on the baseline model, you'd see a page asking for your service plan. Note the fine print, which puts the product well on par with the PRODUCT RED version:


    With the difference in price between Office and Works, plus the difference between Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate, plus the $200 off, it's actually a BETTER value than the base model.

    So next time, Engadget, before you go shooting your mouths off about something, why don't you take a page from the people you guys try so hard not to emulate, and check your facts before you hit the "Publish" button. it might go a long way to building your credibility.

  • A Small Site Change, Now Featuring Reviews!

    I just wanted to take a second and point out the fact that I made a small change to the site today. I took down the "Blogcasts" link from the top navigation (since I had only done one so far, there was no point) and replaced it with a "Reviews" link. I'm starting to do a lot more hardware and software reviews, so I wanted one place where people could see them all. I'm hoping to get more review hardware in the future *cough cough*, so I'm hoping quick access to my previous ones will show hardware vendors *cough cough* how thorough they are *cough*.

  • Why Microsoft Points Are Like Poker Chips

    I was reading an article on today, talking about a former Vegas Pit Boss' secrets for not getting bankrupted at the tables. There was one interesting part in there that reminded me a lot of Microsoft Points:

    Chips vs. cash
    The inventor of chips was a genius. Plopping down a stack of $100 chips isn't nearly as painful as putting down a wad of $100 bills. When you win a small jackpot at the tables, dealers automatically pay you in chips, hoping you'll burn right through them without a second thought. Have you ever noticed there are a dozen places in a casino to buy chips but only one place where you can cash them in? Cash goes straight into your pocket, and the casino owners know they might never see it again.

    I've talked about this a lot with various people I encounter, when they rip on Zune for not having songs at $1 (which they do, as 80 Points = $1USD, I usually then point out). I think that people actually have a tendency to spend more money on Xbox or Zune Marketplaces than they do with iTunes, because you've already separated them from their money when they bought the Points in the first place. After that point, a person doesn't think that they're about to spend a buck on a song, they think "I have 1600 points left, so why not use 237 of them to buy 3 songs?"

    At any rate, I think Microsoft Points are genius. I think Microsoft should let you use points to by games on Handango and stuff like that. They should expand that micropayment system as much as possible.

  • Dell + Vista + (PRODUCT) RED = Fighting AIDS in Africa

    windows vista red 

    Microsoft was going to wait until Davos to announce this, but C|NET (as usual) doesn't have much respect for embargoes. At any rate, Dell has partnered with Microsoft to offer special editions of their respective products for (PRODUCT) RED, which helps fight AIDS in Africa. Microsoft has created a new SKU for Vista (the one time they probably WON'T catch flack for doing so) called Windows Vista Ultimate (PRODUCT) RED, that contains:

    • 6 Wallpapers
    • 2 Sidebar Gadgets
    • 1 Screensaver
    • 1 DreamScene movie

    Its really important to point out that the price of the new computers with the new Vista SKU are not marked up in any way, they are exactly the same price as the non-RED models. In fact, you get MORE if you buy the RED edition, because of the extra customizations (like the new logos etched in the machines, etc). So you get a computer with some cool extras, and some poor kid in Africa gets up to 6 months of AIDS medication. Seems pretty win-win to me.

    Anyways, Microsoft was kind enough to provide Windows Featured Communities with screenshot of what the desktop looks like in advance of the official announcement:


    And these banners just went up all around the Microsoft campus in (RED)MOND:

    (RED)MONDCampus banner

    Personally, I think it's really cool that more and more bigger companies are getting into this. Some people might argue that the Vista customizations are frivolous, but at the end of the day, it is helping a very good cause, with zero added cost to the consumer. Why would you not want to buy one?

    I think Microsoft should take it even further. For example, they already offer a red Zune... they should have a special edition Zune (RED) from Zune Originals that has some cool inscription on the back or something. Then $25 from every Zune (RED) gets donated to the cause, or something like that.

    Anyways, as soon as they go on sale, Windows-Now will have a link up in the sidebar to point you in the right direction. As I have a crapload of pictures to post as well, as soon as I'm allowed to.

  • My New Zune Originals 8GB

    While I was in CES, I was presented with this neat little gift from Microsoft... a Zune Originals 8GB media player, customized with this site's URL on the back! I'll have a review up in a couple days, but in the meantime, I've uploaded photos of my unboxing experience to my new Zune 2 Flash gallery.

    Thanks Microsoft!

  • Microsoft Caves on Vista Virtualization

    As Mary Jo reported earlier today, Microsoft has announced that they are changing the Vista EULA to remove limits on which SKUs can be virtualized. According to this article in eWeek:

    The revised Vista end-user licensing agreement now states that “instead of using the software directly on the licensed device, you may install and use the software within only one virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system on the licensed device.”

    “When used in a virtualized environment, content protected by digital rights management technology, BitLocker or any full volume disk drive encryption technology may not be as secure as protected content not in a virtualized environment. You should comply with all domestic and international laws that apply to such protected content,” it says.

    Before you balk at the DRM requirement... it makes sense. If you use DRM on an emulated virtual environment, the keys have a higher likelihood of being the same, since many DRM schemes are based on information from the hardware.

    At any rate, this is very good news for Windows Vista users. Now small companies can buy copies of Vista Home Premium, specifically for getting their feet wet with Vista deployments using Virtual PC or Virtual Server.

    There is more virtualization news coming out over the next day or so, I hope to cover as much as I can as I return to Phoenix tomorrow from an extended business trip.

  • Review: Samsung Q1 Ultra UMPC

    Filed under: , ,

    Reviewer's Disclaimer: This device was loaned to me as a review machine. I did not purchase it on my own.

    Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Samsung Q1 Ultra UMPC. It's my first time experiencing a UMPC first-hand, and overall it was a fun experience. You can see photos of my unboxing experience in the Samsung Q1 Ultra gallery here on WindowsNow.

    This particular UMPC has the following hardware:

    • 800 MHz Intel ULV processor
    • Mobile Intel 945 Express graphics card (Shared memory)
    • 1GB RAM
    • 40GB, 4200RPM Hard Drive
    • Atheros AR5006X B/G Wireless
    • Broadcom 10/100 Ethernet Controller
    • 2 USB ports (one on top, one on the side)
    • VGA port
    • Built-in speakers

    Under the hood, the low-end Q1 Ultra is a little underpowered for my taste. It has a Windows Experience Rating of 2.0, which breaks down as follows:

    • Processor: 2.0
    • Memory: 4.5
    • Graphics: 3.1
    • Gaming Graphics: 2.6
    • Hard Disk: 3.7

    It's kind of irritating that the hardware is all over the map, as I would expect the machine to be a little more balanced than it is. It indicates to me that, though the device sports a "Windows Vista" logo on the front, and Vista runs decently on the machine, it was not actually designed with Windows Vista in mind. For more proof, one needs to look no further than the lack of a multi-card slot on the low end model, leaving the device with no inconspicuous way to support ReadyBoost as a much-needed way to improve performance.

    The lack of an integrated Bluetooth module also leaves me pretty frustrated. I don't understand how ANY consumer device these days can ship without Bluetooth, it's just beyond me. The HP Personal Navigator has a Bluetooth connection to let you use the screen as a dialer for your phone, yet I can't use my Bluetooth keyboard with my UMPC. There is just no excuse for it, they make chips with both WiFi and Bluetooth built in.

    Because of that, I would NOT recommend buying this device at the lowest $799 price point. At the VERY least, go one step up and get the version with Bluetooth and a MultiCard reader.

    Form Factor
    The Samsung Q1 Ultra is 4.7 inches tall by 8.8 inches wide, and is about an inch thick. It sports a 7-inch display running at either 1024x600 or 800x600. In place of the first version's speakers, the Samsung stole the keyboard from the i730 smartphone and split it across both sides of the screen. People unused to the smartphone keyboard will have a hard time with it, but since that was my phone for 3 years, I'm used to it. I've been using the various input methods to write this review on the UMPC itself, and so far, my favorite method is using two hands on the Vista On-Screen Keyboard.

    In addition, the unit contains a switchable mouse/joystick on one side, and an arrowpad and two mouse buttons on the other. The arrowpad is nice because it is configurable for a bunch of situations, like word processing or web browsing, and the Enter key in the middle comes in VERY handy.

    The finish is really nice, but like the iPhone's screen, it is also a fingerprint magnet. If you're really anal about smudges, carry a wipe with you at all times. The shiny black finish is alright, but a brushed-metal finish could have helped to slim-down the device, while reducing the amount of time one will waste trying to keep it clean.

    Since this is a Windows website, I would be remiss to not talk about Windows Vista on this device. As I mentioned before, while Vista runs decent on the machine, it would run much better if the hardware were more balanced. The underpowered CPU, lack of a ReadyBoost-capable card slot, and an extremely slow hard drive mean that you'll need patience in order to accomplish just about anything in Vista. Even with SP1's 11% performance boost on the device (more on that in a future post), don't expect to be zipping along for much of anything.

    The Q1 Ultra comes with a number of applications out of the box that are supposed to enhance your user experience. I say "supposedly", because it comes preinstalled with McAfee, which slows the thing down to a crawl. It was the first piece of software to get the boot.

    Here are some of the software programs that come with the Q1 Ultra:

    • Origami Experience for Vista - While the version for Vista is considered a "1.0" version of the software, this is actually the second incarnation of the product. And, while for the most part, it is good, it lacks the visceral animated feedback one comes to expect from the Zune or the iPhone. When buttons are pressed, they don't glow to show they have been pressed, like with the Vista On-Screen Keyboard, which is kind of disconcerting when using it heavily. Microsoft just announced at CES 2008 that Origami Experience 2.0 (it's really 3.0, but who's counting?) will be launching this year, so I'm really hoping that it will provide a more immersive experience along with the new features they are promising.
    • DialKeys - This is the keyboard overlay that sits in the bottom corners and lets you type with your thumbs. It's hard to justify this solution when there is a practically identical hardware version built into the top of the device, so either way, you're going to be spending a LOT of brain cycles figuring out which side of the screen your next letter is on.
    • Sudoku - A very addictive game that has hundreds of incarnations across the Intertubes. I think Microsoft should release it as an Ultimate Extra. I mean, if Texas Hold-Em can be an Ultimate Extra, Sudoku could be too.
    • NavigatoR by Navigon - A steaming pile of crap. While the inclusion of GPS Navigation is a nice idea, since the unit does not come with a built-in GPS receiver, it's a waste of time. On top of that, the software doesn't even enter the realm of "user-friendly". Samsung should go with Garmin's software instead, as their GPS solutions are second to none.
    • PlayStation AV - Another steaming pile of crap. This is a poorly-designed knock-off of the Origami Experience software, and I have absolutely no idea why it was included. I really hate it when companies re-invent the wheel, and this particular piece of code is about as useful as AMD's new Live Explorer software, which is AMD's feeble attempt to replace Windows Media Center on new quad-core systems. Yet one more example about how some hardware companies should avoid the urge to write software... most hardware companies suck at it.

    So the verdict here is, the core "Origami" experience (Windows Vista and the Origami Experience program) is great, anything else that Samsung slaps in there to "add value" could be removed to cut costs and improve the core experience.

    Everyday Use
    While I'm still struggling to find *seriously* compelling uses for the device for everyday users, I have found some niches where the device proves extremely useful:

    • Lifecasting: At CES, I had the pleasure of demoing the Q1 Ultra to several videographers on the BlogBus, including the people from Mogulus, and the camera crew for CNBC. The Mogulus guys were all carrying big heavy laptops to do their streaming, when the Q1 Ultra, with its 2 USB ports (one for the camera and one for a mobile broadband modem), WiFi, and battery life would have been well-suited to the task.
    • Real Estate Agents: In one of my previous lives, I was the technical director for a small real estate firm. One of our projects was to enable e-signing on real estate contracts using TabletPCs. The form factor of the Q1 Ultra makes it perfect for reviewing and signing documents of any kind, and the size would make it perfect for the real-estate professional on the go.
    • Medical Professionals: Just as TabletPCs are useful for doctors to me able to look at X-rays and such, the Samsung Q1 Ultra, with the integrated strap on the back, would be perfect for dentists, x-ray technicians, record clerks, and other medical staff. With the Q1 Ultra starting at $799, it's also much cheaper that most of the other Tablets out there.
    • Frequent Fliers: Before left for San Jose to get on the BlogBus, I loaded up the UMPC with several episodes of "Chuck" & "American Gladiators" using Amazon Unbox. The widescreen aspect ratio was PERFECT for watching shows filmed in high-definition formats, although there were several points during the show where the video began to drop every other frame for several seconds, which was kind of annoying. I was able to watch 4 episodes before the battery died, which was way more than I could have gotten out of my laptop. And the built-in fold-out stand makes it perfect for setting on your tray-table and watching television or ripped movies.
    • Digital Picture Frame: With the "Pictures" screensaver turned on, this devices makes a great picture frame when not in use.

    There are also several ways that I would love to use this device, but either the hardware of software limitations make the Q1 Ultra fall short:

    • Personal Communicator: During the day, I would LOVE to be able to use this device as my e-mail and Windows Live Messenger screen, and leave my other two screens for the software development I do every day. However, the lack of a Bluetooth module means that one way or another, I would have to monopolize of of the USB ports for a wired keyboard or a Bluetooth dongle, which is far from ideal. I have yet to see how well this scenario would work with Stardock's Multiplicity, but when I do I'll update this review.
    • Portable TV: I have a server in my house with two Digital Cable Tuners, so I use it to record a lot of television. But those tuners also add DRM to all my recorded shows (that's a Cable Company thing, not a Microsoft thing). Because most software-based streamers (like Orb and WebGuide) respect the DRM flags (d@mn them!), and Windows Media Center cannot act as an extender to another Windows Media Center computer, I cant watch any of the TV I record on my Q1 Ultra. Which is a shame, because I would also use it to watch TV while I work during the day. Hopefully 'Fiji' will solve that problem, but Microsoft hasn't even told Media Center beta testers when that update is due out yet so I'm not holding my breath.
    • Videophone: This device would make a great videophone if it had a webcam in the front. It has a little dot in the center where something like that should go, but since the device does not support IrDa, I don't know what that dimple is for. But making mobile videophone calls would be a really cool way to show off the power of the Q1 Ultra, if only it had one built in.

    I can see the Q1 Ultra really working well for certain verticals, it still lacks the features that would make it truly useful to me personally.

    Overall Impression
    This was my first experience with an Ultra-Mobile PC. While the form-factor shows promise, the execution thus far still leaves much to be desired. Even if the hardware was up to snuff in terms of what people expect from a mobile device, ISVs have a LONG way to go to get their applications ready for a touch-enabled world. With a plethora of new PCs hitting the market that have some kind of touch capabilities (including HP's outstanding new TX2000) software needs to be adaptable enough to let you switch between keyboard, pen, and finger inputs.

    Anyone looking to build that type of software should look to the PADD from Star Trek: The Next Generation for inspiration. Holding the device in one hand while typing on the screen with the other is, IMHO, the most fun way to use it. I hope that a new generation of ISVs will come about to build software that brings intuitive experiences like PointUI to programs that are useful to everyday people.

    I've seen some other really cool UMPCs while researching my review of the Q1 Ultra. I hope to get my hands on some other incarnations that might provide a better experience.

  • Poll Finds Corporate Vista Adoptions on the Rise

    Over a year later, many tech pundits STILL try to spin Vista into as much doom-and-gloom as possible. Today that process got just a little harder. According to CDW's latest poll of Vista adoption, 48% of the 772 companies polled are either currently using or evaluating Vista, a 19% increase from this time last year.

    Some other interesting things to note:

    • "Of respondents evaluating or using Windows Vista, almost 50% note that it performs *above* their expectations on key features and benefits."
    • 30% of companies are either in the middle of, or have completed their Vista rollouts.
    • Office 2007 rollouts are up 18%, to nearly a quarter of all respondents.

    I'm sure all this makes Microsoft very happy. I'd love to see other companies get a lot more detailed with consumers about how they feel about their Vista experiences.


  • Survey finds Mac users are completely full of themselves

    Have you ever got the feeling from those "Get A Mac" ads that Apple users think they are better than everyone else? Well folks, that's purely intentional, and Apple is just targeting their marketing to their core audience. According to this survey of 7,500 people done by Mindset Media in coordination with Nielsen Online, Mac users are "more liberal, less modest, and more assured of their own superiority than the population at large."

    Hey, I didn't make the survey. I'm just reporting about it :). I'd love to see what these guys have to say about people who own Vista.

    [via a certain Mac fanboy site (at least they had a sense of humor about it)]

  • Everyone Caught the CES Flu

    So I was planning on posting this whole SLEW of information from CES. I've got reviews, I've got video, you name it. I skipped town Wednesday morning to fly back to San Francisco to meet with a new client. Well, I wasn't feeling too hot on Thursday, and by mid-afternoon, I had a fever of 102, and I was totally wasted. I had to bail on the rest of my meeting the next day, and fly home early... clearing my ears every 5 minutes and blowing my nose almost that often. I spent the rest of the weekend popping Advil, DayQuil, and ColdEze like they were candy. Unfortunately I leave to meet with another client tomorrow, so I'm trying to rest up as much as humanly possible before then.

    But I'm definitely not the only one:

    Next year I hope to get one of those BuzzCorps CES Survival Kits, with the Airborne and the hand stuff in it, so I can start prepping early. (Speaking of Airborne, am I the only one that finds the whole "created by a schoolteacher" thing a bit dubious? I mean, what she a chemist too? Otherwise, how does having a teaching certificate qualify a person to make a homeopathic immune system booster?)

  • Slightly OT: Issuing a Challenge to Starbucks

    I don't often use this blog to talk about non-tech stuff, but this particular issue deals with a company that is close to just about any techie's heart: Starbucks. So please forgive a little non-topical literary license to bring up an issue that is important to me.

    Now, I can't live without my Triple Grande White Chocolate Mocha every day. Yes, I understand it is a $4 a day habit. Yes i know they're a legal drug dealer. It's better than smoking. Between that White Mocha and my Venti ice water every day, I am personally responsible for a lot of paper and plastic being consumed on a monthly basis. If you think of all the Starbucks that are out there, and how many drinks are ordered every day... that's a lot of cups.

    So let me ask what seems like would be an obvious question: if Starbucks is supposedly so Earth-conscious, and uses recycled cups and cup-holders... why is it not recycling in its own stores? I always bring my cups home so that I can dump them in the recycle bin here... but think of the impact on the planet if every Starbucks put out a separate bin for paper cups, and a separate bin for plastic cups, and did a marketing push in the store to educate people about recycling.

    So how about it Starbucks... why aren't you enabling your customers to do more for the planet?