Tag Archives: Microsoft

Google v Bing: Remote Desktop Connection In W8

I have to manage one credential per domain at work, but one cred can only be managed remotely.

Using Remote Desktop Connection on a Windows 8 machine, I was not able to send CTRL + ALT + DELETE to a machine on the other domain remotely because the W8 machine apparently intercepts the command regardless of settings in RDC.

Using Bing, I entered the following search string: remote desktop connection ctrl alt del “windows 8”

I tried a few results which all gave outdated (pre W8) information. So I hopped over to “the other search engine” and the 2nd result is gold. (TL;DR: Use CTRL + ALT + END)

I headed back to Bing and didn’t see the same result on the first 3 pages of results.

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Holiday Review: Windows 8 on a Lenovo Twist

This review is not intended to cover all, or even all net-new features included in Windows 8. Instead I have focused on features and functions used in my first 3 weeks with the OS (Enterprise edition), and 10 days using the Lenovo Twist (mixed professional/home/travel use). For the TL;DR version, read only underlined statements below.

Start Screen

The single biggest change in Windows 8 is the introduction of a new user paradigm, which Microsoft dryly refers to as “the new Start screen”, is formerly known as “Metro”, is informally referred to as “RT mode”, and is essentially an unbranded feature. On startup, users are presented with tiles and can search instantly by typing. Fortunately, there is a tile that most notebook/desktop users will select to return to the comfortable “Desktop” paradigm.

Search results in RT mode are grouped by Applications, Settings and Files and default to the first group with no “all of the above” option. (FYI – “Control Panel” appears as an application.)

<rant subtopic:RT Mode Apps>

  • Many RT mode apps request a “Microsoft account” (formerly known as Windows Live). I’m uncomfortable connecting either of my two personal Microsoft accounts on a work-issued machine and so will likely never use apps with this dependency.
  • Content within some of these apps scrolls continuously along the horizontal axis, and in my opinion, should not stop scrolling with some content cut-off along the left-hand side (for languages read from left-to-right). Content should continue to scroll until content “snaps” to the left edge of the screen.
  • When accessing the Video app, the first page is Xbox Videos instead of My Videos (C:\Users\<username>\Videos). My expectation is that only the cheapest versions of Windows (not Enterprise) would prioritize subscription-based content over existing user content.
  • The Finance tile should alternate stocks on my Watch List instead of Indices, and removing stocks from the Watch List is difficult.
  • Removing Places from the Weather app is not intuitive. Places can only be removed if they are not the default and a user has selected it, triggered the bottom-overlay, and selects Remove.

</rant>

Only time will tell whether this departure from the desktop-oriented operating system will help Microsoft grow its market share among mobile consumer devices (domestically or globally) in a way that supports its other strategies.

Browsing

The base touch-screen experience is acceptable. The touch screen keyboard works nicely and auditory feedback is appreciated.

The ability to override cookie handling and manually review third-party cookies in Internet Explorer makes it my preference for general browsing (and a more useful compromise between plug-ins, ‘Privacy Mode’ and allowing all cookies). When in IE10’s RT mode, some functionality is intuitive. For example, a sufficiently long horizontal swipe performs the browser back function. Selecting, copying and pasting text using the touch screen was intuitive but inconsistent in a way that leads me to believe it is too dependent on site architecture. I discovered the edge-overlays by accident and found myself integrating them in to usage patterns.

New tabs open with the cursor position in the URL field at the bottom of the screen instead of in the Bing search field. Given other RT design considerations, I can understand relocating the URL field, but it is inconsistent both with IE’s desktop mode and every other mainline browser (including IE10 desktop full-screen mode). My assumption is that IE RT users will prefer searching as opposed to directly entering a URL; and that if the initial cursor position becomes the first text field on page, that the touch keyboard should appear immediately.

The distinction between desktop and RT instances may be confusing for some users. Tabs are not shared between instances, which I found unsatisfactory as my browsing scenarios resulted in switching between modes.

Touch

The touch experience is immature compared with Apple devices.

When using two fingers to scroll vertically in IE (using the touch-screen), the screen flickers as it both pinch-zooms and scrolls simultaneously. As I am incapable of keeping my two fingers in exact synchronization, the interface fails to reject the minor variations in distance between fingers with the major variation in vertical motion intended to produce only vertical scrolling. Pinch-zooming itself worked as expected while browsing in IE (both desktop and RT modes) and enhanced the touch experience as touch-inputs are inherently less precise. Single-finger scrolling works well except when using trying to use certain interactive maps in IE RT-mode.

When in RT mode, swiping in from any side of the monitor will produce a screen overlay. For example, swiping in from the right-hand size produces an overlay with the “Charms” menu and date/time. I describe it as an overlay, despite the lack of any dimming/graying of background content while the overlay exists – a potential confusion to an end user who may not understand that all inputs are directed at the overlay until it is dismissed.

One minor nit against the UI is the 13 keyboard strokes to Shut Down: Windows + C, Down Arrow (2x), Enter, Down Arrow (5x), Right Arrow, Up Arrow (2x). Using the touch screen, it’s only four discrete motions: Inward swipe from right-edge, touch Settings, touch Power, touch Shut Down. There may be a more efficient combination of keyboard commands, but I like to take UIs at face-value and rely solely on intuition and presentation. Products for general use should not assume users will search out special key commands prior to use. In conversations with other business users I find that many are still unaware of the simpler Windows key commands (ex. Windows + D to show desktop, Windows + E to show Explorer, Windows + L to lock the screen).

Track Pad

The track pad seems to be of high component quality, but suffers critical flaws.

For example, the OS-level behaviors triggered by swiping-inward from an edge of the touch screen also apply to the track pad which always results in unintended input. After disabling nearly every special feature in the track pad driver, and searching online, I concluded that only registry modification would achieve the ‘dumb’ track pad functionality I prefer. Given that the touch screen is always available while using the track pad, it is unnecessary to trigger the edge-overlays or hot-corners from both components.

The more severe issue occurs as a result of eliminating discrete left/right click buttons. Users must depress part of the track pad to accomplish either function. Therefore, if the user moves the cursor over a selection and leaves that digit in contact with the track pad, using another digit to left-click will result in unintentional cursor movement as it is interpreted as multi-touch instead of touch + click. Two-finger scrolling is barely acceptable as the cursor jumps on repetitive scrolling where the user must lift-off and re-apply both fingers to the track pad. (There is no intended cursor movement in repetitive two finger scrolling scenarios.) Most family members found the track pad entirely unusable. For productive use, a mouse is required.

Lenovo ThinkPad users may be accustomed to configuring UltraNav; but in the future, all input-customization should be controlled by the operating system to deliver an intuitive and consistent multi-touch experience. I believe Windows could achieve this control through better design and/or vertical integration.

Desktop Icons

The Windows 8 desktop ships with desktop icons disabled. Users can enable them by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Personalization; then selecting Change desktop icons from the left-navigation pane and making the desired selections (Computer, User’s Files, Network, Recycle Bin, Control Panel). I find these to be useful abstractions that most power users will want to enable.

Windows Explorer

Desktop window styling is cleaner, and less cluttered than Aero. Windows Explorer has inherited the ribbon from the Office suite but is easy to live with, despite the loss of a 1-click New Folder button. (Users must click to show the ribbon’s Home tab to view the New Folder button.)

Although not new to Windows 8, Explorer “Libraries” continue to be an additional, unnecessary abstraction cluttering Explorer windows and file dialogues-alike. I suspect the intent is to simplify configuration of built-in sharing and back-up functionality. I use it for the latter, but would prefer that Windows Back Up use an in-app, directory-based selection. Furthermore, I resent the implication that Explorer libraries exist to support integration with the broader Microsoft ecosystem (i.e. subscription services). My work-around is to add frequently-accessed logical directories to Explorer Favorites so they appear above Libraries. Allowing the user to re-prioritize Favorites, Libraries, Computer and Network in Explorer would be a profound improvement.

Task Manager

Task manager is vastly improved, showing consumption across all resources (CPU, Memory, Disk, Network) by processes (hierarchically). Before the Twist, I also used Windows 8 on a Dell E6400 and found that Task Manager identified Disk as a bottleneck during start up due to the latter’s lack of an SSD.

Hardware/Driver Glitches

Twice in 10 days with the Twist, I experienced an issue where plugging in headphones did not result in a termination of audio output via built-in speakers. Only restarting resolved this issue, which I expect is a conflict between some Dolby software and the actual audio processing.

Once while in tablet mode, the cursor independently jumped around the top left-hand corner of the screen, triggering the overlay. I found a thread on Lenovo Community describing the issue and resolved by restarting.

Full Disclosure

I work for Microsoft, who provided all hardware and software reviewed here. As noted in About, views and opinions are my own and not those of my employer.

Other Reading

Wikipedia: Windows 8
All Things Digital: Windows 8 Review – Walt Mossberg
Wikipedia: Sinofsky at the Windows Division
ZDNet: Sinofsky’s departure from Microsoft: Politics or products to blame?
MIT Technology Review: The Woman Charged with Making Windows 8 Succeed

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Microsoft Windows Phone 8 “Cool” Features?

I read the article, “9 unexpectedly cool features in Windows Phone 8” on VentureBeat (via LinkedIn) and was pretty disappointed at what counts for cool in mobile these days:

  1. Customizable lock screen – Superficial functionality for fickle teenagers
  2. Skype – An app I already have
  3. Pandora – An app I already have
  4. Kid’s Corner – No kids
  5. Data Sense – Doesn’t matter with an unlimited data plan and near ubiquitous WiFi coverage
  6. Rooms – An app I already have (iMessage)
  7. Voice Notes – An app I already have (Voice Memos)
  8. Skydrive – An app I already have (DropBox)
  9. Xbox Music – Outside of Pandora and my lossless library, no need for new music services that stream compressed audio

Maybe “unexpectedly cool” means that despite a single digit market share, Windows Phone has nearly reached feature parity with a more established player.

At this point, most high end smart phones all have the same micro sensors, high quality screens, decent battery life, and digital cameras with greater pixel density than existed in the consumer space a decade ago. Outside of improved ergonomics, faster/more accurate user input (cross devices/platforms), wireless charging, better data consolidation and cleanup for my contacts,  flawless voice control, real-time speech translation, real-time speech transcription, and a heavy dose of machine learning; I’m not expecting anything “revolutionary” in mobile.

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Dear Microsoft, no. 2

Windows: Don’t introduce new features without having invested in content, then abandon them

Windows introduced Sidebar with Vista (release in 2007) and continued the feature as “Gadgets” in Windows 7. However, the stock gadgets paled in comparison to Apple’s Dashboard, introduced in Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) in 2005. Since early-adopting Vista, I routinely clicked the “Get more gadgets online” link in the OS to see if Windows had made further investments. I never saw anything noteworthy until today, when I was informed of the following:

Because we want to focus on the exciting possibilities of the newest version of Windows, the Windows website no longer hosts the gadget gallery.

Contrast this with the greater investment in Themes. When I tested Windows 7 RC, I noticed a similar approach had been taken. The OS came with a handful of tasteful themes, and users were prompted to explore more online. I had all but given up on this to until a year ago when a colleague informed me of the Bing Dynamic theme (my personal favorite).

While both Dashboard and Sidebar/Gadget can said to be superseded generally by smartphones, not all of the default functionality is present (for example, my Mac has a widget with a full dictionary and thesaurus) and I am disappointed to see Windows abandon its investment in part of a released OS.

I still appreciate a traditional “desktop experience” and will not be upgrading my Macbook Pro from OS 10.6 or my home PCs from Windows 7 any time soon.

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Dear Microsoft, no.1

Windows: Please stop allowing processes to change focus while I’m typing

If I’ve typed recently, and a process wants to request focus, wait until an acceptable delay in typing has been detected and notify me that processes wish to change focus and may require my attention.

Windows: Please stop rearranging icons on my desktop when I connect to different displays and change projection settings

There is never a need to rearrange icons when connecting to a higher resolution monitor, and should my desktop resolution be lower than my laptop’s native resolution, save my icon arrangement and advise me that they have been temporarily rearranging to fix in available space. Then, when I switch to a larger display or my laptop’s native resolution, put the damn things back.

Operating System: Windows 7 Enterprise
Machine: Lenovo T420
CPU: i5-2520M
RAM: 4.00 GB

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