June 2012

I started my blog back in December 2010 and it's still going strong. I've posted at least once post a month since then, so feel free to browse through the archives.

Microsoft Surface for Windows RT

Yesterday I wrote an article for Branded3 entitled Meet the Microsoft Surface as well as my thoughts on Microsoft as a Hardware Company. Now I wanted to write a little about my thoughts on the Surface itself, and which one of the two that I have chosen to be mine!

A little while ago I detailed my plans for the computers I wanted to have to replace my aging setup. Essentially it is as follows:

  • Xbox
  • Laptop
  • Phone
  • Tablet

So which of these two Microsoft Surface computers fits in with this array of devices? I must admit, the Intel version – Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 Pro is a much better device on paper, and also includes some features that the Windows RT version does not have – more pixels, more storage, Wacom digitizer (as well as touch) and the all important ability to run existing Windows apps.

One of the core selling points of the Windows 8 Pro version is that it would actually be more of a laptop replacement than a simple tablet – which is why it is just off the mark for my use. Seeing as I want as little computers as possible, I’d like to be able to have a full keyboard and touchpad that is integrated into a more traditional laptop design – or more correctly – an Ultrabook design to replace my MacBook.

What I really want from a tablet is a thin, battery friendly device for running Metro apps both at home and on the go. I think the Microsoft Surface for Windows RT would actually be the better option in that case.

What is Windows RT anyway? Windows RT is very similar to Windows 8 – but it is not Windows 8. They both share a lot of heratigate, and both share a lot of new Windows features, but the biggest change is that Windows RT breaks the line from previous versions of Windows by limiting the ability to run traditional desktop applications (except for a select few Microsoft titles, like Office).

For me this is fine, I want to have a Ultrabook computer for writing, desktop computing, using Vim and Visual Studio and Outlook and all that existing Windows software.

By having a tablet and an Ultrabook I know all my Metro style apps are going to sync on both machines through the Cloud. I can read mail, manage my time, surf the web and consume entertainment on both machines in exactly the same way. But when I’m using the Ultrabook I also get full access to all my existing applications. The best of both worlds.

For me this is exactly what I want my tablet device to do, and the main reason I’m going to choose the Windows RT version of Surface over the Windows 8 Pro tablet.

Microsoft the Hardware Company

Warning: I sound like a gushing fanboy on this post. Oh well.

I have used Microsoft hardware for a long time – from the original optical mouse and Natural Keyboards to pretty much every version of the Zune.

My friends and I often said “If only Microsoft would make X” where X has been everything from laptops to phones. One of the devices that has had these attention the most was actually the Zune HD. Many people have said to me “just imagine if it was a phone” – and while Windows Phone has exceeded this dream in terms of software, I’m still running a Samsung phone rather than a Microsoft phone*.

Simply because I thought it was the best at the time.

Back when Microsoft were trying to push manufacturers into producing high end Tablet PCs – they were recommending the Toshiba R400 as the best Windows Vista laptop (it had Wacom pen digitizer, sideshow, and much more) but I soon ended up replacing it with an Apple MacBook because their hardware was better.

Running Windows on a Apple machine because that’s the best PC I could get at the time. Yay for Apple, Boo for Microsoft.

So here is why the Microsoft Surface is different – it’s PC hardware. Not an accessory, not a games or entertainment machine, it’s an actual general purpose computer. And it’s designed and built by Microsoft, not some old OEM that can produce 100s of crappy plastic laptop designs and live in mediocrity. They’re only producing the very best equipment they can with the resources they have. And boy what resources.

The Microsoft Surface PCs dare other hardware manufacturers to do better, and as a consumer – I want to invest the best I can. For me that’s going to be Microsoft software on Microsoft hardware.

In this way my view is fairly selfish – I don’t care what it means for HP or Dell, the thing I care most about is the software and hardware tools I use every day. I believe that by taking this step into producing PCs, Microsoft is doing the right thing – giving Windows 8 a platform for it to perform exactly the way it was designed to.

* Actually a Nokia would do just fine!

Controlling the Xbox 360

There are a huge amount of different options for controlling the Xbox 360 console, and when I got mine I had a little think about what ways I’d like to use it.

Xbox 360 Wireless Controller and Chatpad

Obviously the default way of using an Xbox is with the usual wireless controller. I’ve had a few different ones over the years, but I’m currently using a full black one that came with the console as standard, as well as the black chat pad. There are other versions of the controller, including wired and the transforming D-pad. (Though the transforming D-pad doesn’t come in black.)

The Chatpad itself was marketed for enabling Messenger integration into the Xbox experience, though for me it’s mostly just for general text input, standard Xbox Live messages and searching. Personally I wouldn’t want to give it up now, and I’d recommend one to anyone with an Xbox 360.

Xbox 360 Media Remote

One of the things that really sold me on the Media Remote is the way it can control many types of television, which means I don’t need to have two remotes on the coffee table. I can switch on the Xbox and launch various applications, including apps like iPlayer and Lovefilm without having to touch the controller – in fact sometimes I don’t touch the controller at all (unless I’m doing text input with the Chatpad!)

The remote includes the usual coloured YXAB face buttons, a guide button, and plenty of media controls including play/pause and fast forward/rewind as well as ones more geared towards live television, which I know is supported by Sky in the UK and many other providers in the US.

Xbox Companion for Windows Phone

An interesting addition to the Xbox is using a companion app from either Windows 8 or Windows Phone. I might write about this separately, but I would just add that I have often used this app, mostly for changing music on Zune while I’m in another room. Handy!

What else?

One of the things I didn’t bother getting is the Kinect, it may be something I want in the future, but right now I just don’t think it’s that important. some of the voice stuff at E3 2012 was pretty cool, but not enough to make me change my mind.

I am very interested in Xbox SmartGlass though, and as soon as I get myself a Windows RT tablet I’ll be sure to write about it.

Through the Eyepiece

When you’re an astronomer you see a lot of amazing things through telescopes. Sometimes you just want to capture it on a photo, but taking pictures through an eyepiece can be notoriously tricky. However, if you keep at it you sometimes get some pretty cool results. Some of the pictures I’ve taken look impressive in their own right, and have a quality of their own that’s hard to replicate by doing ‘proper’ astrophotography.

Personally, I find using the small lens of a phone camera a lot easier to line up than an SLR or anything bigger. Here’s a few shots I’ve taken using this method…

Here is the Moon shown through one of the Dobsonian telescopes that belongs to The York Astronomical Society – you can make out plenty of detail on the craters too.

This is a very cool picture of the Sun taken with an H-alpha solar telescope.

With this one you can just about make out some stuff coming off the surface of the Sun, though it’s very tricky to get detail when taking a photograph this way!

Another picture of the Moon here, this one was taken with Annette Newby‘s telescope in the early evening.

And finally – I’d forgive you if you mistook this for a picture of the Moon – but it’s actually the crescent Venus, taken later on in the same evening.