Some thoughts about Windows 10

SanyoMBC550SystemEver since I started using computers, Microsoft has been around. After ditching my Commodore VIC-20 for a Sanyo MBC-550, which was an almost IBM PC compatible computer that came with Microsoft DOS 2.11 and a BASIC interpreter that Microsoft had made for Sanyo, I have been a Microsoft customer.

Even after switching my work computers to Linux and later buying a MacBook as my main work machine, I still keep around a kick-ass Windows machine in my den where I record my podcasts and play my favourite games. Because I like to play games quite a bit, that machine tends to be the most powerful machine I own: best graphics board, most processor cores, biggest hard drives, etc., but not the latest Operating System. No, not the OS, that machine is still running Windows 7 which, in my mind, is the best Windows that Microsoft has released.

74613_fig1Windows 8 is a mess. It resembles a kid that does not know what it wants to be when it grows up. It tries to force a bunch of paradigm changes that don’t make any sense for traditional keyboard and mouse desktops. You know the famous business/hockey saying that “a company should not focus on where the puck is, but rather on where the puck is going to be”? Well, I think Microsoft has the right idea that more personal/mobile touch devices will start to replace desktops in the future. The problem is that that future is still quite a ways off. And the hardware to make people move from their desktops to this new mobile, touch and speech aware interface is still not up to the task.

The timing thing is the main problem for Microsoft. I have no doubts that Intel processors will eventually get cheap enough and efficient enough to rival ARM processors in power consumption, and still have the oomph and the compatibility that they have today. So unifying the code base is a good idea, which is why I think Windows 10 is a step in the right direction.

Windows-10What I like very much about Windows 10 is that they decided to go back to splitting the user interfaces into desktop-mode and tablet-mode. When you’re on a desktop computer you expect the machine to behave in a certain way, and Windows 10 behaves just like Windows 7 did, did I mention that I think Windows 7 is the best Windows they ever released, except that they have changed the graphical interface to make it flatter and up-to-date with the latest design trends. It’s actually very attractive.

If you’re on a tablet, well you can configure it to use the touch-centric interface that Windows 8 tried to shove down everyone’s throats, with a few new tweaks. Honestly I don’t have a Windows tablet device so I have not tried the interface out, and as I have said, since the hardware is not really up to par to the experience, I probably won’t be getting one in the near future.

So, what do I think of Windows 10? Well, I think it looks nice, and behaves like Windows 7. Could Microsoft have gotten away with just modernising the default Windows 7 theme and rebranding it as Windows 10? Probably not, since Windows 10 includes the software store, and the tablet-mode environment that will leave the door open for the future when tablet hardware is finally good enough! freeAll in all, I think Windows 10 will be good for Microsoft and good for the Industry. Now let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope Microsoft will make it affordable: $20.00 for new machines or free for upgrades is what I’m hoping for!

Am I a coffee snob now?

Sometimes the best coffee is the one that’s closest to where you need to be. I’m having an espresso at a little place that I had stopped coming to because they only serve on paper cups, which to me is like drinking wine from a paper cone… it not only diminishes the experience, but also changes the taste (at least in my mind it does). The only reason I’m here today is that it’s the closet place to where I need to be.

So… what can I say… I’m trying to get my mind to erase the fact that I’m drinking from a paper cup. The coffee itself is pretty tasty, I wonder how much better it would be from a proper ceramic mug. Am I a coffee snob now?

Luckily for the shop owner, the place seems to always be full. So maybe I’m the only one that’s irked by the paper-cup thing.

The race for the Chromebook market is on

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Microsoft, it seems, is ready to start a war for the nacent Chromebook market. The Verge reports that there is rumours of a sub $200 laptop (basically the same design that HP uses for their Chromebooks) but running Windows 8 and using Microsoft OneDrive  for cloud storage. No release date yet.

At that price, Microsoft must be willing to “give away” their Operating System in exchange for OneDrive customers. If it works for Google, can it also work for Microsoft?  Also, how much is HP getting out of this deal, seems like there not much margin to around for everyone, does it?

XBMC changes name to Kodi

kodi-splash-600x336I heard the news today that our beloved XBMC, a program that any geek worth his salt has installed on his pc, laptop, Raspberry Pi, AppleTV, or Media Center PC has changed its name to Kodi. Apparently the switch responds to a couple of issues:

  1. The original name made reference to Xbox, a platform which is not really supported anymore by the software, and also made reference to Media Center, which the software has now outgrown as plugins have turned it into a more open entertainment platform.
  2. Kodi is a name which can be registered as a trademark and defended in case somebody tries to steal it or sue over the rights.

It’s going to be a weird getting used to the new name, but I can understand why they’re changing the name. I’m happy the project is still strong and being actively developed on so many different platforms. I use it daily at work and at home.

Read the official XBMC post about the name change here.

Sierra could be coming back

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For those of us who were fans of King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Hero’s Quest, here are some great news. The Verge has just reported that  Activision has readied a 13 second video of Sierra (the kind that you are forced to watch right before you start playing the game) for Gamescon in Germany. This could mean that Sierra could be making a comeback with some modern tech adventure games. I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed.

Minimalist writing tools

writing-smallI’m always looking for neat, new ways to write, even though I have very little time available to sit down and get any actual writing done.

Lately though, I’ve become enamoured with the new batch of very light weight, word processing apps that let you focus on your work rather than on the formatting and layout of your document. Office style word processors of today are full of menus, options and toolbars, and crowd your screen in such a way that it starts to be a source of distraction.

Maybe for business environments all of that crud makes sense, but when you want to sit down and dump your ideas into a file, and not be distracted, all of that busy “User Interface” seems to get in the way.

These new apps, which I first discovered on the iPad, share a same philosophy: present the user with a blank sheet of paper. On most cases there are no menus nor toolbars at all just a blank sheet of paper and a cursor blinking, waiting for you to start typing. On the iPad, a gesture on the screen will usually result in getting a menu for the limited amount of things you can do with your text: save it, spell check it, do limited formatting on it, save it to a Dropbox account, etc.

On the PC counterparts, moving the mouse up to the top of the screen will pull down the menu bar with the before mentioned options. Some programs will give you a very unobtrusive counter for words, paragraphs, and or pages written so that you can keep an eye on your output.

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The latest of these programs that I have tried is called: FocusWriter. It’s a beautiful, Free, light weight, cross-platform program that works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. It’s so tiny, in fact, that it will even run really well on the Raspberry Pi, which is where I’m writing this on today.

The program clears the screen, presents you with a blank page to start writing and then… just gets out of the way. Even the font is beautiful.

Right away I can think of this as a great tool for schools on a budget. Want to get kids interested in creative writing in your school, but don’t have a very large budget?

No problem:
$35.00 Raspberry Pi,
$10.00 Keyboard and Mouse,
$10.00 Power Adapter,
$20.00 SD Card,
$10.00 for a really nice case,
$150.00 for a monitor

For $235.00 you can have a Raspberry Pi Workstation that you could not only use for teaching kids to write, but also to get them interested in learning to program. But that, of course, is topic for another post.

A few days ago I read an article about how George R. R. Martin writes his Game of Thrones books on and old PC with DOS and WordStar. He says he loves how the program just gets out of the way and lets him concentrate on his writing. So, maybe for real serious writers FocusWriter could also be a great option to leave DOS behind and move on up to a more modern, but always unobtrusive workspace.

I’m sad to report that there’s no version of FocusWriter for iOS yet. However there is no shortage of writing apps on that platform. The one I like to use (even though it’s not free) is called IA Writer. It changes your on-screen keyboard to something that is perfect for writing long-prose. Truly a well thought out app as well.

Is Minecraft the digital version of Lego?

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When Minecraft first came out I immediately dismissed it because of its 8-bit-like graphics. I admit I’m kind of a graphics snob. Having spent quite a bit of money on building my gaming rig to play the latest games in glorious “High Definition” with all of the parameters set to high, a game that defaults to huge cubes filled with low-res textures was not my idea of a fun experience.

Recently though the game has exploded on iPads everywhere. All my kid’s friends were playing it and pretty soon my kids were begging for me to install it on their iOS devices.

So I did… and oh my goodness… The things they build in this little virtual world of theirs are amazing: Roller-coasters, castles, houses, trap-doors, hidden tunnels, etc.

As a ex-Second Life junkie I know first hand the appeal of building three dimensional objects in virtual worlds. The iOS version of Minecraft is a much simpler version of a Second Life sandbox. And kids relate quickly to building things with blocks that have some virtual material attributes to them. It’s almost like a digital Lego set, except that different blocks have different behaviors you can assign to them.

It’s really interesting to me to watch my kids play in this simple virtual world. Perhaps the self-imposed limitations of the game are what make it more approachable than say Open-SIM, which is an open source version of Second Life. Maybe those limitations, and the fact that your builds in Minecraft are toy-like,  is what makes it so appealing to children in particular.

I’m just amazed at how these virtual playgrounds resemble the Lego sets we grew up with… Except now they’re virtual and you can literally play (in 1st person) in the set world that you’ve built.

Sierra Online Games

I’ve been teaching Marco to play old adventure games. We’ve started playing King’s Quest I (I have the rest of the King’s Quest series ready for him). I play the gold games using SCUMMVM on the Kid’s iMac.

It’s such a drag that nobody’s making adventure games like this anymore, they seem perfect for iPads… although I kind of like the older ones where you had to type your commands out because it teaches kids to have patience and type.