Windows 10 and the Surface: Winning Me Back

To celebrate the 30th birthday of Windows, I figured it was time to share my own thoughts on the operating system.

With the Threshold 2 build of Windows 10 (build 10586) and the third generation of Surface devices (Surface Pro 3, Surface 3 LTE), Microsoft is winning me back. For those that know me well – that may be a surprising statement. But it’s true and I have to give credit where due.

By mid-2006, I had switched all of my personal computing to Intel-based Macs instead of upgrading to Windows Vista. From 2008 onward, I used a Mac almost exclusively as my daily machine and used Windows in a VM or BootCamp only where necessary. Although Windows 7 was good, the hardware available simply wasn’t that great. At the same time I traded my trusty Treo running the original Windows Mobile for an iPhone 3G and never looked back.

Windows 8 and its attempt at redemption – 8.1 – was a disaster. Windows RT was a disaster. The first generation of Surfaces were great to look at and touch – but not that great to use in real-life.

Then, Microsoft woke-up and re-focused itself on its customers. Relentlessly. And its working.

The Surface Mini was killed. Given Windows RT, it rightfully probably never saw the light of day. Windows RT was rightfully killed – though it represented an interesting missed opportunity I may blog about as a different topic.

But, the Surface Pro 3 emerged and it is a genuinely great device. All the rough edges of the first- and second-generation devices were filed off. Now, finally, there was a decent Windows laptop (some software/driver quirks notwithstanding). The Surface 3 LTE gave those that are hardcore mobile users something that was very decent (also with some software/driver quirks). The Surface Pro 4 is nicely providing refinements where needed – and I can’t wait to get one when the model I want is available. And the Surface Book – although controversial – is a very interesting contender against the MacBooks.

Windows 10 is another story. It is actually very pleasant to use. All of the goodness of Windows XP and 7 is brought forward. The good ideas of Windows 8 and 8.1 remain. But its nicely wrapped into a single package. And it delivers an experience and applications that are quite pleasant when faced up against stiff competition from Apple. And, with Threshold 2, it mostly works as expected from a stability perspective.

How do I know its working? I had several devices to pull out on this long Washington DC->Seattle flight tonight; the Surface Pro 3 with Windows 10 on Threshold 2 won. As the Surface 3 or Pro 3 did in many meetings this week while traveling.

And, it’s not just me. I have traveled extensively for the last four years. Airports and airliners are a great litmus test of public opinion globally. Apple was clearly winning. But now I’m seeing Surface Pro 3s/Surface 3s pop up more and more. And most of the ones I see lately are Windows 10. This is a much needed regaining of ground with the high mobility professionals that has been absent for Microsoft for many years. And in an even bigger testament – the Surfaces have captured the interest of my mother, who has used nothing but Apple since 2006.

The recipe for this success is very simple. They are focusing relentlessly on their customers and on delivering a quality user experience. There’s no rocket science to this; its just just very hard work.

On the hardware front, I applaud Microsoft for the Surface. They have brought the much needed cachet back to Windows machines – something the OEM partners were definitely not doing. Although its taken far too long and several iterations, credit where its due for finally building a great desktop operating system and hardware combination.

(This post was written over Idaho on my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10 Build 10586.)

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An Almost 50-year Old Bentley and the RROC Fall Tour

Driving 1,200 miles in a week in a British car that rolled off the production line ~49 years ago may seem like a crazy thing to do. But it’s not considering the car – a 1966 Bentley T1 – and the event, which was the Fall Tour of the Rolls-Royce Owner’s club – held throughout British Columbia in late September 2015.

Meet SBX2479, a 1966 Bentley T1 I purchased in spring of 2013 while rejoining the ranks of classic Rolls-Royce/Bentley owners after a hiatus of several years. I’ve been an enthusiast of these cars since the mid-1990s. After a disastrous flirtation with a 1967 Jaguar S-Type, I ended up with a 1979 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II, which provided tens-of-thousands of miles of trouble-free enjoyment (after having rejected the first 16 examples I looked at, the first of which was coincidentally another 1967 Bentley T1.

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Representing less than 1% of Silver Shadows produced, a proper North American-specification Left Hand Drive (LHD) T1 is a very rare car. My own estimates suggest there may be only a dozen LHD original series 1965-67 examples around the continent. These early cars, although quirkier in some ways than later examples, feature the beautiful wood-trimmed interior and full engine power output that was missing on later emission gear equipped cars.

Now, for the event itself. The Rolls-Royce Owners Club is a wonderful organization. Some of their national events are driving tours, which combine great company, interesting sightseeing, and some good exercise for one’s motorcars. This event, hosted by the BC Region, was no exception.

I drove up early to join the Fall Meet between the BC and Pacific Northwest regions of the club, which was held the day before the national tour. The meet consists of several contests of absurd driving skills coupled with other fun and games (such as faux sword fighting).

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Although the event was wrapped early due to persistent rain, the Northwest Region was this year’s victor, resulting in next year’s meet being hosted in Washington state versus British Columbia. Participants moving onto the national tour then spent the next day getting from Abbotsford to North Vancouver for check-in and the opening reception.

For the RROC Tour itself, each day started with a briefing and was followed by an alternating course of driving and sightseeing. Most (though not all) days also had an evening event.

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On the first day, the initial stop was the British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. Here we had a chance to get a local immersion in the history of the indigenous peoples of British Columbia and see many amazing First Nations and Chinese artifacts.

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For lunch, we stopped at the Salmon House in North Vancouver, which was opened especially for the RROC tour participants. The weather cooperated and we were treated to a magnificent panorama of the Vancouver area – along with some extremely delicious Northwest cuisine.

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After lunch, we headed up to the Capilano suspension bridge and requisite nature park. The bridge is definitely not for those afraid of heights – and several participants took a pass. After that, several of us headed to the optional waypoint of Cleveland Dam to see it prior to heading to a Chinese dinner nearby.

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The second day of touring started with a drive up to Whistler. En-route, the group stopped at the Britannia Mine, which at the peak of production was one of the world’s largest volume producers of copper. Once arriving in Whistler, everyone had a few hours to spend on their own until an evening dinner event.

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Day three began with a trip to Shannon Falls on the way to Fort Langley in Surrey, British Columbia.

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Once at Fort Langley, the group got to learn about the history of the first major Hudson Bay Company trading post in the British Columbia region as well as see re-creations of life from several hundred years ago.

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The evening wrapped with a lovely time at the Vancouver Club, after a quick shot across the water from North Vancouver to downtown Vancouver on the Seabus.

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Day 4 saw the group off to Vancouver Island. Our first stop was the Cowichan Cultural Center, just south of Nanimo, British Columbia. Here the group was treated to a guided tour of local tribal legends, a delicious salmon lunch, and an amazing performance of tribal dancing. They day concluded with some time to see Victoria and a reception at a club members home, featuring the guest appearance of John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce Phantom V.

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Day 5 began with a trip to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. The featured exhibit was “Gold Rush – El Dorado in BC” which offered many unique insights into the history of gold mining within the province. The afternoon saw the group end up at Hatley House, which is probably best known for its appearances in the X-Men movies. Besides being a popular film venue, Hatley House is also the home of Royal Roads University. Prior to that, it served as a military training facility after being purchased by the government from the Hatley family. The day concluded with a lovely BBQ at another member’s home just outside of Victoria.

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Day 6 – the final day – saw the longest day of driving yet. We took a long, circular route spanning Cowichan Bay, Lake Cowichan, converted logging roads down to Port Renfrew, then up to Sooke, and finally back to Victoria. Day 6 also included a Trivia challenge, where tour participants were supposed to find highly obscure facts at the various destinations along the way. The tour concluded with a closing dinner at the club of the University of Victoria.

Cars on the tour ranged in age from a 1926 Bentley 3-liter (whose top was last seen in the 1950s) to 2010-era Bentley Continental GTCs, Azures, and Brooklands models. And just about everything in between was represented. Thanks to excellent logistics, mechanical support was available for the handful of issues that arose. People came from as far away as Pennsylvania, with several participants bringing their cars from as far away as Missouri and San Diego.

The social activities are fantastic; I know I made several new friends as well as reconnected with people i have not seen since the late 1990s when I was far more heavily engaged in enthusiast events. For those that have not done an event such as this, it’s absolutely worth it on all fronts – socially, driving, and sightseeing. And my hat is off to the RROC and our BC Region hosts in particular for absolutely flawless logistics and support. I can’t wait until the next event…

For US Travelers, EMV Can’t Arrive Soon Enough

Most of the rest of the world has had EMV for years. For example, I had it from the time I moved to Canada in Winter 2008. Just what on earth is EMV? It is the chip/PIN support on your MasterCard and Visa credit cards that allow you to make purchases via PIN versus swipe and signature.

Why is this important? Besides the obvious anti-fraud benefits, it is almost mandatory to make even basic purchases when traveling abroad. Consider my case. I’m working out of our Copenhagen office this week. I went to the local supermarket and went to buy things the TSA frowns upon like razor blades and shaving cream – and Kleenex, which apparently my hotel doesn’t believe in.

And I find myself unable to make a purchase using my Visa or my MasterCard. My MasterCard, which supposedly has a PIN, didn’t work either. Try my debit MasterCard with a PIN? Another fail. Try a different store. Same result. My story had a happy ending. Others might not be so lucky.

I try resetting my MasterCard’s PIN over the phone (which was successful) and go back – it still didn’t work. (And this is after two lengthy calls to my bank.) I call Visa – they were able to setup a PIN, but warned me all transactions may be treated as cash advance. Low and behold, I was finally able to make a purchase. Kudos to the United Club Visa Card and excellent customer service from Chase, who provides the card. They truly understand what world travel means.

But, this required a great deal of patience, persistence, and resourcefulness that the average traveler might not possess. If you’re traveling abroad, beware and vet this in advance. Otherwise, when you get a chip and PIN in the next year or so, rejoice.

 

My Review of Windows Phone 8

My first smartphone was a Windows Mobile device – a Motorola MPX200 to be precise. And that was all I used for the next few years culminating with the Treo 750W on Windows Mobile 6.5.

Then, the iPhone 3G came around. Everything about my iPod and phone was combined into one. And everything Windows Mobile 6.5 did, the iPhone did better – or had an application for that. I have been a steady user of the iPhone, having used the 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S and frankly never looked back.

With the debut of the Nokia Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8, it seemed to be time to give Microsoft another shot. So while in Canada I picked up an unlocked penta-band device and used it on both Bell Mobility in Canada and AT&T in the United States. And this is my take after some hardcore daily usage using the “Portico” update.

The Good:

  • Industrial design and build quality is fantastic
  • Voice quality is as good or better than any cell phone I have had since switching to a GSM phone in the United States
  • E-mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks are best-in-class; I live by Outlook and this is by far the best experience I have used on a mobile device
  • Integrated Office support is also best-in-class; zero issues opening and working with documents
  • Bluetooth contact pairing and caller ID support is better than any device I have used
  • Battery life has been outstanding
  • Contact filtering is truly useful – especially once you merge in all of your social networks. The search to then get back to all of your contacts is extremely well-done.
  • The Nokia application collection makes the phone truly stand-out (at least amongst its peers) and helps close the “app-gap”
  • Camera quality is absolutely fantastic (daylight focus issues fixed after the “Portico” update)
  • You can use the device while wearing gloves – very handy when working in and traveling to cold climates like Ottawa
  • Native QR codes support in the Bing application is seriously cool

The Bad:

  • Dial functions over Bluetooth break routinely in the car; after placing a call it becomes unpaired from my vehicle and I can never get it to repair without rebooting the vehicle
  • There is a serious lack of applications – including some promised ones. Notable misses from things I have become used to or depend upon:
    • Instagram (despite being promised)
    • United Airlines
    • Air Canada
    • Comcast’s series of applications
    • Tivo
    • Google+
    • Urbanspoon
    • Opentable
    • Yelp
    • Egencia
    • eBay Motors
    • Uber and Taximagic
  • Synchronizing the device with my iTunes Library was a disaster, despite this being a “feature”:
    • It took over 2 days to synchronize my photographs (8,000) – when continuously connected and synchronizing
    • Seemingly less than 15% of the music tracks I selected to sync actually copied – despite them all being either ripped from CD, pure MP3, or DRM-free music
    • I was never able to send an audio file to use as a ringtone successfully
  • IE10 is just not as smooth nor as well-performing as Safari on a handheld device
  • Some applications are substitutes and not as good as their original versions:
    • BoxFiles (in lieu of Dropbox)
    • MetroTalk (in lieu of Google Voice)
  • Other applications I use such as Evernote or Twitter or Facebook are lacking features from their iOS brethren
  • The Lumia 920 is not preconfigured for other carriers as an unlocked iPhone is; instead you have to know to download the Nokia Access Point application, find it (it’s in Settings and isn’t an application), and then occasionally tweak it further if a setting has changed – it is not a world-ready plug-n-play solution

The Verdict:

I wanted to make this my primary phone. I really, truly did. But it was actually the basics  that killed it for me. I use Bluetooth extensively; having it not work reliably is a non-starter. Likewise for sync. – if I have to dredge up an iPod and start carrying yet-another-device for a primary use case, it’s kind of defeating the purpose of having a multifunctional device.

The lack of applications is definitely annoying. But it not the end-of-the-world. Though I imagine if I had used it for more than a few weeks, it would have gotten on my nerves.

That said, I will definitely miss the superior e-mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks interface – coupled with native Office support.

So, for now, Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 has earned it’s keep as my international phone for use while traveling on other carriers. I only hope that with further evolution some of the gaps can be closed and it will be able to make it to my primary phone.

It’s frustratingly close…

Dubai – remarks

And that is the tallest building in the world. Live in Dubai – captured on my iPhone as we drove through the city. My remarks:

  • The architecture is more amazing than anything I have ever seen. Anywhere. Period.
  • The country is run like a company – that is the philosophy. Everything is about renewal and efficiency – with an incredible air of competitiveness. Nothing lest than the best will suffice.
  • It’s very liberal for an Islamic nation (e.g. – women can be uncovered, there are bars & nightclubs) – but values are strictly upheld and observed (e.g. – Ramadan, Internet censorship of inappropriate content).
  • Almost everyone is an immigrant. And it’s all about business. It is one of the most pro-business places I have been.
I hope I have the opportunity to go back! (And, at some point I’ll do a Flickr gallery of the iPhone posts.)