Category Archives: My Articles

First Look: Microsoft Office 2013

imageLater this year, Microsoft will once again update its industry standard Office productivity suite. Office 2013 will mark the 15th version of the suite. Microsoft’s strategy with this new version is to make the suite Cloud ready. Office 2010 introduced support in areas such as SkyDrive integration and collaboration through Office Web Apps. With the 2013 release the suite puts Cloud computing at the heart with a key to driving the theme of collaboration that has been a core functionality of the suite for many years. A lot of the visual changes users will notice revolve around collaboration and simplicity, a major theme of the next release of Windows 8.

Office with each revision is becoming a harder sell, the increasing interest in Cloud computing, Tablets have changed user patterns. The idea of the Office suite being an essential component of any new PC is being reconsidered. I remember over a decade ago when Office 2000 hit the market, it was just what everybody had to have on their PC at work or home. Interestingly, Office 2010 is turning out to be one of Microsoft’s best releases to date and not just from a usability stand point, but also when it comes to adoption. Recently Microsoft announced a major milestone in the products history at its World-wide Partner Conference, 1 billion installations of Microsoft Office. Here in Jamaica, I have visited a number of large businesses where I see large deployments of Windows 7 Enterprise and Office 2010 Professional Plus and of course, consumers have been adopting the desktop suite too. Where I work, students who bring their notebooks to school are running either a combination of Office Home and Student or the Starter edition. Although Starter is free, the feedback based on its use is very positive and shows that persons still love having Microsoft Office as part of their PC experience and consider it an essential component.

How will Office 2013 improve upon this, hard to say, there is still a large swath of Office 2007 and Office 2013 installations out there (my workplace is no exception). The thing with Office, you have a version, it works so good and does what it needs to do. Even with the introduction of the Ribbon, exposing jam packed features is not necessarily an easy sell to upgrade to a new version. The majority of users still only do basic one page documents in Word, Excel, while popular a lot of users don’t see much use for it beyond that and even when it is indeed being used, it’s not the hard core features that are put to work, its mainly simple list or calculations such as an invoice, accounting and simple number crunching chores. Many of these basic features, you can already get even in cheap alternatives such as Libre Office. It is interesting how much the user experience plays in Microsoft Office loyalty. People like working in the suite, it’s nice to look at and use. Of course, the brand and compatibility remains a driving force behind its strong adoption. Another way to look at Office too is how the suite is used, the 10 percent of features I need are not necessarily the 10 percent of features you use.

Office 2013 introduces strong Cloud support and it’s about making your Office files available anytime, anywhere. Yes, there are new whizz-bang features as usual. In this preview we take a look at the just released beta and see if the features are enough to entice existing and new users to upgrade.

Preliminary system requirements for the Preview include the following: Computer and processor: 1 Ghz or greater x86/x64 Processor with SSE2 instruction set

· Memory: 1 GB RAM (32 Bit) /2 GB RAM (64 Bit)

· Hard disk: 3.5 GB free disk space

· Operating System: Windows 7 or newer, either 32-bit or 64-bit; Windows 2008R2 or newer with .Net 3.5 or greater. It isn’t possible to install on a PC running Windows XP or Vista. To use with Windows 8 you must be running the Release Preview version or higher. Get the Release Preview.

· Graphics: Graphics hardware acceleration requires DirectX10 graphics card and 1024 x 576 resolution

SETUP

Office 2013 setup

If you have installed Office before, you have installed Office 2013, it’s an easy and quick process. I immediately notice the performance improvements in the setup routine. Office Professional Plus 2013 which is the edition used for this preview contains many of the Office applications and so will require more disk space to run, which one would think also takes a bit more time to install. Office 2013 is available in both 32 and 64 bit versions, Microsoft is also supporting a ARM version called Office RT which will come preloaded on new Windows 8 RT devices. The setup experience introduces a new modern design that is clearly metro, the design language of Windows 8. Office 2013 took just about 5 minutes to complete. Of course, this is a clean install on a copy of Windows 8, I have not attempted an in place upgrade from prior versions of Office running on commercially released versions of Windows, but it’s something I will be looking into doing in the near future. I did attempt installations on Windows XP and Windows Vista, those versions of Windows do not seem to be supported although the setup file did go through the extraction process. One change I have noticed during setup is, there is no request for a product key. It’s interesting, this is something required of Windows 8, but not Office 2013.

First Launch – General Office interface changes

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Office 2013 includes a new logo and icon set to go with the new release. Each icon reflects the modern metro design with a stencil representing each logo. When you launch Microsoft Word or any of the new 2013 versions of Office apps, you are greeted by a new element, a Start Screen for quickly starting on a project using an existing template. You can quickly open recent files you might have been working on too, whether they are stored locally, on a SharePoint Team Site or in a Cloud drive such as SkyDrive or even Dropbox. The Start screen concept might be familiar to users of Microsoft Office Access and Publisher. If you don’t like it, you can turn it off from the program options (File > Options > General).

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Start Screen in Office 2013

Another new element in Office 2013 programs, is a sign in option, Office 2010 introduced greater ties with Microsoft’s Windows Live services such as SkyDrive and other connected services such as Flickr and LinkedIn. Office 2013 fully embraces it, for instance, you can now sign into a Microsoft Account which will extend your use of Office in new areas. For instance, you can now have an online repository to store all your Office files so you can access them anywhere. In addition to that, you can sign into your Company’s network, so if you are joined to a Domain, you will be automatically signed in, this will allow you to store files on a Network Share or SharePoint Team Site automatically, this also includes support for Office 365.

The overall interface is a bit the same, there are no radical changes from the prior versions with exception of a more subtle colour scheme. The Ribbon is minimized by default in Office 2013 apps, one immediate discovery is a new full screen mode for Office 2013 applications, you can quickly toggle between this mode and the classic interface. Full screen mode is more than just minimizing the Ribbon, it hides any trace of it, leaving just the content of the window in view. A faint bar at the top of the screen ‘Click here for more commands’ takes you back to the busy interface in one click. The Ribbon area sees some significant changes, for instance, tab titles are full caps, (FILE, HOME, INSERT, DESIGN etc.). This seems to be an adherence to some of the Metro design principles of Windows 8 which is to be minimal and elegant while maintaining functionality throughout. Each Office 2013 application emphasizes its brand identity with a colour representing each Office module in the status bar area. You can personalize your Office 2013 apps from the File Backstage > Profile tab where you can choose a pattern to match your taste. I notice this only is available when you are connected to the Internet. Is there value around this, not really, but it kind of makes the app look nice? In regards to Windows 8 integration, don’t expect much, core Office applications such as Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint remain heavily desktop oriented. Apart from the Touch Mode and increase girth of certain contextual menus and the new Reading Mode, this is not the release that will fully embrace Windows 8’s Start Screen.

Office applications such as Word 2013 do make up for the lack of Windows 8 integration in some areas such as the new Reading Mode which focuses more on making it easier to use the application on a Touch device such as a Tablet, but this feels more targeted at consumption. In the QAT area, users will find a new button called Touch Mode which increases the girth in the Ribbon area making it easier for users on devices such as Tablets to work more comfortably in the UI. It’s not a complete solution, Office 2013 does not include any full Touch ready applications and you must still use it through the desktop app.

More about Microsoft Word 2013

The Office Word Processor will be 29 years old this fall, it has survived battles that lasted more than a decade. The 80’s was a time of innovation and competition from brands that are now defunct such as Lotus WordPro, WordStar, then the 90’s saw the battle heat up between Word and WordPerfect. Eventually Microsoft Word won that battle, WordPerfect could not compete with the concept of Office which bundled applications which would otherwise cost hundreds more if you were to buy them separately. Not to mention Offices increasing integration and support for Windows including technologies like OLE (Object Linking and Embedding).

In 2012 and beyond, Microsoft Office and Word face a much tougher enemy, its own self and the web. Microsoft has done a lot to make Office worth it with each version, Office 2003 tight integration with Exchange and SharePoint, Office 2007 making the suite and its features more discoverable, Office 2010 first attempt at making Office really cloud aware with features like PowerPoint broadcasting, integration with SkyDrive were decent sell.

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Using Word 2013, you ask, what really is the sell for this version? What is theme of this release? I have been using the suite for only a few hours now and I must say I like some of the finer details of Word 2013. For instance, when I open a document I was recently working on, especially one such as this, Word now offers to pick up from where I left using a new digital book marker. This new visual element is just one of the many ways Microsoft is better understanding user needs. Working on long documents is one of my chores when working in Word. For book authors this will be a welcome feature.

File Menu and Backstage

In Office 2010 Microsoft introduced Backstage a new feature of the suite which expanded the options available in the File menu more than a traditional File menu in a typical desktop application. Clicking File Office 2013 apps defaults to the Info Center where you will see a vital information and statistics about the document you are working on along with file location, permissions and version information. The improved backstage is a bit saner with some added simplicity to quickly retrieving and simplifying access to your files. I personally have Microsoft Office files stored across a variety of locations, this includes Network shares, local and online lockers such as SkyDrive and Dropbox. It is nice to have Office recognize these repositories natively without requiring the manual interaction of previous versions, the integration is a lot more fluid than Office 2010.

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Full Screen Mode

Office Options

I am still disappointed that Microsoft has not moved the Office application options into Backstage user interface considering that there is a lot of real estate to do so and would reduce the clutter of the dialog and cumbersome experience of a modal dialog. In fact, I could say the same for the Save As window which could utilize Backstage and the new quicker access to locations. There just seems to be a lot of repetitiveness in the Office 2013 UI that could be lessened. Another issue with saving a document, when I press CTRL + S to save a document, Word brings up the Start Screen and defaults to saving to SkyDrive. I think the suite should display the options when there is no network or Internet connection detected and make saving locally the default and SkyDrive the option or have Office apps allow you to save in multiple locations. I notice some problems navigating with my keyboard too.

Home tab

One of the things about Office 2013 a lot of the UI elements are wordier, for instance, the Find and replace pane has replaced the tabs icon based tabs with words ‘Headings, Pages and Results’. Apart from this, everything else remains identical to Office Word 2013.

Insert tab

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Working with Tables adds some minor visual improvements that make the process a bit easier and less confusing, whether you are inserting existing rows or columns the new contextual aware element pops up when you hover over these parts of a Table. The Illustrations group adds a new button for Online Pictures, this allows you to browse your connected online services such as Flickr and insert pictures. If you are wondering what has happened to Clip Art, it has been consolidated into Online Pictures. Online Pictures is quite useful, I actually had to use this to do a quick report for my supervisor who needed a list of items I needed for my department. I could quickly do a quick image search for items I needed like a new Crimping tool, Compressed Air, Cotton Swabs from the comfort of Microsoft Word. I think that is just excellent.

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Quick Table formatting options

A new Media tab also adds support for inserting videos into your Word documents. Another new group called Agave is an exciting new feature in Office 2013. If there is a functionality you would like to have in Office Agave might be an excellent way to get it. This is a new way to enhance existing functionality or add new features to your Office applications through market place. So far though, most of the agaves built are Dictionaries, Legal forms and research tools which should come in handy for students. For instance, when using the new Define feature, I had to install a Dictionary first before I could utilize it.

Design tab (New)

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New to Word 2013 is the Design tab which focuses on dressing up your Office documents, a lot of the features here were previously spread across several tabs including Home and Insert. Here you will find features such as Styles gallery, Page Layout themes for sprucing up documents with colours, fonts and effects. Other features include Paragraph spacing Effects and quicker access to tools such as Watermark, page colour and page bordering. I appreciate the addition of this tab since a lot of these tools especially watermark are almost lost in the current Word 2010 UI and makes it easier apply such features.

Review

Working with Comments in Word 2013 is much nicer, using a call out box design, it’s a lot more subtle and conservative than the current comment pane in Word 2010. Word 2013 includes a built in dictionary for defining words in your document, you can find it in the Proofing group under Proofing. Spelling and Grammar has now been redesigned as a pane instead of the old modal dialog providing for a better way to review documents.

PDF and Reading Mode

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The improved Reading Mode experience in Word 2013

The Office Team realizes that to be a successful release, one has to do more than just edit and collaborate on documents. You also have to be convenient and accessible to other resources. Microsoft’s Windows 8 is heavily targeted around consumption of content and Office embraces with its improved Reading Mode and PDF support. PDF support came to Office initially as an add on that allowed Office 2007 users to create documents using the applications. Word 2013 introduces the ability to actually view documents, something I was hoping for in 2010. One thing I would recommend, do not expect to view overly complex documents with it. PDF viewing and editing in Word 2013 should be strictly limited to text based documents. Documents that might have tables and other complex formatting are often mangled.

Reading Mode is a nice feature to use and you can picture it being just as useful on a Tablet. The left and right arrows feel more natural when viewing and navigating a document. You can also adjust the length and width of the document in addition to colour options for the page background when reading.

Other noticeable changes

In Word 2013 Microsoft has changed the measurement of units from inches to centimetres (CM) for the ruler and margins. I discovered this when setting tab options, I personally don’t like it and does not work properly with some document formatting. You can change this in the Word options > Advanced > under Display. Turning on the ruler requires that you go to the View tab instead of the quick View Ruler button. Also, the document page has dropped the shadow for much flatter look.

There are some areas I would have loved to see real improvements in such as Mail Merge wizard and the issue of modal dialogs. Word and Windows in general has an issue where I can’t work on a new document from the same application if I have an existing modal dialogue open. For instance, I was using the Mail merge wizard and was creating a new recipient list, I wanted to switch between documents but was unable to until I closed the dialog. The Mac has resolved this problem since Mac OS X 10.0. Another issue is the Mail Merge wizard, the pre-populated New Address List table/column is annoying to use and manipulate. If I am customizing the columns, I have to manually delete each entry, I should have the option to just do a ‘CTRL + A’ and delete the existing field names or a delete all if I have my own fields I would like to enter.

Blogging seem to finally work in Microsoft Word. I setup my blog in Microsoft Word 2013 and was able to publish to my blog without a problem. I could never seem to get this working in Word 2007 or 2010.

Conclusion

Word 2013 might not be jam packed with eye popping features, but it certainly refines an already great application used by hundreds of millions of users every day and it only gets better. If you have been on Office 2007 or 2003, it definitely is a worthy upgrade that offers a host of new features. Office 2010 users might be a bit reluctant, but Office Word 2013 offers increased online integration and makes working across multiple platforms, whether it’s using the Office Web Apps or locally will appreciate integration with online services such as Flickr or even new multimedia features such as Online Video which redefines the typical Word document. These richer features reflect the changing land scape of productivity. Word 2013 ensures users will have new ways of expressing their ideas and the ability to have access to that information anytime, anywhere, any device.

Excel 2013

Initially Excel 2013 doesn’t look like it has much to offer over its predecessor Excel 2010, but after digging in you start experiencing some of the refined improvements of the legendary spread sheet app. My immediate love is the new improved charting capabilities. A new on the fly feature for charting called ‘Recommended Charts’ allows you to convert data into commonly used charting styles such as Bar and Pie. The improved chart options allows you to actually see a real-time preview of how your data will be reflected visually, you can even hover over a thumbnail and see a larger preview of the chart itself. Recommended charts is not limited to just charting, you can also use it with your Pivot Tables too.

This feature is not limited to just the three chart styles offered. The new Charting Gallery is better organized, offering live previews along with the ability to preview your data in a number of layouts based on different iterations of a chart style. The chart illustrations are much richer and vibrant in colours too and reflect a new style that’s new to the suite and makes it uniquely and distinctively Excel 2013. Excel is a heavily data centric application and the ability to communicate in a richer way visually is one of the highlights of the new version and charting demonstrates this.

There are some slight Touch support in Excel 2013, in addition to supporting Touch Mode, when doing calculation operations on a cell, example; conditional formatting a large thumbnail menu is displayed instead of the simple list contextual menu. Excel utilizes its green brand colour to emphasize interaction with spread sheet, for instance, when you highlight a range of cells, cell borders are in green.

Other small noticeable changes, when doing an auto sum, Excel does a cash register like animation. Excel 2013 adds new formulas for Web Service which include ENCODEURL, FILTERXML and WEBSERVICE.

PowerPoint 2013

The popular presentation app reflects changes such as a new default 16:9 wide screen format that is great for viewing on wide screen TVs, laptops and projectors. The standard 4:3 ratio is still an option for older setups. Incidentally, 16:9 is available in 2010, it’s just that it has been enabled by default in 2013.

The Design Tab features a new Background Fill option with advanced options for changing the Slide Background with patterns, gradients, picture and texture fills. This new Task pane also features options for adding artistic effects and image adjust options such as Sharpening, Brightening, Contrast, Colour Options and some pre-set options.

Noted changes:

PowerPoint’s 2010 Broadcast Slide Show has been renamed to Present Online. PowerPoint 2013 also supports the new Reading Mode feature. The Notes pane which is off by default in 2013 has been moved to the Status bar as a toggle button. The Outline View pane has been moved into the Presentation View group under the View tab.

Access 2013

Seems light on features, I hardly found anything new with exception for the simpler creation of a new database.

Publisher 2013

Working in Publisher 2013 feels right at home, the Start Screen interface feature which is new to other Office 2013 apps integrates well with the desktop publishing app. immediately users can get started on a project or work from scratch. It would be nice if Microsoft could invest in at least licensing some professional template designs. A lot of the templates I am seeing in the app have been around since Publisher 98. Recently I created some award certificates for 150 graduates, I would have liked to use something professional utilizing bushes pattern styles (usually found on currency and sophisticated certificates).

One other area Publisher remains frustrating and that is Mail Merge, I discussed it earlier. I mentioned creating award certificates for graduates. These certifications displays the students subjects, I had to manually enter each in the data form column. It would have been nice to copy and paste students who sat the same subjects. Working in the data table is very limiting and frustrating, you can’t copy and paste the contents of a row or column into another row or column. So if it’s the same data, in the same set of the rows, you have copy and paste from the same cell over and over or enter it manually. It’s possible you could edit the data source through Access then import it into Publishers Mail Merge wizard, but it’s so much to do, I would rather just have it work already in the app.

Outlook 2013

The Personal Information Manager sees some light changes to its user interface, the Task Pane has now been reduced to a Tab at the bottom of the screen. Outlook 2013 seems to be blurring the lines between personal and professional, becoming more socially aware by integrating with popular social networking services while still maintaining its long standing enterprise communication tools. First, the Outlook brand has shed its golden yellow theme to a blue theme, which I find strange, since this means there are three Office apps using a blue theme (Word, Visio and Outlook). Instead of using an icon menu, familiar components of Outlook such as Mail, Calendar, People (formerly Contacts) and Tasks are worded. The 2013 version is essentially the same, browsing through each area of Outlook embraces some flashy animations.

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Each of the components of Outlook are designed to be more on the fly in how they work. You can hover each and see a quick preview and interact with it, including your calendar and tasks. Outlook 2010 and prior versions are very modal in design. With Outlook 2013 you are not restricted by this and can easily stay in one location of the UI and get a glance out other areas. These new options support pinning, so if you need to always have one item in view, you can pin it.

Other noticeable changes

· The Outlook Social Connector is now built in.

· Calendar features weather forecast for your local.

· Outlook Social Connector features are much richer in details, you can click a contact icon and view quick information including Birthday, Social updates from Facebook.

Final Conclusion

One should note, this is just a first look at Office 2013 although the program is the first and final beta before it goes to market. Am I impressed? I like Office, it’s a product Microsoft can do no wrong with, but the issue of selling it with an already great release on market (Office 2010) poses a big issue. Is it a must have release? No. Is it a release I would like to have? Yes. If you are running Windows 8, Office 2013 will have some improved functionality that make using it on the new OS much easier compared to 2010, but it is not a final solution to the Touch issue and the Start Screen. Office is not an app designed for Touch, it was really designed for your keyboard and mouse. My personal recommendation is to develop an Office that does not pack everything into the UI for the Start Screen. A person using a Tablet will not need all the features of Office, but they will need features like compatibility, accessibility, basic editing and manipulation. I believe a solution similar to how Apple markets its iWork suite for iPad is where Office needs to go.

Overall, a lot of what I have found in the 2013 release so far could easily be enabled in 2010, measurement units, slide screen aspect ratio are just a couple. I do like some of the refined features of the suite such as the Task Panes (something which started with Word 2010) that have been fully implemented in 2013 eliminating most of the annoying modal dialogs. The new Agaves feature might actually be the highlight of this release allowing third party developers to really extend the platform and its capabilities with additional functionality and features. Online integration seems to be a driving theme and a lot of what you might want to use in the new version will likely dependent on it. For example, the Define words feature requires Internet access. Office 2013 is pushing certain cloud functionality as the default, for instance, the Start Screen will display a variety of online templates when you are connected to the Internet and the defaulting to SkyDrive for saving your files. If these things are not important to you, then whatever version you are running now will probably be enough for your current needs.

Loading up some older versions of Office in a VM to test compatibility, I came across my Office 97 installation disc, on the disc it said ‘now with the Power of the Internet’, well, with Office 2013 that could not be truer than now.

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Windows Tablets whats next vs the competition

InformationWeek writer Paul McDougall talks about Microsoft’s slow move to compete with upcoming contenders Google, HP on the desktop and Tablet front. The reality is, Microsoft does needs to get its act together and come good, but at the same time, this dooms day prediction that Apple, HP and Google will be eating Microsoft’s market share to zero by the end of 2012 with the so-called ‘post PC’ devices is a bit ridiculous.

“You create a massive platform,” said Apotheker, referring to his intention to stretch WebOS across smartphones, tablets, and personal computers.

This news came amid reports earlier in the week that Microsoft won’t have a truly tablet-compatible version of Windows until the 2012 back-to-school season, when it plans to release an edition of Windows 8 geared to run on ARM’s mobile processors. That leaves a massive gap of 18 months during which time HP will seed the personal computing market with non-Windows technology, the iPad will have hit its third iteration, and Google’s Android (which can run smartphones, slates, and netbooks) will rack up more double-digit market share gains.

Read the entire article here

I look at it differently, every x86 and ARM Tablet will be considered a Windows PC by the time Microsoft ships Windows vNext or whatever they call it, don’t forget that. When you think about the overall PC market, every OEM will be producing Tablet devices shipping with Windows next year. When sold, they will obviously outnumber (an probably are today when you think about the many Windows PC form factors that are now on the market), the iPads, Xooms and Web OS Tablets. That’s why Steve Jobs is using the opportunity now to differentiate and call the iPad and iPhone post PC devices when they are doing exactly the same thing as PC’s using a good Touch interface.

You can do word processing, email, web browsing, even movie making now on an iPad, the same things you can do today on a traditional notebook or desktop PC. So tell me, how does this make ‘it’ the iPad any different from a PC? As for Windows vNext, I suspect Microsoft has something clever up their sleeves, I have a feeling they know the Windows UI needs to be re-architected properly for 10 fingers, but at the same time they don’t want to isolate users (WP7 tiles are not the answer). I am sure all the teams at Microsoft: Office, Windows Live are on board to create apps that are more Windows vNext touch centric since the point and click iterations today are still not suitable.

By the way, Google’s first efforts in the Tablet market have so far been described as ‘tepid’, with the Android 3.0 codenamed Honeycomb having some stability issues. A quote from ZDNET details the issue with the new Motorola Xoom device:

Misek said:

Xoom sales have been underwhelming. While marketing has just started we believe MMI will likely have to cut production if it already has not done so. We believe the device has been a bit buggy and did not meet the magic price point of $500. We believe management knows this and is hurrying development and production of lower cost tablets. Importantly we believe management will likely have to make the painful decision to accept little to no margin initially in order to match iPad 2’s wholesale pricing.

Learn more here

This is something I believe Microsoft also wants to avoid with Windows vNext, it has to be an exceptional release across many form factors from the get go. The OS has a lot to live up to with Windows 7 being such a major success. Microsoft has a reputation and it would be a shame to see it shattered with a buggy rushed release. This is a huge market and there is a piece of the pie for everyone, its just that we don’t know who will ultimately own the most slices, right now, its looking like Apple especially with the iPad 2 release.

Microsoft has done the heavy lifting already, they showed that at CES that they have ARM running Windows, now the job is to create a great user experience.  It’s still Microsoft’s game.

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Recap: 2011 Microsoft MVP Global Summit

Last week I was in Seattle, Washington to attend my first Microsoft MVP Global Summit. This was a great opportunity for me to meet with fellow MVP’s from around the world. This years summit hosted over 1,500 Microsoft MVP’s from 80 countries in 90 Microsoft technologies. After flying for nearly 24 hours, I made it into Bellevue at 2:35 AM February 27th.

MVP Badge 2011

Sunday was an opportunity to register early, pick up my badge and attend a couple pre-summit sessions if I wanted. I used the opportunity to get some food and well needed rest for the few days ahead.

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Another key aspect of the MVP Summit is an opportunity to meet with product teams and engage in discussion with them about your experiences and to really provide feedback at an intimate level. Most of the summit was covered by Non-disclosure Agreements, although my first breakout session was not.

Day 1 – February 28th

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Scenes from my first break out session, those two heads in front of me are Gilberto Perera of Gils Method and Richard Hay of Windows Observer

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In that session a lot of the scenarios associated with Windows Live and the synergies with other Microsoft products such as Windows 7, Windows Phone 7, Zune and Microsoft Office were discussed and demonstrated. It was great to see a first hand experience of how powerful these products are when used together. Of course, they are great on their own, but you can get some amazing experiences when you use them with other Microsoft products and services.

Evening event

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L-R MVP JonPappa (Digital Media MVP), Rob Brown Windows Expert Consumer MVP, Andre Da Costa, Hal Hostetler Windows Expert Consumer MVP, Jake Grey MVP Lead.

Another great experience at the MVP Summit was the chance to meet my fellow MVP’s from around the world. The Attendee Party is a great opportunity to socialize and network with MVP’s and to also talk with your MVP Lead.

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MVP’s network and enjoy great food

This was an amazing opportunity for me, along with the great food, it was really cool to meet MVP’s I follow on Twitter or read their blogs everyday. Some of these MVP’s I got meet include @WinObs, @Manan and @Edbott Being able to share that vision, enthusiasm, advocacy and passion for great products and services was truly a great experience. I tweet with a lot of MVP’s over the years and what I keep saying, it is so surreal to actually be able to finally meet them in person and have a conversation. It is one of the most valuable experiences you get out of the summit.

The Microsoft Campus

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Heading to Building 92 to get my summit badge!

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The Microsoft Conference Center – First day of break out sessions took place here

Visiting the campus for the first time was of course an exciting experience, you always hear about it and what its like there. The first impression is, its HUGE! Its not a campus, but more like a city as my good friend and fellow Microsoft MVP and Microsoft Answers participant Rob Brown describes. Located in the town of Redmond the campus is the headquarters for the Company where the bulk of product development takes place. A total of 40,000 employees work there which is just astounding when you think about it.

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A view from within the Mixer located on the Microsoft Commons

Day 2 – Keynote

On day two, we headed to the Meydenbauer Center for the keynote which was opened by Nestor Portillo [Director Microsoft Community & Online Support]. Nestor talked about how the MVP program is more than just a technology meet-up. It was great to see MVP’s making huge impacts in their community outside of the technology industry. It was a great feeling to see MVP’s helping with rebuilding efforts in New Orleans.

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There were additional keynote speeches by Microsoft Executives such as Steve Ballmer, Toby Richards and Ron Markezich. This is my second time seeing Steve Ballmer in person and he is always passionate and energized about Microsoft and this keynote speech was no exception. He spoke about his enthusiasm for Microsoft and his strong confidence in the company’s product strategy along with the belief in MVP’s as a key part of that effort to help communicate Microsoft’s products and services to customers.

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Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer

Toby Richards keynote focused on improvements to community services and some of the exciting technologies and services that are coming in the pipeline to help customers get answers to problems and get the most out of their technology investments.

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Toby Richards, General Manager for the Microsoft MVP Program

The last keynote was provided by Ron Markezich who talked about the Cloud and how much of a critical investment it is for Microsoft and how the Company is committed to it and is seeing a tremendous amount of up take from popular industry brands around the world. I was lucky to have one of my questions answered during the Executive Q&A, which was cool hearing my name called.

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Me with two Windows Expert – IT Pro MVP’s, David Nudelman (above) & Elias Mereb (below)

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Friendly Microsoft Access MVP’s, I somehow ended up sitting at their table

After the keynote, we went for lunch, then headed back to Campus. During lunch, I had the opportunity to meet a fellow MVP who I participate with on ActiveWin.com, Kenneth Vansurksum who is from the Netherlands. That was another great moment for me, since I have known Kenneth virtually for years, so it was great to finally chat with and meet him in person.

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Me and Kenneth VanSurksum [MVP]

After a another day of breakout sessions, we headed back to the Microsoft Commons for our product group evening event which is another opportunity to socialize and network with fellow MVP’s. One of the perks of an event like the MVP Summit is getting the chance to meet industry professionals or what some would call the stars, like Ed Bott. Meeting Ed was truly one of those great moments, we had a long discussion about our views on Microsoft, its role in the industry and its key competitors. Ed is truly a nice guy who really knows his stuff and is not a ‘fanboy’ as some persons might think. A lot of persons were surprised to know he is an MVP, but if you have been to Ed’s personal blog you will know why.

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Ed Bott and Andre Da Costa

One of things I have to point out, Microsoft knows how to feed people, there was no shortage of food throughout the summit, with a variety of dishes catering to the many cultures Microsoft hosted for the 3 day event.

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Just a sample of some of the great food!

Day 3 – Last day

My last day of the MVP Summit started off with more Break Out Sessions.

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I got the chance to play with some cool Windows 7 slate devices and I was very surprised how usable some of these form factors are. I am not gonna say they are just as intuitive as the iPad since I still believe, Windows 7 is not Touch Centric enough with its point and click UI. The scenarios though make it more powerful in terms of having a device that can be used not only for casual needs but for real productivity office work and even serious play time if you need it.

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Fellow Windows Expert Consumer MVP’s from around the world

Before leaving building 31 for the last time, I had a pleasant surprise visit from Windows Communication Manager Brandon Leblanc who I first met in 2007 at the Windows Vista Product Launch. It was great to see Brandon again as were fellow MVP’s some of whom were meeting him for the first time.

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Brandon Leblanc, Windows Communication Manager and Me

Safeco Field

My last day in Seattle ended with a bang! A special Attendee Party was kept at the Safeco Field Baseball stadium which gave MVP’s additional time to talk and socialize with fellow MVP’s, Microsoft Product Managers and eat great food.

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At the Safeco Field Baseball Stadium

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MVP’s enjoying themselves and listening to great music from the Beatniks

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My pal Rob Brown

So, all ended well. For me this trip will be forever etched in my memory. The MVP Summit is such an amazing opportunity to interact with cultures from around world and learn so much from each other.

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A little sun started to come out in the evening on my last day

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My room mate Alan Burchill Group Policy MVP from Australia

I want to give a shout out to my room mate, a cool guy from Australia named Alan Burchill. Although we are at opposite spectrums of MVP Expertise’s, we share that same love for Microsoft products and that passion for technology. It was really great to meet you!

To the Microsoft MVP Community, thank you for making my first Microsoft MVP Summit special. You enabled me to meet amazing people from all around the world, meet product teams and have conversations with an impact. I am already seeing changes based on feedback I provided. That’s amazing! Also, your concierge staff was very helpful and friendly. The food was excellent, there was so much of it, not to mention the free sodas at the Campus. I have to come back next year, the Hyatt Regency was a great place to stay too, will come a little earlier next time.

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I was especially pleased to really understand that Microsoft values our input and our commitment to help making the products you and I use everyday even better. I learned a lot about synergy and how the focus is on making software not only easy to use but able to really add value in a variety of scenarios and change lives for the better.

Thank you,

Andre

You can check out the MVP Photo Gallery I created on Flickr here

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Katherine Noyes proves why you should not to switch to Linux.

PC World Linux enthusiast Katherine Noyes goes into desperation mode as she makes her plea to Windows users why they should switch now. I notice there is a clear lack of research sprinkled with a whole lot of white lies about Windows and no intention of correcting them. I tried responding, but I notice my comments are not showing up at all (I wonder why). So I decided to post my response here. I guess that is the beauty of having your own blog. 🙂

1. >> You wake up one day and realize you’re tired of paying for an operating system that’s more bogged down with bugs than most alpha builds are.

I could say the same for Linux, and who wants to install a moving target? Every six months Linux distro’s such as Ubuntu, Fedora release new versions which users have to upgrade to if they want to keep up with supported packages and get user support from the Linux community. Can you run a version of Ubuntu from 2004 and get support today? What about Redhat versions from 2002 or 2001? 

>> What, exactly, are you paying for here?

With Windows, you pay for peace of mind. You are guaranteed that the product will be supported and that there is a healthy community around the product with available software and hardware devices that support it. I know Windows, everybody knows over 1.2 billion Windows users know Windows and can get free or paid support if they want it.

>> Then, of course, there’s also all the antivirus software you have to buy to keep it running.

Malicious code is released for Linux, just that you same Linux users hide that information and because of its small market share, its not much news to anyone but Linux users. As for Antivirus, there is both free and commercial solutions. I personally am running Microsoft Security Essentials, but you also have Free AVG, AVAST! Home. Katherine, don’t be this naive, it makes you look like you don’t have a clue what you are writing about or don’t do any form of research on your articles. 

>> Linux, on the other hand, countless developers around the world are working around the clock to keep the 100 percent free operating system at the head of its class.

Well, they are doing a lousy job, last time I checked, Linux is at 0.85% while Windows 7 is currently at over 300 million users.

2. >> If you find yourself upgrading perfectly good hardware just because resource-hungry Windows demands it, you might be using the wrong operating system.

I am using the same HP Deskjet HP 840c I bought for Windows 2000 Professional on Windows 7, plug it in and the drivers are installed automatically. Same can be said for my HP ScanJet 2400. My Digital camera I purchased in 2006 works with Windows 7, so does my C350 World GPRS Modem I got in 2000. I don’t understand what you mean by resource hungry either, because I am running Windows 7 Professional 32 bit on the same DELL I bought in March of 2004 with Windows XP Home, same specs, I only upgraded the RAM because I use programs like Photoshop and AutoCAD and I have a lot of applications open, but its the same specs, 3.2 GHz HT Northwood, nVidia Geforce FX 5200 128 MB AGP, all the same components working just fine, the no performance issues here.

3. >> You’re Tired of Malware 

I will admit, Windows is a target, but what do you expect with 1.2 billion installations versus Linux with 0.85%. Windows 7 has a lot of built in protections, first of all, you are not the root Administrator since the operating system installs with a Standard Administrator which does not have access to the critical parts of the system that malicious code can infiltrate and cause damage. On top of that, you have technologies such as UAC which prevents unauthorized apps from writing to areas of the system without your permission. ASLR helps to prevent malware from attacking the system because it shifts around key operating system code on boot up to fool malware. Also, you have technologies like Stack Heap Protection, BitLocker Drive Encryption, EFS, Protected Mode in IE, AutoRun is disabled by default, System Restore, Backup and Restore Center with System Imaging along with a good free Antivirus such as MSE and using Automatic Updates which takes care of updating Windows, Office, Windows Live services and even your drivers with a good set of built in File and Permission settings. If you are paranoid even more, you can setup a Limited User Account for extra security.

4. >> You’ve Seen One Too Many Patch Tuesdays

If you have Automatic Updates turned (which it is by default), you don’t have worry your little head off. You are acting like Linux was designed by aliens (probably because its next to impossible understand or use). I guess that’s over a billion users have chosen Windows.

5. >> Who among us doesn’t enjoy spending hours at a time scanning for viruses and spyware and defragmenting?

All of these task are automated, Windows Vista introduced a low priority defragmenter that runs in the background on a single thread to keep your Windows 7 system optimized at all time. As for Scanning for Antivirus, you might have to do those things manually through the command line on Linux, but in Windows its automated and you can setup schedules to do it for you without clicking a mouse.

>> Well, probably all of us don’t enjoy that, actually. Then, too, there’s all that unplanned downtime. Don’t we have other things to do?

Its probably down time for someone like you who spends every winking hour in front of their PC or you are using a 486 DX or you just don’t have a life. Like going out, taking pictures, enjoying time with family friends, having an actual social life. You sound like someone who sits in front of a PC waiting to see the next update come through the Ubuntu Software center. That’s called pathetic.

6. >> If Windows’ boot speed were faster, when would you make your coffee? Right. Sadly, that argument doesn’t quite cut it anymore.

Well, you have a number of options such as Sleep, Hibernate and normal booting. Remember that Windows 7 includes trigger starting of services, so only essential services are loaded on boot up and services can be loaded on demand. So if you are going to watch a movie, connect to a network, Windows will start those services when needed. Overall this provides a optimized system that is fast and efficient and works the way you want to.

7. >> Your business associate in Berlin tried to send you an .ODP file–based on the international standard file format–but PowerPoint wouldn’t read it properly. So much for interoperability.

well, considering that over 750 million individuals use Microsoft Office everyday, sharing is not a problem. On top of that you can use free services such as Skydrive with Office Web Apps to view, edit and collaborate on Word documents, Excel Spreadsheets and PowerPoint Presentations. If you need to share something with the very slow and buggy OpenOffice, you can save Office documents in the .ODF format.

8. >> It’s no accident Internet Explorer’s market share is slipping, and vulnerabilities are a big part of it. Then, too, there’s the monoculture effect making it all worse.

You know, if this was 2005 and it was Internet Explorer 6, I would agree with you. Microsoft has updated its browser and kept pace with the competition. Features like Protected Mode introduced IE 7, InPrivate Mode. Also, with Windows, you can run all of the popular web browsers out there without the need to switch to Linux. On top of that, Windows versions of popular browsers introduce all the top features first, Linux and OS X have to wait months or even years to get certain features. Examples include updated UI, Accelerated graphics that actually utilizes the hardware.

9. >> It’s no longer fun waiting to see when Microsoft will fix bugs, or what new features it will come out with. You’re ready to start driving changes like that yourself.

Oh please, those who care about writing and compiling code would already be running Linux, so you would basically be preaching to the choir. People have important things to do with their life instead of being full time evangelist for an OS.

10. >> Though it can be altered in very small, superficial ways, Windows can’t hold a candle to Linux when it comes to customizability. Are you just another face in the crowd? Of course not, and Linux recognizes that.

You can customize Windows to your hearts content too. In Windows 7, click Start, type: Turn Windows Features on or off, hit Enter.

Uncheck what you don’t need. If you don’t like the interface, right click the desktop and click Personalization or you can download a free utility like StarDock Object Desktop and customize Windows to your liking. Windows 7 is way more culturally aware than Linux or OS X, it includes a vast collection of themes that represent people and their culture and things they like about their culture. It supports a large collection localizations that makes Windows 7 feel like it was made just for them, you can even create your own themes and share them with friends and family.

>> Is Linux perfect? Certainly not. But it is a lot better than Windows in so many ways. Isn’t it time for you to finally make the switch?

I have proven you are wrong, sorry, better luck next time.

Original post here 

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My Early experience with the new Windows Live Hotmail!

Finally, after waiting so long, I have managed to catch the new Windows Live Hotmail wave 4 which the Windows Live Hotmail Team is gradually rolling out. Windows Live Hotmail introduces some new features that make it more productive, convenient and desktop like when managing your email in the web browser. I have been a loyal user of the of the Web Mail service for a long time now and have witnessed the major changes that have occurred over the years, moving from 1 MB inbox to 1 GB storage, to 5 GB to now over 25 GBs of available online storage for a lot of email!

The new Windows Live Hotmail wave 4! 

This release of Windows Live Hotmail which is in its 4th wave is a lot more cohesive with other facets of the Windows Live services, from photos to Office Web Apps. One of the immediate benefits when working with Windows Live services is the notification experience, for instance, if I am on my Windows Live profile page, I can see a notification in the Windows Live links banner how many unread messages there are in my inbox or access my Instant Messaging Contacts. If I hover over the Hotmail link, a pop out menu displays quick links to my Inbox, Contacts, Calendar and New Email Message. Windows Live Hotmail is fast and I am sure about this, because I am mostly on a GPRS connection which is quite slow 5 KBs per sec. I live in a rural area where there is no LAN line available. Hotmail loaded surprisingly fast, it might not be amazing for certain persons, but its quite satisfactory.

Interface

There are numerous interface changes users can expect when working with the new Hotmail, of course, this is a first use account, so stick with me as I familiarize myself over time. Email is a strong focus and managing it is a key improvement. The Inbox toolbar features a wide assortment of sorting filters which include: All, Unread, Contacts, Social Updates, From groups, Everything else. You can even sort by Date, From, Size and even Conversation, which is a new addition to Hotmail which you can find in Microsoft’s desktop email clients Windows Live Mail wave 4 and Office Outlook 2010.

Conversation View – click to enlarge

Users will note that the Mail pane features some welcome improvements that I have so long waited for. Finally, collapsible groups, this provides a much cleaner and less jarring experience when working in Hotmail regularly, especially if you have a lot of folders or small screen resolution. You will notice two additions in the Mail pane; Quick Views and Messenger. Quick Views provides instant access to Messages you might have flagged and want to follow up later and all your Photos and Office documents. Web Messenger allows you to sign in and conveniently access your instant messaging contacts from within Hotmail. Personally, I wish Messenger was available as a status bar panel in the Hotmail interface, please see my Thoughts on Windows Live Hotmail wave 4 post to learn more. It would be nice if Home, Contacts and Calendar were also collapsible for more convenience.

One immediate flaw I noticed, some Notifications cannot be closed, while perusing the new features, I noticed a banner notification appeared, asking me to re-sign into Hotmail because it has been updated. Of course, I was not interested in doing this immediately, a close button would have been nice.

Again, Windows Live Hotmail wave 4 is about being more productive and you immediately see this in subtle improvements like when you hover an email message. A small floating menu pops up with convenient task options for quickly replying, moving or delete the message. Less clicks, lots of tricks, I like it! 🙂

Email Message

The body of a message is an important part of the email experience and the Hotmail Team added some sophisticated features that makes using Hotmail a lot more powerful. When you select a message, you will notice a Smart faint blue banner at the top of the message header. The Header will indicate if the message is part of a conversation, you can hover the Senders name and a floating dialog will appear with quick task options, an Action Menu reveals a pop out list with a collection of common task, see screenshot for details. If the person is part of your contact list, you can also see their Messenger status.

Conversation View is a lovely feature that makes email messages more sane to read and keep on top of. If you are working on a project within a team where there is a lot of exchanges or collaborating on a document, you are able to see a more accurate and understandable view of the conversation or skip the messages you find most irrelevant or view what is really of interest to you. These are major business features that I am sure will make Hotmail more attractive to SMBs or Home Office users. The presentation is gorgeous too, with light visual cues such as a soft edge shadow to indicate a selected part of a conversation. I also like how Conversation view reduces clutter in my inbox, last month I was in a 22 message marathon with some Help and Support folks and it became so unwieldy to keep track of things, Conversation view will make future messaging experiences like that a breeze. I like how Hotmail also completes an action without the need to refresh the page. It seems Hotmail has done a lot of extensive work where under the hood technologies such as AJAX are concerned.

I still believe there is a bit of wasted space in Windows Live Hotmail though but this is possibly attributed to the Windows Live Wave Banner links at the top of the page. The Windows Live Team could honestly make the ‘Windows Live   Hotmail    Messenger   Office   Photos  | MSN’ links text smaller.

New Email Message

Again, its about accessibility and convenience. In addition to a elegant toolbar strip, users will notice links to Office Docs and Photos. I noted earlier that Hotmail Wave 4 should be more attractive to SMBs and Home Office users. Tight Office integration is an example of this, when you click the Office attachment button, the default folder directory will display only Microsoft Office file types, .doc. .docx, .xl, .ppt etc.

A very convenient improvement, of course, I would have loved if you could attach Office documents directly from Skydrive. The same applies to photos, you can attach pictures and on the fly create a Photo Album on Skydrive along with editing the Album Details and previewing a Slide Show. When you click the Edit Album Details, you have the option of setting permissions on the album from within Hotmail such as when the Album will expire, whether the recipient can edit, add or delete photos. Emoticons have also been improved, when you click the Emoticon button, a Task pane appears with a gallery of popular emoticons you can add to your message. Personally, I think this could be a floating pop out menu.

Office Integration

Microsoft Office comes to Hotmail, in a big way. The synergies users will experience is a more accessible, well integrated experience that makes it convenient to view and edit Microsoft Office files seamlessly. What I like about Quick Views is the accessibility and convenience, here you will find all Office files that you have either sent or received accumulated in this folder, the same goes for pictures – we will get to that later. For instance, you receive an attached Word document, you will notice you have multiple choices, you can either download the document and edit/view in Word or view Docx online right from within Skydrive. Now, the sweet part is editing or viewing using Docx online. When you click the link to do so, Hotmail will immediately take you to a special Microsoft Office web app on Hotmail mode. Prior to this, when I collaborated on reviews, it was so cumbersome when I had to make minor edits, I had to download, make the edits, reattach them and send them off. Now with Office Web Apps and Hotmail integration, I can make quick edits, save changes without any issue of multiple documents to manage or unnecessary re-uploading, basically, this eliminates the unnecessary version control that was once needed.

Working on Office documents through Windows Live Hotmail wave 4

Locally attached documents must be uploaded to Skydrive first before they can be edited

If you attached the document locally from your hard drive, then decide you want to make a edit from within Hotmail, Office Web App will first have to upload the file to Windows Live Skydrive. I would like Hotmail to do this automatically in the future to reduce the time needed or at least make it at option. Its safe in my opinion anyway since Skydrive has both Private and Public folders. Another little minor nitpick is the views of documents in Docx online viewer and editing mode for Office Web App. Why aren’t the document pages maintained when I am editing to keep that Office user experience and fidelity consistent across browser and desktop app?

Photos

Photos in the new Windows Live Hotmail. 

Another major integration in Hotmail wave 4, users will appreciate the experience handling received Photos. One of the appreciated features of Quick Views, it also accumulates all messages that include any photos you have received. There is a bit of a flaw though, since some messages might contain graphical decorations that might be just branded material, but not actual photos. Working with photos though is so much better. Why? In the previous version of Hotmail, when someone sent me a batch of photos, the message was so difficult to navigate because of a number reasons, either, the photos were huge, my screen resolution and just viewing photos in the body of the message was limited by the browse itself and Hotmail.

Enjoying Photos in Hotmail wave 4 is so much fun!

You can even go full screen if you want!

Hotmail takes care of this through a new feature called Active View. What Active View does when you receive a lot of photos is, it minimizes them into small thumbnail previews with elegant options such as the ability to selectively download each photo. You also see little niceties such as the size of each photo in the Active View. If there is accompanying text in the body of the message, you can even minimize Active View, lovely. The best part of Hotmail wave 4 with Photos though is the ability to view a Slide Show of your photos. Just click one of the photos and Hotmail displays a Silverlight based slide show viewer that makes enjoying photos a lot more fun in the browser, you can even go full screen – gorgeous!

Instant Messaging

Richer Instant Messaging options

The new Web app like Web Messenger, even supports tabbed chatting.

 

Options available with Web Messenger

Web Messenger is fully integrated into Hotmail’s Mail Pane and the Windows Live banner too, so your instant messaging experience travels with you across Windows Live Services. In the previous wave of Hotmail, the Web Messenger applet was situated along the mail toolbar next to the options menu. The new Web Messenger functions like a real Web application. When you click on a contact to start a conversation, a small chat window appears on screen. Its a bit more elegant compared to the previous implementation, you still have the previous style of web chat available. Just click the Pop menu window widget. Users will notice other Windows Live Messenger like features available, including the ability to search and view their contact groups. The new Web Messenger also support tabbed chatting. I wish I didn’t have to open a separate page to view and confirm invitations though, a pop out revealing who is asking for confirmation in a Web Applet should have been available.

Advanced Search

The new Advanced Search Options

Users should be pleased to know that Hotmail finally gets search right. Prior releases were so limited and basic when it came to searching the inbox it was practically useless. For instance, there was no option to search a specific folder, if you searched for a particular message and had messages sorted in folders, everything from all those folders would also populate in the search results, very counter productive. In wave 4 this has changed. Advanced Search allows you to fine tune your search queries, you can search by Sender, recipient, Subject matter, particular folder (which is really a great addition), keywords (even better) and date period (definitely will help a lot) and by attachment. Advanced Search makes sorting and managing email a lot more productive. For instance, I participated in a beta program between 2005 and late 2006, so I had some product team emails in my main inbox folder. I wanted to do some clean up, so all I had to do was do a search for msftconn@microsoft.com between August 2005 and November 2006 and there I was able to see all messages from that period, I could then select all messages and move them to a designated folder.

Search results are more accurate and fine tuned

One limitation I notice that still exist in Hotmail, I cannot make multiple selections of emails on multiple pages. So a folder that has a 3 pages of emails, I can’t select emails on page 1, 2 and 3. If for instance I am going to move those messages to a folder, I have to do it one at a time. 😦 I also would have liked when I selected all email messages in a folder and hovered my mouse pointer over the selected messages, that convenient floating task menu should pop up with options either for deleting or moving to a folder.

Clean Sweep

Sweep option for moving lots of emails

Didn’t seem to work in this try though.

I think I might have found a work around for this though in a new addition in Hotmail called Sweep – although it doesn’t seem to work at the moment – I still have to use the Move to menu. Sweep allows you to have a more control over lots of messages by providing tools to do mass management in areas such as moving to a specific folder, deleting all, marking all messages in one full sweep. In the case of Move All, selected all messages from the Search results, I clicked the Sweep Pop out menu > clicked Move All which brought up this dialog with options for selecting a target folder and choosing automate the movement of messages to that particular folder in the future – very, very convenient. I receive a number Newsletter messages from different sources, this should be very handy. Its still limited by the fact that I still have to do it one page at a time. 

Conclusion

Well, my time with Hotmail wave 4 so far is mostly first impressions. I like the improvements I am seeing, although they are long overdue! I have been contemplating for the past few months about moving from Hotmail to Gmail, although I must say Gmails load time on GPRS is horrendous, so that’s why have stuck up to now with Hotmail. I am still put off by the Ad banner in Hotmail, although I know it is likely a revenue model to maintain the service, I think the vertical ad banner is limiting unless you have a large screen, then again, I just don’t like seeing it at all. What are the chances of Microsoft removing it – next to none. 😉 The reason why I bring this up is simply because I have really kind of eased up on desktop mail clients such as Outlook and Windows Live Mail, although I still find them useful for Exchange support, offline access, backup/archiving. Hotmail wave 4 is a lot more robust in features and it will certainly be enough for persons who are constantly connected. I am a big fan of the new Advance Search capabilities, conversation views, the ability to customize the interface a bit more and just the overall cohesiveness with the rest of Windows Live. So far, so good I say.

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Windows or Linux – The UK Government takes suggestions

Still on my article tour this week, a new one that I came across touches a topic I discussed earlier this week. Linux! Officials within the UK Government are going to the people seeking suggestion about ideas that could help reduce cost.

To be sure, they are just two among the 60,000 ideas proffered by those who work in the public sector, but just 31 of those were listed on the website for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The two ideas:

8. In terms of spending less – what about migrating the whole of government (the NHS, Education etc) from Microsoft products to Linux and open source software like Openoffice.

28. Annul the government’s agreement with Microsoft to provide software and operating systems (OS) to government departments and switch to open source software and Linux based operating systems. This would reduce costs by: Reducing the need to update hardware in line with new Microsoft OS releases. Linux OS and open source software has a lower whole life cost and is less susceptible to viruses. Support a more diverse spectrum of the IT industry, instead of one corporation; generating additional UK tax revenue.

Read the rest here

There would be no lowering in the total cost of ownership. Moving thousands of desktops from Windows to Linux would be complete chaos. First of all, this is one persons opinion, and it does not represent all persons who are using Windows. One or two persons pet peeve with Windows shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Think about changing a users philosophy of what they probably have known for so many years. The investments you are gonna have to make to train so many users is gonna push the budget way past its limit, Help Desktop support calls will skyrocket (not to mention, you are gonna have to retrain the entire help desk staff or who are experts on Windows and Microsoft technologies). Lets not forget about the custom applications in addition to commercial applications that only work on Windows.

Using open source alternatives does not necessarily guarantee a fulfilling experience, since most Open Source apps are mediocre to their commercial counterparts. A migration would take many years, more money spent and only turn out to be more of a burden to support. Windows is a secure operating system, I have been running Windows for years and have never encountered any malicious code on my systems. Linux has its own security demons, just that its not pointed out in the mainstream press as much as Windows, but it does exist. Windows has a lot of built in proven defenses such as a Standard Administrator, Windows Firewall, ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) which moves around core code on boot up to prevent malicious code from easily attacking the system, kernel patch protection to prevent third party developers from easily patching or injecting code into the Windows kernel, Device Driver Signing to ensure the integrity of your drivers, User Account Control to protect the system from malicious code attacking essential parts of the system, IE includes Protected Mode which sand boxes the web browser from the system, Anti-Phishing Filter, Privacy Mode for handling secure transactions over the web. Windows 7 includes additional features that protect against buffer over flows such as Heap Stack, along with BitLocker Drive Encryption to protect your hard disk if its stolen, you can also protect portable storage devices using BitLocker to Go. When you top this with a free Antivirus utility such as Microsoft Security Essentials, with additional IT implemented protocols and tools such as a hardware based Firewall, I don’t know how you could seriously say Windows is susceptible viruses.

As for the shelf life, I am running Windows 7 Professional on a desktop I purchased in March of 2004, originally came with Windows XP Professional, upgraded to Windows Vista Business. I didn’t have to dump anything, except for probably an upgrade of the RAM which had a factory installed 512 MBs.

If you want, you can even lower the attack surface by customizing your Windows Installation and removing rarely used features, you can even use Group Policy to automatically enforce rules. When combined with technologies in Windows Server such as Direct Access, App Locker, you get an even higher level of security, and this is all transparent to the end user. So again, Windows is secure, its easy to use, people know it. Don’t think because you have Linux you are not gonna have to pay for support either. You are gonna need somebody to implement it properly, set it up, maintain it and support it and that is where commercial distributions such as Ubuntu, Redhat and Suse make their money, which means, you are paying for what you claim you wanted to avoid in the first place, but only you are paying for the support plus the training to get users to use something they are not accustomed to. Don’t bother with no, no name distro either, because thats just more of an ants nest that will surely be a career wrecker. Ultimately, I suspect this will lead either to a failed migration like we have seen in many Government attempts around world, with a ultimate reverse migration back to Windows.

Related:
The idea for Linux to Win, Windows has to lose

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Microsoft: Nearly Half of Windows 7 installations are 64 bit

Today Microsoft announced on the Windows Team Blog that Windows 7 is starting the migration to 64 bit ubiquity. The OS which recently hit the 150 million milestone mark has a 46% market share when it comes to its 64 bit variant.

As of June 2010, we see that 46% of all PCs worldwide running Windows 7 are running a 64-bit edition of Windows 7. That is, nearly half of all PCs running Windows 7 are running 64-bit. Compared to Windows Vista at 3 and a half years after launch, only 11% of PCs running Windows Vista worldwide are running 64-bit. With Windows 7, running a 64-bit OS is becoming the norm.

Read more here

My migration to 64 bit started in April 2005 when Microsoft introduced Windows XP Professional x64. It was surprisingly a smooth experience even back then, although I didn’t see the immediate benefits since 64 bit at the time was more of a technically targeted solution for engineers, scientist, large SQL databases and gamers who needed the unique benefits such as the ability address larger amounts of memory than its 32 bit counterpart (Windows 7 64 bit supports up to 192 GBs of RAM while Windows 7 32 bit supports 3.2 GBs). 64 bit Windows Server has seen great successes so much so that its most recent release of Windows Server, 2008 R2 is exclusively 64 bit. Some of the early pain points of running 64 bit Windows have vanished over the past 4 years, I remember basic functionality like contextual menu extensions, or programs that needed to access low levels of the OS such as Anti-virus utilities were initially big blockers for main stream adoption. Back then you still had a lot of applications that were developed to work specifically on older operating systems such as Windows 95, even some programs that were considered 32 bit used 16 bit installers could not work on 64 bit Windows. I remember participating in the Microsoft Windows 64 bit Public Community back in 2005 too along with a fun group of eager enthusiast, really an exciting time.

A lot of credit goes to AMD who in the fall of 2003 introduced the first x86-x64 micro-processor that allowed users to transition smoothly to this new architecture. You could still run your 32 bit applications without having them re-written to work. Unlike previous efforts to bring 64 bit computing to the mainstream such as the Alpha and Itanium for which Microsoft released variants of the Windows OS the x86-x64 extensions really proved to be a way better approach. The mainstream for 64 bit Windows never really started until Windows Vista’s introduction in January 2007. I started testing early 64 bit builds of the OS on my system back in February 2006 when build 5308 was made available. A year later I got a system with 64 bit Windows Vista preinstalled and used it exclusively ever since, I later on got a desktop PC in 2008 with Windows Vista 64 bit which I have since upgraded to 64 bit versions Windows 7. I have never encountered any of the early compatibility issues that some might have experienced when Windows XP Professional x64 came to market in 2005. I still have my main desktop running Windows 7 32 bit, but this a limitation of the processor which can only run x86 instructions, but its running great.

64 bit Windows has pretty much been mainstream for me. I also notice the performance benefits too, the stability and performance of running lots of applications at the same time, such as running a AV scan in the background, watching YouTube, working on documents, chatting, playing music, even gaming (although I am not much of a gamer) or searching across my home network. It opens up so many new possibilities, and the industry is slowly but surely going there. Microsoft recently brought its family of Office applications to full 64 bit compatibility, for an intensive app such as Outlook, you can expect an even higher level of stability and compatibility, number crunchers who work in Excel can also see major benefits when working on larger workbooks. I even notice key benefits when working with the new PowerPoint 2010 and video, especially when reordering a lot of slides, 64 bit came in very handy. Most of the third party applications that are 64 bit still remain in the technical realm, I am hoping Office 2010 will change this and encourage more support from third party ISVs although the majority of 32 bit programs work just fine on 64 bit Windows. Still there are some industry favorites users can find 64 bit versions for, these include Adobe Photoshop CS5, Adobe Premier CS5, Adobe After Effects CS5, AutoDesk AutoCAD to name a few. There are also some key technical benefits when using 64 bit Windows too that were first introduced with Windows XP Professional x64 and Vista 64 bit:

Data Execution Prevention (DEP) – when combined with 64 bit capable processors, it protects your computer against buffer overflow attacks, this additional layer of security used with effective security solutions such as Antivirus utility provides a confident PC experience.

Kernel patch protection – This helps protect against programs that attempt patch the Windows Kernel. It improves the reliability of Windows by helping to disable undocumented and unsupported kernel hooks. Undocumented kernel hooks can cause reliability and performance issues and can add potential security issues to the system as well.

Driver Signing – All kernel mode drivers must be signed on 64 bit Windows 7 systems. Digital signing provides identity as well as integrity for code. A kernel module that is corrupt or has been subject to tampering will not load. Any driver that is not properly signed cannot enter the kernel space and will fail to load.

Certainly, there is no better time to be using 64 bit Windows, even if you are still running legacy applications that work on 32 bit versions of Windows only, then you can start evaluating solutions such as Windows Virtual PC with Windows XP Mode, which allow you to seamlessly run applications designed for earlier versions of Windows on Windows 7 while taking advantage of the current and next generation benefits and transitioning at your own pace.

Are you running 64 bit Windows, if so, what are your thoughts?

Resources:

ActiveWin.com: Windows 7 Ultimate 32 and 64 bit Review
ActiveWin.com: Windows Server 2008 R2 Review
ActiveWin.com: Microsoft Office Professional 2010 Review
ActiveWin.com: Microsoft Windows XP x64 Edition: Year in Review

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