Windows 8.1 RT Preview (UK Edition) Is Here

At Last!!! A week after the rest of the world got it, the UK version of Windows 8.1 Preview for Surface RT is finally here.   Without needing to permanently turn your Surface RT into a “US only” device or hack about on the command line to install it, the official Microsoft preview download site now supports us limeys.

From some of the press I read thus far, it is still not for the faint hearted, and Microsoft have already released a series of updates for this update (for example it can brick your Surface RT), but the temptation of Outlook on RT and better Skydrive syncing just makes it impossible to ignore if you use it in a business environment.

Here goes….. again!


Goodbye Technet

technet_2What a sad day. Microsoft has announced (quite out of the blue) that it is retiring the fantastic TechNet Subscription service.  A service I have subscribed to for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been an IT Pro for a few years!  An email to subscribers and a post on their web site claims the increased use of free evaluations of their software and a changing IT environment has begun to render the service obsolete.  Something I don’t agree with and feel it is as relevant today as it was 10 years ago.

I agreed with them when they stopped the paper magazine, and I agreed with them when they moved the service away from physical media and onto the cloud, but stopping the service is a step too far.

Surface RT 8.1 Preview Unavailable In The UK

Having been a loyal and very happy Surface RT users in the UK since the day of launch, I was pretty excited about the prospect of trying the Windows 8.1 Preview (Blue) on the device, and especially excited about the chance of using a proper email client at last.

BUT, to my horror the update on Microsoft site does not work on my Surface,  complaining “This update is not applicable to your computer”.  But it really really is!

Whilst I’m now convinced Microsoft are falling over themselves to annoy the UK Surface community (see the fiasco around the launch, the lack of anywhere to buy it, the cost, and now this) thanks to the lovely people at pocket-lint, UK (and most other non-US) users can get a manual work around:

Here goes…..

Update: Why do Microsoft hate UK Surface Users ?

The above works, but you get blocked downloading from the store:  “The Windows 8.1 Preview isn’t available right now.  Please try again later” and Microsoft don’t even recommend installing it at all in the UK

Microsoft Quote “Windows RT users:  Please do not change your base language just to install the Preview.  If you do this and then update to the preview version, you will permanently change your base language on these devices.  This happens because we create a new restore image based on your selected 8.1 base language during install.

Also, as we noted on the download page, if you’ve installed a language pack on Windows RT, we ask you not to install Windows RT 8.1 Preview at this time. A fix will be available soon for updating through the store with a language pack installed, so please check back

The honeymoon period is over!

IMG_2005So I’ve worked with the Surface for a week or so now, used it for work, meetings and at home.  How is it fairing up? 

Well, I’m still very positive about it, I still think the keyboard is amazing, it DOES have a good app eco system despite what many reviews have claimed, well enough to keep me amused (How many apps do you actually need for goodness sake) and if something is missing, then you can usually fall back on the Web, and the browser is great. 

If you’ve not read the Codinghorror “review” of it  then I suggest you should go and do that now.  Its an honest and very accurate article.  But you must remember it is a generation 1.0 product, it does require some patience and Microsoft need to round off the rough edges to make it truly great.

So here are a few of my niggles:

  • They need to hurry up and release the full version of Office 2013.  Word has crashed a few times (iOS apps crash too, so don’t  get excited) and it does jar that you have to swap back and forth from the desktop for Office.w
  • The Mail app is a bit naff, not as good a Windows Live Mail, and it can be tricky to see what is unread and to be honest, feels rushed.
  • I’ve had several annoying WiFi issues with it: Keeps dropping its connection to a Netgear router, forgetting the WPA2-Enterprise passwords at work, random connection failures.
  • The Calendar app, like Mail needs work.  Things like support colour coding of appointments and better configuration options for the views.
  • The BBC news app is slow, buggy and quite terrible (although pretty!).  That’s not Microsoft’s fault, and not really the BBCs, as they didn’t write it, but annoying none the less.
  • Finally using an HDMI cable into a Toshiba TV gives a terrible, pixelated display no matter what I try. (iPad into the same TV was razor sharp)  Likely related to the odd uber widescreen resolution of the Surface, but need further investigation if it is to be usable.

It’s finally Surfaced

Ok, it took almost a week longer to arrive than it should, and a quick Google (or should that be Bing) will tell you all you need to know about the terrible hash they made of the pre-order deliveries in the Uk and Canada, but the Microsoft Surface has finally arrived.

The Surface
First impressions are great. It’s a fantastically well made device, with a far superior build quality to many of the other tablets we have used. Slightly heavier than you’d expect, but I don’t feel that’s much of an issue and all goes towards the feeling of a robust bit of kit.

The Keyboard
It’s amazing how good the touch keyboard is, for something so slim, it’s responsive, comfortable to type on and doubles as its cover. The click on and off has a really well made, robust feel too. Same with the kick stand hinge. You don’t feel like you’re going to break it any time soon.

This is where I begin the journey to migrate away from ios (as I’m planning on ditching the iPhone too, as it’s not really changed or innovated since the 3G was released!). It’ll take a few days to get used to RT and see what’s missing from the app store, but so far, it’s VERY impressive, responsive, intuitive interface with an amazing screen and a great, usable keyboard.

Under the Surface

What a week, and I’m more than a little excited.  On the 26th October, Microsoft not only release the latest version of the Windows operating system, “Windows 8” (OK, we’ve been using pre-releases of it for a while, but it hits the shops on Friday), but also they release Windows RT “Surface” their Windows 8 tablet device.

Now after some amazingly bad marketing by Microsoft (The seem to have fallen over themselves to confuse everyone) it’s fair to say that it is not going to outsell the iPad any time soon.  But this is the release of a new class of device and a radically new product roadmap for Microsoft and “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”.

I’m convinced the functionality of this device is what will set it apart from the tablet specific limitations of Android and iOS devices.  Operating system and application consistency between Surface and the Windows 8 desktop, shared logins and cloud file stores, and device, USB and MicroSD support will set it apart as tablet users have become more tech savvy and now demand more functionality.  It’s fair to say it’s time for some more competition in the tablet arena, as the iPad has failed to really innovate in its past two releases (a higher resolution screen and faster processor is not innovation, its basic evolution), and as slow as Microsoft have been to arrive at the party, they have really planned their visit well.

…at least that’s what I feel until I get my hand on one this Friday.

A Very Public Hacking

Wired_logoDo you share logins or passwords with multiple online accounts?  Think your iPhone or iPad is safe because it’s backed up to your iTunes on your laptop or has “Remote Wipe” enabled?   Well think again. 

This is the chilling tale of a US journalist Mat Honan who lost a LOT, by hackers simply using publically available information and a bit of social engineering with Apple tech support.  I’d be surprised if you don’t look at your online security differently after this……  Excuse me whilst I go and change my passwords.

Anyone for a Skydrive?

Anyone tried Microsoft Skydrive recently?  No, don’t blame you.

Its interface was terrible, Drobbox ate its lunch, and despite having a lot of free space, it was quite unusable.  So, all that said, Microsoft has given it a massive revamp and it now offers a lot more storage than Dropbox but with the same functionality (and more).

At last it now offers:

  • A “right click” menu!!
  • Drag and drop upload of multiple files (Still can’t do folders, boo)
  • Right click to share a single file and you can e-mail a link (bang goes the main reason I used Dropbox)
  • Online editing of documents stored there in the, quite excellent, Web based versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote
  • Auto-embed code for sticking shared files onto Websites (without users having to log in)
  • Plus its 25Gb storage, not 2 like Dropbox.

So if you’ve not been there recently, I’d suggest flying by.

MITx Online Learning 101



Trust MIT!  Not content with publishing 2000 free courses to their OpenCourseware site, MIT has announced they are taking it one step further and will start to offer free, online “certificated” courses.  The first course in this trial is “Circuits and Electronics”, which requires “AP level physics course in electricity and magnetism, basic calculus and linear algebra and have some background in differential equations.” so that counts me out for now, but I’m sure there will be no shortage of students.

Either way, it’ll be an interesting to see how this experiment pans out: opening up real lecturer driven materials, student-to-lecturer communications, for free, with a free “MITx certificate” at the end. 

Is this the future for Universities?  Free online courses, paid for with marketing?

Dubai – Sustainable?


Dubai is a wonderful place: from dusty markets to high-tech start-up centres, from the smallest shacks to the largest towers imaginable and hotels that quite simply take the breath away.  It is a tourist’s dream, a developer’s cash cow and a local’s lined-pocket.

Having spent only a short time there, and then only scratching the surface with the standard tourist traps, you can’t help but be left thinking: with airfares to Dubai so astronomical that a Caribbean holiday is cheaper, who is regularly going there?  Can the amazing array of planned developments and buildings ever see the light of their beautiful sunny days? Here’s hoping.