App of the week: Barcode Generator for Windows 8

This week’s app is from the Windows 8 Store. I can’t link to it because Microsoft has, as of yet anyway, not placed the Windows 8 store online, as it has with the Windows Phone and Xbox Live marketplaces. Still, search for it, and download it – because it is a handy program to have.

Developed by the Advanced Technology Division of Vevy Europe (uh… ‘kay), Barcode Generator allows you to make a QR Code for any occasion. Many of us make QR codes for one reason or another. You know what they are by now – little barcodes you scan with your smartphone that can take you to a website, splash up some text, save a contact, or do many, many more things. Most people generate those codes using a few familiar websites. But with Barcode Generator on Windows 8 (also in Windows RT’s Store), you can quickly and easily create and save QR codes for various use cases, including advanced scenarios like having an Android phone auto-join a wireless network, or sending an SMS. It uses a few basic templates to help you get started, and allows you to save your favorites.

For people who consider themselves completely technically illiterate, Barcode Generator still keeps it simple. Do you know what your Twitter name is? Just type that in and it will handle the rest – you don’t need to know your specific URL or anything like that. Barcode Generator is the easiest and simultaneously most thorough QR Code Generator I have used to date.

How to clean that cluttered Windows 8 Start Screen

So you just got a new Windows 8 PC, and you installed a few programs. For instance, Office 2010 was just installed to your new computer. Now your Windows 8 Start Screen has a ton of icons on it that you don’t want to see or use. How do you clean the clutter? Here’s the quick, easy way to do it:

Hold CONTROL and click on the icons you want to get rid of. This will allow you to click multiple icons, one at a time. As you do, you’ll see a checkmark appear in the upper left hand corner. Once you have the items you want to remove selected, simply click Unpin from Start in the bottom left corner of the screen. Poof. The icons disappear. Another option is to browse to the Start Menu Folder, where you can easily manage the items on the Start Screen as if it were a folder.

Also, don’t forget that you can right click on an icon and click the smaller or larger button to make it a single square or a wider icon, which can help you truly customize your Start Screen and make it your own.

1996 – Beavis and Butt-Head Do America

About once a year, or once every 18 months, I go back to a special gem in my movie collection. Say what you will about the 1993 (and coming back) TV Series Beavis and Butt-Head, but their one-shot, feature length movie actually has a lot going for it.

Beavis and Butt-Head was the funniest show you weren’t allowed to watch as a kid. A late night MTV production, it pressed a lot of boundries of television content and even language. MTV backed it by airing music videos during the show that the characters would make fun of via parody or discussion, while a side story that is relatively plotless introduces you to a cavalcade of crazy characters.

While you’ll be spared the pain of music videos when watching Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, what you do get is an all-star sound track only MTV in their heyday could have assembled. The animation techniques used were consistent with the show, but they occasional mixed in some CGI here and there, along with some other modern and classic animation methods to make this movie an instant classic.

But where the film shines is the plot. Beavis and Butt-Head Do America takes you on a cross-country journey to various landmarks on a mission that includes everything from toilet humor to an international chemical weapons plot. The All-Star cast included Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Cloris Leachman, and Robert Stack. When that many big names are willing to get behind something as silly as Beavis and Butt-Head, you know the script had to be something special. Don’t be in a rush to judge this one without watching it, I go back to it for a reason. Your preconceived notions may just be worth changing – give it an honest shot and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Is Microsoft already experiencing too much Platform Fragmentation?

There it is. Hydro Thunder Hurricane. In the Windows 8 app-store. For $9.99. When I first mentioned that Hydro Thunder would be coming to Windows 8, I thought it would possibly be free, for me, because I had already purchased both the Xbox 360 version of Hydro Thunder Hurricane, and the Windows Phone 7 version of Hydro Thunder Go. But, alas: it’s not free to me.

I am logged in with my same, unified LiveID, but if I want to play Hydro Thunder Hurricane on my Windows 8 PC – I’m stuck shelling out yet another ten dollars. I’m disappointed. But what is going to hurt worse? I have this sneaking suspicion that any apps I buy in the Windows RT store will not translate to buying the same Windows 8 “x86” app. We’ll find out this weekend, my Microsoft Surface RT tablet should arrive in the next few hours. It will be a tell-all moment for just how much app-purchasing I’m going to be doing in the new Microsoft ecosystem.

If I buy a Windows Phone 8 and none of the apps are compatible with my RT Tablet, and none of those apps are compatible with my Windows 8 app-store purchases… just what was the point of the app-store? Locking users in to only making purchases from one place? Then requiring them to pay for the same thing three times? I understand that there is bound to be some fragmentation – not all of the platforms can do the exact same things – there need to be certain limitations. But to offer the same application on multiple platforms but to charge for each one? That will infuriate many, many people. There will be a backlash if that is actually the case. But today is just Windows 8 Launch Day, October 26th, 2012. Maybe I’ll be in for a pleasant surprise. Time will tell, and I’ll be sure to write about it when I find out more. Just look for all of my Windows 8 related articles in the Windows 8 Archive.

Microsoft Surface RT review buzz

As the first reviews of the Microsoft Surface RT tablet start to shuffle in, I’m disappointed by the reviews and the reviewers themselves. While many of the reviews compare various tablet products directly, as they should, some of them look at the surface as a laptop replacement device. To be clear, the Surface RT has no illusions of its role as a tablet with a keyboard added for convenience. If a reviewer is expecting a “Surface” that is a replacement for a netbook or a similar product, they should be waiting to review the Surface “Pro” to be released in the first half of next year.

Beyond that, the sheer volume of Apple-biased reviews are somewhat painful. Nitpicking things like font-choices on the interface, rather than just admitting they like the product. If it had a different brand name behind it, the same reviewer would be gushing over it. I understand they really want to be unbiased, but they just aren’t. I can tell that I won’t be. I, myself, gush over all things Microsoft. I have since I was in high school, and although my friends wanted to be the Mac guy or the Linux guy, I had no hesitation about being the Windows guy. I was the one who had no problems with Windows ME, and the better part of a decade later was an early adopter of Windows Vista. But does that mean that I can’t load up a web page or a video on Netflix and compare the two images side by side? Absolutely not!

If the iPad 3 simply looks better to the naked eye, I’m going to tell you so. I’m not going to defend my side by talking about clear-type and DPI. But so many of the reviews I’ve read say things along the lines of “yeah, it looks good. But if it looks so good, why will the “Pro” version have a higher resolution? Why isn’t this resolution good enough?” They stop before they actually admit whether or not the Surface RT looks comparable or even better than the iPad 3.

And I can’t wait to talk about sound and various use cases (propped up with the kickstand, held in the hand, with the Touch Cover folded back, etc…). I have major issues with the sound on the iPad 3 – it is an extremely high quality speaker, pointed in entirely the wrong direction. I have such big problems with the iPad’s sound that a actually backed a Kickstarter of a product that hopefully you can buy in some stores soon, called Foco, which is a small pad which redirects the sound on the iPad 2 and 3 to the front.

Now, I haven’t received my Surface RT, yet – in fact, I haven’t even received confirmation that it has shipped, which is a little worrying. I can’t help but thank that perhaps a few of the people who supposedly preordered the same as everyone else got a little preferential treatment when their tech-pundit names showed up in the order lists. True or not, that’s fine, I’m a little jealous and a little anxious. I can wait my turn. When it does arrive, you can expect some first impressions as well as some good quality time spent comparing the Surface RT tablet and the iPad (3rd generation / 2012 edition, The New iPad, whatever Apple wants you to call it today).

Take Me Home Tile for Windows Phone 7 – great uses!

Take Me Home Tile, at first, sounds like a pointless app that wouldn’t get much use on the average person’s phone. But I’ve come up with some excellent uses for it, already. First, a little background as to what Take Me Home Tile is and what it does.

Take Me Home Tile, available for Windows Phone 7 devices, is quick and easy to configure, then places a tile on your home screen which will open up the Maps application and provide driving directions to a configured location, from wherever you are right now. The idea is that you configure the tile for “home” and no matter where you are, you just tap the tile and find your way back. It sounds simple enough, but some people might not see a need. Although I admit that not everyone is going to need an app like this, I’ve come up with some other-case uses it may be good for.

Say, for instance, you are starting a new job. Maybe you’ve moved to a new city or it’s just in a part of town you’re not familiar with. You may want to configure the application to take you to work, instead of home from work. For the first few days you could use this app to quickly pull up directions so you don’t miss your turn while driving through unfamiliar territory. Hop in the car, tap the tile, and you’re on your way – you won’t make yourself late for work and you’ll arrive with confidence.

Another use could be for elderly drivers. Nobody wants to think about the time that may come to take some of the independence away from their parents or grand parents. It is sad to think that you may take the drivers license away from someone who has been driving for decades, and make them unable to go to the grocery store, or to drive to local events. But I, for one, have heard several stories of a driver who may have the physical abilities to drive, but have simply driven around for several hours, unable to remember where they lived. Their vision and muscle responses are fine, but may have early signs of Alzheimer’s – this doesn’t necessarily make them a danger on the road. Perhaps providing them with this application, with the easy to use tile interface of Windows Phone 7, you can make it simple for them to get back home, wherever they may roam to.

I’ve come to appreciate this app in a new light. What was a simple shortcut to Bing Maps and directions actually could serve some quite useful purposes for many people. I hope you find a use for Take Me Home Tile.

Customizing the background of your Windows 8 Start Screen

Windows 8’s biggest change from the last several revisions of Windows is the advent of the Start Screen to replace the Start Menu. I’ve been asked “how do I change the background of my Windows 8 Start Screen?” by a few people lately. As more and more screenshots release just prior to the launch of Windows 8, people are seeing different colors, designs, background images… and they want to know how to get in on the customization action. It’s simple.

From within the Start Screen, bring up the Charms Menu – you can do this by placing the mouse in the lower right hand corner of the screen, or by pressing the keyboard combination of “Windows Key” + C. Then click on Settings then Change PC Settings. From there, it should default to the Personalize menu on the left, the top item. Then, on the right hand side of the screen, across the top you should have 3 options: Lock screen (see our article on customizing the lock screen!), Start screen, and Account picture. Select Start screen.

Once you’re there, you can choose from several color-themes ranging from dark themes with colorful tiles and highlights, to more light hearted themes with richer, more plentiful colors. Then you also have your choice of 2- different ‘scenes’ in the background, to which those colored themes will be applied. Some of them are themed similarly to existing Microsoft products, like the Xbox 360’s “Jelly Swirls.”

Use PayPal on Xbox Live

Did you know that you can use PayPal to pay for things on Xbox Live? It’s easy! All you have to do is go to account.live.com, and add your PayPal account to your LiveID under billing. If you’re already registered with a PayPal account, I’ll walk you through the steps.

  1. Visit account.live.com.
  2. Log in with your LiveID.
  3. Click Billing on the left.
  4. Click Payment Options across the top.
  5. Click the Add Payment Option button at the bottom.
  6. In the window that pops up, select the PayPal radio button near the top.
  7. Click the Next button.
  8. You will be directed to PayPal – login with your PayPal ID.
  9. Verify your information is correct, then click the Agree and Pay button.
  10. You will be redirected to the Microsoft site where you can see your information has been added!

That’s it! You’re all set to start making payments on Xbox Live using your PayPal account, whether you’re renting a movie, buying music, or getting a Game on Demand, you can now pay with PayPal!