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).

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.”

How to Shutdown and Restart Windows 8

It’s a basic question, but on current generation hardware, there is no basic answer! On tablets you’ll expect to see power buttons and some of the ‘gestures’ to open menus might make sense, but on a desktop PC, Windows 8 is so different that people are asking how do I shutdown my Windows 8 computer? Well, luckily, it’s not much more difficult than it was to learn that you had to click on Start, to shutdown your computer. Remember, back in 1995, THAT was unintuitive!

The fastest way to shutdown a Windows 8 computer is by bringing up the Charms menu. This can be done by placing the mouse in the lower right hand corner of the screen, OR by using the hotkeys: Windows Key + C. Once the menu pops up in the right hand side, click on Settings, then Power, then you can choose to Shutdown or Restart the computer (other options like Sleep or Hibernate may also be available, depending on your configuration).

It sounds like a lot, but it’s still just a couple of clicks, just like clicking start, then shutdown, then shutdown, again like Windows XP or Windows 7.

How to Customize your Windows 8 Lock Screen

Windows 8, just like what was introduced in Windows Phone 7. You can press escape or drag the large image “upward” to unlock the screen. But did you know the icons at the bottom of your screen are customizable? It allows you to have much more information, at a glance, than you do with the default settings. Here’s how you can tweak your own:

From the Windows 8 Start Screen, you can simply type the phrase Lock Screen and, once you click settings on the right, one of your options will be to “Customize your Lock Screen and Notifications.” You can also find this by starting again from the Start Menu, but by placing the mouse in the lower right corner of the screen and waiting for the Charms Bar to come out from the right side of the screen, then clicking Settings at the bottom, then Personalize Settings. The first thing you should see is the Personalize menu. If not, it is the top option on the left, as pictured in the screen shot above.

At this time, only a few apps support Lock Screen notifications, but you can bet that more will come down the road. Right now the included Weather app, and the excellent eBay app allow you to add notifications. You can choose one app, if it supports the option, to provide additional details. You could have the subject lines of a few emails, upcoming calendar appointments, or even a weather forecast! It will be great to see what more apps, like an official Twitter or Facebook application, will end up doing.

Don’t forget to check out our ongoing informational series on Windows 8.

Gaming in Windows 8 Part 3: new games, Adera and Taptiles

Two new official Xbox Live-enabled games made their way to the Windows 8 Store recently. However, just like the first round of games, it seems that “more is to come” with an update to each of them. The first one, which should see many updates in the future, is a point and click adventure game (I guess nowadays it would just be a “tap adventure”), which Microsoft has already stated will be episodic in style. Adera tells the story of a female archeologist, who has been in a helicopter crash and needs to regain her bearings before heading off on an adventure… evidently to find a sorcerer’s magical crystal ball. At least, that’s what I gleaned from the cinematic intro. Somebody tell me I’m not the only one here who is having flashbacks to Museum Madness.

It seems to be only a trial version of the game, not even a complete first “episode” of Adera. But, the good news for Xbox junkies like me: the Achievements are live! Most of them, anyway. So go grab yourself a little bit of free Gamerscore from Windows 8. The game itself is quite appealing to look at, mostly still, but the little flourishes of 3D Acceleration make it eye catching.

Next up is Taptiles. This is a Mahjong style game, with the twist being that the puzzle board is a free standing 3-dimensional object which can be rotated. With multiple game types included, I started with “Dash” which is a timed game, where completing a level partially refills an ever dwindling clock. Another mode called Origins is a more traditional type of Mahjong game, and other game types indicate that they’re “coming soon.”

Stay tuned to our ongoing series of posts on Windows 8, and we’ll be sure to let you know when more Xbox Live games make their way to Windows 8.

Windows 8 & Windows Server 2012 shortcuts

Knowing your way around Windows 8 is going to be critical. Microsoft has put together a list of Common Management Tasks for Server 2012, many of which apply to Windows 8. Be careful, there are some differences – for instance, according to the article, the Start Menu in Windows Server 2012 will be located in the upper right hand corner of the screen (defying all logic). But don’t worry, classic keyboard shortcuts like pressing the Windows Key, or Control + Escape will still bring it up.

Other standards still hold true, as well, like Windows Key + E to open My Computer, and Windows Key + R will open the Run dialogue box – even if you’re at the start menu, it will drop back to classic desktop mode and open the Run prompt.

Check out the TechNet article for even more great tips.

How Microsoft over-thought Windows 8's Start Menu

When I look at the Windows 8 Start Menu, I see what a lot of other people see. Clutter. I’ve heard it from so many people, that the new start menu looks like a mess. There are so many icons it is overwhelming.

Microsoft’s great researchers and usability statisticians came back after Windows 7 and said the Start Menu is dead! Someone, high up in the ranks of Microsoft, decided that nobody uses the Start Menu anymore, they put the icons they want on their desktop, for faster access! And in their brilliance, during this eureka moment, they realized they could just put the icons on the desktop.

Microsoft tried this before. It was the original basis of Windows. Windows 95 brought us the Start Menu for the first time. But before that? In Windows 1-3? There were simply icons– on a Desktop.

So with Windows 8, we see a return to form, but people don’t like it. It’s obvious why, as well. Although I’ve seen desktops with literally dozens, maybe hundreds of icons, I think most people have a few more icons than they would like on their desktop, but overall most people keep it pretty clean. The thought went from “nobody uses the Start Menu anymore,” to “users just put the icons they want on the desktop,” to “let’s just put everything on the desktop.” This is where I audibly sigh.

People don’t use the Start Menu actively, but they do use it passively. In other words, the thought process should have noted the phrase “icons they want” are what people put on the desktop. They “passively” use the Start Menu by hiding the things they don’t want, within the Start Menu. When you install an application in Windows 8, who knows how many icons will end up “on” (not in) your Start Menu. Hiding them, manually, is just a pain. It’s just another one of those things that is messy and not clearly thought out in Windows 8.

How to Change your Product Key and Activate Windows 8

There are just some things you can’t get away from, and the command prompt is one of them. A lot of people with the new RTM of Windows 8 Professional have will run in to an issue with activation. When you download the ISO, at least the one for Windows 8 64-bit Professional from Microsoft’s TechNet, it installs with a 90 day trial license. By default, there is nowhere you can click to change the product key! So I fell back on an old trick where you can use the command prompt to change the key in Windows. Here’s the step by step guide:

  1. Hold the Windows key on your keyboard and press “R” (this will bring up the RUN prompt).
  2. Type CMD and press enter or click okay (as seen above) (you can also do this directly from the start menu and click the “Command Prompt” icon).
  3. Type: slmgr.vbs -ipk XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX (with the X’s of course being your 5×5 product key – note the key I used in the screenshot below is also a fake, so don’t waste your time).

That’ll do it! You’ll get a pop up Window confirming that the key has been changed, then you can proceed with your Windows Activation.

Gaming in Windows 8 Part 2: Xbox Live Integration with Windows 8 RTM

So I got my RTM edition of Windows 8 downloaded and installed from TechNet this week. Everybody at work was excited, but I think I was the only one who stayed up late and installed it as soon as I could! And of course, now that it’s Friday, it’s time for a gaming post. Obligatory though it may be, I’m excited to bring some cool notes your way. That’s right this is Gaming in Windows 8 – Part 2. Continue reading “Gaming in Windows 8 Part 2: Xbox Live Integration with Windows 8 RTM”