Saturday, 17 September 2011

Windows 8 Preview First Impressions

I recently decided to trial the Windows 8 Developer Preview on my PC, the main reason for me wanting to do this was to see how the touch interface was going to work on tablets. I have an HP TouchSmart laptop which should have been perfect for experimenting with this. Unfortunately my efforts to install it to a Virtual Machine on my laptop didn't go too well.

Firstly I couldn't install the 64-bit version because my laptops CPU doesn't support hardware virtualisation, so I had to download the 32-bit version. This wouldn't install either for reasons I still don't understand, the Windows 8 installer just kept throwing error messages. My only option remaining is to set up a partition on my HDD and install it properly, but I'm not ready to do that just yet. Instead I decided to install it to my main desktop PC.

This was remarkably simple compared to the trials I'd been through on my laptop. The Virtual Machine was set-up in just a few seconds, I enabled the Hardware Virtualisation in my PCs BIOS and mounted the Windows 8 .iso into the virtual DVD drive. Booted it up, and the installer ran without a hitch, although it did take a while to complete.

So then, what are my thoughts? Well before going in I had reservations about the new Metro UI they have been showing off. My gut feeling was that it wasn't going to work on a desktop PC, having now used it, I can confirm my worst fears are well founded. The Metro UI feels like a badly tacked on interface that is restrictive, basic and unwieldly. It simply doesn't work well with a mouse and keyboard, the gestures are impossible to use and the UI feels very poorly thought out. There is no easy way to exit Metro apps and nothing about it seems at all intuitive. When I first picked up an iPhone, I pretty much knew exactly how to use it, the same was true for Android. However, I felt totally lost and confused inside the Metro apps, it's hard to explain it, but it all felt wrong.

One of the main problems I experienced with the Metro UI was the inability to perform touch gestures using the mouse and keyboard. I can see how in theory the Metro UI would be quite slick on a touchscreen, it just doesn't translate at all well to more traditional PC control methods. The problem with this is exacerbated by the forced use of the Metro UI as the Start menu.

Let's focus on that for just a moment, the Start menu is gone in Windows 8, you click on the Windows icon in the taskbar, it takes you into the Metro UI. From there you get the tile interface seen above, this is where you launch all your apps from. The problem with this is it's a mess, you can't get much on a screen because the tiles take up so much space and it's hard to find anything. Getting fast access to your programs is going to be a thing of the past!

The other problem is going to be with developer uptake, in order for a program to run in the new Metro UI it needs a totally new interface designed, but not just one! Traditionally a developer designs one interface for Windows and the OS deals with resizing the window to whatever the user desires. It can be any size too, unlike in Metro when you can only have two apps open side by side!

Now they need to design the traditional desktop UI, as well as a full screen Metro UI, a split screen Metro UI and the tile UI. It puts much more of an onus on the developer not only to design their applications, but also to test them too!

My prediction will be that classic Windows desktop applications, like Photoshop and office will continue to have only the desktop interface. The extra effort involved in creating all the interfaces will outweigh the benefits.

It seems that the plan is to get tablets running the same software as desktop PCs. The big problem with this is that tablets are not designed for productivity, they are designed for consumption and they are great at doing that. However, a tablet that can edit pictures in Photoshop or edit videos in Premiere is unlikely to be a realistic proposition. The CPU and graphic requirements these programs will demand is going to far outstrip tablet technology.

Microsoft have taken the wrong road, Apple and Google have both developed an OS that runs on phones and tablets. It's a tactic that works well and keeps the desktop OS separate in the case of MacOS and to a lesser extent ChromeOS.

This is what MS should have done, developed an improved Windows 7 for the desktop as Windows 8 and then developed Windows Phone 7 further to accommodate tablets.

I fear for the future of Windows now, unless MS decide to make the Metro UI totally optional so it can be disabled on a desktop, mouse & keyboard PC, I don't see any way that Windows 8 can be a success. Hopefully they'll come to this conclusion as well, and the sooner the better!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Site connection issues

So here's the thing, I have a website ( and I have a user who regularly contributes news articles to it. However for the last week she has been unable connect, I've not seen anyone else reporting problems. It could just be a problem with her local machine, but she has tried in several browsers and done all the basic checks such as emptying page cache etc.

It's only my site that she is having a problem with, which is odd. Can anyone think of any reason why this person is getting blocked? She is seeing error messages like:

Opera: Connection closed by remote server.
Chrome: No data received, the server closed the connection.

I've got her to connect to the site through and through their proxy the site seems to load fine for her. I've just asked her to do a trace route to see if that gives any clues, but I've not had the results back yet. This one has me stumped, any suggestions?

Monday, 1 August 2011

My thoughts on the BBC/Sky F1 deal

If you are an F1 fan then there was huge, earth shattering news at the weekend which you cannot have failed to miss. For those of you who aren't, a new TV deal has been agreed that will see coverage change dramatically from next year. The exact details of how it will all work are still unclear, but essentially Sky will broadcast all the races live. The BBC will show half the races in full and the other half as a highlights package.

The areas which still remain unclear are whether the 10 races the BBC are showing will be live or deferred coverage. It is also unknown what the highlights package means and if in fact the 10 full races will actually be extended highlights as well.

My initial reaction to the news was that of unmitigated anger that F1 could move to pay TV after years of being told that could never happen. In fact we were being told this could never happen by Bernie Ecclestone (the head of FOM and television rights holder) as recently as May!
"it isn't possible that F1 could go on to pay-TV, we wouldn't want to do that." - Bernie Ecclestone

The BBC have clearly been forced to make cutbacks and it seems that rather than drop F1 totally the BBC themselves have brought Sky in on the deal. After all, the BBC have the contract until 2013 so if they pulled out early they would have to pay huge penalty fees to FOM, clearly they were eager to find a solution to avoid that scenario. It would seem the proposal they came up with would leave the BBC paying roughly the same amount it would cost in cancellation fees but allow them to keep half the races. Seems like a good deal from their point of view! Let's have a quick look at the figures shall we?

The BBC currently pays £31m per year for the television rights, under the new agreement they will be paying just £15m with Sky contributing £25m. So the BBC save around half their current spend and depending on the cancellation clauses may even be saving more money than if they'd dropped F1 entirely!

So, why did the BBC turn to Sky for help rather than another terrestrial broadcaster? Simple really, ITV had already dropped F1 and have shown no interest in it since, however Channel 4 & Five have both been in talks with FOM to make an independent bid. They wouldn't be interested in a share with the BBC, they would just take the lot. Sky on the other hand aren't in a position to bid for F1 since there is a Concorde agreement in place which exists between all the teams and FOM that states

"the Commercial Rights Holder may not permit Formula 1 events to be shown only by pay television in a country with a significant audience if it would materially adversely affect audience reach in that country."

As Sky are a Pay TV provider, they could never be granted the F1 rights while this clause existed, this is pretty much the best deal Sky could hope for in order to get their foot in the door. Of course, once they are in the pressure will then be on the teams to have that clause removed when the Concorde agreement is renewed next year, paving the way for F1 to move to Sky permanently from 2018 when the new deal expires... assuming the BBC don't drop out of this new deal early as well which wouldn't be surprising.

So where does all this leave the fans? Well they are given a whole load of spin for the BBC, FOM and Sky, but we weren't born yesterday and being told things like:

"we believe this new deal offers the best outcome for licence-fee payers." - Ben Gallop (Head of BBC F1)

"It's good for Formula 1, for sure there are going to be a lot more people viewing, and a lot more opportunities for people to view, so from that point I'm very happy." Bernie Ecclestone (FOM)

"(the deal) is rather good news and should be positively welcomed by fans." - Eric Boullier (Lotus Renault team principle)

So let's take a closer look at viewer numbers shall we? Currently the BBC F1 programme is among the highest rating shows they have, regularly topping the list of viewing figures, not just for BBC content, but for the whole of television! Currently over 6 million people regularly tune in to a race on Sunday. Sky on the other hand only have a total of 10 million subscribers, and that's everyone with a Sky box, not just those who have Sky Sports!

I'd like to know how exactly the viewing figures are going to go up? Inevitably the BBC will lose a lot of casual F1 fans if it's not being shown regularly, there will also be a lot of die-hard fans who lose interest once they can't follow the full season live. With the cost of a Sky subscription they won't be winning many new customers either, a quick look at the costs involved:

A Sky subscription with Sky Sports will cost £470 a year, if you add HD coverage to that which is free on the BBC it's another £120 a year. A total of £600! Now considering they are only broadcasting half the races exclusively live, that means they are asking an F1 fan without Sky to pay £60 PER RACE! Of course they will "enjoy" the rest of the channels and programming Sky offer, but they've lived without it in the past and would only be subscribing for coverage of the F1.

To take to task the issue of viewing figures even further, since Sky took over the rights to Cricket, they have seen audience numbers fall through the floor. When Channel 4 was covering it the sport was watched and enjoyed by many hundreds of thousands, if not millions more viewers. This is exactly what we can expect to see happen with F1!

The sponsors will also have to make some tough choices now, the calculations they make are simple. It's a very basic spend per head. You take the number of people viewing combined with the projected airtime you will get and divide it by the money you are willing to spend. Clearly with viewing figures going from several million to potentially just a few hundred thousand they will have to justify their expenditure which may prove very difficult indeed. F1 can expect to lose some of its sponsors altogether and others to reduce their spend dramatically.

Of course the fans don't actually matter at the end of the day because it's the money that talks. We are often told how the fans are crucial to F1 and that they are the one who own the sport, blah, blah, blah.... But it doesn't mean anything. The only glimmer of hope for fans is that FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) decide they don't like the new deal because it will lose them too much money in sponsorship. However, that's unlikely to happen. No doubt that of the extra £9m that FOM are making from this new deal, a fair chunk of that (if not more) is going straight to the teams to keep them sweet. The general consensus so far seems to indicate that the teams don't care about the fans either as long as they have the money in the bank. So far nobody has made a stand for the fans of the sport, F1 has found itself on a slippery slope having reached a peak in the last couple of years on the BBC.

I have to say I am utterly perplexed at how the BBC who are a public service broadcaster can simply offload one of its flagship titles in this fashion when they already own the exclusive rights for another 2 years! Losing something like football to Sky was a different scenario, since the contract had expired and they simply couldn't afford to outbid them. Here, the BBC have actively sought out and made a deal with Sky in order to shirk their responsibilities. It is truly disgraceful and all parties involved BBC, FOM, FIA and FOTA (excluding Sky, who have simply jumped at a business opportunity) should be utterly ashamed.

It's made even worse given the current situation with Rupert Murdoch!

I'll leave you with one final comment from Bernie Ecclestone himself that really sums up the whole situation:

"Sky have been trying to buy the TV rights from us for a long time, but we won’t because they are not free-to-air broadcasters. With their viewing figures it would be almost impossible for teams to find sponsors. That would be suicidal.” - Bernie Ecclestone, May 2011

Quite right Bernie, R.I.P F1!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sky Go doesn't work on 64-bit computers?

I recently experienced the "new and improved" Sky Go service, which has replaced Sky Player. I watched the A-Team film on it at the weekend which was a terrible experience. The film I mean Sky Go worked exactly the same as Sky Player did before it.

However, today I tried to watch something else and it failed to work for me, spouting "Error c:1501" whenever I tried to start a stream. So I did what most people would do and checked the forums for advise, but I couldn't see anything that worked for me. Then a box popped up telling me I could chat to an advisor, so I did. Here follows the transcript of my conversation, what a complete waste of time it turned out to be!

Chat InformationWelcome to Sky Live Chat Service. A Sky Advisor will be with you shortly.

Chat InformationYou are now connected with Graeme.

Graeme: Hello, you're chatting with Graeme, a Sky advisor, may I take your name please?

You: James

Graeme: Hi James, how are you today?

You: I'm trying to use the new "improved" Sky player, but I keep getting "Error c:1501"

Graeme: Ok we will have to do some troubleshooting which will take some time, are you ok to do this?

You: yes

Graeme: Great!

Graeme: Have you downloaded the Sky Go desktop?

You: yes

Graeme: Please can you right click anywhere on your open ‘Sky Go’ desktop and select ‘Remove This Application’. After the Sky Go desktop has been removed, please close all open browser windows on your PC except for the one in which we are chatting.

Graeme: Please let me know when you have done this.

You: okay, all done

Graeme: Excellent!

Graeme: What operating system are you using?

You: Windows 7 64-bit

Graeme: Ok you will be unable to use the 64 bit windows 7 can you try another version please.

You: how exactly would I do that?

You: Sky Player used to work for me

Graeme: Sky does not support 64 bit computers.

You: yes it does!

Graeme: Not Sky Go.

You: errr... yes.. you do. Unless you don't support any PC sold in the last 2 years!

Graeme: We do not support this sorry.

You: Or does the new Sky Go not support 64bit computers when Sky Player did? If so why?

You: Please check with your supervisor, you must be wrong. Sky Player worked!

Graeme: I am not wrong James we do not support 64 bit computers with Sky Go.

You: So how was I able to use Sky Player then?

Graeme: This is a different platform and it does not support 64 bit computers.

You: So your new and improved player doesn't support ANY PC sold in the last 2 or more years?!

Graeme: We do not support 64 bit computers on Sky Go.

You: Again, virtually every computer on sale today is 64-bit. So are you saying Sky Go does not support ANY new PC?

Graeme: I am saying that Sky Go does not support 64 bit computers.

You: Look, this is crazy. Sky Player worked fine on 64bit Windows 7. Do you mean it doesn't work in a 64 bit browser?

Graeme: Unfortunately we currently do not support 64 bit systems if you go to the Sky Help forum you can find additional information there.

You: Sorry Graeme, you clearly don't know what you are talking about. Sky Player/Go does work on 64bit computers. I am using Firefox 5 which is a 32bit browser, do you actually understand the difference here?

Graeme: Unfortunately we cannot provide any support with this operating system currently, however I want to help you the best I can which is why I have directed you to the help forum as I am aware there is postings up there which will answer your questions.

You: I've already checked the Forum, it didn't help. That's why I came to here. Can I please talk to someone who actually knows what a computer is, you obviously don't have the required knowledge or expertise to help me.

Graeme: Our company considers that content and language to be inappropriate. If you continue to send improper messages, I will be forced to end our chat session.

You: How was that inappropriate? Do you understand the difference between a 64-bit OS and a the 32-bit software it can run?

Graeme: I am not here to tell you the difference between the software. I am here for support and I am currently unable to support you.

You: Which indicates to me that you don't have the required knowledge or expertise, which is why I have asked to talk to someone else. Seems perfectly reasonable to me!

Graeme: If you wish to speak to someone else you can end the chat and speak to another advisor if you reconnect.

Monday, 18 April 2011

iPad 2 Smart Cover

I was asked on Twitter to post my thoughts on the iPad 2 smart cover. I've been using it for a few days so think I'm in a position to give my opinion on it now.

It's quite neat that's for sure, but it doesn't really offer much protection. Yes, it does cover the screen when it's not in use, but the back of the device is totally naked. I've already managed to pick up a few scratches on the back of my iPad. The touted screen cleaning abilities of the cover are a joke, just having a soft fabric laying on the screen can't clean it! What I have noticed though are marks on the screen where the hinges are. This means you end up with three distinct vertical lines down the screen, they can be easily wiped away, but it's still annoying when it happens.

The different configurations of the cover are handy in certain circumstances. I've used it in both forms at various times. The upright stand is great for propping it up on the desk while watching a video or other times when you don't need to be "hands-on" with the device. The raised keyboard position is ideal for web browsing and typing blog posts like this one. I can type almost as quickly on this keyboard as I can on a real one. Having the slight angle means you can easily see the screen over your hands, and you aren't typing on a totally flat surface.

The magnets that the cover uses to connect are quite clever, I think it must use a system of opposing magnets that force it to hook up in the correct location. It just seems to know where to go! Simply swing the cover towards the edge and it will snap on. When it's attached the magnets are strong enough that it can support the weight on the iPad dangling beneath, but not if you start jiggling it about too vigorously. It will soon lose its grip then!

When the cover is used in one of its two setups, it's great. The problems only arise when you aren't. Holding it with the cover open can be annoying, it doesn't magnetise itself to the back as it does to the front, so it wants to constantly flap open. If you fold it into a triangle and hold on to that, it gives you something to grip, but it makes typing on the keyboard harder with your thumbs and it still wants to flap about too much.

It's an expensive cover that doesn't really offer any real protection, but the stand system is useful. Is it worth the money? Probably not, it's expensive and I'm sure there will be other 3rd party solutions that will do a better job than this.

EDIT: Updated with a video below to show the marks.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Blogging from the iPad 2

I just downloaded and installed a blogging app for my iPad called BlogPress. Seems quite good so far, this will be my first post using it so this is really just a test. Thought I'd write down a few of my thoughts on the iPad 2 while I am here. They probably won't be much different to any others you've already heard or read elsewhere though.

First of all, the actual device is gorgeous, from the moment you first power it up the display pops out at you. The IPS panel gives stunning quality, even if it doesn't have the much touted "retina display" resolution. Text is clear and easy to read, viewing angles are brilliant. Although the screen goes a bit darker at extreme angles you can still see everything without trouble.

The battery is good, even when the device was new and I played with it for almost a full day, the battery still had life in it by the end. I can imagine under more normal demands I could be going a full week without going near a power socket. Of course, I can only imagine that, because after almost a week, I'm still using it constantly, for almost everything. From email to twitter, web browsing, gaming, iPlayer viewing and now blogging. The iPad can do it all! In fact, maybe my current iPad usage is going to be normal from now on?

Many of the apps designed for the iPad are a joy to use. The slick fluid interface of apps such as Twitter are quick to navigate and intuitive to use. The ones that aren't are fairly easy to avoid thanks to the app store reviews.

The implementation of multi-tasking is very good, I was never sold on the fake pseudo version Apple devised. But having used it, in practise you'd never know any difference. You can switch between apps in an instant and pick up exactly where you left off. Certain processes can even continue running in the background when you switch, such as music and the ability for apps to send notifications when they aren't running helps with things like alarms, email and twitter.

Of course it's not all good! There are a few niggles (some bigger than others) that are frustrating and others that are inexplicable. For example, the iPhone and iPod Touch both run the same iOS, yet the iPad lacks some of the core apps. The Clock, Calculator, Weather and Stocks apps are all missing in action. This seems utterly mad considering they must be there in the source code of iOS, but simply locked out on the iPad. Finding replacements for them on the app store is fairly simple, but the good ones have to be paid for which is annoying when the Apple versions were already excellent.

The keyboard, whilst easy to type on, particularly in landscape mode also gives some minor annoyances. I'm now fairly accustomed to the Android keyboard used on my mobile phone. On that I can long press a key to get alternative characters, such as numbers and other commonly used symbols. On the iPad I have to switch to the numeric keyboard to access those keys. Worse still is that when you do so, the few symbols that are included on the main keyboard actually move to a different location!! Who the hell thought that was a good idea?

Sticking with the keyboard for a moment many of the common symbols have been relegated to a third keyboard layout. The +,=,#,$,% are all three keyboards deep. But why can't they adopt the Android method and have all the numeric and common symbols on long presses, with other symbols just one keyboard change away. Or if not that, then make one of the two buttons that currently change it to the number keyboard change it to the symbol keyboard instead. That way it's not so much effort.

The only other real annoyance I have with the iPad are the notifications. Now notifications are a great idea, they notify you of stuff which is great :-) The problem with notifications on the iPad and iOS in general is they are far too intrusive. When a notification appears on the iPad it opens a dialog box in the middle of the screen to inform you about whatever it may be. A new tweet directed at you, your turn in an on-line game, a calendar appointment and numerous other app specific things. This can be very inconvenient, especially if you are watching a video, or playing a different game. It will simply interrupt whatever you are doing until you dismiss the pop-up dialog. It gets very frustrating when you are as popular as me :-) I was watching something on the iPlayer last night and my video was being interrupted every 4 or 5 minutes with a notification of some sort.

Why can't the OS just put a little icon in the status bar so I know something wants my attention but doesn't demand I deal with it at that very moment? Yes, I could turn off notifications, but that would be just as inconvenient as then I wouldn't be informed of anything.

Hopefully iOS 5 will help address some of these issues, I don't know. But I'll be disappointed if they don't! Especially when far better solutions are already in use by Android.

Well that was a much longer post than I'd intended it to be. Creating it on the iPad has been fairly easy. I haven't even mentioned the Smart Cover which I promised someone I'd write about. That will have to be another post because it's lunchtime now!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 11 April 2011

Getting mobile interwebs

I'm looking at options to get my internet fix on the move. I've got an iPad 32Gb wi-fi on its way to me right now, I also have a laptop which I cart around and have to find wifi hotspots to piggyback on. I want something that will put an end to the hunt and I've found some things I quite like the look of but I need to know if it will work.

I could find a forum somewhere and post my questions there, but I know quite a lot of my tech-savvy friends read these posts, and I trust your advise more!

So, I'm looking at the Three MiFi device and I'm currently confused by the two options. They are the:

The first one appears to me to be £71.99 for the MiFi device. As far as I can see, there is no data included, so I'd have to PAYG and "top up" with a 30-day data bundle before I can use it.

On the other hand the MiFi (5GB) package is a "monthly" contract according to the site. It costs £39.99 for the MiFi device and a monthly fee of £15.99 for the 15GB of data.

Now that second option sounds very expensive over time. However, looking at the site I can't see any minimum contract length detailed. So, my question is:

Is there anything to stop me buying the MiFi (5GB) for £39.99 + £15.99 for the first month and then cancelling the monthly contract?

This would cost me a total of £55.98 and give me 15GB of data to start me off! That's a saving of £16.01 over the PAYG option, plus the cost of whatever data plan I added. Then would I be able to just get top-ups instead once I have the MiFi device rather than paying the monthly contract?

Or, even better, could I purchase a "Tablet SIM Pay As You Go + 12" for £51.49 which would give me 12Gb to use over 12 months for a single fee?

I don't see anything obvious that would prevent this, the MiFi device and SIM cards are both on the Three network. Am I missing something obvious in all this?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Revisiting the iPad

So a little over a year ago I posted my thoughts on the iPad, you can check the post by scrolling down two entries. It may have been over a year ago that I wrote it, but not much happens here :-)

Anyway, basically I said I wasn't interested for several reasons. Some of those issues have been addressed with the iPad 2. They've added cameras for a start (see I told you they'd held them back on purpose) and multi-tasking is available now. Well okay, that was available with an iOS update on the original iPad too, but the new dual core A5 CPU should make it much better. Of course we have to be careful here, because it's not true multi-tasking, but it will do for now.

They still haven't added the SIM card slot to every device and I still don't understand why they need to produce different models for that. They still haven't really adapted the iOS for a tablet either, though it's better than it was when the original iPad came out.

I still feel it's overpriced, but then when you compare it to other tablets like the Xoom and Galaxy tab it doesn't look that bad after all so maybe for once I'm being a little harsh on Apple for that one?

All this waffling is just a long winded way of me saying I'm going to buy an iPad 2. Now I know it's still not perfect, however I have several reasons for wanting one. I currently use an iPhone 3G for all my app store requirements, but I haven't used it as a phone for a long time. I've had my HTC Desire for a year or so now, there's a whole other post about that phone but for another time maybe...

The iPhone 3G is showing its age now, new iOS releases aren't supporting it so slowly apps will no longer be available. It doesn't have multi-tasking which is getting really frustrating when I'm playing several games at the same time.

I think the time is right to get myself an iPad now. The things missing are things that don't bother me so much. The poor cameras aren't an issue, they'll be fine for Facetime/Skype and that's all I'll need them for. I have a DSLR for real photos and my camera phone for when I want to take a quick snap. The new iPad 2 should fill my requirements quite nicely for now.