Posts tagged with windows

Windows media keys on a regular keyboard

Many full-size Windows keyboards come with extra buttons some of which are of questionable value but the volume and music controls are useful especially if you’re a programmer that likes to listen to music all day.

Unfortunately my two keyboards of choice (DAS Ultimate and Topre Realforce) do not come with such controls. Neither does my MacBook Pro but Apple do the elegant thing and re-purpose some of the function keys.

Apple media control keys

If only I could do that on my keyboards and take advantage of the Windows global music controls. (It also makes testing a bit easier if you support background music playback in your Windows Store apps). In fact Windows 8 even has a great little pop-up that comes up to show you what you’re doing:

Windows 8 music overlay

Thankfully with the help of the wonderful AutoHotkey you can. This great little tool lets you remap keys globally or per-app and even put some scripting and macro’s in place to really take control of Windows.

My keyboards don’t have a Fn key like the Mac but given the Windows key is the modifier for system shortcuts we can re-purpose that! Once you’ve unpacked and run AutoHotkey simply right-click on its system tray icon and choose Edit This Script then paste the following into the Notepad Window that opens and hit save:

; Windows Media controls in Mac positions
#F7::Media_Prev
#F8::Media_Play_Pause
#F9::Media_Next
#F10::Volume_Mute
#F11::Volume_Down
#F12::Volume_Up

Now simply right-click on AutoHotkey and choose Reload This Script and enjoy Windows media controls on your laptop or regular keyboard!

[)amien

My one-year check-in with my Windows Phone 7

It’s been almost a year since I bit the Windows Phone 7 bullet and put my iPhone 3G away. As a long-time Mac fan (our house is nothing but Macs) I wasn’t sure I’d last…

Contact & calendar management

Contact and calendar management is truly awesome as I wrote about previously. With the latest mango release Twitter and LinkedIn get brought into this unified system and messages that start with a text message can switch in and out of Facebook and Live Messenger as available.

What has this meant? Over the last year I’ve barely had to maintain contacts. Whenever I need to get hold of someone the information is there. If I want to see what they’re doing, it’s there. You can pin people to your start menu so having it automatically pick up a photo from a service is another bonus.

My Windows Phone is better for this than any other system I’ve used including my desktops.

Gorgeous user interface

The metro user interface is beautiful to use. It’s clear, fluid and fast and makes using the phone a breeze. You can see why Microsoft are adopting a similar user interface for their upcoming Xbox dashboard and seeing how far they can push the concept in Windows 8.

Such a bright fast user interface works best on the AMOLED displays such as that on the Focus – the LCD refresh rates on the HD7 for example seem to struggle with scrolling resulting in a shimmering on the screen.

Tasty Mango

  • Maps now includes both turn-by-turn directions (although you have to tap the screen after each one) and a useful Scout function that shows you nearby places to eat and visit.
  • Multitasking is a breeze, just double-tap the back button and visually pick the image showing the app you want to switch to. Not all apps support this yet but it’s getting better.
  • Voice has been underplayed – it’s like a mini Siri that can do a few things by voice activation such as calling people, finding places with Bing, opening applications and sending text messages. Just hold the Windows key to activate and speak :)
  • Power saver is a life-saver and something that Apple should be copying given recent iOS battery issues. It turns off wireless, email checking etc. either when you know battery is going or automatically when low and gets you through the tough spots.
  • Background music means not only can you play music in background with the built-in Zune stuff but even third party apps like Spotify can too! The controls and track names will appear on the lock screen and slide in anywhere you adjust the volume.

Hardware choice

I currently own a Samsung Focus on AT&T and regularly get to use both a HTC HD7 on T-Mobile and a HTC 7 Trophy on Verizon for testing.

Having a choice of hardware is great – you can pick the screen size (from 3.5″ to 4.7″), type, speed (1GHz to 1.5GHz) and specifications including slide-out keyboards, microSD expansion slots, a waterproof model and up to a 13.2 megapixel camera.

The negative side of having choice is that all the devices I’ve used have a combination of matte and shiny plastics none of which have the same quality feeling as the iPhone 4’s aluminum and glass. The LCD displays and the Super AMOLED with it’s PenTile display also don’t look as gorgeous as the iPhone retina display and has a sort of dithered effect with some solid colors when viewed closely.

Here’s hoping the Nokia Lumia 800 raises the bar.

Most favorite apps available

The thing that really made the iPhone were apps. The good news is the best ones are also on Windows Phone 7 too often making better use of the display through the metro style they adopt.

  • Amazon Kindle
  • Evernote
  • Facebook
  • Flixster
  • foursquare
  • IMDB
  • Netflix
  • Spotify
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

There are of course many extra great applications and games available in the marketplace and games usually count towards your Xbox LIVE gamerscore :)

Some notable omissions still exist including Pandora (can play on the site though) and Skype (only a matter of time given Microsoft’s acquisition).

Some cool extras

Hidden features

  • Calendar can skip between months and years in month mode – just tap the month for a selector
  • Calculator can turn into a scientific one when rotated left and a programmer one when rotated right

You can also check and tweak all sorts of settings via the diagnostic options.

Microsoft’s extra free apps

Microsoft put together a bunch of slick small free apps that perfectly complement the metro style look and feel. They include:

  • World Clock – Lets you setup a number of clocks around the world. Useful if you often converse with people in other time zones.
  • Tranlsator – Text translation tool that also pronounces translations between English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
  • Weather – Simple and convenient weather application that supports multiple locations.
  • Unit Converter – Translate between various lengths, areas, volume, capacity etc.
  • Stocks – Keep track of your stocks and the indexes.
  • Shopping List – Simple shopping list management.

The bad bits

While most of the WP7 experience is great there are some rough edges that even Mango hasn’t yet sorted out.

Overly sensitive buttons

It’s actually great having a back button and prevents wasting screen on a back button like iOS does. The problem however is that both the back and search buttons are overly sensitive. It’s difficult to hold the phone in one hand and use it without your thumb hitting the pesky back button. It’s unfortunately something even the Xbox 360 slim picked up with the eject mechanism which is suitably annoying when putting away a controller.

Microsoft should add code to limit button presses to a distinct no-touch, touch for 0.4s, no-touch process.

Volume control

For some reason the phone has only one volume control that is shared by both applications and the ring-tone so if you’re the sort of person who like your phone low and your music loud you’re going to be constantly shifting back-and-forth and in my case that results in either embarrassing rings when it should be silent and silent rings when it should be working.

The volume control needs to be context sensitive. When in an app or the background music player is active adjust the audio volume otherwise adjust ringer volume.

Equalizer settings

There’s no sound equalizer settings so if you don’t like the sound coming from your speakers or headphones you’re stuck with it.

Build in a system-wide equalizer that at least affects the background music player.

[)amien

Windows 2008 Server on my MacBook Pro

A troublesome disk (a story for another time) has forced me to reinstall my MacBook Pro and review my Windows partition.

My Boot Camp partition was running Vista Ultimate x86 which felt sluggish, ignored the last 1GB and bugged me with UAC. One Windows update kept failing to install which also prevented SP1 from completing.

Apple’s Boot Camp doesn’t support 64-bit Windows (except on the Mac Pro) and my 64-bit experiences have been unpleasant so far (no Flash for IE x64, limited 64-bit shell extensions, Live! refusing to install, drivers etc.) The increased x64 memory consumption would also be an issue when running in a 1.5GB virtual machine via Parallels or VMware Fusion.

Windows XP was one option but losing IIS7 and DirectX 10 would see me reinstalling Vista within weeks so I decided to try Windows 2008 Server x86.

Boot Camp happily accepted the 2008 Server x86 CD where I chose the BOOTCAMP partition, formatting it as NTFS and electing for a standard installation. The Boot Camp drivers subsequently installed without complaint, all 4GB of RAM was accessible and there are no 64-bit compatibility issues.

Microsoft are giving away 1 year evaluation copies of Windows 2008 Enterprise Server x86 as part of their Heroes Happen Here launch program for Windows 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 if you don’t happen to have an MSDN subscription to hand. There are however a few tweaks you need to do to get a more desktop-like experience:

Install desktop features

Head into Server Manager and Add Features then choose Desktop Experience to install Windows Media Player, Aero etc.

Go into Services and set the Themes service to Automatic and Start it to make themes available and then choose Browse… from the Theme Settings in Personalisation to select %windir%\Resources\Themes\Aero.theme

Install wireless networking

This one had me stumped for a while as I thought my wireless card/drivers weren’t working. The reality is that 2008 Server has wireless networking removed by default so head into Server Manager > Add Features > Wireless LAN Service to install it.

Enabling hibernate

Open a command prompt and enter:

powercfg.exe /hibernate on

Remove annoying shutdown

Head into the registry to HKEY\_LOCAL\_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows NT\Reliability and change the ShutdownReasonOn DWORD key to __.

Relaxing local password policy

A controversial change I’m sure but I’d rather choose something complex and unique that will last 90+ days than something memorable every 30. Head into Local Security Policy > Account Policies > Password Policy > Maximum password age and change it to something more reasonable.

Going further

A great guide with screen-shots on additional tweaks for a more workstation-like experience also exists – wish I known about that earlier!

Simone Chiaretta has highlighted the that tap-to-click is absent and there are some Bluetooth issues stemming from missing drivers.

[)amien

One week with a MacBook Pro 17″

It has been one week since I picked up my new MacBook Pro 17″ to replace my aging first-generation 15″ model.

My initial concern was that the size and weight would be unwieldy after 4 years of lugging around a 15″ MacBook Pro and a prior to that a Titanium PowerBook G4. The actual problem was that my trusty Samsonite Trunk & Co. backpack could not accommodate it and that I’d have to hope Santa would deliver something a little bigger. Being properly kitted up might reveal if the dimensions and weight are uncomfortable so expect an update once I’ve travelled with the beast.

MacBook Pro 17″ image courtesy of Apple Inc.The screen is fantastic, a little brighter, and provides me with a desktop-like experience in terms of real estate thanks to the combination of the increased size and the high-definition 1920×1200 option. I had examined the glossy finish in-store and found having my face and the rest of the store glaring back at me far too distracting for real work (it might be nice for watching DVD’s in the dark I guess) and so went with the matte finish. Surprisingly it is a little more reflective than the older MBP but not overly so and it does make removing unwelcome fingerprints easier.

One problem I had with m 15″ was that heavy use of Visual Studio within Parallels wasn’t always cutting it on performance. Compilation was faster than the cheap HP/Compaq desktop I’d been using but still wasn’t snappy enough to keep my attention tightly focused ;-)

I went with top options – a 2.6GHz processor coupled with 4GB of RAM and a 7200RPM 200GB drive – to ensure maximum performance. Mac OS X and native Vista did not disappoint and felt like a speedy desktop despite Vista being 32-bit and limited to 3GB of RAM until Apple ship a 64-bit ready Boot Camp drivers and tools.

My .NET development typically takes place inside a virtual machine – previously Parallels but now evaluating VMware Fusion with its enticing dual-core and 64-bit guest OS support. Both Parallels and Fusion had similar almost-native performance in the disk and processor department on my 15″ according to Vista’s performance index and I’ve yet to rerun those (stay tuned). Whichever gets Aero/DirectX 9Ex shader support first will be my home for a while.

Battery life was a big surprise offering over 3 hours and I certainly feel less conscious of where the next power feed is coming from although that is partly due to the poor battery on my old machine being rather tired and worn.

One big disappointment is the keyboard. Firstly it is the same size as the 15″ model which leaves the extra space to the speaker grille. Whilst the speakers do sound far superior – good enough to actually listen to music on – I couldn’t help but feel a wider enter key, a second ctrl and a little f-key spacing could have gone a long way. What is more concerning is that many keys do not register if hit off-centre even by a slight amount :(

There are still some things to try:

  • Games under native Vista taking advantage of the Nvidia 8600M GT chip
  • Time Machining my MyBook Pro external drive over FireWire 800 (800 Mb/s) instead of USB2 (400 Mb/s)
  • Burning DVD performance
  • Removing DVD drive (UJ-85J FBZ8) region protection (RPC) to play my DVD collection

[)amien