A new Microsoft emerges

It’s the first time in a long time I’ve watched an entire tech keynote. The Apple keynotes have become formulaic and leaks online mean you can skip quickly through to the key moments or just bypass the video and head straight to the news sites. There are only so many times I can watch overhyped fans whoop and cheer at the same MacBook Air with a mildly different processor and an extra stick of RAM.

And yet was I alone in wishing that Microsoft had let a few enthusiastic members of the public into their January 21st event?

As I watched the public facing “dream team” of Terry Myerson, Joe Belfiore, and Phil Spencer, live demonstrate some really impressive developments in the world of Windows I felt that this time, at this event Microsoft truly deserved some whooping and cheering of their own.

Windows 10: The Next Chapter press event (day 2 of 2)

Now don’t get me wrong, Windows 10 isn’t a future shift in operating system technology, but it represents a new era in how Microsoft develop their behemoth OS, and even more importantly it looks promising, promisingly good even! New CEO Satya Nadella is refining a very clear vision of a Microsoft for the future decade and even the detractors have to admit that so far his vision seems bang on the money. Out goes the reliance on PC’s, instead it’s services for all platforms, Office on Android sir? Well certainly.

As an IT Director myself I can identify with the vision, I “get” it, I can see where Microsoft are going and it’s a hard push to argue with the logic. They still have the resource and clout to be the leader of cloud computing, taking back some of the ground snatched by Amazon and Google. Their offering in Windows Azure is proving popular with some pretty major global companies and the best part? If Windows 10 comes off as Satya Nadella seems to envision then it will be a gateway to these cloud services and Microsoft products will become a built-in part of peoples online lives like never before.

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Reassuringly they haven’t abandoned some of my favourite hardware either but rather they are refining it to a specific segment or purpose. Xbox firmly takes on the role of putting Windows in the home, Windows 10 this time, not it’s own minor version of the OS. The Lumia phones must continue their 3rd place fight in an Apple, Android dominated market whatever the profit or loss because they pin Windows 10 to your pocket. So you’ve got it at home, you’ve got it in your pocket, and thanks to early engagement with the enterprise and IT professionals you’ll most likely have it at work. Although it looks like Windows 10 might not be free for enterprise customers Microsoft are working hard to make it an attractive upgrade.

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I am fortunate to use a Microsoft Surface Pro as my primary device so I have become accustomed, even a fan of, Windows 8 (well actually Windows 8.1 Update because original Windows 8 was pants). So in some respects I find the new “Start” menu of Windows 10 a step backwards. But Microsoft understands that corporate customers haven’t got around to deploying tablets en mass and therefore are not going to migrate to Windows 8. If it wants to bring these customers along to the future of Windows it has to find a solution to please both camps, the corporate number crunchers and the consumer futurists. Now I’m fairly sure when 10 is released both camps will have complaints, and in adopting this approach Microsoft have already lined themselves up for a kicking. You can’t please everyone, we know that. But initial builds show that it might hit just the right spot to win the highest number of averages, in other words if it can please enough of a cross section in both camps it’s future will be safe and it’s services will grow.

I liked almost everything I saw, sure they could, and will, tweak a few things but overall this was an upbeat Microsoft, a winning Microsoft, a company that had re-thought it’s life and come back with new philosophy and belief. You can nitpick and Troll all you want but the Windows 10 interface is shaping up nicely to do what needs to be done in the new Microsoft world.

Win10_Windows_Cortana_PrintCortana, a favourite feature on my phone, looks set to get even better on Windows. True cross platform, seamless gaming through the Xbox App looks set to make the big “M”s console offering stronger than ever. And Surface Hub showed that although Microsoft is very much a “services” company from here on in it’s not going to abandon the creation of showcase hardware to highlight the very best use of it’s software. I hope this approach extends to the Surface Pro line which I love, and believe does showcase the best of hybrid devices.

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And then there was HoloLens, at this point I let out a little “Whoop!” right there in front of my screen. When the main company focus is so clear, so defined, the fact that they can still make something so truly ground breaking and spectacular, well it puts the Apple pocket watch in the shade!

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But HoloLens is a blog for another day, next up will be my real world impressions of Windows 10, for I type this live on Technical Preview Build 9926. Yes people my beloved Surface is living the beta testing dream!

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A Happy New Year of Blogging

It seems a long time already but 2015 burst into our lives only a few days ago. As this is my first post of the new year I’ll take a moment to wish you all a happy year’s blogging. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started my blog but I’ve been hugely surprised by the many unexpected interactions I’ve had with fellow bloggers and tweeters. It’s been a rewarding and at time surprising experience and I thank those of you that have taken the time to view my stuff or interact in some way.

It’s been a more varied start to my blog than I originally though. Surprisingly for me the posts that have generated most interest have been my movie reviews or comments. I find this amazing since I tend to be 6-8 months behind the film schedule but many thanks for the comments and support. Although I have no intention of making this my main blogging pastime look out for more movie musing soon, first up X-Men Days of Future Past which I caught over Christmas.

I’m pleased I put together a varied selection of tech articles but I’ve been disappointed by my ability to really expound on the variety of tech information, both news and experience, that I come across in my day to day job. With this in mind a first priority this year is to see if I can create a section on my blog for shorter articles, a more “hints and tips” if you will. I come across many things on a day to day basis which I’m sure my interest those involved with technology and IT so I hope to come up with a format for sharing such information as will not fit in a Tweet. Those of you of an IT/technology/movie/biking persuasion can pick up a flavour of my life and interests through my Twitter account https://twitter.com/m70mph

So to work! I shall strive to keep the blog bus rolling and those of you I have already encountered I hope to visit you again as I go round picking up passengers.

Terminator: Genisys (2015) – very excited!

Very quick post just to shout “I’m so excited!!!!”

Terminator: Genisys the latest instalment of the Terminator films has been given a release date of July 1st 2015. The trailer is now available to watch online, watch it in high definition on IMDB.

I love the Terminator franchise and I don’t mind confessing as a Schwarzenegger fan. For me the first two movies both deserve their place in movie history and helped define robot sci-fi as we know it. Although it was nowhere near the same calibre I can happily watch the third instalment “Rise of the Machines” purely because of Arnolds turn as the iconic T-800.

And then for me it all went wrong. I know people can argue the merits of each instalment all day long but for me personally Terminator: Salvation is the one I wish had never been made. Christian Bale’s growly voiced take on John Connor, what I like to call “Batman John”, was just horribly embarrassing but then I never understood the rational for the movie. Why bin James Cameron’s original dark vision of the future and instead transport the action to a brightly lit desert setting where terminators only conveniently turn up in ones and two’s? And don’t get me started on the horrendous T-800 animatronic that appeared in the final sequence!

Salvation ruined it for me because the vision that James Cameron had originally painted for us was all but obliterated as others took the helm and tried to share a new version of events. I didn’t get the plot, it was too convoluted, and I’m pretty sure shot full of holes. Aside from a few key plot points it just wasn’t a Terminator movie.

And so it starts again with the aptly named “Genisys“. Arnie is back! (pun intended) and at this point I’ll cut him a lot of slack because for those in my generation (35 – 40 year olds) we kind of grew up with him, through the gems and the lemons. Thankfully the trailer looks promising. I daresay there will be a riot online as people argue the decision to reset the timeline but the visuals leave no doubt Cameron’s original vision is back. The future sequences paint the dark frightening future we glimpsed in the first film and in this future I don’t think it matters who plays John Connor. It’s not clear from the trailer whether we have to let slide the fact that Kyle Reese is now played by Jai Courtney or whether his time jump to our era is out of sequence from the events of The Terminator. I thought on first viewing that they were recreating the original jump made by Michael Bien with a straight actor switch but then the cars and settings implied it to be more naughties than 1980’s so maybe the timeline had already been changed.

Whatever, I’ll let it go, because visually it looks promisingly close to the original vision. Arnie looks good, certainly younger than in other recent films like The Last Stand. I’m guessing heavy work outs and help from makeup have assisted in the process but I really hope he enjoyed returning to a franchise that is genuinely his. There are a lot of visuals in the film that link strongly with the original movie (giant balls of time machine light anyone), and the plot obviously has strong links even though it looks set to forge a new path for future Terminator movies. Sit back and enjoy the build up.

Oh and did I mention I’m excited?

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A Million Ways To Die In The West

One word sprang to mind when I first saw the official trailer (the “red band” version with the swearing) some 12 months ago now, “Brilliant!“.

That was worrying because the trailer was so well cut, so hilariously funny, that surely it contained all the best bits of the film? Could there really be anything else to see here? Well the trailer does oversell the film a bit, but yes there is more, yes it is, “mostly”, funny, and yes you should absolutely get some popcorn and spend a Friday night watching the DVD.

A Million Ways To Die In The West is a Western with a modern day dialogue. We’ve seen modern day speech patterns and references used to comedy effect in Westerns since way back in the Carry On films and Blazing Saddles. References to modern day activities, “Don’t drink and horse”, somehow seem hilariously funny when set in the Wild West.

The film follows Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) a mild mannered sheep farmer, living a lonely life, and trying to avoid death in the town of Old Stump on the western frontier (1882). We follow Stark as he loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) to a wealthy local businessman (Neil Patrick Harris), and spends his days drinking away his sorrows with his best (and seemingly only) friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his prostitute fiancée, Ruth (Sarah Silverman).

When mysterious newcomer Anna (Charlize Theron) rides into town and captures Albert’s interest and heart, he becomes a new man. But with her deadly husband Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) in tow, Albert is going to have to become the western gun-slinging hero he never was.

Word of warning, my sense of humour is fairly childish, if you like your comedy clever and subtle then move right along! Written, produced, and directed by Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy and American Dad!) the humour ranges from clever observational comedy, to slapstick, right down to overly gratuitous potty humour. If you caught his first live action film the 2012 smash hit Ted you will have some idea of what to expect.

There is some guffaw out loud dialogue, some brilliant visual gags (I loved the woolly sheep), a hilarious song and dance number (lead by Neil Patrick Harris, playing Barney Stinson a la 1882), and a drug induced animated sequence complete with dancing animated sheep!

There is also “a lot” of toilet humour, too much to allow for a great film. And some unashamed racism, although done for comic effect, is unnecessary and uncomfortable. It jumped between brilliantly clever comedy and gross cringe in your seat comedy too many times to achieve the kind of balance the true greats, like the original “Hangover“, pull off.

That said my wife and I chuckled quietly most of the way through, the film is carried by a great cast, and I won’t spoil the cameo by one of the greatest film trilogies ever made!

There are some genuine laughs to be had here but how many depends a great deal on how you take your comedy.

Surface Pro 3 – I need no more

So I have a couple of tech blogs on the burner but it’s been a couple of weeks since my examination of cash gaming so I thought I’d put something easy together to keep things rolling.

I’ve mentioned it in my blogs before but I’d like to introduce Microsoft Surface Pro 3. I don’t intend this post to make any attempt at review since hundreds can be found in the mainstream press. I tend to put my trust in established players like The Verge for my tech reviews.

Instead I hope to give you an insight into why this is my primary device, the decision process, technical observations, and the overall experience as someone that took delivery on launch day.

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The first thing of note is the build quality, which is a credit to Microsoft, and equals anything made by Apple. I previously owned a Surface Pro 2 and there were slight imperfections where magnesium met plastic around the edge, not so on Surface Pro 3. I’m also delighted they’ve gone with silver as the primary colour, the black finish of Surface Pro 2 had a tendency to chip and mark especially along the supporting edge of the Kickstand and around the ports. Surface Pro 3 has a much better finish in a colour less likely to mark, there are also some additional touches such as the plastic “feet” that sit on the edge of the Kickstand to prevent such damage, tiny attentions to details that really catapult Microsoft into the luxury hardware arena.

I aimed high and went for the Core i7 model with a 256GB SSD. I would suggest either go for the base model or mine since the price points for the Core i5 256GB, and the Core i7 512GB make them either too close not to push for the upgrade, or in the case of the high end Core i7 just that bit ridiculously expensive.

And lets be clear here Surface Pro 3 is expensive! I won’t go into the alternative options but following on the back of the Lenovo Yoga many manufacturers now offer hybrid 2-in-1 systems which fold, detach, or in the case of the Dell Venue, mimic Surface. These alternatives will save you quite a bit of cash but that’s missing the point. For me none of the alternatives match up to Surface Pro 3; this is Microsoft’s perfect hardware vision for a device running Windows 8.1, encompassing all the features and functions that make Windows 8.1 shine, a true fusion of laptop and tablet.

I can’t avoid talking about Windows 8 which I’ve been using since the consumer preview days. Windows 8 felt broken, Windows 8.1 fixed some of the issues and showed promise, Windows 8.1 Update felt like the finished product as it should have been. You can’t escape the jarring crash from Modern UI to desktop, the twin locations for settings, or the questions surrounding the strength of Microsoft’s Store, but 8.1 Update on Surface Pro 3 feels like the experience Microsoft meant you to have. More importantly it feels like a significant leap from Windows 7. I believe in Microsoft’s vision for a device that covers everything, and I wasn’t at all surprised to see Surface Pro 3 feature in the technical demonstration of “Continuum”, Microsoft’s touch to desktop transition technology. I’m currently evaluating Windows 10 as a Windows Insider and can’t wait for the point where I dare deploy it to my beloved Surface.

Now I’m being slightly dishonest in that I don’t have Surface Pro 3 as my only device, but only because of the 12″ screen size. It’s a beautiful screen sporting 2160 x 1440 pixels and the new 3:2 aspect ratio makes the whole device much more usable. At only 800 grams it’s super light to use on the sofa too, but I do keep my iPad Mini for use as a Kindle in bed. I just couldn’t subject my tired wife to 12″ of super bright pixel-ness in the bedroom.

So I love the device. Hardware criticisms, well an extra USB port on the opposite side would be nice, one USB is too easily used and I’ve resorted to permanently using a USB 3.0 hub in the office. Another one on the opposite side to give ergonomic options would be just that bit better. The new friction hinge Kickstand with it’s 22 – 150 degree angle is genius but does scare me that it might break, the initial release is a bit floppy and alarming before the friction kicks in. Everything else is perfect for me, I love the form factor, the power supply is easy to connect and I like the magnetic connector first sported on Apple’s MacBook. The inclusion of a USB port on the power adapter to charge iPad or phone is an excellent inclusion (although I wish a second charger was a damn site more reasonable than £65!). Also make sure you factor in the additional cost of the keyboard which is not included with Surface Pro 3.

It’s worth mentioning the new Type Cover for Surface Pro 3, get one! The revised mounting mechanism that lets you either have it flat on the desk or hinged off the front of the tablet for stability is another stroke of genius, the backlighting is nice and I find the feel excellent. On my lap I hinge it every time if I need the keyboard but I find on my desk at work I can type fast and with perfect ergonomics by leaving it flat on the desk. I’ve been using it as my main keyboard since launch day and there is very little sign of wear other than a slight “shining” of the keys.

Type Cover flats on the desk.

Type Cover flat on the desk.

In summary Surface Pro 3 works for me. It’s fast, the Core i7 handles my day to day with ease and can even play some current games at full speed in a bearable resolution. The 256GB SSD is just enough for me, my entire iTunes music library (about 50GB) fits on leaving plenty of space for documents and although I can’t store all my pictures locally I subscribe to the full suite of Microsoft services and selectively sync the photo’s I need from OneDrive in the cloud. I use the built in modern UI Apps for email and calendar, then a range of traditional desktop applications and Apps from the Store. Some of Microsoft’s own free Apps surprised me such as the Health App which I didn’t think I would use but has some surprising and powerful features for tracking what you eat. Others, I’m looking at you “Age of Empires Castle Siege” are a bit pants (see my Clash of Clans post).

My top tip, well I was slightly alarmed when having purchased a 128GB Micro-SD card I couldn’t find a slot on the side to put it in! Don’t panic, the Micro-SD slot on Surface Pro 3 sits on the rear of the machine behind the Kickstand. 128GB by the way is just the right size to act as a ‘File History’ drive for the 256GB SSD.

I’m lucky to have multiple devices or all kinds to play with. I don’t always use my Surface Pro 3 and I sometimes see new devices I fancy giving a try, but the best thing to take from this blog post is Surface Pro 3 has never let me down, and more importantly after nearly 3 months I’ve never felt disappointed.

Cash or Clash of Clans?

One of my main devices is a 1st generation Apple iPad Mini which travels around in a small compartment next to my primary device. I don’t use the Mini for work because I’m lucky to have a much better Windows tablet solution but I do value my small slice of the Apple pie.

My iPad is valuable to me because of its particular size. I use it primarily at home or out on the road but never in the office. It’s my Kindle, mobile music and video centre, and it allows for that instant-on check of the web or emails. What I don’t especially use it for is Apps!

I really only have one page of Apps and most of these link in to the online services I use such as OneDrive, OneNote, and yes my WordPress blog. But the arrival of our lovely baby boy just two short months ago has left me spending more time ensconced on the sofa, iPad in one hand, little person asleep in the other. To while away some time whilst all around me sleep I have spent more time browsing the App Store and particularly the selection of games on offer. Eventually I decided to try the current top 10 darling of the store, Clash of Clans.
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Now I was vaguely aware of the “pay to play” gaming model and prevalence of In-App Purchases within the mobile gaming space but until Clash I had not been directly exposed to it. I was quite taken aback by the blatant money grabbing technique implemented in the game. I was so shocked I did a bit a research and promptly discovered I’ve been “away from the scene” and that the pay to play aspect of modern mobile games is more common than not, with In-App purchases listed for what seemed like almost every App. I started to get a sense of why “Mr Mighty Peeved” of the Daily Mail constantly reviles mobile Apps in general, and how easy it would be for my kids to accidentally run up a humongous bill in later life if I myself don’t keep on top of the technology. But is it a bad thing?

Well up front let me say, Clash of Clans is essentially a grubby play at parting people from their cash. It’s based on the realtime strategy games of old where resources are harvested and bases built. Having a strongly defended base is key to stockpiling resources and this in turn lets you build an army and head off to molest some other players. There is a standalone game where you can attack pre-made goblin bases but the meat of the game is online where you’ll form a clan with other players and head off to fight huge clan wars in between the daily base defence and resource management.

The money grubbing comes through the management of resources and I must hand it to Supercell the maker, they must have put a lot of thought and planning into how much time each thing takes to build and which resources it will require. There are essentially two main resources (a third is unlocked later on) and then Gems. Gems can be used to buy more of the other resources and to eliminate build times, they are also the only resource that can buy you additional builders. You are given some gems to start with and more can be obtained by clearing vegetation and harvesting gem boxes. You are also given small numbers of gems for completing the in game achievements but essentially anything that requires gems requires a lot of gems, meaning you never have enough, especially if you want more builder minions to speed the game up. Gems can however be purchased In-App, and at prices that some would equate to real world gems! At the time of writing a sack of 2500 gems will set you back £13.99 but bear in mind adding two builders to your initial village will cost a whopping 1500 gems!

But why do we need to “speed things up”? Well the twist for the mobile gaming age is that your base is built in “realtime”. That’s right, if it says it will take 10 minutes to upgrade your goldmine then that really is 10 minutes of your actual life ticking away. That itself seems a terrible waste of the precious gift of human life; except of course you don’t have to sit watching it! At this point you snap the iPad shut get on with your life and pick it up later when opportunity presents itself, and let’s face it we all find time to waste! Your little building minions will happily work away upgrading your goldmine without any further action from you. The trick is to realise the whole game runs in realtime. Essentially once you’ve downloaded it and got going your game exists forever (or until SuperCell take down the servers). If you do nothing your resources will disappear from continuous attack and your base will plod along like a ghost town in the old west, (queue tumbleweed). But even two minutes of play between bus stops, or while your other half is watching her “hospital drama” can see your base grow and expand. This is ideal for me, I can issue some orders, cause a quick bit of carnage, and then clear off for the day and pick up where I left off later but with some extra buildings complete and resources harvested.

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Maybe I’m a shallow gamer but I do find Clash of Clans “fun”. I started to realise a new generation of games have spawned, probably aimed at nascent teens with their SnapChat attention spans but funnily enough also ideally suited to me. The thing is I don’t have the time or attention span to sit down and play a game like I did in my teenage years (the days of PlayStation 1 and 2). Maybe I’m being unfair to teens but in my case it’s not attention span so much as family and work commitments. The upshot is that a game I can play for 5-10 minutes, and feel like I’ve played a game, works really well for me. And there’s something else too; by not succumbing to the temptation to “buy into” the game,through gems, you get a marvellous sense of beating the system. You see you can play this type of game completely free, it just takes time, but then that to me is the whole point of playing in the first place, to fill random bits of time. And to fill them with something a bit more fun than the latest cat meme.

It can all go wrong, on my Windows tablet I tried Age of Empires Castle Siege, after fond memories of playing the original in my youth, but the balance is all wrong. Things take too long, both building and harvesting, and gold (a substitute for gems) I’d swear costs more than real gold. I’ve read bad reviews of RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile Edition, another blast from the past, stating similar problems. I think these games have probably aimed squarely for the money, almost forcing In-App purchases just to make them playable which is of course the main criticism levelled at the type of game.

Where Clash of Clans gets it right is balance, it’s perfectly playable for free. Sure at certain stages it plateau’s and borders on annoying but all it’s doing is tempting you to make a small purchase, close the iPad and leave it a couple of days and you’ll be ready to make progress again. But that’s the trick, closing the iPad. I’ve heard it referred to as “Crack of Clans”, a narcotics nod to its addictive nature. Now I’m not an addict but I’m still using Clash to fill those spare moments, it looks good, the graphics have a nice charm, and you can beat the system!

There are arguments that the pay-to-play genre is destroying modern gaming, but many things are changing the face of gaming and SuperCell would argue they are just trying to give everyone some fun. I’m sure they’re harvesting the cash themselves but millions of players suggests this is fine.

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Edge of Tomorrow

I’ve decided to go off topic today with a short movie review. My current tech post isn’t quite ready and I happened to catch this on DVD recently having also seen it at the cinema when it came out.

Having a 5 year old and a 2 month old doesn’t leave much time for cinema trips so I’ll mostly be posting reviews of things I’ve missed and seen on DVD or Blu-ray so be warned “may contain spoilers” but then I’m sure most of you will have seen the films anyway.

Edge of Tomorrow is a mixture of Independence Day meets Groundhog Day. It follows a military officer (Tom Cruise) who is brought into an alien war against an extra-terrestrial enemy who can reset the day and know the future. When our hero takes control of the enemies power to reset time he unwittingly becomes the only hope the human race have of defeating the enemy and surviving.

Major William Cage (Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a futuristic re-enactment of the D-Day landings. Dropped on a beach in France he is killed within minutes but finds himself thrown into a time loop-forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again.

With each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). And, as Cage and Vrataski take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.

Cards on the table, I like Tom Cruise. I’m not sure we’d make good conversation if we went for drink, but separating his personal persona from his acting I find myself consistently enjoying his films. He’s from a certain generation of movie stars that have proven their worth and endurance in the Hollywood melting pot. His Academy Award Nomination for Jerry Maguire proved his worth and being the first actor in history to have five back to back $100 million dollar grossing films proves beyond doubt he is a safe pair of hands.

Cruise carries the film along brilliantly, after initially seeing his character as an annoying, cowardly, spin doctor; we quickly side with him as events force him to address his short coming and emerge the hero of the piece. Cruise’s key skill is articulating his emotions. His confusion when first looped through time, the smug comedy of knowing the future, and the desperation and sadness at seeing Rita Vrataski killed again and again, are all brilliantly conveyed with just a look on his face.

Emily Blunt is another safe pair of hands and a talented actress. Although she has little to do other than shoot things and look hot in battle armour the lines she delivers are often the casual comic relief and her deadpan, matter of fact delivery is subtly perfect. Rita Vrataski knows what Cage is going through and her role is crucial to holding the plot together.

Time travel films are notoriously difficult to pull off and often fall apart as plots become too wide ranging and open up gaps in the timeline continuum. Edge of Tomorrow avoids these pitfalls by keeping the plot incredibly tight and simple, instead exploring the effects and endless possibilities of being able to go back and have your time again.

Directed by Doug Liman well know for his involvement with the Bourne films and Mr & Mrs Smith, the movie has blockbuster effects with the perfect tinge of gritty realism, location shoots feel authentic and leave you fully immersed in the plot. This movie looks awesome and the pace is well maintained throughout, dialogue is kept practical, but light when it needs to be, and even when we see our characters having a deeper interaction Cage is never more than a couple of minutes from death.

It ‘s worth mentioning Bill Paxton’s role as Master Sergeant Farell, a brilliant take on R. Lee Ermey’s gunnery sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. Brendan Gleeson does Ireland proud as General Brigham.

I thought this film was brilliant, hugely enjoyable. Cruise fights aliens, he dies, he fights some more! Just beware the film has two parts to it’s ending. The first part is obvious and makes perfect sense but then we have an extra three minutes which well….. remember I said it was easy to break the time travel timeline! Without the extra minutes we have a great film with a slightly depressing ending, with those extra minutes we get our Hollywood ending but it doesn’t quite make sense. I’ll forgive it those minutes because in Hollywood style I came away with a smile on my face.

Cortana in the UK – Developing for Windows Phone and installing Windows Phone Developer Preview

After my excitement last week testing the Windows Technical Preview (aka WIndows 10) it got me to thinking about my phone.

My chosen mobile device is a Nokia Lumia 920 which I’d updated to Lumia Cyan, otherwise known as Windows Phone 8.1. I’ve had the 920 for a little over a year having switched from an iPhone 4s at contract renewal. I am not an avid smart phone user, I have very little time for exploring Apps outside of the built-in and social media Apps you would expect. I had become bored with iOS’s flat, “blank faced” operating system, akin to a Windows desktop full of icons if you will. By contrast the live tiles and bright colours of Windows Phone I found new and exciting, appealing to my desire to be drawn to interact with my phone. I decided I could not reprogram myself to constantly pick up and play with my phone so a phone that tempted and teased me through interactive tiles to play with it, well lets just say I have no desire to go back to iPhone, even iPhone 6.

So I’m running Windows 10 on a laptop with its shiny new start button and I get to thinking about Windows Phone 8.1 and more importantly the features I know our cousins across the pond are enjoying that are currently still to be deployed in the UK and much of the rest of the world. If I can run a beta OS on my computer surely I’m game to do the same on my phone?

So I head to Microsoft’s Developer Site over at dev.windows.com. You’ll want to go to the “Develop” link at the top and then “Downloads”. On the downloads page you’ll want to scroll down to Windows Phone and then under the Windows Phone Preview text follow the “Find out more” link.

If you are not a hardened developer (and I’m not) then the easiest way to dabble in developing for your phone is to look into option 2, “Build Apps using App Studio”. App Studio is a high level “App Creator”, allowing you to create Apps with little or no knowledge of code. This may be something I will visit in a future post but for now we’re interested in the link “Start New Project” in the top right corner of the page.

You will need a Microsoft Account to proceed further but once signed in you are dropped into the App Studio creation page showing you various templates to get started with developing your first app. By all means delve in but for our purposes we need go no further, by simply triggering an App Studio account using our Microsoft Account we have enrolled ourselves as a developer. We can now click “OS Preview” at the top of the page and then go straight to step 3 “Download the App“.

At this point we need to switch to our phone (assuming you’ve come this far on a PC). ‘Preview For Developers’ is an App for your phone which once installed will ask you to sign in with your developer Microsoft Account. Sign in complete, you will be asked if and when you would like updates to be applied to your phone.

Developer Preview App

Word of Caution! At this point there is no going back. You cannot downgrade your phone from a developer preview version you can only stop future updates. If you decide you want to try the developer OS on your Windows Phone then once installed you are committed so be sure!

So there you have it, roughly half and hour of download and update time and your phone will be running the latest preview version of the OS. Say hello to Cortana, the Battery Saver App, and various settings tweaks.

Cortana-Windows-Phone

I have experienced no problems running build 8.10.14176.243 on my Lumia 920. I enjoy using Cortana, it’s a clever piece of AI programming and to my mind more personal than Siri. It’s worth mentioning that one of my other devices is an Apple iPad Mini running iOS 8.0.2 which I enjoy as a device and it helps keep me abreast of Apple’s iOS development.

You follow this article at your own risk, I am purely tempting you by showing the way. I accept no responsibility for anything that happens to your phone be it fools, mishaps, or regret. This is not an official article and you should refer to Microsoft’s own resources before proceeding.

It’s ironic when not everyone likes U2

Comedy Apple Privacy

I wonder whether Apple’s Tim Cook appreciated the irony of the two images adorning the Apple.com homepage this week? The Apple CEO’s message regarding the US tech firms commitment to privacy appeared right alongside an image advertising the band U2’s album with the strapline “And it’s already in your iTunes music library”.

I believe Apple should learn an important lesson from the comedy juxtaposition of images, and it seems they have with the release of a “one click removal button” just days after the album launch. It seems not everyone keeps abreast of the iTunes marketing hype and unaware of the free nature of the album initially cried “virus” on social media sites. Even as the outraged re-tweets subsided it became apparent that free stuff is not necessarily welcome stuff, and more importantly some Apple fans were most definitely not U2 fans. So the removal button is made available and the furore died down but what should we take from this?

Well in my opinion Apple should learn that lovely as their precious hardware is, we the consumer are the actual owners. And the giant behemoth that is the iTunes Store, spewing forth it’s free stuff and recommended items we’ve never heard of? Well lets say it again loud, “We are the consumer!“, we may like free stuff but it should be our decision over the digital content that enters our lives.

Aside from the fact that I became bored by iPhone, personal control is one of the reasons I love my Windows Phone. I applaud Microsoft for giving me a phone OS which allows me to remove almost all the pre-installed Apps (including Mail and People). There are very few things that can’t be removed from a Windows Phone 8 should you with to return your phone to the Nokia 6210 era. As it happens I like some of Microsoft Apps, they took time but they’re really trying and are starting to have some pleasing results. It could be that as the underdog in the mobile arena they are that much more focussed on listening to their consumers needs rather than lording it over the great fan-boy masses. Whatever the reason I hope Microsoft maintain the current ethos of Windows Phone 8.1, it’s a breath of fresh air and at present is free from the whiff of Orwellian control you feel from the Apple and Google sphere.

This stories a couple of weeks old and you can read the BBC’s take on events here but Apple really should choose their homepage advertisements with care.

Exciting times looking at Windows….

 

 

 

 

This week has been an incredibly exciting one if you follow the products and fortunes of Microsoft Corporation.

On Wednesday Microsoft launched their Windows Technical Preview for the next version of the Windows operating system. This is available to anyone signed up to their Windows Insider Program and it appears they are making a real effort to engage customers, particularly business customers, very early on in the development process.

thEMBJDYX9

As a Windows Insider I downloaded the 64bit (non enterprise) version on launch day and currently have it installed on a Dell Inspiron 7000 series (shown in the picture). So what are my initial thoughts?

Windows 8.1 Update (the “almost” service pack for Windows 8.1) is really where Windows 8 became a quality product for me. At the time I was using a Surface Pro 2 as my “day to day” and with 8.1 Update it was a genuinely enjoyable experience. Sure the jump between the “Modern Windows UI” and the traditional desktop was jarring at first but I quickly came to ignore it and actually enjoyed the start screen interface on the Surface. It was however obvious that corporate enterprise would be put off by the sheer sight of it. What consumers fail to realise is the sheer number of old fashioned programs, quite often using old server technology deployed in businesses today. Microsoft are currently preparing to move beyond SQL Server 2012 R2 and yet I still see software which is designed to run on 2008, and in some cases the vendor may not actually support a later version! Somehow Microsoft needed to appeal to the “business tradition” of sitting down and working on the desktop whilst also having something visually appealing and crucially supporting both touch and Apps.

Ah yes touch and Apps, crucial parts of the business model in this post iPad world. Well my initial thoughts are that Microsoft have hit a nice compromise. My Inspiron (handily sporting a touchscreen) logs on straight to the desktop. The “Start” menu has become a mixture of old school Windows 7 and the Modern UI of touch based Windows 8. You will see from the photo’s how the Modern UI Apps appear alongside the traditional looking Start menu structure. You can resize and re-arrange the Modern UI Apps exactly as you would in Windows 8 or Windows Phone and what’s really nice if you’re a phone user is that the size and layout on the desktop kind of echoes your phone screen giving a complimentary experience. The Modern UI Apps now run on the desktop with the option to go full screen but they work perfectly well in the windowed environment of the desktop and there is no deterioration of the touch experience. Overall it’s nice to look at it seems logical, it should appeal to both Windows 7 and 8 users.

I’ll do a more comprehensive review in a future post once I’ve spent some significant time with the shiny new OS, in the meantime here are some of my other immediate observations.

  • The file structure appears to be the same as Windows 8. In fact the whole installation process and core OS basically comes across as Windows 8 with a new look.
  • Windows 10 supports multiple desktops (much like Mac OSX with it’s spaces). This is the most obvious “new” functionality.
  • Icons for well known Windows utilities have had a stylish make over.
  • The Technical Preview ships with Internet Explorer 11.
  • The Modern UI start screen is still available if you’re sporting a tablet only. You can re-enable it using the Taskbar applet in Control Panel.
  • Sadly PC settings still exist in two places, the Control Panel and the PC Settings App. This is something I am dead against and was my first feedback through the included Microsoft Feedback App.

Crucially!

  • I was able to install onto the Inspiron with no problems and network drivers worked out of the box. I needed to download the hard disk freefall driver and the Realtek card reader drivers from Dell’s website and then the Intel chipset drivers direct from Intel’s site in order to install the SM bus controller. It’s worth noting that once the SM bus driver installed I lost Bluetooth completely and had to then add the Intel Proset drivers for the wireless and Bluetooth choosing the latest Windows 8.1 driver in both cases.
  • All my Windows 8 Apps work so far! Mail, Contacts, People, all work exactly as expected.
  • You can make a bootable USB key to install from by using Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD tool.

I hope that gives you a flavour of the experience so far. I’m excited, I find Apple products very stale at the moment and the iOS 8 upgrade to my iPad was a massive anti-climax. It’s nice to have a genuinely new feeling OS to play with, now how long before I dare put it on my Surface Pro 3!


This was written on Windows Technical Preview Build 9841. If you’ve any questions about the installation process feel free to comment.