The OS Quest Trail Log #78: Late Edition

The month of November meant the Microsoft Surface RT settled in after its late October release. There was also some minor cell phone plan changes No Windows 8 yet, but it looks like that may change in December.

Picture of snow in a forest

I actually had the draft of this written out by December 1st, but real life delayed my finalizing and posting it. But better late than never. The biggest change for the month of November was one I haven’t had a chance to write about yet. I replaced my 2009 era Mac Mini with one of the new models. As luck would have it, I had serious problem with it just as the new Mini arrived. The problem seems to be a corrupt user profile. Although since I’ve had what seems to be slower than expected disk performance awhile back I may have a problem disk or other hardware. My last OS upgrade was a full re-install, not so long ago, so any incidental file corruption would have been eliminated. I was able to logon once so I could de-authorize iTunes. After that I just used the backups.

I stopped short of getting the high-end model, opting for a Mac Mini with a 2.3 Ghz Quad-Core i7, 4GB of RAM and a 1 TB Fusion Drive. I upgraded to 16 GB of RAM by buying two 8 GB sticks from Crucial. Getting 16GB of RAM from Crucial was about $80, compared to the 4GB bump from Apple (to 8GB) at $100. Unlike my old Mini, the RAM upgrade is a piece of cake on the new models so this was a no brainer.

The Fusion drive benchmarked well, which is to be expected since the SSD drive gets priority. It’s only been a couple of weeks but I’m happy with the performance. Naturally it out performs its predecessor. I was a little concerned about the on-board video because I want to do some video work. Nothing major like Final Cut, so I hope to be OK.

With the Mac Mini and all that available memory I took the opportunity to move some virtual machines off my MacBook Air and onto the Mac Mini. I also migrated them from VMware Fusion to Virtualbox.

Microsoft Surface RT

I’ve had my Surface RT for just over a month and I still like it. It’s pretty much replaced my iPad for me. Not so much app for app, but in real life usage. Even though I like it, it does have some serious dannoyances and contributes to my frustration level at times.

The app store apps are either non-existent or really bad. People say they’ll get bettor over time, and I don’t disagree. But life is too short and the crapware is too deep, so I’ve given up searching and comparing apps. I’m sticking to built in apps, the web browser and apps for services I already use. I do find IE much more capable on the Surface than Safari is on the iPad. The lack of add-in support leaves some websites inaccessible (like the iPad) but so far I haven’t run into them. I also find the touch interface to be better on the Surface, especially of websites with scrolling frames and elements.

The one app I really need is a good SSH client (Putty for RT would be nirvana). Right now to use SSH when I’m out and about I VPN to my home network and remote desktop to my Windows 7 PC and run putty from there. That’s a lot of moving pieces that can break easily. If I was to travel for an extended time (like overnight) I’d take my iPad or Macbook Air rather than the Surface RT just to be safe,

The Surface RT, actually Windows RT, is still rough around the edges. The unexpected switches from Metro to Desktop are jarring. On the one hand I really like having the desktop. On the other hand it would be a better tablet if they removed the desktop completely. They would have to “metro-ize” Office and other included desktop apps of course.

Mobile Data

November also saw me make some changes to my cellphone plan. I’ve been tracking my usage for several months so I knew I didn’t need the unlimited data with my grandfathered plan. I’d been well under 2GB each month for my phone (including tethering) and iPad. And since tethered data wasn’t part of the “unlimited” I didn’t have much to lose by jumping to Verizon’s shared data plan.

So I ended up dropping my iPad plan and adding a 4G MiFi device. While the MiFi is one more thing to cary it’s fairly small and has a nice long battery life. I have the extended battery and it makes it through the day without me having to always turning it on and off. It’s not continuous usage, but it makes it through my real-life day once I turn it on, typically late morning. For bonus points I also ended up with a lower monthly bill.

My contract is up at the end of December so I’ll be elegible for an upgrade. I’ve been considering my next phone but at this point I’m leaning towards sticking with my iPhone 4S. I don’t see me gaining much with the iPhone 5. Plus the iPhone 5 would require accessory and cable replacements, just like a non-iPhone. I don’t have many, but it adds up. I’ve been looking at Windows 8 Phones but I’m not blown away. I haven’t liked what I’ve seen of the Microsoft eco-system (music, video, etc…) on the Windows RT. Even if I liked it, I’m not convinced they won’t kill it off like their previous attempts. To be fair, I try to avoid ecosystem lock-in of any type. Added to that is Microsoft’s treatment of Windows Phone 7 buyers which leaves me concerned. And to be fair here, I have the same concerns with Apple and Android has it’s own upgrade issues. The iPad 1 become un-upgradeable and obsolete awfully fast. And the iPad 4 came out rather soon after the iPad 3. I’ve decided to get off the automatic  upgrade train and simply wait until I actually need a new phone. At the very least I need a reason other than “new and shiny”.

December

December will probably be a slow month on the quest, with the holidays coming. Not to mention the push to get things done by year-end at my day job. I did order a Dell touch screen monitor, due to arrive any day now. Once this arrives I’ll upgrade to Windows 8. The monitor is a bit early and I haven’t decided how I want my Windows 8 PC set up. I’m considering a hard drive reconfiguration but I’m not sure how much effort I want to put into it.