The OS Quest Trail Log #78: Late Edition

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.

The OS Quest Trail Log #77: Microsoft Rising

Photo of my Microsoft Surface RTThis trail log covers the last two months since September was too slow to justify a recap. But even in October, the bug news was at the end. Microsoft released Windows 8 to the world on October 26th. For me, the big news here was the release of Microsoft Surface RT. I jumped on the bandwagon and pre-ordered the 64GB version with the touch cover. We’re still in the honeymoon phase but I still like it. I forced myself to use it the first couple of days since change is never easy. But now I’m reaching for it by choice, I wrote about my first 24 hours on this site, but most of my Surface RT and Windows RT writing is on SurfaceGeeks.net along with great content and tips from others. Bottom line, annoying at times but I still use and like it.

I’ve been less eager for Windows 8 on my home PC. It’s not that I don’t like or want Windows 8. I’m surprised about how much I like it on Surface. But I think I’ll be happier running it on Windows 8 hardware such as a touchscreen. I’ll keep trying Windows 8 in a Virtual Machine, at least until the trial runs out. If I was buying a new PC I’d go with Windows 8, I’m just not convinced of the upgrade benefits.

Apple released iOS 6 in lates September and I upgraded both my iPhone 4S and iPad 3. It didn’t provide much of a noticeable change. I did have problems with wireless syncing but eventually came across a solution. Although I continue to have wireless problems with my iPad. It drops my 5 GHz connection every day or so although it eventually comes back. The 5 GHz band does have a shorter range but it was working OK before the iOS6 upgrade.

Even though I have a iPad 3 I wasn’t ticked off by the iPad 4 only 7 months later. My iPad 3 is unchanged and the iPad 4 was just a faster processor for me and hardware upgrades happen all the time. If I was outside the U.S. I would be ticked off if I was in a country that had newly installed LTE support in the iPad 4. The side effect of this is that if I don’t upgrade when a new iDevice is released I won’t buy one a few months later since it’s likely to be obsolete soon.

The iPad Mini was also a “meh” for me. Finally, a gadget I don’t have an urge to buy. Maybe after I touch one and the reality distortion field kicks in I might consider one when it’s time to replace my iPad. Although right now I think Microsoft Surface RT is my iPad replacement.

I updated What I Use before Windows 8 and the Surface RT release. It was time for an update and I wanted to get it on the record in case Windows 8 triggered additional changes. It didn’t, at least not beyond the Microsoft Surface RT.

Hurricane Sandy (or Superstorm Sandy) blew through the northeast a few days ago. For me it was just a minor inconvenance, unlike for many others. I have to compliment Linode. Despite my server being in their New Jersey data center, and their main offices being in New Jersey, there wasn’t any service interruption or drama around keeping the servers running, They lost phones for a while but still provided support through their ticket system (not that I needed it). Good job.

This wraps up this edition. Not much going on even though it was a two month recap.

Microsoft Suface RT

Surface with Windows RT graphic
Surface with Windows RT graphic
Graphic from Microsoft.com

Microsoft finally announced pricing for their Surface RT tablets. The base model, sans keyboard cover is $499. It’s $599 if the cover is included. The 64GB model, with a cover is $699. The Type Cover, which is a more traditional keyboard is a $130 add-on. Comparisons to the iPad prices is inevitable, and also pointless (in my opion of course). If you’e trying to decide between them you should look at features and what you want to do with it. The price will probably be comparable when you’re done. I also suspect if you’re trying to decide between Surface and iPad you should probably go with the iPad.

So if that’s my opinion why am I considering the Surface RT? Did I say considering? Let’s face it, my decision to get one is all but finalized despite already having a iPad.

  1. I’m looking for some tech I can get excited about. Windows Home Server is at a dead end. I’ll have mine for a long time, but it will be boring (and hopefully reliable). I’ve no desire to move up to Microsoft’s “real” servers. And that decision was made without even considering cost, it would be too much like work. So I’m looking at Surface RT to be both different and exciting.
  2. The last PC I bought, a Dell laptop, was a lousy out of the box experience thanks to Dell’s “services” and crapware. I vowed if I ever bought another PC that I’d go with Microsoft’s Signature line where they remove the crapware. I’ve already read some oem’s offering their own services with the tablets. I equate that with crapware until proven otherwise. I view the Surface as a clean reference design.

So those are the two reasons I’m considering the Surface RT. How do I think I’ll use it?

  1. Let’s face it. I already mentioned the primary reason – I hope it’s something I can get excited about. This reason alone isn’t going to make it a best seller at these prices.
  2. It has a full office suite (no Outlook) and a attached physical keyboard. There’s potential there. The lack of extended hands-on reviews means the keyboard cover may fail to meet expectations. I currently carry my iPad to work daily, I expect the Surface to replace it.
  3. I’m hoping the Surface is so good that I can sell my iPad but that remains to be seen.

Now that pricing has been announced I’m less optimistic about success assuming success is defined by units sold. The price is definitely a speed bump and I hope the oem’s will step in to market lower price models. But with the oem’s a lower price will mean lower quality. Microsoft had an incentive to sell at cost, the oem’s need to profit on each unit sold. Or maybe Microsoft will offer some sort of promotion to get large quantities into the enterprise. If they offer some sort of oem incentive for consumer sales they’d upset Surface buyers. Then there the apps issue. While the built-in apps are nice and the Office Suite differentiates it from the iPad, there need to be some apps. Sure, maybe the key apps are enough to start with but there needs to be more.

Anyone else have a Surface RT in their future?