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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Windows 8 Walkthrough: Pre-Installed Apps

Windows 8 is a huge change-up from any past windows experience, mainly by the inclusion of apps and an app store (check out the full detailed walkthrough of Windows 8 app types and the store here). But what about the apps that come with Windows? Well that's what we're here for, honestly it's like you don't even read the title.

Windows 8 comes preinstalled with a decent number of starter apps, things to get the ball rolling until you get the hang of it they are:
  • Internet Explorer [Metro Version (no flash support) & Desktop version]
  • Mail
  • Calendar
  • People
  • Weather
  • Maps
  • SkyDrive
  • Messaging
  • News
  • Photos
  • Sports
  • Finance
  • Store
  • Video (not available in "N"/European version, but can be downloaded for free).
  • Games
  • Bing
  • Travel
I'll try to cover as much as I can, but I won't go into too much detail in the smaller apps.

Internet Explorer:

*Note: For some odd reason the Metro flash free version of Internet Explorer is only available when the desktop version of IE10 is set as the default browser, changing the default browser to Chrome or Firefox or anything else

Before you read on (or more probably skip right through this whole section) take a moment and listen to me; IE10 IS NOTHING LIKE PREVIOUS VERSIONS! It might be difficult to put your bias a side, but trust me once you do you'll actually enjoy using IE10.

First off let's get this out there, IE 10 is BLAZING FAST, not just in browsing, but in booting up as well; gone are the days where you have to wait 5 seconds for IE to open (which you accidentally clicked on) just so you could close it. Startup is instant, and pages load perfectly well, I'm not about to run some speed tests, but trust me coming from someone who hated IE with a passion, this new one is pretty good.

As mentioned there are two versions of Internet Explorer, the Metro and non-Metro versions, the Non-Metro version is the usual one that's available for download on all PCs now, while the metro version is Flash-Free and designed for use on tablets (and Windows RT devices).

In normal use IE10 runs in full screen mode (hidden toolbars, address bars, and everything else); helping you forget that you're actually using internet explorer, the same one your Grandma uses with all 50 of her toolbars (well not the exact same one, but a distant relative maybe). Right clicking anywhere on the screen will bring up the Open tabs and address bars (tabs on top, address bar on the bottom).
 Clicking on the address bar will bring up your Pinned tabs (we'll get to that in a second), Recent tabs and you favorite tabs; each represented by their own cute live tile.

Since Windows 8 is essentially a PC product (ignoring tablets for the moment), it seems a waste to create dedicated apps for things you'd usually browse online for (such as Facebook, Reddit, AliGoneMobile Etc..) that's why IE10 allows you to "pin" sites to your start screen, these pinned site act as direct shortcuts to the site, and since IE10 runs in full screen mode by default it's easy to pretend you're using a dedicated Facebook app.
Unlike Chrome which has incognito mode to hide your tracks, IE10 doesn't have such an option per say, I know what you're thinking now, but Ali! how on earth will I be able to plan my girlfriends surprise party without her finding out (cause that's what people use incognito mode for, right?). IE10 carries on the tradition of 'InPrivate browsing" which promises not to store any information at all (Yay! parties back on!). To open a new InPrivate tab simply hit the 3 dots below the new tab button and select "New InPrivate tab"
Internet Explorer as a whole is a great browser (finally!) and is actually fun to use, everything about it's redisgn is clean beautiful and smooth, even the file selector is pretty! what more could you ask for.


Anyone familiar with Windows Phone will feel right at home once they see the new Windows 8 mail app, it's strikingly similar to the Windows Phone with the added functionality of joining all your inboxes into the same app.
Once you've linked your Outlook/Live/Hotmail address in the Windows Store it's inbox will automatically appear in your Mail app. Adding additional inboxes is super simple and hassle free, just enter your email and password!
Linked inboxes are listed in the bottom left corner of the screen, once an inbox/account is expanded all folders in that inbox are visible and sync with the Mail app, contacts are also synced from the account and added to your people hub.
Toast notifications can be turned on/off individually for each inbox, helping hide unwanted emails when trying to work (alternatively all notifications can be turned off from the PC settings).
In my personal usage so far the Mail app has been stellar, receiving mails as soon as they arrive and pushing new ones out with delay (it helps that the mail composition center is beautiful, very similar to the online Outlook mail editor).


Personally I'm not a big fan of calendars/schedules, I hardly ever use any at all; except on occasion on my phone to remind me of an upcoming exam. But just like everything else on Windows 8 the Calendar follows the sleek metro design, with no distracting items, straightforward and simple.
The app instantly synchronizes calendars with all your linked Email accounts as well as your Facebook, creating a centralized calendar bringing them all together. Each account is given a different color code to help avoid confusion.

Creating a new event is simple and distraction free, just click on any date and you'll automatically enter the event creator, from there you can use the drop-down menu to choose which email account you'd like to sync the calendar to.



People's hub first debuted in Windows Phone, under the claim that it would stop contacts from being "contacts" and turn them into actual people in your phone. The concept is great, and it works splendidly on Windows Phone, but the Windows 8 version seems to have a few bugs that need ironing out. 
The people's hub live tile (the orange one) works great, showing you the latest notifications from linked accounts (Twitter and Facebook). "People" in Windows 8 is supposed to be a linkage between the "Me hub" in WP as well as the "People Hub" meaning you can update your status and post from within the people hub too. 

The app can be split into 4 parts
  1. The actual People:
    Here you have a list of all your contacts, from all across the internet, including Skype, Email, Facebook, Twitter and a couple other too. Of course should you feel the urge to pretend a while social network doesn't exist you can simply choose to hide any notifications from that network (people in that network will still show up in your search results). Accessing a persons "info" will take you to a page that joins all his information in one, as well as downloading his Facebok photos (stalker style).
    One issue I've faced with the contacts int he people hub is that unlike Windows Phone I can't find an option to link multiple accounts together, sure Windows 8 does a great jib at linking them on it's own but any contact with multiple spelling variations in his/her name will not be linked together (a lot more common in Arabic names typed in English).
  2. Notifications:
    This part brings together your twitter mentions along with your Facebook notifications and joins them in one, saving you the trouble of checking each network separately. The only issue I've faced with this part of the app is the fact that sometimes notifications take a while to load, where I'm informed I have a notification on the tile, but it doesn't show in the app itself.
  3. What's New:
    Which groups together both your Twitter and Facebook into one mega timeline allowing you to browse both simultaneously. This part of the app is truly beautiful, giving each post it's own dedicated box as well as the ability to comment/reply to each post from within the app itself.
  4. Me:
    This hub merges your Twitter and Facebook once again, allowing you to update either of them from the same place (unlike Windows Phone there doesn't seem to be an option to send the same post to multiple social networks). The Me hub also downloads most of your Facebook profile giving you access to posts on your wall, photos you've uploaded, as well as a mini Notifications preview.
    The major issue for me in this part of the app is the lack of auto-complete for twitter handles, how is it even possible to overlook such a basic function? (admittedly it's also missing in WP and doesn't seem to have been added in Windows Phone 8).


Messaging is what seems to be a replacement for Windows Live Messenger (although Windows Messenger can still be downloaded through the Windows Essentials pack). THe messaging app unfortunately doesn't allow using multiple messaging services, only one single Live account (the one you used to access the store) and one Facebook account. Hopefully in the future it will be updated to support multiple live accounts, and dare we dream maybe even Google talk?

That's about it for the major apps, the rest of the pre-installed apps work as the name would suggest offering you Weather/Sports/Finance news in a beautiful metro interface, which would be a waste of time to describe here. One feature worth describing is that in the finance and sports you can select a preferred stock/sports team and pin the to the start menu to see all the latest updates about them at a glance. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Windows 8: Apps, Store and Metro; What It's All About

Yesterday I posted my initial walkthrough of the Windows 8, getting to know basics, specifically the mouse/touch gestures required to fully utilize the new UI layout and start screen. Now that we've gotten that awkward part  out of the way let's delve into the juiciest bit of Windows 8, APPS! After all isn't that what it's all about these days? (Just ask Mr. Elop).

One of the biggest changes affecting the way you use Windows 8 (besides the start screen of course) is the inclusion of an App store (golly!). This is the first time Windows has ever had an integrated app store of any kind at all, thinking about it; it has become second nature to Google whatever program I wanted and either download it or torrent it (yes I admit I torrent... A lot).

Microsoft has decided to make things easier for you by creating a centralized store to download all your favorite games and applications from (you can still install .exe files or whatever you like the old fashion way, this is just a simplification process). The App Store, aptly called "Store" (funny how that happens huh?), anyways since you should have already linked a working Live/Outlook/Hotmail account to your Windows User account you should be all set (see those of you who didn't are panicking now, this is what happens when you don't follow my instructions- don't worry you'll be prompted to link one anyways, but next time listen to me).

Back on topic, one of the greatest advantages to having a centralized app store (besides the obvious plus of being a centralized app store-DUH) is being notified when updates are available to apps you've already installed on your PC (check upper right corner of the Image above). These notifications are also visible on the Store live tile, something that Windows Phone users are undoubtedly familiar with:
What about the apps themselves in the store? Not every application that you had running on Windows 7 or-god forbid- Windows Vista is eligible to be placed in the store, Microsoft have placed some UI guidelines and quality tests that must be passed before an app is admitted into the store. Most importantly the app must be compatible with the new "Metro Design language"; which very smoothly transitions us into an explanation of the two different types of apps in Windows 8 (I'm quite proud of that transition).

Applications and programs in Windows 8 can be divided into 2 types, Metro apps and Non-Metro Apps. Metro apps are those that follow the new UI guidelines and are available in the official centralized store, while everything else can be classified as a non-Metro app. The biggest difference between the two types of apps (besides the look once again) is the way Windows 8 behaves with these apps, honestly I'm still a bit unclear about it all.

First off the biggest difference between the two is the fact that non-metro apps run "in" the desktop "layer" of Windows 8, while Metro apps run on the Start screen. This leads to a decent bit of confusion, since each type of app behaves a different way; for starters when viewing the running application through "Windows + Tab" or by using the left side of the screen, only the applications running in Metro mode are shown, any non-metro apps can only be accessed by choosing the "Desktop pane" in the app switcher. (See image below).

 Alternatively to view all your running applications together, Metro & non-Metro you can use the "Alt+Tab" method which doesn't discriminate between apps.

Applications running in two different layers admittedly leads to a great deal of confusion, especially when multi-tasking; for example Windows 8 comes pre-loaded with two different version of Internet Explorer 10; a Metro Version and a Non-Metro version (Metro is flash free). While they are both essentially the same program they act as independent applications (tabs running between the two DO NOT cross-over), meaning although the settings, bookmarks and homepages sync between the two, running tabs do not; which in my personal experience has lead to many duplicate tabs running on the two.

Another difference between the types of apps is the way they interact with the screen/desktop itself in my last post I mentioned that Metro apps asymmetrically "snap" to either side of the screen allowing for the smaller pane to give notifications on the go without using too much screen real estate. The issues is that Non-Metro apps snap the same way they did in Windows 7, splitting the screen into two equal halves; leading to another set of differences to get used to. Of course this also means that I can run one small "snapped" metro app on my desktop while using the rest of my screen for normal work (trust me it's a lot more helpful on a 17" screen).

The third and last major difference is the way each program is displayed on the start screen, Metro UI guidelines dictate a "Live tile" be part of the application, which of course is not needed in non-metro apps; leading to a "rift" in the start screen separating Metro apps and Non-Metro apps

That pretty much covers the basics of the Windows 8 Store and the different types of apps, tune in later for another in depth look at whatever I decide to share (since it's up to me of course). 

Friday, October 26, 2012

First Impressions of Windows 8: Getting to Know Your Way Around

Last night/very-early today at 12:01 AM Windows 8 went live for all to purchase/download; unlike windows phone 8 we've seen pretty much most of Windows 8 before in the consumer preview, but here's a look at with a fresh set of eyes in the final complete form.

 I won't be reviewing Windows 8 as a whole since that's much to great of a task for a simpleton like me to conquer, but I'll try to cover the new bits (mostly UI and app changes) in several upcoming posts. This post itself is just to acquaint you with the new Metro start screen, and the new gestures available in Windows 8.

First off most people don't seem to realize that there's a lot more to Windows 8 then the new homescreen, but we'll get to that later. At first boot of windows 8 you get an option to choose your metro (or whatever we're calling it now) theme colors; an option that is surprisingly missing at first boot of windows phone devices.

Once your PC is up and running, you have the option to link your live/Hotmail/Outlook email account with your Windows 8 user account (which is a requirement to use the Windows store)- I chose to use the same account as on my Lumia, to keep things organized (contacts are automatically transferred into your people app- more on that in future posts).

Now that your PC is ready to go its time to learn the actua Windows 8 UI, I find it's easiest to visualize the actual desktop as two sides, the right and the left. Moving your cursor to either the upper or lower corners of the screen will activate the respective "sides".

  • The left side of the screen acts as a task manager of sorts, wherein dragging the mouse from the upper left corner downwards will bring up a list of active/runnings programs with a thumbnail image of what the application is doing (similar to the preview seen while switching with "alt+tab").
    At the bottom left corner is a shortcut that takes you between the "Metro start screen" and the last previous app you were in.
    Left "side" of your PC screen
  •  The right "side" of the screen acts as you're settings bar for whatever application you're running (in case no applications are running it acts as a general settings bar for the whole system)- Microsoft were kind enough to call this part of the screen the "Charms bar". Below is an example of the general desktop settings that can be controlled from the charms bar, the lower half of the Settings menu acts as a notification center and a replacement toolbar, from which you can control your WiFi, battery, Volume, Brightness, Language etc.

That's pretty much it for maneuvering around the desktop itself, and the basic app switching and configurations, here're a couple more awesome features of Windows 8:
  • In the bottom left corner of the Metro start menu is a tiny "minimize button" when clicked the whole start menu zooms out giving you a wider view of your desktop; very useful once you have a large number of apps installed.
  • Metro designed applications can be asymmetrically "snapped" to either side of the screen, allowing for side by side multitasking; such as playing music in the smaller window while browsing, or having the messenger app open while working on a project.

  • Besides the task switcher built into the left side of the screen you can still use the trusty old "alt+tab" method to navigate between your open application (using Windows key + tab will switch through the applications on the task switcher pane on the left side of the screen).
  • Screenshots can automatically be taken and saved in Windows 8 without the need of opening Paint and pasting your screen capture into a new file, simply pressing Windows key + Prt Sc. will save the screen capture in your default images library inside a folder called "Screenshots"
    Alternatively you can press "Windows Key + S" to select a specific part of the screen you'd like to capture, rather than the whole screen.
  • Pressing "Windows Key + C" in any application/folder will bring up the Charms Bar as well as the system time & general notification (battery, Wifi, date).
  • Dragging any Metro designed app from the top of the screen all the way down will automatically close the app (equivalent of Alt + F4 which by the way still works).
That's it for this first part of getting to know Windows 8, stay tuned for more interesting posts.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lulz: First Ever Microsoft Surface Unboxing (Black)

Here it is, the long awaited first ever un-boxing of Microsoft's first tablet device ever; The surface RT (not the Pro). Without further ado the video:

(sorry if anyone was bothered by the white lie, but I found it irresistible, especially the " new Metrosexual interface with Ability to scroll left and right instead of up and down").

Friday, October 19, 2012

Breaking Barriers: I Actually Managed to Crash Windows Phone

Honey I Broke the Windows Phone

See this picture? I suggest you take a good luck; cause you won't be seeing too much of it. This marks the first time in almost a year of WP usage that I have "crashed" the phone, where nothing would fix the problem besides a reboot (which cleared it up right away). Somehow while using whatsapp I managed to get the keyboard to permanently stick on the screen, regardless of opening new apps, closing old ones, locking/unlocking the screen nothing would get rid of it (and you also can't use it to enter any text).

I tried taking a screenshot, but the keyboard was hiding the "start screen capture task" button so this semi-blurry ipad photo will have to suffice as evidence of doing the impossible....Honey I Broke the Windows Phone (Fingers crossed someone get's the movie reference)

Pictures: The iPhone 5's Anodized Body Peels Right Off!

You've all surely heard one or two horror stories about the scratch proof backing of the iPhone 5; with some people going as far as calling it #ScratchGate. I always thought it was being blown a bit out of proportion (seeing how everything Apple related ends up that way); but seeing the following pictures made me change my mind. 

@PaulGarner (don't be shy give him a follow) tweeted that while removing his Clear Back Griffin Protective cover from the back of the phone, bits of the iPhones Anodized body flew off with it!

As you can see in the images Paul tweeted little specs of the iPhones body have peeled off showing the ugly silver layer beneath the anodized body. 

What's interesting is the fact that the iPhone 5 is by no means Apple's first Anodized product, so poor quality on its flagship device is in-excusable (all the previous iPod Nanos, Shuffles, Classics as well as the Macbooks use the same concept of Anodizing aluminum).

If you're interested in learning exactly how Aluminum is Anodized check out the cool educational video below, but the gist of it is that anodized aluminum is actually aluminum that's allowed to rust under controlled circumstances!

Story & Pictures Via: @PaulGarner

Thursday, October 18, 2012

PETA Releases Poke'mon Paradoy; Surprisingly Fun to Play

PETA, the animal rights group seem to think that Pokemon will somehow influence children to be cruel to their animals, their form of retaliation was releasing an online web based mini Pokemon game called Pokemon Black & Blue (gettit? like bruises...). The story line of the mini-game is the uprisal of the Pokemon against their trainers, lead by the fearsome Pikachu, where the Pokemon demand their freedom; and end to the centuries of bloodshed forced upon them.

Personally I didn't care much for the message, animals are cute and nice; but I'm not about to get all vegetarian cause of my childhood fling with Pokemon (that admittedly hasn't ended yet). But the game itself is worth a laugh or two (and at least the graphics are better than the actual Pokemon games); check it out at the link below:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Microsoft Surface Tablet Priced Starting at $499 -Why I won't be Getting one

Earlier today after months of teasing and waiting Microsoft have finally unveiled the pricing on their first ever Windows Hardware- the Surface Tab RT (not to be confused with the Surface Tab Pro- which will run the full version of Win8). The Surface RT wills tart st $499 for the 32Gb version, while the 64Gb goes for $599- Keep in mind that the 32Gb Surface is a $100 cheaper than the 32Gb iPad. The amazing covers will sadly NOT come with the product itself, selling for $120 and $130 for the touchcover and the keyboard respectively.

The reason *I* won't be getting a Surface myself is that for me PERSONALLY there isn't a valid use for it, or at least one big enough to justify spending another $500 after recently buying the new iPad/iPad 3. As of now the real reason the iPad has lead the tablet industry is because it is the center of tablet gaming and general time wasting; there are plenty of other tablets out there great for professional/business use, but at the end of the day most people will play on their iPad on their commute home.

For someone who doesn't have a business related need for the Surface there really isn't much of an incentive to leave our shiny iPads and go to the first ever Windows RT tablet, which right now has nowhere near the amount of apps available on Android and iOS tablets (that are actually customized for tablets). The Surface is a great product (especially when it comes to build quality) but what does it offer a user who already owns an iPad that their current tablet doesn't? Besides a kickstand.

(Keep in mind that I'm super Anti-Apple; but I respect their products, in fact I love the surface; but it isn't for me....right now.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Random Tech Fact: Amazon Has a Patent on One-Click-Purchases


Depending on whether you usually browse sober or Drunk, one-click purchases can be a gift or a curse;  making those drunken purchases you will almost definitely regret the next day all the more easier to complete, or simply saving you the tedious process of filling out your C.C. and address information every-time you want to buy a USB cable online.

Amazon's admittedly life simplifying solution called "1-Click" saves you the trouble by having your "default" C.C. and address saved on record; finally allowing you to buy that new set of dumbells that you plan on using all summer long without the need to tire your fingers; all it takes is a click.

The really interesting part is that you've probably used this patent without even knowing it, because even the mighty Apple who bow down to know one pay royalties to Amazon for the honor of using their brilliant impulse purchase technique. Apple have implemented the 1-Click purchasing into both iTunes and iPhoto; which would probably explain why your 2-year old toddler is so good at wasting your iTunes credit. 

Later on Amazon's rival Barns & Nobles tried making their own mock-up of 1-click called "express lane", the fine people at Amazon wasted no time taking them to court where the Judge ruled in Amazon's favor; reducing the poor shoppers at Barnes and Nobles to be forced to click a second confirmation button before completing their purchase. Oh the horror.