Plenty to like in Project Spartan

Project Spartan

Will Microsoft’s Internet Explorer see the sunset later this year?

It’s certainly not my browser of choice. Indeed, I don’t use it at all, preferring Google Chrome on the desktop and mobile and, lately, experimenting with Vivaldi, an impressive new browser that’s based on Google Chromium code.

Since it first appeared in 1995, Internet Explorer has come with the Windows operating system. Unless you manually install an alternative, that’s what you end up with. In Europe until recently, Microsoft was forced by EU law to offer users across the EU a choice of browser on first running Windows.

All this may become just a Windows-and-browser history footnote with Windows 10 – the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, successor to Windows 8.1, and currently in pre-release public beta – and Project Spartan, a new browser that will come with the new OS and will be the successor to Internet Explorer.

Currently, you can only get Spartan if you’re a member of the Windows Insider testing programme and install the latest build 10049 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview (as the test version is known), released to testers last week.

I’ve been part of the Insider programme for the past six months or so, and was able to install build 10049 this weekend and so get a glimpse of Spartan.

First impressions are always key:

  • Pleasing interface, a very attractive contemporary look to it.
  • Write or type notes directly on a web page, and optionally save them. If you use Spartan on a tablet or other device with a touch screen (and stylus) you write; on a non-touch-screen device – like the Dell desktop PC I’m running Windows 10 on in its own disk partition – you type.
  • Save web pages to a reading list, not just as the traditional favourites bookmarks: a different content organization (and sharing) method.
  • It loads fast and gets content from the web fast. Probably depends on internet connectivity speed for some of that.
  • Impressively quick search-term prediction functionality with the Bing search engine. If this is consistently fast and accurate – getting you what you want and quickly – then I would very likely use it more, maybe even instead of Google search.
  • A reading view sans all the clutter of menu bars, etc. Think of the Kindle.
  • Ask Cortana, voice-activated spoken search. Haven’t tried that yet.

And there’s more, too, that I haven’t looked at yet either. Experimentation to come.

For a beta software product, it’s very advanced and polished, much like the Windows 10 Preview itself.

It’s not entirely ready yet, though, as I discovered when I tried to visit my Google+ page in Spartan.

"Your browser is no longer supported"

At least it gave me an opportunity to try out the Web Note functionality by typing a note directly on the web page as you can see.

I imagine such errors will be addressed before too long. Or that Google does read the memo.

In summary, I think Spartan resets the bar for a contemporary web browser that works well across all platforms, ie, desktop and mobile, and gives you a great experience. But others such as Vivaldi are challenging that bar, not to mention what we’ll no doubt see in upcoming versions of Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It’s no guarantee that Spartan will be the browser of choice for a Windows 10 user. Not to mention users in enterprises where Internet Explorer is the king of the common standard imposed on users.

Still, if you are trying out Windows 10, you’ll like Spartan. But will you love it?

The richness of WordCamp London 2015

This past weekend, as many as 600 people got together in North London to talk about things WordPress, the content management system that is the platform of choice for more than 75 million websites worldwide, and is in a market-leading position with blogs.

It was WordCamp London 2015, a three-day event comprising a contributor day on Friday, and the two-day conference over the weekend that I attended, with speakers from across the WordPress community, with talks for designers, developers, writers, business-owners, freelancers, anyone who is at all interested in WordPress.

As a blogger whose blogs run on WordPress – and who first experimented with WordPress in 2004 and launched this blog on the platform in 2006 – I took part in the event to listen, learn, meet some interesting folk and generally increase my knowledge of what you can do with WordPress.

It was actually the third WordCamp I’ve attended in the UK, the last time being some while ago in Cardiff in 2009. That one was especially memorable as it included WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg giving a talk.

In any case, I am very pleased with the time I spent at WordCamp London 2015. The event itself was an excellent example of terrific organization, very professional with no obvious gaps in anything that I saw. It illustrates how things have moved on in just a few years where a seamless experience is what you expect even from a community-focused event like this – and that’s precisely what you got.

It included a delight or two, over and above an expectation. The official swag, for instance – not just a t-shirt but also a very nice woollen scarf. That was unexpected and wholly delightful.

I was impressed with the sheer number of people taking part. Men and women, young and old, coding geeks, developers, designers and “regular folk,” WordCamp London 2015 included everyone who represents today’s WordPress community. It’s quite clear to me that WordPress is now part of the mainstream of what makes up the internet, not just the social web. And everyone knows it.

In the early days (pre-2010), it was just a few who really understood how WordPress works, how to make the most of its capability with themes and plugins, and how to create those themes and plugins. Now, such knowledge is widespread. What’s more, as more people learn about, use and become familiar with WordPress, so overall knowledge increases and spreads and becomes widely accessible as the WordPress ecosystem grows. That means getting help for your questions, or sharing your own knowledge and experiences, is so much easier today as the pool of knowledge continues to expand.

A few highlight impressions from some of the sessions I attended on Saturday and Sunday plus other experiences:

I had an opportunity to get some questions answered about a new feature in the Jetpack uber-plugin for WordPress when I encountered the guys from Brute Protect, a company that makes a security plugin that was acquired last year by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com.

There was a really good presentation by Luke Wheatle and Sophie Plimbley, two of the key individuals behind a huge WordPress presence at News UK, who talked about building a scalable WordPress. Best phrase I heard: “WordPress is great for news, it’s so easy to use.”

SEO expert Jessica Rose led a great talk about search engine optimization in a packed session that ranged from how to optimize a WordPress site for search to the fundamentals of how search engines rank content. Most useful. Best phrase I heard: “Wow, this is the only time anyone has asked me for help with Bing!”

Tibdit, a service to make and receive micropayments or donations on your blog using Bitcoin, was one of the companies presenting their wares in a small exhibition area in one of the venue buildings. It could be an interesting tool for bloggers looking for small-scale monetization. I plan to try it out to see how it works, etc.

Dave Walker had a good perspective on things:

Two standout messages from Jon Buchan in his most refreshing session on content marketing – “How much money is wasted by experts creating crap?” and “It’s not what is given, it’s how it’s given that matters.”

I learned quite a lot in Bruce Lawson‘s session on responsive images, starting with that very phrase, “responsive images.” He is a good story-teller and his entertaining session was highly popular and pretty full in the largest presentation room. Best phrase I heard: “Safari, the North Korea of browsers.”

A thought-provoking session on user experience in WordPress was led by UX expert Sara Cannon who also shared her knowledge and experience of some really terrific-looking plugins, all of which I will check out:

And she shared her presentation deck.

It’s also worth highlighting a feature of just about any event these days where everyone and everything is so connected. Good friend Christopher Carfi in California noticed that I was at WordCamp London and tweeted to me and his colleague, Mendel Kurland, suggesting we ought to connect.

And so we did…

That’s what I call serendipity!

Check the hashtag #wcldn for all the Twitter chat and for news on other posts, picture uploads, etc, that undoubtedly will come from others in the coming days.

Is there such a thing as a British accent?

British accentThe British accent is the most attractive in the world according to a survey of 11,000 people globally, says a report in yesterday’s print edition of the Telegraph newspaper (and also in the online edition).

The Telegraph’s concise report notes that 27 percent of respondents to the survey rated British as the “sexiest” and “most dateable” accent, way ahead of the American accent in second place with 8.7 percent and Irish in third place with 8.1 percent.

The survey the Telegraph reports on was Time Out magazine’s Global Dating Survey that got a great deal of media attention this week.

What especially caught my eye, though, was the phrase “the British accent.”

What is that, I wondered?

Is it that when people think or talk about a “British accent,” what they’re actually referring to is an English accent, specifically what is defined as Received Pronunciation, and more traditionally known as “the Queen’s English”?

What we might even call “English English” as opposed to “American English”? (Certainly not “British English” as Microsoft would have it.)

Perhaps it’s the legacy of legions of actors from these shores over the past hundred years – most of them English rather than Scots, Welsh or Ulstermen (and women) – whose diction, vocabulary and context in the movies, on the stage and in television have defined the meaning of “British accent” in the minds of many people whose own language isn’t “British.”

Think of plays, movies and US TV dramas you may have seen starring legendary British thespians that include Laurence Oliver, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole (who was Irish but with a wonderful display of RP in Lawrence of Arabia), Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Alec Guinness, Joanna Lumley, Noel Coward, and Patrick Stewart; and, in more modern times, names such as Emma Watson, Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley, Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet… just a few examples from a huge list.

Do they each speak with a “British accent”? Correctly, no they don’t. Instead, each speaks a version of English that may be particular to their origin in the part of the British Isles from which they came – and which, for most, is in England, many from the south – as well as the evolution of their speech as they get older, as they learn from new life experiences, and as they evolve their professional behaviours in acting.

Does it really matter? Not really, other than being clear in what we mean. It’s a bit like saying Tom Cruise or Timothy Oliphant each speaks with “an American accent.” I imagine linguists and language geeks – communicators, too, where this has significance in a business communication setting – will have a better idea of the nuances of language, accents and what that indicates or suggests about the speaker, and whether the receiver will understand what he or she is hearing.

For most of us, it matters little. At least we can spot the differences in the spoken word that give us insights into the speaker.

And a final thought – English today is a global language. If native speakers of English are now outnumbered by those who have learned it as a second language, then English now belongs to everyone who speaks it, no matter how they speak it nor where they speak it.

Finally a fix for the noisy fan on a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704

Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Ultrabook

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying the experience of using a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Ultrabook computer. This is one of the new breed of multi-purpose devices defined by the word ‘Ultrabook‘ that are coming from a wide range of vendors to offer a compelling mix of computing power, contemporary usability and portability.

I’ve written quite a bit about the Q704 as a “Fujitsu Insider,” part of the Master Your Business blogger programme I’m in that’s run by Fujitsu.

The Q704 is a terrific device that I’ve found extremely useful and enjoyable to use especially when out and about, as I’ve said in some of my posts on the programme blog. All the independent reviews I’ve read agree – it’s a great device. Yet there’s one thing many reviewers also agree on, especially those who dive deep into the technical characteristics of the device, and a point I’ve been aware of too – the noisy fan.

Not only noisy but also loud: obtrusively and annoyingly so, to the extent that it could well be a show-stopper when you add up the pluses and minuses of a device you’re thinking about whether to purchase. The only easy way to reduce the noise is to enable an eco power plan that also severely throttles the Intel Core i7 Pro CPU.

This is not a device to use in a quiet workplace. That’s hardly acceptable and it’s the only major negative I felt about the Q704.

I’ve thought that the solution to this surely must be in the hardware somehow. Maybe a hardware fix that involves a recall (hardly likely) or a firmware fix in the form of a BIOS update (more likely).

Fan improvement tool updateAnd so a pleasant surprise happened on Friday when I discovered that a “fan improvement tool” was available that included a BIOS update, bringing the version to 1.28.

The Q704 was running BIOS version 1.22, shown on the Fujitsu product website as the latest version. Running the update flashed the BIOS to the new version.

And running the Q704 since then, I’ve not once heard the fan, certainly not any noise at the high levels before. I’ve not noticed the device feeling hotter to the touch than usual, nor have I observed any noticeable difference in performance using the business-focused programmes I typically run on this machine, whether docked when in the office or in pure tablet mode when out.

The Windows Experience Index as measured by the Winaero WEI tool for Windows 8.1 shows a processor score of 7.2, the same as it was before the update. All other elements in that index are similar to before as well.

So with this BIOS update, I reckon Fujitsu have solved this niggling problem of high fan noise. Thank you!

If you use a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704, I strongly suggest you install this BIOS update. If your system hasn’t notified you of it yet – it was published only on January 20 – you can manually download it from the Fan utility for STYLISTIC Q704 vPro page. As the update is specific to this Q704 model, be very sure to check it’s for your machine and that it runs a supported Windows version.

Show-stopper eliminated!

Here’s the proof, @EE

I bought a new data SIM card from mobile operator EE a few days ago, to use in my Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 Windows Ultrabook. With the deal came an Alcatel One Touch Pop 7S Android tablet. Nice! It’s a good deal.

I’d like to use that tablet but first it needs charging. And it won’t.

When I plug it in to the mains power using the supplied charger, it shows the battery on-screen as is common with Android devices. But then it switches to show a white triangle with an exclamation mark in the middle. And then it goes blank. That’s all it does. And the battery always shows 2% charged.

I explained all this in a call to EE’s 150 support service yesterday evening. They wanted me to try it in different chargers and charge it for at least 15 minutes each time to see if the problem is the device or the charger or the cable.

So I’ve done that with these charging methods:

  • Connected the charger and cable that came with the Alcatel device.
  • Connected the charger and cable from a Galaxy S3.
  • Connected the charger and cable from a Galaxy S4.
  • USB cable to PC.

Same result each time:

  1. Battery showing 2%
  2. Triangle with exclamation mark
  3. Blank screen

The EE support person promised to call me back 20 minutes or so after we spoke, once I’d done a test. She didn’t.

So I made the video you see above to show what happens. And I left the device on charge overnight plugged in to the S3 charger. Same result.

It looks pretty conclusive to me, EE, that the device is faulty.

May I have one that works, please?

[Update Jan 15] On Tuesday, I finally got a replacement tablet that works, but no thanks to any pro-action from EE. After trying twice more last week to talk to someone at EE’s 150 support service – patience running thin after queuing for 10 minutes each time – I visited the EE store in Hammersmith, west London, on a trip into London, the place where I’d bought the SIM card/tablet deal a week earlier.

A quick test by a store employee confirmed the fault in the device and a replacement was swiftly agreed. We tested the replacement device – just to be sure! – and it worked perfectly, charging the battery as it should do. And so I left the EE store with a working Alcatel OneTouch Pop 7s Android tablet.

As I mentioned earlier, the data SIM card I have works a treat, and I have no issues at all with the service EE provides: a means for me to get online via their 4G cellular network. I anticipate continuing to use EE’s network well into the future (well, depending perhaps on what happens if BT does acquire EE), just as I have been with their devices I’ve been using as part of the EE ambassador programme that Andrew Grill set up with them in 2012.

What I genuinely hope, though, is that I never have need to call EE’s 150 support call centre number again. A nightmare experience. I wonder why most mobile operators have such awful customer support services via the phone, Vodafone being another one.

A subject for another post, another day.

The FIR podcast and a foundational decade

FIR episode 1: January 3, 2005

Today is a special day for my podcasting partner, Shel Holtz, and I as we mark a milestone – January 3, 2005 to January 3, 2015 – that is ten years to the day since we started For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, a business podcast that has grown in ways in which we didn’t imagine back in 2004 when we were planning it.

I’ve talked and mused about FIR – as the show has become known over the years, a moniker coined by Lee Hopkins in Australia – from time to time in this blog, as well as reflect on podcasting itself.

Shel has waxed lyrical and in considerable detail about FIR and its history in a terrific post he published on his blog a few days ago. If you’re interested in the detailed history of FIR, please read it.

What I concisely reflect on today is that milestone of quantity and where it leads. Ten years of podcasting. Ten years of commentary and opinion from two communicators who, as we described ourselves in that first episode a decade ago, “think they have something to say.”

788 episodes – and counting – of a show that we did twice a week for half of its life, settling in to its current weekly schedule in 2010. The expansion of the original show into what I used to describe as “the FIR podcast series” – the interviews we did with newsmakers, influencers and opinion-formers from the online technology and organizational communication worlds, and beyond. The book reviews we did (and much done by Bob LeDrew in Canada). And the podcasting book that came about in 2007, just two years into FIR.

I must mention, too, the occasional podcasts of speeches, keynote addresses, breakout sessions, and other recordings from meetings and conferences. The FIR Cuts: virtual clippings of topics that didn’t make it into a show but would have been a shame to just delete the recordings. And quite a few more shows.

So many people involved in all of that, many of whom Shel mentions in his post. For me, names that form a memorable resonance every time I think of FIR are our sponsors present (Ragan Communications, CustomScoop and Igloo Software) and past (TemboSocial); the “here’s how to reach FIR” voice of Donna Papacosta; and our correspondents – past and present, regular and occasional – that include Lee Hopkins, David Phillips, Dan York, Eric Schwartzman, Michael Netzley, Bernie Goldbach and Harry Hawk.

And then, the listeners and friends of FIR – those of you who download or stream episodes and engage in ongoing discussion in the FIR Podcast Community on Google+ and elsewhere. You have accounted for downloads of more than 2.3 million since that first show ten years ago, according to Libsyn, our file hosting service who we have been with for the whole time.

Without all of you, FIR would not have evolved the way it has. Thank you.

FIR Podcast Network

Just over a year ago, FIR began a new phase, reaching for a new level, as the “FIR podcast series” suddenly became the FIR Podcast Network as new voices joined those of Shel and I to offer their opinions and perspectives on topics about which they are passionate through their own shows that extend the FIR brand.

And so we start our 11th year of podcasting already with a network of shows by a raft of talented people from around the world who selflessly give their time and energy to offer comment, opinion and insights on topics that always find listeners – check out the current network shows from (name links go to the show home pages on the FIR website) Rachel Miller; Chip Griffin; Paul Gillin; Kevin Anselmo; Glenn Gaudet; Joe Thornley, Gini Dietrich and Martin Waxman; Chuck Hester; Andrea Vascellari; Dan York; Mitchell Levy; Ron Shewchuk; Kristine D’Arbelles and Julia Kent.

There are new network members and shows coming soon. And a brand new online presence fit for purpose for a growing podcasting network!

As Shel notes in his post, we have big ideas for the FIR Podcast Network and, in due time, we’ll be sharing what we want and plan to do.

In the meantime, please enjoy any or all the shows we publish, and tune in to the 10th anniversary episode of the anchor show (as The Hobson and Holtz Report is known) on Monday January 5, the usual day we publish the weekly show. We’ll be recording at about 5pm GMT on Monday with the show being posted later that evening GMT.

And if you have a burning topic that you’re passionate about that you think would appeal to a global, influential audience as a podcast, well, let us know, we’d love to discuss your ideas!

Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz
[L-R] Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz in London, October 2014.