Windows 10 is just around the corner

In just a few days, on July 29, Microsoft will begin the public rollout of Windows 10 in 190 countries. If you want to upgrade your desktop or laptop computer, it’s a free upgrade in specific circumstances. Lifehacker has a simple flowchart that makes it quite easy to see if you qualify.

Windows 10 upgrade flowchart

The only difference to this chart is that Windows 8 won’t get you the free upgrade but Windows 8.1 will. According to Microsoft:

The only requirements are that a) your device is compatible, and b) you’re running genuine Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) or Windows 8.1 (Update).

Windows 10 is designed to run on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 PCs. That means your device is likely compatible and will run Windows 10.

See the full specifications here.

You don’t have to get the upgrade immediately if you don’t want to – you’ll have a year from July 29 to get it for free. Otherwise you’ll have to buy a license just as you have had to do with previous versions of Windows. What’s different this time is the free upgrade offer.

Once you have upgraded your computer to Windows 10, you’ll be able to create an install disk on a flash drive that will let you do a fresh install from scratch if you wish to. Microsoft says such an install disk is yours to keep for free as well.

Starting a few months ago, you may have seen a popup window on your desktop saying that you could reserve a free copy of Windows 10 upgrade that would be available to you from July 29. If you accepted that, you’ll have a little Windows icon in your system tray.

You’ll also have that confirmed in the Windows Update section of Control Panel in Windows 7 or 8.1.

Windows 10 upgrade reserved

And what about editions? What ‘version’ of Windows 10 will you get?

Microsoft explains it:

Windows 10 upgrade editions

Note the small print – the free upgrade offer does not apply to enterprise-edition customers (that’s typically large companies) who will have different offers.

So what can you expect with the Windows 10 upgrade? How easy will it be to install? What issues might arise?

If you think about it, this is quite an exercise. Imagine the thousands if not millions of different configurations of computers around the world, a fair number of which will have some issue or another. Some won’t have up-to-date video drivers perhaps. Or maybe a niggling problem in Windows 7 the user never got around to fixing. It will be amazing if everyone’s upgrades go 100 percent smoothly.

Yet I think you can expect a pretty good experience if you’re prepared. Being so isn’t difficult:

  1. Make sure your current qualifying Windows version is legal and as up-to-date as it can be via Windows Update. Best thing is to ensure it’s configured for automatic updates and let it do its work for a few days.
  2. When you do get a notification that Windows 10 is ready to install, close every single program you might have running so that your PC can devote all its resources to the Windows 10 upgrade process from the start of it.
  3. Keep all the peripherals you use – printer, mouse, webcam, multiple monitors, etc – connected so that Windows can see all those devices and migrate settings as required. And of course, ensure your PC is connected to the internet.

As a member of Microsoft’s Windows Insider programme, I’ve been running beta versions of Windows 10 for the past eight months or so. The latest beta build 10240 released to Insiders about ten days ago is as flawless an upgrade as it got for a beta. It suggests quite clearly that you should expect a flawless upgrade experience, all else being equal.

Indeed, some industry journals are saying that 10240 is the RTM version of Windows 10. Maybe it is; my thought was that it definitely has the look and feel of finished software, as I noted in a post to the Insider community forum on July 16 (if you’re an Insider, you can read it in full):

[…] 10166 was a really good update in terms of overall polish, reliability of operation, looking like a final. Hard to add more to that but 10240 looks even better. It has a definite look of final, release-version software. For the first time, a terms of use text appears along with a screen explaining some of the features in Windows 10, eg, Edge browser.

Either way, Windows 10 is almost upon us so be sure you’re ready. I think Windows 10 is the best Windows yet, even better than 7.

See also:

  • Sean Hollister writes about his upgrade experiences in Gizmodo, a post a day (here’s Day 1 and Day 2). Very much worth reading.
  • When should businesses upgrade to Windows 10? ZDNet has insights from industry experts.

Windows 10 shows the scale of Microsoft’s ambition

Windows 10 login

On July 29 – in just over two weeks’ time – Microsoft will begin the formal roll-out of Windows 10, the new edition of the Windows operating system for PCs and tablets (and Windows phones). It’s been the subject of a comprehensive beta-testing programme by around five million people since the programme was launched at the end of September 2014.

I’ve been part of this programme as a Windows Insider since last October, running the incremental builds of ‘Windows 10 Insider Preview’ as they become available on a couple of different computers, and providing feedback. It’s been a stimulating and most interesting experience so far; a few comments on that in a minute.

So starting on July 29, if your PC currently runs Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 you will be able to get Windows 10 at no cost by taking advantage of Microsoft’s free upgrade offer. If you’ve recently purchased a new PC running Windows 8.1, the Windows 10 upgrade should also be available to you at no cost and many retail stores may upgrade your new device for you.

Windows 10 is a huge deployment – Microsoft is rolling it out in 190 countries and in 111 languages. According to Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s man in charge of Windows 10, the launch will happen in waves starting with the Windows Insiders:

Starting on July 29, we will start rolling out Windows 10 to our Windows Insiders. From there, we will start notifying reserved systems in waves, slowly scaling up after July 29th. Each day of the roll-out, we will listen, learn and update the experience for all Windows 10 users. Soon, we will give a build of Windows 10 to our OEM partners so they can start imaging new devices with Windows 10. Soon after, we will distribute a build of Windows 10 to retailers all over the world, so they can assist their customers with upgrades of newly purchased devices that were originally imaged with Windows 8.1.

Now, here’s where things differ from every release of Windows that’s happened before.

In a presentation at the 2015 Microsoft Build developers conference in April, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke a bit about Windows 10, including these comments that provide some clear indicators on this version of Windows, its development, its release and its support that are quite different to what has gone before:

Windows 10 is not just another release of Windows, it’s a new generation of Windows. It is a very different Windows in terms of how we deliver it. It’s a service.

WaaS – Windows as a service. Not an attractive-sounding moniker but maybe something to get used to when you look at the global roll-out starting in a few weeks.

At the same event, Myserson said:

Our goal is that within two to three years of Windows 10’s release there will be 1 billion devices running Windows 10.

Those devices are not only the usual suspects (PCs, tablets, Windows phones) but also Xbox One, Surface Hub, HoloLens, bank ATMs, medical devices, and more.

With ambition at such scale, there’s no way you could sustain the physical manufacturing and distribution models of the past century. And something else to think about – how to persuade everyone on Windows 7 to move up to Windows 10.

Windows 7 domination

Free will help. But it will need a lot more than just that. I think word of mouth will help. Think of five million Windows Insiders and their opinions.

Looking at how previous versions of Windows have been produced and distributed, at end-user pricing that produced significant revenue over the years, Microsoft has been a discrete manufacturer where the product (mass-produced DVDs containing software, plus the packaging, etc) is manufactured and distributed through a supply chain to points of consumer sale – physical retailers, online shops, etc.

Now it’s about giving the software away at zero financial cost to consumers, wholly digital distribution, online support, online updating… these are the foundations for a new Windows ecosystem that will also offer developers an environment that’s eminently attractive, plus outlets in the shape of Windows Stores that will offer software created by those developers that work on any device Windows 10 runs on, making it easy for consumers to find (and pay) for the Windows 10 apps they want.

A familiar set-up if you think of how Apple and Google operate in their respective iOS and Android spaces.

In fact, that’s the landscape now – always-on devices, always connected online, able to automatically receive updates and new software on demand from online stores via a network connection typically wifi or cellular no matter where you are in the world.

Circling back to Windows 10 and my experiences with pre-release builds as a Windows Insider, my overall impression with the latest build I’m running (10166) is of a product that is exceedingly polished for a beta as I’d expect in a close-to-release version. I have it installed on a separate drive in a long-in-the-tooth Dell XPS desktop machine running Windows 7 SP1  with a 28-inch non-touch monitor; and as an upgrade to Windows 8.1 in a Fujitsu Stylistic Q704, one of the latest examples of an ultrabook with not only a touch screen but also the transformational aspect of separating the screen from a dock or keyboard to become a tablet.

In both cases, Windows 10 works out of the digital box, as it were – while early builds were understandably flaky at times (occasional system crashes, some native Windows 10 programs not working properly or at all), the last four builds in recent months have been almost flawless.

The Fujitsu machine in particular works exceptionally well, as if Windows 10 were designed precisely for a device like this (er…). It beats Windows 8.1 hands down in usability, intuitiveness, confidence and reliability. (I see Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 as you’d see Windows Vista to Windows 7.) And the venerable Dell works equally well running Windows 10.

None of my software that works on Windows 7 and upwards – and I have a lot of software – crashed or didn’t run on either device running Windows 10. Updating the operating system is transparent, behind the scenes and works.

In my book, all that makes Windows 10 an easy decision.

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!

Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch – some initial impressions

Samsung Gear 2 Neo home screenLast month, I bought a Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch. It’s been on my wrist every day over the past few weeks, replacing my usual traditional watch that tells the time and shows me the date.

Of course, a digital smartwatch can do a lot more than just that, one of the reasons why people buy them.

You want to check your heartbeat? Count how many steps you take walking, or running or hiking? Track your sleeping time? The Gear 2 Neo does all of that and more. I’d argue, though, that dedicated fitness devices such as a Fitbit or Jawbone Up do that much better and in greater depth – that’s what they do.

So if such health-focused activity-tracking uses are of primary importance to you, a smartwatch like the Gear 2 wouldn’t be your best choice.

But if you want to do things such as receive notifications of messages from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Yammer and more; receive texts from your contacts on WhatsApp, Hangouts or via standard SMS; get reminders from your calendar on upcoming appointments; read email from your Gmail or corporate email accounts; or receive (and make) phone calls from your wrist, then a Gear 2 Neo might be right up your street.

And, as I use a Samsung smartphone – a Galaxy S4 at the moment – the fact that this smartwatch is geared  to work seamlessly with 17 supported Samsung smartphone models including the S4 was a big selling point.

So that’s what I want today from a smartwatch.

All of the above was the primary reason why I went for a Gear 2 Neo rather than any other comparable smartwatch currently on the market, many of which will also do some or all these things with other brands of smartphones: iPhones as well as Android-based devices.

In my view, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo is at the most favourable price point for what you get with your device, better than anything comparable I looked at.

You use a Gear 2 Neo in conjunction with your Samsung smartphone and the Gear Manager app you install on your phone. The first thing you do is pair your two devices via Bluetooth, and you’re set – from that point on you’ll get all the notifications you want on your Neo, from any of your installed apps, once you’ve set them up with the Gear Manager on your smartphone.

Samsung Gear ManagerManage Notifications

As long as your two devices are within range of each other, you won’t need to whip out your phone just to see a notification. It’s a very handy feature, possibly more so than you first realize.

One thing I find really appealing are the extensive ways in which you can customize your Gear 2 Neo, from the obvious and visual (wallpapers or coloured backgrounds) to the useful (watch styles and faces), and a great deal more, from how you’re notified and by which apps, to privacy locking and finding your Neo using your smartphone.

WallpapersClocks

I’ve experimented a bit with the aesthetics! At the moment, my Neo screen has a November the fifth effect as the wallpaper. I expect to change that in the next week or so, once I’ve found a good alternative (a good resource for Gear 2 wallpapers is Tizen Experts website).

I’m only scratching the surface of the Gear 2 Neo at the moment, not yet having explored in depth the apps that come with the device – some of which are tuned to Samsung smartphones, eg, S Voice and Voice Memo – never mind what’s in the Samsung App Store. And there is a surprisingly large quantity of apps in that store.

All that’s yet to come. Meanwhile, a handful of quick impressions:

  • Battery life is excellent in my experience, at least two days between charges, sometimes three days. Much depends on how you use it, of course, but this is my experience by and large. Only once did I use up all the juice in one day when I was doing a huge amount with the device including making and receiving quite a few phone calls and playing around with the various screens and options. But for typical usage, I’d say you can expect about two days on a single battery charge.
  • The way you charge the battery is via a little clip-on charge pack that fits on the back of the device. It’s small and very light = very easy to lose; I’m taking special note of where I put it. You can’t just plug your device in to a power source as you do with your smartphone – the only way to connect a USB cable is via the clip-on pack, and it’s the only way to charge your Neo.
  • The huge battery hit is on your paired smartphone because of the Bluetooth connectivity. In a typical day, I need to charge the phone during the day and again at the end of the day (where, usually, it’s only once at the end of the day when I charge it). Much depends on what you use your smartphone for and how you use it, as well as how long or how frequently you connect to your Neo via Bluetooth. Being permanently connected, with Bluetooth running all the time, is a nice convenience but maybe not really essential. So short battery life isn’t a device issue, it’s a battery issue – and extending battery life is undoubtedly one of the next key development frontiers to cross with battery technologies for mobile and wearable devices.
  • Usability as a device paired with a Samsung smartphone is excellent where the two devices work hand in glove, pretty seamlessly from my experience so far. If you think about how you use a smartphone where some of your time is spent just looking at it to see notifications, with limited interactions, then a smartwatch surely is a more convenient way to do that especially in some situations, eg, in a meeting, on a bus or train, etc, where a gentle vibration alerts you that a notification is coming, and you can give a discreet glance at your wrist.
  • The Gear 2 range including the Neo run the Tizen operating system, not Android. From my experience, that’s not an issue at all as Linux-based Tizen is actively supported by many mainstream manufacturers (including Samsung) and has a growing developer environment with more apps coming all the time, with plenty of incentives for developers.

The smartwatch market is getting most interesting now. Samsung just launched its Gear S in the US, an advanced-level smartwatch and health/fitness tracker with built-in cellular communications functionality – no paired smartphone required; Apple’s much-anticipated Apple Watch is reportedly coming in Spring 2015; more devices within Google’s Android Wear framework are coming soon; and news keeps popping up of more brands releasing their own smartwatches.

There are also developments with useful things you can do with your smartwatch. For instance, I look forward to flying with an airline where I can show my boarding pass on my Gear 2 Neo, as you can do with Iberia – far easier than grappling with a bit of paper or a smartphone along with all your hand baggage when you board.

And in the workplace, think how useful it would be to get notifications of events from your ERP system, such as the working proof of concept from enterprise software vendor IFS (a client) that they developed to deliver notifications from their IFS Applications software to the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

This is just the start. So I’m happy to be in a good place to learn right now with a Gear 2 Neo.

Putting a Samsung Gear 2 Neo to the test

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

I speak and write quite a bit these days about wearable technology, a topic I have a keen interest in.

While the overall tech is a major part of my interest, it’s also largely about how people use it, especially in one area that’s getting a lot of attention – smartwatches.

As I don’t have one myself, I’ve been thinking about which one to get. It surely is hard to talk about a device with even a little credibility if you don’t use one yourself.

After spending time these past few weeks in considering different devices, including asking friends for opinions and reading many reviews, today I bought one – a Samsung Gear 2 Neo, pictured above.

Of all the smartwatches currently on the UK market that I considered – the list included not only direct competitors like the Pebble Smartwatch, Sony SW2 and the LG G at the premium-price end, but also really low-cost brands out of China such as Foxnovo, Lemfo and Lenofocus – I kept circling back to the Gear 2 Neo.

Part of the reason is trust in the Samsung brand as someone whose other mobile devices are Samsungs. And the big plus – the Gear range is geared, as it were, specifically to Samsung devices to enable a range of rich features, many of which I find compelling.

These include:

  • Seamless pairing via Bluetooth with my Galaxy S4 smartphone (Samsung has made 17 smartphone models able to pair with the Gear 2 Neo).
  • Receiving notifications of incoming messages, etc, from a wide range of apps installed on the S4 smartphone including Twitter, WhatsApp, Google+, Facebook and many more.
  • Ability to manage and customize many aspects of the smartwatch from the smartphone with the Samsung Gear Manager app.
  • The Gear 2 Neo has 4 gigs of internal storage so you can store lots of content, from video and audio to installable apps from Samsung’s App Store.
  • Very easy-to-understand interface – you don’t really need to read the manual.
  • Excellent hardware build quality including dust and water resistance.
  • Beautiful screen size and resolution – 1.64-inches, 320 x 320 pixels, Super AMOLED touch screen.

I expect to discover more as I get to know the Gear 2 Neo.

The device also lets you interact with it for a range of fitness-type activity such as heart-rate monitoring, a pedometer, etc. Those don’t interest me at all – so played no factor in my purchasing decision – and as a Twitter friend mentioned to me earlier today, devices like Fitbit do a far better job of that.

Where I think the Samsung Gear 2 Neo will excel is in areas like notifications of events from apps (how seamless will that be especially in a workplace environment or when out and about?), customization and installing third-party apps.

One other device I did briefly consider was also from Samsung –  its entry into the Android Wear market with the Samsung Gear Live, coming very soon. In my view, that’s one for the very early adopters (see this review by TechRadar), which I don’t want to be for my first smartwatch.

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is a really nice device; I am pleased with it and feel I made a good decision. Still, time will tell: review to come once I’ve kicked its tyres a while.

iPhone 6 review: Is this the most desirable smartphone in the world?

iPhone 6I don’t think many people would disagree that Apple creates some of the most beautifully-made products in their range of mobile devices.

None currently is more desirable than the iPhone, a smartphone that is held in high esteem by the millions of people around the world who have used one or more of the evolving models since the first-generation device was launched in 2007.

The iPhone and Apple’s iOS operating system, together with smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, collectively accounted for over 96 percent of global smartphone shipments in August 2014, according to IDC, a market intelligence firm. Such a metric has been so for a significant period of time. Windows Phone, Blackberry and others are mere blips by comparison.

It’s an impressive market position for iOS and Android devices.

What’s probably more impressive to note is that smartphones that run iOS – ie, iPhones – are made only by one manufacturer: Apple. On the other hand, Android-powered smartphones – think of dominant player Samsung’s Galaxy range, for instance – are made by ten different companies.

Such light analysis of the smartphone market and where the iPhone sits in it runs through my mind when thinking of the latest generation of the iPhone launched in early September – the iPhone 6.

I was fortunate to be able to examine an iPhone 6 up close up a few weeks ago for this review thanks to mobile operator Three UK.

In the few days I had to get to know the iPhone 6 – it arrived on the day when the fiasco of Apple’s iOS 8.0.1 upgrade began – I focused mostly on the device itself rather than the apps you can run on it. As an ex-iPhone user (I was a firm iPhone fanboy with an iPhone 3G many years ago) and now a firm Android user with my current Galaxy S4, I was interested in what this latest generation of iPhone looked like and how it performed, and how it compared to my own experiences with my Galaxy S4.

In a nutshell, these are key specs that most people might ask about when considering an iPhone 6:

  • Overall size: 138.1mm high x 67mm wide x 6.9 mm thick (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches).
  • Display: 4.7 inches (diagonal) Retina HD display, 750 x 1334 pixels – bigger than any previous iPhone model.
  • Processor: A8 chip with 64-bit architecture, plus M8 motion coprocessor.
  • Internal memory: 16Gb (the model I reviewed); other capacities: 64Gb, 128Gb.
  • External memory: None (and no capability for any, eg, SD cards), in common with all Apple mobile devices.
  • Cameras: 2 – primary (rear) 8 megapixels; FaceTime (front) 1.2 megapixels.
  • Video: 1080p HD video recording (30 fps or 60 fps), Slo-mo video (120 fps or 240 fps), time-lapse video.
  • Cellular and wireless connectivity: 3G, LTE 4G (depending on model and plan with mobile operator); 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wifi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC.
  • Battery: 14 hours talktime on 3G; 10 hours online (internet) use; up to 10 days (150 hours) standby time.
  • Sensors include: Touch ID for optional secure sign-in to the device and to your Apple account using your fingerprint (first introduced in 2013 with the iPhone 5S).
  • SIM card type: Nano-SIM. iPhone 6 is not compatible with micro-SIMs and other card types used in iPhone models earlier than the iPhone 5S.
  • Colours: Space Grey (the colour of my review unit), silver and gold.

Would my getting to know the iPhone 6 in a short space of time make me desire one?

Here’s a concise overview of my impressions of the iPhone 6 with photos, and with my conclusions at the end.

[Read more…]