Yes, it’s that time of year when I congratulate myself on completing another year of weekly blogs

4 years of blog posts

So what’s happened during that year?

November 2013a year of Windows 8.1

Hard to believe that it’s a whole year since Windows 8.1 was released. It’s still with us and I still maintain that it’s not as bad as a lot of people think.

Homer and Windows 8.1December 2013more on Windows 8.1

I said that I didn’t care about the tiled apps in windows 8 and none my clients’ needs have pushed me into spending much time on them in the year that has followed. A client recently asked me if it is a good idea to buy a Windows mobile phone and I had to reply that, even if he does like the tiled apps, he might be better off with an Android phone or an iPhone as the developers of “apps” don’t yet seem to think it’s essential for them to develop Windows versions.

Figures released in June by Statista show the number of apps on the major “platforms” as

  • Google Play (Android) – 1,300,000
  • iPhone – 1,200,000
  • Windows Mobile – 300,000

January 2014making your computer sleep-friendly

I am still a big fan of using f.lux to automatically reduce the blue light emitted from a computer screen in the evening. Whether or not it does actually help in getting to sleep, f.lux certainly makes a computer screen easier to look at in the evening with tired eyes.

Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP - screen capture from MicrosoftFebruary and April 2014Windows XP is still with us

There’s no sign of XP disappearing just yet. Some of my clients are still using it and I came across it in a local medical centre last week. We haven’t yet seen a massive attack on XP computers, but I still think it’s very likely to happen. If you are still using XP then I urge you to make sure you are taking regular backups of things you can’t afford to lose. See this link as well.


February 2014
PC World

in this blog I said that the service in PC World may be getting better. I was dis-abused of this notion last week when trying to buy a Microsft Surface Pro 3. For some odd reason, John Lewis aren’t stocking the model I want. My saga with PC World went as follows:

  • Oxford Street branch – hadn’t got the machine and they said their Tottenham Court Road branch hadn’t got it either
  • Tottenham Court Road – despite advice from Oxford Street, they did have it – but no matching keyboard/cover
  • Kensington High Street – they told me I needed to have it specially made to order as it isn’t a standard model (huh?)
  • Brixton – their website said they had it but they hadn’t
  • Old Kent Road – success!

Windows Desktop - Cluttered

This is getting silly

February 2014a cleaner desktop

My Windows desktop is still cleaner than it used to be. I now just periodically dump every icon I’ve not used recently into a folder of un-used icons that sits on the desktop. I don’t agonise over which ones to move: I just move nearly all of them. They’re easy enough to fetch back out of the folder, but I rarely need to. Very therapeutic having an uncluttered desktop.

March 2014Windows 8 File History

I still think this inbuilt backup routine is better than nothing, but I was disappointed to find that it can’t be used to automatically create backups to OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage service).

April 2014Faststone Image Viewer

I continue to recommend this to my Windows computer support clients and to install it for them. It may not be cutting edge software, but it makes photo viewing and editing a lot easier and more intuitive than Picasa. Get Faststone Image Viewer from here.

May 2014closing my LinkedIn account

I’m still thinking of closing this account. I am certainly not going to sign into any other account by using my Linked In credentials as I do not trust Linked In not to steal the data that would then be open to them.

Gmail LogoAugust 2014Gmail shortcuts

Do you use gmail’s webmail interface? Try using some shortcuts

September 2014the new “.london” domain

Maybe I got off the mark too soon when I changed from davidleonard.net to davidleonard.london . There are some places in cyberspace that refuse to accept that an email address ending in “.london” is genuine. It looks as if some web programmers need to re-visit the validation routines on their website forms. This is going to become a bigger problem for them as more and more domain suffixes are released. Did you know, for instance, that the following are all new domain suffixes – .mail, .club, .training, .marketing, .photography?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in profileOctober 2014the Microsoft Surface

As mentioned above, I’ve gone and got one (despite PC World’s best efforts to quash any impulse buying). Haven’t yet had time to install everything, but it’s definitely a very nice machine. I was right about the small screen, though. I don’t think I could use it for very long towards the end of the day if I hadn’t got a pair of glasses specifically optimised for reading at the distance of a computer screen.

October 2014 Windows 10 Technical Preview

If you’ve heard bad things about Windows 8 then you probably need to hold out for about 10 months before buying your next computer if you want to avoid Windows 8 altogether. It’s likely that 2-3 months before that you will be able to buy a Windows 8 machine with a voucher for a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it is released.

That’s it, then. On to year five…

Is there a market for the Microsoft Surface – if so, where?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with keyboard/coverThe first version of Microsoft’s Surface Pro was launched in February 2013. Since then, I’ve mentioned it occasionally, en passant, but have often wondered where its market lies and whether that market is large enough to sustain the product. Well, we’re now into the third version, called Windows Surface Pro 3 (natch), so either it’s starting to sell or Microsoft’s pride is as big as its pockets are deep.

The pitch from Microsoft is that it’s a tablet that does everything that your laptop will do. Hasn’t that market been snaffled by iPads and Android tablets? Up to a point, it has. You can get all the internet connectivity you like with a “normal” tablet, but there is one major function that most tablets lack and that is USB connectivity.

You can’t just plug in a USB flash drive and copy stuff between machines without engaging brain. Instead, you have to think about what facilities you have and what’s the easiest way of moving stuff. This is quite likely to be via a cloud service such as Dropbox. Life’s often less complicated if you can just connect a USB drive and do a “file copy”. Well, the Surface Pro does offer a USB port (just the one, notice) so that could be a clear advantage. A USB port also means, of course, that you can use a mouse. It also offers a micro SD card port – handy for data storage expansion, backups, and data transfer. I advise checking this out, though, as some places I looked said that the micro SD port is only present on the top-end versions.

The other major boast of Microsoft is that the Surface Pro lets you run any program that will run on a Windows 8 laptop or desktop. Now this may not arouse more than a “so what?” shrug in most people, but it could be very important to others. It means, for instance that Photoshop, Microsoft Access and Microsoft Outlook should all happily run on it – and you won’t get all those programs running on any other tablet as far as I know.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with screen penThe nearest competition for the Surface in this respect will probably be the Mac Air. The Mac Air, though, is – of course – a Mac machine running OSX and not Windows. I have no doubt that it would run Photoshop and the Mac version of Outlook, but there’s no version of Microsoft Access that will run on a Mac. I would love someone to point out that I’m wrong on this (excluding running Windows under “Parallels” or other virtualization software). Also, I am aware that some versions of Office 365 now include a version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for the iPad. This is very useful, but you still can’t run Outlook or Access on an iPad.

So why am I bringing the subject up now? Well, a computer support client of mine found a good deal on buying the previous version of a Microsoft Surface RT and we were having fun playing with it. It’s worth repeating here that the RT version of Surface will only run the installed applications and then added “apps”. It won’t run ordinary “desktop/laptop programs”. That might sound like a fatal flaw until you learn that Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint are exceptions to this and that they are included free of charge on RT machines. That’s as much as a lot of people need as far as “serious” stuff is concerned (you can also browse the net and do email, of course).

Getting up close to a Surface for the first time, I was very impressed with the quality of the finish. It just about feels as if it’s gained something of that mysterious quality that only products from Apple usually have. The 12 inch screen might be slightly on the small side for anyone who gets tired reading small stuff and, for my money, that would be one thing that would stop me from being able to use it all day as a replacement for a laptop. You can, however, plug in a larger monitor (but that wouldn’t slide into your backpack with the slimline Surface (weighing only about 800 gms)).

I don’t want to start nit-picking, but I do think Microsoft’s boast that it’s a replacement for a laptop is a bit OTT as a laptop with only a single USB port would probably drive you mad if the Surface Pro was your only machine. USB hubs aren’t a perfect solution for this problem.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in profileThat aside, the only real gripe that I have is to do with marketing. The beautiful, thin, keyboard/cover is not included in the box (or price). You have to buy it extra and it runs into three figures. OK, so this gives the buyer the option to restrict him/herself to using the Surface just like a tablet (with the on-screen keyboard), but I can’t help feeling that the main reason for splitting the tablet from the keyboard/cover is to do with price perception.

The Surface Pro 3 is expensive. You can see the full price range of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 here, but remember that those prices exclude £100 worth of keyboard/cover. In short, the price (without keyboard/cover) ranges from £639 to £1649 (including VAT).

At those prices, I’m having a very tough time convincing myself that I can’t live without one. Convincing myself, that is, that there’s a gap somewhere between my laptop, netbook, iPad, and smartphone that can only be filled by a Surface Pro. I think I’m just going to have to keep working on myself as there’s little doubt that it’s a very nice piece of kit that I would definitely like to own. If you are thinking of buying one, I would strongly recommend seeing it in the flesh first so that you can weigh up the quality of the finish against the possible usability drawback of the small screen. As usual, I would recommend that the obvious place to go and see one is John Lewis.

© 2011-2015 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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