Windows 8 FAQ: the real Frequently Asked Questions

Since there is a certain amount of puzzlement around concerning Microsoft’s new version of Windows, or I should say, two new versions of Windows, here are the answers to the questions many are asking.

Why is Windows 8 so odd?

Windows is the most popular desktop operating system in the world; but is on a trajectory of slow decline. A combination of Macs at the high end and iPad or Android tablets in mobile is eroding its market share. You might not mind that, but Microsoft does, and Windows 8 is its answer. It has a tablet personality which is Microsoft’s tablet play, and a desktop personality which lets you run your existing Windows applications. The two are melded together, which makes Windows 8 a little odd, but ensures that neither one will be ignored.

Why did Microsoft not make a separate tablet version of Windows, like Apple’s iOS and OSX?

Many users think Microsoft should have made the tablet personality in Windows 8 a separate operating system. However, when they say that this would have made more sense and be less odd and intrusive, what they mean is that if it were a separate operating system they could ignore it and get on with their work in old-style Windows. That would achieve nothing for Microsoft, since the tablet-only OS would fail in the market.

Furthermore, Microsoft did in fact make a separate tablet version of Windows. It is called Windows RT (see below).

Why did Microsoft make the desktop side of Windows 8 impossible to use without touch input?

Actually it is fine to use with keyboard and mouse, it just takes some getting used to. When people say it is impossible to use, they mean that they have only tried it for five minutes in a virtual machine and did not like it. If you stick at it, you discover that Microsoft actually thought hard about keyboard and mouse users, and that the new Start screen is a better application launcher than the old Start menu, particularly in combination with the most used applications pinned to the taskbar. Some will not get that far, in which case they will stick with Windows 7 or even buy Macs. That is Microsoft’s calculated risk.

Why didn’t Microsoft simply make desktop Windows easy to use with touch input?

Microsoft tried, in Tablet PC and in Windows 7, but could not make it work. The biggest problem is that while Microsoft conceivably could have made the Windows desktop work well with touch input alone, it had no chance of fixing third-party applications, or older versions of Microsoft’s own software like Office.

Why did Microsoft remove the Start menu from the desktop?

This was not just to annoy you; but Microsoft would rather risk annoying you than have the new app platform in Windows be ignored. That said, there are third-party utilities that put something very like the Start menu back on the desktop if you prefer.

Why is the tablet side of Windows 8 locked down so you can only install apps from the Store?

Well, there are ways. But Microsoft observed Apple’s success with this model on the iPhone and iPad. Easy app discovery, no malware, and a stream of income from third-party sales. Aiming for lock-down was an easy decision; but the Intel version of Windows 8 will never be truly locked down.

Why are the apps in the Windows Store so few and so poor?

This is because the tablet personality in Windows 8 is a new and unproven platform. Software vendors and app developers are not sure whether it will succeed; and they are busy making apps for the two tablet platforms that already have a market, iOS and Android. If Windows 8 takes off, then the apps will start to flow. Unfortunately, the poor quality of the apps so far makes that less likely. Microsoft is countering by seeding the market with a few high quality apps, like OneNote MX, and hoping that Windows 8 users will create a strong demand for apps as the operating system becomes well-known.

What is Windows RT?

Windows RT is Windows 8 running on the ARM processor. The difference from the user’s perspective is that only new-style tablet apps will run on Windows RT. Your existing Windows apps will not run. It is not all bad news though. A Windows RT tablet or notebook will be more secure and run more efficiently than Windows 8 on Intel. If Microsoft has done its job, it should be more stable too, since apps are isolated from each other and from the operating system. Another bonus is that Windows RT comes with Microsoft Office bundled for free – though business users should beware of licensing issues which prohibit commercial use, unless you have an additional license to use Office.

Why are there so few Windows RT devices?

Microsoft’s third-party partners are not sure that Windows RT will succeed. They are a conservative bunch, and think that users will prefer compatibility with the past over the advantages in security, efficiency, and usability with touch, that Windows RT offers.

Why are most Windows 8 tablets complex and expensive hybrids with twisty screens and keyboards?

See above. Most of Microsoft’s hardware partners are not sure that users will buy into the idea of using Windows with simple touch-only slates, so they are playing safe, as they think, with hybrid devices that can be used either as slates or like laptops. Unfortunately the high price of such complex devices will limit demand. Microsoft is doing its own devices, called Surface, as examples of hardware that shows off Windows 8 to best advantage.

Should I upgrade to Windows 8?

If you don’t mind trying something new, yes. It runs better than Windows 7 in most respects. Yes, it is a little odd and has some annoyances, but nothing too serious. Give yourself a little time to learn it. If you hate change though, stick with what you like.

Will Windows 8 succeed, or is it the beginning of the end for Windows?

Ask me that a year from now. Let me add though, that the thing to watch is the Windows Store. If the Store flourishes and quality apps start to flow, it is working. If not, then Microsoft will have failed to achieve its goal with Windows 8, which is to establish a new app ecosystem.

See also:

Windows 8 survival guide for keyboard and mouse users

Windows 8 survival guide for tablet and touch users

Review: Philips Voice Tracer digital recorder DVT 3500

I am someone who records interviews and events frequently, so have a keen interest in digital recorders. Earlier this year I started using a Philips Voice Tracer, reviewed here, so was interested to take a look at a new model, the DVT 3500.


It is the same kind of thing: a handheld recorder with a built-in microphone on the end and a small speaker so you can listen on the device itself if you have to, though you will get better quality from headphones.

Like my other Voice Tracer, this one feels a bit flimsy, but benefits from being small and lightweight, and the older one has proved perfectly durable.


You get quite a few bits in the box: digital recorder with 2GB storage, rechargeable batteries, short USB cable (now micro USB), a standard set of earbuds, a cheap and not very cheerful pouch, and as a special bonus, a telephone pickup.

2GB is on the small side in my opinion, but there is a microSD card slot so you can easily expand it.

Here are some of the things i like about the DVT 3500:

  • Rechargeable batteries which are nevertheless standard AAA size so you can use standard batteries if necessary. Long battery life too, something like 40 hours recording from a full charge. I never worry about it.
  • Built-in stereo microphone and socket for external microphone so you have the choice.
  • Built-in speaker so you can playback without headphones if necessary; of course the sound is tinny.
  • MicroSD slot mitigates the somewhat small 2GB internal storage – though even 2GB is plenty for many hours of recordings, the amount depending on the format you choose.
  • Decent choice of formats from 8kbps MP3 to lossless WAV. I prefer the 192kbps MP3 which Philips calls “Super high quality”; note that this is not the default. WAV is silly unless you have a high quality external microphone and are recording music.
  • Little fold-out stand for raising the microphone when placed on a table.

The supplied telephone pickup works like this. It is a mono earbud/microphone which you plug into the microphone socket and stick in your ear. Hold the phone to your ear, and if you can hear the other person, then so can the microphone. I tried it and it is effective, but somewhat intrusive since you get a lower quality of call than you would get without it.

The ear buds on the other hand are remarkably good, clear and with surprisingly deep bass. They are fine for music as well as playing back interviews for transcription.

I compared it to my older model. Quality of recording is similar, though the built-in microphone on the DVT 3500 seems a bit better than the older one. Storage capacity is less but my old model lacks a card slot. The new model has an LED which glows red when recording, and flashing red when paused, a nice feature. Another neat touch is pre-recording mode, where it records a five-second loop in standby mode so that when you hit record, you get the previous five seconds as well.

What is most noticeable is that Philips has worked hard on the firmware, which is much improved. I would not call the DVT 3500 a pleasure to operate, but it is much less fiddly than before. A great feature is that when you scroll though recordings, it auto-plays the first few seconds of each, making it easy to find the right one.

In the old user interface, you use the central joypad to page through incomprehensible icons. The new interface has just four icons along the top, representing File, Record settings, Display settings, and Device settings.


Select a menu with the joypad, and then navigate up and down the sub-menu. The new higher resolution screen allows the choices to be spelt out clearly, such as Format memory in place of the old FORM.

The settings are rather extensive, to the point of confusion. There are separate settings for Auto Adjust Rec, Mic sensitivity, Wind Filter, and noise reduction; I think I understand what all these do, but trying all the combinations to find the optimal results would take time.

If you are recording music I suggest turning off all the automatic adjustments and filters, but for voice where all I care about is a clearly intelligible recording, I leave it on auto adjust and it seems to work out fine.

Make sure you find the real manual, which is a PDF on the device or on the Philips web site. The printed getting started leaflet is short and confusing.

Note there is no radio in this model. It is mentioned in the manual, but that is because the manual covers several models which have different features. This bother me not at all.

When you connect to a PC or Mac the device shows as external storage and it is trivial to import the audio files. The supplied USB cable is irritatingly short though.

The only thing to add is that I personally prefer an external microphone. I did some test recordings, and found that you get much better quality when holding the device in your hand close to your mouth, as opposed on the table in front of you, but that is impractical in many scenarios like interviews. Another snag with the internal microphone is that you get inevitable slight noise when operating the controls.

My old model came with a tie clip mic as well, which I use all the time, sometimes as a tie clip mic, and sometimes just placed on the table. Be careful though If you use a mic other than an official accessory; I tried a Sony mic but its output was too low and the recordings far too noisy. Try to test before purchase.

An excellent device though, which does the job for which it is designed very nicely indeed.

Telerik Icenium: new desktop and cloud IDE for mobile development

When I heard that Telerik is bringing out a new IDE for mobile app development, I could contain my excitement, especially after learning that it is another PhoneGap/Cordova based approach, wrapping JavaScript and HTML as a native app. While speaking to Telerik’s Doug Seven though, I found myself increasingly impressed.

If that name sounds familiar, it might be because Seven was a director of Product Management in the Visual Studio team at Microsoft, and you can see that influence in the new IDE, which is called Icenium. Spot the Metro-style buttons at top left of the IDE!


Icenium has several components. There is a Windows IDE called Graphite, illustrated above. Those on other platforms, or in distributed teams, can use Mist, which is a browser-based IDE which replicates many of the features of Graphite. There is also a set of cloud-based services to handle building apps for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. This means you do not need to install all the necessary SDKs on your own machine. Icenium also lets developers build signed iOS packages without needing to have a Mac.

The Icenium Device Simulator lets you test applications quickly on your own machine.


The tools look good, though I have not tried them yet, but the unique feature of Icenium is the ability to deploy and test quickly on multiple devices. Code is kept synchronized between Graphite and Mist, and also pushed out though LiveSync to multiple devices. Here is a snap of the view from Doug Seven’s desk, grabbed from his online presentation. He showed me how a code change ripples almost instantly to all these devices for testing.


An intriguing part of this is an iOS app called Ion which is a sort of runtime shell for Icenium apps. This means you can load apps for testing onto iOS devices that are not unlocked for developer use. You can also demonstrate apps on a client’s device using Ion. Apple’s attitude to runtimes in the App Store must be softening.

Icenium supports version control using either a Git repository hosted on the service, or your own choice of URL-based Git repositories.

Pricing will be per-developer at $16.00 per month if you sign up for a year, or $19.00 per month without a contract. Once you sign up, you can use all the tools on all your machines. You can also use Telerik’s Kendo UI Mobile framework. It is free until May 1 2013.

Isn’t Icenium’s cloud build feature similar to what Adobe’s PhoneGap Build already does?

“It’s a great comparison,” says Seven. “Adobe has the technology to make this [seamless development experience] possible, they just chose not to do it … [PhoneGap Build] is not integrated into the workflow. It’s a very manual process, I have to zip up my files, submit them to the PhoneGap Build process, then I get back these application packages that I have to manually deploy to my devices to see if it works.”

There is no support yet for mobile web apps, as opposed to apps packaged with Cordova, but this is a possibility for the future.

Like Adobe, Telerik has found WebKit and Google Chrome irresistible, despite Seven’s Microsoft background. WebKit is embedded in the Graphite IDE. You can use Mist with any modern browser, though “the one limitation is that the browser-based device simulator does require Chrome,” though he add that in general, “I use Mist on my iPad all the time.”

ThoughtWorks bemoans excessive software complexity, advocates small, focused services

ThoughtWorks has released its latest Technology Radar, an opinionated analysis of software development trends.

Things the folk at ThoughtWorks like include automated build and deployment, essential for Continuous delivery; NOSQL database managers especially Neo4j; mobile-first development; the AppCode IDE for Apple’s Objective-C; the Graphite realtime graphing tool for creating dashboards; Clojure and Scala for programming.

I meet some of the ThoughtWorks team at developer conferences from time to time, and generally find them smart and though-provoking to talk to. They must be the despair of the big enterprise software vendors, with a liking for open source and an aversion to heavyweight high-maintenance systems.

This remark particularly caught my eye:

Simple architectures—Simple continues to gain traction, including both techniques for building and composing applications, as well as infrastructure-based techniques to enable simple deployment, failover and recovery. This theme is a recurring one for us, but we have not yet seen the usage shifts we believe are necessary.

I asked consultant James Lewis and practice lead Sam Newman to expand on that. Why do we continue to choose complexity over simplicity?

“A lot of people like to stay inside their big box, and don’t understand the complexities that then creates,” said Newman. “There’s a lack of critical thought given to how services talk to each other. A lot of them are driven by whatever the vendor says you do. Java makes RMI very easy. [Microsoft] .NET makes binding to WSDL [SOAP] schemas very easy. All these tools make bad things very easy to do.

“When you start talking to organisations about smaller services that are focused on doing one thing well, they have the horror associated with now having more than one box to manage and operate. So it’s hard to talk about moving from one big monolithic complicated box that is hard to change, to lots of little boxes, without also having conversations with those clients about how they get better at managing multiple services.

“Netflix has 300 services. Each service runs on at least six machines. They are very good at deploying those services. Yet they are not an overly complicated domain compared to some of our clients.”

“Amazon were talking about this in 2004,” adds Lewis, “the idea that you join up development of these small, simple applications with the operational control, so the same people who build them are also the people who run them. Now that we’re seeing both private and public clouds, and the ability to spin up machines becoming more and more prevalent, its starting to become more attractive.”

This is a consistent theme from ThoughtWorks. Break up complex solutions into many small services, think about how they talk to each other (with REST and HTTP favoured), and think about the infrastructure and how to automate it as well as the software itself.

“In many organisations these conversations are happening,” Newman told me. “I go to clients now, and they talk about the Enterprise Service Bus as being something they’d love to get rid of if they only knew how. Five to ten years ago, to even mention the Enterprise Service Bus as being a problem, they’d look at you with daggers in their eyes.”

“It’s almost like we’re now able to fulfil the promise of service orientation,” says Lewis. “It needed these additional practices, around things like automated deployment, automated rollback, and an understanding that people and process are tied intrinsically with it.”

Another issue, claims Lewis, is that software architects simply get out of touch with best practice.

“Most architects who build big systems are quite a long way from their codebases. They sit in rooms talking to other architects. They might have last written a line of code five or ten years ago. What they do is to design systems as they would have done ten years ago. People do get divorced from the latest trends and perpetuate less effective ways of doing things.”

Finally, here’s something for the Microsoft platform people who read this site. ThoughtWorks is not altogether averse to Microsoft and mentions the Azure cloud platform as something which is becoming interesting. But Windows Phone:

Despite a promising start to Windows Phone, a well thought-out user interface, and probably the best development experience of any mobile platform, we have seen several stumbles in the execution of the platform strategy by Microsoft and its partners. This makes us less optimistic about the future of the platform than we were in the last radar.

Translation: nice mobile platform, but nobody’s buying it. Then again, on Monday next week Windows Phone 8 will be properly unveiled. Still hope?

Hands on Windows 8 development: Twitter and hyperlink hassles

I have been messing around with a Windows 8 app to present content from in an app, mainly as a learning exercise. I came up with the idea of showing recent tweets on the main page of the app. Like this:


I thought this would be easy, but encountered several problems. I am developing in XAML and C#; this aspect would probably be easier in HTML.

The first problem: retrieving the tweets. The Twitter REST API version 1.1 has GET statuses/user_timeline which does what I want, except that it requires “user context”, in other words a Twitter log-in. That is an unacceptable requirement for a user simply viewing my tweets, rather than their own timeline.

The deprecated  Twitter RSS API on the other hand is perfect. Unfortunately:

Please note that there is no support for the RSS response format in API v1.1. Properly versioned API v1 URLs will cease functioning in March 2013

Never mind, it will do for the moment. I created a Twitter data source which retrieves the tweets as RSS. In my XAML I have a ListView which is bound to this data source. This ListView has an ItemTemplate which defines what appears in the list. I added a TweetItemTemplate in the Resources section of the XAML which displays each tweet in a TextBlock. So far so good.


No hyperlinks though – they are dead. What is the use of a tweet without hyperlinks? Not much. I thought of a hack which would let you click or tap an entire tweet, look to see if a hyperlink is there, and then launch it. Ugly, and would only work for one hyperlink per tweet.

TextBlock does not support hyperlinks. However there is a way to do this using RichTextBlock. This supports a collection of inline elements. You can have a Run element containing text, then an InlineUIContainer containing a HyperLinkButton, then another Run element and so on. The Hyperlink will be out of alignment, as shown here, but you can fix that by tweaking margins and padding.

Of course, this approach does mean parsing the tweet to extract the URLs and then building the RichTextBlock content. So in place of my simple TextBlock binding I now have this:

  <ContentControl Content="{Binding Path=Title,Converter={StaticResource tweetToBlocks}}"></ContentControl>

I have also written a converter class which takes the bound value, builds the RichTextBlock in C#, and returns it. This gets you the result in the first image in this post. Not too bad, and the links work.

What is annoying though is that the mouse pointer does not change to a hand icon when you hover over the link. I thought I could fix this by subclassing HyperLinkButton and adding code to change the cursor on the PointerEntered event:

Window.Current.CoreWindow.PointerCursor = new Windows.UI.Core.CoreCursor(Windows.UI.Core.CoreCursorType.Hand, 1);

This does not work. At least, you can see a flash as the cursor tries to change, but it is overridden by the RichTextBlock which changes it back to a text select cursor. I have not found a way round this yet.

I then tried another approach. You can use a RichEditBox which does support links. The approach is different; you set the text of the Document property and then use the Link method to assign a link to a TextRange within it. It works; but I was frustrated to find that the mouse pointer still does not change to a hand when over the link. The RichTextBlock actually works just as well and is more integrated with XAML.


I am sure you could fix this by using a WebView – embedded IE – for each tweet, but that seems to me an unduly heavyweight approach. Better perhaps would be a single web view showing all the tweets, which I might try when I have a moment.

Even so, I was surprised how tricky it is to show tweets with hyperlinks in a ListView.

Microsoft posts decline in revenue and profits on the eve of Windows 8 launch

Microsoft has announced its results for the first quarter of its financial year. The quote from Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein sums it up pretty well:

While enterprise revenue continued to grow and we managed our expenses, the slowdown in PC demand ahead of the Windows 8 launch resulted in a decline in operating income

Except that is for one thing. Klein implies that the PC slowdown is something to be expected ahead of the launch of a new edition of Windows, but I suggest there is more to it than that. First though, here are the figures, in the summary form that I have used before:

Quarter ending September 30th 2012 vs quarter ending September 30th 2011, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 3244 -1630 1646 -1624
Server and Tools 4552 +336 1748 +183
Online 697 +56 -364 150
Business (Office) 5502 -133 3646 -71
Entertainment and devices 1946 -15 19 -321

What is notable here is a significant reduction in revenue from the Windows client, while the enterprise-focused server and tools continue to grow. The Office products are bumping along fine, despite a small reduction in revenue, and despite the fact that we are on the eve of a new edition of Office as well as Windows.

Note that I am not a financial analyst, so take the following observations in that light.

I suggest that falling revenue from the Windows client is not just because Windows 8 is on the way, but because of a shift in the market towards mobile and tablets – Apple iPad and Google Android devices. See this post for an example of that in the consumer market.

Will Windows 8 deliver the hoped-for boost in PC and Windows sales? I am sceptical, especially in the short term (in other words, the next quarter). I discussed some of the issues here. Microsoft is making radical changes both to Windows and to its business model. It is doing the right thing, bringing Windows into the tablet era, and venturing into Windows device manufacture in order to pull quality of hardware design into its own hands rather than trusting entirely to OEM partners.

That transition may or may not work long-term, but in the short term it is likely to be costly. In Windows 8 Microsoft has concentrated on establishing a new ecosystem around the new tablet-friendly Windows Runtime platform. The consequence is that it does not deliver much benefit to users of desktop applications – in other words, all Windows applications other than those in the new Windows app store. Further, moving to Windows 8 is difficult at first for those familiar with Windows, so much so that many users react against it.

This means that Windows 8 will not deliver the upgrade rush that Windows 7 enjoyed, following on from the unpopular Vista. Rather, its success rests on the new elements in Windows: tablet use and Windows 8 apps.

Right now though, there is very little in the Windows Store that is good enough to drive sales. Developers are waiting to see if the platform succeeds before diving in.

The Windows 8 platform does have plenty of potential; and Microsoft is putting a huge promotional push behind it. Against that, there are powerful forces that will tend to suppress demand. It is going to be a battle, and one for which the outcome is hard to predict.

Twilio adds support for WebRTC: real time communications in JavaScript

Cloud telephony company Twilio has announced beta support for WebRTC at its conference in San Francisco.

WebRTC is a project supported by Google, Mozilla and Opera and lets you do real time communications, including access to camera and microphone, using a JavaScript API without a plug-in. There is also a W3C Working Group.

WebRTC support will be a feature of the Twilio client:

When Twilio Client apps are used with a WebRTC compatible browser, such as future versions of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, Twilio Client will automatically take advantage of the improved audio performance of the WebRTC technology. If the browser doesn’t support it, Twilio Client will still work and fall back to existing browser technologies.

says Twilio.

Other new APIs announced at the conference include Test Credentials, which lets developers test code against the Twilio API without actually placing calls; Usage for retrieving Twilio usage logs and Usage Triggers which you can use to implement usage caps in order to limit cost. sales stats snapshot shows why Microsoft is reinventing Windows

Anyone who questions the need for Microsoft’s radical reinvention of Windows need look no further than Amazon’s sales stats.

I was on checking out the specs for Samsung’s new Ativ slate, and happened to click the link for best sellers in Computers and Accessories.

On the morning of 17th October 2012, here is how the top 20 looked:

  • Six Android tablets including Samsung Galaxy Tab at number 1 and Google Nexus 7 at 3
  • Four varieties of Apple iPad at number 4, 7, 9 and 13
  • Two Apple MacBooks (Pro and Air) at positions 2 and 16
  • One solitary Windows laptop at number 10 (Dell Inspiron).

A mix of networking devices, screens and accessories make up the other eight places; I chose the entire sector because it puts tablets and laptops alongside each other.


This is not about price. That Dell laptop is $429.99, little different from the 16GB iPad 2 at $399.99 and 42.5% of the cost of the MacBook Pro.

Windows still outsells the Mac overall. Gartner gave Apple just 13.6% of the US PC market (excluding tablets) for the third quarter of 2012. However, Windows is boosted by large corporate sales, where the Mac is still a minority taste; Amazon is largely a consumer vendor.

Further, Amazon’s figures change hourly and I may have hit a low spot; check out the current list yourself.

Finally, the large number of Windows laptops on offer dilute the ranking of any one – though there are a lot of Android tablets on sale too.

For Microsoft though, this is still a worrying list to see. Today’s Windows 7 devices are not what consumers want. Reinventing Windows for tablets was the right thing to do – though that does not, of course, prove that Windows 8 will succeed. Windows 8 pre-orders are not high on the list either – and yes, they are on the list; the Samsung Ativ convertible is currently at 60.

Microsoft Surface is coming: Windows, but not as you know it

Today Microsoft showed full details and prices for its Surface RT tablet with an ARM processor – an Intel variant is to follow – and you can order now.


Surface is a distinctive device. Here are the key points:

  • Surface RT runs an NVidia ARM chipset – which means not one of your existing Windows 7 or earlier apps will run. Only new Windows Store (Metro-style) apps can be installed.
  • Microsoft Office 2013 comes preinstalled. It is the Home and Student edition, no Outlook and no license for commercial use, though individuals who use it for work are unlikely to be pursued. Businesses will need to cover Office usage with a volume license.
  • This is a true tablet. There are two different styles of keyboard cover, but it is designed for touch control. How successful this is for Office is moot (and we have not yet seen the final Office 2013) but it should at least be tolerable.

I doubt you will buy Surface RT for its specs: not bad, but not special either:

  • 10.6″ 1366 x 768 display (no Retina claims here)
  • 5-point multitouch
  • 2GB RAM
  • 1.5lbs weight – pretty lightweight
  • Wifi and Bluetooth but no 3G or 4G
  • Front and rear 720p cameras
  • Two microphones, stereo speakers
  • USB 2.0 (not 3.0)
  • MicroSDXC card slot (a nice differentiator from the Apple iPad)
  • 32GB or 64GB built-in storage
  • HD video out
  • Sensors: ambient light, accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass
  • Estimated 8 hour battery life – a bit disappointing, but decent

On the plus side, this should be the most reliable Windows yet. With desktop application installs blocked and only sandboxed Windows Runtime apps allowed, there is little opportunity for badly behaved applications or OEM foistware to foul up the system.

Surface RT realises the Windows 8 vision more fully than the Intel models, which are less efficient, less secure, and odd hybrids of old and new Windows. There is still a desktop in Surface RT, but it is limited and it would not be surprising if it disappears in future versions.

This means that Surface RT is in some respects better than the x86 Surface Pro which is promised at a later date. Surface Pro is heavier (up to 2lbs total), more power hungry, does not come with Office bundled, and will not be as secure. Further, Surface Pro will have greater need of keyboard and mouse thanks to those old desktop applications that users will install. I know which one I would rather take on a plane.

The problem with Surface RT: the Windows Store currently has around 3000 apps, most of them trivial and/or poor. How viable is Surface RT right now for getting all your work done when on the road?

That is an open question, and makes this a risky purchase for most users right now.

Then again, with Office, a web browser and a remote desktop client you are covered for many needs.

As the Windows 8 app ecosystem matures, Surface RT will get correspondingly more attractive. If Microsoft has got the design right (and early reports are good) this could be the ideal device for work and play. I want one.

Windows 8 survival guide for touch and tablet users

Many features of Microsoft’s new Windows are designed for touch control on tablets – or perhaps a touch screen on your desktop or laptop. If you have one of those, congratulations: you are set to get the best from Windows 8. Even so, finding your way around does take a bit of time to learn, thanks to some non-obvious features. Here is a brief survival guide for tablet and touch users – if you only have keyboard and mouse see here. If you have a hybrid with both, I suggest reading both survival guides; some things are easier with a keyboard and mouse.

That said, I have found that almost anything can be accomplished with touch alone; and it is worth persevering since it gets easier with practice. A slate without a keyboard is smaller and more convenient that a laptop or slate with loose keyboard. The exception: if I need to type a lengthy piece, a keyboard is worth the inconvenience.

I am mostly avoiding third-party utilities. This is for out-of-the-box Windows 8.

Options are shown a, b , c etc where they are alternatives. Steps are shown as 1, 2, 3 where needed.

How do you right-click an icon without a mouse?

In the Desktop, you can do the equivalent of a right-click by tapping and holding an item until a rectangle outline appears under your finger. Release to show the right-click menu (context menu).

How do you type in a desktop app when the keyboard does not appear?

Tap the Touch keyboard icon in the notification area at bottom right of the screen.


How do I stop the keyboard covering what I am typing in a desktop app?

Very annoying and I do not have a perfect solution. One option is to dock the on-screen keyboard by tapping the dock icon at top right of the keyboard:


In this mode, it will not overlap any apps. I find it annoying though since you now have a short screen, and when you hide the keyboard apps remain in the position the keyboard pushed them to, so I have to resize them.

Tap the icon when docked to undock.

My tip: try typing in portrait mode. Docked or undocked, this gives you a better chance of not having to type into the void.

How do you get back to the Start screen?

a. The Start menu is a now a full-screen Metro application. You can find it in several ways. Press the Windows key, which is present even on tablets as the solitary key under the display.

b. You can also swipe in from the right to display the Charms bar, then tap Start.


c. A third way is to swipe in from the left and then immediately out again. This brings up the app history bar. Tap the Start tile at the bottom.

How do I organize the Start screen into groups?

The new Start screen is not hierarchical, but does support named groups. Two things you need to know:

1. To create a group, tap on a tile and drag up slightly as if you were going to flick to select, but don’t lift your finger. An outline appears on the tile and you can drag a tile right or left until it passes a grey vertical bar. Release to start the new group, or drag further to add to a different group. You can drag past the end of the screen to have further groups scroll into view.


Add further tiles to a new group by dragging them under one of the existing tiles in the group.

2. To name and/or move the group, put two fingers on the screen and pinch inwards. This will zoom out. Now, flick up on the group you want to name. This selects the group. Then you can tap Name group to name or rename it.image_thumb4

3. To move a group, use the same technique you used to move a tile – flick up, but do not lift your finger. Now you can drag the whole group to a new position.

I turned my tablet on and the logon screen comes up, but it does not respond to touch.

I hope this never happens to you, but I have seen it regularly on a Samsung Slate and guess it may happen on other models too. The only solution I have found is to reset the machine. To do this:

1. Hold down the power button until the unit turns off.

2. Now hold does the power button again. When the unit seems to be turning on, keep the button held down. Eventually it will turn off again. Now it is completely off. Turn on again in the normal way, and your touch control should be OK again.

I have the Start screen or a Metro app running. How do I get to the desktop?

You can go back to the Start screen and tap the Desktop tile. There is a better way though. Unless you are already at the Start screen, it is quicker to raise the app history bar by swiping in from the left and then out again. Then tap the Desktop tile.


I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. Where are the menus and settings?

There are two places to look. To get menus, like the tabs and address bar in Metro Internet Explorer, swipe in from the top or bottom of the screen. To get settings, swipe in from the right to show the Charms bar, and tap Settings. The settings are contextual, so you will get the settings for the current app.

I’m in a Metro app. Where is the search function?

I was surprised to see reviews of the Wikipedia app bemoaning the lack of a search function. How could an encyclopaedia app not have search?

It does of course. It is just that it is not obvious where to find it.

The reason is that Windows 8 has a system search feature. You summon by displaying the Charms bar (swipe from the right) and tapping Search. Search defaults to the current app, but you can search elsewhere by tapping another option.

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How I can see the on-screen clock?

This annoys me as well. However, swiping in from the right will show it temporarily.

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How do I close it?

The idea is that you don’t normally need to close an app. Rather, you switch away from it, which you can do using techniques already described: swipe in from the left and immediately out again, to show the app history bar.

Metro apps may be hibernated when not in use, so they do not grab system resources in the way desktop apps sometimes do.

However, you might want to close an app because it is misbehaving, or just because you have a tidy mind. Swipe in from the left and out again to show the app history bar, then press on an app, do not lift your finger but drag it down and off the bottom of the screen to close it (throw it away).

I hate the “live tiles” in the start menu, how can you turn off all the flickering activity?

Yes, I’m not sure about them either. In the Start screen, flick up on a live tile so a tick appears in the top right corner. Then tap Turn live tile off at the foot of the screen.


There is also an option to remove personal data from live tiles. To get this, display the Start screen, move the mouse to the bottom right corner of the screen, then tap Settings – Tiles. Tap Clear.


How do I start an application when I can’t even see it in the Start screen?

Can be a problem. Before you give up though, there are a few things to try:

a. The quickest way to find an application is by typing a search. Display the Start screen. Swipe in from the right to display the Charms bar, and tap Search. Then type a few letters on the on-screen keyboard; all the matching applications are listed.

b. Swipe up in the Start screen and tap the  All Apps button that appears in the app bar. Swipe through the entire list to find an app.

c. Still can’t see it? Try showing Administrative tools. From the Start screen, swipe in from the right to show the Charms menu. Tap Settings, then Tiles, Show administrative tools.

d. If you are really stuck, you might need to use Explorer in the desktop to find the application in Program Files or Program Files (x86).

How do I switch between applications, since Metro apps do not appear in the taskbar?

Swipe in from the left and then immediately out to show the app history bar. This shows all the running Metro apps as well as the current Desktop app. It is not ideal because it does not show all the Desktop apps. Then again, you can use the taskbar as your switcher for Desktop apps so it is just about viable.

How do I shut down or restart the computer?

Swipe in from the right to show the Charms menu, then tap Settings and then Power.


This is somewhat hidden because Microsoft intends that normally power management, or shutting the lid on a laptop, or the soft power-off on a tablet, will be enough. Still, some of us like to turn the PC off completely.

How do I log off or switch user?

Go to the Start screen and tap the user name at top right to display a menu, including Lock, Sign out, and Switch account.


Having two versions of IE is confusing. I keep losing track of which sites are open in which browser.

Agreed. One solution is to make Metro IE the default, so that Desktop IE rarely opens, though this is not ideal since some web sites only work properly in Desktop IE.

If you do want to do this. go to Control Panel, type Internet in the search box, and tap on Internet Options. Tap the Programs tab, and under Choose how you open links, select Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop. Finally, make sure Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop is NOT checked.


How can I avoid going back to the Start screen when I am working in the Desktop?

a. Make sure your usual applications are pinned to the taskbar and start them from there. If you use lots of applications, you can make it double-height to fit more on, or it will scroll.

b. Put more shortcuts on the Desktop and use Windows – D to bring up the desktop when you need it.

Where is control panel? The real one, that is.

If you have read this far, you should know several ways to find it.

a. Start screen, search apps, type “control”, tap Control Panel

b. On the desktop, swipe from right for Charms, tap Settings, Control Panel.

How do I play a DVD?

Windows 8 does not include a DVD player. However your PC may come with DVD playing software bundled by the PC manufacturer. If not, download Videolan (VLC) from here. It’s free, and DVDs will play fine.

How can I stop PDF documents opening in Metro?

Windows 8 is set up to open PDF documents in the Metro-style Windows Reader. It is not too bad, but can be annoying and does not have the range of features in the Adobe reader. To fix this, make sure that the latest Adobe reader is installed by downloading it from here. Once installed, tap and hold a PDF file until a rectangle outline appears, and release to show the context menu. Tap Open With and then Choose Default program.


In the dialog that appears, tap Adobe Reader:


Now PDF documents will open on the desktop in Adobe Reader.

Where has backup gone in Windows 8?

It’s still there, but for reasons best known to Microsoft it is now called Windows 7 File Recovery. Open desktop Control Panel, type recovery top right and tap Enter. Tap Windows 7 File Recovery.


How do you run an application as administrator?

Go to the Start screen find the application icon and flick up to select. Then tap Run as administrator from the menu bar at the foot of the screen.


How do you capture a screenshot without a keyboard?

Use the Snipping tool by searching the Start screen. Tap New to capture all or part of the screen.


Where is the alt key on the touch keyboard?

Microsoft has made every effort to prevent you finding the alt key (and a few other useful things like function keys) if you are using the touch keyboard.

Enabling these is a two-stage process. First, show the Charms menu, tap Settings, and then Change PC Settings. Tap General. and then under the heading Touch keyboard, select Make the standard keyboard layout available.


Now tap to show the touch keyboard and tap the keyboard icon at bottom right. This lets you select a keyboard mode such as the split keyboard. Select the full keyboard, second icon from the right in the screen grab below.


The touch keyboard now shows Alt, Fn and other useful keys.