my take on Windows 8.1 Pro – Review

Took me around three hours, but I finally updated to Windows 8.1. The following few hours were about knowing what has changed in this widely used operating system. Initial thought – nothing so interesting but definitely in the right direction.

Fruit for nine years

I was an avid OS X fan for a long time. Until June of last year I loved my MacBook. It had all kinds of small tools and tweaks that made my desktop/laptop experience easier. Most of my digital time involves reading internet articles, some email work, and image and video manipulation. These days I use APTANA experience with Notepad++ and Firefox. I don’t have a fix browser preferences, but I loved reading list function of Safari until last year, but now Chrome/Firefox are suffice. I do not use web browser based email and usually prefer an offline experience. Mail app in OS X was great for me, but since Windows 8, I use the default Mail for Windows.

On the social front I am more tuned with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Twitter being the least of my favorite, because I have yet to find a decent app that can handle tweets for me. I use Picasa for basic Image manipulation and sorting, and Adobe 5.5 for anything bigger. Together it lets me forget iPhoto from Apple world. I have tried using Windows Media Player and Music app from Windows 8.1, but can’t leave iTunes. What I desperately need is a free video making software, like the iMovie for OS X. I however, increasingly am using Calendar and People Applications in Windows 8 these days.

I have a heavy cloud presence, with most of my documents scattered in Box, Dropbox, Drive and SkyDrive. For documents, presentation and spreadsheet – I use LibreOffice 4.1 and KingSoft office suite. Each have definite purpose. So with these basic use, I went on to test the new OS.

Windows 8.1 - Start Screen

Installation

I do not have any pictures to share during of install process. Early morning, my Windows 8.0 Store suggested that I get the free upgrade, so I pushed the button without any preparation. It took about an hour to download and then two more hours to install, during which time, it rebooted twice. When I was done, there was a File Folder name [Windows.old] occupying around 3 GB worth space. My genuine Windows 8.0 product key worked, and so did the Media Player Codec and Media Center Additional pack keys.

What’s new – Interface

  • With the new Tile/Metro Interface tweaks, I can finally put the Classic Windows Program in Small Tiles and not make it look stupid with wide boarders. I finally put Chrome and Firefox shortcuts without making it look weird.
  • There is finally an option to share desktop background. I love it.
  • There is also a Windows Start Button – not a big fan of it. It was quite easy to get into the new start menu viz. – press a windows button in the keyboard.

My Classic Desktop - on Windows 8.1

  • Personally I do not like the two line approach when the taskbar buttons are large. When I do make them small, there is no one line solution to date and clock, even in Windows 8.1.

Taskbar buttons

  • Lock Screen now has screen saver like function. I can assign a folder and in turn pictures within it is shown – single or in collage. Something good, but it should have been there in 8.0 not in 8.1. I am unable to take a screen shot of the lock screen, which I think is something Microsoft should make it available for 8.2 (or whatever next).
  • The “My Computer” windows now has a very useful shortcuts added to it. The Folders. But I very much wish it were Smart Folders (or Libraries) instead of plain folders representation. I have assorted drive as folders, a habit I developed from the virus prone days of Windows XP. It was easy to format and reformat this way, with no need to back up constantly. Lastly, the moniker “My Computer” is now changed to “This PC”. Fresh Ideas?

My Computer

  • Snap Views now lets me fix the size of the applications. Sadly, my screen size is limited to only two applications opening at a time, but now I can open it up in 50% real state for both applications.

Applications – New

There are few applications that come with the new coat. All of them are in the new Tile/Metro Interface and few looks promising.

  1. ALARMS – This is the Alarm, Timer and Stopwatch Application without any advertisements. I had used another Timer app for USMLE step 2 CS examinations preparations – with a 15 minute time limit. This looks better.
  2. CALCULATOR – It is touch friendly and has the Standard as well as Scientific Calculator along with Converter. Life saving application, and there is a lot of simple arithmetic calculation I need these days – mainly for groceries and cooking. Well the new and learning chef needs to be precise. Sadly, there is no currency converter and I still have to rely on third party apps with advertisement.
  3. SCAN, READING LIST, MOVIE MOMENTS, LIFECAM DASHBOARD – Few applications that do not require my attention right now, but in time, I definitely think they might be handy.
  4. BING APPLICATIONS – FOOD & DRINKS  and HEALTH & FITNESS. Don’t know how can I do with these back in Nepal, but since I am in USA with better internet speed these are good applications. Both application help me with my new interest on cooking.
  5. FACEBOOK app – Well not actually built by Microsoft – but then this comes out with 8.1 and not available for 8.0. Its basically a webpage slapped into a basic container.

Applications – old but renovated

  • MAIL, CALENDAR, and PEOPLE – This by far has the greatest number of improvements. Ars Technica has put it very graciously (here). Along with SKYPE this package is wonderful.

Mail App - ScreenshotMail application has finally upgraded to something workable. Attachments are better handled and IMAP functions are up to date. Google, Yahoo and Hotmail are all in one place. I am still syncing the Favorite folder, there is a Flag feature, and most of my emails are backed up and available.

People application has been face lifted and now I can assign images to individual contacts. Its more responsive but there is still no way I can create a group as in Windows Phone. There is permanent search bar present in the right upper corner.

People

  • CONTROL PANEL – The traditional control panel is still there, but the METRO control panel with its touch friendly interface is pretty impressive. All Microsoft has to do now is kick out the old one.

Control Panel

  • MAPS, WEATHER and IE – There are few changes here, in a good manner. IE has a reading view now, and the tabs are now in bottom instead of the top as in 8.0. The IE 11, has an option to pin any website into METRO Tab thing, with their RSS feed constantly updating it. Now, this is truly peek-a-boo News flash for me.
  • MUSIC – Least of my favorite. It does not let me play my own library without going online. It has a good face lift but its still worthless. Every time I try selecting an audio file, it tells me to pay up. And these are from my own library.

Xbox Music

SkyDrive and Bing

I am very skeptical about these two updated technologies in Windows 8.1. Both if implemented correctly can be very profitable for Microsoft. But for users of Windows operating system it represents that thin red line between good and bad.

Bing has come a long way, and its integration in Windows 8.1 is fabulous. However, things are still far from over, and the current OS level integration is not enough. I think it still needs some tweak up, and the results it provides are not in par with google search. I remember few years ago, Google had this desktop search program which was awesome. Its folded now. Similar is the concept of OS X spotlight. One stop for search. Smart Search is progressive, but my search of “Kathmandu” “prashant khatiwada” and “Durbar Marg” gave mixed results. The combine search results is nifty but I need Bing to do more.

SkyDrive is future – only if done right. SkyDrive integration is seamless, and its online/offline concept of file/document saving is wonderful, and many if not all can benefit this. I am particularly fan of Dropbox because, everyone I know uses this. Imagine what will happen if Windows 8.1 is able to penetrate the “Everyone I know” group. That said, I have yet to use the full potential of this SkyDrive Integration, and probably would require a Windows Phone also. As of today, I only use it to store handful backup copies of my personal documents,.

What is still missing

Here are few things that I think requires some (if not all) attention from Microsoft when they are working with Windows 8.2 (or the next version).

  • Photo Application – Make it stronger. Apple did it with iPhotos, Linux (and the likes) have it free; why can’t Windows have a built in one. Thinking of Picasa like program from Microsoft with added sharing capabilities to (say) Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, 500px etc. Aviary and other third party applications are getting there, but not there quite.
  • Music Application – Why can’t I get a simple music player with minimum online presence, a built in podcast player, a great play list maker in METRO.
  • Video Making Application – Again Apple did it with iMovie a decade ago. Why isn’t Microsoft making it. The new movie making app is a start, and I hope they built upon it. Windows Movie Maker 2012 was a disaster and it hanged/froze every five minutes in Windows 8.
  • Notification/s – The Windows 8.1 notification is still a far cry from good. Apple OS X has some basic one, but for 2013, we need more like iOS and Android like notification with one touch (or combination key press) panel appearing that has weather, calendar, to dos and emails.
  • STORE and Marketplace – I need a proper Facebook application, as well as LinkedIn, and few more social network applications. Store app has improved a lot, but without applications, its a long shot.

Good Improvements

  1. Skype Calls now work in Lock screen as well.
  2. Automatic Application updates for Modern UI applications
  3. Easy access of applications when you swipe downwards or press a small button on lower left corner.
  4. Boot to desktop – although not a big fan.. but would definitely like it..
  5. AMD Drivers – well 8.1 would easily run on my Lenovo U400 Windows 8 drivers and no new additional software was required.
  6. For the Unknown, there is a New App titled – Helps and Tips
  7. The Combination [Win+X] has a new menu items, including the shutdown/restart menu.

APPLICATION – Write ++

I often wonder why Microsoft didn’t come up with this. They still have the Word Pad version for Classic Windows Interface, what is stopping them from creating a METRO (or the new interface) version? I know that there is a OneNote app, but it has few offline limitations, that is not so good rural Nepal. The Application, for limited time is a free offer.

Verdict

still a promising start, hope to see more

I was with Mac OS X 10.1 all the way up till 10.8; and have seen a fair share of Ubuntu from 4 (Warty Warthog) to 13.04 six months back. Both follow an incremental release cycle, improving upon bits and pieces. OS X improved upon the foundation laid out a decade ago, and now is as solid as ever. Ubuntu is still making its foundation with 14.04 anticipated to be the ground work. Microsoft started a year ago with its ground work, and is building upon it slow. It needs to cover up fast and pace it self if it wants to stay ahead. Windows 8.1 is a little ahead in terms of unified search and cloud integration, what it lacks are fundamentals like a photo and video app. I am no enterprise customer, so my perspective here is limited to personal use.

What would make a better Windows OS 8.1 for me would be an addition of iLife like suite for Windows, a basic note taking application, and a to do applications all linked up to SkyDrive (or given permission with any other cloud services).

Limitations

Mine is a personal laptop, 17 months old. No touch screen, limited i3 intel processor, and a mere 4GB RAM, coupled with 5400 rmp Hard Drive. I do not use Bit Locker, and neither does my machine have that always on (InstaGo or something like that) feature. I have yet to use many features of Windows 8.1, but this post gives the first 24 hours scenario. I do not do Homegroups and haven’t played any games in Windows 8.1, yet.

I installed it on October 17, as an upgrade to Windows 8. NOT A CLEAN INSTALL.

Interesting bits

  • I upgraded to Windows 8.1. Upon the first booth, when I checked my Programs Installed (Inside Control Panel) almost all my applications were then re-installed dated to October 17. Weird..
  • I do not use the Media Center Package as much at all. I just upgraded it, because Microsoft was giving it out free, late last year. To be honest, it should have been bundled not be an add-on package.
  • The Nepali Language integration in Windows 8.1 has no updates. Nepal and Nepali related application in Windows Store is still anemic, and the available applications have the worst possible icon art, with advertisements. Not COOL.
  • Windows 8.1 still freezes applications, and starts again. Though the system is snappy, there is still that app freeze and reloading of it. THIS IS CRAP.

new gadget – Nokia N9

Nokia N9
Nokia N9 (Photo credit: whatleydude)

a fairy tale machine; my wait since late 2011.

Yes !! finally even though a little more than my budget, this was what I’d wanted for a long time now. No specific reason, fell in love as soon after it was announced in Q3 2011. Its old hardware(dinosaur old!!) and has limited applications available. Last firmware update was on July 2012 – something named PR-1.3. After this Nokia completely abandoned the N9.
So why the love for this prehistoric relic?

user interface
One word – beautiful. The swipe interface is awesome, and as soon after I was using it, both Android and iOS seemed boring. BB10 has some reminiscent, and Windows Phone 8 has copied something from it. Overall, the interface is so less and yet, has so more to offer.

social networking
Facebook and Twitter is available and gorgeously integrated. The event home screen has many nifty add-ons that put more social networking in a glimpse. Very much like windows phone 7.5 (7.8 and/or 8). There is however a big lag of Linkedin and Google Plus – something I prefer these days.

camera
This is on par with current middleware mobile handsets. Eight MP is okay, and even though the low light is not perfect as iPhone 5 or Nokia’s premier – Lumia 920; it gets the job done. There are two good LED flash behind, which in Nepal, I mostly use as torchlight during the electricity cuts (currently 12 hours/day). Camera options are good, with continuous shooting is a charm.

maps
Nokia Maps (a.k.a Here) is good enough for Nepal. I downloaded offline map pack (56.6 mb) of Nepal and now use it often. The street maps are comparable to Google Maps, and sometimes better (my perspective). Far better than the open street maps (that I’d root for). However, there is a big confusion for me. Online maps from my desktop browser (firefox 19) shows streets filled unique areas (shops/cinema/hospitals etc) whereas my N9 has blank streets. May be Nokia forgot about N9. None the less, Nokia Maps has VDCs and remote roads that are not present in Google Maps (up until few months back – late 2012).

clean UI software
The Clock, Calendar, and Message apps have good simple UI. Not many options, but they get it done. Contacts are synchronized and Merged, but there is no speed dial :(. Mail App could have been better (compared to Android Gmail App). Firefox 15 is available, but I rarely use it. Feeds App is simple, but I needed a whole weekend to bring all my feeds from Google Reader. Gallery is self sustaining, with many plugins (except may be instagram.com effects). Music App is not that from Apple, and I do miss the Genius feature. Overall, its not iOS smooth, not even Android 4.2 smooth. Its very rough UI, and lots of glitches – but its all worth it. I love it.

software i use
Google mail is present with integrated google voice. Skype is integrated, along with Wazapp, Picasa, YouTube and Flickr. Obviously, Twitter and Facebook are present. There is however no Active Sync support from Google, so google calendar and contacts are out of questions. Lucky for me, I use hotmail in mobile handsets. Most confusing, is the presence of CalDAV but absence of CardDAV. So there is google calendars available, but no google contacts. strange?

I have dropbox from DropN9; evernote from Notekeeper(paid app); WordPress from CutePress, Pocket client from Pockeego(paid app), my new favorite ProfileMatic (changes profiles according to time/place/person/anything). I have roughly 4-5 apps open at any time, with automatic Cache Cleaning (via DropCache) running now and then. At times, I had to use the terminal App too.

love for hardware
There is NFC, and I am still waiting to use it. I had to cut my SIM into the smaller version (took me NRs.50). The black polycarbonate body is superb, along with the Gorilla Glass curving is momentous design. Front Camera is – BAD !!. The small breathing light in front, has minimum work (worthless). The speakers are good, headphone jacks in better placed at corners, but the charging point hidden inside is a hassle. There is one volume (well two) button/s, and a power power button. The front screen is clean slate – no physical buttons. Love it.

looking forward to..
Well, I hope Nokia comes up with the next firmware update. Waiting for PR.1.4 or something, Fingers crossed.. The other big news being Jolla (and/or Sailfish OS), It should run on N9, and it should come out within next few months. Otherwise, except for the lack of Google Plus and LinkedIn, I am happy with this Road Rage.

P.S. Next Post – Tomorrow – something from Wikipedia
P.S.ii. Next (real) Post – Tuesday, March 12, 2013. something about mHealth.

Alcohol in Nepali wedding (10 things I am confused about, at Nepali wedding)

It wasn’t always like this. Fifteen years ago, my cousin’s wedding had class, a delightful environment, with mostly sober people, and food wasn’t everything and alcohol was rarely presented in the wedding reception.

today, a wedding without whiskey is considered a tasteless gimmick from twisted minds

A Nepali wedding in Kathmandu, with it’s diversity in both culture and social aspect, has developed few of the most anarchic ritual that is fun to think about. I present some of my points here

  1. It’s not necessary to invite all the Facebook (read – social) friends to a wedding. Marriage is sacred, and invitation should go to only few important delegates. Any number more than 200 is either a rock concert or a football match. You don’t have to call all your junior high, high school, university friends, and all your work colleagues. There are friends and there are good friends. Call the latter. Make a fixed list of the invitee.
  2. Party Palace/s is not a religious code. Small wedding in a temple is still important and culturally relevant. One does not have to give into a place that has 70% profit margin, with major hygiene crisis. Don’t bow down.
  3. Wedding reception should be all day event, not a four hour race in the evening. Those who don’t get to come, should not come. A bride and groom should not wait for an all too busy third cousin uncle, because he is at a meeting till seven, has to get home, pick his wife and drive to the wedding. Plan a day reception, not an evening or night reception.
  4. RSVP on a wedding invitation is not a gimmick. Confirm it. No one in Kathmandu (as I know) really cares about RSVP, but almost all the invitation card has one. Don’t start/copy something that you can’t take care of.
  5. Why should a wedding reception have chair to table ratio of 20:1. Keep the effin tables, does anyone realize how hard is it to eat food in your lap, constantly switching between a spoon and a fork, with a glass of water (choices may vary between Pepsi/wine/whiskey) near your leg, and a small paper napkin somewhere near by.
  6. How come majority of the guest don’t know where to keep the dishes after there done with the food? Why do we shove it off under our chair, always, waiting for that dirty ragged old cleaning lady/gentleman to come pick it up? How come no one realizes that, this lady/gentleman has a huge problem with personal hygiene, and the worst possible clothing in the whole ceremony, and is the only person not looked upon with judgmental eye for not wearing something clean, on a weeding ceremony?
  7. Why are the chairs kept in a long line? Why doesn’t the organizing committee realize that this is not a movie theatre, or a class room, and people need to converse by looking at each other.
  8. Why is there so much of hard liquor? and why do mom/aunt don’t drink until something is put in there hand? A pleasant glass of wine is something I look forward to, but in a Nepali wedding in Kathmandu, if there is no whiskey, the weeding rating falls down. I don’t get it, and my mother says it to be a fact not fiction.
  9. Almost all wedding have a certain fix food menu. Decorated Rice, flamboyant chapatti, some lentils, a fried veggie with or without the green leafs, two types of chatni, and two to three meat items. Ice-cream, yogurt and/or one sweet cake (mithai). Can’t we have something different? Apparently not, this is the pseudo culture that we have developed in the last two decade and it only changes slowly (as per my mother and father)
  10. Music – the horror of Bollywood and Hollywood. Where is the class? Why do everyone have to listen to the noise pollution from few great Hindi lyrics (Hollywood or Justin B is rare in right now). The conversation becomes abysmal on these high decibels, and yet, somehow, people love it. I simply don’t get this. Where is the classical music? The vibrant cultural Nepali music, that I was invited into, fifteen years ago?

Can’t remember all my complains right now, but there are few more. Will update on it, as memory jogs up. I know, I will end up repeating few of the above complains myself, but will try to change/upgrade on some that I see fit. Wedding receptions in Kathmandu has become an ugly art of western and eastern mixture that lacks tradition, culture and ethnicity. There is a bare minimum presence of creativity and differentiation, and ideological value. Theme based wedding is something I look forward to, but I know its a distance dream.

Few of my friends got married this past year, and the invitation to wedding reception was more like a school reunion. Few didn’t make it, but most were present, and it was fun to meet the gang. The bride and the groom were still the center of attention, but it was great to meet friends.

P.S. – I marry soon, and may be its the wedding season that’s affecting me, all the complains don’t seem really that important right now. There are bigger problems to handle. How do I loose my huge belly fat?