No cameras or computers on upcoming trip

We have an upcoming 10-day vacation to places we have never visited before and I have made the decision to not carry any cameras or computers. While this may be ok for some of you out there it is a big deal for us.

Of course, I mean “camera” and “computer” in their traditional sense of the words as in a point-and-shoot or DSLR camera or a laptop (Windows or Mac). I am going to use my Lumia 920 (and iPhone 5s to a certain extent) as my camera, and am planning to carry my iPad 2 and Dell Venue 8 Pro as my computer.

We are going with another family and they are planning to bring their DSLR, so we will see how many pictures end up having a huge difference in quality.

The surprising aspect of this is that I didn’t even think twice before making the decision about the camera. I am not 100% convinced of the PC, but I do believe it makes sense to leave it behind.

Wish me luck!

//build 2014: One Windows Vision Coming Together For Microsoft

I have resumed writing at Techie-Buzz. This past week, Microsoft’s //build/ conference gave me an opportunity to write something about the company and its moves.

At //build/, Microsoft made key announcements to get closer to realizing their vision of “One Windows”, hoping to increase developer interest in Windows.

//build 2014: One Windows Vision Coming Together For Microsoft

Backing up

Just read this post on Medium about backing up your data and I thought the setup was very similar to mine, so I felt like writing one to talk about my own.

My setup consists of:

An HP Proliant Microserver N36L which is a fantastic form factor for this purpose. Over time, I did add a graphics card to it so that I can get HDMI out to connect it to an external monitor for those times when I need to upgrade something that I cannot do over remote desktop, like when I moved from Windows Home Server 2011 to Windows 8 and then to Windows 8.1

The server is also great because in that compact form factor, it still allows for 4 hard drives. I had bought two 1TB hard drives and had let Windows Home Server run them in mirror mode. After I moved to Windows 8, I manually implemented that feature via File History. Not technically the same, but works for me in terms of keeping a copy of my data on a second hard drive in case it fails. Windows 8 also provides me the capability to restore to factory settings or to restore to a pre-determined point, in case I need to.

Since I have enough space on my hard drives, I haven’t deployed my other USB drives. Also, since this setup is in our closet, I also don’t want my wife to one day throw it all out of there :-) It would be nice to use Storage Spaces and make use of all my USB drives as a single shared pool of storage. After all, the server does provide a ton of USB ports on front and back.

I do not need VNC because I use the excellent Remote Desktop which now is available on iOS (and Mac and Android too but at this time I don’t have those devices).

Instead of Dropbox, I use SkyDrive for all types of file sync from and to multiple devices. Like Remote Desktop, the SkyDrive app exists on all the devices I use, and works quite well for me. In addition, on my home network, I have set up a HomeGroup and in Windows, I have set up all Libraries to point to the server’s respective locations (Documents, Photos, Music, Videos, etc.) and made that the default save location. That way, the need to sync is reduced when I am on the home network. Pictures from phones are backed up to SkyDrive from my iPhone as well as my Lumia automatically and show up on the server because of the SkyDrive app.

Finally, the best part: Crashplan automatic cloud backup running on the server, which is set to never sleep. In this way, I have multiple versions of all the files on the server, always backing up automatically to the cloud. I have been able to restore my backed up files on different PCs as and when I have needed to. It does not provide bare metal restore but I don’t need it because of the excellent Reset/Refresh features introduced in Windows 8. In fact, if I wanted to, I could even use Crashplan to do USB backups (it uses multiple “destinations” so cloud is the only destination I am using currently but there is no extra cost to add local USB as a destination).

One issue I have noticed and it comes as a result of using the server not just as a backup machine but also as a media server, is that videos take a long time to stream to tablets or TV. I suspect it is because the processor is quite old and slow and it is the server that is doing the CPU-intensive stuff so it ends up choking a bit. I also suspect the hard drives are a bottleneck as well in such cases. I don’t think I want to invest much into this setup at this point but I would love to see a modern version of this form factor. I haven’t found it yet. Most of the small form factor cases today skip the hard drive expansion slots and as a result make me afraid of losing the low-cost, big-sized storage capacity.

But that’s a separate story. I am just happy I have been able to get to a point where I don’t have to worry about losing my digital memories as well as important papers and hard work from my past several years. Huge thanks to Crashplan for making this happen via their inexpensive and unlimited backup service.

8″ Windows tablet

I recently purchased a Dell Venue 8 Pro, an 8″ Windows 8.1 tablet running on Intel Atom chip. I bought the 64GB version because I knew my app count (and size) would be high so it would be better to be n the safer side when it comes to storage. Besides, Amazon had a great deal on it, where I got it for $329 instead of the regular price of $399.

I kept the box because I was not sure if I needed another tablet (I have two iPads), or another Windows 8.1 touch device (I have a 27″ Lenovo A720 all in one). Surprisingly, I am loving the device and won’t be returning it. The following are just some of the reasons this is a great device *for me*:

  • Form factor: This thing is thin and light! I am talking in absolute terms, not comparing it to say, an iPad mini or a Nexus or a Kindle Fire. I can absolutely hold it in one hand for a long period of time. I was not able to do it with my iPad nor my Surface RT, despite both being relatively light.
  • Screen size and clarity: I feel 8″ screen is great for all my consumption activities and feel it is way better than my phone for quick Office/Excel work. I don’t care about the actual resolution, but what I see is pretty darn clear. There was an initial auto-dimming issue which was fixed by Dell via a firmware update.
  • Windows ecosystem: One may ask why I didn’t go for an iPad mini in the first place. The issue is that my home setup is based on Windows. I have a Windows PC (used to run Windows Home Server 2011, now runs Windows 8.1) in the closet with a large hard drive that has all our music, video, photos, documents, etc. This PC is also a part of a HomeGroup which enables it to share all that content easily with other devices in the HomeGroup. With an iPad, I would have to move the files to the cloud, or find some apps which can somehow read data off the network, or maybe trick iTunes into reading all those files as part of its Library. None of those seemed to be as elegant as simply adding a device to the HomeGroup. With my Dell, I have zero issues browsing our entire photo library or even more fun, watching some random old home videos of our kids.
  • User profiles: I didn’t do this until a few days ago, but I decided to add my kids accounts to the device because I realized my “games” area on the Start Screen was exploding in size and I wasn’t using any of them. I created two child accounts and added all the apps/games that they would care about on their Start Screen. They love logging in with their own Picture Password and their own game progress, achievements, etc. This is simply not possible, but highly desirable on an iPad.
  • Win32 fallback: I have not had to jump into the “old” Windows on this device much. Recently though, I wanted to play a DVD (ripped as an ISO, stored on my home “server”) but I couldn’t. Tried a few apps that promised that functionality but they couldn’t do it. Ultimately, I gave in and installed the ever reliable VLC player. I know they are working to bring it in a Windows Store app, but until then, the only option is to use their Win32 application. It worked flawlessly (no surprise) and I was able to stream the video on my device in seconds! Really handy to have that fallback, although the counter point could be the poor ecosystem that does not fill the gap. I believe the issue is DVD playback involves royalties which is perhaps one of the motivations Microsoft had in removing that feature from core Windows 8, and making it part of a “pro pack” on top of Windows 8 Pro which then includes Windows Media Center as well.
  • Office: Sure, this is not a touch-friendly version, and sure, it is dorky to use Excel on a small device but for quick updates like one or two entries on a common budget file my wife and I share, it is great to have a full version of Office connected to SkyDrive.
Bottom line, this device is actually so useful to me, I have used my iPad even lesser in the past few weeks than before. It also helps that Brandon Paddock (@BrandonLive on twitter) is actively iterating on his Metro twitter app Tweetium. It is a really nice app that works well in Metro, and more so, in portrait mode which is how I use this device most of the time. The official app is decent but Tweetium is way friendlier. Awaiting notifications support :-)
 
I admit, this may not be the device for everyone, much less everyone in the Windows ecosystem, but boy, at $250 or so, it is very close to a no-brainer.
 
Highly recommended.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro “Sold Out”

Reports of Surface Pro being sold out mean Microsoft botched the launch. They can learn and benefit by ramping up quickly.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro “Sold Out”

Who is the Target Customer for Surface Windows 8 Pro?

Reviewers say Surface Pro is neither a great tablet nor a great laptop. Many enterprise workers (and CIOs) will welcome a great combo device.

Who is the Target Customer for Surface Windows 8 Pro?

Windows Phone and Google Services: Is Google Lying or Just Innocent?

Some recent moves by Google seem to indicate they may be afraid of Windows/Windows Phone, for some strange reason. Or are they just innocent?

Windows Phone and Google Services: Is Google Lying or Just Innocent?