Saturday, December 22, 2012

A First Attempt: Developing a Windows 8 App

Having held off on jump into the app game the past few years, whether it be for Apple, or Android, I've finally got myself a new device that allows me to develop in the right environment with the right tools.

App ideas are currently in abundance, but there have been many factors delaying my attempt to enter the market. I can summarize these reasons to 1. Hardware/Tools - Apple requires a MAC and xcode, objective c and $$$. Whilst Android, there were too many different devices and versions to cater for that are all so different.
2. The market is so competitive and well established before I'd even started that I would need a really well made app to have a chance, with anything less risk not even getting seen.

Neither of these factors alone are enough to stop me learning to develop apps for these platforms, but together has always discouraged me enough that I wouldn't put any time towards learning it.

Now, when talking about developing windows 8 apps, it does have less sales and market opportunities right now, but it does also mean that the market is raw, and therefore the competition is raw too. What will and won't take off isn't set in stone at this stage and I for one am willing to jump into this space and see how things go. Supposing success, it may compel me enough to try bring these apps to the Apple scope or the Android scope. As mentioned previously in this post, I've just got my hands on the Dell XPS 12 Convertible and will be using this to (attempt to)develop apps.

Surely enough, the information and support supplied by Microsoft for development in their environment has been so inviting thus far that I've already got some apps lined up, with prices ratings etc ready to go.
Now all I need is the app. - Where to start?

Visual Studio 2012 interface
I've just gone through the first 3 tutorials of the classic "Hello World" application. The experience has actually been pleasing and it has been very clear how to support all the different devices that will be running windows 8 including when they are used in portrait view or snapped in/out.
I am so far impressed with the default types, blocks and text provided by Microsoft making it easy to work with.
The Hello World app after 3 tutorials

I've developed in C# in the past so there has been a small transition into the windows 8 space and visual studio 2012 is so easy to work with as well.

If your thinking about trying to develop some windows 8 Apps, you will be happy with what is available to you to help you develop as I've seen (so far) and if not feel free to share why not.

I will update my progress and how things go during development and hopefully, will be able to bring an app to Microsoft's App store.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dell XPS 12 Convertible Review

After much deliberation I finally decided to take the plunge into the new convertible era for PC's.
The platform? The Dell XPS 12 Convertible.
This implementation of the convertible concept uses a swivel to convert between the laptop form factor to a tablet style.

I thought id just give it a review and focus on the device as opposed to the convertible vs not discussion. The decision to use this as the platform to start with was based on its ability to suit my needs. I would primarily use it as a laptop and the tablet side would fill the remaining needs. Now what separates this in comparison to other convertibles? For the convertible to suit my needs it would have to address these main features:

  1. Screen
  2. Keys
  3. Battery life
  4. Well built mobility features (speakers - convertible styles)
  5. Specs to support programming, web editing, video editing and some gaming
  6. And ultimately to boost productivity away from my desktop.

The Screen

I'll start here as it is the first thing you will look at and from first glance you can tell instantly that it is a stunning screen. It's IPS, fitting 1080p resolution on a 12.5" Screen and has Gorilla Glass to complete the look and provide you with a sense of durability. As I would be using the tablet form factor this type of glass was an important factor for use in the long term.

Battery Life

The battery life I would say is about average and many making their decision with their purchase would like upwards of 6 hours worth to make their decision. The XPS 12 generally gives me in the vicinity of 4-5 hours for average use at a time. Whilst watching movies or streaming it drops significantly to about 2-3 hours as you'd expect. I did manage though to watch a complete movie the other day and stream 40 minutes of video without a charge. For me personally, this was enough for me to be satisfied but if I were to get less than 4 hours at best - that couldve been a deal breaker.
At this stage though I don't see many other machines that offer significantly more that fit the profile I wanted.
Overall, it's not the best but it is definitely enough for most users. I'd say its a little higher than the middle of the pack when it comes to this factor.


This one was simple - first was size and due to it being in a 13" case they had space to work with and utilized it well. The second was that it had to be backlit - which it is suiting late night programming and such. Tick in both cases, moving on...

Mobility features

Namely speakers and converting style.
Speakers - much louder than I expected. Whilst on the run I don't always have external speakers handy and sometimes you don't want to physically be at your laptop or require hearing other things than just the audio from the laptop. In this case I am very happy with the both the volume and clarity.

Now onto the converting style - which to me provided many deal breaking opportunities for most models. First off I didn't want anything I felt was going to break (too easily). Form factors like the lenovo with the twist - with all the stress in one joint it seemed too flimsy for my liking. After using the XPS 12 and the ease at which it turns in the aluminium frame it is actually quite sturdy.

Now the flip to convert style is quite handy for a few reasons. The first is I have a few options for how I want to use it. The 2 obvious ones are as a laptop and as a tablet as shown here.

What I do also like that I can flip it and keep it folded up to use the whole base like a flip stand - with multiple angles. This has the advantage over the upcoming Microsoft Surface which I was also considering as an option with the kickstand being a cool attachment but cannot sit at multiple angles. The Surface though is focused on being primarily used in the tablet form factor.
Another advantage of the flip to convert is that when I am finished with it, the screen is now faced down and feels more protected than in comparison to the Sony convertible which slides down with the screen still faced up to achieve tablet mode. Some may say "well then its a chunky tablet" - some convertibles use the detachable form factor but I prefer not to have a detachable piece especially
when travelling whether it be on the train or on a flight I find the detachable piece can be quite annoying when you need to quickly convert modes then put the spare piece in your bag etc.


The top model sports latest generation i7-3517U @ 1.9Ghz processor 8gb of ram and the Intel 4000 Graphics and a 128gb SSD.
This combination has been powerful enough thus far having finally installed visual studio 2012 and netbeans with no issues debugging programmes etc.
As for gaming, I know not to expect a high intensity gaming experience but I will be testing games such as Batman Arkham City, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and Guild Wars 2.
Once I've gone through some of these I'll update my experiences with such titles.


With all of these elements I have found this to be the perfect device to complement my work style and game style. When using my desktop primarily or at work, I can flip the laptop and use the base as a kickstand while I have supporting document to scroll through or have emails on a separate screen.
Then when I want to move I fold it down to tablet form factor to use windows8 apps, or to show a document to another colleague. When leaving the office and not at home yet, I can still do real work with the same device - day or night.

If you are considering purchasing the Dell XPS 12 in this iteration of convertibles, I would definitely recommend it for those users wanting to take the dive into windows 8 and have a need for a convertible style device. With the primary use as a laptop, this convertible at this point in time
is definitely the bar for which one should compare any of the options they are considering. The price point is right where you'd expect it (although not hope) but with new technology that sports this combination of pieces is definitely worth it.

If you would like to know more or add your experiences just post a comment to let me know.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Windows 8 – First Impressions

I just downloaded windows 8 and installed it on my Toshiba NB100 netbook (previously running windows 7) and thought I’d put up my first impressions of the OS. I’ve seen a few videos and read a few reviews and was most curious to its behavior in particular situations. Using it through remote desktop, its visual appeal and running it on dual screens. I figured there’s plenty of information on the other aspects of the OS and would have to address if it would be worth it in the end and the like another time. For now it is just those few different situations I work with Windows that I’ve not heard too much about previously.
It was probably not the best hardware to test windows 8 on, especially since the NB100 does not have the resolution required for windows 8 metro apps to run, but I thought I’d give it a run either way.

Running through Remote Desktop

I setup a remote desktop connection with a Laptop that had the necessary resolution for windows 8. Doing this allowed me to run the metro apps on the netbook if displayed on my laptop. The apps so far are pretty well designed and fluid, like the weather app.

When running metro locally on the netbook, moving the mouse to the left/right scrolls the screen left/right respectively whilst running it through remote desktop required the use of the mouse to click on the sideways scroll bar. Perhaps the mouse scroll could be implemented to be recognized as left/right scrolling of the screen.
Other issue is that the charms and other menus are generally brought up with mouse input by placing the pointer in the top corners of the display. Using remote desktop requires placing the pointer specifically on those corners to bring up such menus (e.g. charms). This is just one of those little things that doesn’t affect the overall experience.

Task Manager, Windows Explorer and general use

The new task manager is definitely a nice touch along with the inclusion of msconfig tasks. These types of additions eliminate the feeling of a literal Windows 7 with just a windows 8 overlay. (to an extent).
The additions to Windows Explorer are also well welcomed with the up and back button included and the extra options along the top.

With the missing start menu, it did take a little while to re-orient myself and find Control Panel (in the top menu bar when selecting my computer in explorer). A feature that should be added is the ability to select multiple files in multiple directories.
With no start menu I thought the ability to run programs through windows key + r would not be an option but as it turns out that is still there, along with other extra shortcuts to learn.
Simply right-clicking metro apps and getting an uninstall option is very convenient.

Dual Screen

Being a multi-screen user I was very curious as to how Windows 8 would handle the second screen in an extended desktop setup, especially with both screens being different resolutions. First off in the windows 7 view, the task bar is spread along both screens with the same icons shown on both (unlike previous versions of windows).

Spreading applications across both screens works the same as previously. Now, we know that the charms appear from placing the mouse at the very top right hand corner of the screen, and with dual screens it’s exactly the same. So to access these menus, yes, you have to scroll to the very left of your left screen and the very right of your right screen.
The OS behavior was as I expected in the windows 7 view, but my curiosity lied in how it would handle the metro view. As can be seen below in comparison to the image above, the metro view would only be applied to the primary screen, with the secondary screen remaining in windows 7 view. You could use the metro apps in full and bring your mouse across to the secondary screen with ease.

When selecting an application in the windows 7 view, this brings your primary screen out of metro and back to the windows 7 view. This could be useful when you have information placed on the secondary screen, and you are using a metro app on the first screen when creating information.
At the same time, it makes the second screen (especially If its touch) seem like its wasting away. Most likely there will be many work-arounds either way.


The 2 main things that could make this better at this stage are:
  1. 1.      Keep the start menu and integrate the concept of the new start menu into this – this would remove majority of complaints from users not wanting this tablet type change making it feel like a kiosk.

  1. 2.      Allow windows explorer to select multiple files in multiple directories at once (e.g. mass copy paste)

All in all

I still think conceptually this is a good idea. I enjoy the metro start menu interface and I feel I would use this especially in social media / web browsing mode. It still needs to be tweaked to work more seamlessly with the Windows 7 desktop side while still allowing a user to feel they are operating on the Windows 7 desktop environment for example, no metro apps appearing in alt+tab perhaps offer a different alt+tab to display switching between ALL apps and keep alt+tab switching between desktop apps.

You still can get “lost” for what environment you are in and a link to metro-side should be clear. Search bar from W7 seems a lot quicker than loading entire metro start menu to search for items in the computer and if the original start menu is kept, this can be the same.
I am yet to test how my gaming experience would affected by the new environment and how touch capable screens are with it but with that aside, so far I've enjoyed the OS.

I feel that Windows 8 has the potential to be very competitive and plausible as a desktop OS especially with the small changes I think would help the experience. It’s true that potential lies in how well it runs on tablets and other mobile devices. And the ability for these types of devices to dock into hardware and be capable to run as a full blown desktop OS.
The integration of mobile and desktop is going to be a key factor and although there are many arguments that different devices have different needs and therefore require different OS’s. I still feel that this statement is overrated. It is true that different devices serve different uses, but if an OS behaves accordingly when being used on different devices, it won’t matter if it’s one OS or not. The ability to use a mobile device to perform desktop tasks (when necessary) is definitely a feature that would integrate all these environments seamlessly.

There is still a long way to go, and this post does not speak to how successful the OS will be, but more so that it is a step in the right direction to integrating mobile and desktop.

That's my 2 cents based on my first impressions.