Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Review: Microsoft Surface showcases Windows 8 era


Microsoft really is shaking things up with Windows 8. It's a remodel down to the foundation, a monumental effort to start a new era of personal computing.

The showcase of this work is the Surface tablet, the first computer made and sold by the company.

Simultaneously, Microsoft overhauled all of its major programs and services, from servers to spreadsheets to Skype.

Some may see this as a sharp turn by a lumbering aircraft carrier to avoid running aground. Others may see a superpower launching a new fleet, in tandem with allies around the world.

Either way, it's an overwhelming show of force by Microsoft and the PC industry, a duo that's been less than dynamic in recent years and largely written off by Apple-loving media, investors and gadget aficionados.

The best way to see what's coming is through the 11-inch screen of the Surface tablet, the magnesium fighter jet in Microsoft's new arsenal.

With its minimalist design built around a set of online services, the device epitomizes the way we're using computers mostly as consoles to stay connected to our personal collections of people, programs and media.

You can do this on a PC or phone, but many prefer a slim tablet that starts right up and runs a full day without recharging. Until recently the best option was an Apple iPad, but most every major tech company offers models in different sizes.

After a few days with Microsoft's Surface, I think it's a decent alternative, especially for people who haven't yet added a tablet to their computing mix or have yet to strongly embrace the online realms of Apple, Google or Amazon.com.

The Surface is a refined and elegant combination of hardware and software with a distinctive style and feel that make it stand apart from any other tablet on the market. It feels fast and smooth and is simple enough for my kindergartner to navigate.

Starting at $499 for models with 32 gigabytes of storage and a bundled version of Office 2013, the Surface pricing compares favorably to the latest iPad, which costs $599 for a 32 gig model and doesn't come with Office.

Shoppers will have to do their own math to decide which is a better deal. More important, though, is feeling each device and trying out their very different software interfaces.

The Surface's case feels sturdy and purposeful, almost Teutonic, with a metal kickstand that sharply snaps into place. The charging cord also snaps firmly into position, held by magnets, as do the accessory covers with built-in keyboards. It's slightly heavier than an iPad and feels more dense.

Those covers are pricey but dramatically boost the usability of the tablet, particularly the $130 "Type Cover" with a physical keyboard that's just a quarter-inch thick. The $120 "Touch Cover" is remarkable. Even with slightly raised keys, it's just an eighth-inch thick, but I couldn't type fast on it.

On a single charge, my Surface ran through a workday of heavy testing, including streaming part of a movie to my TV via an HDMI cable. It was still going the next morning when I used it as a platter to carry coffee to my wife, read the news on it in bed and then played music and checked my fantasy football team at breakfast. The battery held out through this brutal regimen until midmorning at work.

Unlike the iPad, the Surface has a memory-card slot. It also has a USB port that worked fine with an ancient mouse, but not my Verizon LTE wireless stick, which isn't yet supported on the platform. Microsoft should have offered a Surface version with 4G wireless built in.

A big question for many tablet buyers is the selection of apps. Apple's numerical advantage is misleading. There are 275,000 apps specifically for the iPad, but many are duplicative and most people use only a handful.

That said, Microsoft's Windows 8 app store is still strikingly bare, even with some 10,000 apps at launch. This is a particular concern on the Surface and other new tablets running Windows RT, a special mobile version of Windows 8 that runs only new apps offered through Microsoft.

Not everything needs an app. Facebook and Twitter don't have Windows 8 apps yet but you can use them through the browser.

But there are notable holes. Barnes & Noble has yet to release a Windows 8 Nook app, despite Microsoft's investing $605 million in the company last spring.

"Angry Birds" was missing at launch; the "Space" version has since been added though it's $4.99, versus 99 cents for the iPad version and there's no free, ad-supported version like there is on Apple's platform.

But the most shocking absence is Microsoft Solitaire, which doesn't run on Windows RT devices. Thus, buying a Surface requires a leap of faith that your favorite apps will come to the platform or that you'll be fine with what's there so far.

I'm surprised so few companies have Windows 8 apps since it's a free opportunity to put dynamic billboards in front of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Companies used to spend a fortune for a piece of Windows desktop real estate and now they're mostly shrugging and pointing to the iPad.
It remains to be seen whether the quality and style of the Surface and Windows 8 can overcome this bias and restore Microsoft's reputation for bringing innovation to the masses.

Microsoft knew for years there was a huge market for handheld displays filling the gap between the phone and the PC. It pounced too early, though, with its Tablet PC software in 2002 and other projects in the twilight of Bill Gates' tenure as chief software architect. Then the company lost interest until Apple showed that the hardware and market for tablet computing had ripened.

Now the larger opportunity is beyond gadgets and in online services where people live their digital lives, connecting from whatever device is at hand.

Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt to build a new interface not just for PCs, but for this kind of computing.

When you first set up a Windows 8 system, you're encouraged to sync it with online services such as email and Facebook. Windows 8 comes preloaded with Microsoft's online suite, including Skype and the SkyDrive online storage locker. Files are saved online, and accessible from other devices you log in to.

Once it's all connected, the big tiles on its home screen display constant updates, as well as news headlines, weather reports and other sources you select.

The idea is to be able to see at a glance what's happening, then easily choose which program or service to launch. It works especially well for email, weather and news. The steady flow of images from social networks doesn't provide usable information; it's more of a shiny lure, pulling you back to the services.
Reinforcing the personal feeling of the software is the conversational tone used in its messages. When you first open the music or photos applications, it says "it's lonely in here" and suggests you "open or play something."

The flip side of all this personalization, of course, is that Microsoft knows more about you and binds you tighter into online services that it may use for marketing products to you.

Windows 8 system controls fade into the background to maximize the display space, which is a nice concept, especially on devices with smaller screens like a tablet.

But it requires an extra step to activate the controls, and you have to learn how they work or you may get stranded.

With a Surface tablet, these controls feel more natural than on a Windows 8 desktop or laptop.

A slight brush of your right thumb calls up the "Charms" controls, including search, settings and "Start," a button that takes you back to the home screen. Flicking the left thumb scrolls you through recently opened applications.

Sweeping a finger up from the bottom of the screen reveals additional controls. A downward swipe closes the open program.

You can do all this with just a mouse and keyboard, but it feels less intuitive.

The mandatory minimalism has its limits. Microsoft shouldn't have followed Apple in eliminating the physical "back" button. As a result, you end up going to the start screen often to "back up" or exit applications.

You frequently have to toggle to the software back to an "old fashioned" Windows 7-style PC desktop to get things done, such as configuring a tricky wireless connection.

Even the key Microsoft program on the Surface -- the new version of Office that comes with the device -- has to run in old-fashioned "desktop" mode. When you click the Word 2013 tile, it launches the program and switches the desktop back to circa 2009.

You can use the new "search" feature to find files or programs in the new interface.

But I prefer to use Windows Explorer, so I "pin" the trusty old app to the Windows 8 desktop.

Windows 8 is a fresh and fun new operating system, but it will take a while for people to fully embrace Microsoft's vision of the future. Ready or not, here it comes.

Here are the Surface specs as provided by Microsoft:

surface specs.jpg

Information provided by : Brier Dudley

Friday, 12 October 2012

eSynery Solutions Sales Floor


Check out the cool photo of eSynergy Solutions Sales floor using the Iphone 5


eSynergy Solutiosn Office

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Improvements to the Windows Azure Portal By Scott Guthrie


These new capabilities include:

  • Service Bus Management and Monitoring
  • Support for Managing Co-administrators
  • Import/Export support for SQL Databases
  • Virtual Machine Experience Enhancements
  • Improved Cloud Service Status Notifications
  • Media Services Monitoring Support
  • Storage Container Creation and Access Control Support

All of these improvements are now live in production and available to start using immediately.  Below are more details on them:

Service Bus Management and Monitoring

The new Windows Azure Management Portal now supports Service Bus management and monitoring. Service Bus provides rich messaging infrastructure that can sit between applications (or between cloud and on-premise environments) and allow them to communicate in a loosely coupled way for improved scale and resiliency. With the new Service Bus experience, you can now create and manage Service Bus Namespaces, Queues, Topics, Relays and Subscriptions. You can also get rich monitoring for Service Bus Queues, Topics and Subscriptions.

To create a Service Bus namespace, you can now select the “Service Bus” tab in the Windows Azure portal and then simply select the CREATE command:


Doing so will bring up a new “Create a Namespace” dialog that allows you to name and create a new Service Bus Namespace:


Once created, you can obtain security credentials associated with the Namespace via the ACCESS KEY command. This gives you the ability to obtain the connection string associated with the service namespace. You can copy and paste these values into any application that requires these credentials:


It is also now easy to create Service Bus Queues and Topics via the NEW experience in the portal drawer.  Simply click the NEW command and navigate to the “App Services” category to create a new Service Bus entity:


Once you provision a new Queue or Topic it can be managed in the portal.  Clicking on a namespace will display all queues and topics within it:


Clicking on an item in the list will allow you to drill down into a dashboard view that allows you to monitor the activity and traffic within it, as well as perform operations on it. For example, below is a view of an “orders” queue – note how we now surface both the incoming and outgoing message flow rate, as well as the total queue length and queue size:


To monitor pub/sub subscriptions you can use the ADD METRICS command within a topic and select a specific subscription to monitor.

Support for Managing Co-Administrators

You can now add co-administrators for your Windows Azure subscription using the new Windows Azure Portal. This allows you to share management of your Windows Azure services with other users. Subscription co-administrators share the same administrative rights and permissions that service administrator have - except a co-administrator cannot change or view billing details about the account, nor remove the service administrator from a subscription.

In the SETTINGS section, click on the ADMINISTRATORS tab, and select the ADD button to add a co-administrator to your subscription:


To add a co-administrator, you specify the email address for a Microsoft account (formerly Windows Live ID) or an organizational account, and choose the subscription you want to add them to:


You can later update the subscriptions that the co-administrator has access to by clicking on the EDIT button, and then select or deselect the subscriptions to which they belong.

Import/Export Support for SQL Databases

The Windows Azure administration portal now supports importing and exporting SQL Databases to/from Blob Storage.  Databases can be imported/exported to blob storage using the same BACPAC file format that is supported with SQL Server 2012.  Among other benefits, this makes it easy to copy and migrate databases between on-premise and cloud environments.

SQL Databases now have an EXPORT command in the bottom drawer that when pressed will prompt you to save your database to a Windows Azure storage container:


The UI allows you to choose an existing storage account or create a new one, as well as the name of the BACPAC file to persist in blob storage:


You can also now import and create a new SQL Database by using the NEW command.  This will prompt you to select the storage container and file to import the database from:


The Windows Azure Portal enables you to monitor the progress of import and export operations. If you choose to log out of the portal, you can come back later and check on the status of all of the operations in the new history tab of the SQL Database server – this shows your entire import and export history and the status (success/fail) of each:


Enhancements to the Virtual Machine Experience

One of the common pain-points we have heard from customers using the preview of our new Virtual Machine support has been the inability to delete the associated VHDs when a VM instance (or VM drive) gets deleted. Prior to today’s release the VHDs would continue to be in your storage account and accumulate storage charges.

You can now navigate to the Disks tab within the Virtual Machine extension, select a VM disk to delete, and click the DELETE DISK command:


When you click the DELETE DISK button you have the option to delete the disk + associated .VHD file (completely clearing it from storage).  Alternatively you can delete the disk but still retain a .VHD copy of it in storage.

Improved Cloud Service Status Notifications

The Windows Azure portal now exposes more information of the health status of role instances.  If any of the instances are in a non-running state, the status at the top of the dashboard will summarize the status (and update automatically as the role health changes):


Clicking the instance hyperlink within this status summary view will navigate you to a detailed role instance view, and allow you to get more detailed health status of each of the instances.  The portal has been updated to provide more specific status information within this detailed view – giving you better visibility into the health of your app:


Monitoring Support for Media Services

Windows Azure Media Services allows you to create media processing jobs (for example: encoding media files) in your Windows Azure Media Services account. In the Windows Azure Portal, you can now monitor the number of encoding jobs that are queued up for processing as well as active, failed and queued tasks for encoding jobs. On your media services account dashboard, you can visualize the monitoring data for last 6 hours, 24 hours or 7 days.


Storage Container Creation and Access Control Support

You can now create Windows Azure Storage storage containers from within the Windows Azure Portal.  After selecting a storage account, you can navigate to the CONTAINERS tab and click the ADD CONTAINER command:


This will display a dialog that lets you name the new container and control access to it:


You can also update the access setting as well as container metadata of existing containers by selecting one and then using the new EDIT CONTAINER command:


This will then bring up the edit container dialog that allows you to change and save its settings:


In addition to creating and editing containers, you can click on them within the portal to drill-in and view blobs within them. 


The above features are all now live in production and available to use immediately.  If you don’t already have a Windows Azure account, you can sign-up for a free trial and start using them today.  Visit the Windows Azure Developer Center to learn more about how to build apps with it.

We’ll have even more new features and enhancements coming later this month – including support for the recent Windows Server 2012 and .NET 4.5 releases (we will enable new web and worker role images with Windows Server 2012 and .NET 4.5, and support .NET 4.5 with Websites).  Keep an eye out on my blog for details as these new features become available.

Hope this helps,