Windows 8.1 for Surface Pro debuted, preview available now!

Gizmodo livestreamed the unveiling of the Windows 8.1 update at the Microsoft Devloper’s Conference today in San Francisco. Microsoft has been listening to consumer’s gripes about Windows 8 and have made a host of improvements to the operating system. Here are the highlights.

  • We can now set the OS to boot to the Desktop instead of tiles.
  • Start button returns, but only brings up the Start screen, seems to be a concession for mouse users.
  • Tiles now have more resizing options, and icons can be stacked to create a folder, similar to Android.
  • Swiping from bottom now brings up the All Apps directly, instead of having the choice to select All Apps from a button.
  • Desktop background can now be the tiles background.
  • A wider range of customization is available. 
  • Better Multi-Monitor support.

Read more at Gizmodo.com.

The preview version of Windows 8.1 is available to us right now. The update is available through the Windows store and is approximately 2GB and requires a reboot. This update will require the reinstallation of ALL Apps after the final version is released, so I’ll be waiting until then to update.

 

 

Surface Pro will be getting a Start Button after all! Windows 8.1 Brings it back.

Microsoft has previewed their upcoming Windows 8.1 update codenamed “Blue”  on their blog.  Apparently Microsoft has heard the groans from Windows 8 users and are restoring their beloved Start button.  Of course they aren’t exactly calling it a Start button anymore. Antoine Leblond  describes the new Start button on the Windows: “We’ve improved the way you navigate to Start with the mouse by changing the Start “tip” to be the familiar Windows logo. The new tip appears anytime you move the mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen, and is always visible on the taskbar when on the desktop.”

So instead of a Start Button, it’s an always visible Start Tip. As someone who jumped into Windows 8 with both feet i’m not sure what to think about this.  On my Surface Pro, I find myself navigating via the Tiles touch interface without thinking about it.  On my desktop gaming PC that doesn’t have touch capability I use the Start button my on keyboard, and instead of choosing an item from a jump menu, I choose it from a tile.  It’s become fairly second nature.  Interestingly enough when I am using my Windows 7 work computer I have to untrain myself from this and remember how annoying it was to open the little jump boxes off the traditional Start menu.

It’s nice to see that Microsoft is not backing away from their touch interface, but still is able to give customers what (some of them) have been asking for.  It inevitable that touch interfaces will only become more pervasive, and in retrospect we may realize we didn’t need the Start Button anyways.

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Kickstarter for Surface Pro Professional case with expanded capabilities- ProKASE-Updated

Update!

It appears as though the Kickstarter was not successful and only raised $9,729 of the needed $55,000 goal.  The concept was interesting and I hope the engineers behind it find a way to make it to market.

There is a Kickstarter campaign running  to create a pretty slick case for the Surface Pro.  The ProKASE is a professional case that “houses (2) USB ports and (2) microSD/SD card readers. These are all custom designed enclosures, so when SD or microSD cards are used, they run flush against the ProKASE but leave just enough room so they can be pulled with ease.”  This seems like a good way to seamlessly add additional USB ports and a card reader in an attractive case. There is also an integrated touch pen storage solution.  I know that the one thing I wish the stock Surface Pro had was a good place to store the pen.  Go take a look at their product description on Kickstarter.  If you pledge tell them Surface Pro Tips sent you!

Check out their Kickstarter today!

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System Update for Surface Pro Available Now

Today I checked for for Windows Updates and noticed one of the updates was listed as System Firmware Update – 3/12/2013.  If you are set to receive updates automatically it should install without user intervention.  The system firmware update required two reboots.  According to ZDNet the firmware updates ” include fixes to Wi-Fi reliability allowing for better roaming and improvements to “limited” connectivity scenarios; the enablement of Windows To Go feature; and improved onscreen keyboard detection synchronization when going in and out of sleep…”  It’s encouraging that Microsoft is improving the performance of the Surface Pro.  The System Update for Surface Pro installed flawlessly for me, but let me know in the comments if you had any problems or issues.

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Starcraft 2 on the Surface Pro

The Surface Pro is a great machine, but is it capable of doing some real gaming?  Angry Birds and other casual games have their place, but sometimes I need a little more.  I typically game on a dedicated machine, but I wanted to see how Starcraft 2 on the Surface Pro performed. At $19.99 on Amazon at the time of this blog post, it’s a great deal for a great game.

Immediately upon loading Starcraft 2 I noticed a problem.  The in-game mouse cursor would not respond to movement. I started reading through some forums and saw that this was a result of the display scaling.  The Surface Pro defaults at 150% and this caused an issue with Starcraft 2.

To adjust this setting you have to right click the desktop and select Personalize.  From this screen select Display from the bottom left of the Personalization screen. Here you will see the “Change the size of all items” choices.  Change the selection from the default 150% to 125% and Apply.  The system will require you to log off to implement these changes.

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So after I applied this change I tried Starcraft 2 again.  The cursor worked as it should this time.  I checked the options and saw that the game had defaulted to Low settings for everything.  I kind of expected this given the GPU on the Surface Pro. I hooked an external mouse to the Surface Pro as Starcraft 2 isn’t really a touchpad friendly game and I started a simple 1v1 game versus the computer.  The graphics looked like I was playing the original Starcraft, but the game played great.  No slowdown and after playing for a few minutes I didn’t even miss the fancy graphics.

The next test was a 3v3 match played with my friends.  This really tested Starcraft 2 on the Surface Pro as there ended up with a ton of units on screen at the same time.  Again, no real slowdown, and was perfectly playable. I didn’t even really mind the tiny screen after I got into the match.  I also hooked the Surface Pro to 24″ monitor via a minidisplayport to hdmi adapter and tried a game using that.  The low graphical settings were more apparent on the larger monitor, but the game played fine.

So even though the Surface Pro is not being marketed as a gaming machine, it certainly is capable of running some real games.  Microsoft should work with publishers to make “Surface Exclusive” versions of games that are pre-configured for the tablet.  I know as I travel with it that I’ll be using it to game on the road.

Adding Google accounts to Microsoft Mail in Windows 8

Starting January 30, 2012 those of us that want to use Gmail services with Windows Mail on Microsoft Surface tablets (or any Windows 8 machine) will have a more difficult time.  Google is ending support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol in their products. Adding Google accounts to Microsoft Mail in Windows 8 is still possible though.

As a longtime Google services user this directly impacted me.   After much searching I was able to find some reasonable workarounds to continue to use Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts with my Surface Pro. The first thing I needed to do was to link  Windows Live accounts to my Google Account.  Click here.

After I did this I was able to add my Google Mail to the Surface Pro’s Mail application.   When adding it I was not able to select to Sync Contacts and Calendar.  Only the Mail seemed to work.  Microsoft has some workaround guidance on their site that allowed me to sync my contacts so they appeared in my People application and sync my calendars.  This sync is one way, any new items added to the calendar through these applications will only update your Windows Live account, and will not be added to your Google account.  Any future additions to your Google calendar or contacts will be added to your Windows Live account.

Here are the steps from Microsoft’s website:

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Civilization V on Surface Pro full screen fix

Civilization V on Surface Pro natively supports Windows 8 touch interface for gameplay, so naturally I wanted to try it.  I am curious about touch games on the Surface Pro that aren’t  “casual” games.  I saw a great Steam daily deal so I snatched it up and installed it.  Upon launching, the game was in an odd windowed mode at an incorrect resolution.  I tried changing the resolution and selecting the “Full Screen” button in the video options, but nothing worked. It seems that Civilization V has issues with high dpi displays, like the Surface Pro has.  Here is a tip that allowed me to successfully launch the game in full screen touch mode.

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Microsoft Surface Tablet, impressions after one week

So I’ve been using my Microsoft Surface Tablet (Pro with the Type keyboard) for one week.  Previous to the Surface I used an Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet along with a 13″ HP Pavilion laptop (Running Windows 8).   I travel for a living and I have to take a work laptop with me, but I usually also take my personal laptop, tablet, and PSP Vita.  That’s a lot of gear to carry around whose primary job is it to entertain me. My goal with the Surface Pro was to be able to replace all of these items with one unified device. I haven’t gone a trip yet with the Surface tablet, but I have used it at home and at the office quite a bit.  I will give further thoughts once I’ve had a chance to hit the road with the Surface.

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Where is the Start Menu in Windows 8? Meet the quick access menu.

People keep asking, “Where is the start menu in Windows 8?”  The entire start menu is replaced with the new Live Tiles, but there is hope. The quick access menu is perhaps the most important feature of Windows 8 for a power user, and a great built-in alternative. Without a Start Menu it may seem difficult to find your frequently used  tools and settings.  With the quick access menu Microsoft has given users a simple (and useful) menu to access core Windows settings and features. Simply move your mouse corner to the lower left corner where you will see a small Start box.  Right click this box to open the quick access menu.  This can also be quickly accessed by holding Windows key and pressing x.  Here is a list of the commands accessed by the quick access menu.

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Create a USB recovery drive for the Microsoft Surface Pro and reclaim 7 GB of storage

The Microsoft Surface Pro recovery page gives a great tutorial on how to reclaim some precious hard drive space on the Surface line of machines.  Surface RT and Pro both come with a recovery image that allows you to reload to factory condition. The recovery image is located in a dedicated recovery partition on your Surface. This recovery image uses approximately 3.5 GB of storage space on Surface Windows RT and approximately 7 GB of storage space on Surface Windows 8 Pro. As you can see, this is can be a significant storage increase, especially on the 64 GB models.  Here are the steps as outlined by Microsoft. 

You can create a USB recovery drive as a backup or as a replacement for this recovery image.  A USB recovery drive is bootable, which means you can troubleshoot and fix problems on your Surface even if it won’t start. It can also make more disk space available on your Surface.

When you create a recovery drive, a copy of the Windows recovery image is saved, along with a copy of the Windows Recovery Environment. Once your recovery drive has been created, you can choose to remove the original recovery image from your device and reclaim the available storage space for apps, photos, music, and other data.

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