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ggreig: (Dark Wizard)

Download Open Live WriterWhen I first started blogging, I used LiveJournal’s own facilities to edit my posts, but for many years now, I’ve used Windows Live Writer instead – a program created by Microsoft as part of their Live Essentials suite that just makes editing blog posts much easier, and allows me to save drafts offline before posting, as I tend to be a slow, careful writer. The single most useful thing it does is make posting pictures easy, but there are quite a number of things it just makes easier in greater or lesser ways.

However, it hasn’t been updated since 2012, when Microsoft indicated they weren’t going to develop it any further. That’s kind of OK – as a free app, it wasn’t directly making Microsoft any money so it’s difficult to complain if they decide it’s no longer worth it.

It was really disappointing, though, to think that some day I might not be able to use such a useful program because it just got left behind.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that, and people both inside and outside Microsoft campaigned to have it open-sourced, so that its development and maintenance could be picked up by enthusiasts.

Today Scott Hanselman announced that Live Writer has been open sourced, and you can download Open Live Writer immediately. It’s currently a little less capable than the old version, mainly because of third-party licensing reasons, but I expect replacement functionality will be on its way (some is definitely already planned), and that in time Open Live Writer will be an even better solution than Windows Live Writer has already been.

If you’re a blogger on Windows and don’t use it already, I’d recommend checking it out. If you’re already a Windows Live Writer user, it’s good to know there’s a new future for the application.

If you’re a developer and want to contribute, you can subscribe to the mailing list and explore it on GitHub. Scott Hanselman’s article is a good introduction.

Postscript: of course, having said that the single most useful thing it does is make posting pictures easy, Open Live Writer failed to do so for this post. Still, the original Windows Live Writer still works, I’ve filed a bug, and I’m sure it’ll get sorted out in due course.

Post-postscript: as a result of my bug report, it's already been found and fixed in development in a little over an hour, so shouldn't be too long before it's fixed in an actual release.


Feb. 14th, 2014 11:52 pm
ggreig: (Western gentleman)

Mugshots a decade apartToday marks my (first?) decade on LiveJournal. Quite a few of the people who may read this will have been here a bit longer than that, but I thought it was worth marking anyway. It’s over two decades now since I set up my first web presence – a links site for Doctor Who, also called the Temporal Nexus. (There was a gap of several years in between.) The web’s been around so long now that people have grown up with it, and kids who weren’t around when I started this blog are now learning to code!

I originally set this blog up with the intention of writing more about software development, as we were starting on a significant project at the time. As it turned out, there wasn’t as much to write about on that front as I’d hoped, so I’ve touched on a variety of other things over the years. Hopefully they’ve mostly been of some interest!

LiveJournal’s popularity has dropped over the years, but I’m still here for two main reasons. I like to read blog entries of a decent size; and my friends are here. I don’t do Twitter much (though I am there @ggreig) because how much can you really say that’s worth saying in 140 characters? And I don’t do Facebook at all because I disapprove of their utter lack of concern for personal privacy; not so much for my own sake as for the way I feel they’re exploiting people’s ignorance. I’m sure my personal boycott’ll be bringing them to their knees any day now! LiveJournal has its limitations, but it’s good enough for me.

So if you’ve read me for all ten years, or for nearly as long – as I think most of you have – thank you. And if we’ve not been friends for quite that long, thanks to you too, for making me think I might have the occasional thing to say worth hearing!

Look forward to hearing you all from time to time, and hope you still enjoy hearing from me.


Dino 101

Jan. 19th, 2014 05:09 pm
ggreig: (Western gentleman)

dinologoLast week I got my certificate for completing Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, from the University of Alberta. Like most people, the idea of dinosaurs gripped me when I was wee. I decided before getting to primary school that I wanted to be a palæontologist, and could bamboozle senior relatives with the word. (Or they were playing up to me. I couldn’t tell at the time and prefer the first version now!)

Time went by, and when I got to secondary school, I suddenly twigged that if I wanted to become a palæontologist, I'd probably have to do Biology, and that would mean cutting things up. A combination of squeamishness and conscience meant I really didn’t want to do that, so I gave up on my dream of palæontology and switched to wanting to work in electronics (also not right for me, but it took more years and a degree to reach that conclusion).

Last summer, a story on the BBC web site alerted me to Dino 101, a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) starting in September, and I signed up.

Having been casually interested in dinosaurs for many years, I already knew quite a lot of material that the course covered – it is introductory, after all – but I also learned things. In the very first lesson, I learned what gastralia are, a detail of dinosaur (and crocodile) anatomy that despite all my interest had utterly passed me by.

Internal artwork from 'Dinosaurs - Hunter and Hunted', a primary school projectThe course is nominally a video lecture a week, over twelve weeks, with a five question quiz after the lecture.  There are also lecture notes that are worth reading as there’s some material in them that may not be covered in the lectures. You can go at your own pace, however, so some people had finished the course within a day or so of it being opened up. I took it at a lecture a week at first, but picked up pace so that I rattled through the latter part of the course and finished in early October.

The lecture titles were: Appearance and Anatomy; Eating; Moving Around; Birth, Growth and Reproduction; Attack and Defense; Death and Fossilization; What is a Species?; Evolution; Stratigraphy and Geologic Time; Paleography and Plate Tectonics; Dinosaur Origins; and Dinosaur Extinction.

The only one that I felt was not entirely successful was the lecture covering Stratigraphy and Geologic Time. It was more or less a recital of geological time periods with a small amount of detail about what characterised each one before moving on to the next. It’s difficult to think of a different way of doing this, but it didn’t make for the most thrilling or memorable of lectures. Having said that, it did hold my attention a little more than the same subject does in writing, so maybe with repeated viewing some of it will stick.

And repeated viewing is an option! Although you can watch the lectures online and get the benefit of some interactive bits, you also have the option of downloading them for offline viewing, and I did both. The lectures are presented by Betsy Kruk, a research student, rather than the nominal course-giver, Philip J. Currie. This is kind of a TV approach to lecturing, which I have mixed feelings about, ultimately but it probably was a good idea. Though Professor Currie is a recognised authority you may have seen on other programmes and a good speaker, Betsy’s better at projecting her enthusiasm on camera and, having been in quite a number of dry lectures over the years on other topics, that really does help.

The Early World;  jotter cover from a 1978 primary school project (age 10)The interactive bits are a bit of fun. Most are quick quiz questions (What do you think is right? A, B, C or D?) before giving the right answer, but there are also a few puzzles (reconstruct this dinosaur skeleton;lay out this phylogenetic tree of the families of dinosauria) and a fossil cabinet. The fossil cabinet is treated as though it were a highlight of the course, and makes appearances throughout, with new fossils added each time, but I’m afraid it is a bit disappointing. The fossils, which you can turn around and look at closely, are low resolution 3D models, with no texture-mapping – so they look like poor plastic mouldings. If they were high definition, with use made of colour to show their real appearance (possibly with false colour layers to highlight points of interest) then this could really be a highlight. Unfortunately, as it stands, although it holds some interest, a highlight it is not.

As far as qualifications go, honestly, I can’t take any real pride in my 100% record on the course, as there’s a chance to retake each quiz and I would have dropped a few questions without that option. I paid $69 to have my identity confirmed while taking the quizzes (by photograph and recognising my typing pattern while entering a declaration), but that was pretty much for vanity – I wanted some proof I’d done the course, in the form of my certificate, but wasn’t pursuing it as a genuine qualification.

If I’d wanted genuine course credits for it, I could have paid a bit more in the way of tuition fees ($263) and taken two proctored exams. The exams would have been a bit more challenging and traditional, as they’re overseen by an individual who can view your screen and see you through a web cam, so there’s no cheating. Although I didn’t take part in that, it was interesting to read how technology was being used to enable remote exams.

I would recommend repeats of this course for those with an interest, although it might be a bit simple for those who are already well informed on this subject. You can sign up here. The first repeat started on 6th January, and you might be able to join it.

I enjoyed my first MOOC, and would do another, though with limited free time I’ll have to be a bit careful what I sign up for.A more recent effort; a Natural History Museum Liopleuridon, painted in Walking with Dinosaurs colours


Aug. 14th, 2013 07:13 am
ggreig: (Western gentleman)
Cool thing on Google Maps. Follow this link and click on the double chevron.
ggreig: (I Need Dis)

…that the World Wide Web entered the public domain. I’m pretty sure I first used it later that year when I returned to university in Dundee (along with ever-more-occasional Gopher use).

By the time I was looking for a job three years later, the Web was so much of a part of how I worked as a developer that I dreaded the possibility of working for a company that wasn’t connected. Luckily, that didn’t happen, although all we had was a 28k modem – with a timer on the power socket so that it cut off outside working hours and therefore kept the phone bills down.

ggreig: (I Need Dis)

A Harvard University human motor systems test that attempts to guess your age knocked 16 years off me today!

The test is based on how quickly you can click on dots on the screen – it’s a bit like that eye-test where spots of light are shone on the inside of a hemisphere and you have to react to them. I wouldn’t say my reactions are particularly good, so why did I do so well?

I think it’s because I was using a trackball. The basic assumption of the test is that you’re using either a mouse or a trackpad, although it does provide an “other” option as part of a survey after the test’s completed.

I switched from mice to trackballs a number of years ago – not sure how many, but long enough to have had to replace one. People visiting my desk hate using the trackball (so much so that I have a “guest mouse” for when people come by), and adjusting to it was hard. In fact, for the first week, it was physically painful as I got accustomed to an entirely new set of movements. After that first week though, it was full speed ahead and I’ve never looked back. A trackball’s quicker and more accurate than a mouse, and my burgeoning RSI from dragging a mouse around went away.

My trackballs are thumb-driven ones from Logitech; for some reason finger trackballs seem to be more popular, but I wouldn’t have thought they can be so quick and efficient and surely must suffer from some of the problems of mice. The thumb’s a “spare” digit from a mousing point of view, but it’s great for driving a trackball; strong, and capable of fast, sharp and quite precise movements.

If you don’t believe me, give the test a go and see how you do!

ggreig: (Judge Greig)

There’s been quite a lot of attention paid to the new user interface in Windows 8, especially the Start Screen that’s replacing the Start menu, but perhaps if you’re a web developer you’ve been thinking none of this has much relevance for you.

Whether that’s actually right depends a bit on what sort of devices you’ve been targeting up until now.

The desktop environment you’re used to still exists in Windows 8 (more or less) but there’s also a new type of application called Metro-style Windows Store apps. By default, these run full screen, with much of the usual user interface hidden away so that, in the case of a web browser, almost all you see on screen is the page content.

Internet Explorer, if launched from the Start screen, will open as a Windows Store app by default, so you’ll start browsing full screen. Chrome, Firefox and Opera have each indicated that there’ll be a Windows Store versions of their browsers, so what follows will also apply to them.

Most commentary on Windows Store apps has tended to stop there, with the app running full screen, and gone on to talk about how you interact with it.

What hasn’t been commented on quite so much is what happens if you want to have more than one app on screen at once.

Although you can launch several apps and switch between them, the most you can display simultaneously is two apps side-by-side, as in the following picture, where you can see the BBC home page in Internet Explorer on the left, and a weather app “snapped” on the right, with the two separated by a black splitter bar:

IE in fill view on the left, and a weather app in snapped view on the right.

You can click through the screen shots to see them full size.

Internet Explorer on the left is basically the web content, with an address bar and a few other things visible at the bottom of the screen. The weather app on the right displays the current weather and forecast weather for the next few days vertically down the side of the page. Nothing too challenging about that so far.

The weather app is a native application – not a web page – and it’s displaying in the snapped view. Internet Explorer is now displaying in the fill view, rather than full screen, but there isn’t a big practical difference between the two. Snapped view is another story though.

A window in the snapped view is a fixed 320 pixels wide – no more, no less – and runs from the top of the screen to the bottom. It can be snapped to either the right of the screen or the left. It’s only available for screen resolutions above 1366x768 – if you have a lower resolution, running Windows Store apps full screen is your only option, with no way to display them side by side. Fill view fills everything except for that 320-pixel-wide strip.

All Windows Store apps are required to support the snapped view, and as you can see the weather app does so clearly enough. As this version of Internet Explorer is also a Windows Store app, it’s require to support snapped view too. Let’s see what happens if we move the splitter bar across to the left so that IE is in snapped view and the weather app is in fill view:

IE in snapped view on the left, and a weather app in fill view on the right.

Note that the weather app’s adjusted to make use of the space available to it (there are more interesting and practical examples of Windows Store apps, but I chose the weather app because the information in it’s innocuous). IE has also adapted; it’s now displaying the BBC home page 320 pixels wide.

If you’ve taken a responsive mobile-first approach to designing your site, using media queries, then your pages may appear OK. If you haven’t, you’ll get a 1024-pixel-wide rendering of your site scaled down to 320 pixels wide. Here’s how that BBC site looks, full size – not particularly usable:

BBC site at 320 pixels wide

Windows 8 is a game changer for web development, because it means that “mobile” design is no longer restricted to mobile devices. 320 pixels wide is narrower than many phones (though certainly not all – link via [livejournal.com profile] andrewducker). The Windows Store app version of IE is what your users will get by default when launching IE from the Start Screen, and even if there’s a push back against this, it can be guaranteed that some proportion of your audience will prefer to browse this way (and this will presumably become true for other browsers too in due course).

It’s true this’ll only be an issue when a Windows Store browser window’s snapped. Your users won’t be affected if the browser’s full screen, nor if it’s in fill view; and if they use the desktop version of the browser rather than the Windows Store version everything will be as it was in previous versions of Windows. Remember though that they may not think much of your site if it forces them into using their operating system in a particular way.

Think of it like this; if your site isn’t designed for mobile, you’re now accepting that some of the time it’s going to be unusable on Windows too.

Here’s some specific advice on how to start responding to this change (also pay attention to the helpful comment from Karl Dubost of Opera Software).

ggreig: (Default)

Sometime this month, I think I passed the milestone of 20 years of owning a PC.

I wasn’t particularly exposed to computers while I was school, nor even much at university. A friend had a BBC micro, on which I played Elite a few times, and I learned to write S-algol on the University VAXen. The closest I came to a PC was one Physics lab that required me to write a little Basic to control a stepper motor.

Then I did a conversion M.Sc. to Computer Science, and then I was unemployed.

After nearly a year of unemployment, the bright future of work as a programmer I’d hoped for looked like as though it might be escaping from me.

I thought I’d better do something about it, and with a loan from my parents and advice from my friends I bought a PC, to demonstrate that I was serious about these computer things. In particular I was grateful for the advice of [livejournal.com profile] flybynightpress, a Mac enthusiast himself, who advised me not to get a Mac but a PC, because the employment prospects were better. You tend to pay attention to advice like that!

That PC was a Viglen (pre-Lord Sugar), with a 386DX processor, 4MB of RAM, and a 125MB hard drive, with the (then) brand new Windows 3.1.

Sometime in June or July, I had a horrible experience when it stopped working. Completely. My first computer, bought with money I didn’t have, bricked. and with that horrible paranoia that maybe, oh no, maybe it was all my fault!

A technician had to come the hundred and something miles from Edinburgh to the glen where I was living with my parents on the west coast, with me liable for the several-hundred-pound cost of the callout if it really was my fault. That was not a happy wait.

Luckily, the motherboard had died of its own volition, and with a replacement fitted free of charge, that PC served me well for a fair while afterward. And a month or two later, I was employed as a programmer, albeit in a job paying only 65% of the average graduate starting salary of the time, and with the most horrible computer language in the world ever. And on a PDP-11/83, not a PC. Still, I’m sure my PC-ownership helped ;-).

Today, my Raspberry Pi arrived, both more and less powerful than that machine of twenty years ago, depending on how you look at it. Unfortunately a painful ear infection is making the thought of tinkering unappealing for me tonight; but hopefully the Raspberry Pi will be the gateway for others to follow in the career that the PC has let me enjoy.

ggreig: (Technical Support)
Here's something for iPhone users with Windows Phone envy: why not run Windows Phone on your iPhone?

It's actually a browser-based demo of the UI, so it's not exactly "real", but it's a neat idea for giving people something they can try hands-on. (If it works - someone here tried it with an iPod and got the same message I did on a desktop machine - "your device or web browser isn't supported at this time".)
ggreig: (Default)

Redgate are running a competition in which the main prize is for a lucky DBA to go into space. There are five days left to enter.

Fearing that developers might feel left out, they’re now running a competition for them too.

ggreig: (Default)
Strange Maps is an interesting blog to follow. I found today's entry particularly interesting; it's a visualisation of the geographic distribution of the usage of different languages on Twitter. It tells us something not just about where people are using their native languages on the Internet, but also where Twitter itself's in use.
ggreig: (Default)
There's a story on the BBC about a trainee surgeon in Scotland realising it's possible to print models of bones from 3D CT scans relatively cheaply, for inspection before surgery. Still a bit on the pricy side for personal use, but cool to see technology helping to make lives better.

Most Wanted

Nov. 1st, 2011 10:39 pm
ggreig: (Default)
Meant to post this nearly a month ago, but it's still interesting. What kind of tablet do people really, really want to have? An Android device? No, surely it's got to be an iPad? Read on...
ggreig: (Default)
Very much not a fan. I didn't really like his products, which often seemed to value form over function, and by all accounts he's someone I wouldn't have wanted to work for/with.

But clearly lots of people disagreed with me, and he's had an enormous effect on computing. There are plenty good things have come out of products that over all I wasn't very keen on. And way back in the early 1990s, I thought it would be cool to work on a NeXT. So long Steve Jobs, and sympathy to his family, friends and fans.
ggreig: (Robot Maria)

Echoes of the Past is a nice theme for Windows 7 with vintage-styled images; and an obsession with keys, for some reason.

More substantial posts are being held up by LiveJournal’s DDOS-related issues, as well as my own laziness.

ggreig: (Saint George)

You may or may not remember that early last year I pointed out the launch of an online Scottish newspaper, the Caledonian Mercury, that aimed to bring a bit more balance to the Scottish media. The Caledonian Mercury is still going, but it feels a bit magaziney and Rab McNeil (Scotland’s finest sketch writer) only seems to have written once since the New Year.

During the same period, another online Scottish newspaper has emerged, with a similar aim but a different pedigree, and a different way of achieving balance. During a Scottish election campaign might be a good time to highlight its existence, if you want to see a viewpoint that doesn’t get much coverage elsewhere.

The Caledonian Mercury is run by established journalists who aimed to bring balance to the Scottish media by being balanced. Newsnet Scotland is run by volunteers who aim to bring balance to the Scottish media by championing the viewpoint that doesn’t have much support elsewhere in the media – that independence could be a good thing for Scotland.

Newsnet Scotland launched as little more than a blog around the same time as the Caledonian Mercury, but it’s grown over time, to the point that now, I hate to say it, but in some ways it’s starting to feel more like a professional newspaper than the one run by journalists.

There are generally about five main news stories a day, with a collection of shorter snippets. The stories are almost exclusively from a nationalist viewpoint, but they are often written by people who are well informed on their subject matter. Law and economics seem to have particular champions. There are occasional articles in Scots or Gaelic, often internationalist in their scope – the main headline as I write is a story in Gaelic about M. Sarkozy’s prospects in the next French election. There has been a major – and sporadically continuing – series of articles about the history of language in Scotland. There have been articles written by leaders of two of Scotland’s political parties, the SNP and the Greens; apparently the unionist parties have been offered the same platform but turned it down.

And there’s Newsnet Scotland’s big problem. From the content of the comments, it’s pretty much preaching to the converted. Although that means they generally remain quite thoughtful and don’t descend into the slanging matches seen elsewhere, Newsnet remains, so far, a monoculture.

Unfortunately, an alternative viewpoint from volunteers who tend to be of a particular political persuasion doesn’t have – and isn’t going to get – many friends in the well-established media, or among the political parties that quite like things the way they are. Other newspapers have no motivation to mention their competitor, and any mention of Newsnet Scotland is instantly blocked by the BBC’s profanity filters; probably due (in my view) to over-zealous supporters spamming the comments, since I don’t believe Newsnet Scotland itself breaches any of the BBC’s guidelines, but more paranoid conclusions are possible.

I have to say I started off sceptical, but I think Newsnet Scotland’s growth in content and quality deserves recognition. If you want a balanced view of politics in Scotland, Newsnet Scotland won’t give it to you, in the same way that neither the Guardian nor the Telegraph would for the UK – but it should be on your list.

(Also a quick mention here, since I’m unlikely to write about it specially, for an online newspaper ForArgyll, also run by volunteers, that seems to be doing quite a good job of news coverage in Argyll, beating what I recall of the local papers quite comprehensively.)

ggreig: (MoonFrown)

Looks like I’m one of the unlucky 0.08% of users whose account has disappeared due to some sort of error at Google.

More luckily, I’m pretty sceptical of the whole idea of “The Cloud” and don’t rely on GMail. Where my e-mail’s concerned, I prefer to rely on an organisation where there’s at least a chance of getting someone on the phone when something goes wrong. However, I am missing some of Google’s other features – I use iGoogle as my home page, and although I don’t need things like the webmaster tools, I’ll feel more comfortable if they come back.

I reported the issue before leaving home this morning, though I’m only just starting to see news reports about it now. Hope it gets sorted out without too much additional hassle.

Update: service seems to have returned at some point during the evening.

ggreig: (Default)

Ever since Windows 7 came out, I’ve fancied putting together a Windows theme, and a couple of recent blog articles finally prodded me into action.

The obvious choice was the more exotic locations that I’ve got photos of, so I set out to create a California theme and went back and reviewed all my photos looking for scenes that could be turned into a package of decent wallpapers. After a bit of selection, cropping and culling, I came up with 24 that I put together.

It took the best part of three evenings to work through everything, but I was quite happy with the result. I don’t feel the need to do another one straight away, but it would be nice to have one that’s closer to home, so look out for a possible Scotland or even St. Andrews theme in the future.

Download in whichever format’s more useful to you:

Moon at Sunset, Joshua TreeColour coordinated carSunrise on Ventura Boulevard, Woodland HillsJumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua TreeFallen HackberriesLocomotive cab, California State Railroad Museum, SacramentoSnowy Plover, Monterey Bay AquariumPrickly PearCalifornia Sister Butterfly (Adelpha Californica)Wah Hop Store, ColomaFloss Silk Tree, Costa MesaAnemones, Monterey Bay AquariumRock Fish in the Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay AquariumAmerican Mastodon, La Brea Tar PitsMall Sign, SolvangMining Cart, ColomaChipmunkPacific WavesPalm trunk, TustinWorkin' on the Railroad, California State Railroad Museum, SacramentoOutdoor pool, Hearst CastleCalifornia Ground SquirrelRedwood Glade, Humboldt Redwoods State ParkWedding Rock, Patrick's Point
ggreig: (Vacant Podling)

It’s possible to do some cool things with JavaScript, but fundamentally the whole language is still an evil hack that we’re stuck with because it’s widespread, requiring clever hacks like jQuery to hide some of the unpleasantness. A prime example of hackishness – which will no doubt be fixed once they realise just how foolish it is – has  appeared on the pages of the Herald.

Premium content on heraldscotland is now only available to registered users.” Yes, indeedy, it’s true – sort of. If you visit a “premium” page full of prime journalistic content, like the letters page for example, you’ll see the whole article at first, but before you’ve finished reading it, all but the first paragraph or so will disappear.

…hang on a minute…

So, the whole page is already loaded in your browser, but you can only see part of it? View source…

Yep, the whole thing is still there, there hasn’t been a page reload or anything, it’s just been collapsed down using JavaScript. This is a form of security through obscurity (relying on the user not knowing how to sidestep it), which is a notoriously weak approach to protection.

So far, so daft. But the bit that prompted me to write was this. At the end of the “real” content of the page, there’s a noscript tag (intended for the attention of people browsing without JavaScript, the only people who’ll be able to read the entire page without hassle). It says:

You need Javascript enabled in your browser in order to view this page.

ggreig: (Astronaut)

I finally have a fully operational Windows Phone, following its arrival on Friday. The delay is not the fault of the phone, I hasten to say, it's due to unfortunate timing and mistakes made by the provider. I won't dwell on those.

Windows Phone 7The Windows Phone is supposed to have a pretty standard user experience regardless of whose hardware you've acquired, but in case you're interested what I'm typing in to at the moment is an HTC 7 Trophy, with 8GB of RAM. Memory is one of the key distinguishing factors between the phones on the market, although there are others. For work it was more important to get a phone promptly than get a memory monster, so we passed up the chance to wait for an LG Optimus 7 with 16GB. The HTC phone is physically prettier, quite like an iPhone.

Sitting on a bus bombing through the Fife countryside as I am, the feature I'm most conscious of is the onscreen keyboard, the only means of text input. I've heard it compares well with the iPhone, and a juddery bus is a pretty fierce test, but I do feel fat fingered even when not stretching its capabilities. What I really want right now is a stylus (which is easier to steer with the point held on the page than stabbing at keys that respond when you get near them), and what I want in a more stable environment is a Bluetooth keyboard; unfortunately neither are supported, as I discovered when I tried with my old keyboard.

It's true I'm not a typical user. I have a dumb phone myself, and wouldn't have that if I hadn't been given it. What I want is a PDA, but since most/all PDAs are phones these days, I'd better get used to it! ;-)

There's a lot to like, though. The touch is nice and responsive, and it will be interesting to see how the marketplace develops. Office is a handy thing to have a mobile version of, and at no extra cost (unlike the extra software I had to invest in for my Palms). Although I'm not really a gamer, the Xbox Live integration is a nice touch.

Standard stuff like mail was fairly easy to set up, apart from connecting to Exchange through Outlook Web Access secured by a self-signed certificate. The only way to get the root certificate onto the machine is to set up some other e-mail account on the device, mail the certificate to yourself, and install it from the e-mail message . Personally I'm a fan of paying for certificates for applications like this, but grrr! That was annoying. Once set up, each e-mail account has its own tile on the start screen, and they are accessed separately.

I wasn't quite expecting that, because other updates from the Internet are all collected into one place, under the People tile. Well, the ones that are supported, anyway - Windows Live and Facebook. If you use some other social media, like LiveJournal or Twitter you're out of luck - for now at least - and will need to use the browser or a dedicated app. I understand why it's not possible to support all the many and varied options out there, but not sure why something that's basically a social newsreader can't accept an RSS feed...

Browsing the Internet is quite cool (dumb phone owner, remember!), and the pinch zoom does make it possible to browse pages that would otherwise be a non-starter. Kudos to Apple for leading the way on that one - but having used it in anger, it's now quite clear that it's a sticking plaster. If you're developing a web site, and you want people to access it from mobile devices, do them a favour and design for mobile: don't just trust the browser to take care of it for you. It may work, but it'll be needlessly painful.

Bing maps with the built-in GPS are quite fun - not sure there's much to add to that, but there you go.

I guess the key question has to be, would I get one with my own money? Well, I've been waiting a long time for a device that I would be satisfied with as a worthwhile upgrade from my venerable Palm Vx. I've always said it has to be a convergence device, at least to the extent that it will replace not one, but two of the devices I carry around with me. The Windows Phone doesn't quite do everything my Palm can; most notably it's missing a database solution like HanDBase, though that's surely just a matter of time. It's the first time, though, that I've played with a device where I think "This might be the one". It's got decent potential as a PDA; it's a phone; it's got a camera that's comparable to the one I was using up until last year; it doesn't have the capacity to carry my music collection, but then neither does anything else except the high end iPods; finally, it's actually pleasurable to use.

Rather a powerful point in its favour is that it's part of the Microsoft ecosystem and will work with my other devices with a minimum of hassle; and I have the option of developing for it without having to buy a Mac, although I'm a bit disappointed it would cost me $99 p.a. just to be able install an app directly onto my own machine. Admittedly, that would also allow me to distribute it through the Marketplace, and earn megabucks (ahem), and do likewise for the Xbox, but still.

So the answer is maybe, but a more definite maybe than any previous device. May be interesting to see what emerges over the next few months.

June 2017

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