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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Things about Windows 10 #3: Taskbar icon apps are frustrating

In Things about Windows 10 #2 I wrote:

It turns out Windows 10 is fairly terrible at remembering window sizes and placement when connecting to or disconnecting from an external display.

This post is in a similar vein.

The Windows 10 taskbar houses a few apps that constantly run such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Docker, 1Password, etc. This is very similar to macOS’s menu bar at the top of the screen. These small apps don’t require full window interfaces in many cases, and they run all the time, so the developers decided not to make them full blown apps that have their own task bar items with other apps like your email or calendar.

The issue I have is that whenever I change display sizes the “faux windows” or small pop-up dialogs that these icons invoke all but disappear (see right side of screenshot). From my research and my own noodling around there is no way to retrieve these without restarting the processes these icons represent. It isn’t as easy as quitting the “app” since you cannot find the interface to do so. You have to open the Windows 10 Task Manager and find the process and quit it. Then reopen that process yourself.

I waited several builds of Windows 10 to write this post, thinking it would be fixed very quickly. I cannot imagine that Microsoft’s Windows team isn’t running into this every single day themselves so I’m hoping a fix is in the works.

Things about Windows 10 #2: Moving non-existent windows

Well, I had said I’d try to keep this series positive but every now and then you run up against a problem.

It turns out Windows 10 is fairly terrible at remembering window sizes and placement when connecting to or disconnecting from an external display. So far I’ve had issues going both ways and having to rearrange all of my windows each time. On the Mac, it always remembers how I like my windows arranged in each context. I’m connected to an external display most of the time so I only feel this pain a few times per week.

This turns out to be a particularly frustrating issue if an app, like DropIt, doesn’t have a Taskbar item. It means you can’t “get a window back” onto the primary display without some sort of trickery.

Here is what you do: select the app by clicking on the primary icon for it, type Alt then Space then M (not at the same time) and that will allow you to move the “lost” window with your arrow keys to get it back.

My opinion of Microsoft Surface, 6 years later

Me, in 2012, writing about the first time I saw a Surface device:

I could have played with it longer. But I wouldn’t want to. The Surface is terrible. Even if you’ve never picked up an iPad or an Android-powered tablet you would think the Surface is pretty slow, hard to use, and heavy; three things a tablet device should probably never have said about it.

I’m writing this on a borrowed Surface Pro (using it until my Dell XPS comes in) and last year I spent a lot of time on a Surface Book (a review that I wrote 2,100 words on and never published).

Today I’d be willing to say that the Surface line from Microsoft is very good and only getting better. The Pro, Laptop, Studio, and now Go are excellent computers, well-built, and worth investigating as your next computer.

A lot can change in 6 years. I wrote this paragraph 2 years ago already:

I’m keeping an extremely close eye on all things Microsoft lately. I’ve even stated, publicly, that I think if they continue on their current course they are going to be beating Apple on several fronts within half a decade.

They are well on their way.

My experience buying a Windows laptop

After 16+ years working, writing, playing, making, listening, watching on a Macintosh, I’m switching back to Windows. Within a few days from today I will no longer be a Mac user. In fact, the only Apple product I will be using regularly will be my 2014 iPad Air 2 which I plan to replace soon.

(I’m not the only one.)

This is a big deal for me. But not as big of a deal as it would have been if I had made this switch back to Windows a few years ago. A lot has changed. Windows 10 has gotten good. Hardware is arguably nearly as good. And so much of the software is either written cross-platform or runs on the cloud.

This decision to move back to Windows has been years in the making. In fact, it may be about 1 year later than it should have been. While I hope to find the time to write about why I believe it is a great time to switch from macOS to Windows (though, I’ve mentioned it several times here) this post is going to be focused on the experience of researching and buying a Windows computer.

Buying a Windows computer can be a draining task compared to buying a Mac.

Since 2002, when I fully switched from Windows to the Mac, I’ve purchased 9 Macintoshes for personal use, and several others for team members at work. Each time I purchased a new Mac it took me 15-20 minutes to make a decision on what I wanted to buy. Sixteen years of buying Macs has made me a bit lazy.

Deciding which Mac to buy is a fairly simple exercise. First, I would wait until Apple released brand-new models. Then, I would ask myself these questions:

  • What size screen do I want/need?
  • What is my budget?
  • What is the very best Mac I can buy with the screen size I want for the budget I have?

With the answers to these questions I was usually able to pick out the model I wanted within a few minutes, grab the box in the Apple Store or at Best Buy, and walk out.

So a few months ago when I sort of kind of knew for sure that I wanted to switch to Windows I began to look around at what my options were. What is it like to buy a Windows computer?

Due to the abundance of choice, purchasing a Windows computer is not as simple as buying a Mac. This fact is actually something I’ve criticized for years but is now something I see as an advantage. I used to say “I don’t want so much choice, just give me what I need. I like that Apple just gives me what I need.”

However, time has taught me that this is only good if Apple makes all the right choices for me. And for the last few years they haven’t been. They’ve probably been making the right choices for someone else (likely students, casual consumers, etc.) but not for me. What Apple are selling I no longer need.

I digress! Remember, the “why you should consider switching from Mac to Windows post” may come in the future. Back to buying.

Unless you walk into a Microsoft Store and purchase a Surface of your liking (the way I used to purchased Macs) this is what the buying experience is like.

You go to the web site’s of Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, HP (and others) and pore over all of the configurations they have available.

While you’re there you try to build up your vocabulary both for the manufacturer’s brand names (Lenovo has like three different YOGA type laptops and ten THINKPAD lines, etc.) and for the actual hardware that is inside these laptops. Each of them have their pluses and their minuses and differing options available.

For instance, and this is just one small example, as of this writing you cannot purchase an “ultrabook” sized laptop (13″) with a 4K screen, dedicated GPU, more than 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. You can purchase some combination of these things but you can’t get this exact thing (at least not via the manufacturer’s that I researched). The combinations can be overwhelming and all of the information about these computers is not in the same place.

One huge, huge resource for me was Lisa Gade and Mr. Mobile on YouTube. Both of these laptop reviewers have a style I enjoy. They get directly to the point, explain real world scenarios for their use, and also take the time to compare one laptop with another in head-to-head battles.

Tech reviewers on YouTube have some serious job security. Not only are they distilling a huge amount of information into a quick video – but they need to do it every single month as manufacturers make slight adjustments to their lineups. It has to be a full-time job just keeping all of this straight.

For a few days I was dead set on buying the Huawei Matebook Pro X. It has everything I want in a Windows PC and – coincidentally, looks exactly like a MacBook Pro. However, it appears it will take a few months to be able to buy one in the United States (thanks Verge). By that time I fully expect the models that are available today to be outdated so I decided I didn’t want to wait that long. Perhaps that will be my next computer in 3 or 4 years if they are still highly rated then.

I happily chose the Dell XPS 13” (Model 9370). Yes, I reconfigured mine with exactly what I needed so it will be a fe days before Dell gets it to me. According to all of the reviews I’ve seen it will work just fine for my needs. And I also plan on buying an external GPU (something I was considering doing for my MacBook Pro set up anyway) to give me a bit more oomph working within the Adobe Creative Suite (something I do far more at my current job than I did over the last few years).

Side note: I would not purchase a Windows computer through many retail outlets that I’ve been to. Best Buy, Target, Sam’s Club, Staples — all have meager selections. These retailers likely have better choices through their web sites but I would recommend buying PCs directly from the source. In fact, if you call the manufacturer you will get a better deal for the exact same hardware. I won’t tell you the deal that I got simply by calling our company’s Dell representative, but I can say it was very worth the phone call.

It took me a few weeks to decide on the Windows PC that I wanted. Now that I have a base knowledge of what is available, of the vocabulary, and now that I know what I’m looking for – it will likely take less time to make a decision next time.

I’ll let you know what I think of the Dell XPS when I get it.

This post was written on a borrowed Surface Pro on Windows 10 that I’ve been using for over two weeks and I’m very, very happy with my Windows 10 experience so far.

Trey Ratcliff switches to Windows 10

Trey Ratcliff, professional photographer (via the aforementioned Stammy):

I converted to Apple over 5 years ago when it was clear to me Apple made the best products for creative professionals. I loved Apple and became a hardcore fanboy. I was all-in. Now, I’m switching back to PCs. The new line of MacBook Pros are not-that-awesome. Apple has always been a company that makes beautiful, well-designed products (and still does), but they’ve started to put an emphasis on sleek design form over professional function.

Switch to Mac and away from Mac within 5 years (which is a typical upgrade cycle for a normal person). Not good.

Paul Stamatiou switches to Windows 10

Paul Stamatiou, long, long-time online friend, designer at Twitter, and a hobbyist photographer:

I decided it was time to upgrade to something a bit more powerful. This time I decided to build a PC and switch to Windows 10 for my heavy computing tasks. Yes, I switched to Windows.

The shift of professionals needing to switch to Windows started 20 months ago or so. It is slow, gradual. And even with the iMac Pro shipping, I think Apple’s eye (perhaps purposefully) is off of the professional market and focused mainly on the consumer market. There are far more consumers to sell to than professionals to sell to. I think now this shift has extended beyond just the full-time professional to the hobbyist.

Here are his thoughts on Windows + Linux with WSL:

It is now possible to run a full Linux environment right inside Windows. This means you can install Ubuntu or another distro and get access to the same bash prompt you’d expect inside Ubuntu. It was this new Linux functionality (that I read about on Owen’s blog several times) that was partially responsible for my initial curiosity in Windows 10 and building a new PC. It meant I could also easily carry out my basic web developement tasks to maintain and publish to this site. For me that means a simple Ruby and Node development environment.

Most blog posts, other than those by MSFT, gloss over how WSL works. WSL isn’t a virtual machine or some odd clunky way of running Linux on a PC that also has Windows installed. WSL is Linux running with Windows. I think WSL alone will pull a huge portion of the web development industry towards Windows 10 over the next 3 to 5 years. PC design has also caught up to Apple in many price points and that alone may turn a developer in need of an upgrade to at least try a Windows PC at their local store. Especially if Apple keeps stumbling on OS upgrades or the PR surrounding their bugs.

Stammy adds:

I really can’t understate the magnitude of this.

If you’ve read my blog for a little while you know I’ve been beating this drum for a while. Just over a year, in fact. Apple is less focused on the professional market than they have been in over a decade, Microsoft is more focused on it than ever, and because of that it is picking up tons of programmers and designers. I don’t think Apple is blind to this, they may not even care at the moment, but I think they should. Because where the nerds go the masses follow.

What will your next development computer be? Will you even entertain the idea of moving to Windows 10? Why not?

Universal Apple apps

Mark Gurman, for Bloomberg:

Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

Remember the many times I’ve written that I wish Apple would combine iOS and macOS into a single operating system that simply adjusts based on the device it is running on? That isn’t what this is, but it is still a great step in the right direction.

Me, a little over a year ago, regarding the Surface Book with Performance Base:

I’ve long written on this blog that I believe Microsoft’s vision of one operating system for both contexts is better than Apple’s two-OS approach. John disagrees with me on this. And I don’t know that there is a right or wrong answer but there certainly is a preference. My preference is to keep my “power user” stuff at my fingertips for when I need them but to hide them when I don’t. The Surface Book does this.

When I was testing a Surface Book for a time I had what I felt is the best of both worlds. I came into my office, docked on a large monitor, and got to work. When I wanted to be mobile and work out of a coffee shop, I could be and everything came with me. Then, when I wanted to read on the couch I could undock the screen and use it like a Surface. Windows 10 would adjust to whichever context I was in. It was either optimized for keyboard / mouse input or for touch.

I still believe this is the correct approach. And we’re starting to see more of it. Look also at Samsung’s DeX that allows a phone to plug into a display and give you a slightly different interface, drag-and-drop, etc. for getting your work done. There are countless number of professionals where this type of setup would not only work well – but it would be ideal and less expensive or confusing than having disparate devices.

This proposed strategy for Apple, that Gurman says he has insider information on, isn’t the same path that Microsoft is taking. It isn’t one device and it isn’t one operating system either. Gurman isn’t saying that Apple is going to release a single OS for all devices but rather that the app binaries will run on multiple devices and operating systems. It is more akin to Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform. Many Windows UWP apps and games can run on Surface tablets, PCs, and Xboxes. This is amazing. I’m sure Microsoft users love it. Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple allowed the same app to run on Macs, iPhones, and Apple TVs? Wouldn’t that also allow many great iOS apps to suddenly be useful on macOS? I can think of many iOS-only apps I’d love to have on my Mac.

I welcome this if it happens.

I feel like these approaches are just stops along the road to a unified device that runs a single operating system and can work in many contexts. In some ways, it is the largest advantage that Augmented Reality will bring to the professional workplace. Put on your glasses and work however you’d like. Small window. Huge window. On a 3D object. Or on Mustafar with Tie-fighters flying overhead.

Until then, I’d love an iPhone 7 Plus-sized device that ran a single operating system that “worked like” iOS while on-the-go, and that I could plug into a large monitor and give me full macOS experience. That, for me, would be ideal. Until AR is ready.

NFL and the Surface

Dan Thorp-Lancaster for Windows Central:

Under the deal, the NFL will continue to use Microsoft Surface tablets for referee video reviews through the end of the 2018/2019 season, SportsPro reports. Coaches and players will also continue to use Surface tablets to review footage during games.

I’m glad MSFT is sticking with this. You’ll recall this gaff, perhaps. But I think that is fading. People know what a Surface is now. And, I think both the Surface hardware and Windows 10 are getting so much better that they need to keep pushing this brand in front of people. It is a great product.

I honestly believe one of Microsoft’s biggest challenge is marketing. See also this rant.

Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality

In this video Tom Warren of The Verge uses some mixed reality headsets for Windows. Watching them I’m reminded just how far this industry has to go. I’d call much of what I see in this video very much beta-level hardware and software.

It has only been 5 months since I wrote the aforelinked piece and we’ve seen some major, major movement in this space during that time. Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all thrown massive amounts of resources into mixed reality. I feel the pace of updates will only quicken over the next 24 months. By 2020 everything we see in this video will look ancient.

/via Dan Kimbrough on Twitter.

Colin Walker on macOS software

Colin Walker:

Using OSX can be more intuitive at times but it is visually inconsistent. It may have been through various aesthetic revisions but it can feel old. I think Microsoft has done a better job of enforcing a standard look for applications on the desktop and the Windows design language is now generally more modern.

In the early 2000s when I jumped from Windows to the Mac I felt this very same way … except I was describing the Mac as generally more modern and Windows as visually inconsistent. It is interesting to see a new Mac user’s perspective.

Even today, when I use a Windows 10 computer and click down a few screens I find it terribly inconsistent. I see stuff that looks like Windows 98 to my eyes sometimes. I don’t see that in macOS very often – if at all. But, I can see Walker’s perspective. macOS does feel a little long in the tooth to me too. Not compared to Windows 10 but just that the overall design language is stale. Perhaps High Sierra will spruce things up enough to keep it fresh.