Hardware Lineup 2011

As we head into 2011, I’m running a whole bunch of kit with the main items being;

Phone

I’ve had the HTC Mozart running Windows Phone 7 for about 5-6 weeks now and I’m really loving it – mainly I’m using it as a phone (!) and I’m finding that performance, battery life, voice and text are all really strong but I also use it as a connected device mainly running Maps (love maps on the phone), Seesmic and Messenger on it and the integrated search functionality which I find a lot more useful than being presented with a web browser. From time to time I drop into IE as well but it’s only as a last resort as I’d rather use a dedicated app for whatever I’m trying to get done.

I don’t use the phone too much for music or video as it doesn’t have a tonne of storage on it but I do have it sync’ing certain sets of photos.

As an aside, when it comes to music I’m a bit binary. Either a device can store all my music or it can’t. If it can’t then I can’t generally be bothered to figure out which music I do/don’t want on that particular device so I tend not to put music on the device at all.

I also don’t use it for games but that’s really because I’m not really a big video game player.

One of the unexpected upsides of the WP7 is using the Zune software to manage sync’ing – I’ve found that to be a really positive experience and it knocks iTunes into a cocked hat (ok, I know that’s not necessarily saying much) but it’s a big thumbs up to whoever worked on the sync’ing experience for Zune<->WP7.

Verdict: 9/10. Hold!

Music Player

For music, I have the old, classic iPod and I can’t see me replacing it unless it breaks. It’s got 80GB and easily fits all my music onto it and the battery life lasts for ages so I’m happy with that.

Verdict: 7/10. Hold ( the UI is quite clunky on these old iPods but I’m keeping it ).

Slate

I recently took a long holiday and wanted a lightweight computing device to read stuff on and I got a 32GB WIFI iPad for that and I’ve been really pleased with it ( especially since the update brought along multi-tasking ). It’s a nice device ( if a bit on the expensive side ) but it does come with that “locked in” feeling every now and again.

Primarily, I’ve used the iPad for Photos, Maps, Twitter, RSS reading, Windows Live Messenger ( including uploading photos to Windows Live ), Skype calls, newspaper reading ( the Telegraph seems to be the best free example of this ) and I’ve also used it quite a lot for watching TV/films on planes.

Mostly, I’m spending my time in apps and not the browser but I still find myself in Safari from time to time. One of the things I’ve been most impressed with about the iPad is its battery life and, particularly, its battery life while watching video.

Once again, because the 32GB doesn’t fit my entire music collection, I’ve avoided putting any music on the iPad at all but I figure it I’m carrying around the iPad then I’ve probably got a bag with me and I can drop the iPod into it so there’s not really much point in having the music duplicated.

Where I’ve found the iPad limited is in the iTunes experience ( I don’t find the sync process much fun ) and also in the locked-down nature of the device. As a simple example, I found the process of getting a photograph from a camera to Windows Live something of a challenge on the iPad and took a little bit of figuring out as in;

  1. Buy the “camera connector” kit from Apple Sad smile What? No USB?
  2. Plug in camera.
  3. Bring photos into iPhoto on the iPad.
  4. Have very limited options for manipulating those photos inside iPhoto on the device. Can’t create events. Can’t do much.
  5. Use Safari to visit Windows Live. Find that Safari disables any file upload buttons on HTML pages Sad smile
  6. Look for an alternative. Find that Windows Live Messenger iPhone app allows photo upload to Windows Live ( Microsoft 1, Apple 0 )
  7. Upload photos.

It’s not particularly intuitive and you realise that you’re “not working the way that Apple wants you to work” when you’re doing it Sad smile

I also find the experience of “connect iPad to iMac and both iTunes and iPhoto pop up and start trying to sync” a little bit weird – I’m not sure that pretending that the iPad is a camera is the right experience here.

Anyway, the overall experience is a positive one and I’m hoping that there’ll soon be some Windows powered devices with this form factor that give the iPad a genuine run for its money with perhaps more flexibility to make the device open to a few more scenarios.

Verdict: 8/10. Hold.

Laptop

Compared to the other devices, I spend tonnes of time with my laptop and so it’s more important than any of the other devices I’m using.

I’m still running my trusty Dell XPS 1640 which is the best laptop I’ve ever owned. I’m (of course) running Windows 7 Ultimate on it which is the best version of Windows client I’ve ever run so this makes for a very happy experience all round. I had a panic with the XPS this year when the keyboard broke but Dell were great in getting an engineer out to fix it really quickly.

My only worry is that Dell will ditch the XPS 16 series without replacing it with something better.

When I’m not on the road somewhere, I have the XPS connected to the Dell SX2210T touch-screen monitor that I bought this year;

I only connect the “touch screen” part of this when I actually need it ( it’s a separate USB cable ) but I’m pretty happy with it as a second monitor as it’s nice and bright and matches the 1920×1080 of my laptop screen.

I also plug it into a set of speakers that I’ve had for ages, the Logitech THX Z2300;

which are more than good enough for the “home office” and, being a bit of a mouse-collector, I’m still running with my Explorer Mini Mouse which I’ve had for ages and really like;

image

In terms of storage, the laptop also syncs up to my very simple NAS, the Lacie-2Big 1TB which is just a 2-disk mirrored affair that I use for storing photos, music and a few other bits and pieces. Because it got updated to support Universal Plug n Play I find it’s quite a useful little box so I’ve kept it;

and, elsewhere, I’ve a Philips Streamium device which connects to this and plays music off it remotely;

and they seem to get along with each other most of the time connecting over Belkin “1Gbps” Powerline ethernet;

which seems to generally deliver about 200Mbps which I’m very happy with although I do find that I have to reboot these devices perhaps on average once per week in order to keep them running smoothly.

Verdict: 9/10. Hold.

Desktop

In the desktop world, I have an old Windows desktop kicking around that I haven’t switched on for quite a while and I have an ageing iMac which gets used for some general web-browsing and it plays a part in managing music and photos collections.

I bought this machine as an experiment a few years ago when, in all honesty, using a Windows Vista machine as a “general purpose desktop” in the house wasn’t working out too well. Sorry Vista Sad smile

If I was looking at it again today, I’d probably ditch the iMac and replace it with a cheaper Windows machine as I find that there’s nothing much that works “better” for me on the iMac than it does on Windows 7 and, in truth, I find that this particular machine is always dropping its IP address settings and I have a devil of a time getting it to print so I’m a bit fed up with it although I’d quite like to try my hand at a little development for it this coming year if I “find the time”.

Verdict: 6/10. Sell ( or, more likely, just avoid and use other kit Smile ).

Ten

“Happy Birthday to me” Smile

I’m not sure about the “Star Wars” theme but the 10 fits the mark.

It’s 10 years to the day since I joined Microsoft in the UK.

Prior to joining Microsoft I’d had 6 (“proper”) jobs and the most time I’d managed to stay in any one of them was 3 years. One lasted as little as 6 months but then I’d argue I was conned on that one as they said they wanted someone to write code when, in fact, they didn’t Winking smile

I started writing code 28 years ago when I was 12 and I started writing code for a living just about 20 years ago.

At Microsoft, I spent 4 years in developer consulting for working with the range of the UK’s independent software vendors and some of the largest end-customers of our technology as well.

The combination of working in a team of really strong technical folks and getting exposure to lots of different customer apps provided a great opportunity to grow. I also spent quite some time running the UK’s scalability lab which gave me a lot of exposure to web platform and SQL scalability.

When I started in that team we were mostly talking about IIS, C++, VB, MTS, COM+ and SQL Server and the whole idea of “Windows DNA”.

By the time I left that job, the landscape of apps that we were working with had shifted to .NET and I was coming across (and writing) native code a lot less frequently.

I moved across to the developer ‘evangelism’ team around 5-6 years ago and have spent the time getting out via;

  • this blog
  • articles in various publications and on various sites
  • videos in places like Channel 9 and other sites
  • in person events like UK community group events, Microsoft UK events, private company events and then big public conferences like TechEd, MIX, DevDays, TechDays, DevWeek, Software Architect and so on

talking to developers and architects about the developer platform, tooling and frameworks for building their apps for Windows.

Over the years that’s spanned a lot of technologies. Larger examples include;

  • Client – Silverlight, WPF, WP7, Expression Blend, Windows Forms, Windows 7 and Windows Vista and even a bit of ASP.NET in the early days
  • Languages – C# 2,3,4 with some bits of C++/CLI thrown in and even the odd bit of VB from time to time.
  • Server – WF, WCF, IIS, BizTalk Server
  • Data – LINQ to XML, LINQ to SQL, Entity Framework, WCF Data Services, SQL Server 2005 & 2008
  • Frameworks – MEF, Parallel
  • Tools – Visual Studio 2005, 2008, 2008 Sp1, 2010

I think someone even made me do a SharePoint session once and I mostly got away with it by saying

“Let me start by saying I don’t know anything about SharePoint but I can show you this one thing here…” Winking smile

Generally, it’s been a blast. What I’ve figured out over that 10 years is that I like;

  • Poking around with developer languages, tools, frameworks and figuring out what they do, where they fit and where they are going.
  • Talking to developers about that and trying to shorten the time it takes them to decide whether a particular technology fits into their environment and how to make best use of it if it does

There’s also been some things that I haven’t enjoyed quite so much but I won’t bore you with those Winking smile 

And so a big thanks to folks that;

  • I’ve worked with over the past 10 years at Microsoft or at its customers/partners
  • have come along to one of my talks over the past years and been kind enough to provide feedback (especially the ones that provided the good feedback Winking smile)
  • have watched some video or screencast that I’ve produced
  • have been kind enough to keep my manager happy by requesting this RSS feed on a regular basis

I look forward to working with you some more over the coming years.

“Happy Birthday to me” Smile

48 Best Free Software Downloads from Microsoft

Just a quick call-out for a page I visit from time to time on TechRadar.

48 best free software downloads from Microsoft

It’s been there a while but I had cause to revisit it today to find out more about the free “Learning Content Development System” which is something you might want to try if you put together online courses. I hadn’t seen it before and hence I went and revisited that page to see how it ranked up there.

Of the 48 things listed here I use;

  • Debugging Tools for Windows
  • Process Monitor
  • Virtual PC
  • Process Explorer
  • Expression Encoder (although I admit I’m on the paid for version of 4.0)
  • pptPlex (although not very often)
  • Desktops
  • SharedView
  • Visual Studio Express Editions
  • Web Platform Installer
  • Silverlight

Naturally, you could argue for some other things to be in that list ( SQL Express? Windows Phone Tools? etc. ) but it’s a good resource nonetheless.