Type Cover 2 Makes Everything Better

I hopped on the Surface RT train when it was first released. I had a hard time choosing between the Touch Cover and Type Cover, but I ultimately ended up going with the Touch Cover. It was getting decent reviews and seemed like a great idea. I didn’t love it right out of the gate, but I didn’t hate it, either. I tried my best to use and stick with it. “I just need to put in the hours and practice,” I thought to myself, “I’ll like it more as I get better.”

Well, it didn’t really get better for me. I was able to type at a decent speed, but it wasn’t close to what I could do with a normal keyboard. There were a lot of typos, and it was particularly annoying when entering complex passwords with special characters. Did I hit shift for that letter correctly? Guess I’ll find out… Nope.

My number one pet peeve was the lack of F-keys. Or rather, the lack of labels for the F-keys. When I got it, I had to google how to use the F-keys. That was a bad decision, and I just don’t get why they didn’t label them. So the F-keys were there, and you could count it out or use the regular number keys as a guide, but it was more thinking than I should have to do to hit an F-key.

And so I was excited to learn about Microsoft’s release of the Type Cover TWO. What? They made a second-generation Type Cover? What could they possible have changed? Well, they didn’t change much, but it was enough to convince me to give it a shot. After using it for just one day, I’m thrilled. My typing speed is WAY up, and it feels like I’m using an actual, real keyboard. Further, as I’m typing and editing this article, I’m noticing that using the arrow and navigation keys to jump around is way better, too! Yay for Type Cover!!

As far as what was actually changed, they added backlit keys and labels to the F-keys. Small changes with big impact. I love the feel of this keyboard, I’m happy that I can use it in the dark, and I’m thrilled that they labeled the damn F-keys!

If you were like me and bought a Touch Cover, and you’re only lukewarm about it and on the fence about pulling the trigger on a Type Cover, my advice is to do it. This is a definite game-changer for me. The Touch Cover is a fun idea, but I’m tellin’ you: Type Cover is where it’s at!

Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging App Update

When I hopped on my Surface this morning, I noticed there was an update available to the Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging app. I love getting updates, particularly to core system apps that I use every day. I wanted to know what actually changed, though!

I headed to the internet and found this post from on the Windows Experience Blog. It’s got the information I was looking for, but it wasn’t in the format I wanted. I just wanted a bulleted list, not a narrative about how apps can be used that I need to read through to pick out changes. So, I’ve done the legwork for you—here’s what’s new.

  • Filter mail to see only unread emails
  • Create and delete mail folders
  • Select all mail items in a folder and move or delete them
  • Flag emails
  • “Smart contact suggestions” in the To line when composing emails
  • Draft messages show at the top of inbox
  • Add, edit, and delete hyperlinks and edit numbered or bulleted lists in emails
  • Search server email messages
  • View Exchange details for contacts
  • Solid blocks of color removed from calendar; now colored bar is used to determine which calendar
  • “Work week” view added to calendar
  • Forward invitations and email all attendees from calendar
  • Improved navigation in people app by swiping from the top
  • Filter “What’s New” by source (e.g., Facebook, Twitter)

The article makes it sound like there may be more than this, but these were the changes that I’m now aware of. Let me know if there’s more that I missed.

Microsoft Flash Policy Reversed in Windows 8 and RT

Hooray! This week, Microsoft reversed its very conservative Flash policy for Windows 8 and Windows RT. The previous policy required Flash developers to certify their applications and have them added to Microsoft’s Compatibility View List. This was frustrating to me as a Surface RT early-adopter. Many Flash sites didn’t work. And I’m not talking about small-time Flash sites from random developers. I’m talking about large-scale, reputable sites like LogMeIn.com.

Luckily, Microsoft decided to convert its Compatibility View List from a white-list to a black-list. Now, all Flash websites will work in IE10 in Windows 8 and RT unless they have been explicitly banned.

In the long-term, I don’t think this is big news, as I see Flash being replaced slowly and surely by HTML5. I definitely see this as a win for RT in the short-term, though. Not being able to install alternate browsers or software really puts RT users at the mercy of Microsoft, and while it obviously had the best of intentions, the certification process was causing more harm than good. Kudos to Microsoft for realizing this and easing the restriction. As a Surface RT user, I appreciate it!

Read more about the policy change here.

Registry Hack for Flash in Win RT

One of the measures Microsoft has taken to improve security in Windows RT is to only play Flash content from sites on their Compatibility View (CV) list. Over time, I doubt this will be much of an issue as more and more sites are moving to HTML 5 and away from Flash, but it causes some pain now because there are sites I want to use that haven’t found their way onto Microsoft’s list.

Let’s ignore the problem with other sites for a moment and focus on a different problem. What if you’re a Flash developer, and you want to get your application approved by Microsoft and onto the CV list? You need a way to test your application, right? Microsoft has published an article about a registry entry that will override the CV requirement for a single domain.

The short version is that you just need to add the domain to the following registry value:

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Flash\DebugDomain]

The article adds some important notes about the value to enter:

  • Direct URLs to a page or resource are not supported (for example, contoso.com/xyz). Any value containing ‘/’ is not supported, including: http:// (or https://).
  • Do not use “www.” prefix, which is stripped (for example, http://www.movies.yahoo.com loads as http://movies.yahoo.com).
  • Only a single domain is supported.

So, using this same trick intended for developers, we can override the restriction for individual sites. I tried this out on my Surface RT with a site that I had problems with previously, and it worked like a champ. Here’s the step-by-step version of what I did:

  1. Go to Desktop Mode
  2. Open a Run prompt by pressing Windows key + R
  3. Run “regedit”
  4. Browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > Software > Microsoft > Internet Explorer
  5. Right-click Internet Explorer and choose New > Key; name the new key “Flash
  6. Right-click Flash and choose New > String Value; name the new value “DebugDomain
  7. Double-click DebugDomain and enter the domain; I used “digital.olivesoftware.com”
  8. Close Registry Editor
  9. Open Internet Explorer, browse to the site, and enjoy Flash content!

This works great, but it’s annoying that you can only do one domain at a time. An idea for making this slightly less painful is to export the Flash registry key to create shortcuts. To do this, right-click “Flash” in Registry Editor and choose Export. You’ll be prompted to save the key to a file, and you can update the key by double-clicking the file that is created. Using this method, you can create several shortcuts for sites that you visit frequently. It’s obviously not ideal to need to update your registry before browsing to a site, but, hey, it’s better than not being able to use your favorite sites, right!?

Surface Pro Coming This Month?

Rumors are flying that Microsoft will release the Pro version of its Surface tablet this month. The most interesting news I’ve seen on the topic is that Office 2013 won’t be included. As an MSDN subscriber, this wouldn’t be a big deal for me. However, I’d be pretty annoyed as a regular consumer.

Taking off my techie hat for a moment, it doesn’t make any sense. I can buy RT, a “lite” version of Windows, and get a free version of Office. Alternatively, I can pay $300 more for the Pro version that gives me less capability out of the box. If I want Office, I have to pay even more.

Now, putting my techie hat back on, I understand that the Pro version gives you a full version of Windows, and that’s what you’re paying for. You can install your old copy of Office 2003 or download a free alternative like OpenOffice.org–something you can’t do with Surface RT. If Microsoft didn’t provide Office with RT, there would be no offline alternative available, and that would be a huge problem. That said, it still seems like a silly move to me. Think about every feature graph you’ve ever seen that compares different versions of a product: the checkmarks usually don’t disappear as you move to the “advanced” versions.

The reality is that Surface Pro is intended for business and professional users. The Home & Student version of Office that ships with Surface RT probably isn’t sufficient for them, and they’d likely upgrade to a better version of Office anyway. So why not throw the average Joe User a bone and include a free version of Office? Is this just another example of corporate greed? It sure feels like it.

On a lighter, less-ranty note, I’m very curious to see how Surface Pro users will really use their tablets. I convinced myself that the things that appealed to me with Pro weren’t realistic uses. I’d love to install Visual Studio, but I’m not going to sit down and develop applications on it. I’d like to install Photoshop, but I’m not going to be editing graphics on it. Or… maybe I would, and I’m just trying to convince myself that I hastily made the right decision by opting to not wait for Surface Pro. I’m also interested in the difference in battery life, as that was another key justification in my decision to go with RT. I think I have a few co-workers that are ready to pull the trigger on a Pro as soon as it’s available, so I should have answers to these questions soon.

Sync Android Photos to SkyDrive

One of the features I really liked (and miss) on my Windows Phone 7 was the pictures live tile. Any pictures I took on my phone would rotate on my home screen. It was a great way to see and view my pictures without actually opening and browsing through my gallery—something that I’m unlikely to do just because I’m bored.

Windows8_StartScreen_Pictures

So, I was happy to see that this same pictures-live-tile functionality included in Windows 8. By default, the Windows 8 tile goes out to SkyDrive—where all my Windows Phone pictures were synced to—and uses those pictures in its rotation. One problem, though: I’m no longer using Windows Phone. So my Windows 8 live tile only rotates through 300 or so pictures that I took a year ago and doesn’t include anything recent. Bummer.

No problem, I figured, I’ll just sync my Android photos to SkyDrive and problem solved. I headed to the Play Store and found an app called FolderSync—which comes in both free and paid versions. FolderSync lets me do exactly what I want: pick a folder on my phone (my camera/pictures directory) and sync it to cloud storage (SkyDrive camera roll). Setup is easy, too. You just configure the application with your account, create a folder pairing, and you’re done.

FolderSync_Settings

Now, any pictures I take will upload to SkyDrive. And then, in Windows 8, they’ll be in rotation in the pictures live tile. The only thing that’s less than ideal about this is that the application won’t upload pictures on a scheduled interval. I’m not sure why. It allows automatic syncing to a local folder but not to a remote one. No big deal; I just have to remember to open the app and sync manually from time to time. Other than that, it’s perfect!

Group Hug: Surface, Office, and SkyDrive

I’ve been using SkyDrive for a while but in a very casual way. My OneNote notebooks are there so I can access and sync them across multiple devices. My phone pictures are there from when I had a Windows Phone. Other than that, I haven’t used it for much.

That changed big-time when I got my Surface, though.

One of the big selling points of Surface was that it was a tablet with Office. In order for me to realize my dreams of never-ending productivity, I need the ability to share documents between my Surface and other computers easily and efficiently. I knew that Office 2013 added integrated SkyDrive support, so this was the obvious sharing solution to me. I wasn’t expecting more than an online repository for my documents that I could access from multiple machines, but Office 2013 and SkyDrive provide a cross-machine experience that am absolutely delighted with.

So what do I like so much about it?

First of all, it’s easy to use. It’s the default save option, much like “My Documents” used to be. I don’t have to install any additional software or worry about services running to synchronize the contents of a folder. I don’t need to remember where a synched directory is, and I don’t have to do any browsing. I click “Save,” and I’m there.

 

The next reason I’m sold on the Office + SkyDrive solution is that it’s seamless across computers. When I create a new document on my Surface and save it to SkyDrive, that document shows at the top of the recent documents list on my work laptop. How cool is that!? Without doing anything more than using Office and saving to SkyDrive, I can move from computer to computer and pick up exactly where I left off.

The third reason that I’m sold on this solution is that, in addition to incredible machine-to-machine experience, you can also access your documents from the web. The Office web apps are very impressive; they look and feel just like their desktop counterparts.

I know that there are ways to do all of what I’ve described using other solutions. I’ve been a fan of Google Docs for a long time, and it’s been my go-to resource for personal documents that I need to access from the web. At work, it’s a different story. I can’t get away from Office, and getting the features I’ve described above from other services requires effort and, often times, leads to a more complex process. Office and SkyDrive give you all of this out-of-the-box with no effort. Now throw Surface into the mix, and it feels the holy trinity of mobile productivity.