Windows 8–How about apps that exploit both the Desktop and Modern UI?

After upgrading to Windows 8 on my main computer and utilising Windows 8 on review-sample laptop computers, I had a good chance to use the classic Desktop user interface along with the newer Modern user interface for a lot of computing needs.

Windows 8 Modern UI start screen

Windows 8 Modern UI has some benefits for some tasks

What I had found was that each of the “views” appealed to different tasks and working conditions. For example, I could use the Desktop View for applications that required detailed work and were more mouse / keyboard focused. This is although I had used the touchscreen with this interface for coarse navigation tasks like selecting functions on a toolbar or hyperlinks on a Webpage.

The Modern view, previously known as the Metro view, came in handy when I wanted a simpler user experience for the task like viewing a PDF or photograph. Even using Skype or Facebook with the Modern View gave that “dashboard” look which has everything at a glance, This worked well with the mouse on my main computer and with touchscreen setups on suitably-equipped laptops but was a bit of a pain when using just the trackpad on laptops that didn’t come with a touchscreen.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 has integrated Modern UI apps and Desktop apps into the Desktop user interface by allowing users to pin the Modern UI apps to the Desktop UI’s taskbar. This is augmented with the Modern UI apps also having a control strip that can be brought up to minimise or close these apps.

The current problem

Application with Desktop user interface

Skype with uncluttered Modern user interface

Skype with uncluttered Modern user interface

The current problem with the way applications are written for Windows 8 is that two different programs need to be delivered by different channels if you want to perform the same function on both interfaces. Firstly, I would have to install one application through the traditional paths for a regular computer i.e. install it from a CD or other removeable medium or download it from the developer’s site and install that download file. Then, if I want to have the “full” Modern user experience, I would have to visit the Windows Store to download a separate app that exploits that interface.

How could we improve on this?

One direction that Microsoft could offer for this is to allow developers to deliver a Desktop and Modern UI package as part of a single Windows 8.1 application install package. Here, the user just installs this one package as one action and finds both a Desktop-view application and Modern-view application for the same task on their machine.

This could come in the form of separate apps for each of the user experiences or a monolith app that presents in one way for the simplified Modern user interface and another way for the detailed Desktop user interface. This could also cater for a “live tile” option to show always-updating data. The user then has the choice of seeing a simplified user interface that works well with the touchscreen or mouse-based operation or a detailed user interface.

There also has to be the ability to be assured of data continuity between both the Desktop view and the Modern view, which is important for a lot of tasks. Some tasks like VoIP or working on a document can play a difficult hand if you switch between views whereas other “read-only” tasks which relate to a common data source can play properly with a user-interface switch.

The only problem about this ideal is having the ability for a user to determine the view they want to run because it is possible for a Desktop-view app launched from the (Modern-view) Start Screen. Similarly, from Windows 8.1 Update 1, it is possible to put a Modern-view Windows Store app on the Taskbar and launch it from there.

Conclusion

If Microsoft could provide a single-install single-update experience for those of us who run Windows 8 and newer operating systems, this could encourage software developers to work the Modern UI as a clean “dashboard” user experience while the regular Desktop view serves as a “detailed” user experience for those of us who want more control.

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50 years ago was the first public demonstration of the videophone concept

Article

50 years ago today, the public got its first taste of video calls | Engadget

My Comments

When we use Skype, Apple FaceTime, 3G mobile telephony or similar services for a video conversation where we see the other caller, this concept was brought to fruition 50 years ago courtesy of Bell Telephone.

Here, a public “proof-of-concept” setup was established between the site of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows in New York City and Disneyland in Los Angeles. People who wanted to try this concept sat in special phone booths where they talked in to a box with a small TV screen and camera as well as the speaker and microphone. They were able to see their correspondent as a 30-frames-per-second black-and-white TV image on this device and many people had a chance to give it a go for the duration of that World’s Fair.

Bell had a stab at marketing the “Picturephone” concept in different forms but the cost to purchase and use was prohibitive for most people and it got to a point where it could have limited corporate / government videoconferencing appeal. As well, a lot of science-fiction movies and TV shows written in the 1960s and 1970s, most notably “2001 A Space Odyssey” sustained the “Picturephone” and video telephony as something look forward to in the future along with space travel for everyone. For me, that scene in “2001 A Space Odyssey” with Dr. Heywood Floyd talking to his daughter on the public videophone at the space station stood out in my mind as what it was all about.

But as the IP technology that bears the Internet made it cheaper to use Skype and FaceTime, there are some of us who still find it difficult to make eye-contact with the correspondent due to having to know where the camera is on each side of the call.

In essence, the Bell public demonstration certainly has proven the concept from fiction to reality by allowing people to try it as part of a “world expo”.

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The latest Freebox devices now are VPN endpoints courtesy of a firmware update

Article – French language / Langue Française

Mise à jour Freebox : du Wi-Fi programmable et un VPN intégré | DegroupNews.com

My Comments

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

Freebox Révolution to be a VPN endpoint

Free.fr have been adding some extra functionality to their Freebox Révolution and Freebox Crystal “n-box” Internet-gateway devices. This is being delivered through a free firmware update (version 2.1.0) as in the nature of the highly-competitive French Internet-service market and users can download and implement them in these devices.

VPN Endpoint Router

One key product is the ability for a Freebox Révolution or Freebox Crystal Internet-gateway to become a fully-fledged small-business-grade VPN router. Here, you could set these devices to work as an endpoint for a client-to-box VPN or, perhaps, a box-to-box VPN joining two small networks via the Internet backbone. For example, you could set up a secure-browsing or secure-file-transfer link to your home or small-business network in Paris or even buy a Draytek VPN router for your home network in the UK and a Freebox  Révolution for that chic French “bolthole” and establish a “box-to-box” VPN for backing up data between both locations, including making the same media available at both locations.

This is made feasible with hardware or software endpoints that work to PPTP or OpenVPN technology, which would suit software endpoints available on all the main desktop and mobile platforms as well as most other VPN endpoint routers.

Even the “seedbox” BitTorrent client integrated in these devices has been updated to be able to take advantage of the VPN functionality for user privacy.

Wi-Fi network improvements

The Freebox Révolution has been able to benefit from a software-based 802.11ac implementation which opens it up to high-speed data transfer with 802.11ac clients. Typically this would have required one to replace or add hardware to upgrade to the newer 802.11ac standard.

Similarly, the firmware has mad it easier for a Freebox user to optimise their Wi-Fi network performance by changing the channel the Wi-Fi access point is working on. It also includes a “site-survey” function which lists what Wi-Fi networks are operating on what channels at what strengths so you can choose the right channel to work on. This can be important in a neighbourhood where everyone is running a home network and could make things also easier for Free’s technical-support staff.

There is even the ability to turn Wi-FI functionality on or off according to a schedule which can be of importance for people who are sensitive to RF emissions or need to keep a lid on out-of-hours access to the Wi-Fi network.

Conclusion

You just never know what Free or other French ISPs have in store to increase the real value that they offer to their customers in that highly-competitive market.

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Pioneer to bring Apple CarPlay to some newer aftermarket car stereos

Articles

Apple CarPlay Comes To Pioneer’s Aftermarket Infotainment Systems | Gizmodo

Apple CarPlay Coming To Pioneer’s In-Dash Systems This Summer | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Pioneer

European Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

The talk about Apple’s CarPlay in-dash infotainment operating system has been focused on vehicle builders providing this as standard with particular car models. But Pioneer, who is well-known for a long run of high-quality car-infotainment technology for the vehicle aftermarket, has become the first company to launch an Apple CarPlay setup for this application class.

This will be available as an up-and-coming firmware update for a few of Pioneer’s premium “double-DIN” multimedia head-units that are being launched this year. The units, some with and without optical disc will have the large LCD touch screen as the operating system but will require the use of a iPhone 5 or newer device running iOS 7.1 or later to run with the new operating environment. They will also be connected to that iPhone via a USB-Lightning “charge and sync” cable. Key advantages will come in the form of access to Apple’s assets like iTunes, especially iTunes Radio, the reformed Apple Maps along with the Siri voice-driven “personal assistant”. There will be some driving-appropriate third-party apps like Spotify or TuneIn Radio that will be made “CarPlay-ready” as they are developed or revised for the iOS platform.

What I see of this is that the aftermarket scene, which will cater to the younger drivers who primarily start out with older vehicles, will need to embrace Apple’s CarPlay and other similar connected-infotainment platforms offered by Google and Microsoft. As well, it is showing that the vehicle is becoming part of the home network and the Internet and heading towards a platform-driven connected environment rather than one directed solely by the vehicle builder.

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It could be touch-to-connect for Wi-Fi devices very soon

Article

WiFi Alliance adds support for NFC | NFC World

My Comments

Two “quick-setup” features that I have liked are coming together very shortly for wireless routers and network-enabled devices. These features are being exploited by device manufacturers who want to be part of the level playing field and desire to see innovation.

One of these features is the WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” functionality where you invoke a WPS setup option on a client device you want to enrol then press the WPS button on your wireless router to “enrol” your client device in to your home network’s Wi-Fi segment. This feature has made it easier to bring new Windows  7/8 computers, Android mobile devices amongst most other Wi-Fi-capable devices in to a home network without having to transcribe in long WPA-PSK passphrases. I even set up one multiple-access-point network to allow this to happen on both access-point devices when I was fixing up network-connectivity issues. Similarly, I was pleased with a TP-Link TL-WPA4220 HomePlug wireless access point that used “Wi-Fi Clone” to learn network parameters from an existing Wi-Fi network segment at the push of a WPS button so it can be quickly set up as an extension access point.

Another feature that I am pleased about is NFC-based Bluetooth pairing. This is primarily used on most Sony Bluetooth-capable devices but other manufacturers are increasingly enabling it. It allows you to touch your phone or computer to the Bluetooth-capable device to instantly pair and connect both these devices. When I bought the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headset adaptor with FM radio, it didn’t take me long to “get going” with this device because I simply touched my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Android phone to it to achieve this goal.

Now the Wi-Fi Alliance have merged both technologies and defined NFC “touch-and-go” setup as part of WPS-based wireless network setup standards. This functionality was seen as part of a “long-tail” vision for the WPS secure-network-setup standards with routers having to support the PIN-based and “push-to-go” methods. They defined a framework based around certain access-point and client chipsets including the Google Nexus 10 Android tablet. For that matter, Android, Linux and Windows 7/8 users could find this functionality either as a small app or “baked in” to an operating-system update.

This is another innovative step that will assure quick setup for Windows and Android devices with small-network Wi-Fi segments especially as most of the recent crop of these devices are equipped with NFC “touch-and-go” functionality and Wi-Fi connectivity.

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NBN to consider FTTN in regional areas

Article

NBN Co ponders rural reversal | The Australian

My Comments

With the NBN considering moving regional areas to Fibre-to-the-node technology, we need to be aware of other similar developments taking place in UK and Germany where similar technology is being deployed for next-generation networks.

Here, we need to know of any deployment mistakes that have been made in these countries and are at risk of being made here. This includes connections that have or are likely to impede operation of the technology as well as catering to the changing landscape that will affect these areas, which is a fact as a town expands and farmland is subdivided for multiple housing projects. It is also why the concept of adaptability is very important when working on a next-generation broadband infrastructure

In the same context, the concept of adaptability  is important as a way to allow customers to buy increased broadband which I would say is important for professionals working from home or if the concept of “fibre to the basement” / “fibre to the building” is to be realised for subsequent multi-tenancy developments that occur in the neighbourhood.

What we need to be sure of for a next-generation broadband service is a competitive highly-adaptive system that can suit the way neighbourhoods change.

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Short commentary–Cyrus Lyric network-enabled CD receiver

Cyrus Lyric 09 CD receiver

Cyrus Lyric CD receiver – playing a CD

Normally I would have a product for a few weeks to be able to test-drive it, but I had a very short opportunity to try out a Cyrus Lyric network-enabled CD receiver at Carlton Audio Visual. The demo unit was intended to be shifted to this hi-fi dealer’s stand at the HIA Home Show. I have given space to this product as another example of its class since it was premiered at the Melbourne Audio & AV Show 2013 at Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto .

Carlton Audio Visual is one of a few remaining specialist hi-fi and home-AV dealers existing in Melbourne and who maintain a “bricks-and-mortar” storefront where you can actually try out the equipment you want to purchase or specify.

The functionality I was able to try out with this unit was the CD-playback functionality and the ability to “pair up” and play music from my smartphone and the unit was connected to a pair of Monitor Audio floor-standing speakers which demonstrated how flexible this class of network-enabled CD receiver was. I played the Big Break Records CD-remaster of Delegation’s “Eau De Vie” through this system and found that it came across with that same “punch” that was important for popular music, especially funk, soul and similar music.

Cyrus Lyric source list - CD, Network (UPnP), Internet radio, DAB/FM radio, Aux, Bluetooth

The many functions that the Cyrus Lyric has

As well, I had done some other research and found that the Lyric does well for connectivity with 2 optical and 2 coaxial digital (PCM) inputs for equipment like a TV or set-top box with digital output, or a MiniDisc deck. It can also work as a “virtual sound card” for your laptop computer using a USB Type-B connector, but you also have a line-level analog input and an analog output that can be configured to be a line-level output for a recording device or amplifier, or a pre-level output for a power amplifier or active speakers like the Bang & Olufsen Beolab or Bose Powered Acoustimass speakers.

There is even the ability to have a Cyrus Lyric set up for “2.1” operation with an active subwoofer and while its own amplifier drives a set of speakers that don’t rate well for bass like very small bookshelf speakers or smaller “cube-style” speakers. This means that you can adjust bass volume and cutoff frequency for this setup at the CD receiver’s control panel.

There are some useability improvements that could be provided here. For example, when the Lyric is actually in operation but you want the system not to light up fully, it could “light up” the volume control “buttons” and a “menu/source button” all the time so one can know where to go if you needed to adjust the volume quickly such as to turn the music down when you want to speak with someone or “wind up the wick” for a favourite song.  It is symptomatic of a trend in designing consumer and small-business electronics where you have a dark-coloured control or display panel which lights up items on an “as-required” basis as has been done with pinball machines.

From my experience with the Cyrus Lyric, I do see some good things coming of it being Cyrus Audio’s example for a high-quality network-connected CD receiver expected to last a very long time. I would recommend someone to purchase the Lyric 05 low-powered model along with a pair of smaller bookshelf speakers or for that small apartment if they had their eye on this model. This may also apply with people teaming one of these units with a pair of older speakers that were in good condition. The Lyric 09 would come in to its own with newer speakers that could handle its greater power output.

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Dolby to provide a personal soundtrack for sporting and cultural events

Article

Dolby’s vision for the living room includes abundant audio options | Engadget

My Comments

Most of us who watch sports have a preference for a personalised audio experience during these events. For example, a common method of enjoying cricket in Australia is to have the TV’s volume turned down and the ABC radio commentary playing on the radio or hi-fi. This is due to “cutting out” the TV advertising as well as listening to cricket commentators who know what they are talking about.

Similarly, I have watched the Tour De France on SBS and do enjoy the English-language commentary that is provided but have had a taste of the French commentary when there was a technical mishap and would appreciate that, due to my knowledge of the language. Sometimes, a simple “music-and-effects” soundtrack for a royal wedding or similar public ceremony may suffice as the audio experience rather than what some might see as a “slanted” commentary.

Dolby is putting forward the idea of a highly-personalised soundtrack for sporting, cultural and other live events that can include one or more different commentary streams along with, for example, effects or other “event-driven” sounds that follow something like a social-media stream. This can be derived from “existing infrastructure” like broadcast commentary, or IP (the Internet) which could be something like an alternative radio or TV commentary or a “text-to-speech” of Twitter comments from your friends.

Of course, they say that it could require additional hardware at the broadcaster’s and consumer’s side for this to work but a lot of smart-TV and set-top-box platforms that have an Internet connection of some sort could adapt to this easily through a firmware update or the delivery of an app.

This application for interactive TV could be a godsend to those of us who love our sporting and cultural events our way.

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The 3Play Bluetooth audio adaptor answers the multi-device problem

Article

3play is a Bluetooth audio dongle that begs to be misused | Engadget

My Comments

A common problem that affects any Bluetooth audio and mobile-phone setup is the way that most Bluetooth devices handle multiple source devices. I have covered this issue in a previous article concerning managing multiple Bluetooth source devices with one Bluetooth destination device (headset, speaker, etc). Here, I even highlighted how desktop and mobile operating systems don’t even handle connecting and disconnecting of these devices very well save for Android and Windows 8 and it requires you to pair up your wireless speakers with your iPhone every time you want to use them again.

3Play have come up with a Bluetooth audio adaptor that allows 3 source devices (smartphones, tablets, MP3 players) to this adaptor at the one time. In this implementation, if a device is paused, another device could be playing out the music, thus being based on a “priority” method.

What I would like to see of this is that 3Play could license the software out to other manufacturers who sell wireless speakers, Bluetooth audio adaptors and the like to allow for priority-driven multiple-device handling. Another way to solve the problem could be to enumerate each connected device as a logical source or sub-source which would work properly for home and car stereo systems. Here, a user operates a control on the system like a “Source” or “Band” button to select the Bluetooth device to listen to.

At least 3Play are answering the common problem associated with people showing up with Bluetooth-capable smartphones and tablets full of music and pairing them up to the same wireless speaker or music system.

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One of the first smart thermostats now arrives in the UK

Articles

Nest thermostat arrives in the UK ahead of an ‘aggressive’ European expansion | The Verge

Nest’s Learning Thermostat lands in the UK for £179 | Engadget

Nest débarque au Royaume-Uni | 01Net.com (France – French language / Langue française)

From the horse’s mouth

Nest Labs

Product Page

My Comments

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

The Nest Learning Thermostat now can work with that central-heating boiler

Nest Labs have been associated with a room thermostat that is described as the “iPhone of thermostats”. This unit, which was available in the USA for the last few years, connects to your home network and your central-heating system  This also allows for a continual “learning-mode” for its operation and your computer or mobile devices work as extra control surfaces whether through a Web front or a client-side app.

But the UK has a different central-heating-control need especially as most houses use a boiler which heats up water which is pumped to radiator panels located in each room of the house. These systems also heat up the household’s domestic-hot-water supply either through the boiler itself or a heat-exchange tank located upstairs in the house.

A lot of these systems are managed by a time switch located near the boiler as the main control surface and may not have a room thermostat, with the householder overriding or “playing around” with the time switch for the heat to satisfy their comfort requirement. This kind of system has become a challenge for anyone designing a smart thermostat that is intended to work with any residential heating system and I have previously wrote an article about a network-enabled thermostat system targeted specifically at these systems.

Nest have modified this network-capable thermostat to cater for the UK central-heating system by implementing a control module that is connected to the boiler. The thermostat uses a wireless link to control the boiler to provide heat as necessary. At the moment, it doesn’t have the ability to manage the domestic-hot-water function that these heating systems also provide.

It is released now with an installed price of GBP£249 or a “do-it-yourself” price of GBP£179. This has also been the chance for Nest to release their Nest Connect connected smoke/carbon-monoxide alarm which also implements a “dashboard” on your smartphone. As well, Nest releasing their online smart thermostat in to the UK market is the start of them “getting their claws” in to the rest of Europe where most countries their implement this kind of heating system.

Personally it is the sign of a trend where this year could be the availability of smart heating controls for the UK and European markets.

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