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Apple Dongles… Dangling functionality in front of you!

“Just remember Mitch… you are coming into an environment where people love their Macs and their Linux.  As long as you don’t come in and try to convert them, you will do well here.”

Yes, when I had my initial conversation with the leadership at Kobo I was told something very much like that.  Obviously with my history as a Microsoft Evangelist that could be a concern, and I was glad to reassure him that I was not coming in to change anyone… at least, not on the desktop side.

Funny enough, the only reason I was excited that head office had assigned me a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was because I would be able to carry it in my messenger bag, and would not need to start carrying a larger bag.  Yay.

Apple DongleOn my first day in the office we realized I was missing a couple of things, all of which might be easily resolved.  For one, I needed a USB Ethernet dongle to connect to the corporate network.  The only problem: they were out of Windows-compatible dongles… all they had left were a few white ones with Apple logos on it.  We tried it out, and sure enough… nothing.  Windows did not even detect it.

There was a time when that would have been the end of it; however as hardware becomes more and more compatible between the two platforms, I decided to see if there was a solution to be found.

It didn’t take long to realize I was not the first person to encounter this issue, and there was a known solution: Boot Camp.

Five years ago I bought a MacBook Pro, and I wrote a series of articles on installing Windows 7 on the device.  The best solution at the time was a piece of software called Boot Camp, which allowed you to create a dual-boot partition, and then install Windows. 

The relevant part of the discussion is that the Boot Camp Support Software (a free download at http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1638) includes all of the drivers necessary to run Apple hardware from within Windows (because it is obviously not included in the default Windows 8 installation).

It was different five years ago, but with today’s smaller computers (including the MacBook Air) dongles are a big part of day to day functionality.  While the Boot Camp support software assumes you will be running Windows on Mac hardware, all it really knows is that you are running Windows and need a driver for the dongles.

So we downloaded the support files (currently version 5.0.5033), and then followed the following steps:

  1. We extracted the Boot Camp package on the Surface Pro 3;
  2. We navigated to the directory <root>\BootCamp5.0.5033\BootCamp\Drivers\Asix
  3. We executed the package AsixSetup64.exe.

It took less than a minute, and it worked! 

image

When I first got my Surface Pro 3 (mine, not the corporate device) I was told that I needed to buy all of the Surface branded dongles.  Before I spent the money I tried out a few of my own dongles (some Lenovo branded, others generic) and was delighted to see that they worked.  It was not a stretch to assume that the Apple dongle would work too, but since Apple very often uses their own proprietary hardware, it stands to reason that you would have to download a driver.  I am glad that the two platforms work, and I can use the dongle as hoped… and who cares if it is white? Smile

Surface Pro 3: Two weeks later

Are there problems with it?  Yes.

Do I absolutely love it? I love my kids and my dogs… but I suppose I do like it as much as I have ever liked a laptop or tablet… and I have had quite a few of them over the years!

What are the problems? There is really only one that you should be aware of if you are thinking of going out to buy one.  It’s the patches and the battery.

How, you may ask, do patches and batteries wind their way into a single problem?  Simple… as you probably know, everything in computers is managed by software drivers… and that includes the battery to some extent.  When you buy the device (or any device) you are prompted to apply patches, and at this point a couple of them for the Surface Pro 3 are firmware updates.  You apply the first one, and then you have a problem…

…Windows tells you there is no battery detected.  Worse, if you unplug the device it shuts off immediately.  The firmware update actually tells the computer that there is no battery installed.

BUT THERE IS! Wait a minute!  I was using it unplugged just a few minutes ago!  Where did it go?  Oh… I get it!  The pesky firmware is what screwed me up.  Let’s check to see if there is ANOTHER firmware update.  Plug it in, connect to the Internet, run Windows Update… By Jove, there it is!  Install it, and presto changeo, there’s my battery!

…and what a battery it is!  My original Surface Pro probably gave me 3 hours of battery (with Hyper-V and a bunch of other things draining it).  The Surface Pro 2 was probably closer to 5.  The Pro 3? I haven’t had it run dry on me yet… for the first time in my laptop-owning life I am not afraid to leave the house in the morning without the charger.

THE SCREEN BOSS, THE SCREEN!
(Imagine the voice of Hervé Villechaize if you would…)

Yes, there are a lot of improvements over the Surface Pro 2, but wow I never would have imaginged that the 1.4″ difference in screen size (12″ over 10.6″) would make that much of a difference.  As I told you recently I have an external 16″ screen that I keep in the trunk of my car so that I can have the dual screen experience on the go.  I don’t know that I have pulled it out once since I got the Pro 3… the combination of the slightly bigger screen and the much improved screen resolution make the extra screen redundant… at least when I am on the go.

Don’t get me wrong… the day the Pro 3 docking station is available I am buying it – I have pre-ordered it from the Microsoft Store, and I have the voucher for it (from something else I returned).  All I need is the e-mail saying it is in… and I expect that to be around the same time the remaining Surface Pro 3 models (with the Intel i3 and i7 CPUs) are released, sometime in August.  When I am at home (or an office) I will still want the multi-screen experience.  On the go?  Not necessary anymore.

A lot of people are saying I should have waited for the Intel i7 version, but the reality is I have not found myself lacking.  The Surface Pro 3 runs everything I need it to with 8GB of RAM and the Intel Core i5 CPU, and frankly I don’t want to spend the extra money (the i7 version will come in two models – 256GB storage for $1,599, and the 512GB model for $1,999.  Too rich for my blood, but thanks!

Conclusion

I am asked pretty often (including 3 minutes ago, as I sit at the Microsoft Store in Square One Mall blogging) whether the Surface Pro 3 is really a laptop replacement.  The answer, as with everything, is that it depends.  I would think that for the vast majority of people the answer is yes.  If you are a true hard-core gamer? Maybe not; there are some gamers who need more than 8gb of RAM.  If you are a coder? I have a friend who is a programmer who needs to run virtual machines running more than 8gb of RAM at all times.  (Did I mention that I LOVE the fact that it runs Hyper-V?  Well I do…). Aside from them?  I don’t know too many users – even power users – who need more than 8gb of RAM ever, not even occasionally.  For them (like myself) I would say that this is the device for you.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area come down to the Microsoft Store at Square One or Yorkdale Malls to check it out! :)

Surface Pro 3 and Windows 8: Not everybody’s cup of tea

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I do like my Surface Pro 3.  With that being said, I know everyone has different tastes, and some people are not going to like it.  A couple of months ago my sister, a long time Mac user (and Apple Fanboi) told me that her new job would be giving her a Pro 3, and asked what I thought of it.  I told her – it predated my realizing the extent of the network issues – that I loved it, and expected she would too.

Last week she e-mailed me to tell me that she really hated it.  It crashed a number of times in the first week, and she does not have the patience for these errors – she said her Macs (all of them) just work, and don’t have blue screens of death or other issues.

Now to be fair to the Surface team, a lot of the issues she outlined had to do with Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, and the Microsoft Account.  I understand her frustration – if you take the device out of the equation, those are four different products from four different teams that are all supposed to work together seamlessly… but don’t.  I respect that Microsoft has a lot of different products, but if you are going to stop talking about products and start talking about solutions then you should make sure your teams work together a lot closer to make sure that seamless really is seamless.

I probably know Windows better than 99.5% of the population, and work very fluently across these four products… but one of the reasons for that is because I have come to understand that sometimes the seams between them are going to show, and like a Quebec driver I have learned better than most to navigate the potholes.  However if Microsoft really wants to stay at the top in an era where customers do want things to just work, they had better get off their butts, come down off their high horses, and start making sure that seamless really is just that.

I want to be clear… I am not trading in my devices for Macs (or Linux).  While I do have an iPhone (See article) I would just as soon have an Android or a Windows phone.  I love Windows 8.1, and even now at my office I cringe at having to work with Windows 7 (Ok, cringe is a strong word… I just wish it was Windows 8.1!).  However I have worked with iPads, Androids, Macs, and more, and I know that those solutions do make for a better experience with regard to some features than the Microsoft ecosystem.  I hope that under Satya things get better… but nearly a year into his tenure and I don’t see much progress.

In the meantime I am strongly considering going to open an account at one of the banks that is currently offering free iPad Minis to new account holders!

Should I return the Surface Pro 3?

I have been having an issue with the device… it’s a networking issue that is absolutely not normal behaviour.  The Microsoft Store replaced it for me once, but I am still having the issues. I requested a call-back from Surface Support this week; I was assured by the site that I would receive a call within 34 minutes.  However 30 minutes later (after counting down the whole while) they changed the status to ‘Sorry, our support desk is closed, so call-backs are not available.  Please try again during normal business hours.’  Crap.

The next day I opted for on-line chat (during normal business hours).  I waited for an hour plus (the expected wait time was 22 minutes).  Finally Kaylee came onto the chat; after I explained the problem to her she reset the chat… in other words, the problem was over her head so she decided to waste my time and let me go back into the queue… for another hour long wait.

I am pissed now, and am ready to take the device back to the Microsoft Store and get my money back so that I can go elsewhere and buy a device that doesn’t have these issues.

What do you think?

What’s in My … Messenger Bag?

As I have written previously I recently picked up a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and despite a couple of minor annoyances it truly is a wonderful device.  Because I have not been traveling as much as I did over the past few years, I have taken the opportunity to downsize my carry-load. 

My sister called me a couple of weeks ago with the news that her new company device would be a Surface Pro 3, and asked me what accessories she should make sure she picks up.  We had a conversation about the keyboard, battery life, and so on.  Jennifer and I don’t speak all that often, and it was a nice excuse to talk.

Last week a friend and fellow MVP told me that his device was being delivered shortly.  He knew that I had downsized my carry load, and with that knowledge, and knowing that we have the same device, he hoped that I would take the opportunity to write a new article in my ‘What’s in Your Laptop Bag’ series. 

The first article I wrote on the subject does back to 2009, when I wrote ‘What’s In Your Laptop Bag?’  It is amazing the difference a few years made… as my priorities changed so did what I carried with me.  Back in 2009 I was carrying a full sized laptop in addition to a netbook, which at the time I thought was a good idea, and to an extent it was.  I had to carry two power supplies, mice, a power bar, external hard drives, a travel router, a headest, a digital camera… and a pack of lozenges.  Twenty-five pounds or so is the estimate I put down in that article; if truth be told it was probably a bit more than that.

A few years later – when I had a Surface Pro – I wrote the article ‘How Surface changed my thinking… and helped my shoulder.’  In it I discuss how I realized that downsizing my load could really do wonders for me… and it did.  Of course, when I went to Japan last year for nearly four months I upsized again, but only because I would be setting up a permanent system in my hotel room, and brought things like docking stations, speakers, and more.

I now find myself in August of 2014, nearly eighteen months later, and I am living a more sedentary life than I was.  As I am not traveling as much, my basic requirements are probably a lot more in line with what others need. 

We should actually start with what the bag actually is… In July of 2013 I wrote and article called ‘What IS your Laptop Bag?’  I am no longer in the business of shilling for other companies, so rather than use the branded freebies I had so many of I invested in a couple of proper cases… for the time being I am exclusively using a Briggs and Riley Messenger bag (black) that they refer to as a ‘Small Slim Vertical Brief’.  It is not exactly the one shown, but is quite similar.  It is made of a ballistic nylon fabric and has a lifetime guarantee. 

I downsized my bag for a couple of reasons, but the main one is simple… the smaller the bag, the less likely you are to pack useless crap (that will weigh you down).  As I sit as the pub with the contents of the bag emptied before me I would not go so far as to say there is nothing useless in there… but it’s still better than it was.

Device: Obviously (based on the opening of the article) I am carrying a Surface Pro 3.  I was a little worried when I bought it… the Surface Pro 2 fit perfectly, and I was worried that the larger form factor (12” instead of 10.6”) would not fit.  Fortunately it does – but barely.  Otherwise I would have to have changed out my bag, and I didn’t want to do that.

In case you are curious, yes I carry the keyboard and stylus with me, and no, it does not increase the weight noticeably when I carry the bag.

Additional Device: It’s not what you think… I said the Pro 3 was a great laptop replacement, and it is.  The additional device that I usually carry with me is a Kobo Glo e-book reader, including the magnetic case.  Of course I could read my e-books on the Surface Pro 3, but I see value in having both devices.

Cables: I carry a few different cables with me, primarily in the front pocket:

  • Micro USB cable to charge my Kobo, as well as my Nokia Lumia 920 when I am in the USA.
  • iPhone 5 cable to charge… well… yeah.
  • Mini USB cable, which is a legacy but I still carry it.  It is to connect the external USB screen that I use occasionally and which lives in the trunk of my car.
  • FitBit One Cable which charges that device.

Dongles: The downside of a smaller device is fewer ports built in, and an entire new industry – the industry of dongles – was created.

  • HDMI dongle
  • VGA dongle
  • Ethernet dongle

Logitech Wireless Presenter R400.  It’s not the newest, but it still works and is very comfortable in my hand.  If you spend any time presenting PowerPoint from your computer you will want one of these.  The newer ones all seem to be too light or two small.  I wish the R400 were Bluetooth instead of USB, but I’ll survive.

USB Keys: I currently have four of them in the bag – three for storage and when I need to transfer data, and one Windows to Go key (Windows To Go: This is going to be a game changer!).  If you wonder why I have four, I can’t answer… and in my defence, one of them is a bottle opener too :)

Mouse: The only problem that I had with the Microsoft Arc Mouse Touch was that it had a dongle, and took up the only USB port on the Surface.  Solution: Microsoft Arc Mouse Touch Surface Edition… Bluetooth connection, and it still folds flat for easy storage!

Ear buds: A couple of years ago I found myself in an airport without ear buds, and I picked (blind) a pair called a-JAYS Four.  I had never heard of the company and I am not quite sure why I picked them, but boy am I glad that I did.  They are comfortable, and more importantly the plug is flat (look at the picture and you’ll understand) so when I am on an airplane plugged in and stand up without paying attention I don’t wreck them.  They sound great too!

Pens: Yes, I carry pens… and use them all the time.  The nicer of the two is made of (or made to look like) a printed circuit board, and was a gift from my friends Rick and Isolina.

…and that’s it.  I have a few papers, I usually have some guest passes for Taekwondo to give out, and maybe a cigar… but there’s nothing else.  It makes for a much lighter load than I used to schlep… I remember dragging my Lenovo Carbon X1 behind me when I was in Japan… it was not that much bigger (14” instead of 12”) but because I had the bigger bag I always stuffed more into it than I needed, hence the shoulder pain.

But what’s missing?  You may have noticed (or not) that I did not list a power supply on the list… I don’t carry it with me.  I charge it overnight, but I have only run out of juice once in the last month.  Now it is worth mentioning that I am have been between contracts since I picked it up, and have been able to work at either Starbucks or the Niblick Pub for six to seven hours before having to go home.  I am starting a new contract next week, and if I end up using my own device then I will bring the power supply with me… or more likely the docking station which is coming out in the next couple of weeks (yes, I have pre-ordered one… first time ever).  I do have a power supply in the car, but it is still sealed in the box, and I might just return it because I never use it.  We’ll see!

What does it weigh? Honestly I don’t know… but probably around 6lbs… or roughly equivalent to the weight of the primary device I carried when I wrote the first ‘What’s in Your Laptop Bag’ article.  One thing is certain, I don’t worry about it hurting my shoulder as I used to, and I never worry about airlines making me gate-check it :)

Conclusion

The truth is that I need very little with this device… the dongles are important, and the USB keys, cables, mouse, and ear buds are really all I need.  Everything else that I might need in a hotel room – external speaker, VGA cable, and so on – can go in my suitcase when I travel.  What do you need?  I don’t know… but I hope this article will help you with the bare essentials!

Surface Docked

Earlier this week I posted an article about the versatility of my Surface Pro 2.  Actually it was a combination of an article (Battery Up- Windows 8.1 on the Surface Pro 2) and a Facebook status update (See here).  I bragged not only about the battery life, but also how cool it is that I can take a single device from tablet – to laptop (just add keyboard) – to complete workstation (plug the Surface Pro 2 into the docking station in my office, and it instantly extends to take advantage of the two large screen monitors, full sized keyboard, and regular mouse).

A Twitter follower named @Deskcovery asked if I had any pictures of the setup, because he wanted to see it in action.  Great idea!

Here’s the problem… my desk is usually a bloody mess.  I call it my secure, well-managed disaster zone.  It wasn’t always like that, but I don’t spend a lot of time there, so I don’t maintain it the way I used to.

Having said that, I try to do what I can for my readers… so your wish is my command.  Mr. @Deskcovery, here it is… I walk into the office and drop the device into the dock.  After a few beeps and blips, this is what I see:

Surface Docked

Over the next few weeks you can expect better pictures (and possibly even a video) of the area and the versatility of the device, but from this picture it is hard to see anything except the finished product.  As such, here are the components:

  1. A Surface Pro 2 256 with 8GB of RAM
  2. A Surface Docking Station
  3. Two LG 21” monitors
  4. One Microsoft Sidewinder X6 gaming keyboard (not once has it ever been used to play a game)
  5. One Logitech MX Revolution wireless rechargeable mouse

Now here’s the problem that I found… I have far too many devices to settle for four USB ports.  Rather than mussing about trying to plug and unplug devices as I needed them, I decided to leverage the USB 3.0 port on the Surface dock to connect… another docking station!  Actually that’s not entirely accurate… I connected the Lenovo port replicator that I bought with my X1 Carbon… seeing as that device is now listed for sale on eBay it won’t miss its port replicator.

surface-pro-docking-station-04

Thinkpad

Now, instead of simply having three USB 2.0 ports and a USB 3.0 port, I have:

  • 4x USB 3.0 ports
  • 3x USB 2.0 ports
  • 2x (mostly unused) Ethernet ports
  • DVI port
  • Mini-DV port
  • Audio out jacks

In other words… everything I need.

Don’t get me wrong… all of the USB ports are already accounted for, so if I do want to plug in another device I will have to unplug something… but the USB speakers and extra hiigh definition webcam are extraneous… I can unplug them any time I want…

I swear, I am NOT addicted!

Battery Up: Windows 8.1 on the Surface Pro 2

IMG_0031I have already bragged about the Surface Pro 2, and I still love it and that has not changed.  It took a lot for it to supplant my Lenovo X1 Carbon as my primary device (my original Surface Pro was always simply a companion device).  The device rocks, simply put.

One thing that I don’t particularly care for (and this is an issue with Windows and not with the Surface) is that the battery life indicator is wonky.  For example, a few minutes ago it told me that I have 10% of my battery left, or 25 minutes.  By that simple math, the theory is that the battery is good for 250 minutes – or a little under five hours.

IMG_0088That means I’ve already gotten five hours out of it, and there’s a bit under 30 minutes to go.  By my math that’s 5.5 hours right there.  I also know that I used it last night for an hour and did not charge it since… that makes 6.5 hours, not to mention that I have also used it today to charge my smartphone as well as my Kobo book reader.

I did not list my X1 Carbon for sale on eBay because I don’t like it… I really do, it is a spectacular device.  (If you would like to buy it by all means the bidding is open! http://www.ebay.com/itm/201053760576?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649)  I am selling it because I do not need two nearly identical devices (as far as specs go).  The Lenovo has a 14″ multi-touch screen, and the keyboard does not detach.  I have the docking station for the Surface Pro, and when I am at my home office it automatically connects to two 21″ monitors.  When I am on the road (I am almost ALWAYS on the road) it is still a comfortable high-definition screen that will double as a tablet when I detach the keyboard.

My Lenovo came along with me wherever I went… along with it came whatever else I would pack into my Briggs and Riley rolling laptop bag… my ultrabook that weighs less than 4lbs ended up weighing in at 25-30lbs on a regular basis, just for what went with it.  My Surface, on the other hand, goes into a much smaller messenger bag, which in turn weighs less than 10lbs when completely filled… and carries everything that I need, rather than everything I think I might need.  Smaller bag, less weight, better on the back.

Add to that the battery life of over six hours, and that it runs Windows 8.1 with Hyper-V and all that entails, and I don’t see the need for another device… at least not now.  I am sticking with the Surface Pro, and hope to recuperate the entire price of the device when I sell off the Lenovo!

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