Tech: My Tech Picks (Spring 2017)

I last posted a “tech picks” update back in the fall. So, I figure that it’s about time to refresh my hardware and technology picks for those who read the site and are curious about such things. – Since the fall, a lot has changed, but a lot has also stayed the same. Here’s where I’m at these days:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – Just as I was in the fall, I’m still using Windows as my platform of choice. MS continues to baffle me with some of their recent decisions, however. Windows is a solid and stable option, but they continue to throw a wrench in what would otherwise be a well oiled machine. (In-OS advertising, etc). I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1703) – Since my last Tech Picks post, Windows 10 has received a refresh. The most current version is now “Windows 10 Creator’s Update”. Much like the “Anniversary Update”, this update is pretty solid. But again, it is not without it’s faults. It seems MS is getting greedy and sneaking in advertising anywhere they can manage: notification, file manager, start menu, etc. Luckily, these can all be disabled if you do a little poking around. But overall, it’s a pain in the ass. The OS itself does seem a bit more polished in terms of UI. Gamers will want to pay attention to the new “Game Mode” offered in this build of Windows.  But thus far, I’ve seen very little improvement by enabling this setting.

Hardware: No updates to my main rig since the last post, with the exception of my monitor.  I did upgrade to a new ViewSonic screen – larger and with a better response rate. This monitor also features “freesync” technology, but I am unable to take advantage of this since I run an Nvidia card.

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Seagate 2TB Hybrid SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 1Tb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Monitor: ViewSonic VX2457-MHD 24″ (2ms 1080p FreeSync Gaming Monitor)

Mobile: Android  – Google Pixel (Android Nougat 7.1.2) – If you read my last Tech Picks update, you’ll remember I switch from Windows Phone to Android. At the time, I was running a Nexus 6 – I have now taken the full Google plunge and adopted the Google Pixel as my daily mobile device. I love this phone beyond words. Everything about this device pleases me. I like the looks of the phone (even if it is an iPhone clone), the Pixel Launcher provides a great UI and integrates with vanilla Android perfectly.  My own personal preferences led me to select the standard Pixel over the larger Pixel XL.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Despite now using an Android phone, I see no offerings in the tablet area that tempt me to make a switch to Android. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change here.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – I make full use of the Google Assistant that is available on my Pixel.  This is true both in speech and now with the virtual “assistant” chat bot that Google offers. I use my phone for 100% of these needs. Despite using Windows on my desktop, I do not engage Cortana on my desktop any longer. (A shame, I felt there was much potential there – but MS seems to continue to cripple Cortana by limiting her interaction with non-MS services).

Web Browser: Chrome– While Microsoft continues to improve Edge with each new version of Windows, the browser still pales in comparison to nearly any other. Chrome continues to be my browser of choice due to it’s performance and integration across all my devices.

Search: Google – Google has become my main search engine of choice. I still applaud Bing for providing result that are just as good, but for me – the integration with other Google services wins out over the pretty interface that Bing provides.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Widely supported and extremely efficient. Those who are concerned about ads and preference sharing may still find Outlook/Hotmail to be a better option. But these are not concerns that I hold.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  For streaming, I use Google Play Music, Sirius XM and IHeartRadio. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers – I turn to the other services for live media.

Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR–  I still own and use my older FitBit Charge HR model (albeit not as religiously as I should). Lately, I’ve been engaged in a special “Wii Fit U Project” so I’ve often had a Wii U FitMeter clipped inside my pocket as wll.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

Tech: My Tech Picks (Late 2016)

It’s been close to a year since my  original “Tech Picks” post in January. And a lot has changed for me when it comes to technology use. So, if you’re curious to see where I stand now on various ecosystems and my personal preferences on technology, this might interest you.

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – As expected from a PC gamer, I’m still using Windows as my platform of choice. Although, I have to express my frustration with Microsoft. Windows is a solid and stable option, but they’ve really made some bone-headed moves over the last year that leaves me questioning the road ahead. I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1607) – Since my last Tech Picks post, Windows 10 has received a refresh. The most current version is now “Windows 10 Anniversary edition”. Overall, this update is pretty solid. But it is not without it’s faults. While I have not been directly affected, this update broke a large number of USB devices for many users. Most notably web cams, Kindle, and other multimedia hardware. At the time of this writing, this issue has been not been resolved. Also a number of cumulative updates have caused havoc for many users. It seems like MS’s quality control has left a lot to be desired.

Hardware: Since my last post I’ve left most everything the same with the exception of a hard drive upgrade. In attempt to resolve some bottleneck issues, I updated my main drive to a hybrid SSD/Mechanical hard disk. I have been very impressed with the results. Everything else has stayed the same.

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Seagate 2TB Hybrid SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 1Tb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Android  – Motorola NEXUS 6 (Android Nougat 7.0) – Yes. I finally jumped ship on the Windows Mobile platform. The writing had been on the wall for some time and I rode it out for as long as I could. But once I saw developers actually leaving, not just “not developing”, I knew the end was near. It seems I was right, as now even Microsoft has all but abandoned their mobile platform. So, I was forced with making a decision between Apple and Google. Now, I’ve owned iPhones before and I think they are great. I have no problems whatsoever with the iOS platform. But, As I’ve mentioned on this site before, I’m very much an “ecosystem” type of guy. I prefer to use like-services. And, being a former Microsoft/Windows user, I decided it would be best to go Android. More specifically, a NEXUS device. NEXUS phones are basic stock-Android devices. They feature the Android OS in it’s purest form, plus, they are very easy to unlock and modify. Originally, my plan was to wipe the factory OS and install CyanogenMOD (a custom ROM). This would allow me to have all the benefits of an Android phone, but I could center it around Cortana and the other Microsoft apps that I enjoy. However, I found myself surprisingly impressed with the stock Android experience. Google’s services really shocked me with how well they all work together when centered on a single device. I will elaborate more on this in other areas of this post, but the way things are going now, I’ve very much become a Google convert. In fact, I’m looking forward to the new Pixel phones that were recently announced.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Despite now using an Android phone, I see no offerings in the tablet area that tempt me to make a switch to Android. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change here.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – My switch to Android complicated this a bit. Previously, I was using Cortana exclusively on both my PC and my Phone. The service synced flawlessly and I actually found using a virtual assistant useful. Today, I am using “Ok Google” on my phone when I feel the need to dictate things by voice. But since there’s no Google Assistant on PC, that’s as far as it goes. Yes, I can install Cortana on my Android, but the experience is not nearly as seamless as it was on a Windows Phone device. Cortana is still active on my PC, but with all honesty – she’s not doing much.

Web Browser: Chrome– Despite a slew of improvements made to Edge in the Win 10 Anniversary Update, the browser still pales in comparison to nearly any other. I have set aside Firefox for Chrome, as I’m using Chrome on my phone, As a result, things like bookmarks and prior search results all integrate between my devices. I find this extremely convenient. Plus, Chrome is very well supported and polished.

Search: Google – More Google migration here. As a result of my Android defection, I also find myself using Google again for searches instead of Bing. I still feel like Bing is fine engine and in some ways, superior to Google in terms of design and aesthetics. But when it comes to raw functionality, both search engines seem to be on par with each other. Having Google search integrated so tightly with my phone certainly influenced my switch.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Another victim resulting from migrating away from Windows Phone. Gmail and Google Calendar integrate so wonderfully with the Google Now launcher that comes with the NEXUS, that they have managed to sway me away from Outlook. For the record, I still hail Microsoft’s spam controls over Google’s overall, but I keep a tight lid on my email address and as a result, do not general have a spam problem.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  Side note: I have recently found myself subscribing to Google Play Music as well. At $10 a month, with the perk of YouTube Red (ad free YouTube), it’s been quite an enjoyable experience. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers.

Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR–  I have moved away from the Microsoft Band and joined my wife as a Fitbit user. I was excited with the look and concept that the band promised, but over time I found it to be lackluster and not very practical. The Band itself was large and bulky and seemed more trouble that it was worth. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Just last week Microsoft announced they were killing off the device.  My job offers an annual discount for Fitbit purchases, so I sold my Band 2 and took advantage. I’m still not a very heavy user of wearable tech, but aside from losing a few nifty features such as text reply and application support, the Fitbit is serving me well for the time being. I do expect in the future to explore some other wearable options, but for now, I’m content.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

Tech: My Tech Picks (Early 2016)

Since my recent posts about tech and operating systems, I thought it might be fun to elaborate on my personal tech choices. So, for those who might be curious, as of January 2016, this is what I use:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – Even though I have nothing but great things to say about Apple hardware. I find their prices to be a bit hard to swallow. Yes, I’ve purchased and owned Apple hardware. But considering the cash you have to shell out vs the limit upgradability, I’ve decided to stick with custom built PCs for the foreseeable future.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1511) – At the time of this writing, Windows 10 is the latest offering from Microsoft. Despite what you may read in certain online media, Windows 10 is not filled with NSA/Microsoft spyware. The OS does not record your actions or phone home to some secret location far in the mountains of Washington state. Yes, there is telemetry and data dumps for crash reports, but all of these things can be easily disabled during and after installation. Other settings such as predicative text and search archival are also optionally enabled for use with the Cortana virtual assistant. Don’t like it, turn it off. — As far as stability and modern options, this is the version of Windows to use.

Hardware: My PC is a custom built Frankenstein of both cutting edge and legacy tech. I prefer and use Intel processors, with Nvidia graphics cards. The biggest thing holding me back are my old school mechanical hard disks. I am hoping to upgrade to a solid state or hybrid drive in the near future. My current rig is as follows:

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Hitachi 1TB  SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 500gb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Windows Phone – Nokia Lumia Icon (929) with Windows 10 (1511) – This has been my phone for quite a while. In my opinion, despite being an older phone, it features some of the best hardware available today. This phone boasts a 2.2 GHZ quad-core CPU with a 20 megapixel back camera, and a 1.2 front camera. It features 32gbs of storage and wireless charging. It’s not a “phablet” (which I like) it’s display is 5″. Being a Verizon device, this runs on 4g LTE.  – As I said, the hardware is great but the phone suffers from the poor software support that Windows Mobile devices receive. The OS runs well, but at this time Windows 10 is still buggy on this device. (The Factory image for the Lumia Icon is still Windows 8.1 – which runs flawlessly), but regardless which OS you use, the app gap is real.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Maybe occasionally a little bit of Netflix. For these purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect. The dimensions of this tablet vs a standard iPad are better suited for comic reading. Plus the old Surface is much cheaper.  Would I like a Surface Pro 3? Sure… but for now, this suits my needs fine.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – I like to read. I always have. I love the touch and even the smell of books. So for a long time I resisted the “eBook revolution”. I knew I didn’t want to read a novel on a glaring white LCD. So once I decided to take the plunge into eBooks, I knew that the eInk Kindles would be the best option for me. Amazon features the biggest digital library out there. Nook and other competitors can’t compete. This Christmas, my wife got me a new backlit Paperwhite to replace my old 4th gen Kindle. I bought a nice leather case for it. Now it even feels like a book in my hand. I love my Paperwhite. I can read in the dark without having to stare at an eyeburning screen. The soft light of the Paperwhite is perfect for me.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Cortana – I never thought I’d find myself actually using this type of technology. But once I got the hang of it, it really simplified things for me. I’ve tried and used all three of the big options, Siri, Ok Google, and Cortana and for me, Cortana is the winner with Siri at a close second. Of course, these technologies are all software driven so that could change at any time. But to date, I’ve found Cortana to be the easiest to use and “she” provides me with the most relevant search results. Be it web search or local directions, 9 out of 10 times, she delivers right what I’m looking for.

Web Browser: Firefox – Ever since the release of Internet Explorer 4, I’ve been a fan of Microsoft browsers (until recent years). In fact, if there was an Internet Explorer 12, I’d probably be using it now. But sadly, Microsoft has left IE out to die while they developed their new Edge browser. The only problem is… Edge sucks. At least right now it does. Sure it is fast and renders pages beautifully, but it’s not-feature complete. I can’t tweak it the way I want to. I can’t block ads without editing the hosts file on my PC. And with IE unable to keep up with modern web standards I find myself using Firefox. Firefox offers me everything I need to tweak and customize my web experience the way I like it. The only problem is over the years, Firefox has become somewhat sluggish and bloated. It’s not near as snappy as it used to be. Hopefully, Edge will receive the love and attention it deserves in the future and I can make a switch. I really like the Cortana integration in Edge, but it’s simply not usable for me currently.

Search: Bing – Yes, I’m one of the weirdos who actually uses Bing. Initially, I only used it for images searches. I found a while back that for whatever reason, Bing image search tended to bring me more relevant results than Google. Then when MS rolled out their Bing Rewards to try to snag more users, I entertained the idea for a few weeks and used it while racking up reward points. By time it was over, I was surprised to find it to be just a good as Google. Plus, the layout and design on the page was much more appealing to me than Google. It just sort of ended up being my go-to search provider. Plus, every month of so I can cash in my points for a giftcard, or Xbox Live points, which is nice.

Email and Calendar: Outlook – I’ve been a Hotmail user since back when people still knew why it was called “Hotmail” (HTML — duh), back before Microsoft acquired the company. Sure, I’ve used regular POP mailboxes, and even Apple and Google’s mail products, but I’ve always come back home to Hotmail, Passport, Live, Outlook…. whatever Microsoft is calling it these days. Their spam technologies and privacy policy are some of the best in the business. Plus, it integrates wonderfully into Windows and most other platforms actually.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Sure, there’s plenty of competitors these days. iWork, Google Docs, Libra/Open Office – but none of them have the ease of use and compatibility that MS Office does. To me, it’s a must have.  – These days, the easiest way to get Office is through the Office 365 program. This is a monthly subscription service that grants personal users a license to install office on up to five computers. Always up to date, latest version.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. It works with my phone. As a result of using both Windows Phone and Office, I have a ton of free storage. But the pricing for additional storage is more than reasonable and competitive with others such as Google and iCloud.

PC Gaming Services: Steam For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam. In my opinion, Steam has won the day and they are slowly expanding their reach from the office to the living room.

Music Management:  MusicBee – I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. For years I used iTunes, but over time, I became very dissatisfied with it. As much as I’d like to use Microsoft’s new music app Groove (it integrates with my phone), it’s just too feature incomplete for me to consider at this time. Luckily, a few years ago I found a wonderful desktop app called MusicBee. I can’t recommend this software enough. It has the look and feel of iTunes, without all the bloat. Plus, it’s lightning fast! Edit your mp3 tags right from the software and search for album art from a number of sources. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Wearables: Microsoft Band 2 –  I’m not really big on wearable tech, but after seeing my wife really enjoying her Fitbit, I decided to take the plunge. After a lot of research I found that the Microsoft Band really seemed to get me the biggest bang for my buck. It features all of the fitness sensors that one might need: Heartrate monitor, pedometer, GPS, barometer, UV sensor. It’s water resistant and also works as a smart-watch. It syncs with my phone so I can read and respond to texts right from the band. I’m still new with this stuff, so I’m learning. But I may actually make a post about this device soon.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

 

 

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 3)

Windows_logo_-_2012

After a few weeks of considering my options, I decided that switching back to a windows PC would be the best bet for me. The same power at more than half the cost was simply too tempting. So I sold my iMac and built a new PC from the ground up. For the time, my new PC was quite the beast. In fact, the system I use today is still built around that core investment.

I was relieved to see that Windows 7 was indeed a huge improvement over Vista. All of my audio and driver issues were things of the past, not the mention the OS itself seemed to have a bit more polish and spark to it. I did, however, immediately miss quite a bit about my iMac. The seamless experience and ease-of-use was gone. I found myself spending a little more time “under the hood” with my Windows PC than I liked. But more importantly, I found that my user experience as a whole, was turned upside down. You see, I had spent the last few years submerged almost entirely in the Apple ecosystem.  Mobile Me, iTunes, iPhone… At the center of all of that was my iMac. Sure, I could check my Mac.com email address on the web, and yes, there was a Windows version of iTunes. But upon installing it I immediately noticed how subpar the iTunes experience was on Windows. The whole app was much more sluggish than it was under OS X. I just didn’t feel right.

Then, the fateful day arrived when the unthinkable happened. I dropped my iPhone in a parking lot and shattered the screen. I had to decide at that point, do I get another iPhone or look into another option? Android phones were popular, but received nowhere near the support they have today. Plus, I found I had really grown to dislike a number of Google’s services. So Android was out. It was at this time that I began to consider Microsoft’s new fledging mobile offering: Windows Phone 7. Windows Phones were not popular at all. But I was very impressed by what I saw. The mobile OS was simply lovely and intuitive. Yes, it was radically different that iOS or even Android, but that was ok with me. The biggest downside to using a Windows Phone was (and still is) the lack of quality applications available. The basics were all covered (Facebook, Twitter, etc) but some of the more specialized apps simply didn’t and still don’t exist on the platform. Regardless, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I switched from iPhone to Windows.

Believe it or not, I fell in love with Microsoft’s mobile platform. I found it to serve my needs very well. Shortly after, Microsoft announced Windows 8 for PCs. This was a new radical version of Windows that looked a lot like my Windows Phone. It seemed MS now had a long term vision to try to bring parity to both their mobile and desktop operating systems. Most of the public shunned Windows 8, but personally, I had no issues with it. By this time, I found that I had fully immersed myself within the Microsoft Ecosystem. In fact, for the most part I still do. I use Outlook mail, Bing, OneDrive, Windows Phone. I’m a loyal customer.

Flash forward a few years to the present. Now Windows 10 is current backbone of Microsoft. Despite what you may read online, I find Windows 10 to be a fine OS. It does NOT spy on you or take control of your PC as some people claim. It’s Windows as it always has been, but just with a bit more polish and modernization. It’s a fantastic operating system. But that praise aside, over the last year or so, it’s become obvious that Microsoft again seems to be grasping at straws when it comes to certain aspects of their business. It’s been a long time since that days of Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft  STILL cannot seem to get developers on board with their mobile division. Windows 10 was supposed to change this. The Universal Application feature of Windows 10 meant that an application could run on any Windows 10 device anywhere. Be it a PC, Tablet or Mobile Phone. That has so far, not panned out as promised. Also, Microsoft recently reneged on their promise of unlimited online Storage via OneDrive for certain users. (They did this AFTER an aggressive campaign where they practically begged customers to upload their entire MP3 libraries to the service for easy streaming). To put the icing on the cake, their new music application “Groove” is a terrible mess. Despite receiving constant updates, I do not find it to be a piece of software I can use in my day to day life. I am a BIG music fan. I have a digital music library of almost 200 gigabytes. Groove does not feature basic tag editing features, or other services offered by a number of other music management applications. In fact, Groove feels like incomplete software. It’s great on my mobile phone for playback. But as far as a desktop app, it lacks severely.

So where does that leave me? I tend to be brand loyalist. I drink Coke, not Pepsi. I wear Levis, not Arizona. But… I like both Microsoft and Apple – yet, I have problems with both. At the moment, I’m pretty much “all in” with Microsoft. I use their services, OS and hardware. But I have to admit, as far as mobile goes, the app gap is starting to hit hard. There’s a ton of great applications I would love to use that are simply NOT available on the Windows mobile platform. I’ve resisted it for so long, but it’s starting to become a real issue. Mobile banking on my phone? Nope. The latest mobile game, authenticator, or productivity app? Nope. So you might say to yourself, “Just switch.” But here’s the problem… I’m weird. If I exchanged my Windows Phone for an iPhone, I’d then get the urge to move away from Windows entirely. Because, I’m just the kind of guy that likes everything to match and play well together. I know this because a few months back it happened…

My wife’s cell contract came due and she decided to buy a new iPhone 6. While we were at the store, I decided on a whim: ME TOO! So I bought one for myself. I liked the phone fine, but when I got home I immediately felt resentment at having to install the sluggish Windows-version of iTunes. It gnawed at me to the point where days later, I marched into the Apple store and came home with a $3,000 iMac. I was back in Apple land, baby! But, then it hit me just how insane the whole scenario was. Sure, at the time, I was able to afford these luxuries, but were they REALLY necessary? Plus, while I found myself enjoying all of the things I really liked about Apple again, this time I found that I actually missed a bunch of things I’d grown to like about Windows 10! Before it was too late, I took advantage of Apple’s return policy and took both the iMac and iPhone back. No harm done in the long-run. But I realized just then how effective this whole “ecosystem” strategy can be. Let me break it down for a normal person: Perhaps you’re an iPhone user, and you’re thinking about switching to Android. Easy enough right, but wait… all your contacts and online photo albums are backed up using iCloud. What a pain to switch all that! They’ve got their claws in you…

So as it stands now, I’m still a Windows user. I legitimately like and enjoy most of Microsoft’s products, but I’m worried about their strategy. At this point, I guess you could say I’m putting Microsoft on notice. I’m going to lay low for the remainder of the 2016 to see how their plans for universal apps and enhancements to their existing products go. A year should be sufficient time for them to show me, as a consumer, that they have a solid plan to bring excitement back to their platform. If not, I may have to seriously assess my tendency to stay true to their brand. Time will tell. MS has some really great products out there these days. The Surface line of tablets is FANTASTIC and blows away the iPad in my opinion. The Microsoft Band is probably, functionally the best fitness tracker/smart watch on the market. What’s killing them is mobile. No one cares about Windows Phone and a result, no one is developing for it. Windows 10 could be the key. In theory, any native Windows 10 app will also work on mobile. So both Windows10 desktop and mobile can benefit from this interoperability. But so far… even that is stagnant.  They have to make this Universal Application system desirable to developers. But I’m not sure how they can effectively do that. Their bridging technologies, so far, don’t seem to be garnering much interest. Time will tell. Lots of us are watching,

 

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 2)

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My decision to jump from PC to Mac, wasn’t made on a whim. I had been growing increasingly frustrated with Microsoft’s apparent lack of vision. None of what they were doing was making any sense to me. Let me be clear, I am more than a PC user. I’m a licensed technician. I can design and build a personal computer from scratch. While I don’t write software, it didn’t take a developer to realize that Microsoft had no real strategy for the future at the time. For me, Vista was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I used it for a few months, and I even found myself defending it against detractors who refused to switch from Windows XP. But more and more each day, I found myself being limited by it. Looking back, I can admit that Vista was a bit of a necessary evil. It was the epitome of Microsoft’s post-dominance “growing pains”.

For some time, I had been a user of Apple iPods and their corresponding iTunes software. Over the span of a few years, I had converted my entire CD library (Over 600 discs) to high-quality digital audio. I used iTunes to manage my library. I’m a very particular sort of guy. Some would say I am a perfectionist. I like my entire library tagged, with quality album art, etc. iTunes allowed me to do this in ways that Windows Media Player or other mp3 players never could. So, I was already a user of Apple software and services to a degree. Plus, I had always been intrigued by the beauty of Apple’s operating system OS X. At this point, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform was gaming. I knew that if I purchased an iMac, I would never be able to upgrade and service it the same way I could with a PC. Putting in the latest graphics card was simply not an option. That type of upgrade would require the purchase of a new, better iMac. Which again, would have the same limitation. All that aside, Apple’s operating system couldn’t run the majority of games I owned any ways. That’s when news of Apple’s next operating system (OS X Leopard) hit the web. Leopard would feature something called “Boot Camp”. This was essentially a boot loader that would allow you to install and run Windows on your Mac. So gamers could now simply boot over to Windows whenever they wanted to game. Despite the upgrade conundrum, this revelation, along with my Windows frustrations convinced me to make the switch.

When I first brought my iMac home, I knew that I was in for a learning curve. A lot of things worked the same, yes. But there was just as many things about OS X that worked differently. Not to mention, I had to find Mac-equivalents for all my software applications. Those first few days I did feel a bit lost. On more than one occasion I told myself that I had made a very expensive mistake. But then, things started to click. And it wasn’t long before I began to feel at home with OS X. In fact, I realized that I did indeed find it much easier, and even more pleasant to use than Windows. After the span of about four months, I was a full Mac convert. I used their built-in Safari web browser, their own iWork office applications, I even switched from my Gmail account to Apple’s Mac.com email.

What happened next, cemented that even further. Apple released the iPhone.  Now, I didn’t jump on the first generation iPhone, because I found the cost to prohibitive. Plus, I had a year contracting remaining on my silly Verizon flip-phone. But once the iPhone 3G was released, I was in line like the rest of the idiots waiting for my shiny new gadget. The iPhone 3G was a fantastic device. There had never been anything like it. It was like this missing puzzle piece that I didn’t even know I needed. I found myself completely emerged in this new “ecosystem” that Apple had invented. Everything about my Mac and iPhone worked together. Both the software and services. It was seamless and I was happy.

I was a happy Mac user for a little more than three years. But then the gaming bug bit and it bit hard. Square Enix had just released the beta of Final Fantasy XIV and I HAD to play this game. Until now, I had been an avid Final Fantasy XI player. And when switching from PC to Mac, I simply began playing the Xbox 360 version of the game. Sadly, the console version of XIV was not going to be available for sometime and it was obvious from trying to play the beta on the iMac that if I wanted to play this game, I’d need to find another option.

I began looking at buying a new Mac. But the model with the specs I needed to play the game would cost me around $3,000.00. Building a PC with nearly the EXACT same hardware would only run me about $1,100.00.  The temptation to leave behind this wonderful world of Apple began to pull at me. Microsoft had recovered from the black cloud of Vista, and their new OS, Windows 7 was receiving rave reviews. I found myself in a unique position. Having used both platforms extensively, I could clearly see both the merits and disadvantages of both. I found that I actually liked BOTH. Now I had to make a choice, which side would I choose now? Mac or PC?

To be continued….

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 1)

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This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I was never quite able to figure out how to dive in the to the topic. So, I finally just decided to write it and put it out there, for what it’s worth. I know this blog focuses largely on gaming, but geek-culture as a whole has always been an underlying topic as well. That point considered, what’s more geeky than computers? More specifically, computer operating systems. I want to take a moment to talk about that very thing, despite the dangers it might bring.

You see, in the world of geeks, your operating system of choice is a sacred thing. I’ve known fellow techies who are more loyal to their OS than they were to their own religion. Which I find to be both understandable and completely absurd at the same time. I know that sounds contradictory, so allow me a moment to explain. Over the years, I’ve been a user of both Microsoft Windows and Apple products. I am intimately familiar with both. So when I listen to these arguments, I truly see both sides. Allow me to elaborate…

My first experience with a personal computer was being sat down in front of the original Macintosh when I was a young child. By today’s standards, the old black and white Mac is a crude, ancient device. But to me, even as a novice child, I found it to be quite intuitive. I learned to like it quite a bit. A few years later, when my parents purchased their first home computer, they elected not to go the Apple route, but instead they purchased a PC. (Or as we called them back then, an IBM-compatible). This was my first experience with MS-DOS and Windows.

At this time, PCs were on the rise and Apple machines were slowly fading into the background. The entire industry was focused on PCs. As a result, I too became centered on the PC side of things. Sure, Apple still had a loyal fanbase, but Microsoft was the obvious winner in the current personal-computer battlefield. I was just starting to cut my teeth on Windows 3.1, when MS launched Windows 95. But it wasn’t long before I too, became a seasoned 95 user. It was during this era that I decided for the first time that I was a “PC Guy”. I mean, why use Apple? A PC was able to do anything that an Apple computer could do, and often at half the cost. Not to mention, all the new games and software were being developed for PC. Apple was often left in the dust.

It was a really interesting time. The internet was just starting to worm it’s way on to the radar of the general public. You had Windows as your PC backbone, and on top of it you could run whatever software you liked best. Netscape for websites, Eudora Pro for email, etc. Microsoft won because so many software developers were creating applications that were compatible, or better yet, exclusive to Windows. It was perfect. But then, something happened… Microsoft got greedy.

With the release of Windows 98, MS integrated their new browser, Internet Explorer 4, into the Windows operating system itself. The web browser actually became the computer browser. Seriously. You would browse the contents of your hard-drive from IE. Microsoft claimed this was done to better the user experience, but everyone knew it was simply their way of defaulting users into using their web browser instead of the ever-popular Netscape Navigator. And the secret is, it worked. Over time, Netscape’s usage fell and was replaced by IE. Heck, even I switched from Netscape to IE.  It was a tactic that would later find Microsoft at the center of a large anti-trust case.

Despite this underhanded  tactic, I remained a loyal MS user for the most part. I used Windows and Office exclusively. And as the years went by, I remained loyal to Internet Explorer, even when others were venturing off to new browsers like Mozilla Firefox. I stuck by MS all the way from Windows 98 up the release of Windows Vista. But over that time, even thought I didn’t want to admit it, I saw the company that I loved lose sight of what it once was. Even thought MS was still the top dog, Apple had began to emerge from the shadows and creep back on to the scene. The release of the new iMac and OS X operating system had given Apple a fresh coat of polish. Their new iPod product was literally changing the way people enjoyed music… It was a reminder that Apple was down, but not out.

After the anti-trust case, MS lost quite a bit of their mojo. Apple was on the rise now, bigger than ever. In light of Apple’s surging popularity,  other players starting making waves on the scene as well. Google had evolved past just being a search engine. They were now offering web-services like Gmail and advertising. Microsoft began scrambling like crazy to “rebrand” a number of their properties. Hotmail became “Passport”, then “Windows Live Mail”. (Then Hotmail again, and eventually was changed yet again to Outlook). It seemed like Microsoft was trying anything, throwing whatever they could at the wall to see what would stick and what wouldn’t.

When Windows Vista was released, I was quick to adopt it as my operating system of choice. But that’s when I ran into a problem. At the time, I was very focused on audio. I used to record and edit music using my PC on a regular basis. Something changed with Windows Vista  in regards to their DirectSound API, and it directly interfered with nearly every audio program I was using. As a result, I was forced to make a choice, go back to Windows XP, or look for an alternative. At this point in my life, I was now an adult with a busy schedule. I no longer had the time to spend on tinkering with settings, tweaking drivers, like I did when I was a young hobbyist. I needed something that worked, and I needed it now.  That’s when I turned my attention to Apple for the first time. I was lured by their whole “It Just Works” ideology. So, despite years of being a Microsoft loyalist, in 2007 I drove down to the Apple Store and purchases a nice shiny iMac.

To be continued….