Building a Holodeck


Well almost…

Last year the guys at Microsoft released a video showing their vision of how people might interact and communicate using technology in the future.  In one scene two classrooms, one in the US and one in India, are linked by a window of sorts, each showing a view into the other classroom with the pupils drawing pictures and writing to each other onto the windows.  It’s hard to describe unless you’ve seen it, but I’ll out the video on the bottom of the post. 

Over the Christmas break I spent a little time catching up on all the various article and videos I hadn’t had a chance to watch in the last few weeks of the year.  One of them was a fascinating video from The Verge’s visit to Microsoft’s Applied Science’ s Edison Lab where they are starting to build real technology which could power the vision described in the video last year. 

Ok I’m a geek, but there is some fantastic technology in there, a lot of which I’ve not seen before though I don’t know if others are doing the same sorts of research.  It’s also interesting to see Kinect units being pressed into service in new ways too.  At least it’s not just the hacker community thinking up new ways to use it.

Whilst the 2019 video showed this sort of technology in use within a school, it’s clear that it would find applications all over business.  In a world where work is increasingly delivered by teams of talented people distributed around the world, this sort of natural link between locations could be huge benefit when working in that sort of virtual team.

Anyway, here’s the video and below it the original Vision 2019 video.

How to download and install the Window 8 Developer Preview


With this weeks Build conference underway, the nice Windows 8 chaps at Microsoft have been good enough to provide us with a preview version of the new OS play with.

I thought I’d write a few notes on how to go about obtaining and installing this preview in case it of use to anyone.

Bare in mind of course that Windows 8 is far from finished, there are many months of development left and this preview is likely to be pretty flaky. It exists really to allow developers to get their hands on the new OS so they can set about developing and testing applications for Win8. I’d only try it on a spare computer or on a spare hard disk, don’t go upgrading your day-to-day computer, you will probably lose anything that’s on it!

Download the Windows 8 Developer Preview media from here:

There are 32 and 64 bit versions, and a 64 bit version that includes the development tools. Although the standalone versions do support an upgrade which maintains user accounts and files, personally I’d assume you’ll need a clean install on a spare computer or hard disk.

Create Installation Media
To install from the ISO file you’ll need to write the ISO to either DVD or USB. The easiest way to do this is probably using the Microsoft USB/DVD Download Tool from here:

If you’re using a USB stick for the installation you’ll also need the boosect.exe tool. This is used to make the stick bootable. You can find bootsect on your original Vista or Windows 7 installation DVD. Simply copy it to the Windows7 USB/DVD Download Tool install folder (C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Apps\Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool).

Run the Windows7 USB/DVD Download Tool, point it at your downloaded ISO and USB stick or DVD burner then wait for the process to complete.

Install Windows 8
Plug the USB stick (or insert the DVD) into the computer you’ll be using and start it up.

The setup will launch and you’ll be presented with the usual Windows language setup options. Select you preference and click next.

Now click the big ‘Install Now’ button.

Read and accept the license terms and click Next.

Assuming you’ll be doing a clean installation, select the ‘Custom (advanced)’ option.

Create a partition for the installation, the 32bit version needs 16GB and the 64bit needs 20GB, so I’d use a minimum of 30-40GB to allow for some head room. As with Windows 7, system partitions will be created automatically.

It’ll now take a while to carry out the installation, it’ll reboot a few times as it progresses.

When its finished you’ll be asked to accept the licence terms (again), check the ‘I accept…’ box and click Accept.

(At this point you’ll notice that this doesn’t look like Windows any more…)

You’ll be asked for a computer name, so pick something sensible (or more likely something from Star Wars) and click Next.

On the Wireless setup screen (its all very green), pick you’re wireless network, click Connect, enter in your wireless key (assuming you have one – you should have one by the way) and again click Connect.

On the next Settings screen you’ll be asked whether you want to Use Express Settings to quickly get going, or customise you options. I chose Custom as I’m a geek.

– You’ll be asked if you want to connect to shared resources on your network and share those on this PC, on a home or office network it’s safe to choose Yes, if you are on a public network or a network you do not trust then click No.

– The next page asks questions about the security settings such as automatic updates, I would always leave everything switched on and click Next

– Windows now asks if you want to help in its development by sending data back to Microsoft. Given that the development team have given us this preview it’s only fair to leave it all switched on and click Next (in my view)

– More settings for troubleshooting and IE compatibility, as well as options for sharing information with applications – like sharing your location iPhone style. I left it all on and clicked Next.

Now Windows asks for an email address, preferably (I think) the one from a Windows Live ID. This is used to help customise Windows using your content from online services. Enter your email address and click Next. (There is an option not to do this, but I figure its best to experience Win8 as MS intended)

You need to now enter a password (or if it wasn’t a Live ID you might be asked to create one – I haven’t checked yet) and set a secret question and answer for account recovery.

Your Win8 user account will now be created and you’ll be logged on.

Welcome to Windows 8 – looks different doesn’t it!?

The installation is very simple, and it was all up and working in under an hour. Not bad for something that’s far from complete. The only problem I found was that the touchscreen on my Lenovo X200 tablet didn’t work until Windows Update had run and downloaded them – again a pretty decent service given this is only a preview. What’s more, all the updates and drivers installed and were activated without a reboot, a very good sign for the future.

In a corporate environment, I wonder how the online content will be handled, many organisations might not want users accessing personal content from Windows Live etc. Perhaps it will use the users domain credentials and access SharePoint MySites etc. for content.

Windows 7 on a Macbook Air

For the last few days I’ve been running Windows 7 on my Macbook Air to see how well it ran.  I bootcamp’d the Air as soon as I got it – I use too many Windows apps to run OS X alone – but usually run through the Parallels virtualisation solution.

For the most part running Win7 full time on the Mac hardware has been a pleasant experience, though not without a few hitches. 

Whoever wrote the Windows hardware drivers that Apple ship with bootcamp needs to take a long hard look at themselves.  The touchpad drivers in particular are awful.  Gone is the easy accuracy you get from either OS X, or any other Windows laptop that matter.  Two-finger scrolling is clunky, the detection of two-finger touches is often mis-interpreted as a right-click for some reason. 

You also have to remember to take your finger off the touchpad for longer than feels natural when clicking and then moving the curser.  If you don’t the driver thinks you’re dragging whatever you clicked, so you end up dragging files/tabs and selecting text you don’t want.  I know these things work well in Windows itself because I use a touch enabled Win7 tablet for my work laptop

Quite how Apple got these things so wrong, or managed to completely ignore all the other touch gestures Win7 supports natively, is anyone’s guess.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that bootcamp allows you to boot Windows natively on the Mac.  It’s just such a shame that the shoddy drivers compromise the user experience so badly.  Why should such great hardware suffer from such basic problems?

With Apple offering hardware which, in my experience at least, is significantly better than the current PC manufactures, I do wonder if Microsoft might step in to fix the problems themselves in Windows 8.  It might sound like an odd thing for them to do, but there are a few reasons why I think it would make sense.

1)  Mac users running Windows on their Mac with bootcamp are not experiencing Windows at its best.  With such obvious issues Windows is actually frustrating to use even at a basic level, something it’s not on a normal PC.

2)  Windows 8 with it’s new touch interface may actually be better suited to Mac’s with their large installed user base of multi-touch touchpads than PC’s – at least at first.  MS will want hardware that can make use of the new OS and show it off.  With so many existing multi-touch enabled Mac’s in peoples homes I doubt they’ll want that experience to be at the mercy of the driver engineers in Cupertino.

  • If MS doesn’t step up to the mark, there may be some other options.  Touchpad++ is a driver written by Vladmir Plenskiy which aims to provide a better touchpad experience in Windows.  He also offers a utility called Powerplan7 which (as well as some power management tools) offer Macbook users a simple tray icon that can enable and disable the WiFi and Bluetooth adapters.  Useful stuff.