Archive | November, 2013

Killing Windows 8.1

29 Nov

What happens when two fools collide? Yesterday I found out.

When Windows 8 was released, unlike Windows 7, it no longer came with Windows Media Centre as standard. This made some sense, as few people use Media Centre, yet every copy costs Microsoft a few dollars in licencing costs for the CODECs. However, those of us that do use it are quite passionate about the product, so to placate those users, such as myself, you could register for a registration key to add it to Windows 8 for free.

Media Centre is classed as a different Windows SKU, so the key is actually a replacement product key for Windows itself.

I registered for four keys, one each for my laptop and desktop, and two spare for future devices.

It seems I wasn’t the only one to request more keys than I could use, and realising (not unfairly) that this was costing money and damaging future revenue stream, Microsoft revealed that any unused keys would become invalid after 1st February 2013.

Fast forward to earlier today, and I decided it would be nice to have media centre available on the Surface. “ah”, I thought, “I have an unused key. If it’s been deactivated it won’t let me apply the update”

Sure enough I as able to enter the key and Media Centre was duly installed, then the machine rebooted.

Everything looked fine. The lock screen had been reset to the default, but all my apps and settings were intact, and Media Center was listed in the application list. So I went into the settings to fix the lock screen.

Then I noticed what had happened.

An ominous message was present on the screen informing me that I couldn’t personalise Windows until it was activated.

So it seems the upgrade checks the key to see what type of additional features are being added to Windows, applies the update (resulting in the new product key being applied), and only after all this is completed does the system check the key is still valid.

Great, thanks.

Remember, this was a key I got directly from Microsoft, it’s not a pirated key, although I should stress again that it had expired, so I’m not completely blameless.

So I now had an unlicensed copy of Windows, with no obvious way of rolling it back, especially since the surface does not come supplied with a licence key anywhere. Off to the internets for advice then…

One of the suggestions was to purchase a key for Media Centre. I was a bit worried about it not working (after all, I would essentially be trying to apply a $10 key to an apparently pirated version of $150 software), so when the message telling me I couldn’t upgrade online because I’m in the UK appeared, I wasn’t overly worried (although I do wonder how I will get a legitimate key going forward).

Other suggestions involved editing the registry, re-installing Windows and performing a refresh. I did the refresh , but it just deleted my desktop applications (as expected) leaving the invalid key intact.

So next I made a call to Microsoft. After navigating the list of options, I finally chose correctly and after a few minutes was connected to somebody who tried to help me.

I should take some time out to say that everyone I spoke to was incredibly polite. The main contact, a man called Chris, went through some steps with me and eventually he got to a point where I had an activation ID (apparently running slui 4 from the command line does the trick) which I could then use to try and re-activate Windows via telephone. He left me to try this and promised to call back 15 minutes later.

So I then duly followed the new onscreen instructions, entered the 54 digits via the telephone keypad, and sure enough…. it didn’t work.

So I tried again, the second time I accidentally typed in an incorrect code about half way through, so hung up and tried again.

Third time lucky? No. I was once again told I was potentially running pirated software.

Shortly afterwards Chris called back, and apologised as further research on his part had revealed that this method would fail, however he had (as part of that research) discovered that he now had to hand the case over to the engineers, who would get back to me in two or three working days with a solution.

Chris took a few more details off me and confirmed some others, then promised to get back to me if they hadn’t called within three days.

So here I am now, running an un-activated copy of Windows and waiting for Microsoft to get back to me.

The whole process has been a bit painful, primarily I don’t understand why I need to wait up to three days to get this fixed, but I haven’t complained too much as it was partly my fault, and frankly the Microsoft support personnel have been nothing but polite and attempted to help.

I do feel that Microsoft should take some of the blame for letting the installation go through in the first place though. If they had only checked the key up front first, we would never have ended up here.

I’ll update (either in the comments, or if anything interesting happens in a new post) with how I get on.

What a difference a week makes!

21 Nov

Something strange happened to my Lumia 920 yesterday. When I took it out of my pocket it appeared to have crashed in a way I had never previously seen before, displaying just a lightening bolt next to a cog wheel, similar to the cog that is displayed during an update.

Initially concerned I managed to reset the phone (by holding the down volume button and power button simultaneously) and everything seemed to spring back to life without issue.

Later in the day I was texting my partner Hayley, but the messages were not appearing. Stranger still, when I subsequently used messenger from a PC my own messages were appearing as new messages on the live tile.

Restarting the phone several times did not help.

Texting a friend (who I had not texted for over a week) did work however. Curious.

I was at a loss, perhaps something was wrong with the contact entry for Hayley?

Having a little time to wait for the train home just a few moments ago, I decided to see if there were any suggestions for this issue on the web. Sure enough my search returned others who have had the same issue.

It turns out that I don’t know what day it is.

It seems that on resetting the phone I had set the phone’s date to be a week earlier than the actual date! As a result the messages were coming in with the wrong timestamp, the phone was seeing messages sent/received after the date, and I assume was putting the new messages into, what it thought, was the correct chronological order, hence why the friend I texted had his message in the correct location.

Everything is fine now I’ve set the date properly, but it does demonstrate how the simplest of mistakes can result in the strangest of effects.

Surface Pro 2 and McAfee internet Security 2013

21 Nov

A few days after the launch last month I decided to get myself a Surface Pro 2, the 256GB version with 8Gb of RAM. As regular readers to this site will be aware, I’ve been putting off getting a Windows tablet for over a year now since my laptop was doing a pretty sterling job.

The thing that finally swung it for me however was the realisation that, whilst the laptop was still very capable, it was sufficiently heavy that most of the time I left it at home. Once I’d made this realisation I finally had the justification I needed to spend the £1138 on a new device, and so the rest is history…

So what do I think of it after a little less than four weeks of ownership?

Well, at first I was in two minds. Yes it was a lovely device, but a purchase for as much as this is not something I do lightly nowadays, so I think that put a bit of a downer on it. Even though I’d thought long and hard about what a Windows tablet would do for me (over a year as mentioned), I still had my doubts that the money was well spent.

However, as time has progressed I’m beginning to feel more like I’ve actually made a good decision. The device has accompanied me almost every day (only missing the days where I had to attend after work events, i.e. the pub) and it has so far done everything I have wanted and behaved itself fairly well (more on this in a moment).

The battery life seems pretty decent, and I’ve been using it a lot at work for taking notes and recording audio in meetings.

The other thing it gets used for extensively while I’m at work is listening to music. The sound produced by this thing to my Bose QC15 headphones is among the best I have heard, to the extent that even the Lumia 920 that I had previously thought delivered an excellent sound, now seems somewhat lacking. The Surface is a little bass heavy, but the overall sound quality is very satisfying.

There have been a couple of negative points however, one of which in all fairness I am (sort of) to blame for.

Firstly, I decided to go for a “Touch Cover 2” as my keyboard of choice, rather than the significantly better typing experience provided by the “Type Cover 2”, my reasoning being that I plan to get the power cover when it becomes available next year, so having two similar keyboards was a bit silly. Additionally, I also wanted to experiment with the cover as a giant touchpad (Verdict: underwhelming). Don’t get me wrong, the keyboard is usable, impressive even in some ways, but I know without even trying the type cover that it is lacking a little in its primary use case. Sure I can type reasonably fast on it, but something is just not quite right and I do end up making slightly more mistakes than usual. Overall I question if this was the right decision. Still, backlighting in something as thin as this is impressive (but that doesn’t help much in normal usage).

Secondly, I have found the device has frozen a few times, but I think I’ve worked out why.

Very shortly after getting the Surface, I heard about the CryptoLocker virus that’s doing the rounds. This insidious virus has put the fear of god into me, so whilst I’ve been well served by Microsoft’s virus software for several years now, I decided the time was right to start paying for protection again.

I purchased three copies of McAfee Internet Security 2013, one for the Surface, one for my old Laptop which Hayley now uses, and one for my desktop machine.

So far I have only installed one copy, that going on the surface.

Shortly after I started to find that “clicks” in the Modern version of Internet Explorer were not always registering. Probably a coincidence I thought.

Then I noticed the file transfer speed of my device was far slower than I had previously seen when copying large files across locations.

Then in a meeting I noticed my battery was draining disturbingly quickly. A quick investigation revealed that despite being on battery power, McAfee had decided to do it’s weekly scan (I can find no setting to alter this behaviour).

Then yesterday whilst editing a file in Visual Studio, the IDE froze for a couple of minutes. On investigation it appeared that the biggest process user was the McAfee on access virus scanner. I feel this was an unacceptably long interruption.

Enough, I thought, is enough, so I’ve uninstalled it from the machine and gone back to the Microsoft defaults. This has left me a little uneasy, and more than a little annoyed that I forked out for three of these licences.

There is a (very small) chance that I’m blaming too many negatives on this application, so I guess time will tell if I see an improvement (it’s only been off the machine a couple of hours now)

I shall try to use this licence on the old laptop that Hayley uses, as I don’t expect she will notice the difference, and I’d like her to have the added protection and see how it works out for her. At the same time I’m hoping that the other two licences will allow me to install an updated version of this software at a later point in time when it isn’t a complete shambles (perhaps a 2014 version?). We’ll see.

In the meantime I’m annoyed I paid for something I am not going to use. Oh well, I guess that I should have read those reviews first…

So anyway, these gripes aside and considering it is missing a few features I would have used (NFC for example), I think I’ve made the right decision now, and look forward to getting some of the forthcoming accessories (power cover, dock, Bluetooth adapter for the keyboards) and using this device for the next few years.

I’m feeling pretty confident I’ll get my moneys worth out of the Surface, and that it will be money well spent… Unless of course I do something stupid like drop it on concrete or lose it entirely. That had better not happen as I can’t see me being allowed to buy another replacement for a good few years now.