Initial impressions of Windows 10

Being ever curious on the technology front, the release of the first build of a Technical Preview of Windows 10 was enough to get me having a look at what was on offer. The furore regarding Windows 8.x added to the interest so I went to the download page to get a 64-bit installation ISO image.

That got installed into a fresh VirtualBox virtual machine and the process worked smoothly to give something not so far removed from Windows 8.1. However, it took until release 4.3.18 of VirtualBox before the Guest additions had caught up with the Windows prototype so I signed up for the Windows Insider program and got a 64-bit ISO image to install the Enterprise preview of Windows 10 into a VMware virtual machine since and that supported full screen display of the preview while VirtualBox caught up with it.

Of course, the most obvious development was the return of the Start Menu and it works exactly as expected too. Initially, the apparent lack of an easy way to disable App panels had me going to Classic Shell for an acceptable Start Menu. It was only later that it dawned on me that unpinning these panels would deliver to me the undistracting result that I wanted.

Another feature that attracted my interest is the new virtual desktop functionality. Here I was expecting something like what I have used on Linux and UNIX. There, each workspace is a distinct desktop with only the applications open in a given workspace showing on a panel in there. Windows does not work that way with all applications visible on the taskbar regardless of what workspace they occupy, which causes clutter. Another deficiency is not having a desktop indicator on the taskbar instead of the Task View button. On Windows 7 and 8.x, I have been a user of VirtuaWin and this still works largely in the way that I expect of it too, except for any application windows that have some persistence associated with them; the Task Manager is an example and I include some security software in the same category too.

Even so, here are some keyboard shortcuts for anyone who wants to take advantage of the Windows 10 virtual desktop feature:

  • Create a new desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + D
  • Switch to previous desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + Left arrow
  • Switch to next desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + Right arrow

Otherwise, stability is excellent for a preview of a version of Windows that is early on its road to final release. An upgrade to a whole new build went smoothly when initiated following a prompt from the operating system itself. All installed applications were retained and a new taskbar button for notifications made its appearance alongside the existing Action Centre icon. So far, I am unsure what this does and whether the Action Centre button will be replaced in the fullness of time but I am happy to await where things go with this.

All is polished up to now and there is nothing to suggest that Windows 10 will not be to 8.x what 7 was to Vista. The Start Screen has been dispatched after what has proved to be a misadventure on the part of Microsoft. The PC still is with us and touchscreen devices like tablets are augmenting it instead of replacing it for any tasks involving some sort of creation. If anything, we have seen the PC evolve with laptops perhaps becoming more like the Surface Pro, at least when it comes to hybrid devices. However, we are not as happy smudge our PC screens quite like those on phones and tablets so a return to a more keyboard and mouse centred approach for some devices is a welcome one.

What I have here are just a few observations and there is more elsewhere, including a useful article by Ed Bott on ZDNet. All in all, we are early in the process for Windows 10 and, though it looks favourable so far, I will continue to keep an eye on how it progresses. It needs to be less experimental than Windows 8.x and it certainly is less schizophrenic and should not be a major jump for users of Windows 7.

Turning off the full height editor option in WordPress 4.0

Though I keep a little eye on WordPress development, it is no way near as rigorous as when I submitted a patch that got me a mention on the contributor list of a main WordPress release. That may explain how the full editor setting, which is turned on by default passed by on me without my taking much in the way of notice of it.

WordPress has become so mature now that I almost do not expect major revisions like the overhauls received by the administration back-end in 2008. The second interface was got so right that it still is with us and there were concerns in my mind at the time as to how usable it would be. Sometimes, those initial suspicions can come to nothing.

However, WordPress 4.0 brought a major change to the editor and I unfortunately am not sure that it is successful. A full height editor sounds a good idea in principle but I found some rough edges to its present implementation that leave me wondering if any UX person got to reviewing it. The first reason is that scrolling becomes odd with the editor’s toolbar becoming fixed when you scroll down far enough on an editor screen. The sidebar scrolling then is out of sync with the editor box, which creates a very odd sensation. Having keyboard shortcuts like CTRL+HOME and CTRL+END not working as they should only convinced me that the new arrangement was not for me and I wanted to turn it off.

A search with Google turned up nothing of note so I took to the WordPress.org forum to see if I could get any joy. That revealed that I should have thought of looking in the screen options dropdown box for an option called “Expand the editor to match the window height” so I could clear that tickbox. Because of the appearance of a Visual Editor control on there, I looked on the user profile screen and found nothing so the logic of how things are set up is sub-optimal.  Maybe, the latter option needs to be a screen option now too. Thankfully, the window height editor option only needs setting once for both posts and pages so you are covered for all eventualities at once.

With a distraction-free editing option, I am not sure why someone went for the full height editor too. If WordPress wanted to stick with this, it does need more refinement so it behaves more conventionally. Personally, I would not build a website with that kind of ill-synchronised scrolling effect so it is something needs work as does the location of the Visual Editor setting. It could be that both settings need to be at the user level and not with one being above that level while another is at it. Until I got the actual solution, I was faced with using distraction-free mode all the time and also installed the WP Editor plugin too. That remains due to its code highlighting even if dropping into code view always triggers the need to create a new revision. Despite that, all is better in the end.

Dropping back to a full screen terminal session from a desktop one in Linux

There are times when you might need to drop back to a full screen terminal session from a graphical desktop environment when running Linux. One example that I have encountered is the installation of Nvidia’s own graphics drivers on either Ubuntu or Linux Mint. Another happened to me on Arch Linux when a Cinnamon desktop environment update left me without the ability to open up a terminal window. Then, the full screen command allowed me to add in an alternative terminal emulator and Tech Drive-in’s list came in handy for this. there might have been something to sort on a FreeBSD installation that needed the same treatment. This latter pair happened to me on sessions running within VirtualBox and that has its own needs when it comes to dropping into a full screen command line session and I will come to that later.

When running Linux on a physical PC, the keyboard shortcuts that you are CTRL + ALT + F1 for entering a full screen terminal session and CTRL + ALT + F7 for returning to the graphical desktop again. When you are running a Linux guest in VirtualBox and the host operating system also is Linux, then the aforementioned shortcuts do not work within the virtual machine but instead affect the host. To get the guest operating system to drop into a full screen terminal session, the keyboard shortcut you need is [Host Key] + F1 and the default host key is the right hand CTRL key on your keyboard unless you have assigned to something else as I have. The exit the full screen terminal session and return to the graphical desktop again, the keyboard shortcut is [Host Key] + F7.

All of this works with GNOME and Cinnamon desktop environments running in X sessions and I cannot vouch for anything else unless alternatives like Wayland come my way. Hopefully, this useful functionality applies to those other set-ups too because there are times when a terminal session is needed to recover from a mishap, rare though those thankfully are and they need to be very rare if not non-existent for most users.

A look at Windows 8.1

Last week, Microsoft released a preview of Windows 8.1 and some hailed the return of the Start button but the reality is not as simple as that. Being a Linux user, I am left wondering if ideas have been borrowed from GNOME Shell instead of putting back the Start Menu like it was in Windows 7. What we have got is a smoothing of the interface that is there for those who like to tweak settings and not available be default. GNOME Shell has been controversial too so borrowing from it is not an uncontentious move even if there are people like me who are at home in that kind of interface.

What you get now is more configuration options to go with the new Start button. Right clicking on the latter does get you a menu but this is no Start Menu like we had before. Instead, we get a settings menu with a “Shut down” entry. That’s better than before, which might be saying something about what was done in Windows 8, and it produces a sub-menu with options of shutting down or restarting your PC as well as putting it to sleep. Otherwise, it is place for accessing system configuration items and not your more usual software, not a bad thing but it’s best to be clear about these things. Holding down the Windows key and pressing X will pop up the same menu if you prefer keyboard shortcuts and I have a soft spot for them too.

New Windows 8.1 Options

The real power is to be discovered when you right click on the task bar and select the Properties entry from the pop-up menu. Within the dialogue box box that appears, there is the Navigation tab that contains a whole plethora of interesting options. Corner navigation can be scaled back to remove the options of switching between applications at the upper left corner or getting the charms menu from the upper right corner. Things are interesting in the Start Screen section. This where you tell Windows to boot to the desktop instead of the Start Screen and adjust what the Start button gives you. For instance, you can make it use your desktop background and display the Start Screen Apps View. Both of these make the new Start interface less intrusive and make the Apps View feel not unlike the way GNOME Shell overlays your screen when you hit the Activities button or hover over the upper left corner of the desktop.

It all seems rather more like a series of little concessions and not the restoration that some (many?) would prefer. Classic Shell still works for all those seeking an actual Start Menu and even replaces the restored Microsoft Start button too. So, if the new improvements aren’t enough for you, you still can take matters into your own hands until you start to take advantage of what’s new in 8.1.

Apart from the refusal to give us back a Windows 7 style desktop experience, we now have a touchscreen keyboard button added to the taskbar.So far, it always appears there even when I try turning it off. For me, that’s a bug and it’s something that I’d like to see fixed before the final release.

All in all, Windows 8.1 feels more polished than Windows 8 was and will be a free update when the production version is released. My explorations have taken place within a separate VMware virtual machine because updating a Windows 8 installation to the 8.1 preview is forcing a complete re-installation on yourself later on. There are talks about Windows 9 now but I am left wondering if going for point releases like 8.2, 8.3, etc. might be a better strategy for Microsoft. It still looks as if Windows 8 could do with continual polishing before it gets more acceptable to users. 8.1 is a step forward and more like it may be needed yet.

Extending ASUS Eee PC Battery Life Without Changing From Ubuntu 11.04

It might just be my experience of the things but I do tend to take claims about laptop or netbook battery life with a pinch of salt. After all, I have a Toshiba laptop that only lasts an hour or two away from the mains and that runs Windows 7. For a long time, my ASUS Eee PC netbook was looking like that too but a spot of investigation reveals that there is something that I could do to extend the length of time before the battery ran out of charge. For now, the solution would seem to be installing eee-control and here’s what I needed to do that for Ubuntu 11.04, which has gained a reputation for being a bit of a power hog on netbooks if various tests are to be believed.

Because eee-control is not in the standard Ubuntu repositories, you need to add an extra one for install in the usual way. To make this happen, launch Synaptic and find the Repositories entry on the Settings menu and click on it. If there’s no sign of it , then Software Sources (this was missing on my ASUS) needs to be installed using the following command:

sudo apt-get install software-properties-gtk

Once Software Sources opens up after you entering your password, go to the Other Software tab. The next step is to click on the Add button and enter the following into the APT Line box before clicking on the Add Source button:

ppa:eee-control/eee-control

With that done, all that’s need is to issue the following command before rebooting the machine on completion of the installation:

sudo apt-get install eee-control

When you are logged back in to get your desktop, you’ll notice a new icon in your top with the Eee logo and clicking on this reveals a menu with a number of useful options. Among these is the ability to turn off a number of devices such as the camera, WiFi or card reader. After that there’s the Preferences entry in the Advanced submenu for turning on such things as setting performance to Powersave for battery-powered operation or smart fan control. The notifications issued to you can be controlled too as can be a number of customisable keyboard shortcuts useful for quickly starting a few applications.

So far, I have seen a largely untended machine last around four hours and that’s around double what I have been getting until now. Of course, what really is needed is a test with constant use to see how it gets on. Even if I see lifetimes of around 3 hours, this still will be an improvement. Nevertheless, being of a sceptical nature, I will not scotch the idea of getting a spare battery just yet.