Opinions

How Full Windows 10 running on ARM CPU will affect computing future

So it finally happened! I have been predicting x86 emulation on ARM CPU ever since Intel stopped product development for Atom for mobile SoC.


@WinHEC 2016, Microsoft showed Windows 10 running on ARM

A few major things happened over the year to make this happen.

  1. Windows 10 Mobile Continuum
  2. Intel ending development of Atom SoC
  3. Qualcomm adding virtualisation support for SnapDragon SoC
  4. Various bridges for developers to easily port their apps to Windows 10
  5. Windows 10 Common Core (or why there’s no 64bit mobile Windows 10)
  6. Some special sauce from the brains @Xamarin
  7. Microsoft letting go of the last vestiges of Nokia

Let’s look at this point by point.

First point. Windows 10 Mobile Continuum feature has always been this dream of making your smartphone act more like a PC when connected to a large display + keyboard/mouse. However, people quickly notice far too many icons don’t work because the developer hasn’t written their app in Universal Windows Platform (UWP) format or their mobile app isn’t optimised for a larger display yet.

Rather than waiting for mobile developers to get around to adding UWP support, why not ask PC developers to scale their apps down? And at the same time, support legacy Windows program through the Desktop to UWP bridge so it’s possible for Windows 10 to run these UWP on ARM64 SoC.

Second point. (This is my speculation.) Intel has made a terrible mistake in ending Atom SoC development. They pushed Microsoft to seek an alternate SoC and they are the probably the reason Qualcomm added virtualisation support. I don’t remember Google/Android asking for x86 capability.

Third Point. Despite how fast Snapdragon (SD) SoCs are, the Atom X7 can keep up with it easily & in fact outperform it, albeit using slightly more power. The reason is every core of Atom can process SIMD (DSP) SSE instructions which gives it an advantage in terms of mathematical calculations. The letdown of Atom is in the GPU. Unlike Qualcomm, Intel obviously doesn’t want to put a flagship class GPU to compete with their Core CPU.

Recently, Qualcomm announced DSP & Virtualisation support for their next-gen SD835 SoC with an even faster GPU. This allows Microsoft to enable many of the desktop class features that required DSP to accelerate their functions. Many of Windows 10 Mobile functions like its User Shell & Cellular functions will be integrated into full Desktop Windows 10 as shown in the video. Finally, full Windows 10 can compete with IOS & Android for Tablets.

Fourth point. Microsoft is a software company at its core. Their oldest and strongest products are their OS and Visual Studio development environment. It comes as no surprise they can create conversion tools to directly take other platform codes and make it work on theirs. It’s also no surprise when you consider the fact that Windows NT (which Windows 10 is based on) was created to run on multiple CPU architectures.

Fifth point. For the longest time, Windows Phone fans had been wondering why Microsoft refused to create a 64-bit version of Windows 10 Mobile. I have always argued that mobile platforms don’t need 64-bit at all because no single mobile app will ever use 4GB of memory. Now we know the reason is because Microsoft has been concentrating in making full Windows 10 even more mobile.

We already know that Windows 10 shares the same kernel & some of the hardware stacks between PC, Xbox, Mobile, Hololens and IoT. However, what most people don’t realise is Microsoft has been breaking their Service Stacks into smaller and smaller pieces with every new revision of Windows 10.

Just look at your Services manager in Computer Management, there’re more and more Services running in the background. However, RAM usage hardly increase. The reason is to allow more services to be compartmentalised so Microsoft developers can pick the services relevant to that particular platform and reuse as much code as possible. This isn’t possible if the services are large and monolithic in nature.

My prediction is, instead of emulation, Windows 10 will run natively in ARM64 mode. Not surprising since Surface RT IS running an ARM version of Windows 8. This means all (desktop) Windows 10 services AND first-party apps will run at full speed since they’re compiled for ARM64.

All UWP apps can run in either native ARM or virtualised x86 mode depending on the developer. Also not surprising because when you run a 32-bit program in 64-bit Windows, Windows will launch the program in Windows on Windows 64-bit mode (WoW64). So now, instead of apps running in an x64 sandbox, it’s a Windows app running in an ARM64 sandbox.

Sixth point. I bet the brilliant minds at Xamarin had been cross-pollinating with the minds at Visual Studio to create the most powerful x86/x64/ARM cross-compiling toolkit possible! I’m guessing these are the people convincing Qualcomm to add virtualisation support for the latest SD. The power of software!!!

Seventh point. I’m guessing former Microsoft staff of formerly Nokia mobile division still have a static mindset about the future of mobile and smartphones. It’s probably good they’re let go to work on other worthwhile projects like the new Nokia-branded smartphones ODM by the China firm that bought over from Microsoft, or SailFish for the Russian bloc.

However, we also know that certain key ex-Nokian went to work at Microsoft Research. I wouldn’t be surprised if these are expert in camera and cellular tech.

The future. This part is my speculation about Microsoft’s strategy moving forward.

If Intel had continue to invest in Atom SoC, we’ll probably have the mythical “Surface Phone” by now that can run UWP & Legacy programs through Continuum.

Qualcomm seem to have fill that gap but I’m still skeptical over the emulation performance. However, if the Adobe Photoshop presented by Terry Myerson in the video is running in emulation mode and the video wasn’t edited, then I’m cautiously optimistic. The “Surface Phone” can now get back on track but don’t expect it to ship until end of 2017.

This is also the first time desktop Windows 10 gain cellular radio stack and mobile-context specific features related to voice calls and sms. The Skype Preview app is already hinting at the direction Windows 10 is taking so it’s more proof of mobile features added to Windows 10, rather than more desktop features added to Windows 10 mobile. Microsoft is moving in the opposite direction as IOS & Android.

With a Cellular stack built into Windows 10, Windows will finally become a full fledge mobile OS. With ARM’s more simple RISC architecture, power management should be easier to manage and Windows 10 should have much better standby time. Intel Atom (Enhanced SpeedStep) has great running time but the standby time still lacks far behind Qualcomm’s Snapdragon high/low-power cores. It’ll be interesting to note how Windows 10 handles the ‘big.LITTLE’ Kryo 28x Cores.

Windows 10 Continuum will also have a combined dual-shell or a morphable shell (called CShell) that switches interface depending on the screen (not device) context. Maybe now we’ll finally have a Landscape mobile Start Screen, and of course, multi-screen is naturally supported. It better support dock-able Windows for larger 5-7″ screens too!

Ultimately, the “Surface Mobile” can be your only computing devices. So what kind of a device is this Surface Mobile? Well I think it’ll be running a SD835 clocked at 1.9Ghz on battery, and 2.45Ghz when plugged into the Microsoft Display Dock. It should have 4GB of RAM and has a 5.5″ – 6″ display to allow adequate space for heat spreading. A 1440P display is good enough, a 4K display will be a waste of battery and GPU cycles. Now, Windows 10 requires a lot of space, so 64GB of eMMC 5.1 Storage is required.

Where does that leave Intel or even AMD? Well, Intel has abandoned Atom because they have probably figured out how to make a Core series based SoC hit the 2W TDP but their 10nm fab is having yield issues, which is why CannonLake is postponed. AMD has also announced new APU that can step through the clock at 25Mhz increments thus providing more aggressive power management but being fab on a 28nm process, I reckon power consumption will be higher than KabyLake.

What this means is, Intel is trying to make their Core m CPU fit into a mobile environment so the CPU wouldn’t fry your smartphone. And AMD new Ryzen CPU isn’t ready for mobile.

Qualcomm just released information on their latest Snapdragon 835 SoC.

Based on the information released, SD835 supports new 3D audio processing and enhanced camera image processor. It looks like a future Microsoft Hololens 2 could be powered by the SD835! The Surface 4 could also be based on a SD835!

In the meantime, you can check up my past predictions which has come true below.

How Windows Phone 8 & Windows 8 can share software

OEMs can’t do it, so Microsoft DID IT!

Samsung losing patent case is Good for consumers!

Update 03 Feb 2017: Updated with the product codenames for future Windows features I have corrected predicted, like CSHELL and clearer explanation of CPU terminology.

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Opinions

Singapore Smart Nation initiative is slow because government & private sector top management can’t work fast enough

Overview

Update 19/6/2016: spelling/grammer corrections, clarification of opinion & headers to make for easier reading

I’ve just read this piece at ZDNet titled “Singapore needs mindset change for smart nation success.” The piece is about Singapore (residents) needing to change their mindset to ensure Singapore can stay competitive.

There are so many things I disagree with in this piece. Let me explain.

Singapore aunties & uncles also use Smartphones

The smartphone penetration rate is very high in Singapore. (This is why hackers love to target Singapore users.) So why is that? It’s because PC & broadband(fixed/mobile) penetration is also super high. The Singapore people is used to technology in their lives and now that you can bring the power of a PC inside your pocket, we all naturally want that capability & flexibility.

The problem is NOT with Singapore residents’ resistance to doing things the Smart Nation way. Instead, bureaucracy & outdated law/compliance standards are to blame. This usually happens at the top level of government & the private-sector. Since top-level government is pushing change, I’m sensing mid-higher government agency/stat-board resistance. Top-level Private-sector officers may also be resistant due to potential compliancy issues & probably lack of funding for large and complex government functions. Software development is a VERY expensive undertaking after all.

Examples of grassroot & SME support of a (Smarter Nation)

I can give 2 examples, my children’s childcare teachers started using WhatsApp Groups many years ago instead of the Comm-book to communication with parents, and the principal acted as the moderator. It was super efficient and has a level of engagement, including support amongst the childcare operator and parents. It brought us closer and any issues can be resolved quickly. (And since the entire history can be retrieved from anyone’s phone, keeping of records is not much of an issue.)

There’s even a sense of camaradie between the teachers, principal and parents, not to mention a sense of respect, sadness & understanding for the principal, which poured out from everyone when she left the school. (Due in no small part in what I think is her disagreement with the management style of the new owner.)

When the center was bought over by a “high-end” government accredited operator, we soon went back to the comm-book, which was a hassle to follow and update the teacher-in-charge. Because of that, we missed a few notification when our child forget to let us read it at the end of the day when we were all tired.

The operator’s excuse is the management has to follow the government’s guideline to qualify for subsidies to the center and the comm-book is part of that requirement. Naturally I wrote in to the new principal to “complain” but to no avail.

If the center management actual reason is to prevent parents from “ganging up” against the center, they’re sadly mistaken because almost all of the parents still continue to participate in the WhatsApp Group even without the center’s participation. We have also created parents’ WhatsApp Group for each new class that our kids move into. The primary purpose is to help parents in the class to keep up with all the homework/activities/reminders that our young kids easily forget.

Example 2: Many readers know I’m a financial advisor but besides providing financial advisory to clients, I also provide IT consultancy services to my insurance clients if they ask for it. (I used to be a *systems programmer when I was a Product Development Engineer. *it means I talk to machines)

One of my triumphs was when I help my SME client selected a WMS system and converted his entire operation to Microsoft Office 365 Business due to cost vs reliability/scalability considerations for his high email volume. As his operations expanded, OneDrive for Business is increasingly important in disaster recovery scenarios as well. All these from a company last than 20 strong.

Much of his operations were made easier because MOM & LTA has made a lot of issues easy to complete or resolve online.

How Singapore Smart Nation initiative can take off

The ball is in the government court for sure. CPF, LTA, MOM, IRAS, Sport Singapore services have been getting easier to use over the past 3 years and should be applauded. Other government agencies like HDB, Traffic Police/SPF, NEA, HPB need to catch up. (The list is not exhaustive since it’s from the top of my head those .gov services I used in the last 3 months.)

Besides providing e-Application & e-Payment portals, the website performance also needs to be upgraded and possibly move to the cloud where it’s easier to scale and is potentially cheaper in the long run when you factor in maintenance contracts. (Microsoft Azure resources can be dynamically scaled/priced and Amazon is cheap.)

Of course, sensitive portals like CPF, ICA & IRAS may never move to the public cloud but I’m sure parts of the website that doesn’t directly access sensitive databases can be moved to Microsoft Azure or even Amazon AWS.

Heck, Microsoft Azure can even be deployed in your Private cloud, as are solutions from VmWare & IBM Watson.

Conclusion

So my point is, on the ground-level, people (including elderly in their 50-60s) are ready if the change simplifies their lives by making things more convenient and secure. (2FA is VERY important, go activate your SingPass!)

Appeal for traffic offense online? Yes, great! Updating your child immunization record online at NIR? Not working! HPB take note! Reporting broken lamps to town council? Yes, awesome!

 

All the people need is a website for desktop & smartphone to transact with the government and it’ll make these agencies more transparent to everyone! You don’t even need to develop an app for each platform (Windows 10/IOS/Android 2-7/BlackBerry) when a mobile website that renders properly in HTML5 is sufficient.

If there is to be a mindset change, it’s not with the people. The people are ready.

Agree or disagree with my opinions? I’d like to hear from you!

Solutions

Solving Contact/Calendar sync issue in Windows 10 Mobile

If you’ve recently upgraded your Windows Phone 8.x to Windows 10 Mobile, you may encounter some lag in synching your contact and calendar with your Outlook or Outlook.com. The lag may be a few hours to never. I’ve even read the Microsoft Support forums of people hard resetting the phone to solve this problem.

This problem seems to be especially pervasive if you’re like me and your primary Microsoft Account is NOT a Microsoft domain like Hotmail.com, MSN.com or Outlook.com.

In Windows 8.x, all we needed to do was to go to Settings -> EMail account and long-tap to Sync the account manually. However, in Windows 10 Mobile, this is not possible anymore.

I’ve just discovered the reason and the solution. It’s actually very simple, but it may cost some battery life in the short-term.

As you can see from the screen caps, my primary Microsoft Account has an alias to a now defunct domain. This means that I don’t receive ANY email to this email account anymore.

By default, your email accounts (& by extension, Microsoft Account), is set based on your usage as shown in the 3rd screen cap.

If you regularly send and receive email, Windows 10 Mobile will internally set your Sync frequency to “as item arrive”, so whenever you receive an email, it is automatically pushed to your phone or tablet immediately.

However, if you don’t receive ANY email and only occasionally change items in your Contact or Calendar, Windows 10 Mobile will try to save battery by toggling the Sync frequency to “daily” or less.

All you need to do is to go to Settings -> Accounts -> Your email and accounts -> Tap <your primary Microsoft Account> or any other accounts where you’ve chosen to sync Contacts and/or Calendar -> Manage -> Change mailbox sync settings -> Download new content -> change to “as item arrive” -> Done -> Save.

Windows 10 Mobile will immediately sync your Contacts & Calendars, and will continue to do so immediately when you make any changes in Outlook or Outlook.com.

Note that your battery life may suffer a little so if you have less active accounts, you should set those to “based on my usage”.

All comments and questions are welcome. Be sure to like this article if it’s useful and share it with your friends and family, or colleagues who can benefit from it! Buttons are all over my website just waiting for you to click them! :)

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Reviews, Solutions

Best Replacement for Weave News Reader

Update: 16/3/2015 – Corrections & additions to WP8 Nextgen Reader & Magnify, Weave Server deactivated
Update: 15/3/2015 – More in-depth review of NextGen Reader for Windows 8 & WP8
Update: 12/3/2015 – additional info for NextGen Reader for WP8

Weave is no more!

Weave News Reader was one of the first and one of the best news reader for the Windows Phone platform. I started using it when it was Windows Phone News. It is a Windows Phone exclusive app from Windows Phone 7 till now but like we Chinese say, “There’s no celebration/banquet that lasts forever.” Weave stopped working on 16 March 2015, with @Selesgames pulling the plug on the Weave server. This also means that Weave for Windows 8.x has stopped working as well.

@Selesgames has posted on Windows Central regarding the abrupt decision and while I’m sad that Arash Emami, the sole proprietor of @Selegames, is discontinuing Weave, I’m happy that he’s joining LinkedIn. Hopefully he can do something about the LinkedIn app in Windows 8 / WP8 & Windows 10.

I exclusively use Weave (Windows 8/WP8) for news on Windows, Windows Phone, Technology in general, Science & Astronomy, World News and Self-help. In fact, based on Battery sense, Weave is usually the single biggest usage of Battery!

Above half shows Weave for Windows 8.x, below is Weave for WP8.
Above half shows Weave for Windows 8.x, below is Weave for WP8.

So what’s next for users like me? Well I think it’s time to do a comparative review of some of the best news reader for the Windows/Windows Phone platform.

The contenders

There are many great news aggregator in the Windows Store but I have chosen these few to compare against Weave. The areas that I’ll compare include ease of initial & subsequent setup of accounts & feeds, ease of synchronization between devices including Windows & Phones, speed of app in pulling feeds online & offline, speed in displaying news aggregate and individual articles, UX and customisations.

Converge 4.3.1 – Converge is a popular app with a 4.5 star rating. It focuses on Tech news only which makes it less useful for me but it has a very nice UI & includes a Video Hub that display all videos embedded in all the downloaded articles.

The Popular page is the Home page and you can switch between Tile mode shown below as the 2nd screen or Slideshow mode (find this in Settings) which changes to a magazine mode shown below as the 3rd screen.

It doesn’t sync to other devices and also doesn’t have a Windows 8 app, which is a waste, as the potential for this app to be popular as a Universal app on Windows 8 & 10 is definitely great.

The UI & UX of Converge is very attractive & smooth. It's also distinctively Modern.
The UI & UX of Converge is very attractive & smooth. It’s also distinctively Modern.

Flipboard 2.6 – Flipboard is a social-media driven news aggregator app that’s ported from IOS. The main draw of Flipboard for IOS users was it simulates the page curling and flipping when you switch between articles, akin to flipping the page of a magazine. Alas, this flipping transition was not ported in WP8 thus reducing the “magic.”

The lineage of the app is very Apple-esque. The Windows version is very versatile but UI takes some getting used to. Things like Following which Feed or which Category was scattered all over the Modern app. I have not tried Flipboard on my iPad so I can’t tell if it works the same way there but I felt it could have been better organized. Flipping the page and other navigation is through keyboard left and right cursor keys or the Scroll on your mouse. BUT, there was NO indication on the screen on how that’ll work if you’re not using a touchscreen! Unlike other Modern apps like Microsoft News which has pop-up left/right edge cues, Flipboard for Windows doesn’t have those!

After you spend a few hours sieving through all the hundreds of feeds/website/categories/whatever and Follow the correct Feeds, you’d be very happy as it syncs back to your Flipboard account and that will propagate to all your devices. Unfortunately, there seems to be some issues with my Flipboard for Windows. After I’ve followed some feeds, it doesn’t sync back to my Flipboard account. It will always revert to the default Flipboard feeds & categories.

FlipBoard for WP8 works much better as it syncs perfectly with my Flipboard account and with other devices. However, it overwrites all the categories I’ve selected in FlipBoard for Windows. Now sieving through so many feeds isn’t productive on a small screen so it’s a real bummer that FlipBoard for Windows wasn’t synching properly.

A lot of potential here but it takes too much time to get to the news I want.

FlipBoard for Windows is fully functional, powerful & a bit messy. FlipBoard for WP8 is Beautiful, easy to navigate but lacks the ability to easily customize feeds.
FlipBoard for Windows (Above) is fully functional, powerful & a bit messy. FlipBoard for WP8 (Below) is Beautiful, easy to navigate but lacks the ability to easily customize feeds.

Fuse 2.4.0.2 – Fuse is created by legendary Windows Phone developer Rudy Huyn. It is a very functional software with an interesting Film reel layout. Setting up is quite easy but still requires you to sieve through a huge list categories of RSS feeds. After which you can categories it according to your preference.

It is the least polished of the apps in this round-up and lacks important features like sync to cloud and a Universal app for Windows 8/10. The film reel news feed, while functional, is very distracting with huge website name and the perforated separator for time making this part of the UI rather clunky and un-modern.

There’re some nice touches and animations here and there like all of Rudy’s other apps but this app definitely could use more development.

Fuse from Rudy Huyn is great for getting to the news and categorizing them according to your preference.
Fuse from Rudy Huyn is great for getting to the news and categorizing them according to your preference.

Microsoft News 3.1.4.381 – Microsoft 1st party News app is a showcase of how a Modern app should be like and they have more or less succeeded in that mission. BUT, it’s also the least customizable of all the apps in this comparison. There’re also some nagging bugs like the Featured News showing SUPER OLD NEWS. See the picture below!

The pre-installed list of news sites are very few and doesn’t cover the full spectrum of interests and categories. You could make it show news from all your favourite websites but you’d have to manually key in the address and configure the RSS, which is why I only use MS News to follow Singapore & World news.

For some reasons, MS removed a great feature which allows you to add your own “Topic of interest.” This is moved to Cortana so I suppose MS means for us to use Cortana as our News source?

MS News app is fully modern and a joy to use. Navigation on all devices is fantastic and intuitive.
MS News app is fully modern and a joy to use. Navigation on all devices is fantastic and intuitive. News for Windows (Above) has a tendency to show old news. News app for WP8 (Below) is great though with Auto-sync.

Nextgen Reader 6.3.0.5 – Nextgen Reader is another 4+ star app that has won the praise of many user and reviewers. It is highly functional and the Windows UI is modeled after Outlook Express. It’s also a Universal app which automatically syncs your account between devices.

However, its Achilles’ Heels is the configuration has to happen at the Feedly website. As a client only, it is not possible to configure from the Windows app. Fortunately, the Feedly website is easy to navigate with interest & categories clearly sorted and searchable. Even though the list isn’t pre-selected or curated, it was very easy for me to add the individual websites into the category as major topics of interest are #hashtagged in search. Unlike Flipboard or Fuse, getting organized was super easy & quick, and I don’t feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of websites.

After I’ve added some of the websites that was curated from Weave, I selected a few more which were not in Weave’s list. After that, clicking Sync in the Windows 8 Nextgen Reader immediately displays all my selection from the website. It was super easy!

Opening the app in WP8 was the same, the list and news feeds were all sync and ready to read. I just have to change the view to “Headline with Large Image” and it works almost the same as Weave!

You can add & delete Feeds from within the WP8 app which makes it a bit weird that the Windows app can’t. Did I miss something? WP8 Nextgen Reader has an awesome built-in Twitter sharing engine but if you prefer another app, you can always disable to share via WP8 Shares, or you could have BOTH! This multiplicity of functions is what I’ve come to expect from Desktop software. To see it in mobile apps without clunking up the whole UI is why I love WP8 platform and why I’m growing to like Nextgen Reader more everyday.

I subscribe to a large number of Feeds from multiple sources and it can go into the hundreds within a few hours. I don’t read every article, so I scroll through the list and tap only those I’m interested in. A very useful feature for both Windows & WP8 is the ability to, “Mark above as Read.” This allows me to go through a huge list of articles and simply mark ‘read’ the posts that I’ve scrolled past so I don’t have to go through them again later.

Nextgen Reader is not the prettiest of the bunch but so far, it’s the closest competitor to Weave. After using it for a couple of days I find that there were some areas that can be improved. In the WP8 app, currently in List view, ‘Read’ articles are denoted by a greyed Headline, it would be much clearer if the preview image was greyed as well. And when I go into an article, I have to tap “get full article”, why not set this as the default behavior? This is true for both Windows & WP8.

NextGen Reader for Windows (Above) was shockingly empty when I just opened it! After following the instructions to add feeds from the website, both Windows 8 & WP8 app (Below) filled up with glorious news!
NextGen Reader for Windows (Above) was shockingly empty when I just opened it! After following the instructions to add feeds from the website, both Windows 8 & WP8 app (Below) filled up with glorious news!

Magnify News Reader 3.1.7 – Magnify (Beta) is a beautiful app with so much bells and whistles, they had to create a video tutorial that runs the first time you open the app. It is also a Feedly client like NextGen Reader and thus, all my feeds are downloaded and sync to the app immediately after I sign in. If you haven’t create feeds in Feedly website, the app will appear empty and that’s why I scratched my head the first time I installed it months ago. The UI & UX is vastly different from NextGen Reader and users who like 3D animations are in for a treat.

All the transitions have 3D animations, from Home Page to individual section, there’s that flying pages animation. In the Preview page, scrolling up & down also scrolls up and down the Preview images. Once inside the article, a 3D cube effect changes the page instead of a standard scroll.

The app is also packed with tons of features that I use regularly in Weave so this is definitely a strong contender, although I must say that after reading a few articles, I got a headache from all the animations. Fortunately, there’s an ‘Article view’ which switches off the 3D cube effect and just scroll as per normal.

A very important feature that sets it apart from Nextgen Reader is the included Curated lists when you tap the “+” hub. It is a full featured Feed management system which gives users the ability to manage their Feeds completely within the app or use the pre-selected ones in each category or interest. It’s also more powerful than Weave and almost as easy to use as the Feedly website, which is an impressive feat given the limited screen size. Also, when I tap to view an article, Magnify shows the preview while downloading the full (mobilised) article automatically in the background. Kudos to the developers!

Its biggest annoyance is perhaps the lack of the “Mark above as Read” which is so useful in Nextgen Reader. Since the Feeds are not paginated, I have to tap on individual Feeds group if I think I cannot finish all the posts at one go. Within the Article list, you can only Mark all ‘Read’ or ‘Unread’. This can definitely be improved. Personally, the app is a bit too colourful for my liking but if you like your Groups to be colour-coded and fully customizable, you’d love Magnify!

Magnify is another Feedly client, like NextGen Reader so whatever I added in Feedly was automatically added to Magnify after I installed the app and sign in.
Magnify is another Feedly client, like NextGen Reader so whatever I added in Feedly was automatically added to Magnify after I installed the app and sign in.

Weave News Reader 8.7.0.2 – Weave News Reader. Much has been written about it. It’s a fantastic news reader for the busy person. It looks fantastic when it first came out. While the look is a bit dated now with Flipboard & Magnify looking awesome, Weave still gets the job done pretty well.

One of its best feature, the Weave (mobiliser) server that Weave News Reader sync to is no longer unique and in fact, can be unstable at times. Certain website also doesn’t get mobilised, including some of my favourite websites, causing Weave to switch to the much slower Web View. Beside mobilising the webpage, the Weave Server also prepares the page for Text-to-Speech, which is a great feature not available in most other apps.

Unfortunately, Weave News Reader has its fair share of bugs like the synchronization of Read/Unread posts can become out-of-sync between devices. When the Weave server was unstable, Weave News Reader would crash or its Live Tile can go haywire. Another very common complain was a stuck Live Tile but that’s less common after WP8.1.

Having said that, Weave still has the best curated list of websites sorted into interest & categories to get newbies up and running quickly. After that, you can opt to sync to your Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter or Google Account. This allows your selected feeds to sync between devices, including read/unread posts so you can continue reading on the go or at home/office.

You can easily customize your preferred website or add more if you so desire although IIRC Feedly isn’t supported. Articles can be easily shared to multiple destinations without any fuss and you can favourite any posts so it stays in your synchronized feed forever, or until Weave server goes dark on 14th March.

Weave has tons and tons of features but somehow doesn’t feel cluttered and is one of the best example of a modern app there is!

Which app is the winner?

Well, after this review, I still prefer Weave but since I have to choose an alternative, my recommendation goes to NextGen Reader. It has the best balance between UX, UI, features & customisations. I’d continue to play with the other apps and update this article with my thoughts as I go along.

To help readers make up their own mind, here’s a table.

Winner in Red.
Winner in Red.

Comments are welcome and if you want me to review another app on either Windows or WP8, I’d be happy to do so when I have the time. Remember to like my post & subscribe!

Solutions

Solving Windows 8.1 Upgrade Error 0xC1900101 – 0x20017

Unsolved mystery of Windows 8.1 upgrade

As readers on my website knows, I’ve been using Windows 8.0 since the Developer Preview beta program on my Fujitsu T4210 TabletPC and I bought the license on Day one for my TabletPC.

I also bought 2 additional licenses for my desktop PC & for my wife’s laptop but I didn’t install Windows 8.0 on my desktop for quite a few months because Windows 8.0 was less keyboard/mouse friendly than Windows 7.

I did do a multi-boot for my wife so she can try Windows 8.0 if she wanted on her Fujitsu S6310 laptop or she can continue to use Windows 7 if she didn’t like Windows 8.0. Turns out she didn’t like Windows 8.0 because her laptop doesn’t have a touchscreen, which makes Windows 8.0 harder to grasp and use than it needed to be.

Before Windows 8.1 was launched, I installed Windows 8.0 on my desktop in anticipation of the much better keyboard/mouse environment in Windows 8.1.

My Fujitsu TabletPC and DIY desktop upgraded without any issues but my wife’s laptop couldn’t be upgraded. Whatever I tried, I ended up with the error 0xC1900101 – 0x20017 which indicated some kind of driver issue or hardware problem.

The symptom is always the same. It’ll install everything but during the final phase of booting up to Desktop, it’ll crash and refuse to boot, thus triggering a roll-back to Windows 8.0.

No Solutions in sight

You can find MANY threads at Microsoft forums of people who have this exact problem or something similar but few people manages to solve it.

This issue dragged on for months and months with Microsoft promising to solve it once and all in a major patch for Windows 8.0. Unfortunately, while it solved the problem for many people who has driver issues, it didn’t help my wife’s laptop.

I’ve tried different versions of drivers, including NOT installing drivers for unknown devices. I’ve tried upgrading Windows 7 using a Windows 8.1 Boot disc, which had the same issue, rendering the Windows 7 partition corrupt. I even tried to rename the Windows 7 partition as “System Reserved” because I read Windows 8 requires a separate recovery partition. Nothing worked. So my wife was stuck with 2 Windows 8.0 installation at the Boot screen but only one works.

Suffice to say my wife wasn’t too happy with the situation but since she only uses the laptop to watch TV dramas, I wasn’t in any danger of having to sleep on the sofa.

Solution came after solving an unrelated problem

Well if you read my previous post about installing Windows 8.1 without DVD or Product Key, you’d know that Microsoft recently updated their Windows 8.1 installation to handle more hardware, especially the new Ultrabooks which doesn’t have any DVD drives and all the recovery information are stored on the harddisk. So if said harddisk were to crash, like the one in the article, you must download a program from Microsoft which creates a bootable recovery disk on a USB thumbdrive or DVD disc.

After I recovered that laptop, I noticed that the Recovery disk has created 2 additional hidden “System Reserved” partitions at the front & back of the SSD besides the main System partition. Now in my wife’s laptop case, I only have the one at the back of the harddisk.

During the installation of Windows 8.0, the installer created 1 additional System Reserved folder which exceeded the maximum number of 4 allowable for a Basic Disk. In order to have more than 4 partitions, I needed to convert to a Dynamic Disk but that will create a lot of compatibility issues with harddisk and data recovery software that I have. So I opted to stick to a Basic disk and of course, Windows 8.0 couldn’t boot to continue the installation.

So I booted up to Windows 7 and ran Eason Partition Manager 8 to delete the extra partition and shifted some other partitions around. Windows 8.0 booted up fine and finished the installation after that but as a consequence, the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) now has missing and non-continuous partition numbering. I had to edit Windows 7 BCD so it can dual-boot with Windows 8.0. It was messy.

This turned out to be the actual problem with our Windows 8.1 upgrade!

The Solution

Since I still have the USB thumbdrive for Windows 8.1 installation, I tried to upgrade my wife’s laptop and of course, the same error code cropped up. Then, I remember about the partitioning issues a few years back & realized that I could just edit the BCD! But I thought, now I have an extra partition, it’ll be cleaner to just backup her data and just delete off all the partitions and start over.

So I did just that and it was the exact same procedure as my previous article except before installing, you have to delete off ALL the partitions on the harddisk/SSD. My wife’s laptop was based on the old IBM-PC BIOS so I had to key in her Windows 8.0 Product Key. And YES, even though the Recovery Media program is meant to install Windows 8.1, it happily accepted the Windows 8.0 Product Key!

After that, it was smooth sailing all the way! 🙂

Her laptop is working better than ever!

I hope this helps some of you. Like the article and subscribe. If you have any questions, feel free to comment!

Solutions

Recovering a Windows 8 laptop without DVD & Product Key

Disaster! My Laptop Harddisk has crashed! How many of you had this happened to your laptop or your child’s laptop?

This is a very nice looking laptop!
This is a very nice looking laptop!

You were happily using your new Core i7 laptop which you got it cheap during Black Friday or Cyber-Monday, or during one of the 4 IT shows in Singapore. But after using for a year, the harddisk crashed right after the warranty expires? Sounds familiar?

That's what I thought. A cheap, slow & not so shock resistant harddisk.
That’s what I thought. A cheap, slow & not so shock resistant harddisk.

No problem, you tell yourself, Windows 8/8.1 has a “Recovery” function that will restore the laptop to factory condition! So you booted to the Recovery section of Windows 8 where you can “Refresh” or “Remove everything & Reinstall Windows”. Neat!

Windows 8 Recovery Page. Great for software rescue!
Windows 8 Recovery Page. Great for software rescue!

Except it takes forever to do the “Automatic Repair” or “Remove everything” fails at some point due to a head crash or media degradation and all because the laptop was moved around while in use! Or worse, the laptop simply don’t recognise the harddisk anymore!

Behold the inside of an Asus laptop.
Behold the inside of an Asus laptop.

OK, never mind! You (hopefully) have a backup of the important data, let’s just change the harddisk to something more resilient, like a Solid-State Disk (SSD)! You can get a Samsung EVO 850 256GB at $220+ these days and reviews are great for these SSDs, 10x faster than harddisk, no moving parts to crash, useful lifespan of more than 10 years & uses half the power! Why didn’t you buy a laptop with an SSD in the first place? Oh, that’s right. Cheaper models don’t come with an SSD option.

This is the battery resting on the Aluminium shell.
This is the battery resting on the Aluminium shell. The 2 silver oval you see either sides are the B & O speakers in their bass chambers!

The Recovery nightmare continues!

Alrighty! You bought your SSD, replace the failed harddisk yourself, which was easy enough, let’s open the laptop box for the recovery DVD & Windows 8 Product Key. Except your new Ultrabook doesn’t come with a DVD-ROM or Recovery DVD & maybe even without a Windows 8 Product Key! Faintz!

OK, don’t panic, let’s go to the maker’s website for support! What? You have to pay extra for a Recovery Disc to create a special thumbdrive because you didn’t do it the FIRST time you switched on your laptop? What is this daylight robbery?!?!

Now what? Try cloning from the old harddisk? Can’t do that. It’s bigger than the SSD & it’s full of bad sectors!
Get someone to do it? Will they do a good job & what are the charges?
Download the Recovery disc from Torrent? Is it infected with virus?
Search Forums? Most of them don’t have a clue.
Ask Microsoft for help in their forums? Moderators ask you to look for your OEM/laptop maker…

The solution for new laptops with UEFI BIOS

Lucky you! You’ve come to the right website! The solution with many recent (last 3 years) laptops is so simple that I’m amazed no one’s got it! Or at least publish it widely enough that a simple Google or Bing search will find it. There’s no need to extract the encrypted product key from UEFI, no need to create Bootable thumbdrive & mount the Windows 8 Rescue ISO. No need to mess with Linux Bootloader like Grub or syslinux. I’ve tried so many different methods and they don’t work due to some incompatibility here or there. It was a massive waste of time! Argh!

Microsoft has published the solution starting from Windows 8.1! Why they don’t publicise is a great mystery! Anyway, many newer laptop have the new UEFI BIOS instead of the old IBM-PC BIOS. Without going into details about how great UEFI BIOS are, one of the features these new BIOS allows is for laptop makers to embed a Windows 8 Product Key into the BIOS itself! This is why there is no DVD or Product key or License sticker included in the laptop box!

So the next question is, how do you install Windows 8.1 onto your new SSD? Just get a fast 8GB thumbdrive or SD card, go to this Microsoft website and follow the instructions!

* For your convenience, I’ve included the steps & things to watch out for below.

Windows Installation Media Creation Tool

Why do Microsoft like to use such LONG names for their stuff?

Are you at the Create installation media for Windows 8.1 page?

Windows 8 Installation Media Creation Tool
Windows 8 Installation Media Creation Tool
  1. Click the “Create Media” button & run the downloaded file
  2. Select your Language
  3. Select the Edition. Most consumer laptops are running “Windows 8.1”. Business laptops will likely be “Windows 8.1 Pro”.
  4. Select the Architecture. If your laptop will NEVER EVER be installed with more than 4GB of RAM, chose “32-bit (x86)”. If you have more than 4GB of RAM or you’re planning to install more in the future, you MUST choose “64-bit (x64).
  5. Click Next and you’ll see this.
  6. Choose USB flash drive
  7. Select USB flash drive and click Next.
  8. Make sure to select the correct drive!
    Make sure to select the correct drive!

    Select the correct drive before clicking Next!

  9. Click OK if you're sure.
    Click OK if you’re sure.
  10. Click “OK” at the dialog box if you’re sure you have the right drive.
  11. Download starts...
    Download starts…
  12. Wait for download to complete & for it to check the files & getting the files ready & creating the USB…
  13. Once it’s completed. You should click “What’s next?” which will take you to a Microsoft website that guide you on using this Thumbdrive to install Windows 8.1. Print it or open it on your phone or something! This is the link for Boot from the media you created to install on a partition.
  14. Insert the thumbdrive into your laptop & boot from the thumbdrive instead of the SSD. Different laptops has different keys to enter the Boot Manager. Search for your brand online. It’s usually ESC or DEL or ENTER key.
  15. Install Windows 8.1 even though your laptop came with Windows 8! It’ll even auto-activate if you’re online! There’s no need to key in any Product Key! This thumbdrive has now become your Rescue/Recovery drive as well! Keep it safe!

Well I hope this help you. Leave comments, subscribe and like my posts!!! 🙂