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!

Man Matter, Reviews, Solutions

Solving Denon AVR-3808 DLNA repeating problem

Update 04 September 2014: New solution! Click here to skip to the solution!

 

Audiophile delight

That’s a mighty fine AVR with some seriously sweet sound!

Anyone who’s using a Denon Audio Video Receiver (AVR) can tell you how good it is.

Beside above average sound quality & a superior video upscaler, the last few generations of their AVR are also Cloud connected for firmware upgrades & streaming radio station management, amongst other benefits.

Their Audessey automatic EQ & room acoustic adjuster makes it SO easy to tune & optimize a room’s audio characteristics to get the best sound possible. And its menus are accessible via webpage, Onscreen, On-remote & even in WP/iOS/Android Apps.

Generally the higher the series, the better the fidelity in audio output + the more options you have in surround.

Anyway, I think you get the idea that Denon AVR are geared towards Audiophiles as well as catering for the movie buffs who only need the amp to pump out enough power so explosions & metal clashes can vibrate the sofa.

(OK, movie buffs also need low channel crosstalk to ensure good channel separation but with today’s digital technology, that shouldn’t be an issue for all Hi-Fi equipment.)

One of the most useful feature of an AVR is the support for DLNA.

What is DLNA?

Yup! I need ALL that connectivity!

Seriously if you’re reading this & you have no idea what DLNA is, you’re REALLY underutilizing your Denon AVR!

I bought a decent AVR-3808CI in 2008 as it had enough inputs for all my AV sources & a single HDMI output since I only have a Samsung LED TV as my monitor. I also own quite a few audiophile HDCDs but times have changed & it’s becoming a bit of a hassle to insert a CD into my player.

Ever since I got the 3808, I’ve ripped all my CDs into WMA-lossless (so they can play in Windows Media Player) and use DLNA to push CD quality (but not HDCD quality) music from my PC or NAS to the AVR. It was (almost) audiophile heaven.

* if anyone knows how to rip HDCD & play it back on the 3808, please leave a comment!

After using it for a year or so, the DLNA function broke. I believe it was after a firmware upgrade. When playing music, the 3808 will keep playing the same song over and over and over again. It was damn irritating & frustrating because nothing I did helped.

I tried to switch off Repeat & Random on the 3808, tested different versions of Windows Media Player on different OS like Windows 7, 7 SP1, 8, 8.1, and all with 32bit & 64bit. I even tried using it on my Windows Phone & only my HTC Trophy 7 played through the playlist.

When I upgraded to the Lumia 800 or 920 or 1020, it’ll also get stuck playing the same song over in a loop.

Searching the web, I discovered that there were MANY people who had the same issue & most of them have given up. I tried emailing Denon & got no respond. I tried many forums over the years and no one could answer me until yesterday.

The SOLUTION!!!

Updated & easier solution!

Unfortunately I can’t remember which forum I saw this. I’d update the article when I find out & give proper credit.

Just enable "Allow Remote Control of my Player". That's it!
Just enable “Allow Remote Control of my Player”. That’s it!

For those of us using WMP to stream DLNA, just enable “Allow remote control of my Player…” It’s THAT simple!

If you’re using another device or software, you can still use the original method below.

I can’t thank “Alki” enough! His/her 4 posts to the AVS forum about 1/2 year ago solved my 3 year old problem!!! Here’s the link. I’d give credit where it’s due. 😉

“Alki” was using an AVR-4308 and I have confirmation from Microsoft support forum that this works for the Denon AVR-5308CI as well. It seems like many of the AVR-xx08 in 2007-2008 have this problem.

The solution is while the song is playing, change the “Repeat” (to ALL) and “Random” (to ALL or ON).

By the end of the song, the next song should play. Yay!!!

Depending on which model you’re using, you may have to manually set both the Repeat & Random settings to “NO”.

It is that simple & no one had stumbled on the solution for 3 years. Worse, Denon hasn’t given any support or updated the firmware in the past 3 years as well! I wish these makers will support their products longer like how Microsoft support their OS for 10 years! Yes, I know it’s wishful thinking…

Right-click on an Album or a Song & choose Play To to activate DLNA
Right-click on an Album or a Song & choose Play To to activate DLNA

Anyway, there you have it! I can now wirelessly stream my music from my smartphone anywhere in the house, or use the AVR to stream music from my PC or NAS like it was supposed to.

I’m in musical bliss again! 😀

Opinions

Microsoft buys Nokia! …

WOW! But not all that surprising…

OK, Microsoft buys Nokia’s devices division & licensed their IP non-exclusively for 10-years for USD$7B. Nokia will keep their Nokia Networks & Here Mapping, not sure about their Advanced Imaging group (Scalado) though.

More information here. Microsoft acquires Nokia’s Devices division.

Some history

Nokia has been hemorrhaging market share for a long time. Symbian was fine as an advanced feature-phone but based on today’s metric of counting apps & multi-touch, it’s not really considered a modern smartphone. Sony Ericsson withdrawal from Symbian in 2010 hit the final nail in Symbian’s coffin as a mobile OS. Nokia just prolonged the inevitable and by the time the board realize it, it was almost too late. Which is why they brought in an ex-Microsoftie, Stephan Elop.

Nokia Symbian steadily losing market share.

There are some undercurrent of mistrust generally coming from an ex-Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen but that’s to be expected because after all, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile was an competitor’s platform for the longest time, even though Stephan Elop was in charge of Microsoft Office 2010 & Microsoft Dynamics for 2 years only. The truth is probably somewhere in between but that point is moot since the Symbian-based Nokia Asha product line didn’t do as well as expected in China & India.

Nokia has underestimated the demand for high-quality smartphone at an affordable price. Which is why the Nokia Lumia 520 sold extremely well while the Asha line didn’t. Everyone seems to want to launch expensive flagship phones but market share is built from bulk purchase of entry-level & mid-tier phones. In fact, most of Android’s market share come from cheap phones & even “smart” feature-phones using Android.

Despite the fact that investors are increasingly questioning Elop’s “Burning Platform” approach, it stands to reason that the world don’t need another Android maker. HTC is tepidly recovering with their HTC One, Sony & LG are posting some profits for their Android handset business after years of loss & Moto still seems to be flat on their face. Only Samsung is making real money so Nokia isn’t so bad IF you consider their record USD$3B lose in 2012. However, turning businesses around is always painful and Elop has handled it pretty well.

If Nokia had gone with Android in 2011, they may not have been desperate enough to bring OIS to phone cameras (Apple & Samsung are not expected to bring OIS in 2013), or improve Navteq (now called Here) to be a true Google Maps competitor in 2013, or Wireless charging across most of their product range starting in 2012. All this happened within 2 years of Elop coming on board.

The Nokia Lumia 800 was my first Nokia phone ever, while the Lumia 920 was my second. I’ve always used Windows Mobile because it’s a true smartphone compared to Symbian but seeing how Nokia was committed to Windows Phones & bringing so much to the eco-system, I remain convinced that going with Nokia phones was the right move because other partners like HTC & Samsung eventually gave more resources to their Android phones & I can’t blame them since it made more business sense. And I was right. My third Windows Phone will be the upcoming Nokia Lumia 1020, the 41 megapixel monster which looks just like my Lumia 920. 🙂

The present

3 months ago, it was reported that Microsoft and Nokia talks about Nokia’s hardware division sales to Microsoft had collapsed. On retrospect, this was a red herring created to throw everyone off-balance. Good business move. I always wondered why that news pop out of nowhere.

With HTC going down (executives leaving and/or defrauding the company, Q3 2013 expected loss) & Samsung disinterested in WP and plans for Tizen (based on Intel Atom SoC rather than ARM), now is the right time for Microsoft to buy Nokia. No one will likely challenge this move and it’ll help Windows Phone immensely.

With the combined strength of Bing Maps + Here Maps, Microsoft now have 2/3 of what’s needed to take on Google Maps. The last one 1/3 is Foursquare, which Microsoft is actively courting.

MS has also licensed a huge treasure trove of Nokia IP, which has proven to be lucrative & effective in fighting off patent trolls unlike Moto’s IP. They have also acquired Nokia’s up & coming Lumia brand which is synonymous with innovation & clever advertising.

Clever guerilla ad campaign by Nokia Lumia 1020 against the Samsung S4 Zoom.

Nokia Asha & other feature-phones will most likely be wiped off the roadmap by 2014. I could be wrong but I don’t see Microsoft is interested in fighting with China & India low-end phone makers.

Nokia will have access to Microsoft (Pegatron) factories in China, Microsoft will also acquire Nokia supply-chain management & manufacturing capabilities so there’ll be no more USD$900m write-down.

Elop has proven to be a great person in reversing Nokia’s diminishing fortunes but at the same time, conspiracy theorists will continue to accuse Ballmer of sending Elop to Nokia as an acquisition target some time in the future. The truth is probably in between, since Microsoft has ALWAYS sent seed money & people to friends & frenemies alike.

This is part of Bill Gate’s legacy. To have Microsoft software everywhere whether they be thay friend or thay enemy because in business, everyone is a bit of both.

 

Stephan Elop as a leading contender of Steve Ballmer’s successor.

The Future

We already know that Bill Gates, Microsoft board & ValueAct all had a role in Steve Ballmer’s surprise retirement announcement a few days ago. His leadership was controversial from the beginning but he has fans and critics alike.

Now is also a good time for him to step down because although he had keep Microsoft growing strongly all these years, he obviously missed the mobile boat. It can be argued that Microsoft needs a CEO that doesn’t exist, someone who’s a strong Microsoft team-player & supporter, someone who has strong leadership & management skills and someone who has a good track record.

Stephan Elop seems to fit the bill very well & many pundits are already predicting this deal confirms Stephan as the best candidate since he’s a solid Microsoft supporter, so he wouldn’t rock the boat too much like selling off Bing; he’ll bring an outside perspective to Microsoft but is not marginalized like Steven Sinofsky; he’s shown his brilliance in making people like the Office 2010 ribbon & saving Windows Phone and finally, his PR-friendly face & press-friendly nature means there may be less bad press and more love for Microsoft moving forward. Perception is a very important factor in the success in any product or services.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned in a post from last year where I predicted Windows 8 & WP8 will share code in a common IDE, we may actually see WP9 be based on Windows RT, thus coming full circle where Windows is finally Mobile.

Oh, did I mention Xbox One will also run Windows 8? 😉

Opinions

Creative Technologies, missed opportunities or lost cause?

Ancient History

Update 1 27/2/2014: Thanks to Arthur for new info
Update 2 09/3/2016: New info/insights from FY15 financial report + clearer grammer. I’m still getting regular hits to this old and rushed article! What do you, the reader, hope to learn? Share with me in the comments!

Creative Technologies (CT) became famous for their SoundBlaster soundcards in the 1980s. They were the first company in the world to combine FM Synthesizer (MIDI music) & PCM Codec (Voice/Sound effects) + a MIDI/Game port in a single ISA peripheral card. The all-in-one card was sold at a price that basically undercut the competitions at that time. From my memory, their main competitors were Adlib card (also an ISA card) & Covox Speech Thing, which is an external device that plugs into the parallel (printer) port.

Perhaps more importantly, the driver support was open to all PC & games developers, who started the multimedia revolution. This got a huge kickstart when Microsoft announced plans for the Multimedia PC (MPC) and SoundBlaster was the only card in town to meet those specifications.

From there, enhancements were made rapidly as new components (Integrated Circuits) with new capabilities became available from chip suppliers. CT was also very smart in ensuring new hardware and drivers were 100% backward-compatible so every new generation of soundcards provided an almost irresistible urge for gamers and enthusiast to upgrade! Even if the games at that time didn’t yet support the new features.

There were many competitors from Singapore & abroad but an aggressive marketing campaign + aggressive product roadmap soon see them to the pole position. Needless to say, CT became a darling on NASDAQ & SGX. Every new product launch will see a corresponding spike in share price & a nice dividend payout.

They were doing very well in the Soundcard industry in the 90s, especially with the acquisition of E-MU & then Aureal, which turned their soundcards so powerful, it can be used in industrial applications due to the E-MU DSP. Games were specially written to take advantage of all these 3D positioning sounds as Aureal APIs allow game and multimedia developers to place sound/music at specific spatial locations relative to the listener. Games written for Aureal 3D sounded truly immersive!

For music/video playback, only QSound encoded audio sounded more convincing with distinctive sound playing in and around your head. SRS & CMSS-3D extracted audio cues while stereo audio is streamed so these algorithm only expanded the soundstage and was not suitable for gaming. Aureal 3D was not suitable for music/video playback because you have to tell the algorithm where to place the sound.

DirectSound actually heralded the downfall of CT’s dominance. Microsoft introduced DirectX for multimedia & game developers to standardise on the PC platform. Intel also released reference motherboard designs to OEMs to copy. Microsoft followed up with Direct3D & DirectSound3D which brings arcade level gaming to PCs.

Being in pole position for so long, CT became so big & bureaucratical that they fail to notice the development of inexpensive soundchips being built & integrated into motherboards. Granted these early generation soundchips sounded horrible due to multiple issues like the inability to play & record at the same time + grounding issues on motherboards causing all sorts of noise & interference on the audio output & unstable drivers causing crashes.

CT was still selling SoundBlasters like hotcakes & everyone would switch off the onboard sound. They didn’t realize that after just a few generations of soundchips, these ICs were gaining in capability fast, like the ability to support multiple DirectSound3D streams + 24bit sound output + 108db sound quality + 7.1 sound output.

With each generation being less than 9 months, motherboard makers quickly learnt from their mistakes by isolating the sound circuits with better grounding & by moving high noise data pathways from the North & South Bridge chipsets away from the soundchips.

Windows drivers also got much better with Microsoft support. DirectX was also rapidly improving in capabilities, so much so that in less than 3 years, integrated sound became good enough to compete with SoundBlaster! $0 vs $300+ for a high-end Audigy Gold card or $100+ for a AWE32.

Consumers flocked to the cheaper solution of course, driven not just by price but the irrelevance of the main feature of the AWE-32 & Audigy. That feature is wavetable-synthesized music. With the Audigy, you can get studio quality music from a PC Soundcard that cost $300+ versus a professional card/deck that cost thousands. CT was slow to respond to this trend, probably blindsided by the professional market so it wasn’t till it was too late that CT has integrated Soundblaster in a few select motherboards. But due to cost from integrating the much larger Soundblaster IC, most OEMs didn’t support it. The market just dried up and now the Taiwanese company, Realtek is the undisputed leader.

In the past, if you wanted music in your software or games, the only way was through FM synthesizers. These chips modulated a base frequency into a shape that somewhat resembles real instruments. The best early example is the Nintendo Entertainment System. A simple script called a MIDI file has information on when to play a note and for how long on a selected channel. Every MIDI file has multiple channels each assigned an instrument. When all these channels were played together, a surreal synthesized music is heard. The main advantage of MIDI is these files were extremely small so were favoured due to disk & memory constrains in the past.

With 16-bit CD quality sound becoming the norm, the music portion needed to keep up and Wavetable Synthesis was brought over from the professional audio equipment market. Instead of a frequency modulated waveform being generated, the note from the MIDI file being played actually comes from a pre-recorded sample from a real instrument, called a patch.

At that time, if you wanted the most compatibility for wavetable sound, you had to go for the SoundBlaster AWE-32. But if you wanted the BEST music, you got the Gravis Ultrasound, which also supported a newer even more powerful music scripting format called the MOD(ule). This allowed more reverb, variation, cross-channel mixing, patch manipulation and unlimited patch size.

In the past, Voice & Sound effects were stored in PCM wave format whose file size was huge in comparison to MIDI. As with all inventions, necessity was the main driver of innovation. People wanted to compress CD-quality wave files to make them easier to transport & work with in games & multimedia applications, especially over the new media called the Internet. MP3 was quickly adopted & formed the basis of all music in games, media & movies over the Internet. This basically spelt an end to all synthesized music (both MIDI & MOD) in the consumer realm, rendering all Soundblaster AWE/Audigy & competitor standalone cards overkill. The integrated soundchips with their ability to handle 64 channels of PCM sounds were all that’s needed by consumers. From my memory, the first local casualty of this was Aztech Singapore with their Sound Galaxy range.

Unfortunately, CT’s trouble didn’t end there. A few misstep along the way soon confounded their recover. First was the CD-ROM drive. In the 90s, there were quite a few companies in Singapore making CD-ROM drives. However, once again, cheaper alternatives from overseas (Taiwan mainly) soon convinced consumers to buy those white-box OEM drives instead of the nicely boxed CT drives, which always seem to be a generation slower than these white-box drives. Wearnes Technology was almost wiped out during that episode. CT had a much better balance sheet so they were able to secure Singapore government assistance in the ensuing write-off.

However, the assistance comes with unintended consequences. According to (unverified) insiders of the deal, the agreement was for the Singapore government investment branch, Temasek Holdings, to take over a majority stake of the equitable shares of CT basically nationalizing it, & Sim Wong Hoo in effect lost the company he fought so hard to build. It could be this reason that CT was forced to delist from NASDAQ. The fund was injected through the Economic Development Board of Singapore. Sim Wong Hoo did eventually bought back much of the shares but at great costs.

Now, we all know that government top-down bureaucratic management style doesn’t work in a hi-speed hi-tech industry & that may be what happened to CT, where bottom-line was the overwriting concern rather than taking risks by pumping millions of dollars into R&D to create new products.

CT did have a second-wind with their Zen MP3 players which looked nice, had different form factors/colours, supported all common music formats, can be expanded with external memory & had great software that can transcode one format to another easily. However, Apple came along & stole the thunder with the iPod. CT’s lawsuit against Apple only secured a lifeline, not a victory.

CT’s foray into the 3D graphics card industry also met with poor results. The 3D GPU industry moved at an even faster pace than the soundcard industry. I’m not sure why CT acquired 3Dlabs, but I doubt it’s for their PC potential since CT used nVidia chips before calling it quits.

CT bought Cambridge Soundworks in 1997 with the hopes that the resulting synergy can reinvigorate the company but the gaming surround speakers failed to take off & CT had to sell the division away.

Along the way, they also acquired some gaming peripheral companies which didn’t work out and had to be divested. At this point in the 2000s, CT was completely off my radar and I no longer tracked any of their product range.

In 2009, CT launched a well-publicized but poorly executed (in consumer-space at least) campaign for their (poorly-name) StemCell CPU with “a 100-fold increase in supercomputing power over current technology”. No one understood what the fuss was about. CT’s only real showcase of the technology was an Android powered tablet that few people had a chance to try & a backplane-like cascade of ZMS-05 modules doing 1-teraflop but rendering something rather mundane.

As far as I can tell, the ZMS-05 platform is simply a dual-core ARM-based CPU with 3DLabs GPU component capable of performing 100 concurrent streams. The only difference may be the development platform allows the GPU to handle general programming tasks rather than simply graphical tasks. This may be similar to OpenCL for PC GPU. At that time, this capability was not available for the ARM architecture.

Unfortunately, it was not marketed enough & competitors like Qualcomm (Snapdragon), Samsung (Exynos) & NVidia (Tegra) soon signed up all the tablet OEMs leaving very little for CT.

CT did have a design win when Intel acquired the Ziilabs team for the StemCell architecture in 2012, probably to bolster Intel’s inadequate GPU. I wonder if it was integrated in the new Haswell Core-i CPU thereby giving that CPU the graphics boost it demonstrated in 2011. Haswell chips were eventually released in 2013.

However, for CT, it may not be a good deal because all the best engineering minds from 3DLabs have gone to Intel. Even though CT still owns the IP & Intel is technically licensing it, an IP that doesn’t generate new IP and/or products will be obsoleted in just a few years.

Lastly, CT also have a “Hanz” line of Chinese language hardware platform & software education system but those didn’t really help the bottom-line as shown in the Financial Report 2015.

So what’s left?

Not much actually. They probably ODM certain products, ship the design to China for manufacture & probably rebrand China products for sales elsewhere. Their revenue and R&D spendings have been reducing YoY & they posted a USD $33m loss in FY2015. Their longtime Creative Store at Marina Square is gone. CT is still holding on to USD $99m in cash + cash equivalent down from USD $140m in FY2013.

Where did it go so horribly wrong?

Like the fall of Rome, the collapse did not happen overnight. There must have been many events that lead to disaster. We could point to the failed investments in the past or the lack of direction or even top-level mismanagement. Some may even blame the Singapore Government in meddling in the private section.

I think it’s because CEO Sim Wong Hoo is 61 this year. With no succession plan in place (that I heard of), there’s not likely to be any change in CT’s direction nor will there be a change in their fortune or share prices.

Whatever it is, CT is a pale shade of what it used to be.

Is it a lost cause?

It really depends on whether they have someone to succeed the CEO position and bring fresh perspective & fresh blood into a still pond. It’s currently trading at SGD$1 on SES.

They’re trying to sell a high-end soundbar called X-Fi Sonic Carrier, which admittedly looks good and support Dolby Atmos 15.2 sound but carries a $2800 Pre-order price tag and ships towards the end of 2016. Most sound-bars comes bundled with a mid-range SmartTV so I’m not sure how well this will sell, especially since the launch price is an eye-watering $7000! I believe I can get an LG 50+” OLED UHD SmartTV with sound-bar + sub-woofer for that price!

Is Creative trying to do high-end audiophile market like Bang & Olufsen?

What can they do now?

In 2013, I thought AV Receivers may be worth investing in. I don’t think so anymore, what with most young people abandoning huge TV for huge phones with hundreds dollar headphones. For older folks who still prefer huge TVs, the AV Receivers & box speakers are replaced with a SmartTV coupled to a multi-directional sound-bar with a powerful sub-woofer.

The only gadget trends that’s big right now, with sustained interest for the next 3 years, is Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) goggles and Internet of Things (IoT.)

I doubt they have the engineering talent left for VR/AR, so maybe CT can start with small IoT projects based off ZMS-05?

They have a lot of great IP which they seem unable to tap. Soundcards (both PCI-e & USB) are essentially dead. With ARM CPU makers integrating DSPs inside their SoC, the DSP cores from E-MU are no longer special.

Without an aggressive marketing strategy like Beats (Apple) or Sonos, I’m not sure how much the Sonic Carrier can add to the bottom-line, even if the sound is awesome. CT really needs to find a niche where they can sell/bundle truckloads of these sound-bars. Maybe small auditoriums or lecture halls?

With that in mind, I have always wonder why CT never went into the AV Receiver market. That’s a market that people are willing to spend on great sound & video, including speakers!

The 3DLabs GPU can be put to great use by upscaling lower res video source from RCA or Component and outputting through HDMI 1.4 for HDTV. The streaming engine can easily be programmed to do deblocking, de-interlacing, Motion interpolation & sharpening of digital video, or 3D-comb filtering, smoothing of TV & other analog signals. Then to top it all off, perform a 3D-conversion!

For Audio, just couple that ZMS-05 module with a ton of balanced Class-AB OP-AMPs and they’re good to go!

The Android OS can be used for onscreen navigation with integrated apps for things like YouTube, Vimeo, Netflicks etc., similar to media boxes from Western Digital & A.C. Ryan.

Conclusion

As a Singaporean, it’s sad to see CT fall from grace but at least they’re still around. I hope someone takes over CT or let CEO Sim Wong Hoo retire from daily running. CT definitely needs a direction so they can recover soon before the cash runs out.

Opinions

Why Microsoft shouldn’t release Office for other platforms

Updated (16/06/2013) – Scroll down for update

Overview

Yes, the general buzz among the press & some analyst is that Microsoft should release their Office suite for Android & iOS because it could make them an additional USD2.5 billion a year of revenue. PC is in decline with sharp YoY reduction in shipment & Windows will soon be irrelevant.

I disagree on all these points because I think the short-term gain will actually hurt the overall Microsoft eco-system & is a bad business decision all round. Wintel is in a transition of shifting to full-mobile with Microsoft betting on Windows 8, RT & WP8 and Intel betting on going low-power with minimal performance increase with Haswell & Bay Trail CPUs.

The world economy is also slowing down & more people are upgrading their current PCs than buying new ones because for the 2nd time in history, Windows 8 can run on lesser hardware than Windows 7, just like Windows 7 can run on lesser hardware then Windows Vista.

I’ve been upgrading my PC for more than 10 years with a motherboard/CPU/RAM change every 3-4 years & other peripherals as and when my PC games requires.

So why do I disagree with these analyst? Maybe because of hindsight…

Time for some history lesson

In 1996, Palm Pilot was launched as a simple organizer with a touchscreen + handwriting input. It was a hit very quickly due to its simplicity, small size & light weight, and it soon replaced many paper organizer. The PDA moniker was born.

Microsoft quickly realize that there was demand for a mobile version of Windows on small touchscreen devices & soon launched Pocket PC in 2000. Many professional soon realize the power of having Windows in the pocket. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy to use & it’s also impossible to use without a stylus so initial marketshare wasn’t very high.

Palm very quickly updated their OS capabilities & greatly improved the hardware on a yearly basis & very soon, they’re the dominant smart devices on the market. However, when the phone & Internet was introduced into the hardware, Palm started to struggle against more general-purpose operating systems like PocketPC & Symbian.

As the PDA & mobile phone converged allowing the convenience of wireless Internet access through GPRS data connectivity, Microsoft quickly secured many vendors to make Windows Mobile & Windows Mobile Phones & opened their development tools for free to encourage developers to make apps for it.

This resulted in some of the best apps coming to Windows Mobile first or exclusively. This on top of the capability of the OS being able to run on very underpowered ARM CPU of the time soon saw Windows Mobile surpass Palm as the dominant platform.

*Symbian is more of a smarter feature phone than general-purpose smartphone that we recognize today so I don’t regard Symbian as a true smartphone until late 2000 when it was too late*

One of the reasons is MS Office Mobile + the huge amount of free apps + some very high quality paid apps. For serious smartphone users of the day, the only platform to consider was Windows Mobile. It’s also well-known that many Palm users “graduated” to Windows Mobile as they found Palm too restrictive.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t take iOS & Android seriously enough & Windows Mobile 6 was not a big change from Windows Mobile 5 resulting in 2 years of stalled development & lost of the market.

Current situation

So it’s well-known that Microsoft is trying to win back marketshare & mineshare with Windows RT, Windows Phone & Surface devices.

Many professionals have tried iPad & Android tablets for work & many are feeding back that these touch-devices should have many features that Windows 8 & RT already have for years like Windowing, robust Networking stack with Enterprise level encryption support for Active Directory, device management & Microsoft Office.

In fact, many professionals & students who are more savvy are putting aside their iPads & Android tablets for the new Microsoft Surface & Surface Pro because these are viable tablets AND laptop replacement devices that runs Microsoft Office!

One of my clients just picked up his Surface RT in Singapore soon after launch because after years of iPad & Android tablets, he hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office which he needed for work. He said that he can finally sell his iPad & Android tablet.

Besides the Microsoft Surface devices, there’re also pretty decent hybrids like the Lenovo Thinkpad 2, HP Envy X2, Acer Iconia W510/700 & Samsung ATIV Smart PC. If you like exotic flavours, there are the Asus Taichi & Dell Yoga to consider as well.

These devices running Windows 8 & to some extent Windows RT can already do more than iPads & Android tablets because they’re full OS & not stripped-down mobile OS. So in terms of entertainment, Windows tablets is already well covered. You can run VLC player or Media Player Classic which can play almost all known audio & video format & connect it to your Full HD TV for large screen goodness. Since there’s an HDMI connector in every Win 8/RT tablet, you can connect to your AV Receiver & replace your media boxes like WDTV & A.C. Ryan.

At the same time, you can get work done because these devices all support Microsoft Office. Windows RT even bundles it for free with the exception of Outlook.

The future

So we can see that Windows is intricately tied to Office & vice versa. Microsoft is trying to secure Windows future by going “Metro” or “Modern” or the Tile thing that flips all the time. It looks daunting & different and people are scared of change but trust me… It’s the right way forward. Icons are so 90s & Widgets can consume battery like crazy.

This means that for Microsoft to succeed in the future, Windows must succeed & for that to happen, people mindset must be change & this education/perception takes time. Once people have accepted & embraced Metro, Microsoft can think about releasing Office for other platforms, or not…

If Microsoft were to release Office for other platforms now, they would basically be shooting both feet off Windows 8/RT proverbial legs. This is similar to the situation now with Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft should strengthen WP8 by releasing more first-party Xbox games like Halo. They should also have released 1st-party apps like the fantastic Photosynth on WP first, instead of iOS. And don’t even get me started on Skype. After almost 1 year, the dream of free video calls or VoIP just like a normal phone call hasn’t been fulfilled. Skype should already be integrated into WP People & Message Hub by now!

Let’s hope Windows Blue brings all these together & don’t let Office leave the family. There’s no turning back once MS Office is outside Windows. It’s as good as losing control of your best property.

Update 1

On 14/6/2013, Microsoft announced Office Mobile for iPhone, which is very similar to what Windows Mobile had since 2003 and Windows Phone since 2010. You need an active Office 365 account to use Office for iOS and yes, editing is possible but clumsy on a small screen (same problem in Windows Mobile & Windows Phone). Office for iPad is still not available, which is a smart move.

I think Microsoft did the right thing. On one hand, they’ve shown that Office for iOS is 100% ready, to appease pesky institutional investors, but at the same time, they aren’t giving Office away (yet) to the iPad to solidify Apple’s growing foothold in the Enterprise market.

Microsoft have the responsibility to ensure that traditional PC ecosystem players from software houses & hardware OEM have figured out how to transition to a purely mobile PC platform before they allow Office to move to other platform (if ever, hopefully never.)

Solutions

How to be productive in Windows 8

Overview

Microsoft launched Windows 8 to much fanfare on 25th to 26th Oct 2012 worldwide & the reception has been pretty good overall. Steve Ballmer mentioned at the Windows Phone 8 launch that Windows 8 takeup rate was faster than Windows 7 was back in 2009. There are, however, still concerns that it will leave behind a big group of enterprise users who have a problem with the learning curve involve with the Start Screen.

Yes, the Start Menu & Start button are gone & there’s no way to get it back without buying some third-party software, which business will, no doubt, hesitate in spending extra on.

If you’re wondering what made Microsoft make such a major change, read my opinion piece here.

How to be productive in Windows 8 on older PC

Many PCs are still running great or are acceptable. Most of them don’t have a Touchscreen or Pen digitizer. The biggest concern for many users is, can the new interface be used with Keyboard & Mouse without sacrificing productivity? The answer is a resounding YES!

Now, let me qualify that I’m going to teach you how to use WIndows 8 using an average keyboard & mouse, not the new generation of keyboard with Windows 8 keys or the new mice that has Touch surfaces or even Trackpads that mimic a Touchscreen. Just you plain old familiar stuff. You’re welcome to upgrade your keyboard & mouse if you want some of the new features but they’re not necessary. Microsoft has taken care of us.

The new Start Screen

Your new playground to drive away the Monday Blues & welcome TGIF!

 

Well as mentioned, Start button & Start menu are gone. In its place is this beautiful, cheerful full screen & scrollable page with tiles arrange in neat grids. The first reaction is the information overload if you’ve configured your Windows 8 to sync with your MSN/Xbox/Hotmail/WP7 account. Next is the shock of not being able to find your favourite software & perhaps Desktop!

Start Typing on the Start Screen & you get Auto Search!

No worries, let go of the mouse & start typing the name of your software right at the Start Screen. A panel will appear on the right & the result will be shown on the left. You can select your program by using the Up/Down arrow keys & pressing Enter.

By default, Windows 8 will search your keyword under Apps, Settings & Files. This means that you can easily find anything on your App list, Windows settings & even files on your HDD without leaving the Start Screen! You will also notice that beneath the 3 system defaults, there are some apps that you’ve installed. By clicking them, you’re actually asking the App to search your keyword within the App automatically! How convenient is that!

The All Apps screen…

So what if you just want a list of All your apps & programs? No problem! Just right click at the a blank area of the Start Screen & a panel will pop-up from below. You can also press the Context Menu key to bring it up. To the right, you’d see an “All Apps” icon. Click it & all the apps are displayed alphabetically & in groups where applicable.

The Windows Key on your keyboard becomes extremely important in Windows 8. Pressing it always switches you to the Start Screen or between the Start Screen & the Desktop depending on what app is in the foreground.

The Start Screen & All apps list is also the place where you uninstall stuff. No need to open Control Panel!

Charms Bar

More useful for tablets but serves a purpose with keyboard as well

Now you may have heard of the Charms bar which appears from the right. Just move your mouse to any of the right corners to bring it up or press Win+C. This is where you find more shortcuts like the before-mention Search.

The Charms Bar is also where you’d find the Share button. Share allows you to share stuff from one app to another, similar to copy & paste; Windows Icon acts like the Windows key; Devices shows some currently connected peripherals; Settings is where you can change the Settings of the current Metro app or Start Screen.

The Charms Settings Bar is also where you can change Networking, Volume, Brightness, Notifications from Apps, Power & Keyboard language.

Multitasking

Next major change is regarding multi-tasking between different Apps & Software.

Move your mouse to the top-left corner to bring up the last used Software/App. Slide down to bring out the multitasking screen or press Win + Tab to bring it up on the Left & cycle through opened software & Apps.

Another great & useful way to multi-task

Right-click on the App & you can close it. You can also move the mouse to the top of the App, then drag down to close.

Alt-Esc still works in Desktop by cycling through non-minimized software windows.

Alt-Tab still show Live Preview of your software & Apps in an overlay on top of Desktop or Start Screen.

The invisible Start Button

Preview instead of Start Button

The Start Button may be gone but by hovering your mouse over the bottom-left corner of the screen, a mini Start Screen will appear. Clicking it brings you to the Start Screen, giving the same functionality as the Windows key. Sliding up also brings out the multitasking screen.

Finally! All the Power User functions grouped into a menu!

Now the best part is for power user, right-clicking here brings up a context menu with all the administrative tools like Computer Management, Mobility Center & Control Panel, etc. The old Mobility Center shortcut, Win + X now bring up this menu.

Snap!

Shamelessly ripped from Microsoft demo video because my old laptop doesn’t have at least 1366 horizontal pixels

For Windows 8 with a minimum of 1366 horizontal pixel, you can use a new Snap function to “snap” a second app to the edge of the screen to allow multitasking. Just move the mouse to the left corners of the screen, slide down, drag one of the apps out & hover for a while. It should expand & snap to the edge that you hover over.

Ending notes

If you’ve any questions on other problems not listed above or you’d like me to show more features, please leave your comments & I’d try to answer them.

Opinions

How Windows Phone 8 & Windows 8 can share software

Overview

Microsoft just generated a huge amount of buzz in the press & developer community when Microsoft’s Paul Thurrott confirmed a leak that Windows Phone 8 (WP8) codename “Apollo” will use Windows 8 kernel.

This is a big deal, bigger than what most people realise, because it means that Microsoft can have a standard integrated development environment (IDE) to target Windows 8 (for Intel x86/64 – Wintel), Windows on Arm (WoA) & WP8 (now a WoA)!

So when a developer wrote an app for Windows 8, he can automatically target both Wintel, WoA & with some tweaks for screen dimension, WP8!

What’s the big deal anyway?

Let’s me start by saying I’ve been a software developer for many years since C++ & Visual Basic 6. Unlike many developers these days, I’m what was called a system programmer, meaning I do low-level, machine interface stuff, including Assembler on embedded systems. I stopped coding professionally 8 years ago but I still do some projects here & there. So I’m aware of the going on in the development of Wintel, WP7 world.

Software is created by writing code in a language not unlike English. In order for the code to be recognised, you need the other party to also speak the same language.

Unfortunately, Intel Core i7 or nVidia Tegra-3 or Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU doesn’t speak English, so you need an intermediary. A translator that converts the code into machine language which is just a bunch of ones & zeros. This is the job of the compiler.

There are 2 ways to accomplish this. You can compile code directly into machine language or you can send your code into a translator that converts these code in realtime into machine language.

The advantage of the first approach is speed. The problem is you need to rewrite (port) code from one platform to another.

The second is the interpreter approach. A middleman will translate the code during software running time into machine code for the CPU to execute, hence the term, “runtime”.

The advantage is the ease of porting code from one platform to another. It still takes efforts & time to customise for the environment but at least there are less mundane chore to do/debug. The major problem is speed because the middleman also uses CPU resource. Multicore CPU mask some of the time but there’s still lag.

SO, where does Windows 8 fit into all these CPU discussion anyway?

Windows 8 is an Operating System. It’s job is to manage resources in CPU, memory, storage, network, graphics, user input, etc. The part that manage the hardware is called the kernel, which is itself a special software. The part that you see on the screen is the GUI, which is also software. All the apps that you use must interact with the kernel & GUI.

IIRC, the kernel of Windows Phone 7 is based on Windows CE, which is itself a branch of Windows 95 or earlier. It’s a very mature & stable kernel but doesn’t support multi-core CPU or pre-emptive multi-threading which is why multi-tasking on PocketPC/Windows Mobile always seem to hang or slow the phone with no way to recover but a soft reset. Surprisingly, Android 2/3 seem to share the same problems! But is mitigated somewhat by having multicore CPU.

Windows Phone 7 bypass this limitation by following Apple’s iOS when it was initially launched. No app is allowed to run in the background, except for a few that strictly follows certain parameters. Task switching was minimum, restricted to 5 open screens, not 5 open apps. This severely limited many enterprise apps which required ongoing background processing.

Now unlike Apple, which keeps its iOS & Mac-OS separately. Microsoft seems to want to consolidate their OS as early as 2003 with the MinWin initiative. Windows 7 is based on the Windows NT kernel, which was super robust but very monolithic in that all the services were integrated into the kernel, making it big & hard to debug or extend. Performance was good though because all the services exist in the same memory space.

The problem was, every time a new service is needed, like IPv6, Microsoft had to change the kernel without affecting other components. The complexity gets too much to handle even for a software house as big as Microsoft. The only way was to compartmentalized the kernel. Performance suffered a bit but can be recovered when developers optimise the individual components that were separated from the kernel.

This initiative culminated in Windows 8 using just 600+MB of memory footprint compared to Windows 7 800+MB in a TabletPC configuration. The kernel itself is only tens of MB! Small enough to fit in the future 256MB of RAM on a Windows Phone 7.5.x upgrade called “Tango”.

For WoA, the memory footprint will probably be similar to Wintel because Windows Desktop will also appear in WoA. However, as mentioned, for any developer who needs speed in their desktop apps like Microsoft Office, they will have to port their code & recompile the entire app to work in WoA Desktop environment. Which is why Microsoft was very secretive about whether legacy Windows Apps can run on WoA. My answer is, No. (Unless MS includes VirtualPC on WoA.)

It’s very clear to me that since Microsoft wrote the compiler in Visual Studio IDE & can port the entire Windows to ARM, it’s no problem for them to port MS Office as well! However, legacy apps compiled for Intel CPU will not work on WoA. Developers need to port their code.

The good news is, the new Visual Studio will probably support compiling to both Intel x86/64 & ARM all in the same IDE! Devs may need to set certain parameters but they do not need to invest in another IDE or train/hire new developers. Visual Studio will handle the differences in platform like it handles the difference in Intel & AMD CPU.

This is excellent news for Enterprise customers because it simplifies managing their business by providing a single platform that can run on Intel PCs in the office & WoA laptops/tablets for their mobile workforce. Intel CPU is much more powerful but ARM CPU uses much less power so having Windows on both platform solves a dilemma that has dogged the industry for more than 10 years. This is the reason why the iPad is so successful because even though Bill Gates envisioned a tablet future, it was Steve Jobs who realised the vision!

However, Steve had to compromise on functionality on the iPad because Mac-OS wasn’t optimised for low-memory/CPU computing. On top of that, Mac-OS was compiled for Intel CPU & it will take them time to find a good compiler to recompile for ARM, plus all the engineering needed to port the OS.

What about WP8?

Most of the 60,000 apps on WP7 are written in Silverlight & XNA. Both are interpreted code which requires a Runtime. This Runtime is also an integral of Windows 8.

Now that we know WP8 Apollo uses the NT kernel, it automatically means that WP8 supports multicore CPU, full pre-emptive multi-threading, multi-GPU & multi-displays on-top of the other regular stuff you find on iPhones & Android phones.

Since Microsoft has to compile Silverlight/XNA to work on WoA & Windows Phone is actually an ARM computer with a small screen, it means that there is NO difference between WoA Silverlight/XNA & Silverlight/XNA on Windows Phone as well! Do I even need to mention Silverlight/XNA is already in Windows 8 for x86/64?

Ultimately, this means that developers can use Visual Studio to compile speedy Native apps like MS Office for Wintel, WoA & WP8. If the situation doesn’t require speed, they can more easily program in Silverlight/XNA & enjoy low power consumption for Wintel, WoA & WP8 as well. The only major work is to change the interface to fit the screen & that’s it!

Conclusion

Microsoft has announced a range of screen size for the next version of Windows 8/WP8 & the reason is very simple.

All Windows machines will share a common interface & work the same. After adjustment for screen size, Silverlight developers can also easily target WP8 & Windows 8.

Native App developers can also easily target Wintel or WoA allowing the new platforms to gain huge number of apps in a short time. Having tons of apps drive adoption which is what ensures the survival of the platform.

I can’t wait! 8)

Solutions

Windows wouldn’t hibernate with Error Event ID 45: volmgr

Just to share my 3-day battle with Windows 7 32bit Pro after it was installed on the Kingston V+100E Self-encrypting SSD 64GB.

To be fair, the problem has little to do with the Kingston SSD actually. There may be incompatibility with Truecrypt 7.1 & Self-encrypting SSD, or it could be old registry entries left-over from my old encrypted HDD but I didn’t investigate further since I’ve solved my hibernation problem.

Update at the end of this article!

*******************************

System:

OS: Win7 32bit Pro (New install, not upgrade)

Laptop: Fujitsu T4215 with CPU upgraded to Intel T7200

HDD: WD Scorpio Black 320GB (Truecrypt 7.1 System FDE) -> Kingston V+100E 64GB (Self-encryption)

Drivers: (All updated to latest from manufacturer)

********************************

Everything seems to work well until I run Easy Transfer to transfer my account from my old HDD to the new SSD. My old WD Scorpio Black was encrypted using Truecrypt 7.1 so there were active Truecrypt registry entries which I’m not aware of & few people seem to know about. Google it & you would’t find many entries if any.

Hibernation will always fail with black screen. When KB/Mouse is touched, the login screen is shown. Event Viewer will show Event ID 45 Error caused by volmgr on \device\harddiskvolume2 (which is my C:\). What’s cryptic is the error is a crash dump driver error. What has crash-dumping in volmgr.sys got to do with hibernation?

A lot in fact, after kernel-mode drivers had crashed or unloaded, the only way the NT Kernel could do stuff is through special filters apparently. So to activate Hibernation, the Kernel has to unload everything & dump everything in RAM to HDD. What if you’re running Bitlocker or Truecrypt, which are software-based encryption?

The Kernel has to filter the RAM data thru these small programs so the Hibernation or Crash dumps are encrypted as well, else there’ll be a security risk. dumpfve.sys for Bitlocker & truecrypt.sys for Truecrypt 7. Unfortuntately I don’t see this documented anywhere. (I did not search SourceForge though.) I found out when I was hunting in the registry.

This registry key is where I found the offending entry.

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\CrashControl -> DumpFilters

In it, I found “dumpfve.sys” & “truecrypt.sys”. Now I did not install Truecrypt in the new system so the only way is thru’ Easy Transfer.

OK, fine, so I install Truecrypt 7.1 to make sure the proper files are installed. But after rebooting, Windows BSOD & I couldn’t see any crash dump! It may be that active Truecrypt registry is still there thinking the SSD was encrypted. Well I can’t have that! So I did a System Restore & booted up. I then remove the truecrypt.sys entry in all Registry keys, adjust my pagefile size, enabled crash dump 128KB & enabled hibernation with “-size 100”.

Hit the Hibernation button & it WORKS!!!

After that, whatever changes I did to pagefile.sys & crash dump size did not affect Hibernation.

So for those of you who have hibernation problems with Event ID 45 from volmgr. Check your crashdump filter.

Now I still need Truecrypt to access the old encrypted WD Scorpio Black, so what I did was to install Truecrypt in “Portable” mode & run the .exe files instead of an installation. Done!

Update (19/3/2012):

Recently I cleaned the registry of all entries with Truecrypt & install the latest 7.1a version & Windows did not BSOD so I’m a happy camper again. Seems like Truecrypt doesn’t leave many entries in Windows itself, which is a GOOD thing!