Why choose Microsoft? Retail stores.

Microsoft vs Apple

Microsoft Store versus Apple Store

I think the majority of people know about the Apple retail stores.  There are approximately 250 of those stores in the United States.  However, not many people are aware that Microsoft Stores exists and for good reason; there are less than 40 in the U.S..  That number is slowly growing.  I believe Microsoft Stores are superior to the Apple version and I intend you show you why.

There have been many post and articles that discuss the customer service experience.  I will skip over that and discuss the look and content of these retail stores.

A table of the SAME iPads, a table of the SAME MacBook Airs, a table of the SAME iPhones...

A table of the SAME iPads, a table of the SAME MacBook Airs, a table of the SAME iPhones…

Variety

SellMoreThanJustOurOwn

There is a huge selection of laptops, tablets, and phones at the Microsoft Store.

Apple Stores only offer Apple products.  That can get boring fast.  They make different types of devices, but seeing a table of silver iPads  or Macbooks is rather depressing.  Microsoft Stores, on the other hand, sell Microsoft products as well as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc..  You are exposed to different form factors, shapes, and colors at a Microsoft store.  You can get a Windows Phone from Dell, HTC, Huawei, etc..  Perhaps you’re in the market for a tablet.  How about one from Sony, Dell, Microsoft or Samsung?  If you chose the Microsoft Surface, you can buy a touch cover keyboard which comes in a variety of colors.

"Yes, all our products look the same.  Isn't it great to be the same?"

“Yes, all our products look the same. Isn’t it great to be the same?”

Color

Products come in various colors at the Microsoft Store.

Products come in various colors at the Microsoft Store.

Apple Stores only offer white and silver (unless you get an iPod Touch, Nano, or Shuffle).  Walk into an Apple Store.  What do you see?  Shades of gray.  If you like the look and feel of a hospital morgue, you’re going to LOVE the Apple Store.  If color is what you want, then please stop in a Microsoft Store.  It is bursting with color; from the different colored devices to the video wall displaying the latest offerings from Xbox.  Color is everywhere.  There is a sense of warmth and excitement in a Microsoft Store that you’re not going to get from Apple’s.

"According to the iWork spreadsheet, you will need to take out a load for these products."

“According to the iWork spreadsheet, you will need to take out a substantial loan for these products.”

Price

As of June 8th, 2013, the prices for Apple’s most basic devices are…

  1. iPad is $499
  2. iPhone 5 is $649
  3. MacBook Air is $999
  4. MacBook Pro is $1199
  5. iMac is $1299
  6. Mac Pro is $2499

Compare that with what’s available from the Microsoft Store (products of similar or identical specs)…

  1. Acer Iconia W510-1674 Tablet is $399
  2. Nokia Lumia 920 smartphone is $499
  3. Acer Aspire S7-191-6400 Touchscreen Ultrabook is $899
  4. Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Touchscreen Laptop is $599
  5. Samsung Series 7 DP700A3D-A01US Touchscreen All-in-One is $999
  6. Dell XPS 8500 X8500-4742BK Desktop is $899

Look at how much money you would save getting something from the Microsoft Store.  Don’t let the Apple press fool you: under that shiny metallic package are the same components in the Windows package.  The difference is, in many cases, you’re getting more for your dollar with the Windows product.  The Apple products DO have something going for them, their product names are easier to remember..

Waiting in line, talking to others waiting to get in, is about fun as it gets at the Apple Store.

Waiting in line, talking to others waiting to get in, is as fun as it gets at the Apple Store.

Fun

WeGotXboxOne of the great things about stores like these is being able to try the product.  That may be considered “fun” to tech geeks like myself, but what about the rest of you?  The Microsoft Store has a killer feature for that.  It’s call XBOX.  The employees at the Microsoft Store let you stroll in and play the latest Xbox game.  If you’re feeling energetic, you can jump around, wave your arms, punch, kick, and then some on the Kinect.  It’s a carnival worth of fun in one corner of a Microsoft Store.

Do yourself a favor, send this post to every Apple consumer you know.  Those with an open-mind may give a Microsoft Store a try and find themselves pleasantly surprised.

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Facebook Beta and a sad trend..

When I was shopping around for a smartphone a few years ago, I didn’t find much to like about Blackberry devices.  I looked at both iOS & Android devices and thought the UI & UX was very similar and didn’t impress me.  Then I saw Windows Phone 7 at Mobile World Congress and was intrigued.  It felt like a TRUE mobile operating system, not an app launcher.  The killer feature for me was the app design, what Microsoft was calling “Metro”.

Metro

Fast forward to 2013 and things are very different.  Android has evolved, drastically.  No longer can Windows Phone gloat about Live Tiles; Android’s widgets can do the same.  iOS has evolved too, not as dramatically as Android, but enough so that social integration into the OS is no longer just a Windows Phone thing. iPhones have Facebook, Twitter and so on through their OS as well.  While these features still seem better on Windows Phone, it no longer separates us from them.

Still, Windows Phone has one killer feature left; Metro.  Let’s be clear, Metro is MORE than just flat imagery or tiles.  It’s about typography, minimalism, landscape layout and content as the imagery.  And there’s more than one way to achieve it.  Look at the People hub then look at the USA Today app.  Similar and different.  One is utilizing black & white, the other, color.  One has no background, the other does.  All metro apps should be similar in function, but can still be quite different and recognizable on its own.  I would never confuse the USA Today app with the Amazon app.  Both use metro, but are very different.

Then comes Facebook Beta.  An app almost identical to it’s Android & iOS counterparts. One of the hosts of the recent WP Central podcast said the Facebook app does have metro elements…  I spit my coffee out when I heard this. He cited the flat look of the graphics as being metro.  Again, metro is SO much more than that.  While it’s good that OFFICIAL apps are finally making their way to Windows Phone, if they are no longer following the metro design principles, then what separates Windows Phone from the other mobile operating systems?

*Note: I originally published this on WP Central’s forum, but they shoved it into a super thread.

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On hiatus…

360S     When I came up with the idea for Life with Microsoft, I had every intention to add articles regularly.  However, with home life, work, my other websites, things got difficult.  Those aren’t the only road blocks. 

 

wp8

     The Microsoft ecosystem is changing rapidly.  Desktop applications are making way for Microsoft’s modern design language.  Windows 7 is old school, Windows 8 is present and future.  Windows Mobile has been replaced with Windows Phone, a very consumer-friendly phone operating system.  The XBOX 360’s dashboard is also incorporating the new look and feel of Microsoft with its dashboard looking much like the Windows 8 Start screen.  The XBOX 360 is now our hub for all things entertainment; video games, movies, and music.  And speaking of music and video, Zune has been replaced with XBOX Entertainment.  The company is now making their own hardware which includes the XBOX, Surface tablets, and if rumors are true, possibly a phone.

surface

     It is an amazing time for Microsoft and their users.  Things are changing so much that I can not keep up with it all.  Therefore, I will take a break and return when things get settled =)

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Windows 8 is near. Are you prepared? Part II

Windows 8 will be making its debut in a few days.  This operating system combines both touch and desktop interfaces.  As I have said before, there are plenty of changes, but some things have remained, like the traditional desktop.  Here’s a one minute video with no order what-so-ever to give you a taste of Microsoft’s newest operating system:

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Windows 8 is coming. Are you ready? Part I

If you follow technology news as much as I do, you’ll know that a day does not go by that an article about Microsoft‘s upcoming Windows 8 stirs debate.  Some articles are positive, others are negative.  It has become painfully obvious that much of the negativity surrounding Windows 8’s new user interface comes from those who fear change. Lets look back at some previous versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

A look back…

Pictured is Windows 3.1, not 1.0

Windows 1.0 was Microsoft’s foray into a graphical user interface for the desktop computer.  This was a drastic change from command line operating systems like MS-DOS.  No longer did you have to memorize and type commands for locating, moving and running programs on your computer.  With Windows, a mouse and on-screen pointer was all you needed to accomplish these same tasks.  Open a window, double-click your application, and get to work.  You could also customize how it looked, but there was a limited amount of options to do so.  For those who were only familiar with command line operating systems, some learning was required on how to use this operating system.

Windows 95 desktop

Then along came Windows 95.  Like previous versions of Windows, applications ran in a box or window.  However, at the bottom of the screen sat a “taskbar”.  The taskbar made switching between open applications extremely easy.  Simply click the tab on the taskbar of the application you wanted to use.  Something more important than the taskbar was also introduced in Windows 95; the Start button.  The Start button is your hub for accessing the settings, documents and programs on your computer.  After clicking on Start, a menu would pop up with various options, including shutting down your computer.  Yes, a bit odd to put that in a place called “Start”, but hey, it had to go somewhere.

Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista and 7 may differ slightly in their appearance, but the user interfaces are similar.  If a Windows 95 user was thrown onto Windows 7, that user would be able to find their way around the operating system.  Like Windows 1.0 and 95, Windows 8 will need a tutorial to help the user find their way around.

Am I supposed to touch the screen or use the mouse? Do either.

Windows 8 Start screen

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s answer to the future of computing which includes tablets also known as  slates.  Microsoft has been involved in tablet computing for a long time, but they have not been very successful in that market.  Perhaps too much emphasis was put on stylus/pen input, but more importantly, they tried putting a desktop operating system on a tablet.  With Windows 8, you have a touch enabled OS that can work with your fingers as well as a mouse.

Once you get past the lock screen on Windows 8, you’re presented with the “Start Screen”.  With Windows 8, we don’t see the elimination of the Start button, as so many bloggers have written, but the transformation of it.  Instead of a button that gives you access to your programs, the user is given a full screen layout of your applications.  Instead of icons, used as shortcuts to your applications, we are presented with square & rectangle tiles, arranged in rows and columns.  Unlike the icons from previous versions of Windows, these tiles display information from within the application.  If it is an email application, you’ll see the number of unread emails and a preview of those unread emails including which email account it is for, the subject and first line of the email.  If it is a news app, you’ll see some recent headlines and possibly some photos from those stories.  A weather application will display the current weather conditions on the tile and possibly a graphical representation as well.

Windows 8’s One Note MX

Another interesting aspect of Windows 8 is that the applications are presented in full screen.  There is no border, no tool bar, no status bar or taskbar.  In other words, a true full screen experience.  If you have ever used Windows Media Center, you will have experienced what that looks like.

If you are using a touch screen device, swiping from the right edge onto the screen will bring up what is called the “Charms Bar” (the time & date as well).  These Charms are used throughout the entire operating system and within applications.  For example, from the Start screen, the Charms allows you  to search your computer or tablet for files, apps, settings, etc..  From within an application, you can search, adjust settings or share what is on-screen.  By the way, if you are using a mouse, slide the cursor into the upper right hand corner of the screen and slide down to access the Charms.

Use the corners with the mouse

To get back to the Start screen in a hurry, slide the cursor into the lower left corner of the screen; basically where the Start button used to be.  As for accessing open applications i.e. multitasking, slide the cursor to the upper left corner of the screen and slide down.  By now, you should have noticed that when you are using a mouse, the corners of the screen are your tickets to operating Windows 8. Swiping in from the sides and top would be the way to do it by touch.  The drawback to using the mouse is the amount of real estate you have to cover to access the basic functions of the operating system.  I’m sure as Windows 8 evolves, Microsoft will make improvements for more efficient use of the mouse.

I miss the Desktop.  DON’T!  It’s still there.

Is the new Start screen a bit intimidating?  Do you need more time to understand the full screen Windows 8 apps?  That’s fine.  The desktop that you come to love in Windows 7 is still in Windows 8, the difference is, it is better!  Almost ALL of your applications that work in Windows 7, will work in Windows 8, but you’ll find that the software is faster.  Windows 8 has eliminated unessential code to give you a streamlined operating system, especially in the desktop mode.

Desktop without and with open applications

How do you get to the desktop?  Tap or click on the tile that says, “Desktop”.

So while there is a lot to learn and love about the new interface in Windows 8, relax and remember the desktop is there as well.

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Not your parents’ Outlook!

A few days ago, I submitted a post about Windows Live Mail.  Microsoft is obviously paying attention to my blog and as a joke, revamped their web-based email service 😉  When you log into Hotmail (using a desktop browser), you will see that Microsoft has replaced it with Outlook… preview.  As with other new Microsoft products, Outlook utilizes metro-style design.  It is simply beautiful.

At the top of Outlook, there are options to create a new email, reply, delete, add to junk (spam), sweep, move to, categories and the … which you’ll find in other Microsoft software including Windows Phone.  Clicking on … brings up more options.  In this case; mark as unread, mark as read, flag, unflag and print.  You will also notice a smile face inside a speech bubble.  That is for messaging.  Clicking that allows you to send a message to someone on Facebook or Messenger, if they are online.

The default view will show, from left to right, your folders, email sender, email subject and then advertisements on the far right.  Clicking on an email subject will display the content of the email as in the photo above.  You can change the accent color by clicking on the settings/gear icon.  You can also turn the reading pane on like I did in Windows Live Mail.

If you hover your cursor over the word Outlook on the top left of the window, a down-arrow will appear.  Clicking that arrow will display some metro-style tiles: Mail, Calendar, People, SkyDrive.  Let’s just look at People, since Calendar and SkyDrive are not “metro-fied” yet.

Clicking on People will bring up a list of all your contacts from your social networks (Facebook, twitter), email and Messenger.  The People hub allows you to edit contact information, add new information, send a message and write on their Facebook wall.  Like Outlook, it is clean and makes great use of metro-style design.

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Windows Live Mail, it’s pretty neat.

Windows Live MailAt work or at home, in the 21st century, having an e-mail account is a must.  Over the years, I’ve used lots of services for e-mail: Prodigy, AOL, Yahoo!, Gmail,  Hotmail, to name a few.  Up until a couple of years ago, Hotmail was my least favorite.  It didn’t suit my needs nor did it look good.

These days, Hotmail is looking and functioning well.  However, I rarely log in through the website.  Instead I use Windows Live Mail.  Basically the same thing, but it’s an application on your computer.  You can tweak the settings to your liking both in function and appearance.  See the image above to see what mine looks like.  You’ll see from left to right: email accounts, subject lines for emails, and then the email itself.

Folders are a necessity if you get emails regarding different subjects regularly.  I have had to create many folders.  If you click the arrow to the left of your email account, it will display all of your folders.

Windows Live Mail FoldersAlthough I do not have any spam messages in this email account at the moment, I can tell you that the spam filter in Windows Live Mail is EXCELLENT!  I rarely receive junk mail in my inbox.

Windows Live Mail is more than just dealing with your messages.  It is also a calendar too, which I use regularly.

The calendar will display and separate your appointments by email account i.e. by Windows Live ID, which will be soon known as Microsoft Account.  I really recommend this application.

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