Xbox One HDMI IN – This is no Media Center replacement.

The Xbox One out of the box experience is an interesting one.  Especially if you do not have a game, for $499 it does not come with one.  Not that I think it should because frankly that game always become the first one to hit the bargain bin.  However, without a game it’s an expensive Skype and Netflix console.

Microsoft of course is intending the Xbox One to be much more than a gaming system but my experience with it for the past two days is one of uncertainty, at least for now.  The feature I was looking forward to the most is its, integration with your home satellite and cable box.  I think for many the last piece of the puzzle. Plug your receiver into the HDMI IN port on the back and have a central dashboard for your games, online media, home media, and home television.  But out of the box, there is more missing from this puzzle than I had expected.

Media Center, ah media center….Arguably the best PVR and home media interface to hit our TV and computer screens the past (almost) 9 years.  It definitely had its challenges, between playing specific formats, to supporting HD, and of course the initial setup and maintenance required some IT knowledge nearby.  But with a great 3rd party development community and products like DVBLink most of its out of the box deficiencies were overcome.  And when it worked, it worked well, more importantly, it was easy to use.  In my home we have three XBOX 360s scattered around the home running as Media Center extenders (MCE) and for a time they were the original XBOX running MCE.  From this my family has access to all of their media needs and after 7 years, without it they would be lost.

Now I know the writing has been on the wall for some time, media center is dying, if not already dead.  However I have struggled to find a better alternative.  Thanks to Microsoft for making Media Center an option in Windows 8, it still lives.  Introduce Xbox One.  Media center is gone, for real.

I thought the HDMI IN was my alternative, it is not.  It is nothing more than a passthru port.  It does not change channels, it does not PVR, nor can you pause live TV.  Also the Xbox One integrated guide does not integrate (at least not in Canada).  But with no option to control the sat/cable receiver the guide is useless anyway.  (what is that RF connector for on the back?)  Yelling out, “Xbox Watch TV” and seeing the Live TV window open is kind of fun, the first few times.  But not so practical at 2am when everyone is sleeping.  There is just no point in the feature right now for me.  Not unless you’re short on HDMI ports.

To add to the lack of OOB features, try playing content from your network, like home movies or recorded TV.  It is possible, but not obvious.  Xbox One supports DLNA but you need to initiate the stream from your PC using Play-To or a similar control.  Try explaining that to your wife and kids.

From what I’ve read, features like this are coming, but for someone that uses their console primarily for TV and online media it feels like the Xbox One is not ready for primetime.  For now, as it is XBOX 360 stays the focal point in our house.

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Ethernet on Surface RT with Windows RT 8.1 (Updated)

Microsoft has finally given us USB Ethernet support for RT with 8.1.  Well sort of.  According to the support website http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-us/support/hardware-and-drivers/usb-to-ethernet-adapter you will see that the Surface Ethernet adapter works with RT 8.1 (*so do most 3rd party adapters).  (Update: Microsoft has removed Surface RT and Surface 2 from the page, don’t despair, it DOES work, read on) However, if you were to update your device, purchase the Surface Ethernet adapter, plug it in, you will get the infamous message “Not Compatible with this version of Windows.”  Even running Windows Update does not fix this issue, at least not at the moment.  I did some digging and found that the Surface Ethernet adapter uses the Realtek chipset and I noticed that in the Devices section under network adapters Windows RT now has a Realtek USB FE Family Controller driver.

So to make this work;

  1. Plug in your Surface Ethernet Adapter, wait for the installation to fail.
  2. Then open Device Manager, under Network Adapters right click on the Ethernet Adapter, it should have a yellow exclamation mark.
  3. Choose update driver, then select Browse my computer for driver software.  Then click “Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer”.
  4. If it doesn’t take you directly to Network Adapters, choose it from the list.  In the left pane your should see Realtek, highlight it and you should only have one option in the right pane for the Realtek USB FE Family Controller.  Select and next.
  5. If it warns you about compatibility just accept it.

The driver will install and you will have 10/100Mbps Ethernet on your Surface.  Only 1 year late, but who really noticed?

I can only presume that Microsoft will eventually fix this and make the process more automatic…but then again.

*Note:  This works with ASIX 88772C USB 2.0 adapters which is virtually most Ethernet Adapters on the market.  If you have a different adapter just remember to select the ASIX driver instead of the Realtek one.

MS Adapter Generic Adapter

 

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Microsoft’s new products come with some seriously frustrating shortcomings, but why!?

What is going on at Microsoft these days?  Since almost a year ago I have been getting excited about all the changes coming from that organization; Skydrive, Windows 8, Surface (Windows RT), and Windows Phone 8.  And each one has let me down in one way or another, and usually in the most ridiculously stupid way.  In ways that leave me just shaking my head and wondering, what were you thinking?

I have always been invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, between work and play.  At work we deploy and operate virtually all of their server offerings, and at home Media Center, XBOX and Home Server are items the family could not live without.  Well they could, but it would not be pretty.  As much potential as all of these offerings have, they come with almost endless shortcomings.  And over the years I have always hoped that these shortcomings were something to learn from.  Instead it would appear that nothing has been learned, nothing at all.

Skydrive 

Potential

  • Integrates with virtually any device,
  • free up to 7GB
  • is amazing for sharing photos with friends.
  • Nice Windows 8/RT app.

Shortcomings

  • Try sharing a file with your friend or colleague that is larger than 30MB.  You will see they cannot get the file unless they ALSO have a Live or Skydrive account.  Even when you un-tick the box for requiring Sign-in.  Why?  I read one post that Microsoft does this to mitigate piracy.  I think the only thing they are mitigating is its general usage, by anyone!  Dumb.

Windows 8

Potential –

  • Faster and much more usable on a touch device than any previous version of Windows.

Shortcomings –

  • I have to say I really like Windows 8 and I have become very accustomed to the new gestures and locations of menu items etc.  However, I believe they need to add a little more help to their screens so that the average user knows how to, say, go back a page in the Metro version of IE.  Or pull up the options for the App they are running.  Booting to the desktop should also be a simple check box option.

Surface (Windows RT)

Potential

  • Amazingly crafted and elegant device.
  • For my needs, it really bridges the gap between PC and tablet.
  • I like the controlled environment, unfortunately it is also its undoing.

Shortcomings

  • Where to begin…No Silverlight?  Are you kidding me?
  • Hey!  I’ve spent years converting my video library to Media Center supported files and I can’t play any of them on my Surface!  Hello!?
  • No official support for USB Ethernet devices.  Related to my post in November, it was a circus getting, what was listed as compatible USB Ethernet adapters, to work on the Surface turned out to be dumb luck that we got things going.  Now they have pulled the drivers, updated the compatibility chart to “Not compatible”, even though many work just fine, and still do not offer any wired solution.  Why?  I understand the reason to control driver distribution.  But pick a vendor already and issue a device!

Windows Phone 8

Potential

  • Best Phone OS I’ve ever used.
  • Very organized.
  • Best phone email client.
  • Love the Text to Speech while I am driving.

Shortcomings

  • Does not open Microsoft XPS document files?!  This one is so dumb I actually laughed out loud when I first discovered it and then quickly became insanely frustrated.  Even my iPhone had an app for that!
  • Voice Commands for playing music?  Does not exist without installing a 3rd party app.
  • No VPN or native RDP client?

I could go on but I just wanted to get across the most obviously ridiculous issues I am having with these new products.  Issues that should simply not be there.  Are their teams so disconnected that adding XPS support on the phone could really be missed?  The cry for a wired solution for Surface is so abundant on the internet and knowing that one exists, yet Microsoft has forcefully tried to shut it down, confuses me to great lengths!

I lobby for Microsoft’s success, but it feels like they intentionally shoot themselves in the foot.  That’s why I ask, what is going on at Microsoft

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Installing a USB to Ethernet adapter on the Microsoft Surface RT. (Updated)

The Microsoft Surface only comes with two ways to connect to the outside world, WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0.  For most this is probably sufficient but we don’t use wireless in the office as a security measure and tethering all day long is just too expensive.

I thought no problem, I will just get myself a handy USB Ethernet adapter.  There are a few MacBook Airs in the office and with optimism I grabbed one of their adapters and plugged it into my Surface.  I was not surprised to see the message “Not compatible with your version of Windows” message pop up.  Obviously this Apple device uses some obscure proprietor chipset, I thought, so I set out to find a generic USB2.0 to Ethernet adapter.  First place to check, Microsoft’s handy compatibility chart http://bit.ly/Xdz0OY.  Very informative chart showing what devices are compatible with the different flavors of Windows, including RT.  I was surprised at first to see such a large list of USB network adapters, but excited, this should be no problem.  The Cisco USB300M seemed like a popular one, with 3 votes for compatibility.  I talked to sales and asked them to order me one.  Confirmation order had been placed, and then I wait. (Update: Microsoft has since removed these from the compatibility list)

While waiting I was googling, as you do, and came across a newsgroup post regarding this actual device not working for someone.  Even though it said it was compatible it would not install for them.  Microsoft told him to search out the drivers from the Manufacturer, but the Linksys/Cisco website didn’t have any drivers for RT.  I started find many other users having the same issue with different USB to Ethernet adapters.  They state as compatible on the MS website but would not install.  I decided to go to a local tech shop and test out some of their devices.  They had only one in stock.  A Nexxtech USB2.0 to Fast Ethernet adapter, as generic as they come.  I plugged it in and it recognized it as ASIX AX88x72A and after a few moments failed with “This device is not compatible with your version of Windows.”  ASIX is one of the most common chipsets used for these adapters.  Frustrated, I sent an email asking ASIX about drivers for Windows RT.  They pointed me to their download section which indeed shows drivers for Windows RT for the AX88772(A)(B).  I downloaded the driver files to my Surface, and installed them by right clicking the .inf file and choosing install.  I got a welcomed Operation Completed Successfully.  I then went back to the local tech shop and plugged in the USB adapter one more time.  I was very delighted to see ASIX AX88772 USB2.0 to Fast Ethernet Adapter listed under devices.  I bought it and headed back to the office and voila!  Online with Ethernet on my Surface.

The speed was not as good as I was hoping but it was much faster than the wireless.  Also transferring large files does hit the processor and it is noticeable.  Nevertheless it works and now I can use Ethernet at the office and for debugging or programming network devices while connected via wireless.

The sad thing about this, is the Microsoft Compatibility chart is not very clear.  Although these devices may work, the drivers are not supplied by Microsoft, and are not supplied by the manufacture, and took some hacking around.  I wonder how many other devices are subject to this fate?  This will frustrate many, I am sure.

***Update 01/09/2013

Microsoft has asked ASIX to pull the driver from their site.  Apparently they do not want it distributed in this manner.  I am fine with that, however as far as I know they have not supplied users with an approved method, ie. adding it to Windows Update!?  Until that time I will try to provide it here if possible via this link.  Let me know if you have issues. http://sdrv.ms/TLF4e1

***Update 06/27/2013

Do not upgrade to the Windows RT 8.1 Preview edition.  It disables this driver, and marks it as Not Digitally Signed!  If anyone knows how to turn off digital signing for drivers please let me know and I will include it in this post.

***Update 09/04/2013

There is hope! http://www.zdnet.com/external-ethernet-support-coming-to-microsoft-surface-rts-7000018999/

***Update 10/30/2013

Microsoft has officially included the ASIX AX8872C driver with Windows RT 8.1.  Your Ethernet adapter will continue to work when you upgrade but you have to force it to use the Built-in driver.  Finally!

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Microsoft Surface – The ultimate portable PC

In the two weeks since its launch, I’ve read countless reviews of Microsoft’s own tablet device.  Ranging from praise to all things Microsoft, to a merciless attack of haters.  It’s no surprise that the primary benchmark is the Apple iPad, but the more I use the device the more I realize why this is an inaccurate comparison.  And to put it bluntly, it’s not fair.  Not fair to the iPad.  It hasn’t got a chance.

I better analogy;  You know that colourful toy cell phone you bought your kids when they could barely walk?  The goal was so that they would not try to take your actual working cell phone and make random 911 calls.  However they seem to always track it down.  The iPad has lots of lights, and makes all sorts of cools sounds, but when it is time to get serious I reach for my Surface.  And within two days of receiving it, aside from one dang magazine subscription..cough..Wired.., I am completely off my iPad.  And like the cell phone, I gave the kids my iPad and they keep reaching out to use the Surface.  To be honest, it’s only because it is new, and frankly they are quite content using the iPad.

But to my point, IMO these devices are not meant to compete.  They have very different purposes.  The iPad is a tablet.  A good one at that with tons of apps for play and media. The Surface is the ultimate mobile computer, for productivity.  Small and easy to take with you like a tablet, but magically transforms into a laptop with keyboard and trackpad.  If you don’t like the trackpad then plug in your Nano USB wireless mouse ( or any USB mouse for that matter).  Need to print?  No problem, plug that printer into the USB port or to any network printer you have access too.  The Surface is a PC.  A very cool, portable, and touch friendly PC.  And although you can only run applications built for the RT platform, IMO this is a good thing.  Regular x86 applications are not touch optimized, and the risk of malware and the typical PC slowdown that comes with overloading your machine with 5 bittorrent clients and their respective “toolbars” is mitigated.  Of course apps are one of its shortcomings for sure.  However I see this as a temporary issue.  And to those that are screaming about the lack of Apps, to them I ask, what is it you’re looking for?  Maybe it’s just me, but most of the main apps are there; Netflix, Skype, Kindle, eBay, to name a few.  And if there isn’t an app, IE 10 works perfectly well to bring up everything else.

So is it a PC replacement?  No.  In the office I need multiple monitors and access various Windows x86 applications.  But the next conference I attend, I assure you I will not be stuffing my laptop AND my iPad into my bag.   I’ll only be packing my Surface.

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