Windows RT Gripes (Part 2)

1/31/2013 3:23:46 PM

As for Home & Student Edition licensing, please bear in mind that businesses are licensed to use Windows RT (and hence this Office build) if they have the appropriate business licensing in place, and many businesses will be looking at the ARM version of Windows RT very closely indeed. The promise of around 12 hours of battery life, if the Pad is any guide, is going to be compelling.

Care needs to be taken over the precise definitions of what we mean by "Excel", "Office" and "Compatible'. In the past, the Mac version was arguably from a different world, while the online web browser-hosted versions can be seen as lightweight tools useful in certain circumstances. If people are becoming confused today about "full Office", then there's a lot more confusion ahead. Microsoft spin doesn't help, and is in fact a considerable hindrance.

Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT

Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT

One other area where you might get burnt is file synchronisation. I'm a huge fan of cloud-based document synchronisation, both as a way of moving documents between devices and also as a means of providing an off-premises backup and archive. Care needs to be taken about what sort of material you store on cloud-based storage, but that's as true for Dropbox as it is for SkyDrive as it is for hosted SharePoint Server, too.

SkyDrive works very well and is quite rightly becoming popular and more widely used, but Windows RT doesn't support SkyDrive sync integration at all, although you can access files via the SkyDrive app, and save to SkyDrive from Office. If you do require SkyDrive sync capabilities, be aware of this Windows RT limitation. Of course, you could solve all these issues by plumping instead for the Intel-based Surface hardware.

SkyDrive and Office 2013: two great tastes that taste great together?

SkyDrive and Office 2013: two great tastes that taste great together?

The problem is that in terms of modernity and power control features, the Intel chipsets have always been the equivalent of VB-engined flatbed pickup trucks compared to the ARM's Toyota Prius. However, word is spilling out about a new version of the Intel chipset that goes by the old Atom name. It's being suggested that this might offer near-ARM levels of power economy coupled with a full-fat Intel processor experience, bringing advantages such as no limitations on Office documents and SkyDrive integration that just works. You could put all your legacy Windows code onto the device, too important stuff such as browser plugins, Adobe Photoshop and so forth. If the Atom processor really can deliver on these power claims while still delivering a fluid, responsive and usable working environment, then the ARM version of Windows 8 might end up looking like a half-baked experiment that never delivered on its promises. Only time will tell, of course.

Thunderbolt And Lightning

Some people are taking the view that the new Lightning connector from Apple is indeed "very very frightening", if I might be allowed a fair-usage quotation from the works of Her Majesty the Queen. It's a big change, it isn't backwards-compatible without adapters, and from every single imaginable angle it's going to be a right royal pain to implement. I have plenty of the old cables: every one of my travel bags has at least one in it, and my cars have all had little cigarette lighter socket-to-USB adapters and the obligatory iPhone connector so I can charge up an iPhone or Pad on the move.

In the car I use a TomTom 940 for satnav, but also as a hands-free kit for the phone connected via Bluetooth. It works just fine for that task, and means I can put the phone away in a glove box wired up to an iPhone power cable.

The TomTom GO 940

The TomTom GO 940

With Lightning, all that's going to change. It isn't the same, and I have to buy new cables for the iPhone 5 and now for the new Pads too. A loud growl was heard across the land emanating from Cambridgeshire, especially when I discovered that I couldn't order spare cables from Apple during the initial launch period of iPhone S. A large cup of coffee has restored me to calmness and my horns have retracted some way.

We have to remember that the old connector has been around for a very long time indeed. In fact, if you go back to the beginning it supports FireWire, including power, to allow for connection to the original Pod. Then it was changed to USB power and data, and then video was added, too. All this turned it into a connector where there's just no space left, and nowhere left to go, yet it's still in effect supporting old and no-longer- used connection methods. Clearly it's time to make a change, and if you really have to make a change then it's best to make a big one that will last you an equally long time.

That's just what Apple has done with the Lightning connector. Some people are moaning that it really should have been a micro-USB connector, which misses the point entirely. Micro-USB is already an old standard, and it doesn't support a ton of stuff that Apple will want to do today and in the future. Micro-USB might be prevalent on other makers' smartphones, but it's a horrible plug-and-socket arrangement you must have it the right way up and it's rather difficult to tell up from down unless you look very closely. It's fiddly and awkward for people with poor eyesight or limited dexterity, so why on earth would Apple want to implement it?

What Apple appears to have done is extremely clever. The plug is simple to use, can go in either way up and has a positive, easy engagement action. Both location and insertion are simple and reliable, but it has only a very small number of pins, so how can it do all the things that are required? The answer is very clever indeed: the plug configuration changes on the fly, depending on what it's plugged into. In other words, there appears to be a standard handshake going on at initial insertion where the requirements are negotiated, then the pin layout is changed dynamically to support that particular mode.

The advantage of this is huge. It means you can create future modes for this plug and cable, which you know nothing about right now; the system can reconfigure itself to provide the necessary channels of communication and power combinations for new modes. A cynic might say: "this allows Apple to lock out particular combinations, and thus lock out third-party devices." Well yes, it does, but you'd need a licence to use this connector anyway, so this is a moot point.

I applaud the decision to go to Lightning. If you're going to make a change then make one that really is a leap forward, and isn't just a change of plug for the sake of fashion or size constraints. Come up with something clever that's reconfigurable on the fly, and which can be used for a whole host of purposes.


With Thunderbolt and Lightning, Apple has laid out clear plans for the next decade. It's going to be Thunderbolt for very-high-speed interconnect right into the heart of the processor and backplane buses at the computer's core, and Lightning for peripheral connection of point-to-point devices at lower data rates, but carrying more native protocols such as sound and video as well as data and power. Was it the right decision at the right time? Yes, I think so. The last plug format lasted a decade and I expect this one to last just as long.

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