(UK readers) Get Office 365 Home for 5 users for just £50

An annual subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365 service for 5 PCs/Macs that gives you the complete Office 2016 Home suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access and Outlook) usually costs £79 (inc VAT).

But for a very limited time, you can purchase a full year’s subscription up front for just £49.98 (saving £30) through Amazon.co.uk.

I’ve just bought one, and it’s extended my subscription under December next year, when it’ll revert back to monthly billing,

(First spotted at Windows Central)

(Return of the Mac) Come on, (You know that I’ll be back) Here I am

Oh, Apple.  What an enormous pain in the bottom you are at times!  Nearly four months away, and I return to discover that your software is just as buggy as when I left.  But, when it works, is infinitely better than that offered for and by Windows / Microsoft.  The last straw was when I created a spreadsheet in Excel 2016 on the Dell UHD laptop, only to find that due to dodgy Windows scaling, the row sizes were all over the shop when the same file was opened on a Mac also running Excel 2016.

  • Importing 8,163 photos and videos into Photos caused Photos to crash half way through.  Thankfully as Adobe Lightroom organises photos by year, I did one year at a time and everything is now inside the Photos ecosystem.
  • Restoring iTunes to a new machine (regardless of platform) while you have an Apple Music subscription is the biggest load of nonsense I have ever encountered from any software company ever.  All seemed to go well – iTunes picked up the freshly copied Windows iTunes folder and organised/consolidated it as it should.  But, alas, while Apple Music was switched on and signed in, iTunes told me otherwise.  A workaround was to browse and/or play something directly from the Apple Music catalogue web site (within iTunes – iTunes essentially acts a glorified browser), then offline stuff could play.  In an attempt to fix the problem once and for all, I turned iCloud Music Library Off (and Apple Music) and switched them back on.  Big mistake.  As soon as that happened, iTunes attempted to reupload music and match, resulting in the duplication of all Apple Music albums and tracks.  At least some 2,000+.  Sorting out the duplicates in the Gilbert & Sullivan 450 track multi-disc album was, to say the least, [censored] annoying.  This was even after nuking the entire iTunes library and letting everything (inc. matched non-Apple tracks and iTunes purchased tracks) download again from Apple’s servers.  This incident has made me extremely nervous of ever having to restore an iTunes library from a backup.  Maybe Apple is promoting Apple Music’s strength as an online service that you really never need to back up to anything other than their servers?  *shrugs*
  • Playing Team Fortress 2 using the AMD Radeon R9 370X is fine and dandy, but things went a bit wonky straight after Steam/TF2 installation, with TF2 and Steam quitting immediately as soon as the game started.  Restarting MacOS seems to fix it.
  • Switching to Apple’s Two Factor Authentication was a pain too.  If you had Two Step Authentication, you have to disable that, create a new series of security questions, then wait a bit before the Two Factor Authentication settings pop up on the iPhone or iPad.  Trying to get the Apple TV to recognise HomeKit involved logging in and out about six times before it finally worked.  Lots of logging in and out across all devices overall.  Apple Watch needed a reboot to get the MacOS unlock functionality working, else the system complained that it couldn’t find the watch.

Otherwise, I am enjoying the Retina display, the quad core processor, and super fast SSD drive.  I’ve come to the conclusion that Windows is not ready for 4K/UHD and above displays.  Not until software developers start making the use of it.

But I will remain a Mac/iPhone/iPad user for the foreseeable future.  The alternative is good, but for me – and despite all the problems with Apple’s software division – it’s not enough. Apple have won.  I surrender.

Happy iPhone 7-mas everybody!

Today Tim Santa Cook will take to the stage to show us the brand new iPhone 7 and what it can do.

With Samsung announcing that the earliest it’ll be swapping out Note 7s with new models using batteries not made by its own manufacturing facility (apparently Samsung will be using a third party for the time being until they can bring it back in-house) on the 19th September, I’m tempted to hand back the phone, get my money back and just bite the bullet and buy the iPhone 7 Plus.

The Galaxy S7 Edge uses a Samsung manufactured battery, so I’m now quite nervous about keeping that one around.  Not that there’s been any reports of an S7 Edge exploding.  But it does make me wonder about Samsung’s confidence in its own manufacturing facilities.

Update: Another two Note 7 explosions – one in Australia, and another in the US.

But we’ll see.  Mr. Cook has seriously got to wow me with the iPhone 7 before I can make that decision.  If he does, then I’ll have to start making arrangements for the return of the Note 7 and selling the S7 Edge.  Fun!  If this is the competition, I might as well just stick with Apple..

How I love technology at times…

In other news, I’m trialling Apple Music again after a three-month absence.  Since then, Apple has rolled out two new iTunes updates (bear in mind I’m still using Windows 10), and have made a couple of changes to the backend logic with regards to Apple Music/iTunes Match.  I won’t touch iTunes Match again with a 50ft bargepole.  Why they’re still offering it given reports that they’ve essentially duplicated the functionality with Apple Music and removed DRM from uploaded non-Apple Music files when using multiple devices, is beyond me.

Apple Music is still a little buggy, even under Windows 10 and Android.  But Apple are slowly getting there. There are still issues with syncing, and I still see error 502s and similar when downloading quite a few files – but it’s much better than it was.  I’ll continue to experiment.


Dell XPS 13 (9350) Windows 10 Anniversary Update Bug Edition

Update: Removing the Hyper-V services under Windows 10 Pro seems to fix the issue, suggesting there is some problem between Intel graphics and Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualisation platform.

When I moved away from the MacOS/OS X platform, I understood that I was more likely to suffer more problems within Windows than MacOS/OS X.  I was right.

While the Dell XPS 13 9350 is a magnificent piece of modern hardware – it appears that its newness is so new, there are issues with the Intel Iris 540 graphics.  After updating to Windows 10 Anniversary Edition when it was released on 2nd August, the screen started flickering on and off, sometimes going off for a second, then coming back on, adjusting resolution with it (always returning to full 4K resolution).

Re-installing the more recent (June) Dell supplied Intel HD graphics drivers has taken some of the edge off the problem.

It sure looks like that the Skylake architecture/Intel Iris 540 has a few problems that still need to be addressed in the drivers.  Intel has released newer drivers, but in an uncannily Apple-like move, you can’t install them directly over the top of the existing Dell drivers because Intel tells you that, “your manufacturer may have made tweaks and optimisations”.  Even then, attempting to bypass all that results in Windows telling me that I already have the latest drivers.

So I need to wait until Dell and Intel get together and update the drivers to fix whatever is causing this issue.  It’s not a huge problem – just annoying.  Often just occurs after booting from cold (I’ve disabled Fast Start in Windows 10 because it was causing more problems than it solved), then for a few minutes.  Then the system settles down and everything is fine.  Event Viewer logs reveal nothing of note other than directly after the Anniversary Update when it logged a request to reinstall the graphics drivers (which I subsequently did).

This issue apparently exists across different Skylake architecture-based PCs judging from this Reddit thread from three months ago.  I present additional evidence to back this up..

With Intel about to release yet another new architecture in the coming months, it’d be nice if they could concentrate on getting this one right first.  Oh, the fun of having new and more powerful hardware – more bugs, more pain.

That said, I’ve suffered from odd screen corruption on my (almost four years old) work MacBook Air for quite a few releases of El Capitan (and Yosemite).  The problem seems to have gone away with the last update of El Capitan, suggesting there was probably a graphics driver problem there (the MacBook Air also uses an Intel integrated GPU).  These kind of issues are not exclusive to Windows/commodity hardware.

A few thoughts about the Xbox One S

The Good

  • Much smaller than its predecessor.
  • Includes an HDMI 2.0 compatible cable.
  • Wireless controller now supports Bluetooth, enabling its use with Windows 10 PCs (although Microsoft provides no instructions on how to get this working; early attempts here have failed).
  • 4K user interface is sharper & nicer to look at.
  • 4K Just Works(tm), albeit I have an “old” (just over a year old) TV that doesn’t support HDR and therefore can’t take advantages of that feature in games or video.  This isn’t Microsoft’s fault, this is the entire TV manufacturers’ fault.  See Walt Mossberg’s Verge article about “TVs are still too complicated, and it’s not your fault”. I wholeheartedly agree, and I wonder if we’re due to go back to the good old days of Rumbalows, Granada and other TV rental shops given how often TV and video “standards” keep changing.
  • The UHD 4K Blu-Ray player works very well indeed – sharp, crisp images on Batman vs Superman.  Looking forward to watching this in its entirety this weekend.  The Xbox One S is definitely the device for those looking at the cheapest route for UHD Blu-Ray playback.
  • The new wireless controller feels great – and I’m actually getting used to first person shooters now thanks to improved grip.
  • 2Tb hard drive a vast improvement on 500Gb, even if game saves are saved to the Microsoft cloud.  Speaking of which, all settings were restored to the new console immediately as each app started.  No fuss – it Just Works(tm).
  • As Xbox One S runs Windows 10, integration with existing Windows 10 PCs on the network works wonderfully well, including gameplay streaming.  Xbox One S (and its predecessor) can run Universal Windows Platform (UWP) programs and it has its own app store.

The Bad

  • Microsoft really needs to update those Knowledgebase articles PDQ.  Online help for this new console is dreadfully lacking (not that it is much different from the predecessor, but see Bluetooth wireless support above as one example).
  • Few improvements to game themselves as most of the improvements focus on making a smaller, more power efficient unit, along with adding 4K and HDR support for video, and HDR support for games.  That said, the GPU speed has been bumped up slightly.  It still has an 8-core x86 CPU in there running at the same speed as the predecessor, and 8Gb RAM.
  • Few 4K compatible UWP apps out there.  Netflix is currently the only one.

The Ugly

  • Doesn’t “do” 4K games.  This is reserved for the Next Big Thing – Project Scorpio