Making a Three Thing Game Auction Timer Unversal App

We are having the Three Thing Game thing auction next Monday. This is always a giggle. Teams bid "Bank of Thingland" money for things that they want to add to their games. This year all the things are student suggestions. What could possibly go wrong?

Anyhoo, one problem with the auction is that we need to get through over 120 lots in around half an hour, so the auction rate has to be frenetic. Last year I thought I'd solved the problem by fixing the auction length at 15 seconds and creating a countdown timer. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, the result of this was that everyone sat waiting until the timer counted down and then tried to snipe with bids at the last minute.

So this time I'm trying something new. A random countdown timer that runs for between five and 15 seconds. Teams won't know when the auction is going to end, so they'd better get their bids in as soon as they can.

Of course this means I'll need a timer. I wrote one this evening and it took around half an hour. And for that I've got Windows Phone and Windows desktop versions.

These are the variables in the program. I use a DispatcherTimer to generate interrupts. I keep a flag to say whether or not the timer is ticking and I have a counter and a limit value which are used to manage the time outs.

This code sets up the timer. It ticks every second. The timer_Tick method is called each time the timer ticks. I also make a copy of the Foreground colour of the text so that I can put the timer digits back to the original colour when the timer is restarted.

This code sets the timer ticking. If the timer is already ticking the method returns straight away. Otherwise the timer is set up, the screen colour put back to normal, a random timeout between 5 and 15 seconds selected and the timer starts.

This is the third method. It runs each time the timer goes tick. If the timer is active we increment the counter and then display it. Next we check to see if we have hit our limit. If we have a sound effect is played and the counter text block is turned red. Then we stop the timer.

All this code is shared between the Windows Phone and Windows Desktop versions and it works a treat. Great stuff.

Free Red Nose Day Games

If you have a Windows 8 or more PC, or a Windows Phone 7 or more phone, you can sample my wonderful Robs Red Nose Game.

  • Windows Phone version here.
  • Windows PC version here.

Once you've played it for a while you can then go and sponsor me here.

Pro tips for the game:

  • When it asks you to touch all the noses, it means at the same time. I promise there won't ever be more noses than fingers.
  • When it asks you to turn the nose upside down, turn your phone or tablet face down. According to Peter this works really well with docked Surface machines. Or something.
  • It gets really hard in the later levels, when the noses start falling off the screen.

Windows Phone, Wedding Lights and Bluetooth

Windows Phone connected Wedding Lights. Eight synchronized lights which can be controlled over Bluetooth. Each light contains an Arduino processor and a 16 NeoPixel ring.

I've finally finished it. I was going to write an article about my Windows Phone Controlled Wedding Lights. But instead I thought I'd do something different. So I fired up Adobe Premier and I made a video about them instead. It only lasts a couple of minutes, but boy was it complicated to make. Anyhoo, feel free to take a look and let me know what you think.

I've done something else I've not done before (and I feel a bit guilty about this one). I've put the Bluetooth code for Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 up on Codeplex. I'm ashamed to admit that this is the first code that I've ever posted there. I really should have been posting stuff up there earlier. I'm determined to post more stuff as I come up with it.  

You can find a sample project (my Bluetooth Printer) and the BluetoothManager class that I used to communicate with the embedded Bluetooth controller. There are also details of how to configure the Bluetooth device and send and receive data. 

Robs Red Nose Game now in Windows Store

Robs Red Nose Game, long available for Windows Phone, has now made it into the Windows Store.  As you can see above, it is massively popular. Or something. 

It's a free download, and mostly harmless. It only works on tablets and it seems stupidly easy right up to the point where it becomes impossible. For some reason I'm embarrassed to relate it has 001 in front of the name. This is not a clever marketing wheeze to put it at the top of the Windows Store listings, but something silly I must have done a while back. I might keep doing it though, which means that the seventh game will probably involve secret agents. 

And get me sued. 

Anyhoo, feel free to have a go, and let me know what you think. 

I'm not writing any more Windows Phone applications

It's true. From now on, no more Windows Phone programs for me. Instead I'm creating universal  ones. These work on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices, so now I can target pretty much every platform, Lovely Lumia, Surface RT, Dell Venue Pro, Surface Pro, Dell big tablet etc etc, from one solution. If you get the latest version of Visual Studio (from here) you can do the same

Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 have different display sizes and behaviours and so you need to create two user interfaces. These are managed as two separate projects in the universal solution.  However, if you are clever with your design you can put all of your business logic in the shared code and then just project the appropriate view onto the target devices. 

On the right you can see how this all fits together. I'm making a QuickPrint application that lets you send things to a little Bluetooth printer that I'm putting together. The two versions of the application each have their own MainPage and then there is a project for the shared code. In this case I'm sharing my Bluetooth manager code. 

I was very surprised (and pleased) to find that the Bluetooth manager worked on both platforms in exactly the same way. It does some fairly low level Bluetoothy things, and they just worked. 

As a Windows Phone developer moving over to the Windows 8 platform there are some differences in the way that the XAML works, but nothing that can't be solved by using Intellisense and a few searches. And at the end of the process I had something that I can think about deploying in both marketplaces. 

And of course this means it is now even easier to become a phone developer if you have already written some Windows 8 stuff, which is lovely. 

Publish and be Great

Most developers have them. Things that they have made, probably pretty much finished, but then other stuff came up and they never got around to shipping them.  And all it would take is a bit of effort just to get the thing out of the door and into the store. 

Publish is for these projects.  It's a worldwide event for Windows Store developers to get together and head for the finish line. It runs over the 16-17th of May and I'm nipping over to the event in Manchester to join fellow MVPs and developers in getting stuff finished. 

From my experience with Three Thing Game, Global GameJam and Hacked I know that it is amazing just how much you can get done in a short time if you just focus on a single task. Of course it also helps if you are surrounded by folks all doing the same thing, and that you get pizza and fizzy drinks (the fuel of champion developers the world over).

If you want to join us in Manchester you can sign up here. There are events planned all over the world, you can find a local event and take part here. You can even set up your own local event if you want, or just take part from the comfort and security of your own desk. 

I'm really looking forward to it. Perhaps that Windows 8 version of Cheese Lander might actually see the light of day.........

Acer W3-810 at a knockdown price


After I buy something technical one of two things usually happens:

  • They stop making it
  • It plummets in price

I think with the Acer W3-810 tablet it might be both of them. Although it has only been out around six months I reckon that there is a refresh due and the price has collapsed accordingly, to a very interesting 179 pounds from PC World. This is stonkingly good value for a full fat Windows 8 tablet. Mine is now my travelling companion of choice. Eminently portable, excellent battery life for watching movies on the go and the ability to run splendid little programs live Live Write so that I can blog about what I see when I get there.

Downsides? Well, the 8.1 inch screen is not optimal if you are the sharing type, as the range of viewing angles is not the best, and the Atom processor and 2G of RAM means that it chugs a bit when running larger programs. I had Photoshop Lightroom on it for a while and the best thing you can say is that it gets there in the end. Mind you, having said that Lightroom can pretty much bring any machine to its knees just by importing a few pictures. I’ve heard of one brave soul running Visual Studio on it. Apparently it is possible, but of course with it being based on the 32 bit x86 architecture you will not be running any Windows Phone emulators any time soon…

If you are in the market for something portable and useful you could get a lot worse. If you think about it, that’s actually less money than a Nexus 7, for a machine that is actually properly productive, with Microsoft Office and the ability to print things out.

Acer Iconia W3 Tiny Windows 8 Tablet


I really should not be allowed up town just after I’ve got paid. Particularly if I then happen across an Acer Iconia W3 for a very tempting 250 quids. I had a careful look online and read a bunch of reviews that said the screen was horrible and it wasn’t up to much. And then I bought one anyway. Two reasons really. I’ve love to have Windows 8 in an 8.1 inch display form factor. And this is actually “full fat” Windows 8, in that it is running on an Intel Atom processor and so it is able to run LightRoom and Windows Live Writer. The one thing the reviews agreed on (even the unhappy ones) was that the battery life was good at well over 8 hours. I like that a lot. And to me the display looks fine.

It comes with a license for Office 2013 Home edition, which I’ve bumped up to the Premium one. I’m not going to be putting Visual Studio on the machine, but then again with only around 11G free (I got the penny pinching 32G version) it might not fit anyway. The thing is, I don’t see this as my primary developer machine. More something I can cart along with me and use to knock out blog posts with pictures.

I’d just about got everything working and then I broke it all by wiping the machine clean and loading up Windows 8.1. This has mostly worked, although at the moment the orientation sensor is lacking a proper driver so I can only use it in landscape mode, which is a pity.

The main reason for all that danger and excitement is that I wanted the much improved SkyDrive integration in Windows 8.1. The small amount of internal storage matters a lot less if I’ve got access to everything in the cloud and then I can mark “work in progress” folders as living on the device. Windows 8.1 does this really well, and there’s no need to install the desktop client thingy. And I can drop another 64G of storage into the micro SD slot if I want to take some movies or music with me.

At the price I reckon it is an absolute steal. The screen is a bit of an acquired taste. It looks wonderful if you can get your head into the correct position, otherwise the contrast dips and all kinds of weird colour schemes appear, although it remains useable. If you consider that you can’t get much of an iPad for that price you start to see just how much properly useful technology you get in a tiny package.

Fun with Windows 8.1


I was expecting tough times when I started on the Windows 8.1 upgrade trail. Turns out to have been quite easy though (albeit a bit time consuming). The Surface RT upgraded itself from Windows Store, and I was pleased to discover that it had remembered all its previous settings and applications. The Surface Pro was a little bit trickier. For that I burned a DVD and did the upgrade from an external drive. But having said that,  the upgrade offered to keep all my programs and data, and was true to its word.

The only thing that us Brits need to know about the upgrade process is that it won't work if you don't have the US English language installed on the device. If you have a UK version of the devices you'll need to change that over before the upgrade will play ball.

The machines seem no slower, although I've yet to give them a proper workout. The Start Button is back, but what really interests me is changes to the display zooming over different displays.  With my Surface Pro I need to zoom the display because the pixels are too teeny tiny. But when the Surface Pro drives a monitor it zooms that display too, which is just what I don't want to happen. In Windows 8.1 they have apparently changed the way that displays are zoomed, so that the tablet display and the desktop display can be different, which is much better.

3D Printing in Windows 8.1


Now, I’m not particularly old. But I can remember when the very idea of having your own printer was the stuff of dreams. Printers were places you went to when you wanted to have something printed. And as for printing in colour, that was beyond dreaming.And then the first dot-matrix and daisy-wheel printers appeared, closely followed by laser printers and finally inkjets. And now everyone has a printer.

In the early days of printing, it was a bit of a nightmare. You had to have the right kind of printer, the right kind of software and the right kind of drivers to get anything sensible. And often the thing printed didn’t match the image on the screen, or was the wrong size or shape. Eventually things settled down. Standards were set and now you can buy a printer in the confidence that it will just plug in and work with your computer.

I reckon that 3D printing is following a similar trajectory. We are at the point where hardware is appearing and we need some standards so that it can be made available to the widest possible audience. My experience with the technology has left me thinking that a 3D printer is not yet an “appliance”, but that in the longer term the attractiveness of the technology means that pretty much everyone will want a device eventually.

That’s why I’m really pleased that Microsoft have announced support for 3D printing in Windows 8.1. This is really only a step on the road to widespread adoption, but it is a really good one.

Heartotron Wins Microsoft UK Global Game Jam Competition


I always tell students to enter all the competitions they can because, you never know what might happen. You probably won’t win. But then again, if you don’t enter you definitely won’t win.

Simon, David, David, Lewis and myself formed a team to take part in the Global Game Jam earlier this year. The theme was heartbeats and, after a little discussion, we decided that a game which pits your heart against all kinds of incoming bad things might hit the spot. Our game was made even more interesting because we also managed to capture heartbeats and synchronise the gameplay to them, which was nice.

After the competition was over David and Simon kept working on the game, submitted it to Windows Store and then entered it in a Microsoft competition.

And we won. A Windows Phone, some cash, a T shirt, a nice pen and key ring each. And a chance to go down to Reading to visit Microsoft UK. Amazing.

I’m actually feeling kind of guilty at this point. After Simon and David took over I didn’t really contribute a great deal to the on-going project. But my background music is in there and they have still based the game on some of my suggestions. I think I was the one that said “We should colour the blood some shade of red….”

If you own a Windows 8 device you can get hold of our prize winning entry by searching the store for “Heartotron”. If you think you can do better, then enter next time….

Thanks so much to Microsoft to organising the competition and choosing our entry. Great stuff.

Cheese Lander is Coming To Windows 8


I spent some time today (lunchtime actually) playing with the latest version of MonoGame 3.0. This is the awesome framework that lets you take XNA games and run them on a growing number of platforms. I was interested in seeing if I could get a game to run on my Microsoft Surface. And I did. Behold, above you can see the venerable Cheese Lander actually running on my machine. Works a treat, and you can remote debug over WiFi. I’ll be talking more about this in my Rather Useful Seminar tomorrow.

Microsoft Surface First Impressions


I call this composition “Surface and Space Cheese Battle”.

When the doorbell rings at 8:30 pm on the 30th of October you feel a certain trepidation about answering it. Particularly as we haven’t got any sweets in the house for Halloween yet. Sending kids away with a bread roll and a few length’s of spaghetti is probably not going to end well. Anyhoo, it wasn’t trick or treat, it was a harassed looking delivery chap with my Microsoft Surface. They promised delivery by the 30th of October and they just made it. By three and a half hours. I’m not that bothered about the delay to be honest, they did give me fifty quid to spend in the Surface hardware store to say sorry for not having the machine to me on Friday. I put it towards a “type Cover”, although I think I may have slightly wasted my money, as we shall see later.  I’ve been playing with the Surface now for a couple of hours and so of course I feel totally qualified to write a complete, in-depth, review of the device. So here goes.

It works. It’s different from the iPad. I think I get what it is for, and I really like it. I love my iPad like I love my TV. It lets me consume stuff that other people have made. But try and produce something other than finger paintings or music and the iPad falls apart. I remember my bitter disappointment when I tried to use the iPad Pages word processor, with its much touted “Office Capability”, to make a document. I suppose I should have realised something was up when I discovered the price of Pages was much, much less than the equivalent component in Microsoft office. I didn’t actually want much, just a table in the middle of some text, but the way it went wrong was just horrible. And as for printing from the iPad, just don’t go there. Really.

The Surface has proper Microsoft Office built in. Proper. And it integrates with Skydrive directly. All the documents that I’ve put into the cloud are ready and waiting to be worked with. As for printing, it just saw the printers in my Homegroup right out of the box. The only slight bugbear is the lack of the Outlook component. I spent a futile thirty minutes trying to get the Surface Mail client to connect to the university email server before I discovered that the university email was down at the time. Now it is working OK the built in email application looks OK, but I do like Outlook.

I ordered the Surface without any great plans for it. My main aim was to have a test platform for any Metro style things that I might fancy writing. But it turns out to be much better than that. The tight integration with my documents means that it will now be my weapon of choice whenever I go away. And the micro-SD slot means that I can load it up with 64G of movies and anything I fancy when I go.

I got the touch keyboard cover with the device. This provides a cover and a keyboard at the same time. The magnetic attachment is extremely strong and positive and it wraps around the device very nicely.The word on the street about the touch keyboard was that it was OK, but took a while to get used to. I think this is wrong. It works very well right away. I’ve ordered the type cover too, as I do like having keys that move when you hit them, but I’d be quite happy to use the touch keyboard to knock out large documents. It is in a different league to typing on the screen, which is something I’ve never enjoyed doing.

Hardware wise the Surface is very nice. The black metal finish is very swish, although it does seem to be a bit of a fingerprint magnet. I can never understand why hardware makers don’t think about this a bit harder when they make these devices. Nothing makes a device look old and worn like a covering of smeary fingerprints. The standard of construction, and of the presentation in the box is very impressive. The power supply is larger than you might expect and even has a fuse in the plug. It puts out a fairly meaty amount of current and seems to be able to charge the machine pretty quickly. The effect is spoiled a bit by the label on the Power Supply itself, which looks like it was stuck on as an afterthought, and the magnetic coupling for the power connector is nowhere near as positive or strong as the one for the keyboard, which is sad.

The weirdest thing about the Surface is that if you put it alongside my Samsung Slate and asked folks to spot the Windows RT device, they’d have a hard time telling them apart at first. I wasn’t expecting a full desktop, much less a command prompt. And I can plug in memory cards and stuff using the USB adapter and they seem to just appear and work as usual. Of course the illusion breaks whenever you start looking for programs to run. The Surface will only run programs that have been created for Windows 8 RT, which is the version specially crafted for the ARM chip inside it. At the moment this is restricted to applications from the marketplace, of which there is not a huge number. Hopefully the future will bring a few more programs, I’m looking for a good image editor which supports raw camera files and a Metablogger poster (Live Writer would be perfect) and I’ll be a very happy bunny.

I said to myself when I ordered the Surface that I’d be selling the iPad once it arrived. Then I said “Yeah, right…”. But now I’m thinking I might be filling out forms on ebay after all. The way I work, I seem to spend much more time making stuff than I do consuming it. I actually enjoy writing things. Perhaps my favourite game program is Microsoft Word. If that’s true of you too, then you will love the Surface.

Samsung Series 7 Slate Upgrade


Malteser powered programming at Three Thing Game..

I’m still liking my Samsung Series 7 Slate a lot. I’ve had Windows 8 on it for a while now and most of the time it works great. The only problems that I’ve had have been related to the discovery of devices when docking and undocking. The operating system really doesn’t like surprises, particularly when it wakes up from being asleep. I've discovered that if I make sure the operating system is awake before putting it in and out of the docking station it seems to detect and load the new devices quite successfully. If I do this with the machine powered down results are less satisfactory, with USB drivers falling over and needing to be disabled and enabled before I can use the keyboard and mouse.

Me being me, and paranoid about damaging the machine through powering it wrongly, I make sure that the dock is powered off when I plug the machine in and out of it. There have been some reports of people damaging their machines if the dock is live when the slate is plugged into it. I’ve no idea if this is a common problem, but I’m playing safe out of cowardice.

The good news, at least I hope it is good news, is that Samsung have released a whole slew of driver updates for the Slate. These include new drivers for the graphics and the motherboard, along with a whole new BIOS. You can find them here, just get hold of the Download SW Update link on this page, extract the upgrade application and run it.

The upgrade application worked fine for me, although the BIOS update didn’t end well because after it my machine failed to boot, ending up stuck at the BIOS configuration screen. If you get this, find your way to the setting involving Boot options and disable the legacy boot option so that the UEFI Boot Support is enabled again. This seems to have been set back to a default during the upgrade process.

You can move around the BIOS screen using the buttons on the slate, but this will drive you completely nuts, so plug a USB keyboard into the machine and use that to set it up. Once I’d done the change my machine rebooted fine. I’ve not really had a chance to test out the docking behaviour, but at least I’ve not gone backwards by upgrading. I’ll post an update if I find out more.

I did all this just before my 9:15 lecture. It is a matter of personal pride (although I’m not really that proud of it in some ways) that i had the machine back working before I had to go and talk. Oh, and I have a spare machine too. Just in case….

Tempting Fate


Last night at my talk I mentioned viruses and nasty programs. I mentioned that I used the Windows Defender part of Microsoft Security Essentials. I also said that I hardly ever get problems with this kind of thing as the only programs I install come from boring places and I don’t go to strange web sites and click “OK”.

Of course, this morning Windows Defender popped up an alert. I’d been searching for some drivers for my Canon printer yesterday and inadvertently visited one of these nasty “driver archive” sites who try to sell you drivers that you can get for free from the manufacturer. And they had given me a little present, as you see above. Good news is that it was a doddle to remove. I left the machine doing a full scan when I went off to a meeting and all is well.

Windows Dev Center Open for Business


I’ve just registered as a Windows 8 “Metro Style” developer. It went very smoothly, most of the stuff carried over from my Microsoft account. For the princely sum of 32 pounds a year I now have the ability to publish Windows 8 applications to the world. I wonder if the world is ready for a “Metro Style” Cheese Lander?

You can sign up here.

Hello from Windows 8


Windows 8 proved very easy to install. I believe in starting from a clean slate (sorry) so I backed up my entire machine last night and this morning at 8:30 I started the upgrade by booting from a CD, deleting all the partitions from the disk and starting from scratch. I had the machine working under Windows 8 well before 9:00. Looks very good so far. One thing to be aware of (although this might just be me). We have an eduroam WiFi network at Hull which is authenticated using a self signed certificate. When you connect to it you sometimes get a message saying that the certificate is not as secure as it might be, and do you really want to do this. You just have to say OK to continue to connect.

When I first installed Windows 8 this didn’t work. The machine just refused to connect to the university WiFi. It knew that the password was correct, but it didn’t give me the option to ignore the certificate. However, once I’d connected via the wired network, and logged onto the machine with my Windows Live account it worked perfectly. It might be the case (although I’m really just guessing here) that Windows 8 insists on having a “proper” login before it will enable the option to ignore certificate errors like this. I’d love to know if you have hit this problem too, so put a comment on the end of this post if you get problems.

As for me, I’ve installed Windows Essentials and got Live Writer working (hence this post). Next it is on to Visual Studio 2012 and the other stuff.

MonoGame Demo


Last week I discovered how MonoGame is making it possible to write XNA games for the Windows 8 Metro environment. And I managed to draw a blue screen, which was nice enough, but not much of a basis for a game. So today I thought I’d make a sample project that had all the bits that you need to make your own game, including art assets, using the touch panel, using the accelerometer, drawing text and making sounds.

I’ve made a single, one-stop, demo that does all these things. It also includes the source of the MonoGame code as part of the project. I’ve found this to be quite useful when working out how the XNA implementation works. If you download the zip archive you should have everything you need. Here is how to get started.


You will need three things before you can move any further:

  • Windows 8 Release Preview – this is where you run everything
  • Visual Studio 2012 Release Candidate for Windows 8 – this is where you build your program
  • Visual Studio 2010 for Windows Phone – this is where you create the XNA resources that you want to add to your game

Getting the Files

To get started just download the file from here. This is around 22MB. Before you unzip the file it is a good idea to Unblock it. This will stop Visual Studio from giving you warnings when you open any of the projects. To unblock the file you just have to right click on the file where you have download it, select Properties from the context menu and then click Unblock and then OK as shown in the badly highlighted screenshot below.


Then unzip the files. There are quite a lot of them. Once you have completed the download you will have the whole MonoGame framework and my little test project. Open the folder and find the Visual Studio Solution “MonoGame.Framework.Windows8” and open it. Make sure you open it with Visual Studio 2012 Release Candidate. If you double click the solution you will probably start up the wrong version of Visual Studio (I do) which doesn’t end well.

Running the Sample Program

The solution contains a project called Test Project which runs a port of a Windows Phone demo I wrote that lets you draw lines of dots on the screen using your finger. The dots that you draw will also fall down the screen in a way that is controlled by the accelerometer. You can clear the dots by double tapping on the screen, the game will make a “Ding” sound when you do this. The game also writes some text on the screen.

Resources and Fun

The MonoGame XNA part of things works very well, apart from content. At the moment there is no way of getting Visual Studio 2012 to pre-process XNA content for use in a game. We get around this by creating a Visual Studio 2010 XNA project and using it to produce the xmb files that are read by the content manager when the game runs. The content in the sample program came from existing XNA projects that I had around the place. If you are migrating an XNA game onto Metro you can do the same. The tricksy bit is where you put the xmb files for the game to use. I had no success adding them to the Visual Studio project, instead I had to put the xmb files in the specific directory read by the game when it runs.


Here you can see the path to the AppX\Content folder where I put the XMB files for the sample game. These include the two textures, the font and the ding sound file. If you want to add more content to your game, just drop your files here and then refer to them in the program as you would in any other resource:

protected override void LoadContent()
    // Create a new SpriteBatch, which can be used to draw textures.
    spriteBatch = new SpriteBatch(GraphicsDevice);
demoTexture = Content.Load<Texture2D>("DemoArtwork"); demoRectangle = new Rectangle(0,0,GraphicsDevice.Viewport.Width,
GraphicsDevice.Viewport.Height); smudgeTexture = Content.Load<Texture2D>("Smudge"); font = Content.Load<SpriteFont>("MessageFont"); dingSound = Content.Load<SoundEffect>("ding"); }

You should be able to use my TestProject as the basis of anything that you fancy making.

Windows 8 is a Mullet


Windows 8. No, really.

Some time back I was given a copy of Visual Aid: Stuff You've Forgotten, Things You Never Thought You Knew and Lessons You Didn't Quite Get Around to Learning. It is full of diagrams that tell you stuff, and is as much an object lesson in presenting data as it is a collection of quirky and interesting facts.

It had a page on haircuts, with an example of each. Including the Mullet. For those of you who don’t remember the 80’s, a mullet was a kind of crew cut front with an enormous length of hair behind. It was billed as the haircut that was “Business at the front, Party round the back”.

Just like Windows 8. I’ve been using Windows 8 for a few weeks now, and it really is an operating system of two halves. It is as if Microsoft have looked at the tablet experience and gone “There’s no way we can make a single system that does tablet and desktop at the same time”. So they have made a machine with works as well as Windows 7 for the desktop and has a Metro interface for the tablety stuff.

I reckon it works.  There are some irritations. The determination of Microsoft to hide the Start button has annoyed a few people, but I’ve now got used to pressing the Start key on the keyboard and then typing the first few letters of the program name to run it. I can get Visual Studio working in much shorter time than previously.

For me the biggest irritation is the way that some things are hard wired into the Metro full screen mechanic, whether you like it or not. For example, the good news is that Windows 8 has a built in viewer for PDF files. The bad news is that when you open it you get to view the document full screen or nothing. There is no way you can have small window open on your desktop, which is annoying.

I’m using a Samsung Slate as my primary computer now and it works a treat. I can dock it for proper work and then take it out and about with me. It would be nice if it had USB 3, so that I could access external disks a bit more quickly, but I can live with that.

I mentioned my “mullet theory” to a Microsoft Person on the Windows 8 team as the possible basis of a marketing push. She thought it mildly amusing, but I think it is unlikely we’ll get Nik Kershaw to sport his again I’m afraid.