A random collection of stuff mostly about operating systems, software licensing, technology, and privacy

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Stuff I’m working on…

The problem with Windows tablets

 

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Part Two: Is it a Windows PC or a Windows tablet?

If you haven’t read part one, which looks at the Surface RT, it is available here .

I own two touch-enabled tablets capable of running Windows 8, which means they have an Intel processor. Both are technically tablets: they support multitouch, and they do not come with a keyboard. Both are a little heavy, and neither offers any where near the battery life of my iPad or my Surface RT.

The main problem with these tablets is that they are fundamentally a Windows-Intel-based PC without a keyboard and insufficient USB ports. This also means that they are running firmware and an OS that can often require a keyboard and multiple USB ports in order to perform maintenance. And frankly, a tablet shouldn't require such maintenance.

The oldest of my Windows tablets is a Fujitsu Q550. It is powered by an Intel Atom class processor. I bought it to run the Windows 8 Developer’s Preview, because Microsoft said that existing Windows 7 computers would be able to run Windows 8.

They were correct. It will run Windows 8 without blue screening. However, when running Windows 8 it runs so slowly that when you touch the screen you will tire of waiting for the response and touch the screen again. As a result you will eventually have multiple open windows or multiple running applications. It’s just too frustrating to use.

It works slightly better when you use the supplied stylus, but in the end, I removed Windows 8 and restored Windows 7. It's okay as a Windows 7 computer, but actually, I kinda like Windows 8. I use it on all my Windows computers now. So, a Windows 7 tablet isn't particularly interesting or useful to me anymore.

I also own a Samsung Series 7 tablet. I bought it at the Microsoft Store with Windows 7 preinstalled by Microsoft and the OEM. Microsoft and the OEM had tuned Windows 7 for this computer as part of the Microsoft Store’s Signature program, which is probably the best way to buy a Windows-based computer.

When Windows 8 was released, I took advantage of the Windows 8 upgrade to install Windows 8 on this computer. The Series 7 has a processor with enough horsepower to run Windows 8. All-in-all it is not a bad tablet, other than Windows 8 periodically looses track of the Microsoft BlueTooth 6000 keyboard that I use with it. The Windows 8 device discovery process is frustrating and time consuming.

But recently I hit a stumbling block that reveals the real problem with Windows 8 on a tablet. I had decided to test Windows 8.1, so I had downloaded the beta. The update from Windows 8 to the Windows 8.1 preview was easy, and Windows 8.1 may have some compelling features. But it is not compatible with the Virtual Private Network (VPN) client that I need. Windows 8.1 has improved support for VPN software, and in many cases third-party clients may not be necessary. But that is not the case with the VPN access points I use. Therefore, I needed to go back to running Windows 8. No problem I thought, I made a system image prior to upgrading. I’ll just reimage the tablet and I’ll be good to go.

But before we look at what happened with the Series 7, let’s begin by discussing what it takes to restore an iPad. Restoring an iPad or an iPod is pretty easy. All you need is the cable that connects the iPad to the USB port on a Mac. Then you start iTunes. From iTunes you can restore the OS, and your data. Quick, simple, and reliable.

With Windows 8 I needed to connect the Series 7 to the SSD drive that contained the image. No problem, there is a USB port. Then I had to tell the OS that I needed it to restore the image. But the Windows 8.1 preview software that starts a restore failed indicating that the Windows 8 image that I was trying to restore was not compatible with the tablet I was trying to restore it to. Nothing I could find would get around this roadblock.

Okay, I thought, I’ll boot from a recovery CD and start the restore from that. Except now I needed to connect an optical drive, and the drive with the recovery image. This meant finding the appropriate USB hub and getting all the pieces connected. That only took a few minutes, but .

Ready to go, I now had to tell the Series 7 to boot from the optical drive. This hgjkd meant I had to adjust the firmware. Technically this is possible without a keyboard, if you can press the home, rotate orientation,  volume up, volume down, and power buttons in the correct combination and sequence to get into the firmware programs and navigate to the page you need, change the boot sequence, save the changes, and restart the device. Simple, huh?

Trust me, at this point you really need the keyboard. So here is what a Windows tablet looks like when your ready to start restoring the image.

 

Booting a Tablet from Optical Media

 

By the way, the blue tape is my security system to stop people from hacking my system and taking control of the camera.

Okay, once I got the boot order changed I hit the same problem. I still got the message there was an alledged mis-match between the recovery boot CD, the Series 7, and the recovery image on the SSD drive.

Once again I thought no problem…I have all the data backed up, so I’ll reinstall the OS and then restore my data. This isn’t a bad option anyways, cause periodically reinstalling the OS keeps the computer running fast. You know what I mean, over time Windows computers just s l o w d o w n. Reinstalls is a good way to fix this.

Except, as I had upgraded the Series 7 from Windows 8 to Windows 7, I had to reinstall Windows 7, then upgrade to Windows 8, or I wouldn’t be able to authenticate Windows with my key, as my authentication key cannot be used to activate Windows 8 Pro as it is tied to activation of upgrade media. Okay, that’s gonna take a couple of hours.

And there you have it. Windows still takes too much fussing around with. Granted, if I hadn’t installed the preview I wouldn’t have had this problem.

Yet.

But if I hadn't installed the preview I won't have known that the VPN client was broken. If either the third-party or Microsoft did not provide an updated VPN client then I would have had to go through this downgrade eventually. Therefore, you need to proceed cautiously with Windows 8.1. It may be a better version of Windows than Windows 8, but there is just as good a chance that it will break things you already rely on. And likely the only way you’ll find any of these new incompatibilities will be to upgrade and see what happens.

Good luck.

Update: Since restoring Windows 8 I had a blue screen, and after the bluescreen I went back to the image I had made prior to upgrading to Windows 8.1. There was no problem starting the restore from within Windows 8, reading the image from the SSD drive, or completing the restoration. This is the exact image Windows 8.1 would not restore. Go figure.

 

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