Saturday, February 14, 2015

Clean Slate

On my way home from work yesterday I realized that – given that various moments of forgetfulness had led to me not sending it back until almost a week after setting up the exchange – that I was within the estimated timeframe, though a bit on the early side, of my replacement Surface Pro 3 arriving.
I’m guessing that it was because it was on my mind that my reflexes were up to the task of allowing me to catch it with my foot as I opened the door and the package containing my new SP3 came flying out at me from its hiding place between the doors.
Because it was an entirely new device – they replaced the whole thing rather than replacing or repairing the defective part – that meant that I had to go through the process of setting the whole thing up again.
There was the initial setup that follows from turning it on the first time, such as pairing it with the Surface Pen, selecting a language, region, and time zone, and connecting it to my home network.
From there, it was a matter of setting up the various customizations and personalization, and reinstalling applications and reloading personal files.
Windows 8.1 makes that a lot less painful than it used to be, thanks to the use of the Microsoft Account login and the ability to sync settings, themes, and “modern” apps across devices.  Once you’re signed in, if you’re using the syncing options, you’re presented with the lockscreen and desktop wallpaper images you’ve set up on your other PCs, you’ve got all of your bookmarks, and in the “All Apps” screen, you see a list of all of the apps you’ve installed using your Microsoft Account.  Granted, the majority of those apps need to be reinstalled, but at least you have them there and don’t have to try to remember which apps you had.  The reinstall occurs as soon as you tap on the app.
This process will get even simpler in the future with Windows 10 and as “universal” apps become more ubiquitous, at least if we assume that the “universal” apps ultimately end up replacing the more traditional desktop applications.  In the case of those applications, I did have to go through the process of manually reinstalling, which is also, in many cases, a little less painful than it used to be.  In particular, reinstalling the Adobe applications was a matter of simply downloading and installing the Adobe Creative Cloud Desktop application, signing in, and choosing the applications I wanted to install.
Manga Studio was a little more complicated, as I had to dig out my Serial Number, go to the update site, download the most recent update (the updates actually contain the full version), and go through the somewhat convoluted process of downloading it.  It was still simpler than using the physical media to install it, as I would have had to connect a DVD drive and set that up, then do the install, and then end up having to download the update anyway.
(It’s worth noting that while I had uninstalled the Adobe applications from the old SP3 before sending it in, I had neglected to sign out of them first, so the first time I launched Photoshop on the new SP3, it complained that I had too many devices registered – the limit is two – and I had to tell it to sign me out of all of the others before it would let me sign in on the new SP3.  That meant that, in turn, I had to sign back in on my desktop PC.)
So, while I question whether or not “universal” apps will ever be as robust and powerful as the more traditional desktop applications – even Microsoft intends to make both “universal,” which is to say, “touch-friendly,” versions of Office applications concurrently with more fully-featured desktop versions for the foreseeable future – if there ever comes a time that the universal (dropping the scare quotes) apps supplant their ancestors, the reinstall process when getting a new PC or tablet will become much more streamlined.
Beyond the applications there were also the various add-ins – and again, syncing based on an account helps a lot – for browsers, and assorted other utilities and codecs that you need in order to do whatever it is that you normally do with a computer.
Personal files weren’t too much of an issue for me, as I keep most of them either on my NAS or in the cloud.
Overall, the initial set-up and restoration went pretty smoothly – except for that moment when I was just finishing up an installation and accidentally pulled the plug, and the not-yet charged SP3 shut off, but that ended up not causing any real issues.
Later, though, things got a bit more bothersome.
When Windows 8 launched, Microsoft made Windows Media Center, which was integrated into Windows back into the days of XP, into a paid add-on.  I like Media Center, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it allows me to add non-indexed locations to my media libraries. 
As something of an aside, seriously, Microsoft – People use Network Attached Storage devices and need to be able to add them to libraries.  Either find a way to index them, or let non-indexed locations be added to libraries.  Media Center proves that it can be done, and the fact that it’s looking like Media Center won’t be available in Windows 10 at all means that you have to find a way to make libraries and NAS locations work together.  I know you’re pushing OneDrive and the cloud, but even though I have unlimited OneDrive storage thanks to my Office 365 subscription, after having you shut down my previous OneDrive account because I had pictures – that weren’t being shared with anyone – that violated your puritanical and draconian rules about nudity (“Oh noes, that woman’s shirt is wet and you can see her no-no parts!”), I can tell you that I have a lot of files that are never, ever going to get stored on OneDrive, so I need my NAS.  Making files available offline – your “solution” to the indexing problem – isn’t a solution, because I don’t have an extra 3 TB of space on my 256 GB SSD to store duplicate copies, and if I wanted to keep them on my local drive I wouldn’t have stored them on a NAS in the first place.
Anyway, I like Media Center enough that I’d paid the extra money to add the feature on my former SP3, and, since I no longer had that one, I figured I could use the Product Key to activate it on my new one, so that’s what I did.
The first sign of trouble (which, to be fair, I kind of expected) I noticed was that there was a bit of text in the lower right corner of the Desktop listing the build number of Windows 8.1 currently installed.  This is something you normally only see when you’re running a consumer or technical preview (which is to say a beta version) of Windows, or when your copy of Windows isn’t activated.
I checked my settings and sure enough I saw an option to activate Windows.  I tried it, even though I knew it would fail, because if it were going to work I wouldn’t be seeing the option in the first place.  It did fail, of course.
The reason is that when you add Media Center and its Product Key, you actually change the Product Key of Windows itself.  So by adding the Product Key for the copy of Media Center that had been installed on the old SP3, I changed the new SP3’s Key to the old Key.  Because the old Key was in use on the validation server, my copy of Windows was deemed invalid.
I called the number provided and talked to an automated system, which walked me through the process of getting a new, valid Key that I could use to activate my copy of Windows.  While it meant rattling off a lot of numbers to the system and then, in turn, having a lot of numbers rattled off to me, it was a relatively painless experience, and it’s really only noteworthy in that in all the years that the whole validation/activation process has been in place it’s the first time I’ve ever had to do it.
In any case, I’m glad to have a working SP3 again, though now I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with the SP2.  Of course, that’s been a problem for a while, as I don’t really need two Surface Pros, and I don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of trying to sell the SP2, nor am I especially inclined to just give it away.  However, it’s more complicated now, as I installed the Technical Preview of Windows 10 on the SP2 and want to continue putting the new OS through its paces and contribute my feedback to its continuing development, but now that I have my SP3, I’m not sure how much I’ll make use of the 2.
Still, I will try to use it so more, if for no other reason than to get material for an upcoming post about Windows 10.

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