Mailbag: July 25, 2010

This week in the mailbag:

Should I Buy a Zune HD Now?
Windows Phone 7: Tasks/To-Do Functionality?
The HP Slate Returns. Was It Ever Really Dead?
Windows and Product Keys
Windows Phone 7: Media Center Interaction
It's Not Really Going to Take All Summer for the New Hotmail to Roll Out, Is It?

Have a question? I can't guarantee an answer, but I'll try. Drop me a note! (And let me know if you'd prefer not to have your name published.)

Should I Buy a Zune HD Now?

As a follow-up of sorts to last week's set of Zune HD/Windows Phone questions, Bobby S. asks:

After doing some research, I discovered that I can get twice the storage on the Zune HD for the same price as Apple's "cheap" iPod Touch option (16gb vs 8gb). Apps are of no concern to me. I want a music player for music.

But Windows Phone 7 is [coming soon]. The question now is: Do I opt for the Zune now, or do I wait until the new Windows Phone comes out and see if there's an updated Zune player to coincide with the release?

I don't have any knowledge of Microsoft's plans for the Zune HD. I would like to see them create a phone-less Windows Phone, akin to the iPod touch, as a new Zune HD version. But I don't know that such a thing would happen. It's more likely, in my opinion, that Microsoft kills the Zune HD or leaves it unchanged than any other option. They seem pretty serious about Zune as a platform, and the hardware stuff has never done well for them.

Windows Phone 7: Tasks/To-Do Functionality?

David L. asks:

I have also seen some of the tech previews of Windows Phone 7 and so far I like what I see. Could you please let me know what the task/to do list app is like? It was not addressed in any of the previews I saw.

Unfortunately, there's no task/to-do functionality in the initial version of Windows Phone.

As an aside, I moved to Google Calendar so long ago that I had to learn to live without two things that are, years later, now available in the product: Multiple calendars (which would actually sync to mobile devices and PC desktop apps) and tasks/to-dos. As a result, I use a single calendar now, and simply use appointments as tasks. This happens to work well with Windows Phone, as the Calendar app can only sync with a single calendar per calendar service, and has no tasks support. I know, it sounds dumb. But it works for me.


The HP Slate Returns. Was It Ever Really Dead?

A number of readers pointed to towards reports noting that the HP Slate computer, which was much-hyped before HP bought Palm, and then descended into a weird cone of silence, is now "back." Here's a typical report:

Microsoft is working in partnership with Hewlett-Packard whose executive vice president Todd Bradley said: "Slates are going to be an enormous category. Our focus is working with still our largest software partner, Microsoft, to create a tablet, a slate, for the enterprise business."

To be fair, the enterprise angle is new.

But I'd remind people that HP never announced that it was killing its Windows 7-based Slate PC. I think what happened is that they bought Palm and then needed some time to figure out what they were doing. It makes sense to release a full (Windows 7-based) tablet, just as it makes sense for HP to drop Windows Phone since they know own a competing smart phone platform.

Windows and Product Keys

I get a lot of questions about product keys. This week, I received a number of similar questions about product key interaction with Windows. The odd thing is, there were actually different questions about Windows XP, Vista, and 7. There is one common thread to these questions, however. And it goes something like this:

I have a PC that needs to be reinstalled. The product key is available on a sticker on the outside of the PC, but I can't find the original Setup discs. Can I use another Windows Setup CD/DVD to install the OS on this PC, using the product key on the side of the box?

The answer to this question is almost always no.

Microsoft creates different types of products keys and you can't mix and match product keys between these types. Three common product key types include retail product keys, which come in boxed retail copies of the OS (or, these days, accompany digital downloads), OEM product keys, which are provided via PC makers with new PCs, and volume license keys, which are provided to large corporations so that they can bulk install Windows on numerous machines in their internal environments. Typically, a retail product key won't activate on an OEM version of Windows (and vice versa). But it's even worse than that. Because within the OEM product key type, there is further bifurcation: A Dell product key won't activate on an HP version of Windows. It won't even activate on a version of Windows that's sold with other Dell computers for the most part.

(And if you're curious, MSDN and TechNet product keys are typically retail-type keys unless otherwise specified; some products do come with volume license keys as well.)

Legally speaking, if you have a PC that came with Windows and wish to reinstall the OS, you'll need to use the Setup and/or Restore discs that came with the PC, or contact the PC maker for a new set. You could of course optionally purchase a retail version of Windows and install that instead; that will come with its own applicable product key (but not any of the non-OS applications/crapware/drivers that the PC maker might have supplied).

My understanding is that there are workarounds to using different categories of product keys with different types of install media. I've not tried such a thing, and since it's not supported by Microsoft, I can't document that here. But it's not the sort of thing an average consumer is going to want to be involved with.

Windows Phone 7: Media Center Interaction

Todd G. asks:

Since my favorite Windows 7 feature is Windows Media Center, I'm curious about integration between Windows Phone 7 and WMC.

He had a long list of questions, like "Will I be able to schedule programs from my phone?" and "use my phone as a WMC remote?" and so on.

The answer in all cases is no, out of the box. However, I expect to see a rich ecosystem of Windows Phone apps and it makes sense that Windows and Media Center integration will be included there. As for the phone itself, the base OS offers only one integration point, such as it is, with Media Center: The Zune PC software will automatically transcode Media Center recorded TV shows so that they can sync to and play on the phone.

It's Not Really Going to Take All Summer for the New Hotmail to Roll Out, Is It?

Kyle S. asks:

I switched to Hotmail and like you from Gmail. I didn't use a lot of the advanced features that Gmail had, but I do miss a few. I believe I am still on the old Hotmail though! So I don't even have the features that you talk about! What is the timeline of the roll out? Google can roll out an images change in just a few days, but it takes months for microsoft to roll out a small UI change?

It's going to take the rest of the summer, yeah. Microsoft has been very upfront about this schedule. (Here, here and here, for example.) It's more than a small UI change, however. (See my review of the new Hotmail.)

As I noted in the Mailbag a few weeks back, however, I've gone back to Gmail. The reasons for this are varied, but it mostly involves small but important efficiencies in Gmail that just aren't present in the new Hotmail.

More next week...