Mailbag: August 8, 2010

This week in the mailbag:

System Repair Disc on USB Drive?
Learn the Office 2007/2010 UI with Ribbon Hero
Windows Phone and Desktop Sync
What To Do Before You Get Windows Phone
Will Windows Phone Support Tethering?
Is It An Upgrade or a New Computer?

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.)

System Repair Disc on USB Drive?

Stephen R. asks:

I just got a new netbook and want to remove the crapware and make an image. I'm following your tutorial but I have a question. This thing doesn't have an optical drive and I don't have a USB one. Can the System Repair Disc be written to a USB memory stick or hard drive? If you have any ideas, I'd greatly appreciate hearing them. Thanks.

I've not tried that, but it seems like it should be possible since you can write a Windows 7 Setup disc to USB. In fact, you could just use that, since the repair/recovery tools are all on there as well.

Microsoft's Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool can do that for you, though of course you'd have to do this from a DVD-equipped PC.

Learn the Office 2007/2010 UI with Ribbon Hero

Kyle S. has some good advice for those flummoxed by the Office 2007/2010 ribbon UI:

I saw that you mentioned Microsoft Office Labs' Ribbon Hero back in January. Since then they have updated it to include all 4 primary productivity applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.) I went through all of the trials once in about 2.5 hours or so (throughout the day) and learned a lot. I recommend it for students who want to create professional looking projects that stand out from the crowd and want to learn how to use the new features that Office 2010 includes. It is available here.

Good stuff, thanks. As Microsoft notes, "Ribbon Hero is a *gasp* game for Office 2007 and Office 2010 (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and now OneNote!) designed to help you boost your Office skills and knowledge. If you feel Office can do a lot more than you have time to figure out, then Ribbon Hero is for you."


Windows Phone and Desktop Sync

I've received many questions about Windows Phone, as you might imagine. I've been somewhat surprised that one of the most common questions is:

I'm using Outlook/Palm Desktop/some other desktop-based email/PIM solution and am curious how Windows Phone handles synchronization with desktop applications/data stores.

Windows Phone doesn't offer any form of desktop sync aside from media sync with the Zune PC software. Everything else it syncs with is cloud-based, and happens over the air. (Curiously this is even true of apps and games, unlike with Zune HD apps, which can be downloaded to the PC and then later synced to a device. With Windows Phone, apps and games can be browsed, downloaded, and installed from the PC, but only when the phone is connected, and they're not stored on the PC at all but are rather copied immediately to the device.)

If you want to sync email, contacts, or calendars with Windows Phone, you can only do so from compatible online accounts.

These accounts types are listed below along with the content types you can sync to the phone:

Windows Live (primary account): Email, contacts, calendar, photos (not full resolution), Messenger social/What's new feed

Windows Live (secondary accounts): Email, contacts, calendar

Google: Email, contacts, calendar

Exchange and Exchange ActiveSync (called Outlook on the phone for some reason): Email, contacts, calendar

Facebook: Contacts, photos, and feeds (and it has to be all three; you can't pick and choose)

Yahoo! Mail: Email

IMAP or POP3: Email

And that's it. I wrote a bit more about Windows Phone accounts on the Windows Phone Secrets blog.

What To Do Before You Get Windows Phone

And speaking of Windows Phone, I posted a preliminary version of my upcoming series Windows Phone 7 Feature Focus and asked readers for feedback around which features they'd like covered first and whether there were any features missing from the list. I got a lot of great email--thanks for that--and was interested to see that the number one request was a variation of the following:

I'm excited about Windows Phone but want to make sure I'm ready. What should I do now, before Windows Phone arrives?

This is heartening to me because the first chapter of my next book, Windows Phone Secrets, is literally about this topic. (It's called "Pre-Flight Checklist: What To Do Before You Get Your Windows Phone.") I'm going to write up something about this topic in the future on the SuperSite, but it will be outside of the Windows Phone 7 Feature Focus series, which I see as more of a reference. But I don't need to be coy about this. My advice, roughly speaking, goes like this:

1. Create a Windows Live ID, if you don't have one. If you do, make sure it's up to date.

2. Spend an hour or less navigating through the possible services--Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Pandora, Blogger, WordPress, and many, many more--you can connect to your Windows Live account. These services will populate your What's New feeds in the People and Pictures feeds. To do this, visit the Windows Live Connected Services page.

3. Music lover? Join the Zune social by connecting your Windows Live ID to a Zune account. To do so, visit zune.net and click Sign In. Use your existing Windows Live ID. Note that as part of this process, you will need to specify a Zune Tag. This name will also be used as your Gamertag if you join Xbox Live (below).

4. Game player? Join Xbox Live. The process is similar to joining Zune Social: Visit xbox.com and click the Sign In link at the top of the page.

5. Consider consolidating email. As noted in the question above, Windows Phone lets you configure multiple email accounts from a variety of sources. But Windows Phone does not provide a unified inbox. Instead, you will get a different Mail app for every configured email account. This can be ponderous. One (sort of) workaround is to consolidate all of your email into a central account, like Gmail, and then only configure that one account on the phone. This works well (it's what I'll be doing) except for one thing: You won't be able to "reply to" from different accounts.

6. Consider dumbing down your calendar(s). Windows Phone supports multiple calendar accounts (any number of Exchange/Exchange EAS, Google, and Windows Live accounts), which is neat. But it only works with the primary calendar in each account. So if you've configured multiple calendars, you're out of luck. There are two incredibly poor workarounds to consider. One, you can simply do without multiple calendars, and just use a single, primary calendar in each account (which is what I do). Or, if you're really desperate, you could actually create multiple accounts at a free supported calendar account type (Google Calendar or Windows Live), one each for your different calendars. Then you could sync all those different calendar accounts to the phone individually. It's dumb, but it would work.

7. Features matter: As we get closer to launch, pay attention to the ways in which phone makers differentiate their products. Microsoft is requiring them to include a number of different features, but many of these are simply minimums, so many device makers will try to one-up the competition with various enhancements. Key among these will be faster (over 1 GHz) CPUs, RAM (256 MB minimum) and storage (8 GB minimum), camera features (HD video, for example, is not a requirement), a hardware keyboard (if that's important to you) and so on. I'm not sure whether I'll do much around comparing individual phone models, but plenty of others (read: gadget sites with too much time on their hands) will. Pay attention and get the device that makes the most sense for you.

I will formalize this into a full article as we get closer to launch.

Will Windows Phone Support Tethering?

OK, my inbox is flooded with Windows Phone questions. Another hugely popular query goes like this:

Will Windows Phone support tethering (a.k.a. Internet Connection Sharing)?

While I'm not at liberty to discuss certain aspects of Microsoft's plans for Windows Phone, I think it's fair (and OK) to note the following: Windows Phone will ship in a largely unfinished state because the company needs to get a decent product in market quickly. And the current, near-final Windows Phone version I'm using in the prototype device does not include this functionality.

Is It An Upgrade or a New Computer?

Martin C. asks:

I have a desktop PC which I would like to upgrade. The upgrade involves the motherboard, CPU and memory. I will keep the hard drives, Bluray writer, GPU, PSU, monitors, case and all other peripherals. Some might consider my upgrade a new computer, but is it really? Will I have trouble with Windows Genuine Advantage?

Yes. Yes, you will.

The upgrade you describe will almost certainly constitute a new PC in the eyes of Windows Product Activation. And if so, you will be prompted to activate the OS again. Depending on a number of factors--one of which is the amount of time since you last activated that product key--you'll be granted an online activation, or not. If you are not, you will need to call Microsoft, using the toll-free number provided in the Product Activation wizard, and activate over the phone. This is generally less painful than it sounds, and while I've heard of a few exceptions, Microsoft generally grants these activations without requiring an explanation.

More next week...