Dan’s Tech Makeover: Surface, Windows 8, iPad Mini, and More

Editor's update: Just this week, Dan's device status changed: "Not two days after publishing my “Tech Makeover” article, my 256GB ADATA SSD died, taking with it two weeks of work that, because I was on the road, was not yet backed up. Serves me right for not going with a Cruical M4 or other top-of-the-line SSD, which is now what will be used exclusively." You live and you learn.

Anyone in the Microsoft space knows that this is the BIG week. Within 48 hours, Windows 8 will be launched, along with the much anticipated Microsoft Surface. I know some readers appreciate knowing what I’m actually using, technology-wise, so I thought I’d share with you what is, this month, an extreme makeover for my technology stack.

I’m traveling very heavy these days, and I’m hopeful that in this new age of the Surface and the Apple iPad Mini, I'll be able to start carrying fewer, smarter devices. I just finished two days with some of the very best and brightest of my colleagues, along with 300 talented delegates, at SharePoint Exchange Forum in Stockholm, Sweden. Now, I’m spending a day each with enterprise customers in Stuttgart and Zurich, then heading to Las Vegas for SharePoint Connections, October 29 to November 2, where I’ll be delivering some cool sessions and workshops.

Through all of these places, I'm traveling with SIX—count ‘em—devices:

  • Samsung Series 9 14” Ultrabook. This third-gen Intel i5 ultrabook is the model of what an ultrabook should be. Wicked fast, super productive, light as all get-go, and sexy, sexy, sexy. I had a MacBook Air through June and traded up to the Samsung, and I’ve not regretted a moment since. The unreliable MacBook Air (due to Apple’s sketchy Boot Camp Windows drivers, and vexing display and wireless problems) wasn’t a system I could count on to work with the variety of projectors and displays I connect to. The Samsung is perfect, and they’ve crammed a 15” screen into the 14” frame. The Ultrabook runs Windows 8, but because I use it mostly for work, I spend most of my time in “desktop” mode, with apps like QuickBooks, Beyond Compare, Adobe Acrobat (which scans inexcusably slowly on my Windows 8 system and will be uninstalled) and personal apps like Windows Live Essentials. I manually upgraded the SSD to a screaming fast 256 GB ADATA XPG SX300 SATA-600 drive (it came with 128 GB) so I have plenty of room for my documents, media, and a Windows 7 VMware-based VM, which I use for the few apps (Acrobat) and devices that aren’t updated for Windows 8 quite yet.
  • HP EliteBook 8540. This 16GB workstation-class laptop hosts my VMs. It used to be my productivity system as well, but it was just too heavy to lug around for client visits and too big to open in most airplane seats. Post MacBook Air and ultrabook, it’s been used only for demos (VMs) and presentations.
  • Samsung Slate. Last year at BUILD, Microsoft gave all attendees a Samsung Slate with which to run Windows. I have to say this computer has been one of the most “delightful” experiences I’ve had in technology. I carry it with me primarily to help customers experience the awesome world of Windows 8 touch (and pen), so I can “walk the talk” of the “new way to work.” Unfortunately, the prototypes we received sport only 64GB of SSD, which is too small for the otherwise powerful i5 device to replace my ultrabook.
  • iPad 2. I love my iPad. It’s a brilliant piece of hardware. But over the last few weeks, knowing that the Surface and new iPads were coming, I paid close attention to how much I actually used the hundreds of apps I have on it. Turns out I use 10-15 with any regularity, and of those, email, browser, Facebook, HootSuite, FaceTime, Skype, iMessage, and Google Maps make up 90-95 percent of my usage. I never end up having time to read, and very rarely have time to catch up on the TV shows I load it up with.
  • Nokia Lumina 900. I love my Windows Phone. I had an iPhone previously, but gave it up when Windows Phone 7 was launched in favor of a Samsung Focus and have never looked back. WP7 is such a superior experience for me, there’s no comparison.
  • iPod. I got this earlier in the year so I could carry an iOS device for its superior (to WP7) Skype app while traveling, for communication.

Add to that stash all of my chargers and cables and power supplies, plus two 3G hotspots for Internet connectivity in the US and abroad, and 2.5TB of storage on portable disks when I travel on longer trips and may need access to archived data or VMs, which I haven’t yet had time to move to the cloud.

Needless to say, you don’t want to be behind me in the airport security line. I’m a walking “Best Buy” store.

And at home, I have a small form factor PC running Windows Home Server 2011 with an external drive array (Mediasonic) with 6TB of storage. I have tons of music, pictures, and videos, plus an insane number of archived VMs that I need to purge.

This week, the world of technology is turning upside down. I’ve been advising friends and family (I support the F-WAN [friends wide area network]) to wait to make any tech purchases until after next week, knowing that both new iOS, Android, and, most importantly, Windows and Windows Phone devices were going to be released.

My technology portfolio, likewise, is going through an extreme makeover. It’s an expensive month—so if the US economy improves, you can thank me—but I find I’m able to provide better input to customers if I, too, am on the bleeding edge of technology. So, as of the SharePoint Conference, here’s what I expect you’ll find me traveling with:

  • Microsoft Surface. I managed to preorder my Surface before they ran out, and it should be in my office on Maui on Friday—a full week before I return, unfortunately—so I plan to find a launch event in London to check out the device first hand. With the information I gleaned about my iPad usage, I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to travel without my iPad (particularly on domestic and shorter trips); and to spend travel days and flights with only the Surface, thanks to its solid Mail app, Microsoft Office suite, and entertainment and social apps. I can’t wait to have such a slick device for both consuming and producing content.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad W530. I coughed up and purchased a Lenovo ThinkPad W530 with a whopping 32GB of RAM (which, shockingly, was only $150 through Crucial). This beast will be my “demonstration and evaluation” system, used only for VMs, thanks to SharePoint’s beefed-up requirements. I hate the idea of lugging it around, but I hate more the idea of being at the mercy of cloud VMs and, more specifically, sketchy Internet connectivity to those VMs at events.
  • Windows Phone 8. I’m truly torn between the Nokia Lumina 920, with its vastly superior camera and conjoined-twin-like relationship with Microsoft itself, or the HTC 8x, which is smaller and (to me, anyway), sexier. I’m leaning towards the larger 920 because I can at least read text messages without my eyeglasses.

And, perhaps, at least for a few months, I might haul along

  • Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook. At least initially, I will be bringing my ultrabook for when I need the full desktop experience. It’s possible I might even leave the ultrabook at home and take the Samsung Slate as my Windows 8 Desktop machine. But I’m not quite ready to go on a multi-week trip without some kind of super portable laptop. I wish I could justify getting a Lenovo Yoga, as several of my SharePoint colleagues including Eric Shupps are planning to do, or convert to the Surface Pro when it’s released. Honestly, I expect I’ll figure out how to live without a proper laptop during the winter.
  • iPad mini. I think I will likely fork out for an iPad mini, just to survive the transition while Windows 8’s app store catches up. And to ensure people know I can truly appreciate a great device, even if it’s part of the People’s Republic of Apple. This device, too, I hope to be able to give to someone in my F-WAN early in 2013.

At home, I hope to replace my Windows Home Server device with a

  • Lenovo ThinkCentre A720, about the sexiest home PC I’ve ever seen. This all-in-one sports a large touch screen, which as the center of my entertainment world would be excellent. It will run Windows 8 gloriously, rather than Windows Server 2012 Essentials. I expect that Windows 8, plus a component to provide remote access, will provide a more unified experience in my home. The Mediasonic storage enclosure will be one of the few devices to survive the overhaul, and will be attached to one of the A720’s USB 3.0 ports. The A720 can act as an external monitor for my laptop or surface when I’m home, as well. Yes, I saw the new iMacs but, honestly, for me they don’t hold a candle to this extraordinary Windows 8 showcase device. They also don’t seem to have the HDMI in capability of the Windows 8 all-in-ones I’m seeing.

So that’s the “technology stack” I’m looking at to support my work and what little personal life I can attain. There will be some F-WAN members and charities on Maui getting some solid tech donations over coming months.

I’ll see you in the airport security line! I’ll be the one delaying the carry-on screening!

See you at Connections, or, soon, the SharePoint Conference!

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