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Mailbag: December 28, 2010

In this week's mailbag: The best Windows Phone feature is under-utilized, getting rid of CTRL + ALT + DEL on logon, how to structure the writing of a book, the missing desktop toolbars in Windows 7, Blu-ray support and Windows 7, and the Xbox 360 and third party hard drives.

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.)

Developers not utilizing Windows Phone's best feature

Jim F. writes in about something that is near and dear to my heart: That Windows Phone is a unique smart phone platform and developers need to be taking advantage of those Windows Phone features that aren't duplicated (yet) on other platforms.

When I scroll through my Windows Phone home screen, I only pay attention to the apps that are telling me something! New text messages, new email, new phone calls, new calendar appointments, new updates for my existing marketplace apps. The Weatherbug app tells me the current temperature and pushes notifications to me about weather alerts.

ALL my other apps just sit there waiting for ME to go to THEM. Facebook doesn't push notifications to me, Twitter isn't telling me I have new tweets, TWiT isn't informing me that there are new podcasts to listen to, and Xbox live isn't telling me I have new messages.

Forget copy and paste! Give me Push notifications for my home screen apps!

I'd add services integration to this list as well. Sure, you could write a Flickr app, and some have. What I'd rather see on Windows Phone is deep Flickr integration in the Pictures hub so that my Flickr collections simply show up in the phone as do Windows Live and Facebook photo albums. Come on developers, do the right thing here.

Getting rid of CTRL + ALT + DEL requirement at logon

Maximo S. writes:

My son returned from Iraq without one arm, and when he tries to log onto Windows (Ctrl - Alt - Delete) it's extremely difficult.  This morning I saw him placing a pen in his mouth to select one key and his hands to select the other two.  The Dell laptop we have the Delete key is in the exact opposite corner from the Ctrl key.

The CTRL + ALT + DEL logon requirement should normally only appear on PCs that are configured for a domain. If this is a normal, consumer PC, you can remove the need for this key combination, however. Microsoft has instructions on the knowledge base article How to enable or disable the CTRL+ALT+DELETE sequence for logging on to Windows XP, to Windows Vista, and to Windows 7.

How do you structure the writing of a book?

Stephen M. asks:

I am writing a book ... Never having written a book before I am getting bogged down with the number of chapters and how they laid out in ms word and would like to ask how you structured your writing for your last two books.

How do you plan the writing for subjects that have a similar mix of technical fact and experienced user insight e.g is there a chapter plan. How do you use ms word to capture the sections etc. Any insights would be very welcome.

I'm not sure I can easily explain this.

For my own books, I start with a table of contents (TOC) and try to come up with something that makes sense, can flow from chapter to chapter logically, but also be read in any order where possible. From that point, I try to come up with a list of topics for each chapter and then arrange them into at least level one headings; the publisher likes to see level two headings as well, but this often doesn't make sense--to me at least--this early on. The books tend to change shape and structure as I write. So I adjust the TOC/contents accordingly as I go.

If you structure it right, you could conceivably write any section of the book in any order, and this is in fact how I do it, as the mood strikes or whatever. This is not necessarily what the publisher is looking for of course, but I tend to be scatter-shot in the beginning and then tighten things up as I go, with most of the actual submissions occurring towards the end of the schedule. I suspect this is highly individualized, however. You may be different.

I do all of my writing in Word. Some people like to use note-taking applications and so on, but I like to use a single tool, and I've never run into any text processor that works as well as does Word.

And this may or may not be relevant, but I have written a bit about the writing process on my Windows Phone Secrets blog as well.

No more desktop toolbars in Windows 7?

Dave N. writes:

In XP, I could create a new toolbar, which would appear on the taskbar. I could then move that toolbar off of the taskbar to become a menu window on the desktop. I could then move that  window to one of the other three edges of the screen where it would attach and become another pop-up taskbar menu, once I enabled autohide.

Windows 7 doesn't allow me to even move a toolbar off the taskbar, let alone park it on another screen edge. Am I missing something?

Yeah, this feature was removed in Windows 7, unfortunately. You can still add toolbars to the taskbar, but not move them to the other screen sides, or drag windows to the screen edge to create a toolbar. I'm not aware of a workaround that's exactly like the old XP feature, unfortunately.

Blu-ray and Windows 7

Christopher M. asks:

I was wondering about Blu-ray playback for Windows 7.  I do not have any Blu-ray stuff to check on this but how does one go about enabling Blu-ray playback on a 7 PC?  Do I have to install some third party plug in or is it natively supported?

For Blu-ray movies, You need a compatible software player, which would come with the drive. You can't add a codec and make it work with Windows Media Player. Windows 7 does include native support for Blu-ray data writing and reading.

Xbox 360 and third party hard drives

Scott R. asks:

I just got a new Xbox 360 S 4 GB with Kinect and wanted to know if it is possible to use any external hard drive with this or do I have to purchase a Microsoft Branded one? I have a couple of 500 GB drives (Passport and WD) and would like to use one if possible.

Unfortunately, you have to use the internal Microsoft unit only (or USB memory keys).

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