Mouse without Borders – My experiences on Windows 8 CP

I just thought I’d share my observations as I’ve been using Mouse without Borders (what is that?) on Win8 CP since the day it came out. I’ve used this at work on a daily basis, so I’ve logged MANY hours of experience with this setup.

So what is my setup? I have three systems side-by-side. My “host” (where my keyboard and mouse are plugged into) is a Windows Server 2008 R2 machine (this is my primary workstation that runs Hyper-V with several VMs that I RDP into). To my left is an old Vista-based workstation that is there for supporting a legacy application of ours (for only one more month – yay!). Then to the right is my PDC laptop (what’s a PDC laptop?), which has a2-point resistive touchscreen. I’m currently running v2.1.1.1112 of Mouse without Borders on a wired network.

For the most part, this works well. Mouse, keyboard, and copy/paste of text (I don’t know about files – I never use that feature) all work well, when they work. However, there are some non-minor issues. Just to share with you my experiences:

  1. Whenever my mouse enters the Win8 system, I can never simply move my mouse out of the Win8 system. Instead, I must use the hotkey to switch to a specific other system. This is with “Easy Mouse” enabled in MWB. I have tried to disable “Easy Mouse” and even then, holding CTRL as I move across screens still doesn’t work. This forces me back to my CTRL+ALT+F1 hotkey combo that I have setup to go to specific workstations – the hotkey works perfectly in both directions. (Not sure who to blame on this one – a tweak to MWB will probably fix this.)

    UPDATE: I’ve discovered that if you check the “Move mouse relatively” checkbox on the host, this problem goes away. This may or may not be a problem for you. Personally, I don’t like the mouse behavior with this checked. But still, this sounds like it’s something that MWB can easily fix.

  2. Approximately half of the time, MWB doesn’t work on the login screen but does once I login. I usually have my screen rotated so the keyboard and touchpad are inaccessible so this forces me to use the touchscreen to login. I think this is an inadequacy in MWB that needs to be fixed.

    UPDATE: I’ve discovered that if I lock my Win8 box by hitting [START] and then clicking on my avatar in the top-right corner and then clicking Lock, then I can usually (85% of the time) unlock my Win8 machine with my kb/mouse.

  3. (continued from 2) Of the times that I have to use the touchscreen to login, only half of the time does the new onscreen keyboard work. The other half of the time, I have to use the accessibility onscreen keyboard (the one that Windows Vista and Windows 7 had). Why? No clue. But I notice that when it’s in this mode, when I use my touchscreen that it moves the mouse cursor around where I’m tapping instead of giving me the little bubble animation to show my touches. I think this is a Win8 bug, and a pretty bad one. If I didn’t have that accessibility button on the login screen, if this were a tablet without a physical keyboard, I would be kinda screwed!
  4. It seems that often (maybe twice a day) that when I lock my machines, MWB totally disconnects from the server on the Win 8 machine. I rarely see this from the Vista machine (maybe once a week). When this happens, CTRL+ALT+R rarely helps. Closing and restarting the host’s instance of MWB sometimes fixes this. More often than not, I end up rebooting my Win8 box to fix this. I have no clue who’s “fault” this is.

One more issue to mention: Many people seem to have installation difficulties with Mouse without Borders because it depends on .NET 2.0. That said, I personally didn’t experience these troubles. I’m not sure if it was MWB or something else but my experience of the bootstrap installer automatically installing .NET 2.0 for me was a pleasant experience for the most part. It was kinda slow but it “just worked” and I had to do nothing special to get it to work. I don’t know what I did differently but I did want to share this. If you run into that problem and need help, check out this blog post by Bruce Cowper.

All in all, while there are a lot of fairly major issues, MWB is still worth using. The problems tend to only be problematic for just a minute and, fortunately, it’s never when I’m in the middle of something but is always as I’m about to start something. Other than my first point (which I’ve learned to live with), if these problems randomly crept up while I was actively using MWB, I probably would have gone back to Synergy by now. But since the major annoyances tend to be at the time when I’m logging in, a slight delay isn’t so bad. That said, it’s still fairly annoying and I’d like to see these scenarios work much better!

Portable Devices and 3D

We’ve recently seen some news about 3D in the mobile industry (Next Tegra 2 CPU (known as Tegra 2 3D) and 3D phones at MWC2011). It has gotten a great marketing response but a pretty mediocre to lack-luster response from consumers. On this one, I have to agree with the marketers in one way – I think this is great! On the other hand, I also have to agree with the consumers on the other hand, nobody really cares now nor will they much when it’s first released. So what’s the deal here?

Before I explain my thoughts, let me throw one more variable into the equation. You have heard of Kinect for the Xbox 360 from Microsoft, right? If not, go read here. As a very quick technical summary, the main components of Kinect that we care about here include a/some video camera(s) and depth perception. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Let me give you one more hint if you still don’t get what I’m talking about here. Have you ever seen Minority Report? If not, you MUST watch this video. At this point, I should no longer need to explain anything. Between having a 3D display that doesn’t require glasses and Kinect technology, we now have all physical technology required for this type of UI! But actually, ours is cooler because the Minority Report UI isn’t really in 3D and ours is! So we can actually interact with the depthness of UI components by “touching” them, something that the Minority Report UI couldn’t do. They essentially just had overglorified 2D pinch-to-zoom.

So what we see in 2011 will be some pretty crappy implementations of 3D in mobile devices. There will be 3D movies that play on them and some terrible apps/games that use the 3D display. However, this is a necessary evil to get us to where we are going. Once 3D becomes standard and Kinect-type controllers become more standard, we can then begin creating UIs from the ground-up that builds upon these features in a way that can become awesome devices for all. So as the marketers say, this is great/amazing/spectacular. But also, as the consumers say, nobody will initially care much. However, it really will end up with some really neat end results! So if you’re somebody with some money and creativity, I STRONGLY encourage you to create some 3D UIs and get some patents in this area. Today’s science allows all of this to happen, 2010 has already started and 2011 will continue shipping products with these technologies in them, and you’ll see that 2012, people will begin doing this for real instead of just as a gimmick to create sales. So what you begin today will begin to come into strong demand in about 1.5 years from now! At that point, Apple, Microsoft, Google, or somebody will want to buy your company out.

What do you think about having 3D displays on tablets and smartphones? Share below if this is something you’re looking forward to or not (because I guarantee, we will get there!).

Integrated Portable Devices – The future of Smartphones and Tablets

Quote me now, this is where I think the industry will go in a number of years (I guess ~2 years from now but may be wrong on that). We’re already starting to see shifts in this direction with a great response to it.

The Atrix sounds cool where the phone docks into a laptop shell, right?

What about the Asus Eee Pad Transformer where you dock the tablet into a keyboard to create a laptop?

But wait, there’s more! We can, and will, do better!

We will see a market where you choose your phone and everything builds upon that device. We will have a variety of tablets that we can dock our phones into. We will have a variety of keyboards that we can dock our tablets into. And perhaps we will keep the Atrix idea of directly docking a phone into a keyboard/screen combo. Ultimately, all of these devices will be powered by our phones and we will get to choose the platform independent of the accessories independent of the carrier. For a very large percentage of us (not all, mind you), this device with these accessories would provide us with 100% of our personal portable computing needs, and would even apply to a significant number of us in the workplace as well. For the rest of this article, I will refer to these devices as a Phone, a Tablet Shell, and a Keyboard Dock.

A few points I want to make sure to hit on:

  1. Industry-standard compatability
  2. Cheaper upgrades, fewer wasted natural resources with more flexible accessories
  3. Single data package for all of these different “devices”

1. Industry-standard compatability
This will require some standards. Let’s call this the IPD (Integrated Portable Device) Standard and clearly we would need all parties to agree on and support these standards. A small governing body would be created (perhaps with representatives from major interested companies would be on the panel) to govern the standard.

Initially, I would suggest IPDv1 would support some pretty basic I/O with Display (out from the phone and into the tablet), sound out/in from all interconnects (speakers and microphones on Tablet Shell and/or Keyboard Dock), and user-interaction in through all interconnects (touchscreen on the Tablet Shell, keyboard/touchpad on the Keyboard Dock, perhaps other buttons too). Via this standard display-out, we could also go to a TV, similar to how we use HDMI-out on phones now (but I suggest we consider a different standard, such as DisplayPort which can still support DHCP). I would also propose some Data I/O standards so that our Tablet Shell and/or our Keyboard Dock can have additional functionality (such as a memory card reader and definitely backup capabilities, controlled by the phone OS/software, of course). Lastly, there should be standard power connections so a Tablet Shell and a Keyboard Dock can provide additional battery support, and charging, to the other devices. All of these standards would be independent of Carrier and OS so that accessories that were purchased with a 3G CDMA Android phone with Verizon would work when upgrading to a 4G Wimax WP7 phone on Sprint. We’ll see if Apple would allow their devices to meet these standards – I would hope so but doubt it.

Additionally, we would need physical standards to dock different phones into the same Tablet Shell. This would make it such that a phone with a 3.2″ screen and a phone with a 4.4″ screen can both dock into the same Tablet shell. This might require “phone cartridges” to help with this, but hopefully something better can be thought of to keep a phone securely docked into a tablet yet conveniently removed. Also, port placement would be standardized.

Lastly, these standards will need to grow over time (for example, when we need to support 3D displays, the display interconnect standard might change), so there needs to be a clear versioning of these standards to prevent confusion of what is and is not supported. So if IPDv1 was what I proposed, then perhaps IPDv2 would add 3D support, ethernet support, and support up to 5″ phone screens (or rather, a phone with an increased maximum set of dimensions). Ideally, these standards would not change on a frequent basis, and there should be a very forgiving level of backwards-compatability (for example, an IPDv2 phone that supports 3D technology should still work, albeit in 2D, with a IPDv1 Tablet Shell). These standards should be tightly controlled/patrolled to prevent devices/accessories being released that aren’t fully-compatible with what they claim to be.

2. Cheaper upgrades, fewer wasted natural resources with more flexible accessories
Since at upgrade time you can continue using your previous accessories with newer phones, this will result in a cheaper upgrade for the user as well as fewer wasted natural resources. This is a win for all of us. For those of us who care about the environment, a win. For those of us who want to save money as a consumer, a win. Those of us who want both a 10″ and a 7″ tablet for different times, a win.

But what about manufacturers who make a lot of money on accessories? Well, let’s look at that since this will fail without their support and adoption. We have 3 primary groups of people who make money off of accessories: Phone Manufacturers (Motorola, etc.), Third-party Manufacturers (Seido, etc.), and Carriers/Resellers (who tend to rebadge and/or resell products from the first two groups). For parties in the first two groups here, I claim this is a win because this will have little negative impact on the current market of gel cases, perfect-fitting car docks, screen protectors, etc. where they currently make money (those accessories would not be IPD-compliant and still have their own market). It would affect them in two ways: (1) this would create some new product areas that these manufacturers can create, specifically Keyboard Docks, and (2) this should increase sales in the tablet/laptop accessories area since it lowers the barrier of entry for new users to obtain tablets (which would still need gel cases and screen protectors). For Tablet Shells, this would now open up this accessories markets a bit and let screen manufacturers create and sell what they specialize in, profit in, and can do best – create screens with interfaces to display stuff on them without hurting manufacturers of the other legacy-type accessories. For the third group, the carriers/resellers, well, this just gives them more product to sell and profit on.

3. Single data package for all of these different “devices”
For the user, this could save them some money by not requiring 3 different data packages to keep a phone/tablet/laptop online while traveling. Since everything happens through the phone, only the phone would need a data package. Even if not saving money, it would at least be easier and less confusing for the user. So for the user, this is a win. What about the carrier? Well, this is a tough one but I still think this is a win since expectations are that carriers are moving more and more towards tiered data plans. AT&T has already done this and Verizon has given all indications that it will be as well. This tiered data plan would fit perfectly with Integrated Portable Devices. And this still doesn’t prevent carriers from offering a Premier Unlimited Data package. In fact, I think it would be wise for them to do so and just to consider what this might mean for them (i.e. the exact reason why we’re all expecting them to move to tiered plans).

Please comment below and let us all know what you think!

I thought I would update this and list a few interesting articles that talk about progress on IPDs:

Now don’t get me wrong. These aren’t the most polished products, or even something that can necessarily be called “good”, but this is an interesting evolution to watch as it all evolves right before our eyes!

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