If you’re still planning on completing your holiday gift-buying towards the end of the shopping period, you may want to turn your attention to some online offers that will go down well with some – if not all – members of your extended family.
EMEA-based ‘softies can get an online equivalent of the North American retail Microsoft Store “Doorbusters” and the now-finished online “12 days of deals”, through their online employee store. The shelves are looking pretty empty, if truth be told, but you might still snag a 12- or 24-month Xbox Live Gold subscription for a bargain; you just get emailed the code, and it can be added to either a new (free) Xbox Live account to upgrade to Gold, or can be used to extend an existing one.
If you’re not an Xbox Live subscriber already, you could get the first month for only £1, and then apply the above code later should you wish. The public-facing “Countdown” promotion (running as of 22nd December all the way through to the other side of the festivities) has a load of other offers available, especially if you’re also an Xbox Live Gold member. Remind yourself how rubbish 1970s arcade games were for only £3, for example.
Various other goodies are available from the online Microsoft Store website, and the other Microsoft Store – the one with apps, games and entertainment – has a roster of daily deals and other discounts worth checking. Christmas isn’t Christmas until you’ve seen Hans Gruber fall off a skyscraper (act quickly – deal running out).
There’s a Countdown sale on digital content, too, for when you realise the Christmas telly schedules are full of stuff you don’t want to watch, and your Sky Q box is up the swannee and taking an hour to reboot.
Sadly, there are no Groove Music Pass deals to be had this year, unless you’ve never used A Zune, Xbox or Groove Music Pass previously. You can try it for free (for a month), and you’ll be sent a promo code to grab another 3 months free – so well worth a go, especially since the Groove apps for PC and Xbox One have been updated with support for Music videos, and the iOS and Android mobile apps have been given a refresh to keep pace with the UWP versions too.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, see you all in January!
Tip o’ the Week 346 – Under the Bridge
There’s something beautiful about a well-made bridge, even a modernist one with engineering on display and functional elements providing elegance as well as strength. Of course, not all bridges work out quite as planned while some engender mythology all of their own.
There other types of bridge too, of course – they form intrinsic parts of some music, and essential parts of musical instruments, but there is also the concept in computing, of a bridge that can be used to make stuff designed for one environment to connect to or work in another. Like in networking, or in the case of several projects Microsoft worked on over the last few years, in bridging applications to work across multiple platforms.
At the build conference in 2015, Microsoft unveiled several bridges to bring Universal Windows Platform apps from other platforms – “Islandwood”, which allowed developers to port iOS apps to Windows was later released as Windows Bridge for iOS and a few high-profile apps have reportedly used it.
Which leaves “Project Centennial”, a closer-to-home, perhaps smaller, less ornate & elaborate bridge, but one that’s likely to see a lot more traffic – it’s the bridge that lets developers take traditional Windows/Win32 apps and package them up to be in the Store, with a bunch of additional capabilities yet without wholesale rewriting.
Now released as the “Desktop bridge”, Centennial is available for developers to push their apps into the store by converting them to UWPs – see here for more detail. There are a handful of apps already in store thanks to the conversion process, perhaps most notably Evernote, who have now dropped their previous Win8.x app that had relatively limited functionality, and replaced it with the fully featured desktop version re-packaged for the Windows Store.
Tip o’ the Week #255 – Rating apps in the store
The Store was a key innovation when Windows 8 launched, and continues to grow, both in terms of the number of apps published and the way popular and well-rated apps are surfaced. Earlier this year, Microsoft said there were over 150,000 apps in the Windows 8 store, though now the total reported is combined between the Windows 8 and Windows Phone stores. It’s said that Windows 10 will join the two stores together anyway, a process that’s underway already through the move to Universal Apps.
According to Microsoft By The Numbers, a neat external website that helps to show how large some bits of the company are (did you know that together, the Office for iPad apps have been downloaded 45 million times? Or that 40% of Azure revenue comes from startups and ISVs?), the total number of apps across both stores is 525,000. That’s rather a lot. Finding the good apps from the guff ones can be a challenge.
So, it’s more important than ever to make sure when you use an app you like, or one you don’t, that you rate it. Ratings and reviews will help other people choose your preferred app over some other one which isn’t as good, or has more annoying adverts, or nags you to buy the premium version all the time. In Windows 8.1, there are a few tricks to rating the apps you’ve used, and of sharing your favourite apps with others.
Rate and review
As well as rating Windows 8 apps you use regularly, why not review those you feel work particularly well or particularly badly? Maybe the developer will read your review and improve or fix things that don’t work, or maybe people who are browsing will read your rave review and decide that’s the app for them.
Apps for Windows 8 let you Rate and review if you open the Charms menu (when you’re in the app, press WindowsKey+C or swipe from the right, or move your mouse to the top right or bottom right of the screen), then look under Settings.
Taking this option fires up the Store app, and navigates directly to the review section where you can assign a 1-5 star rating and give some verbiage should you desire. If you’re going to slate an app that everyone else rates highly, or the opposite, then you really should explain why, so others can benefit from your wisdom or simply write your thoughts off as coming from a blithering idiot.
How many Amazon reviews have you read, that score a product 1 star because it took ages to arrive or the box was damaged on receipt? The case rests.
If you want to rate apps without actually opening them, you can go into the Store app, select Account | My apps from the menu at the top, then select the appropriate filter from the drop-down boxes, then click or tap on each item to get to its Store page, which includes rating & reviews.
Sensibly, you can’t actually rate apps that you’ve never installed, but you can rate and review apps that you have only on another PC.
Sadly, there’s no way of showing your own ratings in a list – it would be handy to be able to see all the apps you’ve installed and how you rated each one – maybe there’s an app for that, or someone else will write it to share a way of doing so…
Windows Phone ratings
Apps on Phone don’t have the same consistent mechanism to expose the ratings and review section of the Store (since they don’t have charms), though many apps will prompt you after a while of usage, to ask if you’d like to rate them.
From a PC, you can head over to the Windows Phone site and look at your purchase history, then rate from within there.
On the phone, visit the Store app to rate and review other apps you’ve used (again, you need to have actually installed them to be able to rate), and you’ll see on the same reviews tab that you can also Share the app, which sends a link via mail or numerous other messaging or social networking means.
Sharing on Windows 8.1
Returning to Windows 8.1, if you want to share your favourite apps with friends, just go back into the Charms menu and you’ll see Share proudly offered – though its use will vary depending on what you’re doing with the app itself. If listening to Music (US only, sadly), you’ll share a link to whatever you’re playing. If you’re reading the News, selecting Share will send the headline and a link to the article you’re on.
To Share apps, follow the same steps as earlier to list your installed apps from within the Store, then open the details page for the app in question, but instead of rating or reviewing it, invoke the Share charm when at the same page.
If you don’t want to email links etc using the Mail client, perhaps preferring to embed the links into rambling missives from within Outlook, then check out the neat Clipboard app, which (using a “contract”) lets you Share something straight into the Windows Clipboard, ready to be pasted into another app of your choice.