Windows 10 Impressions

Today I installed the latest technical preview of Windows 10 on a VM and had an initial poke about. Set up and installation was very easy, once I figured out you had to select ‘Windows 8.1’ in VirtualBox rather than ‘Windows Other’. I’ve used beta versions and previews of Windows for a while now, since Windows 7, but this is the first that really feels like beta software. All of the others have been nearly there, and certainly usable, but Windows 10 is full of bugs and stuttering. You definitely cannot use it in anger at this time.

However, it does look and feel pretty good for the most part, a nice incremental update on Windows 8 which works a lot better on the desktop. I would have liked to have seen Continum in action, the feature for tablets which toggles on-the-fly certain features based on whether or not a keyboard is detected or there is some other indication of a change from tablet to laptop mode. Not possible in a VM for obvious reasons, and I don’t have a spare Windows tablet lying around which I could get away with breaking.

Virtual desktops are nice, but long overdue. But I would say that wouldn’t I? I’ve been in love with Spaces on Mac OS X since Leopard in 2009, and I can remember using virtual desktops on Linux back in the early naughties when I had a piece of crap Compaq than came with the abominable Windows 98.

The new Start menu with integrated tiles is also very nice, as is the way TIFKAM* apps work in windows mode now, much more natural and consistent.

Some more details on TechRadar:

http://www.techradar.com/news/software/operating-systems/windows-10-release-date-price-news-and-features-1029245

http://www.techradar.com/news/software/operating-systems/10-great-new-features-in-windows-10-1267365

* The Interface Formerly Known as Metro. Modern UI just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Oculus Rift Thoughts and Impressions

oculus_rift

Christmas came early to WaLTS today when we inherited an Oculus Rift from another department. The TL;DR version? It’s fantastic! Buy one!

For about an hour it looked like we were up the proverbial creak as the Rift needs USB and HDMI input and most of us in the office are Mac users. No DisplayPort to HDMI adaptors lying around, and even the few PCs we have don’t have HDMI. Then we stumbled on a DVI to HDMI adaptor in a box full of crap and one of the newer PCs had a graphics card with a DVI port. Success! I should mention that it’s the Dev Kit 2 version we have, and it was hooked up to a mid-range HP running 64 Bit Windows 7. Hardware problems solved, it was on to the software.

It’s not the worst I’ve ever had to set up, but it’s not transparent and you need to install the SDK and the runtime before any of the demos will work. Perhaps if we had read the instructions first… but in a room full of techies that wasn’t going to happen. Everything installed, in the right order, still wouldn’t work. The config utility simply wouldn’t recognise the device, all we got was the orange LED of disappointment. Swapping the HDMI and USB connections around had no effect. Eventually, through a bit of trial and error I was able to get it working as follows:

1. In Windows I had to detect the device as a new monitor and keep the setting on ‘Extend these displays’, after doing this the device was recognised in the utility;

2. In the Oculus Config Utility I had to set Rift Display Mode to ‘Extend Desktop to the HMD’;

3. Software would then work, but only when using the ‘…DirectToRift.exe’ version.

This was the only combination of settings where I could get anything to work. I found forums with people reporting the same problem and worked through many suggestions to no effect. It could be almost anything, but I suspect the PC is just a bit crap.

What worked:

The Tuscany demo from Oculus worked perfectly, as did everything from http://riftaway.com. The best thing by far was Cyber Space and the ragdoll eject feature, which I discovered by accident because, as we’re established above, I don’t read instructions unless necessary, is hilarious. Discovering Space wouldn’t work, it loaded on the Rift but it didn’t display properly – the middle of the screen was missing so you couldn’t do anything. Don’t Let Go! looked like it would have been fun, but that simply wouldn’t display in the Rift, all I got was the stereoscopic display in the PC monitor.

Impressions:

The headset is surprising light and comfortably. One of us had used a DK1 before and said it was a big improvement. Despite being full HD, the resolution appears low and pixelated because the screens are so close to your eyes, but that is amply compensated for by the immersive experience which is truly outstanding. A little disorientating at first, and then a little more when you take if off, but in both cases it passes quickly. The cables are a bit annoying, there are a lot of them, and it would be nice if this could be simplified.

Next steps:

Well, the first thing to do is get it working properly. I think maybe getting a DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor for one the of Macs is the way to go here as most of the Macs are new(ish) and pretty high spec. Then we’ll want to develop something ourselves. I think I might struggle to come up with a business case for the boss to let us develop some cool games, but a virtual walkthrough of the campuses for prospective students is a good starting point; I could see us setting up a stall with the Rift at recruitment fairs, induction events, school visits, etc. and let people walk around the University while playing with the newest cool toy. We’re also a shoo-in for best stall at next year’s SLS Innovation Event I reckon.