Posey's Tips & Tricks
Quick Look: Windows Phone 7.8
Brien chronicles the update process and gives his initial thoughts on the mobile OS update.
Being that I have written a book about Windows Phone 7 (and an upcoming Windows Phone 8 book) and numerous Windows Phone related articles, it should come as no surprise that I use a Windows Phone 7 device as my own personal phone. However, a rather strange chain of events forced me to perform an unauthorized upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8.
It all started last year, a few days before Halloween in what was to become one of the scariest moments in my life. My wife and I were visiting Acadia National Park in Maine. It was a rather crisp day (at least for someone who lives in the south), so we both had on winter coats. We were at an area of the park known as Thunder Hole where a walkway allowed us to walk out to some rocks in the ocean. This isn't my video, by the way.
Although it was a sunny afternoon and the ocean had been calm all day, a series or extremely large waves rushed into the area where we were standing. The waves were big enough that even though the walkway that we were standing on was at least five feet above the normal ocean level, the waves broke over our heads. We tried to get back to dry land, but one of the waves knocked me down. The next thing I knew, I was underwater (45 degree water no less). Being that I was wearing a coat, shoes, and whatever else, I knew that swimming would be extremely difficult. I clung to the railing trying not to get washed out to sea. Eventually the waves subsided and I was able to return to the safety of dry land.
Once the initial shock of the incident wore off, I realized that all of my electronics had been submerged including my Nikon and my Windows Phone 7 device. My wife's Windows Phone 7 device had also been submerged, but her coat had waterproof pockets. Even though her pockets did leak a little bit, her phone didn't get nearly as wet as mine.
We were scheduled to fly home the next day and we both decided that first thing Monday morning we needed to go to the Sprint store to get new phones (and go shopping for a new camera while we wee out). Much to my horror, Sprint no longer sold Windows phones.
Being that Sprint is planning to offer Windows Phone 8 devices in early summer, my wife agreed to get an iPhone as a temporary solution and to give me her Windows Phone. The problem was that even though her Windows Phone still worked, it had suffered damage in the ocean. The phone periodically locked up.
I had hoped that over time the lockups would become less frequent as the phone dried out, but the lockups actually became more frequent over time. Last month I had the idea that perhaps loading Windows Phone 7.8 onto the device might help with the lockups. Even though Microsoft is once again making the update available, Sprint has not yet made the update available to their customers (at the time of writing).
After doing a bit of research, I discovered that Windows Phone Hacker offered a utility that would install the Windows Phone 7.8 bits onto a Windows Phone 7 device even though my cell provider had not yet made the update available. The utility worked flawlessly and within about an hour my phone had been updated.
The update preserved all of the data in my phone, and did actually make a big difference with the lockup problem.
Before I updated my phone to Windows Phone 7.8, my phone would lock up pretty much every time that I used it. I could press the power button to turn off the screen and turn it back on to clear the lock up. In doing so, I would be returned to exactly the place where I had left off, but it was still annoying. I use my phone constantly, so I was probably dealing with lockups 20 to 30 times a day.
After the update to Windows Phone 7.8 my phone still occasionally locks up, but now it only happens about twice a day. The update made a huge difference in the operating system's stability even though the hardware is presumably damaged to some extent.
I have to admit that I haven't gotten to spend a lot of time searching the OS for new features. The only obvious new feature is the Windows Phone 8 interface. In case you aren't familiar with this interface, it allows you to adjust the size of the live tiles. There are now three different sizes to choose from. The information that is displayed on a live tile is adapted to fit the size of the tile. In other words, larger tiles display more information (at least in some cases).
The new interface also provides more theme colors to choose from. More importantly, the update gets rid of the empty space to the right of the tiles that are displayed on the Start screen. This empty space, which has come to be known as "The Gutter" wastes a significant amount of screen real estate. I almost feel as if my phone has a larger display now that the gutter is gone.
Ultimately, I will be the first to admit that calling Windows 7.8 a minor update is being generous. Even so, this minor update made a big difference in my phone's usability.
Brien Posey is a 19-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.