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Surface Duo Review: A Desktop in My Pocket

A Surface Duo on a wood bench.Josh Hendrickson

When I ordered my Surface Duo, I knew I was in for some disappointment. After all, it doesn’t have near-field communication (NFC), or wireless charging, or even a decent camera. When I finally got it, it gave a bad first impression. But weeks later, I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion. The Surface Duo just isn’t a phone. It’s a desktop in my pocket, and that’s why I love it.

If you saw my first look at the device, you already know that things didn’t start well with the Surface Duo. For the few hours or so, apps wouldn’t load correctly, and some of the biggest Surface Duo features just didn’t work right. Thankfully, everything settled down and the phone became more stable.

Not perfectly stable, mind you, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Besides the software making a bad first impression, the hardware itself makes a great first impression, at least, on the outside. That’s because despite slapping two displays to a hinge, the Surface Duo is super thin, even when closed. It feels great in the hand and looks gorgeous on the outside. Unfortunately, the innards aren’t as appealing. Let’s cover those real quick:

  • Displays when open: 8.1” AMOLED, 2700×1800 (3:2), 401 PPI
  • Each individual display: 5.6” AMOLED, 1800×1350 (4:3), 401 PPI
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform
  • RAM: 6 GB
  • Storage: 128 GB or 256 GB 
  • Camera: Singular 11 MP camera
  • Ports: Type-C USB port (no headphone jack)
  • Fingerprint Sensor: Side, beneath power button
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/b/ac, 2.4GHz/5GHz; MIMO; Bluetooth 5.1; NFC; AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile support
  • IP Rating: None
  • Color: Glacier
  • Dimensions when open: 145.2 mm (H) x 186.9 mm (W) x 4.8 mm (T)
  • Dimensions when closed: 145.2 mm (H) x 93.3 mm (W) x 9.9 mm (T at hinge)
  • Weight: 250 grams
  • Price: $1,399, or $1,499, respectively

If you follow smartphones at all, there’s a few standout specs of the back. The processor is from last year, though that might be a good thing. But the RAM is on the light side for multitasking device, there’s no IP rating at all, no NFC, no wireless charging, and the camera is a far cry from what you usually see on $1,400 phones. So long as you think of this device as a phone, it’s going to be disappointing. However, you can mitigate some of that.

It’s a Bad Smartphone, but You Can Fix That

Ok, let’s start with the elephant in the room. The Surface Duo is, by all means, an Android smartphone. After all, it makes phone calls, handles text messages, and even video calls. But it’s not a very good smartphone.

A Surface Duo, smartwatch, handheld camera, and true wireless earbuds on a checkered blanket.Everything you need for a full flagship experience. Watch, camera, and earbuds not included. Josh Hendrickson

These days we expect our smartphones to do more than make phone calls and send text messages, like take amazing pictures or replace our credit cards with digital payments. But the Surface Duo doesn’t do any of that.

It has a camera that serves as both the front-facing and rear shooter, but it’s not a great camera. At best, it’s competent under optimal conditions. Are you in a well-lit room? You’ll get some decent shots that could use more details, good enough for Facebook and Twitter. 

But if you are in anything less than perfect conditions, the camera will struggle. Forget Night Sight and similar features found in Pixels and iPhones. Forget taking any photos at night. Night shots you get out of the Surface Duo are practically unusable.

Likewise, you can’t make contactless payments, and you can’t even tell the time or see your notifications without at least partially opening the thing to get to Peek Mode. And that’s after I found a buried setting to turn on notification badges for Peek Mode. And, as for actual phone calls? Well, it works, but the quality isn’t great.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve been told I sound like I’m underwater when talking on my Surface Duo. That’s down to using just one speaker and microphone on one display, so you have to get it positioned just right and make sure you have the correct display towards your face.

But honestly, none of that is a big deal. If I know I’m going somewhere I’m want to take great photos, I can bring my camera. Thanks to a smartwatch, I have access to time, notifications, and contactless payments. And, I use true wireless earbuds when making phone calls.

Do I love that I need all that extra stuff to make my smartphone work like a decent smartphone? No, no, I don’t. But think about this for a moment: Do you judge an LTE tablet or smartwatch for their smartphone capabilities? No, they just happen to have the chops to make phone calls. But that’s not the point of them.

And the same goes for the Surface Duo; the moment I stopped thinking about it as a phone, I fell in love with what it actually is.

It’s a Dual-Screen Desktop in My Pocket

Pick up the Surface Duo, and it feels unlike any phone you’ve ever held. When it’s closed, it feels wide in my hand yet super thin. One side is incredibly straight and ends in sharp corners, but the other has curved corners.

A Surface Duo with the Feedly app open on one display, and Slack on the other.Josh Hendrickson

Picture a thin UltraBook, like the Dell XPS 13. Now, shrink it down to palm-size. That’s what the Surface Duo feels like when you hold it. And, I’m starting to think that’s not an accident. The hinge is just perfect, the Duo moves to any position with ease but sticks where I want without budging. I don’t use my Surface Duo like a phone anymore. I use it like a Windows desktop with two monitors.

On the Surface Duo, you can create app groups and place them on your desktop. They look a bit like folders, but instead of a grouping of several apps, it’s just two. When you tap on an app group, both of the apps open, one on each screen. That sounds minor, but it’s incredibly powerful and useful. You see, the problem with most phones and tablets is, you’re limited to one thing at a time.

Think about when you need to copy a sentence from a text to another chat app, like Messenger. You’ll need to minimize Messenger, open your Text messages, find the message, copy it, minimize the text message app, find Messenger in your multitask list, then paste.

It’s so much easier on the Surface Duo; just open both at the same time. Copy from one and paste to the other. In some apps, like Edge and To Do, you don’t need to use the copy command. Just highlight the text and drag it straight to the second app.

A Surface Duo next to a phone in a case, each about the same width.I still can’t believe how thin this thing is. Josh Hendrickson

That’s the kind of stuff I do in Windows all the time. As Review Geek’s News Lead, I help determine what news we cover every day. Now, in the morning, I cook breakfast and keep my phone open. On the left screen, I have Feedly and on the right Slack. When I see interesting news, I can drag it straight to the appropriate Slack channel. That process was a pain with my single-display smartphone.

I have an app group for Facebook and Twitter, for the Bible and OneNote, for Slack and my work email. All these groups let me get more done from my phone with fewer steps. And, you don’t have to create groups to benefit from the dual-screen functionality. I open 1Password and any other app or browser on each display all the time. Or I open remote desktop to control my PC when I’m away from it on my left display and touch-friendly apps, like my email on the right.

On Sundays, I direct my church’s online worship service. We broadcast to YouTube and Facebook, and that means paying attention to two feeds. Now, I open both on Surface Duo at the same time. I can’t play two videos at once, but I can monitor the comment feeds of both, which is what I need most.

It’s just like connecting two monitors to a PC or Mac. The extra space means more real estate for more programs, so you can see what’s going on in more places and even more from one to the other. Two apps on the Surface Duo simultaneous is the multitasker’s dream. Or, at least mine.

The more I’ve used my Surface Duo, the less I’ve used one of the other devices in my life—my iPad. Even my wife noticed and asked if we can just give it to our son, because I “don’t need it anymore.” The fact that I can get more done has me reaching for my iPad less, but I’m not ready to give my tablet up yet.

The Tablet with Too Much Gap

The Surface Duo has several “postures,” and the main four you’re likely to use are “Book Mode,” “Compose Mode,” “Single Screen Mode,” and “Dual Landscape Mode.” I use Book Mode about 90% of the time, and it’s just what you’d imagine. The Surface Duo is most of the way open, almost like you’re holding a book, and you have an app open on each display.

A kindle app, showing a page of a book on each display.The Kindle app is one of the best examples of spanning across the screen. Josh Hendrickson

Compose mode puts a messaging app on one screen and a keyboard on the other, which is handy when you have a surface to … well, hold your Surface. It feels a lot like using a laptop. In Single Screen Mode, you flip the displays all the way around and use just a single screen at a time. Mostly, I use that for taking pictures or playing games.

An episode of 'The Good Place' spanned across two displays of a Surface Duo, an unsightly gap breaking the image in the middle.If you like to watch a show like this, you’re probably going to The Bad Place. Josh Hendrickson

If you want to take pictures easily, just move to Single Screen Mode, face your camera towards your subject (you or elsewhere), and make sure the screen you want to be the viewfinder is activated. Then double-tap the “Power” button, that’ll open the camera and put the viewfinder on the active display.

But the last mode is probably the least useful of the top four. In Dual Landscape mode, you move an app to the middle of the two screens and it spans across both displays. Together the Surface Duo’s displays measure 8.1 inches diagonally, which is about a small tablet’s size.

But it’s not a small tablet, thanks in part to the gap in between the two displays. Open up a media app like Netflix or a game in this mode, the gap becomes painfully obvious and ruins the experience. Microsoft adjusted its apps to work around the gap, and a few other apps followed suit. But the vast majority don’t work well in Dual Landscape mode.

I Love It, but You Shouldn’t Buy It

In some ways, the Surface Duo’s strength is that Microsoft treats each display almost like a separate phone. Most apps just work, whether you’re in Book Mode, Compose Mode, or Single Screen mode.

But right now, there are still too many problems for the average person to consider buying this $1,400 “portable desktop.”

First, there’s that price, which is enough to buy a good phone and a decent laptop. Then there’s the fact that if you want to replace your smartphone with a Surface Duo, you also need some true wireless earbuds, a smartwatch, and a decent camera to get the full experience any other flagship offers. Now, we’re talking something closer to $2,000. You could buy a Galaxy Z Fold 2 for that price.

The Surface Duo with a gaming system on it, game on one screen and controls on the other.RetroArch is pretty sweet for playing games you legally own. Josh Hendrickson

Dual Landscape mode is another disappointment. At this point, I only use it for two apps: Kindle and RetroArch. With Kindle, each display shows a page, making it a literal “Book Mode,” and the experience is fantastic. When you turn a page, the animation actually looks like turning a page.

In RetroArch, if you turn the Surface Duo sideways, the game goes on one screen, and the controls go on the other. It looks like an old-school Nintendo DS, and I love it. Beyond that, and a couple of web games designed for dual-screen displays, Dual Landscape Mode won’t do much until app developers embrace the Surface Duo. Yeah, don’t hold your breath.

A Surface Duo with just a single screen showing, and Alto's Oddessey playing.When you need, it works in Single Screen Mode, and every app behaves normally. Josh Hendrickson

And after spending all that money, it should be a perfect experience, but it isn’t. The Surface Duo felt very buggy out of the box, and while it that toned down after an hour, it remained somewhat laggy at times. For the first week or two, I found myself restarting the device every so often because apps wouldn’t open. That choice to go with just 6 GBs of RAM hurt things, I think. The good news is a recent update to the Surface Duo really helped on that front.

But I’m a Microsoft Fan, willing to look past issues like those found on the Surface Duo. I don’t use my smartphone for calls all that often. It does the thing I’ve always wanted—make me more productive and more capable.

The camera is still disappointing. I guess I’ll carry something else. But the truth is, you shouldn’t have to settle for less when you spend $1,500. Microsoft is onto a great idea here, and someday the Surface Duo 2 or 3 will likely be a fantastic smartphone that anyone should buy. But for now, unless you’re a hardcore Microsoft fan or you absolutely need all the multitasking capabilities possible, you should probably pass.

But for me? I have no regrets but the Surface Duo. Well, none I can’t live with, anyway.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

How to Remove Windows Activation Watermark

hevc-windows-feature.jpg If you’ve recently changed your PC’s hardware, there’s a good chance there is now a watermark in the bottom-right corner of your screen saying you need to activate Windows. While it doesn’t impact your PC’s performance or prevent you from doing anything you would normally do with your PC, it is annoying. Fortunately, there is a way to remove the activation watermark permanently from your machine. Related: What You Need to Know About Windows 10 Activation Procedure What Is Windows Activation? Microsoft Product Activation is a DRM (digital right management) technology. Essentially, product activation acts somewhat… Read more13937786.gif

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Ryan Lynch

How to Detect Keyloggers in Windows Systems

Featured-Image-Keyloggers-Win10-How-to-D Keyloggers are a dangerous security threat which can easily target even up-to-date computers. Their aim is to monitor your keystrokes and expose that private data to hackers and surveillance agents. While you may use anti-keylogger software, it’s far more effective to detect these threats in advance before they do any serious damage. Here are some of the best ways to detect keyloggers in a Windows computer. We will also discuss an advanced preventative technique called “keystroke encryption” that neutralizes even the most sophisticated keyloggers. Related: Microsoft Warns of Hard-to-Spot Fileless Malware, “Astaroth” What are Keyloggers?… Read more13926409.gif

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sayak Boral

Microsoft Is About to Make Windows ARM Laptops Actually Worth Buying


Yesterday, Microsoft officially announced that it’s working on an x64 emulation for Windows on ARM, which will pave the way for up-to-date versions of applications like the Adobe Creative Suite to finally work on the platform.

Read more…

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Joanna Nelius

Keep an eye on this Windows 10 update

Microsoft released a set of optional driver updates to Windows 10 computers that should never have been delivered. Inappropriate driver updates appeared for a set of users that did not request them, nor require them. This isn’t like your everyday average “this latest Windows 10 update has a few bugs” situation – it’s more like Microsoft released a software update … Continue reading

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Chris Burns

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Robert Zak

Microsoft’s Edge browser is coming to Linux in October

Microsoft’s Edge browser is coming to Linux, starting with the Dev channel. The first of these previews will go live in October.

When Microsoft announced that it would switch its Edge browser to the Chromium engine, it vowed to bring it to every popular platform. At the time, Linux wasn’t part of that list, but by late last year, it became clear that Microsoft was indeed working on a Linux version. Later, at this year’s Build, a Microsoft presenter even used it during a presentation.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Starting in October, Linux users will be able to either download the browser from the Edge Insider website or through their native package managers. Linux users will get the same Edge experience as users on Windows and macOS, as well as access to its built-in privacy and security features. For the most part, I would expect the Linux experience to be on par with that on the other platforms.

Microsoft also today announced that its developers have made over 3,700 commits to the Chromium project so far. Some of this work has been on support for touchscreens, but the team also contributed to areas like accessibility features and developer tools, on top of core browser fundamentals.

Currently, Microsoft Edge is available on Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as

macOS, iOS and Android.


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Microsoft Surface Duo review

In the early days, Microsoft had misgivings about calling the Surface Duo a phone. Asked to define it as such, the company has had the tendency to deflect with comments like, “Surface Duo does much more than make phone calls.” Which, to be fair, it does. And to also be fair, so do most phones. Heck, maybe the company is worried that the idea of a Microsoft Phone still leaves a bitter taste in some mouths.

The Duo is an ambitious device that is very much about Microsoft’s own ambitions with the Surface line. The company doesn’t simply want to be a hardware manufacturer — there are plenty of those in the world. It wants to be at the vanguard of how we use our devices, going forward. It’s a worthy pursuit in some respects.

After all, for all of the innovations we’ve seen in mobile in the past decade, the category feels static. Sure there’s 5G. Next-gen wireless was supposed to give the industry a temporary kick in the pants. That it hasn’t yet has more to do with external forces (the pandemic caught practically everyone off guard), but even so, it hardly represents some radical departure for mobile hardware.

What many manufacturers do seem to agree on is that the next breakthrough in mobile devices will be the ability to fit more screen real estate into one’s pocket. Mobile devices are currently brushing up against the upper threshold of hardware footprint, in terms of what we’re capable of holding in our hands and willing to carrying around in our pockets. Breakthroughs in recent years also appear to have gotten us close to a saturation point in terms of screen-to-body ratio.

Foldable screens are a compelling way forward. After years of promise, the technology finally arrived as screens appeared to be hitting an upper limit. Of course, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold stumbled out of the gate, leaving other devices like the Huawei Mate X scrambling. That product finally launched in China, but seemed to disappear from the conversation in the process. Motorola’s first foldable, meanwhile, was a flat-out dud.

Announced at a Surface event last year, the Duo takes an entirely different approach to the screen problem — one that has strengths and weaknesses when pitted against the current crop of foldables. The solution is a more robust one. The true pain point of foldables has always been the screen itself. Microsoft sidesteps this by simply connecting two screens. That introduces other problems, however, including a sizable gap and bezel combination that puts a decided damper on watching full-screen video.

Microsoft is far from the first company to take a dual-screen approach, of course. ZTE’s Axon M springs to mind. In that case — as with others — the device very much felt like two smartphones stuck together. Launched at the height of ZTE’s experimental phase, it felt like, at best, a shot in the dark. Microsoft, on the other hand, immediately sets its efforts apart with some really solid design. It’s clear that, unlike the ZTE product, the Duo was created from the ground up.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The last time I wrote about the Duo, it was a “hands-on” that only focused on the device’s hardware. That was due, in part, to the fact that the software wasn’t quite ready at the time of writing. Microsoft was, however, excited to show off the hardware — and for good reason. This really looks and feels nice. Aesthetically, at least, this thing is terrific. It’s no wonder that this is the first device I’ve seen in a while that legitimately had the TechCrunch staff excited.

While the Surface Duo is, indeed, a phone, it’s one that represents exciting potential for the category. And equally importantly, it demonstrates that there is a way to do so without backing into the trappings of the first generation of foldables. In early briefings with the device, Surface lead Panos Panay devoted a LOT of time to breaking down the intricacies of the design decisions made here. To be fair, that’s partially because that’s pretty much his main deal, but I do honestly believe that the company had to engineer some breakthroughs here in order to get hardware that works exactly right, down to a fluid and solid hinge that maintains wired connections between the two displays.

There are, of course, trade-offs. The aforementioned gap between screens is probably the largest. This is primarily a problem when opening a single app across displays (a trick accomplished by dragging and dropping a window onto both screens in a single, fluid movement). This is likely part of the reason the company is positioning this is as far more of a productivity app than an entertainment one — in addition to all of the obvious trappings of a piece of Microsoft hardware.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The company took great pains to ensure that two separate apps can open on each of the screens. And honestly, the gap is actually kind of a plus when multitasking with two apps open, creating a clear delineation between the two sides. And certain productivity apps make good use of the dual screens when spanning both. Take Gmail, which offers a full inbox on one side and the open selected message on the other. Ditto for using the Amazon app to read a book. Like the abandoned Courier project before it, this is really the perfect form factor for e-book reading — albeit still a bit small for more weary eyes.

There are other pragmatic considerations with the design choices here. The book design means there’s no screen on the exterior. The glass and mirror Windows logo looks lovely, but there’s no easy way to preview notifications. Keep in mind the new Galaxy Fold and Motorola Razr invested a fair amount in the front screen experience on their second-generation devices. Some will no doubt prefer to have a device that’s offline while closed, and I suppose you could always just keep the screens facing outward, if you so chose.

You’ll probably also want to keep the screens facing out if you’re someone who needs your device at the ready to snap a quick photo. Picture taking is really one of the biggest pain points here. There’s no rear camera. Instead, I’m convinced that the company sees most picture taking on the device as secondary to webcam functionality for things like teleconferencing. I do like that experience of having the device standing up and being able to speak into it handsfree (assuming your able to get it to appropriate eye level).

But when it came to walking around, snapping shots to test the camera, I really found myself fumbling around a lot here. You always feels like you’re between three and five steps away from taking a quick shot. And the fact of the matter is the shots aren’t great. The on-board camera also isn’t really up to the standards of a $1,400 device. Honestly, the whole thing feels like an afterthought. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled after using the Note 20’s camera for the last several weeks, but hopefully Microsoft will prioritize the camera a bit more the next go-round.

Another hardware disappointment for me is the size of the bezels. Microsoft says they’re essentially the minimal viable size so as to not make people accidentally trigger the touchscreen. Which, fair enough. But while it’s not a huge deal aesthetically, it makes the promise of two-hand typing when the device is in laptop mode close to impossible.

That was honestly one of the things I was excited for here. Instead, you’re stuck thumb-typing as you would on any standard smartphone. I have to admit, the Duo was significantly smaller in person than I imagined it would be, for better and worse. Those seeking a fuller typing experience will have to wait for the Neo.

The decision not to include 5G is a curious one. This seems to have been made, in part, over concerns around thinness and form factor. And while 5G isn’t exactly mainstream at this point in 2020, it’s important to attempt to future proof a $1,400 device as much as possible. This isn’t the kind of upgrade most of us make every year or so. By the time the cycle comes back around, LTE is going to feel pretty dated.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Battery life is pretty solid, owing to the inclusion of two separate batteries, each located beneath a screen. I was able to get about a day and a half of life — that’s also one of the advantages of not having 5G on board, I suppose. Performance also seemed solid for the most part, while working with multiple apps front and center. For whatever reason, however, the Bluetooth connection was lacking. I had all sorts of issues keeping both the Surface Buds and Pixel Buds connected, which can get extremely annoying when attempting to listen to a podcast.

These are the sorts of questions a second-generation device will seek to answer. Ditto for some of the experiential software stuff. There was some bugginess with some of the apps early on. A software update has gone a ways toward addressing much of that, but work needs to be done to offer a seamless dual-screen experience. Some apps like Spotify don’t do a great job spanning screens. Spacing gets weird, things require a bit of finessing on the part of the user. If the Duo proves a more popular form factor, third party developers will hopefully be more eager to fine tune things.

There were other issues, including the occasional blacked out screen on opening, though generally be resolved by closing and reopening the device. Also, Microsoft has opted to only allow one screen to be active at a time when they’re both positioned outward so as to avoid accidentally triggering the back of the touch screen. Switching between displays requires doubling tapping the inactive one.

But Microsoft has added a number of neat tricks like App Groups, which are a quick shortcut to fire up two apps at once. As for why Microsoft went with Android, rather than their own Windows 10, which is designed to be adaptable to a number of different form factors, the answer is refreshingly pragmatic and straightforward. Windows 10 just doesn’t have enough mobile apps. Microsoft clearly wants the Duo to serve as a proof of concept for this new form factor, though one questions whether the company will be able to sufficiently monetize the copycats.

For now, however, that means a lot more selection for the end user, including a ton of Google productivity apps. That’s an important plus given how few of us are tied exclusively to Microsoft productivity apps these days.

As with other experimental form factors, the first generation involves a fair bit of trial and error. Sure, Microsoft no doubt dogfooded the product in-house for a while, but you won’t get a really good idea of how most consumers interact with this manner of device — or precisely what they’re looking for. Six months from now, Microsoft will have a much better picture, and all of those ideas will go into refining the next generation product.

That said, the hardware does feels quite good for a first generation device — even if certain key sacrifices were made in the process. The software will almost certainly continue to be refined over the course of the next year as well. I’d wait a bit on picking it up for that reason alone. The question, ultimately becomes what the cost of early adoption is.

In the grand scheme of foldable devices, maybe $1,400 isn’t that much, perhaps. But compared to the vast majority of smartphone and tablet flagships out there, it’s a lot. Especially for something that still feels like a first generation work in progress. For now, it feels like a significant chunk of the price is invested in novelty and being an early adopter for a promising device.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

How to Insert Emoji in Microsoft Word Documents 📝

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Chris Hoffman

Why I Loved Microsoft Bob, Microsoft’s Strangest Creation

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Windows 95, and people have a lot to say about it. My favorite part of Windows 95 was an infamous program called Microsoft Bob. It was a massive failure, but I loved it anyway.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Joe Fedewa

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