A Techie's Top 5: ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley Lifts a Toast to Microsoft Gadgets

By , dealnews contributor

While Apple is as cool as a Steve Jobs turtle neck these days, Microsoft has had a bit of an image problem. Well, maybe more than a bit. Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer ranks as the undisputed anti-Jobs: He was recently named the worst CEO of a publicly-traded company by Forbes, and the second-worst CEO of 2012 by CNBC.

And yet, one CEO's ineptitude cannot totally destroy a once-proud franchise. Microsoft still makes some innovative and useful products (Xbox, anyone?), and still has its fans in the press. As editor of ZDNet's All About Microsoft blog, Mary Jo Foley wants you to know that she uses Microsoft technologies not because she has to, but because she wants to. "Any Microsoft-centric tech I own is something I bought with my own funds and use because I prefer it," she says.

We find that kind of honesty refreshing, especially when coupled with her expertise: She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era" (John Wiley & Sons). We also found Foley's list of favorite gadgets a breath of fresh air — or is that a gulp of fresh beer? Read on, and you'll hear all about the cherished kit Foley uses to create some home brew in her Manhattan apartment.

HTC 8X 4G Windows Phone for Verizon Wireless
($49.99 with free shipping)
Foley's funky phone comes in California Blue, an eye-catching blue/purple hybrid. "I really like the tiled interface because I can customize it. The HTC 8X is thin, light, durable, and nice looking. I don't care that there are fewer apps for the platform than iOS or Android, given I am a woman of few apps. But I do hope a few more NYC/locally-focused ones do come to the Windows Phone app store soon." She adds: "It's nice not to have a me-too phone like the iPhone or Android phones. Think different — in the real sense of the catchphrase."

Microsoft Surface 11" 32GB Windows RT Tablet with Black Touch Cover
(from $599 with free shipping, a low by $1)
Foley had one Apple device: a first-generation iPad. "But I recently gave it away and switched to a Microsoft Surface RT tablet," she says. This ARM-based, 1.5-pound tablet comes with a cover that doubles as a keyboard. "I use the Type cover because it is faster than the Touch cover, though it only comes in black, not multiple colors," she says. "There are some really nice pre-loaded apps, like Microsoft Office, Bing travel, and the Bing weather app. The Surface RT is definitely a 1.0 device, but it fits in better with my Windows-centric home/office set-up than my iPad did. No more iTunes needed! Yay!"

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite WiFi 6" eBook Reader
(from $119 with free shipping)
"Yes, I could read eBooks on my phone or Surface," Foley says, "but I'm not a fan of device convergence; I prefer to use the best device for the job when possible." And when it comes to eReaders, Foley loved her first-generation Kindle. She just traded up for a Kindle Paperwhite with built-in back-lighting, and "now I love my Kindle even more, since I don't need an overhead light or a clip-on light to read with it. I take it with me on all trips, short and long. I really like the Amazon cover built for it, which allows you to hibernate the device by simply closing the cover and come back to your place just by opening the cover."

ASUS Intel Core 2 Duo 1.3GHz 13.3" Widescreen Notebook
"I'm a PC, not a Mac — by choice, not by requirement," Foley says proudly, though she's still a Windows 7 PC and expects to be one for the foreseeable future. "I'm very accustomed to and productive with a keyboard/mouse combination and multiple windows." She bought her Windows 7 PC three years ago, and the ASUS is still getting 4 to 5 hours of battery life thanks to its ultra-low voltage Intel Core 2 Duo processor. ASUS has since graduated to even more powerful successors to the UL30A, but not Foley: "It's been a durable and dependable PC for everyday use. I'm looking for a new Windows PC to replace it, but have yet to find something I like as much."

Brooklyn Beer Shop Brewing Kit
(from $30 with free shipping, a low by $16)
"One of my hobbies is home-brewing beer in my tiny NYC kitchen," says Foley, who got her kit as a birthday present last year from her sister. "The kit included everything I needed to make a gallon of beer, including the glass carboy for fermenting it; a siphon, plus all the grain/yeast/hops to make my first batch. I still use the original kit and have brewed nearly 10 batches to date, making 7 to 8 bottles at time." Having just about finished a batch of brown ale, (brewed with brown mustard seeds and white peppercorns), Foley's ready to craft a cranberry hefeweizen brewed with frozen cranberries — to which we say, "Cheers!"

Curious to know what other gadgets our favorite techies can't live without? Check out the must-have lists from iFixit's Kyle Wiens, MacRumors' Editor Marianne Schultz, and more.

Front page photo credit: Facebook

Lou Carlozo is a dealnews contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth. Prior to that he was the managing editor of WalletPop.com, and a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune.

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