Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | January 23, 2015 - 07:11 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, dx12, DirectX 12, DirectX
Microsoft has added DirectX 12 with the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview that was released today. Until today, DXDIAG reported DirectX 11 in the Windows 10 Technical Preview. At the moment, there has not been any drivers or software released for it, and the SDK is also no-where to be found. Really, all this means is that one barrier has been lifted, leaving the burden on hardware and software partners (except to release the SDK, that's still Microsoft's responsibility).
No-one needs to know how old my motherboard is...
Note: I have already experienced some issues with Build 9926. Within a half hour of using it, I suffered an instant power-down. There was not even enough time for a bluescreen. When it came back, my Intel GPU (which worked for a few minutes after the update) refused to be activated, along with the monitor it is attached to. My point? Not for production machines.
Update: Looks like a stick of RAM (or some other hardware) blew, coincidentally, about 30 minutes after the update finished, while the computer was running, which also confused my UEFI settings. I haven't got around to troubleshooting much, but it seems like a weirdly-timed, abrupt hardware failure (BIOS is only reporting half of the RAM installed, iGPU is "enabled" but without RAM associated to it, etc.).
The interesting part, to me, is how Microsoft pushed DX12 into this release without, you know, telling anyone. It is not on any changelog that I can see, and it was not mentioned anywhere in the briefing as potentially being in an upcoming preview build. Before the keynote, I had a theory that it would be included but, after the announcement, figured that it might be pushed until GDC or BUILD (but I kept an open mind). The only evidence that it might come this month was an editorial on Forbes that referenced a conversation with Futuremark, who allegedly wanted to release an update to 3DMark (they hoped) when Microsoft released the new build. I could not find anything else, so I didn't report on it -- you would think that there would be a second source for that somewhere. It turns out that he might be right.
The new Windows 10 Technical Preview, containing DirectX 12, is available now from the preview build panel. It looks like Futuremark (and maybe others) will soon release software for it, but no hardware vendor has released a driver... yet.
Subject: General Tech | January 23, 2015 - 01:02 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, hololens
That fancy black visor was not what was provided to those lucky few who were invited to try out the HoloLens after the WinX presentation. The working model consists of straps and an adjustable headband holding the lenses all enclosed within a wire frame to which is attached an external enclosure holding the battery and processors. There were four different experiments to try, including the Minecraft looking demo we saw on stage and a virtual Mars experience using the data captured by Curiosity. We won't be seeing the slick model demonstrated on stage any time soon but the technology is solid and was enough to convince The Register that Microsoft has an incredible product in store for us.
"During Wednesday's Windows 10 preview day, select groups of hacks were stripped of any recording devices or cameras and sent down into the bowels of Building 92 of Microsoft's Redmond campus to try out the HoloLens, the software giant's new "hologramatic" wearable."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Microsoft Office for Windows 10 detailed with Office 2016 to follow @ The Inquirer
- Install Windows 10 Preview From A Flash Drive @ Bjorn3d
- Is Windows RT not invited to Windows 10 upgrade party? @ The Register
- LEAKED: Samsung's iPHONE 6 KILLER... the Samsung Galaxy S6 @ The Register
- Project Zero's vigilantism is harming Google's 'Don't Be Evil' buzz @ The Inquirer
- Win two ASUS Strix OC GTX 960′s with Nvidia and KitGuru
Introducing Windows 10 (Again)
I did not exactly make too many unsafe predictions, but let's recap the Windows 10 Consumer announcement anyway. The briefing was a bit on the slow side, at least if you are used to E3 keynotes, but it contained a fair amount of useful information. Some of the things discussed are future-oriented, but some will arrive soon. So let's get right into it.
Price and Upgrade Options
Microsoft has not announced an official price for Windows 10, if the intent is to install it on a new PC. If you are attempting to upgrade a machine that currently runs Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, then that will be a free upgrade if done within the first year. Windows Phone 8.1 users are also eligible for a no-cost upgrade to Windows 10 if done in the first year.
Quote Terry Myerson of Microsoft, “Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device.” This is not elaborated on, but it seems like a weird statement given what we have traditionally expected from Windows. One possible explanation is that Microsoft intends for Windows to be a subscription service going forward, which would be the most obvious extension of “Windows as a Service”. On the other hand, they could be going for the per-device revenue option with Bing, Windows Store, and other initiatives being long tail. If so, I am a bit confused about what constitutes a new device for systems that are regularly upgraded, like what our readers are typically interested in. All of that will eventually be made clear, but not yet.
A New Build for Windows 10
Late in the keynote, Microsoft announced the availability of new preview builds for Windows 10. This time, users of Windows Phone 8.1 will also be able to see the work in progress. PC “Insiders” will get access to their build “in the next week” and phones will get access “in Feburary”. Ars Technica seems to believe that this is scheduled for Sunday, February 1st, which is a really weird time to release a build but their source might be right.
We don't know exactly what will be in it, though. In my predictions, I guessed that a DirectX 12 SDK might be available (or at least some demos) in the next build. That has not been mentioned, which probably would have been if it were true. I expect the next possibility (if we're not surprised in the next one-to-ten days when the build drops) is Game Developers Conference (GDC 2015), which starts on March 2nd.
The New Web Browser: Project Spartan
My guess was that Spartan would be based on DirectX 12. Joe Belfiore said that it is using a new, standards-compliant rendering engine and basically nothing more. The event focused on specific features. The first is note taking, which basically turns the web browser into a telestrator that can also accept keyboard comment blocks. The second is a reading mode that alters content into a Microsoft Word-like column. The third is “reading lists”, which is basically a “read it later” feature that does offline caching. The fourth is Adobe PDF support, which works with the other features of Spartan such as note taking and reading lists.
Which Transitions Into Cortana
The fifth feature of Spartan is Cortana integration, which will provide auto-suggestions based on the information that the assistant software has. The example they provided was auto-suggesting the website for his wife's flight. Surprisingly, when you attempt to control a Spartan, Cortana does not say “There's two of us in here now, remember?” You know, in an attempt to let you know she's service that's integrated into the browser.
Otherwise, it's an interesting demo. I might even end up using it when it comes out, but these sorts of things do not really interest me too much. We have been at the point where, for my usage, the operating system is really not in the way anymore. It feels like there is very little friction between me and getting what I want done, done. Of course, people felt that way about rotary phones until touch-tone came out, and I keep an open mind to better methods. It's just hard to get me excited about voice-activated digital assistants.
As I stated before, DirectX 12 was mentioned but a release date was not confirmed. What they did mention was a bit of relative performance. DirectX 12 supposedly uses about half of the power consumption of DirectX 11, which is particularly great for mobile applications. It can also handle scenes with many more objects. A FutureMark demo was displayed, with the DirectX 11 version alongside a DirectX 12 version. The models seem fairly simple, but the DirectX 12 version appears to running at over 100 FPS when the DirectX 11 version outright fails.
Other gaming features were mentioned. First, Windows 10 will allow shadow recording the last 30 seconds of footage from any game. You might think that NVIDIA would be upset about that, and they might be, but that is significantly less time than ShadowPlay or other recording methods. Second, Xbox One will be able to stream gameplay to any PC in your house. I expect this is the opposite direction than what people hope for, rather wishing for high-quality PC footage to be easily streamed to TVs with a simple interface. It will probably serve a purpose for some use case, though.
Well that was a pretty long event, clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours. The end had a surprise announcement of an augmented reality (not virtual reality) headset, called the “HoloLens”, which is developed by the Kinect team. I am deliberately not elaborating on it because I was not at the event and I have not tried it. I will say that the most interesting part about it, for me, is the Skype integration, because that probably hints at Microsoft's intentions with the product.
For the rest of us, it touched on a number of interesting features but, like the Enterprise event, did not really dive in. It would have been nice to get some technical details about DirectX 12, but that obviously does not cater to the intended audience. Unless an upcoming build soft-launches a DirectX 12 preview (or Spartan) so that we can do our own discovery, we will probably need to wait until GDC and/or BUILD to find out more.
Until then, you could watch the on-demand version at Microsoft's website.
Subject: General Tech | January 20, 2015 - 09:45 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, spartan, microsoft, dx12, DirectX 12, DirectX, cortana
Microsoft will hold a briefing tomorrow (Wednesday, January 21st at 12pm EST/5pm UTC) about “The Next Chapter” of Windows 10. This has been described as the Consumer keynote, mirroring the original one that was supposedly intended for the enterprise. Otherwise, there are few official comments regarding the event, but there are also things that we can speculate on.
Here is what I expect to see:
A New Build for Windows 10
Maybe it will not be released on the same day as the speech, but it cannot really be too far behind. We are about two-thirds through January and December was skipped, so it must be happening soon. When 9879 was released, Microsoft said that it would be the last build of 2014 and that “We'll have something new to share with you early in 2015”. Whatever that is (or those things are) will probably be discussed at the event, which means that the build is probably not too far behind it.
When the graphics API was announced, they specifically said the following (see our recap for the second slide that was posted at 10:48am PST):
- Targeting Holiday 2015 games
- Preview release coming later this year
- Don't want to wait that long? Early access!
The preview release later in 2014 did not happen, but the early access did. As such, I am guessing that the date slipped to either the next Windows 10 build, or maybe a build or two after. Whenever it happens specifically, I am guessing that it will be mentioned at this event and available for developers soon (and not just a hand-picked group of Early Access members). Sure, it could wait until Build 2015 in April, but the original slide sounds like they were targeting the end of 2014.
Also, the DirectX 12 Twitter Account just retweeted the live stream and Phil Spencer will be there.
'Spartan' Browser (Maybe with DirectX 12 Support?)
Speaking of DirectX 12, its goal is to utilize GPU shader cores as efficiently as possible, reducing the time it holds up the CPU and balancing its load across multiple cores. This leads to power efficiency and the ability to load many more tasks on the GPU.
These are all things that a web browser vendor would love! Web standards are inherently difficult to multi-thread, because they are designed as sets of stages which build upon other stages. DirectX 12 could probably help immensely, at least with the drawing stage. Web content tends to be fairly simple, but there can be a lot of it, especially for complex Canvas animations (and especially for mobile devices).
It was also recently rumored that Trident, the rendering engine behind Internet Explorer and the not-quite-confirmed Spartan browser, was forked into two maintained versions. The expectation is that this was for compatibility reasons, where the new version can be developed to W3C (and other) standards without worrying about legacy, Internet Explorer-based compatibility cruft. If porting a DirectX 11 applications to DirectX 12 will be annoying, I can see why Microsoft chose to draw the compatibility line just behind that initiative. And honestly, how many people care about rendering, power, and multi-core performance increases for IE8-designed, and therefore desktop-based, web applications?
Continuum, Cortana, and Other Changes
Again, this is what Microsoft considers a Consumer event. As such, it would make sense for them to describe an ideal consumer device, which probably includes two-in-ones. Cortana should also be discussed as well, which is intended to bring value to the users and probably lead them to Bing services. Leaks have also suggested that they are preparing a dark theme.
Am I right? We'll see tomorrow.
Subject: General Tech | January 20, 2015 - 12:46 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: server 2003, microsoft, EoL, migration
There are over eight million active servers running Server 2003 according to the stats The Register has seen and who knows how many Server 2000 installs still kicking around but as of the 14th of July extended support for Server 2003 ends and no longer will security patches or support be available. The difficulty of prying WinXP out of users hands will be nothing compared to convincing stakeholders to part with money to upgrade to a new version of Server, be it hosted onsite or via Azure and O365. There will be some companies wise enough to find leverage to start the migration soon but there will also be many who will not see the cost benefit until their system fails or even worse, a breach occurs. If you have any knowledge of newer versions of ActiveDirectory, Exchange or Azure and O365 you should update your resume as there will be people looking for help migrating in the near future.
"A channel-wide migration skills shortage is a real danger this summer as stragglers strain available resources by making an eleventh hour dash to flee Windows Server 2003, distributor veterans are warning."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Yep, we'll judge WHOLE DARN storage config. Problem with that? @ The Register
- VLC Media Player bugs could allow hackers to execute arbitrary code @ The Inquirer
- CES 2015 Coverage @HiTech Legion
Subject: General Tech | January 19, 2015 - 12:57 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, release
We should be finally hearing the pricetag which will be associated with Windows 10 this Wednesday as Microsoft has been sending out invites for an unveiling this week. Many have already tried the unfinished version via the Windows Insider Programme and it has received a much warmer welcome that the previous version. The Inquirer posits this could be in part because of a realization that consumers now have a choice in operating systems and are now far less likely to feel that they have to go with Microsoft or Apple. From Chromebooks to flavours of Linux wrapped in a GUI and installer that Windows users feel comfortable with there is a change in the market and the biggest competitor to a new Windows is not necessarily an older version of the OS. This has driven Microsoft to listen to customer feedback and not hand out changes to the OS that they feel customers should want but instead bring back familiar features which were removed and perhaps completely rethink their pricing. You can check out The Inquirer's musical take on what to expect right here.
"WEDNESDAY is arguably the most important day in Microsoft's recent history. We're primed and ready for what is expected to be the consumer launch of Windows 10, easily the most pivotal release in its 30 years as the world's predominant operating system."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Microsoft Researchers Use Light Beams To Charge Smartphones @ Slashdot
- CES 2015: Curved screens in LG's G Flex 2 and Samsung SUHD TVs are just cosmetic @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft Azure was most FAIL-FILLED cloud of 2014 @ The Register
- Mio Spirit 6970 LM Truck GPS Navigation System Review @ NikKTech
- How Well Does The Samsung S Voice Work? @ TechARP
- NikKTech & FSP Worldwide Giveaway
Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2015 - 03:41 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows, extended support
According to Microsoft's lifecycle calendar, Windows 7 left mainstream support on the 13th of January and has entered “Extended Support”. This means that the operating system will still receive security updates, but not non-security ones, and “requests to change product design and features” will not be accepted. While the OS is over five years old, it is still very popular, especially among PC gamers.
My concern is that this occurred while we anticipate major changes to the Windows platform. While I never really expected that Microsoft would release DirectX 12 for Windows, there was still hope that we would see a pre-release or developer build while Windows 7 was still in mainstream support (despite being several driver models behind). Now that the window has closed, so to speak, that hope is diminishing. Windows 8.1, on the other hand, might be okay, but I have no idea why you would want to stick with it over Windows 10, especially if it is a free/cheap update.
Besides DirectX 12, I am also concerned about Microsoft cutting off first-party web browsers at IE11. Sure, it is a much better place to end than IE8 on Windows XP, and the end-user could always install a third-party browser, but it could lead to problems for web developers. It is much easier to say “keep Internet Explorer up to date” (heck, even Microsoft is saying it) than the alternative, “use a different browser”. There are still many features under consideration (Shadow DOM being the most interesting for me) that would be nice to have, and not need to worry about the fraction of a fraction.
But at least it will be kept secure until 2020.
Subject: General Tech | January 7, 2015 - 01:09 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: android 4.0, Android 5.0, arm, microsoft
The closed beta for the Office Suite is over and now anyone with an ARM powered Android device running versions 4.x or 5.x can install the non-pared down version Office for Android though you want to make sure your device is between 7" to 10". This is somewhat sad news as it deflates the dreams of those hoping to use NVIDIA's Shield as a desktop replacement and also excludes the new and more powerful Bay Trail tablets. Office on Android is still in beta so this is not a final product and the support for processors may expand as the we approach release, with no firm date for the final release there is reason to expect support could expand to Bay Trail at the least. There is also no price although as The Inquirer points out, the iPad version is free to use.
"MICROSOFT HAS ANNOUNCED the expansion of its beta programme for Android tablet versions of its Office productivity suite."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Micron stacks its 3D NAND high in 2015 @ The Register
- Lenovo: We now OWN IBM's shrinking Euro server biz. It's OURS! @ The Register
- With Forge TV, Razer aims to bring PC gaming to the living room @ The Tech Report
- Syber invades living room with gaming PCs, in-home streaming prototype @ The Tech Report
- Cherry's RealKey tech promises uber-responsive, ghost-free keyboards @ The Tech Report
- Intel's Compute Stick is a $149 Windows PC to go @ The Tech Report
Subject: General Tech | January 2, 2015 - 05:39 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, internet explorer, spartan, IE11, ie12
Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet reports that Microsoft is planning to release a new web browser with Windows 10. We have talked about it in the past, and its rumored extension architecture in particular, but it was expected to become Internet Explorer 12. Even then, snippets have shown that the team was considering a name change away from IE, to some degree of seriousness. Now we are hearing that it might actually be a wholly new, standalone browser that is installed alongside IE11.
Yikes. Okay, so...
Stick a fork in... ... Trident...?
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)
Browser rendering engines have been in flux over the last couple of years. First, Opera decided to deprecate their Presto engine and move to Webkit, along with KDE, Apple, Google, Valve, and so forth. Later, Google decided to fork Webkit into Blink, with Opera following them, to push updates with less inter-company politics. Meanwhile, Mozilla (and Samsung) started a research project, called Servo, which was developed from scratch to be a multi-threaded, efficient rendering engine. This is difficult, because Web standards were designed to be single-threaded; it may be a successful replacement, or it may just teach them a few new tricks for Gecko.
Developing a new engine from scratch is daunting but Microsoft could obviously afford it, if it is deemed a worthy project. With Trident being forked, it seems unlikely for a while though. After all, why would they fork an engine if they had something in skunkworks for years (because a standards-compliant rendering engine takes a long time to make)? Chances are that they have no plans to even start, but don't let that belittle Microsoft's possibilities with a Trident fork that is free of legacy Internet Explorer concerns.
A preview of the new browser might not make the January technical preview of Windows 10, but it is expected to be done in time for Windows 10. We will probably have access to a pre-release version before then and they might even show it off during their Windows 10 Consumer event on January 21st.
Subject: General Tech | December 12, 2014 - 12:16 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: root certificates, microsoft, KB3004394, catalyst omega
The recently released KB3004394, an update for Win 7 and Server 2008 Root Certificate Program has been causing havoc with many machines and could also be what is causing the installation errors some users have had with the AMD Catalyst Omega driver. It is not just the new AMD driver, NVIDIA users have also seen installation issues after accepting this update and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Reports of issues with VirtualBox, Microsoft Security Essentials, Windows Update itself and many other programs and system files are being negatively effected by this update. If you have it on your system Microsoft recommends you manually remove it to prevent issues with your machine now and in the long term using Programs and Features --> Installed Updates.
For those who can still access Windows update you should see KB3024777, which will remove the problematic update automatically or you can download it directly from Microsoft here.
"We have found that this update is causing additional problem on computers that are running Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1. This includes the inability to install future updates."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- The Tech Report's Christmas 2014 System Guide
- Intel, IBM and Cisco team up to fight net neutrality by reclassifying the internet @ The Inquirer
- No more free Windows... and now it’s all about the services @ The Register
- Lenov-OUCH! 500,000 laptop cables recalled in burning mains cock-up @ The Register