Microsoft Releases Update To Improve Bulldozer Performance

Subject: Processors | December 15, 2011 - 10:56 PM |
Tagged: amd, bulldozer, cpu, processor, windows, microsoft

When AMD’s Bulldozer processors arrived, they were unable to best Intel’s fastest at most tasks. A number of users held out hope for Bulldozer; however, as it was discovered that Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system was not optimized to take advantage of the multi-threaded execution scheduling engine. While MS has implemented this optimization in the Windows 8 kernel, the current stable release has been without a fix until recently. The fix in question is available for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and can be downloaded here. It should be noted that service pack 1 is a pre-requisite to this hot-fix.

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Conservatively, previous indications suggested such a fix would add a 5 % to 10 % performance boost in multi-threaded applications. That number is based on the estimates from around the web from people comparing benchmarks between Windows 7 and Windows 8 Developer Preview. If you are running a Bulldozer processor in your machine, be sure to apply this update and let us know how performance improves.

Source: Microsoft

Less is more; Microsoft questions the need for people to have a clue when installing an OS

Subject: General Tech | November 23, 2011 - 08:48 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 8, pebkac

It seems that Microsoft sees no problem in letting the non-technical upgrade their operating system without having to answer even the simple questions that were present in the Windows 7 upgrade.  It seems they've decided there is an untapped market of people who are desperate to go out and purchase a copy of the newest Windows so that they can upgrade their own machine by themselves.  For anyone who has had a discussion with a friend or family member who expressed utter shock when told that Windows costs money and doesn't just come for free on new computers; this new market seems unlikely.

Whether a good idea or not, The Register reports Win 8 will install in two different ways.  The first is a streamlined upgrade, which you start from your current version of Windows via an EXE file, instead of having to deal with one of those pesky bootable USB or DVD drives.  Microsoft hopes to reduce the time for even the most extreme upgrade path to under 60 minutes and with hardly any user interaction required.  While this is good for the theoretical market of upgraders scared of reading and understanding messages from their operating system it probably scares most techs who realize they are going to have to support installations in which the user has no idea what when wrong or where.

This also seems to underline the concern many IT professionals feel when looking at Win 8.  Microsoft seems to be ignoring the corporate customers who want the ability to customize Windows installations for their company.  With products like SCCM you can make images which can install essentially unattended over your corporate network, but not without serious work done by people who know exactly what they are installing on.  You don't release a generic build of Windows onto a network where you already know what models of clients are out there, let alone release a build which is intended to work on any machine plugged into the network whatsoever.  There are too many hardware setup permutations to expect that what works on a desktop is going work on a custom Alienware laptop.   It is too early to count Win 8 out yet, as there is a second type of installation which does involve booting from removable media and includes esoteric functions like disk formating, modifiable installation scripts and other scary technical terms that might result in you having to read text and click your mouse. 

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"Redmond said it wants to make the upgrade path easier, since the Windows 7 introduction saw some users complaining that the process was too complicated. To ease the introduction of Windows 8, Microsoft will now offer two options for those looking to make the leap to the new OS: a streamlined and an advanced setup. The new format will dramatically decrease upgrade times, Microsoft promised."

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Source: The Register

Java JRE, Adobe Acrobat and Flash; the triumvirate of malware evil

Subject: General Tech | October 5, 2011 - 09:19 AM |
Tagged: fud, security, microsoft, windows

An interesting study that Slashdot has linked to today breaks down three months of infection data and crunched the numbers to see how the infections made it onto systems and which systems are the most vulnerable.  Fully two thirds of the infections happened to users browsing with Internet Explorer, but you must keep in mind IE's market share.  At this time last year half of all users browsed the internet with some version of IE and while that has fallen to around 40% this year it is still the most commonly used browser and will therefore have a greater representation in the sample of PC s tested.  As long as you keep that in mind, you can then move onto disparaging the average IE user ... especially if it is still IE6.

As well, you can see that Vista has something to be proud of.  Even with the lack of PCs using the OS it has almost as many infections as WinXP machines.  As to the programs most likely to be used as an attack ... Java JRE sits at 37% with Acrobat just behind at 32%, leaving the much maligned Flash responsible for only 16%. 

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"Since Up to 85 % of all virus infections occur as a result of drive-by attacks automated via commercial exploit kits, CSIS has actively collected real time data from them for a period of three months. The purpose of their study is to reveal precisely how Microsoft Windows machines are infected with malware and which browsers, versions of Windows and third party software that are at risk. They monitored more than 50 different exploit kits on 44 unique servers / IP addresses. The statistical material covers all in all more than half a million user exposures out of which as many as 31.3 % were infected with the virus/malware due to missing security updates."

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Source: Slashdot

Tweak Windows 8 With The Metro UI Tweaker Utility

Subject: General Tech | September 25, 2011 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, windows, Utility, ui, tweaker, microsoft, Metro, developer preview, beta

Are you trying out the Windows 8 Developer Preview that was released earlier this month and finding the new Windows Explorer Ribbon and Metro UI start menu frustrating? If so, Lee Whittington has just the tweaking utility for you!

A freeware tool developed for The Windows Club dubbed Metro UI Tweaker (for Windows 8) is the first third party tweaking tool for the upcoming operating system. It provides several tweaking options to make the transition to the Metro UI more palatable including the ability to completely disable (or enable) the Metro Start Menu and new Ribbon interface in Windows Explorer (which can also be easily hidden without the need for this tool via an icon in the corner). When disabling the Metro Start Menu and Ribbon, the Metro style Task Manager and new lock screen will also be disabled.

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Such sweeping changes are not the only tweaks possible, however. The Windows 8 utility also lets you add power options including sleep, restart, and full shutdown to the Metro interface (when clicking on your user name’s picture), as well as adding any application or file to the Metro Start Menu.

Now at version 1.0, the Metro UI Tweaker is available for download from here for those adventurous enough to use a beta tweaking tool on a beta operating system. How do you feel about the new Windows 8 interface? Will you be checking out this tool? Let us know in the comments.

Who put antivirus in my Windows disk?

Subject: General Tech | September 16, 2011 - 10:53 AM |
Tagged: win8, security, microsoft

It's confirmed, Windows 8 will have anti-virus rolled into it and it does a wee bit more than you might think.   They have updated and expanded Windows Defender as part of the protection scheme but have also taken advantage of the integration possible when your antivirus becomes part of your OS.  Your boot path will be scanned at every restart to ensure no malware has tainted it and it will be protected while your system is running by Defender, along with a long list of other vectors that are commonly used to attack systems. 

You can see a video of this in action over at The Register.

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"Rumours about Microsoft planning to bundle an antivirus function in its upcoming operating system have caused quite a bit of a stir in the security community over the past couple of days. Some people have declared themselves supportive of the move, while others rushed to point out its possible drawbacks."

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Source: The Register

Windows 8 Developer Preview Build Sees Public Release At BUILD Conference

Subject: General Tech | September 14, 2011 - 10:04 AM |
Tagged: windows, windows 8, Metro, developer preview, microsoft

While some folks may be dissapointed that Microsoft's first public beta download was not released this week at their BUILD conference, we did get the next best thing; Microsoft released a developer preview build for 32 and 64 bit systems yesterday. The download page went live at 11 PM Eastern Time, and hosts three versions of the Windows 8 build available to the public-- despite the name an MSDN subscription is not required.  The download page does hint that MSDN subscribers are able to access additional downloads, however.

The three available downloads include a disk image (.iso) with developer tools, a 64 bit Windows 8 disk image, and a 32 bit Windows 8 disk image.  Of the three versions, the last two will be most applicable to the public and enthusiast users.

Windows 8 Start Screen.PNG

The Windows 8 Start screen

The Developer Preview with applications for software development work weighs in at a hefty 4.8 GB .iso and features a 64 bit copy of Windows 8, the Windows Metro SDK for applications, Microsoft's Visual Studio 11 Express, Microsoft's Expression Blend 5, and 28 Metro style applications.  Because of the hefty download, you will need a dual layer DVD or USB drive if you plan on installing it on bare metal (single layer DVDs need not apply, in other words).

The next largest download is the 64 bit Windows 8 Developer Preview build that drops the development software and features only the 64 bit Windows 8 operating system and Metro style applications.  This download weighs in at an easier to manage 3.6 GB .iso disk image.  The minimum system requirements for both 64 bit builds include a 1 GHz or faster x64 CPU, at least 2 GB of RAM, 20 GB of hard drive space for installation, a WDDM 1.0 supported DirectX 9 capable graphics card, and a touch screen to utilize the touch functions.

The final download is a 32 bit version of Windows 8 with Metro style apps suited for older computers with less than 4 GB of memory or lacking 64 bit capable hardware.  At 2.8 GB, this disk image is the smallest of the bunch.The Developer Preview.  The minimum system requirements for this build are a 1 GHz or faster x86 processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of available hard drive space for installation, a DirectX 9 graphics card with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver support, and (I am embarrassed Microsoft believes this needs to be listed) a touch screen in order to take advantage of the touch screen functionality of the OS.

All three builds are of the English language variety and are available here for your downloading pleasure.  Note that if you do choose to install the Windows 8 download on bare metal, you will need to wipe out your current installations, and a clean reinstall of your old operating system will be required to restore your system; therefore it would be prudent to at the very least make sure everything important is backed up before attempting the installation.  For those less adventurous a free Virtualization program might be in order.  Keeping in mind that performance will impacted by running it as a virtual machine, Virtual Box seems to handle Windows 8 very well using the Windows 7 64 bit settings after allocating 4 GB of RAM and the maximum amount of video memory.  VM Ware and other paid solutions should also handle the operating system well enough for you to get an idea of Microsoft's vision for the operating system by using tweaked Windows 7 presets.

What features of the Windows 8 developer preview would you like to see tested out?  After you've had a chance to check the operating system out for yourselves, let us know what you think of Windows 8 in the comments!

Source: Microsoft

Windows Media Center Confirmed For Windows 8

Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2011 - 04:31 PM |
Tagged: Media Center, htpc, microsoft, windows 8

There are quite a few aspects of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system that are still an unknown; however, a recent MSDN blog confirmed quite a few bits of software that will make the cut into the final version of the operating system. One piece of software in particular that will definitely be included in Windows 8 is Windows Media Center. Steven Sinofsky stated “I want to reassure customers that Media Center will definitely be part of Windows 8. No doubt about it.”

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While the good news lies in Media Center’s inclusion in the new operating system, the announcement comes with two bits of bad news. Firstly, they are not able to release details about the Media Center application itself, so there are no details on any new features or speed increases. Further, Media Center will not be included in most of the pre-release builds of the operating system. While Microsoft reports that the beta testers of the application are pleased with it, the majority of consumers and enthusiasts will have to wait until the operating system gets closer to RTM (release to manufacturing) before getting a look at the application.

Microsoft further stated that the Media Center application will be included in the “premium” SKUs of the operating system, assuming the upcoming OS will imitate its predecessor’s multiple SKU strategy. More information on upcoming Windows 8 features can be found on the MSDN blog.

What are your thoughts on Media Center? Is it an application that you find useful, and if so what features would you most like to see improved upon? Personally, I use the Media Center extender functionality quite a bit to watch videos on the living room TV, and I would love to have Microsoft implement some performance increases to speed up the often pokey interface (which admittedly might be partly attributable to the Xbox 360’s hardware).

Source: Microsoft

Windows 8 Will Support Mounting ISO and VHD Files Natively

Subject: General Tech | August 30, 2011 - 05:50 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, VHD, microsoft, ISO

The Microsoft blog “Building Windows 8” reported today that the company’s next operating system, Windows 8, will support natively mounting ISO and VHD files. As a bit of background, ISO files are all the folders and files included on a CD or DVD encapsulated into a single file. Similarly VHD files are all the files and folders on a hard drive encapsulated into a single file. These VHD files are used primarily by Virtual Machine and imaging backup programs. Just as the OS did not support zip files out of the box for many iterations, ISO mounting has always required third party tools like Daemon Tools and SlySoft’s Virtual Clone Drive. However, it looks like the time has finally come for Microsoft to roll ISO mounting into the operating system. Steven Sinofsky stated that managing ISO and VHD files continue to be important for businesses and power users and that “we know even more support for VHD is a big request, so stay tuned.”

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Rajeev Nagar, the group program manager on the Storage and File Systems Team, detailed how the ISO and VHD mounting will work in the upcoming Windows OS. For ISO files, users need only to select the ISO and choose the mount option in the Windows Explorer ribbon interface. Windows will then create a virtual CD/DVD drive with the files contained in the ISO available. The drive will also be able to eject the ISO file from the ribbon interface with a single click.

On the VHD, or Virtual Hard Drive, front, it is only a matter of double clicking on the VHD and allowing Windows to assign a drive letter and presenting users with all the files and folders contained in the VHD file. User will be able to interact with the virtual drive just as they would with a “normal” hard drive.

One issue with the ISO and VHD support in Windows 8 is that while users will be able to mount and interact with ISO and VHD files, they will not be able to create the files from scratch. Makers of ISO burning and VHD creating utilities are likely to appreciate still being relevant. Still, its a welcome step in the right direction for power users.

More information on Windows 8's native ISO and VHD support, including a video of it in action, is available on the MSDN blog.

Source: MSDN

Will Windows 8 be for the tablet or the ultrabook?

Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2011 - 08:56 AM |
Tagged: ultrabook, tablet, windows 8, microsoft, Intel

Two contrasting opinions appeared this morning on the internet, concerned with not only the future of mobile computing in a possibly post-PC market but also touching on the impact Microsoft's Windows 8 could have on that choice.  DigiTimes has a report from Wistron, an original design manufacturer based in Taiwan, which is concerned with the ultrabook.  They see the coming year as dominated by the contentious ultrabook platform which Intel has been talking up recently.  The company managed US$21.1B in revenue last year, so they are neither a small player nor uninformed about the industry.  That does leave one wondering how they plan on making a profit if the bill of materials is as high as some manufacturers have claimed.  Still, that is where the manufacturer sees Windows 8 making the most difference to the market.

Ars Technica sees a different path for Microsoft to take, one that would be very different from the theory discussed by DigiTimes and very different from anything Microsoft has previously done.  In this article, Ars suggests that the PC market is at a standstill because we have hit a post-PC market thanks to the tablet.  While Microsoft has always considered the tablet to be a PC in a different form factor, Apple and other successful tablet marketers have visualized a completely different model.  While Apple may have taken it to the most extreme, with no visible OS nor even a USB connector so you can transfer files directly from a camera or thumbdrive, nor hook up a wired peripheral.  Other manufacturers have taken a less extreme approach but still hide the OS and have removed associated tasks like driver installation.  That is very different from Microsoft's version of a tablet or phone which runs a trimmed down but still very recognizable OS and tends not to sell very well.

The question becomes one of design incompatibility; if Microsoft wants to release a Windows 8 which emulates the successful tablet OSes of the competition it will have to design something so different from their past OSes that it would be unrecognizable as a PC.  In order to hide the OS and offload applications onto the cloud to make a perfect tablet the design choices would limit the effectiveness of Win8 as a PC OS.  On the flip side, if they choose to design for the Ultrabook, risky in that we still have yet to hear the end of the pricing issues, the OS will be much lighter than previous versions but will still have a recognizable file system, the ability to update or customize drivers and all the other features common to netbooks through laptops.  It will however not be a successful tablet OS, as history has shown with the failures of Microsoft's tablets and phones, some of which died before every being released.

The one thing that they can't do is try to make Windows 8 do both service as a laptop and a tablet OS.  If they go that way, users on both sides of the divide will likely lose as you end up with an OS not customizable enough to do duty on a more powerful notebook or desktop.  As well, it will have an interface which is similar to previous attempts by Microsoft to sell tablets which to this date have all failed against the competition.

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"The launch of ultrabooks and Microsoft's Windows 8 OS will serve as growth drivers for the notebook industry in 2012, according to Simon Lin, chairman of Taiwan-based notebook ODM Wistron.

Shipments of ultrabooks will account for 10-20% of Wistron's total notebook shipments in 2012, Lin estimated.

 

Despite current economic turbulence touched off by debt issues in Europe and the US, Wistron's target to ship 30 million notebooks in 2011 remains unchanged, said Lin, who added that notebook Wistron's shipments will grow by a single-digit rate sequentially in the third and fourth quarters.

However, the company has slashed its LCD TV shipment target for the year to 8.5 million units, from 10 million units projected previously, while also scaling down the target for mobile devices from 10-12 million units to nine million.

Wistron has reported net profits of NT$4.5 billion (US$154.77 million) for the first half of 2011, down 20.44% from a year earlier. The earnings translated into an EPS of NT$2.28 for the six-month period."

 

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Source: DigiTimes

Windows XP (Finally) Falls Below 50% of Windows' Market Share

Subject: General Tech | August 2, 2011 - 04:54 AM |
Tagged: windows, operating system, microsoft

Windows XP is almost old enough that revisionist historians can have a crack at it without anyone speaking out against it. That is, it would be if not for the large number of users still using the operating system at their home and work. The decade old operating system has only now fallen below 50% of Windows' market share. More specifically, the slip in market share occurred between June and July where it fell 0.63% to a total of 49.94%.

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The numbers are percentages of MS's total 87.66% market share.

In comparison, Windows Vista holds a much smaller 9.24% market share after dropping 0.28%. Microsoft’s most recent operating system, Windows 7; meanwhile, saw a gain of 0.74% to a total of 27.87% market share, which puts the new operating system well on its way to overtaking the XP juggernaut. Techspot has the full scoop on the market share situation, which you can read about here.

Are you still using Windows XP?

Source: Tech Spot