An interesting day to be a mobile Windows 8 user

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 16, 2014 - 10:30 AM |
Tagged: win8 mobile, win 8.1, nokia, lumia, skype, microsoft, cyan

If you own a Nokia Lumia phone which runs Win 8.1 then there is an update with quite a few interesting features available. US customers will see a Cortana update while all users will gain the ability to search their phone with Bing, an IE11 update, encrypted S/MIME and improved VPN support.  There are quite a few app updates and users of the 1520 and Icon get Nokia Rich Recording and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 which improves both audio and video options.  Check out Cyan at The Register but don't stop there because according to The Inquirer you will no longer need to be a Premium Skype member to make group calls from your mobile device as it is now a free feature for all.

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"Nokia is rolling out Windows Phone 8.1 as an over-the-air update that comes bundled with "Cyan," a special feature package that's exclusive to Lumia devices."

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Source: The Register

Would you trade your Macbook for a Surface 3 for $650?

Subject: General Tech | June 24, 2014 - 11:38 AM |
Tagged: Surface Pro 3, microsoft, MacBook Air

In it's latest attempt to not look desperate when offering the latest Surface for sale Microsoft will offer up to $650 off a Surface 3 if you trade in your Macbook Air.  The top end model of Surface 3 will have a Intel Core i7 processor and 512GB internal storage and cost you around $1950.  There are less expensive models available though it is possible that will reduce the amount of money you receive for the Macbook Air that you trade in.  Also according to The Inquirer this is not an online deal, you must be able to show up at a Microsoft Store in person to claim the trade in.   Will this be enough to help drive sales of Microsoft's hardware or will this incarnation of the Surface or shall it languish on store shelves like the previous generations?

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"Yes, you read that right. Microsoft has launched a trade-in programme at its US stores, where it offers customers up to $650 for their Macbook Air, which can be put towards a Surface Pro 3."

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Source: The Inquirer

Xbox One Controller PC Drivers Now Available

Subject: General Tech | June 8, 2014 - 01:09 AM |
Tagged: xbox, microsoft, pc gaming, reverse-consolitis

Ah cool. Microsoft has provided the 32-bit and 64-bit (x86) drivers for their Xbox One controllers. The controller can only be used in wired mode, connected to the PC with a micro-USB cable, and there does not seem to be any plans to develop a PC wireless dongle like the 360 had. It will support any game which can make use of an Xbox 360 controller, which is certainly a lot of games.

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The D-Pad is said to be a huge step up from the 360, which is a polite way of saying the 360's directional pad was absolute garbage. I am hesitant about the rest of the controller, though. I have heard numerous complaints about its design, particularly with its shoulder buttons, although it is hard to know without physically trying it. Like all peripherals, I would expect it comes down to personal preference to some extent.

PC gamers have other choices, too. For instance, unofficial support for the PS4 controller exists, albeit it is missing features from what I remember (it does support Bluetooth wireless on the PC, however). Also, and this is a better option, numerous PC gaming companies have their own controllers, including Razer, Logitech, and others.

But, of course, if you already have an Xbox One -- then why not try its controller on your PC?

Microsoft Allows Developer Use of Kinect-Reserved Shaders

Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2014 - 01:32 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, xbox one, xbone, gpgpu, GCN

Shortly after the Kinect deprecation, Microsoft has announced that a 10% boost in GPU performance will be coming to Xbox One. This, of course, is the platform allowing developers to avoid the typical overhead which Kinect requires for its various tasks. Updated software will allow game developers to regain some or all of that compute time back.

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Still looks like Wall-E grew a Freddie Mercury 'stache.

While it "might" (who am I kidding?) be used to berate Microsoft for ever forcing the Kinect upon users in the first place, this functionality was planned from before launch. Pre-launch interviews stated that Microsoft was looking into scheduling their compute tasks while the game was busy, for example, hammering the ROPs and leaving the shader cores idle. This could be that, and only that, or it could be a bit more if developers are allowed to opt out of most or all Kinect computations altogether.

The theoretical maximum GPU compute and shader performance of the Xbox One GPU is still about 29% less than its competitor, the PS4. Still, 29% less is better than about 36% less. Not only that, but the final result will always come down to the amount of care and attention spent on any given title by its developers. This will give them more breathing room, though.

Then, of course, the PC has about 3x the shader performance of either of those systems in a few single-GPU products. Everything should be seen in perspective.

Source: Eurogamer

Third time is the charm for the Surface Pro?

Subject: General Tech | May 20, 2014 - 10:36 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, Surface Pro 3

Microsoft is continuing it's so far ill advised attempt at selling hardware with the release of the Surface Pro 3.  The Pro version continues to run Win8.1 and so should not encounter the compatibility issues that the Surface RT presented but at an MSRP of $800 it is nowhere near as inexpensive either.  The 800g tablet is powered by a Haswell Core i7 processor and the 12" 2160x1440 display sports a 3:2 aspect ratio which Microsoft points out offers 6% more viewable content.  It is also fairly tough as it was dropped from about waist height in the demo without suffering any damage.  The other nice feature is the optional docking station which allows you to plug in peripherals and use the Surface as a display, or use the docking port to output to a 4K display.  Check out more about the Surface Pro 3 and it's "full-friction" multi-position hinge at The Tech Report.

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"Microsoft has just spilled the beans on its Surface Pro 3 tablet, and the details are really quite interesting. The company has taken a fresh approach to the Surface Pro this time around, with a stated goal of "removing the conflict" between the tablet and laptop form factors."

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Microsoft OneDrive for Business Gets Upgrades

Subject: General Tech | April 28, 2014 - 03:40 PM |
Tagged: subscription, skydrive, onedrive, microsoft, cloud storage

Today, Microsoft has announced changes to their OneDrive for Business storage solution. A regular, free OneDrive account comes with 7 GB of storage. For $5 per user, per month, Microsoft added a 25 GB option. That 25 GB option is now a tiny bit larger: 1 TB. It will also be included in several Office subscriptions. The official announcement claims Office 365 ProPlus (formerly requiring a $1.50 per user per month upgrade) but that is, apparently, an incomplete list.

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According to Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, any Office 365 plan which includes OneDrive for Business will be upgraded to 1 TB. I expect that Office 365 Pro Plus was mentioned in the press release because, as far as I can tell, it did not have OneDrive for Business, minus the aforementioned upgrade, until now. The rest of the options already had OneDrive for Business, just a much larger one now. I have compiled the relevant information in a table, below.

 
Price
(Per User Per Month)
Maximum Users
Editing from
Mobile Apps
OneDrive for Business (Standalone)
$5
($2.50/user until September)
Unlimited (?) N/A
Office 365 ProPlus $12
1 (?)
(5 PCs or Macs)
Yes
(5 extra devices)
Office 365 Small Business $5 25 No
Office 365 Small Business Premium $12.50 25 Yes
Office 365 Midsize Business $15 300 Yes
Office 365 Enterprise E1 $8 Unlimited No
Office 365 Enterprise E3 $20 Unlimited Yes
Office 365 Enterprise E4 $22 Unlimited Yes

I must say that OneDrive is looking to have all of the features of Dropbox, at least the ones that I use, with significantly higher storage. While the 7 GB, free plan would probably be sufficient for my uses, a whole terabyte for a few dollars per month is definitely tempting if I had a reason to fill it. Not too long ago, I was paying $100 USD per year to Dropbox for 100 GB.

Note: The $5-per-user-per-month fee is the price after September. Until then, it is 50% off.

While not all of Microsoft's websites have been updated yet, the upgrade seems to take effect today. Check out OneDrive for Business, or one of the applicable Office plans, to see whether a terabyte of cloud storage is worth it for your needs.

Source: Microsoft

Incoming patches for all IE versions

Subject: General Tech | April 28, 2014 - 09:27 AM |
Tagged: internet explorer, windows, microsoft

We have another IE flaw, one which applies to IE6 though IE11 and officially all versions of Windows since Vista; unofficially it will also effect the non-supported legacy OS versions as well.  This particular issue is not a memory overflow but instead is what is referred to as use-after-free which does make it somewhat harder to craft a webpage to take advantage of.  Corporate users of the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit should make sure their users are up to date while the rest of us who are using IE should consider Protected Mode or upping your Security to high.  Pop by The Register for a link to the full description of the vulnerability.

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"The flaw means the browser “may corrupt memory in a way that could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code in the context of the current user within Internet Explorer"."

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Source: The Register

This is becoming somewhat of a habit Microsoft

Subject: General Tech | April 15, 2014 - 11:44 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, win 8.1, win 8.1 update

The end of support for XP is an annoying but sensible move on Microsoft's part however today's announcement that Windows 8.1 EoL is the Patch Tuesday in May is anything but sensible.  The announcement states that no more updates for Win 8.1 will be released, if a customer wants to receive updates they must still be running Win 8 or upgrade to Win 8.1 Update 1.  The continued support for Win 8 machines seems rather odd and is perhaps intended to mollify corporate users who have not had the 8.1 patch pushed out as Microsoft has removed Win 8.1 Update 1 from their WSUS servers over a week ago making it impossible for corporations to properly upgrade their users to Update 1.   For those who bought a device recently this deadline does not give them much time to apply Update 1, especially when you consider the amount of critical errors installing Update 1 is causing.  Catch the vitriol over at Slashdot and think back to the good old days when all you had to keep track of were the various flavours of Win7.

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"Microsoft TechNet blog makes clear that Windows 8.1 will not be patched, and that users must get Windows 8.1 Update if they want security patches, InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard reports. 'In what is surely the most customer-antagonistic move of the new Windows regime, Steve Thomas at Microsoft posted a TechNet article on Saturday stating categorically that Microsoft will no longer issue security patches for Windows 8.1, starting in May,' Leonhard writes. 'Never mind that Windows 8.1 customers are still having multiple problems with errors when trying to install the Update."

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Source: Slashdot

Microsoft's customers are not always right

Subject: General Tech | April 8, 2014 - 09:53 AM |
Tagged: winxp, microsoft, dumb

With around 95% of the world's ATMs and over 27% of PCs still running WinXP, not counting the ones hiding behind enterprise firewalls, it is rather ironic to refer to XP as dead.  Referring to it as unsupported is certainly more accurate though considering the number of governments and banks around the world which have paid Microsoft to extend support that is not completely factual either.  After 13 years of service, perhaps Microsoft has found a new business model to squeeze a bit more profit from WinXP by charging for updates; if they don't take advantage of it then there are third parties which would be more than happy to profit from those who plan to continue to use WinXP.

This forced upgrade makes some sense for Microsoft as it will lower the legacy workload that XP has caused over 3 new generations of OS but at the same time there is obviously money to be made from supporting large corporations, governments and institutions.  This will also cause a bit of a backlash in the boardroom as the lofty minds in upper management dig their heels in about having to learn a new interface and begin to question what happens when support for the version of Windows they chose to replace WinXP expires and they are again forced to spend huge amounts of money upgrading again.  It is unlikely that a large majority of these companies will make the move to Linux but they may well hear about that OS for the first time and consider testing it in limited fashion.  Two things are for certain; Microsoft has at the least annoyed some very powerful corporate heads and that no one will care when support for Vista ends in 2017.

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"Introduced by Microsoft in 2001, Windows "eXPerience" was the seventh version of Windows released by Microsoft as a convergent replacement for the short lived Windows 2000 and Windows ME, becoming Microsoft's first consumer PC operating system based on the Windows NT code base."

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Source: The Inquirer

BUILD 2014: Windows Sideloading Changes Announced

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | April 7, 2014 - 10:11 PM |
Tagged: BUILD 2014, microsoft, windows, winRT

A few days ago, I reported on the news from BUILD 2014 that Windows would see the return of the Start Menu and windowed apps. These features, which are not included with today's Windows 8.1 Update 1, will come in a later version. While I found these interface changes interesting, I reiterated that the user interface was not my concern: Windows Store certification was. I did leave room for a little hope, however, because Microsoft scheduled an announcement of changes. It was focused on enterprise customers, so I did not hold my breath.

And some things did change... but not enough for the non-enterprise user.

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Microsoft is still hanging on to the curation of apps, except for "domain-joined" x86 Enterprise and x86 Pro PCs; RT devices and "not domain-joined" computers will only allow sideloaded apps with a key. This certificate (key) is not free for everyone. Of course, this does not have anything to do with native x86 applications. Thankfully, the prospect of WinRT APIs eventually replacing Win32, completely, seems less likely now. It could still be possible if Windows Store has a major surge in popularity but, as it stands right now, Microsoft seems to be spending less effort containing x86 for an eventual lobotomy.

If it does happen, it would be a concern for a variety of reasons:

  1. Governments, foreign or domestic, who pressure Microsoft to ban encryption software.

  2. Internet Explorer's Trident would have no competition to adopt new web standards.

  3. Cannot create an app for just a friend or family member (unless it's a web app in IE).

  4. When you build censorship, the crazies will come with demands to abuse it.

So I am still concerned about the future of Windows. I am still not willing to believe that Microsoft will support x86-exclusive applications until the end of time. If that happens, and sideloading is not publicly available, and web standards are forced into stagnation by a lack of alternative web browsers, then I can see bad times ahead. I will not really feel comfortable until a definitive pledge to allow users to control what can go on their device, even if Microsoft (or people with some form of authority over them) dislikes it, is made.

But I know that many disagree with me. What are your thoughts? Comment away!

Source: ZDNet