DirectX 12 Has No More Secrets
The DirectX 12 API is finalized and the last of its features are known. Before the BUILD conference, the list consisted of Conservative Rasterization, Rasterizer Ordered Viewed, Typed UAV Load, Volume Tiled Resources, and a new Tiled Resources revision for non-volumetric content. When the GeForce GTX 980 launched, NVIDIA claimed it would be compatible with DirectX 12 features. Enthusiasts were skeptical, because Microsoft did not officially finalize the spec at the time.
Last week, Microsoft announced the last feature of the graphics API: Multiadapter.
We already knew that Multiadapter existed, at least to some extent. It is the part of the specification that allows developers to address multiple graphics adapters to split tasks between them. In DirectX 11 and earlier, secondary GPUs would remain idle unless the graphics driver sprinkled some magic fair dust on it with SLI, CrossFire, or Hybrid CrossFire. The only other way to access this dormant hardware was by spinning up an OpenCL (or similar compute API) context on the side.
Subject: General Tech | May 4, 2015 - 02:56 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: microsoft, windows server, nano server
Microsoft has really trimmed the fat off of Windows Server to make Nano Server, in fact they may have cut off some of the meat as well. A Microsoft engineer described it as "a model of 'just enough OS'.", which is why the new Server OS base install is a mere 400MB. The GUI is gone, you will use Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) or the new Core PowerShell which will resemble the old Powershell, but again in a cut down manner. Drivers and APIs are minimal which will take programmers some time to adjust to as the DLL that they current use may not exist on Core and the installer you all know and hate, Windows MSI is one of the ones which has been cut. In order to install drivers and applications which currently rely on MSI, you will need to add them to your image. Read more about this major change in the way you will manage your Windows servers over at The Register.
"Engineers from Microsoft's Windows Server team took the stage at the Build developer conference in San Francisco this week to share more details on Nano Server, the upcoming micro-sized version of the OS aimed at cloud deployments."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Inside ARM's Cortex-A72 microarchitecture @ The Tech Report
- Quantum CPU upstart D-Wave drills into physics simulations to boost vital magnetic shielding @ The Register
- What Happens When You Pour Molten Aluminum into a Watermelon? @ MAKE:Blog
- Tech ARP 2015 Mega Giveaway : Mi In-Ear Headphones
Subject: General Tech | April 30, 2015 - 06:38 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, build 2015, build 10074, BUILD
When Microsoft forked their build numbers into 100xx and 101xx lines, we predicted that they were preparing a version to release at BUILD 2015. We also predicted that it would be heavily tested and pushed to both Slow and Fast simultaneously, which would give a good entry point for developers and probably even enterprise evaluators. I was surprised when Microsoft released 10061 last week, and then updated it just two days ago (why???) with four patches, but we ended up being correct in the end.
Microsoft has just released Windows 10 build 10074 to both Fast and Slow users. Its comes with a very small list of known issues, and they are much less severe than they were in previous releases. The first issue tells developers that Developer Mode needs to be enabled in Group Policy, rather than the place in Settings that it will eventually be. The next two issues are more severe: some games cannot be played in full screen and the People app is still broken. I am not sure how wide-spread “some games” is, but they plan to patch it via Windows Update “as soon as possible”.
One major fix is that now, when certain applications that play audio are minimized, they will continue to play audio. This bug made many media players, such as a few SoundCloud apps in the Windows Store as well as Microsoft's own Music app, pretty much useless. Until 10074, you would basically need to launch them, then cover them up with other windows if you wanted more screen real-estate.
If you were a fan of Aero from Windows 7, then you will like the blurred transparency effect of Start and the taskbar. Personally, while I think it looks nice, I was never really attached to that aspect of the Windows UI. Honestly, it used to drive me nuts when it kicked me out of games to complain about how it cannot properly manage 2GB of video memory, despite running perfectly fine if I select ignore. Hopefully that will not come back with it. But, if it is here without causing any problems, it does look pretty. Also, the Start Menu can now be manually resized to better arrange your apps. It also looks like the semi-horizontal layout is a great compromise between the Start Menu and the Start Screen for desktops.
So, as we expected, this build is what happens when Microsoft picks a target and mostly cleans up all of their relevant branches into a solid release. It is still a bit buggy here and there, but it feels better than 10049, which was itself better than 10041. That said, I also upgraded my NVIDIA drivers from 349.90 to 352.63; that could have something to do with it (although I am using the same Intel drivers).
There has not been too many announcements regarding features that are not present in 10074 though. It makes you wonder, at least a bit, how much will be added to the 101xx path until the OS finally launches.
Subject: General Tech | April 28, 2015 - 07:27 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, BUILD, build 2015
BUILD 2015 begins tomorrow, and I expect we'll learn the last features that Microsoft intends to add to Windows 10 at launch. The conference is targeted at software and web developers first and foremost. We might not see too much on the consumer side, but we should get under-the-hood information that will be relevant to consumers. For instances, some questions about Windows Store, WinRT, and DirectX 12 might be answered. We might even get a public DirectX 12 SDK (and more).
Note: WinRT (API) is not the same as Windows RT (OS).
As we noted earlier, development was forked into a 100xx-branch and a 101xx-branch of build numbers. We assume that, due to the proximity to the conference, the lower build number is getting polished for public presentation while the higher builds will surface later, with more experimental features.
Microsoft published an introduction video, based on the 10061 build, to introduce the new OS to new users. I guess they are expecting a new wave of testers after the conference, probably both developers and enterprise evaluators. It is brief but interesting, although it surprisingly did not mention anything about the “Continuum” interface to switch between mouse/keyboard and touch experiences.
As stated, BUILD 2015 starts tomorrow and we will probably have a bit of coverage for it.
Subject: General Tech | April 26, 2015 - 07:31 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, microsoft
There are still a few users on old Windows 10 Technical Preview builds from 2014. In a few days, there won't be: their computers will refuse to boot. The affected builds that will completely brick themselves on April 30th are 9841, 9860, and 9879. You cannot accuse Microsoft of surprising users though, because Windows has been notifying them since April 2nd and force-rebooting every three hours since April 15th if they didn't take the warnings seriously. The current batch of builds are valid until October.
WinBeta has linked this policy to Microsoft's rumored piracy policy. My thoughts? No.
This is actually typical of Microsoft when it comes to pre-release operating systems. In fact, the only difference between this and Vista's pre-release (ex: “Beta 2”) expiration is that Microsoft relaxed the reboot time to three hours. It was two hours back in the Vista era but otherwise identical. That policy only applied to the previews then, and I see no reason to believe that it will be extended to released operating systems now.
Granted, with the Windows 10 continuous update structure, it does raise concern about what will happen if/when Microsoft releases a build that users don't want. For instance, imagine Microsoft decides to cut off legacy support for Win32 -- will customers have the ability to opt-out of the upgrade treadmill and continue to use applications that are then unsupported, like practically every Steam game they own?
But I see no reason to think that this policy has anything to do with that.
Subject: General Tech | April 24, 2015 - 01:55 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: windows 10, Device Guard, security, microsoft, IOMMU
The Register gleaned some details about Windows 10 Device Guard at RSA but there is still a lot we do not know about it. It is an optional service that can be enabled by an administrator and it checks every application launched to see if it has been signed by Microsoft as a trusted binary before letting it run. While certainly good for security it may cause some issues for developers who have not gone through the vetting process to have your app approved for the Microsoft Store. Device Guard is also separated from the WinX kernel, if your machine does become infected, Device Guard will still not allow unsigned apps to run. You will need hardware which supports input/output memory management unit (IOMMU) to use Device Guard, thankfully that technology is present on most current PC hardware, though not so prevalent on the mobile front.
"The details are a little vague – more information will emerge at the Build event next week – but from what we can tell, Device Guard wraps an extra layer of defense around the operating system to prevent malware from permanently compromising a PC."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Ubuntu 15.04 Released, First Version To Feature systemd @ Slashdot
- Intel to help vendors launch inexpensive tablets, say Taiwan makers @ DigiTimes
- iTunes goes to borksville for Windows XP holdouts @ The Inquirer
- Apple throws out iOS apps that declare Pebble smartwatch support @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft profits decimated: And it's YOUR FAULT for not buying PCs @ The Register
Subject: General Tech | April 21, 2015 - 07:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, microsoft, amd
The CEO of AMD is an unexpected, but probably very accurate, source when it comes to knowing the Windows 10 release date. First off, the news broke on a quarterly earnings call. When you make a statement on those, you have a strong legal obligation to be telling the truth according to the knowledge that you have at the time. Also, as a major hardware vendor of CPUs and GPUs, her company would have been notified by Microsoft so that they could plan development of graphics drivers and so forth. It also aligns with the “Summer” announcement made last month by Microsoft.
Of course, this led to a flurry of comments that claim three months will not be enough time to bake a successful product. Others, naturally, claim that Microsoft has been developing software for long enough to know that they can finish their product in three months. Still others shrug and say, “Yeah, you both make sense. I'm going to go play some Grand Theft Auto.”
One aspect that I don't see mentioned enough is that Microsoft has multiple projects and teams on the go, and we only see a fraction of what is being done in our Insider branch. Despite the narrative that Microsoft wishes to avoid another Windows 8 fiasco and they want their users to guide development, they have alluded that a major reason for the Insider program is to test their build delivery system. While I am having a bit of a hard time finding the supporting quote, I did find one reference to it being the reason for ISOs being delayed.
And finally – we heard from you loud and clear you want ISO images of the new builds we release. We felt it was important to listen to that and give you what you want – but there’s a catch. Getting the update & install data from our Preview Builds mechanism is super important for us. It helps us ensure smooth ESD distribution, download, and upgrade success for this program going forward, and also will help us ensure great upgrades for people once we release Windows 10. So we’re going to release the ISOs at the same time as we publish to the Slow ring. That means if you want to be FIRST and FASTEST to get the build, you’ll need to use our Preview Builds mechanisms (either automatic or Check Now in PC Settings to download.) If you must have an ISO you’ll have to be a bit more patient. I hope that you’ll consider that a fair tradeoff.
So what is my point? Basically, it is difficult for us to make assumptions about how baked Windows 10 is from our standpoint. They are being more open with us than ever about their development methods, but we don't know certain key things. We don't know what final feature set they plan. We don't know how much work has been done on any individual feature since it was merged into a build that we saw. We also don't know how much has been done by third parties. In some cases, a release in three months could equate to like, six months of work for a specific team since their last contribution was merged. I do think that any major feature we see at BUILD will pretty much be the last additions to the OS before it launches though, unless they have a surprise that will surface at E3 or something.
Also, remember that the things they show us are slanted to what they want feedback about.
Subject: General Tech | April 20, 2015 - 08:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft
According to WinBeta, the internal builds of Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system have jumped from the 10060s-range to the 10100s. This mirrors the activity before January's consumer event, which led to the release of 9926. What this likely means is that Microsoft has forked internal development ahead of their BUILD 2015 conference, which takes place between April 29th and May 1st.
I expect that they will release a new, highly-tested build in the 1006x-1008x range to both Fast and Slow rings, like 9926 was, at or around the time of the event. Meanwhile, new and experimental features will land on the 10100 branch. The interesting question is: when will we see that later fork?
If Microsoft dedicates themselves to rapid releases, it might not be too long for users in the Fast ring, or a faster-than-Fast ring that they could potentially announce at the event. With the visibility of BUILD, it would be a good time for them to shake up their release cycle. They really cannot afford to relax quality control any more significantly than they did with 10041 without assurance that Insiders get the message. The journalist attention of the conference would likely do it though.
Alternatively, the released build might be classified as a developer preview that is expected to stick around for a while. If I needed to guess though, I doubt it. As stated earlier, it will probably be a highly QA-tested build for Slow ring users, but I see little reason for Microsoft to throttle down the more enthusiastic users. When 10049 was the last build for Fast users, you could say that they were not wanting to overshadow BUILD. That obviously does not apply after the conference is over, and I cannot see anything else further on the horizon.
That is, of course, unless they are getting cold feet about releasing not-fully-baked builds to the public.
Subject: General Tech | April 17, 2015 - 07:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows xp, windows, microsoft, google, EoL, chrome
It has been a year since Microsoft cut off extended support for Windows XP including Internet Explorer security updates for the platform. Yeah, I know, it doesn't feel like it. Other browser vendors announced that they would continue to target the retired OS after Microsoft washed their hands of it. At the time, Google said they would give at least 12 months support, which brings us to yesterday.
Now Google is extending their commitment to the end of the year. They did not say that it was a hard deadline for their customers, but they also did not add an “at least” qualifier this time. The browser vendor wants people to upgrade and admits that they cannot genuinely provide a secure experience if a known issue bites everyone at the OS level. You can keep training the guard at the door, but if your window falls out, mind the pun, then it is still dangerous to be inside.
Granted, we have not seen a major attack on XP over the last year. You would have to think that, even if the attacks are sophisticated, some of the victims would have noticed and reported it to someone. Still, I wonder how it keeps surviving, especially since I would have thought that at least one vulnerability in the last twelve Patch Tuesdays could be ported back to it.
Maybe it is too small of a target?
Subject: General Tech | April 16, 2015 - 05:21 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, virtual desktops, microsoft
Virtual Desktops is one of the largest interface changes for Windows 10. It is an organizational feature, which allows users to group relevant windows together. This puts them out of sight when you don't want them but also easily accessible when you do, and with the programs that you would want to use alongside them.
Microsoft is wondering about one specific area though: should running applications be visible in other desktops? Some believe that a virtual desktop should only show icons for applications in the current context, and alt+tab should behave the same. It makes sense, because otherwise you're exposing the clutter in the taskbar and alt+tab, which are some of the most visible places. Others want everything to be visible at all times, or alt+tab-able to at all time. I guess this is to reduce the clutter on the desktop, without touching the clutter otherwise?
Microsoft has stated clearly that both cases will be user-selectable because there is enough usage on both sides. A user can have virtual desktops affect the taskbar or not, or alt-tab or not, independently. The question they are trying to solve right now is “What should the default be?”
If you are a Windows 10 Technical Preview user, and you care about the adoption of Virtual Desktops, Microsoft might push you into one or the other camp. Later, they will pop up a notification to ask your opinion once they feel you have used it long enough.
This is one area that your vote will influence Windows 10 in a very specific way.