Microsoft Will Continue Windows XP Support, For a Price

Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2013 - 12:17 AM |
Tagged: windows xp, windows, security, microsoft, legacy, enterprise, custom support

Windows XP seems to be the OS that simply will not die, and it seems that Microsoft has given in slightly on its plans to no longer support the aging operating system. For those customers willing to pay, Microsoft will continue patching Windows XP through its Custom Support program.

Custom Support is mainly aimed at large enterprise and industrial customers who, for legacy or other reasons, have yet to move on to newer OS versions from XP. The program will pick up from where Microsoft ends its public extended support for Windows XP (Service Pack 3) on April 8, 2014.

Businesses that elect to go the Custom Support route and stick with XP will pay approximately $200 per PC for the first year alone. The systems in the program will continue to receive patches for vulnerabilities rated as “Critical” with optional patches for “Important” security issues available for additional fees, according to Gregg Keizer writing for PCWorld. Security issues classed by Microsoft as being of low or moderate importance will not be patched at all.

Windows XP SP3 Desktop.png

Microsoft will reportedly be delivering these patches through a secure channel other than the standard Windows Update in an attempt to keep non-paying Windows XP users from getting their hands on the patches.

For now, it seems that Windows XP is still here to stay in a big way, at least in the enterprise space where it is likely cheaper to keep XP in circulation than to upgrade PCs, retrain employees, and re-code legacy applications. It will cost a pretty penny to keep the old OS up to date and (mostly) secure, however.

Source: PC World

Could you actually do 'work' on a Shield?

Subject: General Tech | August 30, 2013 - 03:54 PM |
Tagged: shield, nvidia, nifty, microsoft, grid vca, byod

Remember NVIDIA's Shield, that game streaming device Ryan was playing with at QuakeCon but which doesn't seem to fit the role of just a gaming device since it can harness the power of other nearby NVIDIA GPUs?  The Register is proposing a rather interesting usage scenario for the Shield by using the GRID VCA technology which is the basis of communications with NVIDA's servers and virtualized GPUs, which is also happens to function well with many of the virtualization programs currently in use.

When they saw Windows games being played on a Shield at VM World they realized that there would be nothing impossible about providing Office 365 as a service if you were running Server 2012 with RemoteFX installed.  With HDMI out you can have the monitor of your choice and the Bluetooth capability means you can support a keyboard and mouse and suddenly you have the coolest thinclient on the block.  In fact you might even be able to sit near a server with several Tesla cards installed and run CAD programs if someone could figure out how to stream a CAD program to the Shield.  

Or you could just game at work.

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"Some grumble that the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept deserves to be called Spend Your Own Money in recognition of the cost of providing a computer hitting workers' hip pockets instead of employers'.

Such grumbles may be less sustainable now that NVIDIA's $US299 SHIELD portable gaming console can run Windows applications."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Shows Off Xbox One SoC At Hot Chips 25

Subject: General Tech | August 29, 2013 - 11:22 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, SoC, microsoft, gaming, console, amd

At the Hot Chips conference earlier this week, Microsoft showed off several slides detailing the SoC used in its upcoming Xbox One gaming console.

The Xbox One uses a System on a Chip (SoC) designed by AMD’s Semi-Custom Business Unit. The processor features eight “Jaguar” AMD CPU cores, an AMD GCN (Graphics Core Next) based GPU with 768 shader cores, an audio co-processor, and 32MB of on-chip eSRAM.

The SoC, measuring 363mm^2 is manufactured on TSMC’s 28nm HPM process. The chip can interface with 8GB of DDR3 main memory with bandwidth of 68.3 GB/s or utilize the on-chip SRAM which has bandwidth of 102GB/s. The embedded SRAM is in addition to the smaller L1 and L2 caches. The slides indicate that the GPU and CPU can at least access the SRAM, though it still remains frustratingly unknown if the SoC supports anything like AMD’s hUMA technology which would allow the CPU and GPU to both read and write to the same memory address spaces without having to copy data between CPU and GPU-accessible memory space. It may be that the CPU and GPU can use the SRAM, but the same memory spaces can not be shared, though that may be the pessimist in me talking. On the other hand, there could be something more, but it’s impossible to say from the block diagram spotted by Semi-Accurate at the Microsoft presentation.

Microsoft Xbox One Gaming Console.png

With that said, the slides do reveal a few interesting figures about the SoC that were not known previously. The Xbox One SoC has 47MB of on-chip memory including 32MB eSRAM used by the CPU and GPU and 64KB of SRAM used by the audio co-processor. The chip’s GPU is rated for Microsoft’s DirectX 11.1 and above graphics API. Further, Microsoft rates the GPU at 1.31 TFLOPS, 41 Gigatexels-per-second, and 13.6 Gigapixels-per-second. Additionally, the GCN-based GPU is able to hardware-encode multi-stream H.264 AVC MVC video and hardware decode multiple formats, including H.264 MVC. The hardware encoder is likely being used for the console’s game capture functionality.

The audio processors in the Xbox One SoC use two 128-bit SIMD floating point vector cores rated at 15.4 GFLOPS and “specialized hardware engines” and “signal processing optimized vector and scalar cores.”

The final interesting specification I got from the slides was that the SoC is able to go into a low power state that is as low as 2.5% of the chip’s full power using power islands and clock gating techniques.

You can find all of the geeky details in these slides over at SemiAccurate.

Source: SemiAccurate

GCN-Based AMD 7000 Series GPUs Will Fully Support DirectX 11.2 After Driver Update

Subject: Graphics Cards | August 26, 2013 - 01:24 AM |
Tagged: amd, Windows 8.1, microsoft, directx 11.2, graphics cards, gaming, GCN

Earlier this month, several websites reported that AMD’s latest Graphics Core Next (GCN) based graphics cards (7000 series and 8000 series OEM lines) would not be compatible with the Windows 8.1-only DirectX 11.2 API. This was inferred from a statement made by AMD engineer Laylah Mah in an interview with c1 Magazin.

AMD Radeon 7970 GHz Edition.jpg

An AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition.

Fortunately, the GCN-based cards will fully support DirectX 11.2 once an updated driver has been released. As it turns out, Microsoft’s final DirectX 11.2 specification ended up being slightly different than what AMD expected. As a result, the graphics cards do not currently fully support the API. The issue is not one of hardware, however, and an updated driver can allow the GCN-based 7000 series hardware to fully support the latest DirectX 11.2 API and major new features such as tiled resources.

The updated driver will reportedly be released sometime in October to coincide with Microsoft’s release of Windows 8.1. Specifically, Maximum PC quoted AMD in stating the following:

"The Radeon HD 7000 series hardware architecture is fully DirectX 11.2-capable when used with a driver that enables this feature. AMD is planning to enable DirectX 11.2 with a driver update in the Windows 8.1 launch timeframe in October, when DirectX 11.2 ships. Today, AMD is the only GPU manufacturer to offer fully-compatible DirectX 11.1 support, and the only manufacturer to support Tiled Resources Tier-2 within a shipping product stack.”

So fret not, Radeon 7000-series owners, you will be able to fully utilize DX 11.2 and all its features once games start implementing them, and assuming you upgrade to Windows 8.1.

Source: Maximum PC

Steve Ballmer Resigns from Microsoft in 2014

Subject: General Tech | August 23, 2013 - 06:52 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, Steve Ballmer

The world, it feels, has been calling for this moment years running. Steve Ballmer has announced he will be stepping down from CEO position at Microsoft within the next twelve (12) months. This transition, appointing a successor and so forth, will occur within this window.

ballmerBW_web.jpg

Not saying, "next six months or, if necessary, the six thereafter" is a shame...

... because then it would be... transition... windows.

In a letter to all employees, Steve Ballmer implied his resignation was planned for the middle of his reorganization strategy. He also made a statement for the official press release:

We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization and we have an amazing Senior Leadership Team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.

This should be demonstrably false, apart from some grandiose fluke, if his successor is any of the newly appointed division leads. It would not make sense to be placed at the head of a division, intentionally, for such a short time before becoming the new CEO; it would be too damaging to bungee-boss a whole division unless it was an unplanned decision. The other possibility would be placing candidates as division heads to groom them into lead-executive material; this, too, does not make sense as it would be a very abrupt, short, and disruptive grooming.

Then again, I am only running off logic, not business experience. Maybe I am wrong?

Speaking of selection, Bill Gates confirmed that he would be on the "succession planning committee". Other members include: John Thompson, committee chair; Steve Luczo, chairman of compensation sub-committee; Chuck Noski, chairman of audit sub-committee; and Heidrick & Struggles International Inc, a recruiting firm for executives... trust them, Struggles is their middle name. They are not only considering promotions for existing staff but also candidates from outside the company.

There will be a lot of cheering, especially in the comments, about this event... but not for me. Replacing Ballmer could be a good or a bad move for Microsoft; it could also be a good or a bad move for us, as PC users. Microsoft could become more focused on certification, even more than it currently threatens; they could also be more hostile to the open-source community.

On the other hand, they could be more open to those issues.

Cheers?

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft Hires Jason Holtman (ex-Valve) for PC Gaming.

Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2013 - 08:09 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, valve, xbox, pc gaming

A half of a year, almost to the day, passed since Valve removed two dozen employees. Jason Holtman, then Director of Business for Valve, was among those released. Despite the flat-by-design corporate structure, with even game credits listed alphabetically versus title and department, Holtman is considered key to the success of Steam.

And now Microsoft acquired him.

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Games for Windows has not been a success. Microsoft Game Studios, and even Microsoft Hardware, had high respect in the PC gaming industry with extremely popular franchises and lines of peripherals. Their image has since regressed far enough for Microsoft to give up, two years ago, and roll Games for Windows into the Xbox brand.

As Microsoft fell, Valve climbed. Steam, largely credited to efforts by Jason Holtman, distributes games for basically every major publisher. It has a respected position on the hard drive of gamers which is an enviable feat. The Windows Store has not received any uptake. Microsoft feels the need to change that and, it would seem by accepting the job, Holtman believes he can accomplish that.

I do wonder how Microsoft will be influenced by this hire. The major concern with Windows Store is its certification process and I doubt anything will change on that front. I expect the hope is his contributions to publisher relationships but he might also, on the side, induce change in visible ways.

Source: VR-Zone

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and Mouse

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling | August 14, 2013 - 08:46 PM |
Tagged: windows rt, mouse, microsoft, keyboard

I would normally begin a product announcement with some introduction but, this time, a quote from Mary Jo Foley seems a better fit:

These new peripherals work with Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows RT, though only "basic functionality" is provided when used with Windows RT.

Problems with Windows RT, it is now obvious, go beyond Ethernet dongles and I would be shocked if Microsoft Hardware are the only ones suffering. We have already heard Plugable, an adapter and peripherals company, complain about Microsoft and their demand for Plugable to pull Surface RT drivers from their website. I cannot see this being a few localized issues.

microsoft_kbmnum_desktop_hero.jpg

These are the problems you will experience with a platform where the owner has complete control. Imagine how bad Windows RT will be if Microsoft slips behind, again, in Internet Explorer development; the only browsers allowed must be Internet Explorer reskins. But I digress.

The Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop is a mouse, keyboard, and number pad with a unique appearance. Non-uniform keys pushing upward to a split should conform to the hand of a typical home row typist. WASD gamers might as well stop reading by this point. Microsoft is not known for mechanical switches so I would expect this keyboard to be typical membrane-based activation.

microsoft_kbmnum_side.jpg

Side-on shows off the depth better.

That said, most Microsoft peripherals I have used tends to keep up with mechanical in terms of durability and performance... except wired Xbox headsets. Those little turds snap within a matter of hours.

The mouse, on the other hand (literally), does not seem to include extra mouse buttons except for a dedicated Windows button. If you have not figured it out by now: gamers are not the target audience. It seems fairly standard otherwise, from a feature standpoint, although comfort and durability are the big deciding factors for many users which we are not in a position to give an honest opinion on.

Together, the devices are available within the week and retail for $129.95. The keyboard, separately, will be available in September for $80.95; the mouse, separately, will be available for $59.95. High price, but it might just be worth it for dedicated typists.

Source: Microsoft

Who didn't see that coming; litigation over failed Surface RT launch

Subject: General Tech | August 14, 2013 - 12:38 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, winRT, fail, Surface RT

Predicting the next best thing in mobile computing is not an easy task, nor is convincing people that your run of the mill product is in fact the second coming of sliced bread.  However some products are doomed to failure from their inception, regardless of the quality of the product due to the company in question attempting something that does not fit with their specialization.  Ask Ryan about his Zune, a quality product doomed to failure thanks to the fact that it was hardware born to a software company that has not previously needed to worry about package design or producing physical products.

Surface RT on the other hand was full of warts to begin with and doesn't have any of the saving graces that Microsoft's audio player did, it does nothing well and some things 'just good enough'.  MSI came out against Microsoft's plans to produce hardware in direct competition to the companies that have been licensing Windows for their products from the beginning and ASUS also expressed doubts not only about the success of the product but the wisdom of trying to steal business from your customers.  Surface for the most part has been successful but the WinRT version has been an overpriced failure.   This is probably why the inevitable has happened, it will be lawyers at dawn.  You can read the complaint that was filed over at The Register if you wish.

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"According to a press release issued by the law firm of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd on Monday, the suit charges Microsoft with violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including failing to disclose "then presently known trends, events, or uncertainties" in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission."

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Source: The Register

Surface RT Does Not Have Ethernet. Oh wait. No. Oh Wait?

Subject: General Tech, Networking, Systems, Mobile | August 6, 2013 - 04:18 AM |
Tagged: Surface RT, microsoft

It has been a month, to the day, since I picked on Windows RT for being more locked down than a Nintendo console. Devices, including Microsoft's own Surface RT, did not allow USB to Ethernet dongles for wired internet access. Compared to the Wii, that is quite pathetic.

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Certain users have been able to use adapters until apparently, according to Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft helped ensure they are broke as intended. They are also demanding hardware manufacturers, who otherwise could support the operating system, to withhold drivers from their customers.

If you were one of those people who managed to get an Ethernet dongle working with your ARM-based Surface RT, you've probably since discovered that it no longer works.

I did not see any confirmation of Microsoft disabling any drivers so, bare in mind, I might have just misunderstood the above quote. Apparently, though, the issue arises from Connected Standby conflicts with those dongles.

But that does not mean Microsoft will continue to prevent Ethernet dongles.

According to the same article from Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is quietly working on a fix for the issue. They are currently working, along with hardware manufacturers, on creating devices which can support the instant-on, instant-off feature. The cynic in me, of course, wonders if Microsoft will be first to market with the, albeit rumored, corrected peripheral.

Personally, I feel that a consumer who purchases one of your devices should be allowed to install hardware understanding the tradeoff. It would not be too difficult to pop up a warning, "Your USB device is not compatible with Connected Standby; the feature will resume when your accessory is removed".

Just another advantage for truly personal PCs.

Source: ZDNet

It's a bad day to be Ballmer

Subject: General Tech | July 31, 2013 - 02:10 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, surface, winRT, fail

The future of Windows RT and the Surface tablet are bleak, maybe bleaker than you think as Microsoft made $853 million in sales on the non-Pro Surface.  That number is lower than the hit that Microsoft's prospective sales took in lowering the price of the Surface by $150.  Acer warned them a year ago that they should stick with software and ASUS has just announced that they have no interest in making any more Surface devices until demand appears.  You can see the actual numbers of the immense loss for Microsoft that Surface created at The Register.  If that wasn't bad enough, British courts have ruled that Microsoft can not use the term SkyDrive for their online storage solution anymore.

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"Got that? Microsoft spent more in a single year advertising the Windows 8 and Surface launches than it took in from Surface sales that same year."

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Source: The Register