Manufacturer: Microsoft

If Microsoft was left to their own devices...

Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting 2013 set the stage, literally, for Steve Ballmer's last annual keynote to investors. The speech promoted Microsoft, its potential, and its unique position in the industry. He proclaims, firmly, their desire to be a devices and services company.

The explanation, however, does not befit either industry.

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Ballmer noted, early in the keynote, how Bing is the only notable competitor to Google Search. He wanted to make it clear, to investors, that Microsoft needs to remain in the search business to challenge Google. The implication is that Microsoft can fill the cracks where Google does not, or even cannot, and establish a business from that foothold. I agree. Proprietary products (which are not inherently bad by the way), as Google Search is, require one or more rivals to fill the overlooked or under-served niches. A legitimate business can be established from that basis.

It is the following, similar, statement which troubles me.

Ballmer later mentioned, along the same vein, how Microsoft is among the few making fundamental operating system investments. Like search, the implication is that operating systems are proprietary products which must compete against one another. This, albeit subtly, does not match their vision as a devices and services company. The point of a proprietary platform is to own the ecosystem, from end to end, and to derive your value from that control. The product is not a device; the product is not a service; the product is a platform. This makes sense to them because, from birth, they were a company which sold platforms.

A platform as a product is not a device nor is it service.

Keep reading to see what Microsoft... probably still cannot.

Office 365 might not be great for enterprise but for BYOD it is looking interesting

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2013 - 10:24 AM |
Tagged: office 365, microsoft, Android

While Enterprise admins are less than impressed with the new Office 365 model and the changes that are required to their environments to make this new product function correctly many SMBs, students and home users have a lot to be happy about.  Device sharing is going to be a big thing, with one license allowing you to use Office 365 on a variety of the devices you own.  Support on NVIDIA's Shield is still a rumour but compatibility with Android phones is much closer to reality.  There are workarounds you need to put into place in order to make most Android phones function correctly, which The Register kindly linked to in their article and you will need to hunt down the originally released Microsoft installation file which they have pulled but you will be able to use Office 365.  Hopefully you won't be trying to write long dissertations on your phone but reading and editing are quite possible.

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"Unlike the video editing or CAD workstation beasts that are still utterly reliant on Windows, Android is slowly evolving into a workable platform for basic productivity."

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Source: The Register

Windows 8.1 Coming October 18th As Downloadable ISO and Retail DVD SKUs

Subject: General Tech | September 18, 2013 - 04:53 AM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, Windows 8 Pro, windows 8, microsoft

Microsoft has been developing Windows 8.1 over the summer, and the free update to Windows 8 is almost ready for consumers. Set for official release on October 18, Windows 8.1 will be available as a downloadable ISO and physical DVD in retail packaging. Microsoft will offer up Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1 Pro, and a Windows 8.1 Pro Pack (which upgrades an existing Windows 8.1 install to Pro).

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The new operating system will be available as full version software, which means that users will not have to upgrade from an earlier version of Windows. The asking price gets a full retail key which can be used on its own to install Windows 8.1 or Windows 8.1 Pro in a VM, a new system build with no prior OS, or in a dual boot environment. As far as installation and upgrade options, users will be able to perform upgrade or clean installs using the installation media. Microsoft recommends that Vista and XP users backup all files and perform a clean install of both the OS and applications. On the other hand, the company has encouraged Windows 7 users to go through the update process where users will be able to keep personal files. However, even Windows 7 users will have to re-install any applications that do not come bundled with Windows. Users that are already running Windows 8 can grab the free update and safely do an in-place install/update to Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store.

If users have OEM machines that come pre-installed with Windows 8.1, they will be able to add on the Pro features (including being eligible for Windows Media Center) by purchasing the Pro Pack upgrade rather than needing to purchase a full Windows 8.1 Pro download or DVD.

The various Windows 8.1 flavors will be available on October 18th. The base Windows 8.1 will cost $119.99 while Windows 8.1 Pro will cost $199.99. The Windows 8.1 Pro upgrade pack will be available later this year following sometime after Windows 8.1's launch for $99.99. Note that these are prices for users without prior licenses. Users that are already running Windows 8 can upgrade to Windows 8.1 for free.

For comparison, full versions of Windows 8.0 and Windows 8.0 Pro were $99.99 and $139.99 at launch respectively.

Will you be upgrading to Windows 8.1?

Source: Hexus.net

IFA 2013: Toshiba Launches 8-Inch Tablet Running Windows 8.1

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 9, 2013 - 12:14 AM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, toshiba, tablet, skype, microsoft, Intel, ifa 2013, Bay Trail, atom

Toshiba has launched a new 8-inch tablet called the Encore at the IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin) consumer electronics show in Berlin, Germany. The upcoming tablet is an 8-inch device measuring 10.68mm thick and weighing 479 grams (~1.06 pounds). It runs the full version of Windows 8.1 and is coming in November.

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The Encore has an 8-inch 1280 x 800 multi-touch HFFS display surrounded by a shiny black bezel. There is a 2MP webcam, Windows button, and Toshiba logo on the front face. The back of the tablet has rounded edges and corners. It has a silver-colored finish and houses another Toshiba logo and an 8MP main camera. In addition to the webcam, the Encore tablet has stereo speakers and two microphones (for noise cancelation). IO includes a Micro SD card slot, micro HDMI video output, and micro USB interfaces.

Toshiba has opted for Intel's latest Bay Trail Atom SoCs to power its 8-inch Windows tablet. Specifically, Toshiba has packed a quad core Bay Trail SoC, 2GB of system memory, 32GB of internal storage. Internal sensors include a gyroscope, accelerometer, and GPS. Further, the Encore features a dual band 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi radio. According to Toshiba, the tablet exhibits "exceptional battery life," but beyond that the company has not released exact numbers.

The Encore will come with Windows 8.1 pre-installed along with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 and Xbox SmartGlass. Naturally, user-accessible internal storage will be limited due to the size of Windows 8.1. Luckily, users will be able to add additional storage via a Micro SD card. The tablet is Skype certified, as well.

The Toshiba Encore tablet will be available for purchase in November for $329.

Source: Hexus.net

Windows Server 2012 R2, now featuring a clipboard shared across VMs

Subject: General Tech | September 6, 2013 - 10:26 AM |
Tagged: servers, windows server 2012 R2, microsoft, nifty, RDMA

If you play with VM's in a Windows environment you have probably gotten quite good at using FTP as that was the easiest way to copy files or even text between two or more of your virtual machines.  No more will you need to do that as the new version of Windows Server will have a shared clipboard allowing you to copy and paste not just text but also files between your VMs.  They will still limit you to 64 virtual CPUs but they did add Remote Direct Memory Access which offers a huge boost in speed to your machines and for doing live migrations.  Check out more at The Register.

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"If you want to see a TechEd audience break into spontaneous applause – and here I am one-hundred-percent serious – give them something that they really care about. Like a shared clipboard. The people running virtual servers really did interrupt Benjamin Armstrong, Microsoft Hyper-V program manager, to applaud the simple act of being able to cut and paste text or files between VMs."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft buys Nokia, the second largest maker of cell phones

Subject: Chipsets | September 3, 2013 - 12:08 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, nokia, windows phone, purchase, billions

At a mere $7.2 billion, Microsoft just picked up all of Nokia's devices and some of their software in an attempt to streamline production and win market share from Apple and Android devices.  Nokia tends to be the manufacturer that people think of when they think of Windows phones, with HTC a close second.  The current market share of Windows phones is minuscule and for that matter so is Nokia's; what might not be clear from some of the stories you have been reading is that Nokia has a large share of the phones currently being manufactured.  As you can see from the Reuters graph below they are actually second only to Samsung in terms of manufacturing, this existing infrastructure may help Microsoft greatly as they structured as a software company ... Surface being the exception that proves the rule. 

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From Reuters

The Inquirer believes this could mean a resurgence of competing mobile OS designs, with Google owning Motorola it seems likely that Samsung and HTC are going to want to diversify their lineup of phones even though Google has suggested they will not provide preferential treatment to Motorola.  Microsoft may still provide licenses to HTC but with this major change you can expect the rumours of HTC developing a mobile OS to become verified as well as a lot more news on Tizen, Samsung's home grown OS.  Blackberry could be doomed at this point, with nothing unique to offer in the way of secure connectivity now that they have moved to ActiveSync and dated hardware they are reduced to a niche market consisting solely of those who want a physical keyboard on their phone.  This purchase is as painful to Finland as the death of BlackBerry will be for Canada.

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The other interesting part to this story is the return of Stephen Elop to Microsoft as he only left them in 2010, previously he headed their business software division.  You can follow the odds on his likelihood of taking the reins from Ballmer by following the link from this article; Stephen has tossed hardware across a room so he is certainly qualified.  If he did take over Microsoft it would signal a 'mobile first' mentality which might help sales of Win8 on mobile devices but would not bode well for the desktop users.  If he is not placed in charge of the entire company it would likely mean that we will see him head a mobile division while someone else handles a desktop OS.  That has not worked well for Microsoft historically, we shall see in the coming months which direction the company chooses.  Hopefully they will remember they sell a server OS.

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"MICROSOFT SURPRISED NO ONE on Tuesday when it announced that it picked up Nokia's devices unit and licensed some of its software for a cool £4.6bn in cash. While many see the deal as two struggling companies merging for a final shot at success, we think the deal should have Apple and Google worried."

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Source: The Inquirer

Microsoft Will Continue Windows XP Support, For a Price

Subject: General Tech | September 2, 2013 - 09:17 PM |
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.

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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 - 12:54 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 - 08:22 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.

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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 25, 2013 - 10:24 PM |
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.

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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