Waiting for Windows Wednesday

Subject: General Tech | January 19, 2015 - 12:57 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, release

We should be finally hearing the pricetag which will be associated with Windows 10 this Wednesday as Microsoft has been sending out invites for an unveiling this week.  Many have already tried the unfinished version via the Windows Insider Programme and it has received a much warmer welcome that the previous version.  The Inquirer posits this could be in part because of a realization that consumers now have a choice in operating systems and are now far less likely to feel that they have to go with Microsoft or Apple.  From Chromebooks to flavours of Linux wrapped in a GUI and installer that Windows users feel comfortable with there is a change in the market and the biggest competitor to a new Windows is not necessarily an older version of the OS.  This has driven Microsoft to listen to customer feedback and not hand out changes to the OS that they feel customers should want but instead bring back familiar features which were removed and perhaps completely rethink their pricing.  You can check out The Inquirer's musical take on what to expect right here.

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"WEDNESDAY is arguably the most important day in Microsoft's recent history. We're primed and ready for what is expected to be the consumer launch of Windows 10, easily the most pivotal release in its 30 years as the world's predominant operating system."

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Source: The Inquirer

Windows 7 Is Now Classified as Extended Support

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2015 - 03:41 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows, extended support

According to Microsoft's lifecycle calendar, Windows 7 left mainstream support on the 13th of January and has entered “Extended Support”. This means that the operating system will still receive security updates, but not non-security ones, and “requests to change product design and features” will not be accepted. While the OS is over five years old, it is still very popular, especially among PC gamers.

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My concern is that this occurred while we anticipate major changes to the Windows platform. While I never really expected that Microsoft would release DirectX 12 for Windows, there was still hope that we would see a pre-release or developer build while Windows 7 was still in mainstream support (despite being several driver models behind). Now that the window has closed, so to speak, that hope is diminishing. Windows 8.1, on the other hand, might be okay, but I have no idea why you would want to stick with it over Windows 10, especially if it is a free/cheap update.

Besides DirectX 12, I am also concerned about Microsoft cutting off first-party web browsers at IE11. Sure, it is a much better place to end than IE8 on Windows XP, and the end-user could always install a third-party browser, but it could lead to problems for web developers. It is much easier to say “keep Internet Explorer up to date” (heck, even Microsoft is saying it) than the alternative, “use a different browser”. There are still many features under consideration (Shadow DOM being the most interesting for me) that would be nice to have, and not need to worry about the fraction of a fraction.

But at least it will be kept secure until 2020.

Source: Microsoft

Get Office on your Android

Subject: General Tech | January 7, 2015 - 01:09 PM |
Tagged: android 4.0, Android 5.0, arm, microsoft

The closed beta for the Office Suite is over and now anyone with an ARM powered Android device running versions 4.x or 5.x can install the non-pared down version Office for Android though you want to make sure your device is between 7" to 10".  This is somewhat sad news as it deflates the dreams of those hoping to use NVIDIA's Shield as a desktop replacement and also excludes the new and more powerful Bay Trail tablets.  Office on Android is still in beta so this is not a final product and the support for processors may expand as the we approach release, with no firm date for the final release there is reason to expect support could expand to Bay Trail at the least.  There is also no price although as The Inquirer points out, the iPad version is free to use.

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"MICROSOFT HAS ANNOUNCED the expansion of its beta programme for Android tablet versions of its Office productivity suite."

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Source: The Inquirer

Rumor: Microsoft Plans a New Web Browser

Subject: General Tech | January 2, 2015 - 05:39 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, internet explorer, spartan, IE11, ie12

Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet reports that Microsoft is planning to release a new web browser with Windows 10. We have talked about it in the past, and its rumored extension architecture in particular, but it was expected to become Internet Explorer 12. Even then, snippets have shown that the team was considering a name change away from IE, to some degree of seriousness. Now we are hearing that it might actually be a wholly new, standalone browser that is installed alongside IE11.

Yikes. Okay, so...

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Stick a fork in... ... Trident...?

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

I guess we, first, should talk about its rumored technical features. The browser is still expected to run on Trident and Chakra, the rendering engine and JavaScript interpreter for Internet Explorer, respectively. While they are not replacing it with something wholly new, Trident has allegedly been forked into two versions, which are expected to be split between the different browsers, one for the old and one for the new.

Browser rendering engines have been in flux over the last couple of years. First, Opera decided to deprecate their Presto engine and move to Webkit, along with KDE, Apple, Google, Valve, and so forth. Later, Google decided to fork Webkit into Blink, with Opera following them, to push updates with less inter-company politics. Meanwhile, Mozilla (and Samsung) started a research project, called Servo, which was developed from scratch to be a multi-threaded, efficient rendering engine. This is difficult, because Web standards were designed to be single-threaded; it may be a successful replacement, or it may just teach them a few new tricks for Gecko.

Developing a new engine from scratch is daunting but Microsoft could obviously afford it, if it is deemed a worthy project. With Trident being forked, it seems unlikely for a while though. After all, why would they fork an engine if they had something in skunkworks for years (because a standards-compliant rendering engine takes a long time to make)? Chances are that they have no plans to even start, but don't let that belittle Microsoft's possibilities with a Trident fork that is free of legacy Internet Explorer concerns.

A preview of the new browser might not make the January technical preview of Windows 10, but it is expected to be done in time for Windows 10. We will probably have access to a pre-release version before then and they might even show it off during their Windows 10 Consumer event on January 21st.

Source: ZDNet

KB3004394 could be what is interfering with Omega and other programs on your Windows 7 machine

Subject: General Tech | December 12, 2014 - 12:16 PM |
Tagged: root certificates, microsoft, KB3004394, catalyst omega

The recently released KB3004394, an update for Win 7 and Server 2008 Root Certificate Program has been causing havoc with many machines and could also be what is causing the installation errors some users have had with the AMD Catalyst Omega driver.  It is not just the new AMD driver, NVIDIA users have also seen installation issues after accepting this update and that is only the tip of the iceberg.  Reports of issues with VirtualBox, Microsoft Security Essentials, Windows Update itself and many other programs and system files are being negatively effected by this update.  If you have it on your system Microsoft recommends you manually remove it to prevent issues with your machine now and in the long term using Programs and Features --> Installed Updates.

For those who can still access Windows update you should see KB3024777, which will remove the problematic update automatically or you can download it directly from Microsoft here.

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"We have found that this update is causing additional problem on computers that are running Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1. This includes the inability to install future updates."

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Source: Microsoft

Windows 10 December 2014 Failed Update Workaround

Subject: General Tech | December 6, 2014 - 04:30 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, patch, microsoft

A few days ago, I attempted to install my Windows updates, but one failed. After complaining about the update not being accepted, it would ask you to restart your computer, where it would proudly proclaim that you have an update pending... ad infinitum. It apparently did the same for many others, including Paul Thurrott (who voiced his concerns on Twitter).

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Some day (of silence) later, and a workaround has been voiced. As far as I can tell, it was originally discovered by a member of the community, but an Engineering General Manager at Microsoft suggested that Paul Thurrott try it, even though the GM's official workaround was slightly different.

Long story short, here are the steps:

  1. Go to Add or Remove Programs.
  2. Go to View installed updates.
  3. Search for KB3019269 and uninstall it. Do not restart.
  4. Search for KB3018943 and uninstall it. Do not restart.
  5. Search for KB3016725 and uninstall it. Do not restart.
  6. Search for KB3016656 and uninstall it. Restart your computer.
  7. Run Windows Update and install whatever it tells you to.
  8. I needed to do Step 7 twice.
  9. Reboot a second time.

When I did this procedure, Windows Update complained about a failed update. Retrying it, without rebooting, was successful however. If you experienced this problem, be prepared for a potential false error – the fix might have still been successful.

This was actually the second update to fail in the exact same way, the first being a Windows Defender patch from the initial Technical Preview release. That time, the problem went away when Microsoft released a new build and I updated to it. The same probably would be true when Microsoft replaces Build 9879 with whatever they have upcoming, albeit that is at least a month away. As far as I can tell, not a whole lot has changed.

Again, this is pre-release software. I will not knock Microsoft for it, especially since the update procedure is one of the key points of focus for the entire Technical Preview. The occasional failure is to be somewhat expected.

Source: WinSupersite

Hitting the big time; Win 8.1 now more popular than it's teenage sibling

Subject: General Tech | December 3, 2014 - 01:01 PM |
Tagged: windows xp, Windows 8.1, microsoft

Now that the average consumer has no choice but to buy a machine with Windows 8 or 8.1, the number of PCs running Win 8.1 has hit 10%.  The increase beginning in November represents the official end of the availability of machines with Win7 preinstalled although you can see that this has not had much effect on the number of Win7 machines still running.  The majority of users seem to be switching from WinXP which reached its extended EoL in April of this year.  The other main point to take away from the data that The Register linked to is that those who bought Windows Vista are a stubborn crew, the number of desktops running Vista have dropped 2% but there are still a fair number of machines running the much maligned OS.

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"Windows 8.1 broke the global 10 per cent market-share barrier a year after general release, and has now hit 10.95 per cent, according to latest data from StatCounter."

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Source: The Register

Windows 10 Will Support Many New Codecs Natively

Subject: General Tech | November 27, 2014 - 10:20 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, mkv, microsoft, hevc, h.265, flac

Native support for audio and video codecs is helpful for a platform. Software will be able to call upon the operating system's built-in functions, rather than integrating a solution. Of course, some will continue to roll their own, and that's fine, but it is obviously helpful for the foundation to have its own solution (especially in cases where licenses and royalties are required).

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Windows 10 is expected to increase its platform support to include FLAC, MKV, and HEVC (h.265), and more may be coming. The tweet from Gabriel Aul suggests that this will be available starting in the next preview build, which will land in early 2015. Hopefully these additions include both encoding and decoding support, possibly allowing audio and video editors to take advantage of these formats.

The next build of Windows 10 Technical Preview is expected for early next year. The full OS is said to launch late that year.

Source: PC Gamer

Microsoft and Yahoo Want to Be Apple's Default Search

Subject: General Tech | November 27, 2014 - 09:29 PM |
Tagged: apple, safari, google, yahoo, bing, microsoft, mozilla

After Mozilla inked the deal with Yahoo, the eyes turned to Apple and its Safari browser. Currently, the default search engine is Google on both iOS and OSX, although Bing is the primary engine used for other functions, like Siri and Spotlight. Until early 2015, they are tied into a contract with Google for those two browsers, but who will get the new contract?

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Apparently Yahoo and Microsoft have both approached the company for the position, and Apple is not ruling any of the three out. Probably the most interesting part is how Yahoo is genuinely taking the search business seriously. The deal with Mozilla is fairly long-term, and with Yahoo approaching Apple as well, it probably was not just charity on Mozilla's part because no-one else wanted to be Firefox's default. Yahoo would probably need some significant monetary backing for an Apple deal, which suggests the same for their deal with Mozilla.

If both Mozilla and Apple leave Google, it will take a significant chunk out of the search engine. Power users, like those who read this site, will likely be unaffected if they care, because of how low the barrier is to change the default search engine. On the other hand, even the most experienced user will often accept default settings until there is a reason to change. The winning party will need to have a good enough product to overcome that initial shock.

But the money will at least give them a chance when the decision comes into effect. That is, unless the barrier to changing default search engines is less than the barrier to changing default web browsers.

Google will always be default on Google Chrome.

Windows 10 Could Actually Be Windows 10.0

Subject: General Tech | November 27, 2014 - 04:17 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows, windows 10, windows 6.4

Windows Vista broke away from the NT 5.x version number that was shared between Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Since then, each major OS release from Microsoft has incremented the minor version by one: Windows 7 was 6.1, Windows 8 was 6.2, and Windows 8.1 was 6.3. The current Windows 10 previews register as Windows 6.4, but screenshots suggest that Microsoft is considering a bump to 10.0 before release.

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Seriously, this time?

This leads to two discussions: “compatibility” and “why”.

First, because some applications query the Windows version number and adjust their behavior, there is some concern that 10.0 could lead to problems. For instance, if an installer checks that Windows' major version is 6, rather than at least 6, it could simply refuse to load (at least without compatibility mode). In fact, I remember Microsoft speaking about this issue back when Vista launched, saying that spoofing incorrect versions fixed (I believe) most problems. Peter Bright at Ars Technica notes that changes to application architecture, instituted with Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, makes this change more safe than when Vista bumped it to 6.x, for instance. Applications will be given an earlier version number unless they claim higher-level support in its manifest.

And then we get to the “Why”. There really isn't any reason to keep the version number in lockstep with the branding. It could be a sign that Microsoft is pushing for branding with this release, which makes sense. Windows 10, from a technical standpoint, is shaping up nicely (although I am still concerned about WinRT-based app sideloading). It would not surprise me if they would go this petty to further cement a good brand image.

Source: Ars Technica