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.

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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.

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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."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

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

Microsoft Offering Free 12-Month Xbox Live Gold Subscription To Yearly Office 365 Customers

Subject: General Tech | July 21, 2013 - 02:21 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, productivity, outlook, office 365, microsoft, gaming, deals

Microsoft recently posted a new offer that seeks to sweeten the pot for customers interested in trying out the company’s Office 365 Home Premium subscription. Under the new promotional offer, users that purchase an annual Office 365 subscriptions will also receive a year of Xbox Live Gold for free. Not a bad deal, at all considering Office 365 Home Premium is $100 a year and Xbox Live Gold is $60 by itself.

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The offer is eligible for customers in the United States who purchase a yearly subscription to Office 365 Home Premium. The promo runs from July 18, 2013 to September 28, 2013. That eligible version of Office 365 Home Premium normally includes a basic suite of Office applications for up to five PCs and five mobile devices, 20GB of additional SkyDrive storage, 60 Skype minutes (per month), and a web version of Office.

Office applications include:

  • Word 2013
  • Excel 2013
  • PowerPoint 2013
  • Outlook 2013
  • OneNote 2013
  • Access 2013
  • Publisher 2013

With the promo, users can get a year of XBL Gold as well. Once Office 365 has been purchased, users will need to activate the subscription and then log into Office.com/xbox (before October 31, 2013) with the same Microsoft account that purchased the subscription to get a code that can be redeemed on Xbox.com or the console itself for a year of XBL Gold which gives users access to streaming services and multi-player gaming for the company’s Xbox 360 (and presumably the upcoming Xbox One) gaming console.

To find the full list of terms and conditionss for the promo, head over to this FAQ page.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft Releases Financial Results For Fourth Fiscal Quarter 2013 (Q4'13)

Subject: General Tech | July 19, 2013 - 10:37 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, Surface RT, microsoft, financial results

Software giant Microsoft recently released its financial report for its fiscal Q4 2013 (FY13 Q4) ended June 30, 2013. The financial results cover both quarterly and yearly results.

Microsoft saw quarterly revenue of $19.09 billion of fiscal Q4 2013 as well as $77.85 billion of revenue for fiscal year 2013. Quarterly revenue of $19.09 billion fell approximately 7% from fiscal Q3 2013 revenue of $20.49 billion. Further, yearly revenue increased 6% versus fiscal year 2012.

Additionally, Microsoft had quarterly operating income and net income of $6.07 billion and $4.97 billion respectively.

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As far as annual financial results, Microsoft’s operating income and Earnings Per Share both increased to the tune of 23% and 29% respectively versus the previous fiscal year.

The reduced performance in fiscal Q4 2013 is partially attributed to a $900 million charge for Surface RT “inventory adjustments,” and a $733 million European Commission fine which reduced operating income. On the positive side, Microsoft was able to count $782 million worth of defrred revenue from its Office Upgrade Offer.

According to the Microsoft press release:

“Our diverse business continues to deliver solid financial results, even as we navigate the evolving device market,” said Peter Klein, chief financial officer at Microsoft. “Looking ahead, we will continue to invest in long-term growth opportunities to drive our devices and services strategy forward and deliver ongoing value to shareholders.”

Looking forward, Microsoft has announced that CFO Peter Klein will be leaving the company at the end of the current fiscal year after 11 years total at Microsoft and 4 years in the Chief Financial Officer role. Further, Microsoft expects operating expenses to grow by as much as 6% over fiscal year 2014.

More information can be found in the full financial report.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft cuts the price of non- Pro Surface tablets

Subject: General Tech | July 15, 2013 - 01:40 PM |
Tagged: winRT, price cuts, microsoft

Translated into US currency the new price of WinRT tablets is around $350, putting it on par with the price of an iPad Mini and making it significantly less expensive than a full sized iPad.  That might help it meet the expectations of prospective buyers, providing a Windows based iPad alternative with more storage space as opposed to the previous price point which implied that the WinRT based Surface was almost a real laptop in terms of processing power.  That price does not include the base with keyboard which is more than a little disappointing for those who might consider a Surface at the new price.  The Register and other sites feel that the price drop is indicative of a new model in the works sometime in the near future.

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"Probably to make way for a refreshed Surface RT device tipped to be on its way soon, the 32GB Surface RT now costs £120 less than Apple's 16GB iPad with Retina display, with double the storage, and just £10 more than an iPad Mini."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

New Hardware Certification Requirements For Windows 8.1 Coming In 2014 and 2015

Subject: General Tech | July 14, 2013 - 02:50 AM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, tpm 2.0, mwpc 2013, microsoft, hardware certification, certification, 802.11ac

At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this year Microsoft detailed updated hardware certification requirements for Windows 8.1 systems. Among the changes, Microsoft is pushing for better security, media playback, video conferencing, and input precision in an effort to position Windows 8.1 as the best tablet platform. Hardware does not technically need to meet all of the standards in order to run the operating system, but OEM machines will need to check all the boxes in order to have their hardware branded as being Windows 8.1 certified.

Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2013.png

According to an article over at ZDNet, Microsoft will be rolling out the certification changes over the next two years. In 2014, Windows 8.1 certification will require systems with Wi-Fi capability to also have Bluetooth functionality. Further, in machines with integrated displays such as laptops, tablets, and all-in-one desktops, OEMs will need to include at least an integrated 720p webcam with microphone. The bar for microphone and speaker hardware quality has also been raised, so systems with integrated speakers will need to pass a certain threshold of minimum quality to get Windows 8.1 certification. Mary Jo Foley expects that Microsoft is pushing the webcam and microphone requirements in an effort to entice business customers and push its Lync video conferencing platform.

Windows 8.1 System Update Hardware Certification Requirements Microsoft.png

Further, machines that come with NFC (Near Field Communication) will need to conform to the NCL standard which defines how an NFC controller communicates with the host device via drivers. ARM-powered Windows 8.1 devices will be required to have so-called “precision touchpads” while the more accurate touchpad hardware is merely optional for x86-64-based Windows 8.1 systems. Microsoft is also pushing for 802.11ac support, though it does not appear to be a hard requirement in order to get certification. Systems that support connected standby mode will also need to support at least 6 hours of video playback at the display's native resolution, and if the system has a fan used for cooling it will need to report its status to the Windows 8.1 OS.

Windows 8.1 System Update Hardware Certification Requirements Microsoft Connected Standby.png

Finally, by 2015 OEMs will need to support TPM 2.0 security technology into their systems in order to qualify for Windows 8.1 certification. The 2.0 standard is an update to the TPM (Trusted Platform Module) security specification and relates to a hardware chip on the motherboard that is used to store encryption keys.

In all, the certification requirements seem logical and are a step in the right direction. More details on the changes can be found on this Microsoft MSDN page on hardware certification requirements.

Source: ZDNet

Microsoft brings SSO to AD, even for competitor's apps

Subject: General Tech | July 10, 2013 - 02:01 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, sso

In a fairly bold move to block out Amazon's attempt to sell Single Sign On to businesses, Microsoft will upgrade AD in Azure to support SSO for a variety of products, up to and including competitors such as Google who also offer an Office Suite in the cloud.  This will allow users access to most of their online resources as soon as they have logged onto a machine using their AD credentials.  For admins comes the ability to monitor the SSO system, including the ability to monitor suspicious logins.  Check out The Register for more.

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"Microsoft has expanded the capabilities of its identity and access management infrastructure to allow for single sign-on of a multitude of corporate apps.

The upgrades to Windows Azure Active Directory were announced on Sunday, and bring pre-integrated single sign-on for apps from Office 365 to Box.com, Salesforce.com, and even Redmond-nemesis Google Apps."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

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Source: The Register

Windows 8 Market Share Outpaces Vista, but Is Still Far Below Windows 7 and Windows XP

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 6, 2013 - 11:33 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, Windows 7, microsoft, desktop market share

A recent report by NetMarketShare indicates that Windows 8 is having a difficult time displacing Microsoft's older operating systems. Of the total market, Windows occupies 91.50% across all existing versions. Windows 7 and Windows XP dominate the Windows market share at 44.37% and 37.17% respectively. Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 8, is sitting at 5.1%, which barely scratches past Windows Vista at 4.62%. Having more market share than Windows Vista and Windows 98 is good, but it is hardly proving to be as popular as Microsoft hoped for. 

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June 2013 Desktop Operating System Market Share, as measured by NetMarketShare.

Granted, Windows 8 is still a new operating system, whereas XP and Windows 7 have had several years to gain users, be included on multiple generations of OEM machines, and be accepted by the enterprise customers. The free Windows 8.1 update should alleviate some users' concerns and may help bolster its market share as well. However, Windows XP simply will not die and Windows 7 (if talk on the Internet is to be believed, hehe) seems to be good enough for the majority of users, so it is difficult to say when (or if) Microsoft's latest OS will outpace the two existing, and entrenched, Windows operating systems.

YoY, Windows 7 lost 0.33% market share while Windows XP lost 6.44% market share. Meanwhile, Windows 8 has been slowly increasing in market share each quarter since its release. Netmarketshare reported 1.72% market share in December of 2012, and in six months the operating system has grown by 3.38%. There is no direct cause and effect here, but it does suggest that few people are choosing a Windows 8 upgrade path, and that despite the growth, the lost market share for Windows 7 and XP is not solely from people switching to Windows 8, but also some small number of people jumping to alternative operating systems such as Mac OS X and Linux. The historical data is neat, but it is difficult to predict how things will look moving forward. If adoption continues at this pace, it is going to take a long time for Windows 8 to dethrone Microsoft's older Windows XP and Windows 7 operating systems.

How you made the switch to Windows 8 or gotten it on a new machine? Will the Back-to-School shopping season give Windows 8 the adoption rate boost it needs?