Windows 8.1 can Boot to Desktop and has a Start Button

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 29, 2013 - 04:16 PM |
Tagged: windows blue, Windows 8.1, windows, microsoft

Personally, I really cannot care too much about the user experience quirks inherent to Windows modernization; the wedge slowly being shoved between the user and their machine is far too concerning. No matter how they modify the interface, restricting what users and developers can install and create on their machine is a deal breaker. But, after that obligatory preface reminding people not to get wound up in UX hiccups and be complacent to the big issues, Windows Blue will certainly address many of those UX hiccups.

As we reported, last month, boot-to-desktop and the Start Button were planned for inclusion with Windows 8.1. Then, the sources were relentless to emphasize: "Until it ships, anything can change."

blue-desktop.jpg

Images courtesy, Paul Thurrott.

Mary Jo Foley gathered quite a few details since then. Firstly, the option (as in, disabled by default) to boot directly to desktop will be there; from the sounds of it, it looks like it will be disabled by default but not exclusive to Enterprise SKUs. This is somewhat promising, as it would be slightly less likely for Microsoft to kill support for the desktop (and, by extension, x86 applications) if they feel pressure to punctuate it. Still, assuming because "it makes sense" is a bad way to conduct business.

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Also available (albeit, enabled by default) is the Start Button, seen in higher quality above. This will be, as far as we know, enabled by default. Its functionality will be to bring up the Start Screen or, alternatively, a new All Apps screen visible at ZDNet. Now this has me interested: while I actually like the Start Screen, a list of apps should provide functionality much closer to the Start Menu than Microsoft was previously comfortable with. Previously, the Start Screen attempted to make the desktop applications feel less comfortable than modern apps; this interface appears like it would feel more comfortable to the desktop. While probably still jarring, it looks to make finding desktop applications easier and quickly gets out of the way of your desktop experience.

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According to Paul Thurrott, for those who wish to personalize the Start Screen, you will have the option to share your desktop wallpaper with the it. For tasteful backgrounds, like the one above, I can see this being of good use.

Just please, do not grief someone with a background full of fake tiles.

As a final note, there is still no word about multiple monitor support for "Modern Apps". If you have tried to use them in the past, you know what I am talking about: basically only one at a time, it will jump between monitors if you bring up the Start Screen, and so forth.

Now even your mouse can minimize your game window

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Cases and Cooling | May 29, 2013 - 11:03 AM |
Tagged: Windows key, mouse, microsoft, I Hate This Key

Has this ever happened to you while playing a shooter? You need to get to a position so you mash the alt key to sprint and... aw crap I hit the Windows key... well, now I am dead. Have you ever considered purchasing software or a gaming keyboard which allows you disable that button?

Have you ever considered purchasing a mouse which also has that button to give both hands something to fear?

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Definitely not a member of their Sidewinder product line.

Okay, so I should be fair: the Microsoft Sculpt Comfort mouse is not designed for gaming and Windows 8-like user experiences revolve heavily around the start button. The mouse button is also more useful than a redundant Windows key; the blue pad also has swipe functionality for extra functions. According to how it is described on its product page, slide gestures are bound to respond to the computer as mouse buttons 4 and 5.

So you can probably bind them to game functions, if you feel daring.

But, in the end, I still need to congratulate Microsoft for trying to innovate computer hardware. This is more than just trying to graft touch functionality to a mouse surface, as both Apple and Microsoft have tried in the past, and tries to make the classical mouse experience better. I doubt it is for most of our audience, but not everything needs to be.

Source: Microsoft

The PS4 and Xbox One Hardware Revealed, Console Makers Have Different Goals

Subject: General Tech | May 22, 2013 - 07:33 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, semi-custom business unit, ps4, microsoft, amd

Microsoft took the wraps off of its upcoming Xbox One console earlier this week, and it is now possible to compare Microsoft and Sony's next-generation hardware.

Prior to the Xbox One launch, Forbes contributor Paul Tassi postulated that Microsoft would be going a different route than Sony with its next Xbox. Specifically, that Microsoft would focus more on media playback and applications rather than purely gaming (unlike Sony, which is doing the opposite). At the time, I found myself agreeing with his sentiment, and now that the console as launched I believe Mr. Tassi was absolutely correct. Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be the center of your living room and the device you use for all of your media (and gaming) needs. The new console integrates the Windows kernel and can do multitasking of applications and media in a Metro-UI like fashion (2/3, 1/3 split screen).

On the other hand, Sony is positioning its console as the best gaming device for the living room, and is focusing on integrating all things gaming with media as more of an afterthought. Like previous PlayStation consoles, it will likely play back media files and Blu-ray movies just fine, but it is a gaming box at its core.

Interestingly, the hardware that both companies have chosen seems to line up nicely with those goals. Both the Xbox One and PS4 are based around a semi-custom AMD APU with eight Jaguar CPU cores, but they have gone in different directions from there.

PlayStation 4 hardware:

As a refresher, Sony's PS4 has the following hardware specifications.

  • CPU:  Eight core AMD “Jaguar” CPU
  • GPU:  AMD GCN GPU with 1152 shader units (in 18 CUs)
  • Memory:  8GB of GDDR5 clocked at 5500MHz
  • HDD:  At least a spindle hard drive
  • Bandwidth:  176 GB/s

Sony has changed directions from the PS3 by going with a simpler design that provides more graphical horsepower and higher system memory bandwidth versus the Xbox One. The PS4 uses a semi-custom AMD chip that has saved Sony a great deal of R&D money while also being easier for developers as it is that much closer to a traditional PC with its x86-64 APU (GDDR5 memory is unusual though). The PS4 is aimed at gamers and Sony's choice of hardware and memory reflects that.

Xbox One hardware:

Xbox One Console.jpg

Microsoft was not as forthcoming as Sony as far as touting specific hardware specifications, but based on the announcement and additional information acquired by AnandTech, the Xbox One features the following hardware:

  • CPU:  Eight core AMD “Jaguar” CPU
  • GPU:  AMD GCN GPU with 768 shader cores (within 12 Compute Units)
  • Memory:  8GB of DDR3 system memory at 2133MHz as well as 32MB of on-chip eSRAM
  • HDD:  500GB
  • DDR3 Memory Bandwidth: 68.3 GB/s
  • eSRAM Memory Bandwidth: 102GB/s

Microsoft took a different approach with the Xbox One. Instead of going for DDR5 like Sony did, Microsoft opted for a hybrid approach that uses a small but high-bandwidth and low latency embedded SRAM on the same chip as the CPU and GPU paired with a larger 8GB of traditional PC DDR3 system memory. This approach is interesting because it gives Microsoft a system that has access to low latency memory at the expense of the higher bandwidth that the PS4 enjoys with its single pool of DDR5 memory. Developers will need to become familiar with the embedded RAM to take full advantage of the latency benefits, however.

These hardware choices work out such that the PS4 has a distinct advantage when it comes to gaming performance. It has more GPU horsepower and high-bandwidth memory for feeding the processor high resolution textures. On the other hand, while Microsoft's console still has a respectable GPU (for a console), it seems to be optimized for lower latency memory access and just enough graphics oomph to enable the company to have a multimedia and home entertainment machine that can run multiple applications simultaneously while also satisfying gamers by giving them a decent graphical upgrade over the Xbox 360 for games. 

This next generation of consoles should be interesting, as will the ensuing "flame wars" between fans. Both Microsoft and Sony have learned from the past (current) generation of consoles and are focusing on what they are good at to differentiate themselves. Microsoft is tapping into its Windows ecosystem of PCs and mobile devices and providing an app machine that the company hopes will be the hub of your living room entertainment needs. Sony, who does not have that expertise or existing infrastructure is also focusing in on what it excels at and that is gaming.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the consoles co-exist and how the market shakes out over 2014 and into the future as the hardware stays the same but software changes. Sony definitely has the hardware advantage to stay in the game longer when it comes to games and graphics, but Microsoft has a box that can do more than games and can find purchase in your media rack even after it is surpassed in gaming graphics quality by PCs and the competition.

What do you think about the split between the Xbox One and PS4's hardware?

 

Source: AnandTech

RIP Hotmail, Long Live Outlook.com

Subject: General Tech | May 3, 2013 - 01:50 PM |
Tagged: webmail, outlook, microsoft, hotmail, email

Microsoft has completed the transition to its new Outlook.com email service. The successor (and replacement) to Hotmail, Outlook.com now has more than 400 million active subscribers. Microsoft opened the Outlook.com service in beta form last year, and finally took it out of preview mode in February. Since then, the company has been moving everyone’s accounts over to the new service. In all, the company moved more than 300 million accounts from the old Hotmail databases to the new Outlook service. Over a six week period, Microsoft moved more than 150 Petabytes of user data to the new service!

From now on, users will now log in to Outlook.com and interact with the new Modern UI-esque user interface. Users that were part of the company’s Hotmail service will get to keep their existing @hotmail.com accounts and no configuration setting changes will be necessary. New users will only get @outlook.com addresses, however. Any Hotmail Plus users will get to keep their paid status and enjoy a version of Outlook.com without any sidebar ads.

Microsoft Outlook Webmail.jpg

Now that the transition is complete, Microsoft is working on adding new features to Outlook.com. Right now, the company is working on introducing deeper integration with SkyDrive as well as tweaking the sending of email from alternate accounts. Both new features will be gradually rolled out to users over the next few weeks.

The SkyDrive integration will be bolstered by adding a new attachment option when sending an email that will allow users to attach files stored on SkyDrive. Outlook will then add a link to the email and automatically assign the correct permissions to allow the email recipient to download the file. If you attach a photo from SkyDrive, it will automatically create a thumbnail or gallery of photos within the email body.

The new SMTP send feature tweaks the way Outlook sends mail via an alternative email account (for example, if you added an old Gmail or Yahoo mail account to your Hotmail or Outlook.com email account) such that it no longer shows your Hotmail address “on behalf of” your alternative email. Once the new features is rolled out, email recipients will only see your alternative email address and your Hotmail/Outlook email will not be revealed.

If you are curious about the new Outlook.com interface, check out my Outlook.com preview article.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft Rumored To Be Working On Cloud-Based "Mohoro" Windows Desktop Service

Subject: General Tech | May 2, 2013 - 02:07 AM |
Tagged: windows, thin client, remote desktop, mohoro, microsoft, cloud computing, azure

Microsoft may be working on its own cloud-based desktop service according to sources speaking with ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley. The rumored service codenamed “Mohoro” would build the Windows desktop SaaS (Software as a Service) solution on top of the company’s Windows Azure cloud computing platform. With Mohoro, Microsoft would provide Azure virtual machines running the Windows operating system. Users would then be able to remote into the desktop on any Internet connected computer or mobile device (with remote desktop support) and get access to their own desktop and applications.

Windows 8 Desktop.jpg

The Windows desktop... coming soon to a cloud near you?

Windows Azure users can already run virtual machines with Linux or Windows OSes, but in the case of Windows Microsoft only allows server versions to be run. Incensing restrictions prevent users from loading consumer operating systems such as Windows XP, 7 or 8 onto the virtual machines. The rumored Mohoro service would apparently relax the licensing restrictions and allow businesses or consumers to deploy client operating systems running on the Azure VMs. It would basically take the need for enterprises to run their own hardware and move it to “the cloud” behind a Microsoft-run subscription service.

It is an interesting idea that I could see universities and businesses looking into. The Azure platform is actually pretty good, from what little testing I've done on it. However, I think that for many consumers a local install is preferable. Although syncing applications and files can be a pain if you have multiple machines, you retain control of your data and are not bound to needing an always-on Internet connection to access that data and run applications. Further, latency issues and bandwidth caps with home Internet connections make a paid-for Azure desktop less appealing to home users. I think Microsoft would have a hard-enough time selling users a subsciption for a local/traditional Windows installation, much less a subscription for an OS requiring an always-on Internet connection to use their computer.

Would you use an Azure-powered desktop as your main OS?

Source: ZDNet

Only 346 days to go ... where will you be when WinXP dies?

Subject: General Tech | April 26, 2013 - 10:23 AM |
Tagged: winxp, microsoft

In just under a year the venerable Windows XP OS will hit end of life and will no longer be supported by Microsoft.  This could be a rather unpleasant experience for many businesses that still rely on WinXP to provide compatibility for legacy applications.  Windows 7 is becoming more difficult to acquire, with Microsoft pushing Win8 as their preferred product to sell with systems and introducing Win7 to executives is daunting enough without trying to explain why their Win8 computer now looks more like a cell phone.  That is bad enough, but explaining to them why a custom built peice of software will no longer function due to incompatibility will be even worse and pointing out that the issue could have been prevented if they had only approved your budget requests to upgrade the software will be less than helpful.  Your younger users will never notice, they are far more concerned with convincing someone that they should be allowed to work on whatever device is their current favourite but you can be guaranteed you will be spending time with upper management explaining why Microsoft doesn't care that they don't want to switch OSes and that due to security agreements with clients those managers have no choice but to upgrade.  The Register put together some numbers showing how unprepared the UK market is; the situation in North America will be similar.

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"The lack of a business case was cited as the key barrier to Windows XP application migration in 79 per cent of these organisations. This is why large volumes of unsupported applications post-Windows XP are a concern for 80 per cent of CIOs and IT leaders."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Can 3,000,000 Surface buyers be wrong?

Subject: General Tech | April 25, 2013 - 11:43 AM |
Tagged: winRT, win8, surface, microsoft, sales, Surface Pro

Believe it or not, according to The Inquirer's sources Microsoft managed to sell three million Surface and Surface Pro tablets, accounting for 7.5% of sales in the first quarter of 2013.  In comparison Apple accounts for a hair under 50% of branded tablet sales, with Android tablets making up the rest of the market.  For a company not generally associated with hardware, apart from the Zune, Microsoft has made a definite impact on tablet sales with their new OS and hybrid machines.  They do not define the split between Surface and Surface Pro, nor mention how many buyers did not realize the limitations of WinRT, regardless this is good news for Microsoft if not for some of their traditional partners such as ASUS and Acer.

surface.jpg

"TABLET UPSTART Microsoft managed to capture 7.5 percent of the global 'branded' tablet market in the first three months of the year."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Inquirer

Windows 8.1 (Blue) Build 9369 Leaks, Adds New Apps, Syncing Options

Subject: General Tech | April 18, 2013 - 09:06 PM |
Tagged: windows blue, windows 8, windows, microsoft, leaked build

A new build of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8.1 (also known as “Windows Blue”) operating system has leaked to the Internet. Build 9369 is the build in question, and it adds quite a few new features to the Start Screen.

Windows 8 Start Menu.jpg

My Windows 8 Start Screen.

The new Windows 8.1 build features further integration with the company’s SkyDrive cloud storage service as well as new applications and synching options. The new SkyDrive integration includes the ability to save files to SkyDrive by default, as well as a new “Files” application on the Start Screen (Metro, Modern UI, whatever-it’s-called-this week interface) that allows users to browse local and SkyDrive files in a Windows Explorer-like fashion without leaving the Start Screen.

Microsoft has also tweaked the Start Screen search function to allow users to begin typing on the Start Screen and get search results on the right-hand side of the display without leaving the Start Screen icons. Personally, I would have liked to see Microsoft revamp the Start Screen search to show all results by default and let me filter afterwards rather than only showing applications by default and letting me remove the filter by clicking a button. It should be the other way around in my opinion, but I suppose the current changes so far are still positive ones (even if they are not the changes I was hoping for).

Build 9369 also adds new sync-able settings that includes synching mouse, Start Screen, and file explorer settings across your Windows PCs. Microsoft has also added a click-able button to the Start Screen that allows non-touchscreen users to easily bring up the Apps List. Once viewing the list of all installed applications, the build allows users to sort the apps by name, install date, or by the frequency of use.

Microsoft has also made a multitude of smaller tweaks to existing functionality. You can find a full list of changes and a video walk-through of the new build over at WinBeta. Windows 8.1 is shaping up to be a better operating system, though it remains to be seen whether or not it is worth paying a subscription price for.

Read more about Windows 8 and Windows Blue at PC Perspective!

Source: WinBeta

So, about that non-transferable Office 2013 license? Not so much.

Subject: General Tech | March 7, 2013 - 10:24 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, office 2013

As many expected Microsoft has made an about face for the single machine licensing for Office 2013 which would permanently tie an Office 2013 serial number to a single machine.  In fact the licensing was so strict that an OS reinstall on a machine with an Office license would invalidate that license.  Now this would seem to be a way to convince customers to move to the subscription based Office 365 which has much a more lax licensing agreement when it comes to multiple machines.  Now all versions of Office 2013, barring the OEM version which has always had a rather draconian license, will allow the transfer of licenses as long as that license is only ever active on one single machine.  You can get more details on Microsoft's change of heart at The Register.

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"Based on customer feedback we have changed the Office 2013 retail license agreement to allow customers to transfer the software from one computer to another," Microsoft's Jevon Fark said in a blog post on Wednesday. "This means customers can transfer Office 2013 to a different computer if their device fails or they get a new one."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Office 365 Pro Plus for SMBs

Subject: General Tech | February 28, 2013 - 09:30 AM |
Tagged: Office 365 Pro Plus, microsoft

The new subscription based Office Suite is now available for small businesses including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, InfoPath, and Lync.  The subscriptions are on a per user license system, with Small Business Premium costing $150 user/year and the Midsized Business is $180 user/year for up to 250 employees.  Both versions are able to run along side old versions of Office and the Midsized version includes hosted SharePoint and Lync servers as well as Active Directory integration for use with existing infrastructure in addition to the Microsoft hosted Exchange and Cloud storage services.  Contrast that to Office 2013 which is purchased on a licensed per machine basis, a non-transferable license at that, making upgrading machines a more expensive undertaking for SMBs.  Get more details over at The Register.

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"One month after lifting the curtain on the updated version of its Office 365 subscription service for home users, Microsoft has officially launched the equivalent service for business customers with three new offers for small and midsized companies."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register