New Linux Kernel 3.9 Adds New Features Including KVM on ARM and SSD Caching Support

Subject: General Tech | April 30, 2013 - 09:46 AM |
Tagged: ssd caching, operating system, linux, kernel 3.9, kernel, arm, 802.11ac

Linus Torvalds recently released a new version of the Linux kernel -- version 3.9 -- that advances the core of the GNU/Linux operating system with a number of new features. Among other tweaks, the new kernel rolls in new drivers, improves virtualization support, adds new hardware sleep modes, and tweaks file system and storage support.

The new kernel has added quite a few new experimental features, but developers/enthusiasts will no longer have to employ the CONFIG_EXPERIMENTAL flag when compiling the kernel in order to enable them. The kernel development team has decided to remove that option, enable the features by default, and merely tag those experimental features in the documentation. One of the experimental features is SSD caching that allows a solid state drive to cache both reads and writes. The SSD can cache frequently accessed data on the faster solid state drive as well as take the write cached data and write it to the hard drive when the IO subsystem isn’t being heavily utilized. The feature is not new to Linux distributions, but the caching support has now been moved to the kernel. Furthermore, the kernel is now RAID-aware when using the btrfs file system and RAID 5 or RAID 6.

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On the driver front, Linux Kernel 3.9 now supports Intel’s upcoming 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapters, improved HD audio codec, AMD’s Oland (8500/8600) and Richland GPUs, and additional NVIDIA GPU support. The new kernel also rolls in a power-optimized driver for Intel’s Haswell GPU and several more track pads.

Kernel 3.9 also adds a new suspend/sleep mode. It will use more power than the traditional S3 (suspend to memory) sleep mode because components are not completely powered down (merely at their lowest sleep mode), but the system will be almost-instantly accessible upon exiting the new suspend mode as a result. According to H-Online, this "lightweight suspend" mode would be ideal for mobile devices or hardware used in network appliances. Also interesting is support for a KVM hypervisor on ARM Cortex A15 SoCs as well as some software tweaks to the kernel to improve web server workloads by allowing multiple networking sockets (and associated CPU processes) to listen on the same network port.

In all, version 3.9 looks to be a worthy upgrade, and one that I hope Linux distro makers will opt for in upcoming releases. I think the new drivers and the SSD caching being rolled into the kernel are the most important features for desktop users, though the networking stack improvements also sound interesting.

For more details, Thorsten Leemhuis has written up an extensive article on the new kernel.

Source: H-Online

Windows 8 Users Can No Longer Boot Straight To The Desktop, Must Start With Metro

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 7, 2012 - 02:07 PM |
Tagged: windows 8 style ui, windows 8, windows, operating system, microsoft, Metro

The Windows 8 RTM leak has coincided with numerous articles around the Internet that detail the new features and the Windows 8 Style UI once known as Metro. It seems that a new setup process and the removal of Aero Glass were not the only big aesthetic changes. With the new build came several alleged tweaks by Microsoft that prevent several methods for automatically booting to the desktop. Group Policy tweaks and a autorun shortcut were two such methods–that worked on early beta builds but no longer work on the RTM–to skip past the Metro/Windows 8 Style UI Start Screen, according to Rafael Rivera of Windows 8 Secrets.

Previously, users could login and be automatically taken to the desktop. They would still see the Metro screen, but only for a split second. Now, users wanting to do this are back to square one, and will have to manually launch the desktop each time they login to their computers.

Windows_8_RTM_Metro_Start_Screen.jpg

It is not all bad news, however (well, at least not as bad). If you drag the desktop Metro Windows 8 Style UI tile to the top-left corner, as soon as you login, you can hit the Enter key to go to the desktop. It is a less automatic way than has been previously possible, but it is better than nothing.

You can find more information about the alleged changes to the RTM here, as well as more PC Perspective Windows 8 coverage by following the windows 8 tag.

Some speculation and opinion follows:

It seems that Microsoft is taking a very firm position on Windows 8’s new Start Screen interface and full screen applications. While it is likely that developers and enthusiasts are working on new tweaks to get to the desktop automatically again, I foresee this being a drawn out tit-for-tat battle between Microsoft and its users. Beyond the new interface, this stance of working against customization is something I have not seen before on this level, as previous operating system have had numerous tweaking utilities and Microsoft did not seem to have a problem with them. My only guess is that they believe by forcing users to use Windows 8 Style UI as much as it possibly can, it will get users used to, and accepting of, the interface faster (essentially trying to get users over the radical interface change as quickly as possible–ike ripping a bandaid off). And if I let the cynical side get the best of me, Microsoft does have a vested interest in keeping users on the Metro/Windows 8 Style interface as much as possible as they want users to buy Metro apps and not use traditional applications. They are selling the upgrades for $40 and likely want to “make up” the money (compared to selling prices of previous versions) by taking a cut of Windows Store app purchases. The company’s insistence on forcing usage is only going to hurt them, I fear, as people who are on the fence about Metro–but who are interested in the other improvements–likely want to come to the new interface on their own terms (if at all). Actively working against users trying to use and customize their operating systems may well cost them a few sales. It would seem to me that Microsoft should be welcoming anyone that wants to use Windows 8, even if they do not want to stay in (or use at all) the Metro interface but that's just my opinion and apparently Microsoft is of a different mind.

Whether you love, hate, or feel somewhere in-between on Windows 8 Style UI, options are not a bad thing. I do think that more people would be willing to give Microsoft’s new interface a chance if it was more optional than it is. What do you think?

Source: CNET

Windows 8 Going on Sale October 26, 2012

Subject: General Tech | July 18, 2012 - 09:33 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, software, operating system, microsoft, metro ui

As the summer continues to fly by, Microsoft is hard at work on wrapping up its upcoming Windows 8 operating system and getting it ready for final release. While the company has indicated previously that the Metro UI-powered OS would be available sometime in October, it release a more specific date today. Specifically, upgrade editions of Windows 8 as well as Windows 8-powered OEM machines will be available for purchase on October 26th, 2012.

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The announcement was made at an annual sales meeting by Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky today. Interestingly, the Windows Team Blog that reported on the announcement is noticeably absent of a mention for retail (not upgrade) editions of the Windows 8 operating system. That may well mean that physically packaged retail versions will not be available until a bit later in the year. Also missing is pricing; there is still no word on how much a full retail version of Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro will cost. Even so, considering Microsoft is making upgrade editions available to anyone with a previous (licensed) version of Windows for $39.99, the retail versions are going to be pretty difficult to justify as they will likely cost much more than the upgrades.

Are you ready for Windows 8?

Microsoft Releases Windows Server 2012 Pricing

Subject: General Tech | July 7, 2012 - 01:12 AM |
Tagged: windows server, windows pricing, windows, virtual machines, software, server, operating system, enterprise

Earlier this week we covered the pricing for Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 consumer-grade operating system. Now, the company has released pricing information for the enterprise side of things, mainly for its non-OEM SKUs of Windows Server 2012. With Server 2012, Microsoft has simplified its lineup with four versions – one of which is only for OEMs.

WinServer2012.jpg

Live Migration will allow virtualized storage to be moved in and out of server instances in real time without restarts.

The three versions that businesses can purchase and install themselves includes Datacenter, Standard, and Essentials. The lowest-tier version is called Foundation and will the version that comes pre-installed from OEMs. The Datacenter version has the most features and is the most lenient on the licensing by allowing businesses the full Windows Server 2012 functionality as well as unlimited virtual server instances. You’ll have to pay for those features, however as the Datacenter SKU is priced at $4,809. On the low end is Essentials which strips out licensed use of virtual instances of Server 2012 and also limites the number of user accounts that can access the server to 25. It will cost $425, which isn’t terribly expensive but is obviously aimed at small businesses. Interestingly, Microsoft states that Essentials has a simplified interface that is “pre-configured” for running cloud services. In the middle of those two extremes is Windows Server 2012 Standard which will run $882 USD and allows two virtualized instances as well as the full Windows Server functionality.

While Microsoft has not released pricing for its OEM-only Foundation version, they have announced that it will be limited to a max of 15 user accounts and no virtualization rights. The table below details the above information in a simplified table, courtesy Microsoft.

Edition Feature Comparison Licensing Model Pricing (USD)
Datacenter Unlimited virtual instances, full Windows functionality Processor + CAL $4,809
Standard Two virtual instances, full Windows functionality Processor + CAL $882
Essentials No virtualization rights, Simple interface pre-configured for cloud services Server (25 user account limit) $425
Foundation No virtualization rights, general purpose server functionality Server (15 user account limit) Not Listed

As Martin Brinkman explains, the top-two tiers are based on a processor licensing model which means that each version is allowed to run on up to two physical processors. The Datacenter version takes that a step further by allowing an unlimited number of virtual machines on those two physical processors while Standard allows two virtual machines on a system with up to two physical processors. To figure out how many licenses you will need to purchase, you can get by with half the number of physical processors. At around five Windows Server 2012 Standard licenses, it starts to become more economical to go with the Datacenter version if you will mostly be spinning up virtualized servers.

Interestingly, Windows Home Server is missing from the above list, and it looks like that is not a mistake. Microsoft has stated in its licensing FAQ (PDF) that it expects home and small business users to move to the Essentials ($425) version for their home server needs. Not exactly the answer that many users are going to want to hear. For those not wanting to spend that much, Microsoft is keeping Windows Home Server 2011 alive until the end of next year (12-31-13), and you will be able to buy Home Server 2011 in an OEM machine until 2025. Fortunately, a system builder version of Windows Home Server 2011 can be found for around $50 and it can support up to 10 users. On the other hand, it won’t have the neat Windows 8-based server features. It will be up to you to decide whether the $400+ price for Essentials is worth it for you home/small business needs.

Just as Microsoft has released a Consumer Preview version of Windows 8, you can download a Release Candidate of Windows Server 2012 to see what the new features are and if they are worth the money. More information on the pricing and various versions can be found here. What do you think of the new Windows Server SKUs?

Source: Microsoft

Windows 8 Pro Upgrade for $39.99 Through January 31, 2013

Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2012 - 11:22 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, microsoft, software, operating system

A few days ago we covered the Windows 8 upgrade process, and specifically what Microsoft will allow you to bring with you into a Windows 8 install from a previous version of the operating system. At the time of writing, we did not know the pricing for upgrade editions. However, today Microsoft released pricing information for upgrade licenses of the Windows 8 OS.

Through January 31, 2013, you will be able to purchase an upgrade version of Windows 8 Pro for $39.99 in 131 markets. Even better, you will further be able to add Windows Media Center for free via the “add features” option in Windows 8 after you have performed the update. The forty dollar price only includes the digital download version of the operating system. Using it, you will be able to either create your own media (USB or DVD) or purchase a physical installation DVD from Microsoft for an additional $15 plus shipping and handling.

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The Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant is Microsoft’s recommended vehicle for installing Windows 8 over a previous version, but they are also allowing clean installs. The upgrade process is very similar to past transitions (say, from Vista to 7). The difference is that you do not need to have the media downloaded to begin the upgrade. After purchasing, it has a built-in downloader that will download the required files and verify them (you can further pause and resume the download).

If you prefer to buy locally, you will be able to purchase a retail-packaged version of Windows 8 Pro Upgrade for $69.99 until January 31, 2013. Beyond the upgrade versions, Microsoft has announced that System Builder versions of Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro will be available, though they did not state a specific price for the DIY-friendly versions.

You can find more information over at the Windows 8 blog, but I have to admit that it is a much more attractive price than I expected for the Pro version (much less free WMC!). Is this a price that might convince you to upgrade, or will you be sticking with a previous Windows version regardless?

Microsoft Reveals Windows 8 Upgrade Options

Subject: General Tech | June 29, 2012 - 04:30 AM |
Tagged: windows 8, windows, upgrade, operating system, microsoft

ZDNet has managed to get its hands on some details regarding Microsoft’s Windows 8 upgrade paths. The company will support upgrade installations from XP SP3 to Windows 7 in various forms, and with some caveats. Users will not be able to do cross-language upgrade installs or upgrades from x86 (32-bit) to x64 (64-bit) Windows 8 (or vice versa).

Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system (check out our guide) is set to be available to consumers this fall, and the company has started prepping its partners on how the upgrade process will work for users running previous versions of Windows. The short answer is that users running at least XP with Service Pack 3 will be able to perform an upgrade install to a version of Windows 8 with the same language and architecture as the current version. The longer answer is that – while you may be able to upgrade – you may not be able to keep all of your applications, system settings, and/or data when moving to Windows 8 depending on your particular configuration.

Let’s run down some example upgrade situations.

For users running Windows XP SP3 or higher, you will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 and keep all of you personal files. You will lose all system settings and installed applications, however.

If you are currently running Windows Vista pre-Service Pack 1 (SP1), you will be able to perform an upgrade installation to Windows 8. You will be able to keep your personal files, but will lose any installed applications and system settings.

If you have Windows Vista SP1 (or newer), you will be able to keep your personal files and system settings. On the other hand, you will lose any installed applications as a result of the upgrade to Windows 8.

Windows-8-Start-Screen.png

Further, as general rules of thumb, you can upgrade to Windows 8 (non-Pro version) from Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic, and Windows 7 Home Premium installs. You will be able to keep all of your settings, files, and applications. Also, you can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro from Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Pro, and Ultimate and keep the same system configuration, installed applications, and personal files. If you are a volume licensee currently running Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Enterpirse, you will be able to perform and upgrade installation to Windows 8 Enterprise without losing any data, settings, or applications.

Just as with previous releases of Windows, if you want to move to the new version of Windows that has either a different language or different architecture (32-bit/64-bit), you will be required to perform a clean installation (not a bad idea in any event, actually). One detail that has not been released (or leaked) yet is pricing and whether or not we will see steep discounts for student versions, those that tested any of the Windows 8 preview builds, or family packs. If you eschew the DIY route and buy a new OEM computer between now and January 31, 2013, you will qualify for a Windows 8 Pro upgrade copy for $14.99, however.  It will be interesting to see just how Microsoft prices its upcoming operating system, especially before any applicable discounts. Microsoft has streamlined the number of SKUs but also made Pro the version to get for even some home users; and because it’s the equivalent of Windows 7 Ultimate where they price it will be interesting (or rather disheartening should I let the cynical side of me win out).

Have you tried Windows 8 yet, and if so, will you be upgrading to it once it’s officially released? Any guesses on the final prices?

Source: ZDNet

Windows XP (Finally) Falls Below 50% of Windows' Market Share

Subject: General Tech | August 2, 2011 - 07:54 AM |
Tagged: windows, operating system, microsoft

Windows XP is almost old enough that revisionist historians can have a crack at it without anyone speaking out against it. That is, it would be if not for the large number of users still using the operating system at their home and work. The decade old operating system has only now fallen below 50% of Windows' market share. More specifically, the slip in market share occurred between June and July where it fell 0.63% to a total of 49.94%.

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The numbers are percentages of MS's total 87.66% market share.

In comparison, Windows Vista holds a much smaller 9.24% market share after dropping 0.28%. Microsoft’s most recent operating system, Windows 7; meanwhile, saw a gain of 0.74% to a total of 27.87% market share, which puts the new operating system well on its way to overtaking the XP juggernaut. Techspot has the full scoop on the market share situation, which you can read about here.

Are you still using Windows XP?

Source: Tech Spot