Subject: General Tech | May 18, 2016 - 03:40 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, Windows 7, Windows 8.1
I know this sounds like yet another story where Microsoft attempts to ram Windows 10 down your throat, but it's not (apart from a potential interpretation of the last paragraph). It's been about six-and-a-half years since Windows 7 launched, and about five years since Service Pack 1. If you've attempted to install Windows 7 recently, then attempting to run Windows Update makes it painfully obvious how long that's been.
Image Credit: Microsoft
Finally, Microsoft is making an official roll-up available. Better? It can be slipstreamed into install media, so you don't even need to go through that step with each reformat. This will not contain every possible update, though. Microsoft lists 23 patches that they excluded based on three conditions:
- “They don't have broad applicability.”
- “They introduce behavior changes.”
- “They require additional user actions, such as making registry settings.”
They also excluded every update to Internet Explorer, which makes sense. Users can install Internet Explorer 11 and update it, or just uninstall it entirely if they want (after they download whatever browser(s) that they will actually use). While some of these excluded fixes will affect many users, it should be a much better experience than several hundred patches and a half-dozen reboots. It's probably better to let the user choose many of these optional updates by hand anyway.
At the same time, they also announced that “non-security updates” will be merged into a monthly roll-up for both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 (and several versions of Windows Server). They're not too clear about how this will work, but it sounds like users will not be able to pick and choose parts of optional patches anymore. Given how many of these were attempts to, again, shove Windows 10 down our throats, that's a bit of a concern. However, I suspect that this is just so Microsoft can align its release structure to how it's done on Windows 10. It's probably just easier for them to manage.
Caught Up to DirectX 12 in a Single Day
I'm not just talking about the specification. Members of the Khronos Group have also released compatible drivers, SDKs and tools to support them, conformance tests, and a proof-of-concept patch for Croteam's The Talos Principle. To reiterate, this is not a soft launch. The API, and its entire ecosystem, is out and ready for the public on Windows (at least 7+ at launch but a surprise Vista or XP announcement is technically possible) and several distributions of Linux. Google will provide an Android SDK in the near future.
I'm going to editorialize for the next two paragraphs. There was a concern that Vulkan would be too late. The thing is, as of today, Vulkan is now just as mature as DirectX 12. Of course, that could change at a moment's notice; we still don't know how the two APIs are being adopted behind the scenes. A few DirectX 12 titles are planned to launch in a few months, but no full, non-experimental, non-early access game currently exists. Each time I say this, someone links the Wikipedia list of DirectX 12 games. If you look at each entry, though, you'll see that all of them are either: early access, awaiting an unreleased DirectX 12 patch, or using a third-party engine (like Unreal Engine 4) that only list DirectX 12 as an experimental preview. No full, released, non-experimental DirectX 12 game exists today. Besides, if the latter counts, then you'll need to accept The Talos Principle's proof-of-concept patch, too.
But again, that could change. While today's launch speaks well to the Khronos Group and the API itself, it still needs to be adopted by third party engines, middleware, and software. These partners could, like the Khronos Group before today, be privately supporting Vulkan with the intent to flood out announcements; we won't know until they do... or don't. With the support of popular engines and frameworks, dependent software really just needs to enable it. This has not happened for DirectX 12 yet, and, now, there doesn't seem to be anything keeping it from happening for Vulkan at any moment. With the Game Developers Conference just a month away, we should soon find out.
But back to the announcement.
Vulkan-compatible drivers are launching today across multiple vendors and platforms, but I do not have a complete list. On Windows, I was told to expect drivers from NVIDIA for Windows 7, 8.x, 10 on Kepler and Maxwell GPUs. The standard is compatible with Fermi GPUs, but NVIDIA does not plan on supporting the API for those users due to its low market share. That said, they are paying attention to user feedback and they are not ruling it out, which probably means that they are keeping an open mind in case some piece of software gets popular and depends upon Vulkan. I have not heard from AMD or Intel about Vulkan drivers as of this writing, one way or the other. They could even arrive day one.
On Linux, NVIDIA, Intel, and Imagination Technologies have submitted conformant drivers.
Drivers alone do not make a hard launch, though. SDKs and tools have also arrived, including the LunarG SDK for Windows and Linux. LunarG is a company co-founded by Lens Owen, who had a previous graphics software company that was purchased by VMware. LunarG is backed by Valve, who also backed Vulkan in several other ways. The LunarG SDK helps developers validate their code, inspect what the API is doing, and otherwise debug. Even better, it is also open source, which means that the community can rapidly enhance it, even though it's in a releasable state as it is. RenderDoc,
the open-source graphics debugger by Crytek, will also add Vulkan support. ((Update (Feb 16 @ 12:39pm EST): Baldur Karlsson has just emailed me to let me know that it was a personal project at Crytek, not a Crytek project in general, and their GitHub page is much more up-to-date than the linked site.))
The major downside is that Vulkan (like Mantle and DX12) isn't simple.
These APIs are verbose and very different from previous ones, which requires more effort.
Image Credit: NVIDIA
There really isn't much to say about the Vulkan launch beyond this. What graphics APIs really try to accomplish is standardizing signals that enter and leave video cards, such that the GPUs know what to do with them. For the last two decades, we've settled on an arbitrary, single, global object that you attach buffers of data to, in specific formats, and call one of a half-dozen functions to send it.
Compute APIs, like CUDA and OpenCL, decided it was more efficient to handle queues, allowing the application to write commands and send them wherever they need to go. Multiple threads can write commands, and multiple accelerators (GPUs in our case) can be targeted individually. Vulkan, like Mantle and DirectX 12, takes this metaphor and adds graphics-specific instructions to it. Moreover, GPUs can schedule memory, compute, and graphics instructions at the same time, as long as the graphics task has leftover compute and memory resources, and / or the compute task has leftover memory resources.
This is not necessarily a “better” way to do graphics programming... it's different. That said, it has the potential to be much more efficient when dealing with lots of simple tasks that are sent from multiple CPU threads, especially to multiple GPUs (which currently require the driver to figure out how to convert draw calls into separate workloads -- leading to simplifications like mirrored memory and splitting workload by neighboring frames). Lots of tasks aligns well with video games, especially ones with lots of simple objects, like strategy games, shooters with lots of debris, or any game with large crowds of people. As it becomes ubiquitous, we'll see this bottleneck disappear and games will not need to be designed around these limitations. It might even be used for drawing with cross-platform 2D APIs, like Qt or even webpages, although those two examples (especially the Web) each have other, higher-priority bottlenecks. There are also other benefits to Vulkan.
The WebGL comparison is probably not as common knowledge as Khronos Group believes.
Still, Khronos Group was criticized when WebGL launched as "it was too tough for Web developers".
It didn't need to be easy. Frameworks arrived and simplified everything. It's now ubiquitous.
In fact, Adobe Animate CC (the successor to Flash Pro) is now a WebGL editor (experimentally).
Open platforms are required for this to become commonplace. Engines will probably target several APIs from their internal management APIs, but you can't target users who don't fit in any bucket. Vulkan brings this capability to basically any platform, as long as it has a compute-capable GPU and a driver developer who cares.
Thankfully, it arrived before any competitor established market share.
Subject: Processors | January 17, 2016 - 02:20 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Windows 8.1, Windows 7, windows 10, Skylake, microsoft, kaby lake, Intel, Bristol Ridge, amd
Microsoft has not been doing much to put out the fires in comment threads all over the internet. The latest flare-up involves hardware support with Windows 7 and 8.x. Currently unreleased architectures, such as Intel's Kaby Lake and AMD's Bristol Ridge, will only be supported on Windows 10. This is despite Windows 7 and Windows 8.x being supported until 2020 and 2023, respectively. Microsoft does not believe that they need to support older hardware, though.
This brings us to Skylake. These processors are out, but Microsoft considers them “transition” parts. Microsoft provided PC World with a list of devices that will be gjven Windows 7 and Windows 8.x drivers, which enable support until July 17, 2017. Beyond that date, only a handful of “most critical” updates will be provided until the official end of life.
I am not sure what the cut-off date for unsupported Skylake processors is, though; that is, Skylake processors that do not line up with Microsoft's list could be deprecated at any time. This is especially a problem for the ones that are potentially already sold.
As I hinted earlier, this will probably reinforce the opinion that Microsoft is doing something malicious with Windows 10. As Peter Bright of Ars Technica reports, Windows 10 does not exactly have an equivalent in the server space yet, which makes you wonder what that support cycle will be like. If they can continue to patch Skylake-based servers in Windows Server builds that are derived from Windows 7 and Windows 8.x, like Windows Server 2012 R2, then why are they unwilling to port those changes to the base operating system? If they will not patch current versions of Windows Server, because the Windows 10-derived version still isn't out yet, then what will happen with server farms, like Amazon Web Services, when Xeon v5s are suddenly incompatible with most Windows-based OS images? While this will, no doubt, be taken way out of context, there is room for legitimate commentary about this whole situation.
Of course, supporting new hardware on older operating systems can be difficult, and not just for Microsoft at that. Peter Bright also noted that Intel has a similar, spotty coverage of drivers, although that mostly applies to Windows Vista, which, while still in extended support for another year, doesn't have a significant base of users who are unwilling to switch. The point remains, though, that Microsoft could be doing a favor for their hardware vendor partners.
I'm not sure whether that would be less concerning, or more.
Whatever the reason, this seems like a very silly, stupid move on Microsoft's part, given the current landscape. Windows 10 can become a great operating system, but users need to decide that for themselves. When users are pushed, and an adequate reason is not provided, they will start to assume things. Chances are, it will not be in your favor. Some may put up with it, but others might continue to hold out on older platforms, maybe even including older hardware.
Other users may be able to get away with Windows 7 VMs on a Linux host.
Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 07:20 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, Windows 8.1, windows 8, Windows 7, windows 10, microsoft
Last week, Microsoft announced that the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows now supports Windows 7 and 8.x. Previously, the dongle would only work on Windows 10, which meant that other operating systems required Xbox One controllers to be wired.
This does not mean that all functionality will be available on Windows 7 and 8.x, though. The Xbox Accessories app is required to manage profiles and update firmware without an Xbox One console. As far as I can tell, that will continue to be the case. If you have an Xbox One console, and don't mind managing the controllers there, then this wireless adapter might be for you. If you have don't have an Xbox One console, Windows 10, or an existing Xbox One controller, then you may want to reconsider getting an Xbox One controller at all. If you do, then you can turn it wireless, now even on Windows 7 and 8.x.
The Xbox One Wireless Adapter for Windows has been out for a couple of months.
Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2015 - 07:05 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Windows 8.1, windows 8, Windows 7, windows 10, microsoft
Officially, the only version of Windows that you can purchase standalone is Windows 10. Sales of Windows 7 ended on October 31st, 2013, and retail availability Windows 8.x ended on September 1st. Unofficially, you can find SKUs available on Amazon and elsewhere for both of these versions, and in several different editions.
PCs with Windows pre-installed follow their own calendar, though. Almost two years ago, Microsoft announced that Windows 7 PCs will be available until October 31st, 2014, with an extension for Windows 7 Professional that will be at least 12 months after... whenever they decide to announce the date. They announced the date a few days ago and, you guessed it, it's 12 months from then: October 31st, 2016. They also announced that PCs with Windows 8.1 pre-installed will have the same end of sales date.
So basically, you can only purchase Windows 10 now, and PCs will only have it pre-installed after October 31st, 2016... officially.
Subject: General Tech | September 30, 2014 - 11:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 9, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, windows 10, windows, threshold, microsoft
The Windows event for the enterprise, which took place today in San Francisco, revealed the name of the upcoming OS. It is not Windows 9, or One Windows, or just Windows. It will be Windows 10. Other than the name, there is not really any new information from a feature or announcement standpoint (except the Command Prompt refresh that I actually will give a brief mention later). My interest comes from their mindset with this new OS -- what they are changing and what they seem to be sticking with.
If you would like Microsoft's commentary before reading mine, the keynote is embed above.
Okay, so one thing that was shown is "Continuum". If you have not seen its prototype at the end of the above video, it is currently a small notification that appears when a keyboard and mouse is attached (or detached). If a user accepts, this will flip the user interface between tablet and desktop experiences. Joe Belfiore was clear that the video clip was not yet in code, but represents their vision. In practice, it will have options for whether to ask the user or to automatically do some chosen behavior.
In a way, you could argue that it was necessary to go through Windows 8.x to get to this point. From the demonstrations, the interface looks sensible and a landing point for users on both Windows 7 and Windows 8 paths. That said, I was fine with the original Windows 8 interface, barring a few glitches, like disappearing icons and snapping sidebars on PCs with multiple monitors. I always considered the "modern" Windows interface to be... acceptable.
It was the Windows Store certification that kept me from upgrading, and Microsoft's current stance is confusing at the very least. Today's announcement included the quote, "Organizations will also be able to create a customized store, curating store experiences that can include their choice of Store apps alongside company-owned apps into a separate employee store experience." Similar discussion was brought up and immediately glossed over during the keynote.
Who does that even apply to? Would a hobbyist developer be able to set up a repository for friends and family? Or is this relegated to businesses, leaving consumers to accept nothing more than what Microsoft allows? The concern is that I do not want Microsoft (or anyone) telling me what I can and cannot create and install on my devices. Once you build censorship, the crazies will come. They usually do.
But onto more important things: Command Prompt had a major UX overhaul. Joe Belfiore admitted that it was mostly because most important changes were already leaked and reported on, and they wanted to surprise us with something. They sure did. You can now use typical keyboard shortcuts, shift to select, ctrl+c and ctrl+v to copy/paste, and so forth. The even allow a transparency option, which is common in other OSes to make its presence less jarring. Rather than covering over what you're doing, it makes it feel more like it overlays on top of it, especially for quick commands. At least, that is my opinion.
Tomorrow, October 1st, Microsoft will launch their "Windows Inside Program". This will give a very early glimpse at the OS for "most enthusiastic Windows fans" who are "comfortable running pre-release software that will be of variable quality". They "plan to share all the features (they) are experimenting with". They seem to actually want user feedback, a sharp contrast from their Windows 8 technical preview. My eye will on relaxing certification requirements, obviously.
Subject: General Tech | February 16, 2014 - 10:39 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Windows 7
You cannot purchase a retail copy of Windows 7 at this point, officially. The last day of retail availability was October 30th, 2013. System builders can still include the operating system in their PCs, however, until October 31st, 2014.
Windows 7 Professional is the exception.
The Windows lifecycle website claims that OEMs can include Professional in PCs until a to-be-announced date. That date will be at least one year after whenever they decide to announce it. As of February 16th, the date is still listed as "Not yet established".
I should note that Volume Licensing customers have downgrade rights and installation media available for the two versions prior to whatever is current. In short, they have their own timeline.
Basically, we know that preinstalled Windows 7 Professional availability is on a countdown timer. We know that timer is at least one year long. We do not know how much longer than a year it will be. We also do not know when the announcement will be made and thus, when the timer will start ticking.
The Ars Technica article claims that this Windows 7 Professional OEM extension is for business users. That said, a fair amount of those users are on volume licensing. Another possibility is that Microsoft wants to bridge the gap between Windows 7 and the rumored "Windows 9" for enthusiasts. "Threshold", as it is codenamed, is supposed to address users who are primarily in the desktop interface. Professional would give them devices to purchase until then, without the general public purchasing a cheap Windows 7 machine and intending to use it for a decade (potentially beyond Windows 7's EOL in 2020).
Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate will no longer be preinstalled in PCs on October 31st, 2014. Windows 7 Professional will be available for some unannounced time afterward.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 21, 2014 - 03:39 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows xp, Windows 7, hp
Windows 7 is not available to purchase at retail, officially, but system builders are still allowed to integrate it into their PCs until at least October. At the same time, Windows XP is nearing its end of life of April 8th (the day of its last security update). A third coincidence, modern Windows could easily be compared to modern art because it is made by someone who tells you what is legitimate and, when you actually attempt to admire it, makes no sense unless the designer explains everything.
If you purchase from a set of select new desktop or laptops, HP will ship it with Windows 7 installed by default. On top of needing to physically choose Windows 8.1, the default Windows 7 install also comes with a $150 USD discount. The models are spread between Pavilion and Envy desktops and laptops.
I believe this is a very smart move for HP. You may soon have a mass of customers looking to replace expired devices and they may want the closest analogy to what they are used to. They will still have Windows 8-based options but they want to capitalize on anyone looking for something else.
Personally, trolling aside, I actually do not mind the interface of Windows 8.1. My only complaint is the reliance upon Windows Store and its potential future problems especially if it becomes the only way to install software. Could you imagine if someone like the NSA forced Microsoft to not certify encryption apps (or worse, tamper with them)? One of a million problems that mandatory certification, and the interest groups who abuse it, brings.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | December 8, 2013 - 11:14 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows xp, Windows 7
Users of Windows 7, current and planned, have a few dates to remember. First, as of October 30th, Microsoft has stopped selling retail (boxed) packages of that operating system. Second, OEMs can continue to sell systems with Windows 7 preloaded for a year after that date (October 30th, 2014). Third, the operating system will receive typical updates until January 13th, 2015. Fourth, security fixes will be provided until January 14th, 2020. Oddly, Microsoft's website disagrees with Mary Jo Foley's timeline; I expect it might just be out of date.
Windows XP is creeping towards the oblivion as April slowly arrives. The 8th of that month marks the end of security updates and other forms of utter chaos for machines with a vibrant green Start button. With Microsoft essentially turning a blind eye to unpatched exploits, it will become progressively more unsafe to use XP except in well controlled (virtualized, firewalled, etc.) instances.
But, according to Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, Microsoft will not sell them a retail copy of the Windows 7 any more (as of October 30th, 2013). The official Windows Product Lifecycle guide, however, still lists this date as "To be determined". Either Microsoft is very slow (updating their warning website after the date passes) or it was a much softer deadline than the editorial claims. Most of the Amazon product pages are for third party resellers, except for Windows 7 Pro Full, so it might just be clearing stock. Who knows.
OEMs will have a much easier time, however. Microsoft will continue allowing them to sell Windows 7 with new PCs for another year, until October 30th 2014. Again, this date is unlisted from the Windows Product Lifecycle guide.
It will all need to come to an end at some point though. Windows XP lost mainstream support back in April 14th, 2009; the same will come of Windows 7 in a little over a year: January 13th, 2015. That said, beyond new versions of Internet Explorer, Windows 7 has not been receiving too many updates as it stands. With DirectX now considered a core feature of Windows, the last couple of revisions are exclusive to the latest release. We still have Firefox and Chrome when they pull IE from our cold dead hands. I feel weird writing this...
The most devastating date, which XP users are about to face, is the end of extended support. Come January 14th, 2020, Microsoft will not longer provide security updates. Users of Windows 7 will need to be extra cautious and only deploy it in well controlled environments.
Like for me, if Microsoft continues going down the Windows Store path, a VM on a Linux machine.
Subject: General Tech | December 2, 2013 - 01:05 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Windows 7, windows, win 8.1, microsoft
There is bad news at The Inquirer for anyone at Microsoft who is still labouring under the delusion than Win 8 + 8.1 will catch on just as soon as people see it in action. Not only does Win7 continue to hold a larger share of the market compared to its metrosexual cousin, Win7's market share is growing faster than Win 8+ 8.1, 0.22% growth compared to 0.05%. When people are willing to pay extra to remove Win8.1 from their shiny new toys and replace it with Win7 it says a lot about the acceptance of the new OS, currently even Vista holds a greater market share than Win 8.1, though Win 8 does have slightly more. You should also take note that as of today there are a mere 126 days before WinXP is no longer supported.
"PC OPERATING SYSTEM FLOGGER Microsoft's Windows 7 still holds more market share than Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 combined."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- All signs point to Kaveri being an evolutionary upgrade @ The Tech Report
- Intel Linux Driver Almost Neck-And-Neck With Windows 8.1 @ Phoronix
- AMD APU On Linux: Gallium3D Can Be 80%+ As Fast As Catalyst @ Phoronix
- That toolbar you downloaded is malware? Tough, read the EULA @ The Register
- Crafting A Liquid Crystal Display @ Hack a Day