Computex 2013: First official Windows 8.1 preview

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2013 - 03:29 AM |
Tagged: computex, Windows 8.1, windows blue

Jensen Harris, member of the Windows User Experience (UX) team at Microsoft, performed a video walk-through of the new Windows interface. Of course, as I always say when discussing Windows 8, the real problems will arise with the Windows Store and certification requirements; interface problems annoy, censorship problems harm.

But, disclaimer aside, the interface of Windows 8.1 seems much more useable.

First and foremost is the Lock Screen. People enjoy digital photo frames and a locked tablet certainly looks more classy than any other that I have seen. It will collage photos together, stored locally and shared from a phone or Skydrive over wireless, with a thin font date and time. Combined with a decent resolution IPS display, that could be an interesting way to encourage users to leave their device on its charger. Not to mention, the frame would continually synchronize with Skydrive and thus receive new photos without end-user interaction; it is useful, for instance, for the family of an elderly person who wants to keep in touch but actively rejects technology.

The All Apps screen lists all applications installed on screen. This allows users to take a little weight off of the Start Screen and, instead of using it as a launcher, use the All Apps screen as a launcher and use the Start Screen as a nexus of important information. If you wish to use the Start Screen as a launcher, similar to pinned icons for Windows 7, you will have more choice in icon size to either fit more apps or give tiles with relevant information more space.

Screen splitting was pretty horrendous in Windows 8. An application could either be in full screen, be a sidebar app, or take up the room not taken by a sidebar app. If you have multiple monitors, bringing up the Start Screen would shuffle everything around pretty much ensuring that you do not have more than a couple of apps focused at any given time. Windows 8.1 allows you to split apps directly down the middle and, if you have a large display, allow you to fit three or four applications on screen at once.

Unfortunately, and I contacted Paul Thurrott last week to confirm I was up to date, there does not seem to be any multiple monitor enhancements in Windows 8.1. If you have want to punch through your second display because of applications from the Windows Store, keep using the desktop.

Or, if you wish to try it out for yourself, Windows 8.1 will be available for public preview on June 26th.

Source: Microsoft

Windows 8.1 can Boot to Desktop and has a Start Button

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 29, 2013 - 07:16 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.

blue-desktop-closeup.jpg

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.

blue-start.jpg

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.

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

Subject: General Tech | April 19, 2013 - 12:06 AM |
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

What We Are Learning about Internet Explorer 11

Subject: Editorial | April 6, 2013 - 04:34 AM |
Tagged: Windows 8.1, windows blue, internet explorer, Internet Explorer 11

Windows Blue Windows 8.1 was leaked not too long ago. We reported on the release's illegitimate availability practically as soon as it happened. We knew that Internet Explorer took it to incremented its version to 11. The recent releases of Internet Explorer each made decent strides to catch the browser up to Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox. Once thrown to the sharks thoroughly investigated, this release is pining to be just as relevant despite how near its expected release has been to Internet Explorer 10.

I will not bury the lead: Internet Explorer contains some level of support for WebGL and might implement the SPDY protocol.

ie11.png

One of my first thoughts upon realizing that Internet Explorer 11 was an impending "thing": will it make it to Windows 7? Unfortunately, we still have no clue. Thankfully, unlike Windows RT which disallow rendering engines other than Internet Explorer's Trident, we are still capable of installing alternative browsers in Windows 7. If Internet Explorer 11 is unavailable, they can still install Firefox or Chrome.

For those who only use Internet Explorer and can upgrade to 11, you might be pleased to find WebGL support. Microsoft has been quite vocal against WebGL for quite some time, claiming it a security threat when facing the wild west of the internet. Then again, to some extent, the internet is a security nightmare in itself. The question is whether WebGL can be sufficiently secured for its usage:

This, to some extent, marks a moment where Microsoft promotes a Khronos standard. With some level of irony, Apple was one of the founding members of the WebGL group yet Microsoft might beat Safari to default WebGL support Of course it could not be that simple, however, as IE11 apparently accepts WebGL shaders (the math which computes the color and position of a pixel) in IESL rather than the standard GLSL. IESL, according to the name of its registry flag, seems to be heavily based on HLSL seen in DirectX.

I guess they just cannot let Khronos have a total victory?

SPDY also seems to be coming to IE11. SPDY, pronounced "speedy" and not an acronym, is a protocol designed to cut loading latency. Cool stuff.

Last and definitely least, IE11 is furthering its trend of pretending that it is a Mozilla Gecko-like rendering engine in its user agent string. Personally, I envision an IE logo buying a fiery-orange tail at a cosplay booth. They have been doing this for quite some time now.

Blue His Build with Leaked Blue Little Windows...

Subject: General Tech, Systems | March 24, 2013 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, Blue, windows blue

It was only a matter of time before Windows Blue was leaked, like just about every other version of the operating system in recent memory. Internally, Blue is a transition for Microsoft into an annual release schedule for Windows products; externally, Blue is the first feature-release for Windows.

Yes, Sean Bean, win'ders has come.

Zac from WinBeta, embed above, got hold of the operating system, apparently leaked today, and played around with the changes for all of YouTube to see.

Notable changes, as of build 9364, are:
  • New split-screen App options. (Unclear whether multi-monitor app support is fixed)
  • Minor clarifications for user instruction.
  • New tile sizes.
  • Swipe up from Start Screen to access list of apps.
  • More personalization options.
  • Picture frame mode.
  • New App: Calculator.
  • New App: Alarm.
  • New App: Sound Recorder.
  • New App: Movie Moments... apparently a new, confidential, video editing application.
  • Internet Explorer updated to version 11.

Personally, despite sticking with Windows 7 for political reasons, the new App options seem like they would be the most engaging feature for Windows Blue. For being such a core segment of the "modern" Windows experience, apps are surprisingly annoying to manage as they currently exist on Windows 8. If you have two or more monitors then you are probably having a nightmare with anything outside of Windows 8's desktop mode.

We now know that app support is being looked at, so there is some hope that multiple monitor users will be considered too.

Source: WinBeta

It's More than Windows Feeling "Blue"

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | February 9, 2013 - 02:49 AM |
Tagged: windows blue

Could the sadness Microsoft feels with their OEM partners make the whole company feel just a little Blue?

I have been thinking about this while reading the latest news from Mary Jo Foley over at ZDNet. This has not been the first time that we have mentioned the color. Blue was, and still is, a codename for the first major feature-update of Windows 8. What we learned is that now it seems that “Blue” covers much more.

As many know, Microsoft has shifted their branding into four color-coded divisions: blue is for Windows; red is for Office; green is for Xbox, and yellow has yet to be disclosed. As far as we know, the Windows division encompasses Windows Phone, Internet Explorer, official apps, and so forth. Apparently “Blue”, the codenamed update, will start Microsoft on an annual update schedule for the Windows division. This means that Internet Explorer as well as the Mail, Calendar, Bing app, and other “Windows Services” such as SkyDrive and Hotmail will shift towards the yearly timer.

WinSetup13.PNG

As I read Mary Jo's article, I focused on a point buried late in the second act of the column:

Instead of RTMing a new version of Windows once every three or so years, and then hoping/praying OEMs can get the final bits tested and preloaded on new hardware a few months later, Microsoft is going to try to push Blue out to users far more quickly, possibly via the Windows Store, my contact said.

While I have speculated about Microsoft and their desires to shift business models to a subscription service for quite some time, I have not considered OEM partners as a prominent reason. Microsoft has been wrestling with their manufacturers, that has recently been made obvious. The release of a new operating system drives users to go out and purchase new hardware. The PC industry bounces forward with software and hardware enhancements chained in lockstep to the three year Windows cycle, even the enthusiast market to some extent.

Perhaps Microsoft is trying to let the hardware itself drive the market. Instead of pushing the industry forward in big leaps, would it be possible that Microsoft wants the hardware to evolve and a new version of Windows to be there waiting for it?

Source: ZDNet

Microsoft Rumored to Release Subscription-based Windows Blue Update in 2013

Subject: General Tech | November 28, 2012 - 02:37 PM |
Tagged: Windows Store, windows blue, windows 8, update, subscription, OS, microsoft

In other Microsoft news, the company is rumored to be working on its next generation operating system. Codenamed Windows Blue, it will be a low cost upgrade for existing Windows users that will be based on a subscription service for updates.

Details are extremely scarce at this point but it does seem like a probable move from Microsoft. It does seem like Microsoft has been moving in that direction for some time now. According to The Verge in reporting on sources in the know, Windows Blue will keep the Windows 8 name for branding purposes but the OS will receive a new SDK, UI changes, and performance tweaks during yearly updates. The updates are due in mid-2013, and the Windows Blue update service will span from Windows 8 to Windows Phone (Windows Server was not mentioned). Oddly enough, with the Windows Blue update Microsoft will stop accepting new Windows Store applications built to run on Windows 8. The Windows Store will continue to allow existing Windows 8 applications, but will require developers to rewrite their applications using the new SDK in order to get them on the Store for users running Windows Blue subscription service.

win8_retail_box_lg.jpg

It is a lot to take in, and there are many unknowns at this point. Do you think Microsoft has a good idea with the yearly subscription model, or will it cause backlash from users used to the way Windows has worked for years. Especially those that buy an OEM system with a pre-installed OS and use it until something breaks. Will they be receptive to yet another subscription service for an OS that traditionally has been a one-time purchase?

Assuming it is a good idea, how much would you pay for yearly updates? Will the Windows Store be enough of a success to essentially subsidize the development cost and allow for cheap pricing on the subscriptions?

Find more details on the rumored Windows Blue subscription over at The Verge.

Source: The Verge