Subject: General Tech | February 2, 2015 - 08:19 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows, OEM, microsoft, crapware
Advertising is a powerful business model, and is there any better medium than demos that are directly embedded inside your users' systems? Yes. Yes there are. That is actually a terrible idea. Why would you do that? Oh. Right. Money. You know what? Fine. If it lowers the cost of commodity devices, then it is not entirely horrendous. Advanced users should have some method of opting-out, though.
Sure enough, Microsoft might have made that possible.
Paul Thurrott has compiled a little article that describes what you need to do to get clean installation media for your device. The procedure is fairly simple for Windows 8.1, although the Digital River download links for Windows 7 are good to know. The post is really more of a checklist to make sure you have your ducks in a row before attempting. Probably the most important advice (besides BACK UP!) is, especially if this is your only internet-capable device, make sure you have functioning network drivers. Also, if you have Windows 8.1 with Bing... sorry, you're stuck. Also, sorry in general.
Otherwise? Congratulations! You're now an enthusiast. Actually enjoy Windows.
Introducing Windows 10 (Again)
I did not exactly make too many unsafe predictions, but let's recap the Windows 10 Consumer announcement anyway. The briefing was a bit on the slow side, at least if you are used to E3 keynotes, but it contained a fair amount of useful information. Some of the things discussed are future-oriented, but some will arrive soon. So let's get right into it.
Price and Upgrade Options
Microsoft has not announced an official price for Windows 10, if the intent is to install it on a new PC. If you are attempting to upgrade a machine that currently runs Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, then that will be a free upgrade if done within the first year. Windows Phone 8.1 users are also eligible for a no-cost upgrade to Windows 10 if done in the first year.
Quote Terry Myerson of Microsoft, “Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device.” This is not elaborated on, but it seems like a weird statement given what we have traditionally expected from Windows. One possible explanation is that Microsoft intends for Windows to be a subscription service going forward, which would be the most obvious extension of “Windows as a Service”. On the other hand, they could be going for the per-device revenue option with Bing, Windows Store, and other initiatives being long tail. If so, I am a bit confused about what constitutes a new device for systems that are regularly upgraded, like what our readers are typically interested in. All of that will eventually be made clear, but not yet.
A New Build for Windows 10
Late in the keynote, Microsoft announced the availability of new preview builds for Windows 10. This time, users of Windows Phone 8.1 will also be able to see the work in progress. PC “Insiders” will get access to their build “in the next week” and phones will get access “in Feburary”. Ars Technica seems to believe that this is scheduled for Sunday, February 1st, which is a really weird time to release a build but their source might be right.
We don't know exactly what will be in it, though. In my predictions, I guessed that a DirectX 12 SDK might be available (or at least some demos) in the next build. That has not been mentioned, which probably would have been if it were true. I expect the next possibility (if we're not surprised in the next one-to-ten days when the build drops) is Game Developers Conference (GDC 2015), which starts on March 2nd.
The New Web Browser: Project Spartan
My guess was that Spartan would be based on DirectX 12. Joe Belfiore said that it is using a new, standards-compliant rendering engine and basically nothing more. The event focused on specific features. The first is note taking, which basically turns the web browser into a telestrator that can also accept keyboard comment blocks. The second is a reading mode that alters content into a Microsoft Word-like column. The third is “reading lists”, which is basically a “read it later” feature that does offline caching. The fourth is Adobe PDF support, which works with the other features of Spartan such as note taking and reading lists.
Which Transitions Into Cortana
The fifth feature of Spartan is Cortana integration, which will provide auto-suggestions based on the information that the assistant software has. The example they provided was auto-suggesting the website for his wife's flight. Surprisingly, when you attempt to control a Spartan, Cortana does not say “There's two of us in here now, remember?” You know, in an attempt to let you know she's service that's integrated into the browser.
Otherwise, it's an interesting demo. I might even end up using it when it comes out, but these sorts of things do not really interest me too much. We have been at the point where, for my usage, the operating system is really not in the way anymore. It feels like there is very little friction between me and getting what I want done, done. Of course, people felt that way about rotary phones until touch-tone came out, and I keep an open mind to better methods. It's just hard to get me excited about voice-activated digital assistants.
As I stated before, DirectX 12 was mentioned but a release date was not confirmed. What they did mention was a bit of relative performance. DirectX 12 supposedly uses about half of the power consumption of DirectX 11, which is particularly great for mobile applications. It can also handle scenes with many more objects. A FutureMark demo was displayed, with the DirectX 11 version alongside a DirectX 12 version. The models seem fairly simple, but the DirectX 12 version appears to running at over 100 FPS when the DirectX 11 version outright fails.
Other gaming features were mentioned. First, Windows 10 will allow shadow recording the last 30 seconds of footage from any game. You might think that NVIDIA would be upset about that, and they might be, but that is significantly less time than ShadowPlay or other recording methods. Second, Xbox One will be able to stream gameplay to any PC in your house. I expect this is the opposite direction than what people hope for, rather wishing for high-quality PC footage to be easily streamed to TVs with a simple interface. It will probably serve a purpose for some use case, though.
Well that was a pretty long event, clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours. The end had a surprise announcement of an augmented reality (not virtual reality) headset, called the “HoloLens”, which is developed by the Kinect team. I am deliberately not elaborating on it because I was not at the event and I have not tried it. I will say that the most interesting part about it, for me, is the Skype integration, because that probably hints at Microsoft's intentions with the product.
For the rest of us, it touched on a number of interesting features but, like the Enterprise event, did not really dive in. It would have been nice to get some technical details about DirectX 12, but that obviously does not cater to the intended audience. Unless an upcoming build soft-launches a DirectX 12 preview (or Spartan) so that we can do our own discovery, we will probably need to wait until GDC and/or BUILD to find out more.
Until then, you could watch the on-demand version at Microsoft's website.
Subject: General Tech | January 21, 2015 - 02:45 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, spartan, microsoft, dx12, DirectX 12, DirectX, cortana
Microsoft will hold a briefing tomorrow (Wednesday, January 21st at 12pm EST/5pm UTC) about “The Next Chapter” of Windows 10. This has been described as the Consumer keynote, mirroring the original one that was supposedly intended for the enterprise. Otherwise, there are few official comments regarding the event, but there are also things that we can speculate on.
Here is what I expect to see:
A New Build for Windows 10
Maybe it will not be released on the same day as the speech, but it cannot really be too far behind. We are about two-thirds through January and December was skipped, so it must be happening soon. When 9879 was released, Microsoft said that it would be the last build of 2014 and that “We'll have something new to share with you early in 2015”. Whatever that is (or those things are) will probably be discussed at the event, which means that the build is probably not too far behind it.
When the graphics API was announced, they specifically said the following (see our recap for the second slide that was posted at 10:48am PST):
- Targeting Holiday 2015 games
- Preview release coming later this year
- Don't want to wait that long? Early access!
The preview release later in 2014 did not happen, but the early access did. As such, I am guessing that the date slipped to either the next Windows 10 build, or maybe a build or two after. Whenever it happens specifically, I am guessing that it will be mentioned at this event and available for developers soon (and not just a hand-picked group of Early Access members). Sure, it could wait until Build 2015 in April, but the original slide sounds like they were targeting the end of 2014.
Also, the DirectX 12 Twitter Account just retweeted the live stream and Phil Spencer will be there.
'Spartan' Browser (Maybe with DirectX 12 Support?)
Speaking of DirectX 12, its goal is to utilize GPU shader cores as efficiently as possible, reducing the time it holds up the CPU and balancing its load across multiple cores. This leads to power efficiency and the ability to load many more tasks on the GPU.
These are all things that a web browser vendor would love! Web standards are inherently difficult to multi-thread, because they are designed as sets of stages which build upon other stages. DirectX 12 could probably help immensely, at least with the drawing stage. Web content tends to be fairly simple, but there can be a lot of it, especially for complex Canvas animations (and especially for mobile devices).
It was also recently rumored that Trident, the rendering engine behind Internet Explorer and the not-quite-confirmed Spartan browser, was forked into two maintained versions. The expectation is that this was for compatibility reasons, where the new version can be developed to W3C (and other) standards without worrying about legacy, Internet Explorer-based compatibility cruft. If porting a DirectX 11 applications to DirectX 12 will be annoying, I can see why Microsoft chose to draw the compatibility line just behind that initiative. And honestly, how many people care about rendering, power, and multi-core performance increases for IE8-designed, and therefore desktop-based, web applications?
Continuum, Cortana, and Other Changes
Again, this is what Microsoft considers a Consumer event. As such, it would make sense for them to describe an ideal consumer device, which probably includes two-in-ones. Cortana should also be discussed as well, which is intended to bring value to the users and probably lead them to Bing services. Leaks have also suggested that they are preparing a dark theme.
Am I right? We'll see tomorrow.
Introduction, Specs, and First Impressions
In our review of the original LIVA mini-PC we found it to be an interesting product, but it was difficult to identify a specific use-case for it; a common problem with the mini-PC market. Could the tiny Windows-capable machine be a real desktop replacement? That first LIVA just wasn't there yet. The Intel Bay Trail-M SoC was outmatched when playing 1080p Flash video content and system performance was a little sluggish overall in Windows 8.1, which wasn't aided by the limitation of 2GB RAM. (Performance was better overall with Ubuntu.) The price made it tempting but it was too underpowered as one's only PC - though a capable machine for many tasks.
Fast forward to today, when the updated version has arrived on my desk. The updated LIVA has a cool new name - the “X” - and the mini computer's case has more style than before (very important!). Perhaps more importantly, the X boasts upgraded internals as well. Could this new LIVA be the one to replace a desktop for productivity and multimedia? Is this the moment we see the mini-PC come into its own? There’s only one way to find out. But first, I have to take it out of the box.
Chipset: Intel® Bay Trail-M/Bay Trail-I SOC
Memory: DDR3L 2GB/4GB
Expansion Slot: 1 x mSATA for SSD
Storage: eMMC 64GB/32GB
Audio: HD Audio Subsystem by Realtek ALC283
LAN: Realtek RTL8111G Gigabit Fast Ethernet Controller
USB: 1 x USB3.0 Port, 2 x USB2.0 Ports
Video Output: 1 x HDMI Port, 1 x VGA Port
Wireless: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n & Bluetooth 4.0
PCB Size: 115 x 75 mm
Dimension: 135 x 83 x 40 mm
VESA Support: 75mm / 100mm
Adapter Input: AC 100-240V, Output: DC 12V / 3A
OS Support: Linux based OS, Windows 7 (via mSATA SSD) Windows 8/8.1
Thanks to ECS for providing the LIVA X for review!
Packaging and Contents
The LIVA X arrives in a smaller box than its predecessor, and one with a satin finish cuz it's extra fancy.
Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2015 - 08:41 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows, extended support
According to Microsoft's lifecycle calendar, Windows 7 left mainstream support on the 13th of January and has entered “Extended Support”. This means that the operating system will still receive security updates, but not non-security ones, and “requests to change product design and features” will not be accepted. While the OS is over five years old, it is still very popular, especially among PC gamers.
My concern is that this occurred while we anticipate major changes to the Windows platform. While I never really expected that Microsoft would release DirectX 12 for Windows, there was still hope that we would see a pre-release or developer build while Windows 7 was still in mainstream support (despite being several driver models behind). Now that the window has closed, so to speak, that hope is diminishing. Windows 8.1, on the other hand, might be okay, but I have no idea why you would want to stick with it over Windows 10, especially if it is a free/cheap update.
Besides DirectX 12, I am also concerned about Microsoft cutting off first-party web browsers at IE11. Sure, it is a much better place to end than IE8 on Windows XP, and the end-user could always install a third-party browser, but it could lead to problems for web developers. It is much easier to say “keep Internet Explorer up to date” (heck, even Microsoft is saying it) than the alternative, “use a different browser”. There are still many features under consideration (Shadow DOM being the most interesting for me) that would be nice to have, and not need to worry about the fraction of a fraction.
But at least it will be kept secure until 2020.
Subject: Mobile | January 5, 2015 - 08:48 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: windows, transformer book, T90, T300, T100, Chi, ces 2015, CES, asus, 2-in-1
ASUS has announced their new lineup of Transformer Book Chi 2-in-1 Windows notebooks, and the new flagship model will feature an Intel Core M processor and up to WQHD resolution.
The T300 Chi is a 12.5” 2-in-1 with the option of either 1920x1080 or 2560x1440 displays, and this model is powered by an Intel Core M processor. ASUS has also moved to an all-new, all-aluminum design for these new detachable tablet/notebook computers, which allows them to be extremely thin.
The T100 Chi is a smaller 10.1” design with a modest Intel Atom SoC, but it still offers a 1920x1200 (WUXGA) screen resolution. The T100 has the distinction of being “the world’s thinnest Windows tablet at an incredible 7.2mm” according to ASUS.
Rounding out the lineup we have the T90 Chi, which is an 8.9” Atom-powered 2-in-1 with a 1280x800 display.
The Transformer Book Chi T300 will start at $799 for WQHD version, $699 for FHD version. The T100 will start at $399, while the Chi T90 starts at $299. No specific word on availability yet.
Full specs from ASUS on the Transformer Book product site.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech | December 10, 2014 - 02:40 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows, windows 10, patch, patch tuesday
These are the sorts of things that will happen in prerelease software. Gabriel Aul, leader of the Data and Fundamentals Team at Microsoft and blogger for the Windows Insider Program, announced on Twitter that today's Windows Update for Internet Explorer may not install if Office is also install. The workaround is, if the update fails, to uninstall Office, apply the update, and then reinstall Office. Unfortunately, I am not able to give my personal experience because I use LibreOffice (I did not want to purchase a commercial license of Office).
I was not expecting to use this fail-bandaid image again, so soon.
If it wasn't an important security update, another option would be to wait for the next build. I know that, when I first installed Windows 10, I had a similar problem with a Defender update that continually failed. The install failure was fixed when I upgraded to Build 9860. The next version of Windows 10 is probably not too far away... … but this is a security update.
Hopefully this is one less thing to break when it hits full release next year.
Subject: General Tech | December 6, 2014 - 09:30 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, patch, microsoft
A few days ago, I attempted to install my Windows updates, but one failed. After complaining about the update not being accepted, it would ask you to restart your computer, where it would proudly proclaim that you have an update pending... ad infinitum. It apparently did the same for many others, including Paul Thurrott (who voiced his concerns on Twitter).
Some day (of silence) later, and a workaround has been voiced. As far as I can tell, it was originally discovered by a member of the community, but an Engineering General Manager at Microsoft suggested that Paul Thurrott try it, even though the GM's official workaround was slightly different.
Long story short, here are the steps:
- Go to Add or Remove Programs.
- Go to View installed updates.
- Search for KB3019269 and uninstall it. Do not restart.
- Search for KB3018943 and uninstall it. Do not restart.
- Search for KB3016725 and uninstall it. Do not restart.
- Search for KB3016656 and uninstall it. Restart your computer.
- Run Windows Update and install whatever it tells you to.
- I needed to do Step 7 twice.
- Reboot a second time.
When I did this procedure, Windows Update complained about a failed update. Retrying it, without rebooting, was successful however. If you experienced this problem, be prepared for a potential false error – the fix might have still been successful.
This was actually the second update to fail in the exact same way, the first being a Windows Defender patch from the initial Technical Preview release. That time, the problem went away when Microsoft released a new build and I updated to it. The same probably would be true when Microsoft replaces Build 9879 with whatever they have upcoming, albeit that is at least a month away. As far as I can tell, not a whole lot has changed.
Again, this is pre-release software. I will not knock Microsoft for it, especially since the update procedure is one of the key points of focus for the entire Technical Preview. The occasional failure is to be somewhat expected.
Subject: General Tech | November 28, 2014 - 05:50 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: windows, freeware
Over at The Register is a round up of a variety of freeware applications that many have found useful. Ad Aware, a program that not many have talked about since the competition picked up has made a reappearance and has stepped up their game somewhat although you will still find Malwarebytes product on this list. Classic Shell has been very popular since Windows went metrosexual as it restores much of the familiar interface that users are accustomed to and is likely to remain popular with the release of Windows 10. Duplicati is a great way to locally back up your files from the Cloud while Eraser can do the opposite for those wanting to make sure that deleted file stays deleted. They also include Notepad++ for those who actually do work on their machines, Process Explorer for those who work on the machines themselves and several others worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with the free software available for PC users.
"No matter if you're reinstalling Windows for the 47th time this fortnight or attempting to rid a new machine of bloatware in favour of something that's actually useful, the question remains: what alternative apps exist that don’t involve coughing up for obscene licensing fees?"
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Internet of Things search engine wants the world to sell and exchange sensor data @ The Inquirer
- iOS 8 is installed on 60 percent of iPhones and iPads despite persistent problems @ The Inquirer
- Bladerunner sequel might actually be good. Harrison Ford is in it @ The Register
Subject: General Tech | November 28, 2014 - 03:20 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, mkv, microsoft, hevc, h.265, flac
Native support for audio and video codecs is helpful for a platform. Software will be able to call upon the operating system's built-in functions, rather than integrating a solution. Of course, some will continue to roll their own, and that's fine, but it is obviously helpful for the foundation to have its own solution (especially in cases where licenses and royalties are required).
Windows 10 is expected to increase its platform support to include FLAC, MKV, and HEVC (h.265), and more may be coming. The tweet from Gabriel Aul suggests that this will be available starting in the next preview build, which will land in early 2015. Hopefully these additions include both encoding and decoding support, possibly allowing audio and video editors to take advantage of these formats.
The next build of Windows 10 Technical Preview is expected for early next year. The full OS is said to launch late that year.