Stop Pushing Microsoft's Buttons! Take the Start Button!

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | April 20, 2013 - 07:36 PM |
Tagged: windows, start button, Metro

The latest rumors, based on registry digging and off-the-record testimony, claims that Windows 8.1 will including the option of booting directly into the desktop. A bold claim such as this requires some due diligence. Comically, the attempts to confirm this rumor has unearthed another: the start button, but not necessarily the start menu, could return. On the record, Microsoft also wants to be more open to customer feedback. Despite these recent insights into the future of Windows, all's quiet with the worst aspect of modernization.

Mary Jo Foley, contributor to ZDNet and very reliable bullcrap filter for Microsoft rumors, learned from a reliable source that the Start Button might have a place in the modern Windows. Quite the catch while fishing to validate a different rumor; she was originally investigating whether Microsoft would consider allowing users to boot direct to desktop via recently unearthed registry keys. Allegedly both are being planned for at least some SKUs of Windows 8.1, namely the Professional and Enterprise editions.

But, as usual for Microsoft, the source emphasized, "Until it ships, anything can change." No-one was clear about the Start Button from a functional standpoint: would it be bound to display the Start Screen? Would it be something more?

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Personally, I liked the modern Windows interface. Sure, it is messed up on the modern-side when it comes to multiple monitor support, but that can easily be fixed. As you will note, I am still actively boycotting everything beyond Windows 7 and this news will not change my mind. We are bickering over interface elements when the real concern is the deprecation of user control. Outside of the desktop: the only applications you can use are from the Windows Store or Windows Update; the only websites you can browse are ones which Internet Explorer can render; and the only administrator is Microsoft.

Imagine if Microsoft is told by a government that its citizens are not allowed encryption applications.

The Windows Store is clearly modeled by, and about as messed up as, the Xbox Marketplace. Even if your application gets certified, would Microsoft eventually determine that certification fees should be the burden of the developer? That is how it is on the Xbox with each patch demanding a price tag of about $40,000 after the first-one-free promotion. That would be pretty hard to swallow for an open-source application or a cute game that a teenage woman makes for her significant other as a Valentine's gift.

Microsoft's current Chief Financial Officer, Peter Klein, stated in his third quarter earnings release that Windows Blue, "Further advances the vision of Windows 8 as well as responds to customer feedback." Despite how abrupt this change would seem, the recent twitchy nature should not come as a surprise; Microsoft has had a tendency to completely change course on products for quite some time now. Mary Jo mentioned how Microsoft changed course on UAC but even that is a bad example; a better one is how Microsoft changed from its initial assertions that Windows 8 Developer Preview would not be shaped by customer feedback.

A lot has changed between Developer Preview and RTM.

Then again, we can hope that Microsoft associates this pain with love for the desktop. I would be comfortable with the modern Windows if we were given a guarantee that desktop x86 applications would forever be supported. I might even reconsider using and developing applications if they allow loading uncertified metro-style applications and commit to never removing that functionality.

I can get used to a new method of accessing my applications. I can never get used to a middle-man who only says "no". If Microsoft is all ears, I hope we make this point loud and clear.

Source: ZDNet

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
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins – Page 1

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


01_TV_Screen_Wall.jpg

Now that we have our Windows Media Center up and running, we can investigate a few additional add-ons and plugins that can further improve upon the experience you can get from your Media Center.  In addition to discussing some great add-ons, I’m going to discuss how well our HTPC build has done with our power efficiency goals, so without further ado let’s jump right into it!

My Experience: The add-ons and plug-ins that I’m going to walk through are by no means all that’s out there.  There are tons of add-ons that will add anything from Local Weather to full overlays for your movie collection.  One thing to keep in mind is that any add-on or plugin can completely bork up your Media Center.  Always test the add-on on another box first, or even better, do a full image/backup of your Media Center before you try any new add-on or plugin.  You do have a full image of your brand new Media Center build on another machine that you can re-image yourHTPC with right?  (Check out Clonezilla or Acronis True Image if not…)

Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins

Windows Media Center is excellent right out of the box, but there are a few add-ons and plugins I like to add to our Media Center to give us some additional functionality and increased usability.  By a wide margin, the one we use the most is Netflix.

Netflix

 

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Back when Netflix was a scrappy newcomer, trying to get subscribers, they were putting their client on every device and platform that would talk to them.  They worked out a deal with Microsoft to have the Netflix client pre-installed right into Windows Media Center menu.

My Experience: The built in application was apparently a joint project between Microsoft and Netflix, which may seem great, but has actually turned out to be a quagmire of finger pointing.  Since it was originally released, the application has not been updated since and both companies have washed their hands of it and point to the other as being responsible for the application.  The UI badly needs a facelift, in particular with the way you navigate through titles that have multiple seasons.  While all seasons of the title will show up as a single entry in your Instant Queue, there is no way to easily jump from season to season and the only way to navigate episodes is to pull up episode lists that starts at Season 1, Episode 1, every time you open up the episode list.  While this may not seem like a big deal, if you watch a show with a lot of episodes (like Cheers with 11 Seasons and 275 episodes) you have to scroll past every single prior episode to get to the next one you want to watch.  Clicking the down arrow on your remote over 200 times to get to the next episode you want to watch not only gets old real fast, but eats batteries like mad.

 

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Episode list problems aside, we still use Netflix on a daily basis and it’s relatively easy to setup.  First, scroll up to the “Movies” line and select the Netflix tile.

 

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You’ll be greeted with a full Netflix splash screen.  Put a check in the “I have read and understand the Terms of Service and Privacy Statement” checkbox which will then activate the “Install” button.  Click on Install and off we go.

Read on to see more add-ons that you can add to your Media Center!

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Microsoft

Running Windows Media Center for the First Time

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


00_WMC_Logo.jpg

We’ve finished tweaking our Windows 7 Home Premium installation in preparation for Media Center in our previous installment and now it’s time to get down to the core of our project and finally roll our sleeves up and dive into Media Center itself.  Windows Media Center is an excellent product with an extremely passionate group of fans and one simply needs to check out the Green Button forums or the DTVUSA Forums to find like-minded Cord Cutters.  Considering how well thought out and excellent Media Center is for most ‘set top box’ type tasks, I never understood why Microsoft didn’t put more effort behind pushing it and yet they worked double time to try and push projects like Clippy and the Kin.  Unfortunately, not only has Microsoft not supported Media Center, some of their actions with Windows 8 make it feel like they’re actively working to kill it off.

Regardless, Windows Media Center is still the product to beat for an all in one Cord Cutting solution in my opinion.  While I’m building my media center in Windows 7 Home Premium, if you are building a Windows 8 Media Center, many of the steps will be very similar, if not the same, to what I’m doing here.  Many of the setup screens are mirror images between the two versions of Windows and you should be able to follow along with this guide for Windows 8 as well.  Unless you just absolutely must use Windows 8 for some reason, I highly suggest using Windows 7 for your Media Center as Microsoft has decided to leave some key features out of the Windows 8 version that makes Windows 7 superior in my opinion.

01_W7_W8_Compare.jpg

My Experience: Working through the Windows Media Center setup is much easier to do on a computer monitor as opposed to trying to do it while hooked up to your Television.  We’ll hook our HTPC up to a television when we’re wrapping things up, but in the meantime, save yourself some hassle and just do everything on a monitor.

Continue reading Cutting the Cord Part 4 to “Get Started” with Windows Media Center!

Microsoft Sells 40 Million Windows 8 Licenses in First Month

Subject: General Tech | November 28, 2012 - 12:33 PM |
Tagged: windows 8, windows, upgrades, microsoft

Analysts and computer enthusiasts have been predicting the success (or demise) of Microsoft’s latest Windows 8 operating system for some time now. Fortunately, we finally have some rough sales numbers from the Redmond-based software company to go off of. In short, despite the controversial nature of the operating system Microsoft has a winner on its hands.

Microsoft Windows 8 Modern UI Desktop.jpg

As the first month of Windows 8’s retail availability came to a close, Microsoft’s Tami Reller announced that the company has sold 40 million licenses so far. The company did not specify how those licenses broke down as far as the SKU and how many were OEM/Upgrade/Retail copies. It is also unclear whether the free Windows 8 Pro keys the company accidentally gave out were included in the number (hehe).

One other interesting tidbit that Microsoft did share was that the Windows Store has seen several apps that have made more than $25,000 with the developer and Microsoft doing an 80/20-percent split of the revenue.

As a point of comparison, Windows 7 sold 60 million copes over a two month period, so it will be interesting to see if Windows 8 will surpass that 60 million mark at the end of next month or not. Right now, it is looking promising.There are quite a few things to be wary of in the new operating system, but there is also a lot of under-the-hood performance tweaks that are worth putting up with the other changes for. It will be interesting to see where the OS goes from here and how it is received on the enterprise side of things.

Source: Microsoft

Netflix (Finally) Playable On Linux Using Patched Version of WINE

Subject: General Tech | November 17, 2012 - 05:53 AM |
Tagged: wine, windows, ubuntu, silverlight, Netflix, linux, firefox

One of the major hurdles preventing me from switching to Linux completely (despite my love for Mint) has been Netflix support. While there is a Silverlight-equivalent called Moonlight for the Linux operating system, it does not support the necessary DRM aspects to facilitate Netflix Instant Streaming. Aside from installing VirtualBox and booting an instance of Windows (which basically defeats the purpose of switching), Linux users have not been able to stream Netflix shows.

Thanks to a Linux developer by the name of Erich Hoover, there is a ray of hope for Linux users that want to take advantage of the streaming side of their Netflix subscriptions. Using a patched version of WINE (Wine Is Not An Emulator), Firefox, and an older version of Microsoft Silverlight, he was able to get Netflix streaming to work without breaking the DRM. That’s good news as it means that even though it is not officially supported, Netflix is not likely to actively break or fight it.

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Netflix Instant Streaming running on Ubuntu 12.10 (32-bit).

Currently, it has been tested on the 32-bit version of Ubuntu 12.10, but other distros are likely to work as well. Users will need to compile WINE from source, apply five patches, and then install Firefox 14.0.1 and Silverlight 4. Right now, there is no GUI or pre-compiled version, and at least the first few steps require the use of the terminal. Thankfully, I Heart Ubuntu has put together a step-by-step guide outlining exactly what you need to type into the terminal to get Netflix streaming up and running. The site notes that the WINE patching process could take a good chunk of time if you are on an older computer. Further, Silverlight 5 does not work, so using the older version is necessary.

This is great news for the Linux community, and along with the Steam for Linux beta things are definitely looking up and moving in a positive direction for the open source operating system. Obviously, this is far from native support, but it is a huge improvement over previous workarounds. A PPA is also reportedly in the works to make the installation of the patched WINE version even easier for those not comfortable with the terminal. Until then, check out the I Heart Ubuntu guide for the full setup details.

The developer asks that you donate to the WINE Development Fund if you find his Netflix support patches useful.

Image credit: iheartubuntu

Microsoft Unveils New Colorful, Modern-UI Inspired Logo

Subject: General Tech | August 23, 2012 - 05:30 PM |
Tagged: windows, Microsoft Store, microsoft, logo

Windows 8 is not the only big change for the company this year as it retires the italicized logo that has been in service since 1987 in favor of a simple graphic and sans-serif type Segoe face. Reportedly inspired by the company's Microsoft Store logo and Windows Flag, the new logo is intended to signify the new direction the company is taking with its full lineup of software products.

Microsoft is making a number of rather large changes this year. It is embracing the ARM platform in a big way with a version of Windows (WinRT), pushing forward with Windows Phone OS, revamping the entire Office 2013 suite with a Modern UI /Metro-inspired interface, and releasing the next iteration of its desktop operating system with app store in Windows 8. And all those changes are before even mentioning the company's entrance into the hardware market with the Surface tablet, and the new Windows logo that had many users divided.

Speaking of logo changes, the company dropped the traditional Windows flag logo in favor of a simplified single-color logo reminiscent of an actual window. The two dimensional logo was a big shift, but was in line with the company's goal of presenting a flat Windows experience (namely by removing Aero Glass and the 3D effects with translucent windows borders) of simple colors as well as the new tile-based "Metro" Modern UI app interface and Start Screen. The flag logo will live on in a more basic form with the new Microsoft logo, however. Inspired by both the Windows Flag and Microsoft Store logos, Microsoft has unveiled its new company logo. The word "Microsoft" is no longer bold and italicized. Instead it is written in Microsoft's Segoe font in a light gray color. To the left of the written logo is an image of four flat squares of red, green, blue, and yellow arranged like the Windows logo but without the perspective shift. 

new Microsoft logo.jpg

Microsoft General Manager (of Brand Strategy) Jeff Hansen was quoted by the Seattle Times in stating that the new logo is intended to "signal the heritage but also signal the future — a newness and freshness" of the company.  Further, the addition of color to the new Microsoft logo is meant to convey the idea that the company has a wealth of diverse products to offer.

The company is wasting no time in transitioning to the new logo, and it should be proliferating out to all of the company's online websites and social media accounts starting today. As Windows 8 nears release, we should further start seeing the new logo being used in TV and online advertisements for the company's products.

I know many people were against the Windows 8 logo, but what do you think of the new Microsoft logo? Will you miss the old logo?

Personally, I think it is rather nice as far as logos go, simple yet catching thanks to the addition of color. The bold and italic Microsoft text logo served the company well, but it's a much different world than it was 25 years ago. If it helps, Neowin points out that logo does look rather similar to an old image used during the 90's for Microsoft advertising, so the new logo is not totally coming out of nowhere.

Find more Microsoft coverage by following the "microsoft" tag.

Utorrent Becoming Ad-Supported Software

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 13, 2012 - 05:07 AM |
Tagged: windows, utorrent, torrent, software

µTorrent (hereafter used interchangeably with utorrent) is one of the most popular BitTorrent clients in the world, boasting more than 125 million active users a month, it has massively grown in popularity since its 2005 debut. The software is still in development, and current parent company BitTorrent Inc. has explored various methods of monetizing the application over the years. Some time ago, the developers introduced a new µTorrent Plus feature that–for $24.95–added a antivirus add-on, codec pack, remote access, and file conversion plug-in. The paid for version, which has essentially been little more than donation-ware (not that there is anything wrong with that, just that the Plus version does not add much in the way of actual torrenting that the free app is not also capable of). BitTorrent Inc. also introduced a browser toolbar, which in addition to Plus, was the company’s sole method of monetizing the software. Until now.

The µTorrent developers have announced that the next version of the torrent program will introduce ads.

In addition to the usual bug fixes and under-the-hood performance tweaks, is a (direct quote) “fresh approach to creating a no-nonsense and free torrenting experience.” Allegedly, the developers are introducing the ads to keep the lights on and pay the bills.

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The µTorrent client. No ads in the beta yet, but the next stable release should see ads in the torrent list above.

The new ads include a "featured torrent" at the top of the torrent list that will offer up suggested downloads of various multimedia files, pieces of software, and deliver important updates. Reportedly, the developers are working on offers with third parties (including indie artists) for the featured torrent such that it will present relevant results without compromising privacy. They have stated that utorrent does not collect personalized information. Rather, the ads will be “relevant” in the sense that the offers will be adjusted based on community feedback and other non-personalized factors. Your IP address will likely be used to give you country-specific ads, but they otherwise should not collect any other data or track your usage, according to the announcement.

It is free software, and the developers should be able to make some money off of their work. So long as the ads are not intrusive, the practice is all well and good. Also in the “good news” category is that µTorrent Plus members will not see any ads, so the paid-for version has some additional value for those that have already donated money.

It is not all good news though, and the community does not appear to be happy at the moment. According to the announcement, while users of the free version will be able to close out individual offers, there will be no way to turn off the ads all together. If users do not find an ad relevant, they are encouraged to click the “x” within the ad, after which a new offer will appear.

To be more specific:

“There is no way to turn in-client offers off*. We will pay attention to feedback, and may change this in the future.” [Of course, uTorrent Plus users will not see ads].

Also riling up some community members is an article by torrent-enthusiast website Torrent Freak, which has called out the developers by alleging that adding the new offers (ads) is merely a money grab.  The site calls into question the developers statement about needing the ads to “keep the lights on.” Torrent Freak reports that, according to a source in the know, uTorrent’s parent company BitTorrent Inc. is in no financial trouble and “currently generates between $15 and $20 million in annual revenue.”

Either way, the company is providing a roundabout way to get rid of the ads by buying the µTorrent Plus version. Alternatively, there are several other free torrent clients out there if you do not wish to see ads. Personally, I do not think that µTorrent is doing anything wrong by attempting to monetize its work, but I do find the rather quiet announcement irritating. I think that the developers could have found a more receptive audience if users did not have to find out about the change from other sites first. Update: after some thought, this is just the first announcement and users may well be told within the application of the changes before updating when it does come out. Here's hoping. (end of update). It just feels a bit like they tried to slip the ad announcement in without users being any the wiser (as I believe it’s a small percentage of that user base that follows the developer’s forum). As far as the ads themselves, I will have to wait and see once it is official (the latest beta build I have does not yet have ads) to determine if the offers will be intrusive. Assuming the privacy statement is legitimate and the ads do not impair normal torrenting, I’ll keep using µTorrent and support them with ads since I can’t justify a Plus purchase currently. The latest beta build does improve the support for magnet links, and I have not had any problems with it yet so I'll keep using it.

What do you think though? Will you keep using utorrent with ads? If you want to leave the utorrent developers feedback on the change, the team has asked for comments on the announcement thread.

Source: utorrent

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.

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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

Apple No Longer Updating Safari for Windows, Users Should Switch To A More Secure Browser

Subject: General Tech | August 6, 2012 - 05:55 AM |
Tagged: windows, webkit, security, safari for windows, safari, browser, apple

The Apple-developed Safari is one of the least popular webkit-based browsers on Windows. Even so, it still commands 5% marketshare (across all platforms), and that is a problem. You see, many sites are reporting that Apple has dropped support for Safari on Windows. Windows users will not get the update to Safari 6–the new version available to Mac OS X 10.6 and 10.7 Mountain Lion users. As well, it seems that Apple has removed just about every reference to ever having a Windows version of any Safari browser from its website.

Safari 5 for Windows.jpg

Image Credit: MacLife

The issue is that the final version that Windows users are stuck with–version 5.1.7–has a number of documented security vulnerabilities that are never going to get patched by Apple. According to Maximum PC, there are at least 121 known security holes listed in Apple’s own documentation. And as time goes by, it is extremely likely that the number of unpatched security holes will increase. Running an outdated browser is not good security practice, and running a browser that is EOL and has known vulnerabilities is just asking for trouble.

While the number of PC Perspective readers running Safari for Windows is likely extremely small, I would advise that you be on the lookout next time you are doing tech support for your friends and relatives, and if they managed to get roped into using Safari thanks to Apple’s Itunes software updater convince them to move to a (dare I say better) more secure browser like Google’s Chrome, Opera, or Firefox. At least those are still getting updates, and some are even automatically done in the background.

Have you ever used Apple’s Safari for Windows browser? What would you recommend as the best alternative? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: Forbes