Windows Apps Still Smell Like Windows RT

Subject: General Tech | March 25, 2015 - 06:23 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows, windows 10, winRT, windows rt

Even though I am really liking the Windows 10 operating system from a technical standpoint, I did not mind Windows 8.x, as software, either. My concern was its promotion of the Windows Store for the exact same reasons that I dislike the iOS App Store. Simply put, for your application to even exist, Microsoft (or Apple) needs to certify you as a developer, which they can revoke at any time, and they need to green light your creations.

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This has a few benefits, especially for Microsoft. First and foremost, it gives them a killswitch for malicious software and their developers. Second, it gives them as much control over the platform as they want. If devices start flowing away from x86 to other instruction sets, like we almost saw a few years ago, then Windows can pick up and go with much less friction than the corner they painted themselves into with Win32.

This also means that developers need to play ball, even for terms that Microsoft is forced to apply because of pressure for specific governments. LGBT groups should be particularly concerned as other platforms are already banning apps that are designed for their members. Others could be concerned about encryption and adult art, even in Western nations. If Microsoft, or someone with authority over them, doesn't want your content to exist: it's gone (unless it can run in a web browser).

On the plus side, I don't see the rule where third-party browser engines are banned anymore. When Windows 8 launched, all browsers needed to be little more than a reskin of Internet Explorer.

Beyond censorship, if Microsoft does not offer a side-loading mechanism for consumers, you also might need to give Microsoft a cut of your sales. You don't even seem to be able to give your app to specific people. If you want to propose to your significant other via a clever app, there does not seem to be a method to share it outside of the Windows Store unless you set up their device as a Window developer ahead of time.

Why do I say all this today? Because Microsoft has branded Universal Apps as Windows apps, and their strategy seems to be completely unchanged in these key areas. What kept me from updating to Windows 8 was not its user interface. It was the same thing that brought me to develop in Web technologies and volunteer for Mozilla.

It was the developer certification and lack of side-loading for modern apps.

I get it. Microsoft is tired of being bullied with crap about how it is insecure and a pain for the general public. At the very least, they need a way for users to opt out, though. What they are doing with Windows 10 is very nice, and I would like to see it as my main operating system, but I need to prioritize alternative platforms if this one is heading in a very dark direction.

Win32 might be a legacy API, but the ability to write what I want should not be.

Source: Thurrott.com

Get your pirated Windows a letter of marque

Subject: General Tech | March 18, 2015 - 04:03 PM |
Tagged: WinHEC, windows, microsoft

If you know a friend that has a friend that might have picked up a copy of Windows from a site of ill repute they still have a chance to redeem their soul.  At WinHEC today Microsoft announced that any eligible version of Windows running on hardware compatible with Windows 10 can also upgrade to a new and fully licensed version of Windows 10 when it is released.  This is an interesting move by Microsoft but there is sense behind the move as it will increase their customer base for purchasing apps from the Microsoft Store and any licensing which may come into effect after the free year they offer.  It also gives them more accurate data on the number of users of Windows and possibly other metadata as well.

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"Microsoft will make Windows 10 available as a free upgrade even to pirated copies of other Windows operating systems in China. Terry Myerson of Microsoft's operating systems unit made the announcement at the WinHEC technology conference in Shenzhen, China, and then told Reuters, "We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10.""

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Slashdot

Windows 10 (Enterprise) Build 10031 Sighted

Subject: General Tech | March 6, 2015 - 06:29 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, microsoft

WinBeta found a new screenshot of an internal Windows 10 build. They originated from the same group, Wzor, that leaked almost every other image from unreleased Windows 10 builds. The only real feature that is shown is a translucent start menu. To make the transition a little less jarring, you are able to partially see the content behind it.

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Image Credit: WinBeta and Wzor.

This feature should be especially useful for the full-screen start menu, so that it looks like an overlay, rather than: “Your computer is doing something totally different now!” You can still see, if only a little bit, what you were doing. It should feel a lot more like the Steam Overlay rather than a full context switch.

The build is also not labeled Microsoft Confidential, so it might be on the branch that is designed for public release. We are due for a new build, so it should only be a matter of days before consumer previewers, and apparently enterprise ones too, get pushed forward... ... after about five-or-so reboots.

Source: WinBeta

Windows 10 Technical Preview Build 10022 Spotted

Subject: General Tech | February 26, 2015 - 07:00 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, microsoft

WZor, a group in Russia that somehow acquires many Windows leaks, has just published screenshots of Windows 10 Build 10022 and Windows Server Build 9926. As far as we can tell, not much has changed. We see neither an upgraded Cortana nor a look at the Spartan browser. The build is not labeled “Microsoft Confidential” though, which makes people believe that it is (or was) intended for public release -- maybe as early as this week.

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Image Credit: WZor Twitter

Honestly, I do not see anything different from the provided screenshots apart from the incremented version number. It is possible that this build addresses back-end issues, leaving the major new features for BUILD in late April. Leaked notes (also by WZor) for build 10014, called an “Early Partner Drop”, suggest that version was designed for hardware and software vendors. Perhaps the upcoming preview build is designed to give a platform for third-parties to develop updates ahead of Microsoft releasing the next (or second-next) big build?

Either way, it seems like we will get it very soon.

Source: WZor

Microsoft Filed for "Windows 365" Trademark in Late January. Jeremy Prepares to File for Windows 340 through 364?

Subject: General Tech, Systems | February 10, 2015 - 12:55 AM |
Tagged: windows 365, windows 10, windows, office 365, microsoft

While it is trivial for a large corporation to file for a trademark, there are fairly strict guidelines with how they are used (or, more accurately, not-used). Because trademarks can be forever, the law outlines numerous procedures that can classify them as abandoned, which lets Coca Cola be a known, legitimate source of Coca Cola for as long as Coca Cola makes Coca Cola, while preventing businesses from being created that do nothing but license names.

Patents! I'm looking at you!

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So the news is that Microsoft filed for the trademark, “Windows 365”. Knowing their trademark on Office 365, people are assuming that this will lead to a subscription version of Windows. The trademark filing is then compared to the statements made by Terry Myerson about Windows as a Service and the free upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8.x for a year. You can see where this is headed.

But I have another idea. Perhaps this is intended to lead into their not-yet-disclosed enterprise licensing arrangement for Windows 10 (and related services)? Despite its consumer sound, Office 365 seems to have a fairly large adoption rate with business and education customers. As an example, which is not statistically relevant but is still interesting, the local public school board where I live has licensed a non-commercial, 5-PC license for every staff and student in their organization. This concept has a lot of potential for those customers.

If, of course, they give us a per-device and system builder license option, too.

Source: USPTO

Because Reinstalling the OS Is Quicker than Decrapifying

Subject: General Tech | February 2, 2015 - 03:19 AM |
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.

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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.

Source: Thurrott.com
Manufacturer: Microsoft

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gaming Features

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.

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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.

In Summary

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.

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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.

Windows 10 Consumer Briefing Predictions

Subject: General Tech | January 20, 2015 - 09:45 PM |
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.

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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.

DirectX 12

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!

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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.

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Image Credit: cnBeta.com via TheVerge

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

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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.

Source: Microsoft
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: ECS

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.

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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.


Specifications:

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

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The LIVA X arrives in a smaller box than its predecessor, and one with a satin finish cuz it's extra fancy.

Continue reading our review of the ECS LIVA X Mini PC!!

Windows 7 Is Now Classified as Extended Support

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2015 - 03:41 AM |
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.

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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.

Source: Microsoft