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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

Now even your mouse can minimize your game window

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Cases and Cooling | May 29, 2013 - 02:03 PM |
Tagged: Windows key, mouse, microsoft, I Hate This Key

Has this ever happened to you while playing a shooter? You need to get to a position so you mash the alt key to sprint and... aw crap I hit the Windows key... well, now I am dead. Have you ever considered purchasing software or a gaming keyboard which allows you disable that button?

Have you ever considered purchasing a mouse which also has that button to give both hands something to fear?

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Definitely not a member of their Sidewinder product line.

Okay, so I should be fair: the Microsoft Sculpt Comfort mouse is not designed for gaming and Windows 8-like user experiences revolve heavily around the start button. The mouse button is also more useful than a redundant Windows key; the blue pad also has swipe functionality for extra functions. According to how it is described on its product page, slide gestures are bound to respond to the computer as mouse buttons 4 and 5.

So you can probably bind them to game functions, if you feel daring.

But, in the end, I still need to congratulate Microsoft for trying to innovate computer hardware. This is more than just trying to graft touch functionality to a mouse surface, as both Apple and Microsoft have tried in the past, and tries to make the classical mouse experience better. I doubt it is for most of our audience, but not everything needs to be.

Source: Microsoft

Deal for May 27th - Dell Inspiron 15R (5521) 15.6" Core i5 Laptop for $799

Subject: Editorial | May 27, 2013 - 05:08 PM |
Tagged: deals

The Dell Inspiron 15R is a good choice for anyone looking for a reasonably powerful and lightweight laptop.  It is powered by a 1.8GHz Core i5-3537U, has 8GB RAM, a 1TB HDD and integral DVD burner, with a 15.6" 1366 x 768 LED-backlit LCD powered by the HD4000 on the i5.  Not exactly a gaming PC but at 4.9lbs it is an easy way to bring your work with you wherever you go and have more processing power than a tablet will offer.

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Dell Home is offering 3rd generation 15.6" Inspiron 15R 5521 Core i7 Ivy Bridge Laptop with 8GB RAM, 1TB Hard Drive & Touchscreen for $799.99 with FREE shipping. Use $289 instant savings and extra $100 coupon code: JS3KG6045QZ2BR to get final price.

Source: LogicBuy

Console manufacturers don't want much, just the impossible.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 27, 2013 - 03:08 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, ps4, consolitis, consoles

So, as Wired editorial states it: hardcore console gamers don't want much, just the impossible. They want a "super-powered box" tethered to their TV; they want the blockbuster epics and innovative indie titles; they want it to "just work" for what they do. The author, Chris Kohler, wrote his column to demonstrate how this is, and has for quite some time been, highly unprofitable.

I think the bigger problem is that the console manufacturers want the impossible.

Console manufacturers have one goal: get their platform in your house and require their hand be in the pocket of everything you do with it. They need to make an attractive device for that to be true, so they give it enough power to legitimately impress the potential buyer and price it low enough to catch the purchasing impulse. Chances are this involves selling the box under cost at launch and for quite some time after.

But, if all of this juicy control locks the user into overspending in the long run, then it is worth it...

... right?

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But Microsoft should be thankful that I cost them money to be acquired as a customer.

Well, looking at the Wired article, not only are console gamers ultimately overspending: it is still not enough! Consoles truly benefit no-one! The console manufacturers are not doing any more than maybe breaking even, at some point, eventually, down the line, they hope. Microsoft and Sony throw obnoxious amounts of money against one another in research, development, and marketing. Redundant technologies are formed to pit against their counterparts with billions spent in marketing to try to prove why either choice is better.

All of this money is spent to corral users into a more expensive experience where they can pocket the excess.

Going back to the editorial's claims: with all of this money bleeding out, Microsoft wants to appeal more broadly and compensate the loss with more cash flowing in. Sure, Microsoft has wanted a foothold in the living room for decades at this point, but the Xbox Division bounces between profitability and huge losses; thus, they want to be an entertainment hub if just for the cash alone.

But think back to the start, these troubles are not because it is impossible to satisfy hardcore gamers. These troubles are because Microsoft and Sony cannot generate revenue from their acquired control quicker than they can bleed capital away trying to acquire that control, or at least generate it more than just barely fast enough.

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The other solution, which I have felt for quite some time is the real answer (hence why I am a PC gamer), has a large group of companies create an industry body who governs an open standard. Each company can make a substantial profit by focusing on a single chunk of the platform -- selling graphics processors, maintaining a marketplace, or what-have-you -- by leveraging the success of every other chunk.

This model does work, and it is the basis for one of humanity's most successful technology products: the internet.

As a side note: this is also why PC gaming was so successful... Microsoft, developers, Steam/GoG/other marketplaces, and hardware vendors were another version of this... albeit Microsoft had the ability to override them and go in whatever direction they wanted. They didn't, until Windows RT.

And the internet might even be the solution. The web browser is capable, today, of providing amazing gaming experiences and it does not even require a plugin. It is getting more powerful, even faster than the rate at which underlying hardware has evolved.

You could, in some browsers today, plug a USB flash drive into your computer; browse to some "index.html" file on it; and run an Unreal Engine 3 (and as Epic stated in a recent interview, soon Unreal Engine 4) game that is programmed in Javascript and is stored on that USB device. Never an internet connection required -- although if you wanted online features, web browsers are kind-of good at that, go figure.

To end on an ironic note, that makes a web browser more capable of offline play than our current understanding of the Xbox One (and Sony has said nothing either way, for that matter).

I guess the takeaway message is: love the web browser, it "just works".

Source: Wired

Epic Games is disappointed in the PS4 and Xbox One?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Systems | May 23, 2013 - 06:40 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, unreal engine, ps4, playstation 4, epic games

Unreal Engine 4 was presented at the PlayStation 4 announcement conference through a new Elemental Demo. We noted how the quality seemed to have dropped in the eight months following E3 while the demo was being ported to the console hardware. The most noticeable differences were in the severely reduced particle counts and the non-existent fine lighting details; of course, Epic pumped the contrast in the PS4 version which masked the lack of complexity as if it were a stylistic choice.

Still, the demo was clearly weakened. The immediate reaction was to assume that Epic Games simply did not have enough time to optimize the demo for the hardware. That is true to some extent, but there are theoretical limits on how much performance you can push out of hardware at 100% perfect utilization.

Now that we know both the PS4 and, recently, the Xbox One: it is time to dissect more carefully.

A recent LinkedIn post from EA Executive VP and CTO, Rajat Taneja, claims that the Xbox One and PS4 are a generation ahead of highest-end PC on the market. While there are many ways to interpret that statement, in terms of raw performance that statement is not valid.

As of our current knowledge, the PlayStation 4 contains an eight core AMD "Jaguar" CPU with an AMD GPU containing 18 GCN compute units, consisting of a total of 1152 shader units. Without knowing driving frequencies, this chip should be slightly faster than the Xbox One's 768 shader units within 12 GCN compute units. The PS4 claims their system has a total theoretical 2 teraFLOPs of performance and the Xbox One would almost definitely be slightly behind that.

Back in 2011, the Samaritan Demo was created by Epic Games to persuade console manufacturers. This demo was how Epic considered the next generation of consoles to perform. They said, back in 2011, that this demo would theoretically require 2.5 teraFLOPs of performance for 30FPS at true 1080p; ultimately their demo ran on the PC with a single GTX 680, approximately 3.09 teraFLOPs.

This required performance, (again) approximately 2.5 teraFLOPs, is higher than what is theoretically possible for the consoles, which is less than 2 teraFLOPs. The PC may have more overhead than consoles, but the PS4 and Xbox One would be too slow even with zero overhead.

Now, of course, this does not account for reducing quality where it will be the least noticeable and other cheats. Developers are able to reduce particle counts and texture resolutions in barely-noticeable places; they are also able to render below 1080p or even below 720p, as was the norm for our current console generation, to save performance for more important things. Perhaps developers might even use different algorithms which achieve the same, or better, quality for less computation at the expense of more sensitivity to RAM, bandwidth, or what-have-you.

But, in the end, Epic Games did not get the ~2.5 teraFLOPs they originally hoped for when they created the Samaritan Demo. This likely explains, at least in part, why the Elemental Demo looked a little sad at Sony's press conference: it was a little FLOP.

Update, 5/24/2013: Mark Rein of Epic Games responds to the statement made by Rajat Taneja of EA. While we do not know his opinion on consoles... we know his opinion on EA's opinion:

PCPer Live! GeForce GTX 780 3GB Graphics Card - 2pm EDT / 11am PDT

Subject: Editorial, Graphics Cards | May 23, 2013 - 12:08 PM |
Tagged: video, live, gtx 780, gk110

Missed the LIVE stream?  You can catch the video reply of it below!

Hopefully by now you have read over our review of the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 graphics card that launched this morning.  Taking the GK110 GPU, cutting off some more cores, and setting a price point of $650 will definitely create some interesting discussion. 

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Join me today at 2pm ET / 11am PT as we discuss the GTX 780, our review and take your questions.  You can leave them in the comments below, no registration required. 

GTX 780 Stream - PC Perspective Live! - 2pm ET / 11am PT

You know that thing you trust to accept untrusted data...

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | May 22, 2013 - 01:53 AM |
Tagged: antivirus, antimalware

They might be a good means of guarding you from momentary lapses of judgment, but security is not equivalent to antivirus packages. You always need to consider how much your system is exposed to untrusted and even unsolicited data. Any software which accepts untrusted data has some surface with potential vulnerability to attack.

This, inherently, includes software which accepts data to scan it for malware.

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Last week was host to Patch Tuesday, and one of its many updates fixed a vulnerability in Microsoft's Malware Protection Engine (MPE). The affected code is only present in applications which run the 64-bit version of the engine. For home users, these applications are: Microsoft Security Essentials (x86-64), Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (x86-64), and all varieties of Windows Defender (x86-64). For enterprise users, MPE is also a part of Forefront and Endpoint applications and suites.

Despite the irony, I will not beat up on Microsoft. As far as I know, these vulnerabilities are semi-frequently patched in basically any antimalware application. At the very least, Microsoft declares and remedies problems with reasonable and appropriate policies; they could have just as easily buried this fix and pushed it out silently or worse, wait until it becomes actively exploited in the wild and even beyond.

But, and I realize I am repeating myself at this point, the biggest takeaway from this news: you cannot let the mere presence of antivirus suites permit you to be complacent. No scanner will detect everything, and some might even be the way in.

Xbox One announced, the games: not so much.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Systems | May 21, 2013 - 05:26 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox

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Almost exactly three months have passed since Sony announced the Playstation 4 and just three weeks remain until E3. Ahead of the event, Microsoft unveiled their new Xbox console: The Xbox One. Being so close to E3, they are saving the majority of games until that time. For now, it is the box itself as well as its non-gaming functionality.

First and foremost, the raw specifications:

  • AMD APU (5 billion transistors, 8 core, on-die eSRAM)
  • 8GB RAM
  • 500GB Storage, Bluray reader
  • USB 3.0, 802.11n, HDMI out, HDMI in

The hardware is a definite win for AMD. The Xbox One is based upon an APU which is quite comparable to what the PS4 will offer. Unlike previous generations, there will not be too much differentiation based on available performance; I would not expect to see much of a fork in terms of splitscreen and other performance-sensitive features.

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A new version of the Kinect sensor will also be present with all units which developers can depend upon. Technically speaking, the camera is higher resolution and more wide-angle; up to six skeletons can be tracked with joints able to rotate rather than just hinge. Microsoft is finally also permitting developers to use the Kinect along with a standard controller to, as they imagine, allow a user to raise their controller to block with a shield. That is the hope, but near the launch of the original Kinect, Microsoft filed a patent to allow sign language recognition: has not happened yet. Who knows whether the device will be successfully integrated into gaming applications.

Of course Microsoft is known most for system software, and the Xbox runs three lightweight operating environments. In Windows 8, you have the Modern interface which runs WinRT applications and you have the desktop app which is x86 compatible.

The Xbox One borrows more than a little from this model.

The home screen, which I am tempted to call the Start Screen, for the console has a very familiar tiled interface. They are not identical to Windows but they are definitely consistent. This interface allows for access to Internet Explorer and an assortment of apps. These apps can be pinned to the side of the screen, identical to Windows 8 modern app. I am expecting there to be "a lot of crossover" (to say the least) between this and the Windows Store; I would not be surprised if it is basically the same API. This works both when viewing entertainment content as well as within a game.

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These three operating systems run at the same time. The main operating system is basically a Hyper-V environment which runs the two other operating systems simultaneously in sort-of virtual machines. These operating systems can be layered with low latency, since all you are doing is compositing them in a different order.

Lastly, they made reference to Xbox Live, go figure. Microsoft is seriously increasing their server capacity and expects developers to utilize Azure infrastructure to offload "latency-insensitive" computation for games. While Microsoft promises that you can play games offline, this obviously does not apply to features (or whole games) which rely upon the back-end infrastructure.

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And yes, I know you will all beat up on me if I do not mention the SimCity debacle. Maxis claimed that much of the game requires an online connection due to the complicated server requirements; after a crack allowed offline functionality, it was clear that the game mostly operates fine on a local client. How much will the Xbox Live cloud service offload? Who knows, but that is at least their official word.

Now to tie up some loose ends. The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games although that is no surprise. Also, Microsoft says they are allowing users to resell and lend games. That said, games will be installed and not require the disc, from what I have heard. Apart from the concerns about how much you can run on a single 500GB drive, once the game is installed rumor has it that if you load it elsewhere (the rumor is even more unclear about whether "elsewhere" counts accounts or machines) you will need to pay a fee to Microsoft. In other words? Basically not a used game.

Well, that has it. You can be sure we will add more as information comes forth. Comment away!

Source: Xbox.com

Alienware m14x r2 14-in GeForce GT 650M Gaming Laptop for $1308

Subject: Editorial | May 17, 2013 - 10:36 AM |
Tagged: deals

We often get asked about our favorite gaming notebooks and despite the somewhat aged styling, we still think Alienware makes some of the best.  Today's deal offers up the small M14x R2 with a 1600x900 screen, Core i7-3630QM quad-core processors, GeForce GT 650M discrete graphics and 16GB of DDR3 memroy.  The $1308 price is a nice $300+ discount over the normal price!

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Alienware m14x r2 14" Core i7 900p Gaming Laptop w/GeForce GT 650M, 16GB RAM, 32GB SSD

Source: LogicBuy

IE10 is the safest web browser in one way; checkmate!

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | May 16, 2013 - 03:45 PM |
Tagged: web browser, Malware, IE10

If you consider your browser security based solely on whether it will allow you to manually download a malicious executable: IE10 is the best browser ever!

Rod Trent over at Windows IT Pro seems to believe this when NSS labs released their report, "Socially Engineered Malware Blocking". In this report, Internet Explorer blocked the user from downloading nearly all known malware (clarification: all known malware within the test). Google Chrome came in second place with a little less than 17% fail rate and the other browsers were quite far behind with approximately a 90% failure rate.

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Based on that one metric alone, Rod Trent used a cutesy chess image to proclaim IE the... king... of the hill. Not only that, he suggests Safari, Opera, and Firefox consider "shuttering their doors." After about a decade of Internet Explorer suffering from countless different and unique vectors of exploitation, now is the time to proclaim a victor for attacks which require explicit user action?

Buckle in, readers, it's a rant.

Firstly, this reminds me a little bit of Microsoft Security Essentials. Personally, I use it, because it provides enough protection for me. Unlike its competitors, MSE has next to no false positives because almost ignores zero-day exploits. The AV package drew criticism from lab tests which test zero-day exploits. Microsoft Security Essentials was ranked second-worst by this metric.

Well, time to shutter your doors Micr... oh wait Rod Trent lauded it as award-winning. Huh...

But while we are on the topic of false positives, how do you weigh those in your grading of a browser? According to the report, and common sense, achieving pure success in this metric is dead simple if you permit your browser to simply block every download, good or bad.

If a 100% false positive acceptance rate is acceptable, it is trivial to protect users from all malicious download. With just a few lines of code, Firefox, Safari, and Opera could displace Internet Explorer and Chrome as the leaders of protection against socially engineered malware. However, describing every download as "malicious" would break the internet. Finding a balance between accuracy and safety is the challenge for browsers at the front of protection technology.

-NSS Labs, "Socially Engineered Malware Blocking"

A browser that is capable of blocking malware without blocking legitimate content would certainly be applause-worthy. I guess time will tell whether Internet Explorer 10 is able to walk the balance, or whether it will just be a nuisance like the first implementations of UAC.

OK, Google did actually release exactly one native Windows application at Google I/O: It's called Android Studio, an application that helps developers create apps that run on Android, Google’s answer to Windows. But don’t worry, Microsoft fans: Internet Explorer (IE) flags the Android Studio download as potential malware.

-Paul Thurrott, Windows IT Pro

Ah crap... that was quick.

Now to be fair, Internet Explorer 10 and later have been doing things right. I am glad to see Microsoft support standards and push for an open web after so many years. This feature helps protect users from their own complacency.

Still, be careful when you call checkmate: some places may forfeit your credibility.