Qualcomm signs major carriers and retailers for Always Connected PC launch

Subject: Mobile | February 21, 2018 - 11:10 AM |
Tagged: snapdragon, qualcomm, microsoft, always connected pc

With availability scheduled to begin next month, Qualcomm is prepping for its final push to prepare the market for what it believes is a revolutionary product category for the PC market. Just before the mobile media and analysts focus attention on Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, Qualcomm hopes it has completed the final step in the launch of its “Windows 10 on Snapdragon” line. Partners like Amazon, the Microsoft Stores, Verizon, and AT&T will provide the cellular LTE connections to maintain an always-connected state and the retail and online locations to purchase them.

By combining Windows 10 and the company’s Snapdragon mobile platform with efficiency and connectivity advantages other PC chip vendors can’t match, Qualcomm is hoping that its creation of this new sub-category of PC that focuses on being always connected through a smartphone-like cellular connection will pay dividends. Compared to Intel processors that target similar form factors of notebook PCs including 2-in-1s and detachable tablets, the Qualcomm chips differentiate by including the capability for LTE connectivity on every design, without having to pay an upgrade cost.

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The ability for a Qualcomm-powered Windows 10 PC to have an “instant on” button to turn on the screen without a boot or wake-from-sleep process, again in the same way your smartphone works today, is another touted feature. Battery life is the other tent pole, with Qualcomm often citing disingenuous battery life estimates on Intel-powered systems but “beyond all day” battery life for its own.

Getting these Qualcomm-chip Windows notebooks into the market might seem like a trivial task but inserting a new totally new product category into retail and e-tail takes careful management. Qualcomm will have to educate consumers on how its platform is different and what advantages it can offer over other laptops. Retailers will have to undertake most of that education process, as the customer will need guidance to avoid costly returns and support calls.

The added complexity of a cellular connection will mean that some kind of registration process will have to occur before the PC is truly “always connected.” It will need to be added to a data plan on an existing carrier agreement (think adding a new phone to your cell account) or through a pre-paid arrangement.

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A touchier subject surrounds the retail channel and how PCs are sold in today’s market. Despite the years of legal disputes and resolutions, most in the industry still view Intel as wielding incredible power in the retail and online e-tail sales channels. Through practices like rebates, education programs, and sales clerk discounts, it can be hard for a new player to battle the incumbent without a similar amount of marketing muscle and dollars behind them. Even AMD, with years of practice selling its own processors and systems, struggles at time to get the attention and retail shelf space its products deserve.

In the US market, Microsoft will be taking the helm at the retail channel, stocking and selling the three first Qualcomm Snapdragon Windows 10 PCs from HP, Lenovo, and ASUS. Though the quantity of Microsoft stores is limited, placement here is a big win for Qualcomm and its partners. The Microsoft Stores are generally considered the presentation point for the flagship Windows devices, indicating that Microsoft itself puts a lot of weight behind the category that Qualcomm is creating.

For the online markets, Amazon will be the primary location in the US for sales. In talks with Qualcomm executives, it appears that the online giant will be handling a lot of that education and cellular activation. While I am certain that Qualcomm would love to have had a nationwide brick-and-mortar retailer like Best Buy in the mix, the Minneapolis-based company did not buy in.

Qualcomm has other retailers lined up across the globe, including in Australia, Italy, France, and the UK. China will have sales through JD.com, one of the largest online retailers in the world with more than 266M active users. Qualcomm still has many regions to address with availability and wider distribution as the second wave of PCs comes to market in the holiday of 2018, but it believes it has a solid start under its belt.

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Graphic Source: TechSpot

Operator support is just as crucial for Qualcomm’s new PC category as retail availability. If a consumer buys a device but isn’t offered service from a mobile telecommunications provider along with it, much of the appeal of the device is lost. Carriers in the UK, Italy, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, and US (including all four major players Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile), will begin offering plans for the Windows 10 on Snapdragon PCs. Details of what the specific costs will be aren’t being shared and will vary for each carrier.

Affordability of these plans will be critical to the mass market success of the Always Connected PC. Consumers will not pay exorbitant amounts of money to add a device to their existing cell phone plan but providers may be hesitant to offer discounts for a platform that inherently will have potential for greater data consumption. Users on smartphones often get lower resolution video or web pages because of the smaller screen size. But these full capability PCs will likely stream full resolution content and could create additional strain on the networks.

Source: Qualcomm

Windows 10 on ARM Details

Subject: General Tech | February 19, 2018 - 01:22 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, qualcomm, arm

Paul Thurrott found a developer documentation page, Troubleshooting x86 Desktop Apps, on the Windows Dev Center. The goal of the page is to list a few reasons why the software you develop might not be compatible with Windows 10 on ARM and the WOW translation layer. Yup, they’re reusing that name, which was the translation layer for 32-bit Win32 applications running on 64-bit Windows.

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Based on this document, we now know that Windows on ARM:

  • Will not translate x86 drivers, just x86 applications and services.
  • Does not support 64-bit applications (Thurrott.com says they’re working on it.)
  • Does not support (hardware-accelerated) OpenGL 1.1+ or DirectX 1-8
    • Vulkan is not mentioned anywhere, but I’m guessing not.

There are also a few other issues, like the application cannot modify Windows components (ex: the 7-zip entry in the Windows file explorer’s right-click menu) unless it is recompiled for ARM. Thurrott.com also says that Hyper-V is not supported in Windows 10 on ARM.

The amount of software that Windows on ARM can run is surprisingly both broader and narrower than I would have expected. The major issue for me is OpenGL – you would think that the graphics driver would dictate this, not so much the OS APIs. I certainly hope that, especially after their other pushes toward openness, Microsoft isn’t pressuring ARM manufacturers to not ship an OpenGL driver, even though the hardware vendors clearly know how to support OpenGL ES at the very least.

And yes, there could very well be a good reason, and they might even be working on OpenGL support as we speak, but it’s an odd omission (at least for now).

Lastly, this has nothing to do with UWP applications. This document is only about standard Win32 applications running on ARM processors. UWP is designed to be cross-architecture. You just need to include the ARM target when you build and package.

Source: Microsoft

Windows 10 brings you Ultimate Power!!!

Subject: General Tech | February 15, 2018 - 01:00 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

Microsoft's new Ultimate Performance mode is impressively name but a bit hyperbolic as what it refers to is a new power plan which will be available to desktop machines in Build 17101 and Build 17604.  There is not much more information on the new setting, apart from its intent to reduce micro-latencies, likely referring specifically to intense computational tasks and not aimed at making your game run faster.  It is possible that an enthusiast would benefit from the new power schema, it will be interesting to see the results once the update lands.  In the mean time you can pop by Slashdot for links and commentary.

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"As the name implies, this is a step up for people for whom even the High Performance mode isn't enough -- it throws power management out the window to eliminate "micro-latencies" and boost raw speed. You can set it yourself, but PC makers will have the option of shipping systems with the feature turned on. Ultimate Performance isn't currently available for laptops or tablets, but Microsoft suggests that could change."

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Source: Slashdot

The new Skype, with assorted features you don't want and none of the ones you used to love

Subject: General Tech | February 13, 2018 - 01:23 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, skype, security

The new Skype looks much like a child who swallowed far too many Halloween candies and happened to be facing a monitor during the inevitable outcome; a feature not many requested.  Also gone is the ability to program your own add-ins and apply them to Skype to enhance recording and a variety of other features which made the product useful.  Microsoft ended that when they took Skype over, however they offer some other less popular features.   One such is a vulnerability which allows the unsecure update process to be used to inject nasty DLLs to give SYSTEM level access to an attacker.  From what The Inquirer has been able to find out, Microsoft will not be releasing a patch for vulnerable versions but will instead release a new version at some point, without the vulnerability baked in. 

Conspicuosly absent from this discussion was the soon to be Team-ed Skype for Business which may or may not feature this particular problem.  As it updates through Office 365 it should be safe, but not many security execs are satisifed by 'should'.

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"Long story short - there's so much code that would need to be rewritten that it isn't worth it to Microsoft to shore-up this version. What's not quite clear is whether this affects the grotesque UWP version of Skype or just the old desktop version."

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Source: The Inquirer

LinkedIn and Microsoft find a way to help you need to find a new job ... in a hurry

Subject: General Tech | February 8, 2018 - 12:50 PM |
Tagged: résumé, microsoft, linkedin, bad idea, résumé assistant

It is so obvious that it is hard to believe Microsoft didn't do this years ago.  Obviously the best time and place to search for a new job is over your current employers network, using Microsoft Word.  Now you can, as Word and LinkedIn will now be joined at the hip.  Yes, that source of bizarre requests to connect with people you have essentially nothing in common with apart from the fact that you may have been employed at some time in your life is coming to O359!  It won't start out as annoyingly persistent as Clippy, it will be buried under the Review tab on your ribbon, but it will be there unless IT decides to block it. 

It is of course referred to as having an AI, to pop up those completely inappropriate job suggestions LinkedIn excels at, as well as scanning the résumés of others to offer you advice on how to best write about your qualifications.  Read more about Microsoft's $25 billion Résumé Assistant over at El Reg.

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"Microsoft has glued LinkedIn and Office 365's Word together so it can automatically help folks write or update their résumés – and find them new jobs at the same time."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Launches Cheaper Surface Book and Surface Laptop

Subject: General Tech | February 6, 2018 - 12:46 AM |
Tagged: surface laptop, surface book, surface, microsoft

Microsoft is introducing lower-end versions of its Surface Book 2 and Surface Laptop thin and lights in a very good news/bad news way. The good news is that customers will not have to give up much in the way of specifications, but the bad news being that these new SKUs are not much cheaper than their predecessors as a result. If you were hoping for a budget Surface Book, this is not the device you are looking for.

Tech Report reports that Microsoft is now offering a Surface Book 2 with the same Core i5 7300U (dual core with Hyperthreading) and 8GB base RAM as the exiting i5 model, but with half the storage at 128 GB. All other specifications remain the same including the 13.5” 3000x2000 resolution display, 23mm thick chassis with 2-in-1 folding hinge, and the same USB 3.1 Gen 1, headphone, SD card, and Surface Dock I/O ports. The new “budget” model starts at $1,199 which is $300 cheaper than the i5 7300U model with 256 GB storage. Not bad considering you are only giving up storage space but still priced at a premium.

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In addition to the Surface Book 2, Microsoft is also adding a cheaper Surface Laptop which cuts the cost to entry to $799. Customers will have to settle for the silver version however, as that is currently the only color option at that price point. Performance as well as storage take a hit on this cost-cutting endeavor as well with the previous Core i5 base CPU (2c/4t up to 3.1 GHz) replaced with a Core m3-7Y30 (2c/4t up to 2.6 GHz). The new budget model further includes 4GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. Fortunately, the 13.5” 2256x1504 touchscreen display remains the same. The price difference between the Core m3 SKU and the previously base Core i5 7200U SKU is only $200 and you are giving up more than storage this time to get there.

It appears the Surface Laptop still comes with Windows 10 S while the Surface Book 2 comes with Windows 10 Pro. Microsoft provides 1-year warranties on these machines.

Are the new lower-cost versions enough to get you to buy into the Surface and Windows 10 ecosystem? 

Also read:

Source: Tech Report

Windows S is now just an awkward phase which your PC can grow out of

Subject: General Tech | February 5, 2018 - 01:39 PM |
Tagged: windows s, windows 10, microsoft

Microsoft is changing how they will distribute Windows S, their Chrome-like locked down OS.  It will now become an option on all Windows 10 installations, allowing you to enable it if you feel the need to set up a computer which can only run apps from the Microsoft Store and only surf via Edge.  The Inquirer cites an interesting fact, 83% of users who do not disable Windows S mode in the first week remain with that OS permanently.  Perhaps they don't know any better, or perhaps they were one of those who were satisfied with the original Surface's Windows RT?

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"Now, the company has confirmed that it will instead offer an "S Mode" on standard versions of Windows 10 instead, locking the machine down to a walled garden of apps from the Microsoft Store, and blocking traditional Win32 programs. And, of course, restricting you to using bloody Edge browser. "

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Source: The Inquirer

It's about damn time; Windows Defender will start removing those bloody registry cleaners

Subject: General Tech | February 1, 2018 - 01:40 PM |
Tagged: registry cleaner, windows 10, microsoft, windows defender, crapware

Have you experienced the sheer frustration of explaining to a friend or family member that the reason their machine slowed down somewhat and is generating popups at a fearsome rate is because of the crapware they downloaded and not your ministrations?  Convincing someone who installed a registry cleaner or supposed driver update tool that that software is the root of their suffering can be as profitable as arguing with a brick wall that it is mostly empty space and thus you should be able to walk through it; in other words an exercise in futility.  Come March, Windows Defender will remove many of the more questionable ones automatically, though The Inquirer suggests some of the more innocuous ones may remain.

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"We've all been there - warnings of out of date drivers, thousands of registry errors, and usually with a message claiming "we'll fix 30 for free, then you pay". Most of it is utter twaddle and won't affect your computing experience at all. In fact, in a lot of cases, they do more harm than good."

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Source: The Inquirer

What could possibly go wrong? Microsoft may be looking to buy EA, Valve and PUBG

Subject: General Tech | January 30, 2018 - 02:12 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, ea, valve, pubg, rumour, xbox

This one needs more than a few grains of salt but it is possible the Microsoft store might be looking at a significant expansion.  Phil Spencer, once head of XBone and now Executive Vice President of Gaming is taking his role seriously and may be looking to grow Microsoft's presence in gaming.  The company certainly has enough money to purchase all three companies, and in the case of EA they may actually improve the usefulness of Origin.  Valve on the other hand has already mastered the art of online game distribution, unless Microsoft is willing to go with something 'not invented here' that Steam library of yours may be in some peril.  This is pure rumour but that doesn't mean you can't fan the flames at The Inquirer, Polygon or below.

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"SOMEONE HAS GIVEN the rumour mill an almighty kick as it's been suggested that Microsoft is considering buying-up game publishing behemoths EA and Steam, along with PUBG Corp."

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Source: The Inquirer

Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer will let you see what your computer sends back to Redmond

Subject: General Tech | January 24, 2018 - 01:47 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

Some time towards the end of March or the beginning of April Windows 10 will be getting another major update and one of the components will allow you to read through all the information which your computer has collected about your usage.  This won't mean you can easily read through the data as it will be presented in a JSON format with little detail as to what the various attributes mean.  The numbers may not remain a mystery for long, once released various enterprising souls will get to work decoding the information and writing applications to translate the JSON files.  This does not mean Microsoft will no longer collect data, merely that they are going to be a bit more transparent about what they are doing.  Pop by Ars Technica for more information.

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"Following the publication last year of the data collected by Windows 10's built-in telemetry and diagnostic tracking, Microsoft today announced that the next major Windows 10 update, due around March or April, will support a new app, the Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer, that will allow Windows users to browse and inspect the data that the system has collected."

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Source: Ars Technica