Microsoft Windows 10 Creators Update Formally Announced

Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2016 - 05:19 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, paint 3d, Minecraft

At a press event today, Microsoft was promoting their platform with a focus on creativity. The show opened with a video that highlighted upcoming changes in accessibility. For instance, they are adding a preview mode to Microsoft Edge developer tools that help developers make their application accessible to people with impaired vision, who are reliant upon screen-readers. Immediately following that few-minute video, Terry Myerson gave a speech and announced that the next feature release of Windows 10, which was codenamed Redstone 2, will be officially called the Windows 10 Creators Update.

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Naturally, Microsoft wanted to associate the creative potential of PCs with... MS Paint. This application is used by over 100 million poor, unfortunate souls per month, because it is simple... and, of course, pre-installed on basically every Windows machine ever. This transitioned to an announcement of Paint 3D, which is actually quite interesting. 3D applications tend to be a daunting mountain of tools for countless use cases, which helps professionals but somewhat hinders the hobbyist.

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Paint 3D tries to strip it down to the use cases of home users, especially children, who want to goof around with creating stuff. Take a photo, remove the background, and place it in a sand castle that you scanned with your Windows Phone (just kidding, we all know you'll be using it on Android or iOS) into a 3D model. Position the 3D camera just right, and you have a summer holiday postcard. They also have a service, Remix 3D, that allows sharing of 3D content, even from Minecraft. You can then order 3D prints of these objects, seemingly from the service although I haven't been able to see an explicit announcement of that.

Moving on, Microsoft has also released a few videos of this event. In a couple of them, they included a short clip of another, otherwise unannounced application, Groove Music Maker. It appears to be a competitor to Apple's GarageBand, mixing recorded and generated tracks to create music. On the PC side, there really isn't much apart from Fruity Loops and a handful of open source applications to solve this need, and music is definitely a creative avenue. I assume that we'll see something announced about this in the near future.

The Windows 10 Creators Update will be available in “early 2017”. Rumors point to March, based mostly on its expected 1703 version number; still, the early August release of Windows 10 Anniversary Update was listed 1607, so it could vary a bit.

I mean, I hope they will release it when it's stable enough this time.

Source: Microsoft

The free ride is over and noticeable amount of people hopped back to Windows 7

Subject: General Tech | October 3, 2016 - 01:27 PM |
Tagged: Windows 7, windows 10, microsoft, market share

A change of one percent may seem tiny at first glance but historically it is an incredibly large shift in market share for an operating system.  Unfortunately for Microsoft it is Windows 7 which has gained share, up to 48.27% of the market with Windows 10 dropping half a point to 22.53% while the various flavours of Windows 8 sit at 9.61%.  This would make it almost impossible for Microsoft to reach their goal of two one billion machines running Windows 10 in the two years after release and spells bad news for their income from consumers. 

Enterprise have barely touched the new OS for a wide variety of reasons, though companies still provide significant income thanks to corporate licenses for Microsoft products and older operating systems.  It should be very interesting to see how Microsoft will react to this information, especially if the trend continues.  The sales data matches many of the comments we have seen here; the changes which they made were not well received by their customer base and the justifications they've used in the design of the new OS are not holding water.  It shouldn't be long before we here more out of Redmond, in the mean time you can pop over to The Inquirer to see Net Applications' data if you so desire.

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"The latest figures from Net Applications’ Netmarketshare service show Windows 7, now over seven years old, gain a full percentage point to bolster its place as the world’s most popular desktop operating system with 48.27 per cent (+1.02 on last month)."

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Source: The Inquirer

Some Things I've Noticed about Windows 10 Patches

Subject: General Tech | September 30, 2016 - 10:07 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

I've been seeing a lot of people discussing how frequently Windows 10 seems to be getting updated. This discussion usually circles back to how many issues have been reported with the latest Anniversary Update, and how Microsoft has been slow in rolling it out. The thing is, while the slow roll-out is interesting, the way Windows 10 1607 is being patched is not too unusual.

The odd part is how Microsoft has been releasing the feature updates, themselves.

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In the past, Microsoft has tried to release updates on the second Tuesday of every month. This provides a predictable schedule for administrators to test patches before deploying them to an entire enterprise, in case the update breaks something that is mission-critical. With Windows 10, Microsoft has declared that patches will be cumulative and can occur at any time. This led to discussion about whether or not “Patch Tuesday” is dead. Now, a little over a year has gone by, and we can actually quantify how the OS gets updated.

There seems to be a pattern that starts with each major version release, which has (thus far) been builds 10240, 10586, and 14393. Immediately before and after these builds start to roll out to the public, Microsoft releases a flurry of updates to fix issues.

For instance, Windows 10 version 1507 had seven sub-versions of 10240 prior to general release, and five hotfixes pushed down Windows Update within the first month of release. The following month, September 2015, had an update on Patch Tuesday, as well as an extra one on September 30th. The following month also had two updates, the first of which on October's Patch Tuesday. It was then patched once for every following Patch Tuesday.

The same trend occurred with Build 10586 (Windows 10 version 1511). Microsoft released the update to the public on November 12th, but pushed a patch through Windows Update on November 10th, and five more over Windows Update in the following month-and-a-bit. It mostly settled down to Patch Tuesday after that, although a few months had a second hotfix sometime in the middle.

We are now seeing the same trend happen with Windows 10 version 1607. Immediately after release, Microsoft pushed a bunch of hotfixes. If history repeats itself, we should start to see about two updates per month for the next couple of months, then we will slow down to Patch Tuesday until Redstone 2 arrives sometime in 2017.

So, while this seems to fit a recurring trend, I do wonder why this trend exists.

Part of it makes sense. When Microsoft is developing Windows 10, it is trying to merge additions from a variety of teams into a single branch, and do so once or twice each year. This likely means that Microsoft has a “last call” date for these teams to merge their additions into the public branch, and then QA needs to polish this up for the general public. While they can attempt to have these groups check in mid-way, pushing their work out to Windows Insiders in a pre-release build, you can't really know how the final build will behave until after the cut-off.

At the same time, the massive flood of patches within the first month would suggest that Microsoft is pushing the final build to the public about a month or two too early. If this trend continues, it would make the people who update within the first month basically another ring of the Insider program. The difference is that it is less out-in, because you get it when Windows Update tells you to.

It will be interesting to see how this continues going forward, too. Microsoft has already delayed Redstone 2 until 2017, as I mentioned earlier. This could be a sign that Microsoft is learning from past releases, and optimizing their release schedule based on these lessons. I wonder how soon before release will Microsoft settle on a “final build” next time. It seems like Microsoft could avoid many stability problems by simply setting an earlier merge date, and aggressively performing QA for a longer period until it is released to the public.

Or I could be completely off. What do you all think?

Source: Wikipedia

Microsoft Announces Windows Defender Application Guard

Subject: General Tech | September 27, 2016 - 02:41 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, virtualization, microsoft

Microsoft is currently hosting their Ignite conference, which is somewhat the successor of TechEd. Monday kicked off with a couple of keynotes, including one from Satya Nadella himself, but this post will focus on a specific announcement: Windows Defender Application Guard.

With a typical web browser, a malicious website can infect the user's PC by knowing an unpatched vulnerability, and exploiting it before they update their browser. The next feature release of Windows 10 is expected to include virtualization technology, again called Windows Defender Application Guard, which runs websites in a lightweight virtual machine if they are opened in Edge and not part of a whitelist. This means that the attacker, who wants to infect the user's device, not only needs to know of a vulnerability in Edge; they also need to know of a vulnerability in the virtual machine, and they must be able to use the Edge vulnerability to exploit it. Especially for enterprise environments, where ransom malware that encrypts any data it finds can be devastating, this should add a huge wall protecting a large, complex application platform (the web browser) from untrusted third-parties (websites).

Of course, this concept isn't new. Not only are virtual PCs are common in the enterprise for security and control reasons, but applications like SandboxIE have more directly implemented similar ideas. Still, having it be a built-in feature of the operating system should mean that it gets even more support with regards to performance and stability, versus tacking on a third-party solution through public APIs.

Speaking of public APIs -- Microsoft won't be providing one at first. It will only be used for Edge for the time being. Also, it's only available for Windows 10 Enterprise, so I hope you didn't get your hopes up.

Wow, that turned dark real quick.

Source: Ars Technica

Microsoft Desktop App Converter Now in Windows Store

Subject: General Tech | September 15, 2016 - 06:21 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, Windows Store

If you have developed a Win32 or .NET application, and are interested in publishing it for the Windows Store, then Microsoft has released a tool to translate from the one to the other. There are some obvious concerns about this, which I will discuss later in this post, but most of those are more relevant to society as a whole, versus a single person who writes an app. This used to be called Project Centennial, and it's designed to help users enter the UWP platform with little effort, using the APIs they are comfortable with.

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The major concern (from a society standpoint) is that the whole reason why Microsoft doesn't deprecate Win32 is because there's too much of it in use. This conversion process forces the application to only be installed through sideloading, or by uploading it to Windows Store. This is much better than iOS and the now deprecated Windows RT, which don't allow sideloading content, but there's nothing preventing Microsoft from just killing sideloading in five, twenty, or a hundred years. Since that's the only way to express yourself through a native application without a license for Microsoft, you can see what could go wrong if a government tells them that encryption software needs to go away, or a civil rights group attempts to release a controversial work of art.

Again, as I said earlier, this is a society issue, though. For interested developers, the tool is a way to bring your old software to a new distribution method. People like Tim Sweeney will probably say “no thanks” for political reasons, but, if that's not a concern for you, the tool exists.

DesktopAppConverter is free on the Windows Store.

Use Bing in Edge for 30 hours a month and get ...

Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2016 - 01:26 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, microsoft rewards, windows 10, bing, edge

If you remember Bing Rewards then this will seem familiar, otherwise the gist of the deal is that if you browse on Edge and use Bing to search for 30 hours every month you get a bribe similar to what credit card companies offer.  You can choose between Skype credit, ad-free Outlook or Amazon gift cards, perhaps for aspirin to ease your Bing related headache; if such things seem worth your while.  The Inquirer points out that this is another reminder that Microsoft tracks all usage of Edge, otherwise they would not be able to verify the amount of Bing you used. 

Then again, to carry on the credit card analogy ...

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"Microsoft Rewards is a rebrand of Bing Rewards, the firm's desperate attempt to get people using the irritating default search engine, and sure enough the bribes for using Edge apply only if you use Bing too."

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Source: The Inquirer

Now we know what happened to Josh's stream; does your camera do YUY2 encoding?

Subject: General Tech | August 19, 2016 - 01:06 PM |
Tagged: yuy2, windows 10, skype, microsoft, idiots

In their infinite wisdom, Microsoft has disabled MJPEG and H.264 encoding on USB webcams for Skype in their Adversary Update to Windows 10, leaving only YUY2 encoding as your choice.  The supposed reasoning behind this is to ensure that there is no duplication of encoding which could lead to poor performance; ironically the result of this change is poor performance for the majority of users such as Josh.  Supposedly there will be a fix released some time in September but for now the only option is to roll back your AU installation, assuming you are not already past the 10 day deadline.   You can thank Brad Sams over at Thurrott.com for getting to the bottom of the issue which has been plaguing users of Skype and pick up some more details on his post.

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"Microsoft made a significant change with the release of Windows 10 and support for webcams that is causing serious problems for not only consumers but also the enterprise. The problem is that after installing the update, Windows no longer allows USB webcams to use MJPEG or H264 encoded streams and is only allowing YUY2 encoding."

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Source: Thurrott

Microsoft Won't End Support for Skylake on Windows 7/8.1

Subject: General Tech | August 11, 2016 - 05:42 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Previously, Microsoft said that they will end support for Skylake-based processors on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 before the OS's extended support date. Later processors, like Intel's Kaby Lake and AMD's Bristol Ridge, will not be supported on 7 and 8.1 at all. To use those processors, their associated devices will need to be running Windows 10 (or, you know, Linux or something).

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This has just changed for Skylake, but not for Kaby Lake and Bristol Ridge. Skylake will now be supported through the entire life-cycle of Windows 7 (January 14, 2020) and Windows 8.1 (January 10, 2023). This is particularly good because Skylake was already released and in the hands of users when they first announced pulling the plug. Now users will know before they purchase their hardware (albeit not before many have purchased a retail copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.x with transfer rights that intend to continually upgrade beyond Skylake or to AMD's Zen architecture) that Microsoft will not support it outside of Windows 10.

Source: Microsoft

Windows 10 Rollback Period Cut to 10 Days

Subject: General Tech | August 9, 2016 - 05:21 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

According to ComputerWorld, Microsoft has decided that their 30-day rollback period is too long, and so they reduced it to 10 days with version 1607. Honestly, 30 days seemed a bit too long to leave (in my case) 30 GB of crap laying around your main drive, especially considering a new build is dropped to the public once every six to nine months or so. They should have an interface for users to easily delete early, and maybe even a power-user tool to move it to external storage or something.

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This should not affect users who upgrade from Windows 7 and 8.x, unless the rules have changed since the November (1511) update. A non-Windows Insider machine will only install a new build of Windows 10 if the previous install was a clean install, or if the rollback period has already timed out. Also, users can still return to Windows 7 or Windows 8.x by performing a clean install with their respective product key, and Microsoft still provides ISOs on their website even if the user lost their install DVD.

That said, Microsoft still should make this much more clear in their interface, though. Looking at the Settings page, above, there doesn't seem to be any indication that my time is running out. Not cool.

Microsoft Publishes HLSL Shader Model 6.0 MSDN Docs

Subject: Graphics Cards | August 2, 2016 - 07:37 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, vulkan, microsoft, DirectX 12

Update (August 3rd @ 4:30pm): Turns out Khronos Group announced at SIGGRAPH that Subgroup Instructions have been recently added to SPIR-V (skip video to 21:30), and are a "top priority" for "Vulkan Next". Some (like WaveBallot) are already ARB (multi-vendor) OpenGL extensions, too.

Original post below:

DirectX 12's shading language will receive some new functionality with the new Shader Model 6.0. According to their GDC talks, it is looking like it will be structured similar to SPIR-V in how it's compiled and ingested. Code will be compiled and optimized as an LLVM-style bytecode, which the driver will accept and execute on the GPU. This could make it easy to write DX12-compatible shader code in other languages, like C++, which is a direction that Vulkan is heading, but Microsoft hasn't seemed to announce that yet.

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This news shows a bit more of the nitty gritty details. It looks like they added 16-bit signed (short) and unsigned (ushort) integers, which might provide a performance improvement on certain architectures (although I'm not sure that it's new and/or GPUs exist the natively operate upon them) because they operate on half of the data as a standard, 32-bit integer. They have also added more functionality, to both the pixel and compute shaders, to operate in multiple threads, called lanes, similar to OpenCL. This should allow algorithms to work more efficiently in blocks of pixels, rather than needing to use one of a handful of fixed function calls (ex: partial derivates ddx and ddy) to see outside their thread.

When will this land? No idea, but it is conspicuously close to the Anniversary Update. It has been added to Feature Level 12.0, so its GPU support should be pretty good. Also, Vulkan exists, doing its thing. Not sure how these functions overlap with SPIR-V's feature set, but, since SPIR was original for OpenCL, it could be just sitting there for all I know.