Subject: General Tech | November 28, 2014 - 12:50 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: windows, freeware
Over at The Register is a round up of a variety of freeware applications that many have found useful. Ad Aware, a program that not many have talked about since the competition picked up has made a reappearance and has stepped up their game somewhat although you will still find Malwarebytes product on this list. Classic Shell has been very popular since Windows went metrosexual as it restores much of the familiar interface that users are accustomed to and is likely to remain popular with the release of Windows 10. Duplicati is a great way to locally back up your files from the Cloud while Eraser can do the opposite for those wanting to make sure that deleted file stays deleted. They also include Notepad++ for those who actually do work on their machines, Process Explorer for those who work on the machines themselves and several others worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with the free software available for PC users.
"No matter if you're reinstalling Windows for the 47th time this fortnight or attempting to rid a new machine of bloatware in favour of something that's actually useful, the question remains: what alternative apps exist that don’t involve coughing up for obscene licensing fees?"
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Internet of Things search engine wants the world to sell and exchange sensor data @ The Inquirer
- iOS 8 is installed on 60 percent of iPhones and iPads despite persistent problems @ The Inquirer
- Bladerunner sequel might actually be good. Harrison Ford is in it @ The Register
Subject: General Tech | November 27, 2014 - 10:20 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, mkv, microsoft, hevc, h.265, flac
Native support for audio and video codecs is helpful for a platform. Software will be able to call upon the operating system's built-in functions, rather than integrating a solution. Of course, some will continue to roll their own, and that's fine, but it is obviously helpful for the foundation to have its own solution (especially in cases where licenses and royalties are required).
Windows 10 is expected to increase its platform support to include FLAC, MKV, and HEVC (h.265), and more may be coming. The tweet from Gabriel Aul suggests that this will be available starting in the next preview build, which will land in early 2015. Hopefully these additions include both encoding and decoding support, possibly allowing audio and video editors to take advantage of these formats.
The next build of Windows 10 Technical Preview is expected for early next year. The full OS is said to launch late that year.
Subject: General Tech | November 27, 2014 - 04:17 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows, windows 10, windows 6.4
Windows Vista broke away from the NT 5.x version number that was shared between Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Since then, each major OS release from Microsoft has incremented the minor version by one: Windows 7 was 6.1, Windows 8 was 6.2, and Windows 8.1 was 6.3. The current Windows 10 previews register as Windows 6.4, but screenshots suggest that Microsoft is considering a bump to 10.0 before release.
Seriously, this time?
This leads to two discussions: “compatibility” and “why”.
First, because some applications query the Windows version number and adjust their behavior, there is some concern that 10.0 could lead to problems. For instance, if an installer checks that Windows' major version is 6, rather than at least 6, it could simply refuse to load (at least without compatibility mode). In fact, I remember Microsoft speaking about this issue back when Vista launched, saying that spoofing incorrect versions fixed (I believe) most problems. Peter Bright at Ars Technica notes that changes to application architecture, instituted with Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, makes this change more safe than when Vista bumped it to 6.x, for instance. Applications will be given an earlier version number unless they claim higher-level support in its manifest.
And then we get to the “Why”. There really isn't any reason to keep the version number in lockstep with the branding. It could be a sign that Microsoft is pushing for branding with this release, which makes sense. Windows 10, from a technical standpoint, is shaping up nicely (although I am still concerned about WinRT-based app sideloading). It would not surprise me if they would go this petty to further cement a good brand image.
It could be a good... start.
So this is what happens when you install pre-release software on a production machine.
Sure, I only trusted it as far as a second SSD with Windows 7 installed, but it would be fair to say that I immersed myself in the experience. It was also not the first time that I evaluated upcoming Microsoft OSes on my main machine, having done the same for Windows Vista and Windows 7 as both were in production. Windows 8 was the odd one out, which was given my laptop. In this case, I was in the market for a new SSD and was thus willing to give it a chance, versus installing Windows 7 again.
So far, my experience has been roughly positive. The first two builds have been glitchy. In the first three days, I have rebooted my computer more times than I have all year (which is about 1-2 times per month). It could be the Windows Key + Arrow Key combinations dropping randomly, Razer Synapse deciding to go on strike a couple of times until I reinstall it, the four-or-so reboots required to install a new build, and so forth. You then also have the occasional issue of a Windows service (or DWM.exe) deciding that it would max out a core or two.
But it is pre-release software! That is all stuff to ignore. The only reason I am even mentioning it is so people do not follow in my footsteps and install it on their production machines, unless they are willing to have pockets of downtime here or there. Even then, the latest build, 9879, has been fairly stable. It has been installed all day and has not given me a single issue. This is good, because it is the last build we will get until 2015.
What we will not ignore is the features. For the first two builds, it was annoying to use with multiple monitors. Supposedly to make it easier to align items, mouse cursors would remain locked inside each monitor's boundary until you provide enough velocity to have it escape to the next one. This was the case with Windows 8.1 as well, but you were given registry entries to disable the feature. Those keys did not work with Windows 10. But, with Build 9879, that seems to have been disabled unless you are currently dragging a window. In this case, a quick movement would pull windows between monitors, while a slow movement would perform a Snap.
This is me getting ready to snap a window on the edge between two monitors with just my mouse.
In a single build, they turned this feature from something I wanted to disable, to something that actually performs better (in my opinion) than Windows 7. It feels great.
Now on to a not-so-pleasant experience: updating builds.
Simply put, you can click "Check Now" and "Download Update" all that you want, but it will just sit there doing nothing until it feels like it. During the update from 9860 to 9879, I was waiting with the PC Settings app open for three hours. At some point, I got suspicious and decided to monitor network traffic: nothing. So I did the close app, open app, re-check dance a few times, and eventually gave up. About a half of an hour after I closed PC Settings the last time, my network traffic spiked to the maximum that my internet allows, which task manager said was going to a Windows service.
Shortly after, I was given the option to install the update. After finishing what I was doing, I clicked the install button and... it didn't seem to do anything. After about a half of an hour, it prompted me to restart my computer with a full screen message that you cannot click past to save your open windows - it is do it or postpone it one or more hours, there is no in-between. About another twenty minutes (and four-or-five reboots) after I chose to reboot, I was back up and running.
Is that okay? Sure. When you update, you clearly need to do stuff and that could take your computer several minutes. It would be unrealistic to complain about a 20-minute install. The only real problem is that it waits for extended periods of time doing nothing (measured, literally nothing) until it decides that the time is right, and that time is NOW! It may have been three hours after you originally cared, but the time is NOW!
Come on Microsoft, let us know what is going on behind the scenes, and give us reliable options to pause or suspend the process before the big commitment moments.
So that is where I am, one highly positive experience and one slightly annoying one. Despite my concerns about Windows Store (which I have discussed at length in the past and are still valid) this operating system seems to be on a great path. It is a work in progress. I will keep you up to date, as my machine is kept up to date.
Subject: General Tech | October 11, 2014 - 04:11 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, windows, update
I cannot help but think of Adobe Creative Cloud when I read Peter Bright report on Windows 10's update schedule. Previously, we would have general security and stability updates for Windows with the occasional Service Pack to roll updates together and sometimes introduce new features. Now, users might be able to choose how quickly to apply these updates, opt-out of everything but security patches, and/or accept experimental features.
I say "might" because this is not technically a Microsoft announcement. Windows 10 has a new user interface, along with a few registry entries, for users to choose update frequency and development branches. The company would not say whether the Windows Insider program would continue after release, but the assumption is that it would be around for enthusiasts and IT testers to prepare for (and influence) upcoming changes. Think of it like an OS equivalent to the prerelease versions of Chrome and Firefox.
The article also suggests that the version number could periodically increase and that this initiative would replace Service Packs.
And this is where it feels a lot like Creative Cloud. Rather than waiting for an 18-month release schedule, Adobe is able to push out features at their leisure. Initially, I expected that this would lead to stagnation, but I do not see many complaints about that. On the other hand, it also pushed Adobe's software into a subscription service, which is something that people have been anticipating (and fearing with some) for quite some time now. Alternatively, it could be setting up Microsoft to subsidize Windows with online services. Either way, it could make it harder for them to justify incrementing the major version number.
Subject: Systems, Mobile | October 9, 2014 - 03:41 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: yoga tablet 2, yoga tablet, Windows 8.1, windows, Thinkpad, lenovo yoga, Lenovo, haswell, Broadwell
At a press event in London (watch the livestream), Lenovo showed off two new convertible PCs – the Yoga 3 Pro and ThinkPad Yoga 14 – aimed at the consumer and business markets respectively that each incorporate evolutionary improvements over their predecessors. The Windows 8.1 PCs will be available at the end of October.
The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is the company's new flagship multi-mode system, and features build quality and internal processing power enhancements over the Yoga 2 Pro while being 17% thinner (0.5") and 14% lighter (2.62 lbs). Lenovo attributes the size and weight reductions to its new watchband hinge which is uses 800 pieces of aluminum and steel to achieve a thin yet flexible hinge with six focus points that resembles a metal watchband. Additionally, Lenovo has updated the display to a 13.3" multi-touch panel with (QHD+) 3200x1800 resolution. Other external features include JBL stereo speakers, a 720p webcam, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 and DC-input port, one micro HDMI output, and one audio combo jack.
Lenovo's new hand-constructed watchband-style hinge with six focus points.
Internally, Lenovo is using the Intel Core M-70 (Broadwell) processor, up to 8GB of DDR3L memory, and a 256GB SSD. Lenovo claims up to 9 hours of battery life, depending on usage. The PC will be available in Clementine Orange, Platinum Silver, or Champagne Gold.
Lenovo also announced the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14. While it does not have the kinds of form factor and hinge design improvements as the Yoga 3 Pro, it does maintain the useful Lift 'n Lock keyboard and feature welcome internal upgrades. The ThinkPad Yoga 14 measures 13.3" x 9.4" x 0.82" and weighs 4.1 pounds. The magnesium alloy frame holds a 14" 1920x1080 IPS display with 10-point multi-touch, a 720p webcam, dual microphones with noise cancelation, stereo speakers, a backlit Lift 'n Lock keyboard (which, when in tablet mode, raises the frame flush with the keys which lock in place), full keyboard, trackpad, and trackpoint nub.
This PC is noticeably bulkier and heavier than the Yoga 3 Pro, but it trades bulk for processing power, storage, and external I/O. Externally, the PC has one full HDMI video out (which is preferable to having to remember a micro HDMI adapter on the road or to meetings), two USB 3.0 ports, one combo USB 2.0/DC power/OneLink docking connector, one SD card slot, and one audio combo jack. The ThinkPad Yoga 14 is powered by an Intel Core i5 (Haswell) processor, NVIDIA GeForce 840M GPU, either 4GB or 8GB of DDR3L memory, and 1TB hard drive paired with 16GB flash for caching purposes. It comes with Windows 8.1 and "all day" battery life of up to eight hours.
In all, it has some useful updates over last year's model which we reviewed here.
Pricing and Availability:
The Yoga 3 Pro and ThinkPad Yoga 14 will be available at the end of October from Lenovo.com or Best Buy. The Yoga 3 Pro has an MSRP of $1,349 while the ThinkPad Yoga 14 starts at $1,149.
Both systems continue the Yoga family forward, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the Broadwell-powered Yoga 3 Pro performs in particular. I do wish the Lift 'n Lock keyboard technology had trickled down to the consumer models even understanding it would add additional weight and thickness. Obviously, Lenovo felt the tradeoff was not worth it though.
Subject: General Tech | October 6, 2014 - 03:45 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows, mozilla, firefox, 64-bit
If you had a reason, Mozilla has been compiling Firefox Nightly as a 64-bit application for Windows over the last several months. It is not a build that is designed for the general public; in fact, I believe it is basically only available to make sure that they did not horribly break anything during some arbitrary commit. That might change relatively soon, though.
According to Mozilla's "internal", albeit completely public wiki, the non-profit organization is currently planning to release an official, 64-bit version of Firefox 37. Of course, all targets in Firefox are flexible and, ultimately, it is only done when it is done. If everything goes to schedule, that should be March 31st.
The main advantage is for high-performance applications (although there are some arguments for security, too). One example is if you open numerous tabs, to get Firefox's memory usage up, then attempt to load a Web applications like BananaBread. Last I tried, it will simply not load (unless you clean up memory usage somehow, like restarting the browser). It will run out of memory and just give up. You can see how this would be difficult for higher-end games, video editing utilities, and so forth. This will not be the case when 64-bit comes around.
If you are looking to develop a web app, be sure to check out the 64-bit Firefox Nightly builds. Unless plans change, it looks like you will have even more customers soon. This is unless, of course, you are targeting Mac OSX and Linux, which already have 64-bit binaries available. Also, why are you targeting specific operating systems with a website?
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 3, 2014 - 03:18 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, DirectX, DirectX 12, windows 10, threshold, windows
A Microsoft blog posting confirms: "The final version of Windows 10 will ship with DirectX 12". To me, this seems like a fairly obvious statement. The loose dates provided for both the OS and the availability of retail games suggest that the two would be launching at roughly the same time. The article also claims that DirectX 12 "Early Access" members will be able to develop with the Windows 10 Technical Preview. Apart from Unreal Engine 4 (for Epic Games subscribers), Intel will also provide source access to their Asteroids demo, shown at Siggraph 2014, to all accepted early access developers.
Our readers might find this information slightly disappointing as it could be interpreted that DirectX 12 would not be coming to Windows 7 (or even 8.x). While it does not look as hopeful as before, they never, at any point, explicitly say that it will not come to older operating systems. It still might.
Subject: General Tech | September 30, 2014 - 11:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 9, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, windows 10, windows, threshold, microsoft
The Windows event for the enterprise, which took place today in San Francisco, revealed the name of the upcoming OS. It is not Windows 9, or One Windows, or just Windows. It will be Windows 10. Other than the name, there is not really any new information from a feature or announcement standpoint (except the Command Prompt refresh that I actually will give a brief mention later). My interest comes from their mindset with this new OS -- what they are changing and what they seem to be sticking with.
If you would like Microsoft's commentary before reading mine, the keynote is embed above.
Okay, so one thing that was shown is "Continuum". If you have not seen its prototype at the end of the above video, it is currently a small notification that appears when a keyboard and mouse is attached (or detached). If a user accepts, this will flip the user interface between tablet and desktop experiences. Joe Belfiore was clear that the video clip was not yet in code, but represents their vision. In practice, it will have options for whether to ask the user or to automatically do some chosen behavior.
In a way, you could argue that it was necessary to go through Windows 8.x to get to this point. From the demonstrations, the interface looks sensible and a landing point for users on both Windows 7 and Windows 8 paths. That said, I was fine with the original Windows 8 interface, barring a few glitches, like disappearing icons and snapping sidebars on PCs with multiple monitors. I always considered the "modern" Windows interface to be... acceptable.
It was the Windows Store certification that kept me from upgrading, and Microsoft's current stance is confusing at the very least. Today's announcement included the quote, "Organizations will also be able to create a customized store, curating store experiences that can include their choice of Store apps alongside company-owned apps into a separate employee store experience." Similar discussion was brought up and immediately glossed over during the keynote.
Who does that even apply to? Would a hobbyist developer be able to set up a repository for friends and family? Or is this relegated to businesses, leaving consumers to accept nothing more than what Microsoft allows? The concern is that I do not want Microsoft (or anyone) telling me what I can and cannot create and install on my devices. Once you build censorship, the crazies will come. They usually do.
But onto more important things: Command Prompt had a major UX overhaul. Joe Belfiore admitted that it was mostly because most important changes were already leaked and reported on, and they wanted to surprise us with something. They sure did. You can now use typical keyboard shortcuts, shift to select, ctrl+c and ctrl+v to copy/paste, and so forth. The even allow a transparency option, which is common in other OSes to make its presence less jarring. Rather than covering over what you're doing, it makes it feel more like it overlays on top of it, especially for quick commands. At least, that is my opinion.
Tomorrow, October 1st, Microsoft will launch their "Windows Inside Program". This will give a very early glimpse at the OS for "most enthusiastic Windows fans" who are "comfortable running pre-release software that will be of variable quality". They "plan to share all the features (they) are experimenting with". They seem to actually want user feedback, a sharp contrast from their Windows 8 technical preview. My eye will on relaxing certification requirements, obviously.
Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling | September 17, 2014 - 06:57 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows, mobile, microsoft, keyboard, ios, Android
Let me share a story. There was a time, around the first Surface launch, that I worked in an electronics retail store (and the several years prior -- but I digress). At around that time, Microsoft was airing ads with people dancing around, clicking keyboards to the Surface tablet with its magnetic click or snap. One day, a customer came in looking for the keyboard from the TV spots for their iPad. I thought about it for a few seconds and realized how terrible Microsoft's branding actually was.
Without already knowing the existence of their Windows 8 and RT tablets, which the ads were supposed to convey, it really did look like an accessory for an iPad.
Doing Microsoft's job for them, I explained the Surface Pro and Surface RT tablets along with its keyboard-cover accessories. Eventually, I told them that it was a Microsoft product for their own tablet brand and would not see an iPad release. The company felt threatened by these mobile, touch devices and was directly competing with them.
So Microsoft is announcing a keyboard for Windows, Android, and iOS. Sure, it is very different from the Type and Touch Covers; for instance, it does not attach to these devices magnetically. Microsoft has also been known to develop hardware, software, and services for competing platforms. While it is not unsurprising that Microsoft keyboards would work on competing devices, it does feel weird for their keyboard to have features that are specialized for these competing platforms.
There are three things interesting about this keyboard: it has a built-in stand, it has special keys for Android and iOS that are not present in Windows, and it has a built-in rechargeable battery that lasts up to 6 months. The peripheral pairs wirelessly with all of these devices through Bluetooth.
The Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard is coming soon for $79.95 (MSRP).