Archive for October, 2012:

The Windows 8 FAQ

What you need to know to understand all the commotion about Microsoft’s new OS

Windows 8 launches Friday, and even if you haven’t been paying attention it’s still not too late to catch up on the essentials of what’s new and significant about the operating system.

Here are some frequently asked questions about Windows 8 and the answers that can promote an understanding of what’s important.

What is Windows 8 anyway?
Windows 8 is the new operating system from Microsoft as a follow-on to Windows 7.

Why all the hoopla about it?

Any new Microsoft operating system gets a lot of attention, but Windows 8 is a radical departure from earlier versions.

How so?
There are many ways.

Windows 8 has a new user interface based on touch and dubbed modern by Microsoft. Rather than icons, it features tiles — colored squares with the names of applications written on them — that can display live data, such as the tile for a weather application displaying the current temperature or a communications application displaying the latest message.

Microsoft has created a Windows Store where customers can download modern applications and where developers can sell modern applications they have written.

Windows 8 devices can be linked to SkyDrive, cloud-based storage where users can place documents and photos for safekeeping and reach them via SkyDrive accounts from any Internet connected machine.

Windows 8 retains a traditional desktop interface for those not ready for the modern, touch-centric one.

Doesn’t touch require special applications?
Yes, and Microsoft is encouraging developers to create so-called modern applications that appear well and take advantage of the features of Windows 8. For example, it promotes using the entire screen when designing apps since there is nothing displayed on the screen but the app itself — no “chrome” such as toolbars and taskbars.

Applications can also use the system tools within applications. For instance the system has a search tool to find applications and the like. When accessed from within an application, that same tool can launch a search within the application if the app is programmed properly.

One key characteristic is that these applications run in a logically isolated sandbox so they are insulated from infections that might be present on the machine and also protect the rest of the machine should they become infected.

Modern applications support both x86 and ARM hardware so can also be readily run on laptops, desktops, tablets and even phones with little modification.

How does that work?
With Windows 8 Microsoft is introducing Windows Runtime, the application architecture that enables cross-platform development. The architecture calls for use of common programming languages including C++/CX, C#, JavaScript and VB.NET.

Are there different versions of Windows 8?
Yes. Four of them.

Windows 8 is the consumer version for home use. Windows 8 Pro is aimed at more technically savvy personal users and businesses. Windows 8 Enterprise is designed for deployment in larger businesses and calls for a Software Assurance package. Windows RT is a version that runs on ARM processors.

Windows RT has some other differences. It is sold only in a package with hardware and runs only modern applications from the Windows Store. The exception is a special version of certain Office applications that come with the platform — Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

What’s Windows 8 cost?
It depends. If you buy a Windows 7 computer before Jan. 31, you can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99. Anybody with any supported version of Windows can upgrade for $40. Best Buy has a sale on Windows 8 Pro for $69.99, marked down from $199. Windows 8 Enterprise pricing is the cost of Windows 8 Pro plus a Software Assurance contract that can run $30 to $55 per year depending on how many machines it’s being bought for.

Windows RT comes with hardware so the price varies. Microsoft’s Surface RT devices start at $499.

What’s Surface?
Surface is the name given to a hybrid laptop/tablet that Microsoft itself is making [First Look: Surface RT tablet]. It comes in two major versions. One that runs Windows RT called Surface RT that comes installed on an ARM-based machine, and it supports only modern applications. The other runs the full Windows 8 on x86 machines that support both modern and traditional Windows applications.

Why is that significant?
Microsoft traditionally lets hardware OEMs sell hardware packaged with its software, and Surface puts them in competition with its partners.

Why would they do that?
It may be the company wants to show off Windows 8 to best advantage and wants to make sure there is at least one platform that optimizes the experience.

What’s a hybrid laptop/tablet?
In the case of Surface, it’s a touchscreen tablet running Windows 8 that can be fitted with an optional cover that doubles as a keyboard just 3 millimeters thick.

When is Windows 8 available?
Oct. 26. – Hope Fully

 


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Windows RT tablets and hybrids coming soon

Microsoft, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung are launching tablets with Microsoft’s Windows RT

Microsoft will open the floodgates for Windows RT tablets at a release event Oct. 26 in New York City. The Surface tablet from Microsoft will be available on launch, with more tablets from Asus, Dell, Samsung, Lenovo and Acer coming in the following weeks.

The tablets are designed for long battery life and will compete with iPad and Android tablets on price and features. The tablets will come with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview, which will include Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. There are things to consider such as support for older peripherals and backward Windows compatibility, but here are Windows RT tablets and hybrid devices that have been announced so far:


Microsoft’s Surface

The RT tablet getting the most attention is Microsoft Surface. The tablet represents the first time Microsoft has made its own client hardware, and expectations are high.

The Surface can be ordered from Microsoft’s website starting at US$499 with 32GB of storage. For an additional $100, Microsoft is offering a Touch Cover accessory, which is a magnetic cover that is also a keyboard. A 64GB model is $699 and comes with the Touch Cover. The Surface tablet is 680 grams, 9.3 millimeters thick and has a 10.6-inch screen. It has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, which is based on an ARM processor.

Other features include front and back cameras, Bluetooth 4.0, a microSDXC card slot, USB 2.0 ports and 2GB of RAM. Microsoft is trying to differentiate the Surface from rival RT tablets with some tweaks such as a kickstand to hold the tablet. The tablet will be available initially in the U.S., Canada, Australia, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong and the U.K.


Asus’ Vivo Tab RT
Asustek was the first to show off a Windows RT device with the Tablet 600, which has now been renamed Vivo Tab RT. The tablet, scheduled to go on sale later this month, has a 10.1-inch display and a Tegra 3 processor. Asus has not yet officially revealed the tablet’s price, but retailer Staples has tagged it at $599.99.

At 520 grams, the Vivo Tab RT is lighter than Microsoft’s Surface, and also thinner at 8.35 millimeters. The tablet has 32GB of storage, 2GB of memory, a 2-megapixel rear camera and an 8-megapixel front camera. The tablet’s display will show images at a 1280-by-800-pixel resolution, according to published specifications. Other features include a micro-HDMI port, micro-SD slot, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

AT&T has announced it would offer the Vivo Tab with 4G LTE later this year. Data plans or pricing for the device were not available from AT&T.

 


Samsung’s Ativ Tab
Samsung is listing a 12-hour battery life for its Ativ Tab tablet when playing movies, which is perhaps the most of any tablet available today. However, it is unclear whether that battery life will be achieved by using a dock that has a spare battery. The tablet has a 10.1-inch screen, weighs 570 grams and measures 8.9 millimeters thick.

Pricing for the tablet hasn’t yet been announced. But U.K.-based online retailer Clove said in a blog that the tablet will become available in late October for about US$735, which totals about $880 including value-added tax.

The tablet will run on Qualcomm’s dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, which is configured to deliver connectivity and all-day operation. The Snapdragon processor has integrated 3G/4G capabilities but currently the tablet does not have mobile broadband features. Windows RT is being pitched as a consumer OS, but Samsung has highlighted some enterprise features in Ativ Tab including Microsoft Exchange and Cisco VPN (virtual private network) support.

The Ativ Tab has a USB 2.0 port and a micro-HDMI port. It also has a software and hardware feature called AllShare, which will allow the tablet to share multimedia files with other Samsung devices such as Android-based Galaxy tablets. Other features include NFC and Wi-Fi Direct, which is a way for devices to talk wirelessly without the need for an access point.
 


Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 11
Lenovo in early October announced IdeaPad Yoga 11, the company’s first hybrid laptop/tablet with an ARM processor and Windows RT. The device has an 11.6-inch screen that flips to turn the device from a laptop into a tablet. But with a starting price of $799 it won’t be an easy sell as a tablet, especially as it is slightly heavier and more expensive compared to tablets with similar features.

The device will run Nvidia’s Tegra 3 processor, and Lenovo did not say if it would have 3G/4G features. It weighs 1.27 kilograms (2.8 pounds) and offers 13 hours of battery life. Other features include 64GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, a HDMI out port, a 720p Web cam, a USB 2.0 port and a media card reader. The Yoga 11 will go on sale in December.

 


Dell’s XPS 10 tablet
Dell is re-entering the consumer tablet market with the XPS 10, which has 10.1-inch screen and Windows RT. The company is targeting the tablet to fit in the BYOD phenomena. System administrators can disable the tablet remotely if it gets lost or stolen. IT administrators can also remotely deliver software images and updates to tablets. The tablet has a Snapdragon S4 processor, but other hardware details are not available. The tablet’s price and specifications will be available at a later date.

Other RT tablets
Acer plans to announce a Windows RT tablet at a later date, while Toshiba has temporarily scrapped plans to launch a device based on the Windows RT OS.


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What if Windows 8 flops?

Then Windows 7 gets a longer life, Microsoft presses on

Microsoft launches Windows 8 later this month after a year of gradually making the new operating system more and more available, hoping for a big hit that will drive sales this holiday season and beyond, and giving the company new hope of grabbing a bigger share of tablet sales.

But what if Windows 8 flops?

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For businesses, the problem won’t be that dire, says Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at Pica Communications. Businesses that are Microsoft shops already have an operating system, likely Windows 7, but if not, Windows XP with a plan to adopt Windows 7 soon before support for XP ends next spring.

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If Windows 8 is a complete bust, enterprises can stick with Windows 7 and wait until Microsoft picks itself up and does a better job with Windows 8 service packs or Windows 9 (or whatever it calls the next major release), he says. After all that’s what happened with Windows Vista, says Matthew Casey, an analyst with Technology Business Research, and Microsoft can handle a disappointing Windows 8.

In fact that is a likely scenario, DeGroot says. . “Most of the companies I work with are standardizing on Windows 7. They are not going to be migrating to Windows 8.” He says many businesses will license Windows 8 but end up reimaging their networks with Windows 7, similar to how many enterprises licensed Vista but installed XP.

Casey says a Microsoft stumble with Windows 8 will be handled by businesses the same way the performance of Windows Vista was handled. “If that’s the case we’ll see a similar reaction from Microsoft,” he says “It’s not going to be them closing their doors.” The company will press on with Windows 8 and its fundamental architecture.

The impact on consumers won’t be that great, either. If Windows 8 doesn’t catch on a big part of the reason will be that consumers are buying some other tablet platform they like better, so they’ll be happy. But according to Gartner, Microsoft will be missing a big opportunity to make its mark in mobile devices if the Windows 8 gamble doesn’t pay off.

“It is a risk that Microsoft must take to stay relevant in a world where mobile devices with new modern experiences are becoming the norm,” Gartner says in a research note “Is Windows 8 in Your Future?”

The popularity of smartphones and tablets has Microsoft playing catch up, particularly with Apple, whose iPad dominates in tablets and whose iPhone holds down big large chunk of smartphones. “With Windows 8, Microsoft tries to address the excitement of the tablet market by adding a tablet interface to Windows,” Gartner says.

If Windows 8 does become popular with consumers and finds its way into enterprises via the bring-your-own-device phenomenon it will still have hurdles to clear with IT departments.

Ultrabooks and tablets still need to establish themselves in the corporate world where their use raises questions, Casey says. Who will pay for them? How will they be secured? “These are pieces that need to fall into place in the enterprise planning cycle,” he says.

It’s also questionable whether they will gain traction as platforms for business applications, DeGroot says. “I think that is going to be a very tough sell,” DeGroot says, because the apps have to be vetted by the Microsoft Store before they will be allowed on closed Windows 8 devices. Businesses won’t want to leap that hurdle nor will they want to side-load apps on devices to get around the restriction that Windows 8 apps must be reviewed by and sold through the store. “I have some difficulty imagining many organizations are going to want to do that.”

Beyond that, developers are not prepared to write for Windows 8; their training and experience leans toward traditional enterprise applications for conventional desktops without touch capabilities, DeGroot says. Touchscreen can actually be a barrier.

With Windows 8 Microsoft is overhauling the underpinnings of its operating system with the introduction of Windows Runtime, a new architecture that gives a common footing to applications across a range of devices. Such applications can support both x86 and ARM hardware, potentially opening up the possibility of writing apps once that can run on any device.

Microsoft hopes it can write its next major chapter with Windows 8 and Windows Runtime, Gartner says, and that is what makes a Windows 8 success – and avoiding a flop – so important. Windows 8 is simply the biggest turning point for Microsoft in decades.

“Windows 8 is not your normal low- or even high-impact major release of the OS,” the research firm says. “We believe it’s the start of a new era for Microsoft, the Windows RT era, which follows the Windows NT era that began in 1993 and is just starting to wane.”

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Windows 7: 10 top tools for power users

Windows 7 works fine out of the box, but why settle for ‘fine’? From an all-in-one system utility to an enhanced clipboard, these 10 tools can give Windows 7 — and your productivity — a serious boost.
 

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Bins
Windows 7 lets you “pin” icons for programs, files, websites and more to the taskbar for quick access. Bins enhances that feature dramatically by letting you group multiple icons into one “bin” on the taskbar, which gives you access to more items with less clutter.

Once Bins is installed, drag one taskbar icon over another and a small window appears. Drop the icon into the window, and you’ve created a bin that shows a mini-icon for each grouped item. When you mouse over the bin, it expands and displays full-sized icons for the items in that bin. Removing an icon from a bin works just like removing an icon from the taskbar: Right-click and choose Unpin.


TeraCopy
Transferring large files or large groups of files in Windows 7 often takes several minutes, bogging down system resources for the duration. TeraCopy optimizes file transfers with asynchronous copying and other nifty tricks such as testing files for errors and separating problem files. (Once you’ve fixed them, you can recopy just those files.)

The utility can also check the free space of your destination folder before a transfer takes place, and pause and resume large copy jobs with a click. You can even turn TeraCopy into your default Windows 7 transfer client. The $19.95 Pro version lets you save HTML and CSV reports and edit your copying queue.


Breevy
Do you find yourself typing the same phrases, sentences or text chunks over and over? A text expander called Breevy can make repetitive typing a breeze. With it, you can create keystroke abbreviations that, when typed, automatically change into customized text snippets. For instance, typing “addr” might display your full address. You can also create snippets for non-English letters or symbols, or even whole email templates.

Breevy also lets you set up keyboard shortcuts to launch often-used programs, files and Web pages. The best part? The program integrates with Dropbox, so you can sync your snippets across all your PCs with Breevy installed, and watch your productivity soar.


Windows 7 Manager
This all-in-one system utility offers a host of tools for power users. With it, you can monitor all your hardware, drivers and software systems in a single window. The Optimization Wizard tweaks everything from your monitor refresh rate to scheduled tasks.

You’ll also get a junk file cleaner, a registry defrag tool and a registry cleaning tool, as well as tools that customize your boot configuration and visual elements. The package is rounded out by tools that tweak security and network settings — in short, everything you need to streamline every part of your Windows 7 install.

 


Recuva
When you need to recover deleted files, Recuva has your back. The tool has a simple interface that makes it easy to undelete files, documents, emails and more from your hard disk, even if it’s damaged or reformatted. You can narrow your search to look for pictures, documents, music, video, compressed files or emails.

Recuva can search for files across your entire hard disk, iPod/MP3 player or in a specific file path location. Once you see a file you’re looking for, click it, select a recovery destination and click “Recover” to save your file from the trash heap. Paid Professional and Business versions offer regular updates and priority tech support.

 


ClipMate Clipboard Extender
Ever copy and paste between applications — pasting data from a Web page into an email, for example? The Windows clipboard holds only the last item you copied, but ClipMate lets you store thousands of items, any of which can be individually pasted to another location.

The intuitive UI also lets you print one or more clips, copy or move clips to different folders, export a clip to its own file, open the clip’s source URL in your Web browser and even encrypt a clip. A diagnostics function shows you exactly how many and what types of clips you have stored with ClipMate.

 


Process Explorer
For those who like to really dig into the processes running on their computer, Microsoft offers Process Explorer. It does everything Windows 7’s built-in Task Manager can do and more, showing you much more detailed CPU usage statistics, program icons, the process tree that each process belongs to, performance graphs and TCP/IP info for each process, and in-depth information on each process’ certifications.

Even more useful is the ability to search for processes (using the process handle or DLL) that currently have resources open on your machine. And with just a few clicks, you can replace Task Manager entirely and default to the more robust Process Explorer.


WinSnap
There are several excellent screen-capture tools available for Windows users, but for Windows 7, we especially like WinSnap. That’s because it’s optimized for Windows 7, neatly capturing the rounded corners of the OS’s windows and preserving its native shadows and transparency.

WinSnap also offers features found in any good screen-capture program, letting users capture the entire screen, a specific application, an open window or a user-defined object or region. Users can also add effects to their screen captures, like a reflection of the screenshot or colorizing options that darken, lighten or blur the image. Editing tools are available to crop the screenshot, draw shapes or insert text.


Windows Virtual PC
Many Windows users have one or more legacy applications that run under Windows XP but don’t work natively in Windows 7. That’s when Windows Virtual PC comes in handy. Available for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate, the tool creates a virtual XP environment within Windows 7.

In your virtual XP install — which appears as a convenient window on your desktop — you can install and run XP programs while still having access to your Windows 7 clipboard, files and folders as well as attached printers and USB devices. It’s a much more effective way to run an XP environment than the native Compatibility Mode that comes standard with Windows 7.



SpeedFan
Worried about your laptop running hot? SpeedFan taps into sensors on your motherboard, CPU, video card and hard disk so you can monitor and control your system’s internal temperature. You can set the desired temperature of each chip connected to your system management bus, monitor hardware voltages and control fan speed settings. Advanced users can also take advantage of a clocking feature that automatically tweaks the speed of your system based on your CPU usage.

 


 

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Rumor: Microsoft’s building its own Windows 8 smartphone

Called Microsoft Surface, it’s due out next year, stories say

In a move that would help it compete against the iPhone, Microsoft is rumored to be making its own smartphone that will run on Windows Phone 8, which would again put the company in competition with its hardware partners.

The rumor first popped from the China Times followed closely by a similar story in Boy Genius Report.

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The China Times story, translated into rough English, seems to say Microsoft has contracted smartphone developers and assemblers in China to build a Microsoft-branded Windows Phone 8 phone for sale sometime next year.

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Boy Genius Report quotes two unnamed sources saying Microsoft plans to release the Surface smartphone in the coming months to compete against iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III and other high-end phones.

Surface is the name of Microsoft’s tablet/laptop that is scheduled to launch Oct. 26 along with the Windows 8 operating system.

A second BGR source says the timing of the smartphone release is up in the air, but will likely be after this year’s holiday shopping season.

If true, the rumors will mean two things: Microsoft is further risking the ire of its hardware partners by competing against them, and it is adopting the same model that Apple has used in making and selling iPads and iPhones by controlling both the hardware and software associated with the devices.

The company already caused a flap with its plans to sell Surface tablets and laptops. Acer and Lenovo responded that Microsoft ought to think twice about competing against established tablet makers and Lenovo said Surface would have a negative effect on the PC market.

Nokia, Samsung and HTC have all agreed to produce Windows Phone 8 devices in the coming months.

While licensing its software to partners who sell it on their own hardware has been Microsoft’s PC model for years, things are different with tablets and phones. Whereas Microsoft dominates PCs, that is not the case with tablets and smartphones, where Apple throws its weight around with iPhones and iPads.

Apple’s model is to control the software, hardware and applications, which is where Microsoft seems to be going with Surface tablet/laptops and where it would be with smartphone if the rumors are true.


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