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Acer’s Windows 10 Switch hybrids priced to battle Chromebooks

It’ll be hard to find a 2-in-1 as inexpensive as Acer’s $199 Switch One 10

Windows 10 PC prices have been slowly creeping up, but some new back-to-school Switch tablet/laptop hybrid devices from Acer may be attractive to those on a shoestring budget.

The US$199 Switch One 10 is one of a few touchscreen hybrids priced under $200. Acer also announced the Switch V 10, which starts at $249 with additional features including a USB-Type C port, a fingerprint reader, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a Gorilla Glass screen.

The hybrids, also known as 2-in-1 devices, are 10-inch tablets that can be latched on to a keyboard dock to become a laptop.

The new Switch devices are inexpensive Windows alternatives to Chromebooks, which are laptops with Google’s Chrome OS. Acer sells Chromebooks starting at $179.99.

Windows PC prices have been going up recently, but Chromebooks have remained inexpensive because of basic storage, memory and processors. Google has been promoting Chrome OS — which is mainly for web-based computing — as a Windows alternative.

Microsoft has waged an on-and-off battle with Google by encouraging PC makers to develop low-cost Windows PCs with OS subsidies. PCs with Windows 8.1 with Bing were available for under $200 starting in 2014, but those laptops were phased out with the release of Windows 10 last year.

Acer’s 2-in-1s have Intel’s “Cherry Trail” Atom chips. Intel is phasing out Cherry Trail over time in favor of new Pentium and Celeron chips code-named Apollo Lake, which will become available later this year.

Exact specifications for the 2-in-1 devices weren’t immediately available, but low-priced laptops usually have flash storage up to 64GB and under 4GB of RAM.

The hybrids will be available in the U.S. and Europe in July, and in China in September.

Acer also announced new laptops: the TravelMate P249 with a 14-inch screen, and the P259 with 15.6-inch screen. The laptops can be configured with Intel Skylake chips, Nvidia’s GeForce 940M GPUs and up to 32GB of DDR4 memory.

The laptops start at $599 and will ship in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and China in August, and the U.S. in the fourth quarter. The PCs were announced ahead of the Computex trade show next week in Taipei.

 

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W10Privacy is a smarter Windows 10 telemetry blocker

If you’ve tried more than your share of Windows 10 telemetry blockers recently, then we know just how you feel, but wait — W10Privacy is more interesting than most. No, really.

There’s a lengthy list of tweaks you can apply, for instance — approaching 100 — all neatly organized across several tabs: Privacy, Telemetry, Network, Services and more.

While the competition often leaves you uncertain what a particular option will do, W10Privacy has some very clear descriptions : “Do not let apps use my camera”, “Do not let apps access my name, picture and other account into”, and so on.

If that’s not enough, hovering the mouse over that action displays a tooltip with more information.

W10Privacy gives you quite fine control over some areas. There’s not just a vague “block telemetry” option: instead you can choose to “block IP addresses of known Microsoft telemetry servers” through either a firewall rule or your HOSTS file, in both full-strength and lightweight versions.

Each action is color-coded, too, as either green (safe to set), amber (check carefully) or red (don’t do this unless you’re really sure), reducing the chance that you’ll cause some major problems.

There are some useful bonus features, too, including the ability to uninstall most of the standard Windows apps.

The program does have various issues. There’s no way to disable/ enable a group of settings at once; there’s no “Cancel” option if you hit “Set changed settings” by mistake; the interface and general implementation need a lot of work.

Still, there’s nothing here that can’t be fixed, and W10Privacy’s explanations of what each tweak does are well worth having. It’s also small, portable and entirely free, so if you’re interested, just grab a copy and give it a try.

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Windows 10: Fact vs. fiction

With Win10 slated to drop July 29, we give you the straight dope on support, upgrades, and the state of the bits

It’s a few days before Windows 10 is officially slated to drop, and still, confusion abounds. Worse, many fallacies regarding Microsoft’s plans around upgrades and support for Win10 remain in circulation, despite efforts to dispel them.

Here at InfoWorld, we’ve been tracking Windows 10’s progress very closely, reporting the evolving technical details with each successive build in our popular “Where Windows 10 stands right now” report. We’ve also kept a close eye on the details beyond the bits, reporting on the common misconceptions around Windows 10 licensing, upgrade paths, and updates. If you haven’t already read that article, you may want to give it a gander. Many of the fallacies we pointed out six weeks ago are still as fallacious today — and you’ll hear them repeated as fact by people who should know better.

Here, with Windows 10 nearing the finish line, we once again cut through the fictions to give you the true dirt — and one juicy conjecture — about Windows 10, in hopes of helping you make the right decisions regarding Microsoft’s latest Windows release when it officially lands July 29.

Conjecture: Windows Insiders already have the “final” version of Windows 10

Give or take a few last-minute patches, members of the Windows Insider program may already have what will be the final version of Win10. Build 10240, with applied patches, has all the hallmarks of a first final “general availability” version.

If you’re in the Insider program, either Fast or Slow ring, and your computer’s been connected to the Internet recently, you’ve already upgraded, automatically, to the Windows 10 that’s likely headed out on July 29. No, I can’t prove it. But all the tea leaves point in that direction. Don’t be surprised if Terry Myerson announces on July 29 that Insiders are already running the “real” Windows 10 — and have been running it for a couple of weeks. Everyone else can get a feel for the likely “final” Windows 10, build 10240, by checking out our ongoing Windows 10 beta coverage at “Where Windows stands right now.”

Fact: Windows 10 has a 10-year support cycle

Like Windows Vista, Win7, and Win8 before it, Windows 10 has a 10-year support cycle. In fact, we’re getting a few extra months for free: According to the Windows Lifecycle fact sheet, mainstream support ends Oct. 13, 2020, and extended support ends Oct. 14, 2025. Of course, if your sound card manufacturer, say, stops supporting Windows 10, you’re out of luck.

ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD: What if Windows went open source tomorrow?

I have no idea where Microsoft’s statement about covering Windows 10 “for the supported lifetime of the device” came from. It sounds like legalese that was used to waffle around the topic for seven frustrating months. Microsoft’s publication of the Lifecycle fact sheet shows that Windows 10 will be supported like any other version of Windows. (XP’s dates were a little different because of SP2.)

Fiction: The 10 years of support start from the day you buy or install Windows 10

There’s been absolutely nothing from Microsoft to support the claim that the Win10 support clock starts when you buy or install Windows 10, a claim that has been attributed to an industry analyst.

The new Windows 10 lifecycle and updating requirements look a lot like the old ones, except they’re accelerated a bit. In the past we had Service Packs, and people had a few months to get the Service Packs installed before they became a prerequisite for new patches. With Windows 8.1, we had the ill-fated Update 1: You had to install Update 1 before you could get new patches, and you only had a month (later extended) to get Update 1 working. The new Windows 10 method — requiring customers to install upgrades/fixes/patches sequentially, in set intervals — looks a whole lot like the old Win 8.1 Update 1 approach, although corporate customers in the Long Term Servicing Branch can delay indefinitely.

Fact: You can clean install the (pirate) Windows 10 build 10240 ISO right now and use it without entering a product key

Although it isn’t clear how long you’ll be able to continue to use it, the Windows 10 build 10240 ISO can be installed and used without a product key. Presumably, at some point in the future you’ll be able to feed it a new key (from, say, MSDN), or buy one and use it retroactively.
Fiction: You can get a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro from Win7 Home Basic/Premium, Win8.1 (“Home” or “Core”), or Win8.1 with Bing

A common misconception is that you can upgrade, for free, from Windows 7 Home Basic or Home Premium, Windows 8.1 (commonly called “Home” or “Core”), or Windows 8.1 with Bing, to Windows 10 Pro. Nope, sorry — all of those will upgrade to Windows 10 Home. To get to Windows 10 Pro, you would then have to pay for an upgrade, from Win10 Home to Pro.

Fact: No product key is required to upgrade a “genuine” copy of Win7 SP1 or Win8.1 Update
According to Microsoft, if you upgrade a “genuine” copy of Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update, come July 29 or later, Windows 10 won’t require a product key. Instead, keep Home and Pro versions separate — upgrade Home to Home, Pro to Pro. If you upgrade and perform a Reset (Start, Settings, Update & Security, Recovery, Reset this PC) you get a clean install of Windows 10 — again, per Microsoft. It’ll take a few months to be absolutely certain that a Reset performs an absolutely clean install, but at this point, it certainly looks that way.

Fiction: Windows 10 requires a Microsoft account to install, use, or manage

Another common misconception is that Microsoft requires users have a Microsoft account to install, use, or manage Windows 10. In fact, local accounts will work for any normal Windows 10 activity, although you need to provide a Microsoft account in the obvious places (for example, to get mail), with Cortana, and to sync Edge.

Fact: If your tablet runs Windows RT, you’re screwed

Microsoft has announced it will release a new version of Windows RT, called Windows RT 3, in September. If anybody’s expecting it to look anything like Windows 10, you’re sorely mistaken. If you bought the original Surface or Surface RT, you’re out of luck. Microsoft sold folks an obsolete bucket of bolts that, sad to say, deserves to die. Compare that with the Chromebook, which is still chugging along.

Fiction: Microsoft pulled Windows Media Player from Windows 10

One word here seems to be tripping up folks. What Microsoft has pulled is Windows Media Center, which is a horse of a completely different color. If you’re thinking of upgrading your Windows Media Center machine to Windows 10, you’re better off retiring it and buying something that actually works like a media center. WMP is still there, although I wonder why anybody would use it, with great free alternatives like VLC readily available.

Fiction: Windows 10 is a buggy mess
In my experience, Windows 10 build 10240 (and thus, presumably, the final version) is quite stable and reasonably fast, and it works very well. There are anomalies — taskbar icons disappear, some characters don’t show up, you can’t change the picture for the Lock Screen, lots of settings are undocumented — and entire waves of features aren’t built yet. But for day-to-day operation, Win10 works fine.

Fact: The current crop of “universal” apps is an electronic wasteland
Microsoft has built some outstanding universal apps on the WinRT foundation, including the Office trilogy, Edge, Cortana, and several lesser apps, such as the Mail/Calendar twins, Solitaire, OneNote, and the Store. But other software developers have, by and large, ignored the WinRT/universal shtick. You have to wonder why Microsoft itself wasn’t able to get a universal OneDrive or Skype app going in time for July 29. Even Rovio has given a pass on Angry Birds 2 for the universal platform. Some games are coming (such as Rise of the Tomb Raider), but don’t expect a big crop of apps for the universal side of Windows 10 (and, presumably, Windows 10 Mobile) any time soon.

Fiction: Microsoft wants to control us by forcing us to go to Windows 10
I hear variations on this theme all the time, and it’s tinfoil-hat hooey. Microsoft is shifting to a different way of making money with Windows. Along the way, it’s trying out a lot of moves to reinvigorate the aging cash cow. Total world domination isn’t one of the options. And, no, the company isn’t going to charge you rent for Windows 10, though it took seven months to say so, in writing.

Fiction: Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines will upgrade directly to Windows 10

Win7 and Win8 machines won’t quite upgrade directly to Win10. You need Windows 7 Service Pack 1, or Windows 8.1 Update 1, in order to perform the upgrade. If you don’t have Windows 7 SP1, Microsoft has official instructions that’ll get you there from Windows 7. If you’re still using Windows 8, follow these official instructions to get to Windows 8.1 Update. Technically, there’s a middle step on your way to Win10.

Fact: We have no idea what will happen when Microsoft releases a really bad patch for Windows 10

If there’s an Achilles’ heel in the grand Windows 10 scheme, it’s forced updates for Windows 10 Home users and Pro users not attached to update servers. As long as Microsoft rolls out good-enough-quality patches — as it’s done for the past three months — there’s little to fear. But if a real stinker ever gets pushed out, heaven only knows how, and how well, Microsoft will handle it.

Fact: You’d have to be stone-cold crazy to install Windows 10 on a production machine on July 29
There isn’t one, single killer app that you desperately need on July 29. Those in the know have mountains of questions, some of which won’t be answered until we see how Win10 really works and what Microsoft does to support it. If you want to play with Windows 10 on a test machine, knock yourself out. I will, too. But only a certified masochist would entrust a working PC to Windows 10, until it’s been pushed and shoved and taken round several blocks, multiple times.

You have until July 29, 2016, to take advantage of the free upgrade. There’s no rush. Microsoft won’t run out of bits.


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9 reasons not to upgrade to Windows 10 — yet

Excited about the imminent release of Windows 10? You may want to wait.

Windows 10 is just about here — and many users (especially those who have been wrestling with Windows 8) are probably eager to upgrade. But even if you can get it now — the upgrade will be sent first to those who signed up for the Windows Insider beta program and then in “slow waves” to everyone else — you may want to hold off.

Here are nine reasons you might want to put off a Windows 10 upgrade.

1. Your system can’t run it

This may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s the obvious that gets missed. In order to run Windows 10, you need a PC or tablet with a 1GHz processor or faster, 1GB of RAM for 32-bit machines or 2GB for 64-bit machines, 16GB hard disk space for 32-bit machines or 20GB hard disk space for 64-bit machines, a DirectX 9 or later graphics card with a WDDM 1.0 driver and an 800 x 600 display or better. For more details, go to Microsoft’s Windows 10 specifications page.

If your system doesn’t qualify, then you’re going to have to upgrade your hardware before you upgrade your operating system. (Or just buy a new computer with Windows 10 already installed.)

2. You get a year for the free upgrade offer
Windows 7 and Windows 8 users get a free upgrade to Windows 10. But you don’t have to upgrade right away — you have a full year. (The clock starts on July 29, 2015.) So you can upgrade at your leisure and not waste a bright, summer day doing it.

3. You’re using Windows 7
Windows 10 undoes the damage done by Windows 8, an operating system that was built more for touch devices than for traditional PCs. In fact, two of Windows 10’s big improvements over Windows 8 are the addition of a Windows 7-style Start menu and the ability to work entirely on the desktop and ignore the touch-focused Start screen.

So if you currently use Windows 7, you’re already set — you have a Start menu and you work only on the desktop. In short: If you’re happy with the way Windows 7 works, you may want to stay with it.

4. You like Windows 7 desktop gadgets
Windows 7 includes desktop gadgets that do things such as check the weather and stock quotes, monitor your CPU, report about the state of your system, let you listen to streaming radio stations, and check your hard drive speed and the state of your network. They don’t work on Windows 10 and will be deleted when you upgrade. So if you’re a gadget fan, don’t upgrade.

5. Security updates for Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 will be available for years
Microsoft has a habit of pushing people to its latest operating system by ending support for its old operating systems, halting security updates and leaving users potentially open to security threats. If you have Windows 7 or Windows 8, you’ve got years before that happens. Microsoft will keep issuing security patches for Windows 7 until January 2020 and for Windows 8 until January 2023. Even Windows Vista will get security updates until April 2017. So no need to rush.

6. You use OneDrive placeholders
In Windows 8.1, OneDrive placeholders, also called smart files, let you see all of the files in OneDrive, even if the files are located in the cloud and not on your device. When you double-click a placeholder on your PC, the file is downloaded. However, when Windows 10 ships, OneDrive placeholders won’t work because of the upgraded OneDrive software.

Microsoft says it will try to bring OneDrive placeholder functionality to Windows 10 by year’s end. But if OneDrive placeholders are important to you, don’t upgrade until they work with Windows 10.

7. You have old peripherals
The Achilles heel of most new operating systems is handling older peripherals, such as printers and scanners. Microsoft doesn’t always make sure that drivers for vintage devices work with the new operating system — it would take too many development resources. As a result, some of these peripherals won’t work with newer operating systems.

So if you have old favorites with a lot of mileage on them, don’t upgrade right away. Scour the Internet for news of whether they work with Windows 10, and only upgrade to it when you know that they do.

8. You love Windows Media Center
Yes, it’s true — there are some people who are big fans of Window Media Center, which was released way back in 2002 and which is used to play video, music and other media. Microsoft has been trying to kill it off for years, and even disbanded the team responsible for it back in 2009.

The truth is, Media Center was always a nightmare to set up and has been superseded by streaming media services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Spotify, Apple Music and many others. Still, there are die-hards out there who love it — and who will be dismayed to learn that Windows Media Center won’t work with Windows 10. If you’re one of that group, stay away from upgrading.

9. You don’t need the pain of early adoption
No matter how widespread beta testing is for a new operating system, it can’t uncover all the bugs and gotchas. A new operating system hasn’t been tested on every possible piece of hardware, with every piece of software, and with every hardware/software combination. People who upgrade immediately are the guinea pigs. They’re the ones who feel the pain.

If you’d prefer to go with an operating system that’s had enough time for a shakedown cruise, wait another six months before you upgrade.


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Google to pull Chrome plug on Windows XP at year’s end

Another browser on XP bites the dust

Google on Thursday announced it will shut down support for Chrome on Windows XP at the end of the year.

“We will continue to provide regular updates and security patches to Chrome on XP through the end of 2015,” said Mark Larson, Chrome’s director of engineering, in a short blog post Thursday.

A year and a half ago, Larson pledged to support Chrome on the even-then-aged operating system until “at least April 2015.”

“We know that not everyone can easily switch to a newer operating system,” Larson said of Google’s decision to continue supporting Chrome on XP after the latter’s retirement. “Millions of people are still working on XP computers every day [and] we want those people to have the option to use a browser that’s up-to-date and as safe as possible on an unsupported operating system.”

But enough was apparently enough.
Microsoft called it quits on Windows XP a year ago Tuesday, when it issued the final scheduled security updates for the 2001 OS. (The company made a one-time exception shortly thereafter when it shipped an emergency patch for its Internet Explorer (IE) browser.)

Because Microsoft halted security fixes for IE on Windows XP on April 14, 2014, security professionals urged the OS’s users to switch to another browser. Dropping IE for Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox or Opera Software’s Opera was one way to minimize — but not eliminate — risk, they said.

Neither Mozilla or Opera have publicized end-of-support dates for their browsers on Windows XP.

According to Web metrics vendor Net Applications, approximately 18.5% of all Windows PCs ran XP in March, slightly more than half the 34.5% the OS accounted for in October 2013, when Larson set Chrome’s earliest support demise at this month.

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Windows XP’s user share plunge not real, just a data adjustment

Net Applications says XP dropped like a stone because the company yanked some Chinese websites from its tallies

The Internet metrics company that claimed Windows XP’s user share plummeted by a record amount last month said Tuesday that it had struck several Chinese websites from its tallies, causing the dramatic decline.On Monday, the firm acknowledged a problem with the data. “We are still researching, but it does appear to be an anomaly,” said Vince Vizzaccaro, head of marketing for Net Applications, in an email reply to questions over the weekend about the validity of the Windows XP and Windows 8 changes.

On Tuesday, Net Applications explained why Windows’ XP’s user share had fallen off the proverbial cliff.

“This drop was primarily caused by a major change in the network of sites we have in China,” the company said in a statement. “A group of large Chinese publishers with a very large number of visitors per day had audiences heavily skewed towards Windows XP (nearly 100% XP). In researching the nature of the sites, we determined they were not appropriate for our network. We removed those publishers ourselves, which caused the shift since Chinese traffic is weighted higher due to lower coverage.”

Net Applications weights website visitor tallies by country using estimates of each nation’s online population, a way to account for markets where it has little actual data, and balance those against countries where it has considerable amounts of information. Because Net Applications collects significantly less data from China, for example, than it does from the U.S., each visitor from China is “worth” more to the result than one from the United States.

Net Applications did not say why the sites it yanked were suddenly “not appropriate” after they had been used to calculate user share previously. And in a follow-up email, Vizzaccaro declined to describe or name the Chinese sites that affected the data. However, he did say that Net Applications drops sites for several reasons, including “gaming” its analytics and receiving traffic from bots, browser toolbars or other automated page-view generators.

The company argued that by scrubbing out the Chinese websites’ tallies, the result is a better picture of the percentages of the world’s personal computers that run Windows XP and other operating systems. “The current data set is more accurate than in the past due to this,” Net Applications said.

Assuming that Net Applications is right — which outsiders might find hard to swallow — the data showing a record fall of Windows XP, and for that matter the record increase of Windows 8, were in reality adjustments, not one-month real-world changes. In other words, Windows XP had been declining at a more rapid pace all along, while Windows 8 had been increasing faster than Net Applications had measured previously.

The one-off decline of Windows XP’s user share also impacted other operating systems. Because Net Applications reports user shares as percentages of a whole, a drop in XP would require a corresponding increase elsewhere. That may have been the cause of the dramatic October boost to Windows 8’s user share as it, too, was readjusted. It also meant that other OSes, such as Windows 7 and Apple’s OS X, may have been under-reported previously.

There are oddities that remain in Net Applications’ data, however, even after the company’s explanation. For October, the firm pegged the user share of Windows NT at 1.64%, an inexplicable increase from 0.05% of September. Windows NT, a precursor to Windows 95, was first released in 1993.

The California company’s data, which is widely used by the media to track the ups and downs of browsers and operating systems, had reported October’s numbers on Saturday. According to its estimates, Windows XP’s user share had plunged a record 6.7 percentage points last month, while Windows 8 had soared by 4.5 points, also a record.


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9 reasons users won’t ditch Windows XP

On April 8, Microsoft will stop support for Windows XP: meaning, no more software or security updates for the nearly 13-year-old OS, despite it still holding onto just under 30% of the desktop OS market (according to NetMarketShare). Microsoft wants XP users to upgrade to a newer Windows OS, preferably Windows 8.1. Yet many people are determined to hold on — you’ll have to pry Windows XP from their PC’s cold, dead hard drive. Here are 9 reasons why.

The spectacularly bad press and word-of-mouth about Vista led many to hold off upgrading. But Windows 7 wouldn’t arrive until more than two years after Vista’s launch in January 2007. During this waiting period (a long enough time for significant changes in the PC world to play out), many XP users probably figured, why bother upgrading to Windows 7 after all that time? We would argue that Vista did even more damage: It made the general public distrust Microsoft when told by the company they needed to upgrade to a new version of Windows.

  1. Just as XP continues to be well regarded by many, Office 2003 has a similar reputation. This version of the Office suite hit the sweet spot of feature set and usability — and, significantly, it’s the last version before the ribbon UI would be introduced into Office 2007. Odds are, lots of businesses are still using Office 2003 (up to 30%), and it can run on XP. Microsoft will also cease support for Office 2003 on April 8, but the software will continue to work, and on PCs running XP.
  2. Moving to a new version of Windows from XP could kill an essential program that a business still uses and must have running flawlessly; or a casual user’s favorite application, which may have never been updated to work on later Windows versions.
  3. The two solutions to address this problem have issues: Windows’ so-called “compatibility mode,” which is meant to try to coax old programs to work on newer versions of Windows, hardly ever seems to work. Microsoft provided a means to try to run old applications through a virtual machine on Windows 7, but doesn’t officially support this tool for Windows 8 and 8.1. There are ways to work around this, but it’s not exactly easy to set up.
  4. Especially for the casual PC user, there aren’t many compelling applications that require a more recent Windows OS. The exception may be Office 2013, but many people and businesses may be happy to stick with Office 2003 running on XP. Now, for example, if you’re a professional in the graphic design or multimedia field, you probably need to use the latest versions of Adobe applications, but then you probably also already have a PC that’s more than powerful enough for Windows 8.1. The point being, those who are still on XP still at this point may also have little need for the latest versions of whatever applications they’re using on their PCs.
  5. Since most personal computing nowadays centers around the Internet, all you need to experience it is a good, secure web browser. Current versions of Chrome and Firefox work with XP. Though Google announced it will drop XP support for Chrome in April 2015, Mozilla currently has no plans to do so. (Microsoft quit providing the latest version of Internet Explorer for XP after Windows Internet Explorer 8.) Google and Mozilla would be doing Microsoft a favor if they dropped XP support for their respective browsers, but each would lose overall browser market share. So people still using XP to go online may have little motivation to move on, as long as the latest versions of these popular browsers keep running on XP.
  6. Many people are using web apps as replacements for the kind of applications that would run on an OS, such as the office suite of Google Drive. Even Microsoft offers a web app version of Office.
  7. Upgrading from XP is likely not realistic for many who are using the OS on a PC that’s several years old, especially if it was bought at the turn of the millennium. The minimum hardware specs for Windows 8.1: a 1 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, and 16 GB of free hard drive space. But all XP needs is a 233 MHz processor, 64MB RAM, and 1.5GB of free hard drive space. Therefore, the only practical “upgrade” option for many old PCs running XP is to simply replace it with a new PC with Windows 8.1 already installed on it. But this leads to the next reason…
  8. Analyst projections keep looking grim for PC sales, which are expected to steadily decline over the next few years. The total picture: People aren’t looking to buy new PCs (desktops or notebooks). Instead, they want smartphones and tablets, most of which run Android or iOS. So it’s not that many people are stubbornly refusing to upgrade from XP — they’re just not interested in having a new PC.
  9. The company hasn’t offered strong incentives to encourage people to drop XP, such as direct discounts for those who own a valid XP license key to buy a Windows 8.1 (or Windows 7) license. But they are currently offering $100 off a new Windows 8.1 device when you buy one at their bricks-‘n’-mortar Microsoft Stores or from MicrosoftStore.com, but you’ll have to spend at least $599. But you can buy a new, low-end Windows 8.1 notebook or tablet for less than $300, without the discount, if you shop around.”

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Windows 8.1: Update or upgrade?

Two out of three of my machines upgraded easily.

By now, if you are a Windows 8 user, you probably upgraded or at least tried to upgrade to Windows 8.1. Of my three machines that ran Windows 8, two of them upgraded rather uneventfully, if slowly. The third, an old Celeron desktop machine, failed because evidently there wasn’t enough free memory to create a RamDisk. I tried a few things to remedy this but frankly after seeing 8.1 run on my other machines, I decided it wasn’t worth moving heaven and earth to accomplish. Overall, that is my impression of 8.1 – nice to have, not a must-have.

As I said, the upgrades went pretty slowly. The first machine that I upgraded, my VAIO Duo, was upgraded the first day the 8.1 upgrade was available. It was about as hard to download the upgrade file as it was to download a new iOS version from Apple on the first day it was available. That is, I guess, the measuring stick today. So by that measure I guess it was about normal. What I was surprised about was how long it took to install on my machine. But, again, it was not terribly out of reason.

Once my machine upgraded, I rushed over to the desktop to see my old friend, the Start button. To my chagrin, it really wasn’t a start button. There was a button where the Start button would go, and it was the Windows logo. Pressing that button brought me to the Windows 8 Metro interface. It’s not really what those clamoring for the return of the Start button were looking for.

Of course, when I right clicked the Windows button I saw the familiar Start button options, albeit in a different sort of fly out menu. But I guess if you really need those old start options, right clicking did give you what you needed.

OK, so less than overwhelmed I headed over to see the shiny new, improved Windows Store. I liked the look of the featured apps. I downloaded the Facebook app finally and a few of the other suggestions. However, I was kind of bummed when I realized that they no longer had apps broken down by category. Now they had popular free, popular paid and recommended for me. Again, more like iTunes or Google Play I guess. But I liked the old categories better.

I am just not that familiar with Windows 8 applications, and I used to enjoy browsing the different categories for apps that I considered interesting. I just don’t browse as well under this new format. I hope Microsoft will restore the categories soon.

Beyond that, I do think Windows 8.1 was snappier on my machine. I wouldn’t say it was a game changer overall, but a solid upgrade.

I upgraded my other laptop a few days after the rush was over. That upgrade went much faster on the download and about the same on the install. Again, same type of results. One thing I did notice is that since my other laptop is not a touchscreen, having the Start button was more useful with a mouse. I didn’t have to mouse in from the corner or side and go to another screen and all of that.

I was speaking with Mark Laymon, founder of the co-working Caffeine Spaces here at the FAU R&D Park. Mark is a mouse user for 20 years. He doesn’t have a touchscreen. He thinks while overall Windows 8.1 was “all right,” it was no big deal. The biggest thing for him is when he has to shut down, he no longer has to try and drag the mouse over from the right edge and find the power button and all of that. He just goes to the familiar start button menu. Also, reaching stuff like the control panel and other places from the Start button is a lot easier for him.

That just confirms for me what I already knew. Windows 8 is really made for a touch interface. While you can get by with just a mouse, it loses some of its power without touch. Even now, when I am on my old laptop or other machines, I find myself touching the screen to move things around or scroll down. It is only when nothing happens that I realize I am not in touchscreen Kansas anymore.

So overall if you use a mouse, Windows 8.1 is a decent upgrade and offers some help. If not and you haven’t upgraded yet, it probably doesn’t rise to the top of your list. One thing to keep in mind though is that Microsoft made a big deal about Windows 8.1 being a free upgrade. I don’t know what their plans are, but maybe it doesn’t stay free forever? Just a thought.


 

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Windows Phone 8 could out-earn Android, if Microsoft would let it

Windows Phone 8 could out-earn Android, if Microsoft would let it
Some unofficial analysis of Android revenue and that of Windows Phone 8 shows Microsoft’s true potential in the smartphone market.

Take a step through the looking glass, folks, and see a world where Windows Phone is more lucrative than Google’s Android.

Actually, you don’t have to. That world is real and you live in it. Here’s how it works.

Let’s start with the basics. Google offers the Android operating system to manufacturers for free so long as they use Google’s homegrown tools and applications with it. Google figures it will make that money back through search. The phrase is frequently called “giving away the razor and making money on the blades.” Game consoles operate like this, too.

The Android operating system enjoys global dominance approaching 75% of the market, with iOS a distant second and WP8 getting the scraps. BlackBerry, despite a nice showing with BB10 and the new phones, is imploding. IDC puts 2012 smartphone sales around the 720 million mark, which means 540 million phones shipped in 2012 that didn’t pay a penny in royalties. Google might want to rethink its strategy there.

Google doesn’t break out the profit and loss of products in its annual reports. Motley Fool reported that the best picture we have comes from the ongoing lawsuit between Google and Oracle, in which Oracle estimated that Google generates $10 million per day on Android, which would total $3.6 billion per year. Of course, that’s Oracle’s estimate, and they want beaucoup damages.

During trial, the judge revealed that Android generated roughly $97.7 million in revenue during the first quarter of 2010, well below Oracle’s estimate. Granted, $400 million a year is nothing to sneeze at, but for a company the size of Google, it is chump change.

And then there’s Windows Phone 8. There’s actually a lot of back-and-forth between the two companies. Microsoft paid Nokia $1 billion in flat-fees, while Nokia pays Microsoft a per-set fee for every phone. Now, the Fool estimates Nokia pays Microsoft about $35 per device, while other analysts have guestimated the licensing fee for Windows Phone 8 to be around $30 to $35 per device. Microsoft has never officially confirmed it.

Microsoft also makes money when customers use the applications built into Windows Phone, like Bing, and there are Bing ads used in ad-driven applications.

With 7.4 million Lumias sold in the most recent quarter, that’s an estimated $259 million for Microsoft. I can’t rightfully compare it to the $97.7 million estimate from the Android trial since that is based on a 2010 number, but I can compare Android’s position in the market in 2010 to Windows Phone’s in the most recent quarter. In the first quarter of 2010, Android was breezing past Apple to account for 28% of the market, assuming the No. 2 spot in the market behind Research In Motion, the NPD Group estimated at the time. Meanwhile, Windows Phone 8 reached an all-time high in market share in the most recent quarter – a whopping 4%, according to Strategy Analytics.

By these estimates, we can say Microsoft earns more revenue from a platform that accounts for 4% of the market than Google did when Android stood at 28%.

So while it’s far from a slam dunk, it looks like Windows Phone brings in more money for Microsoft than Android, the vastly more popular OS, has for Google in the past. Admittedly, these aren’t perfect numbers, but the bigger picture here is that the Windows Phone 8 strategy stands to earn Microsoft a whole lot of money if it can get some momentum.

A per-set fee, on the other hand, might not be a bad idea for Google. It might help clean up the low end of the Android line, which is really low-rent.

But Microsoft really needs to get its tail in gear with WP8. It needs another OEM, if only to keep Nokia honest, it needs to support developers better, and it needs to fix the ad pipeline for in-app advertising, because that has been broken for months. It has a potential winner if it would just apply some effort.


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Dell announces XPS 11 hybrid, will ship with Windows 8.1

The device can be used as a tablet or laptop

Dell has expanded its range of hybrid devices with the XPS 11, which can transform from tablet to laptop with the flip of a screen.

The XPS 11 has a hinge that allows the panel holding its 11.6-inch screen to be folded almost 360 degrees so that the device can be used as a tablet. The design is similar to that of Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga hybrids, which are available with 11- and 13-inch screens.

Dell announced the hybrid on the sidelines of the Computex trade show being held in Taipei. It will ship later this year with Windows 8.1, code-named Blue. Pricing was not disclosed.

The XPS 11 keyboard is tightly integrated into the chassis, so the keyboard buttons don’t stick out when the device is being used in a tablet mode. The 2560 x 1440 pixel display has a Gorilla Glass layer for durability. The device will ship with an Intel Core i5 processor code-named Haswell.

Dell is beefing up its laptop, tablet and hybrid offerings as it tries to keep its XPS line of computers relevant in a poor market for Windows 8 and PCs. The XPS 11 augments a product line that includes the XPS 10 tablet and XPS 12 and XPS 13 hybrids.

The size of the screen matters less than the functionality, portability and battery life, said Kirk Schell, vice president of computing products at Dell, in an interview.

“The thickness, weight and resolution are critical and all of that has to fit in the right package,” Schell said.

Schell sees a diverse computing market ahead. Some consumers prefer tablets, while others will want hybrids with keyboards attached.

“Detachables, convertibles, two-in-ones will be part of the market,” Schell said. “For us, one-size-fits-all is not an answer.”

Dell is the third largest PC vendor in the world behind Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, but its shipments have been falling. Dell started off as a PC maker in the 1980s, but refocused in 2007 to concentrate on the high-margin enterprise market. But the PC division has gained importance again, with the hybrid device market being an area of opportunity for the company.

Whether or not the current proposal to take the company private succeeds, Schell said Dell will continue to expand its client product offerings. Dell once said it would focus on high-margin PC offerings, but Schell said the company will compete at multiple price points as it tries to increase product shipments. The company will try to differentiate by offering more security and support features, and it will also expand in the client computing market through its Wyse thin client division.

Dell will also continue to invest in Windows 8, and evaluate Windows RT and different processor architectures for tablets and laptops, Schell said. Dell today offers XPS 10 with Windows RT and has said it was developing a successor to that tablet.


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Windows 8 Update: Scarcity of touchscreens is hurting Windows 8

Dell deal on Windows RT, dubious Windows 8 sales numbers

Along with whatever other problems Windows 8 faces, Microsoft partners interested in making machines that show the operating system off to best advantage are handicapped by a short supply of touchscreens, the top Windows executive says.

The company is hoping the problem will be solved in time to make alluring devices in time for Christmas sales, says Tami Reller, chief marketing and financial officer for the Windows division, as quoted in this CITEworld story.

“We see that touch supply is getting so much better,” Reller says. “By the holidays we won’t see the types of restrictions we’ve seen on the ability of our partners and retail partners to get touch in the volume they’d like and that customers are demanding.”

Along with that area a slew of complaints about the Windows 8 user interface, many of which may be addressed by Windows Blue, the code name for the upgrade that is also coming out later this year, likely before the holidays, Reller says.

It’s still unclear what changes Windows Blue will include although rumors say the start button and start page so familiar in earlier versions of Windows will be restored. The specifics of Windows Blue – officially called Windows 8.1 – will be revealed at the Microsoft Build developers’ conference at the end of June, she says.

Although Reller didn’t mention it during her remarks at a JP Morgan tech conference in Boston, by the end of the year Intel’s Haswell chips should be in production offering a longer battery life, higher performance and improved graphic processing for a range of devices such as ultrabooks, convertibles and tablets.

This is a convergence of events that Microsoft no doubt would have welcomed last holiday season just after Windows 8 launched in October.

Windows RT deal
Dell has come out with a Windows RT tablet for $300 – $200 less expensive than the cheapest Microsoft Surface RT.

That’s a limited time offering and is a $150 discount off the regular price for its XPS 10, which sports a 10.1-inch display and, like all Windows RT devices, runs on ARM chips. Another short-term option tosses in a keyboard/dock for an extra $50.

At that price the bundle is still significantly cheaper than an iPad and may grab a few potential Apple customers.

When is 100 million not 100 million?
Microsoft says it’s sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses so far and seems proud of it, but the number is being picked apart by people who note that the number of licenses sold might be far higher than the number in actual use.

According to a story in ComputerWorld the count of machines running Windows 8 could be closer to 59 million.

Why would Microsoft release the higher number but not release the number of machines that have activated the software? The obvious answer: that number is embarrassingly small.

Windows 8 is bad for this business
Buffalo, N.Y. -based Synacor blames Windows 8 for a 16% drop in search-engine advertising revenues for its content-portal services.
Because Windows 8 defaults to Bing as the search engine and sets MSN as the home page, according to this story in the the Buffalo News. Part of Synacor’s business is to set its customers’ advertising pages into the start page of end users’ browsers.

“That hurts Synacor because the company generates revenue every time a subscriber uses the Google search box on the start pages that it designs, while a reduction in page views also hurts Synacor’s advertising sales on those start pages,” the News story says.

The situation has contributed to a 5% drop in revenues for Synacore.

 


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Microsoft alum: Windows 8 “a much deadlier assault weapon” than Windows 7

Former Microsoft senior VP says Windows 8 on ARM tablets is a “scale 9 earthquake”

Windows 8 is just what Microsoft needs to take advantage of the ongoing irreversible shift from PCs to handheld devices including iPads, iPhones and other form factors yet to be designed, according to the company’s former OEM chief.

Just as Windows 7 won instant popularity after the debacle of Vista, Windows 8 is poised to capture business from phone and tablet leaders such as Apple, only to greater effect, says Joachim Kempin, former Microsoft senior vice president in charge of OEMs who worked for the company from 1983 to 2002.

“Windows 7 spearheaded a comparably small rejuvenation,” Kempin says in his just-released book “Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft’s Secret Power Broker Breaks his Silence”. “I predict Windows 8 is readied as a much deadlier assault weapon.”

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He says the main intent of Windows 8 is to push the operating system into low-powered mobile devices running ARM processors vs traditional x86 chips. He says that when Microsoft introduced Windows 8 nearly two years ago it “flabbergasted the IT world by running on a tablet powered by NVidia’s ARM-based CPU. I consider this move to ARM a scale 9 earthquake and wake-up call for MS’s longtime allies Intel and AMD.”

He says that shift potentially signals the end of notebooks and PCs, not just media tablets. A strength of Windows 8 is its common interface and navigation across all devices, he says.

“No need to bother with the annoyance of having to remember different key strokes or gestures when switching between devices or operating them with a mouse or a touch screen,” Kempin says. “Neither Apple nor Google have ever accomplished such uniformity.”

He praises the design of Microsoft’s two Surface tablet models but dooms them to failure.

He thinks they will anger OEMs that were working on their own Windows 8 tablets and notebooks and who now may be driven to make them with Linux or Google operating systems.

In addition, he doubts the devices themselves can be profitable. “MS does not own a factory and has a track record of having trouble with sourcing hardware components and producing devices as cheaply as her competitors,” he says. “I do not know who did the math on this project. The slim revenue gain with not much hope for real profits combined with losing partners’ trust and loyalties seems not worth that risk.”

Instead, Microsoft should spin off a startup with the mission of making Windows 8 devices, putting a distance between the devices and Microsoft itself and creating just another OEM that competes with current OEMs.

Still, he likes Surface RT. “Adding an innovative wireless keyboard makes it a hybrid located between today’s notebooks and tablets,” he says. “When combined with the slick design promises to totally obsolete notebooks in a few years when solid state drives will become cheap and small enough to replace traditional hard drive storage units.”

He admires the strategy of porting Office applications to Windows 8 tablets based on ARM, known as Windows RT. Other tablets can support Office but only via remote services, not locally. “Less need for constant connectivity for 8-powered tablets when running MS-Office applications means a further leg up over Google’s solution,” he writes.

Apparently the book was written before Microsoft’s Windows 8 leader Steven Sinofsky quit the company just after Windows 8 launched Oct. 26. Kempin says the company should tap Sinofsky to champion Surface as a product fanatic as focused as Steve Jobs was at Apple.

“Like others I always wait for a service pack to be released before trusting a new OS version,” Kempin says. “[Sinofsky] will need to correct this notion with product excellence right out of the chute to gain vital momentum. This is in particular important for changing MS’s fortune in the media tablet market where Apple, Google and Amazon are seen as leaders.

Blindly mimicking Apple in order to take sales from it is a mistake, and that means getting rid of its new brick and mortar Windows Stores. “The company needs to get rid of all distractions like her doomed retail stores,” he writes.

He says Microsoft’s investment in Barnes & Noble and its Nook e-reader represent an assault on Amazon and its Kindle tablets and e-readers. He says Microsoft miscalculated the market for them when it devoted research into the devices in 1998. “But the developers involved in this effort were told to shut down because their solution was not Windows centric enough,” he says.

That was the wrong way to look at it, though. “You do not need Windows to read a book – MS-DOS would have sufficed and could have easily been replaced with more advanced technology later,” he says.


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Windows 8 discounts end in three weeks

Price of Windows 8 Pro upgrade may quintuple after Jan. 31

Microsoft’s Windows 8 Pro upgrade discount will expire in about three weeks, at which point the company will triple or even quintuple the current price of the new operating system, according to several online retailers.

On Friday, Microsoft reminded customers that a different upgrade deal will expire Jan. 31 — one that lets purchasers of new Windows 7 PCs acquire Windows 8 Pro for $14.99 — but made no mention of the same deadline for an upgrade from Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 on older PCs.

10 third-party alternatives for ‘missing’ Windows 8 apps

That discount, also set to end Jan. 31, prices a download upgrade to Windows 8 Pro at $39.99, or $69.99 for a DVD.

Microsoft announced both deals in mid-2012, and began selling the upgrades in October when Windows 8 debuted in retail.

According to online retailers, including Amazon, Newegg and TigerDirect, the DVD-based Windows 8 Pro upgrade carries a suggested list price of $199.99, or nearly triple the now-discounted price of $69.99.

Although Microsoft has repeatedly declined to comment on post-January pricing plans for Windows 8 Pro, its past pricing practices sync with the $199.99 list price: An upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, analogous to Windows 8 Pro, has always been priced at $199.99. Microsoft’s e-store currently lists it at that price.

It’s unknown whether Microsoft will continue to sell Windows 8 Pro as a download after the discount expires, and if it does, at what cost. If the price of a download is identical to the boxed copy — Microsoft has priced downloads and DVDs identically in the past — then the OS price will jump five-fold on Feb. 1.

The company has also declined to answer questions about Windows 8, the less-capable edition pre-installed on most new consumer PCs. But its silence has effectively confirmed that there will never be a Windows 8, as opposed to Windows 8 Pro, upgrade.

There is another, less-expensive, option after Jan. 31: Windows System Builder, the version for do-it-yourselfers who assemble their own machines, and who want to run Windows in a virtual machine or dual-boot configuration. While the new “Personal Use License” of System Builder bans using it as “an upgrade license for an existing underlying Windows operating system,” there’s nothing stopping customers from using it to do a “clean install,” the term for installing an operating system on a reformatted hard drive.

Microsoft does not sell Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro System Builder itself, leaving that to retail partners. Although some offer minor discounts, the list prices are $99.99 (Windows 8) and $139.99 (Windows 8 Pro). Those are identical to the prices for “OEM” editions — the former name for System Builder — of Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional, respectively.

Another price that may jump after Jan. 31 is the Windows 8 Pro Pack’s, which upgrades Windows 8 to Windows 8 Pro. Microsoft sells Pro Pack at $69.99; retailers currently sell it at that price or the slightly-lower $66.99, but note its list price as $99.99.

Other Windows 8 deadlines are also approaching: The Windows 8 Developer Preview of September 2011, the Consumer Preview of February 2012 and the Release Preview of May 2012 all expire Jan. 15. After that date, the free previews will automatically restart every one or two hours, and on-screen messages will tell customers that they must upgrade to a paid license.


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Microsoft: What it did right and wrong in 2012

Windows 8: It is the best of Microsoft; it is the worst of Microsoft

At this writing Windows 8 could be the biggest thing Microsoft has done wrong — ever. But it could also wind up being one of the best things it has ever done.

By CEO Steve Ballmer’s own description it is the one of the top three major events in the company’s history, grouped with IBM PCs adopting MS-DOS and the advent of Windows 95.

By that measure, if it’s a flop it’s huge.

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Windows 8 drives users crazy. It’s a two-headed operating system that supports the traditional Windows keyboard-and-mouse interface as well as a touch-centric UI that many say is baffling, at least initially.

Then toss in a separate version of Windows 8 called Windows RT. It’s a hardware/software bundle based on ARM processors that doesn’t support traditional Windows x86 apps — only so-called Windows Store applications that rely mainly on touch. Confusion reigns.

A version of the traditional desktop remains in Windows 8, but it’s different enough to be uncomfortable. Users want an OS that builds on the past, not one that reinvents itself entirely. They lament the loss of the Start button and Start Menu upon which they relied.

When learning the Windows 8 touch interface they find it difficult to find and remember, say, how to turn the machine on and off, close applications, remove applications, switch among four or five apps running at the same time, find Charms, figure out what Charms are, etc., etc. It’s a near-perfect storm of consternation and frustration.

Meanwhile the company’s traditional PC market is being threatened by devices running Linux, Android and OS X even as sales growth of traditional PCs gets slower and slower, apparently headed for decline. That’s Microsoft’s bread and butter.

Compounding the problem, tablets and smartphones are gaining popularity as personal and business productivity platforms and arguably represent the main force undercutting traditional PCs. Microsoft comes in a distant third in both areas.

Windows 8 is supposed to help Microsoft make gains in these areas. But given its slow start so far and comparing it to the wild success of every version of iPad that ever launched, then Windows 8 is lining up to be a disaster.

So what was Microsoft thinking?

Windows 8 is designed to tap into the shift in demand away from traditional desktops and laptops and toward phones and tablets.

Core to this strategy is making a shift to mobility and creating an application environment transferrable from device to device. The advantage: Massive blocks of code from an application written for Windows 8 can be readily repurposed for apps written or Windows Phone 8 — making it feasible for these apps to be available on any Windows device.

Because Windows Store apps are written primarily for touch, their navigation is similar from tablet to notebook to phone. Applications are available for phones, tablets and laptops, and if you master them on one category of device, you’ve mastered them for all.

These applications, called Windows Store apps, represent a new category optimized for touch and for running on lower powered mobile machines based on ARM processors to promote longer battery life.

In addition, Windows 8 heavily promotes use of cloud services. It comes with cloud-based music free and integrates SkyDrive, Microsoft’s 5-year-old cloud storage service that enables sharing data among devices and syncing them with each other. It comes with 7GB of free storage.

The bottom line is customers can access the latest versions of their data and all their stored files from whichever device they happen to have with them so long as they have Internet access.

The problem is that this elegant scheme is lost on customers, analysts and reviewers who don’t buy into this view. With education, customers could be won over, but not in the short-term, and particularly with RT. Business customers will have to adopt Windows Store apps or virtualize, and that takes time.

“It will take 10 or more years before most organizations completely transition to WinRT technology, which, if successful, will represent the next 20 to 30 years of Windows,” says Gartner in its report “Windows 8 Changes Windows as We Know It.”

Beyond Windows 8, Microsoft has scored some hits and some misses this year with new products acquisitions. Here are four of each.

RIGHT
Windows Server 2012

Microsoft’s latest version of Windows Server is to be applauded for how it simplifies many areas of virtualization, which leads Network World reviewer Tom Henderson to write, “What the Windows 2012 Server editions provide is a compelling reason to stick with Windows infrastructure, as many of the advances represent integration of management components that have no competitive parallels.”

The software streamlines live migration of virtual machines for reasons of preventing performance of one instance degrading because it is overwhelmed by demand. Windows Server 2012 removes the need for designating failover clustering ahead of time and a separate SAN to share storage among instances that were required in Windows Server 2008.

Windows Server 2012 also offers replication of virtual machines asynchronously. Called Hyper-V Replica, the feature is ideal for replicating VMs from site to site over limited WAN links.

A new feature called Storage Spaces treats hundreds of disks as a single logical storage reservoir and ensures resiliency by backing up data on at least two physical disks. The feature sets aside a designated storage area — called a space — for a defined category of data within the entire available disk capacity — called a pool.

Storage Spaces can allocate a space that is larger than the actual available physical capacity of the pool that the space is carved out of via thin provisioning. This keeps data from overflowing the space by freeing up capacity whenever files are deleted or an application decides that such capacity is no longer needed.

Windows Server 2012 also enables managing servers in groups and includes an automated tool to periodically check for proper server configuration.

System Center 2012
This management suite offers new tools to better handle closely related cloud environments and virtual data centers, and has expanded the products it can manage to include some of the virtual environments of rivals Citrix and VMware.

The platform includes broad support for managing smartphones based on Microsoft’s phone OS, but also those from Apple and from a range of vendors that base their phones on Android.

The Virtual Machine Manager, Orchestration Manager and Operations Manager can combine to make management of virtual environments simpler. For instance, the management suite streamlines configuring virtual machines to pick up the function of others when they go down so help desk workers can perform the task without escalating.

In a practical sense, System Center can give developers the capability to create and tear down virtual machines for their test environments within parameters set by network executives.

One downside is that upgrading to System Center 2012 requires a lot of network prep as well as education to learn what other Microsoft products are required in order for the various modules to work.

Buying Yammer
Microsoft spent $1.2 billion this year to buy Yammer as a way to beef up social networking and collaboration in its SharePoint, Office, Dynamics CRM, Lync and Skype platforms.

When its integration is completed over the next few years Yammer will add tracking of conversation threads and enterprise search to these applications, aggregate news feeds, manage documents and unify user identities.

Yammer is already available with Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud offering and will gradually permeate the company’s other collaboration and productivity platforms, the company says.

With the purchase Microsoft has bought the tools it needs to set itself up well in support of new ways corporations do business using tools that end users have become familiar with via their use of consumer social networks.

Targeting botnets
Microsoft did itself proud this year disrupting the Nitol botnet with a combination of technical and legal innovation, as well as seizing servers belonging to the worst instances of the Zeus botnet.

These efforts represent the fourth and fifth times Microsoft has intervened to shut down or a least temporarily cripple criminal malware enterprises.

The company’s Digital Crimes Unit started its aggressive action in 2010 and continued steadily since then. While its work won’t halt online abuses, its proven commitment to causing periodic significant damage to them does make criminal activity more difficult, and that steady opposition helps raise the bar for criminals hoping to enter the game.

The effort sends a message to other criminals that Microsoft might strike them at any time, says Richard Boscovich, assistant general counsel for the DCU.

WRONG
Euro browser flap

Microsoft failed to live up to an agreement that it would display a Windows screen giving users the option to pick Internet Explorer or some other browsers.

While Microsoft says the problem was caused by a technical glitch and has worked to correct it, it’s still facing down a possible $7 billion fine from European Union regulators. While Microsoft would likely survive the hefty penalty, it’s really a case of the company shooting itself in the foot. It is also damaging its reputation in not only Europe where customers were directly affected, but worldwide where end users heard about the case and adjusted their opinion of the company accordingly.

Windows Phone
The launch of Windows Phone 8 this fall revealed an operating system that met with generally good reviews and a phone — Nokia’s Lumia 920 — that shows it off to good advantage.

The problem here is that it comes so late after the iPhone and Android phones have dominated the market. The company must now dedicate itself to a long-term effort to scratch its way up from 2.6% of the market, according to IDC estimates, to something more significant.

IDC thinks Microsoft will succeed in that goal by claiming 11.4% of the market in 2016 — a terrific boost. But the company leaves a lot of smartphone money on the table by coming out so late with a compelling product.

Windows Phone 8 itself may pan out to be a winner, but the overall handling of Windows Phone to date racks up as a loss. And with Microsoft’s desire to link all its mobile platforms, a slow start for Windows phone hobbles that larger effort.

Licensing hikes
Microsoft boosted by 15% the fees it charges for licenses that allow users to access servers, squeezing more money out of customers while still giving them a better deal than the alternative.

This is likely good for Microsoft because it means more revenues, but it’s just another reason for business customers to carp about being gouged for software.

Corporate employees are moving toward use of multiple devices in the workplace, making licenses based on numbers of users attractive rather than licenses based on individual devices. Even with the price hike, many customers will wind up paying less for user client access licenses (CAL) than for device CALs. But that won’t eradicate the bad taste from their mouths.

Fanned Flame
The complex Flame espionage malware that infected Iranian government computers earlier this year was in part enabled by a Microsoft security snafu.

A key element of Flame called for exploiting weaknesses of the MD5 hashing algorithm. Microsoft had urged in 2008 that network administrators and certificate authorities stop using the hash because researchers had discovered how to exploit it.

Microsoft officially disallowed its use in 2009 but failed to weed it out of its own products, particularly Terminal Server Licensing Service. Researchers figured out how to compromise MD5 using what they call collision attacks to obtain fraudulent certificates that are accepted as real. This allowed attackers to send malware that victim machines accepted as authenticated Microsoft updates.


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One OS, three installation options: What’s the best way to install Windows 8?

You can run Windows 8 in a virtual machine, dual-boot it with your current OS, or install it outright.

Ahh, Windows 8. If youve decided you’re ready to plunk down your hard-earned cash to give this modern UI a shot, you’ll want to spend a few minutes considering just howA you take your first steps into the Windows 8 experience.

You have three ways to install Windows 8 after youve purchased it: (a) Run it as a virtual machine on your current operating system; (b) dual-boot it alongside your current operating system; or (c) perform a full install and overwrite the OS you’re currently rolling with. While the installation methods vary in complexity, all three are within the grasp of even Windows novices, and each brings its own pros and cons to the table.

Let’s take a deeper look at each option.

Running Windows 8 in a virtual machine
One of the easiest ways to play with Windows 8 without having it affect your current operating-system setup is to install it in a virtual machine. While you can get fancy and purchase premium VM software like Parallels Workstation for this purpose, a completely free program called VirtualBox accomplishes the same thing, minus a few bells, whistles, and advanced options.

A virtual machine is exactly what its name suggests. VM software allows you to install and run a virtualized operating system within your existing operating system, and everything you do in that Inception-like second operating system is contained within its own individual environment. Once you’re done playing around with your virtualized OS, you can eradicate it with just a few clicks of the mousethe virtualized OS is really nothing more than a series of files on your normal systems physical hard drive.

We cant stress this enough: What you do within your virtualized OS has absolutely no bearing on your actual operating system. Delete files. Change settings. Do whatever you want! Once youre done tinkering around for the day, all you have to do is shut down your virtualized version of Windows 8 to return to your normal operating system’s desktop.

The downsides? First, running aA virtualized OS requires more configuration steps thanA installing Windows 8 directly. For example, most VM software requires you to have a processor that supports hardware virtualization to run Windows 8, and you’ll have to make sure that virtualization is enabled within your systems BIOS. A quick and easy way to check all of this is to download Microsofts official Hardware-Assisted Virtualization Tool and run it as an administrator on your PC. If youre ready to virtualize, the tool will let you know.

Second, you’ll need to make sure your that PC’s core components are up to the task of virtualization. Not only must the machine fulfill the minimum hardware requirements for Windows 8, it must also be able to handle not one but two concurrently active operating systems. That’s right:A The virtual machine will use the same physical hardware resources as your normal OS, and because both systems will be running simultaneously, we recommend virtualizing Windows 8 on rigs with hefty system specs to ensure that you have enough resources to dedicate to both operating systems. In an ideal world, you’ll allocate at least 3GB of RAM to each OS.

Even with a beefy system, running Windows 8 virtually will likely deliver a slightly less than perfect experience on a standard PC, with occasional graphical lags, performance hiccups, and the frustration of having to move a mouse cursor between operating-system environments if you run the VM in a window rather than in full-screen mode. And Windows 8’s Internet connection sometimes glitches out momentarily in VirtualBox.

Our advice? Virtualizing Windows 8 is a great way to get a feel for the OS before youre ready to commit for good, but its no replacement for a full-fledged installation.

Dual-boot Windows 8
Dual-booting Windows 8 alongside your current operating system is an easy processso dont be scared if youve never done it before. We’ve already published a guide that can walk you through creating a new, Windows 8-ready partition on your hard drive and starting the installation process itself.

Once the secondary operating system is up and running, youll be given a “choose-your-own-adventure”-style screen whenever you boot up your PC, asking you whether youd like to boot into Windows 8 or the other OS stored on your hard drive. If you dont pick an option, your system will default to Windows 8 after a brief period of time.

The benefits of dual-booting are obvious: You gain access to two operating systems instead of one, and the performance of neither system is impacted by the other, because each is just a simple, separate partition on your hard drive.

The drawbacks? Once you opt to dual-boot, it can be a real hassle if and when you decide to remove Windows 8, and go back to a single-boot system using your older Windows operating system. Spoiler: Youll have to poke around in Windows Boot Configuration Data Store Editor (bcdedit.exe) just to ensure that you have a means for booting back into your legacy OS after youve tossed Windows 8.

In other words, dont just delete the Windows 8 partition!
Youll also be sacrificing room on your hard drive to run two operating systems that are completely independent from one another. It almost goes without saying, but installing an app like Steam on Windows 7 doesnt mean that youll be able to run it through Windows 8they’re two separate worlds. Youd have to install Steam on Windows 8 as well, duplicating your efforts on a single drive.

All that said, dual-booting is a tried-and-true process for making the most out of two different operating systems if you absolutely cant live without each. We recommend the process wholeheartedly unless space is of the utmost concern on your system. And if thats the case, maybe its time for a second hard drive.

Fully installing Windows 8
Here we go. The biggie. Youre ready to take the full plunge and wave goodbye to your legacy operating system forever. Windows 8 has arrived, and it is the conqueror on your desktop. Let no other operating system stand in its path.

Installing Windows 8 is extraordinarily easy and extraordinarily quick. First, though, pay heed to the gentle but firm notice that you get only one shot at this if youre doing a clean install. Make sure that youve backed up all important files from your existing operating system before you wipe it and start anew.

You’ll also need to decide whether youre going to upgrade from your existing operating system or go with a completely clean installation. In short, an upgrade installation will do its best to preserve your files and settings from one operating system to the next. Just how much of your existing OS experience is preserved depends on what youre running: When upgrading from Windows 7, Windows 8 will attempt to preserve all your personal files as well as your applications. But if you’re upgrading from Vista or XP, Windows 8 will preserve only the files, and you’ll have toA reinstall your apps afterwards.

The other option is to perform a clean installation, which completely wipes your existing OS and all the files on your hard drive partition, then follows up with a fresh, brand-new installation of Windows 8. Scorched earth.

So which do you pick? The jury is out. More experienced computer users who really enjoy the clean slate of a wipe-and-installor who are otherwise terrified that they arent going to get peak performance from whatever drivers Windows 8 keeps around from Windows 7should opt for the clean installation. A clean install is also a great way to give your PC a “do-over” to clean out the clutter that accumulates over the years. Indeed, on the second go-around of app installations, you might be less likely to install programs you dont actually use much.

Otherwise, Microsoft has improved the upgrade process so that its not all that scary transferring information over to a new Windows (Windows 8) installation. Youll still want to go into the nooks and crannies of Windows 8 itself to ensure that all of your major settings have transitioned over. We also recommend that you go straight to the manufacturers sites for new drivers for your various system componentsvideo card, sound card, motherboard, and so on.

And, once again, please save your settings before you upgrade. For example, while your preferred Internet browser might make the journey to Windows 8, the operating system might not keep your bookmarks.

I love installing apps, so I love the thrill that a fresh install brings to the table. That being said, we have no official recommendation for which Windows installation processclean or upgradewould best work for you. There definitely are trade-offs in either scenario. Now that you know what’s on the table, the choice is yours.

Wrap-up
And there you have it! If youre most concerned with having an easy exit and dont mind trading a bit of performance in the process, then virtualizing Windows 8 is a great way to get familiar with the OSand tweak it in all sorts of crazy wayswithout doing any damage to your existing OS. Dual-booting Windows 8 is a compelling option for mixing the old and the new; youll just give up a bit of space to do so. And going the distance with Windows 8 will give you the option to upgrade or start from scratch.

No matter which method you choose, you may want to check out our guide to optimizing your first 30 minutes with Windows 8 to ensure you make the most of your new OS.


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