Windows 8:

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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A wish list for Windows 9

Whether it comes in October or next year, there are some features I’d really like to see added.

I have to give Reddit some credit for becoming the place where people make amazing admissions. The Ask Me Anything (AMA) threads are always interesting, fascinating and sometimes shocking.

A few weeks back, a Windows interface designer did an AMA with some shocking admissions that will either cost him his job or were approved at the top levels of the company. What he said was the despised Windows 8 interface was made with casual data consumers in mind.

The designer went on to discuss the thinking, and it all made sense, but at the same time it doesn’t matter. What it told me was Microsoft catered to the lowest common denominator in terms of users and ignored the vast majority of users who knew how to navigate the desktop.

There’s an old joke I used to tell to Apple users (before they started getting violent): If you build a machine even an idiot can use, only an idiot will use it.

Throughout the testing of Windows 8, Microsoft ignored the criticisms. It may have even shut down a former employee who ran a harshly critical website about the Windows 8 UI. Honestly, we don’t know what happened there, but the sudden disappearance of the ex-Microsoftie Windows 8 critic sure looked fishy.

But that was also reflective of the obstinate style of Steven Sinofsky, who has by now welcomed Steve Ballmer to the Microsoft Retirement Home. He wasn’t known for being a good listener, but he did have a knack for changing products radically, and not always for the better. Don’t forget, he gave us the Office Ribbon.

So I really hope Terry Myerson, the head of the Operating Systems Engineering Group, is more receptive to input. I go through this ritual with every Windows release. I never get what I want, but it’s always fun to vent.

1) Voice command. Forget this touch nonsense, I want J.A.R.V.I.S. I don’t want to smear my monitors with my fingerprints, I want to say to the microphone “Create a new Word doc and save it in the March 2014 Network World directory.” Or “Find the email from [insert editor I work for here] on my [generic] feature.” Or ask “Has WTFComics been updated since I last visited?” and have it check the website to see if it has indeed updated.

You get the idea. Dragon is nice for dictating but I don’t like to dictate my work. What I want is contextual command of the PC to replace a whole lot of mouse clicks and searching. To me, that is more important. It doesn’t have to have Paul Bettany’s voice. Scarlet Johansson’s will do.

2) Bluetooth smartphone integration. When I get into my 2012 Toyota Camry, the in-dash system immediately syncs with my iPhone. From the steering wheel I can make calls, take calls, and flip through the contacts list. When a call comes in, the radio goes off and I see the name or phone number of the caller on the screen.

Why can’t a PC do that? A Bluetooth adapter and some software should do it all. I should be able to send and receive calls on my PC without ever picking up the phone; all I need is the keyboard and mouse (or voice commands) along with the Webcam microphone and computer speakers.

3) SSD install. Many people have a similar setup as me – a solid-state drive (SSDs) as the C: drive, with 1TB and larger drives in the D: spot. SSDs are great, but the capacity doesn’t rise like HDD. If you double the capacity of an SSD, you double the price.

So many people have 150GB C: drives and struggle with capacity, or install it on the D: drive. Windows should recognize that the C: drive is a small SSD and there is a very large HDD down the chain. The system should ask users if they want to put their data and applications on the big D: drive. That way, they could keep the SSD running just Windows and put everything else on the hard drive, which is more reliable and easily backed up.

4) Desktop virtualization. The XP compatibility mode in Windows 7 was a nice try, but it didn’t work very well. Hyper-V should be a part of the desktop OS and allow older apps to run in containers, similar to how it’s done now on the server side. People stalled on their Windows 7 deployments for compatibility reasons, but if they knew they could run Windows 7 (or 9) and their XP apps would run in a secure sandbox, there would not have been the hesitation.

5) Better driver management as a part of Windows Update. I’ll grant you this won’t be vital for long. Hardware changes so fast that driver and BIOS updates tend to trickle off after six months to a year. And Microsoft does this now, to a degree. But I still have to go to Gigabyte for the majority of my driver updates. Let’s put it all in one place.

6) Make rollback work. I’ve messed up my installs plenty of times, but the rollback feature in Windows has never worked. Ever. Either get this thing working or just take it out and leave it to the third-party aftermarket.

7) Full Windows Phone integration. Seriously, you want to make your phone a success? It should have seamless email, contact, and calendar sharing between the phone and PC.

Fingers crossed.


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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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Bill Gates’s return may save Microsoft, but it’s not likely

Some talk has been going around about Bill Gates making a return to help Microsoft rebound from its recent mistakes, but don’t hold your breath.

Slow news days (a royal birth aside) can lead to bored reporters straying into speculation territory since they have no news on which to report.

The latest comes from International Business Times, which ran an article speculating that Bill Gates might have to mount up his white horse and save his faltering company from the bumbling hands of the man he picked to take over the firm more than a decade ago, Steve Ballmer.

The main impetus for the story is not rumor or leads from analysts, but because of what happened last Friday, when the company suffered the biggest one-day percentage sell-off in stock the last 13 years. After gaining a little ground in recent months, Microsoft backslid 11.4% in one day.

“As investors continued to show concerns about the standings of one of the most influential tech companies in the world, Microsoft might have no other option but to bring the man that guided the firm to greater heights. Yes, Bill Gates might actually return to his old post,” the article said.

That’s a bit of a leap there. Certainly, the stars are aligning against Ballmer. There were calls for his head more than once. Microsoft has made an awful mess of the PC industry with Windows 8 and its tablet strategy has failed. The recent reorg, as many people noticed, did nothing to put a successor in place.

Investors are losing their patience. Once again, the long knives are out at Seeking Alpha, with one blogger noting that the recent reorg puts 70% of the company’s profitable businesses under an executive with a track record of enormous loss. Another flat out says Ballmer has to go, noting a lack of technological innovation at the company under his leadership.

And Gates would have a good reason to return. His charitable foundation is built entirely on his Microsoft stock holdings. He can’t give away his billions if Microsoft stock keeps plummeting in value.

But the IBT article misses a key issue: Gates’s passion. It’s just not with technology, nor has it been for some time. His evangelical zeal is to save the world, or at least the Third World. He’s not interested in cloud computing; he’s interested in malaria treatment and clean drinking water. Look at his tweets. Do you see any interest in tech? Only tangentially.

To cure the ailing beast that is Microsoft will require someone with tunnel vision and determined enthusiasm, and I just don’t see it in Gates anymore. Yes, it’s his baby. Yes, it’s his fortune. But he has moved on. It needs to be someone else – someone not invested in Microsoft, the way Lou Gerstner was not invested in IBM when he took over, to make the tough, dispassionate decisions that must be made.


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Microsoft Surface sales suck

Or do they? If you listen to some analysts, Surface, and other slates running Windows 8 or RT, started slow out of the gate. Considering how much tablets sapped PC shipments in Q4, slow forebodes trouble ahead. Or does it?

“There is no question that Microsoft is in this tablet race to compete for the long haul”, Ryan Reith, IDC program manager, says. “However, devices based upon its new Windows 8 and Windows RT operating systems failed to gain much ground during their launch quarter, and reaction to the company’s Surface with Windows RT tablet was muted at best”. He estimates that Microsoft shipped just 900,000 Surfaces during fourth quarter, which means to stores and not actual sales to customers.

That number sure looks low compared to any manufacturer in the top 5. Even lowly ASUS shipped 3.1 million units. But sell-through matters more. Except for about 10 days of the quarter, at retail, Surface sold exclusively through 66 retail shops in Canada and the United States. Apple offered iPad through an average 390 shops — 150 outside the United States. Accounting for online sales and doing some best guesstimates, I get 14,680 iPads sold per Apple Store and (assuming 600,000 units) 9,090 Surfaces per Microsoft shop.

However, when adjusting for actual sales days (Microsoft’s slate was available for only about two-thirds of the quarter), Surface-sell through averages out a little higher than iPad on a per-store basis. Meaning: Given limited distribution, Microsoft’s tablet sells better than IDC shipments suggest.

Size Matters
Microsoft’s problem is something else: Size. “We believe that Microsoft and its partners need to quickly adjust to the market realities of smaller screens and lower prices”, Reith emphasizes. That’s a polite way of saying Surface RT costs too much at $499 and Pro, for sale starting February 9, is already overpriced. But are they? Really?

According to NPD DisplaySearch, market demand shifts towards smaller, and lower-cost models. The firm forecasts that slates with 7-7.9-inch displays will account for 45 percent of shipments this year. By contrast, 9.7-inchers will fall to 17 percent — that’s the size of iPad, the category leader. But Apple offers the 7.9-inch iPad mini, whereas Microsoft and its partners offer nothing in this rapidly exploding size segment.

Apple tablets are pricey, too. Starting February 5, one iPad 4 will sell for $929. But fruit-logo pricing starts lower, at $329 for 16GB iPad with WiFi. Microsoft is locked lowest at $499 with a 10.6-inch slate. What the company needs more is a broader range of sizes and prices, the strategy competitors like Apple, ASUS and Samsung pursue. That would preserve current Surface pricing.

Such an approach doesn’t easily fit Microsoft’s current tablet strategy, which is all about making a traditional desktop operating system available on more form factors. But that’s not what the market wants today, when tablets displace some computer sales rather than replace PCs altogether.

Reith warns: “In the long run, consumers may grow to believe that high-end computing tablets with desktop operating systems are worth a higher premium than other tablets, but until then ASPs on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices need to come down to drive higher volumes”.

Give a Little
Simply stated: Working with partners, Microsoft must make gaining market share the top priority. Tablet shipments grew about 75 percent year over year and quarter on quarter to 52.5 million in Q4. Laptops lead the PC category, but NPD DislaySearch predicts that tablet shipments will exceed notebooks this year. Again, that’s not so much slates replacing PCs as displacing new sales, as capabilities overlap. Microsoft doesn’t want to be left behind Android and iOS slates. This is a platform war that nobody wants to lose.

 

ASUS tablet shipments grew 402.3 percent year over year and Samsung’s by 263 percent, according to IDC. These are phenomenal gains, and both companies offer models running Windows 8 or RT alongside Android. Something else: They also sell what Microsoft doesn’t — smaller slates with screens 7-7.9 inches. Short term, Microsoft’s options are limited with Surface. But working with partners, Microsoft could bring Windows RT to smaller screens. Such a strategy would preserve Surface pricing and Microsoft’s strategy around bringing desktop Windows to new devices.

But there’s a wrinkle. Android costs ASUS and Samsung nothing, and Apple realizes the cost of iOS through research and development. Whereas, Microsoft partners pay to license Windows RT. I wouldn’t recommend that Microsoft give tablet OEMs Windows for free, but co-marketing contributions and other incentives could temporarily make the fees essentially zero — on smaller slates.

Already Apple feels the pinch. In Q4, iPad shipment share fell to 43.6 percent from 51.7 percent a year earlier, even as volumes increased (22.9 million from 15.1 million), according to IDC. However, for the second quarter in a row, iPad share declined.

Apple’s falling tablet fortunes show just how dynamic is the segment, and that competitors can and will gain share. But for which platform? Android or Windows RT? Microsoft can answer the question, even in part, by adjusting its tablet strategy.


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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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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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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 8 Consumer Preview embraces the KISS principle

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview released February 29, 2012, is the new poster child for the keep-it-simple-stupid philosophy.

On February 29, 2012, Microsoft made the Windows 8 Consumer Preview available to everyone as a free download. Of course, I downloaded and installed it to a PC right away to see what all the fuss was about.

For an even closer look at the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, check out the accompanying TechRepublic Photo Gallery.
Keep it simple

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I haven’t had time to do a full evaluation of the Consumer Preview, but my first impression of this version of Windows 8 on a desktop PC is one of pleasant surprise. I am surprised because I find myself liking the Metro Interface. The tiles are simple, clean, and straightforward. In fact, some may say they are actually intuitive. Moving between applications is very nimble, and as far as I can tell all the applications work as advertised. You can get more of my initial reactions in the photo gallery.

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For the multitude of TechRepublic members who were predicting doom and gloom for Microsoft and Windows 8, I suggest you download the Consumer Preview and give it a thorough try. It may change your mind. And even if you don’t like the Metro Interface, you may find the more traditional desktop just as functional as the desktop in Windows 7 or XP. There is just no catastrophe to see here.

As time passes, I’ll see if my initial reaction holds sway, but as of right now I think Windows 8 is going to win some users over with its keep-it-simple-stupid (KISS) philosophy. For me the real test is whether Windows 8 can run the games I typically play on the PC. I’ll get back to you on that. (On a side note, I am installing Windows 8 on a tablet as I write this blog post.)

Have you downloaded and installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview? What are your initial impressions of this latest version of Windows? Can you live with the Metro Interface? Have your experienced any problems?


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Microsoft kissing Hotmail goodbye

The company aims to draw users away from Gmail and Yahoo Mail

Microsoft on Tuesday began publicly previewing a new webmail service for consumers called Outlook.com that will eventually replace Hotmail.

Microsoft also expects that Outlook.com will draw people away from competing consumer webmail services like Google’s Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

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With Outlook.com, Microsoft set out to “reimagine personal e-mail — from the datacenter all the way to the user experience,” wrote Microsoft official Chris Jones in a blog post.

Outlook.com features what Microsoft describes as “clean” and “intuitive” user interface that gives more prominence to messages and less to other elements, like headers and search boxes. It doesn’t include display ads.

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With Exchange ActiveSync, Outlook.com accounts can be synchronized across a variety of devices, and it features native integration with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and, in the near future, Microsoft’s own Skype.

This means that users can access content and notifications from those social media accounts within the Outlook.com interface.

Outlook.com also sorts messages of different types into separate buckets, so that e-mail from contacts, newsletter subscriptions, e-commerce notifications and social media content is arranged into different groups.

The new webmail service also includes Office Web Apps, the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote along with the SkyDrive cloud storage service.

Once Outlook.com exits its test phase, it will replace Hotmail’s user interface, although users will be able to retain their @hotmail.com, @live.com and @msn.com addresses as well as their contacts, messages, password and rules.

“While today’s preview is just the start, Outlook.com is ready now to become your primary email service. We’re expecting millions of people to try it out. Starting today, you can get an @Outlook.com email address, and we’ve also made it easy to get started with your current email address if you want to,” Jones wrote.

Outlook.com is not to be confused with the Outlook email and calendaring PC application, nor with Outlook Web App, which gives Exchange users access to their accounts via a browser.


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8 reasons why Windows 8 may not be ready for the desktop

Microsoft recently released the beta version of Windows 8, and there’s been much early praise, particularly for how well it’s designed to run on tablets and smartphones. But how does this early version work as a traditional desktop/notebook OS?

Because an obvious question is why Microsoft elected to position Windows 8 for tablets instead of refactoring Windows Phone 7 (their smartphone OS) for mobile devices, similar to how Apple has OS X and iOS platforms.

The answer is most likely that Microsoft hopes to leverage Windows, which has the commanding OS market share, to try to break into the tablet space dominated by iOS. But at what cost does this come for those of us who use Windows on a traditional desktop or notebook?

1. The familiar Start button is gone
Just prior to the launch of the Consumer Preview, Microsoft declared that the Start button would be removed from Windows 8. Literally, that’s true, but the button’s essential purpose remains. Under Desktop mode (the GUI which looks and works mostly still like the classic Windows desktop you’re familiar with), you move the pointer to the left corner of the screen, and a thumbnail of the Start Metro panel opens up. (The Start Metro panel is basically the new Start Menu for Windows 8.) So the Start button still exists, though in a “ghost” form. But when Windows 8 is used on a traditional desktop or notebook computer, we wonder if its absence in Desktop may confound the uninitiated.

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2. Metro UI not optimized for traditional Windows apps
In Windows 8, the Start Metro panel replaces the old Start Menu. The new UI favors touchscreen interactivity, which comes off as a bit too glossy for use on a traditional desktop/notebook.

An app or program listed on the Metro UI is a shortcut depicted as either a rectangle or square with an icon or thumbnail preview. We prefer setting most of these to squares in order to maximize the usage of screen space. Other apps in the Metro UI are widgets (like what you see on a smartphone or tablet) that show you data within its panel, such as weather information, stock quotes, or social networking notifications. So these tend to display better as rectangles.

3. Full-screen lock-in
Apps specifically designed for the Metro UI are displayed full-screen. You can’t re-size or minimize the running program — thus, a little ironically, Windows 8 is starting to move away from the windowing GUI concept. For tablets and smart TVs, we can understand the full-screen mode requirement, which helps simplify things and ensures the user’s focus on the immediate program at hand. However, under a traditional desktop/notebook setup, this can feel constraining.

4. Two multitasking environments can get confusing
Because of the full-screen mode of the Metro UI, there’s a new multi-task switcher for jumping between two or more apps/programs. You point to the upper-left corner of the Metro Start panel, or Metro app, and a sidebar opens on the left side of the screen which shows thumbnails of all the active programs running under Metro. Click a thumbnail to jump to the program. Under a desktop/notebook setup, we don’t feel this works as an effective way to move among programs quickly, and to keep your eye on open, running programs at a glance.

Now here’s where things can get confusing: Multitasking under the “classic” Desktop mode not only works the traditional way, it and the Metro multi-task switcher work independently of one another.

5. Too much side-swiping
It looks like Microsoft in recent years has developed a fixation on designing UIs where the user has to do a lot of swiping side-to-side. The Start Metro panel in its default setting is laid out unnecessarily in a wide horizontal fashion, with an emphasis on rectangles over squares.

Using Windows 8 with a mouse or touchpad to scroll horizontally as frequently as you may need to in the Start Metro panel can become a chore on your wrists and fingers. The Windows 8 Store is especially afflicted by The Swipes — it feels like you have to swipe through the equivalent of a couple of feet in order to go through the entire length of the store’s layout.

6. Synching questions
With the emphasis on Windows 8 serving as an OS for tablets, too, there are now a slew of syncing options in it. The next version of Windows could open a new set of privacy holes, as well as drain system resources while having to keep data across several programs in sync across your devices and with the cloud. To make things easier for the user, Microsoft may need to devise a series of syncing presets (e.g. “minimal” could be designated to sync only your web browser, email and messaging settings).

7. Game room or board room?
We understand and cannot fault Microsoft for wanting to push their services through the Start Metro panel. That said, the prominence of the Xbox brand as two Metro apps in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview strikes us as a little curious, when there is no placing given to those that are “more professional” — for example, Office 365, Microsoft’s web app version of Office seems like it would not look out of place here. The presence of these Xbox apps seems to hint that Microsoft may be wanting to angle Windows 8 more as a casual computing platform, like for the living-room smart TV, than for the world of business, enterprise, home office.

8. Is Win 8 a desktop OS?
Or a tablet/touchscreen OS? In the desktop/notebook computer environment, Windows 8 asks the user to compromise on the various, convenient ways by which they interacted with programs on prior versions of Windows. The ultimate question: Is this primarily a desktop/notebook OS, or meant for tablets and other touchscreen devices? Microsoft wants to have it both ways by making Windows 8 pull double duty through the Start Metro UI, but the result at this point has a wishy-washy feel for the traditional desktop/notebook platform.

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Why Windows 8 touch sorta stinks in the Consumer Preview edition

Existing hardware wasn’t built to rigorous Microsoft standards for the new operating system.

If you’ve been less than impressed with the performance of the touch interface for Windows 8 Consumer Preview it may be because the hardware running it wasn’t designed for the new operating system, Microsoft says.

The eight screen-touch interactions defined for Windows 8 call for screens whose sensitivity may vary from what Microsoft requires of manufacturers who are building machines for Windows 8 specifically, according to the Building Windows 8 blog.
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“[W]hile we ensure that the OS works well with a Windows 7 PC, a new Windows 8 PC is going to be much more consistent and predictable both from a user and developer perspective,” say the authors of the blog, Jerry Koh, a group program manager, and Jeff Piira, a test manager of the Windows human interaction platform team.

When the software is finalized and installed on devices that were designed specifically to support it the experience should be better, they say, and that is the top priority. In the meantime Microsoft has tried to make Windows 8 compatible with machines designed for Windows 7. “So you should feel confidence in installing the Consumer Preview on the machines that you own today,” they write. “However, as much as we value compatibility, we also have to balance this with making Windows 8 really shine on new Windows 8 PCs.”

As an example, they point to the edge-swipe feature that reveals application bars from the bottom of the screen and the charm bar from the right side. “Traditionally, the edges of the screen are where touch sensitivity drops off, and it’s a place that hardware manufacturers have traditionally not placed much emphasis on,” they write. So on Windows 8 machines, those edges will be made more responsive without sacrificing space that the application can use when the bars are hidden.

Since Windows 7 machines had different design requirements, Microsoft had to do a workaround for screens that are not ideal. “In order to make edge swipe work consistently on Windows 7 PCs, we created a mode where there is a 20-pixel buffer to catch the edge swipe gesture. This allows a majority of PCs to reliably invoke the charms and use Windows 8 effectively,” the blog says.

As it says, this may work on a majority of machines, but not flawlessly. On a brand new HP TouchSmart 520 PC tested by Network World, the preview edition sometimes responds the first time with a finger swipe from the left to open up the charm bar, but sometimes it takes two or three swipes. Sometimes it misinterprets the edge swipe for a slide-to-pan swipe which scrolls the screen side to side. So a swipe meant to summon charms can scroll the live-tile screen for the Windows Store, for example.

But Microsoft says it has straightened this out with hardware developers. “There were many challenges here,” the blog says, “but we were able to deliver on the promise of Windows 8 PCs that have the ability to trigger the edge swipe without taking any pixels from applications, and with extremely good edge sensitivity using touch — a promise that benefits developers and users alike.”

Other issues the blog acknowledges:

= Taps don’t always work, especially when typing. This may be due to touch screen response rate and the number of touch points. Or it may be that the user is typing too fast, leaving more than two fingers on the screen at the same time.

= Trouble detecting swipe-to-select motions. This could be because some systems ignore the first few values of a touch, throwing off its interpretation of a swipe.

= Swipe-and-slide can be interpreted as a tap. Again, if the first values are ignored, the swipe is misinterpreted. Slower swiping and sliding can help.

= Swipe from edge doesn’t always work. Similar causes to the previous two issues and the same solution: slower swiping.

In its Windows on Arm (WOA) devices, in which the hardware is wed to the software with tight restrictions, Microsoft is shooting for responsive touchscreens that will inevitably be compared to the performance of iPads, since many WOA devices will be tablets.

The bloggers list some of the machines on which Microsoft has been testing Windows 8: HP Elitebook 2760p convertible; ASUS EP121 tablet; Dell Inspiron Duo convertible; Lenovo x220t convertible; 3M M2256PW 22″ display; Samsung Series 7 slate.
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IT execs still awaiting Windows 8 on tablets

Would likely run corporate Windows apps, though some wonder if Microsoft’s tablet can compete with iPad, Android devices

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Computerworld – PHOENIX — IT managers say they are eagerly awaiting Windows 8-based tablets due out this fall, though some do wonder whether it’s too late for Microsoft to successfully take on Apple iPads and various Android tablets.

“We are waiting with baited breath for Windows 8 on tablets,” said Greg Fell, CIO at Terex, a manufacturer of construction products, in an interview at the Computerworld Premier 100 conference here this week.

“We’d like a hybrid tablet with Windows,” Fell explained, noting that Terex runs many Windows-based applications that would likely work well with a Windows 8 tablet.

Fell is so eager to hear what Microsoft has planned for Windows 8 tablets that he’s attending a special two-day informational meeting with Microsoft officials next week in Redmond, Wash.

Terex workers already use “hundreds” of iPads in various ways, and the company recently ordered 250 more. At this point, Fell said Android tablets aren’t considered secure enough.

Whether Microsoft can make any headway against Apple’s dominance in the tablet market is questionable, Fell said.

“It’s a question of whether Microsoft is too late to the game,” he said. “If they stumble, they might be out of the [tablet] market.”

Lenovo, which already makes a touchscreen tablet running Android Honeycomb, plans to release a Windows 8 in either September or October that will run on similar hardware, booth representatives at the conference said.

Box Chief Operating Officer Dan Levin said the Los Altos, Calif.-based cloud file system provider is already committed to supporting Windows 8 on tablets and other form factors, “even though we’re not big Microsoft fans.”

He said the limited success of Windows Phone has had workers at Box “laughing at Microsoft. Both Windows Phone users are in Finland.”

But he added: “That [attitude] will change with Windows 8. It is a really good OS.”

Levin had similar concerns as others at the conference, wondering “if anybody is going to give Microsoft a chance. It’s their first tablet.”

He predicted that enterprise customers will give Windows 8 on tablet a chance even if consumers do not. “It’s going to give Microsoft a kick back into the big leagues, but the question is whether they are too late,” Levin said.

One IT executive at a company in the Fortune 250 who asked not to be named said Windows 8 on tablets “won’t be a big hitter. It’s too little, too late.”

Alex Yohn, assistant director of the office of technology at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W. Va., said Windows-based tablets have “huge potential. If the Windows tablet takes off, I see integration of the Windows tablet with Windows Phone.”

Microsoft has released a Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which Yohn said a member of his team is testing. Last month, Microsoft said it would offer a Windows 8 version for ARM-based processors with Office software embedded. However,

Fell said he isn’t as interested in an ARM-based tablet as much as one running an x86 processor.


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