What Comes After Windows 8.1? Windows 8.2? Windows 9?

Windows 8.1 arrives soon. I’ve seen a couple things on what comes next. Here’s my take on what Microsoft needs to do.

Let’s face it. Windows 8 was a mess. The user interface was/is so different from the Windows XP/Windows 7 paradigm that most users I know either won’t use Windows 8 or have switched to Mac or Linux. For Microsoft, this is a huge issue. Aside from Windows Phone, which by all accounts has a great interface, but a microscopic user base, Live Tiles don’t work well on a traditional PC, and THAT my friends, is where Microsoft makes their living.

So what’s Microsoft to do? I have a couple of ideas…

 

what windows next

 

Ditch the Tiles on the PC Side

Surface RT and Surface 2 are Microsoft’s tablet products, and honestly, the Live Tile thing works and does an OK job on a tablet, which is much like a phone. Live Tiles have been received very well on Windows Phone, so keeping the same UI on their tablet line makes a world of sense.

Surface Pro and Surface 2 Pro are really ultrabooks, not tablets. They’re really an – uh-hem – ultra version of a slate-based TabletPC. The only real difference there is that they’re much smaller, much thinner and much more portable. I have one. It’s a full blown PC and definitely not a tablet or lean-back device. It’s for serious work. The Start Screen simply does not work well here, even though I can take my hands off the keyboard, away from the touch pad on a Type or Touch Cover or even a mouse and manipulate the device with touch. It just doesn’t work well. It’s why touch-based CRT’s and LCD’s never really caught on in any other setting other than retail.

 

Merge the Tablet and Phone OS and Software Stores

You know, I really like Mary Jo Foley. She’s got some really good sources over at Microsoft, and some of them are really VERY accurate. According to MJF and her source, by Spring of 2015, Windows RT and Windows Phone will be a single, merged OS. In my mind, that’s a year too long. It needs to happen before June 2014.

I agree that’s a lot to get done in less than 9 months; but its overdue now as it is. Microsoft’s mobile strategy sucks, and has for well over a decade. Ballmer just didn’t get mobile devices OR mobile computing, and as such, they lost the position of power they had back in the 2000-2004 time frame.

Merging Windows Phone and Windows RT is the right thing to do, but they need to make that happen NOW and not later. That will likely mean bringing on a huge amount of contract labor and developing a very aggressive schedule. If they can get the mobile OS standardized and have all of the software for that single platform also exist in a single store, then like iOS and Android, they’ll have a unified platform they can then get behind and push with an aggressive marketing machine.

surface-2-2

More Frequent Updates

According to MJF and her source, there should be an update to Windows 8.x before June 2014. However, it’s not known if that’s going to be a formal release or simply a service pack or update of some kind. Microsoft is shooting for the April-May-June time frame to be their formal annual release time, but if that’s the case, then they need to hit this next release window with a formal Windows release and not a service pack. If they want to appear as though they are turning around major releases quickly in the Spring, then they need to do so in 2014. Waiting until 2015 to provide the next major update will make them appear to have reverted back to the service pack model they said they left behind with Windows 7.

 

Clear, Decisive Action from a New CEO, NOW

I know Microsoft is actively looking for a new CEO; but they need to get someone with a clear vision of where to take them at the helm quickly. Steve may be a great guy, but he blew it with Microsoft’s mobile strategy and that’s where the market is currently headed. They are very weak in this area and need to find a way to demonstrate a clear position of strength and direction quickly, or they may as well forget it.

Frankly, I don’t care who the new CEO is; but they need someone who is product oriented, with a clear mobile vision, and who isn’t afraid to think outside the box. The market isn’t going to wait on them. This isn’t 1990, and they clearly aren’t the only player any longer. Move. Move quickly and hit a home run. Microsoft can’t afford any additional misfires. If they have one, the world – and the mobile market – will move on without them.

I’m working on a Delta Review of Windows 8.1 and will have it ready shortly. Please continue to watch Soft32 for it. In the meantime, why don’t you join us in the discussion below and give us your take on what Microsoft needs to do after Windows 8.1.

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Apple Releases Gold Master of OS X 10.9 Mavericks

Update ‘em if you got it! Apple has released the GM version of OS X 10.9, codenamed Mavericks to its Developers.

At the last major Apple announcement earlier this summer, information regarding Apple’s next desktop OS release was announced. Recently, Apple announced the GM availability of their latest desktop OS, code named Mavericks, on Friday 2013-10-04.

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Mavericks is largely a maintenance release. It has a number of back end changes that improve performance. It also has some interesting user enhancements like FaceTime Audio Calling, FaceTime AutoAnswer (FT does not have to be running), multiple monitor support, tabs in Finder and a new, redesigned Calendar, among other enhancements.

I’ve got the new OS installed on my MacBook Pro; and odds are, that if you have a Mac running Mountain Lion, you’re going to be able to run Mavericks without an issue.

Stay tuned to Soft32, as I plan on having an extensive write-up on the new features in Mavericks in the next week or so. Mavericks is due to hit the streets before the end of October 2013.

 

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iOS 7 and Consumer Reaction

iOS 7 removes a lot of the glossy eye candy from iOS 6 and earlier. I’ve talked to some people and have some interesting reaction.

ios7logoI’ve spoken to some users about the upgrade and let them take a look at the new mobile OS on my iPhone 5, and reactions to it have been pretty consistent – most everyone is either disappointed or reacts violently to the new look and feel. Flat…is not good.

The negative reaction so far has been pretty universal. The UI is NOT what consumers are used to, isn’t what they’ve come to expect from Apple, and quite honestly, they don’t like it. At all…

iOS 6 and earlier contains a LOT of eye candy and skewmorphic design elements. iOS 7 removes about 99% of the glitz and gloss that most everyone has equated with Apple’s spit, polish and device finish. They eye candy is part of what made Apple, well… Apple. The new industrial, flat and enterprise friendly version of iOS 7 will provide users with some much needed and long overdue feature enhancements – Control Center, the redesigned Notification Center and the new and enhanced security features that will help prevent stolen iDevices from being sold at pawn and other resale establishments – THAT stuff will be welcomed, if not considered a bit late to the party.

The rest, from a consumer point of view, is the look and feel of the OS, or the UI; and if developers are criticizing the look and feel, and some are, then the reaction from the masses is going to be much louder and much more critical.

Yes, it’s very much the whole Who Moved my Cheese thing, but it’s a bit more than that. Apple customers are used to a certain level of finish when it comes their Macs and iDevices. iOS 7 removed a lot of that finished layer and flattened the 3D look of the OS.

In short, I think iOS 7, while technically a much better version than iOS 6, isn’t going to do Apple any favors. I think it’s going to bring a great deal more negative press, as the flat design isn’t be received well by those that I’ve shared it with, the development community or with the technical community whom may have had early looks since its introduction. It’s unfortunate, too, as there are parts of the OS that I really like – the new security and Control Center features I mentioned – but the look and feel of the OS… yeah. Not so much…

A for effort here, and a nod to Jony Ive for giving iOS a revolutionary, instead of evolutionary, update, but the redesigned UI of iOS 7 – Yeah… Not a fan.

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What you Should Do if You (Still) Run Windows XP

Just an FYI – Microsoft is officially ending support on 2014-04-08…

gravestoneI’ve skirted around this issue a couple different times.  However, if you’re a consumer and you’re still using Windows XP, you have just a little bit of time to figure out what you want to do. Around Tax Time next year, the 15 year party comes to a close.

So, what should you do?  Great question. My good friend, and former Editorial Director of BYTE, Larry Seltzer wrote an interesting article on this today. It’s funny, because I had the same questions poised to me by an aunt who isn’t very computer savvy. She asked pretty much the same question Larry’s relative asked –

Why should I upgrade a computer that’s working just fine?

Let’s look at that quickly, and then look at what you can do.

Why You Should Upgrade from Windows XP

The simple and short answer is for security purposes.

Windows XP has been around since 1999. That’s almost 15 years by the time Microsoft officially stops supporting it via Windows Update.  As an operating system, it’s an extremely well known quantity and most of its flaws and problems are very well known.

Microsoft has been issuing security patches for it (and older versions of Internet Explorer – IE 9 and older) for a very long time. If you’re still using Windows XP because its ok, doing what it’s supposed to be doing and you’re just not a person who wants to update your computer’s operating system, I understand.  I understand completely.  However, as my Nana used to say – “the party’s over…”

Malware developers (or hackers) are going to be hoping you just don’t upgrade. They’re banking on you hating the idea of upgrading an existing computer to Windows 7 or Windows 8.x SO much, that you stay on Windows XP.  At that point, after 2013-04-08, they’re going to start hitting websites and perhaps your mail server or your PC directly with Phishing attacks, Zero Day exploits and other malware so they can steal personal and private information that either contains financial information or will lead them to it.

Make no mistake, there are criminals everywhere on the planet who WILL try this, and keeping your computer on Windows XP isn’t just you laughing in the face of danger, it’s you begging to be hacked.  In many cases, people don’t know they’re being infected with a virus or other malware. Its only AFTER the infection has set in – after the damage is done – that they see the problems.

So, get used to the idea.  You have 7 months as of this writing to figure out what you want to do.  Once you make the decision to bite the bullet, you have a couple of options.

What you Should Do

This is a GREAT question and it’s a great question to ask now – at this time of year – because there are a number of options open to consumers.  You have back to school sales as well as the upcoming 2013 Holiday Season sales to look forward to, to help you out.  It also gives you some time to get comfortable with the decision.

So basically, you have 2 choices –

  • Upgrade your Existing PC
  • Purchase a New PC

Let’s take a quick look at both. There are Pros and Cons to both scenarios.

Upgrade Your Existing PC

Pros:

  • (May be More) Cost Effective
  • (Probably) No Additional Hardware Required

Cons:

  • No direct upgrade path from XP to Windows 7
  • Must Wipe and clean install for direct to Windows 7
  • Additional software upgrades may be required
  • Windows XP PC’s may not work well with Windows 8 (a clean install is still required)

In many cases, upgrading is always the cheaper route, but in this case, it may not be. There’s no direct upgrade path from Window XP to Windows 7. In order to keep all of your programs installed and on your computer without reinstalling them, you have to upgrade to Windows Vista first. The bad thing with that is you have to buy a license for Vista (which wasn’t cheap) in order to keep all your apps installed.

Upgrading directly to Windows 7 from Windows XP requires a clean install. That means you have to reinstall all of your software from scratch after the OS install completes. That’s a lot more work and that’s if you can find the install media, download links or registration codes for your apps.  After 15 years, that may be a problem.  You may find you need to contact the software provider and request a replacement code or you may have to purchase a new license.

In short, upgrading to Windows 7 from Windows XP can be a hot mess, and may be more problematic than it’s worth, if you’re not savvy enough to jump through all the hoops.

Purchase a New PC

Pros:

  • Cleaner
  • Easier for non-technical users

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Windows 7 may not be an available OS option at time of PC purchase
  • Windows 8 is drastically different than Windows 7 & is not optimal for non-touch enabled PC’s

Purchasing a new PC is always more expensive, and learning how to use new hardware can present a number of unknown challenges. However, if you’re not up to switching from XP to Windows 7 (Vista isn’t sold any more), this is the easiest way to go.

The biggest thing you have to consider here is if purchasing a touch enabled PC (either Win8 tablet or touch enabled desktop) is what you want to do. In many cases, depending on the vendor, you may be able to order a PC with Windows 7 on it, or request it from the provider to replace Windows 8.
At the end of the day, if you’re still using XP, it’s time to change. You have a few months to get used to the idea, but you need to make that upgrade or purchase choice, very, very soon.

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Windows 8.1 RTM’s

…and NO ONE will see the final code until GA in October 2013.

 

Microsoft confirmed today that it has released Windows 8.1 to manufacturing. This important milestone indicates that development and testing have completed and the final version is ready to burn to physical discs or ISO images to be distributed to OEM partners as well as MSDN and TechNet subscribers. However, it’s also been confirmed that MS will not make the bits physically accessible to anyone other than hardware partners, like Dell, HP and others, until 2013-10-18.

windows8-1

According to my buddy, Ed Bott, the reason(s) for the delay are pretty simple

 

  • Hardware makers need time to tweak and refine drivers so they work out of the box
  • Microsoft needs to refine its Mail, People and Calendar apps
  • Third party developers – like Facebook – need time to finish their Windows 8.x apps
  • Microsoft will also fix bugs via Windows Update, and lock it down

 

Barring any weird issues that prevent the 2013-10-18 GA release (General Availability) from occurring, the pubic accessibility of Windows 8.1 on that date will be about 1 year after the GA release of Windows 8. This also fulfills Microsoft’s promise for rapid updates of their OS: 1 year instead of 3-4. It looks like the day of the Service Pack is gone. It’s also in line with what Apple has been doing for the past few years with OS X – a major release a year.

 

Microsoft hasn’t said when MSDN and TechNet subscribers will get access to the final version of the new OS. However, based on Microsoft’s apparent desire to keep this under wraps until the GA release in October 2013, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if MSDN and TechNet subscribers didn’t get the software until the end of September, or the beginning of October.

 

I will have more information as it becomes available, as well as a full delta review here on Soft32 (the differences between the Consumer Preview and the GA release) once I get access to the software.

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Run Windows apps in a new OS with ReactOS

reactosIconI’ve always been big on trying new computer operating systems and such. Heck,  I have beta tested every Windows beta since Windows 95 as part of Microsoft’s Technical Beta Team.  I’ve got the golf shirt to prove it.  However, the recent months have produced a lot of uncertainty, and finding a suitable replacement for Windows has crossed a number of people’s minds. That’s where ReactOS comes it. It’s a Windows compatible, alternative operating system that you might want to keep your eyes on.

ReactOS is a free open source operating system based on the architecture found in Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2012. Written completely from scratch, ReactOS is not a Linux variant and does not share any of UNIX’s architecture. ReactOS is its own animal entirely.

The main goal of the project is to provide an operating system that is binary compatible with Windows, allowing you to run Windows applications and drivers. It also has a similar look and feel so that familiar with Windows will find familiar and easy to use. With ReactOS, you get to use all of your Windows apps and device drivers without having to actually run the Microsoft operating system they were intended for.

ReactOS is a free open source operating system based on the best design principles found in the Windows NT architecture (Windows versions such as Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows Server 2012 are built on Windows NT architecture). Written completely from scratch, ReactOS is not a Linux based system, and shares none of the UNIX architecture.

reactos-x264

ReactOS comes just at the right time. With all of the uncertainty that is oozing out of Redmond right now, having a Windows compatible alternative operating system is a GREAT idea.  There’s a lot that is going to be good here, however, by the dev team’s own admission, the OS is not ready for everyday use yet.  There is a live CD image, but I couldn’t even get that to run, and I tried booting it on 3 different machines.

There’s a bit of information out there about the OS, and it looks like it will REALLY be cool…someday; but not yet. I couldn’t even get the OS to start so I could take screen shots.

ReactOS is still in an Alpha stage, meaning it’s new, very buggy, much of the hardware that you might install on it won’t work right, and don’t even think about installing things like Microsoft Office on it.  It likely WON’T work…or even install.

HOWEVER, this is something that most everyone here should keep an eye on. Depending on how things go for Microsoft, having an updated, current alternative to Windows that will allow you to install and run all of the software you want and need to get your job done, is going to be important.  This is a good first effort, but it needs time to cook…

download ReactOS

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What if – Microsoft Doesn’t Make it..?

I had an interesting conversation with someone at the office today who asked about the MS reorg and some Surface pricing changes – What happens if Microsoft shuts down?

msreorg

Its an interesting question, and one that made me, as well as some people around me and my friend, shudder – What if Microsoft doesn’t fare well after the reorg and everything continues to tank for them?  More than 80% of the world’s enterprises run on Microsoft clients and servers. What would happen if they just evaporated?

Now, I don’t want anyone to panic.  This isn’t very likely to happen, so don’t go getting your undies in a bunch.  However, when you start looking at how many businesses run MS software – servers, clients, middleware – it’s a legitimate question.  Where does the world turn if Microsoft and Windows dies?

Yeah… I’m at a bit of a loss too. I have no idea what viable alternatives are REALLY out there.  Now, assuming Microsoft is TOTALLY out of the picture (again, possible, but not probable…for now), some companies would likely adopt the same strategy with Windows 7 as they did with Windows XP and ride it as long as they could, hiring as many software engineers and developers to patch their enterprise implementation of the OS for all their clients as necessary. They’d have to do their own security patches, as again, MS wouldn’t necessarily be around 5-7 years from the finalization of their demise.

Thankfully, the problems at the OS level aren’t there when it comes to a productivity suite (meaning, Office).  There are many alternatives available, despite the fact that Office is the defacto choice at this time.  Things like LibreOffice, OpenOffice.org, and SoftMaker Office offer free or affordable, robust alternatives to Microsoft’s classic office suite, without imposing online, subscription restrictions or requirements on users. Regardless of what happens in Redmond, I don’t see this area being as big of an issue as the lack of Windows would create.  All three of the products I cited are MS Office compatible, AND have versions available for Windows, OS X, as well as numerous Linux distributions.

So what does this get us at the end of the day? Not much… The level of speculation here is crazy-huge.  But it’s one that a lot of people have had wander through their minds, especially at the large office I work in.  Many of the PC’s that are in use here today are still using Windows XP.  Windows 7 should be fully rolled out over the next 6-12 months – 4 years after its release in October of 2009.

If Windows were to evaporate, there’s no clear heir-apparent for an enterprise client OS out there.  OS X and Linux both have an enterprise presence, but its miniscule in comparison to what Microsoft has.  If I were Tim Cook or Jim Whitehurst (the CEO of RedHat) I’d be watching Microsoft like a hawk and step up the enterprise marketing at each and every opportunity.

My friend Preston Gralla says that MS has to kill the Windows brand to succeed. Greg Keizer, also from ComputerWorld, doesn’t give Ballmer a good chance of making the recent Microsoft reorg a success.  Part of that is Ballmer.  Part of that is clearly based on industry data of past reorg and culture change success rates.

The odds just aren’t in Ballmer’s favor; and any way you cut it, there’s definitely blood in the water. The only questions left to be answered are when and how badly will the shark attacks be…

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WinSetupFromUSB

winsetupfromusbInstall Windows from a USB Stick!

Installing Windows isn’t as easy as it used to be. Back in the day, all you needed to do was stick a CD or DVD in your optical drive, turn the PC on, and let it rip. Windows usually installed and was ready to go in under an hour. Today, it isn’t as easy. Many PC’s no longer have optical drives; and its not as convenient to carry optical discs as it was years ago. Today, USB or thumb drives area LOT easier to carry and often have tons more space than a CD or even DVD. Installing or even reinstalling Windows is a lot easier when you can put the install files on a thumb drive, but its not always easy to get your computer to boot from that drive. Thankfully, with WinSetupFromUSB, it’s a lot easier. It’s a cool utility for your Windows PC.

WSFU-02

If you want or need to have your Windows setup files with you on the go, this is a cool little utility to help you put it together on a USB or thumb drive. Install the utility, mount your ISO file as a drive on your PC and then format the thumb drive with a single partition. The tool will help you format the thumb drive and make it bootable

After your drive is formatted and ready, you specify the location of your Windows source/install files (the ISO you mounted earlier) and specify the destination as your formatted thumb drive. You then let the app copy all of the files to the thumb drive. You can even test the drive in QEMU, a specialized process emulator.

I had trouble getting the application to work. The tool wouldn’t complete the format of my 8GB thumb drive correctly and it wouldn’t work with Windows 7 or Windows 8 media. I’m not sure if that was me, the app, or the fact that I’m running Windows via a VM. You may have to play with this a bit in order to get things to work for you, so be prepared to spend a bit of time. This is not necessarily a turn key solution for creating portable install media for everyone.

download WinSetupFromUSB

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