Windows 8.1 (Blue) Features Revealed

Here’s a quick rundown of what Windows 8.1 will bring to the table, and what Microsoft hopes will result from it.

I’ve been looking at Windows tablets for the past year or so, a little harder than I originally thought I would. I have an iPad 1. My daughter has an iPad 2. My wife has a Kindle Fire, and my son-in-law and two boys has Android tablets. I also recently reviewed a Dell Latitude 10 ST2 for Soft32. You can see the review here.

The Dell is good, but its performance isn’t great. I’ve recently (finally) gotten my hands on a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet as well. The difference in performance is night and day above the Dell. I’ll have some thoughts on the differences between the two in another post.

The big question, though is how Windows 8 works with both; and more importantly, what Windows Blue, officially branded as Windows 8.1 bring to the table to improve the experience on both. Microsoft has officially announced the features of Windows 8.1. Here’s a quick rundown of what they are.

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The Start Button Returns
In short, we get the button but not the menu. Simply getting the button back, isn’t EXACTLY what most Windows veterans, especially enterprise users, were looking for. The new Windows 8 Start Menu leaves a lot to be desired at the office. Kids, when we asked for the Button back, we really meant the Menu. The Windows 8 Start Menu and Tiles don’t translate well on the desktop, even on a PC with touch built in like Surface Pro or the Latitude 10 ST2.

Start Menu Filtering
Newly installed apps won’t just get tiled on your Windows 8 Start Menu. They’ll now appear under a “New” filter in All Apps View. You can pin them to the Start Screen if you want, from there.

Boot to Desktop
The one big thing that most Windows vets will appreciate is the ability to bypass the Windows 8 Start Menu and boot directly to the desktop. Current rumor also indicates that you can boot not only to the Start Menu or Desktop but other locations as well, including All Apps View.

Interface Enhancements
You’re going to be able to carry your desktop background over to ModernUI apps. You’ll also see new colors, and backgrounds, including animated elements. Your lock screen can also be configured to run a slide show.

Windowing Enhancements
Microsoft is updating how Snap Views work. You will be able to resize snapped apps to any ratio you like, and can snap up to three (3) apps side-by-side. You can also open more than one instance of the same app and snap it side-by-side.

Settings Update
Settings is getting a decent number of tweaks to help unify and streamline the Windows 8 interface. More settings will be coming over to the ModernUI side of the fence so you won’t swap back and forth between ModernUI and the Desktop as much.

As soon as Windows 8.1 hits the streets, I should be able to install it on the Surface Pro I have. I’ll have a full rundown on it vs. the original release of Windows 8 for Soft32 as soon as its available.

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Find and fix issues on your Windows PC with PCKeeper

pckeeper-iconLet’s face it – you’re busy. You have a lot going on with your kids, your job, and your online lives. The last thing you need are unsolvable PC problems to crop up to add frustration and complication to your life when you least expect it. It’s a good thing that there are applications like PCKeeper available. It’s a PC utility that can keep your PC running and running well.

Everybody has one – a go-to PC guy that can usually solve your PC problems with a couple of clicks of your mouse. The problem is, the guy has a life beyond making sure your PC is circling the while porcelain bowl of death. That’s where PCKeeper comes in.

When your PC guy is busy, PCKeeper can bring your PC back into line. With its Find &Fix feature, PCKeeper gathers your PC’s system information and sends it to a technical expert who will find and fix all security and performance issues. You can use Find & Fix whenever you want to analyze your system for security and performance issues. PCKeeper recommends that you use Find & Fix every 30 days or so.

If you have questions about what’s going on with your PC or perhaps something you’re curious about, you can try Geek on Demand. With it, you can get expert answers literally any technical question you might have. All you need to do is choose one of the suggested problem areas and describe your problem in detail. You will receive a guaranteed answer within 48 hours.

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No PC utility would be complete without antivirus, and PCKeeper is no exception. PCKeeper Antivirus protects you from all kinds of threats in your everyday life that may arise from surfing the net, sending emails, sharing and exchanging info online etc. The best thing about PCKeeper’s AV solution is that its integrated with Microsoft Security Center, making it a native Microsoft antivirus protection tool with automatic scans and daily virus signature updates.

With Files Recovery you can restore accidentally deleted documents, media and other files even if they were removed from the Recycle Bin.

When to Use It?
Use Files Recovery after you’ve lost important data due to application crash, virus activity or someone else messing with your files.

If you don’t have a PC utility that can keep your PC straight, then you need to stop what you’re doing and take a trip over to PCKeeper’s data page at Soft32. PCKeeper is an amazing application that offers a great deal more than AV and click and fix applets. Its also a great data security app that can hide files and folders, keeping sensitive information private. When you want to remove information from your hard drive, PCKeeper’s file Shredder can insure the data can’t be accessed. When you want to recover data that’s accidentally been erased (not Shredded, but erased), PCKeeper can bring it back, too. This is a must have app for your Windows PC.

Download PCKeeper

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Google I/O – The Cool Stuff: Part 1

google-io-2013A lot of cool stuff came out of Google I/O last week. Let’s take a quick look at some of them in this sweet two-part series.

Google I/O is Google’s big annual developer bash. Like Microsoft Build and Apple’s WWDC, Google I/O is designed to showcase Google’s latest goodies and achievements. The idea is to attract new developers to use the new features and functionality that will in turn attract more consumer and enterprise customers to the Google side of the mobile world.

This year, Google rolled out a number of new developments in both the desktop and mobile platform spaces. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to highlight some interesting developments from both areas and try to show you where you might find value for yourself. Today, we’re going to concentrate on the desktop.

Desktop Developments

Quick Actions in Gmail
When you get an actionable email message from someone, don’t be surprised when you can act on the item from right within Gmail. Google is rolling out Quick Action buttons that show up next to actionable items. For example, you’ll be able to RSVP for events from within the invite. Flight information will also be a featured action. Its Google’s intention to solicit their developer partners for ideas on additional buttons.

Gmail Payments
Send money via email, just like PayPal, only its Google Wallet. If you have a Google Wallet account, you can send money to anyone else with an email address. They don’t have to have Gmail, but will have to have a Wallet account.

This is nearly the EXACT same model as PayPal, which BTW, does pretty well. Like their other “me too” app Google+, which competes directly with Facebook, I expect this to have the same amount of success. People may give it a shot to see how well it does or doesn’t work, but then will either revert back to their PayPal account or simply abandon it entirely. Google’s been trying to get into the payments game for a while now with NFC and Google Wallet, It hasn’t had a lot of luck, and I don’t see Gmail Payments providing them with any kind of competitive advantage over the very well established and widely accepted PayPal.

Voice-Powered Desktop Search
This new development is meant to compete directly with Apple’s Siri. It’s been rumored that Apple would be bringing Siri to the desktop in Mountain Lion, but that update never materialized. While many Apple users are still looking for it, Google beat them to the punch with the introduction of conversational, voice powered desktop search. I would expect to see this as part of most Chromebooks as well as an extension available via Google’s Chrome browser.

Google Now Cards – Cool Reminders
This is another feature that catches up to Apple Reminders. Supporting both time and date, Google added geo-fencing to Now’s reminders. You can get a reminder to trigger in Google Now when you arrive or leave a specific geographic location.

Geo-fencing has been a bit of an issue for Apple, and the feature doesn’t work as intended. At least I’ve never been able to have it work correctly. Hopefully Google’s vast experience with Maps will help it better trigger these events and its performance will be much better than Apple Reminders’; cuz it kinda sucks…

Streaming Music Service – All Access
This is yet another area where Google beat Apple to the punch. Apple’s iRadio has been rumored to be in the works for a few years now. Unfortunately, the much anticipated and much sought after service has not materialized behind Apple’s Walled Garden of content and services.

I’m not sure how Google pulled it off, but they got to the party first with All Access. For about $10 bucks a month, you can stream “millions” of songs out of the Google Play Store or your own Google Music library. Available in the US now (and other countries in the coming months), users get a 30 day free trial with the service billed automatically after that. If you signup before 30-Jul-2013, you get the service for $8 bucks.

If you plan to use the service and don’t have a fat data plan, you better make a trip over to your cell carrier of choice and make sure you’ve got the bandwidth to support the service. Usually those people who use other streaming services like Pandora or Rdio find that once they start, they can’t stop. This is a huge win for Google as the new service works on the desktop as well as your mobile device. Hopefully, as details of the fine print come to light, we’ll find that it’s worth the cost.

Come back next time, as we’ll dive into some cool mobile developments that came out of Google I/O. It may be that the best is yet to come!

Google I/O – The Cool Stuff: Part 2

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Top Must Have Changes in iOS 7

iOS 7 is going to need revolutionary instead of Apple’s standard evolutionary changes. This is what I think they need to be for iOS to be innovative again

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Introduction

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it brought PDA/PIM data together with your cell phone, your music and videos, and made everything work, and work well. Since its introduction a few years later, Android has matured, and matured well. Windows Phone has been reinvented and revisioned and now the iPhone isn’t the only player on the block that knows how to do convergence and content consumption.

The iPhone turns six soon and it’s still got the same interface and launcher introduced with. It’s time for an interface refresh. So, here are my suggestions for the upcoming release of iOS 7.

Redesigned Launcher

Currently, iOS users can put app shortcuts on any number of home pages.  Users can also organize icons and create folders to hold application icons by placing one icon on top of another. The interface has remained largely unchanged over the past 6 years.

A launcher is nothing more than a way to sort, manage and launch applications. The launcher in iOS is used on all iDevices, and its clearly in need of some improvement, update or change.  Android allows users to install a number of different 3rd party launchers; and while I’m certain that Apple isn’t going to allow users to install a custom launcher, a lot of ideas can be gleaned from apps of this type from other OS’.

Have at it Apple. Wow us and give us something modern and new.  However, choice is important. It would be nice if in giving us a new UI, Apple would allow users to revert to the current UI as well.

Changes to the Notification Tray

This is one of the most valuable features in Android, and it’s been there for quite a while.  While the iOS notification tray is nice, it could, and should, do a whole lot more.  Shortcuts to specific device functions – like turning radios on and off, or pairing with specific devices – would be very valuable.

I’d like to be able to include info from other apps, like recent phone calls or place shortcuts to favorite numbers there so I can call them quickly. I’d also like to be able to customize this a bit, so please, give me more than can fit so I can put my own personal spin on things, or change things as my needs change.

Settings Redesign

A general reorg of settings would be helpful and seen as a big improvement. Some of the options in this area  are quite buried.

One of my biggest complaints with iOS 5 was that it was really difficult to get to the settings switch to turn Bluetooth on and off. You had to go into Settings, get to General, Wireless and then Bluetooth before you could get to the switch.  iOS6 changed that a bit, by bringing both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings up to the top of the Settings menu.  However, you still have to dive in to each category to get to the on/off switch and any other options, like pairing with a specific device.

I’d really like to see a complete tear down and rebuild here. The way Apple has all of its underpinnings and options setup and configured is long in the tooth.  I know I’m likely not to get what I want here, but it would be nice to see some work on organization and logical groupings. It isn’t always clear what is and isn’t stuffed into Settings and what might be tweaked in the actual app.

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More Noise about WinRT – Microsoft Getting in its Own Way

I’ve heard more noise about Windows RT needing to die over the past few weeks. It doesn’t need to die; but MS needs to get out of its own way…

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Despite what everyone says, Windows RT doesn’t suck. It doesn’t… IF its viewed in the right way; AND if it gets a few needed tweaks.

I’ve heard recently that Windows RT holds just .04% of the market. I’ve also heard that analysts are urging Microsoft to dump the misunderstood OS in favor of Windows 8. While that may not be a bad idea, what most people are missing is that Windows RT could be very good at what it does IF and ONLY IF it were marketed as what it truly is – a tablet OS.

The OS is misunderstood. End users don’t understand that Windows RT is the Microsoft answer to iOS. Microsoft also didn’t help itself by using the Windows branding with it, either. To most PC users, Windows is Windows, and having Windows on a tablet is an interesting experience… Provided I can get all my software on it… or at least that’s what most users think.

Windows RT’s biggest problem – aside from a really weak to non-existent software store and an anemic ecosystem – is its Desktop mode. Its needs to leave that behind. Windows RT is NOT a desktop OS, and Microsoft needs to help users get over it. Everyone I know who has seen Windows RT doesn’t understand why they can’t get their older Windows apps to work on it.

Surface RT needs a marketing remake if it’s going to survive. It needs developer subsidies so that developers write RT based applications. And I mean USEABLE applications. Windows RT doesn’t need 50 bazillion different farting and pull my virtual finger apps.

Despite what everyone might think, I really believe that Microsoft has a decent chance to compete in the tablet market. However, it needs to make a few needed changes. If it can do that, then it can crack the tablet nut. Unfortunately, the marketing blitz needed is something that I really don’t think Microsoft is going to do, and that more than anything, is the biggest disappointment I’ve seen out of Redmond is a long time.

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If Microsoft is Going to Listen, then it Needs to Listen

I need what I need, and not a token bone thrown at me. I’m just sayin’…

The interwebs have been agog lately with a number of different rumors and “confirmations” that Microsoft has heard the wailing and cries of its people. It’s said that the release of Windows 8.1 – or Windows Blue as its been code named – will bring back the Start button to the Windows 8 interface.  Unfortunately, a new undercurrent has been heard recently as well: The Start Button is going to do what it did in the Windows 8 Developer Preview – Bring up the Windows 8 Start Screen and not a Windows 7 Styled Start Menu.

My friend Preston Gralla sites a story from The Verge in his analysis.  He says that it its “true, it would be a [major] misstep for Microsoft.”

I agree, but it wouldn’t be the first time that MS thought it knew better than its customers.

startbuttonGralla says that, “Microsoft [appears] to have a death wish” when it comes to Windows 8. Users have been asking for a return of the Windows 7 Start Menu. No one is asking for a Start Button that gets users to the Windows 8 Start Screen. Users that want a quick way to get to the Start Screen can swipe in from the right edge of the screen, hit the Windows Key on a Windows compatible keyboard or hover the mouse over the lower left corner until a thumbnail of the Start Screen appears and then click on it.  Putting the Start Button back just to get the user to the Start Screen is silly.  We don’t want the Start screen.

We want the Windows 7 Start Menu.

The Windows 7 Start menu was simple. It was easy to use.  More importantly, its search results were much more accurate than its Windows 8 counterpart; at least that’s the current perception from most users.  Windows 8 Start Screen search results display data differently than displayed on the Windows 7 Start Menu; and the results sort and display is also confusing users.

Unfortunately, especially on a non-touch enabled PC, the Start Screen isn’t what users want. Windows 8.1 will likely give users the ability to boot directly to their Desktop instead of the Start Screen, which is something that users DO want.  However, giving users a Start Button that doesn’t do what users want it to do is confusing and, well, rude. If Microsoft is going to listen to its Windows 8 critics and change the way the OS works, then it needs to listen.

If The Verge’s report is accurate, Microsoft’s solution seems half-backed and empty.  Windows XP and its Start menu have been around since 2000. It’s over 13 years old. Changing that type of use behavior in the enterprise is NOT reasonable; and I honestly think Microsoft is going to miss the boat again if it doesn’t open both ears and listen to what users want from it.

 

 

 

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Check out the health status and temperature of your HDD/SSD

CrystalDiskInfo-enStorage. Your computer lives off of it. Room for your operating system. Room for your data. Room for temporary and work files. Without enough storage, you won’t be able to run your computer the way you want. In order to keep your hard drive in working order, you need the right monitoring utilities. CrystalDiskInfo is a hard drive monitoring utility for Windows that gives you this awesome capability.

CrystalDiskInfo displays basic HDD information, monitors S.M.A.R.T. values, and disk temperature. When monitored drives start to fall out of acceptable ranges or values, the app can send you alerts via email. You can then come back to the monitored computer and check its status.

In order to help you monitor its stats, the app offers a variety of tools and monitors including rotation speeds, temperature settings and S.M.A.R.T information. You can also monitor and control AAM/APM settings.

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Conclusion: CrystalDiskInfo is a decent application…if you’re hardware savvy. If you don’t know a lot about hardware or if you don’t know what you should do with drives that are developing issues, having the app on your home PC isn’t going to do you a lot of good. The app is really meant for computers and drives that are on more than they’re off. In other words, if you have computers in a data center or other always on situation, CrystalDiskInfo is the kind of application you’re going to need in order to make sure mission critical applications stay up and running.

Having an app like this in a consumer setting or on your home network isn’t going to help you too much if you’re PC isn’t on more than off. Most consumers won’t know what do to with the issues and values they encounter, so the information is really just a lot of noise for someone who doesn’t understand hardware.

Download CrystalDiskInfo

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Will Microsoft do a Redo with Windows Blue?

New rumors are circulating indicating that Microsoft is trying to win you back with Windows Blue…

It’s true I’m not Windows 8 fan. However since my Dell Latitude 10 ST2 tablet run Windows 8 and is a Surface Pro competitor, I’m at least interested in the future of the platform and what Windows 8.1 – more commonly known as Windows Blue – will bring to the table. From what I understand, there’s good news and bad news.

First the bad news – Microsoft isn’t giving up on ModernUI in Windows 8. Windows RT, even though it has Desktop Mode doesn’t run legacy Windows apps, so it can be confusing. WinRT is NOT the Windows you’re used to.

I saw an interesting article by my friend, Preston Gralla. If Preston is right with his speculation, then MS is going to do a bit of rethinking with Windows Blue and will let users boot directly to the Windows Desktop. However, Preston doesn’t think it will happen.

WinBlue

My other friend, MaryJo Foley, is further speculating that not only is Microsoft considering allowing users to boot directly to the Desktop, they are considering bring back the Start Button as well. While both of these design elements were removed from Windows 8 and were NOT part of the original Windows 8.1 feature set, according to MJF, “these two UI options are looking more likely.”

MJF makes it very clear – nothing is certain, but at least Microsoft is looking at this as a very real option. The next milestone leak or the public preview in June will tell the tale. We’re really just going to have to wait and see, as until the software is in the can, anything and everything can change.

I am stuck in the middle. I’m not entirely certain that MS will relent and have the options built into Blue to bring back the Start Button or allow users to boot directly to the desktop. However, I really think they should do it. If they don’t, I see Microsoft having continued issues with Windows 8 adoption. Unfortunately, that’s something that they really don’t need right now, and the absolutely need to address.

As always, time with tell the tale. In the meantime, if you must have this functionality now, you can always check out my review of Start8 here on Soft32 and install it. It brings back the Start Button and allows you to boot Windows 8 directly to the Desktop.

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