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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CONFIRMED – Windows 8.1 Ships in August 2013

Despite the bugs they’re currently touting as features, according to Microsoft, Windows 8.1 is on track to ship in August of 2013.

microsoftheadquarters

If there’s one thing that I really like about MaryJo Foley, its that she has her fingers on the pulse that is Microsoft’s life blood. She knows what’s going on and is kind enough to share it with the rest of us. I’ve had a number of conversations with her and I’ve always found her to be if not 100% dead-on-right, at least accurate enough to help me stay current and relevant.

I saw an article earlier this week (Monday 2013-07-08) where MJF is confirming information that had been previously leaked by “individuals close to the situation.” Windows 8.1, code named, “Blue,” despite its bugs, is still on target to ship before the end of August 2013.

Also interestingly enough, the GA (general availability) – i.e. availability to consumers already running Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Preview – of the new OS is said to be either same day as its released to manufacturing and to OEM partners, or shortly there after (meaning days and not weeks or months).  This type of behavior is unusual for Microsoft who normally schedules GA for 4-8 weeks after any specific software title RTM’s. Perhaps this has something to do with the retirement of TechNet. Perhaps it doesn’t.  Either way, its still a very interesting change in behavior.

So, if you’ve got Windows 8.1 Consumer Preview installed, you won’t have it installed for long; and you’re going to need to rebuild your machine in order to install the production bits.

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Et tu Blue-te..? – Is Windows 8.1 Your New Best Friend?

The Public Preview of Windows 8.1 is out. Is it what we really wanted and needed, or not? Here are my initial impressions of the revamped OS.

Introduction

Microsoft has taken a huge beating over its implementation of Windows 8.  The problem isn’t the OS itself, which is fast and very much, (user noticeably,) bug free.  The problem is its hybrid user interface that works well with its Surface RT, or more tablet oriented hardware; and not its Surface Pro (which is more an ultrabook than a tablet) or 3rd party desktop machines.

When asked, I usually offer the following advice – if the PC your considering purchasing or upgrading doesn’t have a touch screen, don’t bother with Windows 8. Its just going to frustrate the daylights out of you.

In response to this (consistently reported, user) issue, Microsoft has introduced Windows Blue, now formally called, Windows 8.1.  While simply a point-release, many are calling Windows 8.1 a major release and not a simple upgrade.  Is it the Microsoft operating system you’ve been waiting for?  Will it save Microsoft and bring them back to the land of relevance; or is it simply prolonging the inevitable? Let’s take a look and find out.

Major Changes

There are several changes to Windows 8 in Windows 8.1.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to highlight the most obvious changes to this article. If I’ve missed something, I’d love to hear what you have to say in our comments and reactions section. A link to that area can be found near the bottom of the article.

Start Screen

Believe it or not, there are some really nice changes to the Windows 8.x Start Screen in Windows 8.1.  The biggest and best change is its new tile sizes. For tiles like Weather, Finance, Sports, etc. large tiles are truly awesome. They give you full access to scrolling data (though they don’t always update like you would expect them to, especially after you’ve run the associated app…)

Tiles can now also be placed in named groups.  For example, you can put all of your Office tiles together and name the grouping with an appropriate name.  Any tiles can be grouped with others in custom groups.  Placing tiles is still a bit tricky, and I’d really like to have more control over that.  Tile sizes aren’t always available for all tiles, either, which seems silly; but again, that’s just me.

Screenshot-3

Screenshot-14

All Apps Screen

If the live tiles just don’t do it for you and you’d like a lot more functionality at your fingertips, you can have the Start Screen go right to the All Apps Screen.  This is really great for PC’s that don’t have touch.

Like the Start Screen, the All Apps Screen, is quickly accessed by clicking the down arrow at the bottom of the Start Screen, and is also customizable.  You can arrange apps in groups, making it easier to find them without searching. Also, note the “new” designations on recently installed apps.

Screenshot-2

The Start Button (not Start Menu) Returns

Speaking of the Start Screen, I know that many people are excited, or think they’re excited, about the return of the Start Button.  If they are, they’re in for a bit of a disappointment.  The button may be back, but the functionality that everyone was really wanting, was the Start MENU, not the button.

The button is nothing more than a visual place for users to click to get to Windows 8.x’s Live Tiles or All Apps Screen. While many people were screaming for the return of the Start Button, what they were really wanting is Windows 7’s Start Menu, and it’s easy to use, easily understandable program layout and PC searching capabilities. Microsoft has apparently moved on from that and has embraced the tile paradigm.  They’re just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

Screenshot-7

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Microsoft to Shut Down TechNet Subscription Service

TechNetSubShutDownThe service stops taking renewals on 2013-08-31.

In a letter to TechNet Subscribers today, Microsoft announced their intention to shut down the software subscription service. New subscriptions or renewals will not be taken after 2013-08-31. The service ends for subscribers when their subscription terms.

Thus ends a 15 year journey, which started in 1998 with a package of CD’s the size of Montana.

Historically, this has been the best deal in town for small businesses, fugal IT shops or anyone with a great deal of PC’s to maintain on a small budget. For $299 ($249 renewal) a year, TechNet Professional got you access to just about everything Microsoft had to offer, including consumer and enterprise versions of Windows, Windows Server and Office. With a small business of my own and up to 7 physical PC’s in my house, as well as any number of VM’s, TechNet Professional was the best way to get Microsoft Software.

The deal was a winner for me; but for Microsoft, it was an invitation to global piracy. Many users would simply purchase the subscription, grab all the keys they were entitled to for the numerous versions of the software they were given access to, and then sold them, at times with counterfeit media, to unsuspecting customers looking for a cheap deal of “genuine” software. Killing the TechNet service stops this flagrant form of piracy.

While it may help MS put a stop to piracy, for me, with potentially 8-10 MS powered PC’s in the house, it completely sucks.

If Windows goes to a subscription model, they better make it VERY affordable, otherwise, many PC’s, worldwide, in my opinion, will either NOT get upgraded OR will simply move to some form of Linux… if something else is needed. Open Office or Libre Office is also looking really good for those laptops and PC’s that don’t have mobile broadband or reasonable access to cloud based services like Google Apps, MS 365 or the upcoming iWork for iCloud.

TechNet’s shutdown is a good thing for MS as it cracks down on license abuse as well as piracy; but its also a huge win for open source products as many consumers will likely take harder looks at them if they decide to upgrade existing PC’s to newer operating systems and newer office suites.

It also lends additional credibility to alternative PC’s – tablets and smartfphones – and the Office compatible software available for those devices. That software is traditionally much more affordable, and this only creates incentive for users to move to that form of economically affordable computing .

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The Top 11 New Features in iOS 7

With tons of new features on tap, iOS 7 brings updates o-plenty to Apple’s Mobile OS

Please note that while this article was being written, Apple released iOS 7 Beta 2. This article contains comments and issues on both beta releases.

Introduction

It’s summer, and as such every young geeks fancy turns to thoughts of new techy goodness from the top tech companies of the world. In like fashion, Apple’s WWDC and its opening keynote presentation often heralds the introduction of not only new hardware but the software that drives it. This year was no exception.

During Apple’s streamed WWDC Keynote, Apple’s leadership team introduced us to a number of really cool features that would be coming in iOS 7. There are a number of different changes and I’ve had a chance to play with it for a week or two. Its different, that’s for sure; and the OS has a number of new features that are sure to be of interest to a great many people.

So, without further ado, here are what I feel are the top 11 new features in iOS 7. Please note, however, that the mobile OS also a bit buggy as of Beta 1, so I’ve got a section at the end where I’ve listed some opportunities for improvement as well.

IMG_0006Control Center

I was hoping for something like Control Center when I wrote my Top Must have Changes in iOS 7 blog post in May of 2013. The new feature puts some often used toggle switches (Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DND and Rotation Lock along the top, Flashlight, Clock, Calculator and Camera along the bottom) at your immediate disposal. I also gives you access to brightness and music controls You also have access to AirDrop and active, Bluetooth connections in case you want to send a quick file or manage an active connection.

Control Center slides up from the bottom of the screen, and is (or will be) available from any app or screen on your iDevice. All you have to do is swipe up from the bottom. I’d still like to see the ability to customize this just a bit. I’m never going to use the clock; and I’ve got access to Camera thru the Lock Screen, and I never lock my screen rotation, so me actually using those 3 shortcuts is unlikely and an unfortunate waste of functionality and space.

 

Notification CenterIMG_0007

The revamped Notification Center is a bit problematic. To get access to it, you swipe down from the top of the device screen; and like the Control Center, its available on the Lock Screen, too. I like the idea of a Today screen that gives you specific information about today, but its very long and scrolls too far down the device, if you ask me. For example, Stock information used to be a crawl across the bottom of the device and Notification Screen. When you have a long watch list like I do (3 indexes and 7 symbols), the list is really long, and takes up way too much room. Apple either needs to give me the option to have it list or crawl, or not display it at all.

Its not all sunshine and daisies, though. Make sure you check out the Bugs and Issues section at the end…

 

iTunes Radio

IMG_0018Apple’s long awaited Pandora competitor, branded iTunes Radio is probably one of the biggest and most anticipated features in iOS 7. Built into the Music App, iTunes Radio is the newest music option that the user has available to them, next to Playlist, Albums, Artists, etc.

The service allows users to stream ad-supported internet radio to their iDevice from anywhere you can get an internet signal. You get music from the three big music labels, and iTunes Match subscribers can listen to music without ads.

You can create your own stations, purchase songs through the iTunes Music Store as well as see what you’ve previously listened to through the service. The service will be available not only on your iDevice, but on your PC and Mac as well through an updated version of iTunes, and through Apple TV.

As some may remember, one of the big holdups in the service was the ability for users to skip songs. iTunes Radio users can skip up to 6 songs per station, regardless of whether or not they are iTunes Match subscribers or not. Skips should reset every hour the service is used.

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