Microsoft to Release Another Browser

But it’s not all sunshine and daisies, like you’d think…

Microsoft to Release Another BrowserHonestly, I’ve struggled with this bit of news over the past couple of days. Initially, I wasn’t going to cover it, because there really isn’t too much to say about it. There aren’t any screenshots. There isn’t an alpha or beta version to play with; and knowing Microsoft, things could change long before ANYTHING is released. However, the latest scuttlebutt out of Redmond has Microsoft working on a new browser for Windows 10.

There’s good news and bad news related to this. The good news, obviously, is that Microsoft is leaving IE behind. The bad news is that they aren’t moving to WebKit. They’re sticking with Trident – IE’s current rendering engine – and it looks like even THAT engine is getting a rewrite; at least according to Brad Sams at Neowin.

According to my friend, Mary Jo Foley, Trident’s rewrite is part of an effort not to (necessarily) replace IE; but to create a new, light weight browser, currently code named, “Spartan.” While Spartan isn’t IE12, it does seem to be a new animal all together. The new browser should look and feel more like popular WebKit browsers, Chrome and Firefox, and it will support extensions. All of this is going to be done as part of the work behind Windows 10.

Microsoft may or may not show off their new browsers on 2015-01-21 when the company reveals the Windows 10 Consumer Preview. It’s very possible that it won’t be in a state to show off until later in 2015.

What Microsoft decides to do with IE and the IE brand is also up in the air. MJF made no mention of Microsoft discontinuing IE or totally replacing it with Spartan or any other new or revised browser.

All of this is a bit annoying if you ask me. IE has been such a pain in the butt over the past 15 or so years. Its broken the internet a number of times, and has really created more problems for web developers than it solved during that time as well. Why Microsoft is hell bent on staying with their own, proprietary rendering engine, is also completely beyond me. If they’re going to write something new for Windows 10, and knows that their development community and partners (as well as the general public) has issues with IE and Trident, why not totally embrace their new philosophy of customer – not Microsoft – first, and dump Trident for WebKit?

I’m fairly certain that the world won’t see the new browser and kick their love of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and other WebKit compatible browsers to the curb. Unfortunately, we’ll just have to wait and see where Microsoft takes this new effort, and how it’s received not only by the tech press and tech savvy, but the general public as well…. and if there’s one thing I really HATE doing when it comes to technology is, “waiting and seeing.”

What do you think? Is a new MS browser a good thing? Is sticking with Trident good or bad, regardless of its pending rewrite? Is this something that you’re looking forward to as part of Windows 10, or is this something that just seems to be an unneeded, unwanted, or misdirected effort? Why not sound off in the Discussion area below and let me know what you think?

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2014 Predictions Scorecard

I made some predictions back in early January 2014. Let’s see how well I did…

Predictions

The end of any year always has us taking a quick look back to see where we’ve been to help us figure out where and how far we want to look ahead. 2014 was no different; and in fact, after I assess my awesome skills of prior, predictive, prestidigitation, I plan to make additional predictions for the new year. Stay tuned to Soft32 for my technology predictions for 2015.

So, I found my predictions for 2014… and again, you have to understand that many of these are nothing more than a SWAG – a silly, wild, <beep!> guess. Technology is like water – it flows where it wants, and predicting just where and what gets wet is more of an art than a science. You’ll need to have a couple different browser windows open for this, for everything to make sense. To get the best idea of how I did, you might want to have this column in one window, and last year’s predictions open in another.

I’m going to run down how I did on a scale of 1-5, 1 being low, 5 being high. The best score I can get is 20, as I only made four predictions for 2014. Let’s take a quick look at how I did.

1.   Wearable Computing Still Doesn’t Take Off

Yep. This WAS an easy one; and I’m going to give myself 5 points here. While the Pebble Steel finally did make its appearance in 2014, it was 3-4 months behind schedule; and while it may be timeless, I’m certain many will agree that it didn’t hang the moon. The Apple Watch won’t be released until sometime in 2015; and with a $350 entry point, I’m not certain how many people will jump at the opportunity to own one. Other smartwatches like the Galaxy Gear and the Galaxy Gear S, again while nice, are also expensive and a bit too restrictive – you have to have a specific kind of Galaxy S smartphone for these to work. The Moto 360 also hasn’t sold well. Most everyone , I think, will agree that wearables are still, unfortunately, confusing.

2.  Blackberry Totally Folds – Sells off its Assets

Ok, I blew this one and take no points at all for it. Blackberry did fade, but didn’t fold. I haven’t heard or seen anything on it in the news in quite a while, and that may be their plan for right now – lay low. Regroup. Come back with a better strategy. I still think they should be looking for a buyer. Microsoft might be a good home for them; but I’ve also been saying that for a while, too.

3.  Apple and Samsung Still Can’t Get it Together

This is the love-hate relationship that everyone hates to love and loves to hate. These two still haven’t gotten it together, but tensions have at least cooled if not quieted down some. The trial isn’t over, the appeal is still up in the air; and while they may be resigned to working together, given the opportunity I think that there’d still be blood on the playground if left to their own devices. I’m going to take 4 points here, as I think I was really close, but not quite dead on.

4.  Microsoft’s Next CEO is

I had a bit more than half of this right. I had it down to either Allan Mulallay or Satya Nadella. I’m going to take 3 points here, as I couldn’t quite dope it all out, though I did pick Nadella as a finalist for the right reasons.

My final score is 12/20 or 60%. It’s not a great score… but it’s not a bad score either. The Blackberry thing totally did me in. Instead of dying, they kinda faded into the background. We’ll have to see where CEO Jon Chen takes them in the future. I still think the best thing for him to do is look for a buyer, and to look to Microsoft for that purchase. That might be a huge pill for Blackberry to swallow, however, as Microsoft and their Exchange ActiveSync has always been a huge competitor for Blackberry, and selling to a competitor may be seen as admitting defeat… I don’t know; but Microsoft’s money is just as green as everyone else’s.

Did you make any predictions for 2014? If so, how did you do? Did you bet on the wearables market taking off; or were you in a wait and see mode? Did you think Satya Nadella would be named Microsoft’s third CEO, or did you pick another candidate to take the helm? Did you think that Apple would not only release a larger iPhone, but release a complete phablet as well in the iPhone 6 Plus? There was a bit to choose from, and not everything came to light near the end of 2013 in time to actually make a prediction for the entire year.

How did you do on your predictions though? Were you close? Were you totally off; or were you dead on? I’d love to hear how you did with your 2014 predictions. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and tell me how you fared?

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What Windows 10 SHOULD Be

Windows 10 is supposed to be Microsoft’s future…

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I’ve been using Windows 10 on my Surface Pro for a while now.  While I haven’t had many of the Explorer.exe crashes that others have been having, I have been banging on it hard enough to develop an opinion or two.

To be honest, so far… I’m not that impressed.  I know that Microsoft REALLY needs to hit a homerun here.  They’re pretty much betting the [relevance] farm on it.  If it tanks, it’s going to be a really bad 2015 in Redmond.  But that’s just me…  There’s a lot going on with Windows 10, and (un?)fortunately, we haven’t seen everything.

At least not yet…

To be honest, even though I have been covering the Microsoft ecosystem since 1997, and I’ve written a lot for media organizations like AOL/CompuServe, InformationWeek, Computer Power User Magazine, WUGNET – The Windows User’s Group Network and LockerGnome, among other online and international print publications, I still haven’t broken into that “insider,” inner circle like Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott, even though Paul and I worked together at WUGNET in the late 1990’s.

So when it comes to the inside track, I trust Paul and Mary Jo explicitly.  Period.

So again, while I wasn’t impressed with the current state of Windows 10, what I’m hearing from both Paul and Mary Jo is to sit tight.  According to Paul, Windows 10 is coming into focus.  His recent statements reminded me of what most everyone in the Windows Insider Program heard from the very beginning – what you see now, isn’t the final state of the software.

This is a good thing, because as I said, Windows 10 currently has “work in progress” stamped ALL over it.  The last formally released build – Build 9879 – was pretty much a train wreck.  For many Insiders, the OS crashed all the time, requiring them to reboot multiple times a day.  When Microsoft did release a fix, it wouldn’t install for many; and in many cases, users wouldn’t know if the patch install had failed until they looked at the Windows’ Update History to see which updates had successfully installed or had failed. The fact that the patch was continually presented over and over again as an available update *did* tip most of us off; but to be honest, it could also have been Microsoft issuing additional, related updates.

So, what is Microsoft wanting Windows 10 to be?  That’s simple – the future of their desktop and mobile platform.  Notice… I didn’t say, “platforms.”

Platform… as in singular.

Microsoft is looking to completely unify its portable (meaning tablet), mobile (meaning phone) and desktop experiences into a single OS that will only install and run the bits that are appropriate for the hardware its running on.  This convergence is a complete departure from over 30 years of business practice; and as such, they’re having the problems that most everyone is seeing in the (tech) news.

In fact, Larry Seltzer has a huge article detailing some real Microsoft Update Missteps that is worth a read.  Things are changing at Microsoft, and what’s going on with Windows 8.x and with some of the official and leaked builds of Windows 10 speaks to the many development related paradigm shifts going on over at Microsoft.

At least they’re trying to change.

However, with everything that’s happening – the Windows 8.x Update missteps, the buggy internal and external Windows 10 builds, the Surface Pro 3 Wi-Fi issues, many – me included – are wondering who is steering the Microsoft Release Management Ship.  At the very least, I think most are chalking this up to a change of CEO, but honestly, by this time, most of those hurdles should be cleared.

So, what does Microsoft need to Windows 10 to be..?

They need it to be a success. Windows 10 needs to be a unifying platform that doesn’t require all of the “legacy related, DOS-world” tweaking. It needs to just work out of the box, regardless of platform – tablet, phone or desktop.

Windows 10, more I think than Windows 7 did, needs to be sexy. It needs to lure users back to a user experience that provides a known, familiar feel, while providing a unified, POPULATED ecosystem where users can buy not only applications, but media content – audio, video and apps – without being totally disjointed. It needs a developer community that embraces it, with support from Microsoft as well as hardware vendors, alike.

Windows 10 needs to run Office 2010 and later – including Office 365 – without any burps or issues, as not everyone wants to upgrade or wants to buy a subscription to the productivity platform.

More than anything… Windows 10 needs to be dirt cheap. On the consumer side, that means free… as in zero dollars and zero cents.  On the enterprise side, Microsoft needs to figure out how to sell OS licensing that makes sense for IT departments who don’t jump on the newest version OS because they don’t want new, untested bits to tank their company’s productivity and profits.

Microsoft needs to look at service and support on both the consumer and enterprise side of the equation, and they need to figure out a better life cycle that ends support and moves people to the most current bits in a manner that doesn’t cause a massive revolt.  The OS needs to be solid, stable, and near bug free for those folks so they move without worry, and with confidence that, again – everything just works.

THAT kids… That’s a big order to fill.

However, I really think that if Microsoft doesn’t do it, and do it quickly, decisively and without any of the current drama, at least at some point, they’re going to force users into looking into alternatives.  That means, alternative platforms, alternative productivity tools, and internal servers, middleware and other enterprise related software.

Microsoft is sitting on the edge of a very sharp knife named, “Change.”  If they don’t embrace it and do its bidding, I think they’re really risking a LOT.

What do you think?  Have you used Windows 10?  Are you a Windows 8.x user experiencing update confusion and issues?  Are you considering a move to Windows 10?  Will you stay on Windows 7 until they pry it out of your cold, dead fingers (or until you buy a new PC and HAVE to take it)?  Or, will you simply move to another computing platform like Linux or Mac?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on the whole thing. I’d love to hear what you have to say, and to see if I’m on target, or all wet…

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Get that iDevice for Cheap

Now I know why Gazelle has been hoarding mobile devices…

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Don’t get me wrong… I’m not one to push a particular web site on anyone or to provide any corporate organization with any kind of free advertising or free publicity. However, anyone who’s anyone that owns or has owned a smartphone or tablet and has replaced it over the past few years has run into the problem of what exactly to do with the old and busted once you’ve replaced with the new hotness.

It’s actually pretty easy; and it can provide some much needed extra cash if all that “old and busted” is gonna do is sit in a drawer or closet and collect dust. I’m talking about Gazelle, and like I said, if you’re replaced an outgoing mobile device, I know you’ve heard of it.

However, I’m not going to extol the virtues of selling your old and busted electronics to Gazelle. Everyone’s already heard that story and I’m not going to retell it. However, what I AM going to speak to today is how you can turn the tables and BUY from Gazelle as well.

Yes. You can buy from Gazelle just as easily as you can sell to them. Gazelle has been collecting older electronics for the last three to four years or so. Everyone – well, at least *I* – thought that they were going to sell the older devices in emerging markets (meaning smaller third world nations) where only the super-duper elite rich can afford the latest and greatest of anything.

Not so kemo-slobby!

Gazelle unveiled its used electronics purchasing arm a while ago, and I had the opportunity to use it recently, and I wanted to tell everyone about it.

I have been blessed. Truly blessed to be able to have a job that allows me to afford to purchase and review a number of different technology items over the years. Some I’ve passed to my daughter after a review period. Some have been sold through either eBay or Craig’s List. Some have been sold to Gazelle.

Recently, my wife and I decided to give our boys iPad minis for Christmas, but didn’t want to pay full price for them. I knew I wasn’t buying new, and after looking at and rejecting Apple Certified Refurbished deals as a bit more expensive than I wanted to pay, I decided to explore other options. I knew eBay and Craig’s List were out. I’ve not had great luck with either lately. Unfortunately, eBay has really lost a lot of is luster from its glory days of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Craig’s List never quite sat well with me, even as a seller.

I had heard that Gazelle was now selling devices, so I took a quick trip over to their Home Page and took a look around. I was very pleased with the results. I was able to find 16GB black iPad minis with Retina Displays for the boys at $209 USD a piece. After shipping and handling, that came to about $425 USD. So for less than the price of a new iPad mini, I was able to get two, shipped to the house for my boys for Christmas.

Services like Gazelle are very picky about the quality of devices they accept. They only want the best kept gadgets so that they appear as like new and/ or in mint condition when they are resold. That way, you feel as though you’re getting and/ or giving the best, especially around The Holidays.

If you’re looking for a way to afford giving a high end device for The Holidays and don’t mind buying used (as long as the device doesn’t LOOK or ACT used), then you might want to take a serious look at Gazelle. They’re likely going to have what you’re looking for without having Santa say, “Ho-Ho-NO!” instead of, “Ho-Ho-Ho!”

You can check out Gazelle’s Certified, Pre-Owned devices, including major carriers and unlocked devices via their home page (or use the above link).

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Convert videos for your Mac or favorite iDevice with MacX Video Converter Pro

Convert videos for your Mac or favorite iDevice with MacX Video Converter Pro

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One of the greatest things about modern computing is that the tools to create, transport and convert video – the kind that are of the quality that used to be available only to professionals – are now available to just about everyone. This is largely due to the fact that most of the hardware that common computer users now have access to, is professional grade. With that being the case, tools like MacX Video Converter Pro are a huge asset, as it provides professional processing with consumer level ease of use.

MacX Video Converter Pro is a general purpose Mac video converter that can convert video to any format. It supports MP4, H.264, MPEG, AVI, FLV, MOV, WMV, MP3, AAC, among others. It can also transfer supported HD video formats (AVCHD, M2TS, MKV) with flawless video quality. The app will also download YouTube videos. It will also record your screen, edit videos and allow you to make photo slideshows

The app supports a wide variety of formats and devices. You can convert video to and from iPhone 6/6 Plus, iPad Air 2/Air, iPad Mini 3/Mini with Retina, and Apple TV 3. The app supports files from iTunes and iMovie; and it will also support conversions to and from the HTC Desire 816, Galaxy S5 mini/S5, Galaxy Note 4/Edge, Galaxy Tab S, Amazon Kindle Fire HDX8.9, Google new Nexus 7, Surface Pro 3 as well as the Xperia Z1/ Z2/ Z3, and PS4.

MacX video Converter Pro is a decent desktop converter. Its interface is a bit disappointing to be honest, but its more than made of by the file formats and the the mobile devices it supports. The app works well with consumer based hardware, but is even better with high end hardware. The price is a bit on the high side for today’s desktop app market, but its performance is top notch. If you’re looking for a decent app that will not only download and convert YouTube video, but will also convert video to and from most of the popular mobile devices and video formats, you really will have a hard time finding a better app.

 

Download

 

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Windows 10 Features – Much ado about… Nothing?

What’s all the fuss about Windows 10 core features..?

Windows 10

Over the past few days I’ve seen a few articles on Windows 10 cool and unknown features; and while I will spend a few moments going over some of the bigger stuff of note in the upcoming OS, quite honestly… I’m wondering what all the hullaballoo is about.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that Microsoft’s marketing machine has to pump up the volume on Windows 10 somehow. Unfortunately, they can’t simply go with:

Windows 10 – It doesn’t suck like Windows 8 did.

So yeah… they have to say SOMETHING positive about it that doesn’t speak to just the code tweaks and optimizations that you’re going to find under the hood. Unfortunately, Windows 10 really IS all about not sucking like Windows 8…which, by the way only sucked because the UI – or User Interface – was so horrible. If you could get past that, Windows 8 ran well and would run on a LOT of budget class, legacy hardware.

The vision for Windows 8 was to be a bridging OS that got users used to the idea that computing was shifting away from a post 1990’s traditional, put a program in a movable box on a screen, metaphor to one that really tried to embrace tablet computing.

That’s one of the reasons why Microsoft Surface Pro exists – to help users find a way to have their tablet and [eat] it too. Microsoft’s thought was, “well, users want to compute on a tablet… we can give them a tablet form factor if they want one. We have the whole slate TabletPC thing that kinda tanked about 10 years ago; and THAT kinda looks like an iPad…just a lot bigger and bulkier… If we thin it down and shrink it down a bit and then MAKE a detachable keyboard that goes WITH it (one of the BEST ideas with Surface Pro, by the way…) we can pocket the 3rd party dollars there along with the device sale.”

Whaddya think Stevie B.?

It was a good idea, but unfortunately, the execution didn’t match the vision, and the whole bridging OS thing really went over like a fart in an elevator. In other words, it really stunk up the joint and people ran (not walked) and in some cases, pealed back the proverbial steel plating on the “elevator” to get off. Many of us in the tech sector had the words, “Metro Sucks” tattooed on the inside of our eyelids and spent a lot of time with them closed, shaking our heads wondering why Microsoft ticked off their established enterprise and consumer user bases with a confusing, UGLY and productivity shifting interface that not only made it hard to get anything done, but totally changed the way you HAD to work with a standard, desktop computer.

 But, again… I digress…

Anyway, as I said over the past few days, I’ve seen a few articles on Windows 10 features and while there’s some “nice” things in there, there may only be one or two of the 10-15 or so things that people are touting as awesome that may make ANY kind of a difference to anyone outside of the Microsoft Marketing department.

I’ve been running and testing nearly EVERY beta version of Windows on all of my production Windows machines since Windows 95 (so, for almost 20 years, now…) and I’ve seen stellar UI changes… I’ve seen great feature implementations… and I have to tell ya I’m lookin’ at all of this stuff in the Windows 10 Technical Preview and I’m thinking…

 Meh…

Some of what we’re seeing is definitely a rethinking or reworking of stuff that didn’t quite make the impact that it was intended to make. The Start Screen and the reinstated Start Button and (more importantly) reinstated Start Menu are some good examples. People absolutely HATED the Start Screen and DEMANDED their Start Button back. When they said that, everyone ALSO meant the Start Menu, but Microsoft decided to play stupid on that and only brought back the BUTTON in Windows 8.x.

When the world saw that, they called “bullshit” and gave Microsoft the big, “c’mahn…! You KNOW we meant MENU and not JUST the button..!” schpiel , but for some reason, all we got from Redmond initially was the big, wide spread armed, “WHAT?!? We gave you what you asked for…” response, which caused us to give Microsoft the “crossed armed, head tilted to the right, raised eyebrow silent treatment” that said, “Really..??”

So Microsoft is giving us the Start Menu back, but said, “okokokokokok… but you gotta give us a bit to put it back.” Its actually coming back as part of Windows 10. So, without any further kibitzing… here are the features and some of the hidden features of note <chuckle> in windows 10.

Improved and Expanded Start Menu

So, yeah… as I mentioned, the Start Menu is coming back; but its not the Start Menu that you remember from back in the day. Microsoft can’t seem to let the Live Tile thing go on the desktop, so they gimished the two of them together and we get an improved Start Menu (as you can quickly and easily pin, remove and customize items on it) but you also get the ability to pin Live Tiles to it.

Live Tiles work VERY well on Windows Phone devices. In fact, some will argue that the Windows Phone UI, with all of its Live Tiles, is perhaps one of the BEST mobile interfaces available today. You get updates, information and what you need from it and all you have to do, really, is turn on the phone. (Honestly, this would work on a tablet device as well… IF Microsoft could have let go of the Desktop computing metaphor on their RT based tablets and just gone with the Windows Phone interface approach there, and then maybe they wouldn’t have taken the $1B USD write off on all those unsold RT tablets; BUT again… I digress)

So, yeah, you get the ability to have both Live Tiles and shortcuts on the Start Menu and can now easily customize it; and while this is totally cool, its nothing really to whoop and holler about, ya know?

Oh, you also get the ability to pin the Recycle Bin on not only the Start Menu, but the Task bar as well… However, in order to get it on the Task Bar, you have to first pin it to the Start Menu and then drag and drop it from there to the Task Bar…which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I’m also a bit fuzzy on why this is so important…or cool… In order to delete items from somewhere on the PC, you have to either drag and drop it to the shortcut on the desktop, or pick it in File Explorer and hit the delete key on the keyboard/ right click and choose delete from the context menu. I’m not certain how putting the Recycle Bin on the Start Menu or Task Bar gets you anything important… Maybe someone can pop a comment in, below, and share the cool factor with the rest of us who are scratching their heads…

Run Store apps and Desktop apps simultaneously

With Windows 10, all apps can run in a window, or can run full screen. This is much like what Stardock Software’s ModernMix does. Its been running MetroUI apps in a window for a few years.

However, now, you can do this and run those applications side by side, natively. Its nice, but quite honestly, it’s a small step for computing kind. Especially since the app from Stardock started allowing this to happen shortly after Windows 8 hit the market, making the transition to Windows 8 a bit easier than without it.

Task View Button

The Task view Button in Windows 10 is really a “view all the virtual desktops you have” button. I understand that its now removable from the Task Bar. I don’t like virtual desktops because I don’t like having to cycle through a lot of open apps. If I do, ALT-TAB has always worked for me and I’m really good with just that quick, keyboard shortcut and familiar tool. See… this is why Bill invented “minimize and maximize/restore” for program windows. You can pretty much clean and clear up your active desktop just by minimizing stuff you need open, but aren’t working with just now.

However, I know I’m not EVERY use case out there, and some people may find this feature of value. If you want to put your music apps on one, photography/picture apps on another, I get it. I get it… However, I wouldn’t call this an “A list” feature…ever.

Multitasking with Enhanced Snap View

Snap is a new feature as of Windows 8 that allows you to place windows side by side in a way that allows you to evenly tile windows on your display. In Windows 10, the number of windows that can be snapped has been doubled to four windows. Windows that are snapped are evenly and equally placed on the screen.

What’s strange to me is that you could always do something like this by tiling windows across your screen. I’ve been doing it since Windows 3.x… However Snap does it without having to execute any kind of strange command, and your Windows don’t start off unevenly proportioned. So, if you have a large enough display and up to four programs that you need to swap data in and out of, it can be a huge time saver, I guess.

Snap Assist

Snap Assist is used as part of Snap View. It helps you snap windows into place and then resize the windows that get placed on your screen. The problem with Snap and Snap Assist is that it doesn’t work well with small screens.

Continuum for Windows (2-in-1 devices)

Interestingly enough, perhaps the biggest and most interesting feature that Windows 10 is going to provide hasn’t hit the streets yet. Windows 10 will work on just about any device that was able to run Windows 8.x, and will especially work well on any and all Surface Pro devices.

With Surface Pro and similar devices, Microsoft is creating a new kind of mode that will allow Windows to function as both a content consumption device as well as a tablet. Its called Continuum; and what it does is allows Windows 10 to change UI’s when a keyboard is attached to a device like Surface Pro 1/2/3. When the keyboard is reattached, the UI switches back to a traditional desktop UI. ModernUI apps will function full screen as they do in Windows 8 when the keyboard is removed and then will function in a Window when the keyboard is reattached.

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Apple DRM Antitrust Suite to Begin

A decade old lawsuit could be a huge problem for Apple…
image3014Back in the day – and I’m really referring to the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s – digital music was a total mess. There was no standardization in terms of file formats, desktop players or portable players. The only thing that WAS clear and pretty much standardized was that no matter where you turned, any digital music you didn’t rip yourself or pirate through tools like Napster, Limewire or some other torrent tool, were clogged with DRM. What that meant was that you couldn’t play it with the app or portable player you wanted to play it with…that is, without having to jump through some pretty nasty hoops.

If pirating wasn’t your thing – which in many cases turned out to be a good thing, because the RIAA is nothing but a group of money grubbing, ugly lawyers out to screw the American public… but I digress – then what you really had to do was buy your music, burn it to a CD and then rerip the songs. This worked with any and every digital music store you purchased digital music from, regardless of what your favorite or default store or app was; or what digital music player you carried. This effectively “stripped” the DRM out of the music, as the DRM didn’t transfer to the new CD you burned, and therefore, wasn’t on the songs you ripped from it. Life was a lot better for you AND the music you bought, as you set it free.

At that point, everyone DELETED the original digital music files they purchased and replaced them with the DRM free ones they just created. It was at THAT point that you copied or transferred them to your portable music player, because at that point…you could copy them to ANY player and play them with ANY desktop music app. Some people were really into WinAmp. Some really liked MusicMatch Jukebox. Some were into Windows Media Player or Apple’s iTunes.

That was a LOT to put on the consumer. It really made us jump through a LOT of hoops; and honestly, not everyone was happy doing it. I did it because it was easy enough for me to do. The only thing that anyone really needed was a blank CD and a bit of time to burn and rerip the music. The technical side of this whole story was wrapped up in the bit rate of the source music files vs. the bit rate of the files you ripped from the CD you burned – which was greater and offered the better quality? The big question for audiophiles here was, “did I just introduce distortion, his or other noise into the music I purchased in order to get around the playing limitations I feel I have?”

However, back in the day – and here I’m talking circa 2005 or so – a lawsuit was filed on behalf of many of the iPod owners, accusing Apple of violating both US Federal and California State antitrust laws by restricting music purchased via iTunes from being played on other digital music players or desktop apps. The suit also accused Apple of restricting iPods from playing music purchased from music services OTHER than iTunes.

Since the suit’s original filing in 2005, a number of changes have been made to the suit. Apple also removed DRM from all music sold via iTunes in 2009, effectively making the issue a moot one from that time forward. One of the major modifications of the suit was to restrict the case to iPods sold between September 2006 and March 2009.

The opening statements in the complaint reference the now defunct Tower Records,

“It would be egregious and unlawful for a major retailer such as Tower Records, for example, to require that all music CDs purchased by consumers at Tower Records be played only with CD players purchased at Tower Records, yet, this is precisely what Apple has done… Apple has rigged the hardware and software in its iPod such that the device will not directly play any music files originating from online music stores other than Apple’s iTunes music store.”

This largely came about because Apple was trying to protect its iPod and iTunes business from Real Networks and Real Player, MusicMatch, and others. Unfortunately for ALL involved, Apple’s iPod was a huge hit, bringing order from the chaos that was digital music at the time. NO ONE (really) wanted any other player, and so Apple did its best to protect their market, and they effectively created a monopoly as far as music and portable music players were concerned.

As I mentioned, the suit has been modified; and now, with its restrictions, is set to get underway on 2014-12-02. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with it. The plaintiffs are asking for $350M USD, though if found guilty and found to have willfully and purposefully violated the law, the award Apple could be required to put up could top $1B USD, according to current antitrust law penalties which specify triple the damage amount.

How does all of this make you feel? Did you buy an iPod between September 2006 and March 2009? Will you be joining this class? Do you feel you were inappropriately restricted in your choice of desktop music apps as well as portable music players? Did you put aside a desktop app or portable music player because it wasn’t Apple or iTunes compatible? Does this lawsuit, even with its modifications and restrictions have any real relevance? Does the burn and rerip option negate the whole suit because it provided for a reasonable work around? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts? I’d really like to hear what you have to say, as the right information to the right attorneys at this point, could make the difference between a simple settlement and triple the damages.

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Microsoft Acquires Acompli

…and now they have a cool mobile email app.

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When a company doesn’t really have a US focused mobile device strategy – and let’s face it… Microsoft really doesn’t – things can get a bit stressful. Yes. You’re right… Windows Phones exist. Yes. I have one. No, it obviously ISN’T my daily driver; but you also have to understand one thing – Microsoft’s target market for all of its Windows Phone is NOT the United States (or other First World countries).

Microsoft isn’t making high end Windows Phones any longer. They have instead decided to concentrate their efforts on Third World countries. Very quickly, here’s why that’s very smart
1. There’s no way they are going to overtake Android or iOS devices in any kind of market share race. They just don’t have the legs to do it. Both Android and iOS are too firmly well established to nudge out of the way.
2. Microsoft’s Mobile strategy is still largely unknown. Without any real presence in the US, we’re left to people like Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott and to give us any kind of clue on what Microsoft is going to do with itself in the mobile space.

Let’s face it… even though the Surface Pro 3 may be an interesting ultrabook, Microsoft has no real content consumption device or smartphone that it can really point to or rely on in any of the markets that will either garner a lot of press or a lot of money via flagship sales. They want to concentrate on third world sales, and while that WILL perhaps produce a lot of global share, in the markets that really drive innovation and enterprise sales – First World markets – they’ve got next to nothing…

So, to help address that issue, early on during the morning of 2014-12-01, Microsoft announced it had acquired the email app developer Acompli for somewhere in the neighborhood of $200M USD.

The acquisition is a good move for Microsoft on a number of different fronts. They acquired not only the app and its IP, but also the people that coded it. Acompli has a really good Exchange interface on both iOS and Android devices, and they plug a hole where something is CLEARLY missing from Microsoft’s mobile Office Suite – Outlook.

Microsoft doesn’t have an “Outlook Mobile App” to speak of on either iOS or Android before this acquisition. According to Rajesh Jha, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Outlook and Office 365, “This acquisition brings us an app with innovative technology and a set of talented people who are passionate about reinventing email and communications on mobile screens. It will expedite our work to deliver the full power of Office to mobile devices.”

It’s clear that Microsoft is intending Acompli to be “Outlook mobile.” How the app is rebranded or actually integrated into their newly forming mobile suite for iOS and Android is yet to be totally understood. However, one would think that users would see something for those mobile suites sooner rather than later…if not before they intend to release the “touch” version of Microsoft Office for their Surface and Surface Pro tablets, currently codenamed Gemini.

This is a developing story, and I intend to follow up with either an update or a new post if something interesting comes to light. Please stay tuned.

In the meantime, what do you think of this development? Do you use Acompli? How badly do you feel “Outlook mobile” is either missing or is needed on the iOS and Android side of the world? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area and let me know what you think?

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