Oops. They did it… AGAIN

This may be just me; but I heard about this and just shook my head

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Over the past few years, there have been a couple different instances of Microsoft backtracking on decisions. While many will agree that rethinking the decisions that were made was probably a very good idea, the fact that Microsoft reversed its action really bothers me. I mean it REALLY bothers me. I’m not certain if I’m bothered more by the decision or the apparent fact that Microsoft can’t seem to make up its freakin’ mind.

I recently reported that Microsoft had ceased retail sales of Windows 7 as of 2013-10-30. While Microsoft has confirmed this date – you can’t buy a retail boxed version of Windows 7 as of this date – they had further announced that OEM’s would cease providing Windows 7 on new PC’s as of 2014-10-30. They’ve retracted that last statement.

According to an authorized Microsoft spokesperson, [Microsoft has]

“yet to determine the end of sales date for PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled. The October 30, 2014 date that posted to the Windows Lifecycle page globally last week was done so in error. We have since updated the website to note the correct information; however, some non-English language pages may take longer to revert to correctly reflect that the end of sales date is ‘to be determined.’ We apologize for any confusion this may have caused our customers. We’ll have more details to share about the Windows 7 lifecycle once they become available.”

I don’t know about you, but this wishy-washy, indecisive posture that Microsoft has assumed is really Ballmer’s fault. I also blame the Microsoft Board. With Ballmer on the way out as CEO, the need for leadership is clear. Microsoft’s Board needs to get its act together and name Ballmer’s successor sooner rather than later.

Microsoft has a roadmap for Windows. They are (desperately) trying to get all Windows users on the most current version of Windows – Windows 8.x – as quickly as they can. They made a decision that supports that strategy. They should stay the course and take firm, decisive action in support of it. It may not be the most popular of decisions; but this barometer reading and second guessing that Microsoft is doing has got to stop.

No, I didn’t like it when they removed the Windows 7 Start Menu from Windows. No, I didn’t like it when Microsoft changed the Windows UI. However, backtracking on these and other decisions that are currently in the Microsoft pipeline isn’t doing them any favors.

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On the Threshold of What..?

There are Windows Changes coming and some of them, my friends, are truly encouraging.

Change ahead isolated signWhen I write a column, I usually try to come up with some cool play on words or other “hook” to sorta grab a reader’s attention. With this particular column its really hard because the news I found is really very exciting; and there really isn’t a decent, cute way to put this without reducing the excitement.  So, I’m just gonna come out and say it:

It looks like the Start Menu – the real Windows 7 styled Start Menu – is intended to make a come back in Windows Threshold.  At least that’s what I see when I read the latest article by Paul Thurrott.

Paul and I go back a ways. We both worked for WUGNET for a while. Paul started WinInfo there, and I wrote most of their computing tips over a 15 year period.  So, honestly, when Paul says something, I tend to listen and listen VERY carefully. If there’s one thing I know, its that Paul knows Windows. So when I hear Paul say that the Start Menu is coming back, I tend to listen.

According to Paul and his cohort in Windows Weekly crime, Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft Threshold is all about bringing Windows to the threshold of unification between Phone, desktop and Xbox One.  This unification will include a series of updates that will go a LONG way to satisfying many of Microsoft’s very, very unhappy enterprise and consumer users.

In the next version of Windows, be it Threshold, Windows 8.2 or whatever they decide to call it, ModernUI apps will run in a window, if your PC supports Windows’ Desktop Mode. This is going work a lot like Stardock’s ModernMix, though its likely be somewhat different…at least one would hope.

The Start Menu is also going to return. The Start Button clearly wasn’t enough for everyone, and the “next logical step”  is to bring the Start Menu back as an available option.  According to Paul, its possible that this option will only going to appear in product versions that support Desktop mode.  There’s more that will likely be in this update, but at this time, this is all that’s confirmable.

Paul calls this a good step. I have to agree with him. Part of me is wondering if I’m not the only one wondering if this isn’t in response to Surface RT/Surface 2’s poor sales numbers and if Microsoft is clearly starting to get it – after more than 30 years, Windows is a productivity tool more than an entertainment tool.

If this is the case, I’d call that a good thing too.  I like Surface Pro and Surface 2 Pro.  They’re both good ultrabooks. However, with full blown Windows on them, its hard for me to use something like that as an entertainment device. Its not impossible, but YOU have to change gears with it. I don’t know about you, but I am not always very successful with that. I often find that I gravitate towards other devices other than my work PC for entertainment. Its easier for me to mentally keep them separate than to use one device for both purposes.

Over the years, I’ve found that my IT departments feel the same way. When you use a work PC for personal use, at least at my current job, you can be terminated.  The two do NOT mix at all, and BYOD is not something they encourage or support.  While other IT shops may not have the same policy, filling up a hard drive with MP3’s or videos is often discouraged.  Unless you work for a company that fully supports BYOD or are self employed and have to supply your own PC equipment, I’m not certain that kind of concern applies to you.  My guess is that most people don’t bump into the problem. Its likely not an issue for most.

What do you think about the Windows developments? Why not join us in the discussion below and tell us what you think.

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Microsoft Ends Retail Sales of Windows 7

microsoft-windows-7You can’t buy it at the store any more…

I saw this the other day and it was one of those “oh yeah..!” revelations that take you buy surprise, but you kinda already knew if you sit and think about it for a second or two.  Microsoft very quietly has announced that is has ended retail sales of Windows 7 as of October 30, 2013.  However, don’t start panicking just yet.

If you still want Windows 7, you can still get it if you buy a new PC.  However, that’s likely the ONLY way you’re going to get it.  And – here’s the caveat on that – you have to buy that new Windows PC between now and October 30, 2014. Over and above that, the PC vendor you’re buying the hardware from has to offer the PC with Windows 7.  Unfortunately, not all of them do. However, PC vendors that DO provide that option should be able to sell Windows 7 at least until that date (2014-10-30) or two years after the release date of Windows 8.

After that, you can still get Windows 7 if you want. Windows 8 includes downgrade rights, so consumers can put an older OS on a Windows 8 machine if they wish. Further, OEM’s can also make use of those rights and offer the hardware with an older OS if they choose, before it ships.

Microsoft first announced this policy – to stop selling the OLD version of an operating system one year after the latest version is released – in 2010.  With Windows 8 released in October 2012, it was time for this policy to kick in.  However, Microsoft, as late as September 2013 hadn’t acknowledged this. Obviously, now they have.

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However, if you’re not in the market for new hardware, again…don’t panic. Its likely that you’re still going to be able to find retail copies of Windows 7, though likely not the latest, greatest version as of 2013-10-30, at a number of online retailers, including Amazon, for example, for years.  Copies of XP and Vista were available for quite a while after Microsoft stopped selling it directly to retailers for quite a while, and getting restore DVD’s for current hardware for some level of nominal fee has been possible for Dell customers for as long as I can remember. Downloading ISO images may also be possible, depending on the PC vendor in question.

For those that don’t have options to get Windows 7, you can always use apps like Stardocks’ Start8 to bring the Windows 7 UI experience to Windows 8.x.  The OS itself isn’t bad, its fast, stable and easy to use. It also has touch built in, so if your hardware has a touch screen, you may find it easier to use with Windows 8.  If not, apps like Start8 will make your Windows 8 PC more Windows 7 like.

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New Electronics, New Accessories – The Added Expense that you Didn’t Count On

screen-shot-2012-09-25-at-1.23.30-pmIts exciting getting new toys, but buying a new gadget can add additional expenses you didn’t count on…

It happens every time you buy a new gadget or iDevice. You get the new toy, and then you find out that many, if not all of the accessories you have for it, aren’t compatible. I know that many people are aware of this issue, but with the 2013 Holiday Season upon us, its important to know and hear this quick warning and cautionary guidance before you buy.

In the smartphone arena, if you’ve got an iPhone 4S or later, you’ll hit this issue. The iPhone 5 introduced the Lighting Connector. The classic 30 pin connector that’s been in use on Apple iDevices for just about 10 years. With a minor change of pin-outs with the introduction of a video signal and the removal of FireWire support, the 30 pin connector remained largely unchanged. It was so constant, that it lead to the creation of a whole industry – one of iPhone, iPod and iPad accessories.

When the Lightning connector was introduced with the introduction of the iPhone 5, that industry took a huge hit. None of the established accessories would work with the new iDevices, at least not with out an adapter, and then, not all of the original functionality of the new device would work with the older accessory.

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With Android devices, you don’t get as much of this. Over the past 5+ years, Android’s microUSB connector has been pretty constant. However, it doesn’t have the longevity and history that Apple devices do. While that doesn’t mean as much as Google’s strict compatibility guidelines, most Android users have been able to keep most of their accessories over the 7 major releases of Android (Donut to Kitt-Katt).

So what’s the best thing to do?

That’s a great question. If you buy someone a new version of something be it a smartphone, tablet or MP3 player, you need to be aware that you might be forcing the recipient of the gift to buy themselves either an adapter or to buy themselves new accessories. Speakers and such may work very well with an adapter. Some of the more customized or function specific accessories – car kits, cradles and the like, for example – will likely need to be replaced or simply done without if replacements don’t exist.

The one thing that I’d like everyone to take from this particular article is that depending on how “deep” the gift recipient is into their device(s), getting them a new version of the device is often going to change what they can use from their current accessory stash and will effect what they may have to buy to get key functionality back. The major expense isn’t always the device or cellular plan, it might be the accessories that they have to leave behind in order to use the new device.

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Consumer vs. Enterprise Windows

It’s a different kind of pane…

I’ve been involved in software for quite some time. Not to blow my horn or anything, but I’m a methodology and process engineering expert. I specialize in identifying process disconnects within the software development life cycle; and then help organizations identify the best ways to reconnect them.

I’ve seen a lot of talk over the past few days about Microsoft Threshold, or a unified approach to Windows that would bring everything together under one development cycle for Phone, Consumer and Enterprise Windows. Today, I got a refreshing look at the other side of the coin from one of my favorite People, Mary Jo Foley.

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So…the first question on your mind has to be, “Well, that’s great, Chris.  How the heck are these two things connected?”  Good question…   Right now, except for Phone and RT – which is scheduled, to make an exit soon – all Windows development is connected.  Both consumer and enterprise versions of Windows have the same feature sets, underpinnings, back end hooks, etc.  With many hardware manufacturers concentrating more on the consumer market, keeping your enterprise product hooked to a consumer-focused, lean back device doesn’t make sense in a lean forward product line.

The needs of the [consumer]… are different than those of the enterprise. Consumers want to be current on everything, all the time, every day, out loud. The more current your security patches, virus updates and apps are, the more secure and virus free YOU are.  When it comes to keeping your personal, private data (like passwords and financials) personal and private, this is usually the best way to go.

IT professionals don’t always feel that way. While they have other security tools  available to them to insure that their networks are safe, they usually prefer static environments to rapid change.  With so much diversity in critical, operational apps from department to department, division to division, their focus is keeping the work progressing forward and not rapid OS changes. It’s easier to control the changes and insure that work gets done than to allow OS level changes into the enterprise that may conflict or create compatibility issues with business critical apps. They prefer policies and security restrictions so they may control when upgrades are applied.

From a use case perspective, this makes sense.  Consumers want all the latest and greatest features.  Professionals and people at work just want what they need to get the job done to work without having to wrestle with things.

This also makes a great deal of sense from a life cycle perspective.  Originally, both consumer and enterprise Windows were kept on the same development and feature life cycle so that people at work would be able to use the same version of Windows at home.  However, due to the implementation of Active Directory and Policy Manager, Windows at work and Windows at home have never quite felt EXACTLY the same.

Since PC use is declining in favor of a more slate-tablet form factor, and traditional computing is likely going to stick around at the office for quite some time (at least in the more conservative industries that I find myself working in – healthcare IT and State Government), splitting these user types into different Windows versions makes a lot of sense to me.  The only thing that I hope doesn’t happen is that they become so divergent that you can’t put the business form of Windows on your compatible, consumer tablet/device/PC.

According to Terry Myerson, the new head of the unified Windows team at Microsoft, the goal is to build one Windows platform that runs all compatible devices. However, that doesn’t mean “one OS to rule them all.” The UI’s may be different, the features may be different, but the underlying codebase – and more importantly, the cloud services – will be the same.

Strategically, this is very sound.  I’m going to have to reserve judgment until I see the tactical deliverable, however.  Post Windows 8.1, the picture gets fuzzy. However, between now and Spring of 2015, there should be two more Windows releases – in the Spring of 2014, there should be a Win8.1 Update 1 (or some such named animal) that will more appropriately align Windows and Windows Phone.  “Threshold,” or the next version of Windows, is the version slotted for Spring of 2015 and there’s very little that’s really known about it, its direction, etc.

At the end of the day, having this kind of desktop OS split from Microsoft isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually a return to a previous practice for them. Windows ME, back in 1990-blah, blah, blah was the last truly consumer version of Windows (Win95) before an updated version of Windows NT (Windows 2000, if you remember…) was released and became very popular with consumers, due in large part to is enterprise focused stability.

Do you think Microsoft returning/splitting its focus with Windows between consumers and the enterprise is a good or bad thing?  Can you support your argument?  I’d love to hear what you have to say.  Why not join me in the discussion below and tell me what you think of this interesting development.

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Can Lean Back Devices be used for Lean Forward Activities

…or can you really do that with a tablet??

6a0120a805e490970b01538e1c68a3970bI saw an interesting article by Preston Gralla the other day about how productivity boosting tablets were the gift worth giving this year. Preston sites three in his article – one Android (the Nexus 7) and two Windows Pro (Surface Pro 2 and the new Dell Venue 8 Pro). The bent of Preston’s article is that while there’s a great deal of convenience and multimedia capability built into these, they also contain a great deal of productivity power, providing the user with a well-rounded computing experience.

In his mind, this combination of lean back form factor and lean forward productivity is what makes these types of devices a sure winner. Preston has a point, but I’m not entirely convinced. I think it’s this mixing of features and form factor that are causing problems for these devices.

Tablets were originally (re)introduced as relaxation, or lean back, devices that provided basic, essential computing power in a highly portable, light weight, performance minded form factor. They were small enough to take and use nearly everywhere from the bathroom to the beach; and they got you on the internet, reading and answering email and posting to your favorite social networks without requiring a lot of bulky, computing hardware. They did just enough just about everywhere, and that’s what made them successful. Taking the lean back out of the tablet has changed the dynamic of the device.

BYOD or Bring Your Own Device was a movement that BYTE tried to address between July 2011 and April 2013 over at InformationWeek.com I wrote many BYOD focused articles there and you can still find many of the articles I wrote here. The entire house of cards starts to crumble the moment you try to bring your iPad to work. I know, I tried to do it for 3 or more years. Part of what I wanted to do on the iPad – hand written notes – really doesn’t work well, due to the type of digitizer and touch screen the tablet uses. To this day, handwritten notes aren’t easy, despite the advances in processor, memory, etc.

I have found that both iOS and Android, while capable of running productivity apps, are more suited to handling content consumption focused activities. In other words, while possible, both mobile OS’ are really better at running entertainment software – audio and video players, book reading software, game play, etc. again, even with the enhanced hardware they’ve received over the past few years.

When you put a more productivity based OS on a tablet as well as add a keyboard, you get devices like the Surface/ Surface 2 series type devices that have more in common with an ultrabook or notebook PC than they do a tablet. While this has a bit to do with hardware, its really more pointed at the OS. Windows 8 is more suited towards full-blown productivity apps than entertainment software, though they also do exist on the platform.

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Interestingly enough, my son-in-law recently received a Toshiba Satellite Click 2-in-1 13.3″ Touch-Screen Laptop for his birthday from my daughter. The device comes with a detachable keyboard and Windows 8.1 Pro. He is using it as a productivity machine for school. I recently asked him how often he had used it as a tablet. He hasn’t. Not once.

He said while he can use the device in tablet mode, the device works better as a notebook. When I pressed him for an explanation, it was clear to him that Windows 8.1, despite its live tiles and ModernUI interface, is more of a familiar notebook OS than a tablet OS. Office works better while using the attached keyboard than the on-screen keyboard. Computing in general, worked better with the attached keyboard; touch pad and extended battery than simply with the tablet. So, he is clearly leaning forward rather than relaxing and leaning back with it. He also hasn’t used it as an entertainment device – i.e. to watch movies, listen to music or to read eBooks – though he can do all those things quite easily with the device.

I’m finding that is exactly the case with the Dell Latitude 10-ST2 Windows 8 Pro Tablet. Its all productivity and very impractical as an entertainment device.

You’re likely going to hear a great deal of advertising this Holiday Shopping Season on how Windows 8.x tablets are the perfect combination of lean back and lean forward – entertainment and productivity – devices. In most of the cases I’ve seen and in my personal experience, it just doesn’t work out that way.

The potential for having both in a single device is great. If it works out for you, you can obviously save a great deal of money. However, I’ve noticed that most people don’t actually take advantage of both in a single device. Their device gets “mentally tagged” with a single or main purpose, and using the device for something else violates that tag.

I’ve seen people do that with a number of things – cars, pens, clothing, AND computers. Its not that you can’t drive the sports car to the office, its that you’re saving it for the fun times. As a child, I had school clothes and play clothes. You didn’t mix the two; and I suspect that with many people, whether they do it intentionally or not, they aren’t going to be able to put a ton of movies and music on their work machines. Let’s forget about how most enterprise admins frown on stuff like that and just say that you probably aren’t going to want to give up all the space you might need for documents, spreadsheets and presentations to MP3’s and videos.

In the end, it’s a metal paradigm that I think many people won’t accept. Its not because they can’t, but because for them, the whole idea just doesn’t fit well.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the discussion below.

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Keep your Windows PC safe with Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014

ashampoo_antivirus_2014_logoIf there’s one thing that I really like, its options. There are a lot of different kinds of malware out there, and finding and USING a malware scanner that works the best for you is important. This is one of the reasons why I like Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014. It’s a really cool virus scanner for Windows.

There’s a lot of malware out there. A lot of it effects Windows PC’s and that’s a problem, because a lot of people use Windows PC’s.  However, Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014 makes computing a lot easier. The nice thing about it is that once the app is installed, you don’t have to configure it.  It blocks malware right out of the box.  If that’s not, “set it and forget it,” then I don’t know what is.

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If malware is found, it can be removed with little interaction from the user. In many cases, you won’t even know you got a bug. Malware is removed and removed fast.  Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014 doesn’t sacrifice speed over security.  Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014 is fast and light weight.

The bad thing about bad guys is that they are constantly trying to come up with new ways to get to your data, financials and other valuable information.  Thankfully, Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014 has daily AV signature updates.  That way, you stay ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately, getting malware on your PC appears to be a part of modern computing. However, with Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014, you can stay protected and malware free. With its daily signature updates and set it and forget it feature set, it protects your PC in the background with little or no intervention from you. Ashampoo makes some of the best software on the internet today, so trust Soft32 when we tell you this is one of the best apps in our catalog.

download Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014

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Get your Gmail data in your Outlook installation with Outlook4Gmail

outlook4gmail-32When I went Android between 2007 and 2012, I fully switched over to a custom Gmail/Google Apps account and moved everything – email, calendar and contacts – over to Google services.  However, I’m a big Outlook user, and getting all of that information to and from Outlook isn’t always easy. That’s where Outlook4Gmail can be a big help. It’s an Outlook for Windows add-in, and its kinda cool.

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Outlook4Gmail is an Outlook add-in that provides easy synchronization between Outlook and your Gmail contacts and calendar.  It supports synching contacts with all of the details – name, company, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.  With it and these features, you’ll be able to get all of your Gmail contacts synched between Outlook and your Gmail account.  The free version doesn’t support synchronization of more than one account, however. It does, however support one or two way, simultaneous synchronization for your address book.

You can also sync calendars with the add-in.  You can import a calendar from Google into Outlook, export an Outlook calendar to Google, sync existing calendars, or create new calendars. Unfortunately, you will need the paid version to take advantage of this.

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As with any Outlook add-in, there’s no real app start or exit. The add-in loads when Outlook starts and will create its own menu item and ribbon with buttons.  If you bump into problems with either the account or other issues, the add-in will auto disable and you can get control of Outlook after you kill the task in Task Manager.

The biggest problem I had with the add-in was with calendar sync. The free version allows you to configure it, but doesn’t actually sync the content.  It’s a bit confusing, because the functionality just doesn’t activate.  The license is only $20 USD, but it’s hard to test something like this when it just doesn’t work in the trial version.

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