Windows 8.1 Debuts at Build

Microsoft releases the publicly accessible Windows 8.1 (formerly, Blue) Preview today at BUILD.

The long anticipated Public Preview of Windows 8.1, formerly code-named Windows Blue, should now be available for download via the Windows Store on Windows 8 devices.

There are a number of new and updated features that are available with the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship, touch centric operating system. I’ll have a breakdown of what’s new and improved for Soft32 in the coming weeks. However, if you do decide to install this on your Windows 8 PC, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of.



The software is available via the Windows Store.

Microsoft users are used to going to Windows Update for these types of things – Service Packs, upgrades and updates – that isn’t the case here. You’re going to get it from the Windows Store, as you have with all of your ModernUI apps.

Upgrade Now, Rebuild Later

One of the most impactful issues with the Public Preview is the fact that Microsoft is going to make you effectively blow your PC and install Windows 8.1 Golden Master from scratch. While you will be able to install the Preview without having to reinstall of your existing software and apps, you won’t be able to upgrade over the Preview to the Released version of the software.

This is largely due to the way both ModernUI and 3rd party software is installed and maintained on your PC, as well as Microsoft wanting to start with as clean a Registry as possible. While it sucks from an activation and registration perspective, your PC will be lemony fresh.

HOWEVER, if you DON’T install the Preview and you wait to install Windows 8.1, you WILL be able to upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1…so go figure.

Don’t Download over Mobile Broadband

Just an FYI, if you rely on your smartphone or other mobile broadband device to be your main internet connection, you don’t want to download and install Windows 8.1 via mobile broadband. Go to your local Starbucks, McDonalds or other trusted public Wi-Fi location of choice. Windows 8.1 is going to be heavy, and you’re going to have a better install experience and lighter cell bill if you do this via wired or wireless LAN.

Again, please watch Soft32 for a breakdown of the new OS in the coming weeks. I have some installing and updating to do on at least 2 PC’s…

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Are Your Windows Getting Dirty?

Will Microsoft be able to hold the consumer and enterprise market dominance they’ve enjoyed since, like the beginning of computing, or is this the beginning of the end?

My good friend, Preston Gralla is on a roll. He’s had a number of really compelling articles on Microsoft lately. His latest contribution is no exception. His theory here is while MS Windows is the number one desktop OS in 2013; it’s the number three OS in 2015.

His points are clear and concise.

  • Apple PC’s and operating systems (both OS X and iOS) are growing in popularity
  • Android currently has a larger market share than Windows (22.8% to 15.6%, respectively)
  • Both Apple and Google OS are going to continue to gain market share. Microsoft is going to continue to lose share.

Microsoft’s biggest problem is BYOD (bring your own device). Most consumers are not choosing Windows when they purchase new computing devices. With OS X, iOS and the many flavors of Android available, affordable, and with available, professional, productivity tools for them, there’s a great deal of choice available to the consumer.

Users don’t have to stick with a Microsoft compatible computing device to get MS Office compatibility. You can choose from any number of open source options or any number of cloud based options, INCLUDING Office 356 and Google Apps.

Apple will soon be joining the cloud-based Office Suite Revolution when it completes and releases iWork in iCloud, currently in beta. Any and all of these office based suites can be accessed from just about any browser, making the type of computing device irrelevant.

Currently, Microsoft’s computing devices – Surface RT and Surface Pro – aren’t selling well. Both are expensive for what they do, there expandability and upgrade options; and the OS’s they run – Windows RT and Windows 8, respectively – have NOT been received well. This combination is proving deadly as their share of the current computing markets is dropping. The current projections have traditional PC sales dropping by nearly 20% by the end of 2014.

When you factor in rising BYOD trends that add non-Microsoft diversity to the enterprise – traditionally Microsoft’s saving grace – you get a dismal picture. According to Gartner, Windows is the number 2 OS in the world right now with a 15.6% share. Android is number 1 with 22.8% and Apple is third with 9.6% (includes both iOS and OS X).

Gartner is predicting the following shifts for 2014:

  • Android – 42.3%
  • Microsoft – 15.1%
  • Apple – 14.2%

By 2015, Apple will overtake Microsoft, according to Gartner. Microsoft has a lot of work to do to prevent this from happening. Ballmer needs to wake up and find someone with a better mobile vision than he currently has if he wants to turn this baby around.

In my opinion, Mobile has been Ballmer’s biggest weakness. He hasn’t gotten it from the get-go. It’s the single biggest reason why Windows Mobile sucked and then tanked, and why they haven’t been able to get a handle on the Mobile Market with Windows Phone. Windows RT is confusing both the market and its users, and Windows 8 is a hybrid mish-mash of mobile and desktop OS components that few understand or find value in.

The traditional cash cows Microsoft has been milking – Office and Windows – have lost their enterprise appeal due to BYOD and the growth of non-traditional PC markets. Microsoft hasn’t kept up with the trends, and is now in a nasty cross road. The time for indecision is long past. Serious mobile leadership is needed.

Preston is right when he implies that Microsoft’s last hurrah may be Windows 9 (or whatever they call it) in 2015. They COULD get it together between now and then and release something that really catches on, but based on their current direction, momentum, vision and products, it’s unlikely…which is really sad, considering how much Microsoft has shaped not only computing, but world culture as well.

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Start Menu Reviver – The Good Old Start Button

SM_Reviver_256x256If not all, than 99% of the people using Windows 8 complained about the missing Start Button/Menu in desktop mode. I like the design of the latest Windows installment, but i’m not quite impressed by the Modern UI usability, and for a PC user it’s not quite what he needs from a common Windows OS. So, while we are waiting for the release of Windows 8.1, with the announced super feature (Start Button), we can try a few third parties software to enhance our Windows 8 computers. I’ve tried all kind of software in the quest of bringing back the Start menu, and I stopped at Start Menu Reviver.
What I liked most about this is the speed and the usability of the Start menu that this software integrates within Windows 8. This program is combining the W8 graphic design with the good old W7 start menu features. The eye-candy look attracted me at the first glance, and only afterwards the functional features caught my attention.

Quick search and shutdown are graphically integrated in the menu, combined with an extendable feature where you can see all the desktop applications (and you can choose what applications you can find there). Many other quick launch features and the fact that is 100% customizable, is making the Start Menu Reviver, my favorite W8 Start Menu application. I consider this application far better than what the Microsoft developers can do with the next release of Windows.

As the description of the program says, the application is also an enhancer for W7 Star menu, so I tested it on W7 too, and it’s almost the same. Very few features are different, but even if I like the modern UI graphics, I consider it a feature for Windows 8, and Windows 7 it’s good just the way it is.

If you’re missing the Start menu, this is the best free application for reviving it in your Windows 8. It is very light and you can customize it as you wish. What applications to be displayed there, colors, quick settings, everything. After all, it’s all up to you to make your computer’s OS as you wish!

download Start Menu Reviver

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Natural Hazards Notifications with Earth Alerts

earth-alertsEarthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, tropical cyclones, wildfires, landslides, are natural hazards from which you want to stay away. But what if there is an app that can monitor these hazards almost in real time? Nevertheless, this would be a solution for the ones living in dangerous areas. Especially if you live in the U.S., Earth Alerts is the perfect tool for taking in consideration the natural disasters that might occur in your area.

Earth Alerts is a one man project that started back in 2005. It is a single application for monitoring multiple types of natural hazard events using online resources provided by organizations such as the National Weather Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Smithsonian Institution. All types of notifications, reports and images gathered in a single U.I., provides the user with enough information regarding natural hazards from his area of living.


Unfortunately the app provides full information only for the US territory, although there is an option to choose any location from around the globe, this is not sufficient to create a complete report. Using all kinds of public feeds, the app performs a cyclic update process at various time intervals. The drawback here is that sometimes the update process tends to be “permanent” without delivering the desired information especially if you choose another location outside US.

In case you are interested more on weather information, Earth Alerts is not the perfect solution for you because it does not provide an extensive weather data. The app includes only basic weather tracking, current conditions, local forecasts and radar/satellite imagery. But if you are fascinated by the power of nature or if you are interested of keeping track of natural hazards around the world, Earth Alerts is a suitable product.

download Earth Alerts

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dBpowerAMP Music Converter – the swiss army knife or audio utilities

dbpoweramp-music-converterWith the increased number of audio codecs in use online now, from WAV to FLAC to MP3, you may often find the need to convert files yourself. Therefore, you need an audio utility for your conversion needs. As far as audio utilities go, dBpowerAMP Music Converter is the swiss army knife of audio utilities.

While many converters give you the opportunity to convert between any number of formats, dBpowerAMP allows you to choose the codec for each audio file format and the relevant settings for it.


Audiophiles naturally flock to dBpowerAMP as you can set your MP3 to LAME (the best encoder), and then choose any of the individual encoding settings that you would with the standalone app itself. This grants you a freedom that is missing in some lighter audio utilities and for good reason: many do not need this.

The dBpowerAMP Music Converter is one of the best audio utility out there, but it will not be suited for everyone. Converting a file to mp3, while a simple process, presents you with encoding options that may confuse or at the very least seem redundant for the average user. Audiophiles flock to this, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will. That said, if you want an audio converter, you may as well go for the best, and we know that this is it.

Download dBpowerAMP Music Converter

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BUILD it, and They will Come

Microsoft has a lot more work to do than you might think when it comes to Windows 8.1 and ModernUI

gsmarena_002My buddy Preston Gralla has a really great article over at ComputerWorld. In a nutshell, he seems to think that Windows 8.1’s Boot to Desktop feature is going to kill ModernUI development.

He may very well be right.

Users have been SCREAMING for an end to Windows 8’s Live Tiles and a return to the traditional desktop computing paradigm they (meaning, Microsoft) created back in the days of Windows 3.x. In fact, it’s very unlikely that ANY business ANYWHERE will EVER install Windows 8 on the corporate desktop. The learning curve is too steep and the productivity hit(s) are too deep to make Windows 8 a REAL OS in any respect other than limited BYOD or other enterprise engagements.

Windows Store, Alex Washburn

Bringing Boot to Desktop back is a huge win for users but a huge problem for Microsoft AND all of their development partners, currently scheduled to appear alongside Windows 8.1 at Microsoft’s developer conference, BUILD, next week. Unfortunately with only 10% of the apps that exist in both iOS and Android app stores (80,000 vs. 800,000), Microsoft has a big problem to solve. Microsoft wants more ModernUI apps. Here’s what they need to do:


  1. Get More Compelling Apps – Many tablet apps are stripped down versions of desktop apps. For example – photo processing apps that let me do quick retouching and leveling while out in the field, saving the big retouches and refinements for desktop counterparts when you get back home. If Windows 8 apps did the same thing as their desktop counterparts, but did them on tablet based processors, that would be huge. The best way for MS to get more compelling apps is for them to create API’s that make development easy and performance smooth. BUILD is just the place to roll out SDK’s with those capabilities.
  2. Incent Developers – Many tablet or device (smartphone/tablet) apps sell for a couple of bucks. Developers make money on volume in the iOS and Android world; and nearly everyone from major 3rd party developers to your grandma’s dog are writing apps and making a fair bit of money, too. Windows 8 apps tend to be 2x-3x more expensive than their iOS or Android counterparts because the volume isn’t there. There aren’t a lot of users using Windows 8. Microsoft has to find a way to get developers to pump out a number of good quality applications quickly. I’m not certain how to incent developers to do that as yet. I’m going to leave it to MS to figure that one out, but that also needs to happen quickly.
  3. Build the Install-base – Just because the apps are there doesn’t mean the users will flock to the hardware or the OS. Microsoft needs to find a way to DRAMATICALLY increase Windows 8 adoption. They can do this by:
  • Giving the OS away or making it dirt cheap to license and/or purchase
  • Permanently, dramatically lowering the price of Surface RT as WELL as Surface Pro tablets. I’m thinking $199 for RT and $299-$399 for Pro tablets. The current price cuts you’ve heard about are a start, but don’t cut deep enough.
  • Subsidizing 3rd party hardware costs, making it easier for OEM’s like Dell and ASUS to provide competitively priced devices in line with the prices, above.

While I wouldn’t hold my breath on any of these, especially that last set of suggestions, it’s clear Microsoft has to do SOMETHING to turn this ship away from the iceberg. If they don’t find a way to get more compelling ModernUI apps and dramatically increase the amount of people using them, it’s clear to me…the Windows 8/ModernUI ship won’t stay afloat for long.

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Buying a New PC? Better Start Shakin’ that Cup…

Microsoft’s latest discount involves you or your student(s) lobbying family and friends to help pay for the cost of their next PC.


Finding the right PC for you isn’t always as easy as heading down to the local Wal-Mart and buying whatever they have on sale. While that may get you a PC quickly, its probably not the kind of computer that’s going to take your high school or college-aged student through four years of studying. Which is too bad…PC’s, and other major electronics should not be disposable…

Microsoft’s Surface tablets aren’t among the cheap offerings you will find at Wal-Mart or other discount stores. Surface RT starts at $499. Surface Pro starts at $899. If you go the Surface Pro route, don’t’ buy the low end model. The only difference between it and the high end model is the amount of storage space, and for $100, the extra 64GB of room is worth it, though Surface Pro does come with a microSD card slot with support for 64GB microSDXC Class 10 cards. Amazon has these for roughly $50USD.

Anyway, after $999 for a 128GB Surface Pro tablet/ulatrabook, and $129 for a Type Cover, you’re going to spend over $1100USD before tax. In order to help you out, Microsoft has decided to offer a program where they will offer up a 10% discount on the cost of the PC purchased via the Microsoft Store (they have more than Surface RT and Surface Pro in their stores) as well as a copy of Office 365 University. The kicker is that you have to provide the rest; and MS allows you to build a crowdsourcing campaign to fund the remaining 90%. Dubbed the Chip In program, MS allows anyone with a .edu email address to join the program and fund a PC.

There are a couple items of note here

  1. The MS Store doesn’t charge a restocking fee, so you should be able to find the PC you need
  2. Your school or university might have a better deal. Make sure you check out all your options before you invest in crowdsourcing a computer

I can’t say how well this option might work, but Kickstarter has been doing pretty well… however, its unlikely people you don’t know will help fund your PC. Its also unknown how many times you may have to mow grandma’s yard before she kicks in some money to help you get the Windows tablet of your dreams…

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Connect to your PC or Mac from anywhere in the world with LogMeIn

logmein-iconLogMeIn is fast, easy-to-use remote access software that allows you to control your desktop from anywhere. Its in-browser provides a minimal latency portal to your PC desktop, which you can access from any Mac, PC or hand-held device, including iPads, iPhones and Android Smartphones. You can remotely start up a sleeping computer and with a password protected, 256-bit SSL encrypted connection, you can rest easy knowing your access is secure and safe. Best of all, this is freeware and once you’ve created a LogMeIn account you can instantly start accessing your PC remotely, 100% free.


With a quick and easy in-browser interface, LogMeIn is a truly impressive way to access your PC remotely. Signing up for a new account is a fairly easy process, though the installation itself might take a little longer than you might expect. Once LogMeIn is up and running though, you’re going to be very pleased with the results. You can wake up your computer remotely and even in-browser it’s a similar experience to having your desktop right there in front of you. And while some features are reserved for the company’s paid offering, the price isn’t too steep ($70 per year) if you want access to HD streaming, file syncing, audio-streaming or printer access.

For the basic level with a free-price tag, this is the best offering you’re going to find without paying for your remote access. Highly recommended.

Downloag LogMeIn for WindowsDownloag LogMeIn for Mac

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