Microsoft Windows 8.1 Delta Review

Introduction

Windows PC’s are some of the most affordable computers available today. Portable or not, they cost hundreds of dollars where Macs can cost thousands. If you want an affordable or budget PC, portable or not, its likely going to be a Windows machine. Unless there’s a Windows 7 offer, you can expect to have the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system on it.

Windows 8.1 has a few interesting changes in it. I’ve covered the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 for Soft32. There wasn’t a huge delta – or change – between the Consumer Preview and the version that hit the streets. There are some interesting changes between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Let’s check them out and see if Windows 8.1 is the version of Windows 8.x that we’ve been hoping for.

New Features

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but please remember that Windows 8.1 is still very much Windows 8. There are some very, very good improvements to legacy usability that should make many users of non-touch enabled PC’s very happy; but Microsoft didn’t go quite as far as it could have – or should have – for a great many users. Windows 8.1 still has ModernUI throughout most of it.

However, that doesn’t mean that the improvements that were made weren’t valuable. They are. Windows 8.1 is a much better Windows 8 than Windows 8 was. Let’s take a look at what was done, and see how it all stacks up. Depending on the type of PC you have, you may find them more relevant than others.

Start Button – but no start Menu

The masses have not been happy with the lack of a Start Button and Start Menu in Windows 8. The Start Menu has been around since the early days of Windows XP, and as many will tell you, was optimized in Windows 7. Microsoft has heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth and has resolved the issue…sorta.

Win81-01 Start Button

The Start Button is back, but the Windows 8 Start Screen is still here. There’s no Start Menu any longer. So unless you replace the Live Tiles with the All Programs menu, you’re stuck with them. The functionality here is still very good, and Microsoft has included the new Search Everywhere option (which is the real value of the Start Menu) which includes searching SkyDrive as well as online, for the terms you’re looking for.

Those of us used to using Windows in the Enterprise will also notice that the consumer version of Windows 8.1 also includes a log off/Sign Out option, accessible via a right click or by pressing Win-X, allowing users to take the PC back to an on, but not logged on status. This makes sharing PCs at home a bit easier as you truly DON’T have to share a single account with a spouse or siblings. All the instances of each app can truly be customized for any user of any account and you don’t have to share unless you want to.

This particular point is still a huge issue for many people. They really don’t like the Live Tile-based Start Screen on non-touch enabled and/or legacy PC’s. For those that just can’t live with the Start Screen, you can always install Start8.

Boot to Desktop

One of the biggest problems with Windows 8 is that it took you right to the Start Screen every time the PC finished the startup process. As part of the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft introduced a Boot to Desktop option for users who simply weren’t going to use ModernUI or who preferred to see the standard Windows Desktop. It *IS* where most users will do most of their work.

Win81-03 Boot Desktop

Interestingly enough, the options for this are connected to the Task Bar and not to your desktop (Personalization) or Display options. To get to these, right click your Task Bar, click Properties and then choose the Navigation tab.

Here, you’ll see a great many Windows 8.1 options, including the option to replace the Start Screen with the All Apps view. Take note of this tab and this dialog box. You’re likely going to become very familiar with the options here as you try to figure out the best set of “navigation options” for you.

This is one of the biggest advantages of Windows 8.1 over Windows 8. If your PC doesn’t have a touch interface and you aren’t going to be using it as a lean-back device (a tablet-like, content consumption device) then you may want to give serious consideration to using Boot to Desktop. Using this, along with options like the All Apps View go a long way to hiding ModernUI elements from users who really won’t make use of them.

IE11 Updates

Windows 8.1 comes with IE11, so you won’t need to update the browser via Windows update or any other manual process. The ModernUI version of the Microsoft’s web browser includes Reading View, which allows you to view and read content off line. It has settings that allow you to customize its look and feel with different fonts and colors choices. You can also turn Tracking Protection on and off and prevent sites from tracking you or from installing 3rd party cookies.

Win81-04 IE11

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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.

chipin

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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Microsoft plan to funnel people towards their newer products

Microsoft Merges Windows Live Messenger with Skype and Announces that Support for Windows XP ends in 365 days

On Monday 8th April Microsoft announced that support for Windows XP will stop in exactly 365 days. This announcement came at the same time Microsoft merged Windows Live Messenger with Skype. These recent announcements are part of the new strategy Microsoft is intending to follow in order to channel customers to their latest products including Windows 8.

These updates from Microsoft are certain to affect many businesses and home users. Following we look at how Microsoft plan to funnel people towards their newer products and what you need to do to keep updated.

Windows-XP-Skype

RIP Microsoft XP

Windows XP was originally launched in October, 2001. From April 8, 2014 Microsoft will officially cut off corporate support for Windows XP SP3, as well as Microsoft Office 2003. Once support is cut, Windows XP will no longer receive any new security, hot fixes and most importantly support.

Microsoft announced that come April 2014 any customers using XP will be doing so at their “own risk,” and that failing to update would likely be costly later on down the line. It is estimated that 40 percent of all PCs still run XP, so these changes are set to affect a large amount of customers.

Cutting off support is likely to have a much bigger impact on businesses, than it is on home users. Whereas home users can simply upgrade with little hassle, upgrading for businesses is much more complicated. Microsoft warned businesses that is can regularly take 18 to 32 months to go through the entire deployment phase for new operating systems.

The announcements have put major strains on many businesses still using XP. Many are simply refusing to upgrade to Windows 7, as there is no simple upgrade path. These changes are likely to cause major upset for many a business.

If it wasn’t obvious, Microsoft is using this opportunity to persuade customers to upgrade to Windows 8 stating that it offers cutting edge technology with a stronger interface.

For smaller companies, with one or several computers, updating their operating system will be a breeze. The problems occur for larger companies and if they’ve failed to select a new operating system by now, it may already be too late to beat the XP deadline.

Windows Live Messenger Merges With Skype

In October 2011 Microsoft acquired Skype. Ever since then, they have been working to replace WLM. And on the 8th April 2013, Windows Live Messenger, known to most as MSN Messenger, was finally retired – ending 14 years of loyal service.

The last few years has seen a rapid decline in the amount of people using Windows Live Messenger, mainly due to the success of Facebook’s instant messaging service. Microsoft will now focus on increasing the success of Skype.

If you still have an account with Windows Live Messenger, you can still use those same details to log in to Skype. Once logged in you’ll find a list of all your old contacts, which can then be merged into Skype.

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Are Software Subscriptions a Good or bad Idea for Consumers?

Simply put, it depends.  Value can be found at the consumer level, but you have to read and understand the EULA (end user license agreement) and if you need to be online before you buy-in.

Software subscriptions work in the enterprise and work for software companies, but may or may not work for consumers. Value for the end user depends on how the vendor licenses the software, and if you have to be connected to the internet in order to use it. Most people won’t care if, in the long run they feel they’re getting some reasonable level of value out of the recurring cost.

Many consumers never read an end user license agreement or EULA. Ever.  In many cases, even software users were required to activate has been installed on more than one PC, regardless of whether additional installs violate the licensing agreement, simply because the software was considered too expensive. Versions of Microsoft Office from Office 95 to Office 2010, fall in this category. Its one of the biggest reasons why MS has opted to switch to a subscription model for future Office sales.

office365

The key to successful consumer adoption, however, is how the licensing is written.  I have found that most people are honest and will buy software instead of pirate it; but the licensing associated with any particular title is often very confusing.  Many people have more than one computing device; and will want to use software they purchase where ever and with whatever they’re computing with.  As long as the licensing allows them to install it where they need it, and the subscription costs aren’t too high; and/or don’t exceed what a consumer would pay for the software at retail, then I don’t see why a user find a subscription model acceptable. However, where and how the software is installed may also be an issue.

My biggest concern is where and how the software is used.  Subscriptions for some software may require an online connection to a subscription validation server in order for the software to work.  If I HAVE to be online every time I want to use the software that may be a problem. Internet access and mobile broadband are in a lot of places, but aren’t everywhere. If I want to use it someplace where I don’t have a connection and the software won’t start, then the subscription model is broken. The cloud isn’t everywhere, and I may not be everywhere the cloud is. Software vendors moving to a subscription sales model need to address this in some way to insure that I can use what I’ve paid for, even when I’m disconnected.

I also want the software installed locally and don’t want to HAVE to use an online version like Google Apps or Office 356 Online, again, for the same reasons. I don’t want to HAVE to be tied to the cloud or an always on network connection in order to be able to use something I’ve purchased. Once mobile broadband is ubiquitous, this may be a non-issue, but until then, it may be an issue for some, especially in areas where connectivity is spotty.

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Microsoft Office 2013 Home Premium Presentation

The best sold product by Microsoft is ready to be delivered to the market with a new face and a new modern feature: the Cloud integration. Steve Ballmer was eager to unveil this product as fast as possible, preparing the media and the new customers to accept it as part of the Windows 8 “revolution”.

Microsoft Office 2013 Home Premium, which is part of the Microsoft Office 365 family, is already available for free as a preview version, which will expire on its official release. All you have to do to get it and make it run, is to download the installer from here, then sign-in into Office 365 Home Premium account with your Windows Live credentials. A new online UI will appear from where you can open your applications, documents, and custom settings on any PC (PC running Windows 7 or 8 and Internet connection required).

The package offers new full versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, and Access. In case you are already using Windows 8 Release Preview, these apps are fully integrated into the interface with lots of extra add-ons on Windows Store. You will have 25 GB of free online space on SkyDrive to store your documents for easy access and sharing. When the Preview version will expire, the free access will be gone.

The full version Office 365 Home Premium will come also with full Skype integration, additional 20 GB of SkyDrive online storage and Mac compatibility. All these will be available on up to five PC’s or mobile devices. It is not clear what prices will Microsoft ask for their four cloud subscription plans: Home, Small Business, ProPlus and Enterprise, but all these will be available only if you pay a monthly fee.

Stay tuned, for our full preview of Microsoft Office 2013.

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