Prediction – Windows Phone has about Two Years of Life Left

Boy it kills me to say this…

Windows 10 mobile

I’ve been a Windows Mobile guy since 1990-blah-blah-blah. I started using Microsoft mobile devices back in 1997 or so with the Casio Cassiopeia E-10/E-11 and haven’t looked back. I became a big WindowsCE and PocketPC guy and helped at least three or four sites get off the ground as either a guest reviewer or as a regular contributor. At least two of those sites are still around today (The Gadgeteer and pocketnow. I got into customizing extended ROM’s and into working with custom distributions of PocketPC and Windows Mobile builds. I was nominated as a Microsoft Mobile Devices MVP twice (that I know of) but came just shy of actually receiving the award (program politics…). Microsoft mobile devices and I have a pretty well defined history.

So, you have to believe me when I say this – and it kills me to actually vocalize it and write it down – I’d be very surprised if Windows Phone lived much beyond 2017. In fact, I really think its gonna die and disappear entirely before 2018.

The reasons for this are four fold

1. Ballmer Does Play into this
Whether you like him or not is irrelevant. Unfortunately for everyone that was a fan of the original Windows Mobile, Ballmer NEVER understood mobile computing and his ouster from the company can be traced to the fact that he NEVER got behind it.

EVER.

Windows Mobile should have taken over the mobile market place when both Apple and Google adopted Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) as the synch engine for both iOS and Android respectively. It should have swung for the fence at that point, knowing that during that time (roughly late 2007 to late 2009) it controlled MDM (mobile device management) for three of the four major mobile platforms on the market (iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile)

Ballmer never stepped on the gas or green lighted any kind of mobile acceleration, and unfortunately, Windows Mobile died. At that time, Windows Mobile 6.5.x was out in beta and as such, never saw the light of day. Microsoft killed it, back peddled, and instead released Windows Phone 7 in response to the iPhone.

2. Windows Phone Development History (both OS and Apps)
Windows Phone has a huge history of – pardon my language… – screwing over its developer partners. Windows Phone 7 wasn’t compatible with any version of Windows Mobile and developers had to rebuild current, popular apps from scratch. Windows Phone wasn’t compatible with Windows Phone 7 and again, developers had to rebuild current, popular apps from scratch.

Developers entered a wait and see mode on submitting new and recreated apps to the Windows Phone Store Many of the new devices at the time weren’t very popular and the new OS wasn’t attracting new users over other devices like the iPhone or the Droid and Droid X. Developing for Windows Phone 7.x and Windows Phone 8 also wasn’t as easy as it was to develop for iOS or Android; and the user bases there were better established.

At this time, Microsoft also didn’t enter any kind of marketing push to really try to compete with the iPhone or with Android (partially due to Ballmer not getting it, partially due to their own arrogance in thinking that Apple and Google would always use EAS to power their mail servers and mobile apps). Because they didn’t push their advantage appropriately and because both Apple and Google ended up dropping any and ALL support for EAS, they lost their strategic position on the backend of things.

Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 never took off with developers because they didn’t want to have to spend all of the time, money and resources to win their users back, who had, with them, moved on to other platforms.

The thought and hope with Windows 10 Mobile is that because of the architecture of Windows 10 Universal Apps, you develop once, and can have a single app on phones, tablets and desktop. That however, still has to be proven out, and I don’t know how willing many mobile developers are to give Microsoft a third try on a mobile platform that still doesn’t have any (real) users to speak of.

Speaking of which…

3. Low Market Share is still Declining
This is pathetic. According to the IDC, Windows Phone has a worldwide market share of only about 3%. iOS has about 14% global share and Android dominates the market with about 83%. Everyone I know of, including some major Windows industry pundits, say that’s a hole that Microsoft just isn’t going to be able to crawl out of. At best, Microsoft should be happy to hit 5% and hold that. If they can ever get it that high or that far…

Compounding the problem, Microsoft recently wrote down their entire Nokia acquisition, declaring all of the assets they actually retained, effectively worthless.

Microsoft also hasn’t released a flagship class Windows Phone since late 2013. Yes, they are supposed to have two others announced on 2015-10-06, currently code named Talk Man and City Man; but there are further considerations. For example, when will they release flagships AFTER that?

I don’t think they will.

Life is breathed into a platform by the hype and excitement generated by the best of the best. Both Apple and most of Google’s major hardware partners are releasing flagship class devices at least on an annual basis, with many Android hardware partners staggering and coordinating their flagship releases so that new devices are announced and released every 4-6 months.

Microsoft and Windows Phone doesn’t have that. The one major hardware partner that Microsoft DOES have – HTC – recently had their stock declared worthless, and they also haven’t released an M9 version of the HTC One for Windows Phone. I’d be very surprised if they did, too.

Microsoft has spent their engineering efforts introducing either low end or mid-range devices and has, unfortunately, saturated the market with them. The devices they do have are virtually indistinguishable from one another and no one knows why they should pick one over another, let a one over an Android devices that has a huge developer and accessory support base.

So… Microsoft doesn’t have the market share, and they don’t have the hardware releases to support a growth in market share. Worldwide, Microsoft seems to be fighting a losing battle.

4. Windows 10 Mobile Build Issues
Oh my Lord, what a train wreck this has been. This is almost as bad as the old Keystone Cops silent movie skits back in the day (and nearly just as pathetic…). Sorry, Gabe Aul… it just is, especially from the outside.

I’ve been a Windows Insider since the program was originally announced in October 2014, AND I’ve been active too. I submit feedback as often and as consistently as I can, on nearly every PC build I install on the Fast Ring. It can be a very labor intensive activity, but as software quality professional, I know I can give them the detailed information they want and need.

I also went and purchased a Windows Phone in anticipation of testing Windows 10 Mobile builds. I bought a BLU (Bold Like Us) Win HD LTE. it’s a very affordable, unlocked, upper mid-range dual SIM device that supports US carriers. However, there are issues here with this Windows Phone and Windows 10.

First and foremost, Windows 10 isn’t supported on it yet; and this is a HUGE problem.

Microsoft is only supporting their own Lumia devices and the HTC One M8 so far with Windows 10 Mobile Beta Builds.

Can someone – anyone really… I’d accept a logical explanation from anyone at this point – please explain to me WHY Microsoft isn’t supporting beta builds for any and ALL Windows 10 Mobile devices right now. With its release looming in the two and a half months left in 2015, you would think that Microsoft would be pushing this thing out to any and ALL devices on their platform… but they aren’t.

Worse yet, Gabe Aul (again… sorry for calling you out, Gabe) won’t answer any of my tweets questioning when other devices will support Insider Builds on either the Fast or Slow Rings. I also can’t get him to answer WHY other devices aren’t supported, either.

Worse than that, what the public has been able to see of the release and internal testing cycles for Windows 10 Mobile are effectively a huge cluster-bump. Earlier this week (the week of 2015-09-14) I got a notification from my Windows Phone that a Windows 10 update was available for it.

WP-01

I got very excited. I even waited a few days and didn’t actually attempt to download or install the update until I had some time to spend paying attention to the update, the update process, and how things transitioned from one Mobile OS to the other.

WP-02

After it downloaded, I did an internet search to see if anyone had experienced any problems. When I couldn’t find anything, I pulled the trigger.

WP-03

The device restarted and I got the spinning gears screen. However, thankfully, as it turns out, the OS did not install. I got an error message from my device after about 20 minutes into the flash that the OS couldn’t be installed on my device. The screen flashed, and then it restarted on its own.

The next day, I saw on Neowin that a number of different devices got the same notice that I got and that it was a mistake, and Microsoft would need to push out an update to fix those devices that were now unstable and functioning inappropriately.

if you could physically see me as I’m writing this, you’d see that I’m shaking my head.

What the hell??

This isn’t the first time that this kind of problem has happened with the Windows 10 Insider program. If you remember, a similar problem happened on the desktop OS where users were seeing updates they weren’t supposed to see and couldn’t download or could partially download and the download would fail. MS had to shoot out an update to fix that.

Then there was an issue where some users installed an update that prevented them from seeing updates they were supposed to see. Microsoft had to shoot out an update to fix that. It’s clear that Microsoft is having a number of technical issues with their release management process. In appropriate updates are going out and needed updates are not.

Then, there’s an issue with build quality in Windows 10 Mobile. Most of the Fast Ring Builds are totally unusable, or have major flaws that make using the OS on a supported device very difficult. I only remember one build being released to Slow Ring Insiders a number of months ago. The testing process MS has in place for Mobile is the same that it has for Desktop – if a build passes specific testing miles stones on both their internal Fast and Slow Rings, then it is released to the Insider Fast Ring. If it passes testing mile stones there, its released to the Insider Slow Ring.

Not much is getting past the Insider Fast Ring. Windows 10 Mobile has the same (if not worse) instability problems that Windows 10 for desktop is currently rumored to be having.

This clearly doesn’t look good for Windows Mobile. It has a history of little to no internal support from either Management or Marketing. The Windows Phone development community doesn’t like it, because there isn’t a lot of money to be made selling software for it. The platform itself is having issues getting users to jump on and its market share has steadily declined over the past 2 – 3 years. Finally, it’s got release management and build quality issues.

When you look at all of this, you have to ask yourself – Why is Microsoft continuing to do this to themselves AND to their users? It isn’t reasonable to think that Microsoft is going to be able to generate enough market share to continue support for the platform. When you couple that with the cluster-bump that has been their release and QA processes for Mobile (and Desktop) over the past few months, you’re left with one REALLY huge question:

Why is Microsoft, one of the biggest and best software companies in the WORLD, having trouble getting this right? I have the answer to that (it’s a methodology and process problem…you can’t cut corners) but I don’t have the time nor space to go into that. I’d lose most everyone in the problem to TLDR (too long, didn’t read). So, I’ll have to save that for another time.

BUT..!

What do you think of this? Is Windows 10 Mobile going to make it? Will it be worth the wait? Will it provide any value to anyone in the mobile market? Will it live beyond 2018 or have all of the issues I’ve outlined bring about its demise (sooner rather than later…)??

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the whole thing. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and give me your thoughts on the whole issue?

Related Posts:

FEATURE REVIEW – Microsoft Windows 10 Part II

Windows Live is Dead, Long Live, uh… Windows Built in Apps

The Windows Live series of apps and branding was one of the things that really helped make Windows 7 a success.  While these all changed to ModernUI apps in Windows 8 (and the transition killed what was and could have continued to be a really nice suite of apps), Microsoft has worked hard save some or all of them.  Windows Live is dead.

Long live Windows Apps…!  Uh… yeah.

Windows 10 has some really nice replacement apps that it rescued from ModernUI. While some of them, like Food and Travel will both die as Microsoft discontinues them, others like Video, Music, Photos and Mail and Calendar have been revised and reintroduced in Windows 10.

27 - Windows Apps

Mail and Calendar are two of the apps that help make up the touch version of Microsoft Office (see below) and are really nice Universal and touch implementations of these two (now) system level apps.  All of these apps are available as part of the default Windows 10 installation and are available for use out of the box.  (Whereas with Windows Live apps, you had to go and download a different installer to get them.)

28 - Windows Apps

As a brief aside, the above download will work on Windows 10, as I previously reported, but will require the installation of .NET 3.5 or greater runtime to your Window 10 PC. It’s also the only way to get Windows Live Writer, which, by the way, works very well under Windows 10.

Office Gets Touchy

The touch version of Microsoft Office was first released for iPad in 2014 and then was followed shortly after that with the Android version.  The Windows version is now available for download in the Windows Store, and is free… though, there are a few catches to this.

First, if you want to do anything really and truly productive with it, you’re going to need an Office 365 subscription. Period.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive subscription.  Any one will do; but you’re going to need one.  If you have a Windows computing device that came with an Office 365 subscription, like the WinBook TW700, then you already have the rights to the fully functional bits.

24 - Office

If you have a low-end tablet something with a screen 10.1 inches or smaller, then you can get the apps with basic functionality for free, and won’t need a subscription…unless you need premium features. Here’s the specifics from Microsoft:

“Currently, we are also using screen size to delineate between professional and personal use. Based on our research, we are classifying anything with a screen size of 10.1 inches or less as a true mobile device: You’re probably using it on the go, when it’s not practical to use a larger computing device such as a PC or a Mac. You probably aren’t using a mouse or a keyboard, instead navigating via touch interface. It’s probably not a “pro” category tablet that is used for design or presentations. On these devices, the core editing and viewing experience is free, until you get to those premium, subscription features.”

25 - Office

Any way you look at it, getting these apps is a great idea and something that you will want to have at your beck and call for quick editing tasks or when you simply don’t want to run the full version of either Word, Excel or PowerPoint to make a few quick, light edits.  These are also perfect for school aged children when they need to write a report or to create a presentation for school or some other extra-curricular activity.

26 - Word

Windows 10 is Free

There’s been a lot of talk on this and a lot of it has been confusing, especially when it comes to, “which version and I gonna get?”.  Here’s the skinny on the whole deal.

Windows 10 is a free upgrade, for a period of one (1) year from its release. If you have a PC running a legitimate, activated version of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, you have a period of one year to get your free upgrade.  After that, it’s thought that you’ll have to pay for your upgrade, but Microsoft hasn’t clarified that.  You may be able to get it free after 2016-07-29; or you might have to pay for the upgrade.  Users who do upgrade to Windows 10 will get a corresponding version of Windows 10 for free.  You must already have a Genuine version of Windows running, however, and there are a few caveats where versions are concerned.

Users of Windows 7 Starter Edition, Home Basic or Home Premium will get a free upgrade to Windows 10 Home.  Users of Windows 8 Home will get a free upgrade to Windows 10 Home.  Users of Windows 8.1 Home will get a free upgrade to Windows 10 Home.

Users of Windows 7 Pro or Windows 7 Ultimate will get a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.  Users of Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8.1 Pro will get a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

Users wishing to upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro can do so, but can expect to pay $99USD.  This can be purchased online, or in stores, at any time, after the upgrade completes.

As always… clear as mud.

Once you upgrade, Microsoft is planning on supporting Windows 10 for a period of 10 years (so until roughly 2025-07-29).

Performance

I’ve been looking at Windows 10 on a couple different machines since the inception of the Windows Insider Program. I think I’ve got enough information as well as enough experience with the new OS to give everyone a decent take on how the OS will perform on new as well as legacy hardware.  However, as with everything in this world, you mileage may vary – meaning that your experience on the same hardware that I’m using and referencing may be different than what I have depicted here.

Surface Pro 3

Performance on my Surface Pro 3 (Intel Core i5-4300U, 2.0-2.5GHz, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) has been acceptable to decent.  Based on what I’m seeing here, and having experienced on my current SP3 this as well as the entry level SP3 (Intel Core i3-4020V, 1.5GHz, 4GB RAM 64GB SSD), it’s clear to me that an Intel i5 processor is likely the bare minimum needed to run Windows 10 with any level of acceptable performance.

As with any version of Windows, it’s going to eat as much RAM as you can throw at it.  The more you have dedicated to a specific processor or processor core, the better the machine is going to perform.

On machines like any Surface Pro or other Windows compatible tablet, upgrading any core PC component, simply isn’t possible. You’re stuck with what you got when you purchased the device.  In situations like this the best thing you can do is buy as much as you can afford.  If you can tolerate it financially, make the purchase hurt just a bit.  While the purchase may be a bit of a stretch, in the end, when you try to make the device do more than it really can or should – and most users likely will – you’ll be glad that it’s there in the end.

The Surface Pro 3 that I have is the mid-range model. I got it when it was on sale and only $100 USD above the price of the low-end i3 model SP3. While this device technically CAN run Photoshop and Lightroom, this configuration isn’t one that I’d recommend doing that on, at least not long term. You’re going to want something with more punch and a lot more RAM than just 4GB.

Low End, Budget and Small Tablets

The biggest problem with Windows 10 on a low end or any kind of budget or small screen tablet, is that these devices don’t have any upgradable storage or RAM… well, and the performance just totally sucks.  Unfortunately, these are the kinds of machines that would likely benefit most from a RAM upgrade.

Budget equipment often uses low end components, like Intel’s Atom processor line.  While this processor can run Windows, performance levels on those machines are really only realized on units that have at least 4GB of RAM.  Unfortunately, devices in the low end or budget category often don’t have that much RAM.  Most of them have 1-2GB of RAM; and you’re going to be lucky to have one that has 2GB of RAM.  Yeah… I think you’ll find that that extra gigabyte of RAM, its strategically important.

The biggest problem with all of this – small tablets like the WinBook TW-700 – came with Windows 8.x Pro.  That means they’re supposed to get the Pro version of Windows 10 on 2015-07-29, when the new OS launches.  Tablets like this suffer from three huge issues

  1. They don’t have a powerful enough processor
    The Atom processor on my Dell Latitude 10 ST2 may be a few years old, but it technically still has some usable life in it. However, I’ve noticed that anything short of Intel’s CherryTrail Atom line – the processor in the Surface 3 – won’t have enough power to push Windows 10.  So, all of those awesome WinBook tablets like the TW-700 and the TW-800 line tablets, are going to have huge issues running the new OS, even though they should qualify for the upgrade.
  2. They don’t have enough RAM
    Tablets in the budget line often have just 1GB of RAM. While Windows 10 will live in that space, it’s like shoving your foot in a shoe that’s half a size too small. You can walk; man, it’s extremely painful.  It’s going to be the same way here.
  3. They don’t have enough storage
    Seven to eight inch tablets are usually 32bit machines.  I haven’t seen one yet house  64bit processor.  The Windows 10 install DVD for 32bit machines is about 3.5GB in size.  This is a problem because many of these smaller, budget oriented tablets only have 16GB of storage space.Decompressed, Windows 8.x requires about 7GB of space, on a virgin drive.  After you add in Windows Update History and an application or two, you’ve only got 2GB or so of space left over.  With Windows 10 requiring at least 4-8GB of space to install, you’ve got impossible space problems.  You aren’t going to be able to upgrade that tablet let Windows 10.  You might be able to do a clean install, provided you do a full hard drive wipe; but then you’ve got to install all of your apps again, and if your product/ registration codes were virtual – meaning they really did come preinstalled on the device – then getting them back is going to be nearly impossibleWindows 10 was supposed to ship with a method that would allow you to temporarily uninstall apps and/ or move them to an SD card in order to facilitate installation, but that feature got delayed, and will likely be part of Threshold 2 (TH2), or the next official big update of Windows 10, due out in October of 2015.  I don’t think Windows 10 will run on these small, budget tablets then, either.

So, what are you to do if you want to try to put Windows 10 on that kind of tablet?  Your best bet is to either find the ISO and burn a hard copy DVD or buy a copy with a dedicated product code and install Windows 10 that way.  Any method you use, however, won’t improve Windows 10 performance on this type of budget tablet.  It’s still going to be slow going and it’s never going to get better, because you can’t install additional RAM.

Conclusion

There’s a lot here, kids.  There really is.

It’s clear that Microsoft really screwed the pooch when it came to Windows 8.  They went all in with touch, but then didn’t embrace a mobile strategy that made any sense.  Windows 8 – and Windows RT too, if you really think about it – tanked because Microsoft didn’t (couldn’t or wouldn’t) give up the desktop.

Windows RT was supposed to be Microsoft’s answer to the iPad, and it would have worked (been better received/ accepted..?) if RT devices were MetroUI/ ModernUI ONLY…and without the Desktop.  Unfortunately, they just couldn’t make that happen, and nearly everyone choked on a touch interface on a non-touch enabled PC.

But that’s in the past.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has tried to learn from its mistakes and has introduced an operating system that tries to embrace touch but gives up enough to allow it to work on the desktop without causing most of the world’s workforce – who does business on a Windows powered PC – to get work done. In this regard, Windows 10 will succeed and do very well.

From a mobile perspective, Microsoft is trying.  They really are… yeah, they’re trying…as in trying my patience.  Windows 10 Mobile still isn’t out yet, and still isn’t available in preview form on the Windows Phones I have access to.

Microsoft is trying to create one “version” of Windows that has enough UI common elements that you’ll feel comfortable and familiarized with it, regardless of what kind of device – whether that’s a smartphone, tablet (regardless of size) or PC – that you’re holding.

What Do *I* Really Think?

Windows 10 is designed to be FAMILIAR… and it is, in many ways. Users of Windows 7 will feel comfortable with the redesigned Start Menu (though they’ll likely remove ALL of the Live Tiles…); but it will at least look and feel familiar enough for them to use and work with.  Those that did move to Windows 8 and are stuck on that paradigm, will find Live Tiles in the Start Menu and can even make it go full screen, if they wish.  Again, familiar.

But again, what do I think..?  That’s pretty easy.

Windows 10 is a decent operating system. I think there are going to be issues with updates and new builds that will likely either break the internet or try your patience as you try to download updates that are likely to come at a pace that’s a LOT more frequent than you’re used to.  I have a feeling you’re going to see a bit more bundling of fixes and such into service packs than we have in the past few years… that will at least make it easier to update your PC after you have to blow it and rebuild it because you got a nasty virus or adware infection.

Using Windows 10 is fairly straight forward and the new UI elements are easy to get used to.  As I said, its familiar; and you’re going to like it coming from either Windows 7 OR Window 8.x.

Should You Upgrade?

If you’re using Windows 7, you can stay there for another year or two if you really have to. There’s nothing wrong with it, but when the Windows 10 upgrade is free, and it’s still fairly familiar to what you’re using now, upgrading makes a lot of sense.  If you’re on Windows 8.x and you don’t like it, and you really need to get off of it or switch to something else, again… the upgrade to Windows 10 is free and at least worth a shot before you go off and buy a Mac or switch to some Linux distribution that will also likely be a bit of a stretch for you.

So, if you fall in any of those spots, yes, upgrade.

Unless…

If you’re on a budget tablet – anything with say an Atom processor and DEFINITELY anything with 1GB of RAM – stop.  Don’t accept the upgrade and stay with Windows 8.x. Period.  I’ve had nothing but trouble with my Dell Latitude 10 ST2 tablet on Windows 10, and it has 2GB of RAM. I can’t imagine what 1GB of RAM would be like.

One the desktop side, it’s going to be pretty much the same thing.  Any older processor types – Core Duo’s, Core 2 Duo’s, Celerons (regardless of how new the PC is) – won’t fare well under Windows 10 with anything under 4-8GB of RAM, and even then, you may not want to upgrade.  And going back to your previous OS may or may not be possible, depending on the amount of storage you have and whether or not you have the original restore DVD’s.

So, in the end, Windows 10 yes. Two thumbs up.

Windows 10 on older machines (say, 4-5 years old)…? Your mileage may vary; but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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FEATURE REVIEW – Microsoft Windows 10 Part I

Windows returns to its roots with the last version of Windows…ever.

Introduction
I’ve been involved with every Microsoft Operating System release, as either a part of the formal technical beta team, a representative of an MS partner doing formal testing in cooperation with Microsoft and the company I worked for (the MS partner), or as part of a formal public beta, providing professional level feedback (i.e. detailed bug reports) since Windows 95. I’ve had my hands on (nearly every) beta and prerelease build of Microsoft Windows (and Office, for that matter) since the (public) beginning of the internet. I still use the MSN email address that was assigned to me during the test of the original MSN dialup service (you know… the one to go up against AOL). It’s now used as my Microsoft Account ID.

It was only natural for me to get involved with the Windows Insider program for Windows 10 when it started in October of 2014. I’ve tried to stay active throughout the Windows 10 beta, and as you can see from my Insider Profile, I’ve done an ok job.

I’ve also tried to cover Windows 10 developments since the start of the Insider Program. If you remember the list that I published recently, then you’ll notice that there are just a couple more to add to the list:

There’s more to say about Windows and small tablets as well as budget tablets and PC’s. Is Windows 10 the right OS for your legacy hardware, or should you stay with what you have? Will Windows 10 run well on your device, or will you bump into performance problems? Will Windows 10 be the savior that Microsoft is hoping it will be? I hope to answer all of that and more. Let’s take a look at what Windows 10 has to offer and we’ll find out…

New Microsoft Windows 10 Features

Some would call Windows 10 a natural progression of features and UI enhancements from Windows 8.x. I completely disagree. Like Windows 7, Windows 10 is a strategic retreat… a rehashing of features and interface elements designed to make it more appealing, more acceptable to a near totally disgruntled user base.

Like Windows Vista, nearly everyone HATED Windows 8. Windows 8.1 (either with or without its Updates), was only begrudgingly tolerated; and in my opinion, only because owners of Windows 8.x native computers HAD to tolerate it. I don’t have the actual numbers, but I’m certain that nearly everyone that could downgrade their PC to Windows 7 without losing major functionality or hardware compatibility, did. Windows 10 has a huge row to hoe when it comes to improving the PC computing experience.

Windows 10 is supposed to be familiar and easy to use. The Start Menu is back, but it’s not quite like you remember it. It’s sort of a mish-mash between the Windows 7 and Windows 8 Start Menu and Start Screen, respectively. You can pin apps and live tiles to it; and if you’ve not actually in love with either, you can pretty much customize its complete look and feel. With pinned apps, you get access to the apps you use the most. With Live Tiles, you get access to either Universal or Desktop apps, but also get a small window into the newest data received by the app.

If you accept that an Intel Core i5 is the baseline processor, even with 4GB of RAM, I think the OS starts up and resumes fast, has more built-in security to help keep you safe, and is designed to work with software and hardware you already have.

There are some decent new features that come standard with Windows 10. While some of these features may require specific hardware in order for them to be used, many of them will be usable by nearly everyone, regardless of computer brand or system components. Here, I’m going to cover some of the more notable features. With that, let’s take a look at what Windows 10 will offer…

Windows Hello

Passwords are a pain in the butt to remember. When you have a password policy at work that requires you to change it every 30 days, remembering your (constantly changing, constantly) new password can be challenging. Windows 10 tries to better that with the implementation of biometric login’s via either fingerprints or your face.

Yes… your face.

With Windows Hello, Windows 10 is able to recognize your face and log you in with a smile. While this will require specific and specialized web cam hardware – and did I mention that that hardware does NOT exist on the Surface Pro 3? – it does nearly insure that no unauthorized users will be logging into your computer to steal your data.

01 - Windows Hello

I haven’t had the chance to try out Windows Hello, largely because none of the computers I have, have the necessary web cam hardware in order to be able to take advantage of it. However, it sounds pretty cool. If this kind of camera hardware is relatively inexpensive to either add as a third party option or to include as part of a computer or tablet’s core components, then this could be a huge step forward in providing a secured PC computing experience. However, only time will tell if this turns out to be something useful or something that’s nothing more than a fad at best.

The Start Menu Returns… Sort of

One of the biggest fau pax’s in Windows 8.x was its lack of Start Button and complete absence of Start Menu. The Button came back in Windows 8.1. The Menu is back in Windows 10, sort of…

In Windows 10, the Start Menu is more of a mish-mash between the Start Menu of Windows 7 and the Start Screen of Windows 8. In Windows 10, you have both menu shortcuts and Start Screen live tiles. To boot, the whole thing is resizable with your mouse.

On the left side of the Menu, you have app folders and short cuts. Live Tiles are on the right. If you wish, you can completely remove all of the Live Tiles and keep just the Start Menu. This will make the whole thing seem more Windows 7 like, and perhaps something that will be more familiar to those that need the familiarity.

<02 - Start Menu>

While this mashup isn’t always the best of features – during the beta period, many tiles would work for a while and then stop working – at least you have a choice of all, some or no tiles at all. In Tablet Mode, however, you get the full Windows 8.x style Start Screen (and that’s all that Tablet Mode really seems to be – a giant Start Screen, well, and full screen width system dialog boxes…).

You can still get access to the Desktop in Tablet Mode… which doesn’t make ANY sense to me… but I digress.

Virtual desktops

The biggest issue with mulita-tasking is that there just doesn’t seem to be a big enough monitor for me to put all of my open apps on in a way that’s easy for me to get to, especially when I’m really working hard. Virtual desktops allow you to organize work in such a way that you have access to your monitor’s full resolution, without having to constantly minimize and maximize open windows (though, quite honestly, I don’t know what the big hullaballoo is around that…)

03 - Virtual Desktops

Anyhow, in Windows 10, you can create an “unlimited” number (and by unlimited, I mean, given how much physical and virtual RAM your machine has, can make and can manage) of virtual desktops that will allow you to organize programs in a way that makes sense to you. How well that makes sense to you, is a bit hard to predict. You get there via a Windows Key + Tab key combination, or you can tap the virtual desktop icon on the task bar, next to Cortana’s search bar.

04 - Virtual Desktops

This feature has been possible via third party apps for years, but now its native functionality in Windows 10.

Windows Snap Improvements

Back in the days of Windows 3.x, cascading and tiling your open windows was all the rage, and one of the better ways to organize your work, especially once OLAE (Object Linking and Embedding) came around and you could actively link parts of one document into another. This made it very easy to find what you were looking for in one document, and then either cut and paste it or drag and drop it into the target document.

09 - Windows Snap

Fast forward a decade or two, and Microsoft introduced Snap in Windows 8. Snap gave you the ability to anchor one window to one half of your monitor and then another app on the other half of your monitor, effectively giving you the ability to swap bits and pieces back and for like you did back in the day, though with Snap, it may be a bit easier to setup.

Metro apps are Dead. Long Live Universal Apps!

So… ok. Windows 8’s MetroUI/ ModernUI and the apps that went with it totally sucked. Microsoft finally got it and completely killed not only the UI in Windows 10, but the apps that went with it. Well, that is to say, that they killed the way the apps looked. Now, these apps are called Universal Apps.

05 - Universal Apps

The idea here is that these redefined, universal apps can run on any machine running any version of Windows 10, regardless of screen size or form factor. With Universal Apps, developers get to code once, (theoretically) compile once, and have an app that runs on a Windows Phone, a Windows tablet, as well as on a Windows PC. Microsoft is hoping that this will entice developers to not only continue developing for Windows, but to also create apps that will run “on every version of Windows.” This is code for Microsoft trying to beg developers to write apps for Windows Phone and the Windows Store, which they have largely ignored since its inception.

Yeah… It echoes in there.

06 - Universal Apps

Action Center

Windows Charms are gone. That interface went out with Windows 8.x. In its place when you swipe in from the right edge of your screen, or when you tap the dialog bubble in the System Tray, you get the Action Center.

07 - Action Center

From here, you can address any and all system level notifications that either the OS or any apps have sent you. You can dismiss one, some or all of them, or tap on any individual notification to deal with it directly.

08 - Action Center

Additionally, Quick Action buttons near the bottom of the Action Center give you instant access to often used, important system functionality. These buttons are customizable via the Notifications and Actions applet in Settings.

Microsoft Edge

Internet Explorer has become, over the years, a huge non-standardized mess. Because so many enterprises – companies – run Windows, Internet Explorer in many cases became the default browser of any company that ran the OS. When that happened, those companies locked in their version of Windows AND Internet Explorer in a death grip that still has many companies still running Windows XP, running IE6. It’s just the browser (and version) that just won’t die.

10 - Microsoft Edge

With Windows 10, Microsoft hopes to change that. Microsoft Edge – formerly called Project Spartan – is the newest browser in Microsoft’s new flagship, desktop OS. With Edge, you can annotate live web pages and then share those pages AND your notes with others. You can read online articles without being distracted and you can save articles to be read at a later time. Edge and Cortana (see below) also work together, so you can make restaurant reservations or read reviews, without leaving the page that you’re currently viewing.

11 - Microsoft Edge

The code name for this new Windows 10 exclusive app is aptly named. The app is a bit Spartan when it comes to on screen controls as well as features. While I’m certain they will come, post Windows 10 release, waiting for an Edge version of everything that you may see in other browsers make take a bit of time.

12 - Microsoft Edge

The browser isn’t the easiest thing to use, and many may find it a bit confusing. The address bar, for example, is completely hidden. If you click up near the top of the current tab you’re on, it will appear, but I never feel as though I’m clicking in the right place. I’d rather have a visible edge to the box that I can see… The lack of polish on things like this make Edge interesting, but all the more difficult to use.

Cortana Comes to the PC

Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now voice operated, digital assistants. While both Siri and Google Now have been around a bit longer than Cortana, the latter seems a bit more sophisticated and easier to use.

13 - Cortana

On Windows 10, you can even train Cortana to learn your voice. It will only respond to you after that (at least in theory) and its accuracy is much improved after training completes. I was actually very impressed with Cortana during my vocal testing of it.

14 - Cortana

However, I don’t see myself using Cortana all that often. I don’t use Siri hardly at all on my iPhone. I just don’t talk to it; but that may be because it’s not as advanced, and is so very limited. Siri just doesn’t do as much as Cortana can.

15 - Cortana

16 - Cortana

I don’t know that I will use Cortana all that much on my Surface Pro 3. I honestly don’t use it outside of the office; and I’m not the type to talk to my computer. I have enough problems with people looking at me like I’m nuts as it is. I don’t need to provide them with any additional fuel.

17 - Cortana

Using Cortana via a keyboard, however, is totally easy and natural. You type in your natural language question, and Cortana does the rest. Searching the web is easy. Finding documents, apps, or System Components (like Control Panel or Settings applets) is easy and takes just as much effort as typing the name of the document or thing you’re looking for. That works a bit easier than you might think and won’t get you strange looks at work when you talk to your Surface Pro tablet…

However, if over the next few years, Cortana can become more intelligent and can really help boost productivity, then I may revisit this decision of forced silence at a later date. For now, however, I think I’ll just try to stick to typed searches.

18 - Cortana

Xbox and Windows 10

I’m not a huge gaming fan. I don’t play at all, though I do have an Xbox One in the house. My son, however, is the local gaming expert. What I’m really looking forward to allowing him to try, though is the Xbox and Windows 10 gaming integrations between Xbox and a Windows Phone 10 device.

19 - Xbox

The boy can really spend some time playing games. On the weekends – read Saturday… Sunday is Church – when we allow him to play with some extended time, he gets up early in the morning and meets many of his classmates online for extended rounds of Destiny or Halo. They’ve been known to play for hours until one parent decides to break it all up.

20 - Xbox

At our house, that’s usually when my granddaughter gets up and comes up stairs. At times like that, or when others want to use the TV for something other than watching him kill aliens, transferring the game to a Windows Phone handset or to a Windows tablet may be a good thing for him. He can still play his games, and I get a chance to use my television set.

21 - Xbox

Don’t expect this game console – PC/ Windows Phone/ Tablet integration to become available on 29, July, however. While Windows 10 will eventually come to Xbox, I don’t expect it to be released until sometime in mid to late October with the TH2 (Threshold 2) release of Windows 10.

22 - Xbox

The Xbox app on Windows 10, however, will allow you to get access to the same games, and you should be able to play Xbox titles on your Windows 10 PC, with your Microsoft account, if you can actually get the gamer tag to set.

23 - Xbox

On an unrelated side, I’d like to say that I did not choose the gamer tag that’s shown in these shots. The Xbox app chose it, and I actually find that choice of tag to be in very poor taste considering the little girl that was nearly stabbed to death.

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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 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

Next page

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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.
revive_sm

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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If Microsoft is Going to Listen, then it Needs to Listen

I need what I need, and not a token bone thrown at me. I’m just sayin’…

The interwebs have been agog lately with a number of different rumors and “confirmations” that Microsoft has heard the wailing and cries of its people. It’s said that the release of Windows 8.1 – or Windows Blue as its been code named – will bring back the Start button to the Windows 8 interface.  Unfortunately, a new undercurrent has been heard recently as well: The Start Button is going to do what it did in the Windows 8 Developer Preview – Bring up the Windows 8 Start Screen and not a Windows 7 Styled Start Menu.

My friend Preston Gralla sites a story from The Verge in his analysis.  He says that it its “true, it would be a [major] misstep for Microsoft.”

I agree, but it wouldn’t be the first time that MS thought it knew better than its customers.

startbuttonGralla says that, “Microsoft [appears] to have a death wish” when it comes to Windows 8. Users have been asking for a return of the Windows 7 Start Menu. No one is asking for a Start Button that gets users to the Windows 8 Start Screen. Users that want a quick way to get to the Start Screen can swipe in from the right edge of the screen, hit the Windows Key on a Windows compatible keyboard or hover the mouse over the lower left corner until a thumbnail of the Start Screen appears and then click on it.  Putting the Start Button back just to get the user to the Start Screen is silly.  We don’t want the Start screen.

We want the Windows 7 Start Menu.

The Windows 7 Start menu was simple. It was easy to use.  More importantly, its search results were much more accurate than its Windows 8 counterpart; at least that’s the current perception from most users.  Windows 8 Start Screen search results display data differently than displayed on the Windows 7 Start Menu; and the results sort and display is also confusing users.

Unfortunately, especially on a non-touch enabled PC, the Start Screen isn’t what users want. Windows 8.1 will likely give users the ability to boot directly to their Desktop instead of the Start Screen, which is something that users DO want.  However, giving users a Start Button that doesn’t do what users want it to do is confusing and, well, rude. If Microsoft is going to listen to its Windows 8 critics and change the way the OS works, then it needs to listen.

If The Verge’s report is accurate, Microsoft’s solution seems half-backed and empty.  Windows XP and its Start menu have been around since 2000. It’s over 13 years old. Changing that type of use behavior in the enterprise is NOT reasonable; and I honestly think Microsoft is going to miss the boat again if it doesn’t open both ears and listen to what users want from it.

 

 

 

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Customize the look and feel of your Windows 8 device with Decor8

Decor8-Review-2One of the things that most new Windows 8 users won’t like is the lack of interface customization options it has. The OS is almost completely new, and most users don’t know which end is up as far as putting a personal spin on it is concerned. This is why Decor8 is so important. It’s a Windows 8 customization tool.

Microsoft Windows 8 currently limits your start screen customization options to only a few provided background images and a few pre-defined color schemes. While this isn’t earth shatteringly disappointing, Windows 8 doesn’t really provide a lot of customization options, either.  This is where Decor8 comes in. It removes these limitations and provides the freedom to personalize your start screen with your own images and colors.

D8-02

With Decor8, you can choose from more background images to personalize your start screen.  You can add your own photos and images, select multiple images to create a custom slideshow, randomize background images in timed intervals, and apply effects to scroll, fade, blur, recolor and add contrast to your background images.  You can also choose an image for your lock screen background.

Decor8 will automatically create a color scheme to match each of your background images. You can also customize the color scheme, if you prefer. Custom color schemes can also be applied to your charms bar. You can also control how many rows of tiles are available on your start screen.

Decor8 is a decent app; and it’s one of the very few customization apps out there right now for Windows 8. The app follows the same look and feel as Start8, also from Stardock.  The one thing that I would do at the time of this writing is to hold off on any purchase of Decor8 until after the release of Windows Blue. The update is supposed to add to Windows 8’s customization options, and that will likely cause a rev in Decor8 as well.

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