The Pomp and Circumstance of Windows 9

It won’t be as big a deal as you might think, if all goes as planned.

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Microsoft is truly experiencing some monumental growing pains. Over the past seven years, its produced three version OS revisions – Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. Two of the three releases – or 66% of their Windows related releases – were train wrecks. Thankfully, Office, though struggling to remain relevant with so many different and available free alternatives on the internet, hasn’t been as big of a problem.

Windows on the other hand… yeah. Microsoft will be happy to be past once of their more recent and much bigger OS mistakes. With their next release of Windows, currently known as Threshold, Microsoft is going to take a much different approach. Hopefully, they’ll be able to wash the stigma of Windows 8 away when Threshold makes its initial, public debut at the end of September – beginning of October 2014 with its Developer or Public Preview (whatever they decide to call the release).

According to Larry Dignan, Windows Threshold has a few key, critical points it needs to accomplish

– Microsoft needs to allow Windows 8 to die. The Vista analogies are really starting to be problematic
– Windows needs to find a way to be more touch centric
– Windows needs to find a better way to incorporate its ecosystem into its core functionality
– Windows needs to find a better way to incorporate faster releases into is development methodology
– Windows need to find a better way to be cloud focused

Obviously, Microsoft is hoping to find a better way to do all of these things with Threshold than with Windows 8; but as I said its not just Windows 8 that they need to live down, its much of what has happened with Windows since the release of Windows Vista in 2007, nearly 8 years from the initial introduction of Threshold. In this way, they can (hopefully and) finally leave Windows 8 behind.

While Windows has been touch capable since the original introduction of the TabletPC in 2000, the operating system hasn’t been really touch-centric at all. With the introduction of the iPad in 2010, Apple changed the way people interacted with their computers. Keyboards and mice are no longer required. Your finger is now your mouse, and an on-screen keyboard is great for short typing tasks. However, Windows really needs to change the way users interact with their computers. Right now, while you CAN use your finger to point and click, Windows isn’t optimized for touch, and its main method of interaction is not touch based (and that’s the biggest reason why Windows 8 is an Enterprise non-starter…). Until Windows is finger friendly, its going to have a problem in the consumer market where touch is becoming more mainstream.

One of the biggest problems Windows currently has is that its ecosystem is full of holes. Microsoft tried to lock it down with the implementation of Windows RT and the Windows Store; but as RT is a huge non-starter, I don’t see how Microsoft plans to fill them if the solution has anything to do with RT, but that’s another story.

Microsoft still has to figure out what to do with media – music, movies, TV – related content and how to bring that into both their mobile app and desktop app stores. Until they crack this nut, there’s going to be a huge problem with content sales in the Microsoft ecosystem. Currently, its very disjointed and very problematic. Whatever they do, they need to make sure that the store is unified and has content for both Windows Phone and Desktop Windows.

Microsoft’s development methodology and release schedule is also a concern at this time. They need to figure out how to provide more rapid releases; but they need to do it in a way where speed isn’t the only thing that people should see coming out of a new release schedule. Microsoft has to provide meaningful updates, features and patches quickly, in the same manner as Apple and many of the Linux distributions do.

There are rumors about Microsoft doing away with Patch Tuesday. While this may be a good thing – Microsoft needs to change the way the public views Windows and Windows Update – its got to be implemented the right way. Quicker is not necessarily better. Microsoft needs to figure out a way to eliminate security holes and other high ranking bugs internally, before they get out to the public.

To this end, they’re remaking the way they do testing. As this is an area of expertise for me, I’m interested in what they do and how they do it. Whatever their solution is, it needs to inspire a renewed sense of confidence in not only Windows and the rest of Microsoft’s products, but with the way Microsoft does business; and ultimately, in Microsoft itself.

Finally, Windows, and ultimately Microsoft, needs to find a way to be more cloud focused. Having a cloud based storage tool – Microsoft OneDrive – isn’t enough. Windows is local storage based and has been since 1990 blah, blah, blah. They need to figure out a way to be more cloud focused with their apps as well as with the data. Simply putting the data in a Dropbox-like cloud-based drive isn’t enough to make either Windows, Office, or any other Microsoft app, cloud focused. Cloud focused does not mean remote vs. local storage.

Microsoft has to provide a way to create and provide cloud based services that either don’t exist on the traditional Windows side of the world, or they need to provide new ones that replace their traditional products and services. Office 365 is a start, but its not the end of the story.

In the end, the results that Microsoft hopes to see and get from all of this is a de-emphasis of Windows – and every other Microsoft product, including Office – and a reemphasis on Microsoft as a company, service producer and cloud-based solution provider. To that end, you’ll notice that the next version of Windows as a product will be surrounded by less pomp and circumstance than previous versions; and that will be a very good thing. If there’s one thing that Satya Nadella knows, it’s the cloud. He’s been living in it for quite a few years at Microsoft. Hopefully, this new strategy will help Microsoft turn a corner and get its groove back.

What do you think? How should Microsoft handle the release of the next version of Windows? Should it be as cloud focused as I’m saying it should be? Is the status quo for Microsoft good enough? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on all of this? I’d love to hear from you.

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Dell Latitude 10 ST2 Follow-Up

latitude-10-tablet-overview2I’m still actively using my Windows 8 Based Dell Tablet; but I have a couple of updates. Let’s talk Microsoft OneNote.

I work in corporate America, as a software quality professional.  I do that in the healthcare arena as well, and as such, I often find myself either on the phone in conference calls or going from meeting to meeting every day.  My work day starts between 7:00-7:30am and usually ends between 5:00-5:30pm.  I am often in demand for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve got over 21 years of experience in quality assurance and am an SDLC expert
  2. I’ve got over 17 years of experience as a technology journalist, and I’m often sought out by people at the office – both formally and informally – to address technology issues.

Yep. I get everything from, “Chris can you help us define the right mobile testing strategy for this project?” to, “Chris, my daughter can’t get her iPad to download this content.”

If I’m not at my desk, I’m out and about; and being a contractor, I don’t have a cubicle to myself.  I’m located in a contractor’s bullpen with 32″ of shelf space – just enough room for my desk phone, laptop, monitor, keyboard, mouse and coffee cup – to call my own.  As such, having my Dell Latitude 10 ST2 here at the office is very beneficial, and actually pretty cool.

OneNoteLogoMicrosoft OneNote is a really great note taking application. Inking aside for just a moment, its organizational features allow me to take and organize notes for any number of different project meetings. If notes are typed, or if hand written notes are run through the app’s included OCR engine, notes can be cataloged and searched quickly and easily.

From a digital inking perspective, the device just shines.  As a digital notepad, I can use the device’s TabletPC features and Wacom stylus make taking handwritten notes easy. Even without transcoding all of the digital ink into text, it’s still easy to organize and find meeting notes from a specific meeting and date thanks to OneNote’s cataloging system.

I’ve used TabletPC’s at two different companies between 2007 and 2010.  I really liked the experience and found it to be the type of computing experience that worked the best for me. I’ve been trying to replicate that with my iPad, but the technology in it just didn’t cut it, despite the type of note taking app or stylus I used. While Windows 8 isn’t my favorite OS, mostly due to ModernUI, I’ll gladly use it as long as I can keep the Latitude 10 ST2’s slim form factor and easily portability. This is likely one tool that I will continue to use for years to come, if only for this purpose. I’ve gone green when it comes to meeting notes. No more pads of paper for me…

I was recently made aware of some updates that became available for the device.  Dell is actually pretty good at improving current generation products; and the Latitude 10 ST2 recently got a BIOS update as well as driver and support program updates during mid to late April 2013. I spent a good deal of time downloading the files and planned on spending a small amount of time refreshing the BIOS and those drivers I mentioned.  I’m hopeful that the updates make a bit of a difference performance wise.

As you may recall from the review, while the tablet has 1.8Ghz Atom z2760 processor, the device doesn’t have a lot of punch.  The Atom z2760 processor may be “fast,” but it doesn’t have a lot of horse power.

One of the drivers that got updated was the tablet’s graphics driver. This is important, as the original Windows Experience Index score for the device is 3.3, with the devices Gaming Graphics determining the overall score.  There was a change after the updates were applied.

The overall Windows Experience Index Score went down from 3.3 to 3.2.

Prior to the new graphics drivers being installed, the Desktop Graphics score was 3.8 and the Gaming Graphics score was 3.3.  After the graphics driver update, both dropped to 3.2.  I’m not encouraged…

I will need to do more testing, and there may yet be another driver update. Hopefully, the combination of BIOS and driver updates will produce a smoother experience. However, I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

 

 

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A 7″ Microsoft Tablet?

It’s not a good idea.  Well, it *COULD* be, if Microsoft did it right, but they’re not going to…

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal announced that Microsoft is planning to spin up production of a 7″ Windows based, Surface branded tablet later this year.  The tablet is intended to compete with Apple’s iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7. The question one has to ask is whether this is an RT or x86 compatible device.

I think the RT model could work for a 7″ device if the price and margins were right.  Windows RT doesn’t completely suck as an OS or even as an interface. Its usable; though not very popular.  The problem is the ecosystem is extremely immature and there’s little to no native software.  Microsoft could solve part of that if it allowed Windows Phone 8 apps to run on Windows RT, but this isn’t currently the case.

7inchtablet

Intel’s Clover Trail processor can provide a decent x86 option in powering a 7″ MS Surface tablet providing power and battery life at a reasonable price point, but I don’t see Microsoft using the x86 platform and Windows 8 on a 7″ device.  We’ve proven over and over again that full blown Windows on a smaller device (phone or tablet) is not what we want (part of that was due to lack of horse power in that form factor, the other that the apps weren’t designed to run on the smaller screens). People would still try to run Photoshop, or similar desktop app, on their 7″ tablet in this scenario, and it would definitely [still] suck.

I think this is not so much a “can we” but perhaps more of a “[what] should we [do]” situation. IF MS has a plan, now would be the time to publish that, make it known, and then move towards it with expediency.  They don’t have much time left.  The PC market appears to actively be in free fall. Without a clear plan that all of their partners and customers can see and support, I don’t see Microsoft being relevant for much longer.

Believe me when I say I am NO fan of ModernUI.  Windows RT/8’s ModernUI is  the most un-Windows version of Windows in the [modern] history of Windows.  It’s a complete unWindowing of Windows; and Microsoft should not use the Windows name with RT at all. It’s a huge marketing mistake that many industry pundits will attest to.

While neither you or I may like ModernUI, Microsoft could make it work, if it did a little bit of work and enhanced the ecosystem or changed their marketing, or did almost anything to right the ship. Currently, there are no signs that any of this is happening.  As such, introducing a 7″ tablet into the mix is going to do nothing for Microsoft except create an unprofitable cost center.

I think the thing that bothers me the most about this entire situation is, again, that pundits everywhere are panning Windows RT, Windows 8 and ModernUI.  Consumers are looking at alternatives, including tablets, Linux, and Macs. PC sales, regardless of operating system, are in free fall.  Windows 7 adoption is either steady or flat; and Windows 8 adoption is far below that of Vista. For Microsoft, none of this is good.

What other information does Microsoft need before it takes appropriate action?  It kind of makes you wonder if Ballmer, or anyone at Microsoft, is paying attention, or cares.  If I were a shareholder. I’d file  a formal complaint with the SEC at this point, if for NO other reason than to get Microsoft’s attention. It may not do anything in the long run, but it WOULD get press, and would likely require some sort of formal, public response.

Microsoft needs to take these issues seriously; and though they MAY be internally, from an external perspective, they are asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, there are a couple icebergs in their direct path.  The 7″ tablet with their current marketing plans – price points, margins, etc. – operating systems and UI’s are NOT going to provide a competitive solution and are not the right choices.

Microsoft needs to act.  Based on this news, they are just throwing good money after bad. Why would MS offer an RT tablet, simple – because it offers choice.  Windows  RT doesn’t work if its comparatively priced with the iPad.  An RT tablet needs to be priced between $149 and $199 to work. Microsoft needs to find a way to get there, or they need to get out of the tablet market. They won’t do that at $399 to $599.  They have to make it crazy cheap or it will never take off.

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The Storage Problem with Surface Pro

When 53% to 64% of your device’s storage is consumed before you turn the device on, something is wrong…

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Over the past few years, we’ve got from gigabytes of desktop and notebook storage to terabytes. Shortly after the 2TB and 3TB hard drive hit, SSD’s started to become popular and come down in price. We still don’t have a 1TB SSD available yet; and even if it were available, it likely wouldn’t be available at an affordable price.

With the growing popularity of Cloud Storage – things like Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive – the growing thought is that the need for a great deal of off line storage is declining.  This is a very progressive point of view, and one that is still gaining acceptance.  One of the prerequisites for moving the masses to the Cloud is readily accessible, solid and reliable internet access. Without it, the Cloud Storage Model doesn’t work…but that’s another topic for another day.

It is related, however, because there are a number of newer PC’s or computing devices that are being introduced that seem to either fully embrace or lean towards embracing the Cloud Storage Model. Microsoft’s Surface Pro is one such device, and it’s a bit problematic if you ask me, especially when 53% to 64% of Surface Pro’s storage is given over to system related, preinstalled software.

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This is the crux of the issue – nearly all the storage on Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets is consumed before the user takes the device out of the box. ZDNet’s Ed Bott argues that this isn’t an issue, as some of the space is reclaimable by the end user and there’s always the Cloud.

ZDNet’s Robin Harris comes closer to hitting the issue on the head but still misses the mark.  His point is that Surface Pro doesn’t know what it wants to be – an ultrabook or a tablet. While he’s right about that, I disagree that the storage requirements on a Windows machine – tablet or ultrabook classifications are irrelevant – differ. Any computing device that runs legacy (read traditional) Windows software is going to need storage space for it to live in. It doesn’t matter if Microsoft created a new classification of computing device or if it will be successful or not.  The fact that users have to go through some kind of storage cleansing activity in order to get some decent, available, non-SD card type storage is silly.

The fact that you can double your storage space for $100 bucks is also a bit whacked. I mean, who isn’t going to spend $999 for the 128GB version? When you’ve already committed to buy Surface Pro, spending $899 for 1/2 the storage is ludicrous.

If Microsoft lowers the price of the 64GB versions – which is unlikely, by the way – then I might pick one up, but at this point, I likely won’t bother, which is a shame.  The tablets could have been so much more at a more reasonable price point.

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Construct complex mathematical equations for your documents with MathType

imagesOne of the biggest problems I remember having way back in the day was writing papers for either my math or physics classes.  Back when I was in college, Windows wasn’t around. Windows didn’t really become Windows until well after I graduated from college.  I had access to word processors and such, but they were DOS based, and at the time, most people hand crafted complex mathematical expressions in their documents. It was just easier, and a lot more affordable than any programmatic alternative. This is why I like MathType. It constructs mathematical expressions on your Windows PC.

MT01

MathType allows you to enter mathematical equations as easily as you would write math with paper and pencil.  The app makes use of Windows 7’s built-in handwriting recognition, though you’ll need a PC with a touch screen in order to use this feature. You can also use its point and click editing features.  With Automatic Formatting, you can create equations quickly by choosing templates from MathType’s palettes and plugging and chugging data into its empty slots. MathType applies mathematical spacing rules automatically as you type.

If you don’t have a TabletPC or Windows PC with a touch screen, the app also supports customizable keyboard shortcuts.  If you already know the TeX typesetting language, you can enter equations directly into MathType or Microsoft Word documents. TeX editing can also be mixed with point-and-click editing. You can even paste in equations from existing TeX documents. Existing expressions can be saved to the MathType toolbar for repeated use later.

If you need to compose complex mathematical expressions for your Office documents, there’s no better tool than MathType.  The app is easy to use, supports Windows 7’s TabletPC extensions and touch enabled hardware. With support for Office XP forward, it’s going to work with the version of MS Office you already own.  The only issue with the software is its limited scope and target audience.

download MathType

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Use TuneUp Utilities 2012 to get your PC running like it did the day you bought it

As many other computer users, I like to install all kind of programs from the Internet. First of all because it’s part of my job and second, for the sake of exploring what’s new out there in terms of software. However, this can mess up any PC quite shortly and there is always the speed issues over time as applications are installed and uninstalled. Actually – to be realistic – in time, any Windows PC become more sluggish and it’s performance degrade just by using it.

Now, to prevent this from happening, you can use a tool such as TuneUp Utilities 2012 that reduces clutter and ensures that all systems are running as they should. TuneUp Utilities has been around for quite a while and it’s clear that this software will stay on the market due to the simple fact that it does the job and it can really optimize your computer for the best performance – not just on paper. Well, considering that just a few days back, the new ‘2012 version’ has been officially released, let’s take a look at the new features.

First of all, there is TuneUp Economy Mode – a feature which prolongs the battery life on your laptop, netbook, and tablet PC and guarantees significantly improved battery life and power consumption. It extends battery run-time on notebooks, netbooks and tablet PCs running Windows by up to 30%, while also reducing energy consumption by up to 30%.

What’s behind the magic?

  • Reduced processor power consumption: TuneUp Economy Mode reduces your processors’ performance and optimizes their power consumption for maximum battery life and sufficient power for basic, everyday use.
  • Great power savings for your devices: TuneUp Economy Mode reduces the power consumption of many built-in and connected devices.
  • Turn off energy-sapping programs: TuneUp Economy Mode switches off unnecessary background processes that slow PC performance down.

Second, there is an improved TuneUp Program Deactivator – a feature which takes care of all those programs which run in the background whether they are used or not, slowing your computer down considerably for no good reason. The new Full Automatic Mode in TuneUp Program Deactivator eliminates these unnecessary slowdowns and makes sure your PC always operates at its peak performance. But relevant programs such as antivirus software or drivers will not be deactivated.

  • Start-Stop Mode automatically turns off selected programs when you don’t need them, speeding up your surfing, working, and gaming.
  • Optimized PC / Windows performance
  • Faster boot speeds, applications and gaming.

There is also also Turbo Mode, a feature which for example, enables you to shut down over 70 applications that bring your PC to a crawl with just a single click. In addition, proven maintenance features allow you to perform a full registry clean-up and much, much more.

TuneUp Utilities 2012 costs $49.95, but you can get a free trial for testing purposes prior to purchase from here.

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