Windows 8.1 Update 1 Coming Sometime this Spring

Well, I’m glad we got THAT cleared up

One of the greatest conferences in the computing world is MWC or Mobile World Congress. It’s held in Barcelona, Spain every year. It’s the kind of conference that makes you want to get your passport updated and ready to be stamped. I’ve never been able to go, and at this rate, it’s doubtful that I will; but if you’re into mobile computing like I am, then it’s something that you pay a lot of attention to if you’re unable to attend. Some really great innovations and products get announced at MWC.

This year, Microsoft is there, and they’re announcing details around the next version of Windows 8.1.  Joe Belfiore, head of phones, tablets and PC’s at the Redmond software giant is there and has currently revealed that the update is coming, “this Spring.”

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Wow.  Thanks, a lot there, Joe.  Way to be specific.

All kidding aside, the release, currently internally called, “Update 1,” as no real release name has been set EITHER (so, this could be called Update 1, Windows 8.2, or something totally different…), is focusing its updates on making the desktop experience more palatable to mouse and keyboard users. Users should see things like MetroApps with title bars, an easier way to launch and switch to running apps via the Taskbar as well as a new context menu UI.

The biggest improvement, however, is going to be totally behind the scenes. The OS will run on lower-speced machines.  PC makers will be able to put the latest version of Windows 8.x on machines with just 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space.  This is going to allow OEM’s to offer tablets and other computing devices running the OS that retail somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 or lower. This is going to go a long way to helping Microsoft compete with lower priced Android tablets that are easy to find in the sub $250 range.  This is an area where Google and its Android operating system have enjoyed a complete monopoly. No OEM has been able to create a tablet with an OS other than Android at that price point or lower.  Unfortunately for Microsoft, that fact has been providing a great deal of heartburn.

If Microsoft can make the newest version of Windows 8.x run on lower speced devices, then it’s very possible that devices like the Dell Latitude 10 ST tablet that I reviewed last year might be able to run with better performance and provide a better overall experience. That would go a long way to making it easier to take to school, to work, or anywhere for that matter.  Windows tablets need a better overall experience.  Even native tablets like Surface Pro/2 Pro will benefit from an OS that runs better on less powerful components. You should expect to see quite the performance boost on existing devices, I would think.

Now, getting back to the “available Spring 2014” thing… Microsoft Build is set to be held in April of this year. Its “largely expected” that Microsoft will announce and release the latest version of Windows 8.x to the world at that time.  My guess is that it should be available right after the opening keynote concludes.

What do you think? Do you think that Windows 8.1 Update 1 will be something that’s worthwhile, or is Microsoft bring all of this to the party a year or more too late? I’m still not totally sold on anything related to Windows 8.x’s MetroUI. The “whole” Windows experience needs to be totally revamped.  However, I’d love to hear what you have to say. Why don’t you tell me what you think in the comments section below?

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Windows Threshold – Bringing Back Windows 7 & the Desktop

It’s clear from the “retrohancements” in Windows 8.1 Update 1 and Windows Threshold, that Microsoft is saying, “mea culpa.”

image2993This is just a (short) update to one or two other columns that I’ve written here for Soft32 over the past few weeks and months.   It’s clear to me that Microsoft is firmly embracing its wishy-washy stance and back tracking not only on the implementation of the Metro/ ModernUI that it introduced with Windows 8 and Windows RT, but on the vision they had to change the direction of mainstream computing.

None of this is news. People have been saying this stuff for a little bit. However, it occurred to me while reading an article by Mary Joe Foley recently that Microsoft really has no one else to blame but themselves.

Windows XP was initially released in August of 2001, almost 13 years ago.   Windows XP SP3, the OS’ last major release and most current version, was released in April of 2008, nearly 6 years ago. Windows Vista, which used much the same UI, but is largely considered a flop by many industry leaders, was released in November of 2006, nearly 7 years ago. Windows 7, which uses much the same UI was released in July of 2009, over 4 years ago.

So what’s the point with the history lesson..?   Simple – Microsoft has had the same UI in place for approximately 15 years, or 50% of the modern computing history (and by modern computing history, I mean anything not mainframe/thin client based).

The world is hooked on the Windows desktop.   Microsoft’s licensing deals with most companies have allowed enterprise users to bring copies of Windows and Office to their homes for under   a $100 bucks combined.   That same software combination that would have cost nearly $750 at retail, depending on which versions of the two software titles you purchased. They further reinforced this desktop monopoly by making  many of their enterprise titles – Server editions of Windows, Exchange, SQL Server, etc., accessible for “testing” purposes via different developer and technical programs as well as other licensing programs that brought enterprise and business versions of Microsoft software to an end user’s home.

Somewhere during this 15 year dairy farm period where Microsoft didn’t do much more than milk the cash cows they had reared, someone got off the merry go round and looked around, realizing that the party was pretty much over.   At that point, they looked at the tablet and personal device trends – the CoIT and BYOD challenges that many IT managers were facing – and decided it was time to embrace that vision.   Unfortunately, this required a huge paradigm change not only for their products and their internal processes, but for their customers as well.

Going cold turkey is the (usually) best way to break a habit…unless of course, you’re talking about the way I get work done, and then maybe not so much. It’s clear that the rest of the world felt the same way, as the wailing and gnashing of teeth has been loud and arduous.   The Start Button is back. The Start Menu is confirmed to be coming back (though just how that, or any other returning feature, will be reimplemented is unknown as of this writing).

Unfortunately, Microsoft has no one to “blame” for the rejection of this new computing vision but themselves; and its two fold.

1.    If it ain’t broke…
If they had retired XP at a much earlier date, if Vista hadn’t been a train wreck, and if Windows 7 wasn’t viewed as the OS to save us from the disaster that Vista was or from the stale nature that was (and currently still is) Windows XP, then perhaps they wouldn’t be in the pickle that they’re in.   The world doesn’t stand still.   Moore’s Law was clearly in effect, and all of Microsoft’s billions couldn’t build blinders large enough to hide the changing computing trends
2.    A Lack of Vision and Leadership
Ballmer is a self-proclaimed sales guy. He doesn’t get computing and mobility very well, and unfortunately, those two combined to create the current computing trend that Apple, Google   and Samsung are clearly leading with their desktop and mobile operating systems.

Revelations like this just point out to the public what I’m certain the MS Board must already know – Microsoft has a long comeback road in front of it; and the organization really needs to pick the right CEO.   With both Gates and Ballmer remaining on the Board after Ballmer leaves the Microsoft CEO spot, that person’s job isn’t going to be easy. Not only do they have a public relations mess to fix – the public is not happy with the direction that Windows 8.x has been going and wants a change, the evolutionary rather than revolutionary path that Office has been taking coupled with both title’s high price tags – but the new Microsoft CEO will have to create both mission and vision strategies that fit well with the current strategic direction set in motion by Steve Ballmer (did I mention that he will still have a lot to say about the company’s direction after the new CEO is named..??).

No matter how you decide to look at this, it’s clear to me that Microsoft and its Board of Directors painted themselves into this corner. How they are going to get themselves out, is up to them.   I know that the entire world is waiting and watching. I know I am…and I’m certain I’ll have a thing or two to say about it in the coming months as developments unfold.

What about you?   What do you think of all of this?   Did Microsoft do this to themselves? Are they victims of circumstance, or did they just sort of arrive here because their product roadmap dropped them at the corner? I’d love to hear what you have to say. Why don’t you join me in the discussion area, below and let me know 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

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Microsoft Rereleases Windows RT 8.1 Update #2

Ok… this time they REALLY mean it…

surface_largeThe other day I mentioned that Microsoft’s Windows RT 8.1 Update was discovered to brick some devices. Additional information, as well as a release of an updated install file, has been made available, and I wanted to update everyone on the situation.

First of all, I reported that the cause of the update was a corrupted recovery image. That was inaccurate. The issue only effected Surface RT tablets. It did not affect other OEM’ed devices. The cause of the issue has been identified and traced back to firmware updates that did NOT get applied to certain Surface RT devices.

While Microsoft indicates that it only really effected 1 out of every 1000 Surface RT tablets – MAYBE – the update did cause a noted number of units to become non-functional.

That issue has now been resolved. You can find additional information on how to unbrick your Surface RT tablet here. However, you’ll need to be careful.

The recovery process requires that you be comfortable working with the Command Prompt and are able to insure you have Administrator rights to the device. It’s a bit involved, so if you have problems, AND you have a Microsoft Store within driving distance, you might want to take a trip there and have them help you.

Unfortunately, this comes at a time when Microsoft can least afford issues like this, especially with their mobile devices. After Apple made Mavericks, iWork and iLife free and gave everyone an even more compelling reason to stay, switch to, or upgrade their mobile products to something they made, its blunders like this that make you wonder if Microsoft knows what it’s doing.

It’s a tough question, I know…but it’s something that I’ve heard at least 2 people ask in separate, non-connected conversations today.

What do you think? How damaging is this for Microsoft, especially in light of the Apple announcement on 2013-10-22?

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Bricked WinRT Devices Causes Removal of 8.1 Update #1

Microsoft is just NOT having a good go of things…

surface_largeWindows 8.1 hit the streets a few days ago and there are a number of people who are having problems with both the Windows 8.1 RT and Windows 8.1 Pro updates not entirely working right. Things are so bad on the Windows RT side of the house that Microsoft has pulled the update from the Windows Store until further notice. The update has been reported to brick some windows RT devices.

The problem doesn’t occur with every Windows RT device, but there really isn’t a way to know if your device will brick or update correctly. The official statement from Microsoft attributed to a “Microsoft Spokesman” indicates,Microsoft is investigating a situation affecting a limited number of users updating their Windows RT devices to Windows RT 8.1. As a result, we have temporarily removed the Windows RT 8.1 update from the Windows Store. We are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible and apologize for any inconvenience. We will provide updates as they become available.”

The problem seems to be wrapped around a BSoD connected to the recovery image that gets created on the device. When the device tries to reboot, many users get the following error message: “Your PC needs to be repaired. The Boot Configuration Data file is missing some required information.”

Microsoft is still working on a permanent fix for the problem. They’ve posted a Surface RT recovery image to the Microsoft Download Center that is supposed to help users with this problem unbrick their device. However, there’s still no official word on when the final fix and the Windows RT 8.1 update will be made available in the Windows Store again.

read Update #2

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Microsoft to Update Surface Devices

Redmond isn’t giving up on RT; and will also update Surface Pro in FY2014

mwpMicrosoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference concludes today (2013-07-11). There’s been a ton of information that has been disseminated, but one of the most interesting points came during a presentation from Microsoft’s COO, Kevin Turner – Microsoft is planning some updates to both its Surface tablets during FY2014.

When you look at the slide, it’s clear that not only is Microsoft planning to introduce new Surface RT and Surface Pro accessories, in multiple colors, but its planning on updating the tablets as well. Intel recently released its Haswell processors, and I would expect the next version of Surface Pro to use this processor.

Surface RT, which uses ARM based processors, doesn’t have a clear upgrade path at this time.  The Verge is reporting that MS is giving serious consideration to using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor in the next version of the consumer tablet.  According to The Verge, Microsoft has been testing Windows RT 8.1 on RT tablets powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor.  The chip has LTE connectivity on-board, so Microsoft may be planning to include mobile broadband support with the next version of Surface RT.

Nearly everyone who uses a Surface RT or Surface Pro tablet likes the clickable Touch and Type keyboards that are available for them. However, the devices, Surface Pro specifically, lacks a docking station.  Microsoft has officially stated that it won’t be releasing one. However, third party providers may release one.  MS has promised, however, “future peripherals that can click in and do more.”  What that means, specifically remains to be seen, but we should know well in advance of the Holiday Buying Season.

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CONFIRMED – Windows 8.1 Ships in August 2013

Despite the bugs they’re currently touting as features, according to Microsoft, Windows 8.1 is on track to ship in August of 2013.

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If there’s one thing that I really like about MaryJo Foley, its that she has her fingers on the pulse that is Microsoft’s life blood. She knows what’s going on and is kind enough to share it with the rest of us. I’ve had a number of conversations with her and I’ve always found her to be if not 100% dead-on-right, at least accurate enough to help me stay current and relevant.

I saw an article earlier this week (Monday 2013-07-08) where MJF is confirming information that had been previously leaked by “individuals close to the situation.” Windows 8.1, code named, “Blue,” despite its bugs, is still on target to ship before the end of August 2013.

Also interestingly enough, the GA (general availability) – i.e. availability to consumers already running Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Preview – of the new OS is said to be either same day as its released to manufacturing and to OEM partners, or shortly there after (meaning days and not weeks or months).  This type of behavior is unusual for Microsoft who normally schedules GA for 4-8 weeks after any specific software title RTM’s. Perhaps this has something to do with the retirement of TechNet. Perhaps it doesn’t.  Either way, its still a very interesting change in behavior.

So, if you’ve got Windows 8.1 Consumer Preview installed, you won’t have it installed for long; and you’re going to need to rebuild your machine in order to install the production bits.

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Et tu Blue-te..? – Is Windows 8.1 Your New Best Friend?

The Public Preview of Windows 8.1 is out. Is it what we really wanted and needed, or not? Here are my initial impressions of the revamped OS.

Introduction

Microsoft has taken a huge beating over its implementation of Windows 8.  The problem isn’t the OS itself, which is fast and very much, (user noticeably,) bug free.  The problem is its hybrid user interface that works well with its Surface RT, or more tablet oriented hardware; and not its Surface Pro (which is more an ultrabook than a tablet) or 3rd party desktop machines.

When asked, I usually offer the following advice – if the PC your considering purchasing or upgrading doesn’t have a touch screen, don’t bother with Windows 8. Its just going to frustrate the daylights out of you.

In response to this (consistently reported, user) issue, Microsoft has introduced Windows Blue, now formally called, Windows 8.1.  While simply a point-release, many are calling Windows 8.1 a major release and not a simple upgrade.  Is it the Microsoft operating system you’ve been waiting for?  Will it save Microsoft and bring them back to the land of relevance; or is it simply prolonging the inevitable? Let’s take a look and find out.

Major Changes

There are several changes to Windows 8 in Windows 8.1.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to highlight the most obvious changes to this article. If I’ve missed something, I’d love to hear what you have to say in our comments and reactions section. A link to that area can be found near the bottom of the article.

Start Screen

Believe it or not, there are some really nice changes to the Windows 8.x Start Screen in Windows 8.1.  The biggest and best change is its new tile sizes. For tiles like Weather, Finance, Sports, etc. large tiles are truly awesome. They give you full access to scrolling data (though they don’t always update like you would expect them to, especially after you’ve run the associated app…)

Tiles can now also be placed in named groups.  For example, you can put all of your Office tiles together and name the grouping with an appropriate name.  Any tiles can be grouped with others in custom groups.  Placing tiles is still a bit tricky, and I’d really like to have more control over that.  Tile sizes aren’t always available for all tiles, either, which seems silly; but again, that’s just me.

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All Apps Screen

If the live tiles just don’t do it for you and you’d like a lot more functionality at your fingertips, you can have the Start Screen go right to the All Apps Screen.  This is really great for PC’s that don’t have touch.

Like the Start Screen, the All Apps Screen, is quickly accessed by clicking the down arrow at the bottom of the Start Screen, and is also customizable.  You can arrange apps in groups, making it easier to find them without searching. Also, note the “new” designations on recently installed apps.

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The Start Button (not Start Menu) Returns

Speaking of the Start Screen, I know that many people are excited, or think they’re excited, about the return of the Start Button.  If they are, they’re in for a bit of a disappointment.  The button may be back, but the functionality that everyone was really wanting, was the Start MENU, not the button.

The button is nothing more than a visual place for users to click to get to Windows 8.x’s Live Tiles or All Apps Screen. While many people were screaming for the return of the Start Button, what they were really wanting is Windows 7’s Start Menu, and it’s easy to use, easily understandable program layout and PC searching capabilities. Microsoft has apparently moved on from that and has embraced the tile paradigm.  They’re just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

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