What Windows 10 SHOULD Be

Windows 10 is supposed to be Microsoft’s future…

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I’ve been using Windows 10 on my Surface Pro for a while now.  While I haven’t had many of the Explorer.exe crashes that others have been having, I have been banging on it hard enough to develop an opinion or two.

To be honest, so far… I’m not that impressed.  I know that Microsoft REALLY needs to hit a homerun here.  They’re pretty much betting the [relevance] farm on it.  If it tanks, it’s going to be a really bad 2015 in Redmond.  But that’s just me…  There’s a lot going on with Windows 10, and (un?)fortunately, we haven’t seen everything.

At least not yet…

To be honest, even though I have been covering the Microsoft ecosystem since 1997, and I’ve written a lot for media organizations like AOL/CompuServe, InformationWeek, Computer Power User Magazine, WUGNET – The Windows User’s Group Network and LockerGnome, among other online and international print publications, I still haven’t broken into that “insider,” inner circle like Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott, even though Paul and I worked together at WUGNET in the late 1990’s.

So when it comes to the inside track, I trust Paul and Mary Jo explicitly.  Period.

So again, while I wasn’t impressed with the current state of Windows 10, what I’m hearing from both Paul and Mary Jo is to sit tight.  According to Paul, Windows 10 is coming into focus.  His recent statements reminded me of what most everyone in the Windows Insider Program heard from the very beginning – what you see now, isn’t the final state of the software.

This is a good thing, because as I said, Windows 10 currently has “work in progress” stamped ALL over it.  The last formally released build – Build 9879 – was pretty much a train wreck.  For many Insiders, the OS crashed all the time, requiring them to reboot multiple times a day.  When Microsoft did release a fix, it wouldn’t install for many; and in many cases, users wouldn’t know if the patch install had failed until they looked at the Windows’ Update History to see which updates had successfully installed or had failed. The fact that the patch was continually presented over and over again as an available update *did* tip most of us off; but to be honest, it could also have been Microsoft issuing additional, related updates.

So, what is Microsoft wanting Windows 10 to be?  That’s simple – the future of their desktop and mobile platform.  Notice… I didn’t say, “platforms.”

Platform… as in singular.

Microsoft is looking to completely unify its portable (meaning tablet), mobile (meaning phone) and desktop experiences into a single OS that will only install and run the bits that are appropriate for the hardware its running on.  This convergence is a complete departure from over 30 years of business practice; and as such, they’re having the problems that most everyone is seeing in the (tech) news.

In fact, Larry Seltzer has a huge article detailing some real Microsoft Update Missteps that is worth a read.  Things are changing at Microsoft, and what’s going on with Windows 8.x and with some of the official and leaked builds of Windows 10 speaks to the many development related paradigm shifts going on over at Microsoft.

At least they’re trying to change.

However, with everything that’s happening – the Windows 8.x Update missteps, the buggy internal and external Windows 10 builds, the Surface Pro 3 Wi-Fi issues, many – me included – are wondering who is steering the Microsoft Release Management Ship.  At the very least, I think most are chalking this up to a change of CEO, but honestly, by this time, most of those hurdles should be cleared.

So, what does Microsoft need to Windows 10 to be..?

They need it to be a success. Windows 10 needs to be a unifying platform that doesn’t require all of the “legacy related, DOS-world” tweaking. It needs to just work out of the box, regardless of platform – tablet, phone or desktop.

Windows 10, more I think than Windows 7 did, needs to be sexy. It needs to lure users back to a user experience that provides a known, familiar feel, while providing a unified, POPULATED ecosystem where users can buy not only applications, but media content – audio, video and apps – without being totally disjointed. It needs a developer community that embraces it, with support from Microsoft as well as hardware vendors, alike.

Windows 10 needs to run Office 2010 and later – including Office 365 – without any burps or issues, as not everyone wants to upgrade or wants to buy a subscription to the productivity platform.

More than anything… Windows 10 needs to be dirt cheap. On the consumer side, that means free… as in zero dollars and zero cents.  On the enterprise side, Microsoft needs to figure out how to sell OS licensing that makes sense for IT departments who don’t jump on the newest version OS because they don’t want new, untested bits to tank their company’s productivity and profits.

Microsoft needs to look at service and support on both the consumer and enterprise side of the equation, and they need to figure out a better life cycle that ends support and moves people to the most current bits in a manner that doesn’t cause a massive revolt.  The OS needs to be solid, stable, and near bug free for those folks so they move without worry, and with confidence that, again – everything just works.

THAT kids… That’s a big order to fill.

However, I really think that if Microsoft doesn’t do it, and do it quickly, decisively and without any of the current drama, at least at some point, they’re going to force users into looking into alternatives.  That means, alternative platforms, alternative productivity tools, and internal servers, middleware and other enterprise related software.

Microsoft is sitting on the edge of a very sharp knife named, “Change.”  If they don’t embrace it and do its bidding, I think they’re really risking a LOT.

What do you think?  Have you used Windows 10?  Are you a Windows 8.x user experiencing update confusion and issues?  Are you considering a move to Windows 10?  Will you stay on Windows 7 until they pry it out of your cold, dead fingers (or until you buy a new PC and HAVE to take it)?  Or, will you simply move to another computing platform like Linux or Mac?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on the whole thing. I’d love to hear what you have to say, and to see if I’m on target, or all wet…

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Windows 10 Features – Much ado about… Nothing?

What’s all the fuss about Windows 10 core features..?

Windows 10

Over the past few days I’ve seen a few articles on Windows 10 cool and unknown features; and while I will spend a few moments going over some of the bigger stuff of note in the upcoming OS, quite honestly… I’m wondering what all the hullaballoo is about.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that Microsoft’s marketing machine has to pump up the volume on Windows 10 somehow. Unfortunately, they can’t simply go with:

Windows 10 – It doesn’t suck like Windows 8 did.

So yeah… they have to say SOMETHING positive about it that doesn’t speak to just the code tweaks and optimizations that you’re going to find under the hood. Unfortunately, Windows 10 really IS all about not sucking like Windows 8…which, by the way only sucked because the UI – or User Interface – was so horrible. If you could get past that, Windows 8 ran well and would run on a LOT of budget class, legacy hardware.

The vision for Windows 8 was to be a bridging OS that got users used to the idea that computing was shifting away from a post 1990’s traditional, put a program in a movable box on a screen, metaphor to one that really tried to embrace tablet computing.

That’s one of the reasons why Microsoft Surface Pro exists – to help users find a way to have their tablet and [eat] it too. Microsoft’s thought was, “well, users want to compute on a tablet… we can give them a tablet form factor if they want one. We have the whole slate TabletPC thing that kinda tanked about 10 years ago; and THAT kinda looks like an iPad…just a lot bigger and bulkier… If we thin it down and shrink it down a bit and then MAKE a detachable keyboard that goes WITH it (one of the BEST ideas with Surface Pro, by the way…) we can pocket the 3rd party dollars there along with the device sale.”

Whaddya think Stevie B.?

It was a good idea, but unfortunately, the execution didn’t match the vision, and the whole bridging OS thing really went over like a fart in an elevator. In other words, it really stunk up the joint and people ran (not walked) and in some cases, pealed back the proverbial steel plating on the “elevator” to get off. Many of us in the tech sector had the words, “Metro Sucks” tattooed on the inside of our eyelids and spent a lot of time with them closed, shaking our heads wondering why Microsoft ticked off their established enterprise and consumer user bases with a confusing, UGLY and productivity shifting interface that not only made it hard to get anything done, but totally changed the way you HAD to work with a standard, desktop computer.

 But, again… I digress…

Anyway, as I said over the past few days, I’ve seen a few articles on Windows 10 features and while there’s some “nice” things in there, there may only be one or two of the 10-15 or so things that people are touting as awesome that may make ANY kind of a difference to anyone outside of the Microsoft Marketing department.

I’ve been running and testing nearly EVERY beta version of Windows on all of my production Windows machines since Windows 95 (so, for almost 20 years, now…) and I’ve seen stellar UI changes… I’ve seen great feature implementations… and I have to tell ya I’m lookin’ at all of this stuff in the Windows 10 Technical Preview and I’m thinking…

 Meh…

Some of what we’re seeing is definitely a rethinking or reworking of stuff that didn’t quite make the impact that it was intended to make. The Start Screen and the reinstated Start Button and (more importantly) reinstated Start Menu are some good examples. People absolutely HATED the Start Screen and DEMANDED their Start Button back. When they said that, everyone ALSO meant the Start Menu, but Microsoft decided to play stupid on that and only brought back the BUTTON in Windows 8.x.

When the world saw that, they called “bullshit” and gave Microsoft the big, “c’mahn…! You KNOW we meant MENU and not JUST the button..!” schpiel , but for some reason, all we got from Redmond initially was the big, wide spread armed, “WHAT?!? We gave you what you asked for…” response, which caused us to give Microsoft the “crossed armed, head tilted to the right, raised eyebrow silent treatment” that said, “Really..??”

So Microsoft is giving us the Start Menu back, but said, “okokokokokok… but you gotta give us a bit to put it back.” Its actually coming back as part of Windows 10. So, without any further kibitzing… here are the features and some of the hidden features of note <chuckle> in windows 10.

Improved and Expanded Start Menu

So, yeah… as I mentioned, the Start Menu is coming back; but its not the Start Menu that you remember from back in the day. Microsoft can’t seem to let the Live Tile thing go on the desktop, so they gimished the two of them together and we get an improved Start Menu (as you can quickly and easily pin, remove and customize items on it) but you also get the ability to pin Live Tiles to it.

Live Tiles work VERY well on Windows Phone devices. In fact, some will argue that the Windows Phone UI, with all of its Live Tiles, is perhaps one of the BEST mobile interfaces available today. You get updates, information and what you need from it and all you have to do, really, is turn on the phone. (Honestly, this would work on a tablet device as well… IF Microsoft could have let go of the Desktop computing metaphor on their RT based tablets and just gone with the Windows Phone interface approach there, and then maybe they wouldn’t have taken the $1B USD write off on all those unsold RT tablets; BUT again… I digress)

So, yeah, you get the ability to have both Live Tiles and shortcuts on the Start Menu and can now easily customize it; and while this is totally cool, its nothing really to whoop and holler about, ya know?

Oh, you also get the ability to pin the Recycle Bin on not only the Start Menu, but the Task bar as well… However, in order to get it on the Task Bar, you have to first pin it to the Start Menu and then drag and drop it from there to the Task Bar…which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I’m also a bit fuzzy on why this is so important…or cool… In order to delete items from somewhere on the PC, you have to either drag and drop it to the shortcut on the desktop, or pick it in File Explorer and hit the delete key on the keyboard/ right click and choose delete from the context menu. I’m not certain how putting the Recycle Bin on the Start Menu or Task Bar gets you anything important… Maybe someone can pop a comment in, below, and share the cool factor with the rest of us who are scratching their heads…

Run Store apps and Desktop apps simultaneously

With Windows 10, all apps can run in a window, or can run full screen. This is much like what Stardock Software’s ModernMix does. Its been running MetroUI apps in a window for a few years.

However, now, you can do this and run those applications side by side, natively. Its nice, but quite honestly, it’s a small step for computing kind. Especially since the app from Stardock started allowing this to happen shortly after Windows 8 hit the market, making the transition to Windows 8 a bit easier than without it.

Task View Button

The Task view Button in Windows 10 is really a “view all the virtual desktops you have” button. I understand that its now removable from the Task Bar. I don’t like virtual desktops because I don’t like having to cycle through a lot of open apps. If I do, ALT-TAB has always worked for me and I’m really good with just that quick, keyboard shortcut and familiar tool. See… this is why Bill invented “minimize and maximize/restore” for program windows. You can pretty much clean and clear up your active desktop just by minimizing stuff you need open, but aren’t working with just now.

However, I know I’m not EVERY use case out there, and some people may find this feature of value. If you want to put your music apps on one, photography/picture apps on another, I get it. I get it… However, I wouldn’t call this an “A list” feature…ever.

Multitasking with Enhanced Snap View

Snap is a new feature as of Windows 8 that allows you to place windows side by side in a way that allows you to evenly tile windows on your display. In Windows 10, the number of windows that can be snapped has been doubled to four windows. Windows that are snapped are evenly and equally placed on the screen.

What’s strange to me is that you could always do something like this by tiling windows across your screen. I’ve been doing it since Windows 3.x… However Snap does it without having to execute any kind of strange command, and your Windows don’t start off unevenly proportioned. So, if you have a large enough display and up to four programs that you need to swap data in and out of, it can be a huge time saver, I guess.

Snap Assist

Snap Assist is used as part of Snap View. It helps you snap windows into place and then resize the windows that get placed on your screen. The problem with Snap and Snap Assist is that it doesn’t work well with small screens.

Continuum for Windows (2-in-1 devices)

Interestingly enough, perhaps the biggest and most interesting feature that Windows 10 is going to provide hasn’t hit the streets yet. Windows 10 will work on just about any device that was able to run Windows 8.x, and will especially work well on any and all Surface Pro devices.

With Surface Pro and similar devices, Microsoft is creating a new kind of mode that will allow Windows to function as both a content consumption device as well as a tablet. Its called Continuum; and what it does is allows Windows 10 to change UI’s when a keyboard is attached to a device like Surface Pro 1/2/3. When the keyboard is reattached, the UI switches back to a traditional desktop UI. ModernUI apps will function full screen as they do in Windows 8 when the keyboard is removed and then will function in a Window when the keyboard is reattached.

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Microsoft Acquires Acompli

…and now they have a cool mobile email app.

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When a company doesn’t really have a US focused mobile device strategy – and let’s face it… Microsoft really doesn’t – things can get a bit stressful. Yes. You’re right… Windows Phones exist. Yes. I have one. No, it obviously ISN’T my daily driver; but you also have to understand one thing – Microsoft’s target market for all of its Windows Phone is NOT the United States (or other First World countries).

Microsoft isn’t making high end Windows Phones any longer. They have instead decided to concentrate their efforts on Third World countries. Very quickly, here’s why that’s very smart
1. There’s no way they are going to overtake Android or iOS devices in any kind of market share race. They just don’t have the legs to do it. Both Android and iOS are too firmly well established to nudge out of the way.
2. Microsoft’s Mobile strategy is still largely unknown. Without any real presence in the US, we’re left to people like Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott and to give us any kind of clue on what Microsoft is going to do with itself in the mobile space.

Let’s face it… even though the Surface Pro 3 may be an interesting ultrabook, Microsoft has no real content consumption device or smartphone that it can really point to or rely on in any of the markets that will either garner a lot of press or a lot of money via flagship sales. They want to concentrate on third world sales, and while that WILL perhaps produce a lot of global share, in the markets that really drive innovation and enterprise sales – First World markets – they’ve got next to nothing…

So, to help address that issue, early on during the morning of 2014-12-01, Microsoft announced it had acquired the email app developer Acompli for somewhere in the neighborhood of $200M USD.

The acquisition is a good move for Microsoft on a number of different fronts. They acquired not only the app and its IP, but also the people that coded it. Acompli has a really good Exchange interface on both iOS and Android devices, and they plug a hole where something is CLEARLY missing from Microsoft’s mobile Office Suite – Outlook.

Microsoft doesn’t have an “Outlook Mobile App” to speak of on either iOS or Android before this acquisition. According to Rajesh Jha, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Outlook and Office 365, “This acquisition brings us an app with innovative technology and a set of talented people who are passionate about reinventing email and communications on mobile screens. It will expedite our work to deliver the full power of Office to mobile devices.”

It’s clear that Microsoft is intending Acompli to be “Outlook mobile.” How the app is rebranded or actually integrated into their newly forming mobile suite for iOS and Android is yet to be totally understood. However, one would think that users would see something for those mobile suites sooner rather than later…if not before they intend to release the “touch” version of Microsoft Office for their Surface and Surface Pro tablets, currently codenamed Gemini.

This is a developing story, and I intend to follow up with either an update or a new post if something interesting comes to light. Please stay tuned.

In the meantime, what do you think of this development? Do you use Acompli? How badly do you feel “Outlook mobile” is either missing or is needed on the iOS and Android side of the world? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area and let me know what you think?

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Windows 10 – What You Need to Know

Here’s what’s important about Windows 10

Introduction

I’ve been in Windows a long time. I actually missed Windows 1 and Windows 2. I took a look and thought they were a total waste of time; and back in the day, they were. Flat, 8bit graphic interfaces were a dime a dozen. Quarterdeck Office Systems (the makers of QEMM Memory Manager, and DESQView and DESQViewX) had a product that put a text based, windowing system on top of DOS (much like Windows 1 and Windows 2) and then had a GUI based environment also running on top of DOS (DESQView/X) much like Windows 3.x; and while BYTE – my old and much revived online version of the venerable paper publication – praised it, in the end, the organization tanked and was eventually acquired by Symantec.

The point in bringing this all up is that the flat state of the UI in both DESQView and DESQView/X is very similar to what has been labeled as “new” over at Microsoft. In fact, its not new, but a return to the more simple and perhaps more resource efficient. It seems as though Windows Vista cured many of us of the need for eye candy.

With Windows 10, everything old is new again, with Microsoft taking its customers back to the beginning… well sort of. The graphics are much better today than they were back in the 1990’s, and thankfully, they aren’t nearly as heavy as they were back with Windows Vista.

So, what’s new and fun about Windows 10? There are some new features. There are some returning features. So, what’s new and fun about Windows 10? Lets take a look and find out.

The Start Button and the Start Menu

Tech-Preview_Start-menu

The Windows Start Button came back for a return engagement in Windows 8.1. The button brought back a familiar UI element; but many – me included – felt that the return of the button, and only the button, wasn’t enough. Back then, the button took you right to the Start Screen.

In Windows 10, by default, it still does.

However, it can be configured to use the Start MENU; and many of the members of the Tech Preview – me included – are relieved that its back. I can’t tell you enough how much having the functionality back is really appreciated.

Of the changes that were made in Windows 8.x, the Start Screen was the most obvious, and perhaps one of the most disliked changes to the OS. Microsoft has taken a lot of heat over that particular change. It hasn’t been received well.

Microsoft decided to try to make Windows into a universal OS at a time when the public wasn’t ready to see the platforms combined. They still aren’t, though Microsoft is still trying to approach that line of business. However, they’re taking a different approach – through the Windows Store. All apps are supposed to be universal apps, working on Windows Phone, Windows RT and Windows 10.

Here’s a cool tip about the new Start Menu. It’s a mish-mash between the Start Menu and the Start Screen, meaning you can pin Live Tiles to the new Start Menu…or not. The Start Menu can be modified to look like its old self. While its possible to pin as many Live Tiles as you need or want to the Start Menu, you can also remove all the ones that are pinned to it by default, making it as Windows 7 like as possible, which should make a great many people, very happy.

The Desktop is Back

ModernUI – or as its often called, Metro – was and is a huge sore spot for Windows and for Microsoft. While the Start Screen may work well for a mobile device, regardless of size (meaning a smartphone OR a tablet), it doesn’t work well on a laptop or a desktop machine. The way the UI works is counter-intuitive to the way users interact with a desktop or laptop computer. Users voted with their feet…or their hard drives. Many either downgraded their new computers to Windows 7, bought add-on software that allowed users to replace the Start Screen with Start Menu functionality (like that found in Start8), or moved to a different OS entirely.

Microsoft heard the outcry during the life cycle of Windows 8.x, and gave users the ability to boot directly to the Desktop and brought back the Start Button. Now with Windows 10, the Desktop is back to a more prominent state.

In fact, its back to a point where the Start Screen and the rest of Modern UI is (nearly) completely hidden. This is important, especially for desktop computers and for desktop replacement class laptops without touch screens. This return to the Desktop will make it easier for enterprise customers to make the transition. If that happens and the adoption rate for Windows 10 is respectable, then it will have been worth it for Microsoft to back track on Metro and the Desktop.

Continuum Mode

For those of us stuck in the middle, or for those that have a hybrid PC – one that has a detachable keyboard, like the Surface Pro 1-3 – Microsoft has created something called Continuum Mode.

Continuum Mode kicks in when a keyboard is separated from the tablet based CPU. When you separate the two, tablet mode kicks in, and you get the Live Tiles and ModernUI. When you reattach the keyboard, you get the Desktop. This auto transitioning is Continuum Mode; and unique not only to Windows 10 but to transitory devices that can be both laptops/ultrabooks and tablets.

ModernUI Apps in a Window

ModernUI – or Metro – Apps are those full screen, non-Windowed monstrosities that have been the bane of user’s existences since the initial release of Windows 8. Not many liked the full screened, non-Windowed, Windows apps that contained little to no familiar UI elements that everyone is used to. Prior to Windows 10, once opened the only thing that could close them was the computer after a set period of time of non-use.

If you wanted, you could use a third party application, like ModernMix from Stardock Software to put them in a window. That gave you the chance to make them more Windows like at least.
Now, with Windows 10, ModernUI apps appear in a window by default. This means that they behave like any other Windows app. Now, you can size them, minimize them, and close them very easily.

QuLHy

ModernUI has received a make over and now, it seems a lot more palatable than it was before being windowed.

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Windows 8 is the New Windows Vista

Microsoft on Windows 8 – You don’t see anything…

Windows8 is the new Windows Vista

I think it’s safe for nearly anyone and everyone to say and agree that Windows 8.x is a total train wreck. That’s sad, because it isn’t the OS itself that’s horrible, it’s just Metro, or what Microsoft officially calls “ModernUI” (though I fail to see much that’s “modern” about it. It’s very similar to Windows 1.0 in look and feel…). Microsoft is officially looking forward to putting Windows 8 far, behind it, much as they did with Windows Vista.

When Windows 7 was released, Microsoft went on a huge media blitz. They contracted with a company called, House Party – a company that does classic “Tupperware” styled parties for just about everything – to help them get people across the country to host Windows 7 Launch Parties. If you were chosen to host one, you got a party kit, which included a free Windows 7 license so you could demo the new OS and talk up its new features. I actually got a local newspaper – The Aurora Beacon – to help with the coverage and started a 12 week freelancing stint with them where I started off with a cool series on Setting up Windows 7 for the first time. In the end, they really did great job on moving the limelight away from Windows Vista – the old and busted – to Windows 7 – the new hotness.

Microsoft would very much like to repeat that kind of activity with similar results. In fact, I’d wager that their tactics will be nearly identical. They’ll do anything and everything they can to make the public forget Windows 8.x, and especially MetroUI.

For example, in the months leading up to Windows 7’s release, Microsoft did everything it could to make users forget about Windows Vista. All formal communications released from Microsoft either downplayed the former OS release and/ or played up the new OS release. Microsoft did everything it could to help users forget that Windows Vista ever existed.

For Windows 8, it’s going to be a little more difficult, but in the end the results will be the same. Microsoft has one more major update to Windows 8.1 scheduled for release on 2014-08-12. Windows 8.1 Update 2 (or whatever they end up calling) was supposed to be the update that had the new, revamped Start Menu in it. However, that update was pulled from the release many months ago and will instead come as part of Threshold, largely believed to be called, Windows 9. New – read reinstated – Start Menu with a revamped – read MetroUI removed – user interface, plus some other, yet to be announced, features = new version of Windows that Microsoft hopes everyone will embrace. In an effort to help that, Microsoft will likely have little to no press or released information about the 2014-08-12 Patch Tuesday and the release of Windows 8.1 Update 2 (if, in fact, that is what it called).

Another tactic, as noted by ComputerWorld would be to change the naming convention of the next version of Windows. As I stated above, the next version of Windows is rumored to be called Windows 9. When Microsoft released Windows 7, instead of giving it a name – like XP or Vista – Microsoft instead switched to a numeral based designation. They did this because XP was the OS that just wouldn’t die no matter how hard they tried and Vista was the marketing and sales thud heard round the world. Since Windows 8 is just as much of a dud as Windows Vista is, Microsoft may decide to remake the brand entirely and leave the numeric designations behind.

Perhaps they’ll move back to a product name. The next version of Windows is codenamed, “Threshold.” So, for example, calling it Windows Threshold, or something else may help Microsoft move away from the failure of Windows 8. Perhaps they’ll return to a year designation like they did with Windows 98 and Windows 2000 and call this version of Windows, “Windows 2015,” as the OS is supposed to become available for download and distribution in the early Spring of 2015.

Whatever its name, Microsoft is going to have to put some heavy marketing capitol behind it in order to reduce and remove the market share that Windows 8 has. Windows 7 had three to four years of exclusivity before Microsoft started talking up Windows 8.x. Microsoft is hoping to bury Windows 8 after only 2-3 years of exclusivity. Yes… it’s really that bad for Windows 8.x.

(BTW, it’s not the OS itself that’s bad, just MetroUI, which unfortunately, is nearly everywhere within the OS. While you can’t get away from it, with tools like Stardock’s Start8, and other very cheap utilities, you can nearly turn Windows 8 into a Windows 7 look alike. The OS in and of itself, is fast, optimized, and it will run on cheaper, more affordable hardware. That means your older notebooks and netbooks can use it too, extending their value and life.)

Some pundits – as well as many people in the tech circles that I frequent – that are talking about this issue are saying that Microsoft needs to do something spectacular to help remove Windows 8 from the annals of history. Some feel that giving away Threshold may be the best way to do that. Those that ARE saying that are calling that the, “smart thing to do.”

Nearly every version of every distribution of Linux is free to end users. Apple is making OS X Yosemite free to all Mavericks users. For Microsoft to continue to charge end users for upgrades and new versions is becoming problematic. Only Macs can run OS X, but nearly every Windows machine can run Linux, and their user interfaces are becoming more and more Windows-like and end-user friendly than they were before. With online versions of Microsoft Office and other online office suites that run on any and every OS that has a web browser, a compelling reason to pay for Windows on your PC is quickly disappearing, despite any reasoning behind Microsoft’s One Windows vision and streamlining.

What do you think of all of this? Is Windows 8 a boat anchor drowning Microsoft and holding them back? Should they do their best to erase it from history as they did with Windows Vista? Should they give Threshold away? Let me know in the Discussion area, below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the whole issue.

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One Windows

Say goodbye to Windows RT…

Untitlddded

I saw a report by The Verge yesterday and it kinda got me thinking. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been busy over the past couple of weeks. He cut over 18,000 jobs from the new combined Microsoft after the deal with Nokia closed and they had time to figure out where the redundancies were. He’s killed Ballmer’s devices and services focus for the company and has everyone focusing on the cloud and on productivity. Now, he’s taking a shot at one of Microsoft’s major products – Windows.

There can be only one…

According to Nadella, Microsoft will “streamline the next version of Windows from three operating systems into one single converged operating system.” Windows will be built by a single team with one common architecture. The details of how this will actually happen aren’t known as of yet, but that means that desktop Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox will be unified. This is huge for developers, as they can now create universal apps, meaning they will only have to code and compile once and their app should run anywhere Windows does.

This has been something that Microsoft has been moving towards for months. At BUILD, Microsoft showed of dev tools that support this. While this works better for developers, how it will work in the wild remains to be seen. This ultimately means the death of Windows RT and Microsoft Surface RT/Surface 2 tablets.

THAT isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Microsoft never really got behind RT and pushed it as their competitors – both Apple and Google – push their mobile operating systems. RT was confusing to users who often mistook it for the Pro version of Windows, only without any real apps. The problem with RT was the Windows Desktop. RT still had it and Windows [File] Explorer, making it look and feel a great deal like its bigger brother, but without the ability to run any desktop apps. Quite honestly, no one knew what to do with Windows RT and Surface RT. Microsoft didn’t push it, users didn’t understand what to do with it, and it just kinda died.

As I have stated many times, Mary Jo Foley is a friend of mine, and I trust her take on the inner-workings at Microsoft more than anyone else’s. Well, maybe not as much as a Microsoft press release, but you get my meaning.

Anyway, I took a long hard look at the report by The Verge, and it didn’t quite sit right. Based on what I know MJF has said before, creating one, single Windows SKU that runs on all devices and only differentiates based on the box its running on is NOT what Microsoft has been all about…EVER. Thankfully, MJF has come to rescue again and provided some clarification.

In a nutshell, this is what “One Windows” means:

One Team – a single team developing the core of Microsoft Windows has been in place under Terry Myerson since July 2013. They will continue to take direction from one set of notes.

One “Core” – All Windows variants (and there will continue to be a few) will continue to come from a single Windows Core. Each SKU and variant will be built via a layered architecture, but will be built on top of this common core

One Store – Microsoft isn’t closing the Windows Store simply because RT is dying. Microsoft has been working to unify the Windows Phone Store and Windows Store over the past year and will continue to do so. The unified store should debut with Threshold sometime next year. How or when Xbox apps and games will be made available in the Store isn’t known yet.

One Development Platform – Microsoft will make a single set of developer API’s and developer’s toolset available. Developers won’t necessarily get the code/ compile once functionality as reported by The Verge; but they are still shooting for having developers write “universal apps.” What “universal” actually means is still a bit unclear; but many of those pieces are in place now.

According to MJF what One Windows does not mean is a single Windows SKU. There will be multiple versions of Windows, in much the same way as we’ve always seen Windows – Enterprise, Consumer, OEM and Industrial (Windows Embedded). We should be able to see this come to fruition this Fall when the public preview of Threshold is still scheduled to be made available.

What do you think of these developments? Is Microsoft getting it together, or is their strategy still too segmented/ fragmented and confusing? Does this kind of “unification” make sense to you, or is this all just a coat of paint on a busted wagon? Does the reported death of Windows RT matter? Does the reported death of Windows RT and the apparent loss of the Surface RT/ Surface 2 (not the Surface Pro line, which includes the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2/3). Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and let me know what you think?

UPDATE – After trading a few Tweets with @MaryJoFoley on Twitter, just before this went into 2013-12-09 report, Microsoft isn’t killing RT. It still plans on making it one SKU with Windows Phone that runs on smartphones and tablets. This fits with the “One Windows” MO, noted above.

I know this is all a bit confusing, but again, I trust Mary Jo Foley. Her sources are known and trusted, and she has yet to lead me down a wrong path.

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Get a handle of what apps are on your company’s computers with WinAudit

Get a handle of what apps are on your company’s computers with this important Windows app.

WA-01

Networking is the heart of computing today. Most everyone that has a computer has internet access and most everyone with internet access in their home has a home network of some type. Everyone with a home network has computers on it, most likely, a number of computers, depending on the number of people living in the home and what they are doing with those computers. Keeping your PC safe from dodgy programs that are potentially malware ridden is important, and its why I like apps like WinAudit. It’s a security app for Windows networks.

WinAudit identifies the hardware and software installed on Windows based computers. The app identifies every aspect of your computer is examined. After the app examines the computers on your network, it generates an inventory report. The report is displayed as a web page, which can be saved or printed in a number of standard formats.

You can e-mail the inventory report to your technical support staff or even post the report to a database for archiving. When used in conjunction with its command line functionality, you can automate inventory administration at the network level. WinAudit supports the remote desktop and pre-installation environments.

This app is great at what it does, but its not for everyone. Most home networks aren’t going to be as restricted and monitored as a corporate network is. This app would be perfect for small businesses looking to get a handle on what is connected to the network that all of their proprietary data is accessed and stored. The price is certainly right; and if you do decide to use it at home, it will certainly do a good job for you, though at this stage of consumer computing development and use, while EXTREMELY beneficial, its likely overkill.

Download WinAudit

 

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An Experiment in Windows Phone 8.1

I’ve heard that Windows Phone 8.1 is pretty good. I’m gonna take a look…

Windows Phone 8.1

I’ve heard a lot over the past few weeks about Windows Phone 8.1. With the keynote at Microsoft Build over and done with, Windows Phone 8.1 was released into the Wild, Wild West of Microsoft’s Developer community. The cool thing about it is that ANYONE can get their hands on the newly minted beta bits.

All you have to do is sign up for a free Microsoft Developer account, jump through a few hoops, open up the Microsoft Developer’s App on your Windows Phone and poof! You can download Windows Phone 8.1 before the final bits are made available to the general public. My good friend Paul Thurrott has the full, detailed instructions on how to download the update and install it on your phone.

If you can browse the web, you can install the update. It’s really that simple. However, be advised that despite what Paul says in his article, your phone may want to download and install a few pre-req updates before it actually pulls down Windows Phone 8.1. It’s not a huge deal or anything to be concerned about, just something you might need to know, if you run through the process. It may take a little longer than you might think.

The thing that’s really cool about all of this is that you can get Windows Phone 8.1 on ANY – and I do mean ANY – phone that runs Windows Phone 8. I went and purchased a Nokia Lumia 520, an entry level Windows Phone 8 device, and paid under $80 with tax for the device as an AT&T Go Phone. An unlocked version can be found at just about any electronics vendor on the web for under $150, so if you looking for something cheap that will give you access to the OS so you can at least try it out without spending a lot of money, the Lumia 520 is a good choice.

Information on the Nokia Lumia 520 can be found here. The device is a basic, no frills, entry-level device. It’s got most of the features you might want, but done at a budget. It’s got 512MB of RAM, a 1.0gHz processor, and a 5MP rear camera. It does NOT support AT&T’s LTE network, and while you’re going to get 4G service from the device, carrier locked or unlocked, you’re going to get HSPA/ HSPA+ connection speeds at best. However, there is a plus side to all of this…

You don’t HAVE to pay for any service. If you – uh-hem – go the Go Phone route, while you will need to register the device with AT&T, and will need to pick a service plan when setting up the device, you don’t have to pay for it to use the device, Wi-Fi only. As AT&T Go Phone is a pre-pay service, you won’t be charged anything until you purposefully activate the SIM and pay for a month’s service. However, if you opt NOT to activate the SIM card that comes with the device, it will be deactivated 30 days after you register. This is what I did.

Anyway, with the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 set to be released in the next three or so months, and with the Samsung Galaxy S5 starting to make its way to a carrier near you (as well as my recent review of the HTC One (M8)), I thought it might be a good idea to take a quick look at Windows Phone. I plan on upgrading from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 6 this fall, and I honestly wanted to be able to say in the blogs and review that I will no doubt be exclusively publishing via Soft32 what is comparatively good, bad and ugly about all three major mobile operating systems available today. (Un/Fortunately – depending on your point of view – Blackberry’s QNX-based mobile OS isn’t a contender any longer…)

Over the next week or so, I will be briefly looking at the following Windows Phone 8.1 components as they present on the Lumia 520:

→ Camera/Gallery – more of a concentration on the Gallery app, as the camera is only 5MP
→ Ecosystem and Multimedia – some interesting surprises await!
→ GPS and Maps
→ Cortana – Microsoft’s Siri and Google Now competitor

I will also follow this all up with a brief, but thorough device and hardware review. I’ll compare it to both the iPhone 5 and the HTC One (M8) (no… I haven’t returned it just yet.. Shhh!) and we’ll see if Windows Phone 8.1 has a chance of making an impression on the market with the right MS Marketing push, or if it’s really just a huge pipe dream.

If there are any specific items you’d like me to cover in this iOS/ Android/ Windows Phone comparison, please let me know in the comments section below. This is going to be an interesting undertaking. I haven’t played with Windows Phone AT ALL. When Microsoft abandoned Windows Mobile for Windows Phone, I left the WM community and dallied with Android for a couple years before heading back over to iOS and the iPhone 5. I’m pretty much a Windows Phone rookie, and will be looking at the mobile OS for the first time.

Windows Phone 8.1 is said to be a worthy competitor to iOS 7 and Android 4.4.x. We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m certain, as with everything, it will be an interesting journey. Again, I’d love your thoughts. Please feel free to chime in and give me your thoughts in the comments section below, especially if there’s something you’d like to see compared and/ or reviewed.

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