Microsoft Unveils New Hardware, Details Upcoming Touch Mouse Gestures For Windows 8

With the Windows 8 RTM right around the corner, Microsoft has unveiled a slew of new hardware products tailored towards Windows 8 PCs and devices.

The first one that was announced is the Wedge Mobile Keyboard. Designed specifically for tablets, it connects via Bluetooth to tablets, and is designed to be as small and portable as possible without compromising the typing experience. Also, a nice touch to it — and the other keyboard that was announced today — is that it comes designed with the new logo on the Windows key. On top of this touch to really indicate that it was built in the Windows 8 era, the keyboard also sports some hotkeys for Windows 8’s Charms. Building a tablet that’s both extremely portable and pleasant to use is quite a challenge, as anyone who has used an average netbook keyboard can attest to.

In order to bring your Wedge Mobile Keyboard with you while on the go, they have also created a pretty nifty cover that’s made of a rubber material. Not only does it protect the keyboard from scratches, but, when kept in a bag next to its accompanying tablet, it helps prevent the tablet from getting scratches as well. Finally, the cover can bend at the middle, forming a tablet kickstand.

Next up, we have the mouse counterpart of the keyboard, which is aptly named the Wedge Touch Mouse. With a peculiar size and shape, it definitely seems portable. However, I’m going to reserve my opinions on its comfort level and ergonomics until I actually get my hands on one. There’s no word on whether any advanced gestures will be available for it, but we do know that it will come with four-way touch scrolling. The Wedge Mobile Keyboard will be available soon for $79.95, and the Wedge Touch Mouse will be available for $69.95.

The next pair of keyboard/mouse siblings announced by the company are the Sculpt Touch Mouse and Sculpt Mobile Keyboard. They’re a bit larger in form factor than the Wedge series of peripherals while still remaining relatively mobile. They both connect to your PC via Bluetooth as well, and have been updated for Windows 8. And, like the Wedge Mobile Keyboard, it comes with those very same hotkeys to help make you more productive on Windows 8. The Sculpt Mobile Keyboard will be available for $49.95, and the Sculpt Touch Mouse will be available for the same cost as well sometime soon.

And finally, Microsoft announced that a slew of new gestures for Windows 8 are coming to the existing Microsoft Touch Mouse:

  • A one finger swipe will allow you to move side to side or up and down, shifting content on your screen.
  • Two finger movements manage apps, allowing users to display Windows 8 charms, switch through open apps and show app commands.
  • Three finger movements will let you zoom in and out.
  • Thumb gestures navigate backward and forward through apps.

Microsoft Announces BUILD 2012, Set For Late October

It’s offiical: There will be a second BUILD conference, and it’s happening right on the heels of Windows 8’s general availability in late October. BUILD 2012 as it’s called will be taking place on October 30th through November 2nd, this time in Microsoft’s home city of Redmond, Washington (it took place in Anaheim last year.)

So far, details — in the form of a session list — are sparse, and MJF  is still uncertain on whether or not they will publish one this year, but she points out that Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, Windows Azure, Windows Phone, and Visual Studio 2012 will very likely be the primary topics of this year’s developer conference.

Given the importance of apps in the eyes of consumers when it comes to a platform, Microsoft certainly needs to do everything in their power to continue drumming up developer enthusiasm. Windows Developer Jose Fajardo estimated based on the current Windows Store app count that we may see roughly 1200 apps by the time Windows 8 launches. There’s more to it than quantity, of course; on top of rallying up just about everyone who even has a sliver of interest in developing for Windows, the company also has to work to bring more established developers — from other platforms even — to Windows.

So, if you’re a developer or enthusiast, get ready; BUILD 2012 registration opens on August 8th.

No, Microsoft’s Entry-Level Surface Will Not Cost $1000

Microsoft’s announcement last month that they’re making their own tablet hardware — and directly competing with the very OEMs and partners that they license their software to — was huge in revealing a radical step forward for the company.

However, while it certainly is an important milestone and turning point for Microsoft, the event lacked plenty of important details pertaining to the product itself. We’re still in the dark about exact pricing and availability information, among other things, leaving many intrigued and mystified about key factors that could make or break the device.

Yesterday, WPCentral spotted that Swedish online store Webhallen listed the Microsoft Surface on their website, which sported some ludicrous pricing; the entry-level ARM-based 32GB Surface is priced at 6990 NOK, or roughly $1150 USD. What fascinates me is that there are posts aggregating this “story” that don’t immediately ridicule, but rather entertain the idea, as though it’s even plausible. On top of the outlandish pricing, we already know that the Surface will only be officially available through Microsoft Stores (and their online outlet.)

I also reached out to Webhallen, and they issued a comment stating that existing prices on the site are not based on any word from Microsoft whatsoever:

Our customers are very interested in pre-ordering these products, so we have set a high preliminary pricing for the lineup so that they may be able to pre-order them.

Just to clarify, we have not recieved any pricing from Microsoft regarding MRSP or purchasing net cost, and any people who have booked the Surface at this high price will of course have their order adjusted before any product is shipped. So we’re not going to overcharge anyone for being an early adopter.

I understand that Microsoft does some pretty unusual things, but they’re not batshit crazy.

So in conclusion, here’s a recap of yesterday’s highly credible blog posts: Microsoft, the company that needs every advantage it can get to even gain a smidgen of ground in the tablet market will charge a few hundred dollars more than a 32GB WiFi+3G iPad for its entry-level model, and upwards of $2000 for an Intel-based Surface Pro which is essentially an Ultrabook/Macbook Air competitor. Riiighhttt.

[Post updated with comment from Webhallen.]

Windows 8 Will Be Generally Available On October 26

Following the news from Microsoft’s Partner Conference last week that Windows 8 will reach the general availability milestone in “late October”, the company has now shared a more specific date. At an annual sales meeting, Steven Sinofsky announced that the Windows 8 general availability date is set for October 26.

During Microsoft’s Partner Conference last week, we also learned that the OS will RTM in the first week of August. This means that the overall milestone/shipping schedule of Windows 8 will be very similar to that of Windows 7, which RTM’d in the third week of July and was generally available on October 22nd.

Speaking of Windows 8, we’ll also have another thing to look forward to here; while no specific launch date was disclosed, we can probably expect the much-anticipated Microsoft Surface tablet to also hit store shelves at around this time.

Microsoft Fixes Windows 8 Freezing Bug


In a tweet to Rafael Rivera, a Microsoft employee has acknowledged that Microsoft is well-aware of the Windows 8 freezing bug that many have encountered, informing users to “stay tuned”. We also asked around, and, according to sources familiar with the matter, the bug has already been fixed in internal builds of Windows 8. As expected.

I’ve encountered this issue in each build drop of Windows 8 — Developer Preview, Consumer Preview, and Release Preview — and it always gets in the way of me doing anything productive on the OS: The entire machine gradually locks up to a point where you cannot even fire up the task manager to do something; your only way out is to reboot the machine entirely (though I’ve found that for some reason, Skype works just fine as this happens, and I can continue to talk in a call).

At first, I assumed that sour Boot Camp drivers were to blame as I installed Windows 8 on my iMac, but I quickly found out that this issue wasn’t limited to Macs. Quite a few people (on PCs) that I knew also mentioned that they had frequently encountered the issue, and a thread was created on Neowin where a fair amount of people also claimed to be affected. Even Paul Thurrott has encountered this issue, mentioning it as one of two serious issues he has been experiencing that make the Release Preview almost unusable.

That being said, we can all breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this bug will not find its way into the RTM build.

Reminder: Microsoft’s Windows Phone Summit Is Today, Don’t Forget To Catch The Livestream

It’s shaping up to be a rather crazy Microsoft week. It’s hardly been two days since Microsoft dropped the bombshell that it’s making its own tablet, and, in roughly an hour — at 9AM PDT, 12PM EDT — Microsoft will be providing a sneak peek of Apollo at the Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco. If their objective was to take everyone’s mind off of some Google event that’s taking place soon, it appears that they’ve succeeded.

WPCentral has put together a pretty nice list of what to expect at the Summit today; notable things include the long-rumored switch to the Windows 8 (NT) kernel, multiple screen resolutions, better Skype/VOIP integration (perhaps they will also fix the issue of not being able to use the rest of your device while in a Skype call), and an answer to the big question of whether legacy devices will be able to upgrade. They’re saying not to expect any big changes UI-wise; we also have it on good authority that this is the case.

Of course, there are a few other tidbits of rumored Apollo functionality that weren’t mentioned on that list (NFC support, multi-core processor support, enterprise tidbits such as BitLocker and Secure Boot, etc.), but it’s worth noting that Microsoft will probably not reveal everything at this event; it is just a sneak peek after all.

So yes, for emphasis, this is taking place at 9AM PDT, 12PM EDT, and you can watch a live stream of the event on Channel 9 once it begins.

Steve Ballmer Composes Optimistic, Enthusiastic Internal Memo

Following Microsoft’s big announcement on Monday that it’s entering the hardware business, Steve Ballmer sent out an internal memo that excites employees about recent achievements: Shipping the Windows 8 Release Preview, announcing SmartGlass, the Bing redesign with additional social features, and of course, announcing the Surface tablets. He also looked to the future and hinted that some “great news” can be expected within the next few weeks from the Windows Phone (he is of course referring to the unveiling of Windows Phone 8 which will happen at today’s Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco) and Office divisions.

Quite a lot of people have wanted Ballmer to step down, citing that he is an unfit CEO who lacks the right vision to lead the company. It’s undeniable that the company has made quite a few big mistakes under his watch, but at the same time, it’s undeniable that as of late, the company has been taking some drastic steps in the right direction, also under his watch.

GeekWire managed to get their hands on the memo, which you can read below:

From: Steve Ballmer
Sent: Monday, June 18, 2012 4:31 PM
To: Microsoft – All Employees (QBDG)
Subject: Big Day, Big Year
I love this company.

I love that we have brilliant engineers with brilliant ideas. I love that we aren’t afraid to make big bold bets. I love that we are persistent – after all it’s our passion and tenacity that bring our dreams to life. And right now, I love how so much of our hard work, passion and tenacity are coming together in the products we are bringing to market.

Today, we made an exciting and significant Windows announcement — we revealed Microsoft Surface — a new family of computing devices from Microsoft. Surface complements the work of our OEMs and fulfills the Windows 8 vision. You can learn more and watch the event video tomorrow on the Microsoft NewsCenter.

This great news comes on the heels of an incredible few months. Just think, we celebrated the one year anniversary of the Skype announcement. We shipped the Windows Release Preview. Dynamics delivered key updates, and continues to crank out double digit growth. We made search more social (and we did it the right way!) with a significant redesign of Bing. We announced that we’re making entertainment more amazing with Xbox on the phone, PC, tablet and TV with the coming releases of Halo 4, Internet Explorer on Xbox and SmartGlass. We shared our vision for a new era of cloud computing with Windows Server 2012 and important advancements to the Windows Azure services. And in the next few weeks we’ll see more great news and momentum from the Windows Phone Division and the Microsoft Office Division.

Our plans are well underway to unleash an incredible pipeline of new devices and services that consumers love and businesses need. Our work is getting noticed and our customers are excited.

We still have a lot of hard work to do. But today, I encourage you to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come over the past few years and how much further we’ll go in the next one.

I’m incredibly proud of the work this company is doing and incredibly optimistic for what’s ahead.


Image Courtesy: The Verge

Microsoft Has Finally Taken A Stand Against Janky OEMs

From way back — years ago, on then-popular Internet forums — I vehemently argued that Microsoft needs to either highly regulate OEMs, or manufacture its own hardware (and this wasn’t even in the context of tablets at the time; prior to Windows 8, the bigger issue was the complete lack of touch usability). Rather, OEMs made sub-par hardware, provided a terrible customer experience, loaded up their machines with bloatware, and at times failed to produce adequate drivers for their hardware, causing instability issues for the end-user. And, partially wrongfully — they still could have taken more action to prevent it — many users blamed Microsoft for these shortcomings.

Fast forward to now, Microsoft has realized that the tablet space will be a very crucial part of their business in the years ahead. They have built Windows 8 primarily with touch in mind, taking a relatively big risk with some of the major changes they have made to the OS. They have also realized that, during such a critical time for them as they adapt to the changing ecosystem, they cannot completely entrust their fate in OEMs. Finally, they have taken matters into their own hands.

Now, while I do have some criticisms towards both the event itself and the actual Surface devices that were announced, it’s important to realize that this is a colossal step in the right direction for Microsoft in many ways.

The event took place at a highly suitable venue: Milk Studios, a noteworthy photo studio that could have had the keynote easily mistaken for a fashion runway event. The lighting was excellent, and the slides were elegant and simple while still looking like Microsoft. But not the clumsy Microsoft that we have come to know; rather, the slides help to depict the new era that the company is kicking off.

Thankfully, Microsoft did not deploy any of their notoriously embarrassing tomfoolery, such as that Tweet Choir from CES, or that inappropriate joke about genitals and the innuendo of the company name.

Something else worth noting is the secrecy that surrounded this event. Shortly after the cryptic invitations to the keynote were sent out to the press, AllThingsD and some other noteworthy sites began to report that Microsoft were building their own tablet. However, there were no solid leaks or specifics revealed about the actual device.

Now, that being said, there were also a few negative things about the event. For one, they didn’t reveal some very critical details about the devices; we’re still in the dark on availability, pricing and battery life, all of which are critical things that people consider when purchasing a tablet.

It’s absolutely ridiculous that not only is there no official word from the company on when these tablets will be available, but we also cannot preorder them. That brings us to the timing of the event: If Microsoft for whatever reason felt unable to announce these details or even make the tablet available for preorder for that matter, why couldn’t they have waited until they were able to? I fail to see how this was time sensitive in that regard. If the timing was so that they could overshadow Google’s I/O event, it wasn’t worth it in my opinion; they should have just waited.

Moving on to the devices themselves. There will be two Surface tablets: The first is an ARM-based Windows RT tablet that’s aptly named Surface RT. As it is targeted towards the iPad, Android tablets, and other Windows 8 ARM devices, it will likely be competitively priced and endowed with considerable battery life. The second tablet — Surface Pro — is Intel-based and will run a full-fledged copy of Windows 8 Pro. This is more of an ultrabook competitor, so it will be obviously more expensive with less battery life than its ARM counterpart.

As you can see, they just couldn’t resist doing two highly Microsoft-y things here: Confusing customers with SKUs, and terrible branding. Now people will have to educate themselves about the differences between the Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. They may even assume that due to the higher price tag and use of the word “Pro” with the Surface Pro tablet, the Surface RT is inadequate for their needs when really they just want a tablet for content consumption purposes. It’s even more confusing because the legacy desktop is still present in Windows RT and may lead consumers to believe that they can run all desktop apps on their ARM device, but that’s for another post.

And what’s with the recycling of the Surface brand? When you think of a surface, you think of a generally larger area such as a table or countertop. But a tablet? Did Microsoft want to capitalize on what consumers may have already known about the Surface branding?

WAIT. I’m going to stop quibbling about SKUs and branding. Microsoft has finally stood up to the OEMs that have continually besmirched their software products, and, in the process, (hopefully) set the bar for actually good hardware. Considering that they’ve done something this radical, it’s only a matter of time before they begin to simplify their product names as well.

Now, unlike Apple’s hilarious dick move of not informing carriers about iMessage until it was announced, Steve Ballmer did mention while speaking with The Verge that OEMs were informed about the company’s decision to make their own hardware. He also noted that they might “opine”; sounds like some may not be happy. Here’s hoping that rather than whine about it, they proceed to actually make good hardware.

And, to be clear, there’s nothing unfair or uncompetitive going on here. Microsoft isn’t doing anything dodgy, and have clarified that they will be playing by the same rules as the OEMs in their press release: “OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT.”

It will be awesome if the Surface is really as sturdy and well-built as they described, as these are two very important qualities that the iPad excels at. A high-scoring bit on the build quality test will certainly be testing the kickstand to verify that it is similar to the door on a luxury automobile. I think that the Touch Covers were also a great idea. Whether or not you agree with Microsoft that tablets should be accompanied by external keyboards, you have to admit that their execution on this vision is really well-done.

From an aesthetic point of view, the darker shade of grey that the tablet is in can look slightly boring in some photos, but that’s okay. I’m sure it’s nicer in person. It still looks much better than any of the Windows RT tablets that OEMs have shown off thus far (and probably will show off in the foreseeable future). It also looks pretty unique; you can easily tell it apart from an iPad, or from Samsung tablets that look like the iPad. Strangely enough, it didn’t need to be designed by lawyers to achieve this.

I’ll reserve further commentary on the hardware for when I actually get some hands-on time with it, but I’ll conclude the post with this:

Holy shit, Microsoft is actually making their own tablet.

Image Courtesy: Surface, The Verge

Video: Microsoft Surface Tablet Event

Earlier today, during the immensely hyped Microsoft event that had the blogosphere speculating since Thursday, the company revealed something big: They’re making their own tablets, dubbed the Surface. And now, the full video of this pivotal keynote has been released on the Microsoft News Center website (and YouTube, thanks to The Verge.)

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky both took the stage to debut the device, along with Michael Angiulo, the Corporate VP of Windows Planning, Hardware, and PC Ecosystem, and Panos Panay, who lead the team that created the device. One quote that truly captures how major this is coming from Microsoft is this, from Ballmer:

“It was always clear that what our software could do would require us to push hardware, sometimes where our partners hadn’t envisioned.”

While Microsoft has certainly made its own hardware before — the Xbox and Zune — it has never done so in a manner that encroached in the space of its valued PC OEM partners, who manufacture the very devices that run Windows.

Head on over to YouTube to watch the roughly 48 minute long keynote.

WSJ: Microsoft To Acquire Yammer For $1 Billion

The Wall Street Journal has just confirmed through its own sources that Microsoft will acquire Yammer for $1 billion. Rumors surfaced not too long ago as someone eavesdropped in on people discussing the deal at a San Francisco cafe that’s right across the street from Yammer’s offices.

This is one Microsoft acquisition that I think makes a lot of sense: Yammer is a service that allows businesses and enterprises to set up private, internal networks that employees can use to communicate. These are fairly old numbers, but, as of 2010, 80,000 companies — including 80% of Fortune 500 companies — use Yammer. In fact, we even use Yammer here at Techie-Buzz for editorial operations and internal company communication.

It remains unknown when Microsoft will complete and announce the deal, but it’s unlikely that this is the big announcement that the company has in store for Monday. Bloomberg suggests that the deal could be completed as soon as tomorrow (Friday, June 15).