Tag Archives: Windows

Windows 8.1 Update: Mouse Users Now Welcome to Use Windows 8.1

At its annual developer conference //build/ on April 2, Microsoft announced an update to Windows 8.1 simply called Windows 8.1 Update. This update will arrive via Windows Update on April 8 and is available via msdn from April 2.

As the name suggests, this is an update to the operating system but as you will see, the changes implemented in this update are all made to make it easier for mouse users to navigate and use Windows 8.1. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 are obviously touch-friendly so tablet usage is not a concern. Also, there are tons of keyboard shortcuts including power user shortcuts like Winkey+X which allow heavy keyboard users to navigate their way around. Mouse users, especially on larger displays, had to move their mice too much in order to get things done. Not anymore. Some key user experience changes:

Adding common controls to Start Screen: A power button and a search icon get added to the top, right next to the user name/photo on the Start Screen, making it easier to shut down the computer and intuitively search the computer. Similarly, a PC Settings tile gets added by default to open up Control Panel. These are small changes but given that these actions are taken quite frequently, it makes a lot of sense that they are bubbled up to the Start Screen rather than having the users try to find them or stumble upon them accidentally.

Start Screen Update in Windows 8.1 Update
Start Screen Update in Windows 8.1 Update

 

Title bar in Modern Apps: The action to “close” a Modern App today is to take the mouse to the top of the screen and drag down the app in a single motion from top all the way to the bottom until the app disappears. That action, to say the least, is mouse user-unfriendly. On a small tablet, it would seem ok since taking a finger from the top of the tablet to the bottom is simple enough of a gesture.

In order to simplify this task, Windows 8.1 Update introduces a small (auto-hidden) title bar at the top of all Modern Apps and that title bar includes a minimize and a close button just like today’s Windows desktop applications. This makes a lot of sense, since a mouse user would normally go to look for those actions where they are used to seeing them in pre-Windows 8 operating systems.

Windows 8.1 Update Title Bar in Modern Apps
Windows 8.1 Update Title Bar in Modern Apps

 

Right-click context menu on Modern Apps: Another setting that completely makes sense. In non-Windows 8 environments and even in Windows 8’s desktop realm, anytime a mouse user wants to do something to an item, they would right-click. But in Modern Apps, a right-click does not pop up a menu where the cursor is, but instead it opens up the App Bar which could be at the bottom and/or at the top. By making the same Windows 7-style context menu now pop up where the mouse cursor is, Microsoft is making it easier for Windows XP and Windows 7 users to transition to Windows 8.

Right-click Actions in Windows 8.1 Update
Right-click Actions in Windows 8.1 Update

 

Pinning Modern Apps to taskbar: Yet another step towards making it easy for users to transition from Windows XP and Windows 7 is the ability to pin Modern Apps to the taskbar. That way, if someone spends most of their time in the desktop environment, they are not “cut off” from the Start Screen. Also, in a move to increase interest in the Modern Apps, Microsoft also announced that the Windows Store app will be auto-pinned to the taskbar on a default Windows installation. This, they hope, will prompt more visits to the Store because of the nature of being defaulted in Windows, thereby increasing the chances of someone downloading Modern Apps.

Pin Modern Apps to Taskbar
Pin Modern Apps to Taskbar

 

As you can see, the trend in the key updates coming as part of Windows 8.1 Update is to make the OS more welcoming to those migrating from Windows XP and Windows 7. If the transition is eased, more users will end up not wanting to avoid or being afraid of Windows 8, and thereby increasing the installed base and the developer opportunity. An introduction to the update in the video embedded below:

 

Are you looking forward to this update? Anything you had wanted to see that they did not include? Sound off in the comments!

//build 2014: One Windows Vision Coming Together For Microsoft

//build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference kicked off on April 2 and the marathon keynote included several announcements that finally bring Microsoft’s “One Windows” vision closer to reality.

Although it may not be an official or formalized mission, “One Windows” seems to be an ever-so-close possibility since the time Windows Phone moved to NT kernel to make it very similar to Windows 8 on PCs. First, the relevant announcements:

Windows Phone 8.1: The version number incremented by .1 would seem to imply an incremental change, but that is absolutely misleading. The number, and magnitude, of changes in Windows Phone 8.1 from Windows Phone 8 is perhaps far greater than the changes Windows Phone 8 itself introduced over Windows Phone 7. Consumer features like lock screen themes and Start Screen background image and enterprise features like VPN support are just a few. The biggest change perhaps, is the presence of digital personal assistant called Cortana, which seems to be a smart mix of Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google now.

Windows Phone 8.1 walkthrough by Joe Belfiore

Universal apps: Even though it is possible to create apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8 where a lot of code is shared between the two, Microsoft announced what they are calling “Universal apps“. These apps are actually built with the intention to be run on the phone as well as on tablet and PC. It is a single binary which potentially could render differently depending on the device on which it runs. In order to make this possible, developers would need to modify their apps and with the appropriate changes applied, have their customers purchase once and (optionally) use it on multiple devices. Until now, even though much of the code could be reused/shared, it was not possible to have a single binary nor was it possible to allow the customer to buy on a phone and use it on a tablet. That has now changed, and is a huge step in the unification of Windows. What’s more, in their “vision” part of the keynote, Microsoft executives also promised that the Universal apps would extend to the Xbox as well, thereby making these apps truly “universal”.

 

 

Universal app icon

Shazam Universal app icon

Windows Universal app icons

Windows for “Internet of Things”: Also as part of the vision, Microsoft introduced a new as yet unnamed version of Windows aimed at all other kinds of devices which are proliferating around us, and generically called it “Windows for the Internet of Things“. These devices, until now, have all been using Android or something else, but definitely not Windows, so it was clearly an opportunity Microsoft did not want to miss out on. The operating system will be released in preview form this Spring.
 

Intel Galileo
Intel Galileo board

 

Windows license cost of $0: Along with this announcement, Microsoft also took a bold step towards increasing interest in and adoption of Windows among developers by making all versions of Windows free for devices under 9 inches in size. Essentially, this signals that device makers making devices in this hugely growing category would have no barrier in terms of cost, to sell Windows in those devices. Given that Android indirectly costs money (potentially to use Google Mobile Services on top of Android Open Source Project, but additionally, surely for patent licensing fees), device makers will find themselves looking at Windows as the *cheaper* OS for their devices!

Shared experiences: In addition to announcing keyboard and mouse user-friendly updates to Windows 8.1, Microsoft also demonstrated how experiences will span Windows Phone and Windows on tablets and PCs. With Internet Explorer 11 on Windows Phone 8.1, users will now be able to share IE settings, tabs, passwords, favorites, etc. between the phone and tablets/PCs. Similarly, via their Microsoft account, customers will also be able to have the same theme across phone and tablet/PC along with several other settings that are already possible to be synced between Windows 8.1 devices.

 

 

Internet Explorer 11 on all Windows
Internet Explorer 11 on all Windows

 

There were several other announcements but the above items show the steps Microsoft has taken, listening to customer feedback as well as executing on their product roadmap, to make it seamless for customers to use Windows regardless of the device they use it on. The developer story therefore becomes even more compelling because it is not just phones or not just tablets that is the addressable market. Suddenly, any device that ships with Windows, will be able to consume the apps and games developers build and not just in theory. This has always been the advantage of the iOS ecosystem and Apple executed it well from the beginning because they were in a much better position to do so, having defined the entire path themselves. Google’s Android followed, although in a slightly different way – Android phone apps stretch out on a larger screen if there is no specific tablet version available. Microsoft’s vision is definitely more like iOS but at the same time, due to the excellent tooling in the form of Visual Studio, it also seems like it may be much easier to build a universal app targeting Windows. The devil of course is in the details and we will see how developers react to this vision by observing how many existing developers convert their apps to Universal apps and how many new developers enter the ecosystem with their creative ideas.

This is a solid move by Microsoft and while some (including yours truly) may say it was long overdue, it is also better late than never. Microsoft is doing its best to court all kinds of developers including many in the Silicon Valley and many with an affinity towards open source projects, and they will have to continue to do even more going forward. Nothing matters more though, than hard numbers. If Windows devices get a decent market share and continue to prove to be higher revenue generators than the competing platforms, developers will automatically flock to the ecosystem.

Until then, Microsoft can only hope that “One Windows” matters to a developer as much as it is necessary for Microsoft.

Simplifying Windows: Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface

If you were disconnected from the world for the past several months, you wouldn’t know that Microsoft is going to release the next version of their operating system for personal computers, called Windows 8. Let me rephrase that: Microsoft is going to release an operating system for mobile, highly-connected devices, with touch input at the front-and-center, and along with that operating system, it is also providing an upgrade to their existing Windows 7 operating system.

The look and feel of Windows is very different from earlier versions of Windows, and as a result there has been a lot of uncertainty and (unfair) judgement about it being circulated in the tech press. Instead of writing yet another article about how this whole thing is confusing, my goal here is to make it simple for someone who wants to know more about “The Big Launch” that Microsoft is undertaking at the end of October.

Windows 8

First and foremost, there is Windows 8. It is the operating system that will ship on most PCs and it is also something that you can upgrade from virtually any previous Windows version. This operating system runs the new “Start Screen” with Live Tiles, and will allow you to install apps (yes, there are now Windows Apps) from the Windows Store. Additionally, Windows 8 has a “desktop” environment that may seem familiar to users of Windows, especially Windows 7/Vista. Here, you can install applications outside of the Windows Store, for example CutePDF and Winrar. There is no restriction on what you can install in Windows 8 “desktop” environment. For apps on the other hand, unless you work at a company that supports it, or if you are a developer with the correct settings, you cannot install them from anywhere else except the Windows Store.

Windows RT

Windows RT is the radical new operating sytem that Microsoft is introducing for the first time along with Windows 8. It will not ship as standalone software, and instead, it will only be available as part of devices that ship with this operating system. Think of it as the software that runs your appliances like a DVD player or your car navigation system. Windows RT also has the same “Start Screen” as Windows 8 and you can install apps from the Windows Store just like Windows 8. It also has a “desktop” environment but you cannot install anything there. Yes, you read that right. Microsoft has locked the desktop environment so customers cannot install any software on the device except the apps you can get from the Windows Store.

Microsoft does ship Windows RT with a version of Office 2013 for free. It is called Office Home & Student 2013 RT which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Think of Windows RT as Windows 8 with only the Windows Store Apps along with Office. (Yes, I know there are more “desktop” applications that come with Windows RT, but at a high level, this should suffice.)

All the apps you purchase from the Windows Store will work on Windows RT devices as well as Windows 8 devices.

Windows Phone 8

Microsoft also makes operating system software for phones, called Windows Phone. The next revision of this software, called Windows Phone 8, is also due to be released at the end of October. Windows Phone 8 is built on the same core as Windows 8 so application developers can reuse their logic between a Windows 8 app and a Windows Phone 8 app.

Although the apps are not the same across Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, a lot of app developers are using the cloud to power native experiences across multiple platforms and devices. Evernote, for example, will have a Windows 8 app as well as a Windows Phone 8 app (in addition to other platforms), both delivering native experiences for the screen sizes, keeping most of the data and logic in the cloud so it is easily portable.

From a “devices” perspective, it is important to keep Windows Phone 8 in mind, but if the discussion is about “computers”, you only need to consider Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Windows takeaways

Having discussed the software at a high level, here’s the quick overview of Windows:

  • Windows RT is the new mobile operating system built for increasingly popular simpler devices like tablets and slates. It comes bundled with Office and the only way to get more apps is via the Windows Store. It cannot be bought in the store, it comes pre-installed with devices like tablets and hybrids.
  • Windows 8 is Windows RT combined with the ability to install any application that you can buy off the shelf today. It is built for more powerful computers, but retains all the advantages of mobility-focused Windows RT. It introduces many upgrades in that “desktop” environment over its predecessor Windows 7 and is generally installable on any PC that runs Windows 7 today.

Form factors

The second complexity that will come in terms of increased choice is via the increased form factors of devices that are going to hit the market. Windows 8 being a touch-focused operating system, has led OEMs to ship many PCs with touch capabilities. So in addition to the simple desktop, laptop and tablet form factors, we have touch-screen laptop, devices with detachable screens/keyboards, laptops that convert to slate with a flip or a twist, and touchscreen all-in-ones. Additionally, PC makers as well as component makers have promised much better trackpad/touchpad technology in new devices and Windows 8 gesture support.

You don’t need to worry too much about the increased choice – just know that you can take advantage of touch, via direct touch on the screen or via indirect touch on the touchpad on laptops or separate trackpads that will ship with PCs, especially all-in-ones.

What will be tricky to decide and can only be done after trying a few PCs, are the convertible PCs. An Ultrabook-sized laptop, i.e., thin and light, that flips completely to convert to a touch slate, or a similar laptop where the screen detaches and becomes a standalone slate. I happen to prefer the convertible laptop (specifically, the Lenovo IdeaPad YOGA) but those detachables also sound quite interesting. Again, since we have not seen these form factors before, it is best to try them out before making a decision. (Yes, I know these existed in the Tablet PC era, but remember, Windows XP and even Windows 7 were not touch-first like Windows 8 is, and those PCs were thick and heavy. Besides, there was no app ecosystem like the Windows Store to enhance functionality in the PC.)

Of course, if you end up buying a pure slate form factor, Windows 8 and Windows RT both support Bluetooth so you can always slap an external keyboard and a mouse if you don’t see yourself always needing them.

Final thoughts

Windows 8 is dramatically different from Windows 7. It also adds the mobile OS Windows RT. It is bound to create snap judgements from tech press used to “old Windows way of doing things” or those enamoured with anything that Apple produces. Having used Windows 8 over the past few months constantly on a very old PC with keyboard and mouse, I can assure you that for most people, it is going to be a significant ugprade over whatever else they have been using. It is fast, it is efficient and with the move towards an app-centric world, its functionality will constantly get enhanced by third-party developers building innovative apps and distributing them through the Windows Store. It will add some learning curve, especially for folks with muscle memory, but as we have seen with touch OS like iPhone/iPad’s iOS, it is much easier to learn navigating via touch than navigating via keyboard and mouse.

Don’t base your opinion on what’s being written by tech writers, especially those who have not really used the operating system. Certainly they have not used it on “Windows 8 hardware” so their opinions are either based on conjecture, or fear of change, or simply with a motive to get more pageviews because that pays the bills. I am sorry I had to create this disclaimer but having read the stuff that has been written about Windows 8, I can’t help but shake my head.

Having said all that, I must say, Microsoft’s efforts to educate what is Windows 8 and how it is different from Windows RT and which form factors are available and how to choose, has been abysmal. They may be able to train Microsoft Store employees in the last week before launch but how about the many other stores that are going to sell Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT devices? How are those employees going to guide the customers in the right direction? It would be a pity if customers see a beautiful ad on the TV showing “Windows 8″, go the store and happen to find a Windows RT tablet to be the cheapest, and go home and find out that they cannot use Quicken or Photoshop on it.

Windows 8 is too good for Microsoft to throw it off the rails like this. Hope they do enough in the “last mile” to guide customers in the right direction. They can’t rely on people like yours truly to keep demystifying and simplifying for them.

Are you sold on Windows 8? Do you plan to get a Windows RT device? Let me know in the comments!

Skydrive Updates: Timeline View, Faster Uploads, Thumbnails

On May 13, Omar Shahine announced a collection of updates to SkyDrive on the Inside SkyDrive blog.

The most visible update is of course a new view of your SkyDrive content — Timeline View for photos. With this view, which was going to be rolled out over 48 hours, you can see all your photos across all folders and sub-folders in a timeline view. This is very handy because you may have created many photo albums and if you are looking for a certain picture from a certain time in the past, now it is really easy to click through to find the said picture.

SkyDrive Timeline View
SkyDrive Timeline View

The timeline view allows you to see a general timeline listing and then, by clicking on a month name you can quickly browse through the various months where there are pics in your SkyDrive collection. Clicking on a month name will show all the photos with a timestamp of that month.

SkyDrive Timeline View - Month
SkyDrive Timeline View – Month

 

In addition, Microsoft also announced that they have improved the performance of the SkyDrive desktop application. They claim, per their internal tests, that the upload times are now 2-3x faster than before.

Another minor update was made to the thumbnail layout in SkyDrive, and also, new support now for PowerPoint and Word files.

SkyDrive Thumbnail Layout
SkyDrive Thumbnail Layout

 

Finally, related to SkyDrive, earlier they announced that from Windows Phones, the auto-uploading of full-resolution pictures and videos is now going to be possible in all markets and not just the US. It is quite astounding actually, that the auto-upload was not yet in place for most of the world. Anyway, it is better late than never.

It is very clear that the Outlook.com/SkyDrive teams are on a rapid release schedule of some sort because we have seen consistent updates from them over the past several months. Now that the transition from hotmail to Outlook.com is complete, I am hoping we will see some key missing features (music support on SkyDrive, video support in the timeline view, etc.) also implemented in short time.

What do you think of the SkyDrive updates?

 

Microsoft: Windows Blue Will Be a Free Update Downloadable from Store as Windows 8.1

Windows-Blue Microsoft doesn’t exactly have the best of reputations when it comes to keeping cards close to its chest. Windows Blue is turning out to be no exception. We have had tips from insiders, leaks from partners, and even functional builds available for download on torrent websites. Now, Microsoft has finally opened up about its plans for the next iteration of the Windows operating system.

Speaking to shareholders, Tami Reller — who is the new Windows CFO, confirmed at the JP Morgan Media & Telecom Conference that Windows Blue indeed exists, and will hit the market by the end of this year. He also revealed that the operating system will be officially known as Windows 8.1. The best piece of news for current Windows 8 users is that the update will be available as a free download from the Windows 8 Store. Reller didn’t provide any insights into the expected enhancements in the next edition of Windows. However, the good news is that a public beta will be released on June 26th at the Build conference.

Early Build of Windows Blue Leaks

Windows Blue, the successor to Windows 8, which is expected to be released towards the tail end of this year, made an early appearance yesterday in the form of a leaked interim build. The leaked build is a 32 bit edition of Windows Blue with a build id of 9364.0.

Since its appearance, it has been thoroughly dissected by several Microsoft watchers, including the likes of WinSuperSite and The Verge. As anticipated, Windows Blue is an incremental update, rather than a major overhaul as Windows 8 was. It builds upon the foundation laid by Windows 8, and tries to alleviate some of the major pain points.

Windows-Blue-Split-Screen

Improved Multi-tasking
For me, the biggest enhancement is the new half-screen app snapping. The Metro UI is simply too inhibiting on larger form factors (especially on PCs) because it only allows 1 app to be in the foreground at a time. There is an app-snapping feature, but that only allows the second app to run in a mini-mode within a quarter of the screen. In Windows Blue, you can run two apps side by side in a 50/50 screen sharing mode. In fact, Blue supports as many as four apps side-by side.

Enhanced Metro Settings
One of the biggest problems with Windows 8 is its split personality. No where is the half hazard division between Classic and Modern UI more apparent than the Settings. While the Modern UI has its own PC Settings app, it’s woefully inadequate. Most crucial settings are present only in the classic Control Panel. Windows Blue takes a step forward by adding several more options to the new PC Settings app.

Enhanced Charms
Microsoft has added two new options to the Charms menu. The Share charms has received a new screenshot option for quickly capturing a screenshot and sharing it, while the Devices charm has been augmented with a play option.

Windows-Blue-2

Enhanced Start Screen
Windows Blue adds two new Tiles to the start screen – the first one is minuscule, while the second one is oversized. Additionally, Windows Blue prevents accidental modification of the Start screen by locking it down. You need to specifically select the Customize option to be able to modify the layout.

And More
There are several other changes including new apps (Alarms, Calculate, Sound Recorder, and Movie Moments), improved SkyDrive Modern UI app, Internet Explorer 11, and new gestures.

Windows Blue is a step in the right direction. It attempts to solve some of the biggest issues with Windows 8. However, Microsoft still has some distance to travel. Modern UI is growing up, but still isn’t mature enough to stand on its own. Windows Blue will be a cheap (possibly even free) upgrade for existing Windows 8 user, which is expected to be released later this year.

[ Images via The Verge ]

Microsoft’s “Keep The Cash” Developer Incentive Program Is Appalling

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 11.55.36 PM

One of the major issues plaguing the Windows Phone platform as a whole is the lack of quality apps, primarily the various popular ones that are currently thriving on iOS and Android. But simply porting these apps a few months — or more — to Windows Phone from their release won’t solve the problem. Microsoft needs to improve the platform’s mindshare amongst both developers and consumers.

When developers — big and small — work to release their apps as quickly as possible on Windows Phone, and treat the platform as an equal to iOS and Android, then Microsoft will have succeeded. Obviously, the issue isn’t just the lack of existing awesome apps. It’s the fact that now, when a hypothetical developer of what, unbeknownst to him, will soon be an incredibly popular app sits down to build it, he’ll prioritize getting the app on iOS and Android.

Maybe initially, due to the lack of resources and the need to ship, he’ll select one of these platforms to initially launch on. But then, in most cases, the next priority will be shipping an app on the other. After a year of hit sales on both of these platforms, maybe rumors will surface that a Windows Phone app is in the works.

This is the obvious problem with Windows Phone, and it’s why I’m perplexed as to how Microsoft could think that its latest incentive for people to develop on Windows Phone was a good idea at all.

The program, — aptly named “Keep The Cash” — encourages developers to create and submit up to 10 apps to the Windows Phone Store, offering $100 for each qualifying app. The program is also accepting Windows Store apps, allowing you to submit another 10 apps. That’s a total limit of $2000 in app submission.

Evidently, this drastically favors quantity over quality. The copy on the registration form blatantly encourages developers to make multiple apps. Can we seriously expect nothing less but shitty apps from developers who are developing multiple apps from March 8th to June 30th?

The program boasts that developers can earn up to $2000 per qualifying app. That’s a whopping 20 apps in roughly three months. And yes, the Terms and Conditions makes it clear that you cannot submit apps that have been previously submitted to the store.

Sure, some apps from developers who technically take advantage of this may be good; in that timeframe, developers who are wrapping up apps that have been in the works for some time could enter their creations in this program and claim the reward.

But we all know that this isn’t who the promotion is targeting. Everything is clearly targeted to appeal most to people who will try to pump out apps in this timeframe to gain as much money from the promotion as possible.

The negative image that this gives Windows Phone far outweighs anything positive that can come out of it. A good developer with taste from any platform — including existing Windows Phone developers — will scoff at the program.

With this program, Microsoft actually discourages quality developers from wanting to create Windows Phone apps while encouraging those who wish to make some cash as quickly as they shit out their apps to build on Windows Phone. On top of that, it can look like an incredibly desperate, “we’ll take all the apps we can get” program.

Even the registration form to participate looks sleazy. It’s reminiscent of those Monopoly promotions by McDonald’s, or even those cash for gold ads we occasionally see on TV. It’s aesthetically unpleasing and only serves as foreshadowing to the quality of the apps that will come as a result of it.

And, finally, this shows a lack of focus and awareness from Microsoft in regards to Windows Phone’s true problem, despite the fact that they’re definitely well aware of it.

In fact, Microsoft issued the following comment to AllThingsD regarding this:

We believe the best apps come from those partners who are invested in the platform and own their experience now and in the future. Of course, we are always working to spark creativity with new developer audiences and sometimes try limited incentives or contests, like Keep The Cash. However, it is not representative of an ongoing program.

Except it doesn’t spark creativity, it scares it away.

I largely wrote this article with emphasis on the impact of this program on Windows Phone, but it’s worth once again mentioning that the program also seeks out up to 10 Windows Store apps. The complete disregard of quality that’s projected through this program also impacts one of the company’s most valuable products.

In conclusion, I hope that Microsoft stops hosting programs like this and instead offers incentives that favor quality and innovation. As Long Zheng points out, that is something that the company is no stranger to doing.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro “Sold Out”

Microsoft made its new member of the Surface family, Surface Windows 8 Pro, available for sale starting February 9, 2013. The Surface Pro, as I would like to call it, is being sold via Microsoft’s online store, their few retail stores and Best Buy and Staples retail stores.

Within hours, news started rolling in of the 128GB model going “out of stock”. The 64GB was available in most places, but the higher-end model was showing no stock at most of the retailers.

What does it mean? Unfortunately, besides the simple math of demand being more than the supply, nothing. The supply was not enough to keep up with the demand, which for a robust manufacturing organization means a supply chain disaster. How can a company botch supply on launch day? It is the one day the company gets to be in the press more than any other day, at least from that product’s standpoint, and they are unable to fulfil demand.

However, despite their keyboards and mice, as well as their Xbox and now Surface RT, I don’t consider Microsoft a “robust manufacturing company”. Also, the Surface Pro is not a run-of-the-mill product, or an iteration of an existing product. It has a complex screen and specialized materials. There very well could be issues in larger scale manufacturing of those components. In fact, after promising that the Surface Pro would be released about 90 days after the Surface RT, Microsoft ended up releasing the former about 2 weeks later. That hints at a possible issue (or a set of issues) they may have faced during the manufacturing.

There were also anecdotes from individuals going to or calling retail stores in their area and finding out that the stock at these stores was in many cases in single digits. While those are still anecdotes, it is worthwhile to remember that the stock is ordered by the store, and not by Microsoft. Regardless, the customer experience ended up being bad because they could not buy the product they wanted to.

However, not all is lost as long as Microsoft can ramp up quickly. If they replenish stocks quick enough and take advantage of the momentum they have unexpectedly received, it may end up working in their favour. These enthusiastic customers will show off their shiny new toy to their friends and family and perhaps create a few more customers out of them.

Here is where Microsoft will have to learn what Apple has mastered — pre-production capital expenses to fulfil the demand expected at launch, accurately predicting launch day demand, and most importantly, making sure more markets are served at launch and soon after, than the previous launches.

In some ways, this situation is better than the opposite situation, which is Microsoft and its retail partners stock a ton of units and no one wants to buy them. At least at this point it does seem like there is unmet demand for the product. It is for Microsoft to ramp up and ensure that their next Surface family member has even better launch day balance between supply and demand.

Who is the Target Customer for Surface Windows 8 Pro?

The embargo lifted on Surface Windows 8 Pro or as I will call it, Surface Pro, reviews and out of the gate, most tech news sites had a “meh” conclusion. The device, they claimed, is neither a great tablet nor a great Ultrabook. Hence, their take away was that it is not a good device for either use case. A few sites mentioned that it is not for all, but for those who need such a device, it is a great one for them.

Who is the target customer for such a device? Is it a big enough market for Microsoft to pursue, or is it a niche that may explode in the future?

First, let’s remove the obvious non-market. This device is not for those who have truly moved into the “post-PC era” and are ok using just a tablet for their computing needs. It means they either don’t need programs that need a “computer”, or they have decent alternatives available in the tablet’s app marketplace to accomplish all their computing on the tablet. For such a market (many of the tech writers may be in this category, since most of their work is writing and with decent keyboard attachments, they can somehow make it work), a tablet like the iPad with a much lower cost and a much better battery life may easily be a better choice than the Surface Pro.

Surface Pro is also not for those who don’t mind carrying two devices around, or having two devices in general. They have a computer, perhaps even an actual desktop PC, where they do all their work. In addition, they have a tablet where they do most of their “play”, and have some sort of connectivity established to their workplace email so they can keep on top of email while they are away from the office. These folks are perfectly ok with two separate devices because they may not be carrying both around much.

There is an important market though, which many/most of the reviewers failed to recognize, either due to ignorance or oversight. The typical office worker. Millions of employees around the world are handed a laptop when they join a company. Earlier, it used to be dull Windows PCs from a single supplier. Nowadays the choice has expanded to include Macs as well. However, many of these office workers also carry tablets around the office because they don’t want to or they don’t need to carry their PCs around to conference rooms and to meetings. These folks will absolutely love the Surface Pro (especially the ones who did not choose a Mac :-)).

For the office worker, the Surface Pro provides a powerful PC for all they do at their desk, but instead of leaving the PC at the desk and carrying a separate tablet to meetings, or to use at home for “play”, they can have the same device for both those purposes. Since the “work PC” is normally plugged in, the lower battery life of Surface Pro compared to the iPad would not be a big factor. Also, since the device won’t be used purely as a tablet, the slightly higher weight compared to most tablets would also not be a concern.

On the other hand, having one device instead of two would be a benefit in favor of the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro would weigh less than the combined weight of a PC and a tablet, and because it is one machine, the office worker would not need to keep shuttling files between the two devices with or without the cloud. Also, there would be no issues about apps and application compatibility and maintaining document fidelity. All these are important considerations for many, many employees around the world.  Needless to say, there were many on the Surface Pro team’s Reddit Ask Me Anything thread who claimed that they would be getting a Surface Pro (or their company is testing the device for mass deployment, or as one person said, it would be great to load Linux and use it!).

From the CIO’s perspective, the Surface Pro offers an ideal solution to the BYOD movement. Since it runs Windows, it is a highly manageable device, and it would work with all the existing management infrastructure. The CIO gets to sleep at night, and the employees get something that is thin, light and works for work and works for play.

There may be other scenarios too, where the Surface Pro may work quite well, but I focused mostly on the biggest piece of the pie, the enterprise worker.

What’s your take? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Nvidia’s GeForce Experience Tool Optimizes Your Game Settings Automatically

Unless you are lucky (and rich) enough to own the latest Alienware, squeezing the best out of your rig on new games is an exercise in trial and error. Running latest games at maxed out settings will knock your fps (frames per second) down to single digits, but the preset quality modes often don’t do justice to your hardware. Getting the best possible combination of quality and performance often involves carefully balancing individual aspects like texture quality, reflection detail, and shadow quality.

Nvidia GeForce Experience is a new utility that strives to makes things a bit easier for gamers with a GeForce graphics card. The GeForce Experience software analyzes your system configuration and then recommends and applies the optimum configuration for recognized games. The GeForce Experience project maintains a cloud database of top games and their recommended configurations for various specifications. It can scan through your hard disk to detect installed games and their current settings. The Windows app clearly highlights the differences between your current settings and the recommended settings. It also explains the impact of some of the crucial settings with the help of images from the game.

GeForce-Experience

The GeForce Experience tool is currently in beta, and this shows. The tool picked up Max Payne and Team Fortress installations automatically. However, it missed Trine, Portal, Braid, and The Walking Dead. In its defense, none of these games are graphically demanding by today’s standards or they have simple configuration options. I have a hunch that the GeForce Experience uses the pre-existing GeForce guides, and is actually fairly restricted in terms of games available in its database. It also made a couple of questionable recommendations for Max Payne. It completely disregarded the native resolution and aspect ratio of my display, and it recommended turning off shadows completely. I accepted most of its recommendations and found them to be optimal, but changed the display resolution to match my AR, enabled shadows, and decreased the shader quality a notch (to compensate).

[ Download GeForce Experience Beta for Windows ]

60 Million Windows 8 Licenses

At the JP Morgan Tech Forum at CES 2013, the Chief Marketing Office and Chief Financial Officer of Windows, Tami Reller stated that Windows 8 has sold 60 million licenses so far. This includes licenses sold to OEMs to install on new devices as well as upgrades sold directly to customers. Additionally, she also said that this is approximately in line with Windows 7 sales.

This announcement is the third key data point we have been given by Microsoft with regard to Windows 8 sales. At the end of the first month of sales, Microsoft announced on their blog that they had sold 40 million licenses after the first month of general availability.

Before that, at Microsoft’s developer conference //build/, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced that over the weekend after Windows 8 was generally available, they had sold 4 million upgrade licenses.

There are some other interesting data points provided today in relation to the Windows 8 momentum. The first, related to developer interest, is that the number of apps in the Windows Store has quadrupled since the Store opened. The second, related to consumer interest in the apps, is that the Windows Store passed the 100 million apps downloaded milestone.

This is a terrible market for traditional PCs. These Windows 8 and Windows Store show that despite the steep fall in consumer interest in PCs and the obvious resistance to Windows 8 by enterprises, Microsoft may actually have an interesting story to tell in 2013. The reason being, more and more made-for-Windows 8 devices are coming to the market (as evidenced by the announcements at CES 2013), and some of the trendsetting enterprises may start taking a look at Windows 8 finally.

2012 was the year Microsoft changed virtually every product in their portfolio. 2013 is the year they build upon it.

 

Remove Metro UI from Windows 8 with Ex7ForW8

Windows 8’s new Modern UI (Metro) hasn’t exactly wowed users as Microsoft was hoping it would. For me, the biggest annoyance with Windows 8 is its jarring and conflicting nature. I had detailed my frustrations with the Metro UI more than a year back. Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since then. The full-screen app layout might make a lot of sense on smaller form-factors; however, it feels crippled on a laptop. Windows, which was one regarded as the king of multi-tasking, sacrificed one of its biggest features in an attempt to become modern.

To be honest, not everything about the Modern UI is bad. The Start screen is definitely a big improvement. It’s not only beautiful to look at, but it is also pretty productive. The Market is something that Windows should have received a long time back. And, SkyDrive integration is really handy. However, if you feel that the Windows 8 Metro UI is more trouble than it’s worth, then you can easily nix it.

Windows-8-Remove-Metro

A new portable Windows 8 application called Ex7ForW8 (Explorer 7 for Windows 8) allows you to enjoy all the performance and security benefits of Windows 8, while removing the Modern UI. Ex7ForW8 is actually a wrapper to the Windows 7 explorer.exe. Once installed, it will automatically launch Windows 7’s Explorer on boot and hide all traces of the Metro UI. It doesn’t actually modify any system and protected registry entries. So, you can easily switch back to the old UI by switching shells from the app. The app itself works as advertized, with the only drawback being that you will need to supply the WIndows 7 explorer.exe as the app doesn’t include one in its package.

[ Download Ex7ForW8 ]

via BetaNews

Windows Blue: Free, Annual Upgrades for Windows

Windows-BlueIt’s been just about a month since Windows 8 was released, but Microsoft is already hard at work on its successor. Of course, this isn’t really surprising. However, what is surprising is that Microsoft might be gearing up to launch Windows 8’s successor as early as next year.

The Verge is reporting that Microsoft plans on ditching its traditional big-bang release cycle in favor of a more iterative annual release cycle. The next Windows OS, which is currently going by the codename ‘Windows Blue’, is slated for launch in mid-2013. It will reportedly include UI changes and alterations to the entire platform. The Windows SDK will also be updated, and in a move that will surely infuriate developers, once Blue is released, Microsoft will stop accepting apps coded using the Windows 8 SDK in the Store. Thankfully, Blue will be fully backward compatible, and will be capable of running Windows 8 apps. The most interesting thing about Blue is that Microsoft plans on making the upgrade extremely cheap or even free for current Windows users.

Although Windows Blue is a dramatic departure from the tradional Windows release cycle, it does make a lot of sense. While previous versions of Windows were tasked with simply maintaining or improving Microsoft’s dominance in the PC market, Windows 8 has the additional burden of making Microsoft competitive in the tablet segment, where it is a late-entrant and an underdog. Without rapid iterations, it will be virtually impossible for Microsoft to remain competitive with Android and iOS, both of which offer free, annual upgrades.

Windows 8 is Not the New Vista, 40 Million Licenses Sold

Windows-8Recently, the blogosphere was abuzz with reports that Microsoft’s Windows 8 was a dud, as it had failed to meet projections. While there might have been some truth in those stories, the reports of Windows 8’s doom were undoubtedly greatly exaggerated. Tami Reller, corporate vice president for Windows, has revealed the actual sales figured for Windows 8, and they aren’t all that bad.

According to Reller, Microsoft has sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses so far. It’s not clear if Microsoft is reporting the number of units sold to end-users or the number of units shipped to retailers. The latter figure is almost always bloated, since it includes units sitting in the shelves waiting to be sold.

To put things into perspective, Windows 7 sold 60 million copies during the first ten weeks. So, Windows 8 is selling at least as well as (if not better than) Windows 7. Considering that Windows 7 was the fastest selling Windows in the history, this is hardly a bad performance. The sales figures look even better if you consider that Windows 7 was coming off the back of Vista, which was widely considered a flop. Even when Windows 7 was released, most of the people were using Windows XP, which was nearing its end of life. Consumers as well as enterprises were eager to upgrade to a newer, better operating system. Windows 8 doesn’t quite have the same advantage. On the other hand, Windows 8 has benefited from the extremely tempting upgrade offers ($39.99 for Windows 8 Pro). Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 8 is indeed outpacing Windows 7 in terms of upgrades.

Windows 8 represents a bold new direction for Microsoft. It not only has to maintain Microsoft’s dominance in the PC segment, but it also has to shoulder the responsibility of making Microsoft competitive in the post-PC segment. Microsoft badly needs Windows 8 to succeed. According to Paul Thurrott, Windows 8’s initial sales figures are well below internal estimates. Microsoft believes that Windows 8 would have sold even better if its OEM partners had more high quality hardware on offer, and it is probably right. Although a number of Windows 8 powered tablets, ultrabooks, and laptops have been announced by various manufacturers, most stores across the US are yet to stock them. However, the good news is that even if Windows 8 isn’t setting the market on fire, it is doing fairly well. It’s not the new Vista as many had feared it would be.

Microsoft Minesweeper Arrives on Windows RT

When we first saw Windows RT devices like the Surface with Windows RT in the market, we noticed that Microsoft’s own games like Microsoft Minesweeper, Microsoft Solitaire and Microsoft Mahjong were not available for the ARM-based OS. It was a strange situation because the games, even though classic, are excellent to play on Windows 8, and there is no “third party” to blame. Those games are from Microsoft Studios, available on Windows 8 but not on Windows RT.

However, the first of the three, Microsoft Minesweeper is now available on Windows RT. I took it for a spin and here are some of my observations.

Live tile updates with some bits about highest score:

Microsoft Minesweeper Live Tile
Microsoft Minesweeper Live Tile

 

There are different levels, and also some daily challenges and an adventure mode

 

Microsoft Minesweeper Game Levels
Microsoft Minesweeper Game Levels

Oh, there are some ads too!

 

Microsoft Minesweeper Ad
Microsoft Minesweeper Ad

Daily challenges are mini-games

 

Microsoft Minesweeper Daily Challenges
Microsoft Minesweeper Daily Challenges

 

The more you win, the more Achievement, Medals and Badges you collect

 

Microsoft Minesweeper Rewards
Microsoft Minesweeper Rewards

There are monthly rewards, so you can go back to previous days’ challenges to get more rewards

Microsoft Minesweeper Monthly Challenge Calendar
Microsoft Minesweeper Monthly Challenge Calendar

The game is touch-friendly, but the performance is absolutely horrible. No wonder this game was not released on Windows RT on day one. Clearly, the code needed to be optimized, and it seems it is not there yet. I noticed very long refresh times for example, when I went to see the entire month’s challenge calendar view.

Besides the performance, which I am hoping gets tuned via updates quickly, the game is fun and the daily challenges keep the interest alive in this “classic” game.

It is interesting to note that those daily challenges are “sponsor-supported” and in one case I was even made to watch a 30-second commercial before I started the challenge. Some feathers were recently ruffled by ads in the Bing apps like News, Finance, etc. and I am sure this will only add to the ruffling of those feathers :-)

Have you tried this game? What do you think?