Windows 8: Embrace Or Reject?

Windows Logo

Microsoft made the “Consumer Preview” (beta) of the next version of their Windows operating system, Windows 8, available on February 29, 2012 in Barcelona. Since then, they also tweeted that they had over one million downloads within the first 24 hours. Needless to say, the interest in the new operating system is very high. It is so high that the casual users are screaming “I love it” and some of the power users are screaming “This is a piece of confusing mess”. Here is my take, trying to take a step back and wondering aloud, if there is a method to the madness.

One of the biggest changes in Windows 8 is the removal of the Start Menu and the replacement of the same with the Start Screen. Not only is the medium different – the Start Menu is exactly that, a menu, whereas the Start Screen is a screenful of brightly colored tiles with animations showing photos, notifications, etc. – but also, Microsoft has made it difficult/impossible to revert to “classic” style. Microsoft has made it clear, there is no going back, and this is the way to the future. This is the cutoff from the past and Microsoft’s entry into the PC-Plus era. “Touch first”, “fast and fluid” and of course, “no compromise”. The latter has been the topic of a lot of controversy, as you will see later in this article.

How to Get Back the Start Button in Windows 8

As reported earlier, Microsoft is killing off the Start button with Windows 8. Windows 8 Consumer Preview replaces the Start button with a hotspot towards the bottom left corner of the screen.

The Start button is one of the most iconic aspects of Windows, and has been emulated widely since its introduction in Windows 95. It’s impossible to not feel a tinge of sadness as we bid adieu to the Start button. However, to be honest, I don’t really miss the Start button in the new Windows 8 build. The Metro interface, which features a full screen application launcher, is intuitive and efficient, irrespective of the form factor you are using. Nevertheless, if you still want to get the Start button back, there is a simple trick that will serve your purpose. Here’s what you need to do.

Metro-Start

  • Download MetroStart8 from here. This tiny app is available in five different flavors – each having a different Start icon.
  • Extract the zip file to any location on your hard drive.
  • Right click on the Start.exe file, and select “Pin to Taskbar” from the context menu.
  • Drag the icon to the left as shown in the screenshot below.

Start-Button-Windows-8

The button simply simulates a Win key press, and mimics the functionality of the Start button. It’s largely redundant, but is a quick and simple fix for anyone missing the Start button.

Install Windows 8 from a USB Drive

A short while back, Microsoft released Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which features more than 100,000 changes. Go ahead and grab the download link and product key, if you haven’t already. Windows 8 is available as a simple installer, as well as an ISO image. The installer is simpler to use, and it automatically downloads the right version for your system. However, it also requires constant high speed internet connectivity on the system on which you wish to deploy Windows 8. If you want to use the ISO image, but don’t want to go through the hassle of burning it to a DVD, here’s a quick guide for installing Windows 8 from USB media. You will require an USB device with at least 4 GB free space and NTFS file system. Formatting it before proceeding with the creation of a bootable device is recommended, but is generally not necessary.

  • Mount the image using a freeware like SlySoft Virtual CloneDrive or extract it using WinRAR (or other similar software).
  • Open Command Prompt as Administrator. You can do this by typing cmd in the Run dialogue box (Win+R) and pressing Ctrl+Shift+Enter.
  • Type the following commands:
     
    diskpart
    list volume
  • From the list that is displayed, note the volume assigned to your usb device, and select it as shown in the screenshot.
     
    select volume 5
  • Next, we need to mark it as the active volume.
     
    active

Windows-8-Diskpart

  • Now the disk is ready, and we can proceed with the creation of the boot sector. Exit diskpart.
     
    exit
  • Browse to the location where you extracted/mounted the ISO, and open the boot directory, as shown in the screenshot below.

Windows-8-USB-Bootable

  • Execute the following command. In my example, D: is the drive letter of my USB device. Replace it with the appropriate value.
  •  
    bootsect /nt60 d:

    Windows-8-USB-Bootable

Finally, the USB device is ready to be used as a bootable media. All that remains to be done is to copy the contents of the Windows 8 setup directory into your usb device. Once this is completed, reboot the system and enter the BIOS. Change the boot priority to assign highest priority to Removable Device/USB Device. Save changes and restart again to proceed with Windows 8 installation. Don’t forget to reset boot priority settings after Windows 8 installation is completed.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Product Key

Microsoft has been focusing on for all of past year and the OS has definitely turned out to be great. Microsoft just released the Consumer preview of Windows 8 (Download Windows 8) to the public after the press conference at .

If you install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview using the installer provided by Microsoft, you will not require a product key. However, if you create a installation media and start your PC from media and then install Windows 8 consumer preview, you will require a product key.

The product key for installing Windows 8 Consumer Preview is:

NF32V-Q9P3W-7DR7Y-JGWRW-JFCK8

OR

DNJXJ-7XBW8-2378T-X22TX-BKG7J

Once again, you will only require this if you are using the ISO file and creating a bootable installer and installing Windows 8 using a USB drive or DVD.

If you install Windows 8 Consumer Preview using the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Setup program, you won’t need to enter a product key—the setup program automatically provides the product key. If you create installation media, start your PC from the media, and then install Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Also Read:

Windows Live Now Connects to Google Contacts: Google Talk Coming to Windows Phone and Windows 8?

Google

Liveside has reported today that it is now possible to connect Windows Live to Google, and at this point it allows access to Google Contacts from within Windows Live.

I tried this myself, and I can confirm that I am able to link my Google account to my Windows Live account. It allows a two-way sync between Google Contacts and Hotmail Contacts. Hotmail Contacts provides the ability to see a contact’s information across all the services they are connected to, so now when you search for a contact you will see their information flowing in from all major “address book” databases – Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and of course your local Hotmail contacts.

Google connected to Windows Live

The Windows Live team recently moved away from trying to integrate with various services (like they did with Yahoo! Messenger) and instead, chose to just “link” to them using open standards. As a result, they are able to easily and quickly increase not just the breadth of the offerings but also the functionality they provide through the various services. So while the current link to Google only allows access to Google Contacts as of now, we could potentially see the addition of presence and feeds like they can do with Facebook Chat and Facebook updates (and similarly, across the many other services).

Could this be in preparation for native support of Google Chat/Google Talk in Windows Phone’s People Hub? Given that Windows 8 is going to have a similar “People” tile which will be linked to your Windows Live ID, could this be in preparation for Windows 8? What about the previous rumor that Google+ would be a native service in Windows Phone like Facebook is today? This linkage would be required in order to support any such functionality.

Regardless of what’s in store, all of which is pretty exciting, at this point it seems Microsoft is serious about making sure no matter what your choice of service is, Windows Live, Windows Phone and Windows 8 support it. You have one less reason to stay away from the Windows ecosystem now.

A Truckload of Wholesome Updates Confirmed Coming to SkyDrive

SkyDrive

After several leaks of upcoming SkyDrive features made the rounds on the internet in the past few days, Microsoft confirmed a bunch of fantastic updates to SkyDrive on their Building Windows 8 blog today.

Let’s look at what was announced in the post by Omar Shahine and Mike Torres, Group Program Managers for SkyDrive:

  • Metro-style SkyDrive app for Windows 8
  • Windows Explorer integration of SkyDrive
  • SkyDrive.com browsing of remote computer files

 

SkyDrive Metro-style App

Browse folders on SkyDrive

In addition, several other items were confirmed:

  • The SkyDrive desktop app is not limited to Windows 8. It will be supported on Windows 7 and Windows Vista as well. Curiously (and perhaps, deliberately?) no mention of a Mac desktop app, even though the screenshot leaks showed there may be a Mac app coming as well.
  • The post also confirmed that SkyDrive, which offers 25GB free as of today, will have the ability to get upgraded. Obviously, no details were mentioned about the pricing or the tiers, but finally we have official confirmation that we will be able to upgrade that storage, so we can use it meaningfully as a “personal cloud”.
  • SkyDrive was recently updated to handle file sizes of up to 100MB, but in today’s day and age it could be a limiting factor, especially with videos. Today we have confirmation that we will be able to upload files with sizes up to 2GB!
  • With the remote file browsing feature, we also have confirmation that there will be 2-factor authentication required, unless those PCs are trusted PCs.

Finally, because SkyDrive app will be available to any other app in Windows 8 via Charms and Contracts, every app developer now has access to the SkyDrive. Any app which opens and saves documents and photos, will automatically be able to use SkyDrive for the purpose. This will be a wonderful feature for app developers as well as customers, who will have instant access to their SkyDrive files in Windows 8.

Windows 8 Tablet Success: It’s the Ecosystem, Stupid!

Windows Logo

A lot of the details around Windows on ARM (WOA) architecture were revealed via a recent blog post by Steven Sinofsky, the President of Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft. Once WOA details were out, the discussion then turned to whether WOA tablets would truly compete with the iPad or not. Would the presence of the Desktop environment, albeit in a restricted fashion, make it clunky? Is it truly no-compromise, considering that today’s software will not work on those tablets? The arguments go on.

What should be recognized though, is that unlike Apple, Microsoft does not really build the WOA tablets, so it relies on its partners to build them. It can be debated whether Microsoft *should* build a tablet themselves or not, but it is clear that they alone do not control their destiny.

So, what will ultimately determine the success (or failure) of WOA tablets? The ecosystem, of course! Microsoft has done its part in building a touch-friendly OS, bringing a touch-first mentality to building apps, creating a development environment which will let apps work on “all Windows devices”, and built a marketplace which will help developers reap the benefits of being in front of hundreds of millions of customers all over the world.

I discuss three aspects of this ecosystem reliance which will determine how well WOA (and more generally, Windows) tablets do.

Windows 8 on Kal El tablet

OEM designs

The iPad has been a phenomenal success for a variety of reasons. One of them is the design and the build itself. When you pick up the iPad you can feel that a lot of thought was put into the shape and the dimensions of the tablet. Many Android tablets come off feeling cheap, but the iPad feels exactly the opposite.

What the Windows OEM partners will have to do is go beyond just the iPad. They will need to think hard about the design and come up with something that does not look like a cheap knock off of the iPad, and no, that does not mean just adding a microSD card reader and USB ports. Having those connectivity options is a nice advantage, but the tablet itself should feel good to look at and hold in the hands. These tablets will have to manage sturdiness and long battery life with lightness.

Finally, just because they can, OEMs should refrain from making tablets in all kinds of sizes (yes, I am looking at you, Samsung). There is an advantage in offering a choice of sizes, but there is also a practical limit to what should be done in reality. Don’t confuse the customers with too much choice!

Mozilla Announces Firefox on Metro for a Touchscreen Optimized Browsing Experience

FirefoxMozilla took way too long to bring Firefox to smartphones, and suffered as a result. It had a go in 2004 with Minimo, but users had to wait until 2011 to get a version of Firefox Mobile that wasn’t slow as a cow and didn’t crash on a whimsy. Not wanting to repeat its earlier mistake, Mozilla has begun working on a Metro-fied version of Firefox for Windows 8 months ahead of the release of Microsoft’s next major operating system.

Firefox on Metro will be a full-screen, touch optimized app built on top of the same Gecko engine that powers Firefox classic. It’s still early days for the project, and Mozilla isn’t providing a lot of information. However, here is what we do know.

  • The feature goal here is a new Gecko based browser built for and integrated with the Metro environment.
  • Firefox on Metro, like all other Metro apps will be full screen, focused on touch interactions, and connected to the rest of the Metro environment through Windows 8 contracts.
  • Firefox on Metro will bring all of the Gecko capabilities to this new environment and the assumption is that Mozilla be able to run Firefox as a Medium integrity app so that it can access all of the win32 Firefox Gecko libraries avoiding a port to the new WinRT API for the bulk of the code.
  • Firefox on Metro is a full-screen App with an Appbar that contains common navigation controls (back, reload, etc.,) the Awesomebar, and some form of tabs.
  • Firefox will have to support three “snap” states — full screen, ~1/6th screen and ~5/6th screen depending on how the user “docks” two full screen apps. The UI will to adjust to show the most relevant content for each size.
  • In order to provide users with access to other content, other apps, and to Firefox from other content and apps, it will integrate with the share contract, the search contract, the settings contract, the app to app picking contract, the print contract, the play to contract, and possibly a couple more. Firefox on Metro will be a source for some, a target for some, and both for some.
  • Mozilla might offer a live tile with user-centric data like friends presence or other Firefox Home information updates
  • Ideally Mozilla will like to be able to create secondary tiles for Web-based apps hosted in Firefox’s runtime.

Mozilla is hoping that Microsoft will allow it to run Firefox as a medium integrity app (like Internet Explorer 10 Metro App). Medium integrity apps typically have more privileges and can load old school Win32 libraries. This will make Mozilla’s task simpler. Even then, Firefox on Metro is expected to hit alpha and beta stages only in the second half of the year. A preview should be ready by the second quarter of 2012.

Microsoft Kills the Start Button, New Windows 8 Screenshots Leaked

Windows 8 is a bold new step forward for Microsoft. We already know that the Redmond giant will be ditching the traditional Start Menu in favor of its Metrofied full-screen cousin. Now, it appears that Microsoft has also made up its mind to get rid of the Start button, which has been a hallmark of Windows operating systems for almost two decades.

Windows-8-No-Start-Button

In Windows 8 developer preview, the Start button’s role was reduced to toggling between Metro and classic interface, and displaying “Charms”, which provide quick access to some basic functionality. However, newer builds of Windows 8, such as build 8220 that is pictured above, does away with the Start button completely. According to Neowin, Microsoft has instead decided to implement a hot corner in the bottom left of the screen, which will both provide access to Charms, and facilitate toggling between the Metro and classic user interface. Touchscreen users will be able to access the same functionality through a swipe gesture.

The death of the iconic Start button will undoubtedly trigger mourning across the web; however, one has to agree that this had to happen sooner or later. The new full-screen, touch optimized Start page pretty much stole the Start button’s thunder.

The beta of Windows 8 is slated to be released in a few weeks. Meanwhile, here are a few more screenshots of Windows 8 post developer preview (build 8220) to ponder over.

Windows-8-Recovery
Windows-8-USB-to-Go
Windows-8-Power-Shell

Acer and Lenovo Rumored to be Working on Intel Powered Windows 8 Tablets

Windows-8Digitimes has learned from its sources that Acer and Lenovo are preparing to launch Windows 8 tablets in the third quarter of 2012. Windows 8 will hit public beta in February, and is widely expected to reach RTM stage by May. With Windows 8, Microsoft is hoping to finally have a platform capable of taking on iOS in the tablet segment. Windows 8 merges the classical Windows desktop with a full-screen, touch optimized Metro UI, and will power everything from tablets and laptops to traditional desktop PCs.

Although Windows 8 is capable of running on the ARM platform, Acer and Lenovo plan on using Intel’s next generation Clover Trail platform for their tablets. As of now, Intel is getting clobbered in the mobile computing segment by ARM, which offers superior performance and power saving. Intel is expected to mount its first serious challenge with Medfield and Clover Trail, which will probably be out by Q3 of 2011. Intel will be demoing smartphones and tablets powered by its new mobile processors at CES 2012.

While the combination of Intel and Windows 8 is expected to offer previously unseen levels of performance and flexibility, the real test for Intel will be power efficiency. Even as mobile computing technology has continued to improve in leaps and bounds, the battery technology has remained practically stagnant. As a result, most mobile devices struggle to cope up with the demands of high speed 3G and 4G data networks and dual-core CPUs.