Windows 8 Setup Will Set ‘Do Not Track’ to On in Express Settings

 

In a blog post on the Microsoft On The Issues blog on August 7, Brendon Lynch, the Chief Privacy Officer at Microsoft announced that during Windows 8 setup, Internet Explorer’s Do Not Track (DNT) feature will be set to ON in the Express Settings option.

Internet Explorer’s DNT default caused a bit of stir recently with companies like Google which make money mostly through their advertisement products, as well as advertisers who want better tracking/metrics/targeting, not wanting this feature turned on by default. The argument from privacy advocates (and Microsoft) was that if it is not turned on by default, there is a very small chance it will be turned on deliberately by the user. Mozilla, makers of Firefox, which has stood tall for consumer privacy, curiously does not turn it on by default. (Could it be because their single-largest source of income is royalty payments from Google for keeping Firefox Start Page to be a custom Google search page, and for keeping Google the default search engine in the browser? Can’t say for sure.)

In any case, now that Windows 8 has RTM-ed, we know what the behavior is going to be. Users who go through the setup with Express Settings will have DNT turned on by default. During the setup, it will be made clear that this setting has been turned on, and to change it they can click on Customize Settings during the setup. If someone cares enough about fine tuning the Windows 8 setup, they can choose Customize Settings and they will be shown the choice to turn it off and a link to “Learn More” about the feature along with a Privacy Statement.

Microsoft should be commended for taking a pro-consumer, privacy-first stand and while this may be a competitive play to blunt Google’s biggest revenue generation area, the fact that consumers benefit as a result of the competitive play, is a huge plus in the end.

Let’s wait and see which organization stands up and speaks against this move – publishers, advertisers, Google or the government.

Windows 7 Has Sold 630 Million Licenses, Wants Nobody to Be Left off from Windows 8

At the opening keynote at their Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto on July 9, Microsoft officials said that they have now sold 630 million Windows 7 licenses so far. This comes on the heels of the announcement they made a month ago at Computex 2012, about reaching 600 million licenses sold.

The sheer number of licenses sold is huge, but putting some context makes it even bigger. For instance, the other announcement Microsoft made was that Windows 7 is now on over 50% of enterprise PCs. That means there are about 50% of enterprise PCs (barring a very small slice of Macs) which still have to upgrade. In addition, the appeal of simpler, highly-connected and mobile devices like the iPad and smartphones has slowed the sales of PCs, especially the low-end PCs. Finally, at least among consumers, you would think there is a feeling that it would be better to wait for new hardware that may come this Fall with Windows 8.

However, none of these factors seem to be affecting Windows 7 in any meaningful way. Add the following tidbits we know from the past few days:

  • Any PC bought from June 2 to the end of January 2013 will qualify for an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, for only $14.99.
  • Virtually any licensed Windows OS can be “upgraded” to Windows 8 Pro for only $40.
  • Any PC that runs Windows 7 well, will run Windows 8 equally well or most likely, better.
  • In a surprise move, Microsoft announced they are going to make their own tablets, both for Windows RT as well as for Windows 8 Pro.

In other words, Microsoft does not want to lose the Windows 7 momentum, but at the same time, it is also making it clear that while most consumers will get Windows 8 via a new PC purchased, they want existing users to upgrade too. They are making the “higher end” Windows 8 product, Windows 8 Pro, available for an inexpensive price and that is virtually regardless of what you are running today. Finally, they want to make sure customers get the best hardware for Windows 8, and implicitly telling OEMs that they need to step up their game and match the build quality and design or be left out by market economics.

Microsoft officials, especially CEO Steve Ballmer, have repeatedly said that Windows 8 is a big (and risky) deal for Microsoft. They are in the process of moving about 1.3 billion customers into a modern era of highly mobile, highly connected world of simpler devices.

Can’t say they are not trying in helping everyone with this move.

Microsoft Bets Big on Windows 8, Offers Upgrade for $40

If you have been looking forward to taking the new Windows 8 OS for a spin, then there is some good news for you. Microsoft has announced that all Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 users will be able to upgrade to the Windows 8 Pro for just $39.99 in 131 markets. This enticing upgrade option will be available till January 31, 2013.

Microsoft’s sweeping new upgrade offer is unprecedented in more ways than one. Not only is it remarkably cheap, but it also covers outdated systems like Vista and XP. Microsoft is taking a leaf out of Apple’s book by keeping the upgrade price fairly low. However, it would be wrong to construe Microsoft’s offering as a defensive response to Apple.

The Redmond giant’s decision to offer Windows 8 upgrades to users of decade old operating systems like Windows XP at an extremely alluring price illustrates exactly how much it is betting on the new OS. Windows 8 is the most significant Windows release since Windows 95. While it doesn’t quite break free from the legacy of Windows, it does provide a roadmap to the future.

windows-8-upgrade

One of the biggest draws of Windows 8 – at least as far as consumers are concerned – is its Metro UI, which requires an entirely new breed of applications. None of the millions of existing Windows applications will function inside the Metro UI. Thus, in some ways, Metro nullifies the biggest strength of Windows – its ecosystem. While desktops and laptops will come with a traditional desktop shell that will be capable of running legacy applications, in Microsoft’s eyes, Metro is clearly the future of Windows.

In order for Metro to succeed, Microsoft needs to attract hundreds of thousands of developers. And, in order to attract developers, Microsoft needs to ensure quick adoption of Windows 8. If Windows 8 also receives a lukewarm response like Vista, Microsoft will find itself in hot water. This is exactly why Microsoft is making it really simple and cheap to upgrade to Windows 8, and this time around it’s taking along even users of its old operating systems.

It’s not just Microsoft’s domination in the desktop segment that is at stake here. While Metro is optional in desktops and laptops, it will be the only supported mode in most tablets. If Microsoft wants to offer Apple a run for its money, Windows 8’s quick adoption again becomes imperative.

Windows 8 will also have something to say about Microsoft’s future in the mobile arena. Windows Phone 8 will be running a full-fledged Windows core. This will make porting Windows 8 metro applications to WP8 fairly straightforward. If Microsoft succeeds in kick-starting the Windows 8 ecosystem, Windows Phone ecosystem will also benefit from it.

Given what’s at stake here, the decision to offer existing Windows users a strong incentive to upgrade to Windows 8 looks like a no-brainer. Over the years, Microsoft’s biggest competition has always been its own offerings – Windows 7’s biggest competitor is Windows XP, and not Mac or Linux. With Windows 8 trying to break free from legacy of Windows, Microsoft just can’t afford to have a repeat of the Windows Vista debacle.

MetroTwit, Another Twitter App for Windows 8

MetroTwit is a popular Twitter client for Windows inspired by the Metro design language. A preview of the app, designed from the ground up for Windows 8, is now available on the Windows Store. The app has been developed by Pixel Pixel Tucker Pty Ltd, an endeavour by Long Zheng, David Golden, and Winston Pang.

The Metro app allows you to track your Twitter feeds with interactive tiles and a multi-column layout. The app uses nifty features of Windows 8 Metro apps for a great user experience. It allows you pin multiple columns on the homescreen and provides a Snap view for quick access to tweets. The tweet options and action buttons are available in the application bar allowing maximum screen estate for the Twitter feeds. MetroTwit is one of the few applications with built-in support for edge scrolling, triggered by the mouse when it reaches a vertical screen edge

The app is developed from ground up since a port of the existing WPF app wouldn’t have been possible. Also, according to Long, it is designed for both mouse and touch from the start, a deviation from the existing Windows developer mindset.

The app scores well in terms of usability, and fits the bill for the needs of both casual and power users of Twitter. Apart from MetroTwit, Windows Store features two other Twitter apps – Rowi and Tweetro.

Windows 8 Release Preview App Overview: Cocktail Flow

On May 31, Microsoft made available the next milestone in their development of Windows 8 — the Windows 8 Release Preview. I have it installed and running on two laptops and while my colleague Abhishek Baxi has covered some topics about the operating system itself, I look at one of the most beautiful apps in the Windows Store at the moment, Cocktail Flow.

Windows Phone users will recognize the name, since it was one of the first apps available on the platform and it is one which truly utilizes the Metro design philosophies. Since the launch of this app on Windows Phone, the creators of this app, Team Distinction have released versions for iPhone, Android and Android tablets.

In case you are not familiar with the app, it is designed to help you make cocktails. It provides the capability to search by base or mixer drink, by type (cocktail, shooter, etc.) and also by a combination of what you have “in your cabinet”. While the concept of a bartender-style app is not new, the way it has been designed makes the app simply beautiful to look at and a pleasure to use. What follows is a screenshot tour of the various features of their latest version, that for Windows 8.

Once you open the app, you are brought to a beautiful panorama of selections you can make to look for information about cocktails. You can see drinks by kind of drinks, by color, by type of drinks, etc.

 

Cocktail Flow Main Screen

Main screen

 

Cocktail Flow Main Screen More Selections

Main screen with more selections

 

Once you click through one of those selections, you are brought to a list of drinks. You can swipe across to see more drinks.

 

Cocktail Flow Whiskey-based Drinks

Whiskey-based drinks

Cocktail Flow Vodka-based Drinks

Vodka-based drinks

Cocktail Flow Green-colored Drinks

Green-colored drinks

Cocktail Flow Shooters

Shooters

If you want to see what kind of cocktails you can make with what you have, you can use the “cabinet” view which lets you mark the spirits, mixers, and liqueurs you have and it adds drinks which you can make from those selections, in the “My Bar” section.

Cocktail Flow My Bar Spirits

My Bar: Choose your spirits

Cocktail Flow My Bar Mixers

My Bar: Choose your mixers

Cocktail Flow My Bar More Mixers

My Bar: More mixers

Cocktail Flow My Bar Liqueurs

My Bar: Liqueurs

Cocktail Flow My Bar Cocktails

My Bar: Cocktails which you can make

 

See the next page for cocktail details screen, adding as a favorite, pinning to Start Screen, etc.

Will Microsoft Face the Ire of Antitrust Regulators for Windows 8?

As you must have heard by now, Mozilla is furious. The non-profit organization behind Firefox is angry because Microsoft is practically making it impossible to develop third party browsers for Windows 8 for ARM through artificially imposed restrictions. A short while back, even Google backed Mozilla and expressed its concern about Windows 8 restricting “user choice and innovation”. My colleague Paul Paliath has already weighed in on the debate. While he believes Mozilla’s complaint is baseless, I am not quite so sure.

Windows-8-Platform

Before proceeding any further, let’s delve a little deeper into the technicalities involved. With Windows 8, Microsoft is introducing an entirely new class of applications. These applications will run in Metro mode, and will be built using the WinRT API. The Windows applications that we are accustomed with are all built using the Win32 API. Now, Microsoft isn’t exactly killing the Win32 API. Windows 8 for x86 (desktops) will continue to offer a classic mode, which will be capable of running all Win32 applications. However, if an app wants to run in Metro mode it has to use the new WinRT API. The trouble is that in an attempt to make WinRT power efficient, fast, and secure Microsoft ended up making it way too restrictive. Due to this, several classes of modern applications can’t be developed by leveraging WinRT alone. In order to skirt around this significant roadblock, Microsoft created a third category of applications. This category of applications have a frontend developed using WinRT, but they can also leverage the power of the Win32 API. In other words, they look like Metro apps, but offer the power and flexibility of a traditional Windows app. Unfortunately, on ARM devices, the only apps which will be allowed to leverage both WinRT and Win32 APIs are apps from Microsoft. Paul is right in saying that Microsoft isn’t specifically targeting browsers. In one fell swoop Microsoft has put all third party apps at a significant disadvantage. Whether it be office suites, media players, or browsers – all apps will have a hard time matching products from the Redmond giant as they will practically be running on two different operating systems. To make matters worse, Windows 8 for ARM won’t allow third party apps to run as pure classic apps either. Asa Dotzler explained the trouble faced by browser developers quite succinctly.

Microsoft has made it clear that the third category won’t exist on Windows for ARM (unless you’re Microsoft) and that neither will the first category (unless you’re Microsoft.) That means that IE on ARM has access to win32 APIs — even when it’s running in Metro mode, but no other Metro browser has that same access. Without that access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with IE.

You might be wondering exactly what kind of restrictions does WinRT impose that makes it impossible to develop a competent browser. Here’s an example – WinRT doesn’t allow translation of code at runtime. This is something absolutely critical for a technique called JIT (Just-in-time compilation). You might have heard of JIT before, as over the past few years, all browsers have been using JIT to deliver astounding improvements in JavaScript rendering speed. Lack of JIT will instantly push a browser back by several years. Keep in mind that this is just one example. Modern browsers are pushing the limits of what is possible within a browser. With the restrictive sandbox offered by WinRT, many of the bleeding edge features offered by modern browsers can’t be implemented in WinRT.

Mozilla has already issued thinly veiled threats of legal action, and considering that Windows 8 is pretty much done, the threat of another anti-trust ruling is the only thing that can realistically make Microsoft change its mind. However, is Microsoft really abusing its monopolistic position to crush competition? The answer is trickier than you might think.

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.

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!