Peeking @ Windows 9

If you are not a fan of Windows 8 you may want to take a minute to jump for joy after reading this little article. Although it is very clear that Microsoft has learned from their missteps regarding Windows 8 and it is evident that the desktop will be returning with Windows 9 (Threshold) it is another thing altogether to glimpse some screenshots of what is on the horizon.

Although Windows 8, and especially Windows 8.1 works fine on a tablet and I would even suggest it excels (no pun intended) there it can be a burden on a non-touch screen desktop and most people flee screaming after a few days trying to figure it all out.

Several German websites have released screenshots of what Windows 9 is going to look like. If you want the desktop to take front and center again you will be giddy with excitement.

windows 9 store options

A great example of this is a screenshot showing the Windows Store, which is a Metro app running in its own window on the desktop with an option button on the upper left of its screen and minimize, maximize and close buttons on the upper right. All just like most users were missing so much from Windows 8.

With this Metro Apps will now run on the desktop just as if they were desktop apps, something Windows 8 kept completely separate causing mass confusion (and hysteria) with many users.

windows 9 virtual desktops

The screenshots also show new buttons being added to the desktop taskbar, including one for search, and one for switching between virtual desktops. Other screenshots show how you’ll create virtual desktops, and how you can switch between them.

Windows 9 will strive to work perfectly in two very different environments. Touch screen with metro apps and Desktop mode for non-touch screens. This is what Microsoft should have done in the first place.

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The Promise of Windows 9

windows_9_1_1We are only about a month away from the developer’s preview of Windows 9 so of course news about what’s in this new Microsoft box is starting to arrive. I for one am looking forward to test driving this new Windows version. Microsoft’s vision is to learn from Windows 8 and to combine the best of Windows 8 and 7 into one unified operating system to offer more control to the users of their operating system.

So what’s new?

First – You will often hear “Windows Threshold” being referred to in the news. That is because Microsoft’s code name for Windows 9 is “Threshold”. They are one in the same.

One of Window 9’s significant feature implementations is the return of the traditional Start menu, which had been a long-standing Windows feature until Microsoft retired it with their touch heavy Windows 8. To be clear on a touch device Microsoft was correct, there really is no need for a Start button (and menu) but the majority of users, especially in business continue to rely on non-touch screens and the missing Start button was a real point of contention that would not go away, no matter how much Microsoft tried to ignore the mass outcry. 

Windows 9 will bring many changes and enhancements in addition to the returning tart menu.  Of interest are new interactive Live Tiles which will apparently play a big part in Microsoft’s new UI. Also reported is the addition of a new notification center, much like we have come to expect on our smartphones.

Interactive Tiles

It is also expected that Windows 9 will also offer a host of new features and changes equating to a more well-rounded experience. Having joined the tablet market, Microsoft has certainly has hit some rock and struggled at times however with the eventual merging of Windows RT and Windows Phone combined with the Windows 9 release, it does appear that Satya Nadella’s company can expect brighter days.

What Will It Cost?

Microsoft it appears has received the message. Many users are not happy with Windows 8. There are real indications coming from Microsoft that Windows 9 will be offered “free” for current Windows 8 and 8.1 users while users on older operating systems will incur a cost of only $20.00.

There is all leads me to believe Windows 8 was a speed bump leading to better things from the software giant and the software giant adapts to the ever changing technical world.

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Threshold Arriving This Fall?

It is looking like Windows 9 will be here faster then anyone thought.

ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, citing unnamed sources, said that Microsoft will deliver a “technical preview” of Threshold late in September or early in October. I hope to get my hands on this and report here what I think. I believe much like Windows 7 successfully replaced Vista, Windows 9 will successfully replace 8, while keeping the best elements of 8.

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The “code” name for Windows 9 is Threshold and it appears that Windows 8 will in the end have acted as a “testing ground” for what Microsoft has in store for us next.

What Happened with Windows 8?

Much like Vista, Windows 8 was troubled from the outset. Microsoft had suffered greatly in the mobile market because they lagged behind Apple and Android and failed to see where the trends in mobile were heading. Because of this Microsoft looked to the future with computing and predicted that “touch” was the next desired interface. I believe that Microsoft is / was correct in this assessment, however, in the case, unlike their lag in mobile they were actually a little “too far” ahead of everyone else.

Windows 8 is more then likely being used as a blueprint for Threshold (9) and elements like the desktop and start button will be returning. Enterprise will have more control over the interface their employee’s use while consumers using tablets and touch screens would more then likely choose the tablet/touch interface.

Microsoft appears eager to put Windows 8 behind it. It has stopped beating the drum about the OS and recently announced that it would not issue any additional major updates. Instead, Microsoft said last week, it will include improvements or new features in small packets using the same Windows Update mechanism that regularly serves security patches.

It is also considered a real possibility the upgrading from 7 or 8 to 9 will cost little to nothing so do not panic if you recently purchased a Windows 8 laptop or PC.

 

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Windows 8.1 Gains Ground

I had a feeling this was going to happen and surprisingly to some (not me) it seems that Microsoft’s newest OS Windows 8.1 is actually showing strong growth. I say “surprisingly” but it should not because all the cards are stacked in 8.1’s favor. Windows XP users are being forced to look for a new OS and Windows 7 is actually pretty hard to get hold of and the most recent update of 8 was designed to make Windows 8.1 more appealing to keyboard and mouse users. If Windows 8.1 had not grown market share in April then it would have been pretty much game over for the new operating system. With that being said, 8.1 actually performed very well.

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As was to be expected Windows XP lost a huge number of users, with its share falling 1.43 per cent – from 27.69 per cent in March to 26.26 per cent in April. The downward trend is set to continue, and possibly accelerate, now that Microsoft is no longer providing security updates for the aging OS and flaws like the recent one affecting Internet Explorer make sticking with XP an increasingly dangerous digital gamble. Although Microsoft did patch IE 8 for XP this will not happen again.

There is still a lot of room for growth as far a Windows 8.1 is concerned. However 8 has turned away from the dangerous curve and it will survive, although it will probably never be Microsoft’s most popular OS. This is to be expected because Windows 8 was the first OS to cross the bridge from the traditional non-touch screen to both touch screens and tablets.

I will also say this. If you are looking for a new PC or laptop, spend the money on a touch screen  with Windows 8.1. Without a touch screen Windows 8 struggles, but it was never really intended for use with that limitation.

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2014 Tech Predictions

Well 2014 has arrived and everyone is making their predictions for what we can expect in the technology world during the next 12 months. As is usually the case there are many opinions about what will work and what will fail. Not wanting to be left out I will throw my hat into the ring on some predictions – so here we go.

1. Wearable Technology will continue to become more important and successful. Although many were not impressed with the smart watches released in 2013 I liked what I saw in particular with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. Sure it is a little big and clunky but in the last quarter of the year there were some nice software improvements made including better Facebook and Twitter integration. More of these watches will be arriving soon and I believe the trend is in their favor. The loser in this field will be the Google Glass line. Trust me.

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Samsung’s Galaxy Gear

 

2. Microsoft will slowly gain more market share in the mobile world with the Surface tablet line as well as the third party Windows tablets being released. These are excellent products and really do offer an advantage over apple and android tablets for those who want to use their devices for work and home. Also Microsoft has started releasing really great accessories for their Surface line including a dock and coming soon a keyboard which can also charge your device.

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Microsoft Surface Pro 2

 

3. When it comes to smartphones of course Android and Apple will continue to dominate, however Microsoft will slowly gain ground and Blackberry, the once dominate player in mobile will finally be put of their misery as the company will sell off it’s hardware side, probably to a company in China. Blackberry will then try to survive as a small services company.

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4. Cloud Services will continue to become more important to both enterprise users and consumers alike. In addition there will be some hurdles as many of the small cloud providers fail with the big players like Microsoft, Google and Amazon increasing their subscriber base. Microsoft’s 365 in particular will continue to become more popular as the year moves on.

cloudcomputing

5. On the consumer end 4K televisions will become the primary sets being sold in 2014. 4K sets have struggled to take hold which is basically because they are expensive and most people simply cannot tell the difference between 1080p and 4K. However TV manufacturers will be building 4K into the majority of their products so the consumer will have little choice here.

6. Microsoft’s Windows 8 will finally start to become widely accepted for two primary reasons. These are that (1) Windows 8.1 which was recently released returned the much missed “start button” and (2) in April 2014 Microsoft will stop supporting XP. Microsoft has threatened this several times in the past but this time I believe they are serious as Windows 8 adoption is critical to their future.

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7. Desktop computer sales will continue to struggle as tablets continue becoming more popular. Even laptop sales will have seen their better days. Many consumers now rely solely on their tablets and smartphones for their computing needs. Enterprise users and professionals of course will continue to need desktop computers and laptops but the consumer market will continue to shrink.

8. Physical digital media like DVD and BluRay technology will also struggle as streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon expand their services becoming more affordable and accessible.

So Many Streaming Choices

So Many Streaming Choices

 

I could go on and on but these are the big tech stories to watch during the year. It is going to be exciting that’s for sure!

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Windows 8.1 Released Today

Microsoft’s update to Windows 8.1 is now widely available to download, free for Windows 8 users, from the Windows Store.

Major change for the operating system include a revamped Start screen, that now provides more options for customization and layout. The upgrade also finally brings side-by-side multitasking of Windows 8 apps, which was another criticism of the original Windows 8 release. You can also now boot directly to the desktop, bypassing the Start screen altogether. This in particular is something enterprise users have been screaming for.

While the update is free for users upgrading from Windows 8, people coming from Windows 7 will need to simply buy the Windows 8 upgrade ($119, or $199 for Windows 8 Pro) and then make the upgrade for free.

Microsoft said that in-store customers will be able to buy a boxed version of the software from tomorrow, and that PCs sold from October 18 would come with 8.1 pre-installed. If for some reason you buy a new computer and it still hasn’t been updated to the newer version of the OS, you will of course be able to download it for yourself for free.

What’s New with Windows 8.1

When Windows 8 was first introduced last year, many users resisted the touch-orientated changes that Microsoft had made to the platform, such as creating separate UIs for different working areas with the Desktop and Windows 8 modes.

It seems that the removal of the Start button displeased many people. And that’s putting it mildly. Personally I had no problem with this, but I am not the typical PC user.

With today’s official launch of Windows 8.1, it’s time to see if the changes that the company has made to the operating system iron out these issues, or indeed, raise new ones of its own.

For anyone familiar with Windows 8, making the jump across to Windows 8.1 will be a painless experience, and while there are plenty of changes under the hood, I will focus on all the newest, most useful changes here. You will still find the same general way of navigating such as the  ‘Charms Bar’  (Search, Share. Start, Devices, Settings) which you get to by just swiping away on the right side of the screen. Swiping from the left still cycles you through apps and swiping up from the bottom usually brings up additional options for whichever app you are using. Naturally, all of this only applies when using it in Windows 8 mode, rather than the desktop.

Starting October 18, Windows 8.1 will be made available to Windows 8 users for free from the Windows Store, and downloading and installing will work just as they would for any other app. The company just announced that for non-Windows 8 users, the installer will be available on that date, and that as of October 2, you can pre-order full Windows 8.1 installation media (either download or disk) from Microsoft’s online store.

Once Windows is installed and you are ready to go. The first thing you will want to do is link up your Microsoft account. If you don’t have one I recommend creating one. Skydrive will give you 7GB of free cloud storage and you will want access to the Microsoft Store so you can download apps.

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The Tablet Killed the PC Star

With smartphones having already topped features phones, tablets are now poised to surpass PCs in terms of global shipments, according to data from the International Data Corporation (IDC).

Tablet shipments are projected to surpass total PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2013, IDC said this week. Shipments of PCs will still be higher than tablets for the full year, but that will change by the end of 2015.

Although there are those who try to point the blame at Windows 8 for the falling sales of PC’s I believe it is much more complex then that simple explanation. The reason for the declining sales has very little, in fact to do with the latest version of Windows. Technology buy it’s very nature is in a constant state of flux.

Blame the Tablet
The reason that the sales of PCs are shrinking can be explained by simply examining the increasing sales of tablets. Consumers and professionals alike are mobile today more then ever before. In addition average tablets today have superior processors, memory, hard drive space and more then the best PCs five years ago could offer.

Blame the Cloud
The second cause of the declining PC sales and concurrent increase in tablet sales is the cloud. Tablets by there very nature do not have very large hard drives. However many tablets have 128GB of internal storage which is for the majority of users plenty of storage, especially with the easy and inexpensive (and often free) availability of cloud storage.

All is Not Lost for the PC
With all this in mind, I would not feel to bad for the PC. It will be a very long time before PCs are dead and buried. While their market share will continue to shrink, professionals will continue to use PCs in the office and at home. Considering that today’s PCs are well built and last longer then ever before and that users are also using tablets at the same time it should surprise no one what is occurring in the PC market.

Read my April 15, 2013 related article, “In Defense of Windows 8”.

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Windows 8’s Yoga

Microsoft has released a new iPad versus Windows 8 commercial and it might be the best one yet. The 31-second commercial shows how the Lenovo Yoga offers all of the features of the iPad while in tablet mode, and then when needed, flips to the standard laptop layout while those with iPads waste time trying to attach a keyboard.

The reason why this commercial is so important is because it shows a real-world scenario of how the Lenovo Yoga bests that of the iPad in the classroom and that it is a great companion for those who students are heading back to school. Of course, seeing that the commercial came out in late August and many are already in the classroom, this commercial may have been better suited to air over the summer before the back to school goods were purchased.

While this commercial is a new spin on Microsoft’s iPad vs Windows 8 PCs, Microsoft does conveniently leave out the price, with the Yoga 11s starting at $749. While obviously more expensive, depending on how you equip the iPad, it can reach easily into that price point. In addition although this commercial displays the Yoga 11 I would tend to go with Microsoft’s Surface Pro for college students.

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Windows 8.1 Saves the Day?

Today reliable information was leaked throughout the tech world that the official release of Windows 8.1 was only days away. For us early adopters of Windows 8 this is a good news. Windows 8.1 Preview has been around for about 6 weeks or so and I have been using it on a couple of my computers. Although it addresses some issues like getting our start button back, well kind of sort of,  I found the 8.1 Preview to be inconsistent between my various computers. I have one Acer laptop that simply refused to access my email through the Windows mail app once the upgrade was completed.  The Acer struggled in various ways to such a degree that I restored it back to the original Windows 8. Meanwhile my Surface Pro had not problems with the 8.1 Preview and has been working quite nicely with it.

This is all to be expected from any “preview” version so much like the NFL Pre Season which is also upon us you can not get to concerned or upset when using these “public betas”.

The changes in 8.1 are clearly designed to improve the discoverability of features in Windows 8.1 and address some of the loudest complaints, like the missing start button, very limited help features and work place usage.

Alongside the context menu changes, Microsoft also displays tips within the built-in apps that direct users to swipe and access the Charms. None of these changes were present in the Preview version of Windows 8.1, and Microsoft has also created a Help + Tips app that includes a variety of video tutorials for navigating the OS, accessing files, basic actions, and settings.

Oh and did I mention that there is a start up button and administrators can set Windows to boot straight to the desktop which are also both welcome additions.

The upgrade to 8.1 is free and will be available through the Windows 8 Store soon!

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Windows Under The Dome

Ok maybe it’s not just me who has high hopes for Microsoft’s Windows Phone. I suggest this because of the new  mini-series,  “Under the Dome”. This new series from CBS follows a group of people suddenly cut off from the rest of the world after an indestructible invisible dome suddenly surrounds their town began airing this summer.

The show is classified as sci-fi/horror and watching part 3 this week I had to do a double take several times as Windows phones and Windows tablets were on display and being used by many of the characters.

Hey, that’s a Windows Nokia Lumia 920 being charged!

In this week’s episode (part 3), Microsoft clearly got under the dome as a few products suddenly showed up in the town, mostly in the youth’s hands. We saw two Nokia Lumia 920s (one white, one red) and even a few Microsoft Surfaces being used by the teens in the scene where they all use a generator to re-charge their devices. The best is probably seeing the Surface being swiped back and forth on the Start screen, which is just kind of fun.

A Microsoft Surface Table appears Under the Dome.

Does this kind of hidden placement really help? Well it can’t hurt that’s for sure. Microsoft has been working very hard this past year in an attempt to gather some buzz and the “cool” factor.  I believe there is a good chance that this sort of product placement will indeed help increase Microsoft’s product share, which has been improving regularly, if not slowly recently.

I am not sure how I actually feel about this new series after 3 episodes but at least the residents are using something other than Android & Apple.

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