Archive for February, 2013

What are the Requirements for MCSE 2012 Certification

Microsoft Systems Engineer Certificate or MCSE 2012 is the foundation certification for IT professional who is in working in the Microsoft environment. The main concept of certification is to help any IT professional to go with the changes of technology. When you are certified in Microsoft, it offers you an amazing career opportunity.

MCSE 2012 is considered as a foundation certification for more specialized and advanced certifications. One of the basic requirements of MCSE 2012 certification is the candidate should have at least 1 year experience in the field of implementing and managing network operating system. Moreover, an experience in the client operating system and designing network infrastructure is also ideal. In order to obtain the certification, the candidate should pass the exam successfully. There are actually four basic examinations required that consists of operating systems, design skill as well as 2 elective examination. As this includes several topics, the candidate must study well to prepare for this exam.

MCSE 2012 training is a very essential means for one to pass for this certification. There are lots of programs offered online, which offer study guides that can help you pass the exam efficiently. This training may require the candidate to spend his time and energy as well as money to attend the classroom-based training. If the candidate does not have the time to attend MSCE training, he or she can also pursue online MCSE 2012 certification training

Another essential way to prepare and pass the required certification exam for you to get the MCSE 2012 certificate is by pursuing the MCSE 2012 boot camp. In this type of training, the student will able to focus on the training for the reason that they have not been allowed to go home for several days. Usually, meals and lodging are provided, of course you need to pay for this. Boot camps are typically intensive training, it is daily and till late night. This will help the student to focus on preparing for the MCSE 2012 exam effectively.

As experience and knowledge about networking and operating system are needed, the candidate should able to have enough understanding of this field before you can pass the certification exam.

MCSE 2012 is an amazing ticket for your success in this field. It requires sheer determination and perseverance when preparing for the reason that if you don’t have these qualities, it would be very difficult for you to pass the exam effectively. Knowing the requirements and how to prepare for this certification is essential.


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Hortonworks brings Hadoop to Windows

Hortonworks expects its Windows version of Hadoop will feature full feature parity with the Linux version

Hortonworks is bringing the popular open-source Apache Hadoop data processing platform to Microsoft shops.

The company has released a beta version of its Hortonworks Data Platform (HDP) Hadoop distribution for Windows and expects to release the final, enterprise-ready version in the months to come.

HDP is “the first and only distribution of Hadoop available on both Linux and Windows,” said David McJannet, Hortonworks vice president of marketing.

According to McJannet, Hortonworks heard a lot of demand from potential customers for a Hadoop distribution that would run on the Microsoft platform.

“The real catalyst is, frankly, market demand. The significant majority of the servers running in the enterprise today are running Windows Server,” McJannet said. “We’ve seen significant interest from our customers towards using Hadoop on the platform that they rely on for their critical applications.”

Hortonworks and Microsoft have been porting the software to Windows over the past 18 months, as well as testing the software for enterprise use, McJannet said. The HDP distribution consists of a set of different software programs — including HDFS, MapReduce, Hive, Pig and others. Like the Linux version, the Windows HDP will be available as open source “so others can benefit and extend the work that we have done,” McJannet said.

Going forward, Hortonworks will release new versions of the HDP in both Linux and Windows. This first Windows beta version is based on the HDP 1.1 codebase.

Initially, the Windows beta does not have feature parity with the Linux version, though it does have all the “core components” to run Hadoop, McJannet said. But it does not include the Ambari set of management tools. Over time, however, Hortonworks does plan to duplicate all the features on the Windows version.

Hortonworks expects that the kind of workloads run on the Windows platform will be similar to those run on Linux, in terms of size and scope. “We fully anticipate some of the largest deployments of Hadoop could well be on Windows,” McJannet said.

The distribution does not support running a mixture of Windows nodes and Linux nodes in the same deployment. Deployments should be all in one OS or another. “In practice, we’d expect homogeneity across the infrastructure, though we’d have to wait and see how that pattern emerges,” McJannet said.

Over time, Microsoft will provide more support in other software products, most notably System Center, for organizations that want to move Windows Hadoop workloads in between their own data centers and a Microsoft Azure cloud service, said Herain Oberoi, Microsoft director of product marketing in the company’s server and tools division.

As of press time, Hortonworks hasn’t finalized the versions of Windows Servers upon which HDP will run, though the beta will run on Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012. The product will not run on Windows desktop versions.


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Microsoft enlists Dell to push Office 365 on new PCs

Dell is only one of top three OEMs to bundle Office 365 Home Premium with new consumer computers

Some major computer makers are pushing Office 365 with their new PCs, but others have stuck with a more traditional bundling tactic of including a factory-installed, single-license trial.

“[Microsoft is] very clearly heading towards driving every consumer towards the Office 365 option that they can, in the hopes of a subscription,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, in an interview Wednesday.

Of the top three computer vendors — OEMs, for original equipment manufacturers — only Dell offers Office 365 Home Premium, the consumer-grade subscription plan, with new machines. When a customer orders a customized PC, Dell offers a 30-day free trial to Office 365 Home Premium by default.

Microsoft offers the same 30-day trial on its website. The trial requires the customer to provide a credit card, which is charged if the plan isn’t canceled within the trial period.

Dell customers can also add a one-year subscription to Office 365 to the PC’s price, or one of the perpetual license versions of Office 2013.

Both Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, the No. 1 and No. 2 PC OEMs last quarter by IDC’s estimate, instead offer a factory-installed 30-day trial to Office 2013 (HP) or will add a paid copy of Office 2013 to the PC’s hard drive (Lenovo).

The route taken by those OEMs was traditional, in that computer makers have long included Office on new PCs, either automatically as a trial or by customer request as a paid option, then collected a percentage of sales from Microsoft.

In fact, when Office 2010 launched three years ago, Microsoft supported the promotional tactic with a new way to acquire the suite. Called “product key codes” (PKC), they were 25-character activation keys sold at retail. At prices between $120 and $350, a PKC transformed a trial into a working version of Office 2010. PKCs were sold without DVD installation media and also acted as replacements for the dropped “upgrade” editions.

PKCs are also available for Office 2013 for between $120 and $360.

But Dell took a different tack, instead going with Office 365.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft has also taken that approach with its own tablet, the Surface Pro: Buyers who opt to purchase a one-year subscription to Office 365 Home Premium at the same time they order a Surface Pro receive a $20 discount.

“I anticipate this is their move forward,” said Miller, of Microsoft’s pushing Office 365 with a discount at hardware purchase time.

Microsoft has, of course, taken other steps to promote Office 365, especially Home Premium, which is aimed at consumers, a market Microsoft wants to shift toward a “rent-not-own” software model.

Dell bundles a 30-day trial of Office 365 Home Premium with new consumer PCs. (Image: Dell)

The company has tilted the field toward Office 365 by raising prices of the “perpetual” licenses — those the customer pays for once, then uses as long as desired — and by limiting rights to permanently tie those licenses to a specific PC.

Miller was unsure how well an Office 365-with-a-new-PC concept would do, including how many subscribers Microsoft would acquire and what the retention rate will be as renewal fees come due.

But by including Office 365 with a new system, particularly if the subscription is discounted rather than offered as a limited-time trial, Microsoft and OEMs may have hit on a solid strategy. “There’s some deep psychology involved,” Miller said, on the part of customers forced to make the decision at PC purchase time.

They’re already plunking down hundreds, perhaps more than $1,000, on the machine, so an additional $80 or $100 may not be as painful then as it would seem later.

“It becomes up to the OEM to close that deal … but I think it’s easier to close that sale at the point of purchase than it would be later,” Miller said.

What Microsoft would like to do is train customers to add Office to every new PC — the restrictive perpetual license that’s anchored to a single PC, and only to that PC, is one hint of its thinking — but through the carrot of Office 365.

“Buy a new PC, tack on $100 [for Office],” Miller said, outlining Microsoft’s thinking. “A year later, buy another new PC, tack on another $100 [for Office].” With that in mind, customers will start to believe Office 365 is a good deal, whether it really is. The result, said Miller: Microsoft nudges consumers to buy into a form of Software Assurance, the annuity-like program that many corporations use to keep their Microsoft software up to date.

The strategy of offering Office 365 at a discount and pushing that rather than a perpetual license could be an even bigger boon to Microsoft as tablets replace PCs, Miller argued. That relies on several assumptions: That people buy new tablets more frequently than they once did PCs, and that Office 365 is a requirement for Microsoft’s suite on non-Windows tablets, such as Apple’s iPad and those powered by Google’s Android. Office 365′s ability to assign Office to any of five household devices, then reassign them later to new, replacement PCs or tablets, may prove to be its strongest selling point as consumers, in Miller’s words, “rotate out” new hardware for old.

But there are as many, if not more, unknowns than knowns.

“I think this point-of-purchase mechanism will result in subscriptions, at least for Year One,” said Miller. “The question is, what does retention/churn look like at the annual renewal? We’ll have to wait and see.”

 


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Internet Explorer only? IE doubt it

Fewer businesses standardizing browser use on Internet Explorer, but the practice isn’t gone yet.

Just as Internet users in general have defected in huge numbers from Microsoft Internet Explorer over the past several years, the business world, as well, is becoming less dependent on the venerable browser.

Companies that used to mandate the use of IE for access to web resources are beginning to embrace a far more heterodox attitude toward web browsers. While it hasn’t gone away, the experience of having to use IE 6 to access some legacy in-house web app is becoming less common.

“Things have changed a lot in the last three years, and I think a lot of it has to do with the emergence of the modern web and the popularity of mobile. They have made it very different for companies to truly standardize on a browser,” says Gartner Research analyst David Mitchell Smith.

One example of the changing face of business browser use is SquareTwo Financial, a Denver-based financial services company that works primarily in distressed asset management. The firm’s 280 employees handle both consumer and commercial business, buying and selling debt, and a franchise program means that there are upwards of 1,500 more people working at SquareTwo affiliates. According to CTO Chris Reigrut, the company takes in roughly $280 million in annual revenue.

“In addition to buying and selling debt, we also provide a software-as-a-service platform that our franchises (and we) use to actually negotiate and litigate the debt,” he tells Network World.

Square Two hasn’t needed to standardize, he says, because keeping their offerings diverse is part of the idea – the company’s various online resources all have differing requirements.

“We do distribute Firefox on Windows systems – however, Safari and IE are both frequently used. Our internal wiki is only officially supported on Firefox and Safari. Our SaaS ‘client’ is a pre-packaged Firefox install so that it looks more like a traditional thick-client application. Most of our employees use their browser for a couple of internal systems, as well as several external services (i.e. HR, training, etc),” says Reigrut (who, like the other IT pros quoted in this story is a member of the CIO Executive Council Pathways program for leadership development).

The Microsoft faithful, however, are still out there. Many businesses have chosen to remain standardized on IE, for several reasons. SickKids, a children’s research hospital in Toronto, sticks with Microsoft’s browser mostly for the ease of applying updates.

“We have more than 7,000 end-point devices. Most of those devices are Windows workstations and Internet Explorer is included as part of the Microsoft Windows operating system. As such, this makes it easier and integrates well with our solution to manage and deploy upgrades, patches and hotfixes to the OS including IE,” says implementations director Peter Parsan.

“Internet Explorer is more than a browser, it is the foundation for Internet functionality in Windows,” he adds.

The complexity of managing an ecosystem with more than 100 types of software – running the gamut from productivity applications to clinical programs – requires a heavily controlled approach, according to Parsan.

Smith agrees that IE still has its advantages for business users that want just such a strictly regimented technology infrastructure.

“If you want a managed, traditional IT environment … really, your only option is Internet Explorer,” he says, adding that both Firefox and Chrome lag behind IE in terms of effective centralized management tools.

Some companies, however, have gone a different way – standardizing not on IE, but on a competing browser.

Elliot Tally, senior director of enterprise apps for electronics manufacturer Sanmina, says his company’s employees are highly dependent on browsers for business-critical activities. Everything from ERP to document control (which he notes is “big for a manufacturing company”) to the supply chain is run from a web app.

Tally says Sanmina made the move to standardize on Chrome in 2009, in part because of a simultaneous switch to Gmail and Google Apps from IE and Microsoft products.

“It made sense to go with the browser created and supported by the company that created the apps we rely on. Also, Chrome installs in user space so it doesn’t require admin privileges to auto-update,” he says. “It also silently auto-updates, as opposed to Firefox, which requires a fresh install to update versions, or IE, which is similar. Chrome, over the last year or so, has supported web standards better than any other browser, and (until recently) has offered significantly better performance.”

Plainly, broad diversity exists both in the actual browsers used by workers and the approaches businesses have taken in managing their use.

That diversity, says Smith, is the reason Gartner has been advising clients against standardization from the outset.

“Standardize on standards, not browsers,” he urges. “That was a controversial position for 10 years. People really didn’t agree with it, they didn’t listen to it, and they paid the price.”

Microsoft, as well, has had to pay a price.

“[Standardization] hurts Microsoft’s reputation as an innovator; as a forward-thinker,” he says. “When people’s impression of using Microsoft technology – whether it’s a browser, whether it’s an operating system – is something that is two or three versions old, because they’re dealing with it through what enterprises want.”


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Windows 8 Update: Winter storm Nemo wipes out Microsoft Surface Pro party

Also workers want Microsoft Surface; more storage for Surface

Microsoft had big plans for an exclusive party in New York City to celebrate the availability of its Surface Windows 8 Pro ultrabook, but the ongoing snowstorm named Nemo nixed the event.

Microsoft says it’s canceled the gathering of some selected customers nearby the New York City Best Buy store in Union Square where the devices are scheduled to go on sale at midnight. Even the head of the Surface project for Microsoft, Panos Panay, has backed out, according to All About Microsoft blog by Mary Jo Foley.

Microsoft had to use Best Buy as a venue for the launch because it has shut down its Times Square store, apparently finding that other sites – mostly malls – are a better bet for its retail outlets.

Workers want Surface
Thirty-two percent of workers surveyed by Forrester say they would be interested in getting a Windows Surface tablet for work. Of the same 10,000 polled 26% say they want an iPad, although 12% already had them, the study says. Only 2% had a Surface.

More storage for Surface
Microsoft was widely criticized for labeling its Surface Pro tablets as having 64GB and 128GB of memory when actually a good portion of each model’s disk space was unavailable to users. While admitting that more than a quarter of the 128GB version and nearly a third of the 64GB Surface is unavailable, Panay says things have gotten better.

“Initial reports out regarding available disk space were conservative (eg. 23GB available on 64GB and 83GB available on the 128GB system),” he says in a chat on Reddit, “however our final production units are coming in with 6-7GB additional free space.”

Panay doesn’t explain where that extra space comes from. He also says the reason for a large chunk of that space being tied up is that the devices ship with recovery space allocated by default, leaving customers to free it up if they choose.

8 got game
Valve polls users of its Steam multi-player software platform monthly to find out what operating system they are using and Windows 8 did pretty well, appearing on 8.04% of its community’s machines in January. That’s up 1.71%from December. That’s enough to rank Windows 8 fourth behind other two versions of Windows 7 and Windows XP.


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Microsoft hints at Surface Pro keyboard that powers Windows 8 computer

Microsoft hints at Surface Pro keyboard that powers Windows 8 computer
Mystery contact points could support an external battery, make Surface Pro an all-day mobile device

Microsoft may have a plan to address the poor battery life of its new Windows 8 Pro — a keyboard that includes an extra battery, something that could make the device more attractive to mobile workers.

During a public chat on Reddit, a spokesman for the company seemed to hint that engineers recognized the problem and designed in a contingency.

One participant posted this question: Does Microsoft have any plans for an external battery or for a thicker keyboard cover that has an extra battery?

The answer: “That would require extending the design of the accessory spine to include some way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery. Which we did …”

Sure enough, if you look at the edge of Surface Pro where the keyboard attaches via magnetic strips, there are two guide holes that align with two nubs on the keyboard and facilitate docking. But the holes also contain four copper contact points — which could be, as Microsoft wrote on Reddit, a way to transfer higher current between the peripheral and the main battery.

One of the worst features about Surface Pro is the battery life, which is somewhere between three and five hours, depending on what the machine is doing. That’s not really enough for a mobile worker who has no certainty of being able to plug the machine in during the work day.

Microsoft acknowledged this shortcoming during the chat and said that it was the result of an engineering compromise between enough battery power to drive the Intel Core i5 processor and keeping Surface Pro thin.

“While these tradeoffs are challenges as much as they are opportunities, we think given the performance and experience you will be getting, it is an exciting product,” says Panos Panay, Microsoft’s general manager of Surface.

The possibility of a battery-equipped keyboard could explain why Microsoft two weeks ago introduced the option of buying its other Surface model — the 64GB Surface RT tablet — without a keyboard. Until then a keyboard was always bundled in. With the possibility of more keyboard choices, the a la carte tablet makes sense.

Panay claimed that Surface Pro beats out Apple’s MacBook Air on at least one metric: minutes of use per battery pound. “If you compare it to say a MacBook Air, you will quickly see that pound for pound in battery size vs battery life, you will find optimizations that puts Surface best in its class.” Apple claims up to five hours battery life from its 7-inch MacBook Air and seven hours from its 13-inch model.

Panay also wrote about the relatively small amount of available disk space on the Surface Pro, which Microsoft says is 23GB on the 64GB model and 83GB on the 128GB model. He says the design considerations were providing enough space for installing a full version of Microsoft Office and a backup image of the system in addition to the Windows 8 operating system itself.

He suggests using a microSDXC card, a USB 3 drive or SkyDrive if customers want more storage, and promises that Surface Pro production units have squeezed out another 6GB to 7GB on the hard drive.


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HTC Windows Phone 8X — Purple madness [Review]

HTC Windows Phone 8X — Purple madness [Review]

The HTC Windows Phone 8X is a smartphone that you will either love or not want to touch even with a 10 foot pole. Part of the arguments for and against it stem from the operating system of choice, Microsoft’s latest (and greatest) Windows Phone iteration. Sure, the device has good build quality and the software is fluid and responsive, but the app selection is currently lacking compared to rivals like Android and iOS. So where does one draw the line between success and failure?

I’ve been using the Windows Phone 8X for almost two weeks and the early impressions are still on the positive side. In my initial review I touched on a number of points that I found revealing for my brief time with it, but the real test is how the Windows Phone 8X fares over a longer period of time. My main and initial gripes concern the limited app selection and general usability issues of Windows Phone 8 when coming from the stock flavor of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The real question is this: Is it good enough?

The Specs
The HTC Windows Phone 8X features a 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 display with a resolution of 1280 by 720. The handset is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM and an 1,800mAh battery. There is 16GB of non-expandable internal storage onboard, or 8GB of internal storage depending on the carrier variant. My Windows Phone 8X is the California Blue international variant, and comes with the former option.

The Windows Phone 8X sports HSPA+ cellular connectivity (LTE is available depending on the market); Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 3.1; NFC (Near Field Communication); GPS with Glonass support as well as the common plethora of sensors. The device ships with an 8MP back-facing camera and a 2.1MP shooter on the front, both capable of 1080p video recording. Other specs include Beats Audio support and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The Windows Phone 8X measures 132.35 x 66.2 x 10.12 mm. Weight comes in at 130 grams.

Great Social Integration, but not Perfect

I’ll kick off with the social element. Windows Phone 8 places social (or human if you will) interaction at the forefront, be it through the Me tile and People app pinned on the homescreen or through the social network integration. Users can post straight to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter right after pressing their own live tile, view social notifications and check on what other connected folks are doing. Social, social, social. But not that social.

As you may expect the main gripe with Windows Phone 8 in terms of social integration is Google+, or the lack thereof. For me that’s a deal breaker when it comes to any mobile device, more so with a smartphone as it’s the only one that I carry around with me. That would be relatively fine had Google bothered to release an official app but, sadly, the only ones available are third party offerings that display a mobile view. Not modern, not modern at all.

It’s one of the worst parts in dealing with Windows Phone 8 on a day-to-day basis, and really puts a dent in enjoying the operating system. That’s a shame as Microsoft managed to deliver an impressive package in this regard — the unified social notifications in the Me tile is great, the People app is really useful in finding out what your buddies are doing, and the Rooms and Groups features for private chats and sharing are nice as well.

Users can also expect an official Foursquare app and third party Pinterest and Reddit clients, among others. For those roaming around interwebs forums, Board Express is a nice and free Tapatalk alternative, although like most third party apps it’s supported by ads. So far, I have found a working replacement for almost every social app that I use on Android and iOS.

Let’s Talk Mail
What’s a smartphone operating system without a competent email client? Thankfully Windows Phone 8 includes support for Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo! Mail, generic POP and IMAP accounts, as well as Exchange ActiveSync support, among other types of supported accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Sina Weibo.

I will not bore you with generic details, but suffice to say that it works as expected — you get emails, they show up. There are some issues though which I struggle with on a day to day basis, ones which a Gmail user on Android will undoubtedly find annoying to deal with (and likely others as well). As a point of reference I have set up Outlook using the Microsoft-preferred method and Gmail as an Exchange ActiveSync account in order to take advantage of push email as well as calendar and contacts synchronization.

With both types of accounts I have noticed that marking an email as read does not necessarily mean that it will be listed as read when checking the web app. This is a nuisance that reminds me of just how trouble-free the Gmail and Email apps on Android really are. Furthermore, after applying a batch action the previously selected emails will be unticked and you have to start over ticking them again as to perform another batch action.

The third issue comes from using Gmail. Unlike with the Android counterpart, on Windows Phone 8 there is no Archive button as to immediately move emails straight to All Mail. I have to do that by hand, which is time-consuming and bothersome when dealing with a ton of emails each day. The fourth issue, and the most frustrating, is yet again with Gmail — emails cannot be sent using aliases from a single account. I have to add each and every single one in order to get that functionality.

Great Phone
The Windows Phone 8X (and Windows Phone 8 by implication) is great at making calls and sending texts. The sound through the headpiece is loud and clear, sometimes too loud with the volume raised all the way up. I have noticed a few dropped calls, although I cannot really fault the device for any of those since although I had a decent signal the person at the other end of the line did not.

This is not a Windows Phone 8 fault per se, but I’d like to have a dedicated contact list just for making calls. By default, and this applies to Android as well, the operating system uses a unified contacts list for all corresponding apps, which is overkill when looking up someone to call. I doubt this will be implemented, but it would be nice to have for someone like me that makes plenty of calls each day.

In the texting department, I do really have to commend Microsoft for the extensive dictionary selection. Unlike Google, which doesn’t bother with stock Jelly Bean, the Redmond, Wash.-based software corporation admits to the existence of more than a couple of languages. I count more than 60 dictionaries for a variety of languages, which really comes in handy when writing texts (but applies to other areas as well).

The keyboard itself is quite nice to use, without any of the swiping gimmickry, and provides decent word predictions. The keys are rather tall and narrow, but even with my big thumbs I can write without making too many mistakes while typing. It’s worth noting that the space bar, at least on the Windows Phone 8X, is quite narrow and too close to the “,” sign, making accidental presses a common occurrence.

Maps
Straight off the bat I do have to point out that I do not find much use for a maps app. Most of the time I know where I am and how to get to where I want, although I can understand why others may feel the need for navigation and similar features. Where I live functionality is rather limited when it comes to discovering nearby shops, restaurants and movie theatres to name a few. They’re there but don’t show up on maps, hence my rare, online and offline, use of Maps.

The Maps app on Windows Phone 8 implements Bing Maps as one might expect, but with some features supported by Nokia, and as far as I can tell only works in portrait mode. That’s a real bummer, and something to consider when using the Windows Phone 8X with car mounts. I have no doubt that the recently introduced Nokia Drive+ is a more suited alternative for navigation, but since it only works with US, UK and Canadian SIM cards it’s pointless for billions of people on the globe. Whoever took charge and decided to offer Drive+ in just three locations is clearly short-sighted, to put it kindly.

Within the Maps app users can also find a navigation feature, dubbed “directions” which works as expected at a first glance, but again only in portrait mode. There is also an option to display traffic, view favorite locations and display an aerial view. By comparison, and I have only tested this in my location, Google Maps, through the gMaps app, displays more detailed maps and allows to zoom in more compared to Windows Phone 8′s Maps app.

That said, users can download maps of entire countries and update them if needed. As a point of reference the entire map of the United States of America take up in excess of 2,556MB, with states like California and Delaware needing 208MB and 40MB, respectively.

Through the Maps app Windows Phone 8 users can also use the Scout feature, which displays nearby “eat+drink”, “see+do”, “shop” and “for you” places on the map. It’s a similar feature to Google Now for instance, and I can only assume that it works as expected for other regions other than mine. Again, I appear to live in the desert or a remotely isolated area with Internet connectivity.

Office, Baby!
Call me an Office fan, I really don’t mind. Although it does not live up to the features of its desktop counterpart, the Office app on Windows Phone is a welcome addition. It comes with Office 365 integration, can add SharePoint locations, integrates with SkyDrive (which as a SkyDrive user I can certainly appreciate), handles opened email attachments, and can also open and edit locally stored documents.

I have covered the important details in the “Microsoft details Office on Windows Phone 8″ article but suffice to say that it works well, even on the 4.3-inch display of the Windows Phone 8X. I mostly like the Excel and Word editing features, which come in handy while on the go and ensure compatibility with every modern office suite.

Undoubtedly, Office on Windows Phone 8 is one of the most important features of the smartphone operating system. It works well for editing and viewing large documents and spreadsheets (from a physical dimensions point of view) as well as presentations and neatly integrates with other Microsoft services. I do have to mention that the Samsung ATIV S or even the Nokia Lumia 920 might be better suited for Office use, due to larger displays, compared to the Windows Phone 8X.

The App Store Conundrum
One of the first issues that I have to overcome in order to use the Windows Phone 8X is the lack of official apps. Mostly everything that is Google-related comes from third party developers, except a frankly pointless Google Search app from the Mountain View, Calif.-based corporation, and a YouTube app made by Microsoft which displays a mobile view of the popular video sharing website.

That said, there are working third party alternatives to Google+, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Play Music, Google Reader, Google Talk, Google Voice, Picasa and YouTube. I’ve used a bunch of them, and while they may not come from the search giant, each of the ones I’ve tried so far works as intended. Keep that in mind if you’re a Google user planning to buy a Windows Phone 8 device soon and are afraid of leaving the comfort of Android or iOS.

There are plenty of official apps available ranging from Kindle and Amazon Mobile, Bank of America, Box, eBay, Endomondo Sports Tracker, Evernote, Fandango, Flixster, Glympse, Groupon, IMDb, Last.fm, Newegg, Nike+ Kinect Training, OpenTable, PayPal, Shazam, SoundHound, Speedtest.net, TopGear News (for much needed car news), TuneIn Radio, Vevo, Vimeo to The Weather Channel, for instance.

There are third party Instagram clients, however neither is a replacement for the official Instagram app which must come to Windows Phone as soon as possible. Same goes for Google+. There are millions of people who rely on such apps on their smartphones, so why not cater to that significant audience? Microsoft made the official Facebook app, so why not do the same with Instagram? I’m sure Facebook wouldn’t mind.

Generally speaking I have found that if there is no official corresponding Windows Phone 8 app, a suitable third party alternative can be installed instead. That’s not good enough though.

The Bummers
Moving on from the software onto the hardware and I do have to point a couple of weaker traits, which affect either Windows Phone 8 or the Windows Phone 8X, or both.

Seeing as my new smartphone has NFC I decided to give it a go and pair it with my Google Galaxy Nexus. So I touch their back covers one to another (in an appropriate manner that is) and wait for something to happen. Guess what? It doesn’t work, as the Windows Phone 8X and the Galaxy Nexus cannot pair, with the latter requesting Android Beam to send files to the former (although I did get a link to Google Play on the Windows Phone 8X). Oh, the joy of having NFC and be unable to use it between different phones. This is an issue that plagues many devices on major platforms.

The Windows Phone 8X features an LED indicator, but it only lights up to display charging status. It’s green when the battery is completely charged and red while it’s charging and that’s it. Coming from the Galaxy Nexus I expected HTC’s device to feature a more usable LED indicator which lights up for missed calls, new emails, Facebook notifications and such, but sadly it does not. I hope that this feature will come with a future software upgrade, as it’s disappointing to let it go to waste.

One thing which I am not used to is the inconsistent implementation of the disappearing status bar throughout apps. By default Windows Phone 8 only shows the time within the status bar and in order to display the carrier network or Wi-Fi signal strength one has to swipe down from the top of the screen. It’s not a bad implementation as it cleans up the look, but the gesture has no effect within certain apps. FeedWorm is a good example where the app is not maximized and there is a black bar on top which fails to display the status indicators after swiping down.

The Camera
The Windows Phone 8X features an 8MP back-facing camera with an F2.0 aperture, 28mm lens, LED flash and a BSI sensor for low-light use. That suggests that it’s capable of capturing some great pics in poorly lit conditions, but sadly it is unable to deliver spectacular results. I often notice that flash is not always needed even though it’s used and that color reproduction is not entirely accurate.

Colors tend to have a blueish tint when the flash is used and noise is present from up close (without zoom) in low-lighting conditions, whereas in well-lit scenarios the camera on the Windows Phone 8X shoots fairly decent pictures, which are better than the ones produced by the Galaxy Nexus. The latter is not exactly a professional shooter in disguise, but it’s adequate for brief use.

That said, I have not noticed a single scenario where the Windows Phone 8X can shoot pictures with accurate color reproduction. I am much more impressed by the video camera, with manages to shoot decent videos with flash as well as without it, although it could use better autofocus when pointing it around in different directions. By contrast the front-facing camera is rather poor, which is to be expected considering that it’s just a 2.1MP unit.

Battery Life
Battery life is difficult to quantify as usage scenarios differ from one person to another. I use my phone most when I’m heading out and then I mostly check email and browse the web, among other things like playing games for instance. With the software up to date, including the much-needed “Keep WiFi on when screen times out” option, the Windows Phone 8X gets me even through a heavy day of use.

Generally speaking battery performance is similar to the Galaxy Nexus throughout a day of use, although the Windows Phone 8X sips less when displaying web pages, something that I’ve come to appreciate when switching from the former.

I do rely on a bunch of apps to sync in the background, including the dedicated email app, Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Twitter, People, Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among others. Depending on what’s actively syncing the battery might suffer a lighter or heavier hit, so your performance will definitely vary.

The Verdict
It’s my personal opinion that every operating system comes with its own caveats, more so in the app store. Android provides a more raw experience where the user interacts with the device in a more analogue kind of way — the software is not designed to mask itself through fancy transition effects or animations and generally feels unadulterated. iOS on the other hand is more fluid and provides a more artificial experience where the operating system is merely a bridge between the user and the apps.

However, both Android and iOS cannot really be faulted for the available app selection. Windows Phone 8 on the other hand is the perfect example of how an operating system can strike a balance between raw and artificial, but fail to carry over the common denominator — the vast app store offering. No matter how many third-party apps are available, people like me that have a craving for the official variety will often be disappointed.

At the same time the Windows Phone 8X is not really an Apple iPhone 5 nor a Samsung Galaxy S III when it comes to the camera performance. It’s average and really does not work as well in low-light conditions as HTC may lead everyone to believe — the quality is just not there. So the back and front-facing shooters rule out the Windows Phone 8X for camera aficionados.

I have said that the battery gets me through a heavy day of use, but is that really impressive? No, I don’t think so, at least not when comparing it with smartphones like the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD and Samsung Galaxy Note II, both of which come with batteries larger than 3,000mAh and, therefore, with better performance in this regard.

After using the Windows Phone 8X for a couple of weeks I’ve grown fond of it. It’s not designed to take on Android flagships in terms of raw performance, but it’s enjoyable. The form-factor makes it easy to hold, the operating system is refreshing compared to the bigger players and, something that I really came to appreciate, the design is, frankly, amazing in this California Blue (which is really purple) color. At the end of the day the Windows Phone 8X can only be summed up as this — the all-rounder.


 

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Microsoft and Google push for FCC’s public Wi-Fi for free networks

Microsoft and Google are working together to support the FCC’s free Wi-Fi proposal that might mean you could dump that monthly cellphone bill.

How sweet would it be to dump that monthly cellphone bill in favor of making calls over free Wi-Fi networks, so powerful it would be like “Wi-Fi on steroids”? Microsoft and Google are working together to support the FCC’s powerful Wi-Fi for free proposal. As a bonus, Super Wi-Fi is also “super for improving how we transmit and distribute energy in America.” However, as you might imagine, wireless carriers are fit to be tied and doing their best to put a stop to providing such free access.

Of course, it’s not the first time that the Microsoft-Google team — now there’s a phrase you don’t see very often — joined forces. In 2007, Microsoft, Google, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Philips came together to give FCC officials a “free phone” prototype device built by Microsoft. The FCC later rejected the white space device. Microsoft had wanted to be named an administrator to rule the white spaces, but so did Google. Microsoft came up with Wi-Fi over narrow channels which the company called WiFi-NC last year. In February 2012, Microsoft, Google and hundreds of other nonprofit groups and companies urged Congress not to restrict the FCC’s authority to structure proposed spectrum auctions.

Now, the Washington Post, which has jumped on the “Chinese-hacked-us-too” bandwagon, reported that Google, Microsoft and other tech giants “say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.”

The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.

The new WiFi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.

Meanwhile, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and chip makers Intel and Qualcomm are lobbying hard against the FCC’s proposal. In fact, AT&T announced that it, Verizon and T-Mobile had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Defense “to test the viability of sharing 95 MHz of spectrum that is currently used by DoD and other federal agencies. This spectrum is located in the 1755 to 1850 MHz spectrum band, which NTIA has analyzed in great detail for potential clearing and sharing opportunities.” These wireless carrier companies are opposed to using the spectrum for free Wi-Fi to the public and insist that the airwaves should instead be sold to businesses.

But FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has designed the free Wi-Fi plan. If you are interested, you can read Genachowski’s Presentation on White Spaces for Wireless Broadband and Genachowski’s remarks to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology. He told the Washington Post, “Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers.”

As Neowin pointed out, Microsoft and Google want more devices connecting to their cloud services such as Microsoft’s new Office 365, dubbed as “Your complete office in the cloud.”

It would seem as if law enforcement would be vehemently opposed to such free Wi-Fi. After all, law enforcement has a gold mine when it comes to spying via wireless carriers. In 2011, the cops collected a staggering 1.3 million customer records. Innocent Americans get caught in dragnet surveillance via cell tower dumps. The ACLU has warned that location tracking is out of control. Additionally, the ACLU uncovered “new” law enforcement/mobile carrier spying deals, such as “voicemail cloning, copying existing voicemail to a different account, resetting voicemail PIN, or the Verizon smorgasbord for law enforcement mobile/landline spying.” It seems the feds hope to replace warrantless GPS tracking with warrantless cell phone surveillance. But on the other hand, even with free and powerful wireless networks, cell phones wouldn’t go away entirely.

Besides, as it stands now with ECPA, the cloud is the cloud and any info stored there is not private, but is a favorite surveillance hunting ground used by law enforcement. Also, keep in mind that when an online service is “free,” it is because you are the product. Just the same, let’s hope the Microsoft/Google “team force” can help bring on the free Wi-Fi on steroids!


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Microsoft has no reason to save Dell

If I kicked in a few billion dollars for anything, I’d want something in return. But does Dell have anything Microsoft would want?

By now, you’re probably familiar with the reports that Michael Dell is looking to take his company off the public stock market and make it private again. The deal would be the largest leveraged buyout since the economy hit the skids in 2008, and one of the biggest ever. Because of this, the current problem won’t be easy to solve.

As it looks now, Michael is basically going to have to empty his piggy bank, which means his 16% stake in the company, financing by private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners, and arrange another $15 billion in debt financing with banks.

Microsoft is also involved, reportedly ready to contribute $2 billion or more of equity in the form of a preferred security. Other reports put Microsoft’s contribution at between $1 and $3 billion.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft’s role is proving to be a sticking point, which should surprise no one. You don’t hand over $2 billion and let a company go on its way. Word to the WSJ is the key players in the deal still need to work out the ways Microsoft would and would not be involved in Dell’s business after a deal closes.

Looking things over, it would seem there is more downside for Microsoft and Dell than there is upside. The great upside potential for both companies, as I see it, is that they would be the closest thing to an Apple-like scenario of merging hardware and software under one roof. It won’t be as tightly knit as Apple, but it will be closer than it is now.

That said, I’m not sure how much tighter they can get. Dell and Microsoft MCTS Certification are already close and have great integration between hardware and software. There’s not much more the two need.

At the same time, Microsoft risks alienating or damaging its relationships with other OEMs, especially HP and the surging Lenovo. We’ve been through this argument before when talking about Microsoft MCITP Training making prototype smartphones and tablets. It’s risky business, but at the same time, where else would the OEMs go?

And, on that note, will a meddling Microsoft put an end to Dell’s Linux efforts? Dell offers Red Hat and SuSe enterprise servers and is working with Canonical to certify Ubuntu on the PowerEdge servers. What will become of that?

Dell has sworn off smartphones for now, having gotten burned on some earlier models like the Streak a few years back. But Microsoft is anxious for OEM partners. Will it lean on Dell to offer Windows Phone 8 devices? If so, how will Nokia, Samsung, HTC and LG take it, if they aren’t the supplier through Dell?

Taking all of these headaches into account, it’s hard for me to see an upside. In this case, Microsoft might want to just wash its hands of the whole thing. Or give a loan with no expectations of influence, although I kind of doubt that would happen.

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