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FAQ: The ins and out of Windows 8 pricing

What’s it cost to whom and for what

Last week, Microsoft and its retail partners revealed a few more details about Windows 8 pricing, clarifying what the Redmond, Wash., developer has purposefully left muddy in the months leading up to its release next week.

Windows 8 may come in fewer flavors than its predecessors, but pricing seems as confusing as ever, in large part because of Microsoft’s secrecy — this cycle it’s dribbled out information so slowly it’s driven some analysts half-crazy — with a dash also due to a record-setting discount for upgraders through the end of January.

We’ve tried to answer the most-pressing questions, filled in the blanks as best we could, and thrown up our hands when we had no more of a clue than you.

If Microsoft answers the open questions — it again declined to do so last Friday — we’ll be back with an updated FAQ.

Can I score a free copy of Windows 8? Yes, you can, but the OS is good for just 90 days.

The free trial of Windows 8 Pro RTM (release to manufacturing) can be downloaded from this Microsoft website. But when the 90 days are up, you have to replace the trial with a purchased copy or another operating system, and reinstall all applications, other software and files.

Sorry, I like OSes that stick around. What else do you have? How about $14.99? That’s the price of a Windows 8 Pro upgrade from Windows 7 for anyone who purchases a new PC between June 2, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2013.

To get the cut-rate upgrade, PC buyers must register at the Windows Upgrade Offer site.

Thanks, but that doesn’t work for me. How much for my best deal? For most Windows users, the $39.99 Windows 8 upgrade, which Microsoft will kick off Oct. 26 and offer through Jan. 31, 2013, will be the most economical.

First announced July 2, the upgrade — from XP, Vista or Windows 7 to Windows 8 Pro — will be available only as a download at that price. It’s unclear if Microsoft will open registrations or pre-orders for the download before Oct. 26, but it definitely will go live on Windows.com that Friday.

At Windows.com, look for something called “Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant,” a tool that checks your PC to ensure it will run the OS, takes your order, then kicks off the download and installation process.

I want something I can hold in my hands. How much for an upgrade on DVD? Microsoft will sell you one of those for Windows 8 Pro at the discounted price of $69.99.

From the hints on Newegg.com, one of the online retailers also selling the SKU, or “stock-keeping unit,” the price for a Windows 8 Pro upgrade on physical media will jump to $199.99 after Jan. 31, 2013.

In other words, just like the $39.99 online upgrade offer, you should strike quickly.

The $30 surcharge for a DVD may seem steep, but Microsoft has actually done a little bit better by customers than rival Apple: In 2011, Apple sold a USB drive with OS X 10.7, also known as Lion, for $39 more than the download price. Apple didn’t even bother to reprise the offer this year for Mountain Lion.

[Note: The Windows 8 Pro online upgrade lets you create a bootable installation DVD or USB drive, so unless you have a very slow Internet connection and want the media to save hours of dial-up agony, that’s a less expensive way to get a DVD.]

I run Windows in a virtual machine (VM) on my Mac. What’s the damage? Looks like $99.99 for Windows 8, $139.99 for Windows 8 Pro, is the cheapest bet for now.

Those are Newegg.com’s pre-sale prices for what Microsoft is now calling “System Builder” — formerly known as “OEM” — an edition aimed at small-scale or homebrew PC makers, as well as users who want to run the OS in a virtual machine or in a dual-boot setup on a Mac or PC.

System Builder includes a license that allows for installation in a virtual environment, but offers one-time-use only. “We grant you the right to install [Windows 8] … as the operating system on a computer that you build for your personal use, or as an additional operating system running on a local virtual machine or a separate partition,” states the end-user license agreement (EULA) we’ve seen. “If you want to use the software on more than one virtual computer, you must obtain separate copies of the software and a separate license for each copy.”

I already run older Windows in several virtual machines. How much do I pay? For each VM you upgrade — up to a max of five per person — you pay $39.99 to migrate to Windows 8 Pro from XP, Vista or Windows 7 through Jan. 31, 2013.

You upgrade the VMs (or partitions, like a second boot partition on a PC, or Boot Camp on OS X) the same way someone upgrades a physical machine: by running the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant on Windows.com.

Any chance that the System Builder SKUs will fall in price after Oct. 26? We don’t think so.

The list prices for the Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional System Builder equivalents are $128 and $179, respectively, according to Amazon. Not surprisingly, Amazon’s prices are less: $92 and $128, or close to the Windows 8 System Builder prices on Newegg.

In other words, unless Microsoft drastically reduces the list price of System Builder, the numbers on Newegg are probably the discounted prices.

How much to upgrade a new Windows 8 system to Windows 8 Pro? $69.99 during the discount stretch.

Microsoft’s calling this the “Windows 8 Pro Pack;” It consists of an activation code that turns Windows 8 into Windows 8 Pro. The Pro Pack is analogous to the in-place upgrades the company touted as “Anytime Upgrades” for Windows 7.

Newegg said the Pro Pack’s $69.99 price was a $30 savings over the regular price of $99.99, with the latter presumably the upgrade’s eventual list price. If so, that’s a $10 increase over the Windows 7 Home Premium Anytime Upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, which costs $89.99.

It may be cheaper to buy the new PC with Windows 8 Pro already installed, if the option’s offered. Sony, for example, charges an additional $50 to bump up a pre-ordered Windows 8 notebook to Windows 8 Pro. (Dell, on the other hand, adds the same $70 as the price for the Windows 8 Pro Pack to juice a Windows 8 machine to Windows 8 Pro.)

What about Windows 8? What will it cost to upgrade to the consumer version, rather than Windows 8 Pro We don’t know because Microsoft’s not saying.

Among the blank spots in an imaginary Windows 8 pricing chart are those for the entry-level edition. So far, Microsoft’s only talked about upgrades to Windows 8 Pro.

The company may be waiting until Oct. 26 to divulge a price for a Windows 8 upgrade, or dawdling until early next year, after the discounted $39.99 Windows 8 Pro upgrade offer expires.

Or the omission may mean more. It’s possible that Microsoft won’t even bother to sell an upgrade to Windows 8, leaving that SKU to OEMs to pre-install on their least-expensive consumer PCs, and to the System Builder line.

Clues to that include: The silence surrounding Windows 8, the Oct. 26 availability of Windows 8 Pro Pack, and the absence of a multi-license SKU for Windows 8. Microsoft sold one dubbed “Family Pack” for $150 that was able to upgrade three PCs to Windows 7 Home Premium, but Microsoft’s said nothing of something similar for Windows 8.

If the sans-Windows 8 alternative is what Microsoft chooses, it will be even more important for upgraders to move before Jan. 31, 2013, when the $39.99 Windows 8 Pro upgrade expires.

Minus a Windows 8 upgrade option, the choices would narrow to a $199.99 upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, or one of the System Builders, which don’t provide support from Microsoft. Neither sounds very attractive.

What if I hate Windows 8? How much will it cost me to get Windows 7 back? Depends.

If it’s an old PC you’ve upgraded to Windows 8 Pro, it should cost you nothing except a lot of time. You’ll need to reinstall the previous OS from your media — which is why it’s a good idea to make sure you have it before you try Windows 8 — and all your applications, as well as restore your files and other data from a backup.

But if you bought a new PC with the new OS already installed, you may need to pony up. Only Windows 8 Pro comes with “downgrade” rights, and then only to Windows 7 Professional, so you’ll need media for the latter to use the license that came with the machine.

If you don’t have that media, or have Windows 8 on the PC, you’ll have to fork over for a new Windows 7 license. Your best bet: A System Builder-like “OEM” Windows 7 license. As we said earlier, Amazon sells that for $92 for Windows 7 Home Premium, $128 for Windows 7 Professional. On Newegg, the prices are $99.99 and $139.99, respectively.

 

 

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70-664 Q&A / Study Guide / Testing Engine / Videos

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QUESTION 1
You work as a Network Administrator at Certkingdom.com. You have been asked to deploy Lync Server
2010 as a VOIP telephony and video conferencing solution for the company.
Company management is concerned about the possible network load imposed by the VoIP and
video conferencing features of Lync Server 2010.
To manage the network bandwidth used by the system, you configure Call Admission Control.
How can you enable the Call Admission Control feature?

A. By running the Set-CsNetworkInterSitePolicy cmdlet.
B. By running the Set-CsNetworkConfiguration cmdlet.
C. By running the Set-CsCpsConfiguration cmdlet.
D. By running the Set-CsVoiceConfiguration cmdlet.

Answer: B

Explanation:


QUESTION 2
You work as a Network Administrator at Certkingdom.com. The company’s communication system is
provided by a Lync Server 2010 infrastructure.
You have configured a bandwidth policy to limit the network bandwidth used by real-time audio
and video sessions.
You want to override the policy for the Managing Director of the company.
What type of policy should you create first to enable you to override the bandwidth policy for the
Managing Director?

A. You should first create a Conferencing Policy.
B. You should first create a Client Version Policy.
C. You should first create a Voice Policy.
D. You should first create an External Access Policy.

Answer: C

Explanation:


QUESTION 3
You work as a Network Administrator at Certkingdom.com. You are configuring a new Lync Server 2010 infrastructure.
You want the company phone number to be displayed in the format +11112222333 when users on
the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) receive calls from users using the Lync Server
system.
Which cmdlet should you run?

A. You should run the Set-CsVoiceConfiguration cmdlet.
B. You should run the Set-CsNetworkInterSitePolicy cmdlet.
C. You should run the Set-CsVoicePolicy cmdlet.
D. You should run the Set-CsLocationPolicy cmdlet.

Answer: C

Explanation:


QUESTION 4
Your work as a Network Administrator at Certkingdom.com includes the management of the Lync Server
2010 infrastructure.
The Lync Server 2010 infrastructure includes a Mediation Server pool that includes three servers
named Certkingdom-Med1, Certkingdom-Med2 and Certkingdom-Med3.
You need to take Certkingdom-Med3 offline for maintenance.
Which two of the following steps should you perform to allow you to take Certkingdom-Med3 offline without
disconnecting any current calls in progress?

A. Navigate to the Lync Server 2010 Topology Builder.
B. Navigate to the Lync Server 2010 Control Panel.
C. Modify the properties of the Mediation Pool.
D. Modify the properties of Certkingdom-Med3.
E. Create a new Mediation Pool.

Answer: B,D

Explanation:


QUESTION 5
You work as a Network Administrator at Certkingdom.com. You are in the process of deploying a Lync
Server 2010 infrastructure for the company.
You have configured dial-in conferencing and verified that it is functioning properly.
You now want to notify users about the availability of the feature. The notification should include
introductory instructions such as the initial PIN and the link to the Dial-in Conferencing Settings
webpage.
What is the easiest way to send the notification with the required information to the users?

A. Open the Lync Management Shell and run the New-CsAnnouncement cmdlet.
B. Open the Lync Management Shell and run the Set-CsPinSendCAWelcomeMail cmdlet.
C. Open the Lync Management Shell and run the New-CsConferenceDirectory cmdlet.
D. Open the Lync Management Shell and run the New-CsConferencingConfiguration cmdlet.

Answer: B

Explanation:


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What to expect at TechEd North America 2012

As anyone who’s been to TechEd will attest, the event is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. With hundreds of technical sessions, workshops, labs and vendors, the annual Microsoft event doesn’t lack quantity. But what’s actually worth paying attention to?

Thanks to the timing of the event, the published agenda and the tarot cards found lying around the TechTarget office, we have a few informed guesses regarding what attendees can expect to hear a lot about, and where Microsoft wants the industry conversation to go. Here are the top topics we’ll be watching:

Windows Server 2012
With the recent name change from Windows Server 8, there’s a renewed anticipation for Microsoft’s upcoming server OS – and heightened expectations for all the things the company claims it can do. Server and Tools Business president Satya Nadella will be one of the featured keynote speakers at the show, and he’ll likely hammer on all of the many documented improvements within Server 2012, from enhancements to Hyper-V and PowerShell to the new Resilient File System. There are also 72 technical sessions in the Windows Server track, which should sate folks eager to play with the Release Candidate, available now.
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Windows 8
It’s no secret that Microsoft is betting big on Windows 8, its “reimagined,” “fast and fluid” new client operating system. With the next iteration – dubbed the Release Preview – now available, you can bet it’ll be a major point of emphasis for many speakers, if not for the IT pros who remain skeptical of how the touch-centric interface will translate to the enterprise. The agenda includes technical sessions on Windows 8 deployment, Metro-style app delivery, Windows To Go and more. Developers will have plenty to chew on as well: Visual Studio corporate vice president Jason Zander will be speaking during Monday’s keynote session, and Antoine LeBlond, corporate vice president for Windows Web Services (with a focus on the Windows Store) takes the stage on Tuesday.

Certifications
Sure, IT pros have been able to take certification exams at TechEd every year. But this year adds some intrigue, given the recent changes to Microsoft’s program, including the return of the MCSE and a focus on the cloud. Many are wondering what the changes mean for them, whether they should get recertified and what the value of these things are, anyway. If there is any place to get answers, it’s here.

Device (or user) management
It’s pretty difficult to avoid the topic of consumerization and BYOD programs at any conference these days, and for good reason: Any organization that isn’t dealing with it now will soon need to or risk being beaten over the head by iPad-wielding employees. One of the main ways that Microsoft is addressing the new reality is through improved device management. The revamped Windows Intune, which will purportedly give IT the ability to manage and deliver applications to iOS and Android devices in addition to Windows devices, will be featured in demos and discussions throughout the week (as will System Center Configuration Manager 2012). Expect to hear about Microsoft’s “user-centric” management model a lot, and get explanations as to why Windows RT tablets don’t need to join Active Directory domains.

Cloud
The word “cloud” at a Microsoft conference usually means Azure. The public cloud platform will definitely be a major coverage area at TechEd, given both the timing – there was a recent branding brouhaha, and the company is scheduled to make a significant Azure announcement on June 7 – and the speaker slate (which includes sessions from Azure executives Scott Guthrie and Mark Russinovich, and purportedly something on the new Windows Azure Active Directory). But don’t discount Microsoft’s private cloud push, which includes System Center 2012 and Hyper-V.

System Center 2012
Though Microsoft’s updated systems management suite got plenty of time in the spotlight during the Management Summit in April, IT pros are looking to learn more about how to better monitor and respond to increasingly complex environments. Many of the suite’s most significant products, including Virtual Machine Manager, Operations Manager and Orchestrator, will get dedicated technical sessions, and should be touted as ways to tie together many of the topics mentioned above.

Office
We’ve heard very little about how things are going with Office 365, Microsoft’s answer to Google Apps, and maybe that’s for a reason. But the roadmap should become a little clearer during TechEd, as there are several sessions scheduled that cover the cloud-based productivity suite in depth, including its tie-ins to the Sharepoint collaboration platform (and we may get more details on the new government-specific version). Though there’s nothing listed, we might also hear something about Office 15, which will reportedly be delivered to Windows devices before anything else.

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Microsoft Continues Rebranding, This Time It’s Azure

Microsoft must be in a mood to rename things this month. First, the company re-branded its small and medium business advertising site and eliminated Windows Live branding. Now it’s moved on to Azure. Will any of these changes have a positive impact on revenue or just result in confused customers?
Rebranding Azure for Billing Reports
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Microsoft has sent a message to Windows Azure users that it is rebranding its cloud services. “Azure” will no longer appear on the billing site and many of the cloud offerings will get slightly modified names. For example, SQL Azure is becoming SQL Database and Azure Compute will now be Cloud Services. Although the change is imminent, it’s unclear if the rebranding will be isolated to billing and usage records or if will apply to the brand as a whole.

Microsoft hasn’t released an official statement explaining its rebranding actions. However, the move may be designed to blur the distinction between on premises and cloud-based solutions. The company has long been committed to having both a premises and cloud versions of its products. In 2009, Microsoft combined the Windows Server and Azure teams.

Microsoft doesn’t want customers to worry about moving between locally deployed and cloud-based solutions. The company wants to create an ecosystem where customers can mix deployment options and easily move between environments.

In addition to the name changes, Microsoft also updated the Azure privacy policy. The policy doesn’t include any additional restrictions or protections. According to the company, the change only added more details for clarification.
What This Means

The cloud market is continuing to mature and has grown more competitive. Microsoft seems to be positioning itself as a one-stop-shop for business computing. The company has offerings at every level of the cloud stack from infrastructure-as-a-service to software-as-a-service.
However, the company isn’t stopping with the cloud; Microsoft is also supporting every deployment strategy from traditional on premises installs to the public cloud. The approach will likely be attractive to organizations that don’t want to invest time and resources into integrating best of breed solutions from multiple vendors.

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Windows Vista infection rates climb, says Microsoft

End of support last year for SP1 responsible for spike in successful attacks

Computerworld – Microsoft said last week that a skew toward more exploits on Windows Vista can be attributed to the demise of support for the operating system’s first service pack.

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Data from the company’s newest security intelligence report showed that in the second half of 2011, Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) was 17% more likely to be infected by malware than Windows XP SP3, the final upgrade to the nearly-11-year-old operating system.

That’s counter to the usual trend, which holds that newer editions of Windows are more secure, and thus exploited at a lower rate, than older versions like XP. Some editions of Windows 7, for example, boast an infection rate half that of XP.

Tim Rains, the director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group, attributed the rise of successful attacks on Vista SP1 to the edition’s retirement from security support.

“This means that Windows Vista SP1-based systems no longer automatically receive security updates and helps explain why there [was] a sudden and sharp increase in the malware infection rate on that specific platform,” said Rains in a blog post last week.

Microsoft stopped delivering patches for Vista SP1 in July 2011. For the bulk of the reporting period, then, Vista SP1 users did not receive fixes to flaws, including some that were later exploited by criminals.

Vista SP2 will continue to be patched until mid-April 2017.

Rains also noted that the infection rates of both Windows XP SP3 and Vista dropped dramatically last year after Microsoft automatically pushed a “backport” update which disabled AutoRun, a Windows feature that major worms, including Conficker and Stuxnet, abused to infect millions of machines.

Rains seemed to intimate that the AutoRun disabling had more impact on XP than on Vista, and by Microsoft’s data, he may have been on to something: While XP’s infection rate continued to drop throughout the year, Vista SP2’s climbed from the second quarter to the third, and again from the third to the fourth.

Windows 7’s infection rate also increased each quarter of 2011.

Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Security, had a different theory for XP’s infection rate decline and the rise of Vista’s and Windows 7’s.

“As Microsoft’s intelligence gets better in [the Malicious Software Removal Tool] and fewer attackers focus on the older OS, then fewer infections should be found on the older OS,” said Storms, talking about Windows XP.

Most of Microsoft’s infection rate data is derived from the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), a free utility it distributes to all Windows users each month that detects, then deletes selected malware families.

And the rise of infection rates in Vista and Windows 7?

“It would be expected that all the SKUs should go up slightly over time simply because new vulnerabilities are found, more attacks always happening, and so on,” Storms added.

Rains urged XP and Vista users to upgrade to the supported service packs — SP3 for XP, SP2 for Vista — to continue to receive patches.

The 126-page Security Intelligence Report that Rains referenced can be found on Microsoft’s website (download PDF)

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MSL Product Planner Shares Perspective

A few months back, Microsoft Learning Product Planner, Eamonn Kelly shared perspective on the lab experience from course 10215A: Implementing and Managing Microsoft Server Virtualization. If you have not signed up for Virtualization training, Learning Partners are offering special offers on four popular Virtualization courses this quarter. Take a look at current offers to the right.

 

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Eamonn’s post:

10215A released in October 2010 and in that short period time it has become one of our most popular courses in terms of positive feedback submitted via MTM. This five day server virtualization course covers a lot of technologies and functionality. At a high level it covers Hyper-V, SCVMM 2008 R2, Integration with SCOM 2008 R2, DPM 2007 Sp1 as well as RDS. So it’s a broad set of technologies and students should come away from it with a good understanding of what the options and pitfalls are when considering virtualizing a server infrastructure. As well as this, it also prepares students for the 70-659: TS: Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization exam.

The lab experience for students was one of the key drivers when designing the course and as such the requirements for the labs are above the standard spec, namely a single host running Windows server 2008 RTM. In this course the Instructor and each student require two host machines running Windows Server 2008 R2. Labs covering High Availability, in Module 9 for example, will not be able to be completed unless this is available, but this “above standard” spec does provide an excellent and real world lab experience. Definitely to be recommended to students!

I will return to post additional bogs on the actual content covered in the course both this week and next and will dig a bit deeper into the labs to try explain why decisions were made and why some items were covered as they are.

If there are any specific questions around the labs or the course feel free to post them here and I’ll try my best to answer!

Thanks,

The inside story of how Microsoft killed its Courier tablet

Steve Ballmer had a dilemma. He had two groups at Microsoft pursuing competing visions for tablet computers.

One group, led by Xbox godfather J Allard, was pushing for a sleek, two-screen tablet called the Courier that users controlled with their finger or a pen. But it had a problem: It was running a modified version of Windows.

That ran headlong into the vision of tablet computing laid out by Steven Sinofsky, the head of Microsoft’s Windows division. Sinofsky was wary of any product–let alone one from inside Microsoft’s walls–that threatened the foundation of Microsoft’s flagship operating system. But Sinofsky’s tablet-friendly version of Windows was more than two years away.

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For Ballmer, it wasn’t an easy call. Allard and Sinofsky were key executives at Microsoft, both tabbed as the next-generation brain trust. So Ballmer sought advice from the one tech visionary he’s trusted more than any other over the decades–Bill Gates. Ballmer arranged for Microsoft’s chairman and co-founder to meet for a few hours with Allard; his boss, Entertainment and Devices division President Robbie Bach; and two other Courier team members.

At one point during that meeting in early 2010 at Gates’ waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash., Gates asked Allard how users get e-mail. Allard, Microsoft’s executive hipster charged with keeping tabs on computing trends, told Gates his team wasn’t trying to build another e-mail experience. He reasoned that everyone who had a Courier would also have a smartphone for quick e-mail writing and retrieval and a PC for more detailed exchanges. Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

But the device wasn’t intended to be a computer replacement; it was meant to complement PCs. Courier users wouldn’t want or need a feature-rich e-mail application such as Microsoft’s Outlook that lets them switch to conversation views in their inbox or support offline e-mail reading and writing. The key to Courier, Allard’s team argued, was its focus on content creation. Courier was for the creative set, a gadget on which architects might begin to sketch building plans, or writers might begin to draft documents.

“This is where Bill had an allergic reaction,” said one Courier worker who talked with an attendee of the meeting. As is his style in product reviews, Gates pressed Allard, challenging the logic of the approach.

It’s not hard to understand Gates’ response. Microsoft makes billions of dollars every year on its Exchange e-mail server software and its Outlook e-mail application. While heated debates are common in Microsoft’s development process, Gates’ concerns didn’t bode well for Courier. He conveyed his opinions to Ballmer, who was gathering data from others at the company as well.

Within a few weeks, Courier was cancelled because the product didn’t clearly align with the company’s Windows and Office franchises, according to sources. A few months after that, both Allard and Bach announced plans to leave Microsoft, though both executives have said their decisions to move on were unrelated to the Courier cancellation.

The story of Microsoft’s Courier has only been told in pieces. And nothing has been disclosed publicly about the infighting that led to the innovative device’s death. This article was pieced together through interviews with 18 current and former Microsoft executives, as well as contractors and partners who worked on the project. None of the Microsoft employees, both current and former, would talk for attribution because they worried about potential repercussions. Microsoft’s top spokesman, Frank Shaw, offered only a brief comment for this story and otherwise declined to make Microsoft’s senior executives available.

“At any given time, we’re looking at new ideas, investigating, testing, incubating them,” Shaw said in a statement when word leaked in April 2010 that Courier had been cancelled. “It’s in our DNA to develop new form factors and natural user interfaces to foster productivity and creativity. The Courier project is an example of this type of effort. It will be evaluated for use in future offerings, but we have no plans to build such a device at this time.”

While the internal fight over Courier occurred about 18 months ago, the implications of the decision to kill the incubation project reverberate today. Rather than creating a touch computing device that might well have launched within a few months of Apple’s iPad, which debuted in April 2010, Microsoft management chose a strategy that’s forcing it to come from behind. The company cancelled Courier within a few weeks of the iPad’s launch. Now it plans to rely on Windows 8, the operating system that will likely debut at the end of next year, to run tablets.

Courier’s death also offers a detailed look into Microsoft’s Darwinian approach to product development and the balancing act between protecting its old product franchises and creating new ones. The company, with 90,000 employees, has plenty of brilliant minds that can come up with revolutionary approaches to computing. But sometimes, their creativity is stalled by process, subsumed in other products, or even sacrificed to protect the company’s Windows and Office empires.

‘Not a whim’
Courier was much more than a clever vision. The team, which had more than 130 Microsoft employees contributing to it, had created several prototypes that gave a clear sense about the type of experience users would get. There were still tough hardware and software issues to resolve when Microsoft pulled the plug. But an employee who worked on Courier said the project was far enough along that the remaining work could have been completed in months if the company had added more people to the team. Microsoft’s Shaw disputes that.

“There was extensive work done on the business, the technology and the experience,” said a member of the Courier team. “It was very complete, not a whim.”

Ballmer and Microsoft’s senior leadership decided to bet solely on Sinofsky’s Windows vision for the company’s tablet strategy. Though it crushed some innovative work from dedicated employees, that decision had plenty of logic to it. Corporate customers may be more inclined to use a Windows tablet than, say, Apple’s iPad, because those devices will likely include well-known management and security tools that should make them easy to plug into secure corporate networks.

A new survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that more than 40 percent of current tablet users in the United States want a tablet that runs Windows. That number jumps to 53 percent when non-tablet owners are included. The reason: familiarity with Windows, which still runs nearly 90 percent of all PCs sold.

“They think a common operating system will make this experience seamless across devices,” said Boston Consulting senior partner and managing director John Rose. “The products will be introduced, and they’ll be better (than the iPad) or they won’t be.”

Ballmer went out of his way to underscore Microsoft’s Windows strategy at the company’s financial analysts meeting last month, which it held concurrently with a conference where Microsoft wooed more than 5,000 developers to the Windows 8 platform for tablets.

“The first thing, which I hope is obvious, about our point of view is Windows is at the center,” Ballmer told analysts. “Certainly I can read plenty of places where people will question whether that’s a good idea or not. I think it’s an exceptionally good idea.”

But using Windows as the operating system for tablets also implies that Microsoft will update the devices’ operating systems on the Windows time frame, typically every three years. Compare that to Apple, which seems likely to continue to update the iPad annually, a tactic that drives a raft of new sales each time a new generation hits the market. By the time Windows 8 rolls out, Apple will likely have introduced its iPad 3. Moreover, Amazon’s much anticipated Kindle Fire tablet, which goes on sale November 15, will have nearly a year head start on the Windows-powered tablet offerings.

On the other hand, Courier, with its modified version of Windows, could have been updated more frequently than the behemoth operating system itself.

How far behind is Microsoft? Tablet makers sold 17.6 million devices in 2010, and are on a pace to sell 63.3 million more this year, according to industry analyst Gartner. In 2012, the firm expects sales to jump to 103.5 million devices. Just 4.3 million of those tablets, the ones that go on sale at the end of the year when Windows 8 debuts, will run Windows, according to the firm. Gartner expects Apple’s game-changing iPad to continue to dominate with a two-thirds share.

Building consumer muscle
Microsoft counted on Allard, more than any other senior executive in the last decade, to help it figure out how to reach the types of consumers who are now racing to buy iPads. Once an Internet wonk who helped a mid-1990s Microsoft wake up to the Web, Allard led the team that created Microsoft’s biggest non-PC consumer success story–the Xbox video game business. Always willing to stand up to leadership, Allard successfully argued that Windows wasn’t suitable to power the video game console, something Gates wasn’t initially keen on.

The success of the Xbox led Microsoft to create its Entertainment and Devices division under Bach. And Bach tapped the chrome-domed Allard to be his chief visionary.

Allard is a downhill mountain-biking maniac, who co-founded a cycling team, dubbed Project 529, whose name is intended to reflect the team’s after-hours passion, what they do from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. He often used Apple products, such as the iPod or the Mac, much to the disdain of some Microsoft colleagues. While he has serious technology chops, Allard also appreciated the importance of design, creating studios, rather than traditional office space, where his teams toiled. A key Allard trait: challenging convention.

Gizmodo broke the Courier story in September 2009, posting leaked pictures of what the device might look like and how it might work. Rather than the single screen that consumers have come to know as a tablet, Courier would have had two screens, each about 7 inches diagonally. The device would have folded in half like a book. It would have supported both touch and pen-based computing. The gadget-loving site drooled over what it had found.

“It feels like the whole world is holding its breath for the Apple tablet,” Gizmodo wrote. “But maybe we’ve all been dreaming about the wrong device. This is Courier, Microsoft’s astonishing take on the tablet.”

The gadget was the creation of Allard’s skunkworks design operation Pioneer Studios and Alchemie Ventures, a research lab that also reported to Allard. (The lab took the German spelling of “alchemy” to highlight the stereotypical Teutonic traits of structure and regiment it hoped to bring to its innovation process.) The two groups were created to identify consumer experiences that Microsoft could develop and hatch.

“Our job is to incubate those and work with the product teams to bring them to market,” said Pioneer’s co-founder Georg Petschnigg in a video posted to Microsoft’s developer Web site last year.

Allard created Alchemie to focus on innovation process to make sure that the efforts of Pioneer were not scattershot. It studied best practices, both within and outside Microsoft, to “design a repeatable, predictable and measurable approach for building new business” for Bach’s division, according to the Alchemie Ventures Toolkit, an internal Microsoft book reviewed by CNET.

“If Microsoft wants to truly implement effective and sustainable incubation, we have to embrace rigorous, repeatable, and measurable processes–and make those processes available to everyone,” Alchemie’s general manager Giorgio Vanzini wrote in the book.

Courier was born from the minds of both groups. And while Apple was working on its iPad at the same time, Courier was designed to be something entirely different. The iPad is all about content consumption–surfing the Web, watching videos, playing games. Courier was focused on content creation–drafting documents, brainstorming concepts, jotting down ideas.

“We weren’t fearful of it,” a Courier worker said of the iPad. “We were doing something different.”

Early on, the group opted to use Windows for Courier’s operating system. But it wasn’t a version of Windows that any consumer would recognize. The Courier team tweaked the operating system to make sure it could perform at high levels with touch- and pen-based computing. What’s more, the graphical shell of Windows–the interface that computer users associate with the operating system–was entirely removed. So while it was Windows under the hood, the home screens bore zero resemblance to the familiar PC desktop.

Creating a new approach
The Courier group wasn’t interested in replicating Windows on a tablet. The team wanted to create a new approach to computing. The metaphor they used was “digital Moleskine,” a nod to the leather-bound notebooks favored in the design world. In fact, according to a few team members, a small group led by Petschnigg flew to Milan, Italy, to pick the brains of the designers at Moleskine to understand how they’ve been able to create such loyal customers.

“Moleskine was interested but a little perplexed,” said one executive who worked on the Courier project.

Designers working on Courier came up with clever notions for how digital paper should work. One of the ideas was to create “smart ink,” giving text, for example, mathematical properties. So when a user wrote “5+8=” on, say, digital graph paper, the number “13” would fill in the equation automatically. Additionally, if users selected lined digital paper, words would snap to each line as they were jotted down.

The phrase at the core of the Courier mission was “Free Create.” It was meant to describe the notion of eliminating the processes and protocols that productivity software often imposes on workers.

“Free Create is a simple statement that acts as a rallying cry, uniting the consumer’s core need and Courier’s core benefit,” reads a passage in an internal Microsoft book memorializing the Courier effort, reviewed by CNET, that was given to the team after the project was shuttered. “Free Create is a natural way to digitally write, sketch and gather inspiration by blending the familiarity of the pen, the intuition of touch, the simplicity of the book and the advantages of software and services.”

It’s clear there were substantial resources behind the effort. The commemorative book, designed to resemble the journal-like look of the Courier, lists the 134 employees who contributed to the gadget’s creation. Moreover, Petschnigg writes on his LinkedIn profile page that he “managed $3.5 (million) seed funding, (and) secured $20 (million) to develop this new product category.”

Those funds helped build a multi-disciplinary team. It included interaction designers, who worked on new interfaces using pen- and touch-computing. There were also employees who worked on software to synchronize data from the Courier to Web-based services. The project had moved far enough along that there was staff that worked on brand strategy, advertising, retail planning, and partner marketing. Courier even had a deeply considered logo, something of a squiggle that looks a bit like an ampersand, meant to evoke the doodling that often is the start of a creative process.

“The Courier logo expresses the free-flow and formation of ideas,” reads the description of the logo in the commemorative book. “It references simple scribbles that are often the beginning of new ideas.”

While the software prototypes ran on existing tablet PCs built by Microsoft’s partners, they didn’t meet the performance goals for Courier. So Allard’s team also worked with several hardware makers, including Samsung, to create hardware prototypes.

“It was not off-the-shelf tech,” said a Courier team member. “There is no commercial product today that meets the specs we had for it. It was highly demanding and innovative and no one partner had all of the pieces.”

When Courier died, there was not a single prototype that contained all of the attributes of the vision: the industrial design, the screen performance, the software experience, the correct weight, and the battery life. Those existed individually, created in parallel to keep the development process moving quickly. Those prototypes wouldn’t have come together into a single unit until very late in the development process, perhaps weeks before manufacturing, which is common for cutting-edge consumer electronics design. But on the team, there was little doubt that they were moving quickly toward that final prototype.

“We were on the cusp of something really big,” said one Courier team member.

In late 2009, before the iPad had launched, the Courier team recognized the market for tablets was ready to explode. It laid out a detailed engineering schedule and made the case to Microsoft’s top brass that Courier could be a revolutionary device that would define a new product category. The team put forward a vision that Microsoft could create a new market rather than chasing down a leader or defending an established product.

“J (was) incubating with his tribe, very much thinking consumer and very much thinking the next few years,” a former Microsoft executive said. “He was trying to disrupt Microsoft, which hasn’t been good at consumer products.”

In fact, one of the mandates of Alchemie was to look only at product ideas and business concepts that were no farther than three years into the future. The Alchemie book includes something of an innovation process road map that lays out four “gates” that ideas needed to pass through to move from incubation to product development. And a source said that Courier had made it through all four gates.

So why did Courier die? The answer lies in an understanding of Microsoft’s history and cultu

Bill Gates: I’m cool with Steve Jobs dissing me

Some relationships become competitive. And some have competitiveness at their core.

The latter surely was the case between Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs. So no one could have imagined that Jobs would have offered too many conciliatory quotes in Walter Isaacson’s biography.

In an interview with ABC News, Gates says he’s thoroughly and utterly cool with Jobs tossing zingers his way.

“None of that bothers me at all,” he told ABC. He added a finely generic eulogy: “Steve Jobs did a fantastic job.”

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The thing is that, even in the Isaacson book, Gates offered flaming daggers of his own. He called Jobs “weirdly flawed as a human being.” I thought it flattering that he included the “human being” part.

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Jobs, in turn, told Isaacson of Gates: “He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” Yes, he’d have rather that Gates had been more like, well, him. He also accused Gates of “shamelessly ripping off other people’s ideas.”

Gates insisted to ABC News that wafting off to India was not, in fact, a prerequisite for entrepreneurial success. However, you couldn’t get anywhere in life if you weren’t good at math. (I exaggerate, but only by 0.04 per cent.)

Gates added of Jobs: “Over the course of the 30 years we worked together, you know, he said a lot of very nice things about me and he said a lot of tough things.” Jobs was, indeed, mercurial.

Gates couldn’t resist a little, well, Gatesian perspective. He would like to remind everyone just how much Jobs struggled in the face of Microsoft’s pleasantly left-brained onslaught.

He explained: “He faced, several times at Apple, the fact that their products were so premium priced that they literally might not stay in the marketplace. So the fact that we were succeeding with high volume products, you know, including a range of prices, because of the way we worked with multiple companies, it’s tough.”

Critics of Microsoft might offer that Gates still rejoices in the idea that he simply muscled Jobs out of the market. But for Jobs, Microsoft stood for everything he most disdained– not mass production in itself, but a mass lack of taste.

These were two men who simply thought differently. As Isaacson offered to the New York Times yesterday, Gates was the epitome of what academics regard as “smart”, while Jobs was pure ingeniousness.

You couldn’t imagine them hanging at parties together. Or art galleries for that matter. Though they did– once– play nice in 2007.

In the end, though, both must have known that each secured victory within his own sphere of thinking. Gates dominated the left brains, while Jobs dominated the right.

Windows 8 Tiles Metro-Style UI on Windows 7

Windows 8 would ditch the Windows 7 Aero interface in favor of Metro UI,  which exists on Windows Phone today. If you love the MEtro style tiles and interface, you can get the Metro UI on windows 7 using Zetro UI.

Zetro UI is very simple to install and configure. Extract the zip after downloading the theme from the link below. When done, follow the below two simple steps:

Opening the Extras folder, running the Theme Patcher, and clicking on all three “patch” buttons contained within.
Opening the Theme folder and copying both of the files inside it to C:\Windows\Resources\Themes.

When finished, Open the Control Panel and “Change the Theme” under Appearance and Personalization. The Zetro theme should be available in “Installed themes”.

metro-ui-windows7
The look and feel of the theme makes you windows 7 look simple with white all over the place, which might look a bit odd for the first few minutes. You can tweak it using the extra tweaks available in the readme file that comes along with the zip.

Extending the tweak further, feel free to blend it with something like the Metro-inspired Omnimo 4 theme for Rainmeter.

 

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5 Things Microsoft should do at BUILD

Can you hear it? Can you hear it coming? Microsoft’s Windows developer conference is almost here. BUILD kicks off September 13 in Anaheim, Calif., and it’s going to be big, big, BIG. Microsoft will give Windows 8 its formal unveiling — everything else before was just movie previews. No new Windows version is really official until Microsoft presents it to developers. 70-640 Training .”

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But there’s more. Microsoft moved its annual Financial Analyst Meeting from July to September, coinciding with BUILD. It’s a colossally smart move. Wall Street geeks and technophobes will have chance to get caught up in the energy and enthusiasm of Windows 8 — and Windows Phone “Mango”, too. Microsoft really needs to energize analysts about these products and how they’re not so much the past but vital forces for the so-called post-PC era.

I present five things Microsoft should do next week. These aren’t recommendations, since it’s too close to BUILD for Microsoft to follow my lowly advice. It’s what I expect from Microsoft, if the Windows operating system teams hope to churn up the kind of positive reaction that can ignite developers and spread the fire to Windows enthusiasts and customers.

1. Give everyone Windows 8 slates. No developer, no financial analyst, no news media attendee should leave BUILD without an ultraportable or tablet PC running Windows 8 beta. Hell, Google gave participants to its I/O developer conference Samsung Chromebooks and Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets. Microsoft should do even better.

There’s precedent. PDC 2009 developer attendees received free thin-and-light laptops designed by Microsoft and Acer. These portables were reference designs for developing apps. Microsoft should do at least the same next week.

“Windows 8 slates are great”. Now there’s a slogan.

2. Give all participants Mango smartphones. Why stop at ultrabooks or tablets? The first Mango smartphones are ready to ship, and Microsoft needs to rally developers. What? Microsoft should let its core use iPhones or Androids? Hell, no! Give developers phones and free cellular and data service for a year, if they personally use them. Make it hard to say no. Some wonky bloggers will scream “Bribery!” Frak them. Windows Phone is part of a larger Microsoft ecosystem of products and services (see #3).

3. Introduce a new far-reaching strategy: “Three screens and a cloud” Catchy, eh? For years Microsoft has talked about its three-screen and cloud strategies, separately and loosely connected. With the development and platform changes coming next week, Microsoft should formally and exactly tie together three screens and the cloud.

It’s clear that when looking at XNA, HTML5 and other technologies, Microsoft is rapidly unifying development around Windows 8, Windows Phone, Xbox and its cloud services. The vision must be communicated with absolute clarity and certainty next week, as much for financial analysts as anyone else. They have to see the vision of the Microsoft connected lifestyle. Too many of them drank the Apple Kool-Aid. Don’t believe that? Count how many analysts will be carrying iPhones and MacBook Airs or Pros next week.

4. Unveil a unified Windows marketplace, one place for apps of all varieties — cloud productivity, Internet Explorer 9, Windows Phone, Windows 7/8 and Xbox. Microsoft must present to developers and customers a connected business and personal lifestyle. A unified app store should be one of the experience’s pillars. Developers get the convenience and assured revenue confidence/piracy protection from a single, unified market for all Microsoft platforms.

5. Debut Metro OS. One of Windows 8’s most exciting new benefits is the tile-like Metro desktop UI, which is optimized for touchscreens. But behind it remains Windows legacy code for the seemingly zillions of enterprises and developers needing support for existing apps. Why not break out Metro instead, as a separate operating system? It would be much more than a Windows lite or embedded but much less than the legacy operating system.

Now that Windows will support ARM processors, Metro OS could be adapted for all kinds of touchscreen devices, everything from ATMs, to retail kiosks to tablets. Sure, Microsoft has Windows embedded, but Metro OS would be better because of the emphasis on touch. These third-party products could help sell Windows, too, because people would become used to the tile motif everywhere Microsoft Free MCTS Training and MCTS Online Training.

Metro OS also could extinguish Chrome OS. Google’s browser-based operating system has merit, but the motif is archaic in a touchscreen world. HTML5 already is core to Microsoft’s development approach for Metro UI. How hard would it really be for Metro OS to push Chrome OS into the waste bin?