Tag Archives: Windows 8

Windows 10 revealed: Microsoft’s next OS fuses Windows 7 and 8

At a press event on Tuesday, Microsoft launched the next version of Windows: Not Windows One, not Windows 9, but Windows 10, which combines the reborn Start menu with Windows 8’s colorful live tiles and adjusts its behavior depending on how you’re using your device.

Windows 10 will officially launch in the middle of next year, but you’ll have a chance to try it out before that via a new Windows Insider program, launching Wednesday. The platform’s most vocal fans will have a chance to download the technical preview before it launches next year.

Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore showing off Windows 10’s reborn, revamped Start Menu.

Microsoft executives unveiled the new OS at a small press event in San Francisco, where the company tried to position the Windows 10 OS as a “natural step forward” for both Windows and Windows Phone, which will also be renamed Windows 10.

Windows 10 will be designed for the enterprise, Terry Myerson executive vice president of Microsoft’s OS group, said. It will have a “familiar” interface, whether it be for Windows 7 or Windows 8. “They will find all the tools they’re used to finding, with all the apps and tools they’re used to today,” he said.

Windows 10 will be compatible with all the familiar management systems, including mobile device management. MDM tools will manage not just mobile devices, but PCs, phones, tablets, and even embedded devices inpart of the Internet of Things, Myerson said. Enterprise customers will be able to manage their own app stores, so that ther employees get the right apps for them. As Windows 8 did, data security will be a priority, he said.

“Windows 10 will be our greatest enterprise platform ever,” Myerson said.
Windows 10 revealed

Joe Belfiore, who runs part of the OS team focused on the PC experience, showed off the new OS, which he called a “very early build.” Yes, the new build has the Stat menu, combining the icon-driven menu from Windows 7, plus the added Live Tiles to the right.

Belfiore used the analogy of a Tesla to describe how Windows 7 users would feel when they upgraded—something that Microsoft desperately wants them to do: a supercharged OS, but one that will feel familiar.

One of the things that Microsoft wants to ensure is that Windows 10 is personalized results, including search results, Belfiore said.

Windows 8 had a universal app platform, with a common Windows Store that handle updates independently. Belfiore said that Microsoft wanted all those Windows 7 uses to get all the benefits of Windows 8 apps. Apps will be shown in the Live Tiles, with no real indication whether they are “classic” apps or modern, Windows 8 apps. Apps can be “snapped,” like Windows 8. Users will also not have to leave the Windows desktop to use modern apps, as expected.

Multitasking will also be a priority, with a stated goal being able to “empower” novice users, Belfiore said. On the taskbar there will be a “task view” where users can switch back and forth between different environments—whether it be 32-bit Windows 7 apps or modern apps. And yes, they will include virtual desktops, with the ability to switch back and forth between virtual environments. A “snap assist” feature will allow users to select similar windows to snap alongside other apps. And up to four apps or windows can be snapped to the four corners of the desktop, Belfiore said.

Even more advanced uses will be able to take advantage of new keyboard shortcuts, with the ability to ALT-TAB between desktops. “It’s a nice forward enhancement to make those people more productive,” Belfiore said.

Microsoft even improved the command line interface, with an improved keyboard interface. (You can use Crtl+V to paste now!)
Touch when you need it

Belfiore wrapped up by talking about touch: “We’re not giving up on touch,” he said. But he did say that that massive numbers of users were familiar with the touchless Windows 7 interface, while supporting those who have jumped to Windows 8.

So that means that the Charms experience will be revamped. When you swipe right on Windows 10, the Charms bar is still there. But Belfiore said that the Charms experience would change. When people swipe in from the left, Windows 10, you’ll get a task view. “I’m using touch in a way that accelerates my use of a PC,” Belfiore said.
windows10 continuum start screen

Microsoft is also working on a revamped UI that isn’t is in Windows 10, yet. For two-in-on devices, a “Continuum” mode will adjust the UI depending on whether or not the mouse and keyboard is present. When a keyboard is disconnected, the Windows 8-style Start menu appears and a back button is available so that users can easily back out to a prior command. Menus grow larger. Bu when a mouse and keyboard is connected, the desktop mode reappears, Windows apps return to desktop windows, and the Start page disappears.

Now, Microsoft needs to take the next step: pitching enterprise customers, Myerson said. And that’s critical for Windows’ future, analysts said. Expect more details on the consumer flavors of Windows 10 early next year, more application details at BUILD, and then a launch of Windows 10 near the middle of next year.

“For businesses, I think there are some businesses who have picked it up and they are really early adopters, but in general, the sense—when we engage with customers, we’re not hearing a lot of reception out there,” Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in advance of the briefing. “We’re hearing a lot of businesses even before whatever that thing comes out tomorrow, before that came out, businesses were saying, we’re going to hang out on Windows 7, it’s stable, it does what we need to do.”

Starting Wednesday, Microsoft will launch a Windows Insider program, distributing the technical preview of Windows 10, Myerson said. Through Window Insiders we’re inviting our more vocal Windows fans” to help refine the Windows experience, executives said. Users wil be able to sign up at preview.windows.com, he said, where they will be able to hold private discussions with Windows engineers and give feedback.

“Windows 10 will be our most open, collaborative OS project ever,” Myerson said.


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Microsoft dings Ballmer’s bonus over Windows 8, Surface RT struggles

The penalty is equivalent to half the cost of a cup of coffee at McDonalds to the average American

Microsoft’s board of directors reduced outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer’s bonus for the 2013 fiscal year, citing poor performance of Windows 8 and the $900 million Surface RT write-off, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (Photo: Microsoft)

The Redmond, Wash., company’s proxy statement spelled out the salaries and bonuses of several of its top executives, including Ballmer, new Chief Financial Office Amy Hood and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, as well as now-departed managers such as former CFO Peter Klein and Office chief Kurt DelBene.

Microsoft paid Ballmer $697,500 in salary and awarded him a $550,000 performance bonus, for a total of $1.26 million for fiscal year 2013.

The bonus was less than Ballmer could have earned.

“Our Board of Directors approved an Incentive Plan award of $550,000 which was 79% of Mr. Ballmer’s target award,” stated the proxy. One hundred percent of the target would have been $696,000.

The 79% was considerably lower than Ballmer’s comparable number for the 2012 fiscal year, when he was granted a bonus representing 91% of his target.

Microsoft’s board cited both company wins and losses under Ballmer’s stewardship, but the latter included some failures that were the root of its bonus decision.

“While the launch of Windows 8 in October 2012 resulted in over 100 million licenses sold, the challenging PC market coupled with the significant product launch costs for Windows 8 and Surface resulted in an 18% decline in Windows Division operating income,” the proxy noted. “Slower than anticipated sales of Surface RT devices and the decision to reduce prices to accelerate sales resulted in a $900 million inventory charge.”

Some analysts have speculated that the $900 million write-off was the proverbial straw that broke the board’s back, and triggered Ballmer’s ouster. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, however, John Thompson, the lead independent director and the head of the committee in charge of the search for a new chief executive, backed Ballmer’s explanation for his sudden retirement: He did not want to remain in the job through the long course correction to a “devices-and-services” strategy.

The proxy statement’s commentary on the strategy change, as well as the corporate reorganization announced in July, was Ballmer-neutral. “The company continued to make progress in its devices and services strategy,” the filing read.

Last year, Ballmer’s bonus was pegged at 91% of his target as the board ticked off several issues during that fiscal year, including a 3% decline in revenue for the Windows and Windows Live Division, and a fiasco where Microsoft failed to offer a browser choice screen to Windows 7 customers in the European Union.

Ballmer’s 2013 bonus of 79% was an even lower percentage than that of Steven Sinofsky last year. Then, the former Windows chief — who was ousted in November 2012 — received 90% of his target award, even though he, like Ballmer, was cited as responsible for the EU browser choice screw-up.

Other top-tier executives received 100% or more of their target bonuses for 2013.

Kevin Turner, the COO, received a cash award of $2.1 million, or 100% of his target, and Satya Nadella, who now leads the Cloud and Enterprise group, received $1.6 million, or 105% of his target. Amy Hood, the new CFO, was handed $457,443, 100% of her target incentive, and as part of her promotion, received a stock award in May of 103,413 shares that will vest over the next three years. At Thursday’s closing price, those shares had a paper value of $3.5 million.

In total compensation for the 2013 fiscal year, Turner remained Microsoft’s highest-paid executive at $10.4 million, down slightly from 2012’s $10.7 million.

Eight of the company’s top executives, including Turner and Hood, were handed additional stock grants Sept. 19, the same day Microsoft announced a retention bonus designed to keep upper management from jumping ship during the CEO search. Turner, for example, received grants currently worth $20.3 million. Hood’s award was valued at Thursday’s closing bell at nearly $3.9 million.

No one should cry for Ballmer’s lowered bonus: According to the proxy, he controls 4% of the company, with stock holdings worth $11.3 billion at Thursday’s price. Only co-founder and chairman Bill Gates holds more: 4.5%, or $12.8 billion.

The $146,000 that Ballmer did not get in his 2013 bonus is literally pocket change to the billionaire. The amount represented 0.0013% of Ballmer’s Microsoft holdings, and an even smaller percentage of his total wealth. To put that into perspective, 0.0013% of $42,693, the U.S. per capita personal income in 2012, is 55 cents, or just over half the price of a coffee from McDonalds “Dollar Menu.”

Ballmer and Gates are both on the directors slate for re-election next month when Microsoft hosts its shareholders meeting.

According to a report by the Reuters new service earlier this week, some of Microsoft’s biggest investors have urged the board to push Gates out of the chairman’s role because they are concerned he will block the board from making drastic changes and handcuff the new CEO to the devices-and-services strategy, which they question. Gates is also on the special search committee tasked by the board to recommend Ballmer’s replacement.

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Don’t look now, but Microsoft is surprising in the cloud

No doubt Microsoft will cling to on-premises until the bitter end, but it’s become a very successful cloud provider.

Conventional wisdom says that a revolutionary company in one segment usually can’t make the leap to the next, especially if the next revolution comes at the expense of the technology built by that initial company. Ergo, companies built on selling on-premises software should be abject failures at moving to the cloud, right?

Well, Microsoft isn’t failing at the cloud. It’s getting it better than anyone could possibly have expected, and while everyone beats up Windows 8 and defines the company by that hairball, what’s going on in other parts of the company are nothing short of remarkable.

First, there’s Azure. A whole lot of commotion was made over Microsoft’s claim that it had reached $1 billion in revenue from Azure because it happened so quickly in comparison to others. It’s still running a distant second to Amazon Web Services and there’s a hot competitor not many are watching called Softlayer, but to be sure, Azure is doing great business for Microsoft. It has 20% market share and could reach 35% by next year, according to Forester Research.

Then there’s Skype. A whole lot of people scoffed at the crazy sum Microsoft paid in 2011 – $8.5 billion. But it’s starting to pay off in market share. A third of the world’s voice calls are done through Skype, according to telecom market analysis firm TeleGeography.

Microsoft has integrated Skype with the new Outlook.com platform, along with Google Chat and Facebook chat, and Microsoft is claiming 400 million users of that platform. It’s even running TV ads touting the service. In February, Microsoft announced Skype and Lync sales had reached $2 billion in annual revenue and continues to grow.

Then there’s Office 365, which has already passed the $1 billion annual revenue mark just months after its launch. A rather burdensome end-user license agreement for Office 2013 probably helped, but you can’t deny the service has racked up good reviews.

These growing businesses join the Dynamics ERP & CRM systems and Sharepoint product line to reflect a company that really does seem to get the cloud and is doing a really good job of integrating its many assets and providing a one-stop shop for productivity applications on-demand.

All of these groups in total account for about $7 to $8 billion in revenues for Microsoft, about 10 percent of total sales. That’s going to continue to tilt as more people go on-demand and fewer go on-premises. It won’t be without challenges, especially in the IaaS market for Azure. Google is just now wading into the pool with its Compute Engine offering. And if Dynamics wants a piece of the ERP and CRM business, it will have to rumble with Salesforce, and we all know how much Marc Benioff loves a good fight.

Still, with double-digit growth projections for these markets, Microsoft can ride them to considerable revenue and market share and be the cloud success story no one thought it would be, and without Ray Ozzie, either.

Maybe the Azure team should run Windows.


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Windows 8 Update: Microsoft sacks iPad in Windows 8 ad, join forces with NFL

About those lofty Windows Store app numbers…

A new ad from Microsoft mocks iPads by comparing them – unfavorably – to tablets running Windows 8, which receive live updates on their Start screens, run office apps, display two apps at a time and support Microsoft Office applications – things iPads don’t do.

The ad has the hapless iPad acknowledging a string of things it can’t do until it finally asks (in the voice of iPad’s Siri interface) “Should we just play ‘Chopsticks’?”

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The ad hearkens back to an earlier iPad Mini ad in which a “Chopsticks” duet is played on both an iPad and and IPad mini.

The ad wraps up with a display of the price of an iPad ($699) and the price of a 64G Asus Vivo Tab Smart ($449) the message being that for $250 less, you can get a machine that does more.

It’s interesting that the ad doesn’t use the comparable $899 Surface Pro tablet made by Microsoft as a reference.

Low usage of Windows Store apps

Microsoft says it has more than 65,000 apps in its Windows Store inventory that are designed specifically for use on Windows 8 machines. The catch is that they don’t get used that often, according to a report by Soluto, a Web-based PC-management service provider.

Based on data gathered from 10,848 Windows 8 devices, Soluto found that users were more likely to fire up Windows Store apps if they were working on a tablet or touchscreen laptop than if they were working on a desktop or non-touch laptop (see graphic).
Windows 8

How many times a day will a Windows 8 user launch a Metro App?

Soluto hasn’t crunched the data yet about how often non-Windows Store (Metro) apps are launched, but suspects it is significantly higher, says Roee Adler, chief product officer for Soluto.

What were those apps? The most used was Yahoo! Mail, which was launched on average 26.91 times per week, followed by Social Jogger (25.98), Social Networks (21.19) and Lync MX (9.98).

Most users of desktops, laptops and touchscreen laptops didn’t average launching a Windows Store app even once per day, and 44.38% of tablet users fell into the same category.

What does Soluto make of this? “There’s a consensus in the market that Windows 7 was a good, solid operating system, and it’s unclear why the change to Windows 8 was needed for those who are happy with Windows 7,” the report says. “If you’re pragmatic about using the Windows operating system with a keyboard and mouse – there’s no rush. Wait and see what “Windows Blue” has in store for us before you upgrade.”

Look for Surface tablets on NFL sidelines

Rather than stalking up and down the sidelines referring to laminated play charts NFL coaches may soon use Microsoft Surface tablets.
Microsoft has signed a five-year, contract to pay the NFL $400 million to improve interactive features between football viewing and its new Xbox device. After that, the deal is expected to place Surface tablets in the hands of coaches, according to a story by the Associated Press.

For Microsoft this will primarily serve as a TV showcase for its technology and serve as a kind of advertising for the devices. Microsoft has already engaged Surface product placement, most notably in an episode of the ABC siticom show “Suburgatory” in which the device was actually written into the script as a love interest for the main character.

Microsoft will also place its branding on referees’ instant-replay devices and other areas along the sidelines, the AP says.

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Windows 8 isn’t New Coke, says top Microsoft exec; it’s Diet Coke

Frank X. Shaw defends Windows disclosure strategy, denies aping Apple

Microsoft’s head of corporate communications defended his company’s Windows information disclosure strategy Tuesday, denying that Microsoft has adopted Apple’s “cone of silence” approach to imparting news.

“We know we’re not Apple,” Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s top communications executive, said in an interview yesterday. “We would love to have control all along the stack, as Apple does. But that’s not the business we’re in.”
Frank X. Shaw
Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Corporate Communication, in a photo he uses on his Twitter account. (Image: Frank X. Shaw.)

Microsoft’s communications strategy, specifically the way it reveals information about Windows to a broad audience — developers, PC makers, enterprise customers, consumers, the press and analysts — has been criticized by several of the latter. Windows 8 suffered because of Microsoft’s penchant for withholding information, those analysts have contended.

Developers were not provided enough information and tools to craft top-quality apps for the October 2012 launch, OEMs were caught short of touch-enabled devices, and enterprises remain confused about why they should adopt the new OS, the arguments go.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, has put it most succinctly when he claimed that Microsoft, seeing the success of Apple’s habit of divulging nothing until a product announcement, copied the strategy. “Microsoft doesn’t make a good Apple,” Moorhead said in an interview Monday.

Shaw wasn’t having any of that. “It’s an easy shorthand for people to use, but it’s not accurate,” said Shaw of the Apple comparison. “We choose our strategy on the needs that we have. There are times when we will be more conservative and times when we will be more open.”

Analysts, some who have requested anonymity for fear of risking their access to Microsoft, have been the most vocal about the relative paucity of information disclosed by the Redmond, Wash. developer, and have compared that strategy to what they saw as a more open communications game plan prior to Windows 7, which shipped in the fall of 2009.

The more secretive approach has been credited to Stephen Sinofsky, who until his ouster last year led the Windows division during development of Windows 7 and the follow-on, Windows 8. Sinofsky was known for keeping things under wraps when he led Office development for several editions, closing out his time on that team with Office 2007.

Shaw acknowledged that Microsoft’s approach to doling out information to the media, analysts, developers and OEMs is different today. “Yes, it has changed, because the world we’re living in has changed,” said Shaw. “If you look at Windows 7 and then look at Windows 8, there were a whole bunch of things with Windows 8 that we wanted to keep more confidential than public. Look at the decision to build Windows 8 on ARM. That was held very closely.

“But I think that’s a hard comparison to make,” Shaw continued, speaking of the contrast between Windows 8 secrets and pre-Windows 7 openness. “Windows 8 represented a significant platform shift, with touch, Windows available on ARM as well as Intel, a new app model and a new store, and a new set of hardware from us.”

In many cases, Microsoft has taken to parceling out information in small bits, a drip-drip-drip strategy that, to outsiders at least, seems to serve little purpose. The best illustration was when the company announced last week that it would release a public preview of Windows 8.1 at its BUILD conference in late June, but said it would provide other information, including pricing, “in a few weeks.” Just seven days later, however, Tami Reller, CFO of the Windows division, said that update would be free.

When asked why Microsoft didn’t simply give customers both pieces at the same time, Shaw did not directly answer. Instead, he said, “There are many options, and this was the one that we chose. We thought that it was the best way to get the information out.”

Microsoft has made other communication missteps recently. Earlier this year, when news broke that it was permanently tying each retail Office 2013 license to the first PC it was installed on, and would not allow users to later move that license to another machine, the company limited the disclosure to the end-user licensing agreement (EULA), which very few people read, then only confirmed the move after several rounds of questions from Computerworld. In March, after a heated reaction from users, Microsoft backtracked from the licensing lock-in.

“There’s a big continuum,” Shaw said. “At times we are unbelievably transparent, at times we are moderately transparent, and at times we are quiet. What drives this is not a corporate one-size-fits-all strategy, but the demands of the product or service, and the marketplace.”

Shaw also took exception to the point many have made that developers were not kept as informed about Windows 8 as in past iterations of the OS, and that what they did get was much later in the development cycle than in the past. That contributed to the Windows Store’s app tally and the omission, still, of some major apps, such as one dedicated to Facebook, the theory goes.

“We did tons of work with developers and ISVs to get them ready and to train them,” said Shaw, citing the 2011 BUILD conference and follow-on efforts. “The thing that people have to recognize is that until Windows 8 shipped, there were zero targeted devices.”

And sans those devices, implied Shaw, it was no surprise that at launch the app store had relatively few apps. “Developers are rational creatures,” he said, hinting that until they had hardware they could use to test their apps, they took a wait-and-see stance. “We had realistic expectations of what [the app store] would look like at launch. There was never a ‘work-done’ moment for us related to the launch.”

In the interview, Shaw again blasted press coverage of Windows 8.1. Some stories and opinion pieces described the changes Microsoft might make with the update as a retreat from its previous vision for the OS, and compared Windows 8 to the Coca-Cola debacle of 1985, when within months of the introduction of “New Coke,” the beverage giant yanked the reformulated soda.

Shaw’s counter-attack drew criticism of its own, with Moorhead saying it was a sign of weakness for a company as large as Microsoft to be thin-skinned.

Shaw disagreed. “These things stick,” he said of pieces by The Financial Times and The Economist, which he had earlier singled out as examples of what he called “sensationalism and hyperbole.”

“If you don’t do anything about it, it can become perceived wisdom,” said Shaw, explaining why he wrote the Friday post. “If we don’t say anything, then we shouldn’t expect other people to read our minds. So we get our voice out there.”

Speaking of New Coke, Shaw even had a take on the metaphor.

“If anything, Windows 8 is like Diet Coke,” said Shaw. “Diet Coke was a product that mapped an entirely new need expressed by the marketplace, something that tasted just like Coke but had zero calories.”

Diet Coke is the world’s second-biggest soda, behind only Coke itself and ahead of Pepsi, which it passed in 2010.

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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 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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Microsoft brings the Live Tile experience to SkyDrive


Windows 8’s new Start screen evokes many emotions from customers, with most falling on either the love or hate side with almost no middle ground. However, one thing that can be agreed on is that the screen has no shortage of information. Users are bombarded with messages from Facebook, email, weather and countless other endlessly updating tiles. Now Microsoft has added one more to the perhaps overloaded mix.

Today the company announced it is pushing an update to the SkyDrive app for Windows 8 that will bring the live tile features to the cloud storage and sharing platform.

In an announcement earlier today Microsoft’s Mike Torres outlined the new feature. “The SkyDrive app from the Windows Store will start showing you notifications on the live tile when you add new files to your SkyDrive”. In other words, this should not be a constantly flickering icon that will be in your face. Torres went on to explain that “whenever you add new files to SkyDrive, the app tile shows you relevant details. If you add a document, you’ll see the document name, along with when it was added, and what folder it’s in. If you add photos, the tile gives you a nice view of those photos”.

I honestly like live tiles. When I walk away from my computer I switch to the Start screen so that when I return, or even pass by, I see relevant information. Its easier than clicking on different tabs. I also realize that I very well may be part of a minority in saying that.

As for the update, it is promised to be rolling out today — apparently on a gradual basis, so don’t panic if you don’t have it yet. I don’t either. Hopefully soon.

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Why I abandoned Windows Phone 8

I recently acquired a Nokia Lumia 920 to experiment with Windows Phone 8. But a few weeks in, I’m already back to my Android-based device.

A few months ago, I forced myself to switch to Windows 8 on my desktop system (and laptop) and ended up liking the operating system very much. Once I got used to the quirks and garish look of the new Start screen and learned many of the shortcuts built into Windows 8, I found myself enjoying the operating system and was more than pleased by its myriad of enhancements and performance improvements.

I initially made the switch to Windows 8 because I wanted to fully immerse myself into the OS before formulating any strong opinions. Considering how much I ended up liking Windows 8 on my desktop, I thought I would conduct a similar experiment with my smartphone. For the last few years, I have been deeply entrenched in the Android ecosystem and have experience with a multitude of devices. I enjoy installing custom ROMs on the devices and have experimented with countless apps and utilities. At this point my smartphone is an integral part of my day-to-day computing, and I’ve grown fond of a handful of apps and the convenience of always having my inboxes and access to the web in my pocket.
I picked up a [Windows Phone 8-based Nokia Lumia 920 and was initially impressed. The hardware itself is excellent. The Lumia 920’s camera is top notch. The device is obviously well-built. The screen looks great, and navigating through Windows Phone 8 was smooth as silk. At first, my Android-based device (currently a Samsung Galaxy Note II) remained my daily driver. I kept the Lumia 920 handy until I felt I was comfortable using its email client, browsing the web. But eventually I customized the Start screen to my liking and got a good feel for what Microsoft and Nokia were trying to accomplish with the phone. I installed only a couple of apps and got comfortable with them too.

After a couple of weeks and a good initial impression, I decided to dive in head-first and make the Lumia 920 my daily device. At first, I was happy with the decision. I dug the Live Tiles and the Lumia 920 never lost its luster; it’s a great phone.

But as I started to install more and more apps and dig deeper into the Windows Phone App Store, I was regularly disappointed. There seemed to be three kinds of apps available for Windows Phone 8:

Apps specifically designed for the OS that showed signs of greatness
Quick-and-dirty ports of apps obviously designed for other platforms
Kludges that were nothing more than wrappers for mobile websites

The apps designed with Windows Phone 8 in mind were mostly great. I especially liked the IMDB app, which blows away its counterparts on other mobile platforms. The Facebook app was also very fast and responsive, but it wastes a TON of screen real estate with larger-than-necessary fonts in the navigation menu and wasted white space in the feed. There were times when I could only see a single post in my news feed because of all the wasted screen real estate. I’m not sure what the app developers were thinking with that one.

Then there were the obvious ports that just didn’t look right on Windows Phone 8. One in particular, Words with Friends, comes to mind. I know it’s an older title and games aren’t a necessity, but I enjoy playing Words with Friends; it’s a nice break in the day. Anyway, fonts (like the one used to display the score) were nearly illegible and the game is just plain broken. As of a couple of weeks ago, you couldn’t use words with the letter “Z” and the main screen wouldn’t update when it was your turn. You’d think with the amount of complaints logged in the app store someone at Microsoft would fix the game, but no such luck.

And then there’s apps like YouTube, which seem to be little more than wrappers for the YouTube mobile site. Minimal effort was put into optimizing the app for Windows Phone 8, and it shows.

As you probably guessed by now, my little experience was a failure. I’m back to my Android device and don’t plan to give Windows Phone 8 another try for a few months. If Microsoft wants people to give Windows Phone 8 serious consideration, they’ve got to get serious about offering quality apps for the platform. It’s not just about the number of available apps, it’s about the quality, and at this point in time Windows Phone 8 trails in both departments.

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Tablet smackdown: iPad vs Surface RT in the enterprise

IPads are already making their way into businesses via bring-your-own-device efforts with Microsoft Surface RT tablets hoping to follow suit as employees lobby for their favorite devices. But which one makes more sense from an IT perspective?

Read Network World’s other tech arguments.

The two products are roughly similar in price ($500), run touch-centric operating systems, are highly portable and weigh about a pound and a half.

The two most significant differences are that Surface RT comes with both a keyboard and a version of Microsoft Office – Office 2013 Home & Student 2013 RT – which expand the potential corporate utility of the devices.

Third-party keyboards are available for iPads as are third-party versions of Office-compatible productivity suites but they represent more work for IT. A rumor says Microsoft is working on a client that will allow accessing Office from an iPad through Microsoft’s service Office 365.

Office on Surface RT has its limitations. It lacks Outlook but includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, and the Surface RT version requires a business license in order to be used for work. Still, having it installed out of the box is a leg up and gives workers the opportunity to tap into the productivity suite. The keyboard is a big plus.

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When it comes to numbers of applications iPad has far more than Surface RT, and neither one has the number of business applications that support traditional Windows operating systems. Surface RT is a Windows operating system that can’t run traditional Windows apps except for the Office suite specifically crafted for the platform.

Instead, Surface RT has its own class of applications called Windows Store apps, mainly because they can only be bought from the Window Store. They are tailored for touch tablets and must be vetted by Microsoft before they get into the store’s inventory.

They can be developed using XAML, with code-behind in C++, C#, or Visual Basic, and Microsoft has a provision for sideloading custom business apps to Surface RT without submitting them first to Microsoft. Even so, that’s a lot of work to get apps natively on the devices.

Both iPads and Surfaces support virtual desktops, which goes a long way toward making traditional apps available on them. Hosted virtual desktops (HVD) can be costly, Gartner says in a report called “Bring Your Own Device: New Opportunities, New Challenges”. Its research found that “shifting to an HVD model increases the onetime costs per device by more than $600.” Plus proper licensing of iPads for business use is complicated, the report says.

Managing Surface RT is possible via Windows cloud-based management Intune and Exchange ActiveSync for messaging. IPad also supports Exchange ActiveSync. Third-party mobile device management platforms can configure and update iPads as well as monitor compliance with corporate policies. They can also wipe or lock lost and stolen machines. OS X server can do all this as well.

Surface RT comes with security features iPad doesn’t. These include both hardware-based secure boot that checks that the system hasn’t been tampered with and also trusted boot that fires up anti-malware before anything else. That way malware can’t disable the anti-malware before it gets the chance to do its job. The same hardware security module can act as a smartcard for authentication, and Surface RT has full disk encryption.

The iPad has disk encryption but lacks the secure boot features of Surface RT. Its secure boot chain is based on read-only memory and its hardware security module doesn’t do double duty as a smartcard.

NOTE: There is another version of Surface that runs on x86 processors and supports any application that Windows 7 supports. It’s not available until next year, but is actually a tablet-sized full Windows laptop with all the touch capabilities of Surface RT.

That device would beat iPad hands-down if it cost the same, but it is likely to cost hundreds of dollars more than Surface RT.

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