Microsoft

This is going to be a short rant even though Dr. Data is mightily honked off. I have been hard at work on two interviews, a couple of book reviews and who knows what else. Today, I had a completely clear lunch break as well as some chunks of thumb-twiddling time while I repeatedly waited for a CGI process to finally time out and thus made the best of it by wrapping up one review and starting to work on formatting the interview for publication. I made a lot of progress on the interview and was looking forward to getting ahead of the game this evening.

I have been using Ubuntu 1, DropBox, and Microsoft’s SkyDrive to shuttle documents, scripts, images, etc. between work, home and the ancestral family estate in Hopewell, VA. On this particular day, I was using SkyDrive for my cloud storage. After the CGI process timed out one last time, I shut my work machine down, and headed for the parking lot secure in the knowledge that this evening would be super productive.

After supper, I fired up the Dell Studio and opened my SkyDrive folder so I could get to work. There was one wee problem; my work from earlier today was NOT in the folder. Apparently, the software never synched things between my work machine and the couple of gigabytes that I call my own somewhere out there. The stuff is still on my work machine. I’m not particularly worried that I have lost the work as the same thing happened with DropBox a while back. Then, as now, I had really hoped that I could catch up on things at home.

Remember folks, man’s best friend is a flash drive!

This past week-end, my brother and I rendezvoused at our stately ancestral home in Hopewell, VA. The aforementioned brother said he had a problem or two with his laptop and I — having nothing better to do at that moment — volunteered to have a go at fixing his machine. Midway through turning off a few start-up items, I casually asked what he planned to do with the laptop once support for Windows XP ends next April. To my dismay, he said that this was the first he’d heard of it; Proof positive that he does not read this blog as I’ve mentioned the XP “sell-by date” quite a bit over the past year.

XPdeath

So just in case you’ve not paid any attention to what I’ve said over the past year – I’ve been married for 37 years so I’m used to it – Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP on April 4th, 2014. That means no more patches, security updates, etc.  Since there are 500 million +/- XP machines out there and comprising around 40% of the market as of May 2013, those PCs still running XP will be sitting ducks for the malware industry. Those guys never miss a beat when it comes to vulnerability so don’t expect them stop attacking Windows XP when the 8th of April rolls around.

Those of you still hanging on to your XP machines will have to make some serious decisions and soon. Computing hardware has progressed so much in the 12 years that XP has been with us that your trusty laptop purchased in 2006 won’t be able to run Windows 7 or 8. You’ll need to either buy new hardware or consider switching to Linux; Ubuntu or Mint will run quite nicely on my brother’s Gateway laptop. Whatever you decide to do, you need to be quick about it. Whether you choose to buy new hardware with Windows 7 or 8 pre-installed or make the move to the FREE Linux operating system, doing it under the gun is no picnic and leads to a significant increase in frustration. There’s always a period of adjustment when you make a move like this.

Because I seem to be a voice crying in the wilderness – at least on this blog – I’ve added a count-down clock to the side-bar.  Remember, tempus fugit.

RESOURCE:

See Microsoft’s End of Support page at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/endofsupport.aspx

Depending upon whom you listen to, a full one-third – and then some – of PC users are moving their computing activities away from PC’s and towards what are termed “Post-PC Devices”. For ordinary folks, that’s the term for things like tablets and smartphones. People are shifting their web browsing and Facebook activities away from desktops and PCs and are now starting to rely on Smart Phones and Tablets for these two all-important tasks. {{1}}

A good bit  – indeed, probably most – of this is, no doubt, due to the fact that a third of PC users probably only ever used their lap/desk-tops for these activities. Toss in games, music and the occasional term paper and you will probably account for the vast majority of their need for a traditional PC. In previous posts, I’ve argued that we will see more a diversification of platforms and less a death knell for the PC so I’m not going to belabour that point here. Instead, I’m presenting a short digest of reviews dealing with Microsoft’s Surface Pro – a somewhat pricey hybrid of tablet and PC. I mention the pricey-ness because if Microsoft’s entry in the mobile computing area is ever going to gain ground and acceptance, the price IS going to have to drop considerably.

If you’re considering – today or at some point in the future – moving to a tablet, here are some things to consider:

ZDNet’s Steve Ranger offers an in-depth comparison between the Surface RT and the iPad for use in a work environment. In case you haven’t been paying attention, there is a significant difference between Microsoft’s Surface Pro and the Surface RT. The former can run many of the applications designed for the standard Windows desk/lap-top while the RT cannot. In many respects, the Surface RT is more a consumer device like the iPad. Yes, the iPad has been employed in business applications and no doubt the RT will too . . . if it survives.

In a second article, Steve Ranger puts things in perspective with an article entitled Surface Pro, Windows 8 and the Rebirth of Microsoft.

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Tech, Jason Hiner delivers a preview of the Surface Pro and argues that its Triple-Play User Interface is the device’s greatest innovation.

PC Magazine’s Joel Santo Domingo argues that the Surface Pro is  “. . . the Windows 8 slate tablet to beat when you need the performance and convenience of a PC in a compact tablet form factor.” This article is definitely worth a read. By the way, can anyone remember when PC Magazine was at least 3/4 of an inch thick and when rolled up, became an instrument of deadly force?

Joel also has a second article that covers both the Surface Pro and the Surface RT; Microsoft Surface Pro vs. Surface RT: Which One Should You Buy?

Back over on ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley provides answers to why Microsoft chose to deliver the Surface RT before the Surface Pro as well as a few other questions.

Not to be outdone, PC World’s Jon Phillips argues that the Surface Pro is the best Windows tablet in the world but, nonetheless, is still a bit lacking.

Finally, Robin Harris, writing for ZDNet, claims that Microsoft goofed on the Pro’s available storage.

There you have it; eight articles that provide food for thought about the Surface Pro by Microsoft. If you’re interested in buying the Surface Pro, these articles will provide good research material. If not, they’re still good to have up on your browser at work so your boss will think that you’re ahead of the curve . . . for once.

[[1]] One-third of PC users shifting activities to post-PC devices: Report – Adrian Kingsley Hughes, ZDNet.[[1]]

We have a few news items for you today so let’s get crackin’.

Microsoft Surface Pro – When Windows 8 launched at the end of October, 2012, so did Microsoft’s new tablet known as the Surface RT. The RT received mixed reviews – from good to wretched – with some writers claiming that it was a laughable/forgettable product. Among the points its favour were assessments stating that it was a good, solid performing tablet but not a spectacular one. There were a few more negative items including the fact that it could be somewhat lethargic loading programmes as well as the fact that it would not run programmes that a PC could. If you wanted an application to do something or other, you would have to go to the Windows Store to find one designed to run on the RT. Given the fact that the shelves in the Windows Store were somewhat bare at that  point, it was easy to see why many reviewers were less than enthusiastic.

To be fair, the Windows Store opened with more RT apps than Apple’s App store had iOS apps when the iPad launched. Microsoft’s prediction that there would be 100,000 apps available 90 days after the launch has failed to come true with slightly more than 25% of that landmark ready for downloading in the waning days of January. There were complaints that the RT apps were mostly crap but from my experience, there’s plenty of crap to be found in Apple’s App Store as well.

Comes now the availability of the Surface Pro, a tablet that can run PC programmes as well as those designed for the Pro platform. The  price is somewhat dear with the entry-level version costing just over $ 1,000 when all is said & done. Will the price come down? Probably in the same way that the iPad has come down in price; a noticeable reduction but still nothing to write home about. Consumers are more likely to buy Android based devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Note or Google’s Nexus 7 or 10 than the Surface Pro . . . at least for now.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott has penned a pretty good review of the Surface Pro that is well worth reading. Meanwhile, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley is ready to tell us why she’s not trading her RT for a Pro. Finally, TechRadar’s James Stables has a mostly favourable review of the RT, published not at launch time as so many reviews were, but instead 90 days post launch. Read them and decide for yourself.

DELL Plans To Go Private – It’s a goal for many small and not-so-small companies to grow to the point that shares are publicly traded on of the major exchanges. Dell did just that back in 1988. Well folks, the days of “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” are long gone now and the company is starting to move towards buying itself back. The price is $24.4 billion and includes a $2 billion loan from Microsoft.

What does all this mean? How will you be affected . . . if at all? Here are some stories that will – hopefully – begin to answer those questions:

HP Contemplating A Break-up – The long, strange trip of Hewlett Packard is taking yet another turn. According to one report, executives are mulling a company break-up as well as other options. Of course, other sources say that there is nothing of the kind going on. This is not the first bout of indecision for the company. You may remember that HP was going to get out of the PC business until they changed their mind and decided to stay. They introduced a well-received tablet only to drop it 5 months later; not unlike Microsoft dropping its Kin smart phone after a similar length of time. The trouble is that the Kin was a deeply flawed device while the HP Touchpad was quite good and now suffers from a lack of applications as well as other support.

For more on this latest development in the HP saga, read HP reportedly considering company “breakup” on ZDNet. Even if does turn out to be a faux report,  consumers might want to weigh their hardware options carefully if their choice include HP.

 

I mentioned sometime last week that my Windows 8 installation DVD finally arrived. I found some time on Saturday afternoon to try & complete the installation that I had begun 1 month ago. I wasn’t expecting it to be painless but I was not expecting what I did encounter either.

To begin, I unplugged the Linux OS hard drive. I dual-boot on this machine and Windows & Linux are on separate internal hard drives.  I did a clean boot & (re)started the installation from the DVD. The process went through the initial stages until a screen popped up asking if I wanted to check online for updates. Since this was recommended to ensure a smoother installation, I clicked “Yes”. There was another question asking me if I wanted to share installation information with Microsoft. Figuring that my installation could help make things easier for someone down the line, I clicked “Yes” as well. Once I was all set, I clicked the button to proceed.

After taking what seemed forever to look for updates, the installation process suddenly threw up a screen saying that it was unable to install Windows 8 and that I needed to close out the installation and restart it. That is exactly what I did. After a clean boot, I restarted the installation and guess what? I got the same message again.

After doing this cycle for five installation attempts, I decided that I would try something different. I said “No” to looking for updates and sharing information with Microsoft. This time, I didn’t get the message and as the installation process chugged along, it . . . looked . . . like . . . it . . . was. . .  going . . . to . . . go . . . all . . .the. . . way!!! Not. The installation got as far as the spot where I was to select the background colour for the infamous Start screen. I made my selection & clicked “Next”. The installation process threw up a screen saying that the installation had failed and that it was rolling back everything to Windows 7.

Once again, I rebooted. This time, there was an automatic CHKDISK session that was apparently initiated by the rollback procedure. CHKDISK found a few things wrong with the HDD but nothing major and the repairs went smoothly. When I restarted the installation process – remembering to just say NO to updates and sharing information – it finally did go all the way.

Overall, the entire process took between 5 & 6 hours.

The moment the process was done, I downloaded and installed Classic Shell. This is a freebie which doth restoreth what Microsoft tooketh away. The interface will not win any beauty contest but at least it’s useable. Everything looks flat; no depth to icons, windows, etc. This is probably great if you’ve got a tablet but if you’ve got a desk/laptop, not so much. Like I said, it’s use-able.

The one thing that makes me want to consider moving to Window 8 on my main machine is the free app for London’s Daily Telegraph. It gives you selected stories from the most recent editions and I really like what it does and how it does it.

I have noticed a couple of problems:

  1. I am unable to type the “@” sign into any browser-based web form. I tried this with both Chrome & Internet Explorer; No Joy. I can type an “@” in something like Notepad and then do a cut & paste into the browser form but that’s going around your elbow to get to your thumb.
  2. Windows updates fail on installation. I’ve tried this 3 or 4 times but with no luck. My main machine – Windows 7 – has been doing the same thing for a couple of months so now I’ve got two machines to sort out instead of one.

I’ll keep you apprised of further developments.

At last, some numbers are starting to emerge from Redmond, WA. To date the only sales figures Microsoft has released were about the 4 million upgrade licences sold within the first three days after Windows 8 became available. During her talk at the Credit Suisse Annual Tech Conference held on Tuesday, the Chief Marketing & Financial Officer for Windows – Tami Reller – stated that 40 million licences for Windows 8 had been sold in the past month. By way of comparison, Microsoft sold 60 million Windows 7 licences in the two months after the launch of that OS.

Does this mean that Windows 8 is on track to out perform its immediate predecessor? A wee bit of analysis is in order here. First and foremost, computer manufacturers are not like you and me. While we as individuals may purchase one or two upgrade licences for our machines, the manufacturers buy their licences in bulk; hundreds of thousands if not millions of copies of Windows x – along with crapware and adware – which are sprayed on to desktops, laptops and now tablets as they roll off the assembly lines and are pushed out the door.

The second item to note is that tablets are the hot thing at the moment and will be for some time to come. Manufacturers who have not been able to offer a Windows-based tablet before are now adding them to their lineups and to do that, a Windows 8 licence is required. It is obvious that the anticipated tablet stampede is driving the purported sales figures. The manufacturers are banking on the hope that tablets will be a big seller over the holiday season and thereafter.

You may have noted the use of the phrase “purported sales figures” in the paragraph above. Microsoft has been known to use creative accounting to come up with sales figures for new software and operating systems. If you add this, that and the other thing together, yes the numbers will come out around 17, 40 or 60 million. What Microsoft has yet to reveal is just what exactly this, that and the other thing are. After all, a sale is a sale.

The real test will come with how many of those 40 million licences are actually implemented. In other words, the OS is used for an extended period of time and the machine is not downgraded to Windows 7. Windows tablets have no downgrade options available but many could be transmogrified as Android devices.

It is natural for companies to juggle the numbers in order to look good to investors and potential buyers of their products. Microsoft is no exception. It will be some time, however before we get a complete picture of just what 40 million really means.

Sources:

My Windows 8 upgrade is still on hold. If you’ve missed my previous posts, I tried upgrading via the download gizmo which at first said that I was good to go w/ Win 8 and the install process ended when it said that my PC was not compatible. I ordered a DVD but it has yet to arrive and we’re heading out the back-end of November.

Apparently, I’m not the only one with compatibility issues. A story on CNN’s MONEY site tells a rather sad tale of the frustrations one guy is experiencing trying to upgrade his relatively new Lenovo Z580 laptop. Read the story and you’ll see that he’s not the only one with this sort of frustration. Many of the users experiencing problems migrating to Windows 8 report that their systems have completely crashed because of the upgrade. Dr. Data has not been so unlucky but still . . .

Users report that their apps consistently crash under Windows 8 while others report that some of their essential device and software drivers aren’t compatible between Windows 7 and Windows 8. This means that parts of their system aren’t working now even though they once did under Windows 7. One can imagine that this sort of thing might happen with home-brew systems that have been cobbled together with odd parts or off-brand machines from less than well-known manufacturers. No, these complaints are coming from users with new – or almost so – PCs from mainstream manufacturers/vendors.

It seems that there are some parts of some PCs have no Windows 8 drivers available. In other cases, Microsoft did not pick up Windows 8 drivers from many of those manufacturers that did indeed make them available. If you can remember back to the dark days of Vista, the same thing happened with drivers in that situation. History is repeating itself. What can you expect of an OS that a majority of users have not heard about and are not really interested in?

I TOLD YOU SO

Back in the summer, Dr. Data opined that Microsoft was headed for a Vista-like debacle with Windows 8 and that was just due to the interface formally known as Metro. Redmond was able to recover from Vista with Windows 7. Can Microsoft survive another round of falling flat on its face? Is this a golden opportunity for Linux?

One other thing from this past summer’s posts about the rapidly approaching technological cliff called Windows 8; Dr. Data hinted that those holding shares in Microsoft might want to consider unloading them. That is more and more sounding like sage advice now.

SOURCES:

Microsoft strutted its stuff today beginning at 11:15 AM EDT. On the whole, it was not a bad presentation. There was a healthy dose of self-congratulation but without the competitor bashing that has come to be a hallmark of Apple announcements/launches. Apple’s leadership may know everything – or at least think they do – but, realistically, they know nothing of sportsmanship. Of course, the announcements/launches are meant to rally the faithful and Microsoft does that as much as Apple or Google. The difference is that Apple events have all the religious fervor of a tent revival. But I digress.

Both outside the auditorium and on stage as well, there was a veritable plethora of Windows 8 devices indicating:

  1. That manufacturers have decided that it’s time to start innovating again
  2. That manufacturers really don’t have a clue as to which devices and form factors are going to be a hit with consumers.

PC makers will be doing a lot of experimenting – and holding their collective breath – over the next 15 months because not all of these Windows 8 devices are going to sell well enough to see two holiday seasons. Dr. Data suggests that if you’re just itching to buy a Windows 8 Device, it would probably best to take a conservative approach and buy something in a traditional form factor – like a basic tablet or notebook – rather than bet the farm on some eye-catching device that will be discontinued before you can say “Bob’s your uncle”. Manufacturers may swear on the proverbial stack of bibles that they will offer first class support for this or that discontinued device for the next three to five years but the reality is that often support of orphaned devices winds up at the back of the bus.

Today’s presentation was more about Windows 8 and less about the Surface RT. While Microsoft has suddenly become a competitor in the tablet arena, Steve Ballmer and Steven Sinofsky were nonetheless quite cordial and complimentary to their Windows 8 partners and manufacturers. Microsoft simply wants to sell Windows 8 rather than create a race of zombies.

A lot was said about Windows 8 on tablets and notebooks and rather less about Windows 8 on the traditional desktop PC. There is no getting away from the fact that Windows 8 was made for touch and while it will work just fine on a desktop, it will simply not be the same experience. What tweaks, adjustments and add-on’s – in both software and hardware – are made available over the coming months remain to be seen.

It’s Digest Time!

Here’s a compilation of articles – mostly from c|net – about Windows 8 and the Surface RT:

  • Don’t Hate Windows 8 – The UK’s Matt Baxter-Reynolds explains that Windows 8 may take some getting used to but it may well be the  best OS ever made by anyone.
  • Windows 8 Forces A Steep Learning Curve c|net’s full review of Windows 8.
  • Innovative tablet stranded in an app desert Eric Franklin believes that in addition to the RT having sluggish performance, Windows App Store is a ghost town with tumbleweed rolling down the middle of main street. It has been claimed for weeks now that there are relatively few apps for the RT and most of them are rubbish. While that may be so, Dr. Data has had experience with Apples App Store and he can attest to the fact that a goodly number of those apps are rubbish as well.
  • Dueling bloggers –Ed Bott and Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols square off over the success of the Surface RT.
  • More Microsoft hardware on the way Steve Ballmer has confirmed that Microsoft plans to introduce additional hardware offerings. Do the include a 7″ Surface RT?
  • And finally . . . – Apple’s CEO weighs in on the Surface RT.

I’m sitting here, basking in the glow of a well-received book review, and for some reason I hear the voice of launch control in the back of my mind. Microsoft’s launch of Windows 8 and the Surface RT tablet kicks off at 11:15 EDT and while I’m trying to take an impartial, objective view of Win 8 & the RT, it will nonetheless be a bit exciting to see and hear what Steve Ballmer will have to say at the event. Apple has already shown its hand and Google’s hastily arranged event is next week. Microsoft has had dibs on this week for months and now it is their turn in the spotlight.

I plan to have some analysis of all this for you bright and early tomorrow morning.

Cheers!

Redmond has announced pricing for Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet. The most basic version includes 32 GB of storage and will sell for $499. By contrast, the low-end iPad 3 starts at $499 as well but only carries 16 GB of memory. Moving up the ladder, the 32 and 64 GB versions of the Surface RT tablet will sell for $599 and $699 respectively; the same as the iPad. The real difference is when 3G connectivity is factored in. The Surface RT has Wi-Fi only while the iPad 3 has cellular capability starting at$629 for the 16 GB model and ending at $829 for the 64 GB model.

One question that comes to mind is whether 3G connectivity is really necessary for a 10-inch tablet PC. That size is somewhat awkward to carry and is probably better suited for a stationary environment – like the home or the office – where Wi-Fi is or should be available. The 7-inch tablet market is heating up with Google’s NEXUS 7 and the forthcoming iPad mini. This size is more portable and will easily fit into a coat pocket, a woman’s purse or a man’s shoulder bag. This form-factor is not only less expensive – something the average consumer has been looking for – but is a  more suitable candidates for 3G wireless. In that department, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and – presumably – the iPad mini offer both Wi-Fi and wireless connectivity.

The forthcoming iPad mini is going to put Microsoft’s Surface RT at something of a disadvantage as Redmond has yet to drop any significant hint that there will be a 7-inch RT tablet PC. Since Microsoft is late to the table with a tablet offering, they will have to seriously consider a 7-inch form-factor in order not to be left behind.

Microsoft’s tablet offerings will expand when the Surface Pro is released in early 2013 and though there is no pricing information available, the Pro is expected to come in between $799 and $899. The Surface Pro is going to be more like a PC and its main target market is the business sector while the RT is more consumer oriented. In the final analysis, just who adopts what will depend upon the apps written for each device. Given the right applications, the Surface RT could be adopted by businesses as well as consumers.

If you want to get in line for an RT, Microsoft is now accepting pre-orders. The RT will be available – along with Windows 8 – on October 26th; just three days after Apple announces what is presumably the iPad mini.

Read the complete story on RT pricing and availability at PC Magazine.

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