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Windows 10: Which classic Microsoft default apps should be killed?
Based on what we’ve seen in Microsoft’s Windows 10 preview editions, here’s our take on which classic apps should be kept and which should be killed when the final version of Windows 10 ships.

Windows 10
One of the most important features in Windows 10 will be the ability to run Windows Store apps in resizable windows on the desktop environment. This will also cause redundancy with many of the classic default apps that have come preinstalled on previous versions of Windows. Based on what we’ve seen in Microsoft’s Windows 10 preview editions, here’s our take on which classic apps should be kept and which should be killed when the final version of Windows 10 ships.

Classic Calculator: KEEP
Windows 10 will have a new Calculator app with a revamped GUI to accommodate for resizing it in the desktop environment. It will have the same functions as the one that comes with Windows 8/8.1 (standard and scientific calculating, a unit converter), and add a mode for programmer calculations. Yet it still won’t be as full-featured as the old desktop Calculator application, which additionally has a statistics mode, and some extra tools, like for date and mortgage calculation. This trusty desktop Calculator is in Windows 8/8.1, but hasn’t shown up in the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview.

Notepad: KEEP
Most users who compose lines for the Windows command prompt appreciate the bare-bones and fast-running nature of this application. Sure, there are lots of third-party clones of Notepad that have more features, but if you really need such a thing, then you should be using a simple word processor anyway. Notepad has appeared in the Windows 10 Insider Preview, and it’ll probably be in the final release of the OS, which we think it should, as a callback to the history of Windows.

Paint: KEEP
Along with Notepad, this is the second classic Windows desktop application that we think should appear for the sake of tradition in the next Windows and versions beyond into infinity. (Microsoft added Fresh Paint to Windows 8/8.1, and it will probably return in Windows 10, but this painting app is really for touchscreens.) And, odd as this may sound, we hope Microsoft doesn’t change a thing at all about Paint: Its charm is its consistent lack of sophisticated features and simplicity throughout the years. Even though its tools are limited, the pixel art that talented people have managed to make with them have a retro appeal and cult following nowadays.

Silverlight: KILL
Microsoft’s streaming video technology never matched use numbers in the marketplace against Adobe’s Flash, but it was at one point the required plug-in for watching content protected by DRM on major sites, like Amazon and Netflix. Despite this, Microsoft no longer develops it and will cease support for it. Silverlight wasn’t pre-installed on Windows 8/8.1. What happened?

Over the last few years, there’s been a move away from relying on the closed, proprietary Flash and Silverlight, and, instead, using open formats to stream video. This includes an open standard for streaming DRM-locked video, which is supported by Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and even Internet Explorer.

Sound Recorder: KILL
This dead-simple desktop application has just one button to press to start and stop recording audio from your device’s mic. The app version of Sound Recorder works about as simply, and also includes a basic tool to edit your audio clips. Both versions of Sound Recorder come with Windows 8/8.1, and were also together in the early builds of Windows 10 Insider Preview, but the latest Insider Preview no longer has this old desktop application version.

Windows Fax and Scan: KILL

There’s an app named Scan in Windows 8/8.1 and the Windows 10 Insider Preview, it doesn’t do the same thing as this desktop app. Scan is for scanning in images from a scanner. Windows Fax and Scan is for sending and receiving faxes, and scanning in documents with your scanner to send out as faxes. It’s so old school that it requires your computer be plugged into a telephone line. Yes, that’s right: Your computer needs to have a dial-up modem. (To be fair, alternately, you can connect your computer to a fax server.) So, surely, Windows Fax and Scan will not return for Windows 10? We wouldn’t count against it. This application has shown up in the Windows 10 Insider Preview.

Windows Journal: KILL
Here’s a good example of a classic Windows desktop application that should be retired to let its better Windows Store app successor fully take over. The OneNote app effectively does the same things as Windows Journal, and more. OneNote has been preinstalled in the Windows 10 Insider Preview — but so has Windows Journal. Windows Journal’s name perhaps failed to convey accurately what it was designed for: jotting down handwritten notes, and sketching doodles, with a digital pen. Although typed text can be entered onto a note, you do so by first adding a graphical element (a text box) and then typing. This application’s GUI also muddled perceptions of how you’re supposed to use it since it looks like one for a text editor.

Windows Media Player: KILL
At one time, Microsoft angled for this media player to be the main application in their grand vision of a Windows home media center. Now, it’s pretty much hidden under the Windows Accessories folder/group of Windows 8/8.1, which also comes with two apps for playing media. The simply named Music and Video also let users buy music, movies and TV shows as downloads or streams. The current Windows 10 Insider Preview includes new versions of these apps, called Music Preview and Video Preview. Since both apps will run under Windows 10 in resizable windows in the desktop environment, Microsoft should probably not include Windows Media Player in the final Windows 10 release.

WordPad: KEEP
Along with Notepad, WordPad is the other text editor that has been in recent versions of Windows including the Windows 10 Insider Preview. It’s a surprisingly capable, basic word processor. It has a decent font selection; line, paragraph and spacing adjustment; plus the ability to insert images into your document; and to save documents in RTF or Microsoft Office DOCX formats. It’s probably safe to assume that WordPad will be in Windows 10.

XPS Viewer: KILL
Like Silverlight, XPS was devised by Microsoft to compete against another Adobe format (this one being PDF), and, obviously, never achieved widespread adoption. Unlike Silverlight, Microsoft hasn’t officially stopped developing XPS, though they haven’t talked it in over six years. Both an application for viewing XPS documents (XPS Viewer) and a driver to print documents into the format (XPS Document Writer) come with Windows 8/8.1 and appear in the Windows 10 Insider Preview. We think it’s time that Microsoft quietly admit defeat and get rid of both things. When’s the last time, if ever, you’ve looked at an XPS document… or even knew what XPS was before reading this?


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Windows 10 betas are coming fast and furious. Discover what Microsoft has released so far

With beta builds arriving at an ever-increasing pace, Windows 10 testing proceeds full speed ahead, with new features unveiled at every turn. If you don’t have the time — or the interest — to keep up with the details, this report will keep you posted on how things stand. Like, right now. And we’ll update it as Microsoft fleshes out more of Windows 10.

The Start menu
Unless you’ve been living on an alternate Windows desktop, you know that Win10 sports a new Start menu, with Windows 7-like menu entries on the left and Windows 8-style tiles on the right.

There are
a few customizing options — for example, you can drag entries onto the pinned list in the top left, or drag items from the list on the left and turn them into tiles on the right. Tiles on the right can be resized to Small (see the three on the bottom right), Medium, Wide (two single-size slots, as with the Search and Weather tiles in the screen shot), and Large (Money). You can click and drag, group, and ungroup tiles on the right, and give groups custom names.

In build 10056, you can finally resize the Start menu. You can adjust it vertically in small increments, but trying to drag things the other way is limited to big swaths of tiles: Groups of tiles remain three wide, and you can only add or remove entire columns. You can drag tiles from the right side of the Start screen onto the desktop for easy access.

While it’s possible to manually remove all the tiles on the right (right-click each, then choose Unpin from Start), the big area for tiles doesn’t shrink beyond one column.

What’s likely to appear
There’s some transparency available on the Start menu, but we’re waiting to see how much.

What we’d like to see
Power users would benefit greatly by seeing at least some of the extensive customization available in the Windows 7 Start menu make it through to the final version of Windows 10. Win10’s Start menu doesn’t have the moxie of Win7’s because it has been rewritten in XAML, and the bells and whistles fell off in the process.

At a minimum, Win10’s Start menu should have a hierarchy on the left, with customizable menus. The All Apps list should also be customizable with easily defined folders and entries. (If all else fails, bet on Stardock to come up with a Start menu replacement that’s modifiable.)

Project Spartan
Long overdue — and for many of us, a real surprise — Project Spartan finally sheds the albatross that is Internet Explorer. Although it’s still too early to tell for sure, initial reports have been almost uniformly positive. A stripped-down, consciously standards-compliant, screamingly fast-so-far shell of a browser, Project Spartan may see Microsoft taking back the mindshare it’s been steadily losing on the browser front for the past decade or so.

Where Project Spartan stands
Although we don’t even know the product’s final name, Project Spartan has drawn
significant accolades. Spartan doesn’t replace Internet Explorer — to date, IE still lurks, but it’s buried in the Start > All Apps > Windows Accessories menu’s list. Project Spartan is, however, the default Web browser, with its own tile on the right side of the Start menu and its own icon on the taskbar. IE continues to use the old Trident rendering engine, while Spartan has the newer Edge.

Spartan is a Windows app (formerly universal app, formerly Metro app) that runs inside its own window on the desktop, like every other WinRT API-based Windows app. Thus, the chances of Spartan being ported to Windows 7 (which doesn’t support WinRT) are zero.

Adobe Flash Player can be turned on and off with a simple switch in Settings. There’s the Reading View as well, which helps on smaller screens. Click the OneNote icon in the upper right to make all the OneNote markup tools available. And you can now print as PDF.

Spartan supports Cortana for voice assistance and search capabilities, but the implementation to date doesn’t do much — for a glimpse of what may or may not be the future, use Spartan to go to cuoco-seattle.com.

What’s likely to appear
Much more robust support for Cortana is a given: Limiting Cortana’s intelligence (some of it gathered at the expense of your privacy) to specifically crafted Web pages will certainly change, as will the rest of Cortana (see next section).

It’s also highly likely that the shipping version of Spartan will include support for extensions. Whether the support will be as robust as the extension support in Google Chrome remains to be seen. We also don’t have any idea if the existence of extensions will spawn cottage industries that will rival the size of the Chrome or Firefox add-in communities, but we do know that Spartan extensions will (at least in theory) be much more secure and stable than the current plug-ins, toolbars, and other flotsam floating around IE.
What we’d like to see

Many of the features we’ve grown to expect from any browser — private browsing, saved passwords, the ability to drag tabs, drag and drop files, a favorites or bookmarks manager (and importer), thumbnails when hovering on the taskbar for each open page, robust download handling with a for-real download manager. The list of “wanted” features is long and deep.

Cortana
While Apple partisans will give you a zillion reasons why Siri rules, and Googlies swear the superiority of Google Now, Cortana partisans think Microsoft rules the AI roost, of course. Unlike Siri and Now, though, Cortana has taken over the Windows search function, so it has a larger potential footprint than its AI cousins, which comes with a double edge.

Cortana occupies the Search box to the right of the Start button. It also appears when you click or tap on the Search tile, on the right side of the Start menu. Cortana will only work when connected to the Internet, and it’s severely limited unless you use a Windows account. You can control some aspects of Cortana’s inquisitiveness by clicking on the hamburger icon in the upper left corner.

Frequently overlooked in Cortana discussions: everything — absolutely everything — that you search for on your computer gets sent, through Cortana, to Microsoft’s giant database in the sky. Cortana’s Notebook, as your personal repository is called, can be switched off, and entries can be manually deleted, but Microsoft’s banking on you leaving it on.

What’s likely to appear
Cortana will improve as it gathers more information about you — yes, by snooping on what you do. But it also improves as Microsoft hones its artificial intelligence moxie, on the back end.

Microsoft has announced that Cortana will be ported to both iOS and Android, although the extent of its integration/usefulness remains to be seen. No, you won’t be able to use Google Search with Cortana.

What we’d like to see
Cortana is all well and good, but it doesn’t give you any advanced search capabilities for your computer. Windows 7 and all earlier versions of Windows, going way back, had extensive searching capabilities. Those are all gone, at least at this point. It would be nice if we could search for, say, all Word documents written this year that contain the word “flugelhorn.”

Will Windows 10 customers revolt when they realize that everything they search for on their PCs is sent to a Microsoft database? Microsoft could certainly soften the blow by making options for turning off the Cortana tracking much more visible.

Cortana could also pick up more computer-centric capability. For example, if you said, “Hey, Cortana, start a new document based on my letterhead,” Cortana would obey and wait for you to dictate your letter. It’ll happen, but probably not any time soon.

Continuum
Windows 10 includes a new feature called Continuum, which lets you switch between desktop mode — the mode you’re no doubt accustomed to using, where mice and keyboards rule — and tablet mode, which mimics (but doesn’t replicate) Windows 8’s Metro side of the fence, the touch-based world.

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Where Continuum stands
There’s software inside Windows 10 that, by default, prompts you every time it detects that a keyboard has been added or yanked from your computer. The prompt asks whether you want to switch to tablet mode or to desktop mode. That part works reasonably well. You can also switch to tablet mode manually (choose Start > Settings > System > Tablet Mode).

The part that’s drawing a lot of criticism is tablet mode. The Windows 10 tablet mode is a real let-down for many people who use Windows 10 with their pinkies: It keeps the taskbar, launches apps full-screen but still retains the title bars seen on the desktop, doesn’t make the tiles any bigger, the All Apps list remains small, and the full-size mode doesn’t support many of the old Windows 8 swipe gestures. (There’s no Charms bar, for example.)

Build 10056 adds the ability to turn off the app icons in the taskbar, but it doesn’t turn off Home, Search, Task View, or the system tray — so the taskbar’s still there, taking up all that space.
What’s likely to appear

At this point, with all the bad vibes created by the original Windows 8’s Metro side, I don’t see Microsoft spending much more effort on Windows 10’s tablet mode. I know it isn’t fair, but given a choice between setting a dev team on beefing up one of the core new features, versus gussying up tablet mode, I don’t see where tablet mode has much chance.

What we’d like to see

Basically, all of the Windows 8 features, and some sort of accommodation for the Charms bar’s functionality that doesn’t rely on individual apps or tapping a tiny hamburger icon.
Virtual desktops and Task view

Windows has had virtual (or multiple) desktops since Windows XP, but before Windows 10 you had to install a third-party app — or something like Sysinternals Desktop, from Microsoft — to get them to work. Windows 10 implements virtual desktops so they’re actually useful.
Where virtual desktops and task view stand

To start a new desktop, press Win+Ctrl+D, or bring up the Task view — the environment where you can work directly with multiple desktops — by clicking the Task view icon to the right of the Cortana Search bar, then dragging an app onto the + sign in the lower right corner. You can move windows among desktops by right-clicking and choosing Move To. Pressing Alt+Tab still rotates among all running windows. Clicking on an icon in the taskbar brings up the associated program, regardless of which desktop it’s on.

What we’d like to see
The ability to drag and drop open windows among desktops would be very handy. Although there are subtle differences in the taskbar icons, depending on whether a running app appears on the currently active desktop or not, we’d like to see the much-discussed ability to limit taskbar icons to only apps running on the current desktop. There should also be some ability to name desktops and show the name of the currently active desktop somewhere — perhaps in the system tray.

Windows Settings
Microsoft is stuck between several rocks and corresponding hard places. It has to make a Settings app that’ll fly on smartphones but also remain adaptable to the copious settings on PCs. There are many settings/features — Homegroups, for example — that are both loved and loathed by legions of Windows 7 and 8 customers.

Although many of us prefer to run with local accounts, some of the features in Windows 10 won’t work — indeed, can’t work — without a Microsoft account.

Microsoft can’t satisfy everybody. There’s no easy way to change adapter settings, or to enable or disable the current network connection. That’s just a small sampling.
Where Windows Settings stands

The schizophrenic Windows Settings/Control Panel situation isn’t getting much better in recent builds.

Homegroups in Windows 10 are buried as deeply as they were in Windows 8, which means they’re all but deprecated. I, personally, like Homegroups, so I find their departure deplorable. But it’s easy to find people who vociferously disagree.

What’s likely to appear
I don’t see any indication that Microsoft will be able to port the zillions of Control Panel settings over to the Windows app side — and precious little incentive for it to do so. I do, however, expect to see more settings dribble over from Control Panel to Windows Settings, perhaps with greater emphasis on migrating entire categories of settings.

There’s been so much complaining about the inability to easily change adapter settings and enable/disable the current network that I expect we’ll soon see a feature that duplicates what we had with the Network icon in Win7’s system tray.
Other Windows apps

OneDrive in Windows 10 doesn’t work anything like it did in Windows 8, primarily because Microsoft is doing away with “smart file” behavior — where thumbnails of files are stored on your machine, and only pulled down from OneDrive as needed. I have a
much more detailed explanation in my review of build 9879.

Mail and Calendar made their debut, in very preliminary form, in leaked build 10051. People is still largely an unknown, although there are rumors that Windows 10 Phone will have a People Sense app. Music and Video have replaced the Windows 8.1 Xbox Music and Xbox Video. The new Photos app is a dud. The Weather app (still called “MSN Weather”) shows more

Where Windows apps stand
Mary Branscombe posted a widely acclaimed suggestion that Microsoft at least improve OneDrive a little bit in Windows 10. Microsoft has responded saying, basically, it ain’t gonna happen.

Mail and Calendar are nascent, at best, but undoubtedly due for much more affection in the future.

Music and Video received a full makeover, but there’s little if any improvement to their core features.

The new Windows Photo app looks a lot nicer than the Windows 8.1 version, but it has fewer features.
What’s likely to appear

The OneDrive change has been beaten to a pulp. Microsoft isn’t going to change.
Mail and Calendar will undoubtedly get beefed up (at least we should get the minuscule feature set in the Windows 8.1 Metro Mail app). Look for a branding change, somehow incorporating the term “Outlook” — which seems to be Microsoft-speak for “mail client” on all platforms.

For the rest, it’s likely that we won’t see significant improvements until after Windows RTMs. Microsoft tore off many Windows Live applications — pulled them from Windows, you may recall — as it approached deadlines on Windows Vista. Similar unbundling occurred with Windows 7 and 8. Although it’s still hard to draw the line between what’s in Windows and what’s an app (Exhibit No. 1: Project Spartan), Microsoft’s under the gun to get Windows out the door, and if the apps lag a few months, so be it.

One big untouched area at the moment involves updating. We don’t know anything about how Windows 10 will get updated. Right now, testers can’t block individual patches, can’t hide an update, and can’t control automatic installation of updates. No doubt that will change by the RTM version given to PC makers, but it’s a real can of worms.

Microsoft has announced Windows Hello biometric authentication, but we haven’t seen it in action yet.

There are hooks inside Windows 10 right now to install updates through a P2P system, something like a torrent approach within trusted networks. That means you’ll need to download patches only once, and they’ll propagate through a network. Tom Warren at The Verge has some details, but the final result is anybody’s guess.

There’s a lot of conjecture about how Microsoft might feed advertising into Windows 10. WinRT API pro WalkingCat has uncovered some details about Windows Spotlight, which point to some sort of new advertising mechanism.

We also don’t know anything about Win10 SKUs and prices. Those are topics that generally come to the fore around the time Windows is ready to ship.

Stay tuned. We’ll be updating this article as the Windows 10 builds roll out.


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Microsoft and Apple will ship fewer devices in 2014-2015 than earlier estimates, while Android will ship more
Gartner today scaled back its forecast of Windows’ near future, saying that while Microsoft’s operating system will power an increasing number of devices this year and next, the gains will be smaller than it projected six months ago.

For 2013, Windows’ share of the operating systems on all devices — smartphones, tablets, PCs, ultra-light form factors, and PC-tablet hybrids — dropped 5.8% compared to the year before, an additional half-percentage point from the 5.3% the research company pegged in January 2014 for the year prior.

This year, Windows’ share of the device operating system market will grow 2.3% to 333.4 million devices, the bulk of them traditional PCs and what Gartner dubs “ultramobiles, premium,” or the top-tier notebooks. Windows’ growth, however, will come from smaller systems — smartphones in particular.

“Windows phones will exhibit strong growth from a low base in 2014, and are projected to reach a 10% market share by 2018, up from 4% in 2014,” said Annette Zimmermann, a research director at Gartner, in a statement Monday.

In 2015, said Gartner today, Windows will power 373.7 million shipped devices, a year-on-year increase of 12.1%.

Gartner’s numbers today were different than those in January, when it was much more bullish about Windows. Then, analysts projected that Windows device shipments would grow 9.7% in 2014, with another 17.5% increase in 2015. In the latter year, 422.7 million devices of all kinds were to ship that ran Windows.

Although Windows will continue to grow, Gartner’s estimates today were significantly down from those it made six months ago. Most striking was the downgrade of Windows’ 2014 gains to about one-third of the earlier forecast.

The revised estimates also mean that Windows will account for a smaller share in both 2014 and 2015 than projected previously. In January, Gartner said that Windows would capture 14.3% and 16.1% of all device shipments this year and next, respectively. Today’s numbers put Windows’ share at 13.7% (2014) and 14.4% (2015) instead.

The reason Windows forecasts were downgraded, said Gartner analyst Mika Kitagawa, was twofold: a softening of tablet shipment growth and the continued reliance of Microsoft on traditional PCs for the bulk of its licensing sales.

“Microsoft will stay in the traditional PC market,” said Kitagawa.

Those systems will continue to struggle, with downturns in 2014 and 2015 of 6.7% and 5.3%; in January, Gartner said that the category would be down 7.2% this year and 3.4% next. Adding in its “ultramobile, premium” numbers, the total personal computer market is now forecast to shrink 2.9% in 2014 and grow by 2.7% in 2015.

Previously, Gartner had pegged ultramobiles to grow much faster, with the total personal computer market believed to be flat this year (0.3% growth), with a more robust 4.6% increase in 2015.

The expected increase in Windows phone shipments will not be enough to make up the difference.

Windows wasn’t the only platform that Gartner said would grow slower than it had believed before: Apple’s iOS and OS X combined number were also downgraded.

For 2014 and 2015, Gartner now forecasts that iOS/OS X will power 271.1 million devices in 2014 — most of them iPhones — and 301.3 million in 2015, for year-over-year growth rates of 14.8% and 11.2%.

Six months ago, Apple’s estimated shipments were more optimistic: 344.2 million and 397.7 million for this year and next, respectively, representing increases of 29% and 15.4%.

Not surprisingly, Android will take up the slack, said Gartner, which predicted Google’s mobile operating system will become even more dominant. Where six months ago Gartner projected that Android device shipments would grow by 25.6% and 13.8% in 2014 and 2015, today it modified those estimates to 30% and 17.3%, respectively.

This year and next, Android will account for 48% and 52.9% of all device shipments, Gartner forecast today, upgrades from January’s numbers of 44.6% and 44.7%.

Gartner is now pegging total Android device shipments for 2014 and 2015 at 1.17 billion and 1.37 billion, up from previous bets of 1.1 billion and 1.25 billion.

 


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After Microsoft policy change, illegal downloads are the only way for developers to get their hands on the near-finished code

Windows 8.1’s RTM, which Microsoft announced on Tuesday, has leaked to file-sharing sites, according to numerous forum postings and blog reports.

Leaks of unreleased Microsoft products, especially Windows, are commonplace, and as in this case, often occur just hours or days after the Redmond, Wash. company ships code to its partners.

Microsoft may have contributed to the interest in Windows 8.1 RTM — a term that represents “release to manufacturers” — because of a change in a long-standing policy that gave developers and IT professionals access to the official code weeks before the general public.

The leaked builds of Windows 8.1 RTM may have originated in China — home of most of the companies that build the world’s personal computers and tablets — because a Chinese-language edition was the first to appear.

Within a short time, however, English editions of the RTM also popped up on file-sharing websites.

While at one time Microsoft tried to stamp out such leaks, it long ago gave up and switched to warning users that unauthorized builds, including counterfeits circulating long after a product’s release, often contained malware.

Microsoft will officially launch Windows 8.1 on Oct. 17 in the U.S., the first date that current Windows 8 users can retrieve the free update from the Windows Store. Hardware that relies on Windows 8.1, as well as retail copies of the operating system, will go on sale Oct. 18.

Microsoft has not revealed the price of the retail copies of Windows 8.1 aimed at customers still running Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7.

The company has enraged developers with its decision to not publish the RTM on MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and TechNet, the subscription-only sites aimed at developers and enterprise IT personnel, respectively. Previously, those subscribers could download RTM builds about two weeks after computer makers received the code, and weeks before the software went on sale.

Microsoft said the change was necessary because RTM is not a finished, polished product, but will continue to receive fix bugs between now and October. MSDN and TechNet subscribers must wait like everyone else for the official debut.

“How on earth can a developer deliver a quality app and not be able to test in on production grade code from Microsoft?” asked someone identified as “mirronelli” in a comment appended to a Microsoft blog that advised developers to test their work against the two-month old Windows 8.1 preview.

Some were even angrier.
“This is insanity. What possible justification could you have for not releasing the RTM code to developers ahead of schedule?” wondered “sognibene” today. “You want to know why you don’t have apps in the [Windows Store] without paying developers to make them? THIS TYPE OF NONSENSE IS WHY!!!”

 


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Retailers share part of the blame for poor Windows 8 sales and the ensuing decline of PC shipments, analysts contended today.

Microsoft’s radical overhaul of Windows has been cited by some to explain plummeting PC shipments, but the very organizations whose best interest is served in selling those systems were at least partly at fault.

“Windows 8 brought a brand new UI [user interface] that had not fundamentally changed since DOS,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in a blog post Tuesday. “[So] how did big-box retail respond? The same way they have for the last 20 years.”

Moorhead was critical of big retailers — Best Buy is the largest in the U.S. — for not modifying how they sold PCs when Windows 8 landed on their stores’ shipping docks.

“There exists a massive disconnect between what consumers want to and need to know about the latest generation of PCs” and what retailers did, and continue to do, to sell those PCs,” Moorhead argued, ticking off a list of retailing blunders, such as tying down devices so that they can’t be hefted for weight, PCs that can’t be turned off and on again to gauge boot speed, and a lack of touchscreen displays.

“The stores just do not provide, for many, the environment that meets the needs of someone trying to buy a new Windows 8 notebook,” said Moorhead.

Stephen Baker of the NPD Group, and an expert in technology retailing, agreed. “Nothing happened at launch,” Baker said of in-store changes when Windows 8 hit. “Everyone treated it as if was another Windows 7.”

And the same old-same old was definitely not what was necessary. “Does the in-store experience need an upgrade [because of Windows 8]?” Baker asked. “Absolutely. Are the in-store mechanisms up to snuff? Absolutely not.”

But Baker disputed the idea that retailers alone were to blame for how they sold Windows 8. The operating system was so different, he said, that retailers were either unprepared or unsure how to merchandise the goods.

And in some cases, they didn’t even have the goods — and largely still don’t — to sell.

“Part of the problem was driven by lack of product,” said Baker. “There weren’t very many high-quality products available. At launch maybe four out of 40 SKUs [stock-keeping units] in retail were touch. That’s headed north. By back-to-school and the holidays, it’ll be 15 out of 40. But we need to see an upgrade on that, too.”

Microsoft must assume some of the blame for the poor retailing, Baker implied. But rather than directly criticize Microsoft, he simply noted, “They did not do anything different” at Windows 8’s launch to prepare retailers or assist them. “But hindsight is really easy six months later.”

The bold direction of Windows 8, with its emphasis on touch as a selling point, presented retailers with problems they’d never encountered — detachable displays for example — a core feature of the so-called “convertible” devices that morph from a notebook into a tablet by swiveling the screen to a new position or removing it entirely. “That isn’t the norm of what we’ve had in the market before,” Baker said, referring to retailers’ confusion over how to secure those detachable screens or show the mutating nature of the device in the absence of a salesperson.

Baker highlighted the end-cap — one of those displays at the end of an aisle — that Lenovo and Intel created for the former’s IdeaPad Yoga as an example of a top-notch retail presentation for a Windows 8 device.

“You can’t go to market with the same old stuff,” he asserted.

Moorhead cited Apple’s retail stores as the right way to promote and sell today’s computers — and other computing devices, like tablets. “Interestingly, I never see the [retail problems with Windows 8 notebooks] at an Apple store. Never, ever,” Moorhead said. “I can sit at the Apple store there for hours and literally do a test drive like I would a car.”

Microsoft, of course, has its own, albeit much smaller, chain of retail outlets, designed in Apple-esque fashion and staffed with many more salespeople than a big-box store. Even so, Baker downplayed their impact.

“They face the same challenges [with Windows 8] as most retail stores,” Baker said of Microsoft’s outlets. “They may have more people, but they have the same challenges. And they’re not a unit volume driver.”

He did have hope, however. “Anything Microsoft does learn about what can be successful, I expect they’re trying to port as quickly as possible to the retail industry overall,” Baker said.

And retail, while contributing to Windows 8’s problems, perhaps even to the drop in PC sales, is the least of the industry’s worries at the moment.

“I really don’t think that [Windows 8’s slow uptake] has had a lot do with merchandising,” Baker said. “It’s far more to do with the trajectory that the marketplace was already on.”


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HP’s Envy Rove all-in-one has an integrated battery and the look and feel of a supersized 20-inch tablet

Windows 8 has not found wide adoption among desktop users, so HP has announced a new portable all-in-one and lowered the price of touch PCs so users can take advantage of the operating system.

The company introduced the Envy Rove, which is an all-in-one desktop that looks like a supersized tablet with a 20-inch screen. At 5.3 kilograms, the PC can be moved around a house or office, and an integrated battery offers four hours of run time.

With the Rove, HP wants to bring mobility and tablet-like usage to all-in-ones, said Xavier Lauwaert, worldwide manager of product marketing for consumer desktops.

“Don’t worry, we don’t expect this to be [carried] to Starbucks,” Lauwaert said.

All-in-one PCs like the Rove and Apple iMac typically pack components including processor and storage behind the screen.

The Envy Rove will ship in July though the price was not immediately available. HP has also introduced Pavilion TouchSmart touch all-in-ones at low prices and with upgraded processors that could prompt users to move away from towers. The US$619 Pavilion TouchSmart 20 has a 20-inch screen and will become available on June 23, while the $749 Pavilion TouchSmart 23 has a 23-inch screen and will ship on June 5.

Desktops are not built for the touch, and users have struggled adapting to Windows 8, Lauwaert said.

“On all-in-ones it has not been as much of a struggle as potentially on towers,” Lauwaert said. “The appeal is bringing the goodness of Windows 8 to the more cost-conscious kind of end user.”

The Envy Rove is similar to Dell’s XPS 18, which is a tablet-like all-in-one with an 18.4-inch screen. Other PC makers have tried different designs in an effort to find the next hit. Asus’ 18.4-inch Transformer AiO can run either Android or Windows 8, and Panasonic showed off a 20-inch tablet with a 3840 x 2160 pixel display.

HP said Envy Rove could be a substitute for board games. Monopoly and card games will come pre-loaded, and users can place the PC on a flat surface to play multiuser games. HP also demonstrated the PC being used as a substitute for a piano.

Rove will have Intel’s upcoming Core processors code-named Haswell, which will be announced in June. Rove will also have 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology and support up to 1TB of hard-drive storage.

The Pavilion TouchSmart 20 and TouchSmart 23 will have the latest AMD and Intel chips.

More users may buy all-in-ones as prices come down and new models promote touch usage, said Jay Chou, senior research analyst at IDC.

“All-in-ones have been the only growing portion of the desktop market,” Chou said.

All-in-ones formed 11 percent of desktop shipments in the first quarter of 2013, growing from 7 percent in the first quarter of 2011, according to IDC. Desktops formed 44 percent of all PC shipments in the first quarter this year, and that number hasn’t changed much over the last three years, Chou said.

While HP is trying to facilitate easy use of Windows 8, the company believes there are still benefits to budget desktops. The company introduced new towers starting at $289 for users who want easy repairs and memory, storage and processor upgrades. Some of these features are highly valued by IT departments.

“One of the values of the towers is legacy ports and also connectivity to anything,” Lauwaert said.

The company has bundled a DVI (digital visual interface) port into one of its latest desktops to serve commercial users. DVI was introduced in 1999 to replace VGA, but it is still being used by commercial companies in monitors and projectors.

HP also introduced Envy desktops including the Phoenix 800, will start at $1,099. HP is offering optional liquid cooling with the model.

 


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No good news from April’s usage share numbers for Microsoft as Windows 8 continues to underwhelm and XP resists retirement

Microsoft was hit with a double whammy last month as it made scant progress in either boosting the usage share of Windows 8 or depressing the share of Windows XP, data published today showed.

According to Internet analytics company Net Applications, Windows 8 gained just over half a percentage point of usage share in April — virtually the same as the month before — but again fell further behind the pace set in 2007 by Windows Vista, the edition most see as Microsoft’s last dud.

Windows 8’s April share, including what Net Applications labeled as “touch” for Windows 8 and Windows RT — in other words, browsing from the “Modern” user interface (UI) rather than the mouse-and-keyboard UI of the traditional desktop — was 4.2% of all Windows PCs, up from March’s 3.6%.

Even with that increase, the gap between Windows 8’s and Vista’s adoption trajectories again widened.

By the end of its sixth month, Vista powered 5.8% of all Windows PCs, or 1.6 percentage points higher than Windows 8 at the same point in its post-release timeline. April’s difference between Vista and Windows 8 was several tenths of a point larger than the month before, and the biggest so far in Computerworld’s year-long tracking.

Windows 8’s performance was not the only bad news for Microsoft last month: Once again, Windows XP’s usage share resisted meaningful erosion, dropping by only half a percentage point.

XP’s elimination has become a top priority for Microsoft, as the 12-year-old OS faces a support retirement deadline of April 8, 2014, when the company will serve up XP’s final security update.

In April, Windows XP accounted for 41.7% of all Windows systems worldwide, down from 42.2% the month prior, Net Applications said.

Projections of Windows XP’s remaining share in April 2014 did not change. Based on its average monthly loss over the past year, XP will power 30.5% of all Windows PCs when the retirement deadline arrives.

Net Applications also reported on usage shares for Windows 7 and Vista.

The former remained flat at 48.7% of all Windows PCs, again illustrating that it hasn’t been affected by the launch of Windows 8. In fact, most experts believe that Windows 7 will continue to gain share as enterprises abandon XP for it rather than the more radical Windows 8.

Vista slipped slightly in April, but still accounted for more than 5% of all Windows’ editions.

Net Applications measures operating system usage by tracking unique visitors to some 40,000 websites operated by its customers.


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Despite an unending stream of FUD being hurled at the Surface tablet, people who have bought it seem pretty enamored with their purchase, according to reviews piling up on BestBuy.com and Staples.

Microsoft launched the Surface tablet in its retail stores, all 65 of them, before expanding to Best Buy (1,900 stores total) and Staples (1,400 stores) earlier this month.

So far, sentiments for the device are fairly positive. On Best Buy’s website, the Windows RT tablet sports a 4.7 out of 5 rating, based on 28 customer reviews. Only one customer was unhappy with the device and rated it one out of five stars.

“No Outlook so not full MS Office, all other tablets have version of word, excel, and powerpoint, so very disappointing,” wrote customer gates77. He liked screen customization, but also noted “Battery life wasn’t to [sic] good and typecover isn’t as good as some logitech keyboards. Can’t load any of my windows 7 programs.”

The most popular feature about Surface RT seems to be Windows 8. “Windows 8 runs like a charm, the Windows Apps Store is growing by the day and I am able to use all my favorite apps such as iHeartRadio, NY Times, USA Today, Kayak, Netflix, Endgadget, eBay, ESPN…” wrote Cricketer from New York on Staples.com.

“The live tiles are a great innovation,” wrote Philipm785 of Atlanta. “They provide genuinely useful information without having to launch the apps and the multiple sizes and custom groupings that can be easily scrolled and zoomed are way easier to get around than the multiple screens of tiny uniform icons you get on iOS.”

The hardware is also receiving kudos. “It’s a perfect laptop replacement for those who don’t need lot of processing power. Don’t wait for the surface pro. The battery life is all day,” wrote desiboy of New York on BestBuy.com.

“I gave away my Android tablet after using this for a while,” wrote MZach of NC. “The keyboard and touchpad are unobtrusive but there when you need them and the keyboard has cursor keys!”

Even people giving 5-star reviews have complaints, include volume output, the “primitive” email app, lack of apps and x86 support, Flash support in IE10, and the price itself.

It’s encouraging to see, but I’m actually not totally surprised. Early adopters tend to be enthusiasts. As it moves beyond the early adopter stage and away from Microsoft enthusiasts into the mass market, that score will drop as more cons pile up. We’ll see what people say when the much more expensive x86 models arrive next year.

 


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Microsoft Build 2012 attendees receive free Microsoft tablets, phones, storage, SDKs to encourage Windows 8 apps

How badly does Microsoft need attractive applications for its Windows 8 operating system?

So badly that it’s giving everyone attending its Build 2012 developers conference a Surface tablet/PC, 100GB of free cloud storage via SkyDrive, a free Nokia Lumia 920 Windows 8 phone and a discounted developer’s registration to the Windows store.

The company also announced the availability of a software developer’s kit for Windows Phone 8.

The goal is to get developers to buy into the Microsoft mobility vision — that applications can readily be written to run on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 machines, share resources via SkyDrive and make money for developers to boot.

During today’s kickoff keynote for the four-day conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (pictured) himself ran through a demonstration of key Windows 8 features on machines as diverse as an 84-inch touchscreen, the Microsoft Surface tablet/laptop (where the tablet meets the PC, Ballmer says) and Windows Phone 8 smartphones.

“This is our real step into the mobile world,” Ballmer told the gathering in a tent on the Microsoft campus.

The company announced that ESPN, SAP and Twitter all plan or have ready Windows 8 applications, demonstrating to developers the elite realm in which they might play, too.

Presentations also hammered home how developers can make money off their apps. If they sell through the Windows store, they reap $75% of the take for the app up to $25,000, then they make 80%. Also, the developers’ kit enables setting up a tile within the app that can host an advertisement that the developer can sell and change.

The apps can also support in sales within applications — like buying a level upgrade for a game while logged into the game.

Ballmer showed how changes made to a document in OneNote and stored in SkyDrive show up when accessed by other devices. Similarly, changing the photo on the lock screen and storing that to SkyDrive appear on the user’s other Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 devices.

Ballmer says the launch of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 this fall when considered as a single event represent one of the top three events in Microsoft history, the other two being the release of the IBM PC with a Microsoft operating system and the launch of Windows 95.

Getting developers to create a broad inventory of apps that showcase Windows 8 new features is key to Windows 8 success, so Ballmer walked the crowd through them:

= Live tiles that display updated information on colored rectangles on the start screen. Developers need to tap into this capability to show, for instance, current temperatures to go with weather apps or scores to go with sports apps.

= Embedding software services in applications. For example, interfacing applications with the system search feature enables searching with that app for a given term. The example he used was searching for references to Jessica Alba — who participated in the Windows Phone 8 launch this week — in Internet Explorer, Outlook emails, Xbox, Finance, etc.

= Enabling the Windows 8 snap feature in apps so users can display them in a quarter of the screen at either side, to keep them visible even while working in another app. It’s a way to track, say, the stock market while doing other work in Excel.

“They’re all springboards for your imagination,” Ballmer says.

Presenters at the keynote spent time explaining how with the new WinRT application architecture enables easy reuse of code for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. The apps written for one can’t run in the same form on the other, but due to a common set of APIs for the two operating systems, entire blocks of code can be written for one and inserted in the other. This makes it much simpler to write apps for both platforms.

After giving attendees a free Surface tablet/laptop, Ballmer asked that they go out and create lots of apps for the Microsoft environment, promising that Microsoft would follow through with advertising that should boost the market for those apps.

“We will do more marketing for Windows 8 system, for Windows phones and for Surfaces,” he says. “You will see our best work, and you will not be able to go to a magazine, to the Internet or turn on the television set without seeing our ads frequently.”


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Microsoft has set some ambitious goals for Windows 8 — 400 million devices in customer hands by next July and more than 100,000 applications stocked in the Windows Store by the end of January, according to a top Microsoft sales exec.

That’s according to a Beet.TV interview with Keith Lorizio, Microsoft’s vice president for U.S. sales and marketing, who calls the success of Windows 8 a guarantee.

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He cites the 400 million Windows 8 devices out of a potential 1 billion devices in the marketplace as massive distribution of the new operating system. These devices would include both new sales and upgraded Windows 7 machines.

The company hopes to draw customers with the unified look and feel of Windows 8 with its Xbox and Windows Phone 8 platforms that rely on touch and tiles as their navigation preferences, he says.

But having a wealth of Windows 8 applications on tap is essential to the success, he says. “We’re expecting to aggressively pursue 100,000-plus apps over the first three months.” That would be a significant jump over the current inventory, estimated at about 3,000.

These apps are apparently vital to the financial success of the operating system because they will be rife with paid ads that Lorizio claims won’t be a distraction.

“So all of the ads are going to be integrated, they’re not going to be disruptive for the user/consumer experience but beautiful, relevant and useful,” he says. Microsoft will split ad revenues with the apps’ developers under terms each will work out, he says. “It’s critical for us to get a critical mass of apps in order for the users to integrate in the … highest consumer-oriented experience.”

It’s a costly venture for Microsoft to generate the needed volume of applications. “[W]e’re putting millions of dollars against that effort and working with publishers in order to their apps live as quickly as possible,” he says.

The company is running developer seminars to advise on how to write compelling Windows 8 apps that conform with the common look, feel and navigation Microsoft promises across all the applications. It is also vetting all applications before they are put up for sale at the Windows Store.

“[I]n order for us to reach our goal which is a conservative estimate of 400 million units in the marketplace by July first,” Lorizio says, “we know that we have to have a very, very healthy ecosystem of applications.”

 

 

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