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Microsoft and its hardware partners really, really want everyone to abandon Windows XP by April 8. But the world won’t end if you don’t.

It’s the end of an era at Microsoft. No, I’m not talking about CEO Steve Ballmer retiring and being replaced by Satya Nadella, though that also qualifies. I’m referring to the imminent “death” of support for Microsoft’s long-running Windows XP operating system.

Microsoft — and its hardware partners like HP, Dell, and many others — really, really, really want you and everyone else to upgrade to Windows 8.1, or at least Windows 7. In hopes that Windows XP upgrades will save the PC industry, they’re pulling out all the stops, from warning of potential security catastrophes to offering discounts and special financing on new hardware, along with a wide variety of assessment tools and migration services designed to ease the process. They’re even inviting small groups of journalists to dinner to discuss the issue!

Is April 8 the new Y2K?
The efforts seem to be working for enterprises. Jordan Chrysafidis, Microsoft’s vice president of OEM worldwide marketing, said that only 10% of enterprises in the developed world still use XP exclusively — although he also said that 24% of small businesses don’t even know that XP is reaching its end-of-service date. Either way, though, its pretty clear that not everyone is going to upgrade by the April 8 support cut-off.

Like other tech scares dating back to Y2K, that may not cause an immediate disaster.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally behind the upgrade push. Windows XP is ancient, and no longer delivers a state-of-the-art computing experience — it was designed long before touch and the cloud and mobility and virtualization and modern management techniques took center stage. XP users can’t hope to take advantage of modern trends and cope with today’s threats.

But that’s the point. Failing to upgrade from Windows XP is more about forgoing the advantages of modern technology than it is about some arbitrary doomsday. Things aren’t going to be dramatically different for XP users on April 9 than they were on April 7 — though they’re likely to get worse over time. It’s just that XP users will be leaving the promise of the 21st Century on the table.

According to Chrysafidis, for example, one recent study showed that upgrading to Windows 7 or 8.1 can save $700 per year per user — one more argument for using a modern OS. But it’s also hardly an imperative to make the switch by any specific date, or for every machine in every application to be instantly upgraded.

XP is everywhere
Windows XP was incredibly popular and remains deeply ingrained in machines of all types used for all sorts of purposes. (Heck, I’ve still got an old netbook running XP.) XP is found in millions of small business, retail outlets, and factory floors, and the upgrade usually isn’t just swapping in a new operating system. In many cases, you’ll need brand new hardware and have to upgrade proprietary apps that don’t work on other versions of Windows (most packaged apps are compatible). That’s simply not top of mind — or budget — for many users and organizations. Again, the new hardware is going to be way better, cheaper, and more reliable than the old XP boxes it replaces, but you already own the XP machines, so that’s not always a useful comparison.

As Chrysafidis pointed out, upgrading from XP is a great opportunity to remake outmoded business processes as well as replace hardware and software. But that’s a big deal that requires serious planning — it doesn’t make sense to tackle a major project like that on Microsoft’s timetable. Waiting carries risks — security breaches or aging hardware giving up the ghost at an inopportune moment — but so does rushing into an upgrade process you’re not ready for or can’t afford.

No excuse not to upgrade
Yes, you’re going to have to upgrade from Windows XP, and sooner is better than later. But if you ask me, it’s more important to do it right than to do it fast. Far better to leverage the opportunity to truly take advantage of what modern technology has to offer than scramble to meet the April 8 deadline just to end up doing the same old things on a shiny new PC with a shiny new operating system. (As long as you don’t get hacked in the meantime, of course.)


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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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Analysts applaud changes to Windows 8 UI, but wonder when, or if, Microsoft will kick app development into high gear

Microsoft today revealed some of the changes in Windows 8 due to reach customers in a month, but didn’t address what analysts called the biggest barrier to the OS’s success.

That would be Windows 8 apps, dubbed “Modern” apps, or if one sticks to Microsoft’s original but now discarded moniker, “Metro” apps.

“The bottom line is that there is not a Modern app that does anything for me,” said Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash. research firm that focuses only on Microsoft. “And the real danger [with the changes in Windows 8.1] is that developers start to think, ‘I might as well stay with an old-style, Win32 app.'”

Among the changes Microsoft will debut June 26 when it rolls out a public preview of Windows 8.1 is an optional boot-to-desktop that will let users bypass the tile-style Start screen, and at least superficially, make Windows 8.1 look and work like Windows 7.
Windows 8

Other changes include the return of a Start button — although Microsoft refused to call it such, instead referring to it as a Start “tip” — and a new “Apps view” that acts very much like a full-screen, customizable Start menu, which has not been restored.

Cherry’s worries relate to the premise that Microsoft promoted last year to app developers, and how Windows 8.1 partially invalidates that premise.

“Last year, Microsoft told developers, ‘The reason why you should write apps is that there’s so many people running Windows and they’re going to quickly migrate to Windows 8,'” said Cherry. “We now know that’s not true. Microsoft can’t just stand there and say, ‘Some day the millions will come.’ They now know they need the apps to bring the millions over [to Windows 8].”

Microsoft’s original premise was based on requiring customers to use the Start screen, or at least move through it, before reaching the “classic” desktop that closely resembles Windows 7. With boot-to-desktop and the new App view, however, exposure to the Start screen and apps has been diminished.

Developers may use the boot-to-desktop option as an excuse not to write top-notch apps for the Modern user interface (UI), Cherry said — a disastrous turn for Microsoft.

But neither Cherry or Wes Miller, also of Directions on Microsoft, was ready to write off or even dismiss Windows 8 because of 8.1’s changes.

“I’m not ready to say whether [8.1] is a mulligan or a U-turn until after I see what they do at BUILD,” said Cherry, referring to the June 26-28 developer conference in San Francisco. “But there they need to give a more compelling story than they have now about why to develop for Metro.”

Miller concurred. “What we got today was a lot about the user, and user-focused buzz,” said Miller. “It was the same thing we got about the Xbox One last week. Game developers will hear more at E3 [the game conference slated for June 11-13 in Los Angeles]. Windows developers will hear more about apps at BUILD.”

What must Microsoft show at BUILD? “They have to talk about what they’re going do for developers to make it easier to build great apps,” Miller said. “And a real advocacy for how to build business apps in the Windows Store world.”

Cherry and Miller contended that Microsoft has yet to do either, and that without a much-improved app ecosystem with more high-quality apps, Windows 8 is destined to disappoint Microsoft, enterprise customers and consumers.

“But I don’t see this as a mulligan at all,” said Miller, referring to the golfing term for a do-over. “I see this as Microsoft betting the farm on Windows Store, and still doing that, but then cautiously retooling what they built for Windows 8 on the desktop.

“Microsoft’s saying, ‘You don’t have to be a second-class citizen with a mouse and keyboard,’ and that’s really important to people like me who spend most of their time on the desktop and don’t have a touch PC,” Miller added.

Microsoft and analysts alike have put some of the blame for Windows 8’s poor performance on shortages of touch-enabled personal computers, and on the high prices of those that have been available.
Windows 8

On the bright side, said Miller, Windows 8.1’s changes could be the tipping point for businesses — assuming Microsoft solves the app issues.

“It will … possibly help corporations or businesses that may have hesitated,” said Miller. “It may be enough for some to skip Windows 7 and upgrade straight to Windows 8. It may be enough of a change that they look at that. If so, it would be a huge win for Microsoft.”

Miller described the revealed changes in Windows 8.1 as Microsoft “slowly putting back what it took out,” but both he and Cherry cautioned against coming to conclusions too quickly. Microsoft, they noted, has promised to divulge more information about the update’s contents between now and BUILD.

“They’re teasing us,” said Cherry. “They learned from Apple how to stir up the [news] cycle. They’re chumming the waters before BUILD. But none of the changes I’ve seen [in Windows 8.1] is a fix for a blocker. Microsoft has yet to tell enterprises how people are going to be more productive with Windows 8, or Windows 8.1.”

And like everything else, that comes down to apps.

Windows 8.1 will ship in final form later this year and will be a free update for current Windows 8 and Windows RT customers.

 


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Sticking with Windows 7, but companies must prep for BYOD presence, says Forrester

Windows 8 faces a number of hurdles in the enterprise, but the biggest reason it won’t replace the current corporate champion, Windows 7, is simple.

“Enterprises just don’t see Windows 8 having value,” said David Johnson, an analyst with Forrester Research. “They don’t see the value in the changes in Windows 8 [compared to Windows 7].”

Johnson, who authored a recently-published report that concluded enterprise IT will skip Windows 8 as a corporate-standard operating system, wasn’t saying much new: Analysts have been predicting Windows 8 would face a tough sell long before the OS shipped last October.

Those prognostications cited everything from “upgrade fatigue” caused by ongoing efforts to purge networks of Windows XP machines to shortages of compelling hardware to stiff competition from Apple’s iPad.

Johnson ticked off all of those.
But the value proposition was top on his list. “Windows 7 is proven,” he noted, and fair or not, Windows 8 would have had to demonstrate major productivity improvements over that workhorse to have a chance at supplanting it.

And that’s not something IT decision makers see in the upgrade, instead viewing it — and its radical overhaul — with suspicion. Their top concerns about the OS, according to Forrester’s surveys, are the potential for significant end-user training and support, and the need to design in-house applications to leverage the new “Modern” user interface (UI). Just 7% of the nearly 1,300 IT professionals polled said that they believe the Modern UI is an improvement over Windows 7 and its traditional desktop.

“Windows 8 is a non-starter in the enterprise because of the UI changes,” said Johnson.

However, Johnson acknowledged that Microsoft’s problem in the enterprise did not entirely stem from the Modern UI, and its welding to the desktop. Timing was important, too. “This is an off-cycle release,” he said, referring to the fact that companies have already spent capital on hardware refreshes for Windows 7.

This is an issue Microsoft has faced before: Many corporations have taken to adopting every other edition of Windows. For example, although Windows XP was already long in the tooth when Windows Vista debuted for enterprises in late 2006, businesses stuck with the former and largely ignored the latter.

The same will hold true with Windows 8, relegated to an also-ran.

But while IT decision makers are down on Windows 8, workers were much more positive about the moves Microsoft’s made. More than a third of 9,800 workers surveyed in the fourth quarter of 2012 — 38% — said they’d choose Windows 8 as their preferred PC operating system, while 20% picked it as their preferred tablet OS.

While Johnson didn’t go so far as to call those employee preferences — and the ensuing PCs and tablets they might take to work — a Trojan Horse, he urged enterprises, even those with no plans to adopt Windows 8, to prep for its support and inclusion in any bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

Windows 8, however, even if it’s not widely adopted by corporate, will have an impact on IT, Johnson acknowledged, specifically Microsoft’s decision to speed up the release tempo with its “Blue” project. The first of what Microsoft plans will be annual updates to Windows, named Windows 8.1, will release later this year, reportedly in October.

Blue may not affect enterprise IT immediately, not if Windows 8 is shunned as Johnson believes, but the annual cadence will at some point. Like other analysts, Johnson was unsure how enterprises would take to Blue, or even handle the annual updates.

“Blue gives Windows 8 a better chance of adoption,” Johnson admitted. “But the success of that strategy depends on whether enterprises accept the new value in each update, and has much to do with the amount of differences from release to release. That’s the central question.”

If the differences between each update are relatively minor, Johnson said, enterprises would be more likely to accept those updates. But Microsoft will have to earn the confidence of corporate IT in its ability to deliver a solid product that doesn’t break current workflow practices or applications.

That confidence building may take several update iterations, another rationale IT may use to distance itself from Windows 8 while it waits for the next major upgrade before considering dumping Windows 7.

Other analysts, such as Michael Silver of Gartner, have said much the same.

But Windows 8’s rejection by enterprises, cautioned Johnson, does not mean that either Microsoft or PCs are destined for the dustbin. “PCs are not going away,” he maintained. “And there will be a Windows OS in enterprises for years to come.”

It just won’t be Windows 8.

 


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When Microsoft first announced that Internet Explorer 10 would be part of Windows 8 most users assumed that this would also mean a release of the browser for the version 7 operating system. The first version of Internet Explorer 10 was released publicly with Windows 8’s Developer Preview back in 2011, and then updated whenever new versions of preview builds released. Microsoft at that time was tight lipped about the future of IE10 for Windows 7

October 2012 came and brought along Windows 8’s launch. It was in the week prior to the release of Windows 8 that the company shed some light on the future of IE10 for Windows 7. A blog post indicated that Microsoft had plans to release a preview version for Windows 7 in November 2012.

Internet Explorer 10 Preview for Windows 7 released today for 32-bit and 64-bit editions of the operating system, and for 64-bit editions of Windows Server 2008 R2.

System Requirements
32-bit or 64-bit edition of Windows 7 SP1 or 64-bit edition of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1
At least 512 Megabyte of RAM
At least 70 / 120 / 200 Megabyte of hard drive space
At least 1 GHz processor

Installation and uninstallation
The installation of Internet Explorer 10 Preview will replace the current version of the browser on the system. A restart is required before the new version becomes available.

Note that it is possible to uninstall IE10 again on a system it has been installed on. To uninstall the browser do the following:

Click on the Start button.
Type Programs and Features in the search box and select it from the results.
Select View installed updates from the sidebar.
Locate Windows Internet Explorer 10 under Microsoft Windows.
Right-click the entry and select uninstall.
Select Yes when prompted if you really want to uninstall the program.
Restart the PC right then or at a later point to complete the removal.

What’s New
Internet Explorer 10 is nearly identical to the version of the browser that Microsoft released for Windows 8. The core difference: is: Adobe Flash is not natively integrated into the Windows 7 / Windows Server 2012 version.

Both Internet Explorer 10 versions on Windows 8 include a built-in version of Adobe Flash, which is especially important for the Modern UI version of the browser as it does not support browser plugins. Microsoft circumvented this restriction with the direct implementation of Flash in Internet Explorer 10.

Web standards support appears to be identical in both versions of IE10. The Internet Explorer blog notes that the following improvements have been made over previous versions of the browser:

Rich Visual Effects: CSS Text Shadow, CSS 3D Transforms, CSS3 Transitions and Animations, CSS3 Gradient, SVG Filter Effects

Sophisticated Page Layouts: CSS3 for publication quality page layouts and application UI (CSS3 grid, flexbox, multi-column, positioned floats, regions, and hyphenation), HTML5 Forms, input controls, and validation

Enhanced Web Programming Model: Better offline applications through local storage with IndexedDB and the HTML5 Application Cache; Web Sockets, HTML5 History, Async scripts, HTML5 File APIs, HTML5 Drag-drop, HTML5 Sandboxing, Web workers, ES5 Strict mode support.

The browser scores 320 and 6 points in the HTML5test, an indicator of how well browsers support the HTML5 standard. That’s an increase of more than 200 points over Internet Explorer 9. IE10 is still trailing behind other browsers in the test. Google Chrome 23 for instance scores 448 + 13 points in the test, and Firefox 16 372 and 10.

Internet Explorer 10 is the first browser that ships with Do Not Track enabled by default. The feature informs websites and services the browser connects to that users do not want to be tracked. The default nature of the feature in IE10 has been controversially discussed as the Do No Track specification requires users to make the decision. Yahoo as a consequence announced that it would ignore Internet Explorer 10’s Do Not Track header.

IE10 on Windows 7 may run faster than comparable web browsers in select benchmarks. Microsoft claims for instance that Internet Explorer 10 is two times as fast as Google Chrome 23 and 20 percent faster than Firefox 16 in the Mandelbrot benchmark available on Microsoft’s Test Drive website.

The browser does not perform as well in other benchmarks. Its score of 5134 in Google’s Octane benchmark is beaten by Firefox 19’s 9031, and Google Chrome 23’s 12975. Mozilla’s Kraken benchmark paints a similar picture. Firefox and Google Chrome need roughly the same execution time of around 2200ms, while Internet Explorer 10 three times at much with 6800ms.

IE10 performs better when running applications and demos on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Test Drive site. It is somewhat surprising that Google Chrome usually comes in last in these benchmarks, while Internet Explorer 10 and Firefox finish in close proximity to each other.

Closing Words
Microsoft released Internet Explorer 10 as a preview version and it should be handled as such. While it is possible to uninstall the browser on the system to revert to the previous version of Internet Explorer, it is not suited for production environments, even though there does not appear to be any — visible — difference between the preview version for Windows 7 and the final version on Windows 8.

Microsoft managed to close a large part of the performance and web standards support gap between previous versions of Internet Explorer and third-party browsers such as Chrome, Firefox or Opera with the release of IE10.


 

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Dumps WOA, names ARM OS ‘Windows RT’

Computerworld – Microsoft on Monday said it will sell just three Windows 8 editions for Intel PCs, half as many as the company pushed in 2009 for Windows 7.

Windows 8 — long the label Microsoft and analysts have used, and as of Monday, the official nameplate — will be sold at retail and pre-loaded on new PCs in one of two editions: Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro.

Windows 8, said Microsoft, will be the de facto standard for consumers, while Windows 8 Pro will be aimed at advanced users and businesses.

“If you are an enthusiast or you want to use your PC in a business environment, you will want Windows 8 Pro,” wrote Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc in a blog post.
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Volume customers that pay for Software Assurance agreements — subscriptions that let companies upgrade during a multi-year period in exchange for paying a set per-license fee — will be offered Windows 8 Enterprise.

Windows 7 came in six SKUs, or stock-keeping units: Home Basic, Starter Edition, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate.

Only three of those SKUs, Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate, were available at retail in the U.S. The Home Basic version was restricted to developing markets and Starter Edition, although available worldwide, was a bare-bones version whose users could open only three applications simultaneously. Windows 7 Enterprise, like its upcoming sibling, targeted volume customers.

In the blog revealing the SKUs, LeBlanc also said, “For China and a small set of select emerging markets, we will offer a local language-only edition of Windows 8,” perhaps leaving open the door to Basic- or Starter-style versions.

The three editions of Windows 8 had been predicted in February by ZDNet blogger Stephen Chapman, who found a list of Windows 8 SKUs in Hewlett-Packard support documents.

As expected, Microsoft dumped the Ultimate edition, which debuted in Vista and was also in Windows 7’s lineup. Microsoft demoted Ultimate in the latter just before Windows 7’s launch, dropping the heavily criticized “Ultimate Extras” feature from that version.

Microsoft company also dubbed its new tablet-oriented operating system, which executives had previously called “Windows on ARM,” or WOA, as “Windows RT.” The new designation is a nod to WinRT, for “Windows Runtime,” the APIs (application programming interfaces) responsible for the Metro interface and its apps.

Most users who left comments on LeBlanc’s blog post loathed the name and argued that alternatives such as “Windows 8 for Tablets” or “Windows 8 Touch” would have been clearer.

“I can imagine walking into Best Buy or other places,” said someone identified as “darrenwbaker” Monday. “Here are the Android tablets, here is the iPad and here are the Windows 8 and Windows RT devices … HUH?”

Microsoft did not detail the pricing of the various Windows 8 SKUs, or hint at a release date. Historically, it has waited — in Windows 7’s case, to the summer of 2009 — to put price tags on each edition.

LeBlanc did say that the company planned at some point to “share information about limited-time programs and promotions that we will make available to customers,” indicating that Microsoft would likely offer free or nearly-free upgrades to people who purchase a new Windows 7 PC in the months before and after Windows 8’s launch.

His mention of promotions may be a clue that Microsoft will again aggressively mark down Windows 8 upgrades, as it did with Windows 7 for two weeks in 2009, when it discounted Home Premium and Professional by as much 58%.

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