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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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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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Windows RT has taken a lot of hits lately, ranging from multiple hardware partners to analysts, with some calling for Microsoft to abandon the troubled operating system. Now Microsoft has come out in a full-throated defense. But some of what Microsoft said may make things worse, not better, for RT.

In an interview with CNet, Michael Angiulo, corporate vice president, Windows Planning, Hardware & PC Ecosystem says that Microsoft won’t be abandoing RT:

“It was a ton of work for us and we didn’t do the work and endure the disruption for any reason other than the fact that there’s a strategy there that just gets stronger over time.

“Looking at things now like power performance and standby time and passive [fanless] form factors. When we launched Windows 8, it was really competitive with a full-sized iPad. A lot of that was made possible by the ARM [chip] architecture.”

Later on, he takes on the main criticism of RT, that because it’s not full-blown Windows 8, it can’t run Desktop applications:

“People are talking about legacy desktop software not running, but they don’t think about the customer benefit of only running modern apps. The only apps that you install from the Windows store are the kind, that as a customer, you can manage your rights to.

“Let’s say you drop that PC in a pool. Well, you get a new one and then you just redownload [the apps]. That’s the kind of model people are used to with a phone or tablet today. I can maintain all the apps in the [Microsoft] store and reset with a single switch.

“So, on Windows RT, the user experience stays consistent over time. That’s a big benefit. And as the number of apps grow in the store, that value promise only gets stronger.”

There are plenty of holes in his argument, aside from the ludicrous example of someone dropping his PC in a pool. The biggest is that with Windows 8, all of your “modern” apps (apps that used to be called Metro apps) will also redownload if there’s a problem with your PC. That capability is not unique to Windows RT.

The second hole is the idea that you’re better off without the choice of running Desktop applications if you want. If you’re better off not being allowed to run Desktop applications, why does Microsoft allow Windows 8 to do it?

Angiulo has also done RT some harm. One of RT’s biggest problems is that people are confused about what it is, and how it’s different from Windows 8. Many don’t realize that when they buy a Windows RT tablet, it’s not actually Windows 8, and won’t run Desktop applications. Mike Abary, Samsung senior vice president in charge of the PC and tablet businesses in the United States, has complained about that, and says Microsoft has done a very poor job of educating consumers. Back in January he said that’s why Samsung has cancelled plans to sell an RT tablet in the U.S.:

“There wasn’t really a very clear positioning of what Windows RT meant in the marketplace, what it stood for relative to Windows 8, that was being done in an effective manner to the consumer. When we did some tests and studies on how we could go to market with a Windows RT device, we determined there was a lot of heavy lifting we still needed to do to educate the customer on what Windows RT was. And that heavy lifting was going to require pretty heavy investment. When we added those two things up, the investments necessary to educate the consumer on the difference between RT and Windows 8, plus the modest feedback that we got regarding how successful could this be at retail from our retail partners, we decided maybe we ought to wait.”

In his interview, Angiulo confused Windows 8 with Windows RT. He said, “When we launched Windows 8, it was really competitive with a full-sized iPad.” But he was referring at that point to Windows RT, not Windows 8, because he was talking about an operating system running on ARM chips.

If a corporate vice president can’t clearly differentiate between Windows 8 and Windows RT, how will consumers?

This is one more example of why Windows RT is likely headed for failure. Acer won’t likely release an RT tablet, and an IDC report estimates that Windows RT will have only 1.9% of tablet market share in 2013, and by 2017 will only grow to 2.7% of the market. And recently, Alex Gauna, an analyst at JMP Securities LLC said this to Bloomberg about the RT-based Surface sales:

“It’s pretty clear that things were bad entering the year, and at least for the moment they’re getting worse. The path to a successful Surface, in the same way that they were successful with Xbox, is not very clear to me right now.”

It’s not clear to me, either, or to most people outside of Microsoft. And if what Anguilo told CNet is the best that Microsoft has to offer in RT’s defense, that’s not likely to change.


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Windows RT has taken a lot of hits lately, ranging from multiple hardware partners to analysts, with some calling for Microsoft to abandon the troubled operating system. Now Microsoft has come out in a full-throated defense. But some of what Microsoft said may make things worse, not better, for RT.

In an interview with CNet, Michael Angiulo, corporate vice president, Windows Planning, Hardware & PC Ecosystem says that Microsoft won’t be abandoing RT:

“It was a ton of work for us and we didn’t do the work and endure the disruption for any reason other than the fact that there’s a strategy there that just gets stronger over time.

“Looking at things now like power performance and standby time and passive [fanless] form factors. When we launched Windows 8, it was really competitive with a full-sized iPad. A lot of that was made possible by the ARM [chip] architecture.”

Later on, he takes on the main criticism of RT, that because it’s not full-blown Windows 8, it can’t run Desktop applications:

“People are talking about legacy desktop software not running, but they don’t think about the customer benefit of only running modern apps. The only apps that you install from the Windows store are the kind, that as a customer, you can manage your rights to.

“Let’s say you drop that PC in a pool. Well, you get a new one and then you just redownload [the apps]. That’s the kind of model people are used to with a phone or tablet today. I can maintain all the apps in the [Microsoft] store and reset with a single switch.

“So, on Windows RT, the user experience stays consistent over time. That’s a big benefit. And as the number of apps grow in the store, that value promise only gets stronger.”

There are plenty of holes in his argument, aside from the ludicrous example of someone dropping his PC in a pool. The biggest is that with Windows 8, all of your “modern” apps (apps that used to be called Metro apps) will also redownload if there’s a problem with your PC. That capability is not unique to Windows RT.

The second hole is the idea that you’re better off without the choice of running Desktop applications if you want. If you’re better off not being allowed to run Desktop applications, why does Microsoft allow Windows 8 to do it?

Angiulo has also done RT some harm. One of RT’s biggest problems is that people are confused about what it is, and how it’s different from Windows 8. Many don’t realize that when they buy a Windows RT tablet, it’s not actually Windows 8, and won’t run Desktop applications. Mike Abary, Samsung senior vice president in charge of the PC and tablet businesses in the United States, has complained about that, and says Microsoft has done a very poor job of educating consumers. Back in January he said that’s why Samsung has cancelled plans to sell an RT tablet in the U.S.:

“There wasn’t really a very clear positioning of what Windows RT meant in the marketplace, what it stood for relative to Windows 8, that was being done in an effective manner to the consumer. When we did some tests and studies on how we could go to market with a Windows RT device, we determined there was a lot of heavy lifting we still needed to do to educate the customer on what Windows RT was. And that heavy lifting was going to require pretty heavy investment. When we added those two things up, the investments necessary to educate the consumer on the difference between RT and Windows 8, plus the modest feedback that we got regarding how successful could this be at retail from our retail partners, we decided maybe we ought to wait.”

In his interview, Angiulo confused Windows 8 with Windows RT. He said, “When we launched Windows 8, it was really competitive with a full-sized iPad.” But he was referring at that point to Windows RT, not Windows 8, because he was talking about an operating system running on ARM chips.

If a corporate vice president can’t clearly differentiate between Windows 8 and Windows RT, how will consumers?

This is one more example of why Windows RT is likely headed for failure. Acer won’t likely release an RT tablet, and an IDC report estimates that Windows RT will have only 1.9% of tablet market share in 2013, and by 2017 will only grow to 2.7% of the market. And recently, Alex Gauna, an analyst at JMP Securities LLC said this to Bloomberg about the RT-based Surface sales:

“It’s pretty clear that things were bad entering the year, and at least for the moment they’re getting worse. The path to a successful Surface, in the same way that they were successful with Xbox, is not very clear to me right now.”

It’s not clear to me, either, or to most people outside of Microsoft. And if what Anguilo told CNet is the best that Microsoft has to offer in RT’s defense, that’s not likely to change.


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The results are the first to include Windows 8

Microsoft reported a drop in profit for the second quarter of its fiscal year, though revenue increased, thanks partly to a 24 percent jump in sales from its Windows division.

Microsoft’s revenue increased 2.7 percent to US$21.46 billion in the quarter, which ended Dec. 31.

Net income shrunk to $6.38 billion, or $0.76 per share, from $6.62 billion, or $0.78 per share, in Microsoft’s second fiscal quarter of 2011, the company said on Thursday.

CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement that Microsoft’s “big, bold ambition to reimagine Windows,” along with other initiatives like its Surface tablet and the new Windows Phone 8, are paying off.

The Windows division generated revenue of $5.88 billion, up 24 percent year on year. However, on a pro forma basis revenue was up only 11 percent, when factoring in a net deferral of revenue for the Windows Upgrade Offer and the recognition of previously deferred revenue from Windows 8 pre-sales.

The Server & Tools business, which includes products like SQL Server and System Center, posted revenue growth of 9 percent to $5.19 billion. System Center revenue was up 18 percent, while SQL Server revenue climbed 16 percent.

The Business Division, which includes the Office suite, reported $5.69 billion in revenue, down 10 percent. Adjusted for the impact of the Office Upgrade Offer and pre-sales, pro-forma revenue rose 3 percent. Revenue from server software including Lync, SharePoint and Exchange hit “double-digit percentage growth.” Microsoft is expected to ship a new version of the Office suite this quarter.

The Entertainment and Devices Division, which includes the Xbox products, saw revenue decline 11 percent to $3.77 billion. Microsoft sold 5.9 million Xbox consoles in the quarter, down 28 percent, while its Skype business, also part of this division, saw a 59 percent increase in call minutes.

The Online Services Division, which includes online advertising generated by Web properties like the Bing search engine, increased its revenue 11 percent to $869 million.

Overall, Microsoft said that its pro-forma revenue was $22 billion, when adjusted in part to reflect revenue deferrals for several Windows, Office and video game offers, as well as pre-sales.

In a conference call to discuss the results, CFO Peter Klein called the numbers “solid,” and said Microsoft is building momentum behind Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, and behind upcoming releases like Office 2013 and its Surface Pro tablet.

Microsoft also experienced “strong growth” in multi-year licensing revenue, he said, exceeding 15 percent year on year, a sign that enterprise customers are making long-term bets on the company.

Windows 8 sports a radically redesigned user interface based on tile icons that is optimized for touchscreens found primarily in tablets but also in newer “hybrid” laptops and some desktop PCs, like all-in-one systems.

The new OS started shipping in October, and Microsoft has said it is satisfied with the product’s sales, a message that is at odds with skeptical views from market researchers like NPD Group and IDC, as well as financial analysts from Morgan Stanley.

In November and again in January, Microsoft said that Windows 8 shipments were “roughly” in line with Windows 7 shipments at the same stage of the sales cycle three years prior.

However, NPD Group declared in late November that Windows 8 had failed to give the consumer Windows PC and tablet market enough of a boost, and that in the first four weeks after its launch Windows device sales fell 21 percent year on year.

Later in early January, NPD Group said that Windows 8 “did little to boost holiday sales or improve the year-long Windows notebook sales decline.”

About a week later, Morgan Stanley financial analysts downgraded the firm’s recommendation on Microsoft’s stock from Overweight — the equivalent of “buy” — to Equal Weight, the equivalent of “hold,” citing concerns over Windows 8 sales and over the PC market dynamics.

Meanwhile, IDC reported that worldwide PC shipments fell 6.4 percent to 89.8 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, year on year, a steeper decline than the 4.4 percent IDC had anticipated. A big part of the problem was that Windows 8 failed to jump-start sales, IDC said.

Even while expressing satisfaction with Windows 8 sales, Tami Reller, CFO and chief marketing officer of the Windows Division, acknowledged in January that OEM partners hadn’t made enough Windows 8 touch devices to meet the high demand for that type of computer.

“Frankly, the supply was too short,” she said then at an event held at the CES show in Las Vegas where she answered questions from a JP Morgan analyst.

“There was some misalignment between where products were distributed and where the demand was,” she added.

Some tablets running Windows RT — the Windows 8 version for ARM chips — didn’t get the type of distribution that would have been “ideal,” she said.

Microsoft’s CFO reiterated these points Thursday, saying Microsoft is working with its chip and OEM partners to fine-tune the availability of Windows 8 devices to make sure there is the right mix of price points and configurations.

A similar effort is under way with developers to increase the variety and volume of Windows 8 applications. And Microsoft is taking steps to expand the distribution of its Surface tablets.

Its early days,” Klein said. “An ambitious endeavor like this takes time.

Microsoft has sold more than 60 million Windows 8 licenses, he said, repeating what Reller had said earlier this month. At the same time, Windows 7 deployments continue, and it is now on more than 60 percent of enterprise desktops worldwide, according to Klein.

Microsoft is counting on Windows 8 to help improve the operating system’s minuscule share in the white-hot tablet OS market, where it lags significantly behind iOS and Android. Meanwhile, the PC market, where Windows has historically been the dominant OS, is shrinking.

Last year, Gartner forecast that worldwide media tablet sales to end users would total 119 million units in 2012, up 98 percent compared with 2011, and that Apple’s iOS would continue its dominance with a projected share of over 61 percent. Windows tablet shipments were expected to be only 4.8 million in 2012.

Microsoft has been offering Windows 8 Pro upgrades at discounted prices as low as $14.99, but prices will shoot up after Jan. 31 to $199.99.

One special offer lets people upgrade an existing Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC and lets them acquire Windows 8 Pro for $39.99 via Windows.com download or $69.99 from a retail store DVD. The other offer, priced at $14.99, is for consumers upgrading a new Windows 7 PC bought between June 2 of last year and Jan. 31 — they have until Feb. 28 to register for the special upgrade price.

After Jan. 31, people will also be able to upgrade for the first time to the regular version of Windows 8 for $119.99.

Windows 8 Pro is more advanced than Windows 8 in areas like security, networking, virtualization and remote desktop access.


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Windows 8: Does its 1-month report card read pass or fail?
The operating system is just a hair over one month old, so now is the perfect time to take stock of the software’s public reception.

My, how time flies when you’re swiping through live tiles. Microsoft’s new-look Windows 8 launched exactly one month and one day ago, bringing the modern UI and mobile-style apps to the desktop masses on October 26th. So how has the system actually fared during its honeymoon period? Read on for the full synopsis of Windows 8 wins and losses.

Can you navigate Windows 8?

It can’t be all bad. Or can it?

Stephen Sinofsky: the gorilla no longer in the room

Many eyebrows were raised on November 12A when Microsoft announced that Stephen Sinofskythe president of the Windows division, a driving force behind Windows 8, and a long-time leader at Microsoftwas leaving his post, effective immediately. The odd timing and abrupt announcement led to a rash of speculation. Was Sinofsky fired or did he quit? Was it planned? Are Windows 8 sales that bad?

Neither Microsoft nor Sinofsky will talk about their divorce, but many analysts believe Sinofsky’s penchant for secretiveness and territorial mindset alienated external and internal partners alike, which proved troublesome in the new, cross-departmental world of Windows 8. It’s hard to believe Microsoft would dump Sinofsky over two weeks of (possibly) poor OS sales. Regardless of the reason behind the split, Sinofsky’s exitA was badly timed and led to a fresh wave of media focus on the negative aspects of Windows 8.

“I think it was unwise to fire the head of the unit during the launch cycle and during the critical 4th quarter,” says Rob Enderle, the president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. “It was a dangerous distraction.”

Sinofsky’s departure may have been a dangerous distraction, but headlines alone don’t make or break an operating system. Indeed, sales figures define the bottom line, and Sinofksy has never been a household name. Nonetheless, the unceremonious exit of the Windows boss adds up to a net fail for Microsoft in the executive comings-and-goings department.

Windows Store: growing, but still unimpressive

As the Windows Store goes, so goes Windows 8. The fancy-schmancy modern UI and its glittering live tiles are all powered by new-style Windows 8 apps, and the only way to get these apps is through the Windows Store itself. Our pre-launch examination of Microsoft’s digital wares revealed a worrisome dearth of apps, along with a serious paucity of blockbuster apps, to boot.

One month in, the Windows Store is looking a bit better. Wes Miller, an independent Microsoft analyst at Directions on Microsoft and the curator of the WinAppUpdate website, recently announced that the Windows Store finally cracked the 20,000 app barrier, with new apps showing up at a clip of roughly 500 per day, post-launch. Only around 13,000 of these titles are available in the United States, however, and Microsoft still has a long way to go before it nears the 700,000-plus app selection of the entrenched Android and Apple markets. Still, the Windows Store is growing nicely.

The quality level of those apps is still a concern, however. The last post on Miller’s website is titled, “Windows Store: I’m holding out for a hero app,” in which he bemoans the lack of exclusive Windows 8 apps and says flat-out, “There arent a ton of stellar apps. It’s an observation that mirrors our own. Most of the available apps are ho-hum web wrappers, uninspired utilities or lackluster games.


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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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Windows 8 RTM users will on Friday begin seeing app updates prior to the Windows 8 launch.

In a Thursday blog post, Microsofts Steven Sinofsky, president of the companys Windows group, announced a slew of app updates that will roll out to early adopters of Windows 8 RTM in the coming days and weeks.

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Starting tomorrow, a Bing update will be available to download in the Windows Store, with more updates rolling out steadily until the Windows 8 launch on Oct. 26. In Sinofskys blog, Microsofts Gabriel Aul detailed the list of upgraded apps, which were first released in the manufacturing build of Windows 8 in August. AulA also delved into specific improvements for each program.

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Aul said the updates will also be available for PC manufacturers to ship with new Windows 8 models as well as users who have installed Windows 8 RTM.

SkyDrive, Mail, Calendar, People, Photos, Maps, News, and Games are among the apps to receive refreshes in the weeks preceding Windows 8s launch. Microsoft late last month announced updates to SkyDrive , and will soon add a search within SkyDrive function and allow you to rename and move folders.

Among other interesting app updates, the Mail app will include a conversation view of your inbox, and the Photos app will support photo cropping and rotation, as well as auto-curated slideshows. The Maps app will include a bird’s eye view function, some 3,000 indoor maps, driving direction hints, and integration with Microsoft’s own Bing and Travel apps.

Speaking of Bing, a new file picker will let you grab images for use on your lock screen. The News app, meanwhile, will add content from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and include an improved article reader with font customization, zoom and other features. The Weather app will also improve, with up to 10 days of weather forecasts, and more granular temperature reports.

The upshot? While the Windows Store might be suffering serious problems with third-party inventory, it’s nice to see that Microsoft is paying attention to propping up the apps over which it has direct control. For the full list of improvements to built-in Windows 8 apps, hit Sinofsky’s blog entry here.

Microsoft to Patch Adobe Flash Player in Windows 8 ‘Shortly’
Microsoft said it will update Adobe Flash Player to close security holes before Windows 8 is generally available. In Windows 8, Flash is embedded in Internet Explorer 10.

Microsoft is working with Adobe Systems to patch vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player affecting Windows 8, apparently changing course and choosing to push out a fix before the operating system hits stores next month.

In Windows 8, Microsoft has opted to embed Flash Player in Internet Explorer 10 (IE 10). Last week, the company said publicly that it would wait until Windows 8 was generally available before patching Flash Player with the latest updates issued last month by Adobe.
 

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However, in a statement Sept. 13, a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK that the company is working with Adobe to release an update for Flash in IE 10 that will be available shortly. Since Flash Player is embedded in IE 10, Microsoft will be responsible for patching it for Windows 8 users.

“Ultimately, our goal is to make sure the Flash Player in Windows 8 is always secure and up-to-date, and to align our release schedule as closely to Adobe’s as possible,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Wolfgang Kandek, CTO at Qualys, said the decision to embed Flash Player into IE 10 is the right thing to do, noting that integrating Flash into IE and taking the responsibility for rolling out patches will improve end-user security. Hopefully, the decision will pave the way for other third-party programs to be patched through the Microsoft updater, he said.

“When we look at statistics from our BrowserCheck application we constantly see that 3rd party applications (i.e. Flash, Java, Reader) are slower in updating than Windows native application (i.e. Windows Media Player),” he said in an email. “We attribute that to the lack of automatic update mechanisms in some older applications, plus usability and integration issues with the multiple update mechanisms that a typical PC user has to deal with.”

Such flaws are often targeted by users of exploit kits such as Black Hole, which recently was updated by its creator to include new features designed to thwart efforts by security researchers.

Lamar Bailey, director of security research and development at nCircle, said shipping a product with known security flaws is bad practice, and requiring a patch installation immediately after installing a new OS is no better.

“Since Microsoft decided to follow the Google Chrome model of embedding Flash within browser, they’re tied to Adobe now for better or worse,” he said in an email. “Flash has been plagued with security issues for a long time, and embedding Flash means that IE10 end users will have to wait for Microsoft to patch Flash issues.”

“How this will work out in the long run is anyone’s guess,” he said. “Will Adobe release security information to Microsoft early enough to get Flash patches to Windows 8 users at the same time they hit the rest of the market? Will Adobe delay patches for everyone to sync up with Microsoft?”

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