SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Google Now integration may soon become available in Google's Windows browser and Chrome OS platform, after engineers added a new reference to the feature in the latest Chromium release. Discovered by Chromium enthusiast François Beaufort, a new flag has been added to the Chromium backend, which allows users to enable the option if they know the relevant Google Now server. However, as the feature is not yet public, Google Now cards (or notifications) are not yet displayed.
We suspected that Google Now would be making its way from Android to the desktop in December, which was reinforced when Google added a new notification center feature to Chrome OS, showing off card-like notifications for browser (or Chrome OS) events. For now, it appears that Google Now will be enabled in Chrome for Windows (no Mac version just yet) and in Chrome OS, but it's not clear when it will become available.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Sure, you could enjoy Android on your PC through dual-booting or virtualization, but the folks at Socketeq have whipped up yet another alternative: a port of Mountain View's mobile OS, fittingly dubbed WindowsAndroid, that runs natively on the Windows kernel (under Vista, 7 and 8) instead of Linux. Not only does the operating system run speedily since its free of virtualization chains, but it serves up the appropriate tablet or smartphone UI based on window size, and plays nice with keyboards and mice, to boot. Socketeq's solution serves up the full Android experience, but you'll have to separately flash the Google apps that typically come baked in, according to Android Police. Ice Cream Sandwich is the freshest flavor of Android to have undergone the kernel-replacement treatment, and it's currently being offered as a free "first-try" download at the source. www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – There was a report earlier today that a few Windows Phone users were banned by Google from using the web version of its Google Maps app. And from what we are hearing, the issue seems to be affecting a wide number Windows Phone devices. The report originated from one of the forums of fellow tech site The Verge, and Google caught wind of it immediately. Google was quick to respond, and issued a statement to saying, “The mobile web version of Google Maps is optimized for WebKit browsers such as Chrome and Safari. However, since Internet Explorer is not a WebKit browser, Windows Phone devices are not able to access Google Maps for the mobile web.”
It is important to note that Google Maps is not officially supported on Windows Phone OS. Perhaps launching a native Google Maps app on Microsoft’s mobile OS is not a top priority for Google. Well, of course, Microsoft has Bing, so that could one reason. Another possible reason could be that the relationship between both companies have gone sour, with Microsoft accusing Google of “intentionally” not working on a native YouTube app for Windows Phone OS, and for not letting Microsoft build one either. Microsoft has also expressed its dismay with the FTC’s decision to end its antitrust investigation on Google.- www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Two weeks ago Steven Sinofsky was in front of the world's journalists, attaching wheels to one of Microsoft's new Surface tablets to show the device was so tough it could withstand being used as a skateboard.
But on Monday evening in Seattle it was Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, who put the wheels under the head of his Windows division and pushed him out of the company where many had seen him as a future leader.
Microsoft shares fell by 3% to $27 in early trading on Tuesday as the news reverberated around the web, leaving "Microsofties" themselves stunned as they tried to digest what the change will mean for the company. Sinofsky was "a tremendous talent," one said on Tuesday. Meanwhile "mini", an anonymous blogger inside the company, wrote: "People walking the hallways tonight at work certainly can't believe it. I can't believe it – working at a Microsoft without Sinofsky? Inconceivable."
Ballmer, 56, who has led the company since January 2000, is now isolated at the top – and could be next in line if shareholders feel Microsoft is not adapting quickly enough to a world where smartphones outsell PCs, search advertising is more profitable than games consoles, Google has almost as much cash and equivalents as the 37-year-old company, and Apple's iPhone alone generates more revenue, $17bn, than all of Microsoft's $16bn.
Sinofsky drove the development of Windows 8, the latest version now hitting stores, after taking over as president of the Windows division in July 2009, just as it was preparing to launch Windows 7 – the most successful version of Windows it has ever produced. At the company meeting in September, he won a standing ovation from the Windows team.
Ballmer is left with problems. The success of Windows 8, which forces users to adopt an entirely different interaction method than versions from the previous 20 years, is not yet clear. And Windows Phone, the mobile software challenging Apple's iPhone and Google's Android, barely has a fingerhold in the £200bn smartphone market. Microsoft's Bing search engine loses hundreds of millions of dollars a quarter and has made barely any impact on Google's dominance. Meanwhile it is smartphones, not PCs, that are introducing people in China, India and Africa to the internet – and many of those are powered by Android.
Tellingly, Microsoft's stock has wobbled between $20 and $30 since January 2002, and nothing Ballmer has done has shifted it. The rumblings among shareholders seeking his scalp will grow louder in 2013 if nothing improves.
In an email to staff, Sinofsky was emollient, suggesting that after 23 years, and having completed the Windows launch: "I have decided it is time for me to take a step back from my responsibilities at Microsoft … I have decided to leave the company to seek new opportunities that build on these experiences."
Former colleagues were full of praise. "What Steve did particularly well was very thoughtful planning processes that allowed the best thinking to come up through the organisation," one who worked with Sinofsky told me on Tuesday. "And then to drive a relentless cycle of development and testing. His legacy? The ability to come up with innovations, and the ability to ship [products]. He brought discipline." There was particular emphasis on the final word - for Sinofsky was a tough manager who didn't suffer fools gladly.
That, in fact, seems to have been his downfall, allied to Ballmer's unwillingness to loosen his grip on the company. Another former Microsoft staffer told Reuters that Sinofsky's "relentlessly aggressive" style had annoyed and alienated others – even Bill Gates, his long-time mentor who is still company chairman. "He had no one left to fight for him," one staffer told Reuters. "Gates gave him cover, so he must have eventually caved [to Ballmer]."
Sinofsky, 47, had prevailed in a number of other fights – including seeing off Gates protege and former chief software architect Ray Ozzie, according to journalist Jay Greene, a longtime watcher of the company. Profiling Sinofsky last month, Greene noted that "Sinofsky's critics say he's elevated those battles to a new level, thriving by marginalising rivals while running the company's most profitable businesses, Windows and Office."
The departure, which Microsoft sources suggested was not a firing, cements Ballmer's position – but leaves questions around how adaptable the company can now show itself to be as the world changes rapidly around it.
"I was expecting the other Steve to leave," said Richard Windsor, formerly analyst at Nomura who now runs his own RadioFreeMobile analysis site. "I view Steve Ballmer as an engineering driven drill sergeant who can be a bit like a bull in a china shop. Historically, this approach has been very effective but the new challenges that Microsoft now faces arguably need a more creative mind … I view this as a negative for Microsoft, as a change in its culture and philosophy would help the company better meet the challenges it faces in a world that increasingly looks beyond the PC. Whether Sinofsky was the right man to effect that change is highly questionable, but perhaps this manoeuvre opens the door to the next venture for Scott Forstall when he becomes free in 2013."
The reference to Forstall – forced out in October from his role as head of Apple's mobile software by his chief executive, Tim Cook, amid rumours that he, like Sinofsky, had created divisive tensions and fostered ambitions points to the huge pressures on both Apple and Microsoft amid the rapidly changing digital landscape. Google has not been immune either, having in July lost Marissa Mayer, one of its longest-serving senior staff, who left to run the struggling web property Yahoo.
"Some are speculating that the availability on the market of Forstall might have something to do with Sinofsky's departure," Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi told Reuters. "I doubt we will have to wait long to know if this is the case."
But at Microsoft, the anonymous "mini" thinks this could just be the second act of a three-act play. "I don't believe his departure rules him out at all for Microsoft CEO. In fact, I think if he stays in tech and becomes CEO of another company it makes him an even more obvious choice to come back to Microsoft as its leader."— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: The Guardian
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - This morning, Microsoft has launched Windows Phone 8 worldwide. We’re attending the San Francisco, and Paris, France events which happen at the same time. This is a critical launch for Microsoft because Windows Phone 8 uses the unified Windows 8 code – this is a first on a mobile platform. Microsoft has unveiled new features and apps, like a new Skype and Pandora for Windows 8, which will come with one year of free music, without ads.
Talking about Skype, Microsoft did say in the past that it would be very well integrated to the OS and be somewhat transparent when sending/receiving calls. The thing that we didn’t know was that Skype is always-on and is super-efficient because its code does not run in the background to handle notifications. This is really smart and priceless for heavy Skype users.
Microsoft also showed the new Windows Phone lock screen which can display all kinds of live information. Users get to decide which information appears, or can choose a random mix of information coming from the installed apps. Interesting — we’ll have to try that, but out of the box, it seems better than most lock screens out there.
The number of available apps is always a topic of interest, and while Microsoft still lags, the store is growing fast, and the company has more than 100,000 apps now. Obviously, numbers don’t mean anything, so Microsoft said that 46 of the top 50 most used apps on smartphones will be available on Windows Phone 8. Microsoft did not provide the full list, so we’re not sure how “hot” the apps really are. Let’s wait and see.
For iTunes users, Microsoft reminded that the iTunes connector utility is now available and works. In addition to this, Microsoft also has its own music store where you can “Rent” music by paying a monthly fee. This lets you access and download millions of DRMed music tracks. The iTunes Sync will work on Windows and Mac “this fall”.
Microsoft has introduced the Kids Corner, a parental control system that works on a “per app” basis. It seems simple and lets kids access games that parents have approved. The “locked until opened” seems to be an efficient blanket strategy for parental control.
Family Room is a new feature that creates a private place for family and friends to stay connected. It handles TODO list, private calendars etc… this seems like a good alternative to managing two social networks accounts. People who does not have a Windows Phone can have partial access to the Family Room activities via the sharable calendar.
Microsoft showed how SkyDrive integrates all kinds of data “not only photos” they insist. Office documents are also supported stresses Microsoft. SkyDrive syncs with all Microsoft devices and systems in the background, so files will be available on all of them shortly after they’ve been saved to the cloud. SkyDrive starts with 7GB of storage, and more can be purchased. Microsoft pointed out that iCloud doesn’t let users store photos there forever (30-day limit).
The appearance of Jessica Alba on the stage was certainly very appreciated by the audience, but Steve Balmer, the Microsoft CEO, got the biggest applause. He concluded the launch event by telling the audience about the Microsoft line-up and the recent Windows 8 announcement. He talked about the unification of computer, tablet and phones via a common code and a common user interface — without abandoning the legacy computer interface.
By doing all of this, Steve Balmer says that they have managed to address all those markets and usage models, while giving developers an opportunity at targeting all of them with a single set of API and development tools.
But for a phone launch, the ultimate pitch from Microsoft is that Windows Phone 8 has been “designed around you”, Steve Balmer says. Microsoft points out that it has finally reached a level of integration between phones, tablets and computers that surpasses the competition. Personally, I think that SkyDrive finally has a meaning now.
This is a good pitch. In fact this is the best one yet for Microsoft’s mobile efforts. You may have seen our recent review of the Microsoft Surface RT tablet. Now, the next step is to see if the pitch stands up to a real-world usage. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Windows Phone 8 reviews, starting with the Nokia and Samsung handsets.
Availability: Windows 8 handsets will be available at the Microsoft stores. “every phones” will be available at Microsoft Stores, says Steve Balmer. Major carriers will have Windows Phone handsets. AT&T getsthe Nokia 920, 820 and the HTC 8X. T-Mobile is getting the Lumia 810 and the HTC 8X and Verizon gets the HTC 8X and the Lumia 822.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - While Microsoft is spending a small fortune promoting its next-generation Windows 8 operating system, it also has another new operating system called Windows RT, which actually powers the company's Surface tablet and a few other devices.
Superficially, the operating systems look and feel the same. But Windows RT is designed for devices running on ARM chips, which are used to power smartphones and tablets and are considered more power-efficient.
Windows RT is more like "Windows Lite" than a full-blown update to the operating system. It's Microsoft's attempt to make a controlled environment similar to Apple's iOS, and that means Windows RT has some big limitations compared with Windows 8.
If you're thinking of buying a Windows RT device, there are a few things you should consider. Here's CNET's rundown of Windows RT's top 10 drawbacks:
1. Flash only works on approved sites. Think you'll be able to watch all those Flash-based videos using your new RT computer? Well, think again. Flash will only run on sites approved by Microsoft. Lucky for you, CNET is one of them.
2. So-called legacy apps -- the traditional programs for older versions of Windows -- won't run on Windows RT. That includes some pretty popular offerings like iTunes and Adobe Photoshop, and Web browsers like Google Chrome. And forget about playing some of the top games. World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, among others, aren't currently offered.
Of course, this could all change tomorrow, but for now, these apps aren't available.
3. Apps can only be purchased through the Windows Store. If you think you can buy software at Wal-Mart or another retailer, think again. Windows 8 software won't work on Windows RT devices, and neither will software purchased from places other than the Windows Store. That's similar to how Apple limits iPhone and iPad purchases to its iTunes Store. Android, however, can be enabled to install apps not purchased in Google's Play store.
Another confusing factor is that Microsoft will offer games in the Windows Store, as well as the Xbox Games app.
4. The apps that are available are pretty limited. Microsoft has said it expects more than 100,000 apps in its Windows Store by the end of January, but it's a long, long way from that level right now. Microsoft declined to provide CNET with an updated number but said earlier this month that it had "thousands" of apps available.
Wes Miller, vice president of research at Directions on Microsoft, said earlier this month that there were about 4,300 Windows Store apps at that time. Miller, who monitors the Store total using publicly available information, expects there to be "well over" 5,000 apps on launch day.
5. Even some traditional Microsoft programs won't work with Windows RT. Outlook is one of those, and Windows Media Player is another.
6. You can only get Windows RT already bundled on a device. And that product has to use a processor from Qualcomm, Nvidia, or Texas Instruments. No more "Intel Inside" for these devices. And you won't be able to upgrade your old PC to Windows RT. You'll have to choose Windows 8 instead or buy an entirely new device.
Full coverage: Windows 8/RT
7. Windows RT will have a desktop mode, but it will be restricted to pre-installed, Microsoft-produced software. That includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. You won't see other desktop applications when you visit the Windows Store. Also, if you don't want Office, for some reason, you're out of luck. It comes pre-installed.
8. For business users, Windows RT is less than ideal. All those traditional applications you use won't work, and Windows RT licensing is for home and student use only. That means you have to buy a commercial license to use Windows RT's Office apps for work. And while Office is pre-installed, it doesn't include Outlook.
9. The number of Windows RT devices is pretty limited. Currently, only four companies have plans to launch Windows RT products, and they're all limited to one product each. That has a lot to do with Microsoft's strategy and close supervision over the devices. You'll see PCs and tablets from Lenovo and Asus that run on Nvidia chips, and devices from Dell and Samsung that use Qualcomm processors. Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, two other companies in the initial program, dropped their plans for Windows RT devices.
10. Overall, Windows RT vs. Windows 8 is pretty darn confusing. Microsoft hasn't done the best job explaining the differences, and many consumers are likely to buy RT only to find out they don't have the full functionality of Windows 8.
Yes, there are some issues with Windows RT that are annoying. But that doesn't mean we hate the operating system. Check back here tomorrow to see why Windows RT might be the right pick for you.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — John, the computer store manager, handed me a pair of five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disks, and with his characteristic abandonment of everything resembling candor, told me in a voice loud enough for customers in the burger joint across the street to hear: “I’m not really supposed to have these. And I’m not supposed to be giving them to you. But I guess it’s too late, because I just did. So you didn’t see me.” A self-adhesive label on the top left corner of the first disk was marked in ball-point pen, “MS-DOS Executive.” That wasn’t its correct name.
He had just returned from the National Computer Conference in Chicago, which in July 1985 was the largest convention of its kind. I wished I had gone that year, but as is often still the case, publishers couldn’t afford to send me. Like many more computer store managers than he preferred to admit, he’d been given an “advance copy” of the next version of Microsoft’s task switching program, for the express purpose of spreading the word. Task switchers were very hot sellers; stores like his couldn’t keep Norton Commander or DESQview on the shelves. Earlier, Microsoft had added an “MS-DOS Executive” to a special release of its operating system for what the world called “IBM-compatible PCs,” or just “clones.”
Version 0.x, 1985
Microsoft would rarely afford me the opportunity to use the phrase, “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.” In the software market, there had already been a few decent efforts at graphical task switchers with “high-resolution” VGA graphics (the highest mode supported by IBM PC ATs and 80386-based machines at the time). By far the best of these had been Digital Research’s (DRI) GEM, the graphical environment Gary Kildall had originally intended to accompany CP/M (the OS that IBM passed up for MS-DOS). But DRI had been tied up in court with Apple, and thus we expected Microsoft’s next-generation “Executive” to look substantially non-Macintosh-ish. So we were not surprised.
A crowd gathered as John fired up the Columbia 386 PC, one of the first clones of the post-AT era (Compaq had already beaten IBM to market with a 386). The blue title screen came up, with an interesting special effect where blocky, white characters converged in the middle to form the “O” in the Microsoft logo. We saw the name “Microsoft Windows” for the first time. In my fake-poetic voice, I improvised Rod McKuen-like verse around the word “Windows,” before declaring it “a really stupid name.”
The problem with task switchers was that they had to remain in memory while the task was launched, so that they could resume when the task was suspended. Since most systems only had 640K of total memory, the best task switchers left only 512K free. Windows zero-point-something left about 400, which meant you couldn’t use it in an average PC AT to launch Lotus 1-2-3.
But this Columbia 386 had an expansion memory board that kicked its capacity up to a full, screaming megabyte, which was more memory, my first colleagues claimed, that should rightly ever be used in one machine. The problem with this early release of Windows was that it did not recognize every one-meg memory board available. So when we first put inserted the labeled disk in the A: drive and typed WIN at the DOS prompt, after the little “O” animation, the system froze.
It was after replacing the memory board twice, I think, and commenting out the third-party memory managers from the CONFIG.SYS file, that the graphical screen finally came up. We had a Microsoft mouse attached to this PC, which looked like a Lifebuoy soap bar with two strips of green pepper glued to it. Inside it was a steel ball like a shot put, so if you rolled the mouse and let go, it would travel on its own until falling off the desk and onto your toe.
I would write up a brief, 2,000-word Windows preview for a company that syndicated my articles in the little handout flyers that computer stores all over the country gave away. It would be reprinted in PC users’ group newsletters, and on a few hundred BBSes all over North America, by virtue of a network called FidoNet (it still exists today) where host computers literally called one another up by telephone. Despite being distributed by what today looks like the Pony Express, the article would be published prior to the product’s official release later that year, which meant I had a scoop. In it, I declared “Windows” (hopefully they’d decide upon a better name) pointless. If you had the memory expansion card you needed, then you already had the right driver; and if you had the right driver, chances are that it already shipped with a graphical executive. It was a cheap task switcher, I said, which only served to emphasize how far behind the technology curve Intel-based PCs were compared to Motorola-based devices from real companies like Atari.
While other companies were smart enough to quit after the first try, I said, Microsoft will probably keep plugging away at this for years to come.
Version 3.0, 1990
In the spring of 1990, many of the original editorial crew from Computer Shopper magazine found themselves suspended by the magazine’s new owner, Ziff-Davis. As with all ofShopper’s contributing editors, I worked under contract; but nearly all of us, myself included, refused to sign an agreement with Ziff-Davis that would have severely restricted the integrity and independence of what we said in print, as well as limited us to writing exclusively for Ziff-Davis.
So a Montgomery, Alabama, entrepreneur named Doug Moore, who imagined himself the next Ted Turner, bankrolled a publication where all of us could continue to publish the same magazine as before, funded in large part by all of Shopper’s former advertisers who failed to “make the cut.” We were Computer Monthly, but Microsoft, Lotus, Ashton-Tate, Borland, and all the serious software publishers who knew us all by our first names (and me by my pseudonym) thought of us as the Shopper in exile.
Computer Shopper hired us originally because we had a knack for filling space, and it had more space to fill than any periodical ever printed: as many as 500 pages per month. My main Windows 3.0 preview story for Computer Monthly was 7,500 words, plus I added two 2,000-word sidebars. In this series, I interviewed every major executive with a major Windows 3 product to be released in tandem with the new environment. (It was not yet an operating system.) My editor, also a Shopper veteran, told me, “Mr. Scott, you’re a whole goddamn magazine!”
Microsoft had given me pre-release samples of Windows 3.0, and interviews with its key engineers. So I knew some things about where Windows was going that I couldn’t say even then. Instead, I could allude to them in the intro of my main article:
The weeklies and fortnightlies have already extolled the merits of Win3's "three-dimensional" buttons, proportional text, and now-boundlessly managed memory. Their gold-star awards have no doubt been bestowed upon the product for being the best in its class, albeit the only product in its class. The "pundits" have already laid blame upon someone for Win3's alleged tardiness to market. The entire story is so well-patterned that it may be read without ever having laid eyes to the printed page.
Yet if we follow the pattern, we miss the real story. There is a real development taking place between the authors of and for Windows 3, which concerns the remodeling of the computer application. We are familiar with the application as a program and its associated data, which is entered and exited like a jewelry store or a bank. We sometimes see ourselves "in" an application, just as we often see ourselves "in" the subdirectory pointed to by the DOS prompt. The data we need while we're "in" the program is much like the diamond necklace behind the display case; we're allowed to look at it and touch it, but unless we're very crafty, we're not allowed to take it outside. It doesn't belong to us — even if the data's very existence is due to our having typed it in.
The entire contraption of the DOS environment — along with the guilt feelings it so subtly leaves us with — are being shattered by Windows 3. There is a movement under way by Microsoft and its supportive independent software vendors (ISVs) to abolish the structure which grants exclusive ownership rights of a set of data to an application. Having done that, the movement will also seek to dissolve the programmatic barricade which surrounds the once-exclusive application, and allow for the equal distribution of correlated tasks within an arbitrarily-defined computing job, to other programs non-specifically.The meta-application is not an inevitable fact of computing; the marketing debacles of cross-vendor cooperation it imposes may render it as ineffective as OS/2 in changing our computing habits. Still, it is something to be wished for; and it is a far more important facet of the Windows 3 story than faceted buttons and little pictures. The way in which world industry and commerce works is not affected in the least by faceted buttons and little pictures.
There is good reason to believe that Windows 8 will be the last classic, all-at-once revision of the product line from Microsoft. From here on out, Windows users will be subscribers, and improvements (assuming that’s what they are) to the system will be made automatically — for most people, silently.
One of the metrics we in the technology business have used to make milestones in our lives, will cease to exist.
There was a time in the last century when refrigerators were the very symbols of the technologically advanced household, and when Jell-O symbolized the wonders of a new world — one where an everyday family could enjoy a chilled dessert without considering the expense. There were magazines devoted to the class of consumer who could afford refrigerators, and who wore their status proudly by displaying such magazines on their coffee tables. Today, refrigerators are not even particularly interesting to professional chefs whose brilliance depends on them. A fridge is a fridge. You don’t publish blogs about fridges.
So we knew it would happen sometime. A day is coming soon when folks will laugh in amazement as they recall standing in line for days waiting to buy a telephone. A PC, if it is still called that, will be a virtual appliance people use to process information and watch their media. What they watch will probably not be about the act of watching media, and whether that makes an impact on their lives, because it won’t. The degree of interest people will invest in whether their computing device comes from Microsoft or Apple will be as low as whether their dishwasher is a GE, an LG or a Whirlpool. They might not even be able to tell you if you asked. And you won’t ask, because you won’t be interested.
And yet life will go on. Kids will still learn new things about great inventions in a brighter world. Young people will be inspired to chronicle the history of their times. Great new concepts will transform the way we live, work and think. Technology will mean something else than it means today. And folks not so young any more will realize when an era has ended, by how little its passage into history makes that much of a difference.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system and much-anticipated Surface tablet go on sale this morning — two closely linked efforts the company is banking on heavily to help it stay relevant in a rapidly evolving and increasingly mobile world.
Windows 8 has been designed from scratch to work with both traditional computers and the touch screens popularized by smartphones and tablets.
The Surface comes equipped with Windows RT, a mobile version of Windows 8 that runs on less-powerful tablet processors.
Overall, the new operating system is considered a big risk for the venerable software company, which is no longer the dominant force it once was in the technology industry. Despite more than a decade of trying to carve out mobile market share, starting with its Pocket PC, then Windows Mobile and Windows Phone operating systems, Microsoft is virtually invisible in phones and tablets — markets that are currently owned by Apple and Google’s Android.
Windows 8 is a concerted effort by the company to leverage its desktop and laptop computing strengths and make it a bigger player in the mobile computing arena. With PC sales sagging and mobile gadgets claiming an increasing share of hardware sales, Microsoft must become a viable competitor in smartphones and tablets if it's to survive over the long term in the operating system market.
The concept behind the unified Windows 8 operating system — one that works the same way across phones, tablets and computers — is the current holy grail of technology, sought after by all the major OS competitors. The first one to make a popular unified operating system will likely be able to control, or at least greatly influence, the direction of computing into the forseeable future.
Microsoft, for its part, provided journalists in New York with two days of demos of its new operating system and tablet this week. Over that time, some of the pluses and minuses of its quest toward software unification became clear.
Five upsides of Windows 8 and Surface
Interface: At the heart of Windows 8 is Metro, the slick interface optimized for touchscreens. Rather than the standard Windows desktop, where icons represent various applications and files, the new interface features square and rectangular coloured tiles set on a sideways-scrolling carousel. Some of the tiles are “live,” which means they rotate and display information. The photo tile, for example, runs a miniature slideshow.
It’s a dynamic interface that incorporates the swipes, pinch-to-zoom and other gestures popularized by Apple on its iPhone and iPad. Windows 8, however, does this in a way that feels unique and is equally fun to use.
Touch is simply a better way to navigate and browse most of the non-work applications that people are now using with photos, videos and music. While touchscreens haven't been popular with traditional mainstream computers, they can work quite well in certain situations. A so-called all-in-one computer with a touchscreen but not necessarily a mouse and keyboard can be a good fit in the kitchen, for example, where you might want to watch streamed video or listen to music while washing dishes.
Many of the new Windows 8 machines available for the retail launch of the operating system have touchscreens. It’s not all about touch, though. The Metro interface also works well with a mouse, or with the trackpad on older computers that don’t have touchscreens.
For users who want the classic Windows layout, it can be accessed with a simple tile push. That way, you can quickly launch into more work-focused applications that require a keyboard and mouse — Excel or Word, for example.
Device variety: Windows 8 is designed to be a flexible platform for hardware makers, enabling them to produce traditional desktops or get creative with designs that leverage the touch interface.
Microsoft’s own Surface device, for one, is somewhere between a tablet and a laptop once its Touch Cover magnetic keyboard is attached. Other manufacturers are using Windows 8 in everything from straight-up tablets to desktop computers to ultrabooks and even, like Lenovo’s Yoga, devices that can change between the various form factors.
Microsoft says more than 1,000 Windows 8 devices are scheduled to be launched over the next year. Some of those are going to experiment with shapes and sizes; some will inevitably flop, but others have the potential to invent entirely new computer concepts. Might a laptop that transforms into a flat table-top computer finally take off?
Office: Windows 8 and Surface are designed specifically to be used for work as well as play, unlike competing tablets that put an emphasis on entertainment apps and media playback. Microsoft says it designed the Surface to be a productivity tool for professionals as well as a consumer device (one of the reasons for the optional keyboard/cover).
Microsoft has purposely refrained from releasing any significant support for its key Office applications — Word, Excel and PowerPoint — on competitors’ platforms, though. It looks like the company has kept those capabilities for itself to make its own devices the obvious choice for people looking for good productivity tools.
The Surface tablet comes bundled with Office 2013, Microsoft's latest suite of productivity applications.
Ports galore: The Surface features a number of ports, including USB, video and a separate power plug. Microsoft says the dedicated power port allows the device to be fully charged within two hours. It was impossible to test that at the demos, but if true, that’s significantly faster than other tablets.
The USB plug gives the tablet a huge advantage over the iPad, the Surface’s main competitor. With it, Microsoft says its tablet is compatible with more than 420 million peripherals, from printers to keyboards.
That’s going to enable some interesting apps, particularly when it comes to gaming. Video games have proven to be big hits on tablets, so attaching an Xbox controller, for example, will allow game developers to take their products to a level that more closely approximates console experiences.
Low upgrade cost: At $39 for people upgrading from previous Microsoft operating systems, Windows 8 is a relatively affordable upgrade.
Moreover, the company says that most computers currently running Windows 7 will not only be able to handle Windows 8 just fine, they’ll also work better. Windows 8 will improve the battery life and boot-up time of those older machines by more than 30 per cent.
Again, it was tough to verify those claims in the short demo time provided, but if true, they’re both welcome upgrades.
Lack of apps: The Surface is launching with about 10,000 apps, many of which won’t be available in Canada. Apple, on the other hand, has more than 270,000 applications optimized for the iPad.
Microsoft executives downplay this disadvantage by suggesting that competitors’ numbers are overblown. Apple’s app store, for example, counts many apps twice — once for the free preview version and again for the paid version.
No matter how you count them, though, Apple has far more apps, and numbers do ultimately matter. The larger the total number of apps, the more likely it is that there will be applications for niche users. Specialized professionals — such as cinematographers or doctors — have many apps available to them through Apple, but a much more limited selection through other competitors. Taken together, those many niche apps give Apple a huge user base, which translates into more app developers designing for the iPad. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
Further to that, Microsoft is also missing several key apps at launch. There’s no Facebook or Twitter app, for example. Executives say that missing those apps is no big deal since these popular social media networks can be accessed via a web browser. That’s also true, but users have come to expect apps for tablets, and they also tend to want a more simplified and streamlined experience on mobile devices than what they get on their desktops.
Price: The basic Surface with 32 gigabytes of storage is selling for $499. While that’s double the storage of Apple’s similarly priced basic iPad, it’s still likely too high a price, since no tablet maker yet (other than Apple) has been able to sell in high volumes at that price point. Other tablets have found success when priced between $200 and $300.
Microsoft hopes the Surface’s office productivity capabilities make it worth the higher sticker price to prospective buyers, but for professional users the tablet’s cost actually goes up another $120 since the Touch Cover keyboard is extra. With fewer apps available and a lower-resolution screen than the iPad, the Surface is going to have a tough time enticing buyers to shell out that much.
Ergonomics: Curiously, with the Surface being pitched as a productivity device, there’s a looming question mark as to how comfortable the Touch Cover keyboard is going to be to use over an extended period of time. It’s no secret that typing on a touch screen is murder, but is doing so on a flat keyboard with no palm rests any better?
You can plug in a regular keyboard via the USB port if you choose, but the drawback is that a full keyboard would make the Surface less portable, negating some of the advantages of having a tablet rather than a notebook in the first place.
Productivity power users: It’s great that Windows 8 lets you convert back to the standard Windows desktop when you want to do some serious work, but that raises the question: What if office work is mostly what you do?
Indeed, productivity power users — the people who use Excel and Word all day on, say Windows 7 machines — don’t have much reason to upgrade to Windows 8. It’s a great interface for media consumption and perhaps communication, but the operating system itself doesn’t provide many work benefits.
Differentiation: While Windows 8 offers manufacturers different input options to design around, from keyboard to touchscreen, Microsoft is maintaining a relatively tight grip over what device makers can do with Windows 8 itself. In contrast, manufacturers have gravitated to Android because they can change the look and feel of the operating system and how people navigate, allowing a lot of differentiation between competing products.
Microsoft's control over the the operating system means Windows 8 devices are likely destined to look and work in much the same way. While some will experiment with the hardware, there are only so many ways to vary it and still have it work well with Microsoft's standard software. That will likely limit the amount of variation among Windows 8 devices, and drive manufacturers to put more emphasis on popular designs that compete mainly on price.
That's good news for consumers from a cost point of view. The worry for the industry, however, is that there’ll be a repeat of what has happened with PCs, where there's very little that manufacturers can do to innovate and really stand out from each other beyond trying to include interesting bundled apps.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — While some, not all, of the focus over the past few days has been on Microsoft’s upcoming launch of the Surface tablet, many are still eagerly awaiting the release of the new Windows Phone 8 devices. Redmond recently showed off various features that we can expect, plus manufactures have announced their devices (HTC 8X and 8S, Samsung ATIV S, Nokia Lumia 820 and 920).
If you’re interested in seeing what Microsoft has planned, but can’t make the event, you might want to tune into the live stream. According to a post on the company blog, Microsoft notes that “As many of you know, we are landing in San Francisco on Monday October 29th to showcase some new things from Windows Phone. For those that can’t join us in person, no need to worry! You can tune into a live webcast here, all from the comfort of your couch, cubicle or coffee table. We hope you can join us, see you on the 29th!”
The fun will start at 10:00am PST (1PM EST).— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Microsoft has sent out an invitation to a September 5th Windows Phone event in conjunction Nokia, reports The Verge. The event is likely going to see the announcement of the first Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 8 devices.
It will be held on September 5th at 9:30 A.M. in NYC, which seems like fortuitous timing, as it’s the week before Apple’s rumored September 12th event, at which it’s expected to release its next iPhone and maybe even an iPad mini.
We liked both the Nokia Lumia 800, which we felt was a decent contender for the iPhone, and its larger successor the 900. But neither device really caught fire with consumers, especially in the U.S. The announcement of a Windows Phone 8 device will be Microsoft’s stab at pushing its new Windows paradigm across all platforms, with its desktop OS, its Surface tablets and new phones.—www.shafaqna.com/english