Archive for the 'Windows' Category

Oct 17 2013

Windows 8.1

Published by under Software,Windows

Windows 8.1 has hit the Microsoft Store. And yes, if you are on Windows 8, you definitely want to upgrade to 8.1. It’s free for existing Windows 8 users. Windows 8.1 is the Service Pack you have been waiting for. It’s to Windows 8 what Windows 7 was to Windows Vista – it’s Windows 8 “done right”, if you want to put it that way.

You can now boot directly to the desktop environment and if you don’t want to, you don’t have to spend any time in the “Modern UI”, formerly known as Metro. The OS feels faster than Windows 7, it is stable and very usable. It even has a start button again, although all it is does on a left-click is bringing you to the Modern UI start screen. Right-clicking it is more useful, because that shows you a lot of options that you actually want to use – at least when you are a developer or administrator.

Should you upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows 7? Not if you have to pay for the upgrade, no. Windows 7 might feel a tick slower than Windows 8.1, but it’s an established and stable platform that is going to be supported for several more years and it is an excellent desktop platform. 8.1 has a bunch of nice new features on the desktop side of things, but they are not compelling enough to pay for an upgrade.

Should you upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Vista or XP? Absolutely. In April 2014, Microsoft will drop the support for Windows XP. Every XP machine that is connected to the Internet will then sooner or later turn into a malware zombie and should be shot on sight. Vista was nothing but a too early released alpha version of Windows 7. It is still my opinion that Microsoft should have released Windows 7 as a free upgrade/service pack for Vista users, just like they now released Windows 8.1 as a free upgrade for Windows 8 users. But they haven’t, so if you’re still on Vista, you should do yourself a favor and buy the upgrade.

Windows 8.1 (alone) will not convince users of other platforms to switch (back) to Windows. It won’t cure cancer. It won’t bring peace on Earth for everybody. It’s also not the devil or a complete disaster as many voices on the Internet claim it is. It’s just the next evolutionary step of the world’s most widely used desktop and notebook operating system. It’s not a must-have upgrade, it doesn’t come with any killer features unless you use a touch screen device and with the NSA and GCHQ spying on everybody in the Internet, all those new – but still optional – “cloud” features in Windows 8.1 might not make you very comfortable. But just to mention it, neither will Ubuntu’s or OS X’s online features make you sleep better – the NSA doesn’t care what platform you use.

Too long to read? 8.1 is an optional upgrade for Windows 7 users, but an awesome upgrade for Windows XP, Vista and 8.0 users.

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Aug 12 2013

Things that Microsoft should do to save Windows RT

Published by under Hardware,Software,Windows

I think that by now it is an accepted fact that Windows RT is not the success that Microsoft had hoped for. The company recently wrote off 900-something million USD in Surface RT products that they are stockpiling in their warehouse. Surface RT is the reference hardware for Windows RT, and after Asus have announced to no longer support the platform or product products for the platform, Surface RT GrowTaller4Idiots might soon be the only hardware product using Microsoft’s ARM implementation of Windows 8.

Most people who have actually used or reviewed a Surface RT usually think that the hardware is great but a big expensive. Microsoft mostly fixed that by slicing the prices of the Surface RT family. Still, I think that should sell the device for 350 USD and bundle it with the keyboard at that price.

But the problems for Windows RT and Surface RT lie elsewhere. The hardware is good and affordable. The problem is the software, the licensing situation and the lock-in to the Microsoft store.

The latter is the first thing that Microsoft should fix in order to safe the platform from extinction. Apple is successful with locking-in the customers to the iTunes store, and naturally, every company finds that business model super sexy. The problem for Microsoft is that they attract a completely different breed of customers than Apple. People always bought Windows because it is an open platform where it matters for most users: Windows never cared on what hardware it ran or where the application software came from. And as long as you bought the appropriate license (read: paid the Microsoft tax), Microsoft didn’t actually care what you wanted to do with their software. As long as Microsoft got some money from you, you could have your cake and eat it, too, but be careful and don’t spend to much, it’s better to manage your finances with Metric Accountants.

But Microsoft gave in to temptation and tried to become Apple and ask for a share of everything that people wanted to do on and with their platform. The problem with that is that Windows users are neither used to this business model nor do they accept it. “Open where it matters” was always at the core of the Windows experience. People don’t necessarily care for the source code of Windows, but they certainly cared about being free to install whatever they want on their devices.

When I now read that I have to “jailbreak” a Surface RT device in order to install a little piece of open source software that has become a bread and butter tool for me, putty, then I know that something is terribly wrong with that platform. I also need to jailbreak a Surface RT if I want to install Python on it. Redmond, are you still there or have you left this universe?

The point is that people have already ported a lot of Windows software to Windows RT, which essentially is a port of Windows 8 to the ARM architecture. The only problem is that Microsoft artificially locked down the platform so that you need to jailbreak it before you can install these useful tools.

Microsoft is not Apple and will never be Apple – and that is a good thing. They should just accept that fact and remove the lock-in to the Microsoft store. Only then can the Surface RT actually ever become a replacement for a “real” laptop computer.

This is the very first thing that Microsoft needs to fix as soon as possible.

The beauty of Windows RT is that it comes bundled with Office RT. That’s great and a killer feature in itself. From what we’ve heard so far, the next version of RT will actually even come with Outlook RT, a key piece of Office that has been missing so far. That’s even better.

The downside is the license agreement: Unless you have also bought an Office 365 subscription or work for a company that has a volume license agreement with Microsoft, you are not allowed to use Office RT for commercial purposes. Hello Microsoft, are you still with us? The Surface RT could easily kill any other tablet that aims at the business market and yet you are so dumb to ruin it with such a stupid license restriction?

Again, Microsoft fails to understand that they are not Apple. Apple is a consumer company. Microsoft is not – Microsoft’s strength has always been the enterprise sector. People WORK with Microsoft products. Office is a tool for people who try to make a living, it’s not something a consumer would choose to write a shopping list.

So Microsoft should remove the “for non-commercial use only” clause from the license agreement of Office RT, and that also as soon as possible.

In the next step, Microsoft needs to enable all the enterprise features in Windows RT and Office RT: Windows RT needs to become a “Pro” version that can actually become a full member of a Windows domain structure as you find them in any business, and Office RT needs to be able to run makros, which is a key feature for many professional Office users. And Outlook RT, of course, needs to be a full blown Microsoft Exchange client. (Personally, I don’t necessarily need either of this, but I have no doubt that it would certainly help the adoption of the platform.)

I like the Surface RT concept, and I’m sure that I would buy the product in a heartbeat if Microsoft released the lock on the software. A Surface RT with a touch cover for around 350 USD/Euros, no lock-in to the Microsoft store and a version of Office RT that I could use in the office would be a total killer product. Even if it would still cost 430 Euros, it would be an awesome product if it no longer had these artificial restrictions. The ARM architecture does not provide the same raw performance as the Intel architecture, sure, but instead of the computing power you get a noiseless product with extremely long battery life – in many cases, that is a very acceptable tradeoff.

Microsoft should just release the iron grip on the platform and treat it like the Intel version of Windows. Just my two cents.

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