Windows 10: It may just be everything that Windows 8 should have been


A Verdict

Windows 10 is coming along very well – there are still some issues to be tackled, but this is shaping up to be one of Microsoft’s most popular releases yet.

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The revamped, customizable Start menu.Nate Ralph/CNET

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event gave us a deeper look at the next generation of its operating system. At once panacea and prescience, it’s a remedy for Windows 8’s identity-crisis that reworks Microsoft’s bold vision of creating a single, universal experience for all of our devices.

A new build of the Technical Preview arrived just a few days after Microsoft’s event, bringing with it a host of new features, including Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana. A Windows 10 build for Windows Phones is slated to arrive sometime in February. There was also some pretty good news for folks who are currently running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8 — upgrades to Windows 10 will be free for a year. There’s no word on pricing after that (or for folks still running Windows XP), but if Microsoft has its way, we will have all made the switch by then anyway.

A fresh start

Windows 8 was a bold re-imagining of Microsoft’s operating system, but the Start screen proved contentious. The colorful Live Tiles offer useful notifications and information, but they were designed with touchscreen devices in mind: much of the work we do in Windows involves keyboards, mice, and large displays chock-full of windows and apps. Windows 8’s Modern apps demand a full screen’s attention, oblivious of our need to multitask. The Windows 10 Start Menu gives us the best of both worlds.

Boot up a PC running the Windows 10, and you’ll be dropped off at the oh-so-familiar desktop. The taskbar and its icons sits on the bottom, and the recycle bin sits in the upper-left corner. It looks, at first blush, like Windows 8 all over again.

But press the Start button, and you’ll be greeted by the return of the Start menu. It’s a proper Start menu too, with your most frequently used apps are stacked in a column. Press the “All Apps” button and you’ll find the endless column of nested folders we’ve all been scrolling since Windows 95, though they’re now grouped alphabetically. Sitting alongside that column are Windows 8’s animated Live Tiles, endlessly serving up news-bites and social network updates.

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The Start Menu can be maximized to take up the entire screen.Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

The menu has evolved since the early builds. The Live Tiles can be arranged into separate groups, and those can be labeled (just like Windows 8). If you’ve got plenty of apps you’ll need to scroll to see them all: as of Build 9926 you can no longer drag and stretch the menu to different sizes. That’s rather disappointing, as I liked the flexibility of dragging my Start menu up to take up more of the screen — here’s hoping that’s a temporary change. You can also press the maximize button to get a full screen version of the Start menu.

What’s old is new again

Click or press the Live Tile shortcuts, and the Modern apps introduced in Windows 8 open as classic windowed apps. This is a welcome change, allowing us to sample the new aesthetic Microsoft is pushing for the next generation of Windows without sacrificing our entire display. You can now drag these Modern apps around, snap them to half of your display, or minimize and maximize them at will.

Windows 10 lets you work smarter, too. Click the Task view button, and you’ll get a quick glimpse of all of your open apps and windows. A black box running along the bottom of the display prompts to create a virtual desktop: that’s a sort of private island that keeps everything you open there as an independent workspace. You can, for example, create one desktop for all of the applications you use for work, another to browse gaming forums or sites like Reddit, and yet another for games or whatever you want. The virtual desktop feature alone tempts me to install this technical preview on my primary machine. Of course we’ve had virtual desktops on Linux and Mac machines for years (and on Windows, from third-party apps), but it’s nice to see Microsoft catching up here.

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Modern apps no longer take up the whole screen.Nate Ralph/CNET

In Windows 10, you can press Ctrl+Windows key to jump between desktops, triggering a slick little sliding animation that was added in an October update to the Technical Preview. You can also right-click an app when you’re in task view and select a specific desktop to move it to. It’s not completely there yet, however. I’d really like to be able to drag and drop open apps to different desktops instead of right-clicking all of the time. And being able to drag and drop to rearrange the virtual desktops I’ve created would be a huge boost to my productivity.

A step forward

We finally got a chance to see more of Windows 10’s real game-changing potential: this will be one operating system to rule them all. It’s all thanks to Contiuum, a feature that serves up a device-specific interface that’ll scale from desktops down to tablets. Consider a two-in-one convertible device like theSurface Pro 3: pop it off its keyboard base, and a little prompt will pop up asking if you’d like to switch to “tablet mode.” Press it, and the apps on your desktop will instantly transform into their full-screen, tablet incarnations — this includes traditional Windows desktop apps, too. You’ll be able to use all of the gestures you’re accustomed to on a Windows tablet, and can switch back to the desktop by popping the device back onto its keyboard, or by pressing the “tablet mode” toggle button in the Windows 10 Action Center.

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The Action Center, and the new Settings MenuScreenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

The Action Center showed up in the October update to the Windows Technical Preview, and it’s become a bit more useful. All of the notifications you receive are routed here, with the most recent events rising to the top. It can get a little cluttered — Dropbox is especially chatty — but you can turn off notifications with ease. There’s also a new Settings app, which attempts to corral all of the various things you can tweak into a single, searchable menu.

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Cortana is now available on Windows 10.Josh P. Miller/CNET

Speaking of search: you may have noticed the little search bar sitting next to the Start button. Click the search bar, or tap the microphone, or just say “Hey, Cortana” (once you’ve turned that feature on), and you’ll be greeted by Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant. She’s able to search for files on your PC, set reminders, and do more mundane things like tracking a flight or keeping an eye on the weather.

Cortana isn’t firing on all cylinders just yet — this is still an early preview — but the virtual assistant is an important part of Microsoft’s plan to bring Windows 10 to all devices, everywhere. As you use Cortana on your phone, and your tablet, and your PC, it’ll learn more about you and tuck relevant facts into a “Notebook.” You can duck into this list of preferences and tweak things to your liking (much like Google Now), while leaving some parameters off limits to preserve your privacy. As Cortana gets to know you, you’ll presumably find it more useful, and use it more often.

That last part is key. Cortana’s ability to parse natural language will only improve as millions of people (Microsoft hopes) start chatting with Cortana on their PCs, thanks to their free Windows 10 upgrade. This will improve the virtual assistant’s functionality, allowing “her” to handle increasingly complicated conversational queries, such as “Who is the President?”, “What is his wife’s name?” and “How old is he?” without tripping up.

Apps that run everywhere

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The Photos app lets you tweak images — or have it done automatically.Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

Apps are going to be an instrumental part of getting Windows 10 working everywhere — including on smartphones and devices like gaming consoles. To that end, Microsoft is trumpeting universal apps that’ll exist on PCs and mobile devices. The new Photos app scans your devices and OneDrive account for photos and arranges them into a giant collection. It’ll work on mobile devices too, though we’ll have to wait to try that for ourselves.

The app will also automatically enhance all of the photos it finds, wrangling red eye and sorting out exposure levels. The process is completely optional, and works on RAW files too — if you don’t like a change, you can undo it without affecting the original file. You can also use the Photos app to make edits of your own — it’s not going to replace something like Adobe Lightroom, but if you’re looking for a simple tool to manage your shots, you’ll do well here.

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The Xbox app will make it easy to keep tabs on your achievements.Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

Microsoft has also added an Xbox app. It doesn’t do all that much, at present: you’re be able to see what your friends are doing and send them messages, check out achievements, and look at game clips people have pre-recorded. Microsoft ultimately aims to bring the full Xbox Live experience to Windows 10 PCs, including allowing you to stream games from your Xbox One console directly to your PC — we’ll have to wait quite some time for htat functionality to be implemented.

We still haven’t seen much of Windows 10 on Windows Phones, but we did get a glimpse of universal apps like Mail, Calendar, and the new Photos app running on both phones and PCs. There will need to be allowances based on particular devices — a desktop without a camera has little need for a Camera app, for example. But this unified, universal experience eases a lot of work for developers trying to spread their app across as many platforms as possible, as well as opening up new opportunities.

Future-proofing

Windows 10 isn’t going to fix everything, but these changes to Windows 8’s most divisive elements has made a world of difference to the OS. And that’s crucial to Windows’ future, as Microsoft is still looking at the big picture: PCs are old news.

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Windows 10 will morph to fit the device it’s running on.Nate Ralph/CNET

Desktops and laptops still handle most of our work and play, but tablets and smartphones have long since stolen the limelight: future operating systems will need to work to bridge that gap. We’ve seen steps in this direction from Apple, with OS X Yosemite’s ability to hand off files and things like emails and calls from your phone or tablet. And some Android apps are making their way to Google’s Chrome OS, an interesting sign of where Google might be headed.

Microsoft’s vision of tomorrow’s ideal operating system is grander still. The goal is to offer a unified experience across devices of all shapes and sizes, and one that will morph to make sense: icons to tap and home screens when you’re on a phone or tablet, but windowed apps and nested folders when you’re armed with a keyboard and mouse. And then there’s Windows 10 on the Xbox One. We might not want to run Excel on our consoles (OK, I might), but the fact that Microsoft’s console and PCs will be able to share apps puts quite a bit of power in the hands of developers.

Windows 8 dreamed of dragging us into that future, but we kicked and screamed at the inefficiency of its one-size-fits-all approach. With Windows 10, Microsoft seems to be getting it right.

Excerpt: cnet.com

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Chrome 32 Launches With Tab Indicators For Sound And Video, Improved Malware Blocking & New Win8 Metro Design


Google today released the latest stable version of its Chrome browser. Version 32includes many of the features that recently arrived in the beta channel, including improved malware blocking and tab indicators for when a site is playing sound, accessing the webcam and sending video to your Chromecast. Google uses a speaker icon, blue rectangle and red dot to indicate these different functions.

Those indicators are a godsend for anybody who has ever tried to figure out which tab suddenly started playing music or a video. Google first started playing with this idea in early 2013, but the beta only got this feature in November.

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This new version also includes Google’s new malware blocker, which arrived in the experimental Canary build of Chrome last October. With this, Google will automatically block any downloads its systems have flagged as malware.

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For Windows 8 users, the new version now sports a new look in “Metro” mode (Google still uses that term, even though Microsoft itself has moved away from it and left it rather unclear what the new terminology should be). In Metro mode, Chrome now looks like ChromeOS  with its integrated app launched on Windows. In previous versions, the Metro mode simply presented users with the regular Chrome interface. This never looked quite right, but with this new interface, Google is actually using the Metro mode to its advantage and is basically bringing ChromeOS to Windows.

Also new in this version is support for Chrome’s “supervised users” feature, which is officially still in beta. With this, family members can check on a kid’s browsing history, for example, and set up site restrictions through chrome.com/manage.

As always, this release also includes a good number of security fixes (21 in total), as well as stability and performance updates.

Excerpt: Techcrunch

Microsoft Windows Rumors: ‘Project Threshold’ Release Date Coming In Spring 2015?


Microsoft
Microsoft logo Microsoft

According to a leaked internal email, Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:MSFT) is planning a major update to all of its Windows operating systems. Codenamed “Threshold,” the update will further unify the Windows platform across PCs, mobile devices and the Xbox One video game console, and could be released in the spring of 2015.

The Xbox One OS, Windows 8.x OS and Windows Phone 8 OS already share many features and are built from a common Windows NT core, but ZDNet reports that Microsoft wants to make them even more similar with Threshold.

Threshold will focus on “high value activities” like Office, Bing and IT management programs and make these products the same across all platforms. Microsoft is reportedly developing a singular app store and tool sets designed to make it easier for developers to create applications for each Microsoft platform.

Threshold falls in line with CEO Steve Ballmer’s announcement in July of a corporate reorganization of Microsoft and a new company mission of “One Microsoft.”

It’s the second codename to come from the “Halo” video game series. Microsoft also borrowed the name “Cortana” from the Xbox franchise to be the codename for its Siri-like personal assistant program.

Microsoft has not confirmed Threshold, and will probably release another update first. Microsoft is rumored to be planning a release an update to Windows 8.1 and the new Windows Phone “Blue” operating system in the spring of 2014.

 

Windows 8.1: What you need to know (FAQ)


(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

One year after the debut of Windows 8, Windows 8.1 is here. It feels significantly less dramatic, but Microsoft’s latest version of its PC operating system has some changes, and some requirements, all its own. If you’re a curious would-be adopter, or a diligent Windows 8 upgrader, read on for some answers to your questions.

What’s new?

 

Last year’s Windows 8 was a brand-new, somewhat jarring operating system aimed at making touch-screen devices, and Windows devices that could convert between touch and keyboard/mouse modes, easier to use.

Windows 8.1 is a series of subtle changes, a software patch of sorts to last year’s software. There are some differences, but most of them seem to exist to appeal to more-traditional PC users — those who want more of a return to the traditional Windows experience. The biggest changes are:

  • You can boot directly into Desktop mode instead of the tile-based app user interface
  • The long-lost Start button is back
  • You can snap more apps side-by-side for better multitasking
  • There’s also better cross-system search, along with search that ties into cloud-based SkyDrive storage

For the full rundown, read CNET’s review. Or, check out our list of the top new features you need to know in Windows 8.1.

 

What’s the different between Windows 8.1 and Windows RT?

 

Windows 8.1 is the “real” Windows OS that runs on PCs and tablets; it includes backward compatibility with most earlier Windows software — programs and games that were designed to run on Windows 7, Vista, and XP. By contrast, Windows RT is a stripped-down version of Windows 8.1 that does not deliver that backward compatibility. (The reason: RT machines run ARM chips rather than full Intel or AMD “x86” CPUs, allowing them longer battery life and cheaper prices.) Instead, Windows RT only runs the apps available in the Windows Store (which, confusingly, is available in both 8.1 and RT). Notably, however, Windows RT includes a free copy of Microsoft Office 2013, which has been designed to run on both versions of Windows.

While there were a handful of devices that ran RT in 2012, so far, the Microsoft Surface andSurface 2 tablets appear to be the only RT machines currently available. (Again, adding to the confusion: the Surface Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablets run full Windows 8.1.)

 

Do I need to buy a tablet to use Windows 8.1?

 

No, you can use any PC, as long as it fits the Windows 8.1 hardware requirements. Touch screens aren’t required. In fact, Windows 8.1 makes it easier: you can stay in “Desktop mode” and just use your PC in a way that (largely) bypasses the touch-friendly tile interface. Even those, should you encounter them, can be navigated with keyboard and mouse/touch pad, however.

Start button!

 

Is the Start button back?

Yes — sort of. The annoying absence of a Start button made easy-access navigation on Windows 8 a confusing chore, but it’s back — although it just provides a shortcut to the tile menu. However, right-clicking it brings up a contextual menu with additional options.

 

How do I get Windows 8.1, and what does it cost?

 

For existing Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade. Just go the app store if you’re a Windows 8 user, and start downloading.

If you’re coming from Windows 7 (or an even earlier version of Windows), it can be bought herefor $120, or $200 for the business-targeted pro version. For more step-by-step information, read our how-to guide.

 

What are the system requirements?

 

For the full rundown, click here. But here’s the bare-bones needs:

  • 1GHz or faster processor with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2
  • 1GB of RAM for 32-bit computing, or 2GB for 64-bit
  • 16GB of hard-drive space (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit)
  • A Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

 

What’s the ideal system to use with Windows 8.1?

 

Despite the return of the Start button, having a touch screen is still the preferred way to go with Windows 8.1. In the portable realm, look for a tablet (Sony Vaio Tap 11 or Microsoft Surface Pro 2), a convertible laptop (the upcoming Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga), or a touch-screen laptop (theSamsung Ativ Book 9 Plus).

In the desktop world, larger touch-screen all-in-one machines like the Dell XPS One 27 or Sony Vaio Tap 21 are ideal.

 

Should you upgrade to Windows 8.1?

 

My colleague Dan Ackerman said it best in his Windows 8.1 review. If you’re a regular PC user, I’ll repeat in his paraphrased words what you should do:

  • If you’re an existing Windows 8 user, the update is free and largely seamless, and adds some useful new tweaks and features. You should upgrade as soon as possible.
  • If you’re a Windows 7 user thinking of upgrading your legacy hardware, consider keeping with Windows 7 until it’s time for a new PC; those touch-optimized Windows 8 and 8.1 elements won’t do much for you anyway, and Windows 7 still works well with all sorts of applications.

 

Either way, you’ll probably have to get used to Windows 8 eventually, since it’s Microsoft’s PC operating system now. It’s really, however, more of a finishing touch for Windows 8-optimized machines.

The best way to get Windows 8.1? Wait to buy a new PC with Windows 8 or 8.1 installed: it’ll run the software better, and it won’t cost anything extra.

I’m moving on from Windows; what other alternatives are there?

 

 

Windows isn’t the only game in town: you can always opt for a Mac, a tablet (Android, iPad), or aChromebook. There are more choices than ever before; just realize that each of them has relative advantages and disadvantages, and none of them will run your legacy Windows software (unless you invest in a solution like Parallels for Mac).

 

HP warns consumers: Downgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7 at your own risk, we won’t support you


Those who buy HP Windows 8 PCs and decide they want to downgrade to Windows 7 are in for a shock: Consumers will be on their own if there are Windows-related problems on the machines, and HP won’t offer support.

Update: After this post was written, HP has changed its policy on downgrades from Windows 8 to Windows 7. HP will now support Windows 7 on computers that have been downgraded from Windows 8. HP says:

 

Customers can downgrade to Windows 7 and  you will remain protected by HP product warranties.
However, HP has not tested all Windows 8 platforms for Windows 7 and we may not have your particular drivers available.

Computerworld’s Gregg Keizer first reported HP’s old policy, which can be found in a Windows 8 FAQ on HP’s Web site.

Downgrade rights lets customers revert to an earlier version of Windows at no cost. Typically, enterprises get downgrade right when they buy new machines. As for consumers, only those who buy Windows 8 Pro get downgrade rights.

HP says that if a consumer downgrades from Windows 8 to Windows 7, HP won’t support Windows on it, although it will still support the underlying hardware itself. The HP FAQ warns:

“HP does not recommend downgrading on any HP consumer desktop and notebook products. After October 26, 2012, HP consumer desktop and notebook products will ship only with Windows 8. Windows 7 will not be supported on these new platforms, and no drivers, apps, or Windows 7 content will be available through HP. If users choose to downgrade their HP consumer desktop or notebook system, HP will continue to support the hardware but if there is an issue where HP diagnostics are required OR it is determined that the loaded software or upgrade operating system is causing the issue, HP may suggest returning the system to the original Windows 8 OS that shipped with the computer.”

In other words, if you run into trouble on Windows 7 on the machines, you’re on your own.

Typically, downgrade rights aren’t much of an issue with Windows PCs. But Windows Vista caused so many problems that some users downgraded to XP. Windows 7 was well-received, though, and downgrading wasn’t an issue.

It’s too early to know whether Windows 8 will generate a backlash like Windows Vista did. But if buyers of HP Windows 8 Pro machines decide to downgrade to Windows 7, they’re on their own.

By 

 

Microsoft Office 2013 Release Date Prices Detailed: Preview Version Now Available to Download (Video)


(Photo : Microsoft) No official U.S. release date has been announced.

Microsoft is looking to change the way that consumers pay for Microsoft Office, and to that end has introduced a subscription based pricing model for the program’s 2013 version. Under the new model, Office 365 Home Premium will cost $99.99/year, and Office 365 Small Business Premium will cost $149.99/year. If Office users opt for the traditional licensed offering, Office Home & Student 2013 will be priced at $139.99, Office Home & Business 2013 at $219.99, and Office Professional 2013 at $399.99. Office Small Business Premium offers its suite for $12.50/month and can be used by up to 25 employees.

Office Home & Student 2013 features Powerpoint, OneNote, Excel, and Word. Office Home & Business supplements this package with Outlook, and Office Professional sweetens the deal with Publisher and Access.

Should consumers choose the subscription option for Office 365 Home Premium, they will be treated to 60 minutes of Skype calls per month and 20GB of SkyDrive cloud storage. Microsoft has also introduced Office on Demand, a feature available to consumers that allows users to stream the program to non-subscribed devices.

With the license option, Office 365 Home Premium owners are free to install the included programs on five computers.

Computer World notes that “all versions, whether subscription or conventional, have a new interface consistent with the “Modern -formerly called “Metro”-interface of Windows 8, which is optimized for touchscreens, such as those in tablets.”

IDC analyst Al Hilwa states, “Microsoft is bracing for a shift to a subscription model because it’s so much easier for them on a financial revenue perspective because it’s more predictable.”

In order to achieve this, the company “is trying to make the price of the subscription more attractive by increasing the prices of licenses.”

While Microsoft Office 2013 does not have an official release date, the preview version of the suite can be downloaded on Microsoft’s official website now.

Microsoft Office 2013 Video Preview

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=J-3uK2bRNnE

Apple, Google reportedly team up to bid for Kodak’s patents


 

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Bitter rivals Apple and Google have teamed up in a bid to buy patents that bankrupt Kodak has put up for auction, Bloomberg reports.

The two companies, competing for dominance of the smartphone market, have partnered after leading two separate groups this summer to buy some of Kodak’s 1,100 imaging patents, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private.

The Apple-led group pursuing Kodak’s patents included Microsoft and Intellectual Ventures Management LLC as of July, the people said, while Google’s partners included patent- aggregation company RPX Corp. and Asian makers of Google’s Android phones. The two groups had separately offered less than $500 million for Kodak’s portfolio. They now teamed up to offer more together, said two of the people.

Apple and Google were on the opposite sides of an auction for Nortel‘s patents last year. The patents and patent applications, which were expected to fetch up to $1.5 billion, finally went for $4.5 billion after a fierce bidding war won by a consortium of Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM), Ericsson, Sony and EMC.

Google, which ended up on the losing side after having started the auction process of Nortel’s patents with a $900 million bid of its own, slammed Apple and Microsoft for “using patents as a weapon to stop innovation”.

Back in present day, Richard Ehrlickman, former vice president of Intellectual Property at International Business Machines Corp. and president of IP Offerings, a patent brokerage and consulting company in Boca Raton, Florida, told Bloomberg he believes Apple and Google have learned a lesson from the Nortel auction. “They have decided to come together in this process to reduce the cost of purchasing the Kodak patents, while meeting their business needs,” said Ehrlickman.