For Microsoft, Windows 8 is a necessary evil. The operating system has two main purposes: to usher the software giant into the modern mobile computing era and, at the same time, to get existing users on board with the changes on the new platform. So far, it is not difficult to see how the OS (and, by implication, Microsoft) has failed on both counts: its tablet market share is low and the growth of Windows 7 is higher than its own. Remember that Windows 8 is close to being a year-old while Windows 7 will soon have its fourth anniversary.
Despite what some might believe, Microsoft really had no other option but to bring something completely new to the table. It does not take long to realize that Windows 8 has been a step in the right direction, as Windows 7 was primarily designed for devices prior to the tablet era. But despite being well-intended, Microsoft has been facing an ongoing backlash over the efficacy of the new approach, which has led to severely crippled chances for mass market appeal. That is a place where no company wants to be, especially in a period of transition. So, as a result, the software giant is responding to the criticism with Windows 8.1, that now has, among other purposes, a different task: to change people's perception of its predecessor.
Many people are settling into the idea that a 7 inch screen is the ideal size for a tablet. The extra screen space provided by a 10 inch model sounds great in theory, but it does result in a device that is slightly more cumbersome to take from place to place. Looked at in terms of portability, 7 inches is perfect -- large enough to make most tasks easy, but small enough to easily slip into a bag, if not necessarily a pocket.
The slightly smaller size also makes an important difference to the price tag, and there is a burgeoning market for tablets of this size. It is interesting to see that as the screens of phones gradually get larger and larger, the general trend for the tablet is to shrink -- the two are on a collision course!
This has been a week with a lot of news about operating systems. As we near the official release OS X Mavericks went GM and was made available to developers, while in the world of Linux Red Hat Enterprise 5.10 was also unveiled. Windows 8.1 was made available for pre-order, but a study of sales figures revealed that Windows 7 continues to grow faster than Windows 8. Ahead of his retirement sometime in the next twelve months, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer was punished for poor performance with a bonus reduction, with first generation Surface sales partly to blame.
Things look better for Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, with reports of the tablets selling out -- this is perhaps not surprising when Delta Airlines has bought 11,000 of the devices for its pilots. As well as looking forward, Microsoft also came over a little nostalgic, choosing to show off the capabilities of Internet Explorer 11 with a revived version of the classic Windows 95 game Hover.
We asked and Microsoft delivered. The removal of the Start button from Windows 8 was seen by many as a huge mistake on Microsoft's part. We've known for some time that this familiar component of the operating system is to make a comeback, and now Microsoft is showing it off in a new commercial. The latest ads also highlight the ease of switching between desktop and Modern UI modes and the unified experience Microsoft is looking to create across devices.
More than the absence of the Start button perhaps, being thrown in to Modern UI (or Metro as it was at the time) was something that put a lot of people off Windows 8. In the "Windows 8.1 Everywhere" ad, Microsoft tries to get across the idea of choice. Now rather than being a portal to your apps, the Start button is described as the means by which users switch between modes.
Microsoft held an event in NYC to launch the Surface 2 and Brian was live-blogging. The full video of the launch is available to view online as are advertisements that show off the tablets' versatility. Microsoft is pinning a lot on the updated product after the first generation suffered from poor sales. There were no great new features, but there is a redesigned kickstand, a healthy speed boost, new dock and updated covers -- Brian was particularly impressed by the Blades.
Anyone buying a Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2 earns themselves a SkyDrive upgrade. Purchase a new device and your online storage gets upgraded to 200GB, but the same amount of space is available for $100 per year. Moving away from Surface-related news, Microsoft turned its guns on Google Docs, highlighting user complaints to demonstrate the superiority of Office 365.
There are only three weeks to go until the release of Windows 8.1 and Microsoft is laying the groundwork by highlighting some of the new features and apps that are to be found in the update. The latest app to be picked out is Reading List -- Microsoft's answer to the list of Pocket and ReadItLater. The app has been designed to make it easier to save online articles to read at a later time without the need to bookmark it.
Reading List differs from RSS readers such as Feedly in that articles are stored on an individual basis. And while it is well suited to "bookmarking" articles you find on websites that you would like to return to, it can also be used to bookmark content from other apps. Just like other "read it later" tools, the real advantage comes from the fact that content is synchronized between devices.
If we are to believe all the comments posted on the Interwebs by Microsoft fanboys, then the Surface lineup should have delivered two of the most popular tablets on the market and Apple and Android OEMs should have gone out of business by now. But, once reality sets in and we overlook the silly one-sided comments, people just don't care enough about Microsoft's slates -- the 4.5 percent Windows market share, from IDC's Q2 2013 report, coupled with the $0.9 billion write-off speak for themselves.
Now there's a second-generation Surface lineup which was unveiled yesterday, comprised of Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, that quietly wants to change people's perception about Windows-based slates and their preference towards Android tablets and iPads. On paper, the new Surfaces look great. Microsoft appears to have gotten the hint -- more power, more battery life, more versatile kickstand, more accessories. The new Surface lineup is simply "more" than its predecessor. Yet I don't think many people will notice that and rush to pre-order now or buy on sales day.
Many years ago, my parents bought me the Atari Jaguar. While the system proved to be a failure, one of its features stuck with me as fascinating. Games could come with plastic inserts that fit over the controller's buttons. This enabled a game developer to enhance the experience of the game by offering visual representations of things like bombs and missiles instead of just pressing "1" or "2".
During yesterday's Surface 2 event, Microsoft announced a new accessory called The Surface Remix Project. This accessory plugs into the Surface keyboard port and replicates hardware buttons that a music producer or electronic performer may use. It may prove popular with professional musicians and amateurs alike. While making music may be well and good, you would be short-sighted to think it ends there.
At an event in New York, Microsoft reveals the successor to the Surface RT and Surface Pro -- the predictably named Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 (interesting to note that the "RT" is gone from the former's name) -- and Brian Fagioli was live-blogging from the event. So what do we have to look forward to from the product refresh?
Microsoft chose not to live stream its Surface 2 reveal earlier today, but fortunately our own Brian Fagioli was in New York to cover the unfolding events in an excellent live blog. Now that the event is over Microsoft has made the full on-demand video of the proceedings available for anyone to watch.
During the one hour (and a bit) event Microsoft unveiled the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets as well as a whole load of accessories, including "Blades", a new type of touch cover which can be customized for different uses. Brian described it as a "potential game-changer" and hasn’t stopped raving about it ever since.
On an unassuming street, next to a strip-club, a small line forms in front of a building. It is comprised of tech-writers carrying backpacks. The smell of bleach is in the air as a maintenance worker frantically scrubs the sidewalk to clean what appears to be vomit. Yes, this is New York City and I am attending the Surface event.
Today, Microsoft is expected to announce updates to its Surface line of tablets (two models -- RT and Pro -- are likely to be unveiled). If Steve Ballmer is here, it may be his final product event before he heads off into the sunset (the man will retire within a year).
It's September 23rd and Microsoft is holding court in New York City. The subject du jour is the brand new Surface 2, the follow up to a tablet PC much maligned for its poor sales and pricing. But today the tech giant has the opportunity to right these perceived wrongs with a fresh start.
There have been numerous rumors swirling around this "reimaging" of the flagship Windows 8 (8.1 likely) tablet, and uncertainty even about the name, at least for the lower end model -- will Microsoft keep the confusing RT moniker or go for something entirely different? -- we really don't know at this point. However, my colleague Brian Fagioli and I are currently on converging train rides headed for Penn Station and will be bringing you all of the details as the event unfolds.
If there's one thing that I wholeheartedly dislike about the tech world it's being told about a brand new product that really appeals, and then having to wait ages for it. It's like that someone who told me about it wants to toy with me, psychologically torture me and, when I couldn't care less about that new and shiny thing, give it to me. Of course, I'm now blowing things out of proportion, but I want you to understand, at some level, how it feels when I'm entrusting part of my tech life to Microsoft.
For some incomprehensible reason, in 2013 Microsoft is still using the expression "rolling out". It defines a vague date of availability for any new changes that it announces. How outdated is that? You may think that Microsoft's roll outs have a specific role, of insuring extra stability and providing a seamless transition, to the new version for its users. But that is, in my opinion, such a pathetic excuse that only a two-year old who is baited with candy by his parents might be inclined to believe.
Today Microsoft refreshes the look of Bing News, giving the site a modern makeover that’s more in keeping with the look of Windows 8 and Windows Phone. But the redesign is about more than bringing products in line with each other, the new layout is "built for touch" recognizing the ever-increasing popularity of touchscreen devices -- not just phones and tablets, but also the likes of the Surface Pro and Yoga.
The new look not only embraces touch, but also takes into account the fact that many people use different devices to access the internet -- switching between a phone, tablet and computer is far from uncommon these days. With this in mind, the site now better adapts to different screen sizes.
The long Labor Day weekend is now behind us and though it is sad to see summer go, every cloud has a silver lining, and for many of us that lining glows on Sunday afternoon from September to February. In May of this year Microsoft partnered up with the National Football League and today the company details a bit more of what has come from this marriage of technology and gridiron.
"Surface is landing on the NFL sidelines with select club personnel to support teams with player health initiatives. Surface will help keep important player medical information at the fingertips of team trainers and medical staff in the locker room and on the field. This includes the X2 concussion assessment app to quickly diagnose potential player concussions after a hard play. Surface tablets and the X2 app will be an additional tool to help medical staff and trainers to determine whether a player should return to the game", said Surface director James Bernstrom.