It’s nearly a year since Microsoft released the divisive Windows 8, and this week sees the launch of Windows 8.1 -- an update to the tiled operating system that aims to fix many of the perceived wrongs of the first version, while introducing some very welcome new features.
If you’re a Windows 8 or RT user you’ll be able to download the update for free starting at 4AM PDT (that’s 12pm in the UK) on 17 October. You’ll be able to get it directly through the Windows Store.
In another busy week, Microsoft continued to promote Internet Explorer 11 by showing off some of the new features that will be available to Windows 8 users. At the same time, the company released a tool that lets Windows 7 users block the update. Microsoft also announced that it would speed up the approval process for apps submitted to the Windows Store, so initial certification can be complete within five days.
Moving away from the desktop, champagne corks were popping as it was revealed that Raspberry Pi has sold 1.75 million units. After the launch of Mavericks, Mihaita was taken with his MacBook Air, and I was quite impressed with the Tesco Hudl -- although it's not going to be replacing my Nexus 7 any time soon.
It is three years ago today that Windows Phone first saw the light of day. Microsoft's mobile operating system has now been with us for a full 36 months, when Windows Phone 7 took the baton from Windows Mobile. There isn’t much in the way of celebration from Microsoft, and the anniversary was quietly ushered in by the company's Joe Belfiore in a tweet:
Happy Bday, "MetroUI"! 3 yrs ago today WP7 launched. In just a few countries on just one chip with only a handful of apps...
When Windows 8 advertisements first started airing on TV, Fresh Paint was often shown as a way to highlight the touch capabilities. Not only is the app a good demo, it is also fun and functional. From amateurs to professionals, anyone can easily use the app to create art and use their imaginations. However, Microsoft is not resting on its laurels and announces a new version is coming this month.
"Today I'm excited to announce that the new Fresh Paint will launch in tandem with Windows 8.1 on October 18 and that we'll also have new features coming to the Windows Phone version on October 14. Best of all, Fresh Paint will continue to be free, and everyone who updates to Windows 8.1 will get the improved experience", says Brandon LeBlanc of Microsoft.
In his "5 reasons Surface tablets blow away iPads for a mobile business workforce" piece, my colleague Derrick Wlodarz explained why Remote Desktop on Windows RT (and, by implication, Windows 8) is better compared to third-party clients on Android and iOS. Derrick says that the former offers a richer feature set, a smoother experience, improved stability, less compatibility issues and comes with no initial cost (because it is free, as a built-in feature). As you can tell, the lack of official Remote Desktop apps on Android and iOS tips the scale in Microsoft's favor.
That is about to change, as Microsoft has announced that it will release Remote Desktop apps on "a variety of devices and platforms", which include Windows, Windows RT, OS X, Android and iOS. The software giant says the offerings will be introduced with Windows Server 2012 R2, which launches later this month, on October 18, alongside Windows 8.1.
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.
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.
When the CBS app was launched for iOS in March, Android users felt slighted. After all, Android leads in market-share -- why shouldn't it get the app first? Not to mention, many Android users are very nerdy so Big Bang Theory is a natural fit. Today, CBS announces that not only is it finally releasing it for Android, but for Windows 8 too.
Jim Lanzone, President of CBS Interactive says, "when we launched on iOS in March, we promised fans we would bring the CBS App to all major platforms by fall premieres. Today we are doing exactly that".
In a blog post that looks forwards as well as backwards, Skype lays out details of planned improvements for the desktop and mobile versions of the app. Mark Gillett applauds the technological improvements that have been made over the past year and also gives a glimpse of the changes we can expect to see in the year to come. The post acknowledges that a large proportion of Skype usage is on mobile devices, and a number of mobile-friendly changes are revealed.
One particularly noteworthy feature specific to mobile users is the promise that chat synchronization across devices will be improved. This is something that anyone who used Skype on multiple devices will have noticed can be a problem. Send a large number of text based messages from the desktop version of Skype and when you launch Skype on another computer or a phone, you'll currently find that there can be quite a delay as message history is downloaded. While no details are provided, Gillet says:
Fresh from investor approval of a buyout by its founder, Dell has announced a new family of tablets and an updated range of XPS laptops. The Venue tablet range comprises four ultra thin models designed to deliver class-leading performance and quality with compact designs to help people stay in touch whilst on the move.
The Dell Venue tablets are available in Windows and Android versions. The lightweight Dell Venue 8 Pro runs Windows 8.1, has a bright HD IPS display, advanced connectivity options and provides long battery life. Office 2013 Home & Student is included with the device and there's the option of Dell Active Stylus.
Gateway has long been synonymous with affordable, quality hardware. When Acer bought the company in 2007, the Gateway name lived on as a "budget" line of computers. However, even though the computers are inexpensive, they do not skimp on quality and value. Today, the cow-print computer manufacturer announces an affordable Windows 8 All-In-One PC, named the Gateway One ZX4270.
According to Frank Chang, director of product management for Gateway, "we're very pleased to offer this compelling platform that provides a great balance of affordability and performance for those who need a PC for email, online shopping, social media and productivity applications ... the AIO form factor is easy to set up, attractive and saves space, so it fits nicely in space-constrained areas such as the kitchen or office nooks".
If you can cast your mind back far enough to the dim and distant days when Windows 95 was taking the world by storm, you may well remember Hover. Taking more than a little inspiration from Doom, this fun driving/maze game was buried on the installation CD of Windows 95. It was responsible for the loss of many hours that could have been spent doing something far more worthwhile -- but probably less entertaining -- and it's back! Hover is back!
The game has been revived to show off the capabilities of Internet Explorer 11, and you can try your hand at it -- for the first time or to relive your youth -- by heading over to Hover.ie. But more than this, the game feature touchscreen control so it's also a great way for Microsoft to highlight the causal gaming capabilities of the recently announced Surface 2.
I have to admit to being somewhat spoiled by the amazing battery life on my 13.3-inch Apple MacBook Air (mid-2013). It has completely transformed my usage habits and my perspective on mobility and laptops. Using it for 10 hours straight without any charging time is a common scenario, without being exactly light on the throttle. But even the mighty MacBook Air cannot compete with HP's latest ultrabook, the EliteBook 840 G1.
HP says that the EliteBook 840 G1, which is part of the manufacturer's new business ultrabook lineup, can deliver a whopping 33 hours of battery life. As you can tell from the headline, there is a "but" somewhere.
There’s not long to go now until Microsoft unleashes Windows 8.1 upon the world. In my view the operating system refresh is Windows 8 done properly, but whether it does enough to win over the masses remains to be seen.
Certainly Microsoft will be hoping for a change in fortunes because the tiled operating system's market share is currently pretty poor -- at least when you factor in how much of a push the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has put behind it.
If you are a Windows Phone and/or Windows 8/RT user who loves RSS feed reader apps then I am sure the name Nextgen Reader rings a bell. It is one of the best-rated and most popular pieces of software currently available on Microsoft's latest consumer operating systems, and probably one of the best built mobile apps that smartphone and tablet users can get today.
To learn more about Nextgen Reader and Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT development, I chatted with the person responsible for all the code behind the app, Gaurav Kalra. The man, alongside his brother Sorabh, is the co-founder of Next Matters, the company that develops Nextgen Reader.