With Windows 10, Microsoft will finally restore the missing Start menu to its tiled operating system. That’s great news for anyone who isn’t a fan of the Start screen and Modern UI. But Windows 10 is still a good six months away (probably longer), so until it arrives, the only options for users of Windows 8.x is to either accept the Start screen, or install a third party Start button and menu.
The good news is there are plenty of excellent free options available. Here are our top 12 recommendations.
It's only a matter of days since Microsoft officially revealed the Windows 10 Technical Preview. This was a revelation with a lot riding on it but it was really something of a tease -- Microsoft didn’t give too much away. We rushed to grab the download, and Wayne showed how to get it up and running in VirtualBox (interestingly, I had to opt for VMware Player, as VirtualBox refused to install the 64-bit version of Windows 10 on my Surface Pro. It ran away from the ISO as though it was infected with ebola). I've had a few days to play about with this release -- I've stuck with a virtual machine for now rather than going all-in with dual-boot -- and I've already had a chance to write a little about the Start menu and the command prompt, but now it's time to delve a little deeper and see what else there is to discover.
Spoiler alert: despite the headline, and indeed my reputation, I don’t hate Windows 10. It just about goes without saying that I'm not head-over-heels in love with it, and there's a great deal I dislike about it, but it does feel... well, just 'nice' really. It's comfortable, familiar, and feels a bit snappier than Windows 8 -- even when running in a virtual machine.
Windows 10 really can’t come soon enough for Microsoft as its predecessor is continuing to tank. In August the tiled OS actually gained usage share -- according to web analytics firm NetMarketShare -- which was unusual as 8.x had lost users in the previous two months. But any suggestions of a recovery are swiftly crushed looking at September’s figures. Both Windows 8 and 8.x lost a load of usage share last month, while Windows 7 reached an all-time high. It’s Windows 7 users Microsoft really needs to be aiming for with Windows 10 (and if it can tempt XP users too, so much the better). In August, Windows 8 managed a 6.28 percent share of the desktop operating system market, but lost 0.69 percent in September. Windows 8.1, an OS which really should be growing, went from an all-time high of 7.09 percent to 6.67 percent, a drop of 0.42 percent. In total, Windows 8.x lost 1.11 percent share. Windows 7 on the other hand went from 51.21 percent in August to 52.71 percent in September, a gain of 1.5 percent. That’s its highest point ever. Windows XP, which should be losing share, dropped just 0.02 percent, going from 23.89 percent to 23.87 percent. So September was another dreadful month for Windows 8.x. It’s no wonder Microsoft decided to skip ahead to Windows 10 in an attempt to really distance its future OS from the current one.
When I bought my first Chromebook, the 2012 Samsung model, I did it mostly for one reason -- price. I drove down to my local Best Buy and was blown away by how inexpensive it was; at $249 it looked like a MacBook Air and promised good battery life. Even though I knew the limitations of Chrome OS beforehand, I still handed over my money thinking I could find a place for it in my home. For the most part it was OK; I mean, it changed the way I thought about computing, but it soon became apparent that it could not replace my Windows machine. I didn't return it; I kept for basic typing on the go, but I later sold it as it collected dust. You see, my iPad Air when coupled with a keyboard-case was a better portable machine.
Now, in 2014, Chromebooks are making huge strides in homes, schools and the enterprise, but Windows still reigns supreme. While I do recommend Chromebooks for people low on cash that only have basic computing needs, today this changes. You see, HP announces the $199.99 Stream 11 laptop, and with a price that low, why would you bother with Chrome OS?
Most of us have hopefully managed to get off the sinking ship that was Windows XP. As much of a recent memory as that has become, a new end of life is rearing its head, and it's approaching fervently for those who haven't started planning for it. Microsoft's Windows Server 2003, a solid server operating system that's now about eleven and a half years old, is heading for complete extinction in just under 300 days. Microsoft has a fashionable countdown timer already ticking.
Seeing as we just finished our second server migration in a single week (a personal record so far), sharing some of the finer aspects of how we are streamlining these transitions seems like a timely fit. This braindump of sorts is a collection of best practices that we are routinely following for our own customers, and they seem to be serving us well so far.
New data which was just posted by web analytics company NetMarketShare shows us that, in August, Windows 8.x managed to gain precious usage share in the desktop operating system market. This happened mainly at the expense of the 13 year-old Windows XP, which is seeing its usage share slowly decrease as new devices, toting newer OSs, are brought into the fold.
The good news, however, comes from the rise in usage share of Windows 8.1, which is now at 7.09 percent, up from the 6.56 percent from July. Windows 8 also grew, to 6.28 percent from 5.92 percent, but this is of a lesser importance, as its successor's fate is far more important. Meanwhile, Windows XP decreased to 23.89 percent from 24.82 percent. Still, it is obvious that the oldest of the three still has a terribly long way to go before it reaches similar usage share levels (we're looking at a couple of years, at least) as Windows 8.1 touts now.
At launch, Windows 8 was a mess. It was a brave and -- arguably -- necessary attempt by Microsoft to re-invent its operating system and keep it relevant as the world transitioned towards mobile computing, and tablets in particular. But the first release was seriously half-baked, and left many Windows users scratching their heads in confusion. Windows 8.1 improved things massively, and Update made the OS even better, especially for previously neglected keyboard and mouse users. But Windows 8.x’s poor market share tells a clear story -- the OS has flopped badly, and it’s time for Microsoft to chalk it up to experience and move on.
Windows 9 (aka Threshold) is expected to be the operating system that Windows 8.x should have been, just as Windows 7 was the OS Vista should have been. According to The Verge, we’ll get our first proper look at the next Windows iteration on September 30, but we already have a fairly good idea of what to expect.
What’s with all this excitement over Windows "Threshold"? I get it that Microsoft sort of fumbled the ball with Windows 8. I also recognize that the subsequent tweaks and retrofits (Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1 Update 1, Windows 8.1 Not-Update-2, et al) are viewed by many as "too little, too late" to save the product.
However, I’m sensing a deeper disturbance in the force here. When it comes to Windows Threshold, there’s a palpable aura of anticipation -- a kind of electric expectancy, and its emanating from what I like to call the "Neanderthal set".
Windows 9 can’t come soon enough for Microsoft, as Windows 8.x continues to lose market share, according to the latest usage data from Net Applications.
Last month I reported that in June Windows 8.x had gone into reverse gear, losing market share for the first time, and posed this question -- "Statistical anomaly or downward trend?" It’s too early to call it a "trend" but anyone who expected the tiled OS to make a recovery in July will be disappointed by the latest set of figures. There’s a striking difference this time around too -- both Windows 8 and 8.1 show drops in July. Ouch.
The idea of a closed internet is hardly new; turn your eyes to East Asia, and the Great Firewall of China looms large. The Chinese government is well known for the control it likes to exert over the levels of access its citizens have to the internet, and there have been numerous well-publicized cases of censorship and access being restricted to pages that refer to certain events in the county's history. The country is highly defensive of its image, and goes to great lengths to fight off western influence -- including going as far as banning Windows 8 on government computers lest machines furnished with Microsoft's most recent operating system be used for spying on the People's Republic of China. Now it looks as though Russia could be going down a similar route.
Russian parliament has just passed a law that requires internet companies to store data about Russian citizens within the county's boundaries. The move can be viewed in a couple of ways. It is no secret that the Russian government, and Vladimir Putin in particular, is no fan of social media -- social networks were used by Russians to voice their disapproval at Putin's activities. It is thought that the move to contain citizen's data without Russia is a bid to create a Russian version of China's closed internet.
Take a look at the monthly market share stats for Windows and you’ll see a good proportion of Windows 8.x users are still on the original version of the tiled OS. For some it’s a matter of choice, for others it’s because they simply can’t update to Windows 8.1.
A large number of users have experienced the dreaded Blue Screen of Death when attempting to perform the update to Windows 8.1, which has resulted in them being unable to complete the process. Fortunately, Microsoft has a fix to address the issue.
Like Windows Phone, Windows 8.x does not get anywhere near the same level of attention as its more popular rivals, Android and iOS, receive from top developers. Still, the app selection has slowly gotten better, thanks in no small part to third-party offerings, reaching the point where it ticks all the right boxes for casual users.
But, Windows Store is also seeing improvements in its selection geared towards professionals. The latest major Modern UI offering to greet Windows 8.x is Autodesk's AutoCAD 360, which arrives as a free preview. This is a huge win for the platform.
I’ll be honest, although Windows 8.x losing market share is a shocking state of affairs -- and a new low for an operating system which has struggled since launch -- it’s something that’s been coming for a while. Windows 8 has been dropping share since Windows 8.1 arrived, and Windows 8.1 has been growing at such a glacial pace it was only a matter of time before the losses outweighed the gains, and that’s exactly what happened in June according to NetMarketShare.
In a month where Windows 7 and Windows XP -- the OS that refuses to die -- both gained market share, "new Windows" shifted into reverse gear and began shedding users.
"Abandonware". It’s the scourge of the industry. Every time a vendor abandons a software product, a puppy dies. Or an orphan. Or a Java developer.
Regardless, nobody likes to see their favorite app/game/platform get left behind. It’s the worst kind of techie betrayal. You spend days, weeks or even months mastering a product only to have the virtual rug pulled out from under you.
Nowadays, if you buy a brand new laptop, it is hard to buy an absolute lemon. Unless you scrape the bottom of the barrel at Best Buy and get some god-awful $200 underpowered computer, you should be fine. Hell, even that inexpensive computer may meet some people's needs. However, some of us spend many hours of each day on a computer, so it makes sense to invest in something great. If you are reading BetaNews, I'm sure you fall into that category. If you ask me which computer to buy, I would recommend many (depending on budget), but two stand out among the rest.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Apple MacBook Air are great balances between portability, power and cost. Yes, there are more powerful computers, but they are often very heavy and have terrible battery life. Portability cannot be underestimated when it comes to a laptop's value and both of these machines are super thin and light. Last month, my colleague Mihaita pondered the question of which was better based on specs alone. However, as someone who has used both, hands-on, for long periods of time, I am ready to definitively tell you that the Surface Pro 3 is better. Do you agree?