The biggest news of the week has to be the appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO at Microsoft, which brought to an end weeks of speculation and rumor. Bill Gates also stepped down as chairman. A leaked version of Windows 8.1 Update 1 appeared online giving us all a sneak peek of what we can expect to see in the upcoming release -- including context menus on the Start screen, a new enterprise mode in Internet Explorer, and different ways of working with modern apps. Ahead of this big release, it was Windows XP that was showing growth rather than Microsoft's latest operating system.
In other Microsoft news, Xbox One's first big update was revealed to be coming up on 11 February. Sony announced that it was selling its VAIO business to enable it to focus its attention on mobile devices. Business and individuals who rely on 37signals' products found that the company was not only changing its name, but also dropping all of its services apart from Basecamp. There was another blow for Bitcoin as the online currency was effectively banned in Russia.
Sony is pulling out of the PC business and is selling the VAIO brand to Japanese investment fund Japan Industrial Partners (JIP). The announcement came after industry speculation about what might be happening in Sony's future after the company responded to rumors that it was in talks with Lenovo about a possible sale by saying that it was looking to "address various options for the PC business". No details about the fees involved have yet been revealed, but it is hoped that an agreement will be reached by the end of March.
Citing "drastic changes in the global PC industry", Sony's announcement came as the company revealed its financial results for Q3 2013. Analysis of the results showed that the "target of returning the TV and PC businesses to profitability will not be achieved within the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014", hence the need for reform. This means that Sony will now concentrate "its mobile product lineup on smartphones and tablets". An estimated 5,000 jobs will be lost.
I have to admit I look forward to seeing NetMarketShare’s monthly breakdown of desktop OS market share. The figures always provide a great talking point. You can pretty much guarantee that Windows 8’s share will decline, Windows 8.1’s share will increase, and combined the tiled OS’s growth will be outpaced by one of the older versions of Windows.
Usually it’s Windows 7 that’s showing the top growth. Sometimes besting Windows 8.x by a tiny amount, other times absolutely trouncing its newer sibling. But this time around, there’s a brand new leader in the growth stakes, and it’s a 13 year old OS that’s set to reach its end of life in April.
It has been suggested that the people who are still hanging onto Windows XP after all of these years are going to continue to do so once support officially ends in April. Microsoft is obviously keen to herd people towards Windows 8.1, but there is a good deal of resistance. Some have proposed Linux as a viable alternative; to me, this seems like a completely nonsensical "upgrade" path. Brian managed to cause quite some excitement yesterday when he wrote that Windows XP refugees should migrate towards Linux rather than considering the latest version of Windows. Without wanting to fall out with Brian, I think he's plain wrong.
One of the reasons many people cite for not wanting to upgrade to Windows 8 or 8.1 is that they don’t want to have to deal with the Start screen. They have become used to things working in a certain way and, while not perhaps entirely resistant to change, need a little encouragement into seeing the value of things. Brian suggests that one of the reasons to switch to Linux is that "you get to learn something new." If this is supposed to be an attractive element of Linux, then users may as well spend the time getting used to Windows 8.1.
Today on the Windows Experience Blog, Microsoft has done something a little odd -- admitted that the Start screen "can take some time to get used to". But more than this, the blog post by Kirsten Ballweg outlines five tweaks that can be used to "make Windows 8.1 feel more familiar". Given that the first line of the post is "Windows 8.1 looks a whole lot different than Windows 7 or Windows XP", it appears that Microsoft is conceding that Windows 8.1 just isn't everyone's cup of tea.
The solution? A series of tips to help make the latest version of Microsoft's operating system feel more like a version that is several years old! The first tip is interesting. Rather than suggesting the ways in which the Start screen could aid productivity, rather than pointing out all of its cool features, users are advised to simply bypass it. Microsoft has given up trying to sell the new features of Windows to users, opting instead to show how they can be avoided -- after all "the desktop we all know and love is still there".
To close an app in Windows 8 all you need to do is drag it to the bottom of the screen. In Windows 8.1, Microsoft made a small change. While you can still close the app in this way, removing it from view, this method doesn’t stop all of the processes associated with the app (Windows will, however, close the app properly, eventually, if you don’t use it after a while).
So in other words, if an app is misbehaving, dragging it down to the bottom of the screen and then relaunching it probably won’t fix the problems you’re experiencing. You could reboot, or use Task Manager to close it that way, but there’s an easier method.
Outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer got a vote of confidence from customers today, if Surface's sales surge is any indication. In October 2012, he refocused the company on "devices and services", something reflected in the Windows 8.1 tablet and also Xbox One, which launched during fiscal second quarter 2014.
After the closing bell today, Microsoft released long-anticipated Surface sales with its quarterly earnings report. Wall Street analysts and investors also eagerly wondered about Windows 8.1, which revenues looked to be brutally beaten back by historic declines in PC shipments. Surface revenue reached $893 million, up from $400 million during fiscal first quarter. Meanwhile, Windows OEM license sales declined by 3 percent, year over year.
What's that? Another music streaming service? Another one?! You could be forgiven for having this reaction to the news that Dr Dre's Beats Music is now available for iOS and Android; this is a market that is already rather saturated, and music lovers are not exactly short of options when it comes to picking a service to satiate their audio needs. So any new service vying for attention has to have something rather unique to offer if it is going to stand out from the competition.
Beats Music does have a unique selling point. It is a service that is about more than just streaming music, it aims to deliver the right music according to the time of day, what you are doing and where you are. Is this sort of stream tailoring enough to win over music fans? Only time will tell, but Beats Music certainly has a fight on its hands if it is to wrestle users away from the existing services that have been established for some time.
Now that CES 2014 is completely out of the way (although there was still time for me to pick my favorite tech from the show), it's back to business as usual. For many a company, business as usual means security issues, and Microsoft suffered at the hands of The Syrian Electronic Army. Again. The earlier security issues at Target were found to be far worse than first thought, affecting an estimated 100 million customers, and a potential security flaw was identified in Starbucks' mobile apps. For the antivirus side of protection, Kaspersky's Internet Security was named product of the year by AV-Comparatives.
Hoping against hope that new tech isn’t embraced for the sake of embracing new tech, I pondered the need for curved screens. In the mobile world, KitKat started to roll out to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and also announced the company somewhat deceptively named Galaxy Tab3 Lite, which is in fact no lighter than the non Lite version, other than in terms of hardware specs.
Translation has become a big thing for search engines. If you use Chrome then you have likely seen a translation option pop up when you click a story that isn’t in your native tongue. But Google is not the only one that can do this -- Bing too has translation capabilities.
Now Microsoft's search service is upping its game, announcing new features to its translation engine. The update is available for both Windows Phone and the desktop.
The Enterprise edition of Windows 8.x has a feature called Windows To Go that lets you create a working version of Microsoft's tiled operating system on a USB memory stick. You can boot into this and be instantly up and running in the new OS from any computer. Which is great -- provided you have the Enterprise edition of the OS and a "certified" USB drive. If you only have the standard version of Windows 8.x then the option isn't available to you.
But there is a very easy way you can build a personalized and bootable copy of Windows 8 or 8.1 on a USB drive, for use anywhere. All you need is a USB 3.0 device with at least 13GB capacity (it will run on a USB 2.0 memory stick, but slowly), a copy of Windows 8.x (either an installation disc or an ISO -- you can get the Windows 8.1 ISO by following these instructions but you will need a Windows 8.1 key), and a free partitioning program. Here's what you need to do.
One of the most memorable presentations given at CES this year saw Samsung showing off its latest curved screen TV. Sadly for the tech giant it was Michael Bay's on-stage brain fart that most people took away from the talk (if I can just leave you with the delightful image of taking away someone's fart with you...), but Samsung would much rather we concentrated on the display technology it was showcasing. It excited a great many people, and for some it is seen as the way ahead and something we could see a lot more off. I sincerely hope we don't, particularly on the desktop.
Why? There are lots of reasons that I am opposed to the idea of curved screens, particularly when used for TVs and monitors -- smartphones are slightly different, but I'm not too keen on that either. Curved screens are not really a brand spanking new technology; there have been curved cinema screens for a number of years now, and I can see the benefit of the curve in this setting. Used in a theater the curve eliminates the problem of trying to find a seat right in the center because it matters far less where you are in relation to the screen. Everyone gets an equally good view of the action. It is a democratizing technology. So why am I down on it?
The Windows Club has released Ultimate Windows Tweaker 3.0 for Windows 8 and 8.1 users. The lightweight, portable freeware tool makes it easy to tweak various aspects of Windows that usually hidden away or require access to Registry editor or Group Policy Editor.
The new release sits alongside the previous version, Ultimate Windows Tweaker 2.2, which requires Windows Vista or 7.
It seems that these days it is not enough for a laptop to just be a laptop, or a tablet to be a tablet. I'm not talking about the strange new breed of devices that are capable of running Windows and Android, or the rumors that handsets running Windows Phone and Android might see the light of day (haha! Can you imagine?). I'm talking about the devices that seem to be trying to become best friends with Michael Bay, transforming between multiple modes.
It's not really a new concept. We've already looked at Lenovo's Yoga 11S which can be bent into four different positions. The same company also has the Flex range which has fewer Transformer-like capabilities, but is still more than just your average laptop. At CES 2014 Toshiba decided to up the ante, taking the wraps off a 5-in-1 device.
The start to any new year is always slow, and 2014 is no different. As the tech world struggled to shake off its New Year hangover, it was a pretty quiet week. The pace should start to pick up again, though, as CES is just around the corner!
The New Year wasn't the only cause for celebration; it was also Linus Torvalds' 44th birthday. Tablet makers were popping the champagne corks as it was revealed that such devices were among the most popular Christmas presents. Microsoft was also celebrating Windows 8 gaining a 10 percent market share, but Windows 7 also continues to grow in popularity.