Microsoft app launches are usually predictable. Most are offerings which aim to get us hooked on the software giant's most-prominent products, like Office, OneDrive, Outlook.com and Xbox. But, every once in a while, Microsoft does something out of the ordinary, like it wants to tell the world that, much like startups, it too is capable of intriguing and exciting things.
After launching a lovely keyboard for Android Wear, Microsoft just released a whole bunch of apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, made by an in-house team of "hackers, makers, artists, tinkerers, musicians, inventors" called Microsoft Garage. The most interesting offerings are Torque, which my colleague Brian Fagioli just covered, and two lockscreen apps, for Android and Windows Phone.
So… we now know that Windows 9 is by far the least successful version of Windows ever, grossing Microsoft a total of $0. But Microsoft is as keen as ever to look to the future, and it's pinning its hopes on the newly revealed Windows 10. At the unveiling in San Francisco we learned quite a lot about the upcoming version of the successor to Windows 8.1 (yep... it's going to sound weird for a long time), but there were also a lot of unanswered questions. It was interesting to see that the demonstration used build 9841 which we have already seen in leak, and in this regard there were few surprises. Between the release of Windows 10 Technical Preview Microsoft still has a lot of work to do, and a lot of people to convince to upgrade.
What do we not yet know? We don’t have a release date, at least nothing that has been pinned down. We know it will be some time in the second half of 2015 -- if everything goes to plan -- but that's quite a big Window. We also don’t know what costs, if any, might be associated with the operating system. It has been suggested that Microsoft would make Windows 10 available free of charge, but nothing official has been said on this front. We have no idea what sort of upgrade path may be available -- would this be Microsoft's opportunity to usher everyone away from Windows XP once and for all? Simply offer a free upgrade to an operating system that addresses the issues users have raised and the security problems associated with an ancient version of Windows should diminish.
Sending files to someone else has always been a bit of a problem. Often they’re too big for email, sharing via public cloud services raises security concerns and of course flash drives and DVDs can fall into the wrong hands.
Korea-based startup Send Anywhere has an answer to making file transfers easily and safely in the form of an updated version of its iOS app and a new app for Windows Phone.
Microsoft did something rather unexpected earlier this month. The software giant unveiled a revamped MSN, saving the online portal from oblivion -- its biggest merit lately is being the default website for Internet Explorer. The new MSN looks great, connects users to Microsoft's consumer-facing cloud services, and can be tailored to suit their preference. It also makes it easy to trigger a search across the InterWebs. Heck, I have even said it might work as the Bing landing page.
Fast forward to today and Microsoft announces that more than 10 million users have tested the new MSN, with more than 80,000 of them also submitting feedback. Those numbers look really good. And they should, considering the online portal's Microsoft-focused audience. The feedback it has received must have been good also, as Microsoft announces it is rolling out the new MSN in the next three days.
Microsoft has announced that Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 is now rolling out for Nokia Lumia 930, just shy of two months after it introduced the latest version of the tiled operating system. The flagship is the first Nokia-branded handset to be officially updated to Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, and among the few that officially run this installment.
Even though, on Nokia's support forums, the software update is described as being "minor", it actually offers quite a few notable improvements over the previous firmware release. Contrary to expectations, it does not bring the Lumia Denim enhancements along with it.
Windows Phone is a very polarizing operating system to say the least. Many consumers refuse to give it a chance, and the ones that do, either hate it or love it. Despite the shortcomings of Microsoft's phone-focused OS, I find it to be a very rewarding experience. Of course, the biggest complaint is a lack of apps, and while there has been much improvement in that area, it is still a valid argument when compared against the iPhone or Android.
Apps aside, it is an intuitive experience that enhances one's life rather than take it over. Android and iPhone users are often in a zombie-like state while using the device, as if it is the sole-focus of their existence. Windows Phone is designed more to be glance-and-go. Unfortunately, while Nokia Lumia handsets have been wonderful, brand-diversity and selection has been severely lacking. Luckily, Microsoft majorly scored by getting HTC to produce a version of its One (M8) that runs Windows Phone. Can the sexy HTC handset outdo the sexiness of the popular Lumia line?
You should always shoot RAW, if given the option. As opposed to JPG, it's a lossless format. What the sensor sees is exactly what you get in your files. You also get lots more breathing room when editing photos without an apparent drop in quality. Shot in black and white and want to go back to color? No problem, RAW gives you that option. Want to recover shadow details without messing up the look of the image? Again, it's possible, as long as you shoot RAW. Want to recover details from blown highlights? Well, I am sure you get the gist by now.
If you are the lucky user of a Nokia Lumia 1020, Lumia 1520, Lumia Icon or Lumia 930 you can also take advantage of RAW capture. But, after you'll enable the feature, you will soon run into a problem -- what app to use to edit those unusually large files (with a DNG extension), right on your Windows Phone? Well, you can use Rawer.
There is plenty of competition in the cloud storage space, but, unfortunately, for the most part any massive changes are limited to paid plans. They get bigger, they get cheaper, but the free tier, which most users get first, remains largely as limiting as it has always been. Sure, we get a couple of extra gigs for free here and there, but it's all smoke after all, meant to lead us right to the money grabbers. (And who could blame providers for trying to make money?)
Now, Microsoft is doing something rather interesting, as it gives OneDrive users nearly twice as much storage in the free plan, bumping the limit from a so-so 15 GB to a respectable 30 GB. The reason? Well, it's a damn clever one -- the extra freebie is meant to help Apple users who are having trouble with iOS 8 upgrades due to low available storage. Because this is an oft-discussed issue, it is bound to generate some free advertising for Microsoft and OneDrive.
Free's good, right? Who doesn’t like something gratis? Microsoft has -- sort of -- cottoned onto this idea and dropped the annual fee associated with the Windows Dev Center. The 'sort of' caveat remains because signing up for a Dev Center account is not completely free; there's still a registration fee of $19 to pay, but this is for a lifetime account -- no more annual charges. Announcing the move on the Windows blog, Todd Brix explains that "each of our 600,000+ registered developers will no longer need to pay any additional fees to maintain their account. It’s also a very good time for developers new to the platform to get a Dev Center account and start submitting apps".
Having paid the fee, developers are then free to submit apps to both the Windows Phone Store and the Windows Store. But this is not the only change that's coming to the Dev Center. In what is becoming something of a trend, Microsoft clearly pinned back its ears and made it easier to promote apps and provide offers to users. Improvements to in-app advertising means that campaigns can be more easily run on a global scale and pay outs are made faster.
Microsoft continues its recent trend of bringing exciting new features to rival platforms by adding Android Wear support to OneNote. The most recent version of Microsoft's note-taking tool -- suitably named OneNote for Android Wear -- and a new iOS 8-friendly version of the app is also due to launch today. If you've invested in an Android smartwatch (you'll have to wait a little longer for an Apple Watch version), taking a note is as simple as uttering "OK Google, take a note" -- but be prepared for a few weird looks when you try this out in a store for the first time.
To take advantage of the voice-activated features of the app, you will also need to have the main OneNote app installed on your Android phone or tablet. Forget the fact that your smartwatch doesn't have a keyboard -- notes can now be dictated to your wrist in a way that will not in any way make people who may be nearby think you're a little, er, strange. Or, as the Office Blog puts it, "we hope you enjoy using OneNote in a manner even Dick Tracy would envy!"
I remember it like it was yesterday: when Lumia 1020 was unveiled, Microsoft and Nokia were very happy to announce that Flipboard would "soon" be coming to Windows Phone. That was in mid-July 2013. Fast forward to today and the app is still not available. "Soon" has a certain urgency to it, which, for some strange reason, always seems to be missing in its association with Windows Phone.
Microsoft and Nokia could have jumped the gun more than a year ago by touting that the app would arrive shortly after Lumia 1020's announcement, and Flipboard could have inadvertently delayed the launch since. No matter, "soon" sure ain't soon. Regardless, Flipboard is still on its way as its public listing on Windows Phone Store implies. This is one of the major missing titles; the sooner it is available the better for the platform.
Microsoft has its listening ears on these days. When it comes to Windows Phone, Xbox One, and Office, the company has been far more responsive to user feedback than ever before. For Windows users who found Windows 8.x to be a disappointment, this bodes well for the follow-up release. Windows 9 (we can drop the Threshold placeholder now, I think) is now not all that far away -- we could see a preview release in just a couple of weeks. Now that Apple's iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch announcements are out of the way, this is going to be the next big launch in the world of tech, and the computing world eagerly anticipates what the operating system may have to offer.
One of the biggest complaints people levelled at Windows 8.x -- and there have been many -- was the lack of Start menu. Sure, there's the Start screen, but for Windows stalwarts it's just not the same. These complaints do not necessarily stem from an unwillingness to try something new, more that the Start menu's successor seems less powerful, poorly thought through, and a road hump to established workflows. Rather than helping to improve production and efficiency, many users found that it actually slowed them down.
When Microsoft announced Lumia 830 earlier this month, it made no specific mention of the so-called "first affordable flagship" arriving in US stores. The price was also listed in Euros (€330, before taxes and subsidies) from the get-go, reinforcing the idea that, like many other Nokia-branded devices before it, Lumia 830 was destined for other markets.
However, that does not appear to be the case, as US mobile operator AT&T has revealed that it will offer Lumia 830. But it remains to be seen whether the new Windows Phone will also make its way to Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint.
A week ago, Norwegian browser maker Opera revealed that it will bring the popular Opera Mini to Windows Phone. Not long after, the app was made available as a private beta to a few lucky testers. Now though, everyone with a Windows Phone can check out Opera Mini.
Opera Mini is the first well-known third-party browser to be available on Windows Phone. This gives it the opportunity to quickly attract the attention of those looking for an alternative to Internet Explorer, which comes on board the tiled operating system. The latter, at least so far, has proved to be a reliable and, more recently, powerful option. So does Opera Mini have what it takes to steal users away from its Microsoft-made rival?
When it comes to major apps, Windows Phone is clearly starting to catch up with Android and iOS. But, even as it makes good progress, the tiled smartphone operating system continues to offer a restrictive selection of alternative browsers. This is one of the Store's few remaining major weak spots, alongside cloud services or popular game titles.
Internet Explorer may be good, but a little competition from a longtime established rival never hurts, especially from Norwegian browser maker Opera -- it will soon introduce Opera Mini on the platform, which will hopefully give Internet Explorer a run for its money.