MrSeb writes: "When Microsoft built Windows 8, it bet that it could create a Windows Store experience that would rival competitors like Apple and Google. The company was confident enough of its abilities in this sphere that it decided to lock Windows RT devices to purchases made within the Windows Store, and made WS-exclusive distribution a requirement for any Metro x86 products as well. ExtremeTech has been keeping an eye on the Windows Store since the OS launched — with the Christmas holidays upon us, and the two-month anniversary approaching, we’re circling back to investigate the status of the Store. The blunt truth is that two months after launch, the Windows Store is still in rough shape. Some of this is due to a relatively small app selection, but that’s an inevitable problem for any company that launches a service like this. While it’s true that Microsoft can’t wave its hand and create apps from companies like Twitter and Facebook, there are steps the company could take to improve the Windows Store and help customers navigate the often-confusing application situation."
MrSeb writes: "Way back in August, three months before the release of Windows 8, we learnt about the existence of a project at Microsoft codenamed Blue. At the time it wasn’t clear whether this was Windows 9, or some kind of interim update/service pack for Windows 8. Now, if unnamed sources are to be believed, Windows Blue is both of those things: a major update to Windows 8, and also the beginning of a major shift that will result in a major release of Windows every 12 months — just like Apple’s OS X. According to these insiders, Blue will roll out mid-2013, and will be very cheap — or possibly even free, to ensure that “Windows Blue the next OS that everyone installs.” Exact details are still rather vague, but at the very least Blue will make “UI changes” to Windows 8. The sources also indicate that the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 SDKs will be merged or standardized, to further simplify the development of cross-platform apps. Perhaps more important, though, is the shift to a 12-month release cadence. Historically, Microsoft has released a major version of Windows every few years, with the intervening periods populated with stability — and security-oriented service packs. Now it seems that Microsoft wants to move to an OS X-like system, where new and exciting features will be added on an annual basis. In turn, Microsoft will drop the price of these releases — probably to around $25, just like OS X."
MrSeb writes: "In an amusing twist that undoubtedly spells the end of some hapless manager’s career, Microsoft has accidentally gifted pirates with a free, fully-functioning Windows 8 license key. As you have probably surmised, this isn’t intentional — Microsoft hasn’t suddenly decided to give pirates an early Christmas present (though the $40 upgrade deal from Windows 8 Release Preview is something of a pirate amnesty). In fact, it’s probably just a case of poor testing and a rushed release by Microsoft. The bug involves the Key Management Service, which is part of Microsoft's Volume Licensing system. Pirates have already hacked the KMS to activate Windows 8 for 180 days — but this is just a partial activation. Now it turns out that the free Media Center Pack license keys that Microsoft is giving out until January 31 2013 can be used on a KMS-activated copy of Windows 8 to turn it into a fully licensed copy of Windows 8 Pro. The massive irony, of course, is that Microsoft originally intended to strip Media Center from Windows 8 Pro — and then, in the face of consumer backlash, decided to offer it as a free upgrade until January 31 2013. Presumably, instead of taking the time to deliver the upgrade properly, Microsoft pushed it out the door as quickly as possible — and this is the result."
MrSeb writes: "If, like me, you thought Microsoft would price Windows RT competitively, you were wrong: A leaked slide from Asus says that its Vivo Tab RT, due to be released alongside Windows RT at the end of October, will start at $600. Unbelievably, this is $100 more than the iPad 3, and a full $200 more than the iPad 2 or Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. For $600, you would expect some sensational hardware specs — but alas, that’s sadly not the case. The Vivo Tab RT has a low-res 10.1-inch 1366×768 IPS display, quad-core Tegra 3 SoC, 2GB of RAM, NFC, 8-megapixel camera and that’s about it. Like its Androidesque cousin, the Transformer, the Vivo Tab RT can be plugged into a keyboard/battery dock — but it’ll cost you another $200 for the pleasure. (Curiously, the Transformer’s docking station only costs $150 — go figure.) What could possibly be the reason for the Vivo Tab’s extortionate price tag? The Windows Tax, of course! Microsoft better have something other than a $100 Windows Tax up its sleeve if it wants to compete with the iPad and Android tablets..."
MrSeb writes: "In the last few months, two massive switch-ups have called the future of OEMs into question: First, Google bought Motorola — and second, come October 26, Microsoft will sell its first ever home-grown computer: The Surface tablet. The enormity of these two developments can’t be understated. For almost as long as Microsoft has existed, OEMs have ridden its coattails and made hundreds of billions of dollars in the process. Compaq and Dell both started their lives as producers of IBM PC clones, running MS-DOS. On the Android side of things, Samsung, a massive conglomerate with 340,000 employees, derives 60% of its earnings from its mobile division — which in turn stem from the Android-powered Galaxy smartphones. HTC, now one of the world’s largest smartphone makers, was virtually unheard of before Android. All told, there are hundreds of OEMs that owe their existence and well-being to Windows and Android. With Microsoft and Google getting into the hardware game, what are the long-term prospects for the OEMs? If the last few years have shown us anything it's that OEMs have tried to keep up with Apple, but they're simply not structured in a way that allows them to innovate at the same pace. If the Surface is a huge success, then Microsoft will rightfully plow a lot of resources into its successor. If Surface becomes the predominant PC platform, then why should Microsoft go out of its way to support the thousands of hardware and driver permutations employed by OEMs and DIY computer builders?"
MrSeb writes: "In the 21 years or so since its inception, Linux has gained some amazing enthusiast street cred, but failed time and again to enter the mainstream. This year, however, may afford it an opportunity it’s never had before: to gain the momentum necessary to join the big boys in the operating system world. If that happens, Linux devotees the world over — from users to developers to even Linus Torvalds himself — may have Microsoft and Windows 8 to thank. Now, obviously, the Year of Desktop Linux is one of the most oft-repeated memes — but really, we might be about to experience the perfect storm that will catapult Linux onto mass-market desktops. First, obviously, we have Gabe Newell's recent admission that — thanks to Windows 8 — Valve will be bringing Steam and Source to Linux. Blizzard, too, has remarked that it doesn't like Windows 8 either. And then there's the OEMs: with Microsoft wading into the hardware business itself, the OEMs must be very tempted to jump ship. Just two weeks ago, Dell announced that it would ship Ubuntu laptops again. If this is the beginning of a widescale exodus, and cheap commodity OEM Windows computers become a thing of the past, will Windows still be the predominant OS? Is this Linux's chance to shine? Is 2012 the Year of Desktop Linux (YODL)?"
MrSeb writes: "In what I believe to be the longest blog post ever posted on the web, Microsoft has detailed the extensive changes made to the Windows 8 graphics subsystem and DirectX 11.1. In short, everything in Windows 8 is hardware accelerated, and as a result its text, 2D, and 3D performance will blow Windows 7 away. DirectX 11.1 has also received a significant overhaul that should result in faster and more efficient games and applications. The bulk of the graphics changes in Windows 8 pertain to hardware acceleration for simple, typographically-rich Metro-style apps. In Windows 8, the rendering speed of text and simple shapes has been massively increased across the board: Title and heading text renders 336% faster than Windows 7; Lines render 184% faster; Rectangles render 438% faster; and so on and on. The rendering of JPEG, PNG, and GIF image files has also been improved in Windows 8, mostly by expanding SIMD usage. In one demo, Windows 8 decodes and renders 64 JPEGs in 4.38 seconds, while Windows 7 performs the same task in 7.28 seconds. Amongst a few changes to DirectX, the most significant feature in DX 11.1 is the new, simplified, unified Direct3D 11.1 API, which finally brings together the many API offshoots that MS has implemented in recent years."
MrSeb writes: "As far back as the late ’80s, Bill Gates has floated the idea of “Windows Everywhere.” The idea, as you can probably guess, is to put a Windows operating system on any and all devices with a CPU somewhere under the hood. At the New York PC Expo in 1997, on the back of Windows CE 1.0 — a cut-down ARM version of Windows for embedded devices — Steve Ballmer expounded on Gates’ Windows Everywhere vision, extolling the virtues of “softer software, the notion that software will adapt and shape and customize itself to you,” and a toolchain that would allow developers to run their Windows apps on any Windows computer. At the time, pundits and journalists laughed at the idea. Now, however, with news that Windows Phone 8 will use the Windows 8 NT kernel, the Windows Everywhere dream might just come true. With the flip of a switch, Windows 8 apps can be ported to Windows Phone 8. Full DirectX support in WP8 means that it'll be easy to port PC games to WP8, too. Finally, there's the tantalizing possibility that the Xbox 720 will also use the Windows 8 kernel, and thus a unified Windows Store across PC, phone, and console. Windows everywhere!"
MrSeb writes: "Good news: Last month’s unbelievable rumors that a Windows RT (Windows 8 ARM) licenses would cost OEMs $90-100 were off the mark — in actual fact, as confirmed by multiple vendors at Computex in Taiwan, the Windows RT license cost is only $80-95. At this point, we’re not entirely sure what Microsoft’s plan for Windows RT is. It would seem that Microsoft doesn’t want to flood the markets with cheap Windows RT tablets. At this rate, though, we would expect the cheapest Windows RT tablets to hit the market at around $600, with top-spec models (if they exist) in the $800-900 range — well above Android tablets or the iPad. We can only assume that Microsoft doesn’t want to go head-to-head with iOS and Android, instead trying to stake out a position at the top end of the market. Whether this is a good plan, with x86 tablets and their full 20-year PC ecosystem also vying for market share, remains to be seen."
MrSeb writes: "Late yesterday, Intel took to the stage at Computex in Taiwan and announced its next steps towards mobile domination. To help with the development of touch-enabled tablets and ultrabooks, Intel is investing in factories that specialize in 13-inch-and-larger touchscreens. At one point, Tom Kilroy, Intel’s vice president of sales and marketing, pulled back a curtain to reveal 50 new ultrabooks. The Big Reveal, though, is that there are 20 Atom-powered (Clover Trail) Windows 8 tablets in the works, many of which will be released in conjunction with Windows 8 this fall. On the other side of the fence, there is just one ARM-powered Windows 8 (RT) tablet at Computex: the 10.1-inch, Tegra 3-powered, dockable Asus 600. If you include a Windows RT prototype shown off by Toshiba and a Snapdragon S4-powered reference tablet from Qualcomm, that brings the total up to 3 ARM-powered Windows 8 tablets — a far cry from the huge number of product wins that Intel is touting. Where are the Windows ARM tablets? Where are the Samsung, Dell, and HP Windows RT devices? If they’re not showing off Windows RT tablets at Computex, then they’re probably waiting for CES — which isn’t until January 2013. By that point, Intel and its trusty OEMs will have enjoyed massive x86 tablet sales from Black Friday and Christmas. Does Windows RT stand a chance?"
MrSeb writes: "If you’ve ever looked at an Asus Transformer and wished that it was slightly bigger, had an x86 processor, and ran Windows, I have good news: At Computex in Taiwan, Asus has unveiled just that. Dubbed the Transformer Book, this isn’t some wimpy Atom-powered thing either: This Transformer will ship with a range of Ivy Bridge Core i3/5/7 processors and discrete Nvidia graphics. Like its Android-powered predecessors, the Transformer Book is a touchscreen tablet computer that plugs into keyboard docking station, effectively becoming a laptop (or ultrabook, if you prefer). Rounding out the specs, the Transformer Book will come in a range of models (11.6, 13, and 14 inches), your choice of SSD or HDD, up to 4GB of RAM. All three models will have an IPS display capable of full HD (1920×1080). There’s a webcam on the front of the tablet portion of the Transformer, and a 5-megapixel shooter on the back. There’s no mention of wireless connectivity, but presumably there’s Bluetooth and WiFi; on the wired side, there seems to be only a single micro-HDMI socket (on the tablet), and a USB socket (on the keyboard/dock). On the software side, the Transformer Book will of course run Windows 8. It all sounds great — but Asus kept one tiny tidbit out of its presentation: battery life."
MrSeb writes: "Microsoft has announced the immediate availability of Windows 8 Release Preview. Unfortunately there isn’t a Consumer Preview > Release Preview upgrade path — you’ll have to format and perform a clean installation. After downloading the ISO, simply burn Windows 8 RP onto a USB stick or DVD, reboot, and follow the (exceedingly quick and easy) installer. Alternatively, if you don’t want to format a partition, ExtremeTech has a guide on virtualizing Windows 8 with VirtualBox. After a lot of fluster on the Building Windows 8 blog, the Release Preview is actually surprisingly similar to the Consumer Preview. Despite being promised a new, flat, Desktop/Explorer UI, Aero is still the default theme in Windows 8 RP. The tutorial that will introduce new users to the brave new Start buttonless Windows 8 world is also missing. Major features that did make the cut are improved multi-monitor support — it’s now easier to hit the hot corners on a multi-monitor setup, and Metro apps can be moved between displays — and the Metro version of IE10 now has a built-in Flash plug-in. There will be no further pre-releases of Windows 8: the next build will be the RTM."
MrSeb writes: "Microsoft has announced that the Windows 8 Release Preview, which is due in early June, will thankfully feature a bunch of much-needed multi-monitor tweaks and fixes. First and foremost, in the Release Preview (and final version, presumably), every monitor now has “hot corners.” In Windows 8, the Start Screen, Charms bar, and Metro-style task switcher, are all activated by pushing your mouse into a corner of the screen — but on a multi-monitor setup, these hot corners only existed on the primary display. Additionally (and showing rather impressive foresight, given Microsoft’s heretofore Windows 8 interface snafu) the Release Preview will also introduce mini corners on shared edges. Now, where one monitor connects to another, there will be an actual, six-pixel-high corner that your mouse can butt up against. Finally, in the Release Preview, the Start Screen and Metro apps can now be moved between displays. Who knows, with these changes, the weird Desktop/Metro split in Windows 8 might just work."
MrSeb writes: "In a twist that's very reminiscent of Microsoft's naughty nineties, Mozilla has revealed that Windows RT — aka Windows 8 on ARM — will only support one web browser: Internet Explorer. While Firefox will technically be able to run in Metro mode on Windows RT, it will be so crippled as to be unusable; in "classic," Desktop mode, third-party browsers such as Firefox won't be allowed to run at all. This restriction seems to stem from Microsoft locking down some vital APIs in Windows RT, so that it's impossible to build a browser that competes with Internet Explorer. At first blush this sounds like a classic ploy to stymy the opposition and regain market share — and for all I know, maybe it is — but there are also a few logical reasons for Microsoft's decision. From the get-go, Microsoft has been leery of developers porting x86 code to ARM, in case these ported apps don't have the efficiency and stability that a low-power (and battery-powered) ARM tablet requires. It's for this reason that Microsoft didn't offer some kind of OS- or hardware-level x86>ARM translation. For users, however, the implications are extensive: Windows RT won't have browser add-ons, or web apps, or the ability to use WebGL sites. In the long term, if Windows on ARM is a big success, we could even return to the mid-'90s digital dark age, where more than 90% of web surfers used Internet Explorer — a fate worse than death itself."