Friday, 2 May 2014

Microsoft reaches RTM milestone for Windows 8.1 update

Computerworld - Microsoft has reached a critical milestone for its next update to Windows 8, which is slated to ship early next month, according to reports.

Although the Redmond, Wash. company has not publicly announced that Windows 8.1 Update 1 has reached "released to manufacturing" (RTM), a term Microsoft uses to define code that's completed and ready to ship to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) for installing on new devices, reports on The Verge and ZDNet this week claimed that the developers had given the operating system refresh the green light.

Those reports were at least partly based on one by notorious Russian leaker Wzor, who regularly gets ahold of early builds of Windows, including those destined for OEMs and other Microsoft partners. Wzor claimed that the RTM build had been compiled on Feb. 21, and was signed off Feb. 26.

According to Wzor and others, Microsoft will post Windows 8.1 Update 1 -- not an official title, as Microsoft has yet to disclose one -- on April 1 or April 2 on MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network), a subscription service where developers can obtain copies of Microsoft's software. The public release, said Wzor, is slated for April 7 or April 8.

April 2 is the more likely MSDN release date, as that's the opening day of Build, Microsoft's developer conference, in San Francisco. Likewise, April 8 is the likelier for the public launch, since that's the month's already-scheduled Patch Tuesday, when Microsoft ships its collection of security updates.

Microsoft has already disclosed some of the changes to debut in Windows 8.1 Update 1, including a general focus on making "the UI more familiar and more convenient for users with mouse/keyboard," as Joe Belfiore, the executive in charge of Windows Phone's and Windows 8's user experiences, put it a week ago.

But the company has not confirmed one change that could have the biggest, and longest-lasting, impact: A default switch to the boot-to-desktop option setting on non-touch hardware.

Some analysts have interpreted that as a major retreat from the "make-them-eat-Metro" strategy Microsoft applied to the original Windows 8 and the free follow-up of Windows 8.1, which launched last October. Both required users of the OS to pass through the Start screen and its colorful tile-based "Metro" user interface (UI); Windows 8.1 included the boot-to-desktop setting, but left it switched off.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 will retune the OS's hardware requirements. According to Belfiore, the update will run on devices with as little as 1GB of RAM and 16GB of flash memory storage space, a necessary change if the operating system is to become popular on the lowest-priced tablets or possibly on ultra-cheap notebooks.

Chromebooks, the inexpensive laptops powered by Google's browser-based Chrome OS, typically have as little as 2GB of RAM and sport 16GB of on-board storage. Microsoft has targeted Chromebooks in some of its "Scroogled" anti-Google advertisements, and while the notebook have sold only in small volumes so far, seem to have generated concern in Redmond. Few Chromebooks boast a touch-sensitive screen.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 will reportedly be delivered to users of Windows 8.1 via Windows Update, the consumer-level update service, and WSUS (Windows Server Update Services), the de facto corporate patching and update software, not through the Windows Store, as was Windows 8.1.

If Microsoft does release Windows 8.1 Update 1 on April 8, it will represent an explicit changing of the guard, as that date is when Microsoft will also ship its final public patches for the aged Windows XP, an operating system that the company has gone to great lengths to eradicate, so far with little success.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter@gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is

Read more about Operating Systems in Computerworld's Operating Systems Topic Center.

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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Microsoft finally rolls out integration to all users

IDG News Service - After testing a preview version of the integration for almost a year in some markets, Microsoft has now made it generally available to all users.

The link lets users of the webmail service communicate with their Skype contacts via video and audio calls from within their email interface.

Microsoft made available a preview version of the integration in hand-picked markets starting in April of last year and at the time promised the worldwide availability of Skype for for the summer of 2013, so the integration is arriving with a significant delay.

To tie and Skype together, users need to merge their Microsoft and Skype accounts and install a browser plug-in that works with Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

"With Skype for, you can easily connect with your Skype friends right from your inbox, so you can go from chat or email to a video call with just one click," wrote Microsoft official Karen Tong in a blog post on Tuesday.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

OS upgrades: Cheap is better than pricey, free is better than cheap

Computerworld - The cheaper, the better.

Lowering the price of an operating system upgrade accelerates its uptake five-fold, but setting an upgrade free stomps on that pedal, boosting uptake as much as 12 times, data from an analytics company shows.

Microsoft has likely run those numbers too, and internally may be making the case that it's better to expand Windows-for-free to all upgrades, not just the more minor updates like Windows 8.1. (Don't let Microsoft catch you calling Windows 8.1 an "upgrade;" to them, it's an "update," and for financial reasons, even though it is free.)

The numbers game is admittedly a bit iffy, since it's comparing, well, apples and oranges, necessitated by comparing upgrades within Apple OS X world to those of Microsoft's Windows. But the results seem clear: cheap is better than pricey, free is better than cheap.

Free trumps all, in other words. Or as Apple's Craig Federighi, who leads software development at the Cupertino, Calif. company, put it last October: "Free is good."

Last month, OS X 10.9, aka Mavericks, accounted for 59% of all Macs running it and its two precursors, Mountain Lion and Lion, an increase of 4 percentage points from January, said California-based Net Applications.

(Unlike others, Computerworld stopped the in-Mac comparison at OS X 10.7, aka Lion, because Snow Leopard, or 10.6, has been nearly unaffected by the draw of the free Mavericks.)

Apple dropped the price of Mavericks to zero, giving it away to most, although not all, of its customers running Mountain Lion, Lion and even 2009's Snow Leopard. On the other hand, Mountain Lion, which came out in mid-2012, carried a price tag of $19.99, a third less than 2011's Lion.

That $20 price cut drove Mavericks adoption at a much faster pace, according to Net Applications' statistics, with Mavericks' user share -- a rough measurement of the percentage of the world's personal computers running a specific operating system -- 1.8 to 3.2 times higher in any given month than its predecessor, Mountain Lion, at the same point in its post-release life.

On average, over six months, Mavericks' share of it and its two precursors was 2.1 times higher than Mountain Lion's share of it and its two ancestors.

That's the power of free since, frankly, there's not a tremendous difference between Mavericks and Mountain Lion, which is Apple's doing and by design, as it creates evolutionary -- many say "minor" -- iterations.

Free has also accelerated Windows adoption, with Microsoft for the first time offering something more than a collection of fixes -- in its terminology, a "service pack" -- for a zero price.

When Windows 8.1 (free) was compared to Windows 8 (not free), the former clearly had a faster uptake pace. Last month, 40% of PCs running Windows 8.1 and its predecessor, Windows 8, ran the former, an increase of about 3 percentage points from the month prior.

Over the last six months, the no-cost Windows 8.1's share of the combined user share of it and Windows 8 was 7 to 20 times higher than that of Windows 8's share of it and Windows 7 at the same point in Windows 8's post-launch timeline.

On average over those six months, Windows 8.1's share of it and its precursor was 11.7 times higher than Windows 8's share of it and its ancestor.

(Microsoft charged $39.99 for a from-Windows-7-to-Windows 8 upgrade for several months; Windows 8.1 was free to anyone running Windows 8.)

Again, the power of free.

The same advantage held for lower-priced upgrades over those that cost more, although the edge to the former was not as dramatic.

OS upgrade uptake Free operating system upgrades outperformed paid on both Windows and OS X in adoption rates, and less-expensive upgrades, like the $20 Mountain Lion, got a larger percentage of customers to move up than did pricier offerings like Windows 8. (Data: Net Applications.)How Cloud Communications Reduce Costs and Increase ProductivitySmall and midsize businesses are moving to the cloud to host their communications capabilities. Learn how enterprise-quality phone benefits, online management, conferencing, auto attendant, and ease of use are built into a system that is half the cost of a PBX.

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