Windows 9 leak: New Start menu

The latest Windows 9 leaks, showing a Start-menu fusion of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, beg the question: Microsoft, why are you scooping ice cream over a hot dog?

On the surface, there’s really no reason for the straightforward, icon-driven approach of the Windows-7-like lefthand menu bar to coexist with the Windows-8.1-like, brightly colored tiles arrayed to the right of it. And we hardly pay attention to Live Tiles anyway: A typical Windows 8.1 user bounces to the Start page for a split second to launch an app, and that’s it. There’s not enough time for the user’s eyes to track the information Microsoft could be showing you via its Live Tiles before you’re off in your new app.

More of the same…or not, But yes, there is a reason that Microsoft may be trying to combine the two: because the icons represented in the screenshots are true Live Tiles.

That’s not always the case. So many tiles on a typical Windows 8.1 Start page simply show a static application icon, such as launch buttons for OneNote, or PowerPoint, or Adobe Reader. Many users undoubtedly still wonder what the point of all those massive icons floating in space actually are, and many wondered how to get rid of them when they appeared in Windows 8.

But in the screenshot of the leaked menu, the righthand Tiles should actually dosomething. If a user establishes an Outlook.com account, it’s a sure bet that the Mail tile will flip up to reveal new email. Or the News tile will deliver the headlines. Or Calendar will highlight a user’s upcoming appointments. (Yes, a user could also use them as easily navigable shortcuts to favorite apps, but that’s kind of a waste of space, no?)

So it’s going to be up to both Microsoft and the user to manage those tiles effectively.

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How long does anyone actually spend on the Windows 8.1 Start page, anyway?

From a marketing perspective, however, we’re stuck in the same quandary as before: if Microsoft leaves the Live Tiles there, the same users who were turned off by Windows 8 may not return. And if they hide them entirely, then Microsoft tacitly acknowledges that the Windows 8 design schema was a mistake.

That’s the tough choice I’d make. I don’t advocate eliminating the Live Tiles of Windows 8 entirely, but I’d leave them as an option for power users. Then I’d either replace the Charms bar with one that exposes a row of these tiles, or else replace them with a series of small, popup notifications.

Microsoft undoubtedly has its own design goals in mind, but it’s not too late for a little feedback. How say you, users?

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Windows 9 technical preview

Windows 9 Threshold Start menu crop

Windows 8 was supposed to finally unify the computing experience, bringing tablets and PCs together with Microsoft’s modern UI at its core. To say that hasn’t worked out would be a grotesque understatement. Consumers by and large have either avoided Windows 8 or managed to put up with its tablet-oriented feature set while grumbling to anyone who will listen. In response, Microsoft is accelerating its release cycle, and sources now say the first technical preview of Windows 9 (codenamed Threshold) will be out in late September or early October.

Threshold is going to be the logical continuation of changes the company started to make in Windows 8.1. Microsoft is rolling back the clear tablet focus for desktop users while maintaining usability on tablets in hopes Windows slates will finally catch on. One of the most complained about features in Windows 8 is the full screen start menu with big finger-friendly tiles. It matches Windows Phone and Xbox, but it makes no sense on a PC. Threshold will likely signal the return of the desktop start menu, but it will have a metro flair with smaller live tiles and smarter search. The 8.1 update added the visible start button back to the taskbar, so Windows 9 is just finishing the job.

Microsoft’s updated design aesthetic was carried through into apps built to work on Windows 8. These full screen apps were originally called “Metro,” and that will probably always be the most common name for the design style no matter how much Microsoft tries to distance itself from the term. Windows 8.1 added the ability to run metro apps in split screen mode with a maximum of three of four (depending on screen resolution), but Threshold will make metro apps fully resizable in traditional floating windows. The OS is still called Windows, after all.

Start Screen

Whether or not you use Metro-style apps on Windows 8, there’s always that strange Charms bar hiding on the side of the screen. You access it on tablets with an edge gesture, or by mousing to the corner on a regular PC. Threshold will allegedly kill that UI element, which really only served to hide common features in an unusual and not very discoverable place. That’s a lot of do-overs, but what about new stuff? Based on the information so far, Microsoft’s big new feature will be integration with Cortana, the voice assistant from Windows Phone. Windows 9 could also sport multiple virtual desktops. What do you do when desktop users aren’t happy? Give them more desktops.

The first technical preview might not show off all these changes, especially the much anticipated interface stuff. As a technical preview, it’s mainly intended to give developers a head start in ensuring software compatibility, so don’t expect a huge departure from Windows 8 just yet. Remember, the first developer builds of Windows 8 still had the translucent Aero UI. Despite the developer slant, Microsoft might still allow anyone to grab the first version of Threshold and take it for a spin.

You’ll probably want to wait at least until the consumer preview of Windows 9 to leave Windows 8 in the dust. Judging from Microsoft’s quicker update cycle, a consumer preview should be out around the end of 2014 with most of the final feature set in place. Windows 9 is expected to ship in Spring 2015, and only then will we see how successfully Microsoft has responded to customer complaints.

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What Windows 9 Must Do To Avoid Flopping Like Windows 8

 

windows-9How-much-to-upgrade-to-Windows-8

Windows 8 is a flop. It is a painful thing to say about one of the most ambitious operating systems ever released, but the stats don’t lie. It has taken half the OS market share Windows 7 did in its first 12 months (10% vs. 20%) and now the adoption rate is so slow it is barely gaining on its 4 ½ year old predecessor. Finally Microsoft MSFT -0.24% has had enough.

Windows 9 will be formally announced at Build, Microsoft’s annual developer event in April. If true this is an extraordinarily short gap for the company to jump between Windows versions and it is thought Windows 9 will formally go on sale in early 2015 as part of the ‘Threshold’ wave of updates it will apply to its Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox OSes.

But if Windows 9 is to avoid the pitfalls of Windows 8 it is going to have to make some major changes. These are my suggestions, and I welcome yours in the comments.

In merging the traditional Windows desktop with a finger-friendly touchscreen interface Windows 8 broke new ground, but the implementation was jarring. Speculation is Microsoft may formally split the platform into formal desktop and Windows RT only versions, but that would be a backwards step.

Instead the two need better integration. Syncing wallpapers between both was a step in the right direction, but the touch UI should have a transparent background to feel more like a flyover to the desktop and therefore never disorientating the user. It also needs to enable apps to operate on the desktop (not in a split window) to encourage greater use and spur on developers.

The advances Windows 8 made in touch usability were negated by the ropey keyboard and mouse integration as Microsoft threw out the baby with the bathwater. Catering for new laptop and tablet form factors is well and good, but forgetting (or ignoring) 99 per cent of the market using traditional laptops and desktops was foolish. A new, universally accessible control method for Windows 9 is a priority – particularly for touchpads where compensatory gestures have become horribly fragmented between PC makers.

Ever since the iPhone ‘Retina Display’ ultra-high resolutions have been all the rage – first in phones, then tablets, now in laptops and desktops. Windows 8 coders failed to address this and the increasingly wide array of high resolution laptops and 4k monitors result in a ludicrous Windows 8 desktop experience. Websites and text have to be blown up around 200% while menus, tabs and other crucial parts of the user interface shrink becoming microscopic (above Windows 8 on a 3200 x 1800 pixel display).

The flaw is a lack of scaling, something Mac OS X wasn’t immune to when Apple AAPL -4.22% launched Retina Display MacBook Pros but it still works better than Windows 8. The trouble is not only does the Windows 9 desktop need to scale, but it needs to introduce upscaling for legacy software to also make these programmes useable. A huge, but essential task.

Corners’ were introduced in Windows 8 to bring some of the touch navigation gestures to keyboards and mice, but they are horrible. Hot Corners are activated when a mouse pointer ventures near the top left, top right and bottom right corners of the screen or when the pointer gets to the bottom left corner then moves vertically.

Needless to say these areas of the screen are regularly visited by the cursor in normal use when looking to open, close, minimise or maximum windows and programmes. This causes endless frustration as users looking to manipulate windows are dragged off into touch gesture shortcuts and users looking for touch gesture shortcuts end up accidentally manipulating windows (image right – cursor over the close window option brings up the ‘Charms Bar’). At the very least there needs to be an option to disable Hot Corners, if not redesigning them completely.

For Windows users part of the appeal is it is not Mac OS. That is Windows brings greater freedom to pick, choose and customise itself using the software you want in the manner you want. Windows 8 veers dangerously away from this imposing Windows Live accounts on all users, SkyDrive for backups, Bing for search and more. It is time Windows remembered where its appeal comes from in the first place.

Microsoft may have thought it was leaping ahead of the pack with its revolutionary Windows 8 UI but, in truth, both Apple and Google GOOG +0.18% better integrate their distinct mobile and desktop platforms. With Windows Phone 8.1 lifting the lid on hardware restrictions and the Xbox One launching with bags of unfulfilled potential Microsoft needs far better communication between these powerful platforms.

This means synchronised media content, app purchases, remote control and ifSony can make PlayStation 4 content run on the Vita, Microsoft should be able to bring Xbox One gaming to Windows Phones and Windows 9 PCs and tablets. No company has Microsoft’s breadth of platforms, it needs to start capitalising on that.

While it has not met commercial expectations, the good news for Microsoft is Windows 8 has already done much of the heavy lifting for Windows 9. It is fast, efficient, stable and has excellent inbuilt security. With this foundation the list above feels far from wishful thinking and Microsoft should be looking to implement them all and much more.

Outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously said Microsoft “bet the company” on Windows 8. It didn’t. With its vast wealth Microsoft took a calculated but affordable gamble. This time things are different. Windows 9 is not coming off the goodwill of a respected predecessor, PC and laptop sales are collapsing against the threat of tablets, Apple is edging ever closer to Mac OS XI and Google is starting to gain momentum in the desktop and laptop space with Chrome OS and Android – both of which are expected to unify during Windows 9’s lifetime.

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‘Unofficial’ Windows XP SP4 Launched. Microsoft OS Lives On

 Windows XP SP4

Despite having been discarded by Microsoft MSFT -0.24% in April, the 12 year old OS just received Service Pack 4.

Needless to say this isn’t Microsoft demonstrating yet another generous act of utter stupidity, but the work of its diehard fanbase. Dubbed the ‘Unofficial Service Pack 4’, credit goes to Greece-based developer harkaz who started the project back in September 2013. The third beta has already been launched and, in true Microsoft fashion, a Release Candidate (RC) will be ready soon.

“Many users  who won’t be able to upgrade their old machines to a newer OS would like to easily install all Windows updates in one convenient package.

“Windows XP Unofficial SP4 ENU is a cumulative update rollup for Windows XP (x86) English,”. “It can be applied to a live Windows XP system which has SP1, at minimum, installed or it can be slipstreamed (integrated) in any Windows XP installation media.”

Harkaz breaks down Unofficial SP4 stating that it includes ‘ updates for most Windows XP components’, including:

MCE and Tablet PC
Request-only hotfixes
Microsoft .NET Frameworks 4.0, 3.5, 1.1 and 1.0 (Tablet PC only)
Integrated POSReady security updates

The POSReady security hack was announced in May and it takes advantage of a Microsoft loophole that provides security support for ‘Windows Embedded POSReady’ (now called ‘Windows Embedded Industry’) which will last until 2019. Emdedded Industry is a b2b-focused variant of Windows XP running Service Pack 3.

How it works is the POSReady hack tricks Microsoft servers into thinking consumer versions of Windows XP are in fact Embedded Industry and therefore supplying them with security updates. Rightfully critics have noted that the two OSes are not identical which could cause problems, but it has proved a fruitful route so far. The hack was fairly simple, but automating it within a wider update will appeal to many.

Needless to say caveats apply if you are going to consider installing Unofficial SP4, many of which are stated by harkaz. The main one of which is to obtain the downloads from the developer’s posts on RyanVM as there are numerous malware and virus infected fake SP4 patches floating around.

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The official Microsoft Windows XP countdown clock has expired

I would also add that in installing any Windows patch not verified by Microsoft is a risk, though in this case the lack of future security patches for Windows XP means running the OS is already a big risk in itself. Furthermore – with a reported 25% of all PCs still running Windows XP – this is a risk which is only going to get worse.

All of this is a potential PR disaster for Microsoft. I personally believe the company has every right to end support for an operating system after providing it for free for 12 years and providing years of warning, but reports of Windows XP mass hacks and customers suffering poses a real problem. Furthermore with Windows 8 failing to take off and Windows 7 Mainstream Support ending in January Microsoft is fast becoming cornered.

The only card the company has to play is Windows 9. It will have to be incredibly lean to have any chance of running on Windows XP computers, but more than that it will need to be a compelling, crowd pleasing and affordable operating system in its own right.

The first public beta of Windows 9 is expected to arrive on 30 September. No pressure Microsoft…

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Oops! Microsoft accidentally teases Windows 9 ‘coming soon’ on social media

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Microsoft’s internal censors seem to be sleeping on the job this year. In June, the Surface Pro 3 manual included several references to a small-screen Surface Mini despite the fact that a small-screen Surface Mini was never actually released. And now, as rumors of Windows 9 swirl, Microsoft China appears to have confirmed the impending reveal.

Posting to Weibo—a Chinese social media site—Microsoft China posed its followers a question: “Microsoft’s latest OS Windows 9 is coming soon, do you think the start menu at the left bottom will make a comeback?” 

Oops. And not just because Microsoft has already announced the return of the Start menu.

The post was accompanied by a screenshot of a Windows 9 logo mock-up by Shy Designs. Microsoft China appears to have quickly realized the error of its ways, as the Weibo message has since been removed, though not before Cnbeta noticed and first reported it.

Several reports from oft-reliable sources say Microsoft is prepared to announce Windows 9 in “technical preview” form at the end of September or early in October, just before Windows 7 PCs disappear from store shelves, though Microsoft itself has yet to confirm it. Leaks suggest Windows 9 will better let a PC be a PC and a tablet be a tablet, bringing several mouse-friendly changes to the desktop and possibly killing the desktop completely in tablets and phones powered by mobile ARM processors.

If Windows 9 is indeed incoming—and Microsoft China’s slip-up suggests it is—we have some suggestions for features we’d want to see. But one of the most crucial improvements Microsoft needs to make ASAP has nothing to do with the core operating system itself: The company needs to clean up the Windows Store pronto if it ever hopes to make Metro apps viable on the desktop. Fortunately, Microsoft’s already taking its first tentative steps towards fixing the mess.

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Windows 9 news recap: Modern UI 2.0, Tech Preview to be updated frequently, and more

startmenuwindows9_r1_c1_0[1]_0

It’s been a busy week here at WinBeta with lots and lots of Windows Threshold news breaking ground. We learned about an updated Modern UI, a new rapid release cycle for the preview, when the preview will launch and what it will be called.

On Monday, WinBeta exclusively revealed new changes and features coming to the Modern UI-side of Windows Threshold. These new changes include brand new interactive live tiles, a notification center which is familiar to that on Windows Phone and live folders which are also similar to its Windows Phone counterpart. These new changes won’t be seen in the upcoming preview in September, however they’ll be available in a second preview coming later.

Speaking about the second preview, it was revealed this week that Windows Threshold would see an ARM specific preview launch in the beginning of 2015, which will include all the new updated Modern UI features and functionality. This preview will run on ARM devices like the Surface (RT) and Surface 2 (and Surface 3 if Microsoft release a new Surface in October). It will also run on phones, too.

This second preview won’t be months newer than the first preview, as it was revealed recently that Windows Threshold has a new built-in functionality which allows the operating system to upgrade builds without the need to reinstall the operating system. We revealed that Microsoft aims to update the Threshold Preview with new builds twice (or more) times a month, meaning by the time the second preview for ARM launches, any under the hood changes made in that second preview should be available as an update in the first preview too. Both previews should be up-to-date by the time the second preview is launched.

This week we also learned about the previews name, being “Windows Technical Preview for Enterprise”. This name obviously means the upcoming preview is to show businesses that Windows is still a viable option, with the new Start Menu and windowed-apps, along with virtual desktops and other desktop-focused features. The preview is said to be coming this September 30th, if not on that precise date, it’ll definitely launch sometime around then.

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Will Windows 9 go free to tempt us into an upgrade?

windows-9-design-concept

Windows 9 news is coming at a faster clip now that we’re drawing closer to its likely September 30 debut, and the latest concerns the new OS’s price.

According to Russian leaker  Microsoft is planning some nice incentives to get folks to upgrade to Windows 9.

For Windows 8.1 users who want to make the jump, Windows 9 will either come free or be available through a special offer. We’d put our money on it going the free route since Windows 8.1 arrived at no charge for Windows 8 users.

If you bought a retail or OEM flavor of the Windows 8, Microsoft will apparently throw you a Windows 9 upgrade for around $20 (about £12, AU$21).

Finally, since Windows XP holdouts are still numbering more than Microsoft would like, despite the company ending support earlier this year, the firm is said to be planning an “awesome” incentive to get XP users to cave in to Windows 9.

According to the Russian crew the enterprise version of Windows 9 will leave the Metro interface at the door. Microsoft won’t release a test version of Windows 9 Pro OEM, though there is a Windows 9 Enterprise technical preview out in the wild, apparently.

Despite many calling the death of Windows RT all but complete, Microsoft apparently isn’t ready to give up on its much-maligned OS. Instead, the firm is prepping Windows 9 RT and in fact already has a test build made. As you might expect, Windows 9 RT will arrive on the unannounced Surface 3.

There were also a few rumored Windows 9 features to be had as well. The system will support 3D-mode Ultra HD TVs and allow for cloud data back-up and restoration. Last but not least, Microsoft is said to be creating a feature for virtualizing physical system backups in the cloud. Sounds pretty nifty

.Windows-9

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