What Windows 9 Must Do To Avoid Flopping Like 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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Simple Hack Gives Windows XP Users 5 More Years Of Support


Forget Wolverine, clearly there is nothing more difficult to kill than Windows XP . Having finally ditched support for the 12 year old operating system in April, Microsoft MSFT -0.24% performed an arguably foolish U-turn just three weeks later when a massive Internet Explorer flaw blew holes through every version of Windows. And now it seems users will be able to get five more years of Windows XP support .
No Microsoft hasn’t changed its mind yet again. Instead the life extension comes courtesy of a simple hack spotted by computer tech support. The workaround exploits Microsoft’s continued support of ‘Windows Embedded Industry’ (previously ‘Windows Embedded POSReady’) which will last until 2019. Embedded Industry is designed for use in industry devices across retail, manufacturing, healthcare and – you guessed it – the operating system is based on Windows XP Service Pack 3.

Consequently the security updates that continue to be released for Windows Embedded Industry are essentially the same as what Microsoft would have released for Windows XP, had support continued. Now with a simple hack you can trick Windows Update into thinking Windows XP is Windows Embedded Industry.

This is how you do it:

1. Create a text document, and call it XP.reg. Be sure that the ending is ‘.reg’ not ‘XP.reg.txt.’ (check this in Windows Explorer by going to Tools > Folder Options > View and check ‘Show hidden files and folders’)

2. Right click the file, select ‘Edit’ and type in:

3. Save it and double click the file twice with the left mouse button which will add it to the registry.

You’re done. Windows XP will now tell Microsoft Update it is Windows Embedded Industry and automatically download and install security updates as they are released. The snag is this hack only works for Windows XP 32bit because Windows XP 64bit is based on Windows Server 2003. There is a more complex workaround for that which can be found here.

Now come the caveats. Firstly the updates are designed for Windows Embedded Industry not Windows XP and while that should not matter, it is possible there may be some compatibility issues. Secondly – and most importantly – it is impossible to say whether these hacks will keep working until support ends for Windows Embedded Industry in 2019 or if Microsoft will close this loophole.

The optimistic viewpoint is Windows XP’s end of life status should mean it receives no future software updates so Microsoft would have to make another U-turn to close the loophole.

The cynical viewpoint is Microsoft would prefer users to move to a newer operating system so closing the loophole would be in its interest. This is a fair point given the age of Windows XP, but countered by the fact 1-in-4 PCs still use it. Microsoft also hasn’t helped its case after releasing misleading data earlier this month suggesting Windows XP is safer than Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Either way Microsoft is left in a tricky situation. Following the controversial ‘Update 1’ patch Windows 8.1 is actually a very good operating system, but its reputation is irreparably damaged.

Furthermore, while it is fair to stop providing a free warranty service for a 12 year old OS, Microsoft is offering military and government organisations a paid service to keep their Windows XP computers safe as part of a scheme dubbed ‘Clandestine Fox ’. Surely this should also be a paid option for users who wish to stay safe, but can’t afford new hardware or fear the leap to a free Linux alternative like Ubuntu.

Yes Windows XP has arguably been Microsoft’s greatest success, but its troubled legacy is fast becoming the company’s Achilles Heel .

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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.

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


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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Parallels Desktop 10: A Smoother Way to Run Windows on Your Mac

But among techies, there was a gleeful realization: “Hey,” they said, “if a Mac has an Intel chip inside, we could hack it to run Windows!

And who would want to do that? Really, four categories of people:

1. Fans of programs like Quicken, QuickBooks, and Microsoft Office, which are far more polished and rich in their Windows versions.

2. People who use programs that don’t exist at all in Mac versions, like Internet Explorer, AutoCAD, SAP (corporate resource planning), Epic (medical records), and custom corporate apps.

3. People who write webpages and software, so they can test their work in several operating systems on a single laptop.

4. People switching from Windows to Mac who want a safety net — the ability to hop back into Windows when necessary.

So sure enough: For about a month, instructions for installing Windows onto a Mac circulated online like a secret recipe. Then Apple introduced Boot Camp: an authorized way to install Windows on a Mac. Unfortunately, Boot Camp lets you run either Windows or Mac OS X, not both at the same time — and you have to restart the computer to go back and forth.

There was soon yet another option: virtualization programs, like Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. These programs let you run Windows in a window, floating there on your Mac screen. You can run both operating systems simultaneously, and even copy and paste between them. Insane!


Incidentally, these programs don’t just let you run Windows on your Mac. They create “virtual machines” (software versions of entire computers) — and all operating systems are welcome. So you can have Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Linux, Google Chrome OS, and even another copy of Mac OS X, all in separate windows — all on top of OS X Mavericks (or whatever your Mac usually uses).

Parallels windows for Windows and Chrome

Parallels 10
This week, Parallels Desktop 10 for Mac arrived ($80, or $50 to upgrade); it has come a long, long way. Not a long way since version 9 — the improvements, though welcome, aren’t brain-fryingly significant — but version 10 is infinitely easier to set up and use than the Parallels of old.

The biggest change is the look: Parallels has been remade to fit in well with OS X Yosemite, the Mac operating system version coming out this fall. Which itself looks like the latest iPhone operating system. Icons and graphics look “flat” and untextured.

Parallels Desktop Control Center

Bring your own
Parallels and Fusion don’t include a copy of Windows, Linux, or OS X; you have to supply that yourself. But Parallels 10 makes it easier to get started.

As before, you can connect to an actual Windows PC and slurp in its copy of Windows. But you can now double-click an .ISO file (a disk image) of Windows to create your simulated PC. You can also, from within the setup screen, download a 90-day free trial of Windows, which is handy.

Parallels Wizard screenshot

If your goal is to set up another Mac in a window, you can install OS X from the copy that’s nestled at this moment on every Mac’s secret recovery partition — a handy trick that spares you from having to download a 4-gigabyte file from Apple’s App Store.

Once you’re into your “Windows PC,” you discover that things like your time, date format, language, and other regional settings have been thoughtfully passed along to Windows.

If you’re using Parallels at all, then presumably you’re a Mac fan. On that premise, Parallels Inc. has designed version 10 to simulate and integrate with the Mac even more than ever.

Your various simulated computers, Mac, Windows, and others, show up as icons wherever fine Mac programs’ icons appear, like the Dock and the App Switcher — and so do the open apps in those virtual machines.

Windows 8 icon in Mac Dock

Windows apps show up in your Mac’s Launchpad, too.

The little red “unread mail” counter, usually seen only on Mac email programs’ icons, now appears on the icon of Outlook (for Windows).

And when you’re using a Windows program, you can even access the Mac’s Share menu, for easy sending of text or graphics by email, text message, AirDrop (wireless Mac-to-Mac sharing), and so on.

Online drives that you’ve signed up for using your Mac — Dropbox, Google Drive, and, soon, Apple’s own iCloud Drive — magically show up when you’re saving a file from within a Windows program, too.

If you upgrade your Mac to Yosemite this fall, you’ll find that Parallels has been waiting for the chance to participate. For example, you can right-click a phone number in Internet Explorer to place a call on your iPhone. And you’ll be able to add a Parallels panel to Yosemite’s new, expandable Notification panel.

Parallels Desktop in Notification panel

These are all just grace notes, of course — nips and tucks that, alone, might not merit the $50 upgrade from version 9. But there’s another category of improvement to consider: speed.

It’s always been astonishing that it’s faster to start up a Parallels PC than a real one. On my MacBook Air, I’m up and running in Windows six seconds after I double-click the Parallels icon.

In Parallels 10, you can specify what you’re using Windows for — Productivity apps, Games, Design, or Software Development — and the program automatically adjusts its settings for maximum speed.

The company says Microsoft Office documents open in half the time now, that Parallels hits your laptop battery 30 percent less, and that each of your simulated computers eats up 10 percent less memory. All of that is hard to measure, but overall Parallels certainly feels snappy, especially once it’s running. However, if it’s a 3D Windows game you want to play, you’ll get a few more miles per hour restarting your Mac into Boot Camp.

Virtual machines eat up a lot of memory and disk space. If you have a limited-space drive (like the solid-state drives on Mac laptops), that’s a painful sacrifice. At the moment, my Windows 8.1 “PC” eats up 23 gigabytes, and my Yosemite Public Beta “Mac” consumes 20.

In Parallels 10, at least, the program is always on the alert for ways to return unused disk space to your Mac; that space reclamation is automatic, rather than a manual operation you have to remember to do.

The balance sheet
With version 10, Parallels leaps past its archrival, VMWare Fusion 6, especially in Yosemite features.

But Fusion is less expensive ($60 instead of $80), especially if you intend to install it on multiple Macs. You’re allowed to install Fusion on multiple Macs for the same price — but you have to buy another copy of Parallels for each Mac, although additional copies are discounted. (Two copies cost $120, for example.)

There is also, by the way, an Enterprise version of Parallels, with bulk discounts and a million special features for system administrators.

The software design of Parallels is terrific, with only one exception: When you click the name of a virtual machine at this screen —

Parallels Desktop Control Center

— it should simply pop open. Instead, if you “suspended” (put to sleep) that operating system instead of shutting it down, you get an intermediary window that says “Click to resume.” Seems pretty clear that if you clicked the machine’s name, you intended to resume it.

Otherwise, though, Parallels 10 is smooth, solid, and surprisingly fast. If you can stomach the memory and disk space it eats up, you’ll be impressed at how well it works — and how liberating it can be to have a whole bunch of computers on your Mac.

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


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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There’s a lot of speculation that Microsoft will change how Windows is sold and distributed, but a “Windows 365” approach is different than “Windows-as-a-Service.”

Examining Windows

With Windows 9 already on the immediate horizon, there’s increasing speculation that Microsoft may change up the licensing and business model for the flagship OS. Some suggest that Microsoft will just give the OS away, while others think that Microsoft will either offer Windows as a cloud-based service or in a subscription model á la Office 365.

All of those are possibilities. What concerns me is that there’s still so much confusion about Office 365, and that confusion will bleed over into a possible “Windows 365” scenario, creating chaos for users trying to decide what is best for them.

Article by Microsoft  was very confusing and misleading, because the headline made it clear it was related to Windows-as-a-Service — however, in the very first paragraph, the author stated that Windows might soon follow in the footsteps of Office 365. It then went on to claim that those rumors might be true because Microsoft listed a job posting that alluded to “Windows-as-a-Service.”

Make it stop!

That particular article demonstrated a complete lack of understanding about what Office 365 is and how it works. If that isn’t bad enough, it doubled down on that ignorance by linking the misguided understanding of Office 365 to both Windows 365 and Windows-as-a-Service, as if all of those are related or similar. It’s no wonder consumers on the street can’t make sense of Office 365 — the tech press doesn’t get it either and writes things that make it more confusing.

Let’s start by backing up and talking about Office 365 for a minute. Office 365 is NOT a cloud-based Office-as-a-Service offering. Office 365 is the exact same Office as the traditional Office Professional 2013 suite, but it’s sold as a subscription rather than as a one-time purchase. It includes additional cloud-based features and benefits that don’t come with the desktop suite, but the actual Office applications are installed on and run from your Windows or Mac PC literally the same way.

So, now let’s break down the difference between what “Windows 365” might look like as opposed to “Windows-as-a-Service.” If Microsoft chooses to offer Windows the same way it has packaged Office 365, all that means is that rather than charging a one-time fee of $100 or $200 for the OS, it would instead offer it as a subscription for say $25 or $50 per year.

Users would still have the exact same Windows 9 (or whatever they call it) as the users who pay $200 to buy Windows 9 outright, but they’d pay less up front, and they’d have perpetual rights to the latest version. That means, when Windows 10 comes along, the Windows 365 users will just keep paying their subscription fees and install it, while those who purchased Windows 9 outright will have to spend the $200 again if they want to upgrade.

A cloud-based Windows, or “Windows-as-a-Service,” is an entirely different concept. It would likely still include some sort of subscription, or ongoing fees, but with Windows-as-a-Service, Microsoft would install and maintain the Windows OS on its Azure servers in the cloud, and users would need to somehow connect to and login to the cloud-based Windows to run software in a virtualized, streaming fashion over the internet.

I’m not a fan of the idea of Windows-as-a-Service. It seems too much like trying to use a Chromebook — where your ability to use your computer or be productive is tied to your ability to find a reliable internet connection. Windows 365, on the other hand, sounds like an awesome approach that I really hope Microsoft does offer.

Both of these are potential options for Microsoft, and each has pros and cons. It’s important to understand that they are completely different models, though, and to not confuse users and muddy the waters by implying that Office 365 means you’re using some sort of cloud-based Office-as-a-Service.


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