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Deep-dive review: Windows 10 — worth the wait

Written by admin
July 28th, 2015

Deep-dive review: Windows 10 — worth the wait

Microsoft makes up for Windows 8 by delivering a truly integrated operating system.

Finally, an operating system from Microsoft you can love.
With Windows 10, Microsoft undoes the damage wrought by Windows 8. This is a cleanly designed operating system that works equally well on traditional computers and tablets, brings back the much-mourned Start menu and introduces useful features such as the Cortana digital assistant and new Edge browser.

I’ve been following the progress of Windows 10 ever since the first technical preview last year, and wrote about the second technical preview back in January 2015. I lived with, tested and reviewed its major iterations. I’ve seen rough edges smoothed, new features introduced and some features dropped.
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This shipping version (which will be officially available on July 29) is much improved over the last time I reviewed it in late May. Since then, the overall interface and Start menu has been tweaked, Edge has been completed and bugs have been squashed. It’s now a more complete and refined operating system. (Note: A separate version for smaller mobile devices is expected to be released in the fall.)

That’s not to say that all is perfect. In this review, I’ll give an in-depth look at the new operating system, including its best and worst features. Read on for the complete rundown.

Starting with the Start menu
In Windows 10, everything starts with the new Start menu. Tap the Windows key to launch it; tap it again to make it disappear. The Start menu is command central for the entire operating system, displaying live tiles with changing information from Windows 10 apps, letting you launch all your apps, giving you access to your settings and to File Explorer, and letting you shut down and restart Windows.

And note — there’s been yet another name change. Microsoft has a new designation for the touch-screen apps once called Metro and then called Modern: They are now simply Windows apps. Applications written for use with a keyboard are called desktop apps.

Windows 10 start menu
In Windows 10, everything starts with the new Start menu.

If you use Windows 10 on a non-touch desktop or laptop PC, you thankfully never need to see the touch-oriented tablet mode (what Microsoft called the Start screen in Windows 8) — you boot right into the desktop. The Start menu and desktop is all you need and all you get. For me, this alone makes the new operating system a winner.

The left side of the Start menu has links to your most used programs, recently added programs, File Explorer, Settings and Power, along with a link that leads to a list of all the apps on your computer. At the top left of the menu is an icon that shows you which user account you’re currently using and takes you to a menu that lets you switch accounts, log out of your account or go to the Lock screen.

Eye-candy fans (such as me) will appreciate that the Start menu is transparent. It’s also customizable. You can change the menu’s height (but not its width) by pulling down the double-headed arrow that appears at the top when you move your cursor over it and dragging it to make it the menu taller or shorter. Oddly enough, a double-headed arrow appears when you put your cursor on the right side of the menu, implying you can change its width, but I wasn’t able to drag the arrow to do that.

There’s a lot more you can do to customize the Start menu. You can group related applications and then name them — for example, you might want to put the Groove Music, Movies & TV and Xbox apps into a group that you call Entertainment. You can also pin and unpin apps to and from the Start menu and Taskbar, and resize the tiles by right clicking on them. Depending on the app’s capabilities, you might also be able to turn a live tile off so that it’s static instead of displaying changing information. (I found this a surprisingly useful feature. With too many tiles flashing at me, I felt at times as if I was in a Vegas casino.)

Right-clicking also lets you uninstall apps. Some Microsoft apps, though, can’t be uninstalled, including the Movies & TV, Calendar and Groove Music apps. They can, however, be unpinned from the Start menu; if you want to run them later, you can type their name into Cortana.

The upshot? The Windows 10 Start menu is more than just a redone version of its Windows 7 predecessor. With it, you run both Windows 10 apps and desktop apps, which goes a long way towards making Windows 10 feel like a truly integrated operating system.

Continuum and tablet mode
Also helping to unify the operating system is a new feature called Continuum, which lets Windows 10 perform a shape-shifting trick by detecting the type of machine you’re running, and then changing its interface to the one suited for the device. It’s particularly useful for two-in-one devices such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, which works as a tablet or laptop, depending upon whether you have a keyboard attached.

And the OS will change dynamically. If you’re using the tablet with a keyboard attached, you see the desktop-based interface, complete with Start menu. Detach the keyboard and you get a pop-up notification that asks if you want to switch to tablet mode. If you don’t want to be bothered by the notification again, you can select “Remember my response and don’t ask again.” From then on, you’ll switch automatically from desktop to tablet mode and back again.

Windows 10 continuum
A new feature called Continuum lets Windows 10 detect the type of machine you’re running and switch the interface to suit the device.

Continuum worked for me without a hitch, switching every time I unplugged a keyboard from my Surface tablet, or plugged the keyboard back in.

Tablet mode offers much the same Start screen interface that many Windows 8 users, including me, have come to hate: Big tiles representing the apps you want to run. It’s ideal for tablets, though. And although most of the changes Microsoft has made in Windows 10 have to do with the desktop, the company has also made some improvements to the tablet interface.

Gone is Windows 8’s kludgy Charms bar with links for sharing, settings, devices, moving to the Start screen and searching. Of all those links, the only truly useful one was for searching — and in Windows 10, you search in tablet mode by tapping the Cortana search button at the bottom left of the screen. (For more about Cortana, head to the next section of this article.)

I won’t miss the Charms bar. I think that few people will.
Windows 10 tablet mode
Tablet mode offers much the same Start screen interface that came with Windows 8, although with improvements.

There have been other changes as well. There’s now what some people call a “hamburger menu” at the top left of the screen — three horizontal stacked lines. In a way, it’s a mini-Start menu for tablets: Tap it and you get a menu that lists your most-used and most recently added apps; it also contains links to File Explorer, Settings, the Power button and all your apps.

I’m a big fan. There’s no longer any need to scroll and hunt through the Start screen for apps I frequently run. Instead, they’re easily available from the menu. And you can run desktop apps from this menu, not just Windows apps. It’s one more way in which Windows 10 now works as a unified operating system.

Windows 10 all apps
A “mini-Start menu” for tablets lists your most-used apps, your most recently added apps and links to useful system tools.

At the bottom left of the Start screen there’s another menu icon that looks like a bulleted list. Tap it to see a list of all of your apps, including desktop apps and built-in Windows apps such as Settings.

Also new is that the Taskbar runs at the bottom of the screen in tablet mode — the same Taskbar that is on the desktop. Although I risk sounding like a broken record, it’s one more way that Windows 10 feels like a single interface spanning two modes, rather than two operating systems uneasily joined together.

I’m not much of a fan of iPhone’s Siri digital assistant or Google’s Google Now — I tried them briefly and found them only moderately helpful. They sometimes felt more like parlor tricks than practical features I could use throughout the day. So I didn’t think I’d be happy with Cortana.

I was wrong. Cortana is more than a mildly useful appendage to Windows 10. It’s embedded deeply into the operating system. The more you use it, the more useful it becomes, because it learns about you over time. Not that it’s perfect, because it makes errors along the way and there are some important things it can’t do.

Windows 10 cortana

The Cortana digital assistant is present primarily as a search bar under the Start menu.

Cortana is present primarily as a search bar under the Start menu; you can also launch it by tapping its tile on the Start menu. (In tablet mode, it’s accessible from an icon on the Taskbar). You wake it up by saying “Hey Cortana” or “Hi Cortana.” You can then ask it to do something, such as find a file, launch a program or find information. If you prefer typing to talking, type your request into the search bar.

What you’ll see next depends upon your request. Cortana, which is based on Bing’s search engine, looks through your files, your Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage account, your videos and music, the apps on your PC, your settings, your email and the Web. The actions it takes or the way it shows your search results varies according to what you’ve asked for.

For example, when I said, “Show me my photos from Italy,” Cortana quickly found them on both my PC and on OneDrive — and displayed them. At the top of the results, I could click a link to search for photos of Italy on the Web.

When I asked, “What’s the weather?” it knew my location and told me it was 74 degrees and sunny, and also displayed the weather forecast. And when I said, “Add an appointment on Sunday,” it asked me what time the appointment was scheduled to start, and from there I was able to quickly add an appointment to my calendar.

Windows 10 Cortana photos
The search results after a request to Cortana to see photos from a trip to Italy.
There are limits to Cortana’s capabilities, though. I use Gmail as my primary email account, and Cortana wasn’t able to reach into it to search through messages. In fact, it wouldn’t even launch Gmail for me. Instead, it did a Bing search for Gmail and showed me a page of search results on the Web. If Cortana is going to become a truly useful digital assistant, Microsoft will have to figure out a way for Cortana to interact with all the major Web-based apps.

I will say this for Cortana, though — it’s a fast learner. When I said “Launch Google Chrome,” it asked whether I wanted to launch Google Chrome or Chrome App Launcher. I told it to launch Google Chrome. Every time after that, when I made that same request, it launched Google Chrome without asking for clarification.

When Cortana runs, it displays a menu made up of a group of four icons stacked underneath a “hamburger” menu on the left side of the screen, which are both somewhat useful and somewhat confusing. The top one, Home, simply navigates you to the main Cortana interface. Beneath it, the strangely-named Notebook icon leads you to a tool to change Cortana’s settings — such as whether you want to get recommendations about places to eat or events to attend; what your home, work and other “favorite locations” are; how to change the name Cortana uses for you; and so on.

Beneath Notebook, the Reminders icon does exactly what it says — lets you set reminders, which can be triggered by a time or a location you visit. And the bottommost icon, Feedback, lets you provide feedback about Cortana.

Cortana is tied to your Microsoft ID, so it has the same information about you on all the Windows devices you use, including smartphones.

Overall, Cortana is still a work in progress. It does an excellent job of reaching into your PC; searching the Web; knowing your location, likes and dislikes; and delivering you information based on that. But until it can also reach into Web-based apps like Gmail, Cortana can never be a complete digital assistant.

Gaining an Edge

Another big addition to Windows is the new Edge browser, which replaces the justifiably maligned Internet Explorer. Edge is Windows 10’s default browser and with it, Microsoft hopes to eventually bid farewell to IE.

Microsoft can’t entirely get rid of Internet Explorer yet, though, especially because enterprises have built apps based on it. So you’ll still find it in Windows 10. But unless you have to run it for compatibility reasons, don’t — because Edge is a considerable improvement.

With Edge, Microsoft focused on creating a speedy browser — and the work has paid off. I found that it displayed Web pages extremely quickly, much faster than Internet Explorer, and equal to or possibly faster than Chrome.

To check my impression, I ran three browser speed tests using Edge, Internet Explorer and Chrome. I ran each test three times for each browser and averaged the results. Edge scored faster than Internet Explorer in all three tests and faster than Chrome in the SunSpider and Kraken tests, while losing to Chrome in the Octane test.
Windows 10 Edge browser: Test results

But even though Edge is speedy, you may encounter rendering problems with some Web pages. It won’t run Google Inbox, for example. And when I ran the HTML5 test, which tests for compatibility with HTML5 standards, it lagged behind Chrome, scoring 402 out of a possible 555 points, compared to 526 for Chrome. Internet Explorer did even worse than Edge, with a score of 348.

Edge takes much of its inspiration from Chrome, dispensing with as many menus and extraneous design elements as possible. For example, it has jettisoned Internet Explorer’s oversized back and forward buttons, so that the content of a Web page stands out more. Edge will also support add-ins, but that feature is not yet available, and will be included at some time later.

Windows 10 edge
The Edge browser will eventually replace Internet Explorer.

The browser’s basics are straightforward — there are several icons to the right of the Address Bar that offer access to a variety of features.

To begin with, you click on a star to add a favorite. A menu icon just to the star’s right lets you to browse favorites, view downloaded files, see your history list and use the browser’s reading list feature (more on that in a bit).

Another icon lets you share a URL via Mail, Twitter, OneNote and the reading list. And over on the far right there are three small dots that, when clicked, bring up other features such as zooming, launching a new window, printing, pinning the current site to the Start screen, opening a new “InPrivate” window for anonymous browsing, and launching the current page in Internet Explorer.

There is an icon to the left of the star that resembles a book and activates Edge’s Reading View, which is much like a similar Safari feature: It strips out everything extraneous to a page’s content, including ads, navigation, sidebars and anything else that diverts attention from the content. You read the text in a scrollable window, with graphics included. The icon will be grayed out if you’re on a page that Reading View can’t handle, such as a page that is primarily used for navigation.

As for the reading list, it’s a list of your Reading View favorites. So when you’re in Reading View, click the star icon for adding favorites and the current page gets added to your reading list.

Edge also offers the ability to annotate and share Web pages. Click the annotation icon (to the right of the menu icon — it looks like a pencil and paper) and you’ll be able to mark up a Web page using highlighters and note-creation tools, save the annotated page and share it as a .jpg graphics file via email, OneNote or Twitter. You can also save the annotations to your PC via Microsoft OneNote. I personally found that feature less than useful; others may differ.

Widnows 10 Edge markup

Edge includes the ability to annotate Web pages.

On the other hand, one of Edge’s most useful features is the way in which it takes advantage of Cortana, which inconspicuously appears at the top of pages for which Cortana can offer help. For example, when I went to the Web page of one of my favorite restaurants, the Cortana icon appeared to the right of the Address Bar with the message, “I’ve got directions, hours, and more.” When I clicked it, a sidebar appeared on the right-hand side of the page with a map, address, phone number, description of the restaurant and reviews. There were also links for getting directions, looking at the menu and calling the restaurant.

For me, this is the biggest edge that Edge has over competing browsers. It doesn’t just display specific Web pages, but it can also deliver useful information not found on that page.
Windows 10 cortana helps edge

Edge doesn’t just display specific Web pages, but can deliver additional useful information not found on the page.

My verdict on Edge? Given its speed, Reading View, Cortana integration, simple design and eventual ability to use add-ins, it’s a winner. For now, it may not render all Web pages correctly, but I expect that will be fixed eventually. When that happens, I may abandon Chrome for it.

Windows Apps on the desktop
One reason Windows 8.1 felt like two separate operating systems was the dramatically different behavior of the apps that were written for the touch interface (now called Windows apps, remember?) and those written for the non-touch desktop. Desktop apps could be run in resizable windows, but Windows apps ran either full-screen, “snapped” next to another Windows app (but not a desktop app), or minimized. So you couldn’t have multiple Windows apps running in separate windows on the desktop alongside desktop apps.

That changes in Windows 10. Windows apps can now be resized, minimized and closed in the same familiar way as desktop apps. You can drag the edges of a Windows app to resize it and use the familiar desktop menu on the upper right for minimizing, maximizing and closing the app.

Windows 10 apps
The apps in the Windows touch interface can now be resized the same way that desktop apps can.
Windows apps have been redesigned in another way as well. On the left-hand side of the screen is a series of icons for accessing different features in an app. These icons change depending on the app. For example, the Weather app has icons for news, maps, historical weather and so on. And in the news app there are icons for local news and videos, and for customizing your news interests.

Another improvement: Windows apps in version 8 were low-powered and not particularly useful — more like simple tablet apps than fully featured desktop apps. In Windows 10, that changes. Some are quite good. You may even find yourself wanting to run them.

Three apps in particular have been powered up: Maps, Mail and Calendar. Mail has been notably improved with a new interface and new features. Unlike the Mail app in Windows 8, it supports POP-based mail. It’s also much simpler to manage your mail in it. When reading an email, icons across the top let you reply, forward, delete, archive and flag mail. You can click the menu at the upper right to get at more features, including moving mail, marking it as read, printing and zooming.

Text-formatting features are also better than in the Windows 8 version. When you compose mail, a large toolbar appears at the top of the screen, which lets you change text formatting; undo and redo text changes; insert tables, pictures and links; and attach files. You can also spell check your mail and change its language.

Windows 10 mail

The Mail app’s text formatting features have been greatly improved.

Tablet users will be pleased to know that gestures work in the Mail app. Swipe an email to the right to archive it and swipe again from the right to unarchive it. Swipe to the left to flag a message.

The Calendar app is also much improved. I found the Windows 8 version so cluttered and confused-looking it felt unusable. If you wanted to do something simple like change the view (Day, Work Week or Month) it wasn’t clear at first how to do it. You had to call up a menu, and then make your choice.

In the Windows 10 version, the Day, Work Week, Week, Month and Today views are all accessible by clicking an icon at the top of the page. I also appreciate that even when looking at a day’s calendar, the month view is available on the right side of the screen.

Windows 10 calendar

The new Calendar apps has a much cleaner interface than the previous Windows 8 version.

As with Mail, improvements are more than skin deep. Notably, unlike in the Windows 8.1 version, the new Calendar supports Google Calendar. Just click Setting / Accounts / Add Account, click Google and follow the instructions on-screen. You can add an iCloud calendar in the same way.

Maps is also improved. Travelers who use tablets or laptops will appreciate that you can download maps and use them when you’re not connected to the Internet. This is especially useful if you’re travelling overseas and want to keep down your data use, or if you know you’re going to be somewhere beyond the reach of an Internet connection.

Windows 10 maps

The app is much better designed than previously. Icons down the left let you search for a location or for places such as hotels, restaurants and coffee shops; add a location to a favorites list; get directions for driving, walking or for public transportation; change your settings; and visit what Microsoft calls 3D cities. Go to one of these 3D cities and you’ll see a view of it similar to Google Earth. I didn’t find them particularly useful, but you can’t beat the feature if you want to virtually visit Aix en Provence, Paris or Barcelona. (I passed on Brownsville, Tex. and Abington, Penn.)

On the right side of the Maps app you’ll find buttons for zooming in and out, tilting the map, changing its orientation and adding overlays for traffic and other tools.

One piece of big news is that the app now has a Street View-like feature called Streetside, which works much like the Bing Maps Streetside feature. With the addition of Streetside, the Maps app could give Google Maps a run for its money. It has much the same features and integrates well with Cortana. For example, if I tell Cortana, “Give me directions to Ithaca, New York,” the Map app launches, complete with directions. If I ask Cortana to see a map of a city, Maps launches to it.
One Settings app to rule them all

In Windows 8.1, if you wanted to change your settings, you had to go on a treasure hunt. Some settings were in the Windows Settings app, which was accessible via the Charms bar, while others were in Control Panel. It was difficult to remember where each setting was located.

In Windows 10, you’ll find almost all settings in the Settings app, accessible from the bottom of the Start menu. It’s cleanly and logically organized, with nine sections: System, Devices, Network & Internet, Personalization, Accounts, Time & Language, Ease of Access, Privacy and Update & Security. Click on the icon for any section, drill down, and you’ll easily navigate to what you need. There’s also a search bar so that you can forgo browsing and search for a specific setting instead.

People who do a great deal of customization and tinkering (including me) won’t find everything they need in Settings. If you want to assign your PC a static IP address, have your system display files that are normally hidden, display file extensions for common files or access a host of other techie settings, you’ll have to go to the old standby, Control Panel. On the other hand, having settings that you don’t use much relegated to the Control Panel makes sense, because it makes the main Settings app easier to navigate.
Hello, Action Center

New in Windows 10 is the Action Center, which is accessible via an icon on the right side of the Taskbar. The Action Center performs two functions: It displays notifications for such things as new emails and security and maintenance messages, and it gives you access to a handful of common settings for such tasks as connecting to Wi-Fi networks, turning Bluetooth on and off, and changing brightness settings. The notifications for new email, security alerts and others first appear on their own on the lower right of the desktop and disappear after a few seconds. But they live on in the Action Center, so that you can attend to them there when you want.

For example, if you tap an email notification, the email opens in the Mail app. Tap a security notification, and you’ll be taken to the appropriate tool. When I received a notification that I could speed up my PC because three unnecessary programs were launching on startup, I was sent to the Task Manager, which let me stop those programs from running.

Windows 10 action center

The Action Center displays notifications and offers access to commonly-used settings.

At the bottom of the Action Center are icons for making quick changes to common Windows settings. You can turn Bluetooth on and off, change your screen’s brightness, and switch between tablet mode and non-tablet mode, among other settings.

Other changes

There have been a lot of other lesser changes in Windows 10. The Taskbar now runs on the Start screen when you’re in tablet mode, which helps to unify the tablet and non-tablet interfaces. It’s now black, which makes the icons on it stand out more clearly.

File Explorer has seen changes as well. Its icons are more colorful and brighter. You can pin and unpin folders to it on the Start menu. You also get to OneDrive from inside File Explorer; it appears as a folder with subfolders underneath it. And you can share files — click a file and select Share from the top menu and you get a variety of ways for sharing, including via email and Twitter. You can compress a file and burn it to disc from the same menu.

The Windows Store has also gotten a makeover. The design is simpler, cleaner, even elegant. More important than that, though, is that you can now download and install desktop apps from it, something not previously possible. Microsoft is also making a push to get more apps into the store by introducing what it calls Universal apps that will be able to run on any Windows device, including desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.

Also new is Task View and the ability to create multiple desktops. Tap the small icon just to the right of the Cortana search bar and you’ll see all of your currently running apps and applications as thumbnails on the desktop. Click the X on any of the thumbnails to close it.

More importantly, though, you can create multiple desktops, each with different apps and applications running on them. To do that, when you’re in Task View, you click New desktop to create a second desktop; you can then run apps and applications inside it. In fact, you can create several desktops; to switch among them, click the Task View icon, and then click the desktop you want to switch to.

Windows 10 task view running
Task View shows all of your currently running apps.

If you’ve got the proper hardware, Windows 10 supports a biometric security feature that Microsoft calls Windows Hello, letting you log into Windows via a fingerprint scan, face scan or iris scan.

Not everything about Windows 10 is an improvement over Windows 8, though. Whether you like it or not, Windows 10 updates are always automatically installed. In Windows 8 you could pick and choose which updates to install. Not so with Windows 10. What Microsoft sends via Windows Updates gets installed. Case closed.
The bottom line

It’s this simple: Windows 10 is a dramatic improvement over Windows 8. It works as single, unified operating system rather than a Rube Goldberg kludge of two operating systems poorly bolted together. It changes its interface depending on whether you’re on a tablet or a traditional PC, and runs well on both.

Cortana, despite some shortcomings, is a very worthwhile addition, and the Edge browser gives Chrome a run for its money. Built-in apps are greatly improved.

Despite some bugs and annoyances (like being forced to accept Windows updates), it will be worthwhile to upgrade from Windows 8.1 before July 29, 2016, when Microsoft’s one-year free upgrade offer runs out. Windows 7 users should consider upgrading as well, thanks to Cortana, Edge and the advent of useful Windows apps. (That said, you do have that full year to upgrade, and there are compelling reasons to wait a little while.)

As for me, I’m upgrading every Windows device I have to it.

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What Microsoft did right and wrong in 2013

Written by admin
December 20th, 2013

Microsoft is getting Office 365 right, but that Scroogled campaign is so wrong
Nobody bats a thousand, and Microsoft is no different. Here’s a quick look at five things Microsoft did right in 2013 and five it did wrong.

Office 365 – If success is determined by whether a lot customers buy a service, Office 365 is wildly successful.
In a little more than 100 days, the service had 1 million customers. That was back in May and by October it hit 2 million.

Buying Microsoft Office via a cloud service that’s continually upgraded and available from any of a customer’s Internet connected devices including their phones is apparently appealing.

At about $100 per customer per year, that still pales in what Microsoft takes in from enterprise customers, but businesses and particularly municipalities and universities seem very interested. Larger entities might not be far behind.
Microsoft has been pushing it into educational institutions via a variety of specials, most recently the free use for students at schools that license Office 365 Pro Plus or Office Professional Plus via the Student Advantage program.

Buying Nokia – With Nokia smartphones pretty much driving whatever success Windows Phone has, pulling the company in-house seems like a smart move.

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First, Microsoft should be able to move more quickly to implement upgrades to Windows 8 and to direct sales efforts in places Windows 8 lags but that represent potential growth, such as Africa and Japan. Nokia has high- and low-end smartphones to worm its way into markets at either end.
Nokia Lumia
Nokia Lumia

Nokia also has lines of tablets and phablets (phones with screens between five and seven inches), both of which Microsoft should be interested in serving. As the PC market shrinks, some other device or set of devices will replace them. With Nokia’s assets on board Microsoft should be able to move quickly to provide Windows-based options regardless of which form factor dominates, keeping pace with or beating its OEM hardware partners.

Windows Phone – Microsoft is again nowhere near being number one in mobile phones, but it is making progress, posting number three among the top operating systems.

While lagging far behind Android (52%) and Apple’s iOS (40.6%), Microsoft’s 3.2% market share as of October 2013 is laughably small but still represents the first time it has beaten BlackBerry, according to analytics firm ComScore.

Microsoft doubled its share of the worldwide market between Oct. 2012 and Oct. 2013, making it the fastest growing major smartphone platform, according to Strategy Analytics.

Also important, Windows Phone is making bigger strides in individual regions outside the U.S., particularly Europe where its share has hit double digits in some countries, according to Kantar Worldpanel, a consumer analytics firm.
Nearly all of that growth is thanks to Nokia, Strategy Analytics notes.

Xbox One – Released late last month, the latest Microsoft gaming console is so much more, and so far has had largely favorable reviews.

In addition to games it supports TV watching, split-screen display of applications, Kinect motion sensing, Skype videoconferencing, voice commands and gesture navigation.

Locked in a battle with Play Station 4 for dominance in holiday sales, Xbox One has the potential to do more, according to this Network World review. These include such features as streaming games to PCs or serving as a digital assistant.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Part of Microsoft’s larger Dynamics offering, Dynamics CRM is finally making headway against its competitors.

It’s been around for years, Dynamics CRM is showing promising growth, up to 40,000 business customers in July, up from 33,000 customers the year before, again cashing in on those customers willing to go to cloud services.

In this case Microsoft has clawed to being fourth among CRM competitors behind No.1, two SAP and three Oracle, Gartner says, pulling in an estimated $1.1 billion in revenues. And analysts say it is growing faster than SAP’s and Oracle’s CRM business.

With a new mobile strategy that has tablets at its center, the service is also poised for continued impressive growth in 2014, still lagging far behind, but moving in the right direction.
Cybercrime Center

Cybercrime Center – Microsoft opened a dedicated facility last month to house its botnet disruption team and partners willing to help in the cause.

While the company had such a team before, the center pulls together a larger group and acts as nexus for branch cybercrime investigation offices around the globe. Its emphasis on collaboration with partners means it has the potential to move quickly to draw in new resources to fight all forms of cybercrime.

The company’s string of high-profile botnet takedowns over the past few years have highlighted the sophistication of criminals using the Internet to commit crimes and the ever-changing methods crime fighters have to employ to succeed. The Cybercrime Center should help elevate the law-enforcement effort from a game of Whac-A-Mole to something more effective.

Windows 8.1 – In a way Windows 8.1 was the right thing to do, but it didn’t go far enough.

Microsoft responded to a number of complaints about Windows 8 and added new features, but the package still comes up short capturing the imagination and more important the cash of potential customers.

According to multiple organizations that track use of operating systems, the numbers show that Windows 8.1 isn’t capturing those customers finally abandoning Windows XP and isn’t making significant headway into businesses.

Windows 8.1 takes some getting used to and it requires a touch device to be appreciated fully, but it has its limitations. Apps that run on Windows 7 run on Windows 8.1 but look and behave just as they did in Windows 7. The apps that show off Windows 8.1 to its best advantage are approaching 150,000, they just aren’t compelling enough to draw customers.

Perhaps as businesses and consumers decide what devices will replace PCs, Windows 8.1 and its successors will do better. Those new devices will likely include touch and mobility, two areas where Windows 8.1 does well. But for 2013, it was at best ahead of its time.

Surface RT, Surface 2 – Despite a $900 million write-down of the Surface RT tablet – a stark acknowledgment of its failure – Microsoft has pushed ahead with the next generation of the device called Surface 2.

While it does come with Microsoft Office – something you can’t get on an iPad – the device runs only Windows Store Applications – those designed for the Windows RT operating system, vetted by Microsoft and available online only through the Windows Store.

Reports indicate that in some locales Surface 2 supplies have run dry during the holiday shopping season, but Microsoft doesn’t say how many were available in the first place so it’s difficult to say whether popularity of the new device is on the rise. With the pending sale of Nokia to Microsoft, Surface 2 seems like an unnecessary and not very popular product.

Regardless, Microsoft seems committed to it for at least a little while longer. A story by Marcom News says Microsoft has signed up an agency to run a four-month ad campaign for the device.

CEO search – It was unnecessary to announce as much as a year ahead of time that the company is looking for a CEO to replace Steve Ballmer.

It acts as a distraction that deflects attention away from other efforts that would be good for the business and doesn’t make Ballmer’s job any easier in the meantime.

Keeping mum until a replacement was signed up would have been the way to go.

It’s not helping the top candidates, either. Alan Mulally, rumored as the top contender, is CEO of Ford, whose board is getting cranky that his possible selection is outshining the company’s efforts to promote an ambitious 2014 lineup of new cars.

Scroogled – This apparently well-funded campaign to attack Google Chromebooks and the way Google mines personal information to sell to advertisers seems a bit much.

Microsoft has nailed down the domain name and keeps the site updated with content intended to send Google customers flocking to Microsoft. It’s also got, an aggregation site that posts links to stories that point out Google transgressions.

The company even sells a line of Scroogled apparel on its online Microsoft Store so equally rabid anti-Google customers can pay to wear Microsoft negative advertising.

Regardless of the merits of Scroogle arguments, the campaign comes across as silly and spiteful.

Apple parody – In the same spirit (bad) as Scroogled, Microsoft produced a video making fun of Apple’s iPhone.

It looked thrown together but mainly it wasn’t funny. Microsoft took it down and acknowledged it as a mistake.

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HTC Windows Phone 8X — Purple madness [Review]

Written by admin
February 9th, 2013

HTC Windows Phone 8X — Purple madness [Review]

The HTC Windows Phone 8X is a smartphone that you will either love or not want to touch even with a 10 foot pole. Part of the arguments for and against it stem from the operating system of choice, Microsoft’s latest (and greatest) Windows Phone iteration. Sure, the device has good build quality and the software is fluid and responsive, but the app selection is currently lacking compared to rivals like Android and iOS. So where does one draw the line between success and failure?

I’ve been using the Windows Phone 8X for almost two weeks and the early impressions are still on the positive side. In my initial review I touched on a number of points that I found revealing for my brief time with it, but the real test is how the Windows Phone 8X fares over a longer period of time. My main and initial gripes concern the limited app selection and general usability issues of Windows Phone 8 when coming from the stock flavor of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The real question is this: Is it good enough?

The Specs
The HTC Windows Phone 8X features a 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 display with a resolution of 1280 by 720. The handset is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM and an 1,800mAh battery. There is 16GB of non-expandable internal storage onboard, or 8GB of internal storage depending on the carrier variant. My Windows Phone 8X is the California Blue international variant, and comes with the former option.

The Windows Phone 8X sports HSPA+ cellular connectivity (LTE is available depending on the market); Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 3.1; NFC (Near Field Communication); GPS with Glonass support as well as the common plethora of sensors. The device ships with an 8MP back-facing camera and a 2.1MP shooter on the front, both capable of 1080p video recording. Other specs include Beats Audio support and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The Windows Phone 8X measures 132.35 x 66.2 x 10.12 mm. Weight comes in at 130 grams.

Great Social Integration, but not Perfect

I’ll kick off with the social element. Windows Phone 8 places social (or human if you will) interaction at the forefront, be it through the Me tile and People app pinned on the homescreen or through the social network integration. Users can post straight to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter right after pressing their own live tile, view social notifications and check on what other connected folks are doing. Social, social, social. But not that social.

As you may expect the main gripe with Windows Phone 8 in terms of social integration is Google+, or the lack thereof. For me that’s a deal breaker when it comes to any mobile device, more so with a smartphone as it’s the only one that I carry around with me. That would be relatively fine had Google bothered to release an official app but, sadly, the only ones available are third party offerings that display a mobile view. Not modern, not modern at all.

It’s one of the worst parts in dealing with Windows Phone 8 on a day-to-day basis, and really puts a dent in enjoying the operating system. That’s a shame as Microsoft managed to deliver an impressive package in this regard — the unified social notifications in the Me tile is great, the People app is really useful in finding out what your buddies are doing, and the Rooms and Groups features for private chats and sharing are nice as well.

Users can also expect an official Foursquare app and third party Pinterest and Reddit clients, among others. For those roaming around interwebs forums, Board Express is a nice and free Tapatalk alternative, although like most third party apps it’s supported by ads. So far, I have found a working replacement for almost every social app that I use on Android and iOS.

Let’s Talk Mail
What’s a smartphone operating system without a competent email client? Thankfully Windows Phone 8 includes support for Gmail, Hotmail,, Yahoo! Mail, generic POP and IMAP accounts, as well as Exchange ActiveSync support, among other types of supported accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Sina Weibo.

I will not bore you with generic details, but suffice to say that it works as expected — you get emails, they show up. There are some issues though which I struggle with on a day to day basis, ones which a Gmail user on Android will undoubtedly find annoying to deal with (and likely others as well). As a point of reference I have set up Outlook using the Microsoft-preferred method and Gmail as an Exchange ActiveSync account in order to take advantage of push email as well as calendar and contacts synchronization.

With both types of accounts I have noticed that marking an email as read does not necessarily mean that it will be listed as read when checking the web app. This is a nuisance that reminds me of just how trouble-free the Gmail and Email apps on Android really are. Furthermore, after applying a batch action the previously selected emails will be unticked and you have to start over ticking them again as to perform another batch action.

The third issue comes from using Gmail. Unlike with the Android counterpart, on Windows Phone 8 there is no Archive button as to immediately move emails straight to All Mail. I have to do that by hand, which is time-consuming and bothersome when dealing with a ton of emails each day. The fourth issue, and the most frustrating, is yet again with Gmail — emails cannot be sent using aliases from a single account. I have to add each and every single one in order to get that functionality.

Great Phone
The Windows Phone 8X (and Windows Phone 8 by implication) is great at making calls and sending texts. The sound through the headpiece is loud and clear, sometimes too loud with the volume raised all the way up. I have noticed a few dropped calls, although I cannot really fault the device for any of those since although I had a decent signal the person at the other end of the line did not.

This is not a Windows Phone 8 fault per se, but I’d like to have a dedicated contact list just for making calls. By default, and this applies to Android as well, the operating system uses a unified contacts list for all corresponding apps, which is overkill when looking up someone to call. I doubt this will be implemented, but it would be nice to have for someone like me that makes plenty of calls each day.

In the texting department, I do really have to commend Microsoft for the extensive dictionary selection. Unlike Google, which doesn’t bother with stock Jelly Bean, the Redmond, Wash.-based software corporation admits to the existence of more than a couple of languages. I count more than 60 dictionaries for a variety of languages, which really comes in handy when writing texts (but applies to other areas as well).

The keyboard itself is quite nice to use, without any of the swiping gimmickry, and provides decent word predictions. The keys are rather tall and narrow, but even with my big thumbs I can write without making too many mistakes while typing. It’s worth noting that the space bar, at least on the Windows Phone 8X, is quite narrow and too close to the “,” sign, making accidental presses a common occurrence.

Straight off the bat I do have to point out that I do not find much use for a maps app. Most of the time I know where I am and how to get to where I want, although I can understand why others may feel the need for navigation and similar features. Where I live functionality is rather limited when it comes to discovering nearby shops, restaurants and movie theatres to name a few. They’re there but don’t show up on maps, hence my rare, online and offline, use of Maps.

The Maps app on Windows Phone 8 implements Bing Maps as one might expect, but with some features supported by Nokia, and as far as I can tell only works in portrait mode. That’s a real bummer, and something to consider when using the Windows Phone 8X with car mounts. I have no doubt that the recently introduced Nokia Drive+ is a more suited alternative for navigation, but since it only works with US, UK and Canadian SIM cards it’s pointless for billions of people on the globe. Whoever took charge and decided to offer Drive+ in just three locations is clearly short-sighted, to put it kindly.

Within the Maps app users can also find a navigation feature, dubbed “directions” which works as expected at a first glance, but again only in portrait mode. There is also an option to display traffic, view favorite locations and display an aerial view. By comparison, and I have only tested this in my location, Google Maps, through the gMaps app, displays more detailed maps and allows to zoom in more compared to Windows Phone 8’s Maps app.

That said, users can download maps of entire countries and update them if needed. As a point of reference the entire map of the United States of America take up in excess of 2,556MB, with states like California and Delaware needing 208MB and 40MB, respectively.

Through the Maps app Windows Phone 8 users can also use the Scout feature, which displays nearby “eat+drink”, “see+do”, “shop” and “for you” places on the map. It’s a similar feature to Google Now for instance, and I can only assume that it works as expected for other regions other than mine. Again, I appear to live in the desert or a remotely isolated area with Internet connectivity.

Office, Baby!
Call me an Office fan, I really don’t mind. Although it does not live up to the features of its desktop counterpart, the Office app on Windows Phone is a welcome addition. It comes with Office 365 integration, can add SharePoint locations, integrates with SkyDrive (which as a SkyDrive user I can certainly appreciate), handles opened email attachments, and can also open and edit locally stored documents.

I have covered the important details in the “Microsoft details Office on Windows Phone 8” article but suffice to say that it works well, even on the 4.3-inch display of the Windows Phone 8X. I mostly like the Excel and Word editing features, which come in handy while on the go and ensure compatibility with every modern office suite.

Undoubtedly, Office on Windows Phone 8 is one of the most important features of the smartphone operating system. It works well for editing and viewing large documents and spreadsheets (from a physical dimensions point of view) as well as presentations and neatly integrates with other Microsoft services. I do have to mention that the Samsung ATIV S or even the Nokia Lumia 920 might be better suited for Office use, due to larger displays, compared to the Windows Phone 8X.

The App Store Conundrum
One of the first issues that I have to overcome in order to use the Windows Phone 8X is the lack of official apps. Mostly everything that is Google-related comes from third party developers, except a frankly pointless Google Search app from the Mountain View, Calif.-based corporation, and a YouTube app made by Microsoft which displays a mobile view of the popular video sharing website.

That said, there are working third party alternatives to Google+, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Play Music, Google Reader, Google Talk, Google Voice, Picasa and YouTube. I’ve used a bunch of them, and while they may not come from the search giant, each of the ones I’ve tried so far works as intended. Keep that in mind if you’re a Google user planning to buy a Windows Phone 8 device soon and are afraid of leaving the comfort of Android or iOS.

There are plenty of official apps available ranging from Kindle and Amazon Mobile, Bank of America, Box, eBay, Endomondo Sports Tracker, Evernote, Fandango, Flixster, Glympse, Groupon, IMDb,, Newegg, Nike+ Kinect Training, OpenTable, PayPal, Shazam, SoundHound,, TopGear News (for much needed car news), TuneIn Radio, Vevo, Vimeo to The Weather Channel, for instance.

There are third party Instagram clients, however neither is a replacement for the official Instagram app which must come to Windows Phone as soon as possible. Same goes for Google+. There are millions of people who rely on such apps on their smartphones, so why not cater to that significant audience? Microsoft made the official Facebook app, so why not do the same with Instagram? I’m sure Facebook wouldn’t mind.

Generally speaking I have found that if there is no official corresponding Windows Phone 8 app, a suitable third party alternative can be installed instead. That’s not good enough though.

The Bummers
Moving on from the software onto the hardware and I do have to point a couple of weaker traits, which affect either Windows Phone 8 or the Windows Phone 8X, or both.

Seeing as my new smartphone has NFC I decided to give it a go and pair it with my Google Galaxy Nexus. So I touch their back covers one to another (in an appropriate manner that is) and wait for something to happen. Guess what? It doesn’t work, as the Windows Phone 8X and the Galaxy Nexus cannot pair, with the latter requesting Android Beam to send files to the former (although I did get a link to Google Play on the Windows Phone 8X). Oh, the joy of having NFC and be unable to use it between different phones. This is an issue that plagues many devices on major platforms.

The Windows Phone 8X features an LED indicator, but it only lights up to display charging status. It’s green when the battery is completely charged and red while it’s charging and that’s it. Coming from the Galaxy Nexus I expected HTC’s device to feature a more usable LED indicator which lights up for missed calls, new emails, Facebook notifications and such, but sadly it does not. I hope that this feature will come with a future software upgrade, as it’s disappointing to let it go to waste.

One thing which I am not used to is the inconsistent implementation of the disappearing status bar throughout apps. By default Windows Phone 8 only shows the time within the status bar and in order to display the carrier network or Wi-Fi signal strength one has to swipe down from the top of the screen. It’s not a bad implementation as it cleans up the look, but the gesture has no effect within certain apps. FeedWorm is a good example where the app is not maximized and there is a black bar on top which fails to display the status indicators after swiping down.

The Camera
The Windows Phone 8X features an 8MP back-facing camera with an F2.0 aperture, 28mm lens, LED flash and a BSI sensor for low-light use. That suggests that it’s capable of capturing some great pics in poorly lit conditions, but sadly it is unable to deliver spectacular results. I often notice that flash is not always needed even though it’s used and that color reproduction is not entirely accurate.

Colors tend to have a blueish tint when the flash is used and noise is present from up close (without zoom) in low-lighting conditions, whereas in well-lit scenarios the camera on the Windows Phone 8X shoots fairly decent pictures, which are better than the ones produced by the Galaxy Nexus. The latter is not exactly a professional shooter in disguise, but it’s adequate for brief use.

That said, I have not noticed a single scenario where the Windows Phone 8X can shoot pictures with accurate color reproduction. I am much more impressed by the video camera, with manages to shoot decent videos with flash as well as without it, although it could use better autofocus when pointing it around in different directions. By contrast the front-facing camera is rather poor, which is to be expected considering that it’s just a 2.1MP unit.

Battery Life
Battery life is difficult to quantify as usage scenarios differ from one person to another. I use my phone most when I’m heading out and then I mostly check email and browse the web, among other things like playing games for instance. With the software up to date, including the much-needed “Keep WiFi on when screen times out” option, the Windows Phone 8X gets me even through a heavy day of use.

Generally speaking battery performance is similar to the Galaxy Nexus throughout a day of use, although the Windows Phone 8X sips less when displaying web pages, something that I’ve come to appreciate when switching from the former.

I do rely on a bunch of apps to sync in the background, including the dedicated email app, Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Twitter, People, Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among others. Depending on what’s actively syncing the battery might suffer a lighter or heavier hit, so your performance will definitely vary.

The Verdict
It’s my personal opinion that every operating system comes with its own caveats, more so in the app store. Android provides a more raw experience where the user interacts with the device in a more analogue kind of way — the software is not designed to mask itself through fancy transition effects or animations and generally feels unadulterated. iOS on the other hand is more fluid and provides a more artificial experience where the operating system is merely a bridge between the user and the apps.

However, both Android and iOS cannot really be faulted for the available app selection. Windows Phone 8 on the other hand is the perfect example of how an operating system can strike a balance between raw and artificial, but fail to carry over the common denominator — the vast app store offering. No matter how many third-party apps are available, people like me that have a craving for the official variety will often be disappointed.

At the same time the Windows Phone 8X is not really an Apple iPhone 5 nor a Samsung Galaxy S III when it comes to the camera performance. It’s average and really does not work as well in low-light conditions as HTC may lead everyone to believe — the quality is just not there. So the back and front-facing shooters rule out the Windows Phone 8X for camera aficionados.

I have said that the battery gets me through a heavy day of use, but is that really impressive? No, I don’t think so, at least not when comparing it with smartphones like the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD and Samsung Galaxy Note II, both of which come with batteries larger than 3,000mAh and, therefore, with better performance in this regard.

After using the Windows Phone 8X for a couple of weeks I’ve grown fond of it. It’s not designed to take on Android flagships in terms of raw performance, but it’s enjoyable. The form-factor makes it easy to hold, the operating system is refreshing compared to the bigger players and, something that I really came to appreciate, the design is, frankly, amazing in this California Blue (which is really purple) color. At the end of the day the Windows Phone 8X can only be summed up as this — the all-rounder.


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Any program that you’re going to undertake must provide a properly recognised qualification as an end-result – and not a worthless ‘in-house’ diploma – fit only for filing away and forgetting. If the accreditation doesn’t feature a big-hitter like Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco or CompTIA, then chances are it will have been a waste of time – because it won’t give an employer any directly-useable skills.

Don’t get hung-up, as a lot of students can, on the accreditation program. You’re not training for the sake of training; you’re training to become commercially employable. You need to remain focused on where you want to go. It’s quite usual, for instance, to find immense satisfaction in a year of study only to end up putting 20 long years into a tiresome job role, simply because you did it without some quality research at the beginning.

Take time to understand how you feel about career development, earning potential, and whether you intend to be quite ambitious. You should understand what (if any) sacrifices you’ll need to make for a particular role, which particular certifications will be required and where you’ll pick-up experience from. We’d recommend you seek guidance and advice from an industry professional before you begin a particular training path, so you can be sure that the specific package will give the skill-set required for your career choice.

There are colossal changes washing over technology in the near future – and it becomes more and more thrilling each day. We’re barely beginning to get a handle on what this change will mean to us. How we interact with the world will be inordinately affected by computers and the web.

If earning a good living is around the top on your wish list, then you will be happy to know that the usual remuneration for most men and women in IT is much better than with most other jobs or industries. The need for appropriately qualified IT professionals is certain for a good while yet, thanks to the substantial growth in the technology industry and the huge deficiency that we still have.

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