Posts Tagged ‘ Windows ’


Microsoft created a virtual assistant, made Windows free on small devices, and brought back the Start button – but it’s still playing catch-up

This has been a big week for Microsoft, with a flood of new announcements and changes of direction. Along with its Build conference, new CEO Satya Nadella has made a number of moves designed to reverse the public perception that the company is an aging also ran in the technology races.

The changes include
Rolling out its new Cortana digital voice assistant
Announcing that Windows would be free to manufacturers of devices with small screens
Coming out with “universal” Windows technology that helps developers build apps that run on multiple versions of Microsoft’s operating system
Reviving the popular “Start” menu for Windows 8.1

Though some of those moves are more important than others, they’re all good things. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be enough to solve Microsoft’s problem of being seen as your father’s technology vendor. Here’s why:

Consumers vs. IT
As noted above, Microsoft’s issues right now revolve around how the company is perceived by consumers, and it’s unlikely that these initiatives will be enough to change those perceptions. While all useful, none of them are truly new. Instead, they’re playing catch-up to existing products and services from Microsoft’s competitors, perhaps with incremental improvements, or acknowledgements that previous Microsoft strategies simply weren’t working out.

Technology professionals will welcome these changes, but the IT community isn’t where Microsoft’s problems lie. In my experience,, enterprise IT generally likes and trusts the company. Microsoft’s challenges lie in convincing fickle consumers that it’s as cool and innovative as Apple and Google. I can’t imagine these moves being exciting enough to do that.

Better, but not better enough
While initial reports suggest that Cortana is a credible or even superior alternative to Apple’s Siri and Google Now, the fact remains that other companies pioneered the voice assistant idea. Cortana would have to be light-years better than its already-in-place rivals to truly give Microsoft a significant advantage.

Similarly, making Windows free for mobile devices may help spark more device makers to adopt the platform, but it’s not like it will make an immediate difference to consumers. Besides, Android is already free to license. Once again, Microsoft is playing catch up.

Universal Windows app development may pay off with more app choices in the long run, but it’s a pretty geeky concept for most end users. Finally, bringing back the Start menu will ease the transition to Windows 8 for some holdouts, but let’s face it, the cool kids aren’t really interested in desktop Windows at this point.

Put it all together and you’ve got a collection of tweaks and that could change the substance of what Microsoft does, but won’t dent the way most people think of the company.

More, please!
Still, there’s a big ray of hope here. The fact that Microsoft was willing and able to make these changes could signal that more are on the way. If Microsoft can keep shaking things up and continue to show that things really are different now, eventually people will begin to notice and perhaps change their minds about the company. And then it truly won’t be your father’s Microsoft any more.


 

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According to leaked screenshots and secret sources, Microsoft will scrap ‘Metro’ and roll boot-to-desktop as the default in the Windows 8.1 update coming in March.

If you hated the Live Tiles presented as the default on the Windows 8.x Start screen, then Microsoft allowed users to tweak the setting in Windows 8.1 to bypass the “Metro” interface at boot and instead boot to desktop. But boot-to-desktop will be the default, according to leaks from Microsoft insiders and screenshots of the upcoming Windows 8.1 update. Rumor has it that the update will roll out on Patch Tuesday in March.

The Russian site Wzor first posted leaked Windows 8.1 test build screenshots showing the change enabled by default.

Leaked Windows 8.1 test build, no more Metro Start screen, boot to desktop as default
Then Microsoft insiders, or “sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans,” told The Verge that Microsoft hopes to appease desktop users by bypassing the Start screen by default, meaning users will automatically boot straight to desktop. “Additional changes include shutdown and search buttons on the Start Screen, the ability to pin Windows 8-style (“Metro”) apps on the desktop task bar, and a new bar at the top of Metro apps to allow users to minimize, close, and snap apps.”

Of course, Microsoft continues to lose millions upon millions of customers to iOS and Android. That desperation is likely what drove Microsoft to force a touch-centric operating system on customers. If customers can’t easily use a Windows OS on a traditional desktop, then Microsoft hoped its “make-them-eat-Metro” strategy would force people to buy its tablet to deal with the touch-based OS. For Microsoft, it was like killing two birds with one stone. But despite the company’s “One Microsoft” vision, we’re not birds and we don’t like having stones thrown our way.

Microsoft claimed that telemetry data justified the removal of the Start button in Windows 8, and then its return in Windows 8.1. That same telemetry data shows “the majority of Windows 8 users still use a keyboard and mouse and desktop applications.” The Verge added, “Microsoft may have wanted to push touch computing to the masses in Windows 8, but the reality is that users have voiced clear concerns over the interface on desktop PCs.”

“Microsoft really dug a big hole for themselves,” Gartner’s David Smith told Gregg Keizer, referring to the Redmond giant’s approach with Windows 8. “They have to dig themselves out of that hole, including making some fundamental changes to Windows 8. They need to accelerate that and come up with another path [for Windows].”

Back in December, NetMarketShare stats showed that more people were still using the hated Windows Vista than Windows 8.1. January 2014 stats showed Windows 8.1 on 3.95% of desktops with Vista on 3.3%. Despite Microsoft warning about the evils of clinging to XP, and the April death of XP support, Windows XP, however, was still on 29.23%. Many people still hate Windows 8, which may be why the company plans to jump to the next OS as soon as possible.

Microsoft plans to start building hype for “Windows 9″ at the BUILD developers’ conference in April. The new OS is supposedly set to come out in the second quarter of 2015. While it seems wise for the company to want to ditch the hated Windows 8.x as soon as possible, Microsoft had better to do something to encourage developers as the expected boot-to-desktop change will mean folks won’t see the Metro apps on the Start screen.

Windows 8.1 update leaked screenshot of test build
According to the test build screenshot, Microsoft is urging people to “switch to a Microsoft account on this PC. Many apps and services (like the one shown for calendar) rely on a Microsoft account to sync content and settings across devices.” Note that “sign into each app separately instead” is “not recommended” by Microsoft. Of course, setting up a Windows 8 computer without it being tied to a Microsoft email account was “not recommended” either…but it can be done with about any email address or set up as a local account tied to no email address. If you use SkyDrive, aka the newly dubbed “OneDrive,” then why not just log in when you need it?

Trying to keep its developers “happy,” may be part of the reason Microsoft does not recommend signing into your Microsoft account on an individual app basis. Sure there’s still the Windows Phone Store, but some people complain that the Windows Phone Store is full of junk and fake apps. Of course, since Windows 8′s dueling tablet-PC interface was a flop, perhaps Microsoft will follow Apple’s lead and come up with a separate OS for tablets. That move might help out Microsoft and developers; without developers, there’s no apps. Without good apps, even a new OS for tablets won’t help Microsoft from continuing to decline and falling into the abyss of irrelevancy.

 


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The Taiwanese PC maker is bringing its Padfone device to the US late this year

PC maker Asus is taking the Windows-Android hybrid concept to another level with a convertible laptop that can switch between the two OSes with the

The Asus Transformer Book Duet TD300 comes as a 13.3-inch notebook with a detachable keyboard, which when removed turns the device into a tablet. But unlike other PC convertibles, the new Asus product can switch between the Windows and Android OSes in either tablet or laptop mode.

By pressing an “OS Switch” button located on the screen, the product will alternate to the other operating system in five seconds. The device itself runs Intel’s fourth-generation Haswell chip, and will arrive in late March with a starting price of US$599.

At the International CES show on Monday, the Taiwanese PC maker also announced that it would finally bring its Padfone product to the U.S., in a partnership with AT&T. The new model, called the Padfone X, is another hybrid that can turn from a smartphone into a tablet.

+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD Best of CES 2014: In Pictures | A complete list of stories from CES 2014 +

Like the previous models, it works as an Android smartphone that can be docked inside a tablet when snapped inside. The handset portion of the Padfone X comes as a 5-inch smartphone with a 2300mAh battery, while the tablet has a 9-inch screen.

The Padfone X will arrive in the U.S. midyear, use the latest Qualcomm processor and support 4G LTE.

In addition, Asus on Monday unveiled its series of Android handsets called Zenfones that will be released in this year’s first quarter in markets outside the U.S. The Zenfones will come in 4-inch, 5-inch and 6-inch screen versions, and all use variants of Intel’s latest Atom processor. Asus also introduced a Padfone mini device that can switch between a 4-inch phone and a 7-inch tablet.

Software on the phones will use Asus’ new “Zen UI,” an interface that incorporates more than 200 company-made enhancements.


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Tutorial on Using Windows 8

Written by admin
December 27th, 2013

Finding things and doing things from the new Windows 8 interface.

The first time I sat in front of the Windows 8 interface, I have to admit I was not thrilled; no Start button, I couldn’t find the control panel, things just weren’t what I was used to. That was over two years ago in the early adopter program for Windows 8, and now when I use Windows XP or Windows 7, I find it very inefficient to “have to click through so many menus” to find and do basic stuff.

The focus of this article is to share with you not simply how to make Windows 8 work like Windows XP/Windows 7 “the old way” (which I will go through and give you tips on how to find stuff and configure stuff to work the old way), but instead to really focus on how to do things better and more easily, effectively helping you shortcut the learning process that makes Windows 8 actually extremely easy and efficient to use.

Note: I’ve made a copy of this Tutorial available in PDF format so you can easily download and print/keep a copy, the PDF is up in my SkyDrive at https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=C99D5C694EA9E532!109&authkey=!ACC7qwl6DQle-SM

First of all, some basic terminology and “old way” of finding things so that I can take you through Windows 8 in a way you have learned how to use Windows. As I’m sure you are aware, Windows 8 no longer has the “Start Button” at the bottom left of the screen. Instead, Microsoft has the “Windows 8 Style Menu” (that they formally called the Metro style menu, until Microsoft was informed Metro Style was copyrighted, so they’re just calling it the Windows 8 Style menu). This is the menu that Windows comes up with.

If you are in the middle of an application (browser, Word, or any other app) and you want to get back to the menu, on a tablet, you press the “Home” button (usually a physical button on the bottom middle of the tablet device) or from a keyboard system, you press the “Windows-key.”

The “start button” for the most part (the thing that gives you access to the Control Panel, shutdown/restart, etc) is called the “Charm” and it pops up on a touchscreen tablet when you swipe your thumb from right to left on the right side of the screen (basically swiping the charm menu out from the right edge and into your screen of view). On a keyboard system, the charm menu pops up when you move the move cursor all the way to the right bottom of the screen.

From the charm menu, you can click on the top most icon (“search”) and it shows you all of your applications installed (this would be similar to doing a Start/All Programs in Windows 7). You’ll see the search bar (circled in red) and on the left you can scroll through all of your apps.

When you search/find the app you want or simply just scroll through the apps off this Charm/Search view, you can right-click the application, and at the bottom of the screen you are given options to Pin to Start, which adds the app to your Windows 8 Style Menu (THIS is a good idea as it puts a shortcut on your main menu screen so that every time you press the Home button or press the Windows-key, your apps show up on the main menu). You can also Pin to Start things like Control Panel, Command Prompt, Run, etc. I usually Pin everything I usually use/access to the Start which makes it easy for me to just go back to the main Windows 8 style menu to launch my apps!

Note: You’ll also see when you right click an app, you can also Pin to Taskbar (this pins to the old Windows 7 style taskbar at the bottom of the “Desktop” screen). I used to Pin stuff to the Taskbar, but now that more and more apps are coming out with Windows 8 menu icons (like Office 2013, SkyDrive, Box.net, Real Player, etc), I no longer find myself working from the older Win7 “taskbar.” This is one of those crutches you can continue to use, or just move into the 21st Century and start using the native Windows 8 menu.

Note: You’ll also see when you right click an app, at the bottom of the screen you can choose to run the app as an Administrator, uninstall the app, find the file/application location. These are helpful “things” we used occasionally in Win7 in the past that you now have shortcuts to run.

Another option off the Charm Menu (when you move your mouse cursor to the bottom right, or swipe your thumb right to left off the right edge of a tablet) is the Settings options (the bottom-most option on the charm) when you click on Settings…

…this is where a LOT of common things are found, such as Control Panel…

…Power (where you choose to shutdown/restart the computer/device), Network (where you select the WiFi connection you want to connect to), Change PC Settings (where you can change other things that are not in the Control Panel like desktop background, the photo you associate to your logon…

…add printers, etc).

Basically click on this Settings place and you’ll get to a lot of things you may normally access for configuration.

Okay, so with the basics under your belt, here’s where you learn to be a Windows 8 person and not a WinXP/Win7 person trying to run Windows 8. Instead of moving your cursor to pop up the charm to then click on Search to then find your application, or instead of moving your cursor to pop up the charm to then click Settings to then go to the Control Panel…you would do one of two things. If you are on a Tablet (or a keyboard-based Win8 device), ADD all of your apps, control panel, etc. to your Windows 8 style menu. It’ll take you a couple minutes to right click and “Pin to Start” all of your apps and utilities, but once they are pinned, you will almost never have to go fiddle with the charm thing. You’ll just press the Home button (on a tablet) or press the Windows key (on a keyboard-based system) and from the menu, click/tap the app and you run the app. To “switch” to another app, press the Home button or press the Windows key and click/tap the other app you want to run. All apps stay in memory; you just “toggle” between apps by simply pressing the Home button or pressing the Windows key to get to your apps.

Note: On a keyboard system, you can still Alt-Tab between apps, so toggling between apps is really easy. No more Start/Programs to get to applications. No need to Charm/Settings/Control Panel to get to the Control Panel if you simply pinned the Control Panel onto your Windows 8 style main menu!

So what happens if you want to access an app that you did not pin to your menu? On a keyboard-based system, at the Windows 8 Menu, just start typing a few letters of the app or function you want to do, and the “search” starts working immediately. For example, at the Windows 8 menu, if I start typing the letters n-o-t-e-p, the search bar will appear in the upper right and it’ll zero in on the Notepad application on the left.

Assuming the app is highlighted on the left, just press the Enter key any time and it’ll launch that app, no key clicking, nothing extra. If it pops up several apps with n-o-t-e-p, then either keep typing to zero in on “the app” you want and press Enter to launch, or you can arrow around/tap-touch/click on the app name on the left side to select “the app” you want. Fiddle with this, but effectively this is a very quick way to launch apps that may not be on your Windows 8 menu (yet).

If I start typing w-o-r-d, if I have Microsoft Word on the system, it’ll show me Word, or e-x-c-e-l will give me the option of launching Excel. Or even things like p-r-i-n-t-e-r will pop up under Settings the option for me to “Add a Printer,” or n-e-t under search settings will show me options like “Connect to a Network.”

Between Pinning things to Start and simply typing a few letters of something, I can launch apps, run utils, add printers, and do things on a Win8 system FASTER than what I thought was super efficient in WinXP or Win7. This was the trick to making Windows 8 easy to use.

Now that you have the navigation thing figured out, go to the Windows Store and download “apps” for your most common things you do, so things like there are Box.com apps, Acrobat reader apps, Picture viewers, Real Media Player app, etc.

Note: When you are in the store looking for apps, as much as you can scroll through the “Popular” apps or “Top free” apps it shows you on screen, if you wanted to “search” for an app to download, it’s not intuitive how to search for an app. The way to search for an app is when you are in the Store, pull up the “charm” thing (move mouse to the bottom right, or on a tablet, swipe your right thumb right to left to have the “charm” menu on the right side pop out and then use the “search” function in the charm). So just as you “searched” your apps earlier in this blog to find stuff on your local computer, when you are in the Store app and do a search, it’ll now search for apps in the Store (ie: searching for Acrobat, or Box, or Alarm Clock, or USA Today or the like).

When you install the app, it shows up on your Windows 8 Style menu. Simply clicking the app launches the application. However, from your Windows 8 Style menu, you might want to move your most commonly used apps to the left side of your menu so they are visible to you more frequently when you pop up the Windows 8 menu. To move the app with a mouse/keyboard, just click and hold down the mouse button down and “drag” the app to the left. On a touch tablet, you touch the app with your finger and then slide the app “down” and then to the left. This took me a while to figure out as I logically tried to push the app with my finger and immediately drag to the left which would tend to just launch the app. The trick is to touch the app with your finger, drag down a bit, then to the left to move it around! Move any non-commonly used apps from the left side over to the right side so they are out of your way.

Many times apps take up two spaces on the menu. I hate that. I’d rather have all of my apps as the small 1-square wide icon. All you do is right-click the app icon and at the bottom it’ll show you “larger” or “smaller” to make the icon a different size. Some have this option to make small icons larger. Oddly, you cannot tag multiple icons and make them all “Smaller” at the same time, you have to right click and “make smaller” one by one. It takes a few seconds to do, but buys you back more real estate on your Windows 8 menu to get more apps 1 click away to run. (Note: if you have a touch tablet, some of these first time configurations are BEST off doing with a mouse. I would usually plug a USB mouse into my tablet and run through some of these basic right-click configuration things, or drag/drop icon things as it is a LOT faster with a mouse. Everything “can” be done with your finger on a touch screen; it’s just not as efficient if you have a lot to configure/setup).

When you are in a Windows 8 app, you likely find there are no application configuration options, settings, things you can do with the app that you have in Windows XP or Windows 7 apps might have found as Tools/Options, or Options/Settings. With Windows 8, apps typically DO have configuration settings, you just have to know how to find them. Here’s the trick, app settings are in the Charm/Settings on Windows 8. Launch and sit in the Windows 8 application, and then with a touch tablet, swipe your right thumb from right to left off the left edge of the tablet screen, and press Settings; with a keyboard system, move your mouse cursor to the bottom right to pull up the Charm menu, then click Settings. With the Charm/Settings exposed, you’ll see configuration settings for that app!

Also, when you are in a Windows 8 application, there are frequently more options when you “swipe down” from the top of the tablet, or “swipe up” from the bottom of the tablet screen (or on a keyboard-based system, you position your mouse cursor at the top of the screen where a bar appears, or you move the mouse cursor at the top of the screen and right-click). As an example, when I’m in the Internet Explorer in Windows 8 and want to have the Address Bar appear, or I want to switch between IE “tabs”, things like the below pop up and give you additional application options…

For applications on your Windows 8 menu, there’s also this thing called “Live Tile,” in which the icon changes screens, like the way the CNN news live tile shows you the latest news and flips through things, or the Photos “Live Tile” flips through your pictures. You can turn Live Tile off (again, right click the icon, choose to turn Live Tile on/off). I find it annoying to have the thing flip through stuff when I don’t remember what icon is what, but it’s really your call.

To flip through running apps, you can Alt-Tab from a keyboard-based system, or from either a mouse or touch tablet, move the cursor to the upper left hand corner and little tiles of the running apps show in the left margin of the screen. You can right-click and “close” any of those running apps. I used to close apps all the time as I’m old school and after running an app and don’t need it anymore, I close it. But after a while, I just leave the apps running. They don’t take up processing power and with 4-8GB of RAM in my systems these days I have plenty of memory. Every now and then I reboot my device/tablet/system but on occasion, and I will run my finger to the upper left and choose apps to close.

And a hidden thing in the bottom left corner of the screen is a “start”-type button thing that when right clicked will show you a list of common tasks like Event Viewer, Disk Management, Command Prompt, Task Manager, Control Panel, Windows Explorer, Run, etc. It’s sometimes helpful to use that, although these days with most stuff on my Windows 8 Menu or I just type a few letters, I don’t bother with these various other menu things, but just FYI…

Logging Out of a system is done by click on your name from the Windows 8 Style menu as shown in the Figure here:

To shutdown or restart the computer, you can navigate the menus (like Charm, Settings, Shutdown), or what I did was create a Windows 8 style menu “app” that I simply click that’ll shut down my computer. You effectively create a “shortcut” on the “desktop” and then you “Pin to Start.” That’ll add the shortcut to your Windows 8 menu. Here’s what it looks like:

1) From the Windows 8 menu, click Desktop to switch to the old Windows 7 style desktop
2) Right click on the desktop and choose New | Shortcut
3) When prompted for the Location of the item, enter in c:\windows\system32\shutdown.exe /p as shown below, then click Next
4) For the name of the Shortcut, type in something like Shutdown, then click Finish
5) Right click on the shortcut that is on your desktop and choose Pin to Start

You now have an icon on your Windows 8 menu that allows you to shutdown your system with a single click.

You can change the command syntax in #3 above to restart the computer by making that c:\windows\system32\shutdown.exe /r or /h at the end (instead of /r) will hibernate a system.

Oh, and one more thing – so once I tricked out my Windows 8 menu with all of the icons I wanted, how do I transfer my icons, menu items, etc. to other systems? Microsoft came out with this thing called the User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) that is the new generation of “roaming profiles.” However, unlike roaming profiles of the past where EVERYTHING was moved from system to system whether you wanted it or not (ie: registry settings, apps, icons, junk on your desktop, etc), with UE-V profiles, you can specifically just note to “roam” your Windows 8 menu. Microsoft did a case study on my organization’s experience with UE-V [link download].

More information on UE-V is available on the Microsoft site. UE-V isn’t free; it’s part of what Microsoft calls its Desktop Optmization Pack (MDOP) that includes a bunch of other tools like RemoteApp, App-V (application virtualization), VDI, etc. Any case, you might find your organization owns MDOP as part of the Software Assurance for Windows client licensing, and if so, explore UE-V where you can roam your Win8 menu from your desktop, to your laptop, to your tablet, to your VDI guest session, to your Remote Desktop (terminal server) guest session, etc.

Hopefully, this is a place to start. I REALLY fought the whole Windows 8 menu thing for a long time, even filed several “bug reports” during the early adopter program noting that the whole Windows 8 menu was a major “bug,” although with a bunch of these tips and tricks I’ve noted in this article, I think you’ll find this whole Windows 8 menu thing to actually be a LOT easier to use and definitely faster than having to fiddle through a bunch of menus.

Questions and Answers
As the “comments” section below has gotten pretty massive, I wanted to create a little index of some of the more helpful questions/answers that people have asked about (and I have answered). Scroll down to the appropriate Comment/Reply below for more info:

Having Windows 8 “forget” the WiFi passcode and WiFi default connection so you can re-enter in a new key or choose a different WiFi default connection (see response to posting from “Sara” from January 5, 2013)
Accessing POP3 email from Windows 8 (see response to post from reedfunchap from January 4, 2013)
Re-associating Windows 8 with a new email / logon / local account without having to restore the whole new system (see response to post from catey44 from January 1, 2013)
Difference between a Windows 8 Store “App” and downloading an app from a vendor’s site (see response to post from Scott Schulte from January 1, 2013)
Disabling the “Charm” from popping out all the time see response to post from Jesse A Vasquez from December 23, 2012)
Adjusting the timezone in Windows 8 (see response to post from Sabir Ali from December 17th-ish, 2012)
Choosing a different “response” when a device is plugged into a system, ie: setting a new default action for a device (see response to post from Ken Reynolds from early December 2012)
As I respond to “comments” with information of value, I’ll continue to add the info in here for a quick summary…

Several other postings I’ve done on Windows Server 2012, Exchange 2013, Intune, System Center, etc. Just click the Next Article or Previous Article buttons on this blog post to get to other articles I’ve covered, or click here to see a listing of all of the various blog posts I’ve done over the years. Hopefully this information is helpful!


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Microsoft has long planned on one store to bind them, and that is now getting closer.

Microsoft’s cross-platform strategy is no secret. Much of the same code found in Windows 8.1 is also in Windows Phone 8, including the kernel. So it stands to reason that, in time, apps should be easily portable between platforms, especially WP8 and Windows RT.

Well, Microsoft is continuing that effort. The company just announced it is creating a unified developer registration experience for the two platforms. The site has nothing to do with the developer end; it handles the business side of things. The idea is to make it easier for developers who want to create apps for both Windows and Windows Phone by giving them one point of registration instead of two.

Under the new registration program, Windows Phone developers will have access to the Windows Dev Center, which handles PC and tablet sales, for no additional cost. The same works both ways, as Windows developers now have access to the Windows Phone Dev Center for no additional cost. In both cases, the developer uses the same Microsoft Account to log in on either site and has access to both Centers.

So, existing developers can now submit apps to both stores at no additional cost under one Microsoft account while new developers can register under just one account. The registration fee is a very modest $19 for an individual developer and $99 for a company account. Developers already registered for both stores will receive a code via email this month for a free one-year renewal when their existing registration is up for renewal.

The process of submitting apps will remain slightly different due to the differences in platforms, but Microsoft aims to have a single submission process as well. And of course, there is the effort to make one developer platform, so apps can be generated across the board from a single code base. But, one thing at a time.


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Windows 8 brushes up against 10% user share mark

Written by admin
October 2nd, 2013

In the last two months, Microsoft’s newest OS has added 3.5 points to its share of all computing devices powered by Windows

Windows 8 powered almost 10% of all devices running Microsoft’s OSes last month, even as its uptake pace slowed, according to analytics company Net Applications today.

Meanwhile, Windows XP’s decline continued as customers, prodded by the upcoming April 2014 support deadline, again ditched the veteran operating system in droves.

Windows 8′s user share of all computing devices running Windows, a tally that includes Windows 8.1, the update slated to ship in two weeks, jumped to 9.8% in September, Net Applications said. The 1.4-point gain was down from the record one-month increase set in August, but nearly double the OS’s 12-month average.

The August-September surge of Windows 8 may have been driven by sharp back-to-school sales of touch-based notebooks, which accounted for a quarter of all sales from June 30 through Sept. 7, the NPD Group said last week.

About one out of 10 devices running Windows 8 ran the Windows 8.1 upgrade last month, said Net Applications. Microsoft launched a public preview of Windows 8.1, the restart to the problem- and perception-plagued OS, in June. The update will hit the Windows Store, where it can be downloaded by current users, on Oct. 17, and hit retail on Oct. 18, when many of Microsoft’s OEM (original equipment manufacturers) partners are expected to unveil and start selling new hardware.

Microsoft will launch its revamped Surface tablets several days later.

Windows 8 also increased its lead over Windows Vista, the oft-derided flop from 2007, when each OS’s share was compared 11 months after launch. At that point in its release cycle, Vista accounted for 8.5% of all Windows PCs. The gap between Vista and Windows 8 — 1.1 percentage points in August — widened in September to 1.3 points.

Windows 8 will certainly pass the 10% mark of all Windows PCs this month.

Part of the rise of Windows 8 must also be credited to the decline of Windows XP, the 12-year-old operating system slated to drop off Microsoft’s support radar next April.

For the second month running, Windows XP shed several percentage points of user share, ending at 31.4% of all personal computers worldwide. That was equivalent to 34.6% of all systems running one Windows flavor or another.

The rapid two-month decline of Windows XP hints at the final push to dump the “walking dead” OS that many analysts predicted would accelerate as the April deadline looms. Microsoft will issue its final security update for XP that month; after that, while the operating system will continue to run, it will do so in an increasingly dangerous environment because Microsoft will not provide patches to the general public for any vulnerabilities, critical or otherwise.

Some security experts have speculated that cyber criminals will unleash attacks in the months after April 2014, having saved up their “zero-day” vulnerabilities and associated exploits until the deadline has passed.

Using the trends in Net Applications’ data, Computerworld now predicts that XP will power between 18% and 26% of the world’s personal computers at the end of April 2014. The lower number assumes that the accelerated decline of the last few months continues, while the higher user share assumes XP’s drop-off resembles the more stately 12-month slide.

Microsoft has aggressive plans for deprecating XP, although it has not shared any new specifics. “We have plans to get [XP's share] to 13% by April when the end-of-life of XP happens,” said Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s COO, during a half-day presentation last month in front of Wall Street analysts. “This has been a major and multi-year initiative for us, and one that we’ve worked very hard on to make sure we can execute towards.”

While Windows powered nine out of 10 personal computers in September, Apple’s OS X — the foundation of its desktop and notebook Macs — ended the month with a record 7.5% user share. Linux, which has never made good on its loyalists’ hopes that it would dominate desktop PCs, finished September up slightly, to 1.6%.

Net Applications measures operating system user share by tracking unique visitors to approximately 40,000 sites it monitors for clients.

 


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Yes, Bill Gates finally admitted that Ctrl+Alt+Del ‘was a mistake,’ but it was because the IBM design guy wouldn’t give him a single button.

At a Harvard fundraising campaign, Harvard Campaign co-chair David Rubenstein, asked Bill Gates, “Why, when I want to turn on my software and computer, do I need to have three fingers on Ctrl+Alt+Delete? What is that — where does that come from? Whose idea was that?”

Ctrl+Alt+DeleteGates began with a “complex” reply, “Basically, because when you turn your computer on, you’re gonna see some screens and eventually type your password in – you want to have something you do with the keyboard that is signaling to a very low level of the software – actually hard-coded in the hardware – that it really is bringing in the operating system you expect, instead of just a funny piece of software that puts up a screen that looks like a login screen, and then it listens to your password and then it’s able to do that.”

Then Gates finally cut to the chase and just admitted, “So we could have had a single button, but the guy who did the IBM keyboard design didn’t want to give us our single button and so we programed it low level that you had to — it – it’s – it was a mistake.”

Gates (again) says “no” about returning to the helm of Microsoft

Despite rumors that Gates will return to Microsoft to replace the departing Steve Ballmer, Gates told Business Insider, “No, I ran Microsoft for a period of time. And, now I’m the chairman helping out on a part-time basis.”

When asked if he was tempted to return to the path of technology in order to rid the world of Apple devices, or at least replace iPads with Microsoft’s Surface tablets, Gates stated, “Well, I’m part-time involved and Microsoft’s got a lot of stuff, the industry is doing a lot of cool things, and I keep my hand in that, but I won’t be full-time doing that.”

Meanwhile, like many others, Forbes’ Anne Marie Squeo hammered on Microsoft’s lack of a CEO succession plan. Then a piece in the New York Times suggested that Gates should follow Ballmer out the door. Robert Cyran wrote that Gates’s “many talents don’t include effectiveness as chairman. Under his leadership, Microsoft’s board left Mr. Ballmer in place too long. Now that Mr. Ballmer is to retire as chief executive within a year, Mr. Gates doesn’t have a replacement ready, an important task for any chairman.”


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Microsoft insists on selling us its Surface laptop/tablet hybrid, but it needs to take user preference into account.

With the announcement of the second version of Microsoft’s Surface tablet coming up later this month in New York City, this might be a good time to ask a pertinent question: What’s really important in a hybrid tablet?

Hybrid devices like the Surface and Surface Pro, the HP Split 13 x2, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11s, along with many others, fall somewhere between a classic iPad-style tablet and an Ultrabook-style laptop like the Macbook Air or Sony Vaio T Series. They are designed to work as both standalone tablets and keyboard-equipped laptops. The idea is that one device can take the place of both, saving money and the hassle of carrying and switching between multiple devices.

The Problem With Hybrids
It’s a nice theory, but the devices haven’t really caught on yet, and I’m pretty sure I know why.

The problem, as I see it, is that most of these hybrid devices are trying to too hard to do it all, and that’s pretty hard to pull off. Hybrid makers would do better to concentrate on one aspect of the device, and then make the other capability a nice add-on for extra functionality.

But here’s the kicker: The laptop, not the tablet, needs to be the core of this combo.

I’ve used many of these devices, including the Surface and Surface Pro and the HP Envy x2, as well as touchscreen “laptops” like Google’s Pixel Chromebook. They’re all interesting devices, but none of them is perfect. Working through each one’s compromises, though, made it abundantly clear that for the device to have a chance of replacing a separate laptop and tablet, it had to ace the laptop portion of the test.

A hybrid with a strong laptop function that also works as a mediocre tablet could still find a home in many business users’ kits. After all, having a second-rate tablet at hand is often better than not having a tablet at all.

But if the device can’t cut it as a laptop, all bets are off. What good is a hybrid laptop/tablet if you still have to lug along your laptop to do your real work?

A Tale of Two Surfaces
The differences between the two existing Surface models make the point obvious. The Surface is lighter and enjoys longer battery life than the Surface Pro, but its Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 chip is underpowered for a laptop. Worse, relying on Windows RT means it may not run all the Windows programs a laptop would. It simply won’t replace a laptop for anyone who really needs one.

The Surface Pro, while bigger, heavier, more power-hungry and much more expensive, sports an Intel Core i5 chip like those in many traditional laptops. If you can live with its relatively small screen and those snap-on keyboards (I could), then it might actually be able to replace a standard laptop for you. And it’s still usable as tablet. Sort of, anyway.

And that’s what these hybrids are all about: Replacing what you absolutely need to have, and doing a good-enough job at the add-ons that would be nice to have. Or, that’s at least what they should be doing. Let’s hope the upcoming Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro do a decent job.


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Windows 8 has been out for a while, featuring an interface that’s as cool as it is annoying . . . until you get the hang of it. But, like any computer operating system, it can fall over. Luckily, there is an easy way to solve the cause of most crashes; just call up WinDbg, the Windows debugger; a free tool to diagnose the most common causes of Windows crashes — misbehaved third party drivers.

In W8, the Blue Screen of Death/BSOD has been modified to include a large, simple : ( emoticon and a short message in human (if not very informative) language. (Watch a slideshow version that walks you through any crash.]

The Windows 8 Blue Screen of Death has become the frown of frustration.

Also, Microsoft has made advancements in the dump file creation and management process. While this article focuses on W8, the information applies to both RT and Server 2012. For earlier operating systems, see Solve Windows 7 crashes in minutes or, for XP and 2000, see How to solve Windows crashes in minutes.

About Windows crashes

Operating system crashes are quite different from applications crashes, system hangs or other problems. In most cases, operating systems crash as a protective measure. When the OS discovers that critical devices are failing or that an internal operating system state has been identified as inconsistent because of possible viruses, bad device drivers or even RAM failures, it is generally safer to stop immediately. Otherwise, continuing operations would allow far more serious damage, such as application data corruption or loss.

[HELP IS ON THE WAY: Where to go for help with Windows crashes]

Two out of three system crashes are caused by third party drivers taking inappropriate actions (such as writing to non-existent memory) in Kernel mode where they have direct access to the OS kernel and to the hardware.

In contrast, drivers operating in User Mode, with only indirect access to the OS kernel, cannot directly cause a crash. A small percentage of crashes are caused by hardware issues such as bad memory, even less by faults in the OS itself. And some causes are simply unknown.

Thanks for the memory dump

A memory dump is the ugliest best friend you’ll ever have. It is a snapshot of the state of the computer system at the point in time that the operating system stopped. And, of the vast amount of not-very-friendly looking data that a dump file contains, you will usually only need a few items that are easy to grasp and use. With the introduction of Windows 8, the OS now creates four different memory dumps; Complete, Kernel, and Minidumps and the new Automatic memory dump.

1. Automatic memory dump
Location: %SystemRoot%\Memory.dmp
Size: ≈size of OS kernel

The Automatic memory dump is the default option selected when you install Windows 8. It was created to support the “System Managed” page file configuration which has been updated to reduce the page file size on disk. The Automatic memory dump option produces a Kernel memory dump, the difference is when you select Automatic, it allows the SMSS process to reduce the page file smaller than the size of RAM.

2. Complete memory dump
Location: %SystemRoot%\Memory.dmp
Size: ≈size of installed RAM plus 1MB

A complete (or full) memory dump is about equal to the amount of installed RAM. With many systems having multiple GBs, this can quickly become a storage issue, especially if you are having more than the occasional crash. Normally I do not advise saving a full memory dump because they take so much space and are generally unneeded. However, there are cases when working with Microsoft (or another vendor) to find the cause of a very complex problem that the full memory dump would be very helpful. Therefore, stick to the automatic dump, but be prepared to switch the setting to generate a full dump on rare occasions.

3. Kernel memory dump
Location: %SystemRoot%\Memory.dmp
Size: ≈size of physical memory “owned” by kernel-mode components

Kernel dumps are roughly equal in size to the RAM occupied by the Windows 8 kernel. On my test system with 4GB RAM running Windows 8 on a 64-bit processor the kernel dump was about 336MB. Since, on occasion, dump files have to be transported, I compressed it, which brought it down to 80MB. One advantage to a kernel dump is that it contains the binaries which are needed for analysis. The Automatic dump setting creates a kernel dump file by default, saving only the most recent, as well as a minidump for each event.

4. Small or minidump
Location: %SystemRoot%\Minidump
Size: At least 64K on x86 and 128k on x64 (279K on my W8 test PC)

Minidumps include memory pages pointed to them by registers given their values at the point of the fault, as well as the stack of the faulting thread. What makes them small is that they do not contain any of the binary or executable files that were in memory at the time of the failure.

However, those files are critically important for subsequent analysis by the debugger. As long as you are debugging on the machine that created the dump file, WinDbg can find them in the System Root folders (unless the binaries were changed by a system update after the dump file was created). Alternatively the debugger should be able to locate them automatically through SymServ, Microsoft’s online store of symbol files. Windows 8 creates and saves a minidump for every crash event, essentially providing a historical record of all events for the life of the system.

Configure W8 to get the right memory dumps

While the default configuration for W8 sets the OS to generate the memory dump format you will most likely need, take a quick look to be sure. From the W8 Style Menu simply type “control panel” (or only the first few letters in many cases) which will auto-magically take you to the Apps page where you should see a white box surrounding “Control Panel”; hitting Enter will take you to that familiar interface.
 


Make your way to Control Panel in W8.

The path to check Windows 8 Memory Dump Settings, beginning at Control Panel, follows:

Control Panel | System and Security | System | Advanced system settings | Startup and Recovery | Settings

Once at the Startup and Recovery dialogue box ensure that “Automatic memory dump” is checked. You will probably also want to ensure that both “Write an event to the system log” and “Automatically restart” (which should also be on by default) are checked.

Install WinDbg
System Requirements

To set your PC up for WinDbg-based crash analysis, you will need the following:
• 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 8/R2/Server 2012/Windows 7/Server 2008
Depending on the processor you are running the debugger on, you can use either the 32-bit or the 64-bit debugging tools. Note that it is not important whether the dump file was made on an x86-based or an x64-based platform.
• The Debugging Tools for Windows portion of the Windows SDK for Windows 8, which you can download for free from Microsoft.
• Approximately 103MB of hard disk space (not including storage space for dump files or for symbol files)
• Live Internet connection

Download WinDbg

First download sdksetup.exe, a small file (969KB) that launches the Web setup, from which you select what components to install.
• Standard download.
• Automated download (the download will start on its own):

Space required
Ignore the disk space required of 1.2GB; you will only be installing a small portion of the kit. On my test machine the installation process predicted 256.2MB but only needed 103MB according to File Explorer following installation.

Run skdsetup.exe

Install the Software Development Kit (SDK) to the machine that you will use to view memory dump files.

A. Launch sdksetup.exe.

B. Specify location:

The suggested installation path follows:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\8.0\

If you are downloading to install on a separate computer, choose the second option and set the appropriate path.

C. Accept the License Agreement

D. Remove the check marks for all but Debugging Tools for Windows
What are symbols and why do I need them?

Now that the debugger is installed and before calling up a dump file you have to make sure it has access to the symbol files. Symbol tables are a byproduct of compilation. When a program is compiled, the source code is translated from a high-level language into machine code. At the same time, the compiler creates a symbol file with a list of identifiers, their locations in the program, and their attributes. Since programs don’t need this information to execute, it can be taken out and stored in another file. This reduces the size of the final executable so it takes up less disk space and loads faster into memory. But, when a program causes a problem, the OS only knows the hex address at which the problem occurred, not who was there and what the person was doing. Symbol tables, available through the use of SymServe, provide that information.

SymServ (SymSrv)

From the Windows 8 UI, right-click on WinDbg then select “Run as administrator” from the bar that pops up from the bottom of the screen.

SymServ (also spelled SymSrv) is a critically important utility provided by Microsoft that manages the identification of the correct symbol tables to be retrieved for use by WinDbg. There is no charge for its use and it functions automatically in the background as long as the debugger is properly configured, and has unfettered access to the symbol store at Microsoft.

Running WinDbg
From the W8 UI, right-click on the version of WinDbg you will use (x64 or x86) then select “Run as administrator” from the bar that pops up from the bottom of the screen. You will then see a singularly unexciting application interface; a block of gray. Before filling it in with data you must tell it where to find the symbol files.

Setting the symbol File Path
There is a massive number of symbol table files for Windows because every build of the operating system, even one-off variants, results in a new file. Using the wrong symbol tables would be like finding your way through San Francisco with a map of Boston. To be sure you are using the correct symbols, at WinDbg’s menu bar, select the following:

File | Symbol file path

In the Symbol search path window enter the following address:

srv*c:\cache*http://msdl.microsoft.com/download/symbols

Note that the address between the asterisks is where you want the symbols stored for future reference. For example, I store the symbols in a folder called symbols at the root of my c: drive, thus:

srv*c:\symbols*http://msdl.microsoft.com/download/symbols

Make sure that your firewall allows access to msdl.microsoft.com.

How WinDbg handles symbol files
When opening a memory dump, WinDbg will look at the executable files (.exe, .dll, etc.) and extract version information. It then creates a request to SymServ at Microsoft, which includes this version information and locates the precise symbol tables to draw information from. It won’t download all symbols for the specific operating system you are troubleshooting; it will download what it needs.

Space for symbol files
The space needed to store symbols varies. In my W8 test machine, after running numerous crash tests, the folder was about 35MB. On another system, running W7, and on which I opened dump files from several other systems the folder was still under 100MB. Just remember that if you open files from additional machines (with variants of the operating system) your folder can continue to grow in size.

Alternatively, you can opt to download and store the complete symbol file from Microsoft. Before you do, note that – for each symbol package – you should have at least 1GB of disk space free. That’s because, in addition to space needed to store the files, you also need space for the required temporary files. Even with the low cost of hard drives these days, the space used is worth noting.

• Each x86 symbol package may require 750 MB or more of hard disk space.

• Each x64 symbol package may require 640 MB or more.

Symbol packages are non-cumulative unless otherwise noted, so if you are using an SP2 Windows release, you will need to install the symbols for the original RTM version and for SP1 before you install the symbols for SP2.

Create a dump file

What if you don’t have a memory dump to look at? No worries. You can generate one yourself. There are different ways to do it, but the best way is to use a tool called NotMyFault created by Mark Russinovich.

Download NotMyFault
To get NotMyFault, go to the Windows Internals Book page at SysInternals and scroll down to the Book Tools section where you will see a download link. The tool includes a selection of options that load a misbehaving driver (which requires administrative privileges). After downloading, I created a shortcut from the desktop to simplify access.

Keep in mind that using NotMyFault WILL CREATE A SYSTEM CRASH and while I’ve never seen a problem using the tool there are no guarantees in life, especially in computers. So, prepare your system and have anyone who needs access to it log off for a few minutes. Save any files that contain information that you might otherwise lose and close all applications. Properly prepared, the machine should go down, reboot and both a minidump and a kernel dump should be created.

Running NotMyFault
Launch NotMyFault and select the High IRQL fault (Kernel-mode) then . . . hit the Crash button. Your Frown-of-Frustration will appear in a second, both a minidump and a kernel dump file will be saved and – if properly configured – your system will restart.


When Windows 8 crashes, you see (1) the Frown-of-Frustration in the new BSOD. After restart you see (2) the offer to send crash files to Microsoft. The final screen (3) lists the files that would be sent, displays the privacy statement and asks you for permission to send them.

Over the W8 UI will be a band of blue with the message that “Your PC ran into a problem . . . “. If you click the “Send details” button, Microsoft will use WinDbg and the command “!analyze” as part of an automated service to identify the root cause of the problem. The output is combined with a database of known driver bug fixes to help identify the failure.

Launch WinDbg and (often) see the cause of the crash
Launch WinDbg by right-clicking on it from the W8 UI then select “Run as administrator” from the bar that pops up at the bottom of the screen. Once the debugger is running, select the menu option

File | Open Crash Dump

and point it to open the dump file you want to analyze. Note that WinDbg will open any size dump file; a minidump, kernel dump or complete dump file. When offered to Save Workspace Information, say Yes; it will remember where the dump file is.

A command window will open. If this is the first time you are using WinDbg on this system or looking at a dump file from another system you have not loaded files for before, it may take a moment to fill with information. This is because the debugger has to identify the precise release of Windows then go to SymServ at Microsoft and locate the corresponding symbol files and download the ones it needs. In subsequent sessions this step is unneeded because the symbols are saved on the hard drive. Once WinDbg has the symbols it needs it will run an analysis and fill the window with the results. This will include basic information such as the version of WinDbg, the location and name of the dump file opened, the symbol search path being used and even a brief analysis offering, in this case,

Probably caused by : myfault.sys

which, of course, we know to be true (myfault.sys is the name of the driver for NotMyFault).

WinDbg Error Messages
If WinDbg reports a *** WARNING or an *** ERROR, the solution is usually simple. The following lists the common messages, what they mean and how to resolve them.

*** WARNING: Unable to verify timestamp for ntoskrnl.exe

*** ERROR: Module load completed but symbols could not be loaded for ntoskrnl.exe

This is important. When you see these two messages near the beginning of the output from WinDbg, it means that you will not get the analysis that you need. This is confirmed after the “Bugcheck Analysis” is automatically run, and the message

***** Kernel symbols are WRONG. Please fix symbols to do analysis

is displayed.

Likely causes follow:

• No path/wrong path; a path to the symbol files has not been set or the path is incorrect (look for typos such as a blank white space). Check the Symbol Path.

• Failed connection; check your Internet connection to make sure it is working properly.

• Access blocked; a firewall blocked access to the symbol files or the files were damaged during retrieval. See that no firewall is blocking access to msdl.microsoft.com (it may only be allowing access to www.microsoft.com).

Note that if a firewall initially blocks WinDbg from downloading a symbol table, it can result in a corrupted file. If unblocking the firewall and attempting to download the symbol file again does not work; the file remains damaged. The quickest fix is to close WinDbg, delete the symbols folder (which you most likely set at c:\symbols), and unblock the firewall. Next, reopen WinDbg and a dump file. The debugger will recreate the folder and re-download the symbols.

Do not go further with your analysis until this is corrected.

If you see the following error, no worries:

*** WARNING: Unable to verify timestamp for myfault.sys

*** ERROR: Module load completed but symbols could not be loaded for myfault.sys


WinDbg automatically suggests the culprit as shown.

This means that the debugger was looking for information on myfault.sys. However, since it is a third-party driver, there are no symbols for it, since Microsoft does not store all of the third-party drivers. The point is that you can ignore this error message. Vendors do not typically ship drivers with symbol files and they aren’t necessary to your work; you can pinpoint the problem driver without them.
So, what caused the crash?
As mentioned above, when you open a dump file with WinDbg it automatically runs a basic analysis that will often nail the culprit without even giving the debugger any direct commands as shown in the screen where it says “Probably caused by : myfault.sys”

More information

Getting a little more information about the crash event and the suspect module is easy. Often, all you need is two commands among the hundreds that the rather powerful debugger offers:

!analyze -v

and

lmvm.

A new way to command WinDbg
Normally, you would type in the commands and parameters you need. Things have changed, however, and Windows too. If you take a good look at the WinDbg interface, just below the “Bugcheck Analysis” box, it says “Use !analyze -v to get detailed debugging information” and that the command is underlined and in blue. Yes, it’s a link. Just touch it and the command will be run for you. But, in case you don’t have a touch screen, a mouse will work fine or resort to the traditional method of typing the command into the window at the bottom of the interface where you see the prompt “kd>” (which stands for “kernel debugger”). Be sure to do it precisely; this is a case where syntax is key. For instance, note the space between the command and the “-v”. The “v” or verbose switch tells WinDbg that you want all the details. You can do the same where you see the link for myfault which will display metadata for the suspect driver.

Output from !analyze -v

The analysis provided by !analyze -v is a combination of English and programmer-speak, but it is nonetheless a great start. In fact, in many cases you will not need to go any further. If you recognize the cause of the crash, you’re probably done.

Output from !analyze -v

The !analyze -v command reveals the cause of the crash and the likely culprit.

The !analyze -v provides more detail about the system crash. In this case it accurately describes what the test driver (myfault.sys) was instructed to do; to access an address at an interrupt level that was too high.

Analysis

DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL (d1)

An attempt was made to access a pageable (or completely invalid) address at an interrupt request level (IRQL) that is too high. This is usually caused by drivers using improper addresses.

Under Debugging Details the report suggests that the problem was a “WIN_8_DRIVER_FAULT” and that NotMyFault.exe was active.

Stack dump
An important feature of the debugger’s output using !analyze -v is the stack text. Whenever looking at a dump file always look at the far right end of the stack for any third-party drivers. In this case we would see myfault. Note that the chronologic sequence of events goes from the bottom to the top; as each new task is performed by the system it shows up at the top. In this rather short stack you can see that myfault was active, then a page fault occurred, and the system declared a BugCheck, which is when the system stopped (Blue Screened).

One way to look at this is that when you see a third-party driver active on the stack when the system crashed, it is like walking into a room and finding a body on the floor and someone standing over it with a smoking gun in his hand; it doesn’t mean that he is guilty but makes him suspect No.1.

Output from lmvm (or by selecting myfault)

Knowing the name of a suspect is not enough; you need to know where he lives and what he does. That’s where lmvm comes in. It provides a range of data from this image path (not all drivers live in %systemroot%\system32\drivers.), time stamp, image size and file type (in this case a driver) to the company that made it, the product it belongs to, version number and description. Some companies even include contact information for technical support. What the debugger reports, though, is solely dependent upon what the developer included, which, in some cases, is very little.

After you find the vendor’s name, go to its Web site and check for updates, knowledge base articles, and other supporting information. If such items do not exist or do not resolve the problem, contact them. They may ask you to send along the debugging information (it is easy to copy the output from the debugger into an e-mail or Word document) or they may ask you to send them the memory dump (zip it up first, both to compress it and protect data integrity).

If you have any questions regarding the use of WinDbg, check out the WinDbg help file. It is excellent. And, when reading about a command be sure to look at the information provided about the many parameters such as “-v” which returns more (verbose) information.

The other third

While it’s true that, by following the instructions above, you’ll likely know the cause of two out of three crashes immediately; that does leave that annoying other third. What do you do then? Well, the list of what could have caused the system failure is not short; it can range from a case fan failing, allowing the system to overheat, to bad memory.

Sometimes it’s the hardware
If you have recurring crashes but no clear or consistent reason, it may be a memory problem. Two good ways to check memory are the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool and Memtest86. Go to Control Panel and enter “memory” into its search box then select “Diagnose your computer’s memory problems”.

This simple diagnostic tool is quick and works great. Many people discount the possibility of a memory problem, because they account for such a small percentage of system crashes. However, they are often the cause that keeps you guessing the longest.

Is Windows the culprit?

In all probability: no. For all the naysayers who are quick to blame Redmond for such events, the fact is that Windows is very seldom the cause of a system failure. But, if ntoskrnl.exe (Windows core) or win32.sys (the driver that is most responsible for the “GUI” layer on Windows) is named as the culprit — and they often are – don’t be too quick to accept it. It is far more likely that some errant third-party device driver called upon a Windows component to perform an operation and passed a bad instruction, such as telling it to write to non-existent memory. So, while the operating system certainly can err, exhaust all other possibilities before you blame Microsoft.

What about my antivirus driver?
Often you may see an antivirus driver named as the culprit but there is a good chance it is not guilty. Here’s why: for antivirus code to work it must watch all file openings and closings. To accomplish this, the code sits at a low layer in the OS and is constantly working so that he will often be on the stack of function calls that was active when the crash occurred.

Missing vendor information?
Some driver vendors don’t take the time to include sufficient information with their modules. So if lmvm doesn’t help, try looking at the subdirectories on the image path (if there is one). Often one of them will be the vendor name or a contraction of it. Another option is to search Google. Type in the driver name and/or folder name. You’ll probably find the vendor as well as others who have posted information regarding the driver.
Summary

Bear in mind that the time it took you to read this primer and to configure WinDbg on your system is far more effort than you will need to solve two of three crashes. Indeed, most crash analysis efforts will take you less than one minute. And, while the other third can certainly be more challenging, at least you’ll have more time to try.


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Tablet flop hits earnings, which missed Wall Street’s expectations by large margin

Microsoft today took an unexpected $900 million charge to account for what it called “inventory adjustments” for the Surface RT, the poor-selling tablet that debuted last year.

Later today, Microsoft will hold a conference call with Wall Street analysts, but its fourth-quarter fiscal numbers — published on its website shortly after the U.S. financial markets closed — pointed out the massive write-down.

The company has been aggressively discounting the Surface RT, which runs the scaled-down Windows RT, a tablet-specific version of Windows 8 that relies exclusively on the “Modern,” nee “Metro,” tile-based user interface and app ecosystem.

On Sunday, for instance, Microsoft chopped the price of the Surface RT by $150, or 30% for the 32GB model, to bring it down from the original $499 to $349. The 64GB Surface RT was also discounted by $150, a 25% price cut from $599 to $449.

Today’s $900 million write-down reflects not only those discounts, but also the extended inventory that Microsoft believes it may never sell.

Microsoft today reported revenue of $19.9 billion for the quarter ending June 30, a 10.3% increase over the same period the year before. But earnings of $5 billion, or 59 cents a share, were significantly below the Street’s expectations of 75 cents a share.

During the second calendar quarter of 2012, Microsoft recorded earnings of just $192 million because of a pair of one-time charges: a $540 million revenue deferral tied to the then-upcoming Windows 8 upgrade program, and a $6.2 billion write-off to account for the loss of goodwill for its online services group.

Amy Hood, the company’s new CFO, acknowledged in a statement that, “Our fourth [fiscal] quarter results were impacted by the decline in the PC market” and added, “While we have work ahead of us, we are making the focused investments needed to deliver on long-term growth opportunities like cloud services.”

Last week, Microsoft announced a corporate overhaul and spelled out its new strategy to become a devices-and-services seller after nearly four decades of selling packaged software.


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Band to help Microsoft open more retail outlets, one right down the street

The radio ad caught my attention: Microsoft is opening a retail store in the nearby Natick Mall on June 8 and the ceremonies will be followed by a free concert that evening by … Weezer?

Really?

I shouldn’t have been surprised, as it turns out that Weezer has been Microsoft’s house band of sorts for going on two decades. The mall store openings appear to be a steady gig; for example, there was one Sept. 29 in Newark, Del., and shows are planned in Portland, Ore., June 21 and Schaumburg, Ill. June 22.

But a look at the band’s Wikipedia page showed me something about the Microsoft/Weezer relationship that was genuinely surprising: It dates back to Windows 95, the installation CD for which includes Weezer’s most famous music video, “Buddy Holly.” You’ll remember that video as the one where the band plays at Arnold’s Drive-in Diner from the TV show Happy Days, which ended its decade-long run in 1984. And, of course, a clip of that installation CD can be found on YouTube.

 


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Windows Blue can be previewed in June, but Microsoft said it heard our cries for a Windows 8 Start button. A Start button “might be helpful,” but Microsoft is trying to understand “what people are really asking for when they’re asking for that.”

Microsoft sold more than 100 million licenses for Windows 8, keeping up with Windows 7 sales at the six-month mark. In June, people who have Windows 8 will be able to preview Windows Blue.

“We recently surpassed the 100 million licenses sold mark for Windows 8,” stated Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Financial Officer Tami Reller. “This number includes Windows licenses that ship on a new tablet or PC, as well as upgrades to Windows 8. This is up from the 60 million license number we provided in January.” She admitted that “Windows 8 is a big, ambitious change,” and “change takes time” to accept, but Microsoft believes “the Windows Blue update is also an opportunity for us to respond to the customer feedback that we’ve been closely listening to since the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT.”

Microsoft heard our outcries for a Windows 8 Start button but is trying to understand what people are really asking for when they’re asking for thatLack of a Start button is the biggest Windows 8 criticism for users on non-touch devices. Reller told The Verge, “We have heard that, we definitely have heard that and taken that into account. We’ve really also tried to understand what people are really asking for when they’re asking for that.”

Seriously? Hmm, it seems pretty obvious that the outcries for Windows 8 to include a Start button really mean that customers are asking for the Start button. That would lead to a Start menu. Windows 8 is not user-friendly on a PC or laptop. The lack of a Start button, Start menu and the ability to boot straight to Windows are the “loudest” complaints.

“We knew there would be a learning curve with Windows 8,” admitted Microsoft VP for Windows Julie Larson-Green at the Wired Business Conference. She is in charge of bringing Windows to the “mobile age” and may even be a candidate to eventually follow Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft. She hasn’t ruled it out and said to ask her again in a year.

For now, Larson-Green is the head of Windows Engineering and is “tweaking the design and layout of Windows to free it from the desktop and allow people to better incorporate it into their lives through mobile devices.” She explained that Windows 8 was designed for mobile, compared to Windows 7, which was “optimized for the laptop.” She insisted that people want to be mobile, yet added that Microsoft is “not going to be stubborn” when it comes to Blue.

ZDNet suggested that “New Coke, like Windows 8 for Microsoft, was total market failure.” Coca-Cola was wise enough to switch back and give people what they wanted, Classic Coke. Steven Vaughan-Nichols asked, “Does Ballmer have the guts to admit he made a mistake and give users what they clearly want?”

Neither Larson-Green, nor Reller, would confirm that the Start button is coming back. Larson-Green stated, “The Start Button might be helpful,” yet she pointed out that the Start Button is there now, but “basically hidden. Some would like it showing up on the screen all the time.” Although there have been “meaningful discussions” about bringing it back, that doesn’t imply that Microsoft will bring back the “old Start Menu.”

Mary Jo Foley pointed out that the Windows Blue preview, which will be made available in June, happens to coincide with Microsoft’s Build 2013 Conference; it will be held June 26 – 28 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Microsoft planned to “share updates and talk about what’s next for Windows” at Build. Blue is expected to be named Windows 8.1.

Reller told The Verge that Microsoft is interested in 7- and 8-inch form factors for Blue. “We’ve made sure from the product to our pricing and offerings we are supporting 7- and 8-inch devices specifically.” Yet Blue, according to Reller, “does a nice job of optimizing for those small screen form factor sizes.”

Yeah, well, don’t forget that we aren’t all using those small screens at all times. Some of us will continue to work from a non-touch device and we flipping want Windows 8 to stop being so unfriendly to PC and laptop users. It’s not about accepting change; it’s about usability.

 


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Microsoft promises more Windows Embedded Compact 7 updates

Microsoft has revealed several Windows Embedded Compact 7 updates, one planned for the fourth quarter of this year and one for the second half of 2012. Next year’s version will get an updated kernel, faster file system, and broader hardware support, according to an EE Times report.
A 9:30 a.m. keynote was delivered Oct. 26 at the ARM TechCon show in Santa Clara, Calif. by Microsoft’s Dan Javnozon, group product manager for the Windows Embedded marketing group. At the time, we were up north in our Palo Alto batcave getting other news stories out, so we’re grateful to EE Times for reporting on what transpired.

According to writer Rick Merritt, Javnozon spilled the beans regarding two pending updates to Windows Embedded Compact 7. Building on an “Windows Embedded Compact 7 Update 3″ version that was released last month — see later — the revisions suggest that the Windows CE-based operating system won’t be left forgotten in the wake of an ARM-powered Windows 8.

Microsoft’s Dan Javnozon announcing Windows Embedded Compact 7 updates

Source: EE Times
Javnozon, pictured above, is said to have promised a Compact 7 update for the fourth quarter of this year, though apparently no details were provided. In addition, Merritt writes, he promised “Compact v.Next” for the second half of 2012 — with an updated kernel, faster file system, and “broader hardware support.”

Compact v.Next will also get boosted real-time capabilities, EE Times reports. But in a brief post-keynote interview, Javnozon declined to provide further specifics, the story added.

Microsoft’s most recent revision to Windows Embedded Compact 7 operating system was announced on Oct. 17. “Windows Embedded Compact 7 Update 3″ includes approximately 125 code defect fixes, several new tools for automating testing, and available Silverlight source code for the operating system’s media player, according to the company.

Windows Embedded Compact 7 was first announced in June 2010 as a significant upgrade to the previous Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R3. New features included multicore support, an upgraded Internet Explorer web browser, Adobe Flash support, user interface (UI) development via Silverlight, and the ability to share and manage content across DLNA (digital living network alliance) devices.

The operating system runs not only on x86 processors like its big brother Windows 7, but also on other architectures such as ARM — including the multicore Cortex-A9 — and MIPS. (However, Microsoft notes, Hitachi’s SH4 is no longer supported by this particular Windows CE variant, and ARMv5 is the earliest supported ARM architecture.)

According to an Oct. 17 blog entry by Olivier Bloch, chief software architect for Windows Embedded, Windows Embedded Compact 7 Update 3 is now freely downloadable. He wrote that the new release contains “approximately 125 code defect fixes” for the Compact 7 operating system, Platform Builder tools, and the Compact Test Kit (CTK).

The installer for Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Compact 7
The CTK has two new tools, Bloch adds: The Compact Automation Tool Solution (CATS) for automating test scenarios, and The Compact Stress Tool for automating stress tests. Also now included is new Silverlight for Windows Embedded (SWE) sample code for the Compact 7 Media Player, which was previously provided only in binary format. A previous dependency on the compositor in the sample code has been removed, so Media Player performance should be improved across all hardware configurations, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft originally promoted Windows Embedded Compact 7 as “bringing the power of Windows 7 across … specialized devices such as slates, portable media players, and others.” Indeed, the operating system was shown off last year on an early version of the Asus Eee Pad EP101TC (below), a tablet that was later revamped to run Android instead.

The Asus Eee Pad EP101TC originally ran Windows Embedded Compact 7
Since then, both the progress of Android devices and the announcement of a pending, ARM-based version of Windows 8 has caused Redmond to lower its sights — or so it would appear. Thanks to its low cost, simpler hardware requirements, modularity, and real-time characteristics, however, Windows Embedded Compact 7 will continue to find customers, or so its supporters argue.


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What does Microsoft have left to gain by being public when the stock is at a standstill?

Should Microsoft go private? Don’t dismiss the question, it’s a valid one, even if it would be extraordinarily difficult.

The stocks of most of the old guard of the tech industry have been stagnant for years, even though the companies have done reasonably well or even very well in some cases. Yet they get no appreciation from Wall Street and are taken for granted. A recent Seeking Alpha blog asked if Microsoft was good for anything other than its dividend. At this point, they have to ask what they gain by being public.

RELATED: Intel needs more than just an ARM license

Microsoft’s relationship with Samsung gets ugly

I’ll say it up front so you don’t have to: going private would not be easy for any of these companies. Their stocks are heavily diluted and they would need a ton of outside money to buy up enough stock to go private. It would be very, very difficult and I acknowledge that. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering.

You take a company public for a variety of reasons. My very first gig out of college was as a financial reporter. One of the conventional wisdoms I learned back then was you didn’t go public because you needed money to survive. Companies that did that were likely a bad investment to begin with. You went public for the big cash infusion and also as a lure for top talent.

Well, that day is over. We all know about the three Microsoft billionaires (Gates, Ballmer, Allen) and thousands of millionaires the company made, but those were early employees. Trust me, no one hired in the last decade became a millionaire on their options.

You go public to have shares to trade for acquisitions. Most of the acquisitions made by Microsoft are actually very small, strategic purchases. Its only big ones have been Skype and aQuantive, and boy was the latter one an utter failure.

You go public to get the attention of institutional investors and build brand equity. Does anyone NOT know what Microsoft is?

On the flipside, though, are the headaches. A public company spends millions of dollars per year on compliance rules, such as the inane Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). SOX has been directly cited as the reason for the drop in initial public offering (IPO) activity in the 2000s while IPOs rose in foreign countries, including hundreds of American firms going public on the London Stock Exchange.

Also, back in 2005, the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation reported going-private transactions made up 25 percent of all public takeovers. In other words, public companies were taken over by private ones, and were subsequently taken off the market. That was double the pre-SOX level and the trend was largely blamed on SOX.

More important than compliance headaches is the complete monomania of Wall Street. It cares about a single thing: growth. If you don’t have a growth story, they don’t want to hear it. No company ever earned a Buy rating because it increased employee healthcare coverage or improved customer service.

Microsoft has a complicated, multi-year strategy to execute. It needs time and patience, something people clearly do not have with Windows RT. What better way to execute than to do it outside of the impatient eyes of Wall Street analysts who only care about next quarter’s projections. It’s not easy to implement a multi-year strategy when four times a year you have to hear ‘what are you going to do for me next quarter?’

Don’t tell me HP couldn’t benefit from this. Meg Whitman is doing her best and seems to be slowly righting the ship, but because people take the quarter-to-quarter view, and not the long view like a CEO with an ounce of vision has to take, she can’t get a break.

Intel’s stock is exactly where it was when Paul Otellini took over the firm in 2005. Back then, it was a $38 billion company, its products had lost major ground to AMD, it was under SEC and EU investigation and was being sued by AMD. Intel is now a $54 billion company, its revamped chips have laid waste to AMD so badly it’s no longer a competitive company, and all of the legal headaches are gone. And this is the thanks he gets for it.

Microsoft would similarly be well-served to operate in quiet for a while. The company has its own transition and transformation to address and it would be nice to do it without the quarterly dog-and-pony show. It won’t shield Ballmer from the criticism he has coming in response to Windows 8, but it would give him a chance to take a long view and actually execute on it without constant interruption.


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How Microsoft lost the future of gesture control

Written by admin
April 2nd, 2013

How Microsoft lost the future of gesture control
Microsoft’s Kinect was miles ahead. Here’s how they’re snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Ten years ago, Windows, Office and Internet Explorer were the only “platforms” that really mattered.

Microsoft historically attained its glory by making end user products for the masses, and only later and secondarily going after enterprise and vertical markets.

But the rise of Apple as a consumer electronics company, Google’s emergence as an everything company, and the advent of Web 2.0, the cloud and the social Internet have left Microsoft struggling to find a way to succeed in the markets of the future.

There was one shining exception to this trend in the consumer market: Xbox in general and Kinect for Xbox 360 in particular.

Kinect is a top-notch, low-cost in-the-air gesture control interface for Microsoft’s console gaming platform that was way ahead of its time and broke the Guinness World Record for the fastest selling-consumer electronics gadget ever.

So when Microsoft later announced a version of Kinect for Windows, everybody (including me) assumed that it would go on to dominate the future of gesture control, and use its dominance as an advantage to regain its lead in the desktop PC market of the future.

But now it looks like Microsoft blew it.
What’s wrong with Kinect for Windows?

Microsoft Kinect for Windows sounds like you should be able to use it with a desktop PC, and you can. Unfortunately, the closest you can get to the cameras is 16 inches away, and that’s when you put it into a special “Near Mode.”

That technical limitation puts the user’s head and body farther away from a screen than usual. So right out of the box, it can’t be used naturally, as we once expected, as an alternative to a mouse on a PC.

Microsoft doesn’t mind, because it isn’t really targeting end users like you and me.

Most of the example photos shown on the Microsoft website show Xbox-like distances where the user is across the room or at least five feet away from the Kinect.

These pictures show commercial and retail applications — a business presentation, a physical therapist, a retail eyeglasses store. Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows blog also emphasizes retail applications of the product.

It’s possible that Microsoft may eventually market Kinect for Windows to consumers. But so far, it looks like it’s not cultivating developers in that market.

Microsoft still hasn’t announced commercial availability of Kinect for Windows, though it did release an updated software development kit (SDK) this month.

Right now, Kinect for Windows ships to developers only and doesn’t come with software for controlling any interface. If you want to control something, you have to build your own software using the SDK.

This strikes me as weird on two counts. First, Microsoft is a software company. Why didn’t it make software for Kinect for Windows, at least to demonstrate basic control of the Windows 8 user interface?

Second, why ignore the consumer market for Kinect — especially since the Surface Tablet and Windows 8 are struggling to stand out as superior to alternatives from Apple and Google?
How Microsoft blew it

Microsoft had a five-year head start. The technology behind Kinect was originally invented in 2005. It took the company five years to move from invention to a fully ready-for-prime-time consumer product.

Kinect for Xbox 360 launched to consumers in 2010 with a whopping $500 million advertising budget.

Since then, Microsoft has sold more than 24 million units and has inspired a huge and active community of hobbyists and researchers who do amazing things with the Kinect.

One of my favorite blogs is called Kinect Hacks, which documents some of these projects.

How Leap Motion is making all the right moves

Microsoft shipped a surprisingly mature, polished mass-market consumer product for Xbox in the same year a small company called Leap Motion was quietly founded and funded.

Microsoft started shipping units in the millions at the same time Leap Motion began the long process of taking an idea and developing it into a product.

So what’s the difference between Kinect and Leap?
The Kinect for Windows gadget is a plastic thing about the size of a large car rearview mirror that has microphones and cameras that double as sensors, which point away from the screen and at the user.

The Leap, on the other hand, is tiny — about the size of a standard USB flash drive. It lies flat on the table pointing up, capturing the motion that happens above it.

In general, Leap is optimized for fine detection of fingers and hands, while the Xbox for Windows can detect fingers, hands, arms, body, face and voice.

While there’s much that Leap can’t do compared to the Kinect, its ability to detect finger and hand movements appears superior in terms of both “resolution” and performance — judging from the demos I’ve seen, anyway.

Leap can track up to 10 fingers. And it’s very fast — hand movements almost instantly affect what’s on screen.

Leap can recognize when you’re holding something, then track the thing you’re holding instead of the hand that’s controlling it — essentially turning any object into a kind of Wii controller. You can even tell Leap to track a pencil you’re holding in your hand, then write very finely in the air to instantly write on screen.

Some 12,000 developers are working with the Leap platform. The company recently announced an app store called Airspace.

While both products superficially do the same thing, the two companies have taken completely different strategic approaches.

Microsoft is ignoring the consumer market; Leap Motion is embracing it.

Leap’s other advantage is cross-platform support. It works on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

The Leap device is due to ship May 13 at a price of $79.99. Microsoft sells Kinect for Windows devices to developers for $249 but has not announced user pricing or a ship date.

While Microsoft had a long head start in the cultivation of a developer community, Leap has been attracting developers fast.

Leap Motion did three things that Microsoft should have done.

First, it limited the initial feature set to focus on high performance, small size and low price, rather than trying to build a system that could do everything at any distance.

Second, it focused on consumers, rather than retail and vertical applications.

Third, Leap zeroed in on up-close-and-personal use at a regular desktop rather than on activities that involve people standing up across a room.

Combining these advantages, Leap targets the broadest consumer and gamer marketplace: the one made up of people standing or sitting immediately in front of a screen — any screen, regardless of whether their system runs Windows, Linux or OS X.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is focusing on users in retail, enterprise or industrial settings who will be standing some distance from their screens and who (presumably) would be willing to pay much more for a device. Oh, and it’s only aiming for people running Windows.

Leap’s target audience is at least an order of magnitude larger than Microsoft’s.

If you’re a developer, which is the more attractive market?
In short, Microsoft had one of the most successful consumer electronics products in history. In converting it to the desktop, it could have reversed its fortunes in that realm and knocked another one out of the park.

Instead, Microsoft screwed up, focusing on a very small and narrow market with a relatively expensive, complex product that is taking far too long to get into the hands of users.

Microsoft squandered a five-year head start and is now falling behind. By the time the company gets Kinect for Windows into the consumer market, I suspect Leap Motion will already own that market.

Microsoft should hope that Apple doesn’t acquire Leap Motion and build the technology into OS X exclusively — because then it’s curtains for Windows, too.


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Microsoft Technical Training Courses

Written by admin
March 1st, 2013

Microsoft Technical Training Courses

Vendor certifications play an important part in the IT world, and Microsoft sets the industry standard. Training to gain proficiency in Microsoft products and technology allows professionals to get up to speed on the essential tools that hiring managers value today. Whether students come to technical training programs after completing a degree program or on their own, Microsoft technical courses offer a valuable service–so valuable, in fact, that the software giant claims its certification reduces downtime by 20 percent and makes teams 28 percent more productive.

Microsoft BizTalk Server Training Courses
Microsoft BizTalk Server training can help the pros connect with the skills necessary for an enterprise career. With BizTalk Server courses, IT personnel can explore the uses of this integration server for business tasks like multi-channel interactions, supply chain visibility and decision-support/reporting.

Microsoft Visual Studio Training Courses
Microsoft Visual Studio training prepares students for IT careers as professionals who build, test and debug software solutions. Developers can use this platform to launch or build an advanced career in enterprise applications analysis and systems management.

Microsoft Exchange Server Training Courses
Enterprise communications are of vital importance to today’s business world, and professionals with Microsoft Exchange Server training can provide employers with peace of mind about messaging and mail server administration.

Visual Basic .NET Training Courses
A core component of Microsoft Visual Studio, VB.NET returns to prominence as companies prepare to move custom applications to the cloud.

ASP.NET Training Courses

Once reserved for the likes of Fortune 500 companies, Microsoft’s ASP.NET platform has reached a wider group of employers who demand skilled Web developers.

Microsoft SQL Server Training Courses

With such diverse applications, Microsoft SQL Server training and certification can help IT pros prove their value to a variety of different enterprises.

Microsoft Dynamics Training Courses

From simple CRM to advanced ERP, it pays to make the most of Microsoft Dynamics. Learn about some of the training and certification options available for this software.

.NET Training Courses

Developers with .NET training are among the most in-demand pros in today’s competitive job market. Explore how .NET courses can make a difference in your IT career.

Who is best suited for Microsoft technical training?

Students come to technical training programs from a range of backgrounds. Many are adding on to existing training and degree experience, while others pair training with work experience. Some students come back to training to bring their knowledge up to date or explore new career paths. Students are often self-motivated and interested in advancing their current careers or taking their job futures in a new direction.

Which professions require Microsoft training?
Microsoft reports that 75 percent of managers in an IDC survey believe certifications are important to team performance. Because of this, workers trained in Microsoft products and technologies are found across a range of businesses. Take a look at the mean annual wages from 2009 for a few popular careers in the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Network and computer systems administrators: $70,930
Computer systems analysts: $80,430
Computer support specialists: $47,360
Computer programmers: $74,690

While no training or certification can guarantee a particular career or salary, hiring managers are often looking for educational experience and proof of high-level skills, and Microsoft training works to provide just that.

Popular technical certification exams

While it’s not usually required to log training hours, a little formal training can mean the difference between passing and failing a costly certification exam. Consider the following certification exams offered through Microsoft:

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Basic certification for individuals looking for proof of in-depth mastery in a particular technology, such as .NET Framework, BizTalk Server, and Small Business Server 2008. ($125)
Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA): Intermediate certification for those looking for proof of knowledge within network and systems environments. ($500)
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE): Advanced certification for individuals hoping to design and implement server infrastructure. Candidates must pass seven exams on networking systems, operating systems and core design. ($875)

Other certification exams include Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) and Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA). The Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) is the highest level of certification, and requires 10 years of experience, 5 years of architectural experience and a $5,125 fee.

Some topics covered by Microsoft technical training

.NET: This framework allows developers to apply their work across many devices, including phone, browser, server, client and cloud
Microsoft SQL Server: A powerful database management system. Editions include Enterprise, Web, Workgroup and Fast Track
Microsoft Dynamics: Offering enterprise resource management and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions
Microsoft Visual Basic .NET (VB.NET): An evolution of the standard Visual Basic programming language, including object-oriented programming
Microsoft Exchange Server: Business email and contacts across devices, including phone, browser and PC
Microsoft Windows: Family of operating systems, including Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP
Microsoft Windows Server: Manage IT needs, security, applications platforms and more
Microsoft BizTalk Server: Integrate systems between businesses and communicate flawlessly with a range of devices
Microsoft Visual Studio: Integrated development environment that ensures quality code through the application’s lifecycle
ASP.NET: Web application framework designed to help programmers build dynamic websites

With a host of certifications available for a host of products, Microsoft technical training can boost an existing or be the first step in a new career in IT.


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Microsoft has no reason to save Dell

Written by admin
February 2nd, 2013

If I kicked in a few billion dollars for anything, I’d want something in return. But does Dell have anything Microsoft would want?

By now, you’re probably familiar with the reports that Michael Dell is looking to take his company off the public stock market and make it private again. The deal would be the largest leveraged buyout since the economy hit the skids in 2008, and one of the biggest ever. Because of this, the current problem won’t be easy to solve.

As it looks now, Michael is basically going to have to empty his piggy bank, which means his 16% stake in the company, financing by private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners, and arrange another $15 billion in debt financing with banks.

Microsoft is also involved, reportedly ready to contribute $2 billion or more of equity in the form of a preferred security. Other reports put Microsoft’s contribution at between $1 and $3 billion.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft’s role is proving to be a sticking point, which should surprise no one. You don’t hand over $2 billion and let a company go on its way. Word to the WSJ is the key players in the deal still need to work out the ways Microsoft would and would not be involved in Dell’s business after a deal closes.

Looking things over, it would seem there is more downside for Microsoft and Dell than there is upside. The great upside potential for both companies, as I see it, is that they would be the closest thing to an Apple-like scenario of merging hardware and software under one roof. It won’t be as tightly knit as Apple, but it will be closer than it is now.

That said, I’m not sure how much tighter they can get. Dell and Microsoft MCTS Certification are already close and have great integration between hardware and software. There’s not much more the two need.

At the same time, Microsoft risks alienating or damaging its relationships with other OEMs, especially HP and the surging Lenovo. We’ve been through this argument before when talking about Microsoft MCITP Training making prototype smartphones and tablets. It’s risky business, but at the same time, where else would the OEMs go?

And, on that note, will a meddling Microsoft put an end to Dell’s Linux efforts? Dell offers Red Hat and SuSe enterprise servers and is working with Canonical to certify Ubuntu on the PowerEdge servers. What will become of that?

Dell has sworn off smartphones for now, having gotten burned on some earlier models like the Streak a few years back. But Microsoft is anxious for OEM partners. Will it lean on Dell to offer Windows Phone 8 devices? If so, how will Nokia, Samsung, HTC and LG take it, if they aren’t the supplier through Dell?

Taking all of these headaches into account, it’s hard for me to see an upside. In this case, Microsoft might want to just wash its hands of the whole thing. Or give a loan with no expectations of influence, although I kind of doubt that would happen.

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Windows RT users happy with the device, so far

Written by admin
December 22nd, 2012

Despite an unending stream of FUD being hurled at the Surface tablet, people who have bought it seem pretty enamored with their purchase, according to reviews piling up on BestBuy.com and Staples.

Microsoft launched the Surface tablet in its retail stores, all 65 of them, before expanding to Best Buy (1,900 stores total) and Staples (1,400 stores) earlier this month.

So far, sentiments for the device are fairly positive. On Best Buy’s website, the Windows RT tablet sports a 4.7 out of 5 rating, based on 28 customer reviews. Only one customer was unhappy with the device and rated it one out of five stars.

“No Outlook so not full MS Office, all other tablets have version of word, excel, and powerpoint, so very disappointing,” wrote customer gates77. He liked screen customization, but also noted “Battery life wasn’t to [sic] good and typecover isn’t as good as some logitech keyboards. Can’t load any of my windows 7 programs.”

The most popular feature about Surface RT seems to be Windows 8. “Windows 8 runs like a charm, the Windows Apps Store is growing by the day and I am able to use all my favorite apps such as iHeartRadio, NY Times, USA Today, Kayak, Netflix, Endgadget, eBay, ESPN…” wrote Cricketer from New York on Staples.com.

“The live tiles are a great innovation,” wrote Philipm785 of Atlanta. “They provide genuinely useful information without having to launch the apps and the multiple sizes and custom groupings that can be easily scrolled and zoomed are way easier to get around than the multiple screens of tiny uniform icons you get on iOS.”

The hardware is also receiving kudos. “It’s a perfect laptop replacement for those who don’t need lot of processing power. Don’t wait for the surface pro. The battery life is all day,” wrote desiboy of New York on BestBuy.com.

“I gave away my Android tablet after using this for a while,” wrote MZach of NC. “The keyboard and touchpad are unobtrusive but there when you need them and the keyboard has cursor keys!”

Even people giving 5-star reviews have complaints, include volume output, the “primitive” email app, lack of apps and x86 support, Flash support in IE10, and the price itself.

It’s encouraging to see, but I’m actually not totally surprised. Early adopters tend to be enthusiasts. As it moves beyond the early adopter stage and away from Microsoft enthusiasts into the mass market, that score will drop as more cons pile up. We’ll see what people say when the much more expensive x86 models arrive next year.

 


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Is Windows 8 really a sitting duck for malware?

Written by admin
December 7th, 2012

A report claims so, but given Microsoft’s attempts to harden the OS, that seems dubious.

A new report released by the security firm Websense Security Labs claims Windows 8 will become one of the top three most-hacked platforms in 2013 because of its newness and Microsoft’s efforts to encourage development for the radical new platform.

Yeah, that didn’t make sense to me, either.

It took a chat with the folks at Websense to make, er, sense of what they were saying, but I do see their point. With a new operating system on the market that will hopefully gain significant ground and Microsoft attempting to woo developers like never before, there’s lots of potential for exploit.

“Microsoft’s efforts to produce an extremely developer friendly platform will be embraced by the cybercriminal community, and vulnerabilities will be exploited,” the company said in its 2013 Security Predictions. “If they deliver on their promise, the rate of threat growth on Microsoft mobile devices will be the highest.”

That’s a big “if.” Android, another platform Websense sees as a major target in 2013, is far more insecure. But in the case of Windows, there is, for lack of a better word, an installed base of malicious code and talent who know their way around Windows operating systems, and they are going to bring that to bear on Windows 8.

They will try to get around security systems that have been tightened up. Good luck with that. BitDefender recently ran tests on Windows 8 and found that a system with just Windows Defender, which is hardly a suitable security program, stopped 85% of the malware samples used in the tests.

The bad guys aren’t just about code; they understand how people write code and how malware works. So it’s not just malware samples, it’s accumulated and applied knowledge that they bring to Windows 8, says Websense. And given the common code between PC Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, malware could easily move across platforms.

The other two platforms that will be big targets in 2013 are also mobile operating systems: Android and iOS. According to the firm, Android will be targeted because of its open nature. Websense expects attack techniques used on the desktop platform to continue to migrate over to Google’s operating system.

iOS should be a lot more stable due to its closed nature. However, with the growing popularity of iOS devices in professional environments, IT should consider this a prime platform for targeted attacks, Websense said. And most malware that does exist for iOS targets jailbroken phones.

Websense made seven predictions for 2013, most of them centered around cybercriminals attacking mobile devices. You can find the entire report, in PDF format, here. Free registration is required to view it.

 


 

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Tutorial on Using Windows 8

Written by admin
November 29th, 2012

The first time I sat in front of the Windows 8 interface, I have to admit I was not thrilled; no Start button, I couldn’t find the control panel, things just weren’t what I was used to. That was over two years ago in the early adopter program for Windows 8, and now when I use Windows XP or Windows 7, I find it very inefficient to “have to click through so many menus” to find and do basic stuff.

The focus of this article is to share with you not simply how to make Windows 8 work like Windows XP/Windows 7 “the old way” (which I will go through and give you tips on how to find stuff and configure stuff to work the old way), but instead to really focus on how to do things better and more easily, effectively helping you shortcut the learning process that makes Windows 8 actually extremely easy and efficient to use.

First of all, some basic terminology and “old way” of finding things so that I can take you through Windows 8 in a way you have learned how to use Windows. As I’m sure you are aware, Windows 8 no longer has the “Start Button” at the bottom left of the screen. Instead, Microsoft has the “Windows 8 Style Menu” (that they formally called the Metro style menu, until Microsoft was informed Metro Style was copyrighted, so they’re just calling it the Windows 8 Style menu). This is the menu that Windows comes up with.

If you are in the middle of an application (browser, Word, or any other app) and you want to get back to the menu, on a tablet, you press the “Home” button (usually a physical button on the bottom middle of the tablet device) or from a keyboard system, you press the “Windows-key.”

The “start button” for the most part (the thing that gives you access to the Control Panel, shutdown/restart, etc) is called the “Charm” and it pops up on a touchscreen tablet when you swipe your thumb from right to left on the right side of the screen (basically swiping the charm menu out from the right edge and into your screen of view). On a keyboard system, the charm menu pops up when you move the move cursor all the way to the right bottom of the screen.

From the charm menu, you can click on the top most icon (“search”) and it shows you all of your applications installed (this would be similar to doing a Start/All Programs in Windows 7). You’ll see the search bar (circled in red) and on the left you can scroll through all of your apps.

When you search/find the app you want or simply just scroll through the apps off this Charm/Search view, you can right-click the application, and at the bottom of the screen you are given options to Pin to Start, which adds the app to your Windows 8 Style Menu (THIS is a good idea as it puts a shortcut on your main menu screen so that every time you press the Home button or press the Windows-key, your apps show up on the main menu). You can also Pin to Start things like Control Panel, Command Prompt, Run, etc. I usually Pin everything I usually use/access to the Start which makes it easy for me to just go back to the main Windows 8 style menu to launch my apps!

Note: You’ll also see when you right click an app, you can also Pin to Taskbar (this pins to the old Windows 7 style taskbar at the bottom of the “Desktop” screen). I used to Pin stuff to the Taskbar, but now that more and more apps are coming out with Windows 8 menu icons (like Office 2013, SkyDrive, Box.net, Real Player, etc), I no longer find myself working from the older Win7 “taskbar.” This is one of those crutches you can continue to use, or just move into the 21st Century and start using the native Windows 8 menu.

Note: You’ll also see when you right click an app, at the bottom of the screen you can choose to run the app as an Administrator, uninstall the app, find the file/application location. These are helpful “things” we used occasionally in Win7 in the past that you now have shortcuts to run.

Another option off the Charm Menu (when you move your mouse cursor to the bottom right, or swipe your thumb right to left off the right edge of a tablet) is the Settings options (the bottom-most option on the charm) when you click on Settings…

…this is where a LOT of common things are found, such as Control Panel…

…Power (where you choose to shutdown/restart the computer/device), Network (where you select the WiFi connection you want to connect to), Change PC Settings (where you can change other things that are not in the Control Panel like desktop background, the photo you associate to your logon…

…add printers, etc).

Basically click on this Settings place and you’ll get to a lot of things you may normally access for configuration.

Okay, so with the basics under your belt, here’s where you learn to be a Windows 8 person and not a WinXP/Win7 person trying to run Windows 8. Instead of moving your cursor to pop up the charm to then click on Search to then find your application, or instead of moving your cursor to pop up the charm to then click Settings to then go to the Control Panel…you would do one of two things. If you are on a Tablet (or a keyboard-based Win8 device), ADD all of your apps, control panel, etc. to your Windows 8 style menu. It’ll take you a couple minutes to right click and “Pin to Start” all of your apps and utilities, but once they are pinned, you will almost never have to go fiddle with the charm thing. You’ll just press the Home button (on a tablet) or press the Windows key (on a keyboard-based system) and from the menu, click/tap the app and you run the app. To “switch” to another app, press the Home button or press the Windows key and click/tap the other app you want to run. All apps stay in memory; you just “toggle” between apps by simply pressing the Home button or pressing the Windows key to get to your apps.

Note: On a keyboard system, you can still Alt-Tab between apps, so toggling between apps is really easy. No more Start/Programs to get to applications. No need to Charm/Settings/Control Panel to get to the Control Panel if you simply pinned the Control Panel onto your Windows 8 style main menu!

So what happens if you want to access an app that you did not pin to your menu? On a keyboard-based system, at the Windows 8 Menu, just start typing a few letters of the app or function you want to do, and the “search” starts working immediately. For example, at the Windows 8 menu, if I start typing the letters n-o-t-e-p, the search bar will appear in the upper right and it’ll zero in on the Notepad application on the left.

Assuming the app is highlighted on the left, just press the Enter key any time and it’ll launch that app, no key clicking, nothing extra. If it pops up several apps with n-o-t-e-p, then either keep typing to zero in on “the app” you want and press Enter to launch, or you can arrow around/tap-touch/click on the app name on the left side to select “the app” you want. Fiddle with this, but effectively this is a very quick way to launch apps that may not be on your Windows 8 menu (yet).

If I start typing w-o-r-d, if I have Microsoft Word on the system, it’ll show me Word, or e-x-c-e-l will give me the option of launching Excel. Or even things like p-r-i-n-t-e-r will pop up under Settings the option for me to “Add a Printer,” or n-e-t under search settings will show me options like “Connect to a Network.”

Between Pinning things to Start and simply typing a few letters of something, I can launch apps, run utils, add printers, and do things on a Win8 system FASTER than what I thought was super efficient in WinXP or Win7. This was the trick to making Windows 8 easy to use.

Now that you have the navigation thing figured out, go to the Windows Store and download “apps” for your most common things you do, so things like there are Box.com apps, Acrobat reader apps, Picture viewers, Real Media Player app, etc.

Note: When you are in the store looking for apps, as much as you can scroll through the “Popular” apps or “Top free” apps it shows you on screen, if you wanted to “search” for an app to download, it’s not intuitive how to search for an app. The way to search for an app is when you are in the Store, pull up the “charm” thing (move mouse to the bottom right, or on a tablet, swipe your right thumb right to left to have the “charm” menu on the right side pop out and then use the “search” function in the charm). So just as you “searched” your apps earlier in this blog to find stuff on your local computer, when you are in the Store app and do a search, it’ll now search for apps in the Store (ie: searching for Acrobat, or Box, or Alarm Clock, or USA Today or the like).

When you install the app, it shows up on your Windows 8 Style menu. Simply clicking the app launches the application. However, from your Windows 8 Style menu, you might want to move your most commonly used apps to the left side of your menu so they are visible to you more frequently when you pop up the Windows 8 menu. To move the app with a mouse/keyboard, just click and hold down the mouse button down and “drag” the app to the left. On a touch tablet, you touch the app with your finger and then slide the app “down” and then to the left. This took me a while to figure out as I logically tried to push the app with my finger and immediately drag to the left which would tend to just launch the app. The trick is to touch the app with your finger, drag down a bit, then to the left to move it around! Move any non-commonly used apps from the left side over to the right side so they are out of your way.

Many times apps take up two spaces on the menu. I hate that. I’d rather have all of my apps as the small 1-square wide icon. All you do is right-click the app icon and at the bottom it’ll show you “larger” or “smaller” to make the icon a different size. Some have this option to make small icons larger. Oddly, you cannot tag multiple icons and make them all “Smaller” at the same time, you have to right click and “make smaller” one by one. It takes a few seconds to do, but buys you back more real estate on your Windows 8 menu to get more apps 1 click away to run. (Note: if you have a touch tablet, some of these first time configurations are BEST off doing with a mouse. I would usually plug a USB mouse into my tablet and run through some of these basic right-click configuration things, or drag/drop icon things as it is a LOT faster with a mouse. Everything “can” be done with your finger on a touch screen; it’s just not as efficient if you have a lot to configure/setup).

When you are in a Windows 8 app, you likely find there are no application configuration options, settings, things you can do with the app that you have in Windows XP or Windows 7 apps might have found as Tools/Options, or Options/Settings. With Windows 8, apps typically DO have configuration settings, you just have to know how to find them. Here’s the trick, app settings are in the Charm/Settings on Windows 8. Launch and sit in the Windows 8 application, and then with a touch tablet, swipe your right thumb from right to left off the left edge of the tablet screen, and press Settings; with a keyboard system, move your mouse cursor to the bottom right to pull up the Charm menu, then click Settings. With the Charm/Settings exposed, you’ll see configuration settings for that app!

Also, when you are in a Windows 8 application, there are frequently more options when you “swipe down” from the top of the tablet, or “swipe up” from the bottom of the tablet screen (or on a keyboard-based system, you position your mouse cursor at the top of the screen where a bar appears, or you move the mouse cursor at the top of the screen and right-click). As an example, when I’m in the Internet Explorer in Windows 8 and want to have the Address Bar appear, or I want to switch between IE “tabs”, things like the below pop up and give you additional application options…

For applications on your Windows 8 menu, there’s also this thing called “Live Tile,” in which the icon changes screens, like the way the CNN news live tile shows you the latest news and flips through things, or the Photos “Live Tile” flips through your pictures. You can turn Live Tile off (again, right click the icon, choose to turn Live Tile on/off). I find it annoying to have the thing flip through stuff when I don’t remember what icon is what, but it’s really your call.

To flip through running apps, you can Alt-Tab from a keyboard-based system, or from either a mouse or touch tablet, move the cursor to the upper left hand corner and little tiles of the running apps show in the left margin of the screen. You can right-click and “close” any of those running apps. I used to close apps all the time as I’m old school and after running an app and don’t need it anymore, I close it. But after a while, I just leave the apps running. They don’t take up processing power and with 4-8GB of RAM in my systems these days I have plenty of memory. Every now and then I reboot my device/tablet/system but on occasion, and I will run my finger to the upper left and choose apps to close.

And a hidden thing in the bottom left corner of the screen is a “start”-type button thing that when right clicked will show you a list of common tasks like Event Viewer, Disk Management, Command Prompt, Task Manager, Control Panel, Windows Explorer, Run, etc. It’s sometimes helpful to use that, although these days with most stuff on my Windows 8 Menu or I just type a few letters, I don’t bother with these various other menu things, but just FYI…

Logging Out of a system is done by click on your name from the Windows 8 Style menu as shown in the Figure here:

To shutdown or restart the computer, you can navigate the menus (like Charm, Settings, Shutdown), or what I did was create a Windows 8 style menu “app” that I simply click that’ll shut down my computer. You effectively create a “shortcut” on the “desktop” and then you “Pin to Start.” That’ll add the shortcut to your Windows 8 menu. Here’s what it looks like:

1) From the Windows 8 menu, click Desktop to switch to the old Windows 7 style desktop
2) Right click on the desktop and choose New | Shortcut
3) When prompted for the Location of the item, enter in c:\windows\system32\shutdown.exe /p as shown below, then click Next

4) For the name of the Shortcut, type in something like Shutdown, then click Finish
5) Right click on the shortcut that is on your desktop and choose Pin to Start

You now have an icon on your Windows 8 menu that allows you to shutdown your system with a single click.

You can change the command syntax in #3 above to restart the computer by making that c:\windows\system32\shutdown.exe /r or /h at the end (instead of /r) will hibernate a system.

Oh, and one more thing – so once I tricked out my Windows 8 menu with all of the icons I wanted, how do I transfer my icons, menu items, etc. to other systems? Microsoft came out with this thing called the User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) that is the new generation of “roaming profiles.” However, unlike roaming profiles of the past where EVERYTHING was moved from system to system whether you wanted it or not (ie: registry settings, apps, icons, junk on your desktop, etc), with UE-V profiles, you can specifically just note to “roam” your Windows 8 menu. Microsoft did a case study on my organization’s experience with UE-V [link download].

More information on UE-V is available on the Microsoft site. UE-V isn’t free; it’s part of what Microsoft calls its Desktop Optmization Pack (MDOP) that includes a bunch of other tools like RemoteApp, App-V (application virtualization), VDI, etc. Any case, you might find your organization owns MDOP as part of the Software Assurance for Windows client licensing, and if so, explore UE-V where you can roam your Win8 menu from your desktop, to your laptop, to your tablet, to your VDI guest session, to your Remote Desktop (terminal server) guest session, etc.

Hopefully, this is a place to start. I REALLY fought the whole Windows 8 menu thing for a long time, even filed several “bug reports” during the early adopter program noting that the whole Windows 8 menu was a major “bug,” although with a bunch of these tips and tricks I’ve noted in this article, I think you’ll find this whole Windows 8 menu thing to actually be a LOT easier to use and definitely faster than having to fiddle through a bunch of menus.

Several other postings I’ve done on Windows Server 2012, Exchange 2013, Intune, System Center, etc. Just click the Next Article or Previous Article buttons on this blog post to get to other articles I’ve covered, or click here to see a listing of all of the various blog posts I’ve done over the years. Hopefully this information is helpful!


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