Tag Archives | Microsoft. Windows

Still Use Windows XP? Take a Survey!

Windows XP boxI’m happy to report that I’m working with my pals at PC World on some upcoming coverage of Windows 7. One of the great big questions about Win 7 is, of course, whether it’ll convince Windows XP holdouts who avoided Vista (and who are legion) to upgrade. Only one group knows the answer: Windows XP holdouts! So we’ve put together a survey for people who still use Windows XP as their primary operating system. (Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with Windows 7 yet–we still have some questions for you.)

The survey will take just a few minutes to complete, and will help make our coverage better. XP users, if you can take it (and alert other XP users) we’d really appreciate it–thanks in advance!

Click here to take the survey.


Sixteen Reasons the Windows Vista Era Never Quite Happened

The Wow Starts NowIn a small way, this is a significant post: It’s the first one in which I’m going to refer to Windows Vista in the past tense. Which might be premature and/or unreasonable–Windows 7 won’t reach consumers until October 22nd, and millions of copies of Vista will be in use for years to come. But last week, I was writing a piece on Windows 7 for PC World, and started to refer to “the Windows Vista era”–and then I realized that it’s hard to make the case that the Vista age ever started. (Even today, two and a half years after Vista’s release, 63 percent of the people who visit Technologizer on a Windows PC do so on Windows XP, versus 27 percent who use Vista–and if anything, you guys should be more likely than the world at large to have adopted Vista.) Already, I’m thinking of Vista as part of the past–in part because I’m looking forward to Windows 7.

More than most technology products, Vista seems to be entirely different things to different perfectly intelligent people. Some say its bad rep is unfair. Others continue to trash it. But you’ll have trouble finding many people outside of Redmond city limits who’ll contend that Vista has been a hit.

What happened?  It wasn’t one issue that hobbled Vista, it was all kinds of mishaps, none of which would have have been a disaster if it had been the only thing wrong. (In fact, most of them mirrored problems that had happened with earlier, far more successful versions of the OS, such as deadline problems and driver glitches.) Taken as a group, however, they confronted Windows Vista with both karmic and all-too-real difficulties that it never came close to resolving.

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Windows 7: Already Buggy?

Windows 7 BugInfoWorld’s Randall Kennedy has blogged about reports of a bug with the Chkdsk utility in the RTM (final release version) of Windows 7 that could cause the OS to blue-screen. Kennedy attempted to replicate the problem on three Windows 7 configurations; they didn’t blue-screen, but did spawn a memory leak that gobbled up massive amounts of RAM.

Meanwhile, Ed Bott has also looked into the situation and concludes that whatever’s happening isn’t likely to crop up often enough or cause serious enough grief to be classified as a showstopper. And as Ed notes, Windows head honcho Steven Sinofsky has commented on another blog that reported on all this, saying that Chkdsk intentionally grabs a lot of memory to speed things up, and that Microsoft hasn’t been able to replicate the crash but it is looking into it.

Assuming that this is a real Win 7 issue that Microsoft can fix– but not in time to get it onto the first Windows 7 PCs–I suspect that it’ll roll out a patch that will be ready and waiting for installation by the time Windows 7 arrives on October 22nd.  Swatting bugs during the time between finishing RTM code and software actually getting to consumers seems to be standard practice these days; I’ve even talked to industryfolk (not at Microsoft) who cheerfully admit that it’s part of how they make deadlines.

Whether the issue Kennedy wrote about is a serious bug, a minor one or (as Sinofsky says) a feature, Windows 7 will be buggy. So will Apple’s Snow Leopard when it ships. So is all software–especially major updates to big, complex applications such as operating systems. That’s why Kennedy’s concluding advice makes sense:

What this latest episode has taught me is that no major release of Windows –- not even one that is more or less a supersized patch of the previous version –- deserves a pass, and that the old wisdom of “wait for the first service pack” still applies with Windows 7.

I’m enthusiastic about Windows 7 myself–hey, I’ve been running pre-release versions since last year. But I’ll still advise many friends (especially the less adventuresome among them) that it can’t hurt to let other people discover Windows 7’s worst glitches before making the move from XP or Vista.


Windows 7 Family Pack: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Family PackMicrosoft has finished up announcing pricing details for Windows 7 by disclosing the cost for the three-user Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack and for Windows Anytime Upgrades. (The latter option lets you the unlock features from higher-end versions of Windows.)

The Family Pack will go for $149.99, or $50 per user– $10 more per user than Apple’s five-user Leopard Family Pack, but an attractive deal considering that three stand-alone copies of 7 Home Premium list for $359.97. But the odd thing is, the Family Pack isn’t so much a new version of Windows as a limited-time sale. The Microsoft blog post says it’s be available “until supplies last.” (I think they mean “while supplies last” or (“until supplies run out,”) but you get the idea.)

Microsoft’s entitled to charge whatever it wants for Windows, but it’s a shame that it’s not making the extremely appealing idea of buying Windows in bulk at a discount into a permanent option for its customers. If Apple is able to do it, why not Microsoft? And the notion of doing it with no well-defined deadline smacks of infomercial hype. (If supplies run out, I suspect Microsoft could crank out some more copies if it chose.) We don’t know whether supplies will run out halfway through October 22nd, Windows 7’s launch date, or whether copies will still be plentiful on October 22nd, 2010.

Meanwhile, pricing for Windows 7 Anytime Upgrades involves a complicated matrix of original Windows 7 versions and upgrade versions. It makes my head hurt just to think about it, but ZDNet’s Ed Bott has done the math and says that Microsoft will gouge people who move from Windows 7 Professional to Windows 7 Ultimate Edition. Ultimate has very few features that aren’t in Professional, and Microsoft has said that only a “small set” of customers will want it. So maybe it’s just discouraging people from performing an unnecessary upgrade by making the pricing unattractive…


We’re From Microsoft, and We’re Here to Help You

Windows 7 LogoMicrosoft’s Alex Kochis has blogged about this week’s compromising of a Lenovo key for Windows 7 activation, which allowed hackers to activate unauthorized copies of Windows 7. He says that Lenovo’s customers won’t be affected when they buy Windows 7 PCs, but that Microsoft will “seek to alert” people running copies of Windows 7 that have been hacked with the leaked key.

Kochis also says this:

Our primary goal is to protect users from becoming unknowing victims, because customers who use pirated software are at greater risk of being exposed to malware as well as identity theft. Someone asked me recently – and I think it’s worth noting here — whether we treat all exploits equally in responding to new ones we see. Our objective isn’t to stop every “mad scientist” that’s out there from dabbling; our aim is to protect our customers from commercialized counterfeit software that impacts our customers’ confidence in knowing they got what they paid for. That will continue to be our focus as we continue to evolve our anti-piracy platforms, and respond to new threats that we see emerge in the future.

Really? The primary goal of Microsoft’s copy-protection technologies is to prevent people from unwittingly buying pirated copies of Windows? The impact that piracy has on Microsoft’s wallet is apparently a secondary issue–one that’s not even worth mentioning in this post or on this page about the “Windows Genuine Advantage” program.

As I’ve often said, Microsoft is entitled to protect its intellectual property, and nobody is entitled to get Windows without paying for it. I buy the idea that one reason to avoid using pirated copies of Windows–either knowingly or unknowingly–is because it can be dangerous. And I acknowledge the fact that Microsoft has done a good job of fixing earlier aspects of activation that caused hassles for paying customers.

But I still don’t understand why all discussion of Windows Activation and other Microsoft anti-piracy technologies can’t begin with the honest disclosure of one simple fact: They exist to prevent people from stealing Microsoft software. If Microsoft took that approach rather than devoting 98% of its communications about copy protection to insisting that they exist mostly to help Microsoft customers, it would make me take its efforts more seriously, not less so.

With Windows 7,  Microsoft is planning to rename the patronizing “Windows Genuine Advantage” program to the much more straightforward Windows Anti-Piracy Technology. Wouldn’t that provide a good opportunity to usher in a new era of grownup-to-grownup communications about its copy protection efforts?


Will Windows 7 Win Back Defectors to the Mac? Probably Not. And That’s OK.

Windows 7 and Snow LeopardDaring Fireball’s John Gruber has posted a piece titled “Microsoft’s Long, Slow Decline.” As with most of what he writes, it’s both provocative and thought-provoking, whether you agree with all of it, some of it, or none at all.

Gruber writes about such matters as Microsoft’s recent lackluster financial results, the recent news of Apple’s utter domination of the high-end retail PC market, and the cartwheels Microsoft COO Kevin Turner supposedly turned in the hallways over Apple’s response to Microsoft’s “Laptop Hunters” commercials. He mentions Windows 7 and says:

But no one seems to be arguing that Windows 7 is something that will tempt Mac users to switch, or to tempt even recent Mac converts to switch back. It doesn’t even seem to be in the realm of debate. But if Windows 7 is actually any good, why wouldn’t it tempt at least some segment of Mac users to switch? Windows 95, 98, and XP did.

I haven’t heard anyone contend that Windows 7 will convince Mac switchers to come back, either. Then again, I haven’t heard anyone say it’s not good enough to change the game. But it’s an interesting question.

It’s also one that’s hard to answer just yet. For one thing, while Windows 7 looks quite promising, we don’t yet know what PC manufacturers are going to do with it, and there’s a real chance that at least some of them will muck up a respectable OS with demoware, adware, and various other forms of unwantedware. For another, Windows 7 will compete against Apple’s Snow Leopard, an OS which doesn’t go on sale until September and which–unlike Windows 7–has had no period of public preview.

Based on the months I’ve spent running pre-release versions of Windows 7, I think there’s a good chance it’ll have a meaningful impact on the whole “PC or Mac?” question. It significantly narrows the gap between OS X and Windows for usability and overall polish, and while it doesn’t eradicate OS X’s lead, it should leave Windows users at least somewhat less likely to abandon ship.

But Gruber wasn’t talking about whether Windows 7 will stop more people from leaving Windows; he was talking about whether it’ll convince Mac users to switch from Macs, and saying that if Windows 7 is really good, it will.

I’m not so sure. History suggests that people don’t like to switch operating systems and the most striking significant shifts in operating-system market share have happened when one OS has been on alarmingly shaky ground. Back when the exodus from Macs to Windows 95 and Windows 98 that Gruber refers to happened, Apple’s OS was floundering and it wasn’t clear that the company was going to survive. And Apple has made major inroads over the past couple of years in part because Windows Vista was such a mediocrity.

Apple is positioning Snow Leopard as an OS that’s very much like Leopard, except faster, sleeker, and more reliable. Unless it somehow turns out to be a less appealing Leopard, it’s going to be really pleasing. People tend not to dump pleasing OSes, even if there are also other pleasing OSes. S0 I’m not going to judge Windows 7 based on there whether are meaningful quantities of Mac users who are drawn to it…


Goodbye Windows Mobile, Hello Windows Phone?

Windows PhoneThe Inquirer is reporting (in its usually snarky manner*) that the operating system currently known as Windows Mobile will be redubbed Windows Phone, apparently when version 6.5 comes out. Could be, although it seems kind of limiting, and I wonder if it’s a garbled misunderstanding of news that Microsoft announced back at Mobile World Congress in February–that Windows Mobile based phones would be known as Windows Phones, but that the OS would still be called Windows Mobile. (When Steve Ballmer announced this bifurcation, he looked a bit guilty, as if he knew it was lame even as he was explaining it.)

Whether the name change is happening or not, it does bring up an interesting question: Are we going to call these things phones forever? More and more, making voice calls is but one feature of devices that do a ton of stuff, and not necessarily the most important one. I’m prepared to believe that we’ll still refer to the descendants of today’s smartphones as phones decades from now. And as a traditionalist, I’d be okay with that–if Alexander Graham Bell is up there watching all this, he’d be pleased.

But I could also see that name going away in favor of something that more accurately describes all that these gadgets can do. How about PC? Maybe we can claim it stands for Personal Communicator…


*I’m not sure if the whole “vole” thing was ever funny, but wouldn’t it be cool if the Inquirer quietly retired it?


What if…Microsoft Had a Windows App Store?

Windows 95I continue to think of my iPhone not as a phone but as a personal computer. Which is why I continue to be so nonplussed about Apple’s barring of some applications on the grounds that they compete with its own apps, and others at (reportedly) the behest of AT&T. The moves may well serve Apple’s short-term goals. Long term, though, I think they’ll make the iPhone a weaker, less useful platform. That’s not in the interest of iPhone owners, Apple, AT&T, or (come to think of it) anyone except Apple’s competitors.

All of which got me wondering: What if an Apple-like App Store had been the been the only sanctioned way to acquire software for other major computing platforms? Like, for instance, Microsoft Windows? And what if, in this alternative universe, Microsoft’s policies and actions had mirrored those of Apple today?

It would have changed everything–and not for the better. After the jump, a speculative FAQ about the Windows App Store.

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Microsoft’s Netbook Problem

The persisting popularity of netbooks has been a major drain on Microsoft’s Windows client licensing revenue. The worldwide economic downturn has driven many people to purchase cheaper machines, but I believe that the netbook’s ascension also reflects changing consumer tastes.

Windows client licensing revenue fell $1 billion from last year, and Microsoft’s unearned revenue from multi-year license agreements has flatlined.

Unless Windows 7 proves wildly popular, the company’s prospects for restoring its Windows business to its past luster appear to be grim. I expect that the company will experience a cyclical earnings bump that will crest near where previous Windows releases have in the past, but growth will be less substantial.

That is because there are simply too many alternatives, with the Web acting as the great equalizer. I access Gmail just as quickly on a netbook running Linux as I would on a higher end laptop powered by Windows. And even though netbook hardware is wimpy by current standards, netbooks are as powerful as high-end machines were on the not-too-distant past

Not everyone is a developer or a gamer. I believe that the netbook meets the “good enough’ threshold for most people, and there is a decent assortment to choose from on the market.

Many of those people may have been compelled to purchase a netbook by financial reasons, but it is highly possible that many will be satisfied enough  to purchase another netbook in the future. It could mean a permanent change in consumer buying behavior.

Microsoft seems to understand that, because it is downplaying netbooks at every chance it can get, and is attempting to direct customers toward more expensive alternatives. But the industry has failed to create really compelling products that would “wow’ me into paying more–so far.

I am reminded of my late grandmother, who was a child of the Great Depression. She wouldn’t spend money needlessly, and would reuse what she had (including tinfoil). People are experiencing varying degrees of hardship during this recession, and it is not unreasonable to expect that their spending habits will be permanently altered.

Consequently, if Microsoft does not see its market share slide, it will see its revenues fall. It cannot charge as much for a copy of Windows on a $400 machine than it would have traditionally done on more expensive systems. The Windows cash cow is slowly beginning to dry up.


Microsoft to Offer Choice of Browsers–In Europe

Today, the European Commission (EC) announced that Microsoft will permit Windows 7 users in European countries to select their default browser from a ballot screen when they configure their machines.

The news comes as a bit of a surprise, because, last month, the company said it was going to strip Internet Explorer from European versions of the operating system, and was originally strongly opposed to idea of providing a ballot screen.

Microsoft was compelled to make the change as a remedy for the EC’s Microsoft vs. Opera antitrust case that began in 2007. The company had a contingency plan to ship Windows 7 in January if it was unable to reach an agreement with the EC.

The settlement will no doubt keep Windows 7 on schedule for its fall debut. Windows 7 was released to manufacturing on Wednesday.

The EC has clearly learned from the failure of previous mandates. There was no demand for the Windows Media Center free edition of the OS that the EC mandated Microsoft sell in Europe. I’m glad that the ballot option was chosen over no browser at all.