The pixel is all but dead–no thanks to the PC

The pixel

Be sad, fellow geeks, for we are witnessing the slow death of a staunch companion the pixel .

Between the proliferation of Retina displays, ultrahigh-resolution smartphone screens, überexpensive 4K televisions, and the ironically named Chromebook Pixel, eye candy has never been so abundantly available, nor so abundantly delicious. Screens are saturated with millions–millions–of tiny little squares, rendering images and text alike in buttery-smooth fidelity.

The jagged edges of yesteryear are bleeding away. On-screen images are looking more and more like continuous-tone photographs. The pixel as we know it is all but dead.

Children of the future will look back at games like E.T. and Doom, and rather than waxing nostalgic, they’ll shake their heads at how utterly bad we used to have it. (Dot-matrix printers? Please.) Resolution specs will eventually fade into the annals of history, as all screens will look equally splendid. And you’ll never, ever find a dead pixel on a new display–because even if it’s there, you won’t be able to notice it.

It’s enough to make your eyes water, but it won’t happen today. For although the pixel’s final gasp is indeed on the horizon, it isn’t quite here yet. And you can thank the PC for that.

It was the best of times…

Pixel-packed consumer electronics displays may be only a couple of years old, but they’re already far from rare. Retina-sporting iPads sell by the gajillions. Every premium smartphone released in the past year and a half has boasted at least a 720p display, while newer entries such as the HTC One rock full-blown 1080p resolutions.

More important than the total resolution numbers is the fact that those small mobile screens are veritably crammed with pixels. Sky-high pixel densities are giving displays a pixel-less quality.

Stuffed into a 4.7-inch screen, the One’s 1080p resolution is good for an eye-popping 468 pixels per inch. Sitting slightly farther away from your peepers, Retina iPads rock 264 ppi. Even the $200 Nexus 7 boasts a display with 216 ppi.

Meanwhile, Sharp–a major component supplier for Apple and other parties–is working on new IGZO display technology designed to pack the pixels in even more tightly. Last year, the company showed off a 6-inch IGZO LCD panel with a whopping 2560 by 1600 resolution, for an impressive pixel density of 498 ppi. Few 30-inch desktop monitors have that many pixels.

On such stacked screens, text is as sharp as it is in a book, if not sharper. Yes, they’re that good.

It was the worst of times…

Compare those ever-increasing mobile resolutions with the status quo on the PC side of things. While the stunning screens on the Chromebook Pixel and higher-end MacBook Pros may snatch all the headlines, everyday reality is much more ho-hum for most folks.

Nearly 40 percent of all North American machines tracked by StatCounter have either a 1024 by 768 or 1366 by 768 display, with the former accounting for a hefty 22.64 percent of all displays.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist, part of the first wave of Windows 8 hybrids, sports one of those laptop-standard 1366 by 768 displays. Across its 12.5-inch screen, that resolution equates to just 125 ppi. And for laptops with a similar resolution on a larger 13.3- or 15.6-inch display–far more common notebook sizes–the pixel-density number plummets even lower.

Even when you take into consideration that laptop screens need fewer pixels than phones to achieve Retina-level quality (since you hold them farther away from you than mobile devices), the ThinkPad Twist’s pixel density fails to impress. Its 125 ppi is barely half the pixel density of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display’s 227 ppi–and as I said, the Twist’s screen is smaller (read: denser) than most laptop screens. Another model, the IdeaPad Yoga 13, packs a higher 1600 by 900 resolution into its larger 13-inch display, and still offers only 138 ppi.

That doesn’t cut it, folks.

Who should shoulder the blame for the PC’s eye-straining status quo? Manufacturers who pump out computers at the lowest cost possible, or people who treat PCs as commodity appliances? It matters not. Regardless of the industry’s general recalcitrance toward Retina-level displays, the death of the pixel marches ever closer, even on Windows computers.

Peering into the future

High-resolution displays aren’t the norm even on premium Windows laptops quite yet, but they are becoming more popular as economies of scale drive the cost of displays down–and as the economy in general forces manufacturers to tinker with bold new designs to spark lagging consumer interest.

Behold: the recently announced Toshiba Kirabook, the first Windows laptop to bear an ultrahigh-resolution display with 221 ppi. Starting at $1600, it also sports a matching ultrahigh price tag, unfortunately.

But higher resolutions are starting to work their way into slightly less expensive Windows devices, too. Many early Windows hybrids and touchscreen laptops rock a full 1080p HD resolution, including the $1100 Dell XPS 12 and Microsoft’s own $899 Surface Pro slate. On the Dell’s 12.5-inch display, that’s good for a far-better-than average 176 ppi, while the Surface Pro’s 10.6-inch screen boasts a peeper-pleasing 208 ppi.

That’s not quite pixel-less, but it’s close.

“In comparing Surface Pro to my third-generation iPad, I really had to search for visible pixels and differences in display quality, and any deficits exhibited by Surface Pro melted away when the tablet was farther away from my face, and propped on a desk,” PCWorld editor Jon Phillips wrote in his Surface Pro review.

In other words: Wow.

We’re likely still a few years away from widespread adoption of 1080p-plus PC displays, but that day is a-coming. One encouraging stat: Over 30 percent of gamers connecting to Steam already own 1920 by 1080 displays, though the pixel density is obviously lower on a 21-inch desktop display than on a smaller mobile screen. The black line representing 1080p displays on that StatCounter chart above is rising slowly–but steadily. Intel expects that ultrahigh-resolutions will be the norm sooner rather than later.

And the same day that Sharp showed off its 498-ppi mobile panel, the company also presented a 13.5-inch IGZO OLED panel designed for laptops. Its resolution: a stunning 3840 by 2160, with a 326-ppi density–a full 99 ppi higher than even the vaunted MacBook Pro’s Retina display.

Sharp started mass-producing IGZO displays in March.

Laying the groundwork

In a way, the PC’s delayed adoption of dynamite displays is a good thing. Everyday technology simply isn’t ready for the en masse embrace of pixel-packed screens.

Most computer programs and the Web as we know it were designed with pedestrian displays in mind, not ultrahigh-res stunners. As such, Retina iPad users have complained of blurred text and imagery, while the Surface Pro ships with the desktop display automatically scaled to 150 percent to keep text from appearing itty-bitty on its pixelicious screen. Images created for Retina-level displays are far larger, file-size-wise, than standard-resolution graphics, placing a burden on bandwidth and storage alike.

But fear not: Big brains are already hard at work to fix these irksome issues. Witness the rise of vector-based images, the enhanced desktop display scaling feature reportedly built into Windows Blue, and the very existence of the impressively astronomical Chromebook Pixel.

The death of the pixel isn’t here, but it is very close. One day, in the not-too-distant future, your child will gaze up innocently at you and ask, “What’s a pixel?”

And on that day, the displays of today will seem just as ancient as mainframes, Minecraft (in all its glory) be damned.

–of tiny little squares, rendering images and text alike in buttery-smooth fidelity.

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Microsoft Readies Windows Update as PC Sales Slump


Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is preparing an update for Windows 8 as new licensing figures indicate the new operating system isn’t fueling enough demand to reverse a slump in personal-computer sales.

The 100 million Windows 8 licenses sold since the software’s debut in October are in the “general ballpark” with the previous version during a similar period, Tami Reller, chief financial officer of the Windows division, said in an interview last week.

Microsoft completely overhauled its flagship operating system to make it more appealing to users amid a shift to mobile, touch-based computing. Still, Windows 8 has failed to reignite the ailing personal-computer market, where shipments plummeted by their largest margin on record in the latest quarter, according to market-research firm IDC. While Microsoft said it’s planning to update Windows 8 to address customer feedback, updates won’t quickly turn the PC industry around.

“The changes will help some but there are some serious challenges that the PC industry is facing that I’m not sure can be easily fixed,” said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at IDC who is based in San Mateo, California.

O’Donnell also questioned whether the licensing milestone accurately reflects the number of operating systems in use.

“I don’t know what that license number means,” O’Donnell said in an interview. “Talk to the PC guys and ask how they’re doing. I talk to them, and I’m not getting anything like that from them.”

Windows Blue

The next update to Windows, code-named Blue, will be released later this year ahead of the holiday shopping season, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said. Julie Larson-Green, the chief of Windows engineering, said in a speech today that a preview of the software will be available at Microsoft’s Build conference in late June.

Larson-Green will begin talking about Blue’s features in the next several weeks and offer more detail on what the company has decided to do in response to customer demands to restore design features such as the Windows Start button and Start menu, Reller said.

“The learning curve for Windows 8 is real and we need to address that,” Reller said. Microsoft will make it easier for customers to adopt the new operating system with improvements in marketing and retail, she said. She declined to specify what changes would be made in the software to accomplish that and whether they would include restoring the Start button and menu.

While the Blue upgrade will restore the Start button, it won’t restore the menu, Verge reported last month.

Design Overhaul

Microsoft heavily promoted Windows 8’s design overhaul, which features a start screen with colored tiles that represent programs, websites and contacts, featuring automatically updated information. Any backpedaling on the start menu issue would be viewed as a reversal of a basic design element.

Some customers testing the new software before it was released in October did complain about the removal of the iconic Start button, Larson-Green said in an October interview. Still the design team wanted to stick to its vision and instead tried to analyze what users were trying to do and make it clearer to them how to accomplish those tasks.

The design changes were aimed at consumers who are increasingly checking e-mail, browsing the Web and watching television and movies on tablets. PC shipments plummeted 14 percent in the first quarter, the worst decline since researcher IDC began tracking data in 1994. Windows 8 debuted alongside the introduction of Surface, the first computing device designed and sold by Microsoft as the company challenges Apple Inc.’s iPad and other tablet computers.

Surface Tablets

Reller declined to say how many of Microsoft’s Surface tablets have been sold, or the total number of devices, including those made by other manufacturers, that are running Windows.

During the first quarter, Microsoft shipped just 900,000 Surfaces and there are a total of 1.8 million tablet devices running Windows 8 or a related version, Windows RT, giving it less than 2 percent of the market, IDC said last week.

Customers’ response to Surface’s software and applications has been “less positive” than the reaction to the tablet, Reller said. The company has fixed Surface’s e-mail program and has made other applications easier to use, and is trying to attract more top third-party programs.

Even with an update to Windows 8 coming out, the PC market won’t recover this year, IDC said. While the research firm in March forecast PC shipments will decline by 1.3 percent this year, that estimate will probably be cut further after the worse-than-expected first quarter, according to Michael Shirer, a spokesman for IDC.

Microsoft shares declined 1.3 percent to $33.31 at the close in New York, leaving them up 25 percent this year, compared with a 14 percent gain in the Standard Poor’s 500 Index.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dina Bass in Seattle at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at

Enlarge image
Microsoft Sells 100 Million Windows 8 Licenses, Preparing Update

Microsoft Sells 100 Million Windows 8 Licenses, Preparing Update

Stuart Isett/Bloomberg

Microsoft completely overhauled Windows to make it more appealing to users amid a shift to mobile, touch-based computing. Still, Windows 8 has failed to reignite the ailing personal-computer market.

Microsoft completely overhauled Windows to make it more appealing to users amid a shift to mobile, touch-based computing. Still, Windows 8 has failed to reignite the ailing personal-computer market. Photographer: Stuart Isett/Bloomberg

Microsoft's `Issues' Still There, O'Donnell Says


April 18 (Bloomberg) — Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at IDC, talks about Microsoft Corp.’s fiscal third-quarter profit, challenges and the outlook for the company’s Windows 8 sales.
He speaks with Emily Chang on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg West.” Bloomberg’s Jon Erlichman also speaks. (Source: Bloomberg)

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The real reason for the PC sales plunge: The era of "good enough" computing

IDC’s PC sales numbers show a dramatic fall, but they’re not the whole story.

Before we blame one thing we need to take a much more nuanced view and look at the last decade of the IT world. After all, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

We’re at an interesting inflexion point in the IT industry where innovation is moving away from desktop PC hardware into software and into the server and up to the cloud.

The truth is quite simple: PCs are lasting longer, they’re not getting measurably faster, and software is getting better. Why do you need to buy a new PC when you can get better performance with a software upgrade on your old hardware?

If I was to put a finger on the point where everything changed, where Windows stopped being the driver for PC sales, I’d have to point at Windows Vista.

That was the point where Microsoft and the PC OEMs stopped trusting each other. Microsoft made a bet on PC hardware and capabilities, and the PC industry pulled the rug out from under it, forcing the mess that was Vista Basic on users as they tried to sell cheap PCs with old graphics hardware.

That meant Microsoft had to change. It couldn’t make that same bet on hardware anymore. It didn’t trust OEMs to deliver on the promises the silicon vendors were making (and if we look at the initial Windows 8 hardware, it’s pretty clear it was right to make that decision). So it made the software better instead.

New releases of Windows would need fewer resources, offer better performance, and (particularly important to mobile users) use less power.

So we shouldn’t have been surprised when Windows 7 came along, bringing all that better performance on the same hardware. There wasn’t a reason to buy a new PC for a new Windows any more.

The death of Windows XP: It’s your permission to go Chromebook, tablet, Linux, whatever

The death of Windows XP: It's your permission to go Chromebook, tablet, Linux, whatever

The death of Windows XP: It’s your permission to go Chromebook, tablet, Linux, whatever

We could just buy a cheap upgrade and get more life from our PCs. My Vista-era desktop systems got a performance bump because the software got better, taking advantage of the older hardware. I didn’t need new PCs, I didn’t even need a new graphics card.

I only bought my current PC last year because a hardware failure fried the Vista machine’s motherboard. If I hadn’t had a hardware failure I suspect I’d still be using that PC today.

The new machine has the same hard disks, even the same graphics card, using the same multi-monitor setup as that original Vista-era machine. It wasn’t any faster, but it got another performance bump when I upgraded it to Windows 8 last summer. We even saw significant improvements on XP-era test hardware.

So yes, that means Windows 8 is one thing that’s to blame for a slow-down in PC sales. You don’t need a new PC to see a benefit from it, especially when you’re getting a 10 percent speed bump over Windows 7 running on Vista-era hardware, and an extra hour or so battery life on a three year old laptop.

A cheap upgrade download and your old PC gets a new lease of life. Why do you need to spend several hundred pounds or dollars for extra performance when it comes with an operating system upgrade for a fraction of the cost?

So if our software gets better on older hardware, so what about all that new hardware?

First we need to look at the trends that drive the PC industry. Like all consumer industries it has to respond to customer needs, and those customer demands have changed over the last couple of decades; changes that are having a significant impact on more than just the PC market.

Fed up with planned obsolescence, we now demand things that last. How long did you keep your last washing machine, your vacuum cleaner, your last car?

Devices may not be user serviceable, but they just don’t break the way they used to. Our dishwasher has moved house with us more than once, as has our washing machine. My car is thirteen years old, and still gets great mileage. Why would I need to change them?

The fact that today’s software gets better performance out of yesterday’s hardware can’t be ignored. It’s changing more than the PC industry – just look at Ford’s Sync strategy for in-car entertainment.

Why rely on fixed car hardware that’ll be with the driver for most of a decade, if you can have an API and an app ecosystem? Each time Pandora upgrades on my phone I get an improved experience, and Ford hasn’t had to change my car.

That trend accounts for one aspect of the longevity of PCs. They’ve stopped breaking, because we don’t want PCs that break. But there’s another aspect, the Moore’s Law elephant in the room.

A few years back PCs stopped getting faster. They just got more cores. As transistor density increased, the faster processors got, the hotter they got. And the hotter they got, the greater the risk of quantum instabilities in the billions of transistors that new processes were capable of making.

If you couldn’t go faster, then how could you scale the processor? The answer was obvious: more transistors per processor meant more cores per processor. Instead of a single core handling everything, the same area of silicon could offer two, four, even eight.

Applications would have to take advantage of those cores, changing their single threaded architectures into multi-threaded, able to take full advantage of the parallel processing capabilities of those new processors. The megahertz race was over, now we’d reap the benefits in new ways.

Sadly that never happened. Development tools and languages still focused on the same single threaded, procedural approaches to application development.

Applications stopped getting faster, stopped getting better with each new tick and tock of the Intel processor cadence. We could run more of them, but how many copies of Word do we actually use at a time?

If we want to sell new desktop PCs we need new desktop applications that take advantage of that hardware. While Intel has visions of deep virtualisation as a solution, much of what can be easily parallelised is best done using the tools and techniques built into GPUs (and accessed via APIs like OpenCL and DirectX Compute).

Until we get a new generation of desktop applications that uses all those cores efficiently, there won’t be new PCs on people’s desks or in their bags.

If desktop software hasn’t taken advantage of those new processors, the cloud certainly has. The high density datacenters that power the cloud, with their containers of commodity servers take advantage of virtualisation to operate in ways the home PC can’t.

Arrays of throughput servers provide scale out capabilities, moving compute from the PC to the cloud. That means the home PC is being relegated to a service endpoint – a future akin to that of the rumoured “always-on” Xbox.

Windows 8 gets some of the blame here too. As I noted in my last post, the WinRT APIs at the heart of Windows 8 make it a lot easier for developers to write applications that offload functionality to the cloud.

HPs’ Moonshot announcement is indicative of this trend. Instead of innovating in the home and office PC, it’s offering cloud providers access to hardware innovation at cloud speeds. It’s already demonstrated developing new processor boards for the Moonshot backplane in under three months – and with the initial Atom-based low power servers only the start, it’s clear that this is where HP sees the future of computing.

And so we approach a cusp. The way we both use and buy computing is changing, dramatically. Our home and office PCs get better, but only when software gets better – and that means we’re buying new hardware less often.

So yes, in a way this collapse is Windows 8’s fault. With better performance on older hardware that lasts longer, and with tools that make it easier to work with the cloud, there’s little or no need to buy a new PC – at least not until something fails in your current PC, or until there’s a compelling new hardware feature that makes your life easier.

If the industry wants to sell more hardware, then it needs to encourage developers to produce software that takes advantage of its capabilities. Until then, well, what we have now is good enough to meet our needs.

So welcome then to the era of “good enough” computing. The hardware we have doesn’t need to be any better for the software and tools we use. That’s been the real big story of the last decade, and one that’s conveniently left out of the narrative.

We’re at a plateau, of computational power, of software, and of developer tools. The exponential explosion of desktop computing capabilities of the last thirty years is over, and it’s unlikely to come back. And that’s the real reason why PC sales have plummeted.


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Microsoft pushes yet another Surface RT update meant to fix Wi-Fi woes

The third time might be the charm for Microsoft, which just released a third update in as many months meant to fix Wi-Fi connectivity issues plaguing the Surface RT tablet.

Since its release late last year, hundreds of Surface RT users have taken to Microsoft’s support forums to complain about spotty Wi-Fi woes. They reported wireless connections get flagged as “limited” after a certain period of use, and troubles connecting the tablet to the Internet. The problem appears to be intermittent and many users reported that a reboot helps fix the issue.

Microsoft engineers first attempted to fix the problem in February, with a software update for the Surface RT that addressed “several ‘Limited’ Wi-Fi connection issues,” according to the release notes. But this didn’t seem to work universally, and some users continued to report Wi-Fi connection woes.

In March, Microsoft took another stab at resolving the problem and released a second update that was meant to bring “improved Surface Wi-Fi reliability, connectivity in various scenarios, and performance improvements.” More specifically, Microsoft said in the release notes it “fixes Wi-Fi reliability allowing for better roaming and improvements to ‘limited’ connectivity scenarios.”

Yet the problems still persisted for some users.

The third Surface RT update, released on April 9, is back on the case. This time around, Microsoft says all the fixes in the software are meant to address the Wi-Fi issue. In the release notes, Microsoft says that “certain ‘limited’ connectivity issues [have been] resolved,” and that it also “improves Wi-Fi to handle a wide range of access points,” and “resolves system crashes caused by certain Wi-Fi issues.” Fingers crossed!

The latest Surface RT update is also a cumulative update, which means that it also includes fixes from the previous release if you have not downloaded them already.

Updates are automatically installed on the Surface RT tablet through Windows Update, or you can also manually install the Wi-Fi fix by opening the Charms bar, then selecting Settings Change PC Settings Windows Update, where you can select Check for Updates.

Microsoft also has an April update for Surface Pro users. The patch resolves some Surface Type and Touch cover connectivity issues, fixes a bug with on screen touch navigation in the UEFI boot menu, and corrects an issue where toggling airplane mode would disable the Wi-Fi driver. The Surface Pro fix is also a cumulative update, bundling two previous updates from March for the tablet along with it. You can manually check for the upgrade in the same way as with the Surface RT.

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PC sales plunge as Windows 8 flops

PC sales plunge as Windows 8 flops.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The ailing personal computer market is getting weaker, and it’s starting to look like it will never fully recover as a new generation of mobile devices reshapes the way people use technology.

The latest evidence of the PC’s infirmity emerged Wednesday with the release of two somber reports showing unprecedented declines in the sales of desktop and laptop machines during the first three months of the year.

As if that news wasn’t’ troubling enough, it appears that a pivotal makeover of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows 8 operating system seems to have done more harm than good since the software was released last October.

“This is horrific news for PCs,” said BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis. “It’s all about mobile computing now. We have definitely reached the tipping point.”

First-quarter shipments of PCs fell 14 percent from the same time last year, according to International Data Corp. That’s the deepest quarterly drop since the firm started tracking the industry in 1994. Another research firm, Gartner Inc., pegged the first-quarter decline at 11 percent.

The deviation stemmed from the firms’ slightly different definitions of PCs.

No matter how things parsed, this is clearly the worst shape that the PC market has been in since IBM Corp. released a desktop machine in 1981.

In an attempt to keep the PC relevant, Microsoft released a radical new version of Windows 8  last fall. Windows 8 has a completely new look that’s similar to the design of the software running the most popular smartphones and tablet computers. The overhaul requires a relearning process, a leap that many consumers and corporate buyers aren’t ready to take.

Windows 8

Windows 8

All signs so far point to Windows 8 being a flop.

“Unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only didn’t provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market,” IDC Vice President Bob O’Donnell said.

The newest version of Windows 8 is designed to work well with touch-sensitive screens, but the displays add to the cost of a PC. Together, the changes and higher prices “have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices,” O’Donnell said.

Representatives of Microsoft Corp. were not immediately available for comment.

In its tally, IDC excludes tablets, even if they run PC-style software. It also excludes any device that has a detachable keyboard. With the release of Windows 8, PC makers have been reviving their experiments with tablet-laptop hybrids, some of which have detachable keyboards. Consumers are likely to have shifted some of their buying away from traditional laptops and toward these new devices, which means that the total sales decline of Windows-based devices may not be quite as drastic as IDC’s numbers suggest.

Microsoft shares fell 63 cents, or 2 percent, to $29.65 in extended trading, after the release of the report. They had gained 67 cents in regular trading.

Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s largest maker of PCs, saw a 24 percent drop in shipments in the first quarter compared with the same period a year ago. The industry’s No. 2, China’s Lenovo Group, is benefiting from sales to first-time buyers in China and other developing countries. As a result, it held sales steady, alone among the world’s top 5 PC makers, according to IDC’s figures.

HP shares fell 60 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $21.72 in extended trading. They had risen 10 cents in regular trading.

Shares of Intel Corp., which makes four out of five PC processors, fell 27 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $21.99, after rising 51 cents in regular trading.

Gartner noted one bright spot: Businesses are buying more PCs, and account for about half of the market.

In total, IDC put the global PC shipments at 76.3 million in the quarter, while Gartner put the figure at 79.2 million. The shipments are still higher than they were four years ago, during the recession.

Both firms track shipments of PCs from the manufacturer rather than retail sales. Shipments correlate closely with sales. The figures include shipments of Apple’s Macs, which account for about 5 percent of the worldwide market.

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Windows 8: advanced features

  • The latest edition of Windows brings numerous technical enhancements for advanced desktop and server usersPosted on 10 Apr 2013 at 09:01

The new Windows 8 isn’t only about tablet apps. Darien Graham-Smith looks at some of the technical enhancements in Microsoft’s latest OS

Windows 8 is noted for its tile-based interface (formerly known as Metro) and newfound focus on touchscreen input. However, this latest edition of Windows also brings numerous technical enhancements for advanced desktop and server users. For many users it’s these features, rather than tablet support, that may sway the decision whether or not to upgrade.


Starting up and restarting

You’ll notice the first enhancement to Windows 8 as soon as you begin using it: it starts up much more quickly than previous OS versions. This is assisted by a new feature called “fast startup” (internally known as HybridBoot). It works in a similar way to hibernation; when you shut down your PC, Windows logs you off, then writes out a memory dump to disk before switching off the power. When you turn on your computer, the dump file is read back into memory, so in a matter of seconds you’re ready to log on and start using Windows 8 again.

Fast startup is switched on by default, although you can disable it from the Power Options item in Settings (click “Choose what the power buttons do” to access the option). Sometimes, however, a “real” reboot is required – for example, when installing patches downloaded from Windows Update or running a disk check when suspected corruption is detected.

The good news is that in Windows 8, both of these scenarios are less frequent and intrusive than in previous versions. Disk-checking requirements have been reduced thanks to a new “online self-healing” approach, which tries wherever possible to fix NTFS disk errors in the background while Windows is running, rather than waiting for the next reboot. What’s more, on occasions when a reboot is necessary, the disk scan now targets only the parts of the disk where inconsistencies have been detected, rather than scanning every single file as it did previously. To say that this dramatically reduces the amount of checking required hardly conveys the scale of time saved – Microsoft estimates that on a system holding 100 million files, processing time is cut from around two hours to less than two seconds.

Windows 8 Update has been streamlined in a similar way. Frequent forced restarts have long been the bane of desktop users; now Windows Update demands a restart only after installing critical security updates, which usually means once a month. If other updates arrive in the interim, they’ll quietly install at your next restart.

You’ll receive more notice of a pending reboot than before, too: update warnings now appear on the login screen three days before a forced restart. If you’re not sitting at your PC when the three-day period expires, you’ll receive a 15-minute warning after your next login, giving you a chance to save your work. This at least is the default behaviour – if companies want to enforce a stricter patch policy, or disable automatic reboots altogether, it can be customised through group policies.


The new Task Manager

At first glance, the Task Manager in Windows 8 looks much simpler than the old Windows 7 version, showing nothing but a list of applications and a “Not responding” flag next to any programs that appear to have frozen. It’s accessed in the same way too: you can press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to open the lockscreen and click on Task Manager, or press Ctrl-Shift-Escape to open its window directly.

Click “More details”, though, and the window grows into a more powerful console. The default tab – Processes – lets you monitor all running processes in a hierarchical view, and examine not only each one’s CPU usage, but also memory, disk and network consumption. This provides a useful insight into what’s gobbling up your resources.

Share yor experiences with the new Windows 8 with us.

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Microsoft tempts XP laggards with $84 upgrade discount

Xp upgrade Microsoft today kicked off a new promotion aimed at Windows XP customers, who have just one year to ditch the 12-year-old OS before it’s retired from support.

Small- and medium-sized businesses still running Windows XP and Office 2003 — the latter also will be retired a year from today, on April 8, 2014 — can purchase licenses to Windows 8 Pro and Office 2013 Standard at a 15% discount, Microsoft said on a promotional website.

Caveats apply: Customers must be running Windows XP Professional, the Windows 8 Pro and Office 2013 Standard licenses must be purchased as a package via Microsoft’s Open License program, and the deal is capped at 100 licenses for each. The discount is good through June 30.

Microsoft pointed customers to a list of partners who will offer the Open License discounts.

On its Open License website, Microsoft quoted $188 for each Windows 8 Pro license, and $373 for each Office 2013 Standard license, for a total of $561. The 15% discount would lower each Windows-Office combo by $84 to $477.

Microsoft also again banged the Windows XP retirement drum today in a pair of lengthly blog posts, which included links to documents and tools designed to assist migration. Those blogs also explained the impending end-of-life, and repeated well-rehearsed reasons why customers should make the move.

In those blogs, Microsoft also mentioned Windows 7 as a destination for Windows XP users, tacitly acknowledging the reality that most firms have moved from Windows XP to the proven Windows 7. Few companies, analysts have said, are interested in Windows 8, in part because they have either just wrapped up migrations to Windows 7 or are in the process of doing so.

But because Windows 8 Pro licenses include downgrade rights to earlier versions of the OS, including Windows 7, businesses that purchase the former can instead install the latter, assuming they have installation media or Windows 7 images at hand.

Microsoft faces a tough job as it tries to push customers off Windows XP. According to statistics from analytics company Net Applications, 39% of all personal computers, and 42% of all Windows PCs, ran XP last month.

The long decline in Windows XP’s usage share has also stalled since the first of the year, slowing to a fifth that of the past 12 months’ average.

Projections using Net Applications’ numbers now suggest that Windows XP will still power a third of all Windows-based systems when the 2014 date ticks by.

After April 8, 2014, Microsoft will not supply Windows XP with security patches, putting PCs still running it at risk from attack. The only exception: Enterprises which have purchased custom support plans. However, Microsoft has boosted prices of those plans. Some corporations have been quoted $1 million for the first year of after-retirement support for 5,000 Windows XP systems, $2 million for the second year and $5 million for the third.


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Alienware’s latest gaming PC has Linux on it.

Dell is one of the few PC makers that attempts to cater to Linux users with its computers. The company’s “Project Sputnik” laptop, a developer-centric version of its XPS 13 that comes with Ubuntu, is one such effort. PC gamers can also get in on the fun with the Linux version of Dell’s Alienware X51 slimline desktop, which as of today can be purchased running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.

The Ubuntu-powered X51 starts at $599, which will get you a 3.3GHz dual-core Core i3-3220, 6GB of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 645 GPU with 1GB of GDDR5. If those specs don’t do anything for you, you can upgrade to a quad-core CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a faster GeForce GTX 660 with 1.5GB of RAM—the highest-end system will run you $1,049. The computer weighs 12.1 pounds and is about 12.5 inches high and 12.5 inches long, but only 3.74 inches wide.

Going with Ubuntu over Windows will save you a little money most of the time: the base model of the X51 is $100 cheaper than the Windows version of the same computer, though as of this writing the $1,249 Windows system is on sale for the same $1,049 as the near-identical Linux version.

What you really give up, obviously, is the full Windows game library. Dell’s product page for the X51 says that the Steam for Linux beta gives gamers access to “over 25 gaming titles,” which isn’t exactly impressive. A Steam search for Linux titles paints a slightly better picture, turning up 97 games, but that’s still a far cry from the 1,952 you can get for Windows. The Steam Box and its accompanying Linux software may improve the state of gaming on Linux, but at this point that’s still far from guaranteed.

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Microsoft Windows XP is retired worldwide

TwelveWindows XP months to go until Microsoft Windows XP is retired worldwide

Today marks the 12-month countdown until Microsoft Windows XP is officially retired worldwide and the vendor is warning that, from April 8 2014, businesses still using XP will be open to potential vulnerabilities and security risks.

According to the company, Windows XP still makes up almost 14 percent of operating systems on computers in New Zealand which is approximately half a million PCs.

“By far, the security risk is the most concerning for customers as there are more sophisticated forms of attack which can impact safety of personal information and cause business disruption and extra costs. Technology moves rapidly, and if we compare this to using an 11 year old mobile phone or camera then it puts it into stark context – these are considered relics. However, the risks and consequences of using an unsupported operating system are significantly greater than these two examples,” says Microsoft NZ managing director Paul Muckleston.

Windows XP is three generations behind Microsoft’s most modern operating system so continuing to use PCs with Windows XP is similar to driving a car without a seat belt or a motorbike without a helmet. The risks are real and the only way businesses and consumers can protect themselves is to upgrade,” he adds.

The end-of-support means Microsoft will no longer provide automatic fixes, updates, or online technical assistance for Windows XP. In addition to this, users will no longer receive security updates that help protect PCs from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software that can steal personal information.

Candace Kinser, CEO of NZICT, has also highlighted the importance of businesses understanding the implications of not migrating from Windows XP.

“Microsoft has made significant progress in improving security over the last 10 years through the Trustworthy Computing initiative.Businesses should consider the vulnerability of their data, and the risks associated with continuing to run an out of date, and soon to be unsupported operating system,” she says.

To support the migration away from XP, Microsoft has announced theWindows Upgrade Centrewebsite where businesses can get more information about this issue, learn from analysts and other customers in the region.

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Trojan turns your PC into Bitcoin mining slave


Maybe it’s a sign of the Bitcoin bubble. Criminals are trying to
take control of PCs and turn them into Bitcoin miners.

According to antivirus seller Kaspersky Lab
, there’s a new
Trojan — spotted on 4 April and spreading via Skype — that takes
control of infected machines and forces them to do what is known as
Bitcoin mining, a way of earning digital currency.

The Bitcoin digital currency system rewards miners (in bitcoins,
natch) for their number-crunching work, which is essential to
keeping the anonymous Bitcoin currency system working. With the
Trojan, hackers are forcing others’ machines to earn them money,
and it can really put a strain on these machines. Victims might
notice that their CPU usage shoots sky high.

On 4 April, the Trojan was spreading via Skype messages. In one
Spanish message obtained by Kaspersky, the Trojan was supposed to
be a “favourite” picture of the victim.

About two thousand people per hour were clicking on the website
hosting the Trojan software, Kaspersky said. “Most of potential
victims live in Italy then Russia, Poland, Costa Rica, Spain,
Germany, Ukraine and others,” Kaspersky Researcher Dmitry Bestuzhev
wrote in a blog post.

Once computer criminals have tricked you into downloading a
Trojan, they have control of your computer, and there are a lot of
things they could do. And the Trojan isn’t only used for Bitcoin
mining, Kaspersky says.

This isn’t the first time a Bitcoin mining Trojan has popped up,
and malicious software that flat-out steals bitcoins has been
around for years. Two years ago, Symantec spotted a Trojan —
— that sniffed out graphical processing units
and used them to crank out bitcoins.

A regular PC wouldn’t be able to do much Bitcoin mining on its
own, but hackers could pretty easily register a group of
compromised computers with a specific Bitcoin mining pool and point
all of the systems there, according to Charlie Shrem, the founder
of Bitcoin payment processor Bitinstant. “If he infiltrates a
million computers, then it will pay off,” he said in an email

Bitcoins have been on a price surge lately. On 5 April, they
were trading at about $140 (£98), about ten times their value at
the end of 2012.

Maybe that makes mining a little more attractive to the bad

This story first appeared on

Image: Shutterstock

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