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Welcome to the post-post-PC era: A review of Microsoft’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Apple’s iOS platform seemed to come out of nowhere and take the world by storm in 2007. The introduction of the first-generation iPhone set in motion a chain of events that lead up to the holiday quarter in 2011, when Apple recorded the most profitable quarter in technology history thanks mainly to unbelievable iPhone, iPod touch and iPad sales. No platform is selling as quickly as Apple’s mobile platform right now, but iOS is still in its infancy and the fact remains: as hot as iOS is right now, and as popular as smartphones and media tablets are, no platform installed base on the planet even comes close to approaching the size of Windows right now.

The Future

Microsoft said this past December that there are now more than 1.25 billion PCs running the Windows operating system. Billion, with a “B.” Smartphones are the hottest segment in consumer electronics right now and people are buying Apple’s iPad in droves, but even still, more people around the world rely on Windows than ever before. This is because the software that powers countless businesses from the ground up is built on Windows. From web browsers to accounting software to point-of-sale systems to 3D animation software to word processors to custom proprietary solutions and far, far beyond… Entire industries are built on Windows.

The future is anything but “post-PC.”

We are now entering the post-post-PC era, and its focus is the PC. A new, smarter, more versatile PC. A PC that lets users browse the web casually in bed and work with massive databases in SQL Server. A PC that can run a $0.99 news reader as well as it can run proprietary $99,000 CRM software. A PC that is as ideal for playing Angry Birds as it is for running a modeling environment that allows its user to build schematics for a skyscraper. This is the future of computing.

That is not to say Windows 8 is an “iPad killer” or that media tablets are going away. Far from it. While their functionality may overlap in a number of areas, light-duty tablets and full-fledged PCs serve different purposes and will continue to coexist for some time. What we will see, however, is media tablets becoming more capable and more powerful as PCs become better suited for touch input. At some point down the road the two categories may merge, but neither will “win” or “lose.”

The OS

I’ve spent the past week playing with and working on a Samsung tablet powered by Microsoft’s new operating system. It’s nice to be able to work and play on the same tablet.

While Windows 8 is not quite in a state where it is ready to be released to the public, it is a completely different beast than the Developer Preview Microsoft released more than five months ago. During a meeting with Microsoft executives, I was told that the Consumer Preview version of Windows 8 includes tens of thousands of changes compared to the version that was released to developers in September. Thousands of changes are system-level items that I’m sure I didn’t notice, but thousands more are user-facing changes that have helped improve the user experience dramatically.

One of my favorite features is the implementation of swipe gestures. As can be seen in the second and third images within our Windows 8 screenshot gallery, Microsoft has tweaked the main menus used to navigate the OS and perform a variety of key functions. While using a touchscreen to interface with Windows 8, these menus are opened using gestures.

A swipe from the bezel around the screen in from the right opens the start menu, which includes a search button to search for files and apps, a share button to share the current page via email or using other services, a start button, a devices button that lists devices connected to your PC, and a settings button that provides quick access to basic settings such as brightness and speaker volume, as well as a link to more system settings. A swipe in from the left switches between open apps, and a swipe in from the left and back out to the edge of the display opens the app-switcher. Within an app, a swipe down from the top or up from the bottom opens app-specific menus.

While using a keyboard and mouse, gestures from the sides are replaced by keyboard shortcuts or mouse touches to the corners of the screen. A touch to the top-right or bottom-right corner mimics a swipe in from the right and opens the start menu while a touch to the top-left or bottom-left corners opens the app-switcher.

There are countless other great features new Windows 8 Consumer Preview; from picture password, an enhanced security feature that lets the user unlock a PC by tracing preset patterns on an image of his or her choosing instead of using a simple alphanumeric password, to “roaming,” which automatically syncs settings, apps and other data between different Windows 8 computers. While one convertible slate can handle duties as a tablet, notebook and desktop computer, Windows 8 is all about choice. Some users may opt for a single device while others will want a lightweight 7-inch ARM-based tablet in addition to an eight-core beast of a desktop PC.

In terms of performance, Windows 8 exhibited the smoothness and stability we’ve come to expect in a post-Vista world, and this is just a preview version. There were hiccups, of course, but overall the experience was vastly superior than it has been with any other version of Windows. The setup is remarkably fast and easy, touch responsiveness is iPad-like and I was quite impressed with the versatility of this platform. To understand the concept of one device for work and for play is one thing. To sit in bed hopping around lightweight apps and then walk over to your desk, dock your tablet, and have desktop-grade productivity software running on the same device is something else entirely.

The machine I tested Windows 8 on is a pre-release dockable Samsung tablet with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM. Yes, it’s a tablet with a fan. It’s also a tablet that can run your existing desktop-grade enterprise software, consumer software and lightweight Metro-style apps. Get over it.

The Endgame

Windows 8 gives us a glimpse at the future of computing, but it’s not quite there yet. While the version I spent time with is merely the Consumer Preview and not the release build of Windows 8, it gives us a very good idea of what Microsoft’s new operating system will look like when it launches. The concept is fantastic and I very much like Microsoft’s execution thus far, but it still feels like a marriage of two completely different operating systems rather than a fusion of two experiences.

This is by design, in part. Because the function of a true PC varies so greatly from the function of a media tablet (as we know this category of devices today), Microsoft has created separate experiences for each category. There is a tablet experience with the fantastic Metro UI, a desktop experience reminiscent of Windows 7, and a bit of overlap with each, intended to create some amount of cohesiveness. The end result, however, is not a consistent experience.

There is a disconnect that can be felt across Windows 8. Again, this is mostly by design. In what I call “tablet mode,” the user is presented with an interface that is quite clearly built to be touched. It is characterized by a cascade of large tiles that display live data and can be poked to open apps. The Metro-style apps that are revealed house nice big buttons and a touch-friendly design. Metro-style apps also take up every last pixel of the display, which is a fantastic canvas on which developers can paint terrific experiences.

In “desktop mode,” Windows 8 has the look and feel of Windows 7. In fact, it basically is Windows 7. There are some elements of Metro that spill over into desktop mode — such as the app-switcher and Windows Phone-like lock screen, which displays notifications from up to five apps — but they are effectively completely separate platforms.

Desktop mode has not been optimized for touch at all. In fact, tapping in a text field while no physical keyboard is attached to the tablet doesn’t even bring up the virtual keyboard. Instead, the user must tap on a small keyboard icon in the task bar to open the keyboard, and then he or she must tap another two buttons to close the keyboard once finished typing. And while typing in desktop mode, by the way, I found that the keyboard often obscured the text field in which I was typing.

Perhaps I can better illustrate my point about the disconnect with this simple example:

Windows 8 ships with two completely separate web browsers. One is called “Internet Explorer”. The other is called “Internet Explorer.”

Internet Explorer is a fantastic Metro-style browser that is designed with touch in mind. Controls are large and easy to poke, menus retract and let web pages occupy every inch of the display, and pages load lightning-fast in this lightweight tablet browser. Then, in desktop mode, users can browse the web using Internet Explorer, the same robust web browser hundreds of millions of people currently use around the world on their Windows PCs.

Confused yet?

Microsoft’s inclusion of two completely different web browsers that share the exact same name is indicative of the separation present in Windows 8. One tablet OS and one desktop OS, together on the same machine.

In the end, this disconnect is probably a good thing for now. Windows users come in all shapes and sizes, and millions of people who will upgrade to Windows 8 in the coming years will be terrified of doing so. They are used to Windows as we know it today, and the look and feel of Metro is a complete departure from the Windows they currently rely on day in and day out. After the initial shock wears off, these people who are so scared of change will find themselves eased into the new Windows because desktop mode is so familiar, and because “tablet mode” is so separate from it.

But this is not the future of post-post-PCs.

Windows 8 is the tip of the iceberg. The start of a shift that will eventually see the “tablet” UI and the “desktop” UI merge into one comprehensive user experience. Apple is taking a different approach; as we’re seeing in OS X Mountain Lion, Apple is slowly readying its desktop user interface for a touch environment by taking some of the elements from its gorgeous mobile UI and adapting them for desktop computers. This varies dramatically from the path Microsoft is taking with Windows 8, but the endgame is the same: one experience that is as capable as it is versatile, and as user-friendly as it is beautiful.

This is the future of computing.

Microsoft’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview will become available to the general public on Wednesday as a free download with an initial cache of more than 100 apps in the Store, all of which will be free during the preview period.

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HP outlines the future of webOS, move to open source finished by September

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

HP cut its losses last month and announced the company’s webOS mobile operating system would move to an open source model. On Wednesday, HP released a roadmap detailing the open source future of webOS. The company said it expects the software to be fully open-sourced by September, at which point it will be known as Open webOS 1.0. “HP is bringing the innovation of the webOS platform to the open source community,” said Bill Veghte, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at HP. “This is a decisive step toward meeting our goal of accelerating the platform’s development and ensuring that its benefits will be delivered to the entire ecosystem of web applications.” The second-generation Enyo framework, which debuted on the TouchPad, is now available with a bundle of related developer tools, and HP plans to release additional information nearly every month until September. The company also revealed that the mobile operating system will be moving to a standard Linux kernel in the hopes of attracting manufacturers who are experienced with Linux and Android. HP’s press release and roadmap can be found after the break.

HP to Commit webOS to Open Source by Fall 2012

New version of acclaimed Enyo developer tool and source code available now

PALO ALTO, Calif., Jan. 25, 2012 – HP today began executing its plan to deliver an open webOS by committing to a schedule for making the platform’s source code available under an open source license.

The company aims to complete this milestone in its entirety by September.

HP also announced it is releasing version 2.0 of webOS’s innovative developer tool, Enyo. Enyo 2.0 enables developers to write a single application that works across mobile devices and desktop web browsers, from the webOS, iOS and Android platforms to the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers – and more. The source code for Enyo is available today, giving the open source community immediate access to the acclaimed application framework for webOS.

By contributing webOS to the open source community, HP unleashes the creativity of hardware and software developers to build a new generation of applications and devices.

“HP is bringing the innovation of the webOS platform to the open source community,” said Bill Veghte, executive vice president and chief strategy officer, HP. “This is a decisive step toward meeting our goal of accelerating the platform’s development and ensuring that its benefits will be delivered to the entire ecosystem of web applications.”

The webOS code will be made available under the Apache License, Version 2.0, beginning with the source code for Enyo.

webOS roadmap

Over the first half of the year, HP will make individual elements of webOS source code available – from core applications like Mail and Calendar to its Linux kernel – until the full code base is contributed to the open source community by September.

January: Enyo 2.0 and Enyo source code Apache License, Version 2.0

February: Intended project governance model, QT WebKit extensions, JavaScript core, UI Enyo widgets

March: Linux standard kernel, Graphics extensions EGL, LevelDB, USB extensions

April: Ares 2.0, Enyo 2.1, Node services

July: System manager (“Luna”), System manager bus, Core applications, Enyo 2.2

August: Build release model, Open webOS Beta, Open webOS 1.0

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Silk ported from Kindle Fire to rooted Android devices, other web browsers now jealous

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Give it time and eventually someone will port your favorite browser to everything, even your toaster, if you’re lucky. A group of developers on the XDA-forums has begun sharing how to port the Silk web browser found on the Amazon Kindle Fire to various Android devices. To accomplish this, you’ll need a rooted Android device, whereupon you can download a package file and install it to the /system/lib directory with permissions set to the same as the other files in that folder. Users can choose to install any of the .apks that they want to side load, but will need to ensure that they also move the Silk apk from /data/app to /system/app. After a reboot, the Silk browser should be good to go, complete with access to Amazon’s cloud-based services through your favorite device. That’s just our quaint little summary, though: for the full instructions, you’ll most definitely want to hit up the source link.

Silk ported from Kindle Fire to rooted Android devices, other web browsers now jealous originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 04 Jan 2012 13:12:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Verizon and RedBox may be plotting movie streaming partnership for early 2012

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

On Wednesday we reported on a story that suggested Verizon may be planning to challenge Netflix by launching its own video streaming service. Now, it appears the communications giant is secretly working with RedBox, the popular $1.00 video rental kiosk company, on a streaming service that could launch next year. According to TechCrunch, the plan is currently called “Project Zoetrope” and it will allow users to subscribe, download and stream movies and television shows across a variety of platforms including Roku, web browsers, Xbox, Google TV, Android and iOS. Like competing services such as Vudu, both HD and SD resolutions will be available for rental. TechCrunch said pricing will be based on a monthly credit allotment. A user, for example, might buy 10 credits for $9.95 per month, which would allow him or her to stream a certain number of shows or movies. Apple, Amazon, Google, Netflix, Vudu and others are already members of the crowded digital movie rental space, so Verizon and RedBox will certainly face stiff competition if they’re looking to enter this market. 

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Mozilla reveals Firefox plugins that slow down performance the most

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Web browsers always look to strike a balance between speed and functionality, but not enough focus on the former can easily spoil a user’s experience. Mozilla has put a great deal of time and effort working speed improvements into the latest version of its Firefox browser but sometimes all that hard work is for naught due to slow add-ons from third-party developers. In an effort to raise awareness and to push developers to optimize their plugins, perhaps, Mozilla has published a list of the add-ons that slow down Firefox the most. Among the worst offenders are FoxLingo, AniWeather, FoxyTunes and Xmarks Sync. In a bit of irony, an add-on called “FastestFox” that is supposed to speed up browsing by simplifying repetitive tasks is No.8 on Mozilla’s list. If you’ve been experiencing some slowness in Firefox and are wondering which add-ons might be the culprit, hit the read link for Mozilla’s complete list.

[Via Lifehacker]

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Mozilla patches 13 security holes in Firefox 3.5, 3.6

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Earlier this week, the Mozilla organization released updated versions of its 3.5 and 3.6 Firefox Web browsers. The updated bits patched 13 vulnerabilities found in the code-base, and 11 of the aforementioned security issues were listed as “critical” by the company. The vulnerabilities ranged from buffer and integer overflows to SSL spoofing. If you’re using Firefox 3.5 or 3.6 be sure to click the “Check for Updates” link under the “Help” menu to grab the latest and greatest from Mozilla.

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Splashtop Remote Desktop brings Windows PC access to your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Oh, sure — you’ve got a smorgasbord of virtual machine clients out there for the iDevice in your life, but you haven’t had this one. Until today, of course. Splashtop (the former DeviceVM) has just unleashed its Remote Desktop app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, enabling users to funnel Windows PC content onto their handheld. The catch is an obvious one — you’ll need a WiFi connection to make the magic happen, though we’re assuming you wouldn’t even want to imagine how sluggish the process would be over 3G. The company claims that this app will let users “watch movies, listen to music, or access any other Windows files and programs, including full web browsers with Flash,” and you’ll need a WiFi-connected Win7, Vista or WinXP machine nearby to take advantage. We’ve got a feeling this won’t work nearly as well as advertised (sorry, it’s just the nature of tunneling / emulation), but those willing to take the plunge can tap into the App Store as we speak.

Continue reading Splashtop Remote Desktop brings Windows PC access to your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

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Splashtop Remote Desktop brings Windows PC access to your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 19 Nov 2010 06:54:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Google adds six new fonts to Google Font API, Google Docs

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Today, Google announced that it would be adding six new fonts to its Google Font API: Droid Serif, Droid Sans, Calibri, Cambria, Consolas, and Corsiva. The Google Font API system enables the use of web-fonts, hosted on a server, to be displayed on modern web-browsers. In other words, you can display fonts that are not loaded on your, or your clients, system. Google also notes that Google Docs will be able to leverage these new fonts (as they use the Font API) and that it is already testing its next batch of calligraphy. All we need is a few more iterations of Comic Sans and our life is complete.

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Denon’s 2010 receivers, Blu-ray players are Control4, streaming & 3D ready

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Right on time, Denon’s dropped the details on its hardware for 2010 on us. Taking top honors are two Blu-ray players: the DBP-2011UDCI ($799, August, not pictured) and the DBP-1611UD ($399, June, pictured above) that are touted as “true universal players”; with DVD-Audio and SACD playback out of the box and Blu-ray 3D on the way in a fall firmware update the company’s confident they’ll play most any 5-inch optical media you may be able to get your hands on. If you’re past discs don’t worry, Netflix, DLNA and YouTube streaming is also part of the deal.

Those should pair well with any of the slew of receivers due up including the AVR-991 (SRP: $999, July), AVR-891 (SRP: $799, May), AVR-791 (SRP: $499, May), AVR-591 (SRP: $349, May) and the AVR-391 (SRP: $249, July); or the custom install-focused AVR-4311CI (SRP: $1,999, Sept.), AVR-3311CI (SRP: $1,199, June), and AVR-2311CI (SRP: $899, June). All of the above bring HDMI 1.4a repeaters for 3D compatibility, onscreen displays through HDMI, and some include web browsers plus music streaming from Pandora or connected PCs. Check the press releases after the break for all the details including a few new headphone models, though we recommend taking it in just a bit at a time — the threat of overdosing on this much info is high.

Continue reading Denon’s 2010 receivers, Blu-ray players are Control4, streaming & 3D ready

Denon’s 2010 receivers, Blu-ray players are Control4, streaming & 3D ready originally appeared on Engadget on Tue, 27 Apr 2010 02:06:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Kindle dev kit announced, ‘active content’ coming to Kindle Store later this year

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Amazon’s just announced the Kindle Development Kit, or KDK for short, which will be rolled out starting next month in limited beta and then to wait-listed folks “as space becomes available.” The apps, here called “active content,” will eventually be available for download via the Kindle Store later this year. EA Mobile is already signed up to participant, and Handmark has committed to creating “an active Zagat guide” We’ll be interested to see what comes out of this, and it probably goes without saying, but something tells us Amazon isn’t gonna let web browsers or music streamers through the front gates and over its free 3G service.

Kindle dev kit announced, ‘active content’ coming to Kindle Store later this year originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 21 Jan 2010 00:14:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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David Pogue: " Smartphone Is Too Limited…It’s An App Phone " [Blockquote]

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Before David Pogue wrote his review of the Droid, he had trouble deciding what to call the device. He argued that “smartphone” is an outdated label for the iPhone-like devices coming out and so he looked for a new one.

Our Jason Chen discussed this issue in the past and coined the term “com,” but here’s Pogue’s take:

What should we call these iPhone-like, touch screen Wi-Fi phones with music and video, real Web browsers, e-mail, sensors (light, tilt, location, proximity), and, above all, app stores? These machines can download thousands of free or cheap add-on programs – “apps” – and become GPS units, musical instruments and medical equipment.

“Smartphone” is too limited. A smartphone is a cellphone with e-mail – an old BlackBerry, a Blackjack, maybe a Treo. This new category – somewhere between cellphones and laptops, or even beyond them – deserves a name of its own.

I invited suggestions on Twitter. The best came from @mentalworkout: “app phone.” Bingo. Apps distinguish iPhonish phones from mere smartphones, so “app phones” it is.

I disagree with both Chen and Pogue and prefer to think of the gadgets as “Things I Can’t Live Without,” but what do you think they should be called? [NY Times]



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