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 Post subject: Germany warns: You just CAN'T TRUST some Windows 8 PCs
PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:19 am 
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Microsoft sets October date for Windows 8 release

Gotta wait until 2013 for Intel's Win 8 Surface tablets


By Iain Thomson • The Register



WPC 2012 Microsoft has set the date for the release of Windows 8: the operating system will be released to manufacturers in August ahead of a general release at the end of October.

"The wait is almost over," said Tami Reller, chief marketing officer of Microsoft's Windows division. "Windows 8 is on track to be released to manufacturing the first week in August and Windows 8 will reach general availability at the end of October. New Windows 8 PCs will be available to buy and upgrades will be available."

Anyone buying a PC from today will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 for $14.95, she said, and for the rest of us the $39.99 price tag looks set in stone. All customers will get access to SkyDrive cloud storage with a Windows 8 purchase, and the commerce engine for the Windows Store will be live from the release-to-manufacturing date to allow developers more time to add apps.

Reller was speaking at Microsoft's Worldwide Partners Conference (WPC) in Toronto today. Her boss Steve Ballmer claimed that Windows 8 would be the biggest deal for Microsoft in 17 years, since the launch of Windows 95.

Ballmer promised resellers that the new operating system, and the forthcoming Office 15 release, will form a package that will make them money. He sweetened the pot further for partners with the promise of increased margins on the Office platform. Resellers can make up to 23 points of margin, which Ballmer claimed was 11 points more than the competition.

"As you bet on us, we will reward you on margin," he promised.

As El Reg has predicted, October is becoming the traditional release month for Microsoft's operating systems. The exception is Vista, which considering how badly it bombed could be one reason why Microsoft's sticking with the traditional schedule.

That said, you won't get all Windows 8 systems this autumn. If the Surface announcement is to be believed then the October launch will bring with it PCs and ARM tablets, but Intel-powered Windows 8 Pro fondleslabs will come out about three months later in January.

Microsoft has confirmed to El Reg that we'll have to wait until 2013 to get the full Windows 8 lineup.

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 Post subject: Germany warns: You just CAN'T TRUST some Windows 8 PCs
PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:57 pm 
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A first look at Microsoft's new Surface tablet

Microsoft builds its first PC—and the Windows tablet to beat.


by Peter Bright - [url]Arstechnica.com[/url]


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Not actually a Surface.

Microsoft has unveiled Surface: a pair of tablet PCs and a pair of covers-cum-keyboards, designed for, and designed around, its Windows 8 operating system.

Microsoft's intent with the Surface tablets is to create hardware that puts the software front and center, to provide the hardware necessary to allow Windows 8's strengths to really come to the foreground. At the launch event, however, the software took the back seat. This was all about the hardware and with good reason.

The Surface tablets are smart, good-looking, carefully considered, well-built, slick pieces of kit, and there's nothing even close on the market today. Of course, they're not on the market today either, but unless the PC OEMs inject a serious dose of quality in their build and design processes, the Surface units will stand alone when they eventually go on sale.

Microsoft still isn't ready to let Joe Public get their grubby little hands on Surface. At the press event, we were given a number of demonstrations, shown a number of non-functional demo units, and given scant few seconds to touch real working devices. The Intel Core i5-powered Surface for Windows 8 Pro devices were not on display, either; only the ARM-powered Surface for Windows RT was available. However, the major design points are common between the two.

Surface for Windows RT's basic specs set the scene. It's 9.3mm thick, has a mass of 676 grams, and sports a 10.6" 1366×768 screen. That puts it in the same size and weight ballpark as the iPad, though with a lower resolution 16:9 screen instead of the iPad's high-resolution 4:3 display. From a size and portability perspective, the Surface gets it right, but that's not unique.

What makes Surface special is the attention to detail. The standard of the fit and finish of the prototypes on display was extremely high. The shell of the Surface is made of cast magnesium, with a vapor-deposited finish called VaporMg. The result is an attractive, scratch-resistant finish that's easy to grip and comfortable to hold.

The company explained that its casting and finishing process allows it to create edges as thin as 0.65mm—less than the thickness of a credit card—and that these narrow castings and tight tolerances are essential to the device. Put a piece of sticky tape inside the Surface when you assemble it, and the finished product will bulge, it's so tightly packed together.

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The kickstand in action. Pic: Microsoft

The design element that the company drew most attention to was the kickstand. On the face of it, it seems almost silly to make a kickstand the unique selling point of a device. There's no denying the practicality of a built-in stand: you can put the Surface on a table and watch a movie without having to prop it up, and without having to use a separate stand. It makes a lot of sense.

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The small chamfer on the edge allows easy opening of the kickstand.

And this is one high quality kickstand. It's an integrated part of the system's shell. It fits flush when closed, feels sturdy when opened, and makes a reassuring click as it settles into place. It apparently took dozens of iterations to get the right sound. It does a good job of propping up the screen.

Another feature that was mentioned repeatedly was an angle; 22 degrees. The edges of the device are all chamfered at 22 degrees, an angle that Microsoft says makes the hardware fade into the background and comfortable to hold (though we'd have to have a lot more time with it to see if that's really true in practice). The kickstand also holds the screen at 22 degrees.

On its own, the angle is no big deal. But the attention to detail comes into play. The Surface has front and rear cameras. The rear camera isn't, however, mounted so that it looks out perpendicular to the case. It's angled at 22 degrees too, so that when using the kickstand, the cameras looks straight out, rather than down.

If the company was pleased with the kickstand, it was positively boastful about the Surface's pair of combination keyboard-covers. There's the Touch Cover, available in five colors (gray, white, blue, pink, and orange), which integrates a multitouch keyboard into a 3mm thick screen cover, and the Type Cover, which integrates a real keyboard with keyswitches into a slightly thicker cover.

The Touch Cover has no keyswitches. It's based on pressure sensors, with the "keys" distinguished from each other with a different texture. There's plenty of smarts in the Touch Cover. Touch typists tend to rest their fingers on the home row. With a naive touch keyboard, that results in a lot of stray key presses. The pressure applied during real keypresses is different, however, from that of resting on the home row, and the logic in the keyboard can tell the difference.

The keyboards also include gyroscopes so they can tell when they've been folded back behind the Surface, disabling them when tucked out the way.

How well does all this cleverness work? That we don't know. Microsoft says that the Touch Cover allows typing speeds twice as fast as those possible on glass, but until we can actually use one, the company's claim is untested.

Both covers connect to the Surface with a satisfyingly solid magnetic connector. It's designed to mate automatically without requiring careful alignment, and that certainly worked well.

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The magnetic connector snaps together with ease.

Microsoft's Surface for Windows RT looks good and feels good. Does it have what it takes to take on the iPad? That's harder to say. We don't know how well the technology works in practice. Nor do we know how much the thing will cost, with Microsoft saying only that it will be priced "competitively." But if it can deliver on its promise, Microsoft should have a winner on its hands.

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 Post subject: Re: Windows 8: A first look at Microsoft's new Surface tablet
PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2012 8:39 am 
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How Microsoft transformed Studio B into a real hardware company

Surface is the first step towards becoming a "devices-and-services" company.


by Peter Bright - Arstechnica.com


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Inside Studio B. Microsoft

Studio B is the unassuming name of the unassuming low-rise office block that houses the team that over the last three years designed and developed Microsoft's Surface tablet in near total secrecy. On Monday, a select group of journalists was allowed into the building, beyond the security guards, through the airlocks, and into the working offices, labs, test chambers, and workshops that Surface's team of designers and engineers inhabited.

We were shown around by Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows and Windows Live Division, and Panos Panay, General Manager of Surface. Throughout the tour of the building, Sinofsky, Panay, and others who worked on Surface talked extensively about the challenges they faced in building the product. A common refrain was that of making trade-offs: that hardware, unlike software, is faced with numerous physical constraints that turn product design into a balancing act. Sinofsky argued that software, in contrast, can be made to do more stuff simply by writing more code.

Surface's major design features are a product of these trade-offs. For example, the screen size, at 10.6 inches, is unusual. Standard OEM sizes are 10.1 inches and 11.1 inches; to get 10.6 inches required custom-built displays. Microsoft says that it tried 10.1 inch screens at first, but it made the snapped multitasking view too small. 11.1 inch screens solved that problem, but their greater power demands made the device uncomfortably heavy. Reducing the weight would have in turn shortened the battery life, which the designers felt was unacceptable.

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Many hundreds of cardboard, 3D printed, and metal prototypes were built to get the size and shape of the device just right. Microsoft

10.6 inches was, therefore, a trade-off, or, some might say, a compromise, between the competing demands of size, weight, and longevity.

Similar thinking went into the choice of screen resolution. Surface uses the common 1366×768 resolution. Microsoft acknowledges that this headline specification compares unfavorably to the iPad's "Retina display," but defends the decision as another trade-off. The widespread use of 1366×768 on PC laptops means that most Web content is at least somewhat optimized for that resolution (compare with, for example, 1920×1080, where many sites will show empty gutters down the left and right hand edges of each page).

Doubling the resolution, as Apple did when creating its "Retina" displays, is a neat solution for that, but it comes at a price: it uses more power and is more demanding of the GPU. The "Retina" nature of a display is also highly dependent on, among other things, viewing distance and ambient light: a low resolution screen with lower reflectivity and better contrast could produce better pictures in normal viewing conditions than a screen with a higher resolution but also greater reflectivity and lower contrast. Trade-offs must be made.

These trade-offs are interesting to hear about, but without an opportunity to extensively use Surface, it's impossible to say whether Microsoft made the right call. We haven't yet had that opportunity, though we will, so we must defer further discussion of the trade-offs until then.

But what we can talk about now is the way Microsoft is operating as a company. Hardware has been important to Microsoft for a long time. Products such as the first Microsoft mouse were an essential part of the value proposition of early versions of Windows. The Xbox 360 was a serious attempt to build an entire platform, with providing both the custom hardware and the software to run on it.

In spite of this, Microsoft has never been a hardware company. Hardware has been incidental, an endeavor used to drive software sales rather than a business in its own right. Speaking to the Seattle Times in September, however, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that we should expect the company to change. Software is still core, but Microsoft will become a devices-and-services company. Redmond will own and build more of the stack; not just the software that people run, but the hardware they run it on. This same message was repeated earlier this month in Ballmer's letter to shareholders.

Microsoft isn't trying to become Apple; at least, not yet. Ballmer acknowledges that the 1.3 billion Windows users around the world have diverse needs, and one size won't fit all. The PC OEMs will have a role to play. But nonetheless, he's positioning the company as more than a bit player in the hardware space.

Studio B and Surface are where that transition is starting.

As Sinofsky and Panay showed the assembled crowd around Studio B, they talked about how the building had been equipped with the CNC mills, laser etchers, and other machine tools that match those used in the Chinese factories used to build Surface. Studio B had used such technology before for developing mice, keyboards, and Microsoft's other hardware products over the years, but where before the machines might be broadly similar to those used in mass production, now they're the same (or at least, closely related; Studio B doesn't need to churn out millions of units per year, so doesn't need the biggest, fastest hardware).

The intent is to ensure that every design decision made in Studio B can be quickly and accurately replicated on the production line. That's why having hardware with the same capabilities is important; it ensures that if something can be done in Redmond, it can be done in the Far East. This enables rapid and accurate prototyping with fast turnarounds.

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The hinge used to hold the kickstand is one of the many custom components used in Surface's manufacture. Microsoft

Studio B also performs on-site testing; we saw endurance testing of the hinge on the Touch Cover and the kickstand; drop testing of the device; environmental testing to check it works in extremes of temperature and humidity. RF testing, too, to ensure that changes to the system's shell or motherboard did not negatively impact on the performance of the custom-designed MIMO antennas.

This is not to say that any of what Microsoft was doing is unconventional. Design shops around the world use similar machinery, and do the same kind of work that Microsoft is doing in Redmond. But the tight integration between design, engineering, and production is new for Studio B, and sets the company up as a vertically integrated device firm in the same way that Apple is. Surface is not some mere hobby in the way that the Apple TV is, nor an assemblage of off-the-shelf parts in the way that the original Xbox was. It's a serious hardware business.

"Business" is an important word. Before pricing was announced, speculation was wild, with rumors of a $200 Surface, sold at a loss (or at worst, break even) to prime the pump, get Windows RT into people's hands, and stimulate development of Metro-style applications. Such an approach is far from unprecedented; it's the tack that Amazon is taking with the Kindle Fire range, for example.

Sinofsky was clear that that's not the case with Surface. It's being run as a genuine business, and that means that it's expected to make money. Surface units will be sold profitably. It doesn't hurt that the company will be using its own chain of retail outlets to get it into customers' hands, of course; there are no middle-men to take their cut.

Those retail outlets are also carefully controlled. In a large warehouse in Redmond lies "Store Zero," a replica of a real Microsoft Store that serves as a testing ground for in-store promotion and displays, store layout and design, and staff training.

Though Microsoft's OEM partners have been frustrated with Microsoft for producing Surface, with muttered insinuations that Microsoft looked at what the OEMs were doing before going its own way, care was taken to keep the Surface team separate from the teams working with the OEMs, and this extended to Store Zero. Whenever representatives of Surface visited the store, the floorspace dedicated to third-party machines was filled with foam placeholders; when the OEM teams visited, the Surfaces were replaced with foam, and the store populated with third-party hardware instead.

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The hinges of these Touch Covers are being folded back and forth millions of times, testing them to destruction. Microsoft

Just how profitable Surface will be is, of course, Microsoft proprietary information. Whenever a hot product comes out, companies such as iSuppli perform teardowns and attempt to reverse engineer the bill of materials and assembly costs, in an attempt to try to figure out that profitability.

Microsoft made a kind of preemptive attack on such efforts. It's one thing for a third party to provide cost estimates of commodity items such as flash memory, but it's quite another for them to give estimates for custom parts, and Surface contains over 200 custom parts. Custom parts could be cheaper than off-the-shelf equivalents, or more expensive than off-the-shelf ones. Which way they fall depends on a host of factors, such as the scale at which they'll be manufactured, and the number of units that capital costs can be amortized across. No specific numbers were given, but there were hints that the company wants to achieve significant scale.

As much as the company showed off, the real test for Surface will be in the market. This investment in Surface and the repositioning of Microsoft as a "devices-and-services" company will be for naught if the market doesn't want what Redmond is selling. And if it does sell well, it would be remarkable if full-scale production did not uncover weaknesses in the supply chain that will need addressing—Microsoft is starting from scratch here, compared to Apple's decade of supply chain investment. But the intent is there, and Redmond's not playing around. If Microsoft is to become a devices-and-services company, Studio B is the way it'll do it.

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 Post subject: Re: How Microsoft transformed Studio B into a hardware company
PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:39 pm 
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Windows, reimagined: A review of Windows 8

Windows 8 is a study in compromises. Do its two halves form a coherent whole?


by Peter Bright - Ars Technica



After months of anticipation, Windows 8 is here. For the last year and a half, we've tracked its progress across three betas and the final release, exploring the ins and outs of Microsoft's most ambitious product launch in two decades.

It has been almost 17 months since we got our first look at Windows 8. Steven Sinofsky, president of Windows and the Windows Live Division, and Julie Larson-Green, vice president of program management for the Windows Experience, demonstrated the new Windows 8 Start screen, codenamed Modern Shell, the first major change to the Windows user interface since Windows 95... 17 years ago.

The change was fostered by the realization that touch computing could be a mainstream phenomenon—would be a mainstream phenomenon—as long as it had a user interface that was comfortable and convenient when controlled by fingertips alone. In the summer of 2009, after Windows 7's development was finalized and before Apple's iPad was announced or released, Microsoft set about creating the user interface that would make Windows a genuinely touchable operating system that would be at home on tablets.

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The first public outing of the Start screen at D9.


This was not the company's first foray into the world of tablet computing. Redmond's first tentative steps into the tablet space were made back in the 1990s, with the unsuccessful "Windows for Pen Computing." In the 2000s, the company tried again, with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Market success again proved evasive.

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A tablet running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.


The fundamental flaw with both of these systems was that Microsoft left the Windows user interface, designed as it is for mouse and keyboard, essentially unaltered, relying on styli to replicate the kind of precise manipulations that mice enabled. The result was awkward and unwieldy.

The iPhone's success demonstrated to the world that touchscreens were in fact viable input devices, but also that direct manipulation with fingers, coupled with larger, redesigned user interfaces, were instrumental in achieving widespread acceptance. Touch interfaces could be natural, intuitive, and popular, as long as they were sympathetic to the limitations of finger input.

The user interface, reimagined

For Windows 8's user interface, fingers would come first. But Microsoft has never regarded tablets as a category in their own right; they have always been tablet PCs, with "PC" carrying important implications of its own. PCs are flexible, they're available in all shapes and sizes, from the slimmest ultraportables to full tower, multiprocessor, multimonitor behemoths. Windows 8 could not sacrifice this variety, so although fingers would come first, they would never be the exclusive input method. Windows 8 had to bridge the gap: it had to sport a finger-first user interface that would also work with mice and keyboards.

After that first glimpse of the Start screen, our first real experience with Windows 8's Modern Shell came in September 2011 at a developer conference called BUILD. In sunny Anaheim, California, we got to use the first public beta of Windows 8, the Developer Preview.

By then, the core concepts of the interface were already set in stone. Windows 8 would have two personalities. One personality would be the traditional desktop and taskbar for traditional mouse-and-keyboard applications. The other would be a new interface designed with fingers as first-class citizens, but also supporting mice and keyboards. The aesthetic of the new interface was described as Metro, as it was inspired by the signage used on mass transit systems around the world: bold use of color, a dependence on typography, and clear, stylized iconography.

Applications themselves would similarly be split between the traditional desktop software and the new Metro style apps: touch-first, but mouse and keyboard accessible.

(Microsoft has since backed away from the Metro name, but the company has not offered any superior replacement terminology, so Metro is what I'm sticking with.)

Sinofsky has described this dual interface as a "no compromise" approach, giving users the best of both worlds, "seamless" switching between Metro and the desktop, an "amazing" touch experience, but also an experience that works with mouse and keyboard.

Calling at all stations

Windows 8 isn't Microsoft's first product to sport a Metro design. The Zune series of portable media players and their companion app on the PC laid the Metro groundwork: the dependence on typography and the avoidance of faux-3D artifice, as well as applications that used the full screen (or full window) instead of devoting space to borders, title bars, menus, and other visual clutter.

It was with Windows Phone 7 that Metro first became a general-purpose user-interface vocabulary. Windows Phone 7 built on the earlier concepts of typography and full-screen applications, adding mechanisms such as "live tiles," the squares and rectangles that populate the Start screen and serve dual purpose as application launchers and status indicators, along with the "app bar," a small toolbar docked to the bottom of the screen.

In the Developer Preview we learned about the next iteration of Metro. Live tiles, full-screen applications, and typography were all core, but to this Microsoft added the Edge UI.

Understanding the Edge UI is instrumental to understanding Windows 8. As bold and colorful and important as the Start screen with its Live Tiles is, it is Edge UI that drives Windows 8. It is also Edge UI that is Windows 8's biggest stumbling block.

Edge UI is invoked in a few different ways. Mouse users have two main gestures: the first is putting the cursor into any corner of the screen and either clicking or moving the mouse up or down vertically (depending on which function they wish to use); the second is right-clicking. Touch users swipe from any edge of the screen. Laptop users with suitable touchpads (most aren't, but they should become more common in the coming months) can similarly swipe from any edge of their touchpads. There are also keyboard shortcuts.

The basics of Edge UI haven't changed significantly since I described how it worked in the Developer Preview, but to recap the basics:

-The left-hand edge controls task switching. You can swipe in from the left to cycle through open apps, or swipe and hold to see a list of all open apps to allow direct switching.
-The right-hand edge controls the charms, a set of five core features: search, share, start, devices, and settings. Except for the start charm, which always toggles the visibility of the Start screen, the charms are contextual, so the Settings charm is used to access the settings of the app currently in use.
-The top and bottom edges control the app bar. Unlike Windows Phone, which made the app bar a near-permanent on-screen fixture, in Windows 8 the app bar is hidden until revealed with a swipe.


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The charms had their first public outing in the Developer Preview. Since then, the icons have changed; the functionality hasn't. From top to bottom: Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings.

The charms are second in importance to the Edge UI. They provide consistent top-level access to five broad functional areas. When invoked with the Start screen visible, they act in a global way; for example, Search defaults to searching all your apps, settings, or files. Their focus is narrowed when invoked with an app visible—the search charm switches to an app's specific search feature, for example.

While search and settings are self-explanatory, share and devices need a little more explanation. Unlike desktop software, Metro apps can't directly communicate with each other. Internet Explorer, for example, cannot directly communicate with the e-mail app. This means that Internet Explorer cannot tell the e-mail app "create a new e-mail with this URL in it."

Instead, Metro apps have to perform this kind of communication via the Share charm. Apps that have data to share just need to feed it into the sharing system, which happens whenever you open the Share charm. Apps that can do useful things with shared data—sending it to someone by e-mail, uploading it to a cloud service, tweeting it—register with the system, and are listed in the Share charm. You then pick the app you want to use to share from the list the charm provides.


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Sending a webpage by e-mail via the Share charm.

To e-mail a URL, for example, you browse to the URL in Internet Explorer, then open the Share charm. The Mail app will be listed; tap it and a new mail with the URL will be created. All the communication is mediated by the operating system.

The Devices charm is broadly similar, but with a hardware twist. Printers, video projects, networked media devices, and the like all appear in the Devices charm. To print a webpage, you open the Devices charm and then choose your printer; to stream music to a networked Xbox 360, you play the song you want in the music app, then open the Devices charm and pick your Xbox.

There is one other twist on the Metro concept. Although the Metro apps are, by default, full-screen, with every pixel of screen space devoted to the app, Windows 8 also offers a side-by-side snapped view, with one app given a 320-pixel strip on the left or right edge of the screen, and a second app given the bulk of the pixels.


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Side-by-side multitasking with snap view.

The Developer Preview contained a fairly complete implementation of the Windows 8 user interface, but it was not quite finished. That version retained the Start button on the desktop's taskbar. The Consumer Preview, released in late February, 2012, removed it, placing greater emphasis on the hot-corner approach.

On single-monitor systems, the hot corners work well, but we found that they were very troublesome on multimonitor machines. With multiple monitors, there was nothing to catch the mouse in the corner of the screen, it would just slide onto the next monitor.

The final beta came in May 2012. The Release Preview included modest alterations to the interface, particularly to address those multimonitor concerns, with the introduction of little "traps" in each corner: barriers a few pixels tall that would stop the mouse from lurching onto an adjacent monitor.

From the first time I used the Developer Preview, the subtleties of the Edge UI and charms concerned me. It's not that it didn't work; it's just that it wasn't very obvious. There were no on-screen cues, nor did the operating system provide any explanation of the concepts.

After the release of the Consumer Preview we learned that there would be a tutorial to help out. When the final build of the software was completed, it included this tutorial, but we swiftly discovered that it was very rudimentary. It taught about swiping from the edges and putting the mouse cursors in the screen corners, but nothing more.


The Windows 8 tutorial, captured by Rafael Rivera of Within Windows.

I've been using this interface off and on for a year now. I've given careful consideration to how the operating system works as a desktop user, and what it's like from a tablet perspective.

What Microsoft has attempted to pull off with Windows 8 is extremely ambitious. There are pieces that work well, and there are pieces that work less well. It has the feel of a transitional operating system, an attempt to bridge from one universe into the next, and yet it is when one attempts to use it transitionally—when using a mix of desktop applications and Metro applications—that it is at its worst. Stick to one universe—whether desktop or Metro—and it feels far more coherent.


Desktop delights

For a desktop user, the Start screen works as a mostly better Start menu. It presents more icons, it affords greater control over icon placement, it makes it easier to place the apps you care about front and center. It looks very different, yes, but it fills the same role as the Start menu and does so well.

It is not perfect. Windows 8 is not really sure about who the Start screen belongs to. Although the layout and position of the tiles belongs to the user, the operating system has a tendency to just spew icons for newly installed applications onto the Start screen. This was much more regulated on the Start menu; only the bottom slot could be used to promote a newly installed application.

I continue to hate the lack of unified search results in the Start screen. Splitting results between apps, settings, and files does not serve my purposes, especially as Windows makes the distinction between an app and a setting so arbitrary, with some configuration done in Control Panel (a "setting"), but other configuration done in MMC and the Administrative Tools (all "apps").

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This just isn't logical. This should be a setting, or at a pinch, a file. It's simply not an app.

When it comes to the core desktop experience itself, there are some welcome improvements. The overhauled copy progress dialogs are excellent. The graphs are pretty, and the ability to pause operations in progress is handy. Explorer has a ribbon UI, which I'm still pretty indifferent toward. It's different from Windows 7, but not appreciably better.

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Explorer has a ribbon.

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File copy progress graphs are excellent.

What is appreciably better is the new Task Manager. It contains more information than ever, and thanks to its new heatmap displays, it makes detecting errant applications easier than ever.

Also appreciably better? Finally, there is native support for a taskbar that spans multiple monitors.

Bugbears remain. Those hot corners still need work on multimonitor systems. The traps aren't aggressive enough, making it still too hard to hit the right spot the first time, every time. I know I could use the extensive keyboard shortcuts, but I honestly don't want to: a GUI operating system needs to be effective when controlled with the mouse. If the traps, for example, reduced the mouse movement speed whenever it was in the vicinity (turning them into glue traps) I think it would go a long way toward fixing the problem.

I also still find the visual incongruity troublesome. Metro-esque portions impinge on the desktop, with things like the disk insertion notifications, default program specifications, and list of Wi-Fi networks all Metro-themed. It doesn't look right, and it doesn't feel right. Fortunately these things are relatively rare.

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Whoops, I just spilled Metro all over my desktop.

In a similar vein, some of the default settings are going to annoy desktop users. By default, Windows 8 uses the Metro Music, Video, and Photo apps for opening their respective file types. The desktop counterparts are still present (Windows Media Player and Photo Viewer), and for desktop users these make much better defaults. This only has to be changed once, so it's not a disaster. Just an annoyance.



Metro mirth

The Metro environment works well, too. While Metro apps have a "touch-first" design, that doesn't mean that they're touch-exclusive. This isn't to say that every single application, particularly third-party ones, will have a first-class mouse and keyboard experience (some are engineered specifically for touch, taking advantage of multiple fingers, for example), but the core Microsoft applications—and many of the third-party ones—are comfortable when used with either touch or traditional input devices.

This is quite a feat, and I suspect that if Microsoft had realized that you can produce interfaces that are comfortable with both styles of interaction, touch may have become mainstream a decade ago.

I'm not going to pretend that the experience is exactly equal between the two input modalities. Edge UI is much slicker when used with swipes from the screen edge. Swiping from the left to multitask is natural and elegant, though it has annoyed me since day one that Microsoft does not regard the Start screen as an "app" and so does not let you swipe back to it. It just makes the swipe operation feel a bit asymmetrical. If you're viewing the Start screen, you can swipe in from the left to switch away from it, but you can't switch back.

The on-screen keyboards work well, and the handwriting recognition, if you do use a stylus, is basically amazing.

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As glass keyboards go, this one isn't bad.

All the basics of a touch UI are there, and they're working. Indeed, some of the apps that are already out, like Skype and Netflix, are fast, fluid, and attractive.

The complaints I had during the beta about getting dumped on the desktop remain, unfortunately, true; there are still some pieces of configuration that are relevant to touch users and mobile devices, but only found on the desktop, in Control Panel. It's frustrating, because these are pieces of configuration that other platforms (including iOS, Android, and Windows Phone) do provide a proper touch UI for—things like adding and changing languages and keyboard layouts, or adding root certificates to the trusted store so that private certificates (for example, on corporate mail servers) are accepted by the Mail app, or even controlling how long the screen stays lit when the computer is idle.

This kind of omission is very hard to reconcile with Sinofsky's "no compromise" claims. Those claims are just not true; there are compromises everywhere—places where touch users are left high and dry—because there wasn't the time or interest in making sure that the system actually works for them. There's still plenty of this kind of fit-and-finish work to be done. These are all things that can be fixed, given time, and I'm sure they will be eventually.

Less easy to fix, however, are some of the other concerns I have about the Metro embodiment in Windows 8. I'm a big fan of the Metro aesthetic and think it works very well in Windows Phone. Application developers have integrated the aesthetic into their own apps effectively, so while their apps still have a strong brand and identity, they also feel like an integral part of the platform. I also think that the Zune app is a smart piece of software that uses concepts that are Metro-esque in an application with a (relatively) high data density (at least in places).

The concepts in Windows 8 aren't as strong, however. Windows Phone has standard ways of organizing applications, with scrolling left/right to change what you're looking at (for example, switching between your full inbox, your unread items, high priority items, and so on), and scrolling up/down to see more stuff in the current category. It's a concept that works well across a wide variety of application types, from e-mail to social networking to streaming video—any time you have a concept of categorization or filtering, really.

That kind of strict organization doesn't exist in Windows 8. It's more free-form, with applications picking different ways to present data. The operating system itself, in the Start screen, is a lot more one-dimensional—you have groups or categories, but they just scroll left/right. While on the one hand this encourages developers to be more experimental and be less regimented in their approach than they are in Windows Phone, it has the downside that apps are generally less predictable.

I also think that some developers have simply struggled to come up with a compelling design for their application. More guidance in the form of platform conventions and norms would be valuable. It would help make the platform feel a bit more coherent.

I'm also not entirely convinced by the nature of the Metro interactions themselves, particularly concerning the app bar and the charms. Again, this is an area where developers seem a little uncertain and inconsistent. For common tasks, it is downright inconvenient to have to bring up the app bar each time you want to trigger the task. For example, during the beta period there were Twitter apps that didn't use the Twitter streaming API that continuously sends clients new tweets. Instead, they polled Twitter's servers periodically. They did this on a timer, but they also included a refresh button in their app bar. When having Twitter conversations, I would find myself continuously having to pull up the app bar with a swipe and hit refresh, over and over again.

There is a kind of conflict here. An important Metro concept is that of giving over the screen space to content rather than the mechanical parts of the application. Countering that is the desire to provide instant access to common features. On Windows Phone there's a happy medium, because the app bar shows four icons permanently, with an ellipsis used to expand it and reveal less commonly used functions.


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Not content with having an app bar, Mail also has a little toolbar for common functions.

No such middle ground is found in Windows 8, however. A permanently displayed app bar would burn too much screen space too much of the time. Some apps, such as Mail, have tackled this problem by including more traditional toolbars that are permanently displayed. I think as the platform and apps mature, conventions will develop to address this recurring issue, but they're not there yet.

Charmed, I'm sure

I have some charm-related concerns, too. Several, in fact. I like the Share charm a lot. It's a strong concept (though not unique; Android has a very similar mechanism) and it solves a lot of application interoperability issues in a clean and consistent manner. Some applications don't use it in a very helpful way, however. The Bing News app, which is otherwise quite nice, allows you to send links to the story you're reading via the Share charm, so you can e-mail or tweet or whatever. However, the links it sends use Bing News-specific URLs that all start "bingnews://".

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Really now, who is this URL useful to?

These links are problematic for so many reasons. If you're not using Windows 8, they're useless—nothing understands them. If you are using Windows 8, they're probably still useless. Although the Bing News app registers its made-up bingnews:// protocol with Windows 8, meaning that an application that tells Windows 8 to open the URL will successfully launch the Bing News app, there appears to be no easy way for other apps to know that it's done so. So a Twitter client, for example, won't know that it should add a blue underline to any piece of text starting bingnews://, and won't know that it can send that URL to Windows 8 so that Windows 8 can start the right app. While Bing News should probably send a regular http:// URL alongside its bingnews:// ones, Windows 8 should also offer applications an API that will perform identification of protocols it knows about, so that they know that they can make things clickable.

Other apps handle this much better, I should note. Bing Maps, for example, provides both kinds of URL, so that anyone can follow its links, whether they are running Windows 8 or not. I don't think anything fundamental needs to change here; just a new API and some more thoughtfulness from application developers.

Where something fundamental does need to change is the Search charm. First of all, I think it's just plain weird. It feels like a top-level, globally scoped action, and indeed, it can be used to perform top-level, global actions—searching the entire computer. But it's also meant to be used for contextual actions—searching the application, or even the current view of the application. I still don't find this comfortable. To me, "search the entire system" and "search Netflix" are conceptually very different. The Share charm tries to make them all the same. I would rather have a traditional magnifying glass within each app whenever the app allows searching in that context.

Worse, there are also places where the Search charm just plain doesn't do the right thing. Consider the Messaging app. The Messaging app doesn't store an address book or contact list. Nor does it have direct access to the contact list stored in the People app. Instead, the Messaging app asks the People app to display a "Contact Picker": a user interface owned by the People app for selecting one or more contacts and passing those contacts and only those contacts back to the Messaging app. This is smart design; it means that a malicious instant messaging program can't harvest my contacts to send them spam. It can only see the contact information that it has a legitimate need to see.

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All I want here is a magnifying glass icon. Please!

But there's a problem. I have a lot of contacts, and sometimes I forget people's exact names (perhaps I normally only use their first name or their nickname). So when that Contact Picker is displayed, I want to search. Alas, I cannot. The Search charm doesn't understand that I'm in the context of a Contact Picker. It instead tries to search the Messaging app. Since the Messaging app doesn't support search, that does nothing to help me.

Technically, I'm sure this could be fixed. The Search charm could be made to understand that when a picker is on display (Contacts are not the only kind; there are also file pickers, which serve a similar purpose, but for choosing files rather than people), search operations should search the picker rather than the app. But at the moment it doesn't, which is annoying—and it's a problem that only exists because of the Search charm. If apps stuck with the traditional route of showing a magnifying glass icon when their current context is searchable, the contacts picker would just let me search it directly.

There's also a certain amount of weird duplication. The Music and Video apps, for example, put Xbox 360 icons in their app bars, for playing to a networked Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 also appears in the Devices charm. If the Devices charm is meant to be the right way for interacting with devices, why do the apps try to subvert the charm in this way?

Similarly, the Bing Maps app does have a magnifying glass on its app bar. Clicking it opens a pane from the side of the screen as if you'd used the Search charm, except it's not the Search charm. It's just Bing Maps' field for entering search terms. Why does it do this? I have no idea.

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It's sort of like a Search charm, but not.


We don't need no education?

While I hope to see improvement in these areas, they are gripes, not showstoppers. Windows 8 is introducing some fairly unusual UI concepts, and it's not altogether surprising that they lack some of the polish of more traditional interfaces.

What continues to concern me is how quickly people will pick up these concepts—or whether they will at all. The tutorial that Windows shows when you first log in tells you only to put the mouse cursor in the corner of the screen, or swipe from the edge of the screen. That's it. It doesn't even tell you how to activate charms with the mouse (it requires more than pointing at the corner of the screen), and doesn't even hint that you have to right-click to reveal the app bar. Part of the problem here is that the tutorial tries to treat the mouse as if it were as simple as the touch gestures: "swipe from the edge" directly reveals the charms or app bar, and switches tasks; "put the mouse in the corner" doesn't actually do anything, in and of itself.

There are useful capabilities, such as snapped view, that the tutorial doesn't even hint at. There are also concepts that, while they may make sense, are not immediately obvious, especially to people who have been conditioned to use traditional interfaces—for example, the fact that printing is initiated via the Devices charm.

Learning a new interface takes time, and it requires guidance, particularly when you have 17 years of preconceived notions of how you expect a computer to work. Windows 8 doesn't provide that guidance; it throws you in at the deep end and expects you to figure out some fairly subtle things all by yourself.

There are now countless YouTube videos of people of various ages and experience levels trying to use Windows 8 for the first time. Some people succeed quickly and easily. Others don't. To me, that suggests there's a real problem. While some will flourish, I think others will feel lost, overwhelmed, and, yes, angry.

I don't mind making people learn a new interface, and I think there are certainly advantages of a learned interface over an "intuitive" one, longer term—the learned interface doesn't have to waste time or screen space by telling the user how to do the thing that they already know how to do. But there is a counterpart to learning, and that's teaching, and Windows 8 does precious little to teach anyone anything.

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 Post subject: Re: How Microsoft transformed Studio B into a hardware company
PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:49 pm 
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This section authored by Andrew Cunningham.

Benchmarking


One of the reasons Windows Vista fared so poorly with some reviewers was that it actually introduced many speed regressions compared to Windows XP—things like boot time, application launch time, and file copy performance were noticeably slower in Vista. The then-new operating system was also much more RAM-hungry than XP.

Windows 7 was the first-ever Windows version to hold system requirements steady compared to the last version. This is due in part to the backlash against Windows Vista, and because of the popularity (at the time) of low-specced netbooks. Netbooks aren't very popular any more, but many tablets are using hardware that's not much more powerful. So Windows 8 keeps the same official requirements as Windows 7.

We wanted to put these claims to the test and see just how well Windows 8 performs relative to Windows 7—we'll present some of the most important numbers here, but be on the lookout for a more in-depth dive in the coming days. We used the same custom-build gaming desktop for all of the numbers here. The specs:

3.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 960 CPU
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 GPU
12GB of DDR3 RAM
Crucial M4 solid-state drive

It's not quite state-of-the art, but it's a high-end system from a couple of years back. In our upcoming benchmark deep dive, we'll be looking at some different PCs as well, including some hardware that's a bit older for you potential upgraders out there.

Boot time

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Microsoft has devoted quite a bit of effort to reducing the operating system's memory footprint and boot time. Our experience is that Windows 8 is actually quicker than Windows 7 on old hardware, especially at boot up.

The Windows 8 scores are lower, even on a fast system with an SSD and plenty of RAM. On some of the other systems we're testing for our full benchmarking article the differences are even more pronounced. When Windows 8 shuts down, it actually saves the core OS processes to disk as it unloads them from memory, rather than purging them completely and then loading the OS from scratch at next boot. This feature uses Windows' hibernation feature to work, and disabling hibernation erases the boot time advantage.

Note also the amount of time our desktop takes to perform its power-on self test (POST). This is the amount of time between when you press the power button on your computer and when Windows actually starts loading. On systems with lower POST times (and there are plenty that take just a few seconds), Windows 8 should easily be able to perform a cold boot in 20 seconds or less on decent hardware.

File copy time

When Windows Vista was first released, one of the things reviewers slammed it for was significantly slowing down file copy times compared to Windows XP. Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and Windows 7 largely corrected this problem, but we still wanted to check and see how Windows 8 compared to Windows 7.

To test file copy times, we put together a folder about 40GB in size filled with two different types of files: large files like ISOs and videos, which will generally copy over more quickly, and smaller files like pictures and music, which will generally copy over more slowly because the operating system has to make slight pauses continually to create new files as it copies them from disk to disk. To use an analogy, it's quicker to carry a gallon of water in one gallon-sized bucket than it is to make four trips using four quart-sized buckets.

We copied the files from a USB 3.0 hard drive to the local disk (labeled as the "read" test in the charts below), and then copied them back from the local disk to the external drive (the "write" test). A very special thanks to the good people at G-Technology for lending us one of their G Drive slim external hard drives for use in this testing.

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The times are close in each case (and it's completely normal for the write times to be much higher than the read times), but on this test system, Windows 8 is consistently a bit quicker in both read and write tests.

However, this doesn't track perfectly with our experience on all of our testbeds. Let's take a look at the results from one of our other testbeds, a custom-built mini PC with a Sandy Bridge Celeron processor, integrated graphics, 4GB of RAM, and a Samsung 830 SSD.

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Here, the write performance is still slightly better in Windows 8 than in Windows 7, but the read performance is slightly worse.

This may be a product of the different USB 3.0 controllers in the different systems and the new generic USB 3.0 drivers included with Windows 8 (though it's worth noting that these slight differences were also reflected in our USB 2.0 tests). The takeaway for now is that copy performance over USB is close enough to Windows 7's that it probably won't make much of a difference to most users (and it's often slightly faster). Ultimately, the results will vary slightly from system to system.


Gaming

Finally, we ran some gaming tests. Windows Vista was (again) infamous for its apparent speed regressions relative to Windows XP, but at least part of this was caused by new and often-immature graphics drivers from AMD (then ATI) and NVIDIA. This is not the case with Windows 8, which uses the exact same display driver packages as Windows 7. As such, we're not expecting much of a difference between the two.

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http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/u ... ts.001.png

In our testing, Windows 7 and Windows 8 indeed enjoy roughly the same performance in games—there are a few small differences, which is normal for different runs, but the 3DMark scores and the often-identical scores in our two test games confirms there are no major regressions. Unless you count yourself among the number of gamers that believe Windows 8 is "a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space," you can upgrade without much worry.


Slightly quicker, mostly the same

Upgraders with both low-end and high-end systems alike should find nothing to be too dissatisfied with in Windows 8's performance relative to Windows 7 on the same hardware. In a few metrics (like boot time), things have improved substantially, and in others Windows 8 holds even with its predecessor. If you were happy with Windows 7's performance on your system, you should generally be happy with Windows 8's—though our system requirement recommendations still stand.



Mixed-use mayhem

Windows 8 provides a solid desktop experience. Its tablet experience is, in spite of the rough edges, workable, with many enjoyable parts. And as long as you stick to one way of working or the other, you can be pretty happy.

Where it falls down, hard, is when you try to mix and match. Microsoft has done precious little to bring the Metro environment and the desktop environment together. They're two separate worlds. The charms, in particular, are off-limits to desktop apps. The Search charm won't search the foreground desktop app. Desktop apps can't share or be share targets. Desktop apps don't know about devices, and don't store their settings behind the Settings charm.

This makes a mix-and-match approach deeply flawed. I can't even send an e-mail via Outlook from the Metro world. Outlook. Probably one of the most important business applications of all time, and Metro doesn't even know it exists.

We get the same problem in reverse, too. If you use the Metro Mail app as your e-mail client, you might expect that you could right-click a file in Explorer, and then go to Send to, Mail Recipient, and for this to create a mail in the Mail app. You might expect that, but it won't work. Send to Mail Recipient can only use desktop Mail apps. How about sending someone a URL to a webpage from within the desktop Internet Explorer using the Share charm? Nope, not an option; desktop Internet Explorer can't send to the Share charm. Nothing on the desktop can.

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You will grow to hate this message.

Making matters worse is that, by default, Windows 8 is configured to use this mix-and-match approach. I already mentioned things like defaulting to using the Metro Photos app instead of the desktop Photo Viewer app, so let's explore that in detail. I often get sent ZIP files of images (product photos, that kind of thing). So I unzip them all into a directory somewhere. I then want to look at them, so I double-click one of them. In Windows 7, this would open up Photo Viewer, and I can just use the arrow keys to cycle through all the images in the same directory. Quick and easy.

In Windows 8, however, the first image opens up in the Metro Photo app. And here's the problem: the Metro Photo app can't view the rest of the images in the directory. Why? It doesn't have permission. It's another one of those security things: Metro apps can't read arbitrary directories on disk. They can only read files explicitly selected by the user, and files in one of the libraries (which, incidentally, can only be managed from the desktop).

So instead, you open the first file, then either quit the Photo app or alt-tab back to Explorer, open the next file, then switch back to Explorer, open the next, and so on.

OK, you might say, so put the folder in the Pictures library. Do that, and the Metro Photo app does the right thing; you can open the first file and then navigate to its siblings just fine, without having to flip back to Explorer the whole time. But I may not want to put the pictures in the Pictures library. I probably want to put them in the Documents library, alongside the PDFs, Word documents, and Markdown files that comprise a piece of work. But if I do that, the same problem occurs. The Metro Photos app can't read from the Documents library. It's only allowed into the Pictures one.

The separation also makes the Start screen's Live Tiles much less useful. Again, to use Outlook as an example: Outlook can't display Live Tiles. It can't give me a mail notification on the Start screen, nor on the lock screen. It can't show me my next appointment on the Start or lock screens either. Why? Because only Metro applications are allowed Live Tiles.

This is vexing in Windows 8; it's arguably even more annoying in Windows Server 2012. The Start screen could make an ideal at-a-glance console, with Live Tiles to indicate the health of various system components and services. Except it can't do this, because doing that would require Live Tiles that were generated by desktop applications, system services, and PowerShell scripts.

There is a hard and dividing line between the two worlds. Far from allowing seamless switching between the two environments, they barely even acknowledge the other's existence. It's extremely limited, and it means that as a person who has to use the desktop for some things, I find myself avoiding Metro apps for all things. Bridging the gap is just too painful and annoying.

The only silver lining to this cloud is that there's no real technical reason for these restrictions. It would be relatively easy to, for example, allow desktop applications to participate in the share contract and other mechanisms. I've heard claims that other scenarios are being considered too, such as allowing drag and drop from the desktop into Metro apps. So the situation could improve in some future version.

Right now, though, it's a big pain point. Until this gap is closed, it leaves Windows 8 feeling like two separate operating systems poorly grafted together. You can never avoid the join entirely, but your happiness with Windows 8 will depend heavily on just how often you have to cross over. The more you try to treat the two worlds as equal, integrated peers, the worse Windows 8 gets. The more you stick to one paradigm or the other, the better it is.


Store stuttering

If Windows 8's only revolution was its new user interface, that would be significant enough. There are other sea changes in store, however. In the Windows Store.

Metro apps do not merely have a new user interface. They're also distributed, downloaded, and (optionally) purchased in a new way. They all have to be vetted by Microsoft and then distributed through the Windows Store.

App stores have become expected, mandated parts of smartphone and tablet platforms. The Windows Store is in the familiar Apple mold. Microsoft exercises strict editorial and technical control over apps listed in the store, restricting both their content and access to the operating system.

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The store is certainly bright and airy. I do wonder how well it will work if and when there are hojillions of apps available.

While enterprise customers will be able to bypass the store and privately distribute custom applications, there won't be any general-purpose way for normal users to side-load Metro applications that haven't gone through—or couldn't go through—Microsoft's validation processes.

I'm not a fan of this approach when Apple does it, and I'm not a fan when Microsoft does it. While I understand that there's a certain amount of peace of mind that comes from a tightly controlled store and a locked-down system, there's also a tremendous loss of freedom. I don't mind that Windows 8 has a store, and I'll probably make purchases on it myself. I do, however, think there needs to be the facility to at least opt in to allowing side-loaded applications. I don't think Microsoft should have the final say about what applications I can run on my PC.

The Store experience itself is mediocre at best. It does all the basic things. It has a categorized listing of apps and a spotlight section for promoting hot apps. It features searching, app ratings, and so on. That's all fine, if unexceptional. It also has a hugely convenient "install all the apps I have licensed" capability, something I find sorely missing from Windows Phone. This will fetch all the free and paid apps that you have used on other machines and install them locally.

Where it falls down is that I've not found it very reliable. Its Live Tile will show that I have updates available, and I'll click the update notification within the store... only to be shown that there aren't any updates available.

Other times, when installing or updating apps, it will appear to get stuck and not manage to download anything. One time it showed me updates for two apps, I told it to install the updates, and nothing happened. It just stayed on the same page, showing me the two updatable apps.

For the most part, quitting and restarting the app, or failing that, rebooting, would fix its problems—at least temporarily. But the overall experience isn't very good. Installing and updating apps is a core experience: it shouldn't be unreliable, and it shouldn't be unpredictable. Yet the Store app is both.

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the Store app is the worst of the built-in apps. Some of the other apps frustrate me due to their simplicity, but none of the others are as janky as the Store app. As often as not it will do something weird and unwanted. For such an important use case, I don't really think this is good enough.


Head in the clouds

The final big change in Windows 8 is Windows' new relationship to networked cloud services in some significant ways, particularly concerning user accounts.

When creating user accounts on Windows 8, two options are available. You can create a regular local account that works just like any user account on prior versions of Windows, or you can use a Microsoft Account. With a Microsoft Account, your local account is cloud-connected.

Microsoft Accounts were formerly known as Windows Live IDs. They're accounts and credentials used to sign in to various Microsoft services, and they're often paired to things like Hotmail or Outlook.com e-mail accounts and SkyDrive storage. They can also be associated with Facebook, Twitter, and Skype identities (among others) and can carry around billing information.

If you sign in to Windows with a Microsoft Account, a few things happen that don't occur with regular local accounts. First, certain applications get plumbed in to their respective services automatically. For example, the Mail app gets configured to use your Hotmail or Outlook.com account. SkyDrive knows your identity and can sync your cloud files. The media apps like Music and Video can similarly log in and have the ability to use your stored billing information for making purchases.

The cloud connectivity does more than just let your local apps know who you are. Windows 8 offers synced settings via the cloud. Log in at a machine for the first time, and it will configure your color scheme, passwords, browser history, preferences in Explorer, linguistic predilections, keyboard options, and even third-party application settings. Almost as soon as you log in, the machine is made your own, with all the familiar setup that you expect.

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Sync or swim.

I only wish the feature were extended. To use Microsoft Account you still have to explicitly create a machine account that is configured to use a specific Microsoft Account. What I'd like even more is a kind of combined Microsoft Account/Guest account—so that I could log on temporarily to someone else's computer, using my own Microsoft Account, have it plumbed into my e-mail and apps appropriately, and then discard all the personal data when I log back out.





Beyond the interface

There's a lot more to Windows 8 than its user interface. In a normal Windows release, these other aspects—a new storage subsystem that lets you join multiple disks together, a new backup system, reduced memory usage, greater protection against security exploits, portable installations on USB memory sticks and more—would be prime considerations when assessing the operating system.

In the coming days, we're going to take a closer look at some of these features, but the user interface changes in Windows 8 threaten to overshadow them all. Some people have had visceral, negative reactions to the new user interface, and they're more than willing to forego these other improvements so that they can stick with Windows 7's much more familiar face.

If you're a desktop user, then yes: the new interface is not perfect. Despite what Microsoft says, the new interface is a compromise. The new interface makes some things worse. It also makes some things better. If you're a multimonitor user, I would think long and hard before upgrading; as welcome as the new taskbar is, the ease of use of the new interface is a severe problem with multiple monitors.

With a single screen, however, just treat the Start screen as little more than app launcher and be selective about your use of Metro, and it turns into something that actually works pretty well. Maybe even something better than Windows 7.

That may not be enough for everyone, particularly in corporate environments scared of retraining costs, but Windows 8 shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Should you go for the new operating system, you won't lose any performance, and you can even get away with an in-place upgrade.

If you're willing to look beyond the desktop, Windows 8 offers something altogether more exciting. There have been hybrid and convertible laptops in the past; machines that can switch between being what is essentially a laptop and what is essentially a slate/tablet, typically through some form of docking keyboard or exotic hinge mechanism. These machines have always been better laptops than they were tablets due to the weaknesses of Windows interfaces of old.

Windows 8 lets these machines become truly useful. In their tablet guise, they have Metro apps (though these are currently a little thin on the ground). In their laptop guise they have full-strength desktop software. There are still rough edges. The integration of the two interfaces needs to be better. But Windows 8 works. It's one operating system that can support tablet and desktop apps side-by-side. And that might just be worth a little compromise.

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 Post subject: Re: Windows 8 Review
PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 8:54 am 
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The new and updated games of Windows 8

That's right—Minesweeper now has an adventure mode.



by Kyle Orland - Arstechnica.com



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The free games that have been included with the various versions of Windows over the years occupy a unique position in the video game landscape. No one would include them on a list of the best or most influential games of all time, and it’s unlikely any of them have ever acted as a “system seller” to influence someone’s choice of OS. Yet over the past decade, games like Microsoft’s Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Mahjong may be the most widely played video games on any platform (though the Angry Birds games have probably come close to beating them). From bored hardcore gamers messing around on a borrowed laptop to bored secretaries on an extended coffee break to bored grandmas clicking away at their grandchildren’s hand-me-down Windows 98 tower, you’re unlikely to find a PC user that hasn’t at least tried these titles at one point or another.

The free game tradition continues with Windows 8, but oddly enough, this year’s collection of Microsoft-produced titles doesn't come preinstalled with the standard version of the operating system (we’re guessing some OEMs might fix this oversight before shipping their hardware, however). Instead, the games are tucked away in the Windows Games Store alongside more professional third-party fare like Fruit Ninja and Hydro Thunder Hurricane, as well as countless cheap-o knock-offs like Mahjong Plus and Card Game Collection. Downloading and installing Microsoft's free titles is relatively easy, but we have to wonder how many Windows 8 users will actively seek them out, rather than stumbling upon them in a preinstalled Games folder.

The most immediately noticeable change to the free games in Windows 8 is that they’re all designed to run primarily in full-screen mode as “Windows 8 style” apps. On the plus side, this helps create some very streamlined interfaces without distracting window borders or menu bars getting in the way. Multitaskers can play some of the available games in "snap mode" by dragging the game to a small sliver on the left or right side of the screen, but the results are mixed—Minesweeper and Wordament work fine in this compressed space, but the card layout in the Solitaire Collection gets so cramped that it's nearly unplayable. If you want to play Mahjong or Taptiles while you're on a teleconference, you're going to need a dual-screen setup.

This year’s crop of games is also the first to integrate with Xbox Live through the "Xbox Games on Windows" program. For most of the games, this functionally just means you can get a set of unimaginative, easy-to-unlock Achievements that aren't even worth that many Gamerscore points. Wordament is the only one of the games to make impressive use of any sort of multiplayer features.

Solitaire, Minesweeper, Mahjong and Taptiles also come equipped with Daily Challenges; a rotating selection of scenarios with special rules, time limits or goals. The quality and appeal of these Challenges varies greatly, as noted below, but many players will likely be put off playing them by the need to watch a 15 or 30 second video ad before getting to each day’s challenges. It’s not a horrible inconvenience, but it’s a bit grating that Microsoft feels the need to further monetize games that were, until recently, seen as a bonus for just buying its operating system.

I tested all of these games on our (overpowered for these purposes) Velocity Micro rig. I wasn't able to get access to a tablet running Windows 8 to test the touchscreen controls, but the games seem tuned for tablets in many ways, as noted below.

With those general notes out of the way, let's take a deeper look at the six free games from Microsoft Studios currently available in the Windows Games store.

Microsoft Solitaire Collection

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When you say “solitaire” to most people, their mind will probably jump to Klondike Solitaire, the card game where you flip cards from a deck three at a time and try to make stacks of alternating colors and descending values. That’s available here, but it’s actually the least interesting of the five games included in this wider-ranging single-player card game collection, which gathers other solitaire games that have been available on various Microsoft Windows game packages in the past.

Freecell is definitely the most difficult of the available games to master, removing luck entirely by revealing every card to the player at the start. The rules are a bit tricky for beginners, but there’s a simple tutorial to explain how to use the "free cells" to move stacks of cards around in stacks of alternating colors. Almost every randomized deal can be solved with careful thinking and planning ahead, making for a diverting mental workout. Unfortunately for fans of the previous Windows Freecell editions, the Windows 8 version seems to have removed the ability to select a specific card arrangement by entering the game number (or at least I couldn’t find the option).

The other available solitaire games require much less skill, and primarily involve rote pattern matching mixed with a modicum of luck-of-the-draw. Tripeaks was the most compelling to me. Even though the entire game can be summed up as "looking for an available card with a value one higher or lower than the current card," I found something deeply satisfying about finding and creating long chains of cards snaking up and down the value chain (complete with sound effects that continually rise in pitch).

Pyramid was much less interesting—matching up pairs of cards whose values add up to 13 feels like a task designed for slow second graders more than functioning adults. I was more intrigued by Spider Solitaire, which uses multiple decks of cards and asks players to create descending stacks of entire suits while avoiding having other cards get in the way. There’s a bit of strategy and organization needed to succeed here, though not so much that you’ll have to strain your brain as much as in Freecell. Altogether, the available games are pretty good at engaging that OCD part of your brain that sees a messy deck of shuffled cards and just craves to put it in some sort of discernible order.

The entire collection looks great as a full-screen Windows 8 app. There’s a nice variety of premade visual themes to choose from, but the ability to customize backgrounds and cards with your own picture collection is sure to be a favorite feature for many. The ability to undo moves going back all the way to the beginning of a game is another nice feature that hasn’t always been present in Microsoft’s card games in the past, and while this does make it pretty easy to cheat, it’s solitaire, so the only person you’re really cheating is yourself.

Oh, and before you ask, the cards don’t do that little bouncing thing when you win a game. Instead, they turn into sparkling butterflies and fly about the screen. Seriously.

Minesweeper

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The only thing you really need to know about the Windows 8 version of Minesweeper is that it has an Adventure Mode.

I’ll let that sink in for a second.

They added an adventure mode... to Minesweeper.

How do you turn a puzzle game about clicking a grid full of mines into an adventure game? By adding a spelunking motif and giving players control of a cave-excavation specialist that’s trying to dig for treasure while avoiding traps. Of course, those traps are marked by large numbers hidden under the adjacent dirt, indicating how many traps are nearby, just like in the base Minesweeper game. But there are also plenty of adventure game trappings larded on top of the randomly generated levels, including doors that can be opened by hidden keys, walls that can be blasted through by dynamite, and stationary monsters that can be taken out by a bow and arrow. There are maps to find hidden treasures and shields to offer extra protection and basically just a lot of exploratory stuff that you wouldn't normally associate with Minesweeper.

While the sheer weirdness of Adventure Mode is interesting for a little while, the implementation just isn’t strong enough to be a long-term draw. There’s way too much empty space, and each blank area has to be annoyingly excavated by hand (rather than cascading automatically, as in the base game). The wonky camera makes it a bit too easy to misclick and lose a bit of energy unintentionally, while the randomly generated levels are too repetitive and lack compelling designs. I ended up putting it down for good after clicking through just five levels

Outside of Adventure Mode, Minesweeper is still the same game of mathematical logic it’s always been. It's a timeless design that provides a good, basic mental workout, like push ups for your brain. The only real design issue, which the new version still hasn't solved, is the fact that many randomly generated boards still come down to guessing the location of those final mines, which can be incredibly frustrating after spending minutes flawlessly clearing the rest of the board.

The mouse controls are as efficient as ever: right-click to mark a tile, left click to reveal, click them both to clear all adjacent tiles. You can use the scroll wheel to zoom in and out from the full-screen display, which is a nice touch for those playing on smaller monitors or living room TVs. And the Daily Challenges put some interesting twists on the basic game, including one mode where you can only place mine-marking flags on a partially exposed playfield and another where you’re actually trying to blow up a set number of mines in as few moves as possible.



Microsoft Mahjong

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This is the free Windows game that’s more commonly known as “the one your mother-in-law plays.” At least it was to me, before I started in on this review. What I thought would be a simple game of visual acuity actually turned out to be a little more subtle.

Yes, the game can be boiled down to finding matching pairs of tiles and clicking to remove them from the board (the Windows 8 version slams those matching pairs together with a satisfying thunk before rushing them off the board). But you can only use tiles that can be slid out unencumbered on the left or right, and that aren’t covered even partially by another tile in the 3D layout. This means you have to plan ahead a little bit and actually decide which potential pair will reveal more tiles and serve you best going forward, rather than just making the first match you find. This is particularly important in the challenging “Lightning Match” Daily Challenge, which gives you a set number of matches in which to uncover and match special colored tiles before they explode.

The latest version of Mahjong offers a fair selection of tile arrangements ranging from beginner to expert level, though it forces you to unlock them in sequence for some reason. It would have been nice to let players create their own arrangements too, and perhaps share them with friends, but the patterns on offer are sufficient. There’s a decent selection of background themes and tile patterns, though again there's no option to customize these for yourself as you can in Solitaire Collection. The 3D effect that gives the playfield depth is almost too subtle here; I often found it hard to tell which tiles were stacked on top of others, which made it tough to figure out at a glance which tiles were available for matches. The bare-bones interface does a good job of providing the necessary information without being distracting. I particularly liked the prominent count of “available matches,” to let you know how you’re doing without giving too much away.

Wordament

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Note: This is a Windows 8 port of a game that is also available on Windows Phone 7.

In this simple, Boggle-inspired word game, the goal is to make words using adjacent strings of letters on the 4x4 grid, with rarer letters being worth more than common ones. There are scoring bonuses for longer words, as well as occasional board bonuses for finding words on a certain theme (animal sounds, herbs/spices, etc.) or using certain tiles (the “E”s in the corner, a double-lettered “TO” tile, etc.). You can play with a mouse, but the interface seems best designed for Windows tablets, where you can simply swipe to make words. I found my mouse pointer wasn’t quite steady enough to trace out letter paths quickly and accurately, especially when going diagonally from one letter to another.

Wordament makes the best use of Microsoft’s Xbox on Windows features of all the Windows 8 freebie games. When you start the game up, you’re thrown into the middle of a live match against everyone else playing the game at the same time (including those playing on their phone). At the end of each two-minute round, there’s a 30-second break where you can see where you rank compared to everyone else playing the same board (there were always hundreds of live players during my testing, a number that’s sure to go up after Windows 8 is officially released). You can compare yourself directly to anyone on your Xbox friends list who happens to be playing, or mark “Frenemies” on the high score list, to measure your continuing progress as you inevitably play just one more round.

It’s a simple and compelling competition, but I couldn’t help but want more out of Wordament. There’s no way to challenge players on your Friends List asynchronously, for instance, meaning you have to be actively playing at the same time as your friends if you want to see who’s better. A feature to find potential friends through Gmail or Facebook accounts would also be nice. These kinds of features are pretty standard on similar iOS games, but missing from this basic effort.

Still, the streamlined presentation is loaded with interesting stats like words-per-second and average word length, covering both your last played game and your entire career as a Wordament-er. The Leaderboards currently show one player that has found almost half a million words during the Windows 8 testing period, showing that this one definitely has the potential to be a major time waster.

Taptiles

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Consider this a simplified, faster-paced, fully 3D version of the more sedate Microsoft Mahjong. The rectangular tiles in that game have been replaced here with cubes that are arranged in a wide variety of complex 3D shapes, which you can rotate around with a swipe of the finger or the mouse pointer. You can still only match tiles that can be slid out to the left or right, but there are fewer distinct symbols to match here, meaning each title has a larger number of potential mates available at any point.

Speed is the name of the game here. Taptiles provides an increasing score bonus for each match you make without a significant pause, and unlocks helpful temporary power-ups if you can get your speed bonus chain high enough. I found the timing window on this bonus to be a little unforgiving, though. I think of myself as someone with pretty good twitch reflexes at this point in my gaming career, but I was constantly losing my speed bonus if I took just a split second too long in moving my mouse to the next tile. The timing is probably better suited to the touchscreen, where you can make matches simply by tapping with two fingers at once, but even there I find it hard to imagine you’ll have time to rotate the board to find a hidden tile without losing your bonus.

When you can get in that zone, though, there’s something very zen-like about the way the pairs seem to just flow. When you’re playing well, you’ll be able to uncover a tile and immediately know where its best match is, moving to click it even before the game has fully processed the last match. Eventually you’ll be able to see two or three moves ahead, moving between matches almost by rote and continuing speed bonus chains through multiple boards. It's a pretty wonderful feeling, even if it isn't the most mentally taxing thing in the world.

Adera

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Adera stands out from the rest of Microsoft's free Windows 8 games in a number of ways. For one, it's the only one of the set with a story, infused with ancient stone-and-sorcery magic and a search for a grandfather who has apparently come back from the dead. The decently made 3D animated cut scenes seem to be trying to capture an Uncharted-style vibe, but the writing isn't nearly as witty and the voice acting is downright painful to listen to at points.

Gameplay-wise, Adera plays like "Baby's First Adventure Game." You click around the environments looking for items helpfully indicated by shiny purple sparks, then figure out how to use those items to solve problems highlighted by glowing blue puzzle pieces. The game is quite upfront about nudging you in the right direction when you click on a puzzle piece ("I'll bet I could cut through those vines"), and a generous hint system will outright show you the next step in the chain if you want. Even without these clues, though, it's pretty clear that the sun-shaped gear fits in the sun-shaped hole, for instance.

The adventure game logic is broken up by a number of simple mini-games, ranging from matching similar glyphs to sliding stone tumblers to arranging triangles in a Tangram. There are also a number of hidden-object puzzles where you have to click around a crowded room to find specific items, a task that quickly sapped my will to live. Some of these puzzles are decently tough, but most can be solved by simple guess-and-checking without any real thought required. If even that is too much work, the game provides a convenient "skip puzzle" button after a few minutes, just to show how little it really cares whether or not you figure out its mysteries.

The free download of Adera is actually the first chapter of a continuing episodic adventure, and future updates will cost money. For a free demo, it provides a decent amount of content, ending on a cliffhanger after about two hours worth of gameplay. It's not incredibly compelling to anyone who grew up playing more elaborate point-and-click adventure games, but it could serve as a decent introduction for someone who isn't familiar with the genre.

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 Post subject: Re: Windows 8 Review
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 11:22 am 
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Anyone used this so far then?

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 Post subject: Re: Windows 8 Review
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 3:00 pm 
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No, not yet. Normally I'd have played with an early version by now but with it being aimed at touch I really didn't see the point. Looks alright though tbh, I just have no intention of getting a touch screen.

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 Post subject: Re: Windows 8 Review
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 5:53 pm 
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Yeah, I only considered it as Microsoft are offering for about 25 quid or something. But I wasn't sure if it was worth the bother.

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 Post subject: Re: Windows 8 Review
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 12:12 pm 
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borocooper wrote:
Yeah, I only considered it as Microsoft are offering for about 25 quid or something. But I wasn't sure if it was worth the bother.


I've not read a bad review other than a few moans about the UI changes taking a bit of getting used to, but you hear from people using it daily over the past month or two who say that it's quick, stable, probably a bit faster than Win7 etc. to get stuff done and also it works well with just a mouse and keyboard plugged into it... once you get used to it, of course.

Might be worth a punt just for curiosity's sale even if it's to dual boot with Win7 if it's available at the right price.

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 Post subject: Re: Windows 8 Review
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Germany warns: You just CAN'T TRUST some Windows 8 PCs

Microsoft: You can still buy an 'insecure' Win 8 machine sans TPM chip


By Jasper Hamill - The Register



Microsoft's new touchy Windows 8 operating system is so vulnerable to prying hackers that Germany's businesses and government should not use it, the country's authorities have warned in a series of leaked documents.

According to files published in German weekly Die Zeit, the Euro nation's officials fear Germans' data is not secure thanks to the OS's Trusted Computing technology – a set of specifications and protocols that relies on every computer having a unique cryptographic key built into the hardware that's used to dictate what software can be run.

Authorities at Germany's Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) later clarified that it was the Trusted Computing specs in Windows 8 in conjunction with the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip embedded in the hardware that creates the alleged security issue. BSI released a statement that backtracked slightly, insisting that using Windows 8 in combination with a TPM may make a system safer, but noting that it is investigating "some critical aspects related to specific scenarios in which Windows 8 is operated in combination with a hardware that has a TPM 2.0".

Trusted Computing is a controversial bunch of specifications developed by a group of companies including AMD, Cisco, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Wave Systems Corp.

The tech is designed to stop the use of software and files which do not contain the correct digital rights permissions (thus protecting the property of vendors behind the protocols), including "unauthorised operating systems" (a specific function of the much-maligned Secure Boot). Microsoft argues that Secure Boot protects users from rootkits and other malware attacks. The set of permissions is automatically updated online, outside of the control of the user.

A machine that contains a Trusted Platform Module and runs software adhering to the Trusted Computing specifications is, arguably, under the control of the vendor – in this case Microsoft. It also identifies the machine to the vendor, meaning that users' identities can be linked to their machines as well as their online activities. As Redmond is a US firm, opponents to the protocols argue, users' data is theoretically accessible to US spooks in the National Security Agency via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as Die Zeit points out.

A TPM 2.0 chip is being built into more and more computers running Windows 8.

The newspaper obtained an internal document from Germany's Ministry of Economic Affairs written at the beginning of 2012. It warned of "the loss of full sovereignty over information technology" and that "the security objectives of confidentiality' and integrity are no longer guaranteed".

It continued: "The use of 'Trusted Computing'... in this form ... is unacceptable for the federal administration and the operators of critical infrastructure."

Trusted Platform Module 2.0 is considerably more invasive than older versions. Once this is rolled out across all Windows-using PCS, the Germans fear, there will be "simply no way to tell what exactly Microsoft does to its system through remote updates".

"From the perspective of the BSI, the use of Windows 8 in combination with a TPM 2.0 is accompanied by a loss of control over the operating system and the hardware used. This results in new risks for the user, especially for the federal government and critical infrastructure."

The Register previously described Trusted Computing as the "widely derided idea of computing secured for, and against, its users".

The leaked documents advised that Windows 7 is still safe to use, at least until 2020. Windows 8, on the other hand, is so tied up with Trusted Computing protocols that it is already "unfit for use".

Microsoft denied there was any backdoor. In a lengthy statement, a spokeswoman insisted that users cannot expect "privacy without good security". Redmond argued that users could purchase machines whose manufacturers had disabled the TPMs. Presumably this will one day become a selling point, although Microsoft argues this will actually make the hardware less "secure".

She said:

TPM 2.0 is designed to be on by default with no user interaction required. Since most users accept defaults, requiring the user to enable the TPM will lead to IT users being less secure by default and increase the risk that their privacy will be violated. We believe that government policies promoting this result are ill-advised."

It is also important to note that any user concerns about TPM 2.0 are addressable. The first concern, generally expressed as “lack of user control,” is not correct as OEMs have the ability to turn off the TPM in x86 machines; thus, purchasers can purchase machines with TPMs disabled (of course, they will also be unable to utilize the security features enabled by the technology). The second concern, generally expressed as “lack of user control over choice of operating system,” is also incorrect. In fact, Windows has been designed so that users can clear/reset the TPM for ownership by another OS if they wish. Many TPM functions can also be used by multiple OSes (including Linux) concurrently.


Rumours about a backdoor in Windows are almost as old as Microsoft itself. In 2009, El Reg reported on the NSA's admission that it had worked with developers on Windows 7's operating system security, forcing Redmond to deny there was a backdoor left open to spooks.

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 Post subject: Re: Windows 8 Review
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:06 am 
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Redmond argued that users could purchase machines whose manufacturers had disabled the TPMs. Presumably this will one day become a selling point, although Microsoft argues this will actually make the hardware less "secure".


Apparently Microsoft are forcing manufacturers to enable this TPM 2.0 stuff in order to get a 'Certified for Windows 8.1' sticker from 2015 so finding a PC without TPM2.0 enabled could get tricky.

Dunno what MS are playing at, who on earth would agree to use their latest OS when it's clear it's practically spyware and isn't going to guard you or your data. Who could even use an MS operating system after this? Not I.

And it's amusing how they always give restrictive stuff a cute name that is about the opposite of real life, EG Fair Play, Plays for Sure, etc. The TCG project is known by a number of names: 'Trusted computing' was the original one, and is still used by IBM, while Microsoft calls it 'trustworthy computing' and the Free Software Foundation calls it 'treacherous computing'... which is more like it from a user's perspective. This hardware/software DRM combo will take over your machine the only people whom it makes it more secure for are 'Big Media' rights holders to enforce their DRM by controlling your PC hardware. This could be used for things like making it awkward to run anything except Windows (just like this 'secure boot' you may have heard about) and to block playback of software and/or media files that aren't from an official supplier so for example, it's an end to ripping your own bought CDs and if you want to listen electronically you'll have to buy it again from an authorised source, or the end of free software as only stuff purchased from the Microsoft & friends web store will actually be allowed to run.

Trusted computing may be a noble goal, but you'd have to be able to trust the companies implementing it and as it is that just isn't the case... in fact it's untrustworthy computing.

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