A Layman’s Guide To Understanding The Update Called Windows 8.1

Windows-8.1

There have been many reactions to Microsoft Windows 8 and most of them were unsatisfactory in several ways. With an obviously demoralized desktop market and struggling tablet sales, Microsoft has been tasked to come up with a solution to stay faithful to its numerous customers. Windows 8.1, Microsoft’s soon to be released update to the already existing Windows 8,  aims to be a clear improvement over Windows 8 in virtually all aspects. It also promises to be more robust than it’s predecessor. It is not another operating system.  But as you would soon see, Microsoft has come with a rather interesting solution to the mobile app hating Windows users. windows_81v2-590x327

Here are the some relevant changes you should take note in Windows 8.1:

1. The re-introduced Start button

Change seemed to be the central focus of Microsoft Windows 8 and as much as change is needed and inevitable in life, in technology, there is also the secondary debate of knowing what to change… and at which time. So when the native Windows Start button was gone, it was a startling surprise to many about the interface blunder and the question was whether it would be missed or not. Well, judging from the fact that the start button has been installed in Windows 8.1, should we guess it probably was?

In my opinion, it was a good thing that Microsoft reconsidered the start button. But better still, it came with a number of welcome additions which is centered around a more native “desktop-ish” experience of Windows 8. I am one of the many users who just found it rather annoying that Windows booted every time to the Metro interface while I just used the desktop mode. Anyways, you now have the option of booting to the desktop rather than the Windows 8 metro interface with the live tiles. Also, the start menu can send you to the Apps screen, which shows ALL of your installed desktop and Windows 8 apps, rather than that UI based start screen. Thumbs up for that!

2. Search everywhere

Well… what can I say? The search function in Windows has gotten broader. You can now search globally, or limit searches to files, system settings or media from the web. A global search combines your local search results with Bing results. Whether that is exciting or not only depends on you.

3. Live tile control

Remember how frustrating it was when you had a larger number of apps downloaded from Windows Store, and it ended up with you scrolling all over the place to find the app you were looking for on the metro interface? Windows 8.1 now offers a possible solution to organize your tiles by arranging them in groups. You can assign group names and re-size live tiles. I guess that makes life less stressful right?

4. Expanded Snap-in multitasking

The snap-in function of Windows 8 featured the ability to run two Windows Store apps simultaneously on the same screen by “snapping” one of them to the side to initiate a rather interesting split screen experience. You were allowed to only “snap-in” two apps, but Windows 8.1 allows 4 snap-ins. Keep it in mind though that snapping in 4 apps on the foreground drains battery life rather densely.

5. 10 now becomes 11

Sometimes, you cannot pull out the difference between a ten and eleven year old child (except for the age number) and with Internet Explorer, do not expect anything different. Although Internet Explorer 11 claims to have better stability ad faster browsing, it is most likely that it would still be the last browser you would ever open when you have sampled the likes of Firefox, Chrome and the others… or for some reason, you do not know any other browser but Internet Explorer.

6. Windows Store redesign

As if the slow paced, “developing” status of the Windows Store wasn’t an issue, it did not offer a good solution to prioritizing apps that mattered. It only featured an endless scroll of apps in small icons and some not very useful ratings and descriptions. Windows 8.1 has a redesigned Windows Store… but well… that’s pretty much just it apart from the little need for you to manually update apps to be sure you’re on the latest version.

7. Redesigned Settings App

The PC Settings facility in Windows 8.1 offers your system controls in a savvy, modern graphical interface. This matters to those who probably found the regular native Windows desktop Control Panel rather tiresome.

Windows 8.1 is pretty much nothing more than an update… not an upgrade. Microsoft hopes that Windows 8 won’t be around for long after Windows 8.1 comes out and that everyone using Windows 8 will upgrade, just as it hopes we’re all using automatic updates to keep our PCs up to date… lol!

Playing on a whole new field: Here is The Nvidia Shield

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When I encountered the idea of PC gaming coming to a gaming handheld, I thought about all of the possible problems that could come up. Hardware issues would be one and software and memory space could be another. PC games are known to pack more than a punch when it comes to power hardware requirements that affect even power management. How can a handheld possibly deliver exceptional graphical textures and control all of its features in the palm of my hand? Furthermore, not just any PC game – MY PC games – without being just another PlayStation or Nintendo based handheld.

At The CES 2013, Visual computing technology giants Nvidia sought to answer that question with their PC dedicated handheld system called Nvidia Shield which, according to reports, would be available in The United States and Canada by the end of July this year after it was slated for earlier. But is it something indeed to look forward to ?

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The Nvidia Shield will house a 5 inch, 720p (1280X720 @ 294ppi) multi-touch, retinal display touchscreen attached to a game controller. Honestly, it feels so much like an Xbox 360 controller (just bulkier) with an Nvidia home button and a few other design differences. The screen actually looks good till you place it side by side with a full 1080p screen though. So it should make you wonder why you would want this somewhere around your PC screen which could deliver much crispier images. Then again, having a wireless handheld that runs your PC games could prove convenient on specific occasions. It’s got Android too; so you can play tons of available games for Android from Google Play store which seems cool with the touchscreen and controller. 

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It will run the Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean mobile operating system with a custom 72-core Nvidia GeForce GPU, a 1.9GHz quad-core cortex A-15 CPU and 2Gb of RAM. So it’s clear that Nvidia did their best to pack a lot into the hardware. All of these translates to  beautiful graphics that should maintain snappy movements and lag-free gameplay for PC favorites such as Borderlands 2, Batman: Arkham City, Resident Evil 6, Metro: Last Light, Dishonored and others.

As at now, not just any game can be streamed to the Nvidia Shield. Only selected games on Steam, the online multiplayer communications platform can be played via PC streaming with 802.11n-2009 2X2 MIMO wireless connectivity. This aims to provide high-bandwidth and ultra-fast wireless for seamless game streaming so, the Nvidia Shields ability to stream games live from your PC is not the possible issue to contend with. The real issue is that there are PC system hardware requirements that must be met before the device can stream from the PC. Nvidia announced these requirements to be:

  • GPU: GeForce GTX 650 or higher desktop GPU (Notebook GPUs are not supported at this time)
  • CPU: Intel Core i3-2100 3.1GHz or AMD Athlon II X4 630 2.8GHz or higher
  • System Memory: 4GB or higher
  • Software: GeForce Experience application and latest GeForce drivers
  • OS: Windows 8 or Windows 7
  • Routers: 802.11a/g router (minimum). 802.11n dual band router (recommended). A list of recommended routers will be provided at launch.

Nvidia will use the H.264 encoder built into GeForce GTX 650 or higher GPU along with special streaming software integrated into an upcoming version of GeForce Experience to stream games from the PC to the gaming handheld over the user’s home Wi-Fi network with ultra-low latency. Gamers will now be able to use the Nvidia Shield as the controller and display for their favorite PC games as well as for Steam Big Picture; enabling gamers to get a GeForce GTX PC gaming experience anywhere in their home Wi-Fi network.

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Besides its wireless abilities, the Nvidia Shield will feature mini-HDMI output port, micro-USB 2.0, a MicroSD storage slot and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack with microphone support. It will also have 16Gb internal flash memory, a 3-Axis gyroscope and accelerometer. It boasts of a rather good battery life lasting for about 20 hours  while streaming.

As a gaming handheld with such abilities, do not expect the game to come for cheap (it’s announced to be at $349) so low end PC users who have not yet met (and don’t exactly plan to meet) the PC system requirements would be buying an Android device with an Xbox lookalike controller for quite a lot of money. Surely, mobility does come with a price but playing the games only in one’s house or around it using a wifi connection is not really the idea of mobility to many. The Nvidia Shield is indeed a daring new entry on a new field and we are more than excited to see how this entry influences technology today.

A “smaller” Surface… for a “bigger” issue?

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Microsoft’s contribution to the personal computing market has, once again, risen our eyebrows… as well as a lot of other people… and maybe yours.

We are at a time when the personal computer industry faces a major setback. Sales figures for everyone has gone far lower than it used to be and thus, the ongoing battle for dominance for personal computer supremacy has become even more gruesome. It’s not so easy for consumers as well; there are so many different types of mobile phones, mobile computers, tablets and the very like out there each with their respective pros and cons. The general public does not have so much money to spend on any technology and make the wrong choice.

The tablet sector unlike before has a myriad of options on familiar mobile Operating Systems. Microsoft made its grand entry with its very own Surface RT which brought competitors alive to the new tablet oriented (and restricted) Windows 8 RT and the growing Microsoft App Store.  Following the Surface RT was the Surface Pro which was another bombshell Microsoft placed combining the native Windows 8 Professional with the appealing Surface design. And though these two entries from Microsoft come at pretty hefty price tags, sales figures indicate that people do not really mind having a tablet with Windows 8 on it.

The Wall Street Journal writes that Microsoft, looking to catch up to rivals in the tablet industry, could soon be putting out its own 7-inch tablet later this year stating that “making a small tablet wasn’t an original part of Microsoft’s strategy, but that the company is seeking to adapt to a changing market.” This is most likely as a response to the new 7 inch “mini tablet” wars currently spearheaded by Apple’s iPad mini, Google Nexus and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

It might take some time for computer manufacturers to come out of the very declined sales figures of the first quarter of this year. Possible questions to ask are: would a “mini-Surface” bring more positive changes that Microsoft (and pretty much every one else) needs? Would introducing a new tablet solve the already existing problem of declining sales?

All we can do is wait.