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

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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.

Laughing last, laughing best: Here comes the Xbox One

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Today, Microsoft tears down all of the rumors of the next generation Xbox console called “Xbox One.” It features a brilliant glossy hardware finish that is sleek and catchy. It is geared to take what you love and make it even better.

The ideals of the next generation console is to light up the bare essentials of television and entertainment which are simplicity, instant response and complete immersion. The Xbox One does not fail to produce world class software innovation and interactive applications to make the overall user experience pleasant. Very unlike Sony, Microsoft has gone all the way to blur the lines between a gaming console and a media center and created the all in one box for all of your living room magical needs.

 

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It is amazing; you talk to the Xbox One to turn it on and control all of its applications with integrated voice commands. Imagine switching between television and game in a second just by saying: “Xbox, play game” or “Xbox, watch television.” The new Kinect is bundled with every Xbox One which gives a new dimension to motion capturing technology and even conference calls on Skype with its 1080p HD Camera. From the start, your Xbox One remembers everything you did last and well, you can snap applications just like on Windows 8 on the Xbox One with full motion based or voice commands! It is stated that it would NOT require an internet connection to function. Seeing is believing right?

It packs quite a handful on the tech specs. 8GB RAM, 8 Core CPU power, 500GB Hard Disk and Blu-ray drive. It also has an 802.11n wireless device with Wi-Fi Direct, USB 3.0 ports and HDMI out.  Microsoft’s Marc Whitten stated clearly that “Variable power states” ensure a “practically silent” operation. The console is engineered to last “well into the future,” which, of course, is an obvious reference to the company’s engineering struggles with the Xbox 360.

Imagine a console with 3 operating systems. One for your gaming on Xbox, a windows kernel and a specific operating system that covers instantaneous switching between multiple running applications. With the newly designed Xbox controller and Xbox Smart Glass technology, users can choose various ways to control their console to provide a truly complete user experience.

Microsoft has partnered with Electronic Arts for new and exclusive innovations to their ongoing sport series, The NFL for custom sporting integration and is planning to host about 15 new exclusive titles for the Xbox One on release later this year. A new, most impressive Call Of Duty is also to be released so we can be sure that it would kick off to a good start.

So there we have it for now on the new Xbox. Rest easy till E3 later on in a couple of weeks.

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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.

Buy a Windows Surface? Watch it capsize!

With the Windows surface tablet finally out in stores, we should be expecting them to hit Nigeria anytime from now. You are sure to find them in the hands of those who had taken the pre-order option, and maybe some of your friends who had somehow had it bought or sent to them. Surface was the single biggest genuine tech surprise of the year so far. Microsoft tantalized us with a tablet that suggested the iPad as old fashioned. It promised the future of computers with its snap on keyboard, light weight and the gorgeous looking Windows 8; which gave us the idea that we would finally have the revolutionary tablet that could finally double as a laptop. We guess that was what you were hoping for when you heard about Surface.

Straight to the point, Surface is more like most of our naija governors that promise so much and then give not as much. Yes folks! We had looked forward to all of the hype to have our dreams flushed down the WC. Sure, Surface is good, but Surface RT sure isn’t the future that we had always hoped.

The truth is everybody needs a computer these days; not another tablet. The laptop is about as far advanced as one can imagine already. The tablet isn’t exactly pushing civilization forward; it’s still fundamentally a luxury device, a delightful toy for reading email on the couch or watching movies on the go. It’s a lovely, superfluous thing with limitations of what you can do effectively with a laptop. Microsoft’s promised that Surface was to pioneer a strange new kind of gadget: all the grace and leisure of a tablet, combined with the ability to actually make stuff that a computer brings; that Surface will bring together the best of everything that exists — the elusive union of laptop and tablet… yes! Finally! No more of those ultrabook clones! Get to work and then… get to work!

We have used the Surface so we can tell you our experience. Surface is well designed but rather heavier than the iPad 3. The screen is indeed colorful in every sense; Windows has done a good job with the artistic presentation of Windows 8 and even though Surface’s display doesn’t have a crisp as the retina display on Apple products, it still works. There is a USB port which is a very welcome property. Open the Touch Cover keyboard/track pad hybrid; snap out the kickstand, and lay the thing on your desk like a laptop. Start writing an essay. Flip the cover all the way around, hide the keyboard, and give yourself something substantial to grip like a tablet. Start swiping the web. Or prop the kickstand against the folded-back cover to create a stable base while you can make everybody jealous and wish they had one when you watch your movies. Switching configurations is so cool and easy. The Touch Cover feels as integral to the Surface as the binding of a book to the sandwiched pages. There’s every reason to believe most computers will look and feel something like this, someday soon. It’s beautiful to look at, and certainly more charming than any Windows device before it.

Tablets aren’t for work. That’s the old refrain. But if they’re going to be more than great toys someday, tablets have to become every bit as viable as a desktop tower as a way to write (and edit) long emails, presentations, and poems. Surface RT is the first evidence we have that this is possible, because you’ll use it like you’ve never used any computer before. Your brain starts to rewire itself, and it’s delightful.

But as much promise as the Surface can really provide, it is really as good as a delightsome meal that ends up undercooked. Surface RT does not really deliver all it claims with little issues here and there and instead of trading in your laptop and tablet for Surface, a cocktail of compromises that fracture the whole endeavor, you might miss them both urgently.

The keyboard idea was cool no doubt. It surely does better than tapping an iPad screen but it is still not the complete experience.  It is not as terrible as those irritating Bluetooth keyboards at Ikeja but still not the exact thing you have always dreamed of. Accuracy is very limited and you will feel clumsy; your hands will begin to hurt like you are some pianist playing Liszt for the first time. You may get used to it though… we hope. The track pad is nowhere near good. It’s sludgy, not-so-responsive and nothing compared to the touchscreen option – and unlike the keyboard, it would probably always feel that way. You don’t believe it? Try typing an essay on your lap and see how it feels. We will be sure to remind you that we told you so.

You may not have heard about it but the touch cover of the Surface comes at an extra price; like buying an iPad with extra for the keyboard. What?! It feels like selling your windshield wipers separate from the car! Microsoft also offers a Type Cover; that promises actual physical keys instead of the flattened solution, but that will add critical bulk to your Surface experience and yes, you guess it, it’s more expensive!

The beautiful letdown, is Windows 8 RT. It is NOT to be mistaken to be Windows 8. Visually, you cannot tell the difference but you certainly will when you use it. Windows RT is underpowered (everything opens and syncs slightly too slowly), under-functional (you cannot install a single app that’s not available through the Windows RT app store, which offers a paltry selection), and under-planned (the built-in apps can’t feel like Lite versions of something better). After a while, the makeup gets washed off and then you ask yourself: “is this all?” I mean, Android tablets and iPads have apps for almost anything you can think of (and we mean everything really… but trying to be realistic here); we wonder what you would think about those available for Surface.

In the end though, this is nothing more than Microsoft’s tablet. There’s no Twitter or Facebook app, and the most popular 3rd-party client breaks often. The Kindle app is completely unusable. There’s no image editing software. A People app is supposed to give you all the social media access you’d ever need, but It is impossible to write on someone’s Facebook wall through the People app. Surface’s social hub; the only workaround, is to load Internet Explorer. Oh come on! Something as simple as loading a video requires a jumbled process of USB importing, dipping in and out of the stripped-down desktop mode, opening a Video app, importing, going back into the Video app, and then playing! What?!

The app selection, overall, is worse than the already pathetic Windows Phone app fare, as scanty as… as… one of those road side cell phone shops. The difference is that Windows Phone, used in quick, informative bursts, skates by on the strength of its excellent with integrated features. The truth? Surface is weak because Windows RT is weak; a tepid tablet OS pretending to be a computer’s.

You can do work, yes. But productivity is limited to a “preview” (beta) version of Microsoft Office. It also hurts that Office requires plunging into Windows RT’s Desktop mode, where users of actual Windows 8 are able to install a decade’s worth of legacy software. Normally, this would compensate. But RT users can’t install any of this older software; none of it. Desktop mode is entirely worthless in RT, a cruel tease of non-functionality. It’ll only remind you of how much you can’t do with your Surface, and is going to confuse the living hell out of most people who buy one — especially when Surface Pro, built on x86 architecture and perfectly compatible with all of those legacy programs, steps in a few months from now.

It could be quite expensive for all of that you know. But of course, to buy it depends on you… because we won’t!