Tag Archives: Microsoft

PS4 vs. Xbox One: The console wars take a new turn

Consoles

Depending on how you look at it, the game console wars just took another turn with the launch of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One consoles.  What is even more amazing is the close and fierce competition between these two consoles in price, design, specs, and game varieties.

How do these two consoles stack up against one another?

The PS4

Playstation has always been primarily a gaming device and the PS4 stays true to the cause. The console and controller have been completely redesigned. A new controller, the Dualshock 4, comes with improved ergonomics with slightly indented trigger buttons while the analog sticks have a slightly elevated rim to keep a player’s thumb from sliding off.

PS4

Other improvements to the controller include a touchpad and a light bar. The touchpad dominates much of the middle space but is fairly responsive to touch especially for in-game navigation. A Playstation camera, sold separately, allows the console to detect the movement and depth of field in front of it via the light bar.

The PS4 comes with an additional app, the Playstation App, on both iOS and Android, which lets you carry your game beyond the big screen, on the go. You can purchase and download games for the PS4 on the move and even play from where you left off right within the app.

Some of the games you can start playing immediately you purchase the console include Killzone Shadow Fall and Call of Duty: Ghosts. The console debuts at $400.

The Xbox One

Xbox One comes in a completely new design in comparison to the previous Xbox 360. Xbox exclusives like Halo may not be motivation enough for you to purchase the console, but the added features like voice command support and motion control to the system via the Kinect will definitely make you want to reconsider your options despite the $500 price tag.

XBox One

What really sells it for Xbox One though is the fact that you can use it for more than just playing games. The machine comes with a cable port for watching your TV. What is even more interesting is the fact you don’t need to switch between the game and the TV. Simply tell ‘the One’ what you wanna watch. For instance, you can say, “Xbox, Watch ABC” and it will switch.

Other services you can access include Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, Xbox Movies. You also no longer need to fire up services like Skype and Internet Explorer separately. These have been integrated with the One and you can pull them up onto the big screen just as fast.

The Xbox One also comes with the SmartGlass app for Android, iOS, and Windows.

Bottom Line

The question of which is better, the One or the PS4, is hard to answer when you have two big players with two big consoles. Never before has gaming had two such stand-out consoles to choose from. The Playstation 4 has the best bits gleaned from three generations of systems while the Xbox One offers much broader experiences.

Top 5 Free Antivirus Software for Windows

Antivirus software provides essential protection for your PC from virus, trojan, spyware, worm, adware, root kit and key logger infections. One of these nasty infections could expose key personal information or stop your computer from working. As powerful as the web is, it is also a very dangerous place. However, installing antivirus software does not mean you have to break the bank. Some of the best antivirus software are free and have what it takes to keep your PC safe.

If you’re tired of expensive antivirus packages that slow your PC down then these free antivirus programs are the way to go.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition  is an excellent choice, if not the best for a free antivirus. AVG Anti-Virus Free is a full-fledged antivirus and anti-spyware tool, includes an email scanner, link scanner, scheduled scanning options, automatic updates, and more. AVG has been certified to remove 100% of in-the-wild viruses

Cons: Unfortunately AVG free has grown considerably in size, has very slow scan speeds and advertisements (but they can be disabled). AVG Free Edition does not provide adware/spyware removal (though it is available in the paid version of the product).

Avast! Free

Avast! Free Antivirus is improving its detection rates over the past few years “heuristics engine” and now ranks with the some of the best. Avast has the following features: full real-time capabilities including web, e-mail, IM, P2P and network shields, boot-time scanning, and a behavioral blocker. This program is also very light on resources.AVAST has been making this antivirus product since 1988 and is often cited as the most installed antivirus product. It also has a large user support community in case you need any help.

Cons: Average scores in PCMag’s malware blocking test.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is a another fan favorite with great detection rates, particularly for rootkits. Microsoft Security Essentials has very few false positives, is light on resources and is good at removal of existing malware. MSE is a great choice for average users because of the minimal user interaction required. It is directly from Microsoft and it’s very easy to see if your computer is secure from threats: if the icon next to your clock is green, you’re in good; if it’s red, something is wrong.

Cons: The main downsides are the slow scan speeds and the lengthy amount of time it takes to quarantine malware.

Panda Cloud Antivirus

Panda Cloud Antivirus  protects you from several kinds of malware threats – viruses, worms, Trojans, adware, and more – just like all the other free antivirus programs in this list. Along with Microsoft Security Essentials, it is an excellent choice for average users with a simple interface and completely automated features with automatic updating and removal of malware. What makes Panda Cloud Antivirus one of the top free antivirus programs is that it does its job from “the cloud” meaning the  antivirus work that typically slows down a computer is done on computers elsewhere on the Internet, freeing up your computer to work like nothing is happening.

Cons: As many free program installs Panda Cloud Antivirus tries to install a toolbar and set Yahoo! as your browser’s home page during the installation process so uncheck the boxes before continuing if you don’t want them.

Avira AntiVir Personal Edition

Avira AntiVir Personal Edition protects you from viruses, Trojans, worms, spyware, adware, and various other kinds of malware, making it a fully functional anti-malware tool. AntiVir does not include web or e-mail scanning capabilities; this is only available in the paid version.

On installation, AntiVir schedules a daily full scan. You can, of course, change the schedule or add your own scheduled events. By default its configuration page shows only basic settings.

Cons: One con about Avira AntiVir Personal was the configuration you have to complete after installation which might be difficult if you’re a computer novice.

Conclusion

A lot of time was spent comparing free antivirus programs and there are many more that are not on this list. Each individual may have a different need or use for antivirus software.

Unfortunately no package excelled in every area. Some were lightweight but less accurate, others were good at detecting malware but had a significant performance on your system.Picking a winner inevitably involves some compromises and may vary depending on your requirements.

After weighing the results the program that gets my first place vote is : AVG Free 2012. It has plenty of features and is lightweight making AVG Free 2012 a good all-round winner of the best free antivirus award.

Why I think businesses will ignore Windows 8

Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning; I’m no Microsoft hater. I’ve designed networks around Windows for many years and happily supported them. I have many client companies going about their business with no Apple products or Linux boxes in sight.

But, I’m going to stick my neck out on one thing: I think a large number of businesses will completely ignore Windows 8.

Windows 8’s user experience represents the biggest change to how the operating system works since Windows 3.1 evolved to Windows 95. Ever since the first developer previews of Windows 8 hit the scene, I’ve chatted to fellow-techies and canvassed their opinions on the new OS. Their views range from indifference, to total bafflement as to exactly what Microsoft is trying to achieve.

Here’s why I just cannot see my clients taking an interest in Windows 8.

The Windows 8 Start Screen
The Windows 8 Start Screen

1. Users don’t care

When an individual gets to the office, they don’t really care what their computer’s user interface looks like – they just want to get their work done without the machine slowing down or crashing.

If you want proof of this, just consider the fact that Computerworld recently reported that 41% of the world’s PCs still run Windows XP – which does everything any business needs it to do. Yet, I don’t hear users complaining that their machines are “out of date.”

2. Users don’t like change

I’ve recently migrated a number of user groups from XP to Windows 7. Sure, the users do become familiar with it quickly, but they don’t embrace changes and enjoy new features in the way that computer enthusiasts do.

Remember that the fact you are reading this article places you in the small percentage of the population interested enough in technology to visit an IT website. Many corporate computer users are still getting their heads around copy and paste.

3. Businesses have no intention of buying touch screens

None of my clients will be easily persuaded to buy touch screens, just because they allow Microsoft to do things in a more “modern” (or more iPad-like) way.

Businesses spend money to do new things, or so they can do existing things better (or more quickly). They don’t spend money just to do things differently.

4. Windows 8 doesn’t know what it wants to be

Is it a tablet operating system, a touch operating system or a desktop operating system? To me, and to many of my associates, it’s trying to be all the above and not succeeding particularly well at any of them.

The way that, in its default state, Windows 8 keeps flicking between the tiled Metro view and the traditional Windows desktop is strange and illogical. If it stresses me out as a techie with Microsoft certification, I know what the users are likely to think.

Sure, there are already plenty of published ways to disable Metro – but if you’re going buy Windows 8 only to turn it back into Windows 7, then what’s the point? Why not just accept that…

5. Windows 7 does it better

I’m sure there will be plenty of home users and enthusiasts with touchscreen PCs who’ll grow to love Windows 8. Business users, however? I just can’t see it. With years to go before support for Windows 7 is withdrawn, consultants like me will edge them towards safety and supportability.

And what happens then? It’s quite simple. Windows 7 becomes the new XP, and Windows 8 becomes the new Vista.

Seattle shoppers preview Edibly, Bing’s latest mobile shopping app

Microsoft’s Bing has launched ‘Edibly’ for iPhone which will be available in the App Store despite the probable protests from Windows Phone users who feel that the app is exclusively for their platform. The application allows users to browse the Pike Place Market from the portable comfort of their handheld gadgets.

Backing up the move, Microsoft opines that the main aim of the release is to ease shopping stress and help consumers discover new products. The company calls the current release of Edibly a “pilot program on trial” since it currently can only run at a single location in a single city. There are plans for improvement if the pilot programs yields encouraging results.

It is hard to comprehend why a search engine would venture into such an investment. Managing and running this new app will allow Bing to deliver detailed information to consumers hence bettering its portfolio. The fact that the partnership brings more data to Bing is more likely their main goal.

Edibly gives information on what is new in the market and guides you through the entire process of shopping by navigating you through a digital map of whatever shopping site you visit. Apart from giving information about target market goods, the app moves a step further and enables the users to take a tangible action on the good discovered. For instance, entering a query about dinner resorts and reservations will be possible since ‘Edibly’ will morph to state the demand.

Edibly is in trial at Seattle U.S with its developers proposing the following benefits:

  • More shopping confidence courtesy of the market
  • A view page that allows product comparisons thus helping in choosing the best item
  • Save time by navigating through products in the market via a map functionality
  • Discover new products in the market.

Bing’s move to develop ‘Edibly’ shows the search engine’s interest in offering support to local markets by taking them online, where everybody is going. This contrasts against Google’s latest shopping venture that aims at turning the existent US product listings into ad spots. Edibly is currently still on its trial steps with promises of improvement and expansion which will, in due course, be revealed to the public.

Don’t look now, but here comes the Windows Surface tablet

The image above is smartphone photography in its truest form; taken this month at the official Microsoft Store at the Mall of America (across the walkway from the Apple Store), this sign heralds the next big step for the software/hardware giant.  Indeed, the Surface tablet by Microsoft is arriving in stores this Friday, October 26th, 2012.

And if one is asking what the heck is the Surface and why should one be interested, let me elaborate:

The Surface Tablet by Microsoft

Image Courtesy of Microsoft

The Surface tablet is Microsoft’s new investment into the touch screen tablet market.  It comes as a 2lb, 10.6″ 10 point multi-touch HD tablet (larger in both regards than the 1.5lb, 9.7″ screened iPad) with stereo speakers, a few USB ports, a micro SD slot, front and rear facing cameras, a headphone port, and a video display output port.  The tablet is supported by a 22 degree “kickstand” that can flip in and out for maximum viewability.

Image Courtesy of Microsoft

The main keyboard is a pressure sensitive interface that doubles as the protective case for the Surface’s screen, and for an improved typing experience can be upgraded to the hard, mechanical Type Cover. Both keyboards work in hand with the kickstand to efficiently turn on and off the Surface when closed or transported.

The Surface Operating System

Besides the physical attributes, the Surface is being advertised as two different tablets with two distinct operating system options.

Windows RT

The Surface’s first operating system coming out on October 26th is known as Windows RT, which can be considered like a “light” version of Windows 8.  All the iconic Windows Metro tiles are present here (Mail, Sky Drive, Calendar, Facebook, etc); with them installed the homescreen can be modified and tweaked to suit one’s preferences.  Additional applications and tiles can be downloaded by the Windows Store, which also act as the content manager for the Surface.  Windows Defender is also included as a safeguard for one’ personal data.

The RT version also comes initially with Microsoft Office RT Preview, which carries all the common Office products in a non-polished form (with improvements coming through a free upgrade later on).  And yes, all Office programs in the Windows RT system will be touch-friendly.

Windows 8 Pro

Although the Surface is being released with Windows RT, it is Windows 8 that will use it’s functionality to the fullest.  The forthcoming Windows 8 on the Surface acts like Windows 7 in the background, but still has all those pretty Metro tiles on the front end with similar connectivity to social media and the like.

Unlike the Windows RT version, the full Office suite will be available for the Windows 8 Pro Surface, again with emphasis added on the touch capabilities for maximum efficiency.  And because Windows 7 is essentially running in the background in Windows 8, the future Surface tablet will be able to run and install any application that have been compatible with existing Windows systems.  Networking and security will also be expanded beyond Windows Defender with bit-locker disk encryption, remote desktop access, and other IT management features.

The Present Situation

The main differentiation between the Windows RT version of the Surface and the Windows 8 version is quite clear: the RT Surface is currently available for $499 ($699 as the 64GB version) and the Windows 8 Pro version does not even have a release date yet.  But when Windows 8 Pro is released, the improved Surface will boast an i5 Core Processor, 2 extra GB of RAM (4 GB total), and double the battery size for usage well beyond the 8 hours the Windows RT surface can provide.

Presently, the Windows RT version can be pre-ordered from the Microsoft Store, but depending on the release of Windows 8 it may make sense to wait and see if the Surface can really stretch its wings with the added functionality.

Microsoft Office for iOS and Android has finally been confirmed for a March 2013 release

Microsoft Office is finally coming to an iOS and Android operating system near you.

Mobile phone and tablet users have patiently waited and hoped for Microsoft to release an app version of their pervasive software. There have been rumors and stories claiming Microsoft Office was coming to mobile/tablet devices for years, but the wait is finally over.

According to a press release obtained by The Verge from the Microsoft’s Czech Republic representatives, the company is set to launch mobile versions of their Office software in March of 2013.

In addition to Windows, Office will also be available on other operating systems, Windows Phone, Windows RT, Mac OS, Android, IOS and Symbian” says the Microsoft press release.

The press release also mentions that Microsoft Office 2013 will be available for businesses as early as December of this year, and the app versions of the software will be made available to the general public at the end of February/early March of 2013.

There was no mention of what the app would cost iOS and Android users. The most expensive apps in the Apple apps store can cost well into the $100s of dollar range. While it is probably too early to speculate on price, expect the Microsoft Office 2013 app to be a premium download that will cost well above the average price of a standard app.

March Release Date: Coincidence or Perfect Marketing?

One of the first things to stand out about the Czech press release is the March 2013 release date. March has traditionally been reserved for Apple’s launch of its new iPad. Over the last two years Apple has announced the specs for its new iPad in early march and sold the device a few weeks later. Knowing how savvy both Microsoft and Apple are with their marketing, it would not be a stretch to assume both companies strike a deal to incorporate the Microsoft Office app into the new versions of the iPad.

While Microsoft Office may still be the gold standard for office productivity software many iOS users have found other apps to replace Office on their devices. There are a plethora of third-party productivity apps that fill in the gap that not having Microsoft Office leaves.

Microsoft would be wise to use the release of a new iPad to promote its Office app in order to help it again a foothold on a productivity market that has found ways to replicate Microsoft Office on mobile phones and tablets.

Multiple monitor improvements are coming to Windows 8

Multiple Monitors Windows 8

The Consumer Preview of Windows 8 was a bit of a nightmare when used on multiple monitors with the taskbar stretched across both displays, and offered no obvious reasoning behind the odd design. Luckily for us (meaning the collective Windows user base), Microsoft has confirmed via their Windows 8 Blog that positive changes will be coming to the experience. But that doesn’t mean they are going to stray too far from the Windows 7 multi-display formula.

Basically, the way Windows 8 is displayed on multiple monitors completely depends on your unique preferences when interacting with the new software. You can have the Metro Start screen on one monitor with the classic desktop view on the other. You can also have the classic desktop view on two monitors or the Metro screen stretched across both monitors. Of course, you can take any combination of the two and display them on three, four, or more screens.

Customization has been improved as well. Microsoft has enabled smart-selection for portrait-style monitors, improved shared corners, allowed more than one image as a desktop background, and the option to span one panoramic image across multiple monitors. Improvements have been made to the taskbar as well, providing the option to set a main screen to hold all your open app icons, or span the taskbar across all monitors and display app icons on whichever screen holds the corresponding open window.

But there’s more. Gestures are accessible from each monitor, which means Start, Charms, and Settings can be opened by moving your mouse (or finger if your PC is touch-enabled) into the appropriate hot corner. You can also drag-and-drop apps from monitor to monitor, a feature that works with both full-screen and snapped apps.

So it looks like Microsoft will finally do right by their customers with Windows 8, putting the decisions in the hands of their users. The new multi-display functionality allows for any number of configurations and can even keep the Metro Start screen out of the way for those Windows purists who can’t stand innovation.

Microsoft Office 365: Reasons for Caution

I came very close to calling this article “Why Office 365 Sucks.” I refrained from doing so because I think the cloud-based office collaboration suite CAN be a good fit for some small businesses.

However, as an IT consultant working with small and medium enterprises (SMEs), I will think very carefully before I let it near another one of my customer sites.

Here’s why:

Migration is horrible

Office 365 is great for start-ups who don’t already have a load of data. Everyone else will have gigabytes of file-level data (that probably hasn’t been cleared out in years), and thousands of historical emails.

There’s no way to make the process of moving this volume of data to the cloud anything other than slow, laborious and frustrating. It doesn’t help that Office 365 is very fussy about certain characters within filenames.

While these characters are likely to have been avoided by IT-types, familiar with them since the DOS days, you can’t expect the same from the less technical. Who’d have known that a migration could turn into a nightmare because a client uses lots of ampersands in filenames?

Office 365 is Not Perfect
Office 365 is Not Perfect

Desktop Integration is Flaky

If you want Office 365 to work well, you really need a fresh Windows install on each machine to start with. Try to migrate a PC that’s been previously connected to a domain or has used other Outlook profiles, and all kinds of weird stuff can happen.

While this clean-machine approach is good practice, it does add on migration time. When coupled with a slow data migration, a move to Office 365 can end up using more consultancy time than, for example, a move from Small Business Server 2003 to SBS 2011.

Key functionality is missing

Ask Microsoft how to implement a shard contact list and they’ll tell you several options, including using SharePoint or setting people up as “external contacts.”

However, if you want a shared contact list, available to everyone as an Outlook address book and editable by a whole team, it just cannot be done without clunky workarounds. This is functionality that all of my clients have had for years. It doesn’t go down well when you have to take it away.

Poor support

Support calls can take days to resolve satisfactorily, if they get resolved at all. You can also expect to have to re-explain the problem several times.

The support forums are hugely frustrating too. In the case of the shared contacts issue above, expect to see copy/paste answers that repeat the options that are available and fail to acknowledge the shortcomings that exist.

You have no control

When you reach the point of frustration, you eventually have to tell your customer that there is nothing more you can do – that the issue is in Microsoft’s hands. You can’t remote it and tweak the server any more. Those days are gone.

Conclusion

I’ll repeat what I said at the start: Office 365 CAN be a good fit for some businesses – especially start-ups who haven’t done things differently before. Others, especially those who have become used to the flexibility of something like Small Business Server, should tread very carefully – a migration to Office 365 could feel like a huge step backwards AND make your clients think you have become worse at your job!

Microsoft Says Farewell to Aero Glass in Windows 8

When I first booted up into Windows 8 with my beloved Samsung Focus mobile phone at my side, I was appalled by the jarring visual differences when switching back and forth from the Metro start screen to the traditional Windows desktop view.

On one hand, there was this amazingly simple Start screen with a bold interface daring to standout from the crowd. On the other, an ancient and tacky faux-glass-themed, cluttered, and – quite frankly – ugly desktop interface.

I found it incredible that after putting so much thought into the Metro UI’s design, Microsoft seemed to forget about the desktop altogether. I thought they changed. I thought they cared about details, the user experience, and beauty! My disenchantment became so bad that up until a week ago I had given up on ever experiencing a truly simple and beautifully designed version of Windows.

What changed? Microsoft is getting rid of Aero Glass in Windows 8, baby!

First introduced with the debut of the ill-fated Vista, the Aero desktop design has outlived its relevancy. The days of transparency, gradients, and shadows are long behind us and especially do not belong in a modern interface like Metro that relies on flat icons and bold colors to garner attention. According to Microsoft, they also see the drawbacks of their current design and promise to start “flattening surfaces, removing reflections, and scaling back distracting gradients.”

Microsoft doesn’t see the desktop as a mode, but rather “a paradigm for working that suits some people and specific apps.” But Microsoft isn’t willing to forfeit compatibility with existing programs by drastically changing the desktop UI. To preserve their existing user base, Windows 8 will continue to use black text on a light-colored background as opposed to the white-on-saturated-color look of Metro.

In short, Microsoft gave their desktop UI a mini Metro makeover. The default color that surrounds the windows is white, rounded corners on icons and windows are now squared, and the taskbar blends even more into the desktop wallpaper. Even the ribbon will see some changes with icons treated to the same squared-off edges and stripped of all gradients to “make them feel more modern and neutral.”

Unfortunately, the Release Preview hasn’t fully abandoned the Aero theme and it won’t be fully replaced until the final release of Windows 8. We would have liked to see what it looked like in action, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

If you’ve ever wanted to read a comprehensive history of Windows design over the years, then hit up this post from the Building Windows 8 blog.

Windows 8 Boots Too Quickly to Be Interrupted

Boot Options Menu

We previously told you that Windows 8 could manage a cold boot in eight seconds flat, and that still holds true, but now there are reports that an SSD-equipped PC can manage it in under seven seconds. It’s not a huge difference in boot time, but it does create a minor and rather curious problem. Mainly, the user no longer has enough time to interrupt the boot menu.

Chris Clark, program manager at Microsoft’s User Experience team, explains in a Building Windows 8 blog post that a mere 200 millisecond window is all the time available to users if they want to make changes to a PC’s boot setup.

A new method

Since the Windows software and general computer hardware have become too fast for us puny humans, the days of reading “Press F2 to enter setup” are over and Microsoft recognizes the need to offer an alternate way of accessing the familiar boot menu. They found their top tappers could only manage about a 250ms frequency and catching that elusive 200ms opportunity was based a lot on chance. In other words, the added speed became the opposite of user friendly.

In response, the team came up with three solutions that work together to solve the issue. Clark notes in his post that “no one should need to learn how Windows is built” and the team wanted the new boot options to “just work”. A refreshing choice of words as Windows is notorious for requiring complicated work arounds for simple problems depending on hardware, software version, and general computer skills of the user. But keeping with their new, simplified design aesthetic Microsoft has decided to make a single menu for every boot option.

How it works

Microsoft’s solution is a three-pronged approach:

  1. The various boot settings that have previously been scattered from one end of Windows to the other will now be available in a single boot options group
  2. The menu will automatically appear whenever Windows is prevented from booting up correctly
  3. Microsoft is providing the user with plenty of different ways to bring up the new menu at will.

Basically, although you will no longer be able to access the boot menu from the start up screen, you’ll still be able to check it out once your PC has finished booting up. Specifically, you can bring up the menu through Advanced startup on the General tab of your PC’s settings. From there, you can choose to Restart now and choose a new start up volume during a reboot.

There’s an even quicker method built-in, simply holding down the Shift key while click Restart in your computer’s shutdown menu will cause Windows 8 to reboot into the boot menu as well.

One important note is that these changes are only applicable to newer PCs with UEFI BIOS. This exclusion, according to Chris Clark, can be chalked up to the speed restricitions of older hardware, meaning they will spend enough time booting up for a user to interrupt with the F8 or F2 keys.