Here’s an interesting story from the Synaptics news archives vis-à-vis Windows 8.1 “Touch and Gesture Performance is Further Enhanced with Windows 8.1” If you’re like me, and one or more of your notebook PCs uses a built-in Synaptics touchpad (I’ve got Lenovo, Acer, and Dell models all using touchpads from that same vendor), you’ll be pleased to learn that one subtle but definite benefit to upgrading to Windows 8.1 on those machines is an improved touch and gesture interface for touchpads and trackpads.
Word is that trackpad behavior for Windows 8.1 is much improved, with better support for gestures (image shown is a Logitech t650 device, not Synaptics).
Here’s how it shakes out. On my Lenovo X220 Tablet running Windows 8, whenever I touch the rightmost 0.5-0.8″ of the trackpad it calls up the Windows 8 charms instead of tracking a right to left scrolling gesture. I often have to look at the trackpad to position my finger far enough away from the right edge of the trackpad for the right-to-left sweep to be properly recognized. With the new Windows 8.1 drivers (download link to v184.108.40.206), that behavior is altered so that the gesture gets recognized as soon as your finger moves outside of the charms zone and continues tracking right to left. It seems like a pretty minor thing, but it lets my keep my attention focused on the screen as I work, instead of forcing me to switch my attention from using the interface to driving the interface (and sometimes even having to strike the escape key to force the charms display to get out of the way).
I’m also told that gestural recognition overall is improved in the Windows 8.1 touchpad drivers, thanks to close collaboration between MS and Synaptics (and presumably, other trackpad vendors as well). I haven’t really noticed that much difference just yet, but I haven’t been driving the new interface that long, either. I’ll report back as I spend more time working with the new preview OS, and let you know how it acts and feels to me. And even on my Windows 8.0 machines that I haven’t upgraded, seems like the new driver helps there, too — as long as I remember to touch down no less than half an inch from the right edge of the trackpad, that is.
Take a quick look at these numbers from NetMarketShare’s Desktop Operating System Market Share graph for the period through the end of June, 2013. Though XP (37.17%) and 7 (44.37%) are still way out in front, Windows 8 (5.1%) finally overtops Vista (4.62%). The next step up, howerver — as the old saying goes — “is a doozy!” Given Microsoft’s switchover to yearly OS refreshes going forward, I’m modestly comfortable asserting that it’s highly likely that Windows 8’s marketshare (as measured by NetMarketShare) will NEVER catch up to either XP or Windows 7, either. Each had 3-6 years of market-leading purchase preferences to establish its base, something Windows 8 will never enjoy.
Here are the latest market share readings from www.netmarketshare.com (OS, by version) through the end of June, 2013.
It’s interesting to wonder how high Windows 8’s numbers will climb before Windows 8.1 takes up its own segment on this pie chart. Even more interesting — and probably no more so for anybody than for the Windows OS team in Redmond — will be to see how quickly that Windows 8.1 slice grows. Microsoft is apparently pinning some hefty hopes on appealing to business users and corporate license negotiators to consider and adopt Windows 8.1 as “ready for business use.” The realization of those hopes hinges in large part on how soon that slice appears (it has to be greater than 1% to register at all, if I understand the charting approach used here) and how quickly it starts moving counter clockwise from the mid-night position that the “Other” category currently occupies.
Last week, long-time practice test developer MeasureUp (now a part of Pearson, by way of VUE, by way of Certiport) announced it has been named “the official practice exam provider for VMware certification.” Starting with the VCP5-Data Center Virtualization exam (aka VCP5-DCV), the company also plans to offer practice tests for VCP-Desktop, VCP-Cloud, and VCAP5-Data Center Design as well.
An intercompany alliance creates practice exams from the same publisher who brings you certification prep books.
If memory serves, I’ve been working with and using MeasureUp practice tests for exams from Microsoft, CompTIA, and Cisco since the late 1990s. I’ve always found them to be accurate, well thought-out, and to offer excellent coverage of exam topics, concepts, tools, and technologies. The only practice test from MeasureUp currently available is the VCP5-510, and it retails for $139, about par for a cert whose exam costs $225.
VMware is a cert niche that has hitherto been only lightly served with practice exams (and I’ve seen comments online from VMware certified instructors that claim that many of those materials are subject to error rates as high as 33% — insufficient to pass, in fact). It’s a good thing to see a solid company like MeasureUp step into this market to offer an “official” product — though I’m not sure what this really means — so that cert candidates can actually have some confidence that what they’re practicing bears some relationship to what they’ll actually be tested on.
With the update/install process behind me now on a couple of laptops (2/3s of my Windows 8 test machine bench), I’m starting to find my way into the latest OS release from Microsoft. What’s struck me most forcibly — and favorably — so far is its new so-called “Smart Search” capability. It used to be that running Windows 8.0, search results — from typing some string onto the Start screen, for example — would provide results segregated by category: by Apps, Settings, and Files. You could carry your search into Bing simply by clicking Bing next and view those results separately.
All this changes very much for the better in Windows 8.1: Smart Search still provides links to local stuff on your PC, but it integrates them into a single search results display that also includes search info online as well. This not only makes it faster to find stuff, it also speeds ( or perhaps “blurs” is a better choice of words here) the transition from local to Internet in finding useful information. This is one of those kinds of things that doesn’t sound like much, but that really helps with work and leisure pursuits.
Let me explain, first from the work perspective: say I wanted to run the useful desktop utility known as the Driver Store Explorer (rapr.exe, a CodePlex project that jumps into your Windows Driver store and tells you what it finds there, and even lets you delete unwanted or superfluous drivers from the store). By searching on the filename, rapr.exe, the search results will provide a link right to the program if it’s on my PC. If it’s not, it will take me to the home page for the product documentation, where I can click the “download” link there to grab what I want with a single click. Incredibly convenient.
Another explanation, this time from the leisure angle: say I wanted to watch a video of “Young Indiana Jones.” If I search on that term, and there’s a video on my PC that matches the search term already, it will take me straight to it. If not, I will be able to access any of a number of download links on YouTube from whence I can grab whichever of the 23 episodes that are available online that I might care to watch. Way cool!
But wait, there’s more: in addition to searching your PC and the Internet for hits, Smart Search on Windows 8.1 will also search SkyDrive and your Video and Music apps as well. I agree with PCWorld’s Brad Chacos (see his excellent story “The top 5 reasons to upgrade to Windows 8.1” for some other eye-openers about the new MS desktop preview /beta OS) that “If Microsoft had added only Smart Search to Windows 8.1, it would’ve been enough to convince me to install the update.” I predict that if you give it a try, you won’t want to go back to the old Windows 8.0 Search capability at all. If you need more convincing, check out Paul Thurrott’s recent post “Hands-On with Windows 8.1: Smart Search.”
OK, so I’ve gotten far enough into the Windows 8.1 Preview that I’ve learned about two different ways to get hold of the software and run it on a test (or other) PC. On the one hand, you can find an online source (such as MSDN or the Windows 8.1 Preview page), grab the ISO, use a tool like the Windows 7 USB DVD Download tool or Rufus to create a UFD-based installer, and go from there, or on a machine already running Windows 8, you can visit the Preview Page, click “Get it now” and elect to run that installation to Windows 8.1 straight from there.
Yes, there’s already a public download page for the Windows 8.1 Preview, so even those who lack an MSDN subscription can grab-it-and-go!
The update option also comes with a couple of caveats, as anyone wise to the ways of Preview and other Windows beta releases knows already:
- Windows 8.1 Preview is indeed a beta, so you don’t want to install it on a production machine
- It’s often the case when betas are superseded by commercial (OEM or general availability/GA) releases that you may have to reinstall the OS, and wipe out everything on the partition where the preview resided (there are often, but not always, workarounds for this so you can’t count on being able to preserve anything from such an installation).
- Before you install any beta OS on any machine that has a running OS already installed, make an image backup of the prior/current installation. That way, if anything goes wonky, you can always get back to a running installation by booting from a repair, recovery, or install UFD, then restoring that image.
Of course, those same caveats also apply to anyone who elects to take the ISO route instead, though this will give you more opportunities to think and plan ahead of the installation (and let you install to a VM, an alternate partition, or other techniques to prevent over-writing an existing OS installation if that’s your preference, as it probably will be for many curious IT pros and enthusiasts interested in trying out 8.1 without necessarily tying up an entire machine to do so.) Later this weekend, I’ll try out a VM install and report on that experience for Monday’s blog. Stay tuned!
11:30 Preview is available!!!
Here it is! Keep reading for more information…
The x64 download is 3,580 MB, the x86 is 2,660 MB (DVD format, which involves extra files). Starting my downloads now, more to follow soon. The x64 download is reporting an increasing download wait that’s gone up from 18 to 30 minutes as I watch. The servers are no doubt being banged very hard. I’ll grab the x86 version after the x64 version finishes downloading.
12:12 PM The x64 download actually took 47 minutes to complete, now getting the x86 download underway. Starts out at 11 minutes, quickly jumps to 20 minutes. Actual download time: 24 minutes. Not too bad, all things considered. That’s it for today’s post!
11:00AM CDT Nothing changed yet… (prior changes posted at 10, 10:30…)
09:35AM CDT MSDN Downloads looks like this right now, indicating that while Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 downloads are available right now, Windows 8.1 has yet to appear. I’ll keep updating this page throughout the day, so readers will know when they can start banging away at Akamai’s servers to grab their very own copy:
Nothing new under the Windows heading just yet, but it’s only 7:35 AM on the West Coast right now. I expect something to appear about 11 AM CDT/9 AM PDT. Stay tuned!
The Microsoft Build conference for software developers kicks off at the Moscone Center in San Francisco this Wednesday and by no coincidence whatsoever that’s the same day MS will fire off a preview beta version of its upcoming Windows 8.1 release. The smart money says the general availability release for 8.1 will fall in late October, and more or less puts Windows 8.1 on the same overall schedule that applied to Windows upon its release in 2012: (early to mid) August for the OEM release, and (probably late) October for GA. But aside from the customary Hackathon that starts the day before the conference kicks off, MS is so far keeping pretty mum about what’s on the agenda there.
No conference program is available, but execs from these products/platforms have already put themselves on the Build 2013 agenda.
Mary Jo Foley, of ZDnet, has already speculated about conference coverage and content, and puts the Windows 8.1 launch and a public preview for Windows Server 2012 R2 at the top of the list for key elements and announcements at the upcoming conference. In fact, Foley says that “this year’s Build will focus primarily around the next version of Windows, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Windows Azure …”
I, for one, will be all over the latest release on a test machine, as soon as the download becomes available. But MS is playing the content and coverage cards for this year’s conference extraordinarily close to its chest. I guess we’re just going to have to see what unfolds as the conferenced gets underway to see what’s in store for the MS community, on both the buyers’ and the developers’ fronts.
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen me write repeatedly about Israeli software company Soluto and their Soluto PC management and tracking software. These days, it’s hard to find another solution that beats Soluto for managing a small to middling sized number of PCs, that also gathers interesting data from its managed PC population. The group contacted me in advance of their announcement last Tuesday, June 18, of their brand-new software for managing iOS devices including both the iPad and the iPhone, but I was traveling on business that week and unable to deal with anything except the 12-14 hour days I was working for my clients at the time. Visiting the Soluto site just now, I see they also offer support for MacOS PCs as well, but I have to imagine that’s been around for some time now, or it too would be front and center in their latest announcement.
I’ve been home since mid-week, but am just now finding the time to look into what Soluto has to offer, and it seems pretty interesting. It starts with visiting the Soluto site, and then sending an e-mail or an SMS to the targeted iOS device. That email or text message includes a link to an app, which then comes up in the Installer (inside Settings, interestingly enough) which apparently places an app on the iOS device. Once installed, the app then makes its detail information available through the usual Soluto console available through a log-in at www.soluto.com. Here’s part of what it has to say about my iPhone, for example:
The Web-based Soluto console makes short work of reporting on iOS devices, with clear, easy-to-follow information and analysis.
The Soluto dashboard also lists all the apps installed on the device, which gave me kind of a rude shock as to how many games my 9-year-old has installed on that device (I counted 30 under the “Games” heading, and another 17 items under the “Entertainment” heading, of which only 1 was of my choosing. Seeing this display, I could wish that Soluto would set up remote deletion for such apps, but it’s really no big deal to write down the names of some things that can go, and then go do it the old-fashioned way on the device itself.
It’s a pretty nice tool, and a great way to extend what you can see and manage — if not directly, then indirectly — through a single Web-based console. Definitely worth checking out!
The analysts have never been terribly kind to Windows 8, with the majority of firms maintaining what can only be described as a “safe distance” from Microsoft’s latest desktop offering launched in October 2012. But a new Gartner blog post from in-house analysts Michael A. Silver and Stephen Kleynhans includes a telling snippet that indicates the wind may soon be blowing from a new quarter: “Based on information currently available, we believe Windows 8.1 features could quiet most of its detractors” (it’s entitled “Windows 8.1 Could Become What Windows 8 Should Have Been” and it’s dated 6/19/2013).
As early as May 29, noted Windows guru Paul Thurrott posted screencaps of Windows 8.1 depicting the triumphant return of the Start button to Windows 8.1 (see “In Blue: Start Experience Changes” for the original graphic, and other interesting 8.1 screenshots).
A more familiar look and feel to Windows 8.1, eerily similar to Start8.
Other interesting points from the Gartner piece include:
- Windows 8.1 is worth considering for “broader deployment,” especially for those who had been inclined to view Windows 8.0 as a “touch-only” operating system
- Businesses can seriously contemplate purchasing new PCs with 8.1 pre-installed as a legitimate way “to adopt a new OS via PC refresh” (a not uncommon tactic in the business world nowadays)
- Those who are already planning Windows 8.0 deployments have nothing to lose, and much to gain, by switching over plans and pilots to Windows 8.1 instead of Windows 8.0 (even to the point of switching to the beta upcoming later this month as soon as it becomes available, and deploying the production version of 8.1 when it become available later this year, probably in late October or early November)
News Analysis from the actual report from Silver and Kleynhans is available online (see “Windows 8.1 Could Become What Windows 8.0 Should Have Been” for more detail that the previously-cited Gartner news release). This lengthier piece provides additional details about Windows 8.1 benefits for business users, including references to improved search, tighter integration with SkyDrive, more flexible snap-to-screen layouts for apps and application windows, complete Control Panel coverage in the Modern UI, and minor changes to the Windows 8 desktop “which would ensure high levels of compatibility with legacy Win32 desktop applications.”
All well and good, and perhaps even interesting to business readers. But is it enough to spur consideration or even deployment of Windows 8.1, when many businesses have only recently migrated to Windows 7? Only time will tell!
When I bought two Lenovo notebooks last year — a T520 and an X220 Tablet — one of my regrets was that I had to buy immediately and couldn’t wait for the USB 3.0 versions of those models to become available. Last week I learned that my regrets were well-founded. Thanks to the Mushkin Ventura Pro 64 GB USB stick I picked up in May, and an el cheapo ($28) StarTech PCI Express USB 3.0 adapter I grabbed from Newegg in early June, I was finally able to try out the speed difference between built-in USB 2.0 ports and a budget add-in USB 3.0 device.
UFD on left, USB 3.0 adapter on the right.
Using USB 2.0, the Mushkin UFD (USB Flash Disk) runs at ~30 MB/sec: not bad for a USB 2.0 flash device. I observed a 6-fold boost on the X220 Tablet using PCI express for USB 3.0. Where I’d been seeing rates of around 30.1 – 30.3 MB/sec for USB 2.0, it jumped to180 MB/sec using USB 3.0.
I routinely take my sizable Outlook Archive.pst file with me when I go on the road. This morning it’s about 9.19 GB in size on my D: drive. It used to take 8-9 minutes to copy that file from the hard drive to the UFD; now it takes just over a minute for the file transfer to complete. This may not sound like much of a difference to some readers, but for me this is huge, simply because I usually wait until the morning I travel to grab my PST files to take with me on the road, along with my traveling laptop for that trip.
Even more impressive are the speed gains when it comes to backing up my machines. A RecImg image snapshot for my Windows 8 machines usually takes half an hour or so to complete, and a full backup might run 10 minutes longer. Using the USB 3.0 interface, those times go down to under 7 minutes and under 9 minutes, respectively. Since I often have to wait for a backup to complete to use a machine for something else, these time savings are pretty worthwhile — to me, at least. Whether or not you can justify a $55 flash drive and a $28 interface card to your boss, if you’re in this pretty typical situation, is up to you to find out. But if you can swing it, I believe you’ll find the time savings that result to be worthwhile as well.