Can anyone make a decent operating system? That’s the question tech lovers around the world appear to be asking as the biggest vendors appear unable to just make a decent platform that's easy to use and nice to look at.
Microsoft – the daddy of the operating system world – has been flailing for a while now to try and entice people to Windows 8. But so far it is failing. While Windows 8.1 is improving some areas, it is unlikely to prove a panacea for all its ills.
In fact, Microsoft could be said to have peaked as far back as 2001 when its beloved XP platform hit the market. Even now, 12 years later, there are those who see no reason to upgrade, even if support is set to end in six months.
Meanwhile Apple, the darling of the tech world, is facing unprecedented levels of criticism for numerous issues that users of its new iOS 7 operating system have found with the platform.
These range from functionality to design and many V3 readers have implored others not to move to the new platform if they haven't done so already. Such criticism of Apple, especially on a design and functionality level, would have been unthinkable a year or so ago.
So what is going on? In some ways it appears firms are trying to be too clever, to be too innovative. At the end of a day an operating system should be the base layer for everything else. It should be easy to use, simple to understand and allow you to run other applications over the top.
With too much focus now given to all-singing systems that can do everything and out-innovate rivals it almost seems as if the firms are forgetting to do any user feedback to find out if stuff just works.
One good example was raised by a V3 reader who noticed this bizarre iOS 7 issue. The phone automatically dims its display brightness when you open the new control panel menu. This means, though, if you’re trying to adjust screen brightness, you can’t accurately gauge the brightness of the screen. It’s almost comic in its failure to work at the most basic level.
Similarly, while one can understand Microsoft may have thought the bold and radical change of Windows 8 may have made them seem, well, bold and radical, someone really should have stepped in and said it was too much.
People never like change, even when it's good for them, so for Microsoft to develop Windows 8 was always going to prove an incredibly disruptive situation. And while the tech world loves the term disrupt for conjuring up the feeling they're changing the world, for most people disruption is a negative that can be done without.
The firm was probably so blinded by the need to innovate and impress that it overlooked the basic notion of KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. A motto that works well in a surprisingly large number of instances. Let's hope Apple has taken it on board for its Mac OS X Mavericks update, due to be unveiled next week.
By V3's Dan Worth, who loves a good operating system
Microsoft's user data requests transparency report contained a brief line about the customers using the firm's enterprise services.
It stated that 19 requests had arrived in the first six months of 2013, all of which came from US agencies relating solely to customers within the US. Microsoft also added that so far it had received no requests regarding enterprise customers in connection with national security orders, which are more serious requests that can't be reported in detail.
It said that the 19 requests related to 48 accounts, which resulted in customer content (emails, documents, chat messages) being disclosed on four occasions, with one other request responded to with non-content data, which includes usernames and IP addresses. Of those five requests, four of the customers were notified while one other was not. Thirteen other requests were rejected or had no relevant data, with one further case still pending.
Microsoft defines enterprise customers as organisations subscribing multiple users to services such as Office 365, Azure, Exchange Online and CRM Online.
Microsoft highlighted that this is particularly pertinent as, while it obviously affects such a tiny minority of users, it still means that enterprise customers using cloud services have no choice as to whether they choose to release their data or not. If it's stored on Microsoft's servers, it's Microsoft's responsibility to disclose data whether they like it or not.
The crumb of comfort for Microsoft's enterprise customers is that Redmond clearly has a crack legal team that will reject any request it sees as legally unjustified. With that being said, there's still a lot of faith the public has to put into a group of unknown legal experts.
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft's data compares with other enterprise cloud service providers if they choose to release their own data, which they are of course not obliged to do.
Written by V3's Michael Passingham, who has nothing to hide
Tech acquisitions are always dicey for any company, with the question of exactly how the two firm's will combine all but impossible to know.
In the past there have been some success stories, for example when Chinese tech company Lenovo bought IBM's Thinkpad business-focused brand. In this instance the rather than simply killing off the competition, Lenovo ran with the business, creating a slew of awesome new devices that reignited enterprise interest in the brand.
However, others have been less successful, like Google purchase of Motorola. Google originally shocked the tech world in 2011 when it announced plans to pay $12.5bn to buy Motorola Mobility. The move was a shock as Motorola was one of the few firms not to have partnered with Google to create an own-brand Nexus device.
The oddness of the deal split opinion, with some arguing the purchase was a purely defensive move on the part of Google, designed to protect it from further patent infringement claims from competitors like Apple. Others took a more positive attitude, hoping it would lead to a fresh wave of innovative handsets from Motorola, which had struggled since its heyday with the original feature phone Razr.
Sadly the first group turned out to be right, with Google showing little outward interest in the company, leaving Motorola to release good, but not great smartphones - with the notable exception of the Intel-powered Razr i which is still one of the best examples of what the chip-maker can offer the smartphone world. As proof of this Motorola continues to be one of the few big name tech companies not to have made a Nexus smartphone or tablet, with Google choosing Asus and LG for its latest run of own-brand devices.
The sad example set by Google and Motorola leaves me nervous that history will repeat itself with Microsoft and Nokia. During the speeches by soon-to-be-gone Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer and current Nokia head Stephen Elop neither really paid much attention to Nokia's top end technologies, like Pureview. Instead the emphasis was entirely on app development and using Nokia's Asha range as a stepping stone to get people onto Windows Phone.
While this emphasis makes perfect sense, after all every analyst under the sun has listed emerging markets as the next cash cow for mobile phone makers, it could be bad news for tech heads. In recent years Nokia's carved out a serious name for itself by creating top-end premier Lumia Windows Phones capable of competing with Samsung and Apple in terms of innovation.
This trend peaked earlier this year when Nokia unveiled its Lumia 1020 (pictured above). Featuring an amazing 41MP rear camera sensor, a host of custom Nokia apps and featuring the Finnish phone maker's iconic Lumia design, the phone truly showcased the best Windows Phone could offer.
While Microsoft and Nokia have promised the deal will "boost innovation" in the Windows Phone ecosystem, I'm not convinced it will be in the high-end space. Instead, I think it'll be solely aimed at creating affordable handsets designed to appeal to buyers on a budget or emerging markets. These fears are compounded by the departure of key players that have helped shape Nokia's top end offering, like designer Marko Ahtisaari.
Still, it is early days and key details about the deal remain unknown so my fears could well be misplaced and, as a business strategy, a focus on emerging markets would make perfect sense. Because of this, even if I am right, at worst the new strategy will simply leave myself and other early Windows Phone adopters sad not to see another top end Nokia Lumia.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
For the last couple of years Microsoft's been having a tough time of it. Competitors such as Apple and Google have been rolling out a host of new software, services and hardware that, to some commentators and a vast section of the general public, make Microsoft products look like something from the Stone Age.
One of the biggest parts of this criticism was the PC giant's stuttered entry into the tablet space and previous lack of ARM support for its Slate PCs, which – using fully blown computer processors – featured woefully short battery lives compared with their Android and iOS, non-Windows rivals.
Because of this when Microsoft unveiled its two brand-spanking-new Windows RT operating system and own-brand Surface RT tablet it made perfect sense, at least on paper. After all, the tablet technically ticked all the boxes, featuring an ARM mobile processor that while light on power offered decent battery life and a new touch-based tile user interface.
However come release the Surface RT suffered the same fate as BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet, with consumers and businesses by and large ignoring the device and sticking to their existing iPad and Nexus devices. As a result Microsoft's been forced to radically cut the price of the RT, leading to a massive $900m write-off on the quarter – for those who can't remember BlackBerry took a $485m hit on its 2012 third-quarter revenues when it slashed the PlayBook's price. In total that's almost $1.5bn in trying to enter the tablet market dominated by Apple and its iPad.
Of course there are multiple possible reasons for both tablets' poor sales, but for me there's one key explanation; they both boast woefully underdeveloped app stores. Unlike the Surface Pro, which runs using the full version of Windows 8, the RT uses the stripped-down version. This means unlike the Pro, the RT isn't legacy application compatible and can only run apps in the main Windows Marketplace, which sadly, like the PlayBook's, is woefully lacking when compared to iOS and Android's.
While there are of course other reasons for the RT's poor performance, for me it's the biggest as the understocked marketplace shows developers – a key component in any ecosystem's success – aren't interested in Windows RT. Time and time again we've seen that technical prowess means nothing unless developers are interested in the device's software ecosystem – remember MeeGo and Symbian?
For this reason it seems more than fair to say the Surface RT is the new PlayBook.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
For more than a decade, one of the largest untapped electronics markets in the world has been sealed off from game console developers.
Now, however, China could be opening itself up to console vendors, bringing a massive new crowd of potential customers. A government plan would allow for a limited lift of a ban that had forbidden console sales.
According to a report form the South China Morning Post, authorities would allow for sales of consoles within the Shanghai free trade zone. Vendors who would meet with country's “cultural” standard requirements would be allowed to sell consoles within the limited zone.
The move comes at a particularly advantageous time for hardware vendors. With a new generation of expensive consoles on the way from both Sony and Microsoft, expanding into China can help boost what is already expected to be higher margins on more expensive consoles.
The opening of the Chinese market could also help to boost what vendors hope will be a growing usage case for the consoles. Microsoft has already expressed hope that its Xbox One will be able to leverage its video-conferencing features to serve as a unified communications device in the enterprise sector.
Between the prospect of a move into China and the possibility of an expansion into the business market, the new-gen consoles could see a much smoother and more successful launch than their predecessors.
02 Jul 2013
So the release of Windows 8 didn't go exactly as Microsoft had hoped.
The successor to Windows 7 left many users disappointed and sold poorly in a market already hindered by a decline in new PC sales. Among the criticisms leveled to the OS was a push by Microsoft to the Metro interface which left some users wanting the old Windows environment back.
In fact, Windows 8 had so many flaws that the company had to pitch its first update, Windows 8.1 as a major update to the platform which would fix the problems so apparent in the original Windows 8 release.
But, despite its shortcomings, Microsoft can at least take solace in the knowledge that Windows 8 is more popular with consumers than the company's infamous Windows Vista release.
According to NetApplications, the beleaguered Windows 8 has officially surpassed Windows Vista in market share. The site reports that Windows 8 now holds a 5.1 percent share of the market, compared to Windows Vista's 4.62 percent share.
Those market shares are both dwarfed by Windows 7, which holds a 44.7 percent piece of the PC market. Second is Windows XP which, despite being more than a decade old, still holds more than a third of the market with a 37 percent share.
That Windows 8 lags is in some ways to be expected. With PC sales slow many users are still running their old Windows XP boxes, while many enterprises tend to hold off on adopting new operating systems until the first major update or service pack is installed.
Still, it must be some small consolation to Microsoft that Windows 8 is at least being received a bit better than the company's last Windows flop. And if nothing else, it at least helps to push Vista a little closer to the dustbin of history.
A recent report has found that Internet Explorer is the most energy efficient of the leading browsers on Windows 8, a fact trumpeted by Microsoft on its Exploring IE Blog.
However, a look at the figures reveals that the differences are hardly anything to write home about. And the source report contains a more alarming fact – that websites using HTML5 double the power consumption of laptops accessing them.
The report, The Impact Of Internet Browsers On Computer Energy Consumption, was commissioned by Microsoft from the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems in the USA.
Its conclusion is that Internet Explorer 10 increased the power consumption by the least amount on computers running Windows 8, when compared with the most up-to-date versions of Google Chrome and Firefox.
The results showed that internet browsing activity increases computer power draw by an average of seven to 13 percent on laptops and three to five percent on desktop systems, relative to an idle baseline figure.
On laptops, IE10 showed the least power consumption at an average 15.6W, while Google Chrome showed the greatest at an average of 16.6W. This is a difference of about 6.5 percent between the best and worst cases, but enough for Microsoft to claim IE10 as "the most energy-efficient browser on Windows 8".
That IE10 is the most power efficient on Windows 8 is hardly surprising, since the browser is an integral component of Microsoft's latest platform, which was itself developed with the objective of cutting power consumption on tablets and mobile devices. Meanwhile, other browser developers have complained about not having the same level of access to Windows 8 APIs as Microsoft's own team.
Microsoft states on its blog that that if every Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox user in the United States moved to Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 for a year, they would save over 120 million kWh in electricity. However, the firm does not indicate how it arrived at this figure. Spread across millions of users, this also equates to savings of just a few pence on a household's annual energy bill, although it could prove significant for large organisations.
Perhaps more worryingly, the Fraunhofer report found that both HTML5 and Flash websites appear to increase power use significantly against the list of top 10 websites it used for testing.
"Most notably, the HTML5 benchmark test condition more than doubled the notebook power draw for all computers and browsers tested, while desktop power draw increased by approximately 50 percent. Computer power draw also increased for the one Flash and HTML5 website tested, increasing by approximately 50 and 20 percent for notebooks and desktops respectively," the report stated.
17 May 2013
Despite being retired and working actively to donate as much of his fortune as possible, Bill Gates once again finds himself the wealthiest man in the world.
The Microsoft co-founder has topped Bloomberg's Billionaire Index with a $72.7bn net worth, better than the $72.1bn of Mexican mobile carrier boss Carlos Slim. Gates had yielded the top spot to Slim in 2010 after holding the title of world's wealthiest for more than 15 years.
Bloomberg credits the jump to a combination of market factors. Gates saw his fortune grow as Microsoft shares were up this year, while Slim's America Movil stock has slipped following government rulings, which could help competitors take a larger share of the market.
Eighth on the wealth list was Oracle founder Larry Ellison, while Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google fame checked in at 18th and 19th richest.
It should be noted that Gates is working to give away a large portion of his wealth to charity. Since retiring from Microsoft he has devoted himself full time to his foundation, which donates and raises money for a variety of noble causes around the world.
Still, given his reputation as a businessman and competitor, you have to think a small part of the man is reveling over once again being at the top.