Make Windows 8 Sexier With These Background & Theme Tweaks   Leave a comment

Does your Windows 8 system look too bland with the default settings? You can customize it in a variety of ways, changing a variety of backgrounds and colors — whether on the Start screen, lock screen, or desktop. Your Windows 8 system can be a subdued interface with dark colors and muted backgrounds, a tableau of bright colors and colorful flowers, or anything in between.Microsoft has omitted some customization settings – most notably for the Start screen – but there are third-party tools that can give us access to these settings. Just as with the missing Start menu, third-party utilities give us the options Microsoft didn’t.

windows 8 background

Change The Start Screen Background & Colors

Windows 8’s start screen is customizable. If you don’t like the default Windows 8 background and colors, you can change them to something more to your liking. Just open the Settingscharm (use the Ctrl+I shortcut to quickly open the Settings charm) and select Change PC settings. In the PC settings screen that appears, select the Personalize category, select Start screen, and choose a background image and color.

Windows 8 includes a number of different Start screen backgrounds and color schemes that can be mixed and matched – you can have everything from a solid-colored dark background to a bight pink background with flowers.

windows 8 background

Set a Custom Start Screen Background & Colors

While customizing your Start screen, you’ll notice that you can’t select a custom background or color scheme. You can only select the ones Microsoft included. Luckily, some third party tools have come to the rescue. However, bear in mind that they only work on Windows 8, notWindows RT (which can’t run non-Microsoft desktop applications).

The slickest, easiest utility to use is probably Stardock’s Decor8, from the same Stardock that created the popular Start8 start menu replacement for Windows 8. It’s free for 30 days, after which it will cost you $5 – just like Start8.

Decor8 allows you to set custom background images and color schemes for your Start screen, breaking free from Microsoft’s limitations and tweaking it to your liking. You can even have the background automatically change and customize other parts of the Start screen, such as the number of rows of tiles and styles of animations.

windows 8 background wallpaper

If you’re looking for a free alternative, you might want to try something like Windows 8 Start Screen Customizer, although it’s still in beta and isn’t as well tested – it may not be as polished and stable.

Change The Lock Screen Background

Windows 8′s lock screen appears when you start your computer, log out, or lock it. Unlike the start screen, the lock screen’s background image is completely customizable out-of-the-box.

From the same Personalize pane in the PC settings application above, select Lock screenand select a custom background image. You can use one of the preinstalled ones or click the Browse button and select your own background image. You can also customize the applications that show quick status alerts on the lock screen – particularly useful for Windows 8 tablets.

windows 8 background wallpaper

Customize Desktop Window Border Colors

By default, Windows 8 automatically chooses a solid window border and taskbar color based on the color of your desktop wallpaper. However, you can also choose a custom color that will be used instead..

To choose a window border color, right-click your desktop and select Personalize. Click theColor option at the bottom of the Personalization window and select your preferred color. You can tweak a selected color’s intensity to get it just how you like it.

windows 8 background wallpaper

As with Windows 7,  you can also choose a custom desktop background – even set up a slideshow of desktop backgrounds – from the Personalization window.

Set Custom Desktop Window Border Colors

If you want to set a window border color that isn’t mentioned in this list, try Aero8Tuner. It allows you to select any color for your window borders, even ones that Microsoft didn’t provide in the list of colors you can choose.

windows 8 background

For more information about Windows 8, be sure to download our Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts cheat sheet and full guide to Windows 8!

How have you customized Windows 8′s interface to your liking? Leave a comment and share your favorite tips and tricks.

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5 reasons not to upgrade to Windows 8   Leave a comment

Windows 8 is the most dramatic change that has happened to Windows since the jump from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. Although there are many major upgrades in Windows 8, is it worth the trouble?

New isn’t always better and to many people, there may not be much reason to upgrade their machines. For many, the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will apply.

Here’s my top 5 reasons not to upgrade to Windows 8.

1) Windows 7 is a solid operating system

windows 7 desktop start menu

If you’re already on Windows 7, there may be little reason to upgrade. Windows 7 is a solid operating system and loved by many. Since it’s been out on the market for so long, there is great support for the operating system so just about every application you can think of will run in Windows 7.

If you don’t want to bother with the headache of learning a new operating system or going through the trouble of upgrading, then Windows 7 will probably keep you happy for a long time. Microsoft has a history of supporting their older operating systems for a long time so you can skip a couple versions of Windows before you’re forced to upgrade.

2) You will have to relearn the operating system

Windows 8 start menu

Windows 8 has a steep learning curve. Those who thought jumping from Window XP to Windows Vista was difficult should avoid Windows 8. Many desktop computing paradigms that Microsoft has ingrained in our memories are scrapped for new ones.

The start menu is gone (although you can get it back with 3rd party apps), which is replaced by the Windows Modern UI. While pretty, it doesn’t do much to help you get your work done any faster. Your apps will show up as beautiful, live animated tiles but many will miss the utilitarian nature of the old Windows Start menu.

You’ll also have to learn what “charms” are and how to activate them. Where is My Computer? Where is the power button? What are hot corners? These will all be things you’ll have to re-learn in Windows 8.

Be sure to read our guide about controlling Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard to see how high of a learning curve Windows 8 really requires from a mouse and keyboard user.

3) Incompatible applications

apps not compatibleWith every upgrade to a new operating system, there will inevitably be a time where some of your applications will be incompatible. While many developers will have updated apps to run in Windows 8, there’s no guarantee that all of the applications you use every day will continue to work in the new operating system.

Patience will pay off. It is smart to wait a while after any new product release to allow bugs to be hammered out and applications to be updated. If you value stability over new features, it’s a smart move to wait and see what bugs need to be hammered out first.

4) There aren’t very many apps in the Windows Store (yet)

Windows 8 app storeThere are over 10,000 applications in the Mac App Store. The Windows Store has just over 4,000 apps ready for launch. While both the Mac and Windows store pale in comparison to the iPhone and Android app stores, the Mac App Store has a significant advantage over Windows in terms of number and quality of apps.

There’s no doubt that there will be more applications added to the Windows Store but the question is when? If you’re used to having a great app experience on your iPad or Android tablet, you’ll probably be disappointed when you can’t find the same apps in the Windows Store for your Windows 8 tablet.

5) You don’t have a touch screen

windows 8 touch screenThe biggest change from Windows 7 to Windows 8 is the focus on creating a touch friendly user experience. If you don’t have a touch screen, then you’re missing out on a lot of what Microsoft has been pouring their resources into.

If you’re due for a new computer, it’s probably a wise idea to get one with a touch screen so you can use Windows 8’s touch features when you want. There is still full mouse and keyboard support but it’s not nearly as intuitive as controlling Windows 8’s Modern UI with touch.

What are your reasons for not upgrading to Windows 8? Let us know in the comments.

Windows 8 Guide: how to install Windows 8   Leave a comment

Windows 8 is out today and many users are excited to get their hands on it. This latest operating system from Microsoft is a dramatic departure from previous versions of Windows, which focuses on blending a mobile and desktop operating system into one.

Of course there are plenty of reasons not to upgrade but for those who are more adventurous and want to take advantage of Windows 8’s new features, it helps to know how to upgrade or do a clean of Windows 8.

In this guide, I’ll help you understand how to install Windows 8.

Versions

windows 8 box artThe first thing you need to know is that there are several different versions of Windows 8. The basic version of Windows 8 will work on most devices as it will come in a 32 and 64 bit version. Make sure to read our guide on which version of Windows 8 is right for you.

Stepping up to Windows 8 Pro, users will gain the following features:

  • BitLocker Drive Encryption and BitLocker To Go
  • Functionality Hyper-V virtualization
  • Remote Desktop
  • Windows Media Center

Going up to Windows 8 Enterprise will add the following features.

  • Windows to go (booting from mass storage devices)
  • Access via Direct Access VPN
  • BranchCahce (enables PC cache files from a central server, improving speed)
  • AppLocker (to block apps)

To make things even more confusing, Microsoft will have Windows RT, which contains only the touch, Modern UI of Windows 8. Windows RT will only be sold to tablet manufacturers. This operating system will be used on tablets and will not run traditional desktop software. Everything must be downloaded through the Windows Store.

Before you buy Windows 8, you’ll want to check if your computer meets the minimum system requirements.

For Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, the system requirements are:

  • Processor: 1 GHz
  • RAM: 1 GB (32-bit) / 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) / 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: compatible with DirectX 9 with WDDM
  • Resolution: 1024 x 768 to download and run applications from the Windows Store

Getting Windows 8

There are two ways to get Windows 8: download or physical media. If you’re downloading it from the internet, it’s a simple procedure as the installation wizard will guide you through the installation process. If you’ve bought a DVD copy, pop that in and start the installation wizard.

Installing Windows 8

windows 8 installation screenBoth methods will launch the upgrade wizard. It will check your computer to see if you have all the necessary components to upgrade or install Windows 8. This will take a few minutes.

Once that’s done, the wizard will tell you what apps and connected devices will and will not work with Windows 8. It will then search the Windows update server to see if there are new drivers and software to increase compatibility.

If you’re installing from the downloaded version of Windows 8, it’ll give you the option to put Windows 8 on a DVD or USB drive. This allows you to have a physical copy of Windows 8 in case you need its recovery features or need to reinstall Windows in the future.

Next, the wizard will ask you want files you want to keep from your old installation of Windows.

  • If you’re coming from Windows XP, you can keep the personal files and documents on your hard drive.
  • If you’re upgrading from Windows Vista, you can keep your personal files and settings.
  • If you’re upgrading from Windows 7, you can keep all of your programs, settings, personal files and documents.

If you want to do a clean install, you can choose to wipe the computer now. Now Windows 8 will begin installing.

After a long wait, you’ll be taken to a setup screen where you can input all the relevant information. You’ll then be taken to your new Windows 8 home scree, the Modern UI! Be sure to read our guide about configuring Windows 8 with your Microsoft account and the rest of our Windows 8 guides to help you get started.

Microsoft Says It Has Sold 40 Million Windows 8 Licenses To Date   Leave a comment

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
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windows8

Microsoft announced that it has sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses so far. This is the first update the company has given since it announced that it had sold 4 million upgrades over the first weekend after Windows 8 went on sale earlier this month. According to Microsoft, “Windows 8 is outpacing Windows 7 in terms of upgrades.”

A Microsoft spokesperson said the 40 million licenses sold accounts for all sales, including those to OEMs and other partners. It’s fair to assume then that quite a few of these licenses haven’t actually found their way to users yet.

Today’s announcement came from Tami Reller, the Microsoft executive who, together with Julie Larson-Green, followed in Steven Sinofsky’s footsteps to lead the Windows business unit after heunexpectedly left the company shortly after the Windows 8 launch. Reller made the announcement at the Credit Suisse 2012 Annual Technology Conference.

Microsoft also used today’s announcement to highlight that “there were more apps in the Windows Store at launch than any other app store at their launch and since then, the number of apps in the Windows Store has doubled.” Microsoft did not, however, release any concrete stats about the number of apps that are currently in the store, but Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc stressed that “a lot of great new apps have been added to the Windows Store since launch such as CBS, ABC News, ABC Family, Engadget, Flixster, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), Vimeo and my (current) personal favorite – Top Gear.”

 

12 Essential Windows 8 Keyboard Shortcuts   Leave a comment

Network World — Get over it. Windows 8 is different from Windows 7, which means learning new stuff including keyboard shortcuts that can save valuable time vs accomplishing the same thing using touchscreen commands.

MORE HELP: 11 (FREE!) Microsoft tools to make life easier

Here are a dozen of the most useful ones:

1. Admin Menu: It’s not the Start Menu so familiar in earlier versions of Windows, but the Admin Menu is as close as it gets in Windows 8. Windows + X pops it up from the bottom left corner.

2. Charms: When you hit Windows + C the Charms bar pops out from the right-hand side of the screen.

3. Settings: One of the Charms is Settings. To avoid calling out the Charms bar then choosing Settings it’s possible to go directly to Settings: Windows +I. This will reveal the Power button, too. Click on that to reveal the Sleep, Shut down and Restart options, options users say are way too hard to find.

4. Sharing: If you are in an application and want to email or share its content with someone on a social network, hit Windows + H.

5. Second screen: If you are connecting to a second screen as you might presenting a PowerPoint in a conference room, use Windows + P.

6. Search: There are three layers of Search: Apps, Settings and Files. Using touch it calls for whisking out the Charms bar, selecting Search then choosing one of the three layers. With shortcuts, each layer can be reached with one command. They are: Apps: Windows + Q ; Settings: Windows +W ; Files: Windows + F

7. Snap an app: It’s possible to snap an application on hold in the right or left quarter of the screen with a second active app occupying the rest of the screen. To snap to the right, press Windows + . ; to snap to the left, press Windows + Shift + .

8. Running Apps: Thumbnails of apps that are running are concealed off the left side of the screen. Pressing Windows + Tab reveals them.

9. To close an app: It’s just like it was in Windows 7: Alt + F4 .

10. The desktop: While it’s different from the traditional desktop, it is much more familiar territory than the Start Screen. Typing Windows + D brings up the Desktop.

11. Explorer: To launch the familiar Windows Explorer, type Windows + E.

12. Lock the PC: Windows + L brings the computer back to the lock screen, which requires a password.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

Read more about software in Network World’s Software section.

How Windows 8 rewrites the rules of PC gaming   Leave a comment

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PC gaming is primed for a renaissance—or at least a reinvention—like we haven’t seen since the advent of 3D acceleration in the late 1990s. For this, we can thank the mobile revolution and all its attendant technologies. Game developers can now tap into accelerometers, touchscreens, and the cloud to add new features and gameplay scenarios. And even Microsoft’s comprehensive approach to Windows—merging desktops, tablets, and smartphones under a common code base—is changing the ways in which game creators should approach their work.

All of these developments were made patently clear at the recent Microsoft Buildconference. Justin Saint Clair, a Microsoft business development manager, stood before an audience of game developers and encouraged them to reset their approach. Don’t just think about graphics, themes, and plot lines, argued Saint Clair. The first question every developer should be asking is, “What is a PC?”

The very definition of the term “personal computer” has been upended over the past few years, and now PC gaming looks to be catching up at last. We’re no longer bound to keyboard and mice. We’re no longer even bound to playing the very same game—or the very same campaign within a single game—on the same device. In this article, I’ll walk you through all the new use cases that game developers are exploring. The fruits of their labor will become manifest in all genres of PC gaming, from the casual titles we play on tablets to the deep, textured 3D extravaganzas we download from Steam.

One game, multiple manifestations

When the iPad launched a couple of years ago, the tablet quickly redefined the rules of video gaming. Thanks to its built-in accelerometers and touch sensitivity, the iPad became both a game screen and a game controller. Not only could we tilt the tablet to, say, control a car’s steering in a driving game, but we could also use our fingers to directly manipulate the gameplay action.

But that was the state of the mobile gaming art in 2010, and simple accelerometer and touch tricks are now considered a given. In 2013, Microsoft will be encouraging developers to imagine tablet gaming experiences that extend beyond the tablet—in essence, single games that manifest themselves in different, creative ways across a variety of devices and platforms.

Xbox SmartGlass uses a Windows tablet as a secondary display for Xbox games.

Microsoft is working on APIs that allow developers to create a single game that plays more or less similarly on PCs and tablets, but with different control schemes and less-demanding graphics for tablet iterations. For example, the Xbox Live multiplayer API will live on both Xbox and Windows, allowing developers to build seamless multiplayer games that span platforms. Another Microsoft development path taps into the “second screen” approach, in which a single game leverages both your big-screen TV and a tablet—a scheme that’s already being realized on Windows 8 tablets running the Xbox SmartGlass app. The Xbox 360 racing game Forza Horizon, for instance, lets you (or a friend) view highway maps on your tablet, while you continue to steer the car with your console’s button-oriented driving interface. In effect, the tablet allows you to have a second person in the “passenger seat,” helping you with navigation.

MICROSOFT
The PC hardware landscape is much more varied today.

Microsoft is also taking advantage of its Windows runtime platform (the underpinning of all Windows 8 Store apps) along with Xbox Live networking features to iterate a single game franchise in unprecedented ways. Take, for example, the Mass Effect series of sci-fi third-person shooters. Mass Effect 3 is already a big single-player hit on the PC, but now a companion game, Mass Effect: Infiltrator, is available for iOS, and both titles tap into the franchise’s cloud-based “Galaxy at War” system. The upshot? In Infiltrator, when you gather intelligence data, your achievements will improve your “Galactic Readiness Rating,” which is integral to the PC game.

Of course, the cloud offers simpler benefits as well. Imagine firing up a game on your PC, playing a few minutes, and then saving your progress to Microsoft’s servers. Later, you’re in a hotel room in a distant land, where you load an iteration of the same game on your tablet, and continue where you left off. Such a scheme is already available in the desktop PC gaming titles Mass Effect 3 and Dirt Showdown, but you can expect more deployments to follow. It’s also worth noting that even simple Microsoft Store apps keep their status and save games in the cloud, ensuring that the whole lot of them offer seamless starting, stopping, and restarting regardless of your physical location and of which Windows 8 device you’re using.

At the Build conference, Microsoft’s Saint Clair also shared a new vision of online multiplayer gaming. He encouraged developers to imagine a single multiplayer game on PCs, Xbox 360 consoles, and Windows 8 tablets—three different platforms, but with players engaged in exactly the same online environment. This model is already available inHydro Thunder Hurricane.

Then there’s the LAN party, which is begging for redefinition. Today’s LAN party typically involves every player lugging a bulky PC or beefy gaming laptop to a common location, plugging in a bunch of cables and switches, and joining a multiplayer server. But Windows 8 running on mobile devices could dramatically reduce a bunch of logistical pain points. As Saint Clair asked, “What happens when everyone in the house has a tablet?”

The tablet changes everything

Tablet gaming isn’t just PC gaming with touch control tacked on. A good tablet game will also recognize a suite of behaviors and technologies specific to modern mobile devices: touch gestures, of course, but also accelerometers, GPS, near-field sensors, gyroscopes, and more. Windows Runtime—Microsoft’s new development platform that unifies PCs, tablets, and even Windows Phone 8—incorporates all of those possibilities, enabling game developers to take advantage of new mechanics and models. As a result, any developer who is comfortable with Windows Runtime can tap into gameplay dynamics as rich as anything we see deployed on iOS.

But although tablets are rich with creative development opportunities, they often drop the ball in pure performance. Tablets and hybrid devices don’t offer the raw CPU and GPU firepower of a good desktop PC, and this is a limiting factor that all traditional PC gaming developers will have to respect. Making matters worse, the GPUs inside current-generation Windows RT tablets and Windows Phone handsets don’t support the full range of DirectX 11 features available to desktop PCs with modern graphics cards. Game programmers will need to ensure that Windows 8 Store games will work in Windows RT using only Direct3D 9 in their 3D content.

That doesn’t mean games will look terrible on tablets, however. Low polygon counts and low-resolution textures don’t look nearly as bad on small tablet displays as they do on a large desktop display. Also, many of the games built for sale on the Windows Store will be lighter, casual fare, so performance problems likely won’t be a major factor.

Minesweeper: A prime example

The updated version of Minesweeper is a shining example of a casual game that takes full advantage of the new features Windows 8 enables.

Minesweeper as it was before Windows 8.

The original Minesweeper, of course, has been available for free in every version of the OS since Windows 3.1; this single game is probably responsible for more lost productivity than any other title, except perhaps Solitaire. Microsoft wanted to completely reimagine Minesweeper and make it a showcase for what a Windows Store game could be. To that end, Microsoft hired experienced casual game developer Arkadium, and the new version of Minesweeper adds much more than just simple touch control.

First off, the game no longer runs in a window. It’s now a full-screen app suitable for tablet devices, but it still works well on a desktop PC. Arkadium also added a new skin, the garden theme. Beyond that, the revamped game also has a new Adventure mode in which you explore a set of caves with a cartoony character.

Unlike in the Minesweeper of yesteryear, you don’t need to clear or mark every tile to pass an Adventure level. In fact, there’s no single “perfect” way to complete a level: You can explore every inch to maximize the amount of gold you collect, or you can simply find the quickest route to the exit. It’s your choice.

Racing through an Adventure level without uncovering or marking most of the tiles nets you a lower score than exploring the level more thoroughly. Monsters and other obstacles block your travel along the way, but you also pick up tools and weapons to ease navigation.

In total, Adventure mode changes Minesweeper from a simple clear-the-map game into a sort of “roguelike” in which you explore levels and overcome challenges to get through a maze. The game also incorporates social media sharing: Each time you complete a level, you have the opportunity to share your accomplishments.

Adventure mode turns Minesweeper into a roguelike game.

Minesweeper also adds the social dimension of daily challenges and achievements. Daily challenges let you collect virtual currency for earning badges, and hold the promise of an unspecified prize. But these challenges are also saddled with advertising. Yes, in-game advertising has come to Minesweeper, usually in the form of short video clips or clickable hotspots that take you to an external site. This commercial element—along with the limitation of not being able to run Minesweeper in a window—definitely reduces the game’s fun factor. Still, there’s no debating that the new social elements show how Microsoft is trying to advance even the Windows platform’s most rudimentary games.

Sharing, achievements, and other social activities are now part of Minesweeper.

Enhanced desktop games on Windows 8

The Windows desktop is still a big part of any Windows 8 system, including tablets and hybrid PCs running the new OS. All-in-one PCs with touch capabilities are gaining prominence in the Windows 8 desktop hardware landscape; and some higher-end all-in-one PCs, such as the Dell XPS One and Lenovo A720, include discrete GPUs, which allow them to run more 3D-intensive titles.

Even desktop games can benefit from additional features built into Windows 8, such as the enhanced touch interface. Intel has worked with a couple of key developers to bring touch to desktop games. Firaxis added touch, including support for gestures, to Civilization V, one of the biggest strategy titles of the past year.

The latest Civilization 5 update adds multitouch to a classic strategy game.

At least one desktop PC game, Wargame: European Escalation by Eugen Systems, was developed from the ground up for touch. Eugen’s first game, R.U.S.E., supported touch under Windows 7, but the interface was a little obtuse. In contrast, the top-down map interface of European Escalation—a real-time strategy game that takes place in a hypothetical war between the 1980s superpowers in Europe—offers tiles, rather than small buttons, as the main selectable user interface elements. Touch select and other gestures also work as expected.

Wargame: European Escalation is designed from the ground up to support touch controls in a sophisticated RTS title.

Both Civilization 5 with touch support and Wargame: European Escalation work well with Windows 8. European Escalation, like Eugen’s earlier game, will also work with touch-enabled Windows 7 systems.

Interestingly, both games have also been optimized for Intel’s integrated HD 4000 graphics, so their performance should be adequate on Ultrabook-class hybrids and tablets. That’s a reality that all game developers will face going forward: In raw performance, the graphics hardware on these sleek systems currently doesn’t measure up to discrete graphics cards on desktop PCs.

A new generation

Windows 8 and Windows RT have arrived, and with it, the new generation of Windows Store games. Many of these games will be built on JavaScript, HTML 5 canvas, and Microsoft’s XAML core languages, allowing easy porting between mobile and PC platforms. Higher-end titles will continue to be developed in more traditional languages.

More important for users, new gaming experiences are emerging. With many Microsoft Store apps, you’ll be able to transition easily from your game when you’re moving from one platform to the next. The widespread adoption of Windows 8 games on mobile devices such as Ultrabook hybrids and pure tablets will encourage the spread of certain gaming genres that have had modest traction, such as location-based or augmented-reality titles. New sensors built into tablets and hybrid laptops will allow game designers to build new control types into games, which in turn will give them the ability to create new types of games.

Although Apple iOS fans will no doubt snort, suggesting that such features have always been available on iOS, relatively few cross-platform titles exist between iOS and Mac OS. Plus, Apple’s laptops seem to be evolving toward higher-end display technology, but aren’t adopting touch as a key part of that OS.

The new generation of Windows games, on the other hand, will integrate titles on desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones, and even Xbox consoles, creating new experiences for users of all kinds of games, ranging from the very casual to the hard-core. It’s going to be exciting to see what games emerge, given the plethora of platforms and sensors, all running on a common platform.

Windows 8: Does report card read pass or fail?   Leave a comment

 

My, how time flies when you’re swiping through live tiles. Microsoft’s new-look Windows 8 launched exactly one month and one day ago, bringing its modern user interface and mobile-style apps to the desktop masses on October 26th. So how has the system actually fared during its honeymoon period? Read on for the full synopsis of Windows 8 wins and losses.

It can’t be all bad. Or can it?

Stephen Sinofsky: the gorilla no longer in the room

Stephen Sinofsky, former Windows division president.

Many eyebrows were raised on November 12 when Microsoft announced that Stephen Sinofsky—the president of the Windows division, a driving force behind Windows 8, and a long-time leader at Microsoft—was leaving his post, effective immediately. The odd timing and abrupt announcement led to a rash of speculation. Was Sinofsky fired or did he quit? Was it planned? Are Windows 8 sales that bad?

Neither Microsoft nor Sinofsky will talk about their divorce, but many analysts believeSinofsky’s penchant for secretiveness and territorial mindset alienated external and internal partners alike, which proved troublesome in the new, cross-departmental world of Windows 8. It’s hard to believe Microsoft would dump Sinofsky over two weeks of (possibly) poor OS sales. Regardless of the reason behind the split, Sinofsky’s exit was badly timed and led to a fresh wave of media focus on the negative aspects of Windows 8.

“I think it was unwise to fire the head of the unit during the launch cycle and during the critical 4th quarter,” says Rob Enderle, the president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. “It was a dangerous distraction.”

Sinofsky’s departure may have been a dangerous distraction, but headlines alone don’t make or break an operating system. Indeed, sales figures define the bottom line, and Sinofksy has never been a household name. Nonetheless, the unceremonious exit of the Windows boss adds up to a net fail for Microsoft in the executive comings-and-goings department.

Windows Store: growing, but still unimpressive

Windows 8 has a lot of games, but few standout apps.

As the Windows Store goes, so goes Windows 8. The fancy-schmancy modern UI and its glittering live tiles are all powered by new-style Windows 8 apps, and the only way to get these apps is through the Windows Store itself. Our prelaunch examination of Microsoft’s digital wares revealed a worrisome dearth of apps, along with a serious paucity of blockbuster apps, to boot.

One month in, the Windows Store is looking a bit better. Wes Miller, an independent Microsoft analyst at Directions on Microsoft and the curator of the WinAppUpdate website, recently announced that the Windows Store finally cracked the 20,000 app barrier, with new apps showing up at a clip of roughly 500 per day, postlaunch. Only around 13,000 of these titles are available in the United States, however, and Microsoft still has a long way to go before it nears the 700,000-plus app selection of the entrenched Android and Apple markets. Still, the Windows Store is growing nicely.

The quality level of those apps is still a concern, however. The last post on Miller’s website is titled, “Windows Store: I’m holding out for a hero app,” in which he bemoans the lack of exclusive Windows 8 apps and says flat-out, “There aren’t a ton of stellar apps.” It’s an observation that mirrors our own. Most of the available apps are ho-hum Web wrappers, uninspired utilities, or lackluster games.

Sure, a few big-name apps have already reared their heads on Microsoft’s platform. You’ll find apps from Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, Slacker, Kindle, SugarSync, Skype, Evernote, Amazon, Newegg, Angry Birds, and more. Dropbox and Twitter apps are in the works, albeit with no announced release dates. However, you won’t find apps from big names like Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, IMDB, CNN, Pandora, Spotify, and hosts of others.

Nevertheless, many user needs are now covered if you look hard enough, as evidenced by our Best Windows 8 Business Apps and Best Windows 8 Gaming Apps roundups. That need to dig deep, however, highlights another early woe for the Windows Store. Despite its nifty spotlight section, Microsoft simply doesn’t do a great job of steering users toward standout apps, which will become a bigger and bigger problem as the Windows Store becomes more packed.

“I think they need to do a better job of profiling so that they present apps they know I will like, similar to what Amazon does in their online store,” Enderle says. “It amazes me how much better Amazon is than any of the app stores at this.”

While the Windows Store hasn’t impressed anyone with either its inventory quantity or quality, it does deserve kudos for remaining on a steady, uphill climb. We’ll refrain from issuing a failing grade in this category, and simply give the Windows Store an “incomplete.”

The new interface: charming or chilling?

Windows8_interface
Swiping from the right, as it turns out, doesn’t work like a charm.

Aside from the app selection, many early criticisms targeted the modern UI itself, which throws everything you know about navigating Windows, well, out the window. Early adopters—especially nontechie types—have reported running into issues with the overhauled interface, which is made worse by Windows 8’s near-complete lack of instructions when you boot it up for the first time.

The complaints led us to question interface experts, who universally panned the dual-natured design of Windows 8. The complaints came to a head when usability guru Jakob Nielsen published a scathing blog post deriding almost every aspect of Windows 8’s design. His brutal examination was then reblogged far and wide.

Nielsen blasted the flat, nonintuitive look and “low information density” of the modern UI. He derided the way Windows hides commands in off-screen menus, and its too-shifty live tiles. He ripped into overly similar gesture controls, and Microsoft’s decision to display just a single Windows 8 app at a time. “The product ought to be renamed ‘Microsoft Window’,” he quipped.

The dual desktop and modern UI in particular create cognitive problems for everyday users, Nielsen says. In his opinion, Microsoft made a big mistake in attempting to create a single operating for desktops and tablets alike, as the two have very different uses and form factors.

“Windows 8 on mobile devices and tablets is akin to Dr. Jekyll: a tortured soul hoping for redemption,” he wrote. “On a regular PC, Windows 8 is Mr. Hyde: a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity.” Ouch. We, too, found the Windows 8 UI a bit nonintuitive, though navigating the operating system quickly becomes second nature, especially if you use Windows 8 as a touch-only OS. It’s just different. (Reallydifferent.)

Nonetheless, our one-month report card must focus on widespread public reception, and, without a doubt, prelaunch gripes about Windows 8 have only gotten louder since the system’s actual release. The new UI receives a failing grade (mostly for its muddled desktop implementation), though that could change as more and more people learn to live with Windows 8, and all its clumsy behaviors become the new normal

Sales: the unknown factor

Why didn’t we start off with hard sales numbers? Simple: Microsoft hasn’t been forthcoming with those numbers, and the company declined to comment for this article. That institutional reticence makes it hard to divine just how well Windows 8 is actually selling on the streets.

All that said, sporadic leaks, whispers, and data from third-party channels help us paint a partial picture of Windows 8’s sales success—and what we’ve gleaned suggests that the OS is stumbling out of the gate.

Windows 8’s start had Steve Ballmer smiling, but he soon hushed up.

The company’s one on-the-record comment came during the developer-focused BUILD conference, which kicked off on October 30, just four days after the official launch of Windows 8. There, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company sold 4 million upgrade licenses over the opening weekend, along with “tens of millions of units to our corporate customers who can upgrade when they want to.”

Since then, silence.

Four million system sales in three days is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but auxiliary evidence suggests that the blistering pace set by early enthusiasts soon tapered off. Data from the Web measurement firm Net Applications showed that at the end of October, only0.45 percent of computers were running Windows 8. Windows 7 hit a 2.33 percent adoption during the same time frame in its life cycle—a five-fold-plus difference. On the plus side, Windows 8’s 0.45 percent slice of the pie more than doubles the measly 0.19 percent stake that Windows Vista managed to snag during its opening month.

Merle McIntosh, SVP of product development for Newegg—a popular electronics e-tailer with billions in annual sales—recently told ReadWrite that Windows 8 software sales have been “slow going,” paired with “slow but steady increases” in hardware sales. Windows 8 “did not explode, as I think you know, coming out of the gate,” McIntosh said. He went on to say that Windows 8’s launch “doesn’t even come close” to Windows 7’s numbers.

Consumer confusion over the differences between Windows 8 and the more feature-limited Windows RT have been a slight issue, but not nearly as big a concern as some analysts predicted it would be. “The Microsoft stores are doing the best job of positioning the two products and have the lowest return rates as a result,” Enderle says. “Other stores have been mixed. Those that didn’t invest in training are having the biggest problems with returns.”

So what’s it going to be, a pass or a fail in terms of sales? Again, we don’t have enough data to make a decisive call. But you can look at it this way: Considering how many tech pundits and long-time Windows users openly mock Windows 8, beating the early adoption numbers of Windows Vista is actually a win—bittersweet and poignant, but still something that passes as a measure of success.

Enterprise adoption: What enterprise adoption?

IMAGE: MICROSOFT.COM
The Surface tablet seems made for the workplace, but IT ain’t biting.

Things don’t look much brighter on the business side of the sales story, despite the big numbers Ballmer bounced around at BUILD.

“Windows 8 is seeing roughly half of the interest from IT hardware decision-makers that Windows 7 saw at the same point in its release cycle,” Forrester’s David Johnson reports. The numbers get even scarier for Microsoft once you dig into the details. Only 4 percent of the companies Forrester surveyed plan to switch to Windows 8 in the next year, with another 5 percent planning to migrate sometime after that. An even larger total—10 percent—replied that they plan to skip Windows 8 entirely.

A torrent of other reports echo Forrester’s sentiment. It’s safe to say that one month in, Windows 8 is a complete nonstarter in the enterprise realm. That was expected, however, considering that many businesses only recently upgraded to Windows 7, and many more are hesitant to take on the training hurdles associated with Windows 8’s modern UI.

Grade: Fail.

Don’t panic!

Of course, while Microsoft no doubt hoped Windows 8 would be immediately embraced by a loving public, we can’t judge the success of an operating system by its first month on the market. Grizzled Windows veterans often refuse to buy in to a new version before the first service pack is released, and Enderle notes that Windows 8 is still an early release experiencing “typical initial teething issues.”

Give it time.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Wes Miller also cautions against reading too much into Windows 8 adoption rates this early in the operating system’s lifetime.

“This holiday season is critically important to the success of Windows RT in particular, as well as the lower-end market for Windows 8 tablets,” he said via email. “We won’t really know until the new year how well those have done in the marketplace.”

Along those lines (and despite his less-than-optimistic talk over at ReadWrite), Newegg SVP Merle McIntosh told us via email that “Sales have met our expectations so far. Currently, the majority of our Windows 8 assortment consists of desktops and notebooks so, naturally, those categories are the strongest right now. Tablets are also doing well, and we expect this category to continue to grow.”

McIntosh acknowledges that Windows 8 sales are more likely to slowly build steam rather than explode out of the gate. “Windows 8 is a completely new OS, so it will take a bit of time for consumers and businesses to fully embrace it and move away from Windows 7,” he says. “Windows 7 was a very successful product, so there will be some consumers who may prefer that OS for the time being.”

That single statement may shed the most light on Windows 8’s apparently lackluster adoption rates. People couldn’t wait to upgrade away from Vista. Everybody loves Windows 7, which offers a damn near ideal desktop experience. Throwing that excellence out the window to focus on tablet functionality hasn’t convinced laptop and desktop users that they need to switch to Windows 8 right now and learn a whole new, fairly unintuitive interface.

Windows 8: One month down, many to go

IMAGE: MICROSOFT.COM
Microsoft is all in with the modern UI and Windows 8—just read the slide.

Newegg expects Windows 8 hardware sales to be a major growth factor for the OS as a whole, and therein lies Microsoft’s strongest ace in the hole. Even if the operating system struggled a bit during its first month, the overwhelming majority of all laptops and desktops shipped henceforth will ship with Windows 8 installed. No early adopters? No problem. Windows 8 has legs in the long tail, with the IDC estimating 391.1 million PCs to ship in 2013. “It’s still very early to be calling out any definitive sales trends,” McIntosh told us, and he’s right.

Sure, Microsoft made some missteps with the rollout of Windows 8, but few of the problems are deep-rooted. As adoption rates slowly grow, the apps are sure to come—andMicrosoft is courting developers hard to make sure those apps do come. The Windows Store itself needs some usability tweaking, and that tweaking will have to be done under new management. Possible customer confusion issues should clear up as Windows 8 and Windows RT become more widespread, and businesses will be forced to integrate the operating system into their networks when employees start dragging in BYOD Windows 8 laptops and tablets, even if IT departments hesitate to roll them out whole hog.

Windows 8 may—may—be struggling now, but sheer scale means it will be adopted by many more people. Eventually.

Just don’t expect the modern UI to disappear anytime soon. Despite the deep-seated hatred that desktop enthusiasts and usability experts toss the interface’s way, Microsoft spent a lot of money creating the cross-platform design in a bid to lure tablet shoppers away from Android and Apple alternatives. Remember that PC sales are sluggish and mobile sales are booming. What’s a first-time tablet shopper more likely to buy: A tablet with a completely new operating system, or one that looks like and syncs with with the UI on their home computer?

When you look at Windows 8, you’re staring at the future of Microsoft, folks. So you might as well get used to it. In the present, however, Windows 8 still has a few kinks left to work out after a month on the market.