Microsoft Surface set to expand its business footprint

Family_v4_Hero_01Surface Pro 3 has seen widespread adoption, at least if Microsoft is to be believed. The tablet-laptop hybrid is heading into the business world, where it provides portability for those on the go. Now the company would like to expand on that market, announcing new plans to do just that.

Microsoft laments that it’s business channel has been a bit limited thus far, but now it’s time to change that with many new offerings.

“We are expanding our channel and will go from having a few hundred partners selling and servicing Surface to a few thousand globally in the coming months”.

Microsoft claims it’s excited to welcome new hardware integrators to the world of Surface, anxiously expecting to grow its market share. “Interested partners should go to the Microsoft Partner Network Device Partner Portal and contact an Authorized Device Distributor to learn how to become a partner”, the company’s Brian Hall claims.

As for Hub that was recently announced, that will be delayed. “We started taking pre-orders on July 1 and we’ve seen strong demand out of the gate. Based on the early interest we see, we’re tuning our manufacturing process to prepare for production at broader scale. To do this, we are adjusting our product roll-out schedule to ensure we deliver a great customer experience and set our partners up for success. We will not start shipping on September 1 now. We’ll have more details on our updated shipment schedule in early August. In the meantime, we will continue to take pre-orders”.

Windows 10 Gets an Official Release Date

Windows logo blueMicrosoft is probably in a bit of a hurry to release its next version of Windows. After all, the current installment of the venerable operating system, Windows 8, hasn’t been well received. And while in some ways, Microsoft deserves credit for trying to break with old ways in the design of 8, the company was also smart to realize that it had some work to do in bringing the next iteration of Windows to market.

Windows 10 (Microsoft has curiously skipped over Windows 9) has been in the beta oven for awhile. And it looks like Microsoft believes its newest operating system has been baked long enough. Today, the Redmond, WA based technology giant announced that Windows 10 will be officially released on July 29th. Windows 10 will not only run on laptop and desktop computers but it’ll also power a plethora of mobile phones and tablets as well as other connected “Internet of Things” devices. Windows 10 is also planned to work on Microsoft’s new Hololens augmented-realty headset as well as the Xbox gaming console.

Windows 8 users who miss the familiar Start Menu function that Microsoft first implemented in Windows 95 will be happy to know that this function is returning with Windows 10. And while it may seem as tho Microsoft is looking backward with this move, the company is also trying some new initiatives that are true firsts; Windows 10 will be released as a free download even tho all previous Windows upgrades had to be paid for. Also, Microsoft is offering tools to developers to help them port apps from platforms such as iOS and Android to Windows 10. This could greatly increase the number of apps available to Windows mobile devices, which is important as the overall lack of developer support for the platform has led to slow adoption rates among consumers.

Check our the official Windows 10 website to learn more about how you can make the upgrade next month.

PlayStation and Xbox Live Experiencing Outages

Sony PlayStation LogoThere’s a reason why you had difficulties accessing Sony’s online PlayStation store and Microsoft’s Xbox Live network during Christmas. Each has been experiencing disruptions from a DDoS attack that began on Christmas Eve, continued through Christmas Day, and is still ongoing.

The group that has claimed responsibility for the disruptions is the same one that has a history of destroying other people’s fun by making it impossible for them to access online games. This is especially problematic during Christmas as people who received new games try to get online to play them. Some have noted that Sony’s decision to let people download the controversial movie The Interview through Xbox Video could be adding to the problem.

The PlayStation Knowledge Center has mentioned the issue. At the time I am writing this, the PSN Status is “Offline”. Further information says: “We are aware that some users are experiencing difficulty logging into the PSN. We will update this article with any changes that occur in regards to this issue. Thank you for your patience.”

Similarly, Microsoft has posted some information about the outage on their Xbox Live Support page. At the time I am writing this, the Xbox Live Core Services is “Limited”. Further information says: “Xbox members, are you experiencing issues when attempting to sign in? We’re aware of this issue, and we’re working to find a fix ASAP! We appreciate your patience in the meantime, and we encourage you to retry signing in when you get a chance. We’ll update you as soon as we know more”.

Read An eBook Day

Read an ebook dayJust in case you were going to miss it, Thursday is “Read an a eBook Day“, a celebration of modern storytelling. Surprisingly, it’s not sponsored by Amazon on behalf of the Kindle but rather OverDrive whose apps let you borrow library books for free. Yes, for free.

It’s probably one of the best keep secrets in the whole tablet and ereader business. Contrary to what Amazon would  have you believe, you don’t have to buy ebooks from them as there are plenty of up-to-date novels available from your local library. The downside is that transferring books isn’t that slick and you need an ereader that’s not tied in to the Amazon ecosystem. I have a Nook, but ereaders from Sony and Kobo are supported as well, and you need to load the books via a PC rather than downloading across the Net.

If you have tablet, it’s much easier as the OverDrive app is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms. Check the appropriate app store or else try OverDrive‘s web site. Once you have the app, all that’s needed is a membership of a library and you can download directly from your library to your tablet.

Instead of “Read an eBook Day”, Thursday should be “Read a Free eBook from your Local Library Day”.

Will we see a stand-alone Kinect for Xbox One in October?

XBox One Game Console

XBox One Game Console

When the Xbox One debuted in the latter part of last year it came with a Kinect by default. There are many good reasons to have that feature, as well. It brings voice control and facial recognition to the gaming console, not to mention enhanced play on some games.

However, Microsoft relented under the weight of  a ew, but loud, naysayers and released a version of the box that doesn’t include the Kinect. There was a reason — it also saves buyers $100, which isn’t small change when you’re shopping.

Now, for those who chose to spare their wallets and purchase the console without the Kinect, Microsoft may have a solution, just in case you regretted the decision. A stand-alone Xbox One Kinect is rumored to be going up for sale in October of this year. According to CVG the device will be priced at $149, meaning it will set you back a bit more in the long run than if you had just bought the bundle.

The rumor, which is likely a possibility, brings Kinect to those who somehow thought they didn’t need it, only to discover that the device actually makes the console, and the games, more useful.

Panasonic 7″ Windows Toughpad

Panasonic LogoPanasonic’s Toughbooks are legendary for their ruggedness and are used by armed forces world-over. Panasonic have now turned their attention to tablets with a line of Toughpads and on show here is a new 7″ Windows 8.1 tablet. Panasonic’s Toughpad Product Manager Dan Diliberti takes Todd and Don through it.

Running the latest Intel Core i5, the FZ-M1 is currently the only 7″ Windows 8.1 tablet on the market. As you’ll see from the video, there’s a dockable keyboard and there is also a pile of expansion options including desktop dock, bar code scanners and smart card readers.

Devices like the FZ-M1 don’t come cheap, with a base price of US$2099, but if it’s the kind of device you need, it’s worth every penny.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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HP Goes Large with the Z1 at CES

HP logoHP has announced the second generation of its Z1 high performance all-in-one workstation, with a 27″ ten-point touchscreen running Windows 8. The Z1 G2 is aimed squarely at power users, featuring 4th Generation Intel Xeon and Core processors, and RAID storage options paired with the latest NVIDIA Mobile Quadro GPUs for the best graphics performance. It also comes with Intel Thunderbolt 2 ports.

Since its launch in 2012, the highly acclaimed HP Z1 has opened the eyes and ears of customers hoping to solve business problems no longer being met by current vendors,” said Jim Zafarana, vice president and general manager, Commercial Solutions Business Unit, HP. “Today’s professionals demand high-performance products that are serviceable and easy-to-use, all wrapped in a sleek and elegant design.

HP Z1 G2

The Z1 G2 comes equipped with Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, for data transfer speeds four times that of USB 3.0. That’s nippy. To round out the high spec, the Z1’s audio capabilities aren’t too shabby either with dual-tone, front-facing speakers and DTS Studio Sound Audio. Overall, this is a beast of a machine.

The new HP Z1 G2 workstation is expected to be available in late January, with prices starting at US$1,999.

Kurt DelBene to Manage HealthCare.gov

Microsoft logoIt has been reported, many times, that the HealthCare.gov website has problems. Perhaps a former Microsoft executive can help fix it! The Obama administration has tapped Kurt DelBene to manage HealthCare.gov.

He will serve as an unpaid senior advisor. DelBene will serve in this role starting December 17, 2013, and will continue until the end of June of 2014. There is potential that he could stay on for a longer period of time.

According to the Microsoft website, Kurt DelBene retired from Microsoft effective December 16, 2013. He was president of the Microsoft Office Division. Previous to that, he was the senior vice president for the Microsoft Business Division. He joined Microsoft in 1992.

The Department of Health and Human Services announcement states that Kurt DelBene will be working closely with United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. He will also work with the White House and the teams and senior leadership that is in place at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Microsoft Loses Top Engineer as they Scramble for CEO Closure

MicrosoftLast week I was at Ford for a press event. I got to talk directly to Ford CEO Alan Mulally (he was interested in my Google Glass). I didn’t ask about the Microsoft offer because that was covered in the press bombardment earlier — which he side-stepped the answer. But now, Microsoft is facing a new issue as a top Microsoft engineer Blaise Agüera y Arcas has announced he is joining Google. Will more follow?

Blaise has been with Microsoft since 2006 when his company (Seadragon) was acquired. Arcas was a lead software architect on Bing Maps photosynth software. In a blog post confirming his departure, Arcas said this was “The hardest decision of my life.”

Writings on the Wall?

Alan-Mulally-FordIf Mulally doesn’t head to Microsoft, the company will be in a very bad spot for the start of 2014. Most other CEO avenues have been closed up – most recently Steve Mollenkopf of Qualcomm as he accepted the CEO role there. With Microsoft being the world’s largest software maker, you don’t want to have an unidentified road map coming into Q1.

Add to that the bad year that Microsoft had. Windows 8.1 was lack-luster, the Surface tablet was not what they expected in sales, and phone sales are not even competing with the iPhone. Even the XBox One is having a hard time catching up to PS4 sales.

So with all this data, how will other employees react? Will we start to see a ship jump as the month goes on?

If Microsoft can’t get a CEO that can handle the job by January, we could start seeing employees sprucing up their resumes. Other names in the CEO hunt are former Skype CEO Tony Bates and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.

Some have even suggested Bill Gates come back and help in these questionable times. If the other avenues turn to be dead ends, would Gates come back?

In the meantime, reports of Ford hosting their own analyst meeting to figure out the direction if Mulally steps down. There are rumors he could step down as Ford CEO even if he doesn’t take the role at Microsoft. CFO Bob Shanks will address those issues next week.

Third of Desktops Still On Windows XP

Microsoft Windows LogoThe team at Net Market Share have released their statistics for November and shockingly, over 30% of desktop Internet users are still using Windows XP. The 12-year old OS will lose all support from Microsoft in four month’s time, after which XP machines will not receive any further security updates and will become vulnerable to newly discovered exploits. XP’s market share is dropping, albeit slowly, with about 8% loss in the last year, but it’s clear that there is still going to be a large XP presence on the Internet come April 2014.

Windows 7 desktops make up the bulk of browsers with over 46% and the total for Windows 8.x clocks in at a little under 10%. Windows 8.1 only accounted for 2.6% which isn’t entirely unsurprising given that it was only released in mid-October. Here’s the top 5 desktop OS, courtesy of Net Market Share.

  1. Windows 7: 46.64%
  2. Windows XP: 31.22%
  3. Windows 8: 6.66%
  4. Windows Vista: 3.57%
  5. Windows 8.1: 2.64%

On the tablet and smartphone front, iOS and Android are pretty much the only shows in town, with 55% and 34% respectively. All the other OSes scored less then 5%, with Symbian still showing 3%. Windows Phone is at 0.67% but it is up from 0.50% in October. Blackberry continues to fall, down to 1.65% from 2.55% the previous month.

Here’s the top 5 mobile OS.

  1. iOS: 55.17%
  2. Android: 33.89%
  3. Java ME: 4.49%
  4. Symbian: 3.12%
  5. BlackBerry: 1.65%

If I read the accompanying information, these figures are gathered from approx 160 million visitors per month from Net Market Share’s network of clients and customers so it should be a fair reflection of the real world. There’s more detail here.