Not happy with the look of Windows 8.x? Make it resemble Ubuntu

While reviews of Windows 8.x have been mixed, it seems there is a perception problem with the general public about Microsoft’s latest operating system. Version 8 was largely hated, and 8.1 only went so far in fixing those issues. The company plans to go further when “Threshold”, or Windows 9, debuts later this year.

However, if you’d like to at least change the look of the OS, you can get a taste of Linux with an Ubuntu theme for it. Ubuntu is perhaps the most universally loved consumer version of Linux, though Mint has been gaining steam recently. It has a beautiful user interface that makes it consumer-friendly.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to actually install Linux, or learn all of the associated commands — a theme called Mavericks (ironically the same as the latest OS X) can go over top of Windows 8 and just make it look as if you are running the rival operating system.

It’s a free to download and install, though a premium version is available for a mere $1.35, which is a small price to pay by any app or software standard. The theme was created by the good folks over at Deviant Art and can be found here. You’ll also want to read the detailed instructions and get the visual style information.

maverick_8_1_for_windows_8_1_by_dpcdpc11-d7voprz

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.

Roccat Woos Gamers at CES

Roccat LogoHardware outfit Roccat Studios are dropping a whole bunch of new toys at CES  for the hardcore gamer, including headphones, mice and keyboards. Known for their signature Kone gaming mouse, the new products look the business.

First up are two additions to the Roccat range of mice. On the left, there’s the new Kone XTD Optical which has a 6,400 dpi optical sensor. If my maths is right, that means you can move the mouse just 4 micrometers and the movement will be picked up. That’s tiny – a piece of paper is about 90 micrometers thick. On the right, it’s the Kone Pure Military, coming in three different designs – Desert Strike, Naval Storm and Camo Charge. I like the look of these! The Pure Military “only” has a 5,000 dpi optical sensor. Both mice have Roccat’s tracking and distance control unit (TDCU) for more precise gaming and greater accuracy.

Kone XTD Optical Mouse      Kone Pure Military Mouse

 

Next are two additions to the Ryos keyboard range, the TKL and TKL Pro. Both are compact keyboards without the numeric keypad and the Pro version comes with per-key illumination and effects such as “breathing” and four different switch colours. As you’d expect from any serious gaming keyboard, keys can easily be programmed with macros and there are three additional programmable thumbster keys below the space bar.

Ryos TKL Keyboard

Finally, two new Kave XTD headsets have been announced – the 5.1 Analog and the Stereo. The 5.1 Analog is the successor to the original Kave 5.1 and is made for gamers who already have a 5.1 soundcard, with both audio jacks and USB connectors to power up the in-cable remote and LED lighting. Weight has been reduced by 25% while improving comfort and build quality.

The XTD Stereo has same design and build, with a pair of driver units giving rich gaming stereo sound. The noise-cancelling microphone can be removed when not required and the mute LED can silence the microphone at inappropriate moments.

Kave XTD Headset

 

Prices were not disclosed at time of announcement, but you can learn more at Roccat’s showroom in the Venetian Hotel during CES 2014.

 

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.

Logitech m560 Wireless Mouse Review

Logitech LogoThis is the era of the touch user interface with smartphones and tablets present in large percentages of households in the US and Europe. Microsoft has taken touch to the heart of Windows 8 which is great if the device has a touch screen but an exercise in frustration if it doesn’t. However, all is not lost, as a mouse such as the Logitech m560 can take away a good chunk of the Windows 8 pain. Hurrah!

The Logitech m560 Wireless Mouse is a full size mouse primarily aimed at desktop users, though it will work with any USB-equipped computer, whether desktop, laptop or tablet. The m560 is sold in two versions, one black and one white, and obviously the one reviewed here is the white one. The mouse is packaged in an easy-to-open blister pack and inside there’s a mouse, nano receiver, AA battery and instructions, which are worth a quick glance to understand the considerable capabilities of the m560.

Logitech m560 Mouse Blister Pack

Once freed from the packaging, the nano transceiver must be slotted into an empty USB port. Once that’s done and the mouse has been turned on via the underside button, the m560 is good to go. The battery is even pre-installed. As usual with the Logitech mice, the nano receiver can be stored in the battery compartment for safe-keeping.

Logitech m560 mouse

The Logitech m560 is a 5 button mouse with a scroll wheel. There are the standard two buttons on the unbroken top surface, a third button behind the click wheel and the two buttons the left side of the body. The scroll wheel can switch between a click mode and and a free-wheeling mode, which allows super fast scrolling. The overall shape of the mouse is symmetric so will suit both left and right handed users, though the extra two side buttons are best used by the thumb on the right hand.

The m560 is designed to overcome the main irritations of using Windows 8 on a non-touch device. Pressing the middle button behind the scroll wheel initiates a swipe in, so pressing the button then moving the mouse to the right will bring up the Charms bar. The same button and moving to the left will bring up the Apps bar. The button towards the front toggles between the new Windows 8 Start menu and the traditional view. The other button clears the current windows away and shows the desktop. When the Windows 8 Start menu is shown, the scroll wheel shifts the menu left and right. All of these actions make Windows 8 easier to use.

The m560 works well too with Windows 7 and Vista, though clearly the actions will be slightly different.

How does it feel? I really liked the Logitech m560. The white surface has a matte, almost egg-shell finish to it and I loved the way it fitted in my hand. The free-wheel mode for the scroll wheel was a revelation as I had never previously used a mouse with this feature and, boy, you can whizz through long documents. The additional buttons make Windows 8 a pleasure to use on a non-touch device so the m560 is highly recommended under these circumstances. Overall, if we did product ratings on GNC, I’d give it 5 stars.

The Logitech m560 wireless mouse is available from all good retailers with a list price of GB £34.99 or US $39.99.

Thanks to Logitech for the loan of the review device.

A Microsoft Future

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

Microsoft gameplans for 2013 holiday season

surface-pro-2

The holiday shopping season approaches quickly, with Black Friday now showing on the current calendar page. Retailers and manufacturers alike are prepping offerings for eager shoppers and Microsoft is a big part of this. With revamped Windows, Xbox and Surface tablets, the company has big plans for your wallet in 2013, and those plans have been laid out for all to see.

After last year’s public perception problem caused by Windows 8, and poor Surface sales, the company has reinvented both products, and getting touch into your daily computing life is now on the collective Microsoft brain. The software giant aims to sell 16 million tablets this season and make touch a feature of new desktop and laptop computers found under trees in 2013.

To accomplish this lofty aspiration, a rather large perception problem must be overcome. Windows 8 suffers from an image breakdown, after a vocal group of critics attacked the operating system for perceived shortcomings and YouTube videos depicted inept users attempting to find the Start button and app location. Surface was greeted by a group of fans, but not enough of them to overcome the sales number problems.

Microsoft insider Paul Thurrott explains part of the plan — “A big part of Microsoft’s plans, of course, is to turn the PC aisle hell holes you see today in physical stores into clean, uncluttered and welcoming Windows centers. To this end, Microsoft has created store-within-a-store locations in Best Buy other premium retailers, and has provided other retailers with updated retail kits”.

It will certainly take a Herculean effort from the software giant to get this ship righted, but there is an ace in the hole. The Xbox 360 has remained an incredibly popular product throughout its lifecycle, and the upcoming release of the brand new Xbox One hopes to light up the shopping season with anxious parents scouring store in search of the console. It may be Microsoft’s best bet.

Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 Review

Wireless mice are commonplace these days but many only work with their own brand wireless transceiver, which restricts their use to devices equipped with USB ports. Less common are Bluetooth-based mice which have the potential to work with any Bluetooth-equipped unit, including Android and iOS tablets, potentially making them much more useful. On review here is one such mouse, the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000. Snappy name, but let’s take a look.

The 5000 is fairly typical of notebook mice being smaller than a typical desktop mouse at only 9 cm long and about 5.5 cm wide. People with large hands may find the mouse is too small but for occasional use with a tablet or notebook, it’s fine. I certainly wouldn’t want it as my main mouse as I can’t really rest my hand on it, but this is all subjective and some people may find it perfect.

image

Looks-wise, it’s not a Microsoft Arc or a Logitech Ultrathin, but it’s not entirely unattractive. This is the version with silvery-white buttons and dark gray body; there is a version with these colours reversed too. The silver matched my Samsung Chromebook rather nicely but the colour does vary with the light.

Two Duracell AA batteries power the 5000, which are supplied in the packaging and Duracell’s make a welcome change from the generic AAs that usually accompany remote controls and other battery-powered accessories. There’s an on/off switch on the bottom to conserve power when not in use. I’ve been using the mouse for about a week and I’ve yet to replace the batteries.

To pair the mouse, there’s a second button on the underside that needs to be pressed for a few seconds to put the mouse into a pairing mode. After that, the mouse should appear in the device list of whatever computer is to connect to the mouse. I successfully paired with an Android tablet, a Windows 8 tablet and a Chromebook. I imagine that it will work with iPads and other iOS devices but I didn’t have one at hand to test.

image

In use, the 5000 works pretty much like any mouse. It’s an optical mouse with a laser motion tracker so resistance will depend entirely on the surface in use. There are four buttons: left, right, middle and “back”, which is next to the main left button and can pressed by your thumb to take your web browser back a page – you can see it in the top picture. Great if you are right-handed, but a waste of time if you are left-handed. The scroll wheel has a bit of stiffness to it but I like that as it prevents accidental scrolling.

Overall, the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 is a good mouse but not a great mouse. It’s nothing special but there’s nothing wrong with it either (except for the back button only being useful to right-handed users) . The 5000 is available from all good retailers for around £25.

Disclaimer: this was a personal purchase.

Windows 8.1 Ready for Windows 8 Upgrade

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

With the biggest enticement of upgrading from Windows 8 to 8.1 being the return of the ill-fated start button, Microsoft has released the upgrade version of software. Navigating to the Windows page will get you to the download link. The only way you will get the download link (at this time) is if you are on a machine with Windows 8 installed. Otherwise it will direct you to a page to upgrade.

Upgrades for Windows 8 are free. If you have Windows 7 or earlier you will have to pay $119.99 for the update. If you want to switch from Home editions to Professional ediction, that will cost $199.99

Of course, 8.1 will also have ability to connect with XBox 360 (and XBox One when released), Skype, file access from anywhere and many more features.

Windows 8.1 also drops us deeper in the rabbit’s hole to a unified OS and forcing us to use the Metro screen more. My biggest gripe on this is programs like Skype, which lost a lot of functionality when the Metro screen upgrade came out.

Windows also took out media center. While I was promised a free upgrade back in Windows 8 (and never got it), the service is now separate from Microsoft and will cost you $99.99 to get it.

Sad.