This Week in Tech 623: Binders Full of CEOs

Disney will build a Star Wars-themed hotel where each guest gets a story. Uber says they are getting lots of applications for their open CEO post, but nobody big seems interested. Apple iPhone 8 rumors abound. Google is trying to eliminate Zika by releasing 20 million bacteria-infected mosquitos in Fresno, CA. Amazon is creating a new messaging app called Anytime. Prime Day was Amazon’s biggest sales day ever, and Best Buy stock dropped $1 billion over the rumor that Amazon is developing a Geek Squad competitor. If you don’t want Homeland Security to scan your face, you shouldn’t travel. Windows Phone 8.1 is dead. US welcomes Afghan girls robotics team, and the “world’s first robot lawyer” – meanwhile, Elon Musk warns that we need AI regulation sooner rather than later.

• Devindra Hardawar is still mad that new iPhones have no headphone jack.
• Georgia Dow needs a house with two VR rooms.
• Jill Duffy is learning Romanian on Duolingo.

A year after its demise, Windows XP still has more users than Windows 8 and 8.1 combined

With the upcoming anniversary of Windows XP reaching the end of its life, the OS still has more users than Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 combined.

According to NetMarketShare, Windows XP still holds a market share of 16.94% as of March 2015. In the same report it shows that Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 hold a combined market share of 14.07%. While Windows XP narrowly holds on to its pole position, its gradual decline suggests that users are finally ready to let go of the antiquated operating system.

The results above are a far cry from the numbers that we saw in a similar report in September 2014. Data for August indicated that XP still had a fairly large following at 23.89%.

We can reasonably expect that Windows 8.1, Windows 8, and Windows XP will see a heavy decline in market share when the much-anticipated Windows 10 makes its debut during the summer. Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 users for the first year.

via A year after its demise, Windows XP still has more users than Windows 8 and 8.1 combined.

Say goodbye to VLC as Windows 8.1 gets native MKV support

Xbox One received native Matroska Multimedia Container (MKV) file support earlier this year and now, Microsoft has extended support to its current operating system. As of writing, those running Windows 8.1 can play MKV files without having to download a third-party media player.

MKV files are often associated with pirated movies and television shows found on BitTorrent and other popular file-sharing platforms. Windows’ lack of native support for MVK has led to the popularity of standalone media players like VLC but that could soon change.

By baking support right into Windows, Microsoft is also giving the open standard container a much-needed boost of legitimacy. And while some may argue that support has arrived a bit late with Windows 10 looming on the horizon, it’s better late than never in my book.

Speaking of, Windows 10 will also carry native MKV support in addition to support for Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) files. FLAC is a lossless audio compression format that provides much higher audio quality compared to lossy formats like MP3. Despite being around since 2001, it still hasn’t really taken off even with the advent of high-quality streaming sources and dedicated FLAC audio players.

As for MKV support in Windows 8.1, it’s worth pointing out that it’s still limited by the operating system’s codec and subtitle support. I haven’t tried it out yet but if it’s just terrible, I suppose VLC is always an option

via Say goodbye to VLC as Windows 8.1 gets native MKV support – TechSpot.

Surging Windows 8.1 overtakes Windows XP usage

Microsoft is doing a fine job of burying Windows XP, but still has a long way to go toward getting people onto the latest version of its operating system.

According to Statcounter, usage of Windows 8.1 narrowly overtook Windows XP in November. That’s partly due to record growth for Windows 8.1, which went from 9.31 percent in October to 10.95 percent last month. Windows XP usage also continued to plummet in its seventh full month without Microsoft support, dropping from 11.95 percent to 10.69 percent.

Further reading: The Windows 8.1 Update finally makes Microsoft’s Metro future PC-friendly

Windows 8.1 is likely benefiting from the back-to-school season, as most new PCs are shipping with the operating system on board. Some Windows 8 users may still be getting around to the free upgrade as well, as Windows 8 usage dropped from 5.94 percent to 4.9 percent in November.

But none of this activity appears to be harming Windows 7, whose usage increased for the second straight month. The five-year-old operating system now accounts for 50.34 percent of desktop usage, so it’s the most popular desktop OS by far.

Another metrics firm, Netmarketshare, also recorded share increases for both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 last month, but still shows Windows XP ahead of the latest version by a narrow margin, despite plummeting usage for the ancient OS. It seems likely that Windows 8.1 will land on top for both metrics firms within a month or two.

The story behind the story: On some level, Microsoft is happy as long as it’s selling licenses. (In its push to kill XP, the company has encouraged users to consider either Windows 7 or Windows 8.) But of course, Microsoft would prefer to get users onto the latest version, which is tied more deeply into services like OneDrive and Bing. Expect a major upgrade offensive against Windows 7 next year, with rumors of free or cheap consumer upgrades to the more desktop-friendly Windows 10.

via Surging Windows 8.1 overtakes Windows XP usage | PCWorld.

3 things to consider before ditching your laptop for a tablet

For a few years now I’ve been watching tablets develop into ever more potent machines, with an eye towards making the jump from a laptop to a slate for my mobile workstation. Sure, people have been working on iPads for years, but until recently it’s always seemed like a bit of a hack to me.

But between a legion of slimmed-down, powered-up Windows tablets hitting the streets and the increasing performance of the iPad, the day may soon come when I officially make the leap. And PCWorld senior editor Mark Hachman has already embraced the Surface Pro 3 for work and for play.

If you’ve been thinking about making the switch too, here’s a look at three features to keep top of mind when pondering the jump from a clamshell to a tablet.

What’s your platform?

The first thing you must decide on is which platform you want to use on your tablet: Android, iOS, or Windows. This comes down to a mix of personal choice and what you need your new mobile workstation to do. If all you need is Microsoft Office, for example, then a Windows tablet would suit you best—although the Office apps are also on the iPad if you have an Office 365 subscription. (Android tablet versions are not yet available.)

But if you work mostly in the cloud with Google Apps or something similar, then your choices get much wider since all you need is a modern browser.

At this point you can start to look at the app catalogs for each platforms to see what appeals to you.

But don’t forget about the power of the Windows desktop over mobile apps. If you’re buying an Intel-based tablet like the new 13-inch Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 with Windows, you can get the convenience of the traditional desktop OS as well as Microsoft’s new touch interface. Only Windows 8 tablets can run desktop PC programs, though they aren’t touch-optimized like Windows Store apps or the apps available for Android or iOS.

Try that keyboard, and maybe a mouse?

If you think the on-screen keyboard is going to be good enough for productivity you’re kidding yourself. The fact is you’ll need some kind of physical keyboard to get some serious work done.

Tablets like the Surface Pro 3 and the aforementioned Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 both work with optional keyboard covers, for example. If at all possible you should try out these kinds of keyboards before you buy to make sure they’ll work for you. A wide variety of third-party keyboard accessories with a far-reaching range of features are also available for iPads and Android tablets, however.

Also, if you’re going to need a mouse for your tablet, then you’re looking at a Windows slate.

All about storage

So now you’ve got your tablet picked out and the keyboard works, but what are you going to do about file storage? Do you even need additional storage? All tablets come with at least 16GB of storage and if you’re going for a Windows tablet then you’re often looking at about 64GB minimum, though some newer ultra-low-cost Windows tablets have only 32GB.

If you need more than that, then it’s time to look at pricier step-up models with increased onboard storage, or tablets with SD card slots so you can store your less frequently files on a small external drive.

Alternatively, tablets are a natural candidate for cloud storage where you can upload, download, and stream files at will. Microsoft recently announced that OneDrive would soon offer unlimited storage to Office 365 subscribers. With Office 365 Personal subscriptions priced at $70 a year that means you get full access to Microsoft Office on one PC plus one iPad or Windows tablet and all the cloud storage you could possibly need. Microsoft’s new unlimited cloud offering is still rolling out, so at first you may be stuck with just a measly 1 TB of storage, the current standard for Office 365 subscribers.

If you need access to your music library you could also augment OneDrive with Google’s free Play Music storage locker that lets you put up to 20,000 songs in the cloud for free. Both Google Drive and Dropbox have recently slashed the price of their cloud storage services, offering 1TB of Internet-based storage for $10 per month. Relying on cloud storage means you’ll need a consistent Internet connection, however.

Those are just the basics for the laptop-to-tablet switch. Windows tablet users may also want to consider the number and type of USB ports, and if you do a lot presentations then Lenovo’s Android flavor of the Yoga Tablet 2 and its built-in pico projector may be just the tablet you need.

via 3 things to consider before ditching your laptop for a tablet | PCWorld.

The end of an era: Windows 7 consumer PCs halt production this Friday

This year, Halloween will be scarier than usual for PC fans. Friday, October 31 is the final day that Microsoft will sell Windows 7 licenses to PC makers (OEMs in industry parlance), per Microsoft’s lifecycle fact sheet.

After Friday it’s all about Windows 8.1, at least for the consumer market.

PCs with Windows 7 Professional will continue to be produced for businesses, as well as anyone else willing to pay a premium for the deluxe model of Windows 7. But OEMs won’t have access to Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate licenses after this work week.

Why this matters: With its heavy emphasis on the Start screen, touch interaction, and the new Modern UI, many longtime desktop users—not to mention IT departments—were reluctant to move to Windows 8.1. Until now, the escape route for anyone in need of a new PC without Windows 8 was Windows 7. But that easy out could soon disappear. It’s no coincidence Microsoft unveiled the much more desktop-friendly Windows 10 mere weeks before the retail death of Windows 7.

Business as usual

Microsoft has not yet set a date for the end of Windows 7 Professional and it’s unlikely we’ll see any changes in that position before the release of Windows 10. Businesses with managed IT departments have little interest in Windows 8, and are waiting for Windows 10, Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, told PCWorld.

As for the PCs sold at your local Best Buy or Staples, Moorhead says the OEMs he’s spoken with aren’t worried about the end of Windows 7. “They are shipping a clear majority of their consumer PCs with Windows 8 already,” he said.

Not everyone thinks a post-Windows 7 pre-install world will be rosy, however.

“I think the OEMs are sad about this,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group said. “The ability to provide Windows 7 Home has provided a nice incremental sales opportunity to those who were nervous or unhappy about Windows 8, especially for the desktop market where Windows 7 has proven to be a nice alternative to Windows 8.”

Not quite dead yet

OEMs may not be able to get new Windows 7 licenses as of Friday, but for the time being you’ll still be able to buy a PC with the OS pre-installed. How long that will last depends on how many Windows 7 PCs retailers are willing to keep in stock—and how many computers OEMs are able to pump out before Friday.

Even if it does get harder to find a Windows 7 PC in the next few weeks, don’t despair. With the holiday season approaching, it’s likely retailers and OEMs have a few deals planned for PCs loaded with Windows 7.

via The end of an era: Windows 7 consumer PCs halt production this Friday | PCWorld.

Windows 8.1 overtakes Windows 8 worldwide, as Windows XP ‘refuses to die’

Microsoft staff will likely be raising a glass or two, thanks to the latest available data.

According to new data released by StatCounter on Tuesday, the latest version of Windows 8.1 has overtaken its predecessor Windows 8 for the first time, in terms of internet usage worldwide.

The research firm’s data shows Windows 8.1 has grown steadily to 7.5 percent in August, passing Windows 8’s share of 6.6 percent. In the UK market the software giant’s operating system (covering desktops, tablets, and consoles) surpassed its older sibling in April, with the US following a month later in May.

By comparison, Apple’s latest versions of OS X have a combined share of 7.8 percent — a speck compared to Windows’ overall reach.

“Following a mixed reaction to Windows 8, perhaps because of its radical new look, Windows 8.1 appears to be winning over users,” StatCounter’s chief executive Aodhan Cullen said in prepared remarks.

Windows 7 remains the world’s global leader in the operating system space, data from the company suggests, with just over 50 percent of the internet usage share.

But StatCounter data should always be taken with a pinch of salt, as ZDNet’s Ed Bott previously explained. Compared to the latest Net Applications’ data, which is generally considered to be stronger overall data, Windows 8 has a 6.3 percent share, while Windows 8.1 has a 7.1 percent share — totaling 13.4 percent.

Another nugget from the research shows that Windows XP “refuses to die,” in the company’s words, standing strong in second-place behind Windows 7 with a share of 12.9 percent. That’s in spite of Microsoft ending support for the decade-old operating system earlier this year in April.

Europe holds about 10.6 percent of the share, with the UK holding about half that.

via Windows 8.1 overtakes Windows 8 worldwide, as Windows XP ‘refuses to die’ | ZDNet.

The lay(wo)man’s review of the Surface Pro 3

Reviewing gadgets is a lot of fun but it can be an overwhelming experience too. The amount of time that goes into using a product and then thinking through all the use-cases and trying to simulate (or at least try to empathize with) those can be cumbersome and frankly, it can give you tunnel-vision about the purpose of a device or its target market.

This past week my wife, Corrine, took the Pro 3 on a business trip and she has provided her feedback of the device that, I believe, provides a more genuine look at the device than you can get from someone who makes a living critiquing devices.

Before we start, I should point out that my wife is not a technology enthusiast. If you ask her what Threshold is, she would say that it is the piece of wood between our kitchen that has tile and our dining room that has wood floors. She does not care about Windows Phone GDRs and if something isn’t working correctly on the PC, she yells at me for breaking it. Corrine, in short, is a perfect example of the average consumer who is (luckily?) married to someone who has documented her use of the device at a conference in Texas.

I charged up the Pro 3, gave it to my wife and off she went – alone in the wild with Windows 8.1, a Pro 3 and what I hoped would be enough training on how to use the pen to not get a frantic call that she somehow keeps launching OneNote by accident.

The Pros:

The form factor is fantastic for using at a conference. Corrine took tons of notes and to no surprise, the Pro 3 was ideal. The battery life was more than adequate and the Type Cover worked quite well as a keyboard. Pen input felt natural and OneNote, which my wife had not used much previously, received high praise for its organizational features.

The high-resolution screen was easy on the eyes and allowed her to get everything she needed on to the screen. The device also allowed her to leave the iPad at home as the Pro 3 filled both needs while traveling; tablet for watching movies and laptop for getting work done.

Using the device on her lap worked quite well too when taking notes and she had no issues with the stability of the device on her legs. She did not mention any issues about performance, which I interpret to mean that the device had no issues running the tasks she threw at it.

The Cons:

Of the things that she did not like about the device, most notable was that the pen was heavy. I should point out that Corrine has small hands and generally uses pen and paper but I thought that was an interesting issue as for me, the pen weight is fine. Also, she wanted the ability to re-map the buttons on the pen to have one button turn the pen into a highlighter.

Other complaints were that the track pad was not easy to use and that if she were to use her mouse, then the only USB port would be occupied, leaving no space to plug in a USB drive to share documents.

The on-screen keyboard was not responsive to the content that was shown, having to manually launch the keyboard is a step-backwards compared to the iPad.

The bottom line:

The interesting thing about Corrine taking the Pro 3 is that she had been using an iPad/laptop setup for years. So, to even think about wanting to use the Pro 3 set me back a little bit but it paid off. She loved the Pro 3, but more so, her co-workers who traveled with her loved it as well – so much so, in fact, that her department is looking into purchasing a few, which is the ultimate win for Microsoft, when it comes to people trying out their device.

The fact that the Pro 3 met the needs of my wife while traveling and that she would recommend the device to others – over an iPad and laptop setup – is precisely the kind of scenario that Microsoft would have hoped for when developing the device. The previous iterations, like the Surface RT or Pro 2, did not receive such praise from her as the Pro 3.

Full Story: The lay(wo)man’s review of the Surface Pro 3 – Neowin.

New Start menu leaks in Windows build 9788

Well, it looks like the leaks are starting to flow – or else someone has decided to spend an unhealthy amount of time building an elaborate Start menu replica. As you can see in the image above, the Start menu is there but it’s not all that exciting as we have seen most of this before.

We do know that this is still an early build of next generation of Windows and we will have more to report on that tomorrow. So, don’t get too caught up in the minor details as there will be other enhancements to the desktop before Threshold is released.

One item about the image that was throwing off users previously is that is says Win 8.1 Pro in the bottom corner. We have spoken to a source close to Microsoft who says that this image appears to be legitimate, and that these builds inside of Microsoft still use this branding, so this is not a big deal.

This build 9788 is said to be floating around the web but has not been properly leaked for all of us to enjoy. Considering that the images are starting to surface at various points across the web, the build will likely leak in the near future.

via New Start menu leaks in Windows build 9788 – Neowin.

Windows 8.1 users won’t receive any more patches unless spring update is installed

Microsoft is staying true to a promise it delivered all the way back in April: Windows 8.1 users who have yet to install the Windows 8.1 Update released this spring won’t be able to download today’s Patch Tuesday updates—or any future Patch Tuesday updates—until they get around to upgrading their operating system.

The threat only applies to Windows 8.1 users. If you’re still on Windows 8, 7, or Vista, you should continue receiving patches normally. You can see whether you’re running Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 by opening the Charms bar, heading to PC Settings > PC and devices > PC info, and looking under the “Windows” section.

If you’re on a Windows 8.1 system without the Spring Update, your computer won’t automatically download today’s patches via Windows Update. Furthermore, if you’ve altered your system settings to manually select which patches to install, you won’t even see today’s patches in Windows Update, a Microsoft spokesperson tells CNET. Don’t try to get clever, either: Trying to install the updates manually will result in a failed installation.

Microsoft postponed this deadline once, as the Windows 8.1 support end date was originally supposed to die out in May.

Most Windows users should have received the Windows 8.1 Update when it was released in April, assuming you haven’t changed the default option to install Windows updates automatically. And if you chose not to install the update, well, what are you waiting for? The Spring Update makes Microsoft’s Metro vision truly PC-friendly for the first time, by dynamically adjusting its interface and behavior to let a PC be a PC and a tablet be a tablet. Plug in a mouse and you’ll get a desktop-focused experience; touchscreen users will stick to Windows 8.1’s usual finger-friendly design.

It’s great. And if that carrot doesn’t sway you to install the Windows 8.1 Spring Update, the “No more updates” stick certainly should.

via Windows 8.1 users won’t receive any more patches unless spring update is installed | PCWorld.