All posts in “Windows 10”

Back from the sea, Joe Belfiore is ready to help Microsoft win

Grow the Microsoft Edge browser, expand Windows 10 and keep building cool devices. That’s was Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore’s job before he stepped away from Microsoft in October of 2015, and that’s pretty much his job today, with a few crucial enhancements. The difference, though, is what Belfiore learned during his months-long sabbatical.

Belfiore being attached to the same goals makes sense since Windows, Edge and devices remain central to the Microsoft success story. Windows 10, now two years in market, has 400 million installs and is generally well-regarded. As of Tuesday, we were on our second major update (Windows Creators Update). Microsoft Edge gets a significant refresh in this version of Windows 10, but, according to NetMarketShare, it has just 5% of the desktop browser market, trailing behind the browser it ostensibly replaced, Internet Explorer 11, and Google Chrome, which has almost 40%. 

Belfiore has his work cut out for him. 

A 25-year Microsoft veteran, Belfiore, now Corporate VP in Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group has worked on numerous parts of Microsoft’s business, including Windows, Internet Explorer, Zune, Xbox Live, its failed Windows Phone attempt (there are still whispers that a Surface Phone is coming. We’ll see), and the replacement of Internet Explorer with the Edge Browser. He chose to step away, Belfiore said, to focus on his wife and children (a 12-year-old and twin, 8-year-old girls) and spend time with them before his kids were away at college, something he announced on his Facebook page.

‘It was a great experience…I came back with a new perspective on the broad audience Microsoft serves.’

That wasn’t corporatespeak from someone quietly slinking away into the darkness, never to be seen again. Belfiore and Microsoft always planned for his return, but first there was the sea. He enrolled his children in the Semester at Sea Program on the MV World Odyssey and was allowed, along with his wife, to join them on the long-term cruise.

“It was a great experience… I came back with a new perspective on the broad audience Microsoft serves,” Belfiore told me.

Stepping back also give him an opportunity to gauge how Microsoft has changed. Ever since Satya Nadella took over as CEO in 2014, the company had appeared more focused and agile than ever before. 

Belfiore said the company made huge progress in the nine months he was gone. “The improved collaboration and customer focus has been really refreshing,” he said.

As for the challenges facing Edge, Belfiore remains confident.

“It’s true, in the browser scheme of things, we have room to grow,” admitted Belfiore. That said, there are no regrets about introducing a new browser brand, “We’re not second-guessing that. It takes educating people, but I feel righteous about it,” he said.

Edge’s growth may be hampered a bit because, according to Belfiore, most Windows 10 users (Edge ships with it) are upgraders, meaning that they maintain their system apps, including Google Chrome, if they are using it. That means they will probably still use Chrome. 

Belfiore listed all the areas where he believes Edge outperforms Chrome, including creativity, research, Ink, touch, battery consumption, and performance. The more Windows 10 consumers upgrade to new, modern devices, the more Microsoft sees “a lot more people tilting toward Edge.”

‘It’s true, in the browser scheme of things, we have room to grow.’

Belfiore was not making any promises about a sudden spike in Edge numbers, at least not in the short term. “We’re playing a long game here and are going to be focused on great user satisfaction in those scenarios,” he said.

Belfiore’s time away on the Semester at Sea ship and seeing the impact of technology on education while in the midst of a constant educational environment also had a significant impact on his role at Microsoft. He now serves as the education sponsor and advocate in the Windows team. There’s no title, but his job is to make sure that Microsoft is focusing on and responding to the education audience.

When I reminded him about the challenging environment Microsoft and Apple are facing in grade schools where Google Chromebooks and Google Docs now make up the majority of in-use platforms, Belfiore told me he gets the allure of Chromebooks for teachers and administrators. They’re inexpensive and easy to manage.

Would Microsoft consider a thin-client Windows to compete with Chrome? “If you mean an OS that doesn’t run rich Windows apps, then no,” said Belfiore. 

However, he thinks Windows and the devices its runs on are up to the Chromebook challenge. 

“We have made giant progress in Windows 10 on Creators Update,” he said. For example, the OS now boots more quickly and “it takes less memory and hard drive space, which lets the price of devices come down,” he said.

‘We have made giant progress in Windows 10 on Creators Update.’

Belfiore also pointed to sub-$200 PCs from its OEM partners (HP, Acer and Lenovo) and its new Microsoft InTune for Education cloud and device management system the company announced in January.

Belfiore added that, with these programs, Microsoft has done the work to erase the price and management advantage enjoyed by Chromebooks. At the same time, Belfiore believes very strongly that parents and teachers want their students working with systems and applications that they will be using as adults. As Belfiore sees it, that’s Windows and its full-blown Windows applications, not just thin, cloud-based clients and apps for mobile systems, like Apple iPads, that don’t feature a mouse and keyboard.

For now, Belfiore is focused on this week’s rollout of Windows 10 Creators Update, extending Edge’s reach and assisting on the creation of new and interesting Windows devices. He left Microsoft just as the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 were being released and told me that Surface Studio and Dial were already under development. Belfiore could offer no comment on the eagerly anticipated Surface Pro 5.

I also asked him about the possibility of developing a mobile version of the Edge browser, possibly for iOS. 

“We want to put customers first and it’s not something we have plans for, no announcements,” said Belfiore, “but we do recognize that we’re going to think about what they want and need. We’ll put investment where there are high value experiences.”

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Microsoft Surface Pro 5 might not be the big upgrade you’re expecting

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06 2015: Microsoft Corporate Vice President Panos Panay introduces a new tablet titled the Microsoft Surface Pro 4
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 06 2015: Microsoft Corporate Vice President Panos Panay introduces a new tablet titled the Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Image: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Microsoft won hearts far and wide last fall with its all-in-one Surface Studio touchscreen desktop PC. The beefier Surface Book, not so much.

What people really wanted was a new Surface Pro, but Microsoft wasn’t ready to announce anything. It’s now spring and technology blogger Paul Thurrott has revealed what could be the first details for the Surface Pro 5. 

Citing an insider source who’s reportedly seen the Surface Pro 5, Thurrott says the the new device might not be a major revamp and could be more like a “Surface Pro 4.5”. 

That could mean any number of things, from a design that looks the same (or very similar) to the Surface Pro 4, to minor upgrades in performance.

In addition to seventh-generation Intel “Kaby Lake” processors, the next-gen Surface Pro will reportedly use the same Surface Connect power connector.

Beyond those little nuggets, we don’t really know much else. It’ll be disappointing if Microsoft releases a new Surface Pro that’s little more than just a spec bump.

At the very least, the next Surface Pro needs to have USB-C, if only because everything’s moving towards USB-C being the one port to rule them all. We also wouldn’t mind seeing better battery life and a more sensitive Surface Pen stylus. 

Though Microsoft has yet to announce any upcoming product events, ZDNet says the company’s planning a spring event to possibly introduce the new Surface Pro and other new hardware. A Surface Book 2 and new HoloLens, however, won’t be announced at the event.

Foley also says she believes Microsoft could use the new hardware to highlight features (like Paint 3D!) from Windows 10 Creators Update, which drops on April 11.

Fingers crossed Microsoft can continue to wow with its Surface Pro, now that it’s raced by the iPad for U.S. tablet satisfaction, according to J.D. Power.

WATCH: Your behind-the-scenes look at the Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Netflix brings offline viewing to Windows 10 PCs and tablets

Netflix added support for offline viewing on iOS and Android late last year, and today it’s bringing the same feature to Windows 10, with the exception of Windows 10 mobile devices. Arriving now in the updated Windows 10 application, a subset of the Netflix catalog can be downloaded to your PC or tablet computer in order to be viewed when a network connection is not available — such as when traveling.

The addition was spotted earlier today by MSPoweruser, an unofficial source for Microsoft and Windows news.

A spokesperson for Netflix confirmed the feature saying, “Today, the Netflix app will support the downloading feature on Windows 10 laptops and tablets. We are constantly exploring new ways to make this feature available to more members and make it easier for more people to enjoy Netflix on the go.”

Similar to the launch on iOS and Android mobile devices, offline viewing is not available for just any title on Netflix, due to rights issues. Instead, the feature is limited to a mix of Netflix Originals and select licensed content.

However, because of Netflix’s vast selection of its own programming, that still means there are a lot of shows and specials that can be downloaded locally, including popular programs like Stranger Things, House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Narcos, The Crown, Bloodline, Sense8 and many others, as well as a number of specials, like live stand-up comedy specials, as well as documentaries and other Netflix films, for instance.

This offline catalog remains consistent regardless of device — iOS, Android or Windows 10 — but it may vary slightly by region, depending on licensing restrictions.

Downloading content is not difficult — in the updated app, you just tap the down arrow next to the show, movie or episode you want to watch to save it to your Windows 10 device. You also can browse for things that can be downloaded through the new section in the app, “Available for Download,” via the menu. Here, another tab called “My Downloads” will let you manage that content.

The feature is now available to users worldwide, Netflix also confirmed.

We should note that there are a few reports from early adopters that downloads are not working properly for them. When they try to download content on a supported device, they’re getting a “download error” message saying “there was a problem.” (Netflix says it’s looking into this problem, and we’ll update if it determines the issue or offers a solution.)

The Windows 10 app is available on the official Microsoft Store, here.

Image credits: Windows Central

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creators Update is an OS done right

With 400 million machines now running Windows 10, it’s proving to be an ascendant operating system, and the disastrous Windows 8 is barely a spec in Microsoft’s rear-view mirror.

Even though Windows 10 only has 19 percent of the desktop OS market, according to Net Market Share, and Windows 7 still has almost 50 percent, the momentum is clear. The Windows users who held onto Windows 95 for years, and that still cling to Windows 7 like a lifeboat in rough operating system seas, are slowly but surely migrating to what very well may be the best Windows ever. 

Each quarter, Microsoft reports adoption gains in the tens of millions. Those who feared the Start Button-less Windows 8 are embracing the software-as-service model of Windows 10 (and, of course, breathing a sigh of relief over the return of the Start menu).

The start menu is only getting better.

The start menu is only getting better.

Image: haley hamblin/mashable

It doesn’t hurt Windows 10 that Microsoft has, in recent years, paired it with some remarkable home-grown hardware: Surface Pro 4, Surface Book and the new Surface Studio.

Windows 10 is fully a touch-based, pen friendly OS that can still run just as smoothly on desktops and laptops without touchscreens or pens.

Microsoft Edge

PC Gaming

Two years into the Windows 10 experience, Microsoft, with its Windows 10 Creators Update, continues to hone and polish the OS to satisfy both sets of users, while extending into fresh and retro spaces. The former includes Microsoft’s growing interest in 3D, driven in part by the mixed reality HoloLens headset (still not available for consumers) and now represented on the desktop by a new app called 3D Paint. The latter is Edge, Microsoft’s continuing effort to win back the millions of bowser users it lost to Google Chrome. 

3D and Edge represent two of three pillars in the Windows 10 Creators Update. The third pillar is gaming. PC gaming has always been a part of the Windows experience, but this update represents Microsoft’s most aggressive efforts to break down the digital barriers between your Windows gaming rig and the console gaming experience on the Xbox. 

Getting started

Microsoft probably won’t spend a lot of time talking about its digital assistant Cortana when it officially starts shipping Windows 10 Creator’s Update on April 11, but her (the voice is female) presence is felt more strongly than ever. During the OS update, Cortana guides you, asking questions about system setup that you can answer without hitting the keyboard. There are, obviously, still portions where keystrokes are required, but this early Cortana participation may help those who have been ignoring it finally develop a relationship with Microsoft’s digital assistant.

An operating system is a complicated piece of software, responsible for managing the front and back end of your system experience. With each update, Microsoft adjusts thousands of things, some big, but most tiny and unnoticeable — or only noticed after careful examination.

For the purposes of this review, I’m focusing on the noticeable highlights.

Windows 10 Creators Edition was fast, nimble and remarkably stable. I never hit a blue screen during testing, which is saying something for a Windows system. In this case, all my testing was done on a Surface Book with Performance Base running discrete NVidia graphics.

Microsoft Edge

A few years ago, Microsoft finally gave up on Internet Explorer and built a new web browser from scratch. This was a risky move because, for better or worse, there were people devoted to the buggy, slow Internet Explorer, and starting over would mean Microsoft’s browser market share would reset to ZERO.

To make matters worse, early versions of Microsoft Edge were a little buggy and not exactly full featured. It took almost a full year for Microsoft to finally add browser extension support. (Last Pass finally works!)

Even though Microsoft Edge is Windows 10’s default browser, Edge only has, according to Net Market Share, 5.5 percent of the desktop browser market. Chrome has more than 58 percent and, yes, Internet Explorer still has almost 20 percent. That’s probably because IE still ships with Windows 10, you just have to know where to look for it.

Microsoft Edge can double as an ebook reader interface.

Microsoft Edge can double as an ebook reader interface.

Image: screenshot

Microsoft would, obviously, like to turn those numbers around, which is why a chunk of Windows 10 Creator update is devoted to making Edge a must-have web browser.

Edge is certainly more stable in this version of Windows, but what sets it apart is its growing array of browser experience management tools. The newest of them is one of the better tab management systems I’ve seen in a while.

Right now, I have 12 tabs open in one browser session and nine in another. It’s not unusual for me to have double that number open. Excessive? Maybe, but this is how I organize my day. Mail and calendar tabs, story research tabs, tabs to remind me to find a good restaurant near Tribeca. It’s a terrible information management system, I know. It’s even worse when my browser crashes and I lose those tabs. Chrome will let me quickly recover all tabs I recently closed or lost, but it’s only on a session-by-session basis. The new Edge adds a real management system.

Tab management that works.

Tab management that works.

Image: Screenshot

To the left of all my open tabs, there’s a tiny window icon with a little arrow on it. It’s what I use to set aside groups of tabs, no matter how many I have open. Another icon, next to the Set Tabs Aside one, lets me access all the tab groups I’ve collected. Each tab window is represented by a small browser thumbnail, so there’s no question about what I saved or why. They’re collected in chronological order, and I can restore all the tabs in any one collection or delete individual windows within each tab collection.

Draw on Windows Maps and it can figure out distances and routes.

Draw on Windows Maps and it can figure out distances and routes.

Image: screenshot

You can also ink up your photos.

You can also ink up your photos.

Image: screenshot

Whatever you restore automatically gets added to all your existing open tabs. One thing I wish Microsoft would add here is the ability to select discrete open browser windows to set aside. Right now, it takes everything that’s open.

Microsoft has also brought Edge more in line with the rest of the Windows 10 ecosystem, upgrading webpage pen markup to Windows Ink. The pen icon on the web browser now matches that of Windows Ink in the Task Tray, and there’s now the option of marking up with your finger instead of the Surface Pen. 

In addition, Microsoft redesigned the share button. It no longer has the outdated “Charms” look and all your share options appear as a pop-up window instead of sliding in from the side.

Plus, Edge has a few content consumption tricks up its sleeve. With ePub book files, it becomes a very able ebook reader with excellent support for gestures. In addition, Netflix in Edge now supports 4K content. Too bad I don’t have a 4K screen.

Locking it down

Windows 10 already has some pretty good built-in security, but Windows Defender has never felt like a commercial solution, probably because Windows 10 scattered elements of its security system across multiple windows and sub systems. 

One place to defend them all.

One place to defend them all.

Image: Screenshot

With Windows 10 Creators Update, typing “Security” into the Cortana search box loads the smartly designed Windows Defender Security Center. It finally brings together all your security controls in one comprehensive interface. There’s Virus and Threat Protection, Device Performance and Health, Firewall and Network Protection, App and Browser Control and Family Options. Each one is presented with information about whether you need to take action. Above it all is a large message about the overall state of your system. Concise, smart and welcome.

Game on

A 2015 Entertainment Software Association survey found that 62 percent of gamers game on PCs, a fact not lost on Microsoft, which made enhancing the PC gaming experience a focus of the Windows Creators Update.

The two primary gaming updates are aimed directly at serious gamers’ twitchy little hearts: performance optimization with a new Game Mode, and broadcast capabilities with Beam integration.

Game Mode is accessed through the updated Windows game bar (Windows Key + G reveals it). Microsoft told me it’s on by default, but in my installation, it was off. 

Game mode puts the PC games first.

Game mode puts the PC games first.

Image: screenshot

Game Mode prioritizes system resources, including CPU cores to whatever game you’re playing. In my case, I played Forza Motorsport 6: Apex. Dedicating resources to the game should cut down on stuttering and keep the game’s frame rate humming along. I ran games with the mode on and off and didn’t notice much difference. I’ll be curious to hear what real gamers think of it.

It's easy to set up a Beam stream.

It’s easy to set up a Beam stream.

Image: screenshot

And then start your broadcast.

And then start your broadcast.

Image: screenshot

The more noticeable difference for gamers is the introduction of Beam game streaming directly from the desktop. There’s a little Beam icon right in the game bar, and it’s incredibly easy to start broadcasting. You can stream just the game or include video of yourself playing complete with your audio. The streams show up on the website under your gamer tag. Mine was terrible. Please do not go looking for it.

The third dimension

Microsoft’s fascination with 3D is also evident in the latest version of Windows. Paint 3D, which does not replace Paint, offers all the traditional 2D painting tools as well as a bunch of 3D object and free-form creation tools.

While you can use this tool with a mouse or even your finger, the best experience will be with a Surface Pen. I started by drawing a simple 2D background and then added 3D objects. 3D Paint has a nice collection of pre-built objects, including cubes, spheres, cylinders, ovals and cones. There are pre-built, but rudimentary, people, cats, dogs and fish. There’s also 3D text (and 2D, as well). You can also draw free-form 3D shapes. One of the cooler tricks is being able to paint and draw directly on a 3D object, with each stroke following the contours of the object.

If you want more 3D models, you can download them from Microsoft’s new Remix 3D site or upload your own creations. 

I could easily spend hours playing with 3D Paint, but I also worry that it’s a tool that will confuse and frustrate most non-artists, or anyone not familiar with 3D content creation tools. It may, for example, take users a while to realize that the only way to properly position a bunch of 3D objects in 3D space is to switch to 3D view, so you can look at the scene from all angles. Too bad you can’t edit, place and move objects in that mode.

At least you can export the entire 3D creation process, which could be an excellent way to teach others how to use 3D Paint.

There are a host of other cool features and updates in Windows 10 Creators Update, far more than I can cover here. Worth mentioning, though, is the new Nightlight Feature that can, on schedule or on demand, drain the blue-light from your display and maybe help you wind down when you turn off the computer (blue light makes it hard to sleep). 

The other feature I loved is the new Windows Ink integration in Maps that lets your draw routes on a map that the system can measure in distance or even convert into directions. 

There are, in my estimation, no red flags in the latest Windows update. If you run Windows 10, the Windows 10 Creators Update is coming for you — eventually. I suggest you welcome it with open arms.

Windows 10 Creators Update

The Good

Updated Edge Fun 3D tool Native game streaming

The Bad

The Bottom Line

A solid, smart Windows 10 update that improves the overall experience without breaking anything important.

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Windows has a heart of trash

I did a bad thing. I opened a bad file and it borked my PC. So now, in concordance with the grand tradition of frustrated tech bloggers calling on enormous companies to conform to their wishes, here is my rant on how terrible computers are — Windows ones, this time anyway — and how they ought to be.

Now, I’m no PC spring chicken. I build my desktops, I seat the CPU, I fiddle with the registry and fiddle with the BIOS (even though it isn’t really a BIOS any more). Most importantly, I use Winamp. I’ve cleared out more than a few malware infections, worms, trojans and the like on my own computer and others — it’s just part of the whole cool lifestyle I lead.

This time was different. For one thing, it was the first time I’d dealt with this stuff on Windows 10. Normally I’m pretty careful, but I was just lazy this time. And the malware itself — WinVMX as far as I can place it — was perhaps more sophisticated, as well. (I don’t recommend you try your luck.)

But as I was methodically eliminating the various sub-services and adware the original attack had installed, I found myself grappling with a second adversary: the immense ball of trash that exists at the heart of every Windows install.

Party like it’s 98SE

I don’t mean to slander Microsoft’s engineers here. Windows is perhaps the most complex piece of software ever built. It’s just that it’s like a rubber-band ball of versions, updates, patches, aborted toolsets and standards, and so on. They’ve never stopped adding to it, and while some of the examples of consistency and reliability are beyond compare — running the same version of DOOM on 25 years of OSes is great, and hints at why Windows is so hard to leave behind for so many — it’s really gotten to the point where the cart is going before the horse. And also the cart is full of trash.

In going through the various systems and recovery methods I found so many things broken or misleading, so many critical system items compromised, hidden, or neglected, so many dead ends built in, so many workarounds from the ’90s that still worked and present-day tools that failed utterly, so many contradictions and redundancies — that I finally have flipped over to the side that believes Microsoft needs to cut this trash cart loose.

I’m not suggesting they abandon Windows or anything absurd like that. But for the love of God, I shouldn’t have to be using DOS commands I learned on my friend’s 386 to get the computer to boot normally. I shouldn’t be told that Windows can reinstall itself, then watch as it fails to even launch the tool that does so (it had been deleted [!]). I should be told when it tries again and formats the wrong drive without prompting. (Yes, I do back up my files, thanks for the suggestions.)

Why do I have to search through “legacy” control panels to find disk management? Why are there two sets of control panels in the first place? Why is the first thing I’m told when reinstalling Windows, that if I am reinstalling it, to say I don’t have a product key? Why does the installation process employ terminology and interfaces that are actively hidden from users in the OS itself?

Lipstick on a pig (that’s eating trash)

In a lot of ways, Windows 10 is great. I plan to continue using it. It was rightly lauded for striking a happy medium between the exposed nuts and bolts of XP or 7 with the modern conveniences and interface of 8. (I still think they should have called 10 Windows One, à la Xbox and OneDrive). I think keeping this compromise alive is important, especially as their rival Apple continues their practice of circling every square and removing every vestige of meaningful user choice.

But the company isn’t half done. They made the sensible decision to work from the outside in, because you don’t leave something like Windows 8 alive for long, and they made the surface layer of the OS more than palatable. But beneath that surface is decades of cruft, features and code that, while once necessary or even innovative, have been compacted with time and great pressure to create… yes, a hot ball of molten trash.

Of course, Microsoft is stuck between a rock (a small one, me) and a hard place (millions of customers who rely on legacy systems in one form or another). So much depends on little nuggets buried deep in the garbage fire that they can’t throw it all out at once. But who are they going to detail to audit a hundred million lines of code to find them and save them? Then, on the other side, how long can they keep shipping a product that’s deeply compromised by carrying this burden, which wrecks user experience and increases the hackable surface area by orders of magnitude?

I realize I’m not the first one to say this, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the last, but it’s worth saying nevertheless (plus, I’m angry because my desktop is still dead). Many people smarter and better informed than me work at Microsoft, and they have certainly been contemplating this problem for longer than I have. I hope that part of Microsoft’s new direction is freeing Windows from the fetters of its previous iterations, but with the knowledge that hidden among the links of those chains are jewels worth salvaging.

Featured Image: ronstik/Shutterstock