Microsoft to Unveil Surface 2 and Pro 2: What You Need to Know?

Surface tablet

We did a short review on Surface RT tablets earlier in the blog. We also checked out Surface Pro, and their performance. Also, Surface RT is a tablet quite different from what you expect from a Windows tablet, and as a result they failed in the market. With these said, Microsoft has sent out invitations for an event in NYC on , where they will unveil the next generation of the tablets—Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. Let’s check out what you can expect from these tablets.

Also, there is the rumored Surface Mini that may be unveiled too.

Basically, a few things that we have been able to confirm about these tablets are these: NVidia Tegra 4 processor on RT; Intel Haswell processor on Surface Pro 2; 1080p HD screen; two-step kickstand that helps maintain orientation on uneven surfaces; a battery-powered keyboard cover, known as power cover; an upgrade to RAM to about 4 GB or so; Windows RT 8.1 on Surface 2 tablet.

What’s Wrong With Surface RT?

Earlier when Surface RT was released, it had Windows RT operating system, and that was one of the prime reasons why the tablet failed. The problem with Win RT is that it is a special tablet operating system without the capability to run any of regular desktop Windows applications. Windows 8 that comes on Surface Pro is the regular Windows desktop operating system that is capable of running any Windows application that works on other versions of Windows, such as Win 7 and Vista.

Dell XPS 10 and Surface RT are two of the tablets that run Windows RT. The problem with Windows RT is that Microsoft doesn’t have enough apps to support the platform. The manufacturers like Asus are not enthusiastic about the platform and they have decided to stop creating tablets based on Windows RT.

In order to find the number of apps on Windows RT platform, you can go to the Metro Scanner. Right now, it is showing 115,863 apps. This is an improvement from about 44,000 apps in February this year. However, considering Android and iOS have nearly a million apps, this is not commendable. Also, Windows RT platform has all sorts of crappy apps there are.

Also, Microsoft is not being honest and clear about their products and operating systems. Microsoft’s website on Windows RT and Windows 8 for instance shows up all kinds of tablets. It is extremely useful if you are getting a tablet with Microsoft Windows 8 operating system, the desktop version. Some of these tablets include Acer Aspire R7, latest Asus Vivo Tab, Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, HP Envy Touchsmart Sleekbook, Dell Latitude 10, and Surface Pro. However, in a Microsoft website, these tablets are shown along with Windows RT-based Surface RT and Dell XPS 10. It is a tricky way that Microsoft is trying to sell off the remaining uncalled-for Surface RT tablets.

Make absolutely sure that you buy only Windows 8 tablets, and not Windows RT tablets.

Let me say again this: Surface Pro is a good tablet to buy, in fact one of the best. Surface RT is a bad tablet to buy, in fact one of the worst. You will not find it clear by simply visiting Microsoft’s website, okay? So, beware!

Another shady approach from Microsoft at besting iPad: In this page, Microsoft is comparing iPad 4 with Windows RT tablets, including Surface RT. This is a classic example of how companies only compare the features that they have got better on their products. The comparison takes only a few aspects—display size, thinness, presence of a keyboard, battery life, cloud storage given, price, presence of Microsoft software, and weirdly enough printing.

Click to enlarge iPad comparison

In those aspects, Microsoft’s Surface RT is slightly on par with iPad, while other tablets in the range that run Windows 8 operating system are on par or better. The comparison does not mention any other aspects, such as the awesome app store of Apple where there are a million apps for iPad, the Retina Display that is much better than Surface RT’s regular display, the lightning fast Lightning connector, 3G/LTE capability, Apple’s specially made A6X CPU that adds to the performance, and the highly secure iOS 6.

On any day, iPad is a better product than Surface RT. However, if the competition is with Windows 8 tablets, iPad will fail bitterly. Hence, if you are trying to buy a good tablet, I would suggest you go with one that runs Windows 8. iPad could be a second choice.

Upcoming Surface

With the upcoming Surface 2 tablet, Microsoft will not be using the ‘RT’ trademark. It will be called ‘Surface 2’ only. The issue is that this will further confuse the customers. It is fortunate that other manufacturers are not supporting the Windows RT platform. While Microsoft has a way to make the desktop operating system work on tablets and a third operating system to work on mobile phones, there is absolutely no need for RT.

Windows Phone operating system already has over 170,000 apps, and they are useful on your Windows smartphone. Windows 8 has its own applications for the desktop, and they are all useful. We know it because we have been using them for nearly two decades. Windows RT neither has the apps nor the necessary support. It is hence not required in today’s market. What Microsoft should have done is not refreshing the Surface RT line at all.

Speaking from a consumer’s point of view, Windows RT is not an operating system with a bright future as Windows Phone’s. It is bound to die out. Also, creating inconspicuous campaigns to sell off remaining Surface RT tablets along with regular Windows tablets will create lack of confidence among customers with Microsoft products. This is going to be bad for everybody.

Upcoming Surface 2 is not a substantially good upgrade to existing Surface RT considering the available specs. Talking about Surface Pro, however, it is going to contain a latest Windows 8 OS, possibly with the Blue update. The Power Cover that comes as an accessory will enhance the battery life of both tablets.

Power cover on Surface

Another news given by WSJ is that Microsoft is working on a mini version of Surface, known as Surface Mini. It is expected to take on Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD, and iPad Mini.

Conclusion

For the next Surface line, I strongly suggest you look for Surface Pro 2 and see if it is priced right for purchasing. If a tablet is running Windows RT, you are better off not thinking about it twice. Price is another important concern. Surface RT is good for a purchase for a price point of let’s say 299 dollars.

[Image: Neowin]

Which Are the Best VOIP Software Applications for Your Computer?

Simply speaking, VOIP has become a means to make calls from your PCs to all kinds of devices. Here is a list of short reviews of the best of VOIP software programs out there.

6. Vonage

Vonage VOIP

 

In the large field of VOIP software, Vonage (also UK edition) is already quite a bit known. It is also one of the best services out there. The Vonage VOIP plans start at 9 dollars per month. The system has a box known as Vonage box that works with your broadband modem in order to bring unlimited calling worldwide.

There are a lot of included and add-on features for Vonage service, including call management, voicemail, simultaneous ringing on five phones, enhanced call forwarding, virtual numbers, Fax, extra lines, toll free numbers, etc.

5. Nextiva

nextiva

Nextiva

is a VOIP software program with business focus. It is feature-rich with quite a number of features listed here. You can also buy VOIP software phones from Nextiva at affordable prices. Nextiva has a number of plans at affordable prices.

Nextiva’s NextOS VOIP software makes it possible to conduct business easily. The company offers customer support features through its telephony service and that makes the VOIP program quite attractive to business customers out there.

4. eVoice

eVoice

eVoice

VOIP solution has been around for quite some time. This piece of VOIP software also has almost all the features provided by the others mentioned. They include toll free numbers; call management functions; voicemail; apps for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, etc.; multiple extensions; speed dial; texting; web conferencing; etc.

You can get US and Canada local numbers with eVoice VOIP program. The pricing starts at 9.95 USD per month. The excellent features and affordable price tag make eVoice an excellent VOIP software application.

3. PhonePower

PhonePower

 

Here is another piece of VOIP software that is excellent and feature-rich. PhonePower has these features—long distance (outgoing) to various countries including Canada, Puerto Rico, etc., toll free number, caller ID, voicemail, SMS, call return, call transfer, call blocking, email, virtual phone number, mobile app, etc.

The service also provides VOIP hardware that can be connected directly to your broadband modem.

PhonePower is hence a great all-in-all VOIP software solution.

2. Ring Central

 

Looking for another VOIP software application? Here’s Ring Central. This is a cloud-based business telephony system with these major features—toll free numbers, local numbers, caller ID control, Softphone (call management from the computer itself), unlimited texting, voicemail, MS Outlook integration, call management features (forwarding, answering, intercom, etc), cloud-based PBX, conferencing, internet FAX, etc.

The major features of this VOIP software program are listed here.

Ring Central plans start at $ 19.99 per month and are perfect for businesses. This makes Ring Central our second best VOIP software application.

1. Skype

Skype VOIP

Skype

, a Microsoft product, has been around for a long time before Microsoft acquired the service. It is not only available for all sorts of Windows PCs, but also Android, Apple iOS, Linux, OS X, Symbian, Windows Phone, etc. Windows Live Messenger is also merged with this VOIP software. By 2012, about 34 percent of the VOIP software market is in Skype.

The application has all sorts of features, including calls to landline and mobile phones, caller ID, SMS, Voicemail, chatting, Skype online number, video-calling, screen sharing, etc.

Skype also has a portable version that you can take anywhere with you.

Conclusion

 

You can see there are a huge number of VOIP software programs out there. Among them, it is difficult to spot the best. This list may help you in your search.

Should Microsoft Consider Buying Nokia?

In a recent talk between Microsoft and Nokia, the two companies contemplated a merger. WSJ reported the story yesterday, and for quite a while, industry leaders have been cogitating on this move. Since 2011, Nokia has been in tie-up with Microsoft to use Windows Phone operating system on all of its major devices, notably the Nokia Lumia series (Lumia 920, 928, etc). This has helped both companies in great ways. Here is an analysis as to whether the merger could pave way to success to these companies.

Nokia

 

Nokia, the Finnish smartphone maker, has been quite big in the market up until Android and iOS destroyed the stronghold of its Symbian OS. Nokia subsequently fell from the top and now has the tenth position in global smartphone market with about 2.8 percent of the market, according to research firm Gartner.

Nokia market share

 

Nokia lost its stock value considerably, and the strong stock, which some time in 2007 was trading at a peak rate of 40 dollars, now trades at around 3-4 dollars. Quite a heavy fall and Nokia was slowly forgotten from being a household name. The only way the phone maker survives right now is by marketing its Lumia range of smartphones, all based on Windows Phone operating system, with a marketing pact with Microsoft that supplies it with money and motivation.

Even after so many Lumia devices, Nokia failed to stabilize its position in the smartphone market.

Microsoft

 

What about Microsoft in the world of smartphones? When most people talk about smartphones, they are thinking about iPhone or Android devices. They don’t know about other operating systems that exist out there, Firefox OS, Ubuntu, BlackBerry 10, Windows Phone, Tizen, among others.

While since 2007, Apple and Google have been dominating the smartphone operating system world, Microsoft tried to snap up a tiny portion of the market with its redesigned Windows Phone device. The design of new Windows has been revolutionary. Still, the software giant’s efforts in the smartphone world and tablet world with its own Windows RT OS have not been quite successful as you know well from our previous posts.

The company holds hardly around 3 percent of the market, just as Nokia.

Windows Phone market share

 

Microsoft gets sales only for Lumia phones, although there are other OEMs in the Windows Phone market, such as HTC with Windows Phone 8 and Samsung with its ATIV phones. Either the other manufacturers are not enthusiastic enough to promote Windows phones, or Microsoft wants to market Lumias over others.

A Merger?

 

From a merger, what could we expect? Nokia is the largest Finnish company and it contributes a huge chunk to the small country’s economy. A merger will move the mobile phone division of Nokia to Microsoft, and that division is estimated to be worth around 14 billion dollars or so. While the stock holders of Nokia may be looking for any ways to rescue the firm, it waits to be seen whether Finland, one of the strongest economies in the current European Union, would like the deal.

The merger should be in the best interests of Nokia due to a number of reasons. First of all, Nokia is not probably going to get any success by moving away from Windows Phone. Within the Android world, the only OEM that makes any money is Samsung at the top of the smartphone market. Other manufacturers, HTC, Sony, Motorola, LG, etc., are either in loss or making extremely tiny profits. It is highly unlikely in any foreseeable future to see any change in this.

The only two mobile operating systems making it big are Android and Apple iOS, and the rest of the lot have such a tiny market place. Nokia’s best bet is in staying with Microsoft Windows Phone.

About Microsoft, they are not finding success with any OEM other than Nokia. Although Samsung and HTC have made their own Windows Phone devices, they did not get anywhere. Lumia is the only Windows phone that has a noticeable presence. If Microsoft buys Nokia, they can unify the business, and probably make it big in the smartphone world. I would like to point to these major advantages if the companies merge:

  • Why Apple and BlackBerry are revered so much? They make their own hardware and software. If all parts of the phone are in control of the OEM, the resulting device tends to be of absolute quality. With a smartphone hardware division, Microsoft will probably be able to rise to the level of Apple and BlackBerry in hardware software compatibility.
  • Nokia has one of the best hardware divisions, along with a bunch of absolutely valuable mobile patents in various mobile technologies. A merger can probably save these assets and subsequently benefit Microsoft too.
  • Just as in the case of Windows 8 and Surface, Microsoft can take advantage of other OEMs for Windows Phone. It is not that with a merger with Nokia, Microsoft is shutting its options for other mobile OEMs. If the merger becomes successful and Windows Phone prospers, other OEMs will be interested in making handsets with Microsoft.
  • Nokia’s purchase price could be really low and quite affordable for Microsoft. Nokia has been working on its strategies and strengthening its position in the market in the last few months though.
  • Nokia has never made a tablet, but under the aegis of Microsoft, it might be tempted to give it a shot, and that might create an interest among users. With such a cool design team that made Lumia 920, Nokia is sure to hit the jackpot with a cool tablet design.

Argument against the merger is also quite strong. For one thing, people believe Nokia has a chance if it moves away from Windows and diversifies its options. I would really love to get my hands on a Nokia Android device, if it ever happens. But as mentioned earlier, it is extremely difficult to be successful alongside Samsung.

Microsoft is interested only in smartphones, and not Nokia’s diverse feature phone business. Microsoft may spend unnecessary money in acquiring that feature phone business too.

Conclusion

 

Although there are a few arguments against MS acquiring Nokia, it seems quite a bit sure that the merger is in favor of both companies. The future will show us whether they decide on it or not. In whatever case, it should be an improvement over the status quo.

Blue: Will the Upcoming Update to Windows 8 Change the Scene?

Windows 8

It was a fine morning in January that 72 year old Tami Fletcher went to the Radioshack Store in Long Beach, New York and purchased an upgrade to her old laptop running Windows. She had a Dell laptop of nearly ten years old that was running Windows XP Media Center edition.

In the recent times her applications and the Internet connection have been slowing down unnecessarily, and she was not able to display some web pages properly. A friend of hers suggested that she upgrade her laptop’s hardware and get the latest Windows. This was what drove her to Radioshack.
an upset old lady
When she got the laptop back after three days, with the necessary hardware upgrade and Windows 8, she was quite happy, until she reached home, turned on the laptop, and found herself wondering where all her stuff went. She was specifically told that none of her stuff would be lost in an upgrade, but she was looking at what was completely new to her. And there was no way old Tami could get herself acquainted with the new Windows.

This is not a single incident. A difficult learning curve in getting around the new Windows 8 has been reported by millions of people, who purchased the upgrade from different parts of the world. Within the first six months of releasing Windows, it was purchased by over 100 million people, the same kind of attention and popularity as garnered by Windows 7.

The problem began soon. Microsoft started receiving calls and messages regarding how absurd the new Windows operating system was and how difficult it was to learn to use it properly. This is one of the reasons why the Windows team is developing an update to the OS, right now codenamed Blue. Let’s check it out in detail.

What Was Wrong With Windows 8?

 

A huge number of popular features were removed from Windows 8 due to the fact that the operating system primarily supports Microsoft’s mobile user interface for Windows Phone and Windows RT. Microsoft wanted to have a unique user interface across all these different form factors, and that was the reason why they pushed Windows Phone’s Metro UI in Windows 8 for desktop as well. But that probably did not help the company out greatly.

A brief look at the features missing on Windows 8 alone will convince you why people are bothered about this upgrade. One of the most important features missing in Windows 8 is the vintage Microsoft Start button. People really need this to feel at home in a Windows PC. While millions of users of this operating system are not technically savvy, they have grown accustomed to the familiar Windows interface that was retained even in Windows Vista and 7.

While Windows 8 is perfect for touch interfaces, most people still want this OS to support a mouse and keyboard, and they want that Start button. When they don’t find it, they simply complain.

Another feature missing is the Windows Media Center, which was provided as an add-on up until Windows 7. There are many old customers who are still using Media Center.

The OS comes with a brand new user interface that many old customers find annoying. What Microsoft should have done from the beginning was to make the regular Windows desktop the primary part of the UI and then make the Metro an add-on. Many people flipped out looking at the new user interface and had no clue what they were looking at. This was to be expected. While mobile phones and tablets can have that different kind of UI, a desktop computer must have its familiar interface, or there will be backlash from everywhere.

Windows Blue

 

With that huge number of customer complaints and feedback, Microsoft realized that they made a mistake at least in the case of the desktop operating system. This was the motivation behind Windows’s upcoming update known as Blue.

On , TechNet had a blog post by Frank X. Shaw, Corporate VP of Corporate Communications of Microsoft that Announced the existence of Blue.

On , Microsoft’s Chief Marketing and Financial Officer to the Windows and Live division, Tami Reller made an announcement about the new developments to Windows 8. She said, “The learning curve is real and needs to be addressed.” This has been the first time that Microsoft has realized how important it is to satisfy the old customers, especially the ones who install Windows 8 on non-touch devices. The details were published by the Microsoft Windows blog by Brandon LeBlanc as an interview with Tami Reller. Microsoft did forget that huge customer base as soon as tablets and smartphones started encroaching into the PC market and pushed down the sales strongly.

Windows Blue is a strategic upgrade to Windows 8. It has been known to address a few of the important issues that created widespread negative feedback from customers toward Windows 8. Although over 100 million licenses of it were sold, that makes up for only 3.8 percent of the overall PC market (click to enlarge).

PC OS market share

 

In the above blog post, it has been mentioned that over 2400 devices run Windows operating system. While most of the new devices (tablets and touch laptops) are touch-based (like HP Envy, Acer Iconia, and some others) , there are a huge number of regular PCs, including the ones that come with CRT monitors that cannot use touch capabilities of Windows 8. Hence, as a first step, Microsoft Blue will address the regular Windows interface on these devices. It should essentially push the regular Windows interface on non-touch devices and Metro UI to touch-based devices.

What’s New to Blue?

 

We don’t have any confirmation as to what will be the new things that Blue implements. However, on , a Microsoft-centered community called Microsoft Portal gave us this image:

Suppress start screen option

 

This is an indication that the next update of Windows 8 may include a way to boot directly to the regular desktop mode rather than the tiled Metro UI. One of the major complaints from users was that there was no way for them to boot to the regular desktop mode as in Windows 7. With Blue, if this gets fixed, people may like the OS more.

Microsoft is gearing up toward the Build conference in June, between and , in the Moscone Center, San Francisco. It is expected to be in this conference that more details of Windows Blue will be made available.

Three important aspects that Tami Reller has mentioned that Microsoft Blue will address are the touch interface, addressing feedback from customers, and new form factors. One thing Blue will incorporate is the ability to resize the tiles in the Metro interface. Tiles can be made as small as one fourth or as large as fourth their original size. The customization tools also include ways to change color, looks and other properties of tiles. These enhancements could make the tiled interface friendlier in touch-based systems.

Windows, although is available on smartphones and large tablets, has not yet addressed small tablets in the 7-inch range, dominated by Apple iPad Mini, Google Nexus 7, and Amazon Kindle Fire. With Blue, it is expected that this flaw may be addressed.

A number of recent leaked builds have given us indications as to the presence of the following features on Blue:

  • Support for ReFS (Resilient File System), Miracast (a Wi-Fi method to screencast), NVM Host Controller Interface (a way to standardize the device drivers for SSDs, Solid State Drives), Universal Flash Storage.
  • Apps and updates: Internet Explorer 11, calculator, alarm clock, sound recorder, file manager, and video editor.
  • More options in the Control Panel and PC settings.
  • The start screen has been revamped to include: more color options, size options, ability to lock tiles in place, ‘all apps’ section, etc.
  • Something called kiosk mode in which the entire device can be made into a metro app.
  • Better integration to SkyDrive, more syncing settings with other devices, and more options in Bluetooth keyboards and mice.
Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 8 Blue
Win blue alarm clock
Blue Calculator

 

Start screen customization options

 

various other settings under PC

 

Kiosk mode

 

As you can see, there are a huge number of updates and improvements expected in Blue. If these developments change Windows user experience in a positive way, there will be hope for Windows desktop operating system.

Conclusion

 

It was proclaimed early in the year that Windows 8 surpassed 60 million sales across all-in-ones, PCs, laptops, and tablets. A few days ago, that number reached 100 million licenses. In the PC marketplace, Windows stands out as the biggest operating system. However, this is one of the major reasons why Microsoft cannot sell large user interface modifications to the operating system. That move will only alienate users from their familiar operating system, especially since a huge user base of Windows consists of non-techie customers.

With Blue and further developments in Windows 8, Microsoft may probably be able to turn the tablet and tablet PC industry in its favor. We will gather more information and update as necessary.

Lumia 928: Probably Verizon’s New Hero!

Nokia’s Lumia 920 is arguably the best smartphone in the market today due to a number of reasons. It’s major disadvantage is that it is a Windows Phone device, and hence, less number of apps. If Lumia 920 ran Android, it might have proven to be a much greater success. It has the best camera, great display (although smaller than Galaxy S3 and HTC One), and amazing build quality. It is simply the best Windows Phone device out there.

Now, Nokia is all set to release its upgraded handset in the Lumia 900 family—Lumia 928. My Nokia blog recently discovered a billboard of Lumia 928 (location unknown), shown here.

Lumia 928 billboard

 

We are also not sure if it’s real or faked. It could well be a billboard for Lumia 920 that someone doctored.

The rumors of a higher-end Lumia 920 device for Verizon Wireless started appearing at the start of the year itself. It has never been officially confirmed by Nokia, until now. Nokia has a new 928 page here that talks about this device. Updates on the announced device are yet to come.

We hope that Nokia fixes a few issues with 928, such as the enormous weight of 920. It is the heaviest of high-end smartphones in the market. While iPhone 5 weighs only 113 grams, Lumia 920 goes beyond 180. Nokia does really have to fix this. Other than that, there is not much to talk about. If you love Windows Phone, then Lumia is the device to go for. As soon as new information comes up, we will be publishing a more detailed review of the device.


[Update]

Lumia 928 camera in action. This video was published by Nokia US to show us Lumia 928′../../2012/11/technical-blunders-and-apologies.html”>this with Lumia 920.

Talking about the sales and market position of Nokia, here is a disturbing story from Reuters. While we assert repeatedly that Lumia series is an amazing family of smartphones, with a lot of high-end and low-end models available, Windows Phone is not probably the direction to take for Nokia.

Even though, Symbian was long trashed by the growth and significance of Android, it is time for Nokia to put aside the feelings and approach the big guy on the block. Nokia has to make plans and come up with an Android phone to take a plunge into the current smartphone market. That is in the best interests of its investors and customers. How much longer can they ignore the elephant in the room?