Since dual core and 64-bit processors started going mainstream, computer users have had more power than they know what to do with. In fact, they’ve had more power than their software knows what to do with. To truly take advantage of major advances in modern processors, modern software is required, all of which makes the upgrade cycle much more interesting.
Previously, software and hardware advances were less interrelated, and an advance in one did not advance or require as much the other. Sure, you might need a faster processor to run a faster version of Windows, or a new game to push that new graphics card to the limit, but these were questions of pure speed, not capabilities. It’s analogous to the difference between a faster car and a self-driving car. A faster car runs faster everywhere, but a self driving car is just a regular car until you have roads that allow and support the use of cars that can drive themselves.
The speed race in processors and other pieces of hardware ended years ago. If it hadn’t, Intel® would be releasing a 15 gigahertz Pentium 4 by now. Instead, you can buy an off-the-shelf PC today that runs at the same basic speed a PC released in 2002 could have. The newer PC smokes the old one because while both processors might be running at 2.2 GHz, the modern one isn’t one processor, it’s many. A 64-bit processor can run instructions 4 billion times as large as a 32-bit one. A dual core processor is almost like having 2 processors, and a quad core is twice that. Add in multi-threading, and you have a maching that for all practical purposes might as well have 4 or 8 2.2 GHz processors.
None of this means anything without the right software. Install an old version of Windows on the newest, fastest Dell with a 64-bit quad- or six-core chip, and you might get nothing more than the power of a single logical processor, not the 8-12 logical processors you paid for and would have gotten with a more up-to-date release. As a result, upgrading your software will often upgrade the hardware because the powerful hardware you bought years ago pre-dated the advancements in software required to take advantage of it.
Since we are in the midst of a series examining different modern IT issues, it’s useful to point out that it used to be that aging software in a corporate environment was the norm, but that trend has strong reasons to change. Older hardware is better capable of running modern software than at any time in the past. Windows 8′s system requirements are “If you could run Windows 7, you can run Windows 8 faster”. “If you could run Windows Vista, you can run Windows 7 faster”. Efficient operating system design by Microsoft means that a PC from 2006 could run Windows 8 in 2013, some without any upgrades. Business computers are in fact the most likely to have been more powerful than average when purchased seven years ago, and more likely to have survived until now, to be able to make the move to the new OS.
The fact is that while everyone knows that newer hardware is faster than older hardware, many software developers have been doing such a great job writing apps that, with each upgrade, run faster than the previous version. Sometimes it’s a new feature that makes use of the software more productive, but more often these days it’s better written code and better use of modern hardware and software capabilities that makes that newer software so much more awesome.
We’ve had amazingly fast computer hardware for a decade at this point. 2013 hardware is faster than 2003 hardware, but 2013 software can run faster on 2003 hardware than 2003 software ever could and draw less electricity while doing it. We’ve had dual core processors for years, but modern software knows what to do with it. We’ve had 64-bit processors since the 90s on desktop PCs (and the 70s in other cases), but if you aren’t running a very up-to-date version of your favorite software, it isn’t taking advantage of it. In fact, until a couple of years ago, it was common for systems with 64-bit processors to ship with the 32-bit version of the OS installed for compatibility reasons. Thankfully, that trend is almost dead.
Businesses have more reasons to perform upgrades, since they can then do more with the hardware they already have. Windows 8, or the latest Office or Photoshop can put both cores on your CPU to work (or all four cores or more, as it were). They can serve up 64-bit instructions to that CPU many times faster than a 32-bit one would have been. A new OS, in turn, adds APIs and features to your computer, while new software takes advantage of those additions so that they, too, can run faster. All of which is why it once you put a price on productivity, it can often be more expensive to keep the older, slower version of critical business software than absorbing the cost of the next version.
It’s extremely likely that whatever machine you are using right now, the software you are running isn’t taking full advantage of its capabilities, and in some instances, the software needed to take advantage does exist yet. For this reason, it’s important to look at PC hardware as an investment that can grow over time. By picking a processor with features that haven’t been fully utilized yet, you are picking a computer that will only get better with age, like a fine wine.
This is a paid post in conjunction with IDG, Dell and Intel®.
Ten years ago, managing IT in a company was simple. Okay, to be fair, it was incredibly complex, with enormous tasks facing system administrators, who had to configure complex computer systems, often with out of date hardware, major security concerns, and inadequate tools. IT has never had it easy, but there are very different challenges today, and one of the biggest questions modern IT departments now face is how to manage the myriad devices users bring into the corporate environment.
A lot of the more complex traditional challenges of IT, including corporate servers and security, have been greatly simplified by evolving and more powerful tools and cloud solutions, and that outdated hardware we all knew and loved has mostly been replaced by cheaper and more than adequate PCs. Since nature abhors letting anything become too easy, the void left by those challenges has been filled by smartphones, tablets, and whatever other strange devices users decide to plug into the company network.
It used to be that IT could declare mastery of at least the hardware on every desk. Every PC could be similar, every access point could be locked down, and if you wanted email, you might be lucky enough to get a Blackberry. The huge evolutionary leap forward taken by smartphones (and the lack of participation by the old standard Blackberry in those innovations) meant that a huge percentage of users now have devices in their pockets that rival those on their desks, and are upgraded every 18 months. While certainly some organizations are still fighting that development, forward thinking ones know they can take advantage of all that power, if they can meet those challenges head on. Plus, who wants to tell the CEO he can’t use his shiny new iPhone?
With smartphones breaking down the device firewall, other dominoes have fallen. Laptops outsell desktops now, with tablets pacing to outsell laptops in the near future. Wifi networks are ubiquitous at modern offices, making it easier to bring those home devices to work and get some more productive use out of them (or play Angry Birds during lunch). This means employees can be more efficient, taking their entire corporate server to meetings, to lunch, to offsite events, and not be tethered to a desk, leading to more productive meetings, more active and mobile workforces, and more possibilities for where and how work gets done.
While all of this may sound like a bright future, and for the average employee, it is. The average IT department, however, faces new questions every day on how to support the transition from a secure device monoculture to an omni-diverse free-for-all, where not only can employees have many different devices, but any employee can walk in with some new and odd device and demand it work with their usual workflow. In this four part series, we will examine some of these challenges, and with the help of some suggested solutions from our sponsors, IDG, Dell and Intel®, show how modern IT departments are and will continue to handle these challenges and allow users to take advantage of this new world.
Microsoft is in the process of testing Service Pack 3 for Windows XP, in preparation for a wide release, and all indications are that it is a significant performance improvement for XP. In fact, the performance of XP under SP3 is so good, that some are saying it makes Windows Vista look like a chump.
It’s already a fact that Windows XP, with a six-year old architecture and tons of patches to stabilize and protect it, is Windows Vista’s number one competitor. XP is relatively stable, carries lower requirements, is compatible with almost everything and is usually already installed on most computers (except brand new ones). The challenge for Microsoft isn’t so much to prove Vista is better than Apple’s Mac OS, but that it is better than XP.
Microsoft until now has been challenging the image of XP in the marketplace, but when SP3 releases, it’ll actually be competing with itself. XP SP3 is an improvement to an already popular operating system, one that puts a direct shot across Vista’s bow, and actually sets up the team that developed SP3 as competition for Windows Vista.
Microsoft’s not stupid. It knows that it is in some ways shooting its own Vista in the foot with SP3, making Vista’s adoption harder against an improved XP point release. It would have been dishonest to its customers to cripple XP SP3 just to help Vista, and you can see how much Microsoft has improved in that it isn’t doing so. An “evil” company certainly would have.
Microsoft is likely counting on two things. Most probably, it will not significantly market SP3 like it did for Service Pack 2 three years ago. Current users will get the improvement, but Microsoft won’t encourage people to buy XP now that it has been improved. Microsoft wants you to get a better XP, but if you don’t have it, they still want you picking up Vista, which is also getting an improved Service Pack 1 release.
Besides that, Microsoft is probably hoping the good will from SP3 will encourage you to keep using Windows. Microsoft is seriously improving an older product at a significant cost to itself, showing commitment to improving its users experience at any cost. Microsoft will remind you that Vista will receive the same commitment, and that Apple charges money for point releases every two years.
Will it work? SP3 is going to cost Microsoft and Vista in the short run, but in the long run it could be a huge help for the company. At the least, if you’re buying XP, you’re still not buying Apple, right?
Photo by doobybrain under CC license
Windows Live Messenger 9′s beta has begun, with beta testers getting access to the software on Microsoft Connect. If you applied for the beta, check your email or check Connect to see if you’ve been accepted. Here are some screenshots of it someone leaked out:
The middle screenshots show off the new feature, which allows you to be signed in to your account on multiple computers at the same time. You can even click to sign yourself out of a remote computer from any computer, which is very convenient.
The last screenshot shows off another new feature, which lets you import custom sounds to associate with each of your friends when they log in. Not only can you choose from a list of sounds, you can select a five second sample from any music file on your computer to use that as the sound. The interface for choosing the sample is so clean and simple, I feel it should be integrated into the operating system for all programs to use to manipulate music and video clips.
Also, apparently Live Messenger is dropping Verizon Web Calling for VoIP calls, replacing it with a service to be announced later.
Microsoft Windows turned 22 years old last week. Amazing, the idea of any series of software product lasting over two decades, but Windows 1.0 was released November 20, 1985, and after several lousy initial versions, hit respectability with Windows 3.0/3.1 and mass popularity with Windows 95.
I’d hardly argue that the Mac operating system has lasted as long, but rather that the original Mac OS lasted from 1984-2001, and that the current OS is a younger six years old. That’s not necessarilly a bad thing, but it’s important to seperate Mac OS 9 and X as two products that share a brand name and used to share a lot more compatibility than they do now. Windows started out as a GUI over DOS that could run its own executables, and while evolving over time never cut off the previous generation completely.
Pingdom tracked 12 top social networking sites from October 19 to November 19, and found that Microsoft’s Live Spaces had the most downtime, with the site failing to respond for a total of three hours over the course of the month. By contrast, that’s more than Facebook (10 minutes), MySpace (10), Bebo (30), LiveJournal (40) and Orkut (85) combined, and worst on the list.
Number one was Yahoo 360, but that service was so unpopular it’s being closed, so I suspect the zero minutes of downtime can be attributed to zero server load.
Windows Home Server users are gifted today with yet another system update, adding some small new stuff to the operating system. Your Home Server now gets an SSL certificate for remote access (you’ll have to re-run setup to get it). Also, they’ve added a Delete All button to delete all home computer backups on the server and shipped improvements to the Shared Folder and Server Storage componenents.
Microsoft is finally putting together some nice integration of Windows Live services, the latest being the Windows Live Community Builder. This site brings together the various Live tools a website owner can use to create and support a community, promoting the Live Admin Center and helping you bring Hotmail, Live Calendar, Messenger, Spaces and SkyDrive to your users under your own domain name, all for free.
The beta of version 2.0 of Windows Live OneCare, Microsoft’s all-in-one PC care service, should be over, with the final version of 2.0 released to all subscribers. The new version adds some really good improvements, like wireless connection security, a startup optimizer to turn off programs that start with your PC that you never use, automatic printer sharing on your network and monthly service reports.
The biggest change, though, is that OneCare is now set up to allow you to designate one of your PCs as a hub PC and connect the others to it (a OneCare subscription is good, at the normal price, for multiple PCs). You can manage the care of the other PCs from the hub, changing settings, scheduling backups and tuneups, and other things.
OneCare 2.0 also adds online photo backup, although for an added price. You get 10 gigabytes of space in Windows Live Folders, automatically synced from your computer, in order to keep your precious digital photos safe in case anything ever happens to your computer. I still don’t see any information on how much this added feature costs, and will look into it.
Here’s everything that’s built up over the weekend, so we aren’t still talking old news on Wednesday:
For one week, the Xbox 360 was actually bigger in Japan than Sony’s PS3, with the 360 outselling the PS3 as sales increased from the previous week by about 500%. It’s not Wii-level (and the low-selling PS3 isn’t that hard to catch), but it’s a start towards gaining a real foothold in Japan. On the other hand, PS3 sales in the US are up double so far this month after the console’s price dropped to $400.
Even with the Wii outselling the 360, Microsoft makes more money than either Sony or Nintendo, due to higher priced consoles and much higher game sales. Halo has sold 3.7 million copies so far.
Another Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget: Wedding Tip of the Day, the perfect Gadget if you’re planning for a wedding. Every day, tips and ideas for planning your big day, with eight different styles to customize the look.
The PS3 now has support for DivX files. According to a slip-up in the press conference, negotiations are underway to bring it to the Xbox 360 real soon.
Zumobi, a company spun out of Microsoft Research, has announced that its new UI for mobile devices will be released December 14. Zumobi works by displaying up to 16 “tiles” in a grid of web services and content on a single screen, allowing users to choose quickly from the available sites. It’s a complicated but supposedly genius idea, one we’ll have to play around with to fully understand.
Windows Live Search’s link command, disabled to keep spammers away, is now working again.
Apple finally admitted that porting its UI over to Windows is stupid, and has fixed a lot of the Mac problems in the Windows version of Safari. Windows can now be resized from all edges, not just a little thing in the corner, and ClearType font rendering can be used instead of Apple’s patented EyeStrain technology, among other fixes.
A new version of Office Accounting Express is out, the 2008 edition. And yes, it’s still free.
New deal: If you have an original Xbox with Xbox Live and purchase an Xbox 360 between tomorrow and December 21, you get a free copy of Halo 3.
There’s a new Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget that should make you happy in a silly way. It’s that gaming classic, Whack-A-Mole! Any time you get a hankerin’ fer some mole-whackin’, just head over the Sidebar and click to start a new game. A bit of advice: It’s hard to work with the smaller docked version, so you might want to drag it off the Sidebar.
Download it now.
Microsoft announced Hyper-V, its virtualization hypervison technology formerly codenamed Viridian, available with various editions of Windows Server 2008. This results in eight versions of Server 2008, three with Hyper-V, three without, and two specialized types that don’t have Hyper-V:
- Windows Server 2008 Standard: $999 (with five Client Access Licenses, or CALs)
- Windows Server 2008 Enterprise: $3,999 (with 25 CALs)
- Windows Server 2008 Datacenter: $2,999 (per processor)
- Windows Server 2008 for Itanium-based Systems: $2,999 (per processor)
- Windows Web Server 2008: $469
- Windows Server 2008 Standard without Hyper-V: $971 (with five CALs)
- Windows Server 2008 Enterprise without Hyper-V: $3,971 (with 25 CALs)
- Windows Server 2008 Datacenter without Hyper-V: $2,971 (per processor)
The difference in price between the Hyper-V and non-Hyper-V versions is $28, and you can buy Hyper-V Server by itself for that same price.
If you were reading here last month, you’d have noticed Microsoft registering tens of domains related to Hyper-V, advance notice that this announcement was coming.
Windows Live’s excellent Translator service has now released a single line of code that you can add to any website to give visitors the option of translating your website into their language of choice. Just head to translator.live.com/AddIn.aspx, select the language your website uses, and it’ll give you the code. If your site is in English, this will be the code:
Just dump that anywhere in your template (hopefully somewhere people will notice) and your visitors will see a drop-down menu, where they can select usually from up to eleven languages to read the page in (non-English languages will have fewer options).
If you’d like to display flags of different countries as a means of showing translated versions, you can hack the code to link the flags to the proper translation. You’ll need to link the flags to URLs like this one:
The “WEBSITEADDRESS” has to be replaced with the actual web address, or a function that inserts the web address, and “en_nl” has to be replaced with the codes for the original language (“en” for English) and the language being translated into (“nl” for Dutch). To see this page in Dutch, click here.
LiveSide has the details on the Windows Live Admin Center, which replaces the old Live Custom Domains and lets you do more than just use a hosted Live Hotmail domain name. You can now customize all sorts of subdomains to Windows Live services, such as setting a blog.yoursite.com URL to a WIndows Live Space, or setting a maps.yoursite.com URL to a custom Live Maps Collection mashup.
Microsoft has confirmed that a new version of its Messenger instant messaging software will ship with and when Mac Office 2008 hits stores. While we don’t know anything about features, or even if it’ll be named Windows Live Messenger or MSN Messenger (presumably the new name, though), at least Mac fans are getting a new version. Not only that, but work is already going on for Messenger 7, which will be the first Mac version with audio/video capabilities.
Amulet Devices has announced a Windows Media Center remote control that has a microphone stick at the top of it, letting you speak into the remote and issue voice commands to your television. They have a video showing how you can name an artist and have Media Center play music by that artist, or ask your TV to change the channel or find the channel airing a specific show, among other possible applications of the remote.
The remote has some position sensing technology built in, letting the remote know when you’ve tilted it towards your mouth. This way, the remote doesn’t follow commands from the TV, switching shows and music based on what comes out of the speakers, but instead only listens when you lift it to specifically issue a command.
Amulet makes these Media Center PCs that work around the voice remote, with a 7-inch touchscreen on the front of the PC and some custom interfaces that work with the remote, dual tuners and other goodies. It looks like it comes with a special browsing interface for album cover art, one that looks similar to Apple’s Cover Flow and you can flick through with your finger on the touch screen, as well as pages of different features that you page through by swiping your hand.
It all looks pretty cool, and the Dublin-based company just unveiled it over the weekend at RDS Dublin. I’m already talking to the company, and I’ll update with more information as they send me it.
You can now get the code for Windows Live Messenger IM Control for your website. This lets you include Live Messenger on your blog, so your readers can send you IMs without needing a screen name, or your customers can ask support questions on any website. The code is extremely simple, will run in any blog that can take a YouTube embed (using a simple IFRAME, rather than SCRIPT tags), and it doesn’t reveal your IM screen name to potential spammers.
Go here to get it.
Here it is, embedded in this post after the break:
It’s after the break, because it seems to break my site template in both IE and Opera, and doesn’t seem to be working. I’ll try to figure out why and fix it. If it does work for you, send me a message to let me know.
It looks like the Windows Live Search Club, the puzzle game promotion that seemed so successful for Microsoft at first, is quickly turning into a PR disaster for the company. The Club, which had searchers play puzzle games in order to win prizes, originally gave Microsoft a huge boost in search engine market share, a gain which has slowly dissapeared entirely in the last few months. Even worse, though, is the anger the Club’s fans are now turning towards the company.
Commenters have been showing up in increasing numbers at my original six month old Live Search Club post, complaining about cancelled or undelivered prize orders, a dead website, removed prizes and bugs. There’s talk of a class action lawsuit, and you can see some more complaints on the Wikipedia Talk page. Has Microsoft screwed up, or is it fighting back so aggressively against cheaters that it is causing a lot of anger among legitimate players?
Either way, we haven’t heard the last of this story. It looks like, in the end, Microsoft had negligible gains from the promotion, and there are a lot of headaches to come from its management, or mismanagement, of same.
If you’ve had a good or bad experience, feel free to post about it in the comments.