Short Takes: March 7, 2014

Short Takes: March 7, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Leaks ... Just Not for You

To say that Microsoft's coming Update 1 release for Windows 8.1 is a bit of a mess is an understatement. I've made my case for why this thing is an inconsistent-user-experience hairball in "What the Heck is Happening to Windows?", but it goes well beyond that. First is the name. Technically, it's General Distribution Release 1 (GDR1), but it's really called Update 1 internally, as with the similarly created Windows Phone updates. But in public, Microsoft has referred to it as "the Spring update" and just "Update" (as in "Windows 8.1 Update") and, go figure, the company appears to be using that last name publically. Then there's the release. Microsoft finalized the code for Update 1 earlier this week. But now the update has leaked—and messily. First, the way it leaked is via direct download links from Microsoft's own servers—six of them, in fact, and they need to be installed in a very specific order. And then, discovering that the public had found the leak, Microsoft did exactly the wrong thing: It removed the fourth of the six files from its servers—the one that's absolutely needed to actually get Update 1 completely. So if you're reading this now, chances are you can't actually get it. Until, of course, it turns up on file-sharing sites. Which, come to think of it, should happen by the time you read this. Like I said, a mess.

Speaking of Which

Because the point of Windows 8.1 Update 1 is to make the system more usable for the more than 1 billion people on traditional, non-touch PCs and, more specifically, for the recalcitrant Windows XP users who refuse to upgrade, one might think that Microsoft could come up with a better name for this release. I nominate the name Windows XP 8.1.

No Surprise, but Microsoft Board Was Split on Nokia Purchase

Although Microsoft's mammoth $7.2 billion purchase of everything that is good about Nokia except for HERE is still waiting to be consummated, we did get some interesting back story about the deal this week. Businessweek reports that the Microsoft board was so divided over the need for this purchase that then-CEO Steve Ballmer had to angrily (and loudly) proclaim that he would step down as CEO if the board didn't approve the deal. Oddly, that got board members to change their minds, and then of course Mr. Ballmer stepped down as CEO anyway. But the real drama is which board members were against the deal. Microsoft cofounder and alleged savior Bill Gates, for example, was against it. And Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, also was against the purchase, although he now claims to enthusiastically support the move. For me, the weirdest part of this story is the tidbit that Microsoft could have acquired HERE with the rest of Nokia's good assets but didn't because the company didn't "need" it. I disagree, and I think this missing piece is in fact one of the worst facets of this deal.

A Potential Bright Spot for Microsoft in the Tablet Market

Unless you've been living in a cave next to Punxsutawney Phil, you know that Windows tablets and 2-in-1 PCs haven't exactly been setting the market on fire, and Gartner reported recently that these devices accounted for just 2.1 percent of these device types sold in 2013. But it might not be all bad news. In an IDC report that describes an expected tablet growth slowdown in 2014, that firm says that Windows-based tablets and 2-in-1s should grow pretty dramatically, with Windows snagging over 25 percent of all sales by 2018. "Going forward, IDC expects tablets to continue to infiltrate small, medium, and large businesses around the world," the firm notes. "This commercial growth is likely to benefit Microsoft's Windows over time ... Though Android and iOS will remain dominant, we expect Windows-based devices to capture more than a quarter of the market as its benefits become apparent thanks to growing adoption of 2-in-1s." Someone should call the coroner. His services might not be required.

Microsoft Pimps DirectX 12

Remember DirectX? (No? Well let me tell you kids about WinG then, God dang it!) With all but the most hardcore of gamers switching to mobile platforms such as Android and iOS, the web, handheld video game devices and, to a much lesser extent, dedicated game consoles, you'd think that the PC stuff would just kind of wind down. Not yet, apparently. Microsoft this week invited game developers to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco later this month, at which it will reveal the latest version of it game APIs, called DirectX 12. It's been a while since the last major release of DirectX—version 11 was announced in 2008 and hit in 2009, for example—but this could be notable. All the major graphics vendors—namely, AMD and NVIDIA—are supporting it, and Microsoft promises this version will let developers get "closer to the metal." Given the previous schedules, however, don't be surprised if DirectX 12 doesn't arrive until the release of Windows 9 in April 2015. At the earliest.

Well, This Is Curious

With Sony's PlayStation 4 stomping all over the Xbox One around the world, one might imagine that a senior Sony executive who played a crucial role in PlayStation's resurgence would be celebrating this victory. Alas, that is not the case, and it's unclear what's happening. Sony announced yesterday that Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) President and CEO Jack Tretton would leave the firm immediately in a "mutual" decision. "As one of the founding members of the executive team, Tretton played a pivotal role in launching all PlayStation platforms in North America," a Sony statement notes, without explaining why he has to leave so suddenly. My guess? Cooked books, of course.

But Wait, There's More

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows. And check out my free ebooks, Paul Thurrott's Windows Phone 8, Paul Thurrott's Xbox Music, and the newly minted Windows 8.1 Field Guild, which I'm now copy-editing with Rafael Rivera on its way to publication. It's only $2, folks. 

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