Changing the default app used to open tel: links on Windows

This content is 9 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Earlier this morning I had a missed call notification in Outlook. I clicked the number, Windows asked me which app I wanted to open that type of link (a tel: URI) and I clicked the wrong option. All of a sudden I had phone numbers opening in the Skype Windows 8 app rather than in my Skype for Business client (previously the Lync client).

It turns out that it’s a relatively simple change to make but it’s not necessarily obvious that the UI to do this is the one to change file type associations (this is a link, not a file…).

  1. In Control Panel go to Default Programs and then Set Default Programs (the quickest way is to hit the Windows key and type “Default Programs“).
  2. Scroll down to Lync (desktop). Despite the name, this is the Skype for Business desktop client.
  3. Select Lync (desktop) and click Chose defaults for this program:
  4. You’ll see that the URL:Tel Protocol entry is not checked, because it’s associated with Skype:
  5. Select the Checkbox next to TEL and click Save:
  6. If you look at the Skype program associations, TEL will now be showing as defaulting to Skype for Business (desktop):

There’s more information in Paul Thurrott’s Windows 8 Tip on Changing File Associations.

Short takes: missing keys, closing apps and taking screen grabs

This content is 9 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Another post with a few things I’ve collected in my browser tabs over the last few weeks…

Locating the hash (#) key on a Mac keyboard

I love the Apple wireless keyboard that I use with my Mac Mini but tweeting without a hash key can be challenging at times…

So much for the Mac’s simplicity when I have to Google to find the hash key (it’s at Alt+3, BTW)!

Closing Windows 8 apps with the Surface/Surface Pro touch/type covers

And, talking of missing keys… the Surface/Surface Pro touch/type covers have function keys that double up as media keys so, if you want to Alt-F4 to close an app, remember that’s Alt+Fn+F4.

Snipping from “Metro” apps in Windows 8.1

If you want to snip a portion of the screen in Windows 8.x and you’re running a full-screen (“Metro”) app, then you’re out of luck – the Snipping Tool only works in desktop mode. The workaround is to take a screenshot with PrtSc and then edit the resulting clipboard contents. Hopefully this gets better in Windows 10?

So where is the PrtSc key for the Surface/Surface Pro touch/type covers?

There isn’t a PrtSc key, but Fn+space will grab the whole screen (as PrtSc does on a normal PC keyboard) and Alt+Fn+space will grab the current window and copy it to the clipboard (as Alt+PrtSc does normally).


Short takes: hosts files; C#; Azure VMs; sleuthing around Exchange; closing Windows 8 apps; and managing tabs in Google Chrome

This content is 10 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Another dump of my open browser tabs to the web…

Unable to edit hosts file in Windows

One of the tools (read Excel and lots of macros) that I use for financial forecasting said it couldn’t find a server.  Of course the network’s never broken – it must be the end users’s fault – so, faced with the prospect of telling an angry admin that there is a DNS mis-configuration, I decided to hack my hosts file instead…

Windows doesn’t make that easy (even as a local administrator) – so I ran Notepad as Administrator instead… being an old skool kind of command line guy it was an elevated cmd prompt  from Start, cmd, then shift and click (which dumps me into C:\Windows\System32), followed by the cd drivers/etc and notepad hosts commands.

What versions of C# are out there?

One thing I wanted to know whilst teaching myself to write in C# a few months back (i.e. to select a course that was up-to-date!) was which versions of C# are out there. Of course, Stack Overflow has the answer.

And, one day, I really must have a play with CShell, the open source C# read-eval-print-loop (REPL) IDE

What Microsoft server software is supported in an Azure VM?

Ever wondered what can be run up (and supported) in a Microsoft Azure VM? Quite a lot, but also some big omissions (Exchange, obviously) and some caveats (like no DHCP).  The formal list is in Microsoft knowledge base article 2721672.

Finding the Exchange Server that actually hosts my email

Exchange AutoDiscover means that, most of the time, end users don’t need to know where their email is – just the single address that lets the email client find the server – but several times recently I’ve found myself needing to know which server hosts my email.  One time I was diagnosing intermittent issues with out of office replies and access to colleagues’ calendars.  Another time I wanted to use PowerShell to list members of a distribution group programmatically (and later to rename a distribution group after the IT department said it wasn’t possible). Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to run PowerShell commands against our servers (but that’s probably a good thing)!

Anyway, it seems that the details I needed were available via Outlook Web Access:

  1. Logon to OWA
  2. Click options
  3. Click About
  4. And find the line that reads “Client access server name” – that’s your connection point.  There’s also a line for “Mailbox server name”.

I tested this with Exchange 2007.  It may vary for other releases and I haven’t checked.

By the way, a couple of links that looked hopeful for my distribution group issues (the ones I had to find another way to resolve):

Closing applications in Windows 8

Our family PC runs Windows 8.1 but, as my work PC runs Windows 7, I have to admit sometimes there are things I haven’t got used to.  One of those is closing full-screen apps.  I usually resort to Alt-F4 but if the kids have left the computer in touch format, then it seems that a simple top to bottom drag is what I need (there should also be a close button if I touch the top of the screen).

Managing tabs in Google Chrome

As I go through my work, I often come across things I’d like to go back to later, or leave side projects part-done, blog posts half-researched (and half-written), etc. Over time, they build up to hundreds of tabs and I my bookmarks folder is a plethora of In Progress yyyymmdd folders (another job to sort out one day).  It also means that, every now and again, my PC slows right down and I need to reboot because Google Chrome is using 14 gazillion GBs of RAM and a Flash plugin (probably serving ads on a website) has gone haywire again. Add Symantec EndPoint Prevention and BeCrypt DiskPrevent into the mix and a reboot could be a half-hour inconvenience.

Last night, I spent hours working through the various open tabs, closing some, pasting some to blog posts (this one… and others still work in progress) and I happened to post a little tweetette, to which Garry Martin (@GarryMartin) happened to respond:

Awesome indeed. Less than 5 seconds to install and the remaining handful of tabs are now under control.

Confusion over accounts used to access Microsoft’s online services

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I recently bought a new computer, for family use (the Lenovo Flex 15 that I was whinging about the other week finally turned up). As it’s a new PC, it runs Windows 8 (since upgraded to 8.1) and I log in with my “Microsoft account”. All good so far.

I set up local accounts for the kids, with parental controls (if you don’t use Windows Family Safety, then I recommend you do! No need for meddling government firewalls at ISP level – all of the major operating systems have parental controls built in – we just need to be taught to use them…), then I decided that my wife also needed a “Microsoft account” so she could be registered as a parent to view the reports and over-ride settings as required.

Because my wife has an Office 365 mailbox, I thought she had a “Microsoft account” and I tried to use her Office 365 credentials. Nope… authentication error. It was only some time later (after quite a bit of frustration) that I realised that the “Organization account” used to access a Microsoft service like Office 365 is not the same as a “Microsoft account”. Mine had only worked because I have two accounts with the same username and password (naughty…) but they are actually two entirely separate identities. As far as I can make out, “organization accounts” use the Windows Azure Active Directory service whilst “Microsoft accounts” have their heritage in Microsoft Passport/Windows Live ID.

Tweeting my frustrations I heard back from a number of online contacts – including journalists and MVPs – and it seems to be widely accepted that Microsoft’s online authentication is a mess.

As Jamie Thomson (@JamieT) commented to Alex Simons (@Alex_A_Simons – the Programme Director for Windows Azure Active Directory), if only every “organization account” could have a corresponding “Microsoft account” auto-provisioned, life would be a lot, lot simpler.

Microsoft’s message to UK partners for FY13 (#PBBBirm #MSPartnersUK)

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I spent most of yesterday at Microsoft’s Partner business briefing in Birmingham. The afternoon workshops were especially good value (I was in the Public Cloud session, learning more about Office 365) but the morning keynote (delivered by Janet Gibbons, Microsoft’s UK Director for Partner Strategy and Programmes) had some interesting messages that are worth sharing further:

  • 95% of Microsoft’s global revenues are generated through it’s channel partners.
  • 2012 is the biggest launch year in Microsoft’s history with almost every product having a major refresh or a new iteration (from Windows 8 to Halo 4).
    • Microsoft is spending significant volumes on product advertising.
  • Microsoft is still a software company, but increasingly a devices and services company.
    • Many of those services relate to software subscriptions.
    • Interestingly, there is a 26% piracy rate for software in the UK (20% of Office users are illegal/mis-licensed) – and no piracy with online services.
    • There are new partner opportunities for selling Office 365 and managing the customer relationship (billing, etc.) to expand the revenue opportunity with value-added services.
  • Microsoft’s FY13 priorities are:
    • Excite customers, businesses and advertisers with Windows 8 devices and applications.
    • Win against Google every time with Office 365 and launch Office [2013].
    • Build application ecosystem for Windows 8, Windows Phone and Windows Azure.
    • Win the datacentre with private, public and hybrid cloud.
    • Grow SQL Server through BI, big data and mission critical [deployments].
    • Drive deployment for Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Active Directory.
    • Win with business solutions.
    • Grow Windows Phone market share.
    • Drive Xbox profit and grow Kinect and Live Attach.
    • Grow reach, search and monetisation of our consumer online  services.
Interesting to see the Microsoft FY13 scorecard in public: great openness at #PBBBirm - to be applauded #MSPartnersUK
Mark Wilson

Of course, there was the obligatory Windows 8 marketing message (maybe I’ve been through too many new operating system release cycles and it all feels like another turn on the merry-go-round so I switched off a little in that part) but it was also interesting to hear Intel stand up and say (I paraphrase), “we’re still friends with Microsoft and even though Windows runs on another platform too x86 is better [does anyone remember when Windows NT supported DEC Alpha and ARC-MIPS alongside Intel x86?]. Don’t forget that Atom is power-optimised too [not just underpowered] and we have all this lovely built-in security stuff in our hardware platform”.

As for Office and Office 365 – probably too much for this post but some of the changes coming up in the next release look fantastic. I’m certainly glad I made the switch from Google Apps, although maybe a P1 plan wasn’t the best idea…

Microsoft (finally) gets its mobility act together – but cuts loose early adopters of the Windows Phone OS

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last night, Microsoft announced plans for the next version of its Windows Phone operating system – Windows Phone 8. In many ways it was a great announcement. Windows smartphones will have a “common core” with desktop Windows. The Windows ecosystem is converging, maybe a little late, but I said Windows 8 could be a turning point for Microsoft and Windows Phone seems to be a part of that.

Tom Warren had a great post up almost immediately at the Verge on what what was announced for Windows Phone 8. But Tom also highlighted, as did Simon Bisson at ZDNet, that there was a sting in the tail. A very big sting. And its target is the very people who adopted Windows Phone 7 – arguably the community that Microsoft needs in order to make Windows Phone 8 a success.

Current generation Windows Phone (Mango) devices will not be upgradable to Windows Phone 8 (Apollo).

There will be an update for Windows Phone 7, taking it to 7.8 (extending Microsoft’s marketing abuse of version numbers) but it’s little more than a few cosmetic changes. Windows Phone 7 apps will run on Windows Phone 8 but not vice versa (exceptions being those that are not compiled to take advantage of new Windows Phone 8 functionality, or Siverlight apps for Windows Phone, themselves sidelined for XAML/C#). Given that we’re starting out from a fairly limited pool of apps, that pool is likely to get smaller as apps are updated; and it pretty much kills the current Windows Phone market stone dead.

I switched to Windows Phone because I thought it was fresh, different, and because Microsoft positioned it as the future of their smartphone story. The big reset happened when Windows Mobile was killed off two years ago in favour of Windows Phone. I thought (still do think) that iOS has become stale, its UI is tired and has become clunky in places (in fairness, so is Windows Phone at times) but at least the aging iPhone 3GS that my employer provides runs the latest version of iOS. Meanwhile, Android is fragmented and has its own problems around security and an incoherent tablet story (don’t write it off just yet though). I didn’t buy an HTC HD2 because I knew that Windows Mobile 6.5 devices wouldn’t be upgradable to Windows Phone 7 (that much was already known long before Windows 7 appeared). Instead, I waited for Nokia to release some (semi-) decent hardware for Windows Phone and, just 7 months later, they made it obsolete – and I simply don’t buy that they were unaware of Microsoft’s roadmap for Windows Phone. I know that technology adoption is a risky business but I expect my device to at least last as long as a standard mobile phone contract (2 years) and my Lumia 800 has a limited future ahead of it.

So my few months old Nokia Lumia 800 is EOL'ed in a few months. Gee thanks Microsoft.
Jon Honeyball
Several people making the very valid point that Microsoft is rewarding its early adopters by cutting them adrift. Goodwill evaporates.
Barry Collins

Some say that users will always complain: either that there’s no legacy support; or that legacy support is bloating the OS – but a published roadmap that allows consumers to make informed choices (together with N-1 version support) should really be the minimum acceptable standard.

Microsoft owned the roadmap. Microsoft controlled the reference architecture. Microsoft prevented OEMs from increasing the hardware capabilities of Windows Phone devices (screen resolution, adding multiple cores, etc.) and now Microsoft is preventing even recent hardware from running its latest phone OS. In short, Microsoft is screwing its early adopters.

I really do hope that all those consumers that Microsoft and Nokia have been (knowingly) marketing dead-end Lumia devices too of late have an opportunity to force support for Windows Phone 7-class hardware to continue until Windows 9 comes along (giving users 2-3 years of current device support). Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen (unless there are some very smart lawyers involved).

One thing’s for sure. This Windows Phone user will be thinking very, very carefully before committing to any future mobile device purchases running Windows. Once bitten, twice shy.

@ +1 And brand trust will become more important as more and more personal stuff is inside your phone
carolina milanesi

Microsoft reimagines Windows while others search for business value

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Whilst there are many conferences and many keynotes to keep an eye on, I watched last night’s keynote from Microsoft’s Build conference with great interest. The geek inside me was interested in the technology but there was another side too – I wanted to see how Microsoft, for many years so dominant, is responding to today’s pressures of IT consumerisation.

It seems that I’m having an increasing number of conversations about “bring your own” (BYO) device schemes – indeed I hope to be able to publish a white paper on this soon – but the reaction seems to be either:

  1. No, it’ll never happen here or in any large company because <insert security, manageability, etc. concerns>; or
  2. We think BYO sounds promising but need to understand more about how to make it a reality.

That’s why I was so pleased to see a major airline announcing its BYO programme (for up to 35,000 seats) this week.

So what are the devices that our enterprise IT consumers will bring to work? Well, an increasing percentage are Apple MacBooks and iPads, Android tablets, etc. and these threaten Microsoft’s hegemony in the world of enterprise IT (not to mention the fact that Fujitsu also designs and manufactures PCs, many of which run Windows, unlike the devices I mentioned a moment ago…) .

Microsoft promised that, at Build, they would present “Windows reimagined”. I was sceptical at first but, I truly believe that they have struck a remarkable balance between maintaining compatibility with existing Windows applications and creating a platform that allows for convergence across device types (PC, phone, web) and architectures (x86, ARM). Crucially, they also got a big chunk of the Windows development community on side with a free tablet device from Samsung and/or access to a preview copy of the code.

What does this mean for the enterprise though? It seems to me that the most important question is not about technology, but what’s the business case for a Windows upgrade; why would a CIO invest in Windows 8? Or, as Glen Koskela, CTO for Fujitsu’s Nordic region, put it:

“Windows 8 @ BUILD Windows. Platform changes, major UX overhaul etc. But: tell me the relevance of the business problems Win8 solves.”

[@gkoskela, on Twitter]

Glen’s comment sounds harsh – at least in 140 characters it does – but he is right on the mark. A new version of Windows is, in itself, not something of value – we need to find a reason to adopt it – something that either has an impact on the bottom line or addresses other business requirements (such as security, legal or regulatory concerns).

Build is a developer conference and yesterday’s keynote reflects that. As we learn more about the technologies that Microsoft produces, we’ll be able to see where these features and the associated advantages can translate into tangible, business benefits.

Meanwhile, what we have been shown might just make those Windows devices more attractive to consumers – the group of people that will buy the devices that access the content we provide to business end users, in this brave new world of cloud-enabled enterprise IT.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

Has Microsoft found its mojo?

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I got home very late from work last night as I watched the keynote from Microsoft’s Build conference before leaving the office. Tonight, I guess I’ll be doing the same, for day 2.

At the start, I was mildly interested, Microsoft has been uninspiring for a while now – failing to gain traction with a mobile operating system, with Windows selling well despite an uncertain future, and competitors apparently cleaning up in the tablet market. Microsoft’s stock price has been pretty-much static and many (myself included) have questioned the company’s leadership, especially as it lost a succession of high-profile executives.

"Windows reimagined" - and it needs to be. Expectations are high, Microsoft #bldwin
Mark Wilson

There was a time when I was a great Microsoft advocate, but the keynotes have always been a little dull – what we’ve seen with Windows 8 so far is inspirational though. By midway through the first keynote I was tweeting:

I said that expectations for re-imagining Windows were high, but I have to say the Windows 8 UX looks amazing #bldwin
Mark Wilson

I love my Apple devices, but Windows 8 makes OS X look like it's ancient... in the same way that Windows Phone does for iOS #bldwin
Mark Wilson

I’ve long since argued that Microsoft should bring its phone OS to PCs – dump the legacy, and make a bold move towards lightweight, single-purpose apps. After all, as Brett King put it:

@ Yep - looks like we're moving away from screens to chunks of content and functionality
Brett King

Content is the future and operating systems, devices, all of that infrastructure is just a means to an end – it’s how we get to the data.  Even so, I’d like to think I’m a pragmatist – and some of my colleagues are still ranting about the introduction of the ribbon interface in Office (almost half a decade ago) – so how will people respond to the removal of chunks of Windows NT legacy and a totally new user experience as part of the “metrofication” of Windows?

I can see a bunch of people who are fighting 2007 UI changes flipping out when they see Windows 8...
Mark Wilson

That’s why I think Microsoft has been extremely smart. Some are questioning the existence of two user interfaces on one operating system but why not? I can swap out window managers on Linux, we have seen “classic modes” of previous Windows versions and, yes, I’m sure a traditional Windows 32 app will look ugly on a Windows 8 system but that’s the price of supporting legacy – like Classic applications on OS X (now, thankfully, confined to the past).

Windows 8 Platform and Tools

Microsoft is supporting “traditional” applications, alongside a move towards HTML5 and XAML and – this is the smart part – running apps on multiple architectures (x86 or ARM) without recompilation. In one huge leap they have taken Windows forward and there seems to be a convergence between PC, phone and web. One Windows to rule them all. Sure, that’s what Microsoft has been telling us for ages but many of us doubted the company’s ability to pull this off.

There are some great new features in Windows 8 and whilst I’m tempted to provide a run-down, others have done a much better job – I’ll concentrate on the analysis…

For consumers, Windows 8 looks fantastic, supports some great new hardware, and could even win back some mindshare from Apple [steady on Mark…]

For the enterprise, there is only one question that matters: what’s the business case for a Windows upgrade – why would a CIO invest in Windows 8? Don’t give me  features and advantages, but real business benefits (Microsoft has never been good at this, and would probably argue this is where partners add value).

  • To start with, I’m impressed that Windows will boot so quickly and consume fewer resources on the same hardware – perhaps the decline in PC sales is less to do with Apple’s tremendous efforts with the iPad and more to do with longer replacement cycles.  I do find myself asking whether maybe Microsoft could take a step further though, to strip out even more legacy support (maybe in Windows 9?).
  • Support for consumerisation via an application store is also a positive step (I called for this last year, and certain ‘softies told me it was a daft idea…) but we also need the ability to create enterprise application stores – where I can make both Microsoft and non-Microsoft apps available within an organisation. After all, BYO is not for everyone – and there will still be organisations rolling out Windows internally, with their own set of approved applications (although hopefully with a much greater emphasis on delivering content via a browser).
  • I can see the ability to baseline a system and restore to a known state resulting in major cost savings; however it’s tempting to just wipe and reload, instead of performing any form of root cause analysis – we’re unlikely to find out where problem applications are and fix them if all we do is reload the system. Let’s not forget too that a reload still leads to lost productivity for end users – albeit a significant improvement on the status quo.
  • In-kernel anti-malware protection could potentially make a huge difference to security; but the issue of patching is still there (as it is in competing operating systems) – it’s all very well making the notification more subtle but the fact Windows contains so much legacy, is so big and needs so many updates is still a concern.
  • And what about integrating with the cloud – not with Windows Live – but with a private cloud, or with another set of cloud services? Yes, the future (the present, even) is cloudy but maybe I don’t want internal documents being shared on SkyDrive? And, heaven forbid, perhaps the answer isn’t SharePoint either (SharePoint seems to be Microsoft’s answer for rolling out enterprise equivalents to its public cloud services internally).

I imagine some of my questions will be answered as more and more details of Windows 8, Office 15 and new generations of cloud services are revealed but, based on what I heard yesterday, Microsoft has indeed, re-imagined Windows… I haven’t been this impressed with a Microsoft keynote for a long time (maybe ever?) butJon Honeyball (himself, an extensive Apple user) beautifully summed the situation up in just a few words:

RT @: Microsoft gets its mojo back #bldwin ^MW And so good to see it happen - for a while there (last 2 years), I was worried
Mark Wilson

Just in the nick of time…

[Updated 14 September 2011: provide additional links/graphics and improve grammar]

What might “Windows 8” (or “Windows Next”) bring for tablets/slates?

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Once upon a time, Microsoft used to share information about developments in new versions of Windows with customers and partners. Then came Windows Vista (codenamed Longhorn), a project fraught with difficulties, and there was much consternation about cancelled functionality.  So, for the next release (codenamed, and later released as, Windows 7, even though it’s only 6.1), Microsoft kept quiet, before shipping a very public beta and asking people for feedback, long after all the key decisions had been made!

“Windows 8” looks to continue in the same vein – except that Microsoft won’t even tell us a codename – only making vague references to “the next version of Windows” or “Windows Next”. So, it’s hardly surprising that the tech media is trying to glean information about what the next release of Windows may have in store.  And, as an MVP and an employee of a major global systems integrator (but speaking for myself of course – my views are personal and should not be interpreted as a statement on behalf of my employer), I can tell you it’s not just technology journalists and bloggers that want to know – I want to be able to talk to customers about roadmaps but Microsoft is keeping schtum.

So, when journalist, author, ZDNet blogger and long-time Microsoft commentator, Mary Jo Foley ran a webcast this afternoon looking at Microsoft’s strategy for tablets/slates “Windows 8”, I tuned in.  Of course, it was nothing that Mary Jo hadn’t already written about – and it was purely speculative (albeit based on some good sources) but it’s the best we have to go on right now about what might be coming – and a good summary of the current situation.

The following are my notes from the webcast.  I may well look back in a year or so and laugh at how wrong we were (as I did with my tweets about the iPad from late-January 2010!) but I have a feeling that most, if not all, of this will come true.

It was interesting to see what people think about the market for slates/tablets.  Based on a poll taken during the call: 13% think that Apple owns the market [as of now, they do – but that could still change]; 8% think it’s overrated and will slip away like netbooks [unlikely – have you seen the sales figures for the iPad?]; 22% think the market is in its infancy and will hurt PC sales [definitely nascent; but I generally see slates as additive, rather than alternatives to PCs]; and the vast majority (57%) think the market is in its infancy but that there is room for Android and Windows “pads”.  Based on those figures (which are far from scientific, and likely to be skewed in Microsoft’s favour given Mary Jo’s readership) Microsoft has not completely lost its chance to ship a decent tablet but it’s clear there is still a lot of work to do – and a lot of unknowns.

So what about Windows 7 slates? It’s difficult for me to comment on this, for professional reasons (although I have previously written about how Steve Ballmer told me what to do with my iPad) but Mary Jo Foley is not a fan. She sees some interesting designs, but considers them to be generally pricey, not portable enough, with poor battery life and not true iPad competitors. [For what it’s worth, I can’t argue with any of that.]

And what’s the difference between a slate and tablet? Not a lot.  Microsoft likes to talk about tablets – they see a stylus as a differentiator but the two terms are used interchangably by analysts and media – like notebooks and laptops (or twenty-eleven and two-thousand-and-eleven).

On Windows 8, Microsoft has said nothing – although they have spoken of “the next version of Windows”.  That could be Windows 8, or it could be something else (Windows Compact Embedded?) but is really likely to be a successor to Windows 7.

Microsoft has accidentally leaked information about “Windows Next” in job advertisements, blog posts, leaked slides from confidential presentations to OEMs. Some of the information gleaned includes references to identifying modern form factors to target and optimise for:

  • Lap PC
  • Workhorse PC
  • Family Hub PC

The second and third categories are familiar – and the first sounds/looks like a slate [albeit with a terrible lable].

There is a view that “Lap PCs” are about consumption (I think there is scope for some content creation – I certainly write on my iPad) but some differentiators might include more built in sensors (facial recognition to log in; ambient sensor to detect that the user is not there and hibernate/shutdown) as well as apps to integrate with home automation – but remember we’re likely to see at least one [maybe two] iteration(s) of the iPad before any of this comes to market.

Whilst we don’t know what “Windows Next” is, assuming it is a replacement for Windows 7, we can expect to see it within 24-36 months after Windows 7 shipped (so 2012) and it will run on x86, ARM and Intel/AMD system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures.

Microsoft has said nothing official about RTM dates/betas, etc. but Mary Jo Foley believes milestone build 1 (M1) was released within Microsoft in September 2010 with M2 due this month and M3 around July/August.  After that, we might see A public test build in September (at PDC?) with a beta in 2012, and release in summer 2012?  There are some question marks around which architecture(s) may ship first, as well as whether it will be all 64-bit [I think it should be, but expect a 32-bit version to be available, at least for some SKUs].

It looks like there might be some interesting features for tablets/slates too:

  • Jupiter looks to be an application development model/framework that provides a XAML layer on top of Windows, maybe with its roots in version 5 of the Microsoft.NET Framework, for seamless creation of apps that are optimised for the tablet/slate experience.
  • MoSH may be a Modern SHell – an alternative user interface for Windows on slates/tablets – maybe using the Metro style we’ve seen in the Zune and Windows Phone software [let’s hope so].

Microsoft would like there to be “one Windows” but there isn’t and it’s only natural to ask if “Windows Next” will be the only slate operating system? We can expect to see version 7 of Windows Embedded Compact (definitely for data consumption only) released around April/May 2011, but there is also a chance of Windows Phone on tablets, despite Microsoft statements to the contrary [I think it could be be a great solution – although Mary Jo Foley notes that Windows is more mature and more stable than Windows Phone 7].

Can Microsoft win back iPad users? Well, maybe some of them – many of us are iPad users because there is simply nothing better in the market. Perhaps a Windows tablet could be good – but I for one would take some convincing – and it wouldn’t be running Windows 7 (and, from what I’ve seen of Google Android “Honeycomb”, it’s not really a step forward from current Apple iOS functionality either).  The real questions are around applications and access to data – and only time will tell what Microsoft has in store (excuse the pun) or what effect the revamped Android Marketplace will have.

For now, Mary Jo’s big unknowns are:

  • What will Windows slates do to address the issues of weight/cost/battery life? A tablet needs to be lightweight with a 10 hour battery life (as a minimum) [and to compete on value with the existing market leader].
  • Will Microsoft lock down the slate chassis specifications (as they did for Windows Phone 7), providing a common ground for applications?
  • Will the Metro user interface appear on a “WinPad”?
  • What about the Windows Application store? What apps will it have? Where from? Written by whom?
  • Will any of the Courier concepts re-emerge?

[Update 3 February 2011: Paul Thurrott also looks at Windows 8 rumours, among other things, prompting Jamie Thomson to ask another good question: Will Microsoft allow enterprises to run their own internal application stores?]

For now, we don’t really know the answers – I’m hopefully that things will fall into place towards the end of 2011 but the longer Microsoft has nothing, whilst Apple ships significant quantities of iPads (and “iPad 2″s), the larger the gap becomes, and the further Apple encroaches into Microsoft’s enterprise heartland.

How Steve Ballmer told me what to do with my iPad!

This content is 14 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Steve Ballmer speak to two audiences, first at Microsoft’s Partner Briefing on transitioning to the cloud (#pbbcloud) and then at the UK TechDays Special Event on the future of cloud development (#uktechdays).

I’m sorry I didn’t catch the name of the guy who asked Mr Ballmer a question about Windows tablets in the TechDays question and answer session, but I was certainly very interested to hear the Microsoft CEO’s reaction:

Question: “We haven’t had a Windows tablet come out yet […] we do see the prototypes coming out all the time but I do remember you saying that it’s going to run full Windows 7. […] are we going to have like a tablet version of Windows Phone 7 or a tablet of Windows Embedded 7 coming out? […] To me, although [Windows 7] is touch enabled, I don’t think it’s great for a small 7″, 9″ device.”

Mr Ballmer’s response: “Yeah, what you’ll see over the course of the next year is us doing more and more work with our hardware partners creating hardware-software optimisations with Windows 7 and with Windows 7 Media Center […] Media Center is big and, when people say ‘hey, we could optimise more for clients’ I think what they generally mean is ‘Big Buttons’.  Big Buttons that’s, I think, a codeword for Big Buttons and Media Center is Big Buttons not Little Buttons. I’m not trying to trivialise that – it’s a real issue.

We’re not going to do a revamp of Windows 7 over the course of the next year for that purpose.  Whether we should, or we shouldn’t, we’ve put all our energy around doing a great job on that and other issues in the next version of Windows so we will do optimisations to have devices that look really good, that run Windows, that are very good for touch applications which we will encourage people to write. We will do things that improve – it turns out that if we just optimise settings and the configuration of Windows it can be a lot more usable through touch, even on today’s systems – we’re doing that work with the OEMs. We’re doing work with the OEMs to make sure that they treat ink also as a first class citizen.  None of our competitors products actually do a very good [job]. I saw a poor guy in a speech I did out down the hall, he had one of our competitors’ devices and he was sitting there crouched over with this thing on his knees, bent and there’s no keyboard – and he was in torture using that poor non-Windows slate device [audience laughs].

And for some of you, [you] do the same but I think we can make life a little simpler for people, if we do the right job.  Can we do better by optimising – yep – guy’s got one at the back – you can bend over too, I’ll tell ya!  [audience laughs]

The truth of the matter is the laptop weighs less – you can set it on your lap, it doesn’t weigh anything at that point and then you can type.  I’m not trying to say there’s not a place for touch-optimised slate-based devices, obviously we have shown enthusiasm about that before but you’ll see some optimisations coming in the course of the next year and some of the devices that convert, that have a keyboard, that flip around – I think some of those will be also pretty useful for people in the course of the next year.”

[I’ve tried to get the text word-perfect here but I was at the back of the room and the audio recording was not fantastic… this is certainly what it sounds like to me].

The thing is, I was that “non-Windows slate device” user down the hall (and I was the guy at the back of the room when he said this) and the only reason I was in “torture” (which, of course, was a slight overdramatisation for comedy effect) was that I was squashed into a row of seats between two other guys and I was bending forward so that we weren’t sitting there with shoulders pressed together like sardines in a tin can.  I was also juggling a camera (on my Nokia phone), a voice recorder (on my iPhone) and taking notes/tweeting on the iPad whilst listening to Mr Ballmer.  Ironically, the reason I took my iPad to the event was that my Windows devices are so bad for portability (to be honest, so is my MacBook – this is not about Windows but about the device form factor).  My netbook has to be coaxed through the day with Wi-Fi switched off in order to get more than a few hours out of the battery; my 15″ laptop only goes 2-3 hours between charges (newer models may be better, but I can’t change laptops at the drop of a hat); meanwhile, I find the iPad easy enough to type on in landscape mode, it turns on/off instantly and, after 8 hours taking notes and tweeting yesterday, it still had an indicated battery charge of 55%.  If Microsoft produced a slate that did that, I would have been using it but they don’t and, based on what Ballmer had to say yesterday, it may be some time before they finally “get it” (I wrote last month about what I think Microsoft needs to do to keep Windows relevant in the mobile computing space).

As Mary Jo Foley wrote yesterday, this year’s Windows 7 slates won’t be under my Christmas tree.