TIME Software

China Bans Windows 8 on Government Computers

A little over a month after Microsoft officially ended support for its 13-year-old Windows XP operating system, China has decided that the software meant to replace XP, Windows 8, is to be banned from government computers.

Reuters reports that China’s official Xinhua news agency vaguely cited security measures and energy-saving efforts as the rationale behind the ban, though “neither the government nor Xinhua elaborated,” says Reuters.

Former CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly told employees in 2011 that Microsoft’s Windows sales were roughly 5% in China compared to what they were the U.S. — even though PC sales were about the same. Despite widespread software piracy in China, however, this Windows 8 ban could have a lasting effect on Microsoft’s bottom line there: As the Associated Press points out, the Chinese government is Microsoft’s largest paying client.

[Reuters]

TIME Computers

Windows XP Support Ends: What Users Need to Know

Windows XP
Bloomberg / Getty Images

Today, Microsoft is finally ending almost all support for Windows XP. That means any computer you own that uses Windows XP will no longer get updates, security patches, bug fixes, and you’re mostly on your own if something breaks. The only exception is anti-malware signatures, which will be updated through July 14, 2015, While helpful, these updates won’t protect your computer in the way you’ve been accustomed.

For 13 years, XP has had a good run and a longer life than Microsoft planned for it. Now it’s time to say goodbye.

Still have a computer running Windows XP and don’t know what to do now that it’s officially cut off? We’ve got your answers.

Our advice: Get a new computer

Machines running Windows XP are at least 6-10 years old at this point, unless they’re netbooks, which are 4-6 years old themselves. This means you’re due for an upgrade on both the hardware and software sides. Buying a new PC that can last you another several years is always a good investment.

As hardware gets older it gets slower and more likely to break down. Every piece of software from browsers to media players to office programs will run better on a newer computer with a faster processor, more RAM and a speedier hard drive.

Buying a new computer doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money. There are great laptops available for $500 or less that are guaranteed to be more powerful than a machine running Windows XP. If you’re replacing a desktop, there are low-cost all-in-one machines on the horizon that balance power with low price.

Replace that aging machine! Be sure to wipe all your data before you do and recycle it responsibly.

Upgrade to a newer operating system

Computers that are still in good working condition and have had incremental internal upgrades over time may not need to be retired completely. You might be able to upgrade them to a newer version of Windows that still has support. Check out the installation requirements for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 to see if your computer can handle an upgrade.

We recommend upgrading to Windows 8.1 if the computer can handle it, since that’s the version Microsoft is actively supporting. Even if you prefer the Windows 7 user interface, it’s possible to make 8.1 look and act mostly like 7.

Setting up a new computer or Windows install

Whether you decide to upgrade your whole computer or just the operating system, moving your files and other data over isn’t too hard. Microsoft’s Easy Transfer software (pre-installed on Windows 7 and 8.1 machines) makes the Windows-to-Windows process pretty easy. Just be sure to download the version of the software specifically for XP. Check out our guides for migrating to a new PC and setting up a Windows 8.1 family PC for tips.

If you must stick with XP

Upgrading not in the cards for you? Perhaps you have newer computers but want to use your Windows XP machine until it well and truly dies. In that case, you should be aggressive about keeping that computer protected so it doesn’t cause you problems in the future.

The first step is to download all the remaining updates, patches, and security fixes using Windows Update. Next, install a robust anti-virus and/or anti-malware suite. This is necessary since even though Microsoft will no longer fix vulnerabilities in the operating system, that doesn’t mean malicious entities will stop looking for them or exploiting the ones they find. It’s also a good idea to be diligent about keeping all browsers, email programs, and other software that has access to the Internet up to date as well.

In the end, the safest thing to do is to upgrade, either to a newer OS or a newer computer altogether.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Tablets

Lenovo ThinkPad 8 Review: A Classy Windows Tablet, with Quirks

Jared Newman for TIME

Lenovo's $400 Windows tablet would be pretty slick if not for several software nuisances.

At one point, Lenovo’s ThinkPad 8 and I had a moment.

I was sitting in bed one evening, doing some writing, when I remembered that Windows 8 had an app for March Madness. Within minutes, I was watching the game on one half of the screen, while working in a text editor on the other half. It was glorious.

The Lenovo ThinkPad 8 didn’t soar to those heights all the time. Reviewing it over the course of a month, I found myself reaching for it more out of obligation than necessity. Like other 8-inch Windows tablets, it’s too small for long stretches of work, and it lacks a vast selection of apps for play. It also has too many weird software issues that can add up to frustration. But it does have its moments.

Compared to other small Windows 8 tablets, the ThinkPad 8 is pricey at $400, but a few features help to justify the higher cost: Currently, it’s the only 8-inch Windows tablet with a 1920-by-1200 resolution display — all the others in this size top out at 1280-by-800 — and it’s got an IPS panel that provides great viewing angles. The ThinkPad also includes 64 GB of storage — twice as much as cheaper competitors — plus a Micro-SD card slot and a Micro-HDMI output for connecting to an external monitor. (Lenovo also sells a $120 “dock” that adds dual-monitor support, Ethernet and additional USB ports, but I wasn’t able to try this myself.)

The ThinkPad 8 also includes a copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013, though this wasn’t loaded on the review unit that Lenovo sent.

Jared Newman for TIME

Inside, the ThinkPad 8 packs a 2.4 GHz Intel Bay Trail processor and 2 GB of RAM, making it a bit more powerful than other small Windows 8 tablets. Performance was smooth and responsive most of the time, and I ran desktop programs such as OpenOffice and Chrome without issue. The ThinkPad 8 was able to beam web videos to Chromecast with only the occasional stutter, and Hearthstone worked wonderfully on the touchscreen. Still, the 2012 indie game Fez was just a little too choppy to enjoy, so don’t expect to do much serious gaming beyond what’s available in the Windows Store.

Like other small Windows 8 tablets, the ThinkPad 8 is on the heavy side. At 0.89 pounds, it can be tiresome to hold up with one hand for long stretches. The rear panel is somewhat slippery as well, so overall the weight and comfort level isn’t quite on par with other small tablets like the iPad Mini and Google’s Nexus 7.

Jared Newman for TIME

During CES, I marveled at Lenovo’s $35 Quickshot cover, which has a little magnetic flap that exposes the rear camera and automatically takes you into the camera app. It works as advertised, but the 8-megapixel shooter is still a step down from what you’d expect on most high-end smartphones. Even if you don’t use the camera, the felt grip makes the ThinkPad 8 easier to grip, and you can also use the cover to prop the tablet up, tent-style, so it’s definitely an add-on worth considering.

If there’s one major complaint I have with the hardware, it’s with the speakers. They’re pitifully quiet and tinny. Even at full volume, it was a strain to watch a video on Netflix.

The bigger problems with the ThinkPad 8 stem from software. It’s not any one particular issue, but a bunch of smaller ones I noticed over time. Some examples:

  • Text and buttons often feel too small in Metro-style Windows apps. It’s as if the sizes of these elements haven’t been properly adjusted for the ThinkPad 8’s high-DPI display.
  • Desktop programs are especially tricky to use on default settings. It’s better if you go into screen resolution settings and change scaling to 200 percent, but this can keep some programs and websites from displaying properly.
  • I had a problem with OpenOffice where it just wouldn’t start for some reason, forcing me to restart the computer.
  • The system would sometimes freeze up temporarily while using basic Metro-style apps. This happened often when backing out of Twitter’s built-in web browser.
  • One time, while using Netflix, it refused to play audio, again forcing me to restart.
  • A mysterious battery drain issue caused half the tablet’s battery life to disappear overnight while on standby. The problem was only resolved with a restart.

Those little annoyances add up, and they hold back the Lenovo ThinkPad 8 from being what should be the best small Windows 8 tablet that money can buy.

If you can live without the full HD display on the ThinkPad 8, you’ve got some other options. Lenovo’s Miix 2 8 is the thinnest and lightest small Windows tablet, while Dell’s Venue 8 Pro is the cheapest. Toshiba’s Encore and Acer’s W4 are both $50 cheaper than the ThinkPad 8 with comparable storage, and they both have Micro-HDMI outputs for connecting to an external monitor. Asus’ Vivo Tab Note 8 is the only one with a bundled stylus.

But you should only be considering any of these Windows 8 tablets if there’s a specific desktop program you need, or if you’re enamored with Windows’ Snap feature that lets you view two apps side-by-side. It’s in these situations where the ThinkPad 8 flirts with excellence, despite its flaws.

TIME Technologizer

Looks Like the Next Version of Windows Will Be the One Everybody Wanted Back in 2012

Developers look at a preview of an upcoming version of Windows with a Start menu at the Build conference in San Francisco on April 2, 2014
Developers look at a preview of an upcoming version of Windows with a Start menu at the Build conference in San Francisco on April 2, 2014 Harry McCracken / TIME

The Start menu is coming back. Finally. Eventually.

As I write this, I’m three hours into the keynote at Microsoft’s Build conference. It’s still in progress, and it’s been jam-packed.

The company has talked about updates to Windows Phone and Windows 8.1; shown off the Cortana voice assistant; explained how it’s going to let developers write apps that run on Windows Phone, Windows and Xbox One; previewed an upcoming touch-friendly version of PowerPoint; talked about Windows running on Internet-of-Things devices such as pianos; and announced that it will provide the versions of Windows for phones, small tablets and the Internet of Things at no charge. Nokia’s Stephen Elop announced new Windows Phone handsets, and now new CEO Satya Nadella is answering questions from developers.

But one of the presentation’s most important bits was a brief glimpse of something theoretically mundane about the next major Windows upgrade, which will be free to users of Windows 8 and 8.1. Microsoft operating system honcho Terry Myerson didn’t mention a name or a ship date, but he showed off two key interface features. The operating system will let you run new-style Modern (aka Metro) apps in windows, just like traditional Windows apps — and it will have a Modernized version of the Start menu, which has been missing since Windows 8 shipped in 2012.

It remains baffling to me that Microsoft didn’t understand that ripping the Start button and Start menu out of Windows 8 was bad for Windows 8 adoption, since it gave cautious users who were reasonably happy with Windows 7 (or even–gasp!–Windows XP) a simple and rational reason to avoid upgrading to Windows 8. I’m also surprised that even a year and a half later, the restoration of features Windows had for decades is still something that’s coming at an unspecified date in the future.

Microsoft seems to be in a mode where it’s making a lot of the right decisions to prepare itself for the future; the problem is that the future is arriving awfully fast. The company couldn’t really afford to lose the time it wasted stubbornly insisting that the Start menu was obsolete. Still, I’m glad that it’s coming back–eventually–and I expect that its return, and other upgrades to Windows’ Desktop mode, will be welcome news to a lot of folks who are currently clutching to whatever version of Windows they already know.

TIME video

30-Second Tech Trick: How to Boot to the Desktop in Windows

Windows 8.1 allows you to boot straight to the desktop, but the setting is buried and the wording is murky.

+ READ ARTICLE
TIME Windows 8

Whoopsie Doodle: Microsoft Leaks Windows 8.1 Update 1 All by Itself

It's apparently Microsoft's unofficially official Windows 8.1 update.

When is a leak not a leak? When it comes direct from the source, which in this case would be Microsoft, and the product in question would be the much-anticipated Windows 8.1 Update 1. I guess you’d technically call that a whoopsie doodle.

The update had already leaked to torrent sites — reportedly the work of folks in Russia, who claim Microsoft finalized it in late February — but when it showed up in the Windows Update service Thursday, all eyes turned to Redmond. The update went out to manufacturers earlier this week, but no one expected it to show up on on Microsoft’s own publicly accessible servers yesterday.

ZDNet says the update was supposed to roll out gradually — first to insiders, and only at the end of the line to the general public. Instead, someone at Microsoft apparently pulled the public trigger early, or at least opened a backdoor that should have remained closed: In order to access the update, you had to either fiddle your registry settings, or track down direct links provided by someone in a popular online computing forum. ZDNet confirmed the authenticity of the registry edit retrieval method, noting it was able to execute the update on a Surface Pro running Windows 8.1 Pro, though the process apparently failed on a desktop running Windows 8.1 Enterprise.

Microsoft has since put the kibosh on obtaining the update directly, though a few sites are reporting the necessary files are now being hosted by users who managed to pull them down. I assume they’ll also hit the torrent scene posthaste, if they haven’t already.

In any event, you’re probably best waiting for Microsoft to unveil the update officially. Early access to something sounds alluring…until it breaks your system and no one’s available to help you un-break it, since it’s not yet formally supported.

TIME Rumors

A Glimpse at Cortana, Microsoft’s Version of Siri and Google Now

Microsoft

The Halo-inspired AI will reportedly follow Google into creepy-useful territory.

Microsoft’s long-rumored virtual assistant Cortana will likely make its debut next month at the company’s Build developer conference. In the meantime, The Verge is showing what the Halo-inspired AI might look like.

Cortana reportedly takes some cues from Siri, addressing the user by name and showing an animation — a circular blue icon, as opposed to Siri’s white microphone — when it’s thinking or speaking. Users will apparently be able to ask Cortana questions by voice or type them in.

But Microsoft’s assistant will also reportedly borrow ideas from Google Now, digging into e-mail, location and other sources of personal data to serve up information without the user having to ask for it.

As we’ve seen with Google Now, e-mail can be a pretty rich data source for things like flights, restaurant reservations, ticket purchases and incoming packages. A virtual assistant could use this data to give directions when it’s time to leave for dinner, or let you know what the weather will be like on your next trip. It’s as creepy as it is useful. (Thankfully, Cortana will apparently let users control which data the service can access, or turn off e-mail monitoring entirely.)

At first, Cortana will reportedly be part of Windows Phone 8.1, which itself will be revealed in full next month. But as Microsoft slowly merges its phone and tablet operating systems, it seems likely that Cortana would find its way into Windows as well.

This is Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri [The Verge]

TIME FindTheBest

4 Things Microsoft Still Does Well

It’s easy (and popular) to predict further disaster for the once-proud tech titan. But quietly, Microsoft is doing several things well—better than we give it credit for.

With a struggling product line, shrinking PC sales, and a comical CEO search that seemed to lurch in three directions a day, Microsoft has become the punchline of every tech industry joke. Oh, how the geeky have fallen. As Steve Ballmer paddles away in a lifeboat made of $100 bills, newly-minted CEO Satya Nadella must right the company’s sinking ship and fix all the broken Windows. It’s easy (and popular) to predict further disaster for the once-proud tech titan. But quietly, Microsoft is doing several things well—better than we give it credit for.

Here are four things Microsoft still does well, and how it can capitalize going forward.

1. Mobile OS Design

Nokia

The world hasn’t been fair to Windows Phone, a mobile OS with a design that’s fresh, tasteful, and functional. We forget just how innovative the metro-style interface was—and still is—which was flat before iOS and dynamic before Android’s home screen widgets became popular. We tend to dismiss Windows Phone in the face of its two most powerful rivals, but compare Microsoft’s mobile OS to the ghosts of Symbian, Palm, and Brew, or even to BlackBerry, who just last year realized we’d all moved on from 2005. It’s fun to tease Microsoft for stealing ideas, but Windows Phone deserves praise for its persistence and originality.

More importantly, everyday users love the Windows Phone interface. Yes, the experts’ top lists are filled with the latest iOS and Android hits, but when you look at users’ top-rated phones, Windows devices perform far better. Now if only more people would buy them…

Going forward: Flashy design alone can’t save a scant app ecosystem and paltry sales. Freshman CEO Nadella must find a way to attract mobile developers and win consumers raised on Android and iOS.

2. Office Suite Software

It’s kept Microsoft alive for the last five years, and it’s for good reason. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are still industry standards, with deep functionality and an extremely loyal user base. Meanwhile, cloud-based Office 365 has produced solid revenue for the company over its first year.

Sure, they’ve got a variety of competitors, but each rival seems content to nibble off corners of the market rather than compete for the main course. Naturally, Apple has prettier software in Keynote and Numbers, but instead of ratcheting up features, they’ve been simplified in favor of inter-device compatibility. Casual users have turned to Google’s cloud-based documents, but let’s be honest: no one’s building revenue reports from scratch in Google Drive. Meanwhile, programmers, tech tinkerers, and Linux developers might swear by OpenOffice, but a well-meaning community of geeks simply can’t compete with Microsoft’s billion-dollar marketing campaigns.

Going forward: Nadella will need to reexamine the Microsoft Office licensing strategy. As it stands, support is sporadic on third-party mobile devices, and many non-Windows versions are half-baked. Microsoft may want to commit one way or the other: full support across multiple devices and operating systems, or Windows-only support to coax new users back to the Microsoft fold.

3. Gaming Consoles

It’s true: the PS4 has an early sales lead against the Xbox One (4.2 vs. 3.0 million through 2013). But this is a distraction. From its 2000 acquisition of Halo-developer Bungie to its present-day Xbox-TV integration, Microsoft has made sound game industry decisions and weathered all the inevitable setbacks. Since the first Xbox, the company has doubled-down on first-person shooters, improved its online infrastructure, and focused on living room functionality. The controller-free, motion-sensing Kinect lured mainstream players tired of Wii Sports, and the 2011 Skype acquisition improved communication clarity across online services. These were all classic Microsoft moves: a little boring, but businesslike and effective.

The video game purist might prefer Sony’s commitment to indie games, or Nintendo’s focus on core gameplay, but Microsoft has made the wider play for the mass-market of young adult U.S. males, and it’s paid off. It’s even won the branding war among American moms. “Stop playing Xbox,” they say, even when it’s a Wii U or PS4.

Going forward: As the console gaming industry evolves (dies?), Nadella needs to convince America that the Xbox is truly a living room feature, not simply a gaming device. If he can sell that concept, Microsoft will leapfrog Sony and recapture the lead.

4. Internet Explorer

Okay: that’s a joke.

4. Secrecy

For all the buzz about Apple “doubling down on secrecy,” Microsoft might actually be the more clandestine company. It kept the Surface undercover for almost all of its three-year development, and the CEO search was shrouded in a colorful, Windows 8-haze of misinformation until Nadella’s name was finally announced Tuesday morning. Granted, we don’t know what Microsoft is up to partly because neither does Microsoft. But while the tech press showers Apple and Google with rapid attention more invasive than that old, it-looks-like-you’re-writing-a-letter paper clip, Microsoft can quietly reinvent its mobile presence and build better consumer-facing products, all in semi-stealth mode.

Going forward: After the Nadella hype fades, the press will flock back to Apple, Google, and Amazon. Microsoft should enjoy the peace and quiet while it focuses on its 2014 priorities, like mobile and the cloud. The company should keep expectations low, then surprise us when the moment is right. A little time as an underdog might be just what Microsoft needs. Your move, Nadella.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME CES 2014

This Is Pretty Clever, Lenovo

Jared Newman for TIME

The ThinkPad 8 tablet solves the covered-up camera problem.

I’m not going to do a big post on Lenovo’s ThinkPad 8. It’s a nice-looking little Windows 8.1 tablet, a bit on the chunky side, but with an impressive 8.3-inch 1920-by-1200 resolution display. I just want to point out a bit of smart design in Lenovo’s optional “QuickShot” cover, which snaps onto the tablet magnetically and serves as a stand and screen protector.

You’ve probably seen some iPad users awkwardly holding their Smart Covers out to the side while trying to take a shot. Lenovo realized that it’s annoying to use rear-facing tablet cameras when there’s a cover attached.

The QuickShot cover solves the problem by letting users dog-ear the corner to expose the rear camera. Doing so causes the Windows camera app to launch automatically, while the flap stays folded by magnet. Folding the QuickShot cover closed again exits the camera app before shutting off the screen. Sometimes it’s the little things that are the most impressive.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad 8 is launching later this month, with a base price of $399.

MORE: Check out TIME Tech’s complete CES coverage

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