A Proliferation of Start Menus

I’ve received a number of emails about my Controlling Windows 8 Support Costs post some time ago. That post highlighted a concern that many managers have about the training cost for Windows 8 and brought up the point that the new menu system would slow adoption in the enterprise. I also talked about an article I wrote on ways to reduce training costs entitled, “8 Ways to Reduce User Training Costs for Windows 8“. The email has been interesting because there don’t seem to be many people who are viewing Windows 8 from a middle ground—they either like it quite a bit or really hate everything about it.

I have noted a few things about Windows 8 since its release. All of the advertising I see on television is directed toward the consumer market and you never see the old desktop. The commercials are glitzy and focus on interesting things you can do with Windows 8, but most of these things have nothing to do with business. One commercial shows a cute little girl creating art and then sharing it with her dad later. It’s interesting, but hardly a business use. I have to wonder whether the Microsoft marketing machine has forgotten about business and has decided instead to focus on the consumer market.

So far, the number of people who tell me they can survive without the Start menu is extremely small compared to those who wonder what Microsoft was thinking. The thing is, most of my readers are business users. Obviously, a lot of other people have noticed that business users aren’t happy about the lack of a Start menu because I’m also seeing articles such as the one in InfoWorld entitled, “9 Windows Start menus for Windows 8.” What I’m wondering is how Microsoft researched the whole issue of removing the Start menu.

One of the issues for me is that I need to know how to support my latest book, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference. When I wrote the book, I saw a definite consumer-oriented slant in Windows 8, so I’ve included some material for that need in the book. However, I had originally felt that there would be a lot of business users as well. How are you seeing Windows 8? Has it become much more of a consumer product? Will businesses wait for Windows 9 before upgrading? Will these addons make Windows 8 an option for businesses? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Virus Scares and Hoaxes Galore

It seems as if the holiday season can bring out the worst in some people for whatever reason—I have never figured out why. My inbox is sometimes packed with e-mail from concerned readers about this hoax or that virus. I read about viruses and hoaxes galore online as well. It seems as if there is an upsurge every year in the number, variety, and severity of these complete wastes of time. In my book, the people who perpetuate these sorts of things are either ill-informed or simply sad. If all of the energy that goes into creating these scares would go instead into some productive use, I can’t even begin to imagine the benefit to mankind as a whole. Instead, we have readers running about like Chicken Little exclaiming that the sky is falling.

John Dvorak ran an article in his blog the other day entitled, “Did You Fall for the Facebook Hoax?” I’m not too thrilled about some of the language he used, but the information he provides is right on the mark. You can probably sum it up as, “Anything that sounds too good, weird, or evil to be true, probably isn’t.” Of course, most of us want to be sure that something really is a hoax, so it pays to check out Hoax Busters, VMyths, or Snopes.com, just to be certain. These sites track all of the current myths and hoaxes out there, so you can see the basis for that hoax that arrived in your e-mail this afternoon. The point is that hoaxes aren’t real and you shouldn’t believe them, even a little.

When it comes to viruses, you can be sure that the Internet is plagued with them. Tomorrow I fully expect to see an article about the next major virus that will take down the Internet after emptying every bank in the world of funds. Yes, civilization will cease to exist with the next virus created by the cracker (a black hat hacker who uses his/her skills for ill, rather than good) who works only at midnight in a darkened room above a garage.

The fact is that viruses are real, but crackers often attack the least prepared Web surfers just as any other thief attacks the unsuspecting person on the street. There are enough people who are ill prepared to work on the Internet that crackers really don’t have to worry about creating a truly devastating virus that will invade every network on the planet. For one thing, it’s a waste of the cracker’s time—for another, must viruses have a relatively short active life before someone comes along with a fix that prevents them from spreading. Crackers know this, so they create viruses that work well enough for the time they expect the virus to be active, and then the cracker moves on to something else.

In general, a computer system can be invaded by a virus at any time—just as you can get a cold at any time. You tend to catch colds when your bodily defenses are down. The same holds true for your computer. When you let your computer defenses down, it has a better chance of getting a virus. However, even with the best defenses, there is a small chance you could still get a virus, but being prepared significantly reduces the risks. Here are five things you can do to ensure you’re prepared for a virus attack.

 

  1. Keep your virus protection updated.
  2. Install all of the required patches for your operating system and applications.
  3. Don’t open an e-mail from someone you don’t know, no matter how tempting the message might be (remember Pandora’s Box).
  4. Don’t go to sites you don’t trust.
  5. Keep your browser locked down so that it doesn’t automatically execute code when you visit a site.  This means setting your browser to disable both JavaScript and Java support.  Most browsers have an exception list you can create for sites you trust, so these sites will continue to work as they always have.


When you follow these five guidelines, you have a very good chance of avoiding viruses on your computer. The next time you see an e-mail message containing a hoax or trying to get you excited about the latest virus that will take down the Internet, consider the fact that these sorts of messages have been going around the Internet for quite a long time now and we have yet to see a major Internet down time. Let me know your thoughts about viruses and hoaxes at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference Released!

Nothing feels quite so good as to see your latest book in print. Last week I received my copies of Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference in the mail. As always, I stopped what I was doing to peruse the content. Yes, I wrote it, but somehow it always looks more polished and authoritative in print than when I sent my manuscript to the publisher.

I’ve already made you aware of some of the wonderful features of this book in my Introducing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference post. Based on some of the input I’ve already received from various sources, I want to make sure you understand that one of my prime motivations in writing this book is to make the transition to Windows 8 as easy as possible for you. The new dual interface is almost certainly going to cause major problems in adopting Windows 8, but this book can help you get more out of Windows 8 than you would otherwise, and with significantly less effort on your part. For example, I highly recommend that people create a list of keyboard shortcuts to use when beginning with Windows 8 because using the keyboard makes things significantly easier. You’ll find a perfect start to your personal list on pages BP10 and BP12 (at the beginning of the book).

The feature I like most about this book is that it’s small. This is a quick reference, which means I devoted a lot of time toward making the book concise and targeted. You can find what you need quickly and you won’t feel as if you’re weight lifting when carrying this book around. The smaller size means this book will fit in places where most computer books won’t.

Now it’s your turn. I’d like to hear your comments about my new book and address any questions you might have about it in my blog. Addressing your needs is what my writing is all about. Feel free to contact me about the content of this book at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and I’ll do my best to address any reasonable questions/requests that you might have. Thank you for supporting my efforts to provide others with useful and relevant reference materials !

 

Interesting Additions to the Dummies Site

I’ve written a number of Dummies books over the years so I check on the Dummies site regularly to see what sorts of things the publisher is currently offering. Of course, there are always new books to read in a broad range of categories. Sometimes I like to browse just to see some of the interesting topics people have come up with over the years. For example, there is a book specifically for Yorkshire Terrier owners named, “Yorkshire Terriers for Dummies.” I keep hoping to find a Dummies book on Border Collies, but so far, no one has taken up the topic. Perhaps I’ll suggest such a book in the future since we work quite a bit with that particular breed. Keeping up with the wide range of books makes it a little easier for me to recommend books to my readers when they ask and I sometimes get a new idea or two simply by browsing through the topics pursued by others.

There are a couple new additions to the Dummies site that you might find interesting. First, if you really want a tee-shirt, coffee mug, or key chain (amongst other items) to show your love for Dummies products, you can get them at For Dummies Merchandise. I was a bit surprised to find that the site doesn’t offer hats at the moment, but perhaps that will change in the future.

Second, if you’ve ever wanted to create your own Dummies book, you can at least generate the cover now at The Official For Dummies Cover Generator. What you’ll get is a novelty cover that includes your title, bullet points, and art. Personally, I found some of the sample covers hysterical, so it’s worth a look even if you don’t intend to generate a cover. You’ll find titles such as Training Your Cat to Play Fetch for Dummies. Interestingly enough, our cat Smucker does, in fact, play fetch. So that particular cover caught my eye immediately.

The point behind these offerings is to have a bit fun with Dummies products. Even though the books cover serious topics, they’ve always done it is in a fun way, which is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed writing for them so much. Let me know about your favorite Dummies site addition at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Windows 8, A Moving Target

One of the issues a technical book author must face is that a product could change a little from the time that the manuscript is completed and the book is printed. In fact, it’s almost certain that a product is going to change long before the book is out-of-print. While writing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference I have worked hard to ensure you get the best and most current information possible. As I’m writing this post, I know that everything in the book is currently accurate and you’ll find an amazing array of new ideas and how-to information that will make your Windows 8 experience better.

There is some change in the wind though. The articles are already appearing in the media and Windows 8 isn’t even released yet. For example, someone recently pointed out the ZDNet article entitled, “Microsoft releases details for Windows 8 app updates” to me. On the one hand I’m gratified to see that Microsoft is taking user input seriously and keeping an eye on what the competition is doing as well. On the other hand, I almost wish that Microsoft had let Windows 8 cook a little longer before serving it up. I’m sure that the Microsoft engineers are working overtime right now to ensure that this major upgrade comes with as few flaws as possible. However, with such major changes come flaws. Windows 8 will require some time in the public eye before Microsoft can work out all the kinks (and even then, pleasing everyone is an impossible task).

I’m currently reading as many Windows 8 articles as I can to look for potential problems in my book. Once Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference is released, you’ll see updates for it appear right on this blog, so make sure you keep a bookmark open for this particular blog category when you buy my book. You should also contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com when you find an issue in the book that I haven’t covered in the blog. I work hard to keep on top of all of the issues in my books, but sometimes things slip past me and you’re my second line of defense against inaccuracies.

Until Microsoft has found all of the issues with Windows 8 and the buying public has tested it thoroughly, you can expect Windows 8 to remain a moving target. Let me know about any issues you find in my book once it’s released and I’ll do my best to address them. In the meantime, happy computing!


Post Update: Since the time I wrote this post, a few readers have pointed out that Microsoft has released some additional information about the update. Steven Sinofsky has provided a short post on the topic entitled, “Updating Windows 8 for General Availability.” You can read a bit more about the update (along with some informed conclusions) in Mary Jo Foley’s post. I wouldn’t dismiss this update as minor, even though Microsoft presents only four bullet points to describe it. The download is 170 MB and it does make some significant changes under the hood. What I’m still wondering about is whether this is the tip of the iceberg and why Microsoft couldn’t make these changes at the outset.

 

Controlling Windows 8 Support Costs

Windows 8 presents a new interface and new methods of working with the computer. Microsoft obviously wants to try to create a new image as a mobile device vendor by putting a tablet interface on a traditional desktop operating system. Whether the strategy will work or not is a significant topic of discussion. Some pundits, such as Wood Leonard, consider the new Metro interface as the worst mistake that Microsoft has ever made. Other authors, like Ben Woods, are a bit more positive. You can find opinions between these two extremes over the entire Internet.

Change is always incredibly uncomfortable. I still remember the ruckus caused by the, now positively viewed, changes in Windows 95. Of course, Microsoft has had a few turkeys to its credit too, such as Vista. My experience has been that time shows whether a significant change will work or not. In this case, Microsoft really does have its work cut out for it. A less aggressive stance might have worked better, but the die is cast and we’ll soon see the results in terms of sales.

Windows 8 isn’t all bad news and you certainly shouldn’t approach the product from that perspective. While writing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference, I was also able to come up with some interesting product features and ways to make Windows 8 a little less of a shock to users. Some of these techniques, such as using a Start menu substitute, appear in my book. In fact, I discuss one of those alternatives in detail, ViStart. My conclusion is that it’s possible to reduce your support costs through careful management of the Windows 8 setup. You may also find that new security features actually reduce support costs by making it less likely that users will corrupt their systems.

Whether you like Windows 8 or not, you’re eventually going to have to support it unless you cut off all user access to other devices. Everything I’ve been reading as of late tells me that enterprises would just love to keep users from bringing in their own devices, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. With that in mind, I wrote an article entitled, “8 Ways to Reduce User Training Costs for Windows 8” that will help reduce the pain for administrators. I’d like to get your feedback on the article at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. More importantly, tell me your ideas for making the Windows 8 transition a little easier. If I receive enough good ideas, I’ll revisit this topic later.

 

Some Interesting Elements of Windows 8 Pricing and Licensing

As part of writing and tracking the products used for any book, including Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference, I consider the pricing and licensing the reader can expect. Readers often contact me with product availability and pricing questions because it’s important to obtain the right product to use my books. Microsoft changes the packaging, licensing, and pricing of each new version of Windows, so one of the tasks I performed while writing the book was to keep up with the current licensing and packaging changes.

One of the issues with the current licensing strategies for Windows 8 is the loss of the activation grace period. Windows 8 activates differently, so Microsoft has had to change the way the entire installation process works. According to ComputerWorld (and verified by my recent installation of the RTM version), you must provide a key as part of the installation process. It’s impossible to bypass the key input as was allowed by previous version of Windows. The moment that Windows 8 detects an Internet connection, it authenticates the key and activates your product. The only way to evaluate Windows 8 is to get the trial version (good for 90 days, rather than the 120 days Microsoft allowed in the past). However, here’s the rub. You can’t update the trial version of Windows 8. If you decide that you want to obtain a licensed copy, you must wipe out your trial version and install the licensed copy from scratch. Online sources, like NetworkWorld, are already discussing the inconvenience of Microsoft’s new strategy. The main reason I’m presenting this information to you is that you should be prepared to backup your settings and start from scratch if you choose to use the trial version when reading my book and later choose to obtain a licensed copy.

In addition to changing the activation process and how you work with the product key, Microsoft also tried to rework the licensing terms to make them easier to understand. Unfortunately, according to SearchEnterpriseDesktop, the changes have only made the licensing harder to understand. According to the article, the licensing terms (also known as the Product Use Rights, or PUR) appear to make it illegal to run your standard copy of Windows 8 on a Virtual Machine (VM). Later the article says that you can install Windows 8 on a VM if you make an additional purchase, such as Software Assurance—a type of volume license. Other changes make it illegal to install your copy of Windows over a network connection (amongst other things). I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll probably read a number of these postings to figure out whether this particular claim is true.

The problem is that the various sites are contradicting each other and Microsoft hasn’t posted an easy to understand discussion of the topic. For example, when you read Ed Bott’s post on the same subject, you learn that it may be acceptable to install your copy of Windows 8 on a VM after all. Whether something is allowed or not seems to depend on the interpretation offered by the particular person reading the licensing agreement. Personally, I find it hard to believe that Microsoft is going to take the time to ensure no one is running their copy of Windows 8 on a VM and that Microsoft is also smart enough to know this. I tend to agree with Ed Bott in this case in assuming that installation on a VM is probably acceptable, but you should read the agreement yourself and make a decision based on how you view it.

Of course, everyone seems to assume that Microsoft has made these changes as a way of getting more money from each copy of Windows 8 it sell. I’m not sure what to think, except that it’s likely an attempt to make things better that didn’t work as planned. If you’re an administrator who needs to install a number of copies of Windows 8, it’s going to be a good idea to work through these new licensing terms before you make any assumptions about them. Home and small business users probably won’t see any differences because this group won’t typically run afoul of the new terms. I’m certain that Microsoft will provide an update on the licensing terms at some point that will clarify what it means by them to everyone, so don’t assume the worst for the time being.

What I’m most interested in finding out is how you perceive these new licensing terms. Do you think that these terms are a deal breaker? Will you end up spending a lot more time or money trying to get Windows 8 installed as a result of the new terms? Let me know your thoughts on this matter at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Metro’s Confusing Name Change

You have probably seen Metro mentioned a lot when it comes to Windows 8. The new Metro interface relies on a tile structure to provide access to live content. What you’ll see is something that looks like a smartphone interface, only larger. However, Microsoft has recently had to make a name change for the Metro interface, insisting that the Metro name was merely a placeholder or a code name all along (although, no one seems to remember Microsoft having mentioned the temporary nature of this nomenclature). You’ll see it listed as the Start screen interface now (or something similar). Fortunately, the change came early enough for me to make changes to my recently completed book, “Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference.”

For the purposes of my book (unless Microsoft changes its mind again) you’ll see the Metro interface as the Start screen interface. The term Metro apps is replaced with Windows 8 apps. Of course, the problem for me as an author is that there doesn’t appear to be an official Microsoft listing of terms that authors should use. All I know for sure is that the term Metro is now banned at Microsoft.

What does this mean for you as a reader? It means that you’re going to have to live with a confusing array of terminology for an interface that is already confusing everyone who uses it. Even if Microsoft provides a clear and precise set of terms tomorrow, it will take years to clean up the mess on the Internet. Authors who assumed that the term Metro was permanent have used that term consistently for everything from articles to white papers to books. When you perform searches for information on Windows 8 online, you’ll need to perform multiple searches in order to find everything you need.

So, what is this post all about? I wanted you to know precisely how I’m using terms in my book, even if you can’t obtain a specific set of terms from Microsoft. When you see Start screen, you know I’m talking about what has been the Metro interface up until now. When you see Windows 8 apps, you know that I’m talking about what has been Metro apps until now. Please let me know if you have any questions about this use of terminology at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Introducing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference

I’ve just completed my 90th book, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference. This isn’t an in depth book designed to teach you everything there is to know about Windows 8 and the new Metro interface—instead, it provides you with an overview of most features and detailed procedures for working with the features that people will use most often. While writing this book, I looked online through various newsgroups for issues people have been encountering, checked out all of the latest news stories, and ensured I kept up-to-date on stories directly from Microsoft in the Building Windows 8 blog. As a consequence, this book contains input from all of the sources you’d check out if you had the time to do so. In addition, my beta readers and editors have done a phenomenal job of providing just the right input (thanks to everyone involved).

So, why do you need this book? Anyone who is updating from a current version of Windows to Windows 8 is going to find the Metro interface extremely confusing. It doesn’t work like the old interface and you’ll even find that the Start menu is missing. Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference is going to make it possible for you to become productive in an incredibly short time. I focused on the essentials in this book. The book’s arrangement makes it easy to find a specific item of interest quickly. The book content is arranged into the following parts:

 

  • The Big Picture: Windows 8
  • Part 1: Navigating the Metro Interface
  • Part 2: Navigating the Desktop Interface
  • Part 3: Using the Standard Applications
  • Part 4: Working with Gadgets
  • Part 5: Using Internet Explorer
  • Part 6: Configuring Your System
  • Part 7: Interacting with External Devices
  • Part 8: Accessing the Network
  • Part 9: Performing Administrative Tasks


As you can see, I’ve hit all of the highlights. Anyone who is already using an earlier version of Windows will want this book to get going quickly. Believe me, the Windows 8 interface is going to prove to be a major hurdle for adoption (something noted by almost every beta reader as well). If you’d rather be working than figuring out the interface, get a copy of my book!

I’ve assumed that there is going to be a strong interest in getting your current applications working in the Windows 8 environment, so there is only one chapter devoted to the Metro interface, along with mentions of it in other chapters. In fact, I even show you how to get around the lack of a Start menu (something I found particularly annoying while using Windows 8) using ViStart from Lee-Soft. Using ViStart definitely makes the Windows 8 environment friendlier to those of us who didn’t really want the Metro interface. You do find out how to work with Metro apps in this book, but it’s not a major topic because it will be a while before people start heavily investing in Metro apps (look for future posts in the Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference category for updates on using Metro apps).

Don’t worry, this book also discusses how to use touch to perform tasks and I even cover all of the keyboard shortcuts for those of you who prefer the keyboard over the mouse. In short, there is something in this book for everyone. Please let me know if you have any questions about my new book at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and I’ll do my best to answer them. In the meantime, happy reading!

 

Windows 8 User Beta Readers Needed

I’m starting a new book project, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference, which means that I’m looking for beta readers. I try to get as many beta readers as I can involved in the project to enure that everyone gets a quality product. As noted in my Errors in Writing post, even the best author is only as good as the help he gets from others.

This is a user level book. My target audience has experience working with Windows, but there isn’t any requirement to have used Windows 8 in the past. I’ll be focusing on the desktop experience, rather than the Metro interface, even though there will be some Metro topics included by necessity. You don’t have to be a geek in order to be a beta reader for this book. I’m looking for people at every experience level. In fact, the less skilled you are, the better, because you’ll ask the sorts of questions that other readers ask most often.

It’s important to remember that beta readers provide direct input on my books while I’m writing them. In short, you get to help shape the final form of my book. Every beta reader comment is carefully considered and I implement as many of your suggestions as possible. Your input is incredibly important at this phase and unlike many other reader suggestions, you’ll see the results in the final product, rather than as a post on my blog after the fact.

Don’t worry about me bugging you for input. You sign up, I send the manuscript your way, and then, if you choose to provide suggestions on a particular chapter, you send the suggestions back to me. During the author review process (when I answer the questions of all of my editors), I’ll incorporate your suggestions. If you have any desire to work with Windows 8 and would like to be a beta reader for this book, ask for details at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.