Death of Windows XP? (Part 5)

Windows XP, the operating system that simply refuses to die. The title of this post should tell you that there have been four other posts (actually a lot more than that) on the death of Windows XP. The last post was on 30 May 2014, Death of Windows XP? (Part 4). I promised then that it would be my last post, but that’s before I knew that Windows XP would still command between 10 percent and 15 percent market share—placing it above the Mac’s OS X. In fact, according to some sources, Windows XP has greater market share than Windows 8.1 as well. So it doesn’t surprise me that a few of you are still looking for Windows XP support from me. Unfortunately, I no longer have a Windows XP setup to support you, so I’m not answering Windows XP questions any longer.

Apparently, offering Windows XP support is big business. According to a recent ComputerWorld article, the US Navy is willing to pony up $30.8 million for Microsoft’s continued support of Windows XP. Perhaps I ought to reconsider and offer paid support after all. There are many other organizations that rely on Windows XP and some may shock you. For example, the next time you stop in front of an ATM, consider the fact that 95 percent of them still run Windows XP. In both cases, the vendors are paying Microsoft to continue providing updates to ensure the aging operating system remains secure. However, I’m almost certain that even with security updates, hackers have figured out ways to get past the Windows XP defenses a long time ago. For example, even with fixes in place, it’s quite easy to find headlines such as, “Hackers stole from 100 banks and rigged ATMs to spew cash.”

What worries me more than anything else is that there are a lot of home users out there who haven’t patched their Windows XP installation in a really long time now. Their systems must be hotbeds of viruses, adware, and Trojans. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that every one of them is a zombie spewing out all sorts of garbage. It’s time to put this aging operating system out of its misery. If you have a copy of Windows XP, please don’t contact me about it—get rid of it and get something newer. Let me know your thoughts on ancient operating systems at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

E-mail in Windows 8

A reader recently wrote to ask about using e-mail in Windows 8 with a POP3 account. It’s a topic I didn’t cover due to the limits in the size of my book. Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference is meant more as an overview—the kind of book you grab when you have a quick question about a native Windows 8 feature. There are some issues I wish I had covered, but then the question arises of what I would remove to provide that coverage. It’s a constant battle for an author.

The native e-mail option for Windows 8 is to use your Microsoft account. It’s the account you use to access the Windows Store and other Windows 8 features. Of course, you probably have an existing e-mail account and will want to use that instead of Microsoft’s offering. Unfortunately, anyone moving from Windows XP directly to Windows 8 will be shocked to learn that there is no Outlook Express to use. In fact, Outlook Express has been dead since Vista. There really wasn’t space in the book to discuss any other options, but I know that readers still have questions about what to do with the Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3) account.

Fortunately, there is a quick fix for the problem, even though Microsoft doesn’t make it readily apparent. The article, “How to Read POP Mail in Windows 8” tells you everything you need to know about installing support for your POP3 account. However, the Mail app in Windows 8 is extremely limited and another reader complained about it’s limitations to me after installing the POP3 support.

There are a number of options that you can pursue. For example, you could install Mozilla’s Thunderbird. Unfortunately, Thunderbird isn’t an app, so you can’t access it easily through the Modern User Interface (UI) (also known as Metro). The alternative is to use Windows Live Mail. It does offer a full range of functionality. The article entitled, “How to Install Windows Live Mail in Windows 8” tells you how to perform this task. The article entitled, “Windows Live Mail POP3” completes the task by telling you how to configure Windows Live Mail to use a POP3 account.

Given that Windows 8 is new and has a completely new interface, it will take a while for it to become a target platform for most e-mail vendors. In the meantime, you now have a few options for that POP3 account you’ve been wanting to use with your Windows 8 installation. I’d love to hear about any alternatives you might have or news about new e-mail applications for the Modern UI at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

There is No Start Menu

A number of readers have recently asked me about the viability of my comments about the Start menu in Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference. There are a number of stories that make it seem as if Microsoft is adding the Start menu back into Windows 8.1. You’ll see article titles such as, “Windows 8.1 set to bring back the Start button” online. It’s only when you start reading the details in the article that you realize that the title is misleading at best—someone with Microsoft marketing might well have written it. The fact is, if you want Start menu functionality in Windows 8 or 8.1, you still need a third party product such as ViStart. I discuss the updated features of this product in my ViStart Updates post.

In order to get a better idea of just how Windows 8.1 changes things, you need to read articles such as “Leaked Windows 8.1 Build 9374 disappoints Start button fans.” I’ll also be providing updates as readers ask specific questions and more information about Windows 8.1 becomes available. Remember that Windows 8.1 won’t be released until late this year (assuming Microsoft remains on schedule).

So far, my take on Windows 8.1 is that it doesn’t change much—it mainly fixes problems or addresses fit and finish issues. For example, a lot of people rightfully complained about being able to display only one or two apps on screen. (After all, this is a step backward compared to Windows 7.) Even with Windows 8.1, the ability to view more apps on a single screen will only work when your device has sufficient resolution (a minimum of 1366 pixels in Windows 8). The new version is supposed to let you view up to four apps at a time, but it sounds as if you need a high resolution display to do it. It does appear that you’ll at least be able to split the screen as long as you have a 1024 × 768 display, but this really isn’t much of a help.

There are some window dressing changes as well, which I won’t address until I see an updated beta. In addition, Windows 8.1 could work on other platforms. The point is, the Windows 8 book you have in your hands now should work just fine with Windows 8.1 as well. I’ll provide updates on the blog after Microsoft releases Windows 8.1. In the meantime, don’t believe all the rumors you see online. Windows 8.1 is an incremental release, much as the version number states. Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns about the book content at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

The Place of Automation in the User Interface

There was a time that a developer could rely on users to possess a certain level of technical acumen. That’s no longer the case. Most of the people using a device containing a CPU today (I’m including PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones here) don’t know anything about how it works and they don’t care to know either. All these people know is that they really must have access to their app. (Some don’t even realize the role data plays in making the app work.) The app can perform myriad tasks—everything from keeping track of the calories they’ve eaten to maintaining the scheduled events for the day. Devices that contain CPUs have become the irreplaceable partner for many people and these devices must work without much concern on the part of the user. In short, the device must provide a superior level of automation or the user simply won’t know how to interact with it.

I was recently watching television and saw a commercial for a Weight Watchers app for mobile devices. In the commercial, a woman exclaims wonder about the new programs that Weight Watchers provides, which include this app for her mobile devices. To track her calories, she simply points her phone at the box containing whatever food she plans to eat and the app tracks the calories for her. The interesting part is that there is no data entry required. As technology continues to progress, you can expect to see more apps of this type. People really don’t want to know anything about your app, how it works, or the cool code you put into it. They want to use the app without thinking about it at all.

Of all the parts of a device that must be automated, the user interface is most important and also the most difficult to create. Users really don’t want to have to think about the interface. Their focus is on the task that the app performs for them. In fact, some e-mails I’ve received recently about my Windows 8 book have driven home the idea that the app must simply work without any thought at all. It’s because of these e-mails (and those for other books I’ve written) that I wrote the article entitled, “Designing Apps with Automation in Mind.” This article points out the essential behaviors that applications must exhibit today to be successful.

On the other side of the fence, I continue to encounter an “old world” philosophy on the part of developers that applications should pack as much as possible into a small space—users will eventually figure out the complexity of the interface provided. Unfortunately, as users become more vocal in requiring IT to meet their demands, these approaches to the user interface will lose out. The next app is a click away and if it does the job of automating the interface better, your app will lose out. Even if there isn’t another app to use, the user will simply ignore the app you’ve provided. The user will rely on an older version or simply not interact with the app if there is no older version. Many organizations have found out the hard way that attempting to force users to interact with an app is bound to fail.

The fact is, to be successful today, a developer must be part psychologist, part graphics artist, and part programming genius. Creating an acceptable interface is no longer good enough, especially when people want to access the same app from more than one device. The interface must be simple, must work well, and must automate as much of the input as possible for the user or it simply won’t succeed. Let me know your thoughts about user interface automation at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

ViStart Updates

In Part 2 (page 62) of Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference I discuss a Start menu replacement application named ViStart. The basic reason that ViStart attracted my attention is that it provides the means for getting the Start menu back. Getting rid of the Start menu causes productivity issues for most users, especially users who have worked with older versions of Windows for a long time. ViStart is only one of several such offerings. I chose it for the book because you can download it and try it out on your system. It also provides one of the best experiences in getting the Start menu back.

Since the release of the book, LeeSoft has made some useful update to ViStart. The quick list of changes is:

 

  • Control Panel Added
  • Ability to disable and enable these Windows 8 desktop features:
    • Disable hot corners
    • Disable charms bar
  • Skip Metro automatically when booting the system
  • Change skins at runtime using the Control Panel
  • Change Start button at runtime using the Control Panel
  • More context menus when you right click files in Start menu
    • Jumplist
    • File popup menu
  • Fixed the problem that prevented pinning folders to the Start menu
  • It’s now possible to drag and drop frequent programs to and from ViStart
  • Pin to ViStart added to Windows file context menu
  • More control over what the ViStart start orb does
    • Show the ViStart menu
    • Show the original Metro menu
  • More control over what both Windows keys do with ViStart open
    • Show the ViStart menu
    • Show the original Metro menu
  • Context menu for navigation pane items
    • Rename navigation pane items
    • Rename documents
    • Hide/show items (to show a hidden item, go to control panel)
    • Properties
    • Toggle navigation pane option to show as a file menu or to show up in an explorer window, like “Recent” in the normal Windows Start menu
  • More stable, ViStart doesn’t crash as much as it did before
  • ViStart has optional offset y and x properties for Start menu skins. When ViStart doesn’t appear in the correct position, you can offset the Start menu using this feature
  • Install new skins with ease, ViStart no longer needs to be restarted to identify new skins
  • Drag a pinned folder from the frequent programs to the navigation pane and ViStart will add it as a new navigation pane item
  • More control over how the Start menu appears
    • Toggle show program menu first instead of frequently used programs
    • Toggle user picture
  • Added Show Metro to the pinned program list
  • Added Show Metro Apps to the pinned program list
  • Added default program listing for fresh installs (such as Notepad and Command Prompt)


That’s a substantial number of changes. All of these new features should greatly improve your experience with Windows 8. You can see a video that explains the updates further on YouTube.

While nothing can make the Windows 8 experience precisely the same as using Windows 7, working with add-on products does help considerably. In fact, I discuss add-ons as part of my article entitled, “8 Ways to Reduce User Training Costs for Windows 8.” Let me know about your add-on experience at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Moving Metro to the Desktop

One of the problems I noted frequently while writing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference is that there is a serious efficiency problem in switching between the Desktop and the Metro interface (or whatever Microsoft is calling it this week). In addition, each Metro app takes up the entire screen. That’s a serious misuse of desktop real estate when working with a larger monitor and I could understand most users getting frustrated with the entire situation. Fortunately, you can now move Metro to the Desktop using ModernMix, a $5.00 utility from Stardock.

Using this simple tool, you can display Metro apps in a Win32 frame. This makes it possible to display multiple Metro apps at once and obtain a significant productivity gain as well. It makes apps such as Skype usable again. After all, how many people are going to be willing to use Skype as a full screen app? Are you just going to sit there and stare at the screen waiting for someone to message you? You can read some additional comments about the unusable nature of the Metro version of Skype in the Channel 9 Coffeehouse. However, I’m not picking on Skype here—there are many Metro apps that simply don’t work well in full screen mode.

What’s more interesting is that using ModernMix makes it possible to shut down a Metro app simply by closing the window. Yes, there are other ways to shut down a Metro app, but this approach is simple. You don’t have to remember anything weird, you just close the window and the app is gone. Fortunately, you can download a free trial version of ModernMix to give it a try on your own system.

I’ve heard from a number of readers who have been looking for tools to help them run business applications better on Windows 8. There are rumors that Windows Blue is going to be an even larger departure from Windows of the past, so I suspect there will continue to be a strong market for third party tools. Let me know about your favorites at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Some Interesting Windows 8 Information

I constantly track information for my books because I like to keep readers informed about changes when I can. Even though Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference appeared in print not long ago, there have been some interesting developments about the operating system it supports. Of course, the least newsworthy development has been the relatively slow adoption of the new operating system. A number of industry pundits are saying that Windows 8 is another Vista, or possibly worse. Statistics have never impressed me very much. Windows 8 will either succeed or it won’t, but it really is too early to tell.

The most interesting piece of information is that people aren’t actually using the much touted Windows 8 touch interface. People are actually buying the least expensive laptops possible to run Windows 8—devices that lack any sort of touch capability. This bit of information has taken me by surprise because Windows 8 really does appear to need a touch interface to work correctly. That said, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference does include a considerable array of keyboard and mouse techniques because I had expected desktop users who upgraded to become completely lost without this information. It may turn out that the additional information helps a lot more than current desktop users based on what the press is saying.

It also appears that you may have an interesting time downgrading your Windows 8 installation to Windows 7, even though Microsoft tells you that you’re legally able to do so. The problem seems to be one of finding the copy of Windows 7 to use for the downgrade. The vendor who supplies the copy of Windows 8 with a system is supposed to provide the copy of Windows 7 to you, but the real world reality is that the vendor often doesn’t do so. The other problem is one of licensing. Microsoft constantly changes its licensing and uses terminology that even a lawyer can’t understand (much less us mere mortals). Trying to figure out whether you’re actually able to downgrade your copy of Windows 8 to Windows 7 can prove daunting. Microsoft has recently provided a clearer set of rules as part of a downloadable whitepaper that you can use to determine your rights.

I’d love to hear about your experiences using Windows 8. In addition, it would be useful to hear from people who have downgraded their copy to Windows 7 and why they made the change. Tell me about the Windows 8 coverage in my book and whether you need additional help with Windows 8 to make the book useful at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. Windows 8 has truly turned into a surprising update; one that may require some additional posts to my blogs to provide good book support.

 

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.

 

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 !

 

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.