Tag Archives: windows 8

Windows XP Mode hassles for Windows 8 upgraders

One of the reasons for the success of Windows 7 was the provision Microsoft made for customers stuck with applications that only run on Windows XP. Windows XP Mode is a free add-on for Windows 7 Professional that runs Windows XP. It can also hide the XP desktop and run individual applications in their own window, though this is cosmetic and merely hides the desktop. Windows XP Mode uses Virtual PC as its virtualisation platform.

What would expect to happen if you upgraded Windows 7 with XP Mode to Windows 8? Without having researched it, my expectation was that Windows XP Mode would migrate smoothly to Hyper-V in Windows 8.

Not so. Here is the official word:

With the end of extended support for Windows XP in April 2014, Microsoft has decided not to develop Windows XP Mode for Windows 8.  If you’re a Windows 7 customer who uses Windows XP Mode and are planning a move to Windows 8, this article may be helpful to you.  
When you upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8, Windows XP Mode is installed on your machine, however Windows Virtual PC is not present anymore. This issue occurs because Windows Virtual PC is not supported on Windows 8. To retrieve data from the Windows XP Mode virtual machine, perform the steps listed in the More Information section.

If you were relying on XP Mode to run some old but essential application, this is definitely worth knowing. Microsoft’s guidance on retrieving the data is unlikely to be much use, since the reason you use XP Mode is to run applications rather than to store data. Some users are not impressed:

This is SHOCKING.  I was using Win 7 Pro and had a fully configured (hours of work) XP Virtual Machine with my complete web development environment in it.  It didn’t even occur to me that it wouldn’t work on Windows 8.  I’ve only just discovered now when I tried to access it to do some updates!

I MUST recover this virtual PC.

Why did the Upgrade Advisor not mention this!?!?  I carefully resolved all the issues highlighted there before moving on.

Of course it is desirable to move off Windows XP completely, even in XP Mode, but the rationale is that it is better to be on a recent and supported version of Windows and to run XP in a virtual environment, than to run Windows XP itself.

Another oddity is that you can run Windows XP on Hyper-V in Windows 8. However you cannot get XP Mode to work unless you perform a repair install that changes the way it is licensed. Yes, it is licensing rather than technical reasons that blocks the XP Mode upgrade:

Note: The Windows XP Mode virtual hard disk will not work on Windows 8 as Windows 8 does not provide the Windows XP Mode license. The Windows XP Mode license is a benefit provided on Windows 7 only.

Users have discovered workarounds. Aside from the repair install mentioned above, you can also use Oracle Virtual Box and trick XP Mode into thinking that it is running on Windows 7 and Virtual PC. You can also run a virtual instance of Windows 7 and run XP Mode within that.

Acer announces 8.1” Windows tablet – but will desktop Windows work in this format?

Acer has announced an 8.1″ Windows tablet, the Iconia W3:

  • Intel Atom 1.8Ghz dual-core Z2760 CPU
  • 8 hr battery life
  • 1280 x 800 screen
  • 2GB RAM
  • Front and rear 2 MP cameras
  • Micro HDMI
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • 32 or 64GB storage
  • Micro SD
  • Bundles Office 2013 Home and Student
  • Optional keyboard $79.99
  • $379.99, available this month


Anything wrong with this picture? Certainly it could be handy for using Windows on the go, being more compact than a Surface (though how much more, if you include the keyboard?) and much cheaper than Surface Pro.

There are some snags though. This device runs full Windows 8 rather than Windows RT, the ARM version, so you can run all your desktop apps; but many will be no fun to use on an 8.0″ screen, or without keyboard and mouse. The Modern – that is, Metro-style – apps should be fine, but the Windows 8 app ecosystem is still weak so you may struggle to get by on those. There is Office – and it is smart of Acer to bundle Home and Student – but will you be squinting to use it on such a small screen?

My hunch is that Windows will not sing on small tablets until there is a version of Office for the Modern UI.

Tip: finding Start menu groups in the Windows 8 Start screen

The Windows 8 Start screen, which occupies the full screen and uses large tiles instead of a hierarchical menu, is a contentious feature which many dislike (though there are ways to get the old Start menu back, or something very like it).

Personally I like the new Start screen, though it does require learning new habits.Instead of clicking a button and navigating a hierarchy of menus, you tap the windows key and type a letter or two matching the app you want to start. You can use the same technique with the Windows 7 Start menu, though not many do.

A complaint I have heard though is that the Start screen loses the group structure of the Start menu. What if you want “that Visual Studio tool that inspects window handles and messages” but cannot remember what it is called? In Windows 7, you go to the Microsoft Visual Studio group, then Visual Studio Tools, and there it is:


How would you find it in Windows 8? Here’s how:

1. Press the Windows key to open the Start screen

2. Right-click and click All apps in the menu

3. Scroll right. Once you get past the alphabetical listings, the group listings appear.


Somewhat long-winded, but I doubt it is worse than clicking down through the hierarchy in the Start menu, and it is not something you need to do often. Next time, just type “Spy”!

Windows 8: return of Start button illuminates Microsoft’s painful transition

The Start button is coming back. At least, that’s the strong rumour, accompanied by leaked screenshots from preview builds. See Mary Jo Foley’s post complete with screen grab, though note that this is the Start button, not the Start menu. Other rumoured changes are boot to desktop by default, and the All Apps view by default in the Start screen.

Will this fix Windows 8? Absolutely not.

There are two reasons. First, in one sense Windows 8 does not need fixing. I’ve been running it from the first previews, and find it solid and fast. The new Start screen works well, and I’m now accustomed to tapping the Windows key and typing to start apps that are not already on the taskbar. It is a better app launcher and organiser than what it replaces, though I am not excited about Live Tiles which are out of sight and out of mind most of the time.

Second, this kind of minor UI change will not address the larger problem, which is the lack of compelling Metro-style apps for the platform. Nor will it fully placate those for whom nothing but making Metro completely invisible is acceptable.

These revisions are intended to make Windows 8 more acceptable to a market that essentially does not want it to change. The core market for Windows is increasingly conservative, being formed of business users with a big investment in the platform who do not want the hassle of retraining users, and home users who are used to Microsoft’s OS and not inclined to switch. While this is a large market, it is also a declining one, with tablets and smartphones taking over many former PC roles, and Macs increasingly the platform of choice for high-end users who need the productivity of a full OS.

Rather than content itself with a declining market, Microsoft came out with its bold re-imagining of Windows, with a new tablet-friendly app platform, while keeping faith with the past by preserving the desktop environment. Predictably, this was not a hit with the conservative market described above; in fact, it was the last thing they wanted, confusing and alienating.

Microsoft made it particularly hard for these users by making the new Metro environment hard to ignore. The Start screen, some settings, default apps for file types including images, PDFs and music, and power button hidden in the right-hand Charms menu all cause confusion.

Only the modern app platform has the potential to lift Windows beyond its large but suffocating and declining market of change-resistant users. Unfortunately the first months of Windows 8 has been more or less the worst case for Microsoft. Existing users dislike it and new users have failed to embrace it.

A rough ride for Windows 8 was expected, though if the script had run according to plan there should have been mitigating factors. A wave of Windows 8 tablets should have delivered a delightful experience with touch while still offering desktop productivity when needed. Well, it has happened a little bit, but Windows 8 tablets have suffered from multiple issues including high prices, lack of availability, fiddly designs, and in the case of Windows RT (the ARM version) poor performance and confusing marketing. Here’s a review of the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 RT machine, from Ebuyer, which shows what can go wrong:

THIS IS NOT A LAPTOP. It runs the dreadful Windows RT which is NOT windows 8, but a very poor limited version of 8. You can only download what Microsoft wants you to have. It came with a free Norton. The dealer convinced me that the failure to be able to download this was my deficiency. NOT – Norton cannot be downloaded onto RT machines. Neither can any other security software except defender which is already on it. You cannot install Chrome (much better than Explorer) It does not accept I tunes, You cannot dispense with the Microsoft log in password, which I do not need. Where the instructions for how to change the settings are, is still a mystery – as usual THERE IS NO INSTRUCTION MANUAL IN PAPER. You have to hunt for everything or go to an online forum.

A shame, because personally I like the concept of Windows RT with its low power consumption and nearly tinker-proof OS.

Is there hope for Windows 8? Sure. The core of the OS is excellent on the desktop side, less good on the Metro side but this can be improved. The app story remains poor, though occasionally a decent app comes along, like Adobe’s Photoshop Express: easy, fluid, elegant photo editing which works on both ARM and Intel.


It is fair to say, though, that Microsoft and its partners have plenty of work to do if they are to make this new Windows a success.

Fixing an unresponsive screen on a Samsung Series 7 Slate with Windows 8

I currently travel with a Windows 8 slate, the slate being the retail Samsung Series 7 model (similar but not the same as the one given to Build attendees in 2011).

It is a decent machine with good performance, but has one considerable annoyance. From time to time, when waking the device from sleep or even turning on from cold, the screen stops responding to touch. The crude fix is to reset it by turning it off, then holding down the power button so it reboots. Open documents may be lost of course.

I do not have a cure for this behaviour, though I would love to know. However I have discovered the cause, which is that one or both Intel USB host controllers fails to start. You can see the problem in Device Manager:


How do you even get to this screen? Well, on my machine, if the top Intel host controller has a problem, then pen input fails but touch works. If the second Intel host controller fails, touch input fails but pen input works. If both fail (which also happens) you are sunk unless you can remote desktop in from another machine on the network.

Once you are in – via pen, touch, or remote desktop – right-click the offending controller and choose Disable. Then right-click again and choose Enable. This will fix the problem until next time.

A likely fix would be an updated driver for the host controller. The current driver dates from 2006.


However I cannot easily find anything more up to date.

Update: I have succeeded in updating the driver to one from February 2013 but it does not fix the problem. My conclusion is that the error in the USB Enhanced Host Controller is the symptom and not the cause of the issue. It is a resume or power-on problem; such as something happening too quickly or in the wrong order. Again, suggestions welcome!

Miguel de Icaza: don’t blame Google for Microsoft’s contempt for developers

Xamarin’s Miguel de Icaza (founder of the Mono project) has complained on Twitter about Microsoft’s Windows Division’s “contempt for developers” when it created the Windows Runtime and a “4th incompatible Xaml stack”, in a conversation prompted by the company’s spat with Google over the YouTube app for Windows Phone. Google wants this removed because it does not show YouTube ads, to which Microsoft counters that the API for showing these ads is not available.


I am more interested in his general reflections on the wisdom (or lack of it) shown by Microsoft in creating a new platform for touch-friendly apps in Windows 8, that lacks compatibility with previous Windows frameworks. “No developer wants to build apps twice for Windows: one for desktop, one for winstore” he also remarked.

The four XAML stacks are Windows Presentation Foundation, Silverlight (for which de Icaza created a version for Linux called Moonlight), Windows Phone (which runs a slightly different version of Silverlight), and now the Windows Runtime.

Could Microsoft have done this differently, without compromising the goal of creating a new tablet personality for Windows rather than continue with doomed attempts to make the desktop touch-friendly?

The obvious answer is that it could have used more of Silverlight, which had already been adapted to a touch environment for Windows Phone. On the other hand, the Windows division was keen to support native code and HTML/JavaScript as equally capable options for Windows Runtime development. In practice, I have heard developers remark that HTML/JavaScript is better than C#/XAML for the new platform.

It is worth noting that the Windows Runtime stack is by no means entirely incompatible with what has gone before. It still uses the Windows API, although parts are not available for security reasons, and for non-visual code much of the .NET Framework works as before.

HP ElitePad 900: a tablet that is easy to disassemble thanks to magnetic screen attachment

I saw the HP ElitePad Windows 8 slate at a trade show last week and was impressed by a feature I had not heard about before: easy serviceability.

Tablets are usually intimidating to disassemble, thanks to screens that are either glued in place or which require alarming force to prise away. The ElitePad is different. It is a slate which is actually easier to take apart than most laptops, thanks to magnetic attachment. HP supplies a  depolarising jig into which you slot the tablet, whereupon you can easily remove the screen with a suction handle. There are a couple of screws to undo first, but it looks like an easy job.

Here are a few screen grabs from the explanatory video (embedded at the end of this post) which show what is involved. This is the tablet in the jig with the screen about to be removed.


This is the screen coming away.


And here is the unit with screen removed.


Once opened up, HP says you can replace these parts:

  • Dock connector
  • speaker system
  • SD and Sim card connector
  • webcam
  • NFC (Near Field Communications) sensor
  • battery
  • wireless LAN
  • antennas
  • power board
  • motherboard
  • processor
  • memory card

According to the video, the motherboard “contains the SSD” which sounds disappointing, since one of the first things you might want to do is to replace the rather small 32GB or 64GB SSD with a larger one.

Unfortunately this feature is not aimed at home users wanting to modify or fix their own tablets; you need the jig and HP training. At least, that is the official line; but I imagine that the DIY community will also benefit from this approach.

The ElitePad has a 10″ 1280×800 screen, dual core Z2760 Atom processor, 2GB RAM, and 32GB or 64GB SSD. It also supports memory expansion via an SD card, and there an option for a SIM for mobile broadband. Battery life is around 8 hours.

HP is using expansion jackets to adapt the ElitePad for specialist tasks – a throwback to the iPaq (remember that?) handheld computer which used the same concept. This includes jackets with additional battery, a productivity jacket with a keyboard and stand, a jacket for medical use, a retail POS (point of sale) option, and a rugged case for outside use. I hated the iPaq jackets, which were horribly bulky, but these look like a better proposition, though it is still a shame to bulk up your nice slim slate with fat case.

According to HP, a key selling point of the ElitePad is enterprise manageability thanks to Active Directory support. Of course this is x86 Windows 8, not Windows RT which cannot be domain-joined.

I do get the impression that HP has put considerable effort into the ElitePad which is not just a me-too Windows 8 product. Good to see.

The main snag with the ElitePad is its high price. It starts at $699 in the US, or £520 + VAT in the UK, and considering the lowly specification in terms of processing power, and the extra cost of the accessories, it looks poor value, though if it is a perfect fit for your business it might still be worth it (and no doubt you will get a better price if you buy in quantity).

The PC puzzle: does the sales drop implicate or justify Windows 8?

Gartner has joined IDC in releasing figures showing a steep drop in PC sales for the first quarter of 2013.

Worldwide PC shipments totalled 79.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, an 11.2 per cent decline from the first quarter of 2012, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. Global PC shipments went below 80 million units for the first time since the second quarter of 2009. All regions showed a decrease in shipments, with the EMEA region experiencing the steepest decline.

says the release. In EMEA the decline was 16%. In the US, the decline was only 9.6%, but marked the 6 consecutive quarter of decline.

Gartner does not give worldwide figures for Apple, but says that its shipments grew by 7.4% in the US, which is a particularly strong market for Apple, giving it an 11.6% market share.

One bright spot for Microsoft:

Unlike the consumer PC segment, the professional PC market, which accounts for about half of overall PC shipments, has seen growth, driven by continuing PC refreshes.

That will please the folk at the event I am attending right now, the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas, which is about managing servers, PCs and other devices in the enterprise. The consumerisation of IT is real, and so is Bring Your Own Device, but never underestimate the extent to which Windows is embedded in business.

Still, does the overall decline prove that Windows 8 was a huge mistake, and that Windows/Microsoft is now set for long-term decline?


Not necessarily. There is another way to look at these figures, which is that Microsoft was correct to conclude, back when Windows 8 was planned, that tablets and touch devices would erode the traditional PC market, and that it had to take the risk of reshaping its desktop operating system accordingly.

It is plausible, even likely, that PC sales would not have declined so fast if Windows 8 had been less radical. On the other hand, the long term cost of not reshaping the Windows UI for touch, nor introducing the app store model of software deployment, would probably be greater.

Put another way, the Windows 8 experiment means that PC sales may eventually stop declining, whereas without it they would continue to trend download, even though the curve for this last quarter might be less shocking.

Even if you accept this reasoning, you can still argue that the Windows 8 tablet personality is so poorly executed that it cannot compete with iOS and Android devices. Most Windows 8 users live on the desktop, even those with touch screens and tablets. I am seeing a lot of Surface Pro here in Vegas, with users loving its portability, performance, and elegant keyboard cover, but I see it being used like a laptop, not like a tablet.

Microsoft undoubtedly made mistakes in the initial release of Windows 8, the biggest problem being that the Windows Runtime side, which supports the tablet personality, was rushed out and is really not finished. Creating excellent and good-looking apps is harder than it should be, which is one reason why there are so few.

  • The Windows 8 experience for new users, especially those with long familiarity with earlier versions, is so poor that many prefer to stick with Windows 7. A few tweaks and compromises would have made this easier.
  • Windows RT, the ARM based edition which runs only “Modern” apps and Office, is spoilt by poor performance as well as the lack of good apps. The absence of Outlook from Office in Windows RT spoils its for the business market, where it is potentially attractive as a cost-effective, secure tablet operating system.
  • Microsoft’s OEM and retail partners do not seem to know how to sell Windows 8.

When I put these points to some Microsoft folk informally here at MMS the answer I got was “Blue will make you happy.” Blue, according to these guys, is not the code name for a new version of Windows. Rather, it is a process of incremental updates which users will get automatically. It is well-known of course that significant Windows 8 updates are on the way, and builds have been leaked.

Windows 8 has made a bad start, but it is not all bad. The desktop side (which is what most of us use most of the time) improves on Windows 7, and it is plausible that a combination of user learning along with updates that make the transition to the new Start screen less jarring will make adoption easier.

Equally, the Windows Runtime side will get better. I expect to see new and improved components for developers building apps, and better reliability and performance. Outlook is rumoured to be coming to Windows RT, and at some point we may also see versions of Office applications appear in the Modern UI.

Windows RT will have a tough fight with Intel-based tablets, but users will win either way, since next-generation ARM chipsets are much faster and Intel is making great strides with low-power, high-performance chipsets of its own.

Incidentally, Windows RT is not quite dead. I heard a questioner here at MMS ask questions about how to deploy their forthcoming purchase of a “large quantity” of RT devices.

Microsoft is at times a stumbling giant, but it is stumbling in the right direction with Windows 8, and it may yet work out. Even if by then it is called Windows 9.

Microsoft’s Windows 8 app problem will not be solved by incentivising junk

Microsoft has launched a “Keep the cash” offer to developers. Publish up to 20 apps, 10 for Windows Phone and 10 for Windows 8, and get $100 for each of them.


The offer is little use for most of the world. The terms state that “Offer good only to legal residents of the 50 United States & D.C. aged 18 or older”.

It is little use for Microsoft either. How much development time does $100 buy? Still, there is a way to make sense of it for hobbyists or developers with some spare time. What you do is to create one of those apps that does very little but is specific to something like a particular sports team or pop star, and maybe searches the web for news about them. Then you replicate it 10 times over for 10 different teams or celebrities. Then you adapt it for both phone and Windows 8 store. That’s 20 apps, $2000.

In other words, the only thing this will achieve is to increase the amount of dross in these two stores. Microsoft is pumping the numbers, so that there is an appearance of success on the most naive analysis, counting the apps.

Incidentally, this is something that Windows Store VP Antoine LeBlond assured me Microsoft would not do, at the launch of Surface RT in New York last year.

Does Microsoft have an app problem? Yes, particularly on Windows 8. Windows Phone 8 is less of a problem; Microsoft’s phone is actually building some momentum from what I can tell and app availability is not too bad, despite some gaps such as Instagram and BBC iPlayer.

The app problem is nothing to do with quantity though. 10 good apps for the Windows Store is worth more to the platform than 10,000 poor ones. In fact, filling the store with junk is a negative that will cement the perception that there is little there that is worthwhile.

Rather, the app problem is the consequence of several factors:

1. The development platform is not good enough. Most things can be done, but not easily, and the default look and feel results in blocky apps that tend to scale badly on big screens. The built-in controls are too primitive. The user interface is insufficiently intuitive and users struggle to discover the menus and features hidden in the Charms bar.

2. Microsoft has so far failed to establish Windows 8 as a tablet platform. The reasons are complex and to do with the Windows heritage, the way OEM and retail partners treat Windows, and the fact that there are other tablet platforms (iOS and Android) out there which meet the need for many people.

3. Windows 8 is out there in reasonable numbers, but most users spend most of there time in the desktop, making the Windows Store app platform less successful than the quantity deployed would suggest.

4. Businesses are mainly standardising on Windows 7, not Windows 8, to the detriment of the new app platform.

In this context, the best thing that could happen for Windows 8 is the appearance of new compelling apps that will drive users to the underused tablet personality. Microsoft could and should do some of those (there are a few efforts, like Fresh Paint).

Those apps, though, will not be developed for $100. They will be developed either by enthusiasts who love the platform (which will not happen until the platform is improved), or by businesses who invest real money and effort in building them.

As it is, this misguided initiative does little other than to draw attention to the problems Microsoft has with its new Windows.

Windows Runtime flaws spoil new Windows Store (Metro) apps

The Windows Runtime, the new touch-friendly platform in Windows 8. It solves many problems. Not only is it tablet-friendly, but apps are sandboxed for security, and easy to deploy. No setup hassles, just one-click (or tap) install or uninstall. It also supports three types of development covering most tastes: native C++, .NET Framework, or HTML and JavaScript. In order to ensure responsive apps, Microsoft made many of the APIs asynchronous, so that users would not have the frustration of a frozen user interface or spinning hourglass during long operations.

At least, that is the theory. When I came to write my own simple app though, I was surprised how fiddly it was, and that something trivial like displaying a tweet including a working hyperlink turned out to involve Run elements, a ContentControl, a converter class and so on. Even then, I could not get the mouse cursor to turn to a hand icon when hovering over the link.

This hands-on experience gives me sympathy with others struggling to implement more complex projects. Some have posted about their experiences. Here is Frank Krueger, who has ported his neat iCircuit electronic circuit simulator from iOS and Android to Windows RT:

You would be shocked to see some of the crazy bits of code I had to put in because the Win8 platform, while very rich, is also very generic and doesn’t help you at all to build standard apps (document based, tools, etc.) That is to say, Cocoa is a very mature platform designed to make apps feature-rich and consistent while also making the developer’s life easy. WinRT on the other hand gives you rectangles and a blog post that says “good luck”.

He lists a number of problems, including having to reboot Windows constantly while testing the Share Charm; having to disable media elements in he app because of 500ms delays, no control over buffer sizes, and playback issues; and graphics issues:

I want to do real-time 2D vector drawing. Direct2D is perfect for this. But WinRT puts all sorts of limitations on onscreen rendering, most notably: you can only have 1 DirectX swap chain (view) per window. That means I can’t use Direct2D for rendering the scope which means the scope is slower than it needs to be. Dear Microsoft, go spend a few minutes and see how beautifully CocoaTouch and OpenGL work together on iOS. You might get inspired.

Next up is Media Monkey, a popular Windows media player which has been ported to the Windows Runtime platform. I was pleased to see this, as it lets me play FLAC music files on Surface RT. It is not very stable yet though, and I have had difficulty getting it to index the collection of FLAC files which I have on a network-connected drive.


What I found most interesting though were comments about the difficulty of displaying lists beyond a trivial size. One user complained:

When I first started MM scanning my music library, I was seeing the Album list grouped into sections headed up by the Alphabet letters. However, as more Albums got added, the heading letters vanished – and I now have an unbroken list of Albums – a great wodge that is very tiresome to navigate through by scrolling.

to which the Czech developer replied:

It’s a big problem, but not in MediaMonkey, but in system itself. Disabling groups is only crashes prevention because of system limitation :-(. Because of this we cannot use semantic zoom as well.

This has caused me to wonder whether part of the reason for the small number of excellent Windows Store apps is the difficulty developers have in getting them to work right. If so, that is a sad state of affairs for Microsoft’s shiny new platform.

In fairness, this is version 1.0, and the best hope is that a significant update to the platform will come before too long with improved controls, performance and features.