Microsoft runs out of Surface 2 tablets online: Is Windows RT dead?

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After The Show & Tell: Testing Microsoft Windows 10.

After tickling pint-sized sheep across a coffee table, blowing a holographic hole through a wall and touring the surface of Mars, it seems safe to say that Microsoft’s newly unveiled headset, the HoloLens, marks a major leap forward in the field of virtual reality. Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablet running Windows RT is out of stock at the company’s online store, suggesting it may be discontinued after the decision not to upgrade it to Windows 10.

When Microsoft unveiled the updates and new features in the latest build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview this week, it also shared that Windows 10 will be offered for free for the first year following its release.Microsoft today provided an early look at what consumers can expect in Windows 10, from Cortana on the desktop to a totally revamped Web browser, dubbed Project Spartan. So taking stock, all credit to Microsoft; the firm has embraced open source, confirmed free upgrades to Windows 10 (for users of Windows 7 and 8, for a year) and produced the previously unthinkable Microsoft Office of Apple iPad.

Rather than immerse the user in a digital fantasy world, like the Oculus Rift, the HoloLens overlays 3-D images on top of real-world surroundings, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. There’s a chance I come to regret all the words I’m about to write—that in twenty or thirty years some poor child with HoloLens eyes looks up at me from the ashes of the apocalypse and says, “Old man, what’s the dumbest article you ever wrote?” And I’ll say, “The time I wrote that HoloLens (and augmented reality in general) is not great for gaming.” Regardless, I feel very comfortable saying that augmented reality is not great for gaming.

It never takes long, at one of these events, for someone to point out that more people appear to be taking notes on their MacBooks than on laptops running Windows. No recording devices were allowed into the demonstration rooms, which were hidden beneath the ground floor of Microsoft’s Visitor Center and secured behind locked doors. Aside from the (arguably) candyfloss padding distractions of the holographic user interface known as Windows Holographic, what software developers will really want to know is: Will Microsoft’s approach to user interoperability through the so-called ‘Universal Apps’ approach be enough to successfully ‘handoff’ from one device to another? If the traditional parlor game ahead of Apple events is to try to predict the specifications of the next cool product, a more common preoccupation at Microsoft events is to muse about whether people even want what the company is selling.

Redmond showed a video that demonstrated how holograms will be incorporated into our everyday lives, which looked a lot like the augmented-reality demos we have seen for years. Unlike the sleek, donut-shaped headset unveiled on stage, the prototypes in the demonstration were skeletal contraptions that wrapped around the cranium and included a small computer slung around the neck. In fact, I was one of the few people who really wanted to see Google keep working on Glass, not because I thought the original hardware was great but because I wanted to see what twenty years of iteration could accomplish.

Microsoft won’t be stupid and will conduct thorough testing from front to back, but we all need to ‘share with the group’ and talk about this stuff. Microsoft doesn’t have anything to share beyond that.” It could be an early sign that Microsoft will discontinue Surface 2, which was introduced in 2013 and has not been a strong seller. These low expectations might explain how Microsoft managed to take almost everyone by surprise on Wednesday morning, when, at an event meant to introduce the latest Windows operating system, a little-known engineer named Alex Kipman strode onstage, with an almost Jobsian air of mischief and confidence, and unveiled an entirely new product: a holographic headset—known as HoloLens—that can project three-dimensional images into the air. While extoling the virtues of Windows 10, Microsoft executives including CEO Satya Nadella and Windows lead Terry Myerson repeatedly framed the future of Windows as “Windows as a service”.

The weight was easy to ignore once the technicians fired up a game of Minecraft and the game’s fantasy world sprawled out over real world living room furniture. Microsoft tells us that with the new Universal App approach, “Windows 10 will offer ‘new experience’ applications [that are] consistent across the device continuum, for photos, videos, music, maps, messaging and mail & calendar.

Windows RT products sold pretty poorly but it’s hard to say for sure if Microsoft will restock the store, said Bob O’Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research. With a wizardish hand gesture, he brings up what looks like a virtual screen onto the wall before him, on which a soccer match is playing; a to-do list shows up on the fridge, and the weather in Maui appears suspended above a kitchen island. While I haven’t used HoloLens yet, I have used two other AR headsets—CastAR and The Cortex—which are presumably close in execution, if not actual hardware and performance, to HoloLens. Content is stored and synced through OneDrive, enabling people to start something on one device and continue it on another.” It’s all good on paper… and on HTML for that matter.

In demonstrations following the event, journalists were invited to wear the headset and play a Minecraft-like game, with holographic pieces on a real coffee table. Windows has had an option to download and install updates automatically for years, and many consumers use Automatic Update to simplify maintenance of the operating system.

They shared more than 800,000 pieces of feedback on over 200,000 topics, “and our team is really embracing this feedback and leaning in to this open development process,” he said. They also fixed broken light switches with guidance from a person whose face appeared on a holographic screen in a Skype video call, and hung out on a re-created Mars. The way Microsoft talks about Windows 10, though, seems to imply that the updates will just happen, and that agreeing to those updates is a condition for using Windows 10. To be clear, in the face of the device (and platform) continuum, building developer test cases that are easy to reuse will make a huge difference in the long run.

DEFINITION: When we say ‘test case’, we mean the process that software application developers will use to establish the parameters of whether an application functions as it should under defined ‘requirements’ conditions. But Andy Lutzky, a Microsoft spokesman, told me that HoloLens is a “real-life working product” and that the press demonstrations and the details in the video were “built with working code.” This year marks eleven years since Facebook’s creation, eight years since the iPhone was launched, and five years since the iPad went on sale.

As Thurrott notes, if all of the devices were running the same OS and the OS is perpetually updated, the concept of version numbers becomes irrelevant. Microsoft’s digital assistant has been integrated into the desktop, where she will live—listening, learning, and serving up tidbits of information she believes you will find useful. Users can interact with their surroundings by training their eyes on any object of interest, holding out a pointer finger and “air tapping” it with a downward flick.

It’s easy to go crazy inventing conspiracy theories that this is all part of an elaborate plan by Microsoft to get everyone hooked and then pull the proverbial rug out and start charging fees to “rent” Windows. Technical product manager at quality assurance company SmartBear Nikhil Kaul points out that Microsoft’s new web browser for Windows 10 ‘Project Spartan’ has this aforementioned new rendering engine, which sounds great. The reading mode in Project Spartan removes the clutter from the page and makes the experience like reading an eBook. “Users can even save the page for reading in offline mode. He has focussed instead on other industries, such as aerospace; one oft-cited credo of his venture-capital firm, Founders Fund, unflatteringly references Twitter: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” As early as 2011, Thiel told George Packer, who profiled him in the magazine, “The Internet—I think it’s a net plus, but not a big one.” Naturally, such ideas scare Silicon Valley’s big tech companies, like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, who see their growth slowing, especially in developed countries like the United States, where almost everyone is already online. My HoloLens tour came with some limitations, the biggest being that no recording equipment was allowed in the lab, not even a cell phone. (You don’t know frustration until you are a journalist touring a research lab with no ability to capture photos or video.) The prototypes we used were also less refined than the slick kit that was demoed on stage, which was completely wireless, self-contained, and pretty elegant.

In order to compliment what quite possibly could become a popular browser, websites containing blogs, articles, or newsletters definitely need to support this new feature and ensure they are able to sync the saved reading list across multiple devices (PC and phone) that are using the new browser,” said Kaul. To keep up their growth, these companies have a limited set of options: find more people to use their products, find new ways to make money from what they’re already doing, or find something new to sell. The demo units I used required a power cable, external Holographic Processor Unit (HPU) that hung around my neck, and a headset that needed to be screwed onto my head to secure it. You’re a soldier and you have to make it across a paramilitary island base to rescue your daughter from a dude who looks like he’s wearing chainmail. (Yes, this scenario is the Commando video game I’ve always dreamed of.) As a developer, I can not only create this entire island paradise exactly to my specifications but also make sure that, for instance, as you run past this one set of houses it will always explode.

Last year, after Facebook and Microsoft opened skunk-works operations of their own, Claire Cain Miller wrote in an article in the Times magazine that “the big Silicon Valley companies find themselves in the same vulnerable position as the incumbents whose business models they once overturned. Unless Microsoft is planning to transform the company into some sort of altruistic non-profit that develops software out of the kindness of its corporate heart, it does still need to make a profit. With Spartan, you can draw or write notes on a website (using a touch screen or by typing on a keyboard), which can then be shared or saved to a program like OneNote. Or that there will always be a final confrontation with a boss enemy in a steam room I built, and you know this just as surely as you know that Mario will always encounter a mushroom and a Goomba at the start of World 1-1.

They know it is only a matter of time before the next big idea puts them out of business—unless they are the ones to come up with it.” This malaise might help to explain the reaction to Microsoft’s HoloLens announcement. Microsoft also wanted to improve the reading experience on Spartan, so it features a reading mode for a standardized view of Web content, as well as built-in support of PDF files. She then guided me through a real world installation of a light switch, with her drawing holographic arrows at the tools I needed each step of the way.

The developers of Dreadhalls don’t necessarily know what the layout of each level is, but it’s always going to fit into some set of parameters controlled by the creators. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will be included on all Windows 10 phones and tablets, he said, and provide a “highly rich and complete experience,” like the familiar Office ribbon and wireless printing. A third demonstration projected photographic landscapes of Mars, snapped by NASA’s mars rover, in a surprisingly crisp image of its cracked and rocky surface. The game boots, and you’re suddenly standing on an island paradise. “Amazing!” you shout, pulling the headset off to confirm you’re still standing in your living room. Testing APIs for correct response and behavior is therefore going to be essential for applications working on Windows 10 operating system,” he said.

Belfiore also demoed revamped apps for Calendar, Photos, People, Music, and Maps, which will include – among other things – automatic photo album creation, music support in OneDrive for playlist syncing, and Cortana remembering where you parked your car. In general we should probably commend Microsoft’s Windows 10 as a meaningful attempt to minimize fragmentation in the mobile and PC device market, but this is a time of change. On the gaming front, meanwhile, Spencer showed off a DVR function that will let you record gameplay – including the previous 30 seconds, in case you want to remember a particularly epic play. A real-world monitor showed the two-dimensional landscape on a conventional screen, but pull the mouse cursor beyond the screen’s edge and it floats seamlessly into the 3-dimensional landscape, where a mouse click can plant a holographic flag into the ground. Microsoft has gone to great pains to tell us that “version numbers shouldn’t matter any more” and that “Windows should be regarded as a service with rolling system upgrades” from here on in.

Yes, Microsoft offers Office 365 subscriptions as an alternative to just buying the Microsoft Office software suite, but nobody is forced to subscribe. Power consumption is cut in half when compared to DirectX 11, he said, which is important as mobile games continue to soar in popularity. “None of this is possible if we’re not getting adoption from studios,” Spencer said; Epic has already signed on, and the exec said today that Unity has also adopted DirectX 12. A “perfect print preview for 3-D printing,” explained a Microsoft engineer as a coworker put the finishing touches on a koala wearing a space helmet. The most unexpected part of today’s press event, however, was Microsoft’s introduction of Windows Holographic, a hologram-based virtual reality offering intended to bring you “beyond screens, beyond pixels, and beyond today’s digital borders,” Redmond said.

This has been Microsoft’s ‘show and tell week’ with keynotes and big smiles, now we need to get to grips with the guts of the new system in construction and find out how existing management tools (and techniques) react to this new animal. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s C.E.O., noted then that, while Oculus has been mostly focussed on video-gaming gear, he had much broader ambitions; he imagined people using headsets to transport themselves to classroom lectures or to visits with doctors. “By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life,” he wrote. It hasn’t done anything to make the old-fashioned Microsoft Office suite less appealing—it’s still the same set of applications for the same price you’d expect.

Those equipped with the Microsoft HoloLens will be able to see and interact with items in front of them – from a screen displaying Netflix movies to a model needed for work. And, not knowing when to trigger the “climactic boss battle,” it’s all kind of left to chance and you end up fighting the big baddie in your broom closet. All Windows universal apps will work with Windows Holographic, according to Microsoft, which invited developers for Oculus VR, Leap, and Google Glass to “come create holograms with us.” The HoloLens headgear, meanwhile, includes see-through holographic lenses, spatial sound, advanced sensors, and a built-in, high-end CPU and GPU. To handle the required processing, Microsoft said it “invented” a third processor that understands gestures and voice, and “can spatially map the entire world around us.” It will run without wires and will not require a connection to a phone or PC. Google said last week that it is closing down the Explorer program, which allowed people to test prototypes of Glass, and is working on a better consumer version.

Meanwhile, Redmond also showed off an 84-inch 4K display, dubbed the Microsoft Surface Hub, which is essentially a huge whiteboard plus video-chat screen for businesses. The Oculus Web site still shows headsets that fully obscure a wearer’s physical surroundings; the site focusses on gaming rather than the other purposes that Zuckerberg talked about last year. He walked around the hologram, grabbing tools from a holographic control panel, and then used a combination of voice and gestures to build and shape the koala. Kipman, of Microsoft, stressed in his presentation that the HoloLens is meant for regular people—not only, he seemed to suggest, for the futurist types who took to Glass or the gaming fanatics who are excited about Oculus. “We’re not talking about putting you into virtual worlds,” he said. “Now don’t get me wrong.

Still a broom closet where there was a broom closet before, except maybe this time the broom closet just has some ammo in it instead of a boss crammed between two boilers. But virtual reality may not be for everyone.” Still, though Microsoft’s demonstrations seemed cool, a virtual Minecraft session or a trip to Mars is probably more exciting for the average gadget reviewer than for the average consumer.

The model building was impressive, especially since the room was filled with models that were built with HoloStudio and then sent to a 3D printer for manufacturing. That means continuing to offer Windows the traditional way for those who prefer it, but also providing an alternative subscription-based model that comes with perks and benefits that make it a clearly better choice. From what Microsoft is telling us, the company may well put a headset on the market before its rivals—but it might take longer for us to figure out what to do with it. Again, moving beyond the light switch to something more complex like a jet engine, you can see how HoloLens could make technical support a lot more technical.

I mean a lightgun game regulated by the furniture you’re surrounded by, so you always know there are the same 10-15 spots for enemies to emerge from for the entire time you’re playing. It’s like watching the original Kinect demos, and then seeing what we actually got—a product that required a very specific room of a very specific size with specific furniture.

Similar games—ones that rely on user creativity more than traditional bastions of story, design, et cetera—may work fine in augmented reality. (PCWorld’s Mark Hachman certainly enjoyed his time with Minecraft when he tested HoloLens.) But the market can’t support too many of those types of games, and HoloLens isn’t really an Oculus Rift competitor under those restrictions (at least as far as gaming is concerned). Get more people building PCs by providing tutorial info about which piece goes into which slot, or teach me to play piano better by projecting how I should perform a song straight onto the keys.

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