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At a product briefing yesterday new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, to the surprise of nobody unveiled Microsoft Office for iPad.

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This is a big deal as Office is apparently used by a billion people worldwide - and given the iPad is the most popular tablet, bringing that experience to the device seems like a move to be welcomed. The demo was pretty good too - it seems Microsoft have come up with a nice way to handle the many complex functions of office with touch controls. In essence, you can do the vast majority of things you'd want to do on desktop Office with a tablet. Brilliant.

This contrasts to Windows tablets, like the Lumia 2520, which has Office but a non-tablet optimised version. In fact, when you boot up Office on the device, suddenly the screen turns into a normal Windows desktop (complete with taskbar), and you have to operate all of the fiddly things you'd usually use a mouse for with your big fat fingers instead. It is not a good user experience.

So it raises the awkward question: Why would anyone want to buy a Windows tablet now? What unique things does Windows on a tablet have left that would make it preferable to an iPad? I genuinely can't think of anything.

So what about phones? You may have seen this vaguely dystopian advert from Nokia, boasting of the fact that you can now access your spreadsheets whilst tucked up in bed:

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It already seems like quite a weak boast: unable to compete on games or social apps, boring old Nokia have got to compete on business functions. But here's the thing... the iPhone has a version of MS Office now too.

So has this latest announcement of Office for iPad killed Microsoft's USP for their devices once and for all? Does it suggest that Nadella has effectively given up on ever making Windows phones and tablets competitive?

Office isn't the first time they've built apps for rival devices. On the desktop, there's long been Office available for Mac, and even on mobile apps like Xbox Smartglass and One Note have also been made available on iOS and Android. The difference here is that this is really Microsoft giving up and sharing the family silver.

It's probably unlikely that this will signal any broader strategic change - dumping Windows on tablets and phones would be hugely embarrassing to the company, and would massively change perceptions of how healthy Microsoft is... so pouring money into the tablet OS blackhole will inevitably continue, even if Nadella has tacitly acknowledged that their own devices are failing.

What I'm wondering if this could signal a shift in how the tech titans work together - which could ultimately be better for the consumer. Not only have Microsoft signalled that they're happy to develop for Apple, but earlier this week there were rumours of Apple developing the iTunes music store for Android - which would be an equally bold move. Google, of course, have long supported the iOS platform with apps and the like.

Could we be moving towards a situation where apps and platforms are - to use a zeitgeisty phrase - consciously uncoupled? If Microsoft, Google and Apple all make apps available on each other's platforms, then users will be able to pick and choose which services and platforms they use - which is a much preferable situation to having to choose sides between two great power blocs.

And hey, whilst I'm wildly speculating, maybe Nadella could be tempted to do something completely unexpected and make exclusive Xbox titles multiplatform too? It's hugely unlikely as gaming is somewhere that Microsoft has a large enough stranglehold, but surely there's a bunch of PS4 players who would love to play the next Halo?

Could we see a Dell Xbox?

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Microsoft and Dell have announced a fairly dull new agreement on sharing patents - but the weird suggestion in the press release implies that Dell could - if they wanted - make their own Xbox consoles.

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Essentially, the two companies have signed a patent licensing agreement. Though details are scarce, it basically means that the two companies have agreed to let each other use various technologies they have the rights to, without lawyers getting involved on either side.

Patents are complicated business - and can be incredible tenuous. Whilst we don't know details on exactly what patents Microsoft and Dell discussed, it would be surprising if they were almost mind-numbingly obvious things such as patents on how scrolling works, or on how a screen can display electronic information. Inexplicably stuff like this has been granted - requiring one company to pay another company to 'license' the idea. A real world example of this sort of thing is Apple apparently owning the patent on the concept of slide to unlock. Seriously.

This deal is particularly relevant for Dell, who sell devices that run Chrome OS and Android - but computers that still may need certain patented actions that Microsoft own.

Perhaps what's most intriguing though is the following paragraph in the company's statement:

"Through this arrangement, Microsoft and Dell have agreed to license each company's applicable intellectual property related to Android and Chrome OS devices and Xbox gaming consoles. Under the terms of the agreement, they agreed on royalties for Dell's products running the Android or Chrome platforms and on consideration to Dell for a license for Xbox gaming consoles."

What would Dell want with an Xbox? Obviously this could all be unrelated - perhaps Dell want to use thumbsticks or have a cartoon avatar for users in a boring business application, which MS could conceivably own patents on? Or perhaps it could be much more interesting - with Microsoft licensing Xbox support out to other devices, not unlike how the Panasonic Q could play Gamecube games.

So don't hold your breath for a Dell Xbox... and if you must insist... why would you want a Dell Xbox anyway?!

Are Microsoft working on a Kindle rival?

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An intriguing rumour courtesy of Liveside suggests that Microsoft might by readying a competitor for Amazon's Kindle. Here's what we know so far.

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The game appears to have been given away by American booksellers Barnes & Noble who are the people behind the Nook e-reader - which is probably the second most popular choice... a long way after the Kindle.

Apparently they've committed to some sort of tie-up with Microsoft - as revealed in a filing to the American Securities and Exchange Commission - roughly equivalent to our Competition Commission over here.

"Pursuant to the Amendment, NOOK Media LLC ("NOOK Media") and Microsoft agreed to co-branding within the Microsoft Consumer Reader for reading content delivered by NOOK Media. The Amendment also provided that subject to certain conditions NOOK Media would be permitted to discontinue distributing the NOOK Windows app and will cooperate in good faith with Microsoft to transition users to the Microsoft Consumer Reader. Microsoft and NOOK Media also agreed to updated revenue sharing to address this possibility. The Amendment also permits NOOK Media to cease efforts with respect to a Windows phone app."

Look beyond the distract legalese and capitalisation and words "MICROSOFT CONSUMER READER" jump out.

When placed alongside the other evidence - the case becomes pretty compelling. Again according to Liveside, apparently a few weeks ago the person in charge of Nook's twitter account responded to a consumer query with this, before hastily deleting it:

"We appreciate your patience as we look forward to launching the best reading experience on Windows 8 phone in the near future"

Then there's the fact that Microsoft have an internal development team called the Xbox "Music, Video and Reading" team and are advertising jobs for people to code an e-reader capable of displaying books, magazines and comics.

I know what you're thinking... "Xbox?". Yep, it doesn't really seem to fit, but perhaps Microsoft are planning to launch an Xbox tablet or something similar? The fact that it is part of the Xbox division certainly suggests that it is hardware-oriented rather than merely (say) a software app that will run on Windows Phones and tablets.

We'll have more if we hear anything.

It has finally been revealed that after a long search Microsoft has found its new CEO... in the office down the corridor. Satya Nadella takes the big desk in the corner office after previously heading up Microsoft's Cloud & Enterprise division. Apparently he was in charge of building the background cloud operating system for services like Xbox Live, Skype and Bing. Hey, two out of three ain't bad!

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Now he's CEO though he's going to have to cast his net over all of the Microsoft empires diverse set of properties - and here's our list of what's probably going to be in his in-tray to sort out on Day 1.

Figure out what to do about Windows Phone

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Despite Redmond's best efforts, the Windows Phone platform is languishing at around 4% market share compared to the titans that are Apple's iOS and Google's Android. It isn't just a matter of pride that is harming them in this space - lack of users, means lack of developers wanting to make apps for the Windows platform... meaning less users, creating an unvirtuous cycle of misery for everyone involved.

Microsoft are also in the middle of putting the finishing touches to a deal to buy Nokia's phone division - which will make a near negligible impact on market share, but will give them more resources for making phones with.

Arguably Nadella's hands are a little tied here - everyone knows that mobile is the future (and indeed, the present), so to retreat would be embarrassing, given Microsoft know that they need to retain some skin the game. So he may just have to keep pouring money down the black-hole and hope that some of it at least makes a difference.

Make the Xbox One competitive

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Last generation, the Xbox 360 was a huge success. Whilst neither it or the PS3 sold quite as well as the Playstation 2, it kept pace with Sony's competing console and in many markets was the clear 'winner' - in the UK for example for every PS3 sold, Microsoft shifted 1.51 Xbox 360s.

As the next generation takes hold though things are looking a little less sure. After what was widely regarded as a disastrous announcement thanks to the DRM fiasco, the Xbox One has had a solid launch in Europe and the US... though the lead amongst early adopters is held by the PS4, which in a reversal of fortunes is outselling the Xbox One by nearly 1.5 times (in the UK, at least).

The competition isn't helped by the Xbox One being £100 more expensive than the PS4 - because of the included mandatory Kinect 2 camera.
Whilst Nadella has no need to be really worried, he needs to keep an eye on this competition, and needs to make sure the Xbox One remains competitive. As not only does the console war promise billions of dollars to the victor, but its also Microsoft's trojan horse into the living room, and all of the lucrative opportunities there.

Figure out what the PC is for now

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It turns out that these days, not everyone needs a PC. Whilst in the past we may have relied on Windows running on a trusty grey box in the corner of the room, now the internet is everywhere and it is portable too. We have tablets and phones for access - not to mention a tonne of other devices. Heck, some people will now happily go without a computer at all. As Slate's Matt Yglesias points out, for people who don't need a computer for work - chefs, hairdressers, lorry drivers and so on... why buy a PC when you can get all of your social networking, shopping and entertainment via your phone or tablet?

2013 saw the PC market shrink even more - and this trend looks only set to continue. Which is a bit unfortunate if you're Microsoft and making a PC operating system is one of your main activities.

Even more dangerously for MS, we're increasingly doing stuff in the Cloud (as Nadella should well know!) - so less people need a fully blown operating system, when all they really need is a browser window and wifi access.

Microsoft are evidently bricking it over Google's Chromebook, which does exactly that - which is why they've put out a series of catty advertisements like the one below that was released today (!).

Nadella is going to have to think hard about this problem - and perhaps just accept that the PC is dying now, and that Microsoft should supplement its income another way.

Figure out how to make money without selling your operating system

Now all of these other suggestions have been a bit of fun - but what if you want to <em>really</em> experience true fear? Then try switching to a Windows 8 computer.</p>

<p>No cheating - no dual booting with Linux, no downgrading to Windows 7, no throwing it

Ah - here's the other thing. Remember when Apple announced that their latest version of MacOS, Mavericks, would be free to download? Microsoft do, and a shiver runs down their spine at the very mention of it. For Microsoft, selling operating systems is lucrative business - not only selling them for £100 a time to individual customers, but licensing Windows to big corporations was their cash cow for many years.
Unfortunately, Apple's shift means that people will be asking "Why?" when asked to pay for the next version of Windows. Signs point towards Microsoft relenting and going along with the free model too - Windows 8.1, which was released recently was published as a free download. Which is great if you want lots of people to download it - but not so much if you want to make money.

There are longer term benefits on doing it this way though. By preventing fragmentation and ensuring as many people are running the latest versions of the operation system, it should boost compatibility with newer kit, and also make it easier for developers, who rather than having to make sure their latest app works with an ancient version of Windows, can rest assured that a high proportion of users will be up to date.

For Nadella, figuring out which route to go down is going to be important. It's a question of sacrificing revenue for improving the Microsoft ecosystem.

Stop people hating Windows 8

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Let's face it - Windows 8 is terrible. There's so many countless ways in which it is horrible, which I've explained at length before. In short - the key selling point of "one experience on all of your devices" is a really bad idea... and you only have to try to use a touchscreen app with a mouse to figure that out.

Windows 8.1 is healing some of the bruises but already you can see consumers going elsewhere. It's taken this long for Windows 8 to pass the equally horrible Vista in terms of market share, and Dell have even started selling Windows 7 PCs again due to popular demand.

We're over a year away from Windows 9, so Nadella needs to get into action and do something to win back the trust of consumers. Perhaps he could start by putting the Start button back?

Keep Office relevant

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Finally, this is perhaps a slightly less urgent problem but one to think about nonetheless. Nadella, as mentioned, is from the Cloud and Enterprise division of Microsoft so will have a handle on how people are shifting into the Cloud. And not only is this a problem for Windows as a whole, but also for their lucrative Microsoft Office suite.

Whereas in years past we were ruled by the tyranny of the .doc or .docx, now with online platforms we've got many more options for editing and reading these documents. And as a friend of mine remarked a few weeks ago: completely inexplicably Google Drive doesn't feel as 'heavy' as Microsoft Office. Case in point: I'm currently writing this on Google Drive as all I need is text a little bit of formatting - rather than use the bulky behemoth that Office has become, and have my computer take the performance hit.

For many years now Microsoft have been busy adding feature after feature to Microsoft Office, with very people stopping to ask "why?". Whilst 99% of users may find use in the bold, underline or spell checker tools... what about the rest?

Office is another tool that could have the rug pulled out from underneath it as users switch to alternatives. And this is something Nadella should be aware of.

So what to do first?

As you can see, there's a lot for Nadella to think about. If you ask me, Windows and Windows Phone are the most pressing issues. Lucky for him, Microsoft is a big company that is still making a lot of money. It's not like it is on the verge of bankruptcy, and it is still making millions every year - but the above are important strategic choices that will have to be made, in order to avoid problems in the future.

So it's going to be a busy day at the office for Satya Nadella. At least after a long day he can kick back and relax by playing some Xbox or watching one of these new documentaries that Microsoft are funding.

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This week saw the UK launch of the Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet - Nokia's first foray into a tablet since they switched allegiances to Windows a couple of years ago. Similarly, it's only been a couple of months since the launch of Windows 8.1 - the latest version of Microsoft's operating system cash cow.

A couple of weeks ago we also saw the UK launch of the Xbox One - Microsoft's latest home console and one that, if you looked at the menu interface, would seem very familiar to the Lumia tablet and a Windows 8.1 PC.

And just the other day Microsoft's "Threshold" project was leaked - revealing plans by the company to further create one experience between different types of devices. Redmond are being unambiguous about what they want: they want the same experience, on every device. But I want to ask... is that really a good idea?

Microsoft's plan is to have the same "Metro" style boxed interface on everything from phones, to tablets, to laptops and desktop computers - and to Xbox games consoles. And this makes some sense - having a common design and interface means that - at least in theory - if you can use one device, you can use another. If you know how the grid interface works on your phone, as soon as you switch on your Xbox is going to work.

In fact - our brains are wired for this. Without realising it, we're constantly developing heuristics - mental shortcuts that help us cope with everyday life. These can be pretty simple - once we've seen someone drink something, we can be confident that it won't poison us if we drink it, as we know our bodies are wired the same way - and if we see a picture of a hand on an unfamiliar door, we can be reasonably sure you have to push it rather than pull. So having some design consistency is a good thing.

Microsoft aren't the only ones doing it - notice how increasingly Apple's desktop Mac OS operating system is taking its design cues from the portable iOS for the same reasons - heuristic consistency.

However - it seems that Microsoft could be taking it too far. As far as I can see there's a bit of a problem in wanting all devices to be the same: all devices are different.

Consider different input devices. On the phone and tablet, the finger is king - so you want big fat buttons with gesture controls. You don't want too much clutter on a relatively small screen. On a desktop computer meanwhile, precision is key - you've not only got a mouse or touchpad which you can be precise down to the pixel with, but you've also got a bank of 50-odd keys in front of you, which can be programmed to do a multitude of different tasks, which might take a lot of effort when you've just got a finger. You've also got more screen real estate - so you can pack more detail on.

The Xbox is different too - not only is it primarily controlled with a controller, one block at a time, but it can also react to voice and motion commands, the latter of which is never going to be practical on the bus.

So given these disparities - is the big boxed Metro interface the best one for it? Anyone who has suffered the misfortune of using Windows 8 will be able to describe the bewilderment of having these gigantic full-screen boxes appear over the normal windows interface unexpectedly. Not only is it an unpleasant experience compared to trusty old Windows 7, but it's clearly been designed for touchscreen desktop computers - which have resolutely not happened yet (and even if they do - what about legacy computers upgrading... and isn't keyboard and mouse less effort than lifting your arms up anyway?).

Apple's approach appears to make a lot more sense: Though MacOS borrows many icons and naming conventions from iOS, apps are still designed with the medium in mind. Renaming Mac OS's "Chat" to "Messages" to harmonise with iOS made a lot of sense - but having the settings function take over the whole screen would clearly not make any sense at all... so mercifully this hasn't been done (unlike Windows 8).

So perhaps it's time for Microsoft to rethink, and consider how we actually interact with technology and about how sometimes we don't always want the same thing. Commonalities make sense... but making them at the extent of user experience defeats the whole point of "user experience".

Why did Apple make Mavericks and iLife free?

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Yesterday's Apple event was interesting for a number of reasons - and not just because they unveiled the iPad Air and new iPad Mini. It seems they've decided to use all of those spare billions in the bank to take on Microsoft in a big way.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook's presentation was littered with digs at MS throughout - at the start slagging off the hybrid laptop/tablet Surface (though never mentioning it by name), and later referring to people who are "stuck on PCs". This was only the rhetoric though - the announcements were the substance.

In the eternal fight between the two software giants, however shiny Apple's latest device was, Microsoft have always had something they can rely on: Boring old Windows and Boring Old Microsoft Office. These are Microsoft's cash cows - and Tim Cook seems to have a beef with them.

These cash cows are important to Microsoft because they're reliable. No matter how badly they misjudge, say, the Xbox One or the tablet market, it's not game over as there's always going to be a reliable income stream from PC manufacturers wanting to run Windows (essentially the only game in town if you're not using Apple hardware). Similarly, there will always be a queue of besuited business drones ready and waiting to buy the latest upgrade to Microsoft Office. And there's no danger of these revenue streams going away... right? Umm...

Last night Apple announced that their new operating system, Maverick, as well as their Office-equivalent iLife apps are going to be completely free. By comparison, Windows 8 will currently set you back around £70, and Microsoft Office starts from around £100.

There's a number of benefits of doing this for Apple. One thing Apple have learned is a huge benefit in mobile is preventing OS fragmentation - with users all running a large number of different (older) versions. On mobile, because upgrading to iOS7 is so easy they've managed to convert 64% of iOS users in only a few weeks (compare to mobile rival Android - how many are running the latest version? How many are still running the really old version?).

This is useful because not only does it make development easier, but also means users will have a more consistent experience between devices (and conveniently, Maverick users will all have the Mac app store front and centre to download and buy software). By releasing a free Mac OS update they could do the same thing for laptops and desktops - now existing Mac users have no real reason not to update.

By comparison, Windows is a bit of a mess - with a large proportion of users still running Windows 7, Windows XP or - god help them - Windows Vista.

Esoteric technical considerations aside though - it also sets down a massive challenge to Microsoft to match what they're doing. Are Dell and other manufacturers going to be happy paying big money for Windows when the rival operating system is free? Will Microsoft take the bait and cut off one of their biggest revenue streams?

Similarly, on the Office front business users will now be able to look at a cheaper alternative - with free cloud support too for document collaboration and the like. That's got to make switching seem pretty tempting - even if MS Office is fairly grandfathered into business processes by this point.

So what will it mean if Apple can put a dent into Microsoft's revenues? Well - they won't be able to do as much and will be able to compete less effectively. It's going after the opposing army's supply lines.

Don't get me wrong - Microsoft aren't going anywhere any time soon, but this is going to reshape the dynamics of the battlefield. Things just got interesting on desktops again.

Thumbnail image for steve ballmer.jpgIt's taken years for him to come out and say it, but Steve Ballmer, the outgoing Microsoft CEO, has admitted that the company missed the boat when it came to getting ahead in the smartphone race under his leadership.

Speaking at an analysts meeting in Washington, Ballmer stated that Microsoft has almost "no share" in the smartphone market thanks to his decision to focus the company's efforts on Windows computers.

"I regret that there was a period in the early 2000s when we were so focused on what we had to do around Windows that we weren't able to redeploy talent to the new device called the phone," said Ballmer.

"That is thing I regret the most. It would have been better for Windows and our success in other foreign factors."

As a result, Microsoft sit in a distant third place behind Google's Android and Apple's iPhone in the smartphone market, with the Windows Phone platform accounting for just 3.7% of the global smartphone market according to IDC figures. Google's Android and Apple's iPhone enjoy a 79.3% and 13.2% share respectively.

However, Microsoft's smartphone star is rising, with the Windows Phone OS's adoption growing 77% of the last year to overtake rivals BlackBerry and (now Microsoft-owned) Nokia's Symbian. As a result, Ballmer sees "upside opportunities" for further growth among smartphone fans.

"We have the tools. There's economic upside here. In the long run, we are almost uniquely poised to seize the opportunity," he said.

"Today I'm speaking as an investor. You all own Microsoft stock, cheer for it, for God's sake."

nokia-microsoft-pals.jpgMicrosoft has announced that it is gearing up to purchase Nokia's hardware division, in a deal worth £4.56 billion.

A move that has been more or less on the cards since Nokia gambled their smartphone business on Microsoft's Windows Phone platform two and a half years ago, the deal will see 32,000 Nokia employees join the Redmond company. Nokia will also license its patents and mapping services to Microsoft, with the buyout expected to be completed in early 2014.

An open letter from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop broke the news, while an internal email circulated among Microsoft employees, along with a Strategic Rationale document, explained the specifics of the deal to the workforce.

With Microsoft specifically buying Nokia's Devices and Services division, Nokia CEO Elop will step down from his current position and head a new Devices team at Microsoft, while Julie Larson-Green, currently handling the Xbox One and Surface teams at Microsoft's Devices and Studios, will join Elop.

The deal cements Microsoft's renewed focus on hardware, giving them a mobile devices team to rival Apple's, while still allowing them to license out the Windows Phone platform to partners like HTC and Samsung. Both Microsoft and Nokia have struggled to gain significant market share in the smartphone era; this deal will unify Microsoft's solid Windows Phone OS with Nokia's impressive hardware output, allowing the two to make timely and aggressive mobile moves.

One particularly interesting nugget to come along with the deal is the rumour that Elop may be now front-runner to take over from Ballmer as Microsoft's next CEO, following Ballmers announcement that he'd be stepping down within a year. Elop, with his hardware experience lining up nicely with Microsoft's current strategy, could be the man to helm the Redmond ship.

Windows-8.1.jpgThe first major upgrade to Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, the Windows 8.1 update, is now said to be ready for a mid-October full release, following a period of public preview testing since June.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, whose stellar track record has spot-on when it comes to previous Microsoft details, suggested the date, one that would fit nicely considering it'd be almost an exact year since Window 8 first released.

Foley's report also suggests that brand new Windows 8 hardware will launch alongside the operating system revamp, though no specific manufacturers are mentioned. Microsoft are also expected to be releasing the Release To Manufacturing (RTM) build of Windows 8.1 a little earlier, getting it in the hands of hardware manufacturers to give them a little more time to finalize specific driver details.

The details shared by ZDNet corroborate with a report from The Verge too, who state that Microsoft will be leaving a gap between the general and RTM release schedules in order to ensure patches and drivers are finalised ahead of the general October release.

As we detailed in our preview post earlier this summer, Windows 8.1 will bring a host of new fucntionality to the operating system, inculduing more Start screen customisation options, a revised app store and the return of the Start button on desktop.

RELATED:
Windows 8.1 preview: 14 of the best new features

Surface-big-top.jpgNvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has confirmed that his graphics chip manufacturing company are hard at work on the development of Microsoft's Surface RT 2 tablet.

Speaking to CNET, Huang said that his company were "working really hard" on the second generation Surface, in the hope that it will be more successful than its predecessor.

Nvidia provided Tegra 3 chips for the original Surface RT tablet that, while commendable from an industrial design standpoint, had crippling software compatibility issues and seemed a poor purchase choice when saddled up next to the superior Surface Pro, which runs full Windows 8.

"It is the killer app for Windows," Huang told CNET.

"Now we're going to bring it with the second-generation Surface. We're working really hard on it, and we hope that it's going to be a big success."

For Huang, the Surface RT 2 needs to be a far greater success than its predecessor. Though never explicitly pointing a finger at Windows RT as the cause of the companies weakened bottom line, Nvidia are said to have invested some $300 million in the platform, money that Huang admits that "we don't expect it in the short term to come back."

"This particular platform just didn't do as well as we or frankly anybody in the industry had hoped," he stated.

Surface-big-top.jpgMicrosoft have revealed their fiscal Q4 2013 earnings. And while overall impressive (with the company posting fourth-quarter earnings of $4.97 billion - 59 cents a share - on revenue of $19.9 billion), it also revealed disappointing Surface RT tablet performance resulting in a write down on the tablet inventory.

As such, Surface RT caused a $900 million loss, amounting to 7 cents a share. It seems the company over-estimated demand for the RT model, leading to stock overloads, though the loss only affected revenue for Windows.

However, even with the loss, Windows division still showed a year-on-year revenue increase thanks to strengthening sales of the Windows 8 operating system and devices carrying its license.

Surface sales have increased during the first quarter of 2013, though this is likely thanks to increased availability of the Surface Pro models, which run the full version of Windows 8 and reviewed much better than the RT models.

Just this week Microsoft slashed the prices of their Surface RT machines, which now seems obviously due to static stock. The 32GB model now costs £279, down from £399, while the 64GB model now costs £359, down from £479.

Windows-Phone-8-Watch.jpgNot wanting to be left out of the wearable technology party that's gearing up to be this year's big tech trend, further fuel has been added to the fire that Microsoft are rumoured to be working on a Surface Smart Watch to go along with their Surface tablet range.

According to sources speaking to The Verge and AmongTech, Microsoft have entered the prototyping stage for the device, which will feature a 1.5-inch display and will include a removable wrist bands in a range of colours including blue, red, grey, yellow, black and white - likely following the Windows 8 colour scheme.

The device, which was originally intended as a "Joule" heart rate monitor to accompany Xbox apps, has been moved over to the Surface development team as part of a company wide shake app intended to bring more unity to Microsoft's hardware divisions. Indeed, a smart watch pairing for the company's tablets seems a more meaningful addition to their hardware line-up than one intended for gaming purposes alone.

Sources claim that the watch prototypes are running a modified version of Windows 8, which should make it easy to integrate with existing Windows 8 devices, including the upcoming Xbox One (thanks to its tri-operating system architecture).

Those hoping for an inexpensive accessory may want to look elsewhere however, as the watch is rumoured to be using an expensive Oxynitride Aluminium, or "translucent aluminium", in its construction. In terms of hardware specs, LTE prototypes are being tested, as well as 6GB storage versions that are supplemented by Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage systems.

If the rumours are true, the company would likely face competition form the rumoured Apple iWatch, as well as confirmed devices on the way from Samsung, Sony and LG.

xbox-one-console-white-thumb.jpgAll play and no work would make Microsoft's forthcoming Xbox One console less profitable than it potentially could be, so the Redmond company are expanding their marketing horizons to attract small businesses. In an open letter from Microsoft's director of Consumer Camp Marques Lyons, the company have been pitching the device's potential as a workplace tool, as well as a home entertainment device, thanks to its cloud storage integration and video conferencing Skype application.

"What is being positioned as an excellent entertainment device can be just as enticing for you and your small business," wrote Lyons.

"In fact, it's entirely justifiable to make the Xbox One a business expense. The Xbox One, priced at $499 [£429], is an affordable option for small business owners, as there are many features built into the console that could help it rival even the most modest of video conferencing and networking platforms."

Skype and the Xbox One's mandatory Kinect camera sensor will be a great way for small businesses to simply introduce large-screen video conferencing to their work place too:

"Utilise Skype, and the power of group chatting, to have that collaborative exchange with clients and co-workers, no matter where in the world they happen to be," Lyons encouraged.

"Utilize the size of that nice TV screen to see every smile and nod as your next great plan comes together. The Xbox One with Kinect, as a Skype provider, is just as capable as a PC with an attached/included microphone and webcam. The difference here is that Xbox One and Kinect gives you the open space to move, gesture, show examples, and see everyone more clearly."

SkyDrive integration, Microsoft's cloud-based storage service, combined with Kinect enabled voice and gesture controls, could be a great way to give presentations, pairing with the Internet Explorer application and associated web apps:

"With SkyDrive via Internet Explorer, you can use it with the Office Web Apps to open that Excel spreadsheet or PowerPoint. Use the Kinect voice and hand gestures to navigate to websites. Now you're free of clickers and light pens to use your hands to for more expressive gestures."

Finally, second-screen SmartGlass tools will also aid making presentations with a tablet device, offering simplified screen-mirroring options.

Microsoft's "one device" mantra continues then; even if Sony have won the earlier war for gamer's hearts, Microsoft's battle for the living room with entertainment features, alongside this new battlefront for the boardroom, shows Microsoft are laying the foundations for the long game in this generation's console war.

UKStore_mag.pngLekiosk is one of the most popular digital magazine reading applications on IOS and Android, popular thanks to its 3D newsstand-like interface.

And now it's headed to the Windows 8 operating system!

Publishers already touting their wares using lekiosk include the BBC and Dennis Publishing, with magazines such as Wired and T3 available through the service. The magazine library is expected to grow too in the coming months as more and more publishers are being added to lekiosk.

The move of lekiosk to Windows 8 is aimed to bring the digital reading platform to as many desktop users as possible, not to mention the growing number of Windows 8 tablet users. The popularity of Windows 8 has bloomed well with over 60 million licenses sold since release. lekiosk will be looking to capitalise upon the growing userbase, likely to grow substantially again once the consumer friendly features of the Windows 8.1 update land.

lekiosk offers two main price points. Customers can grab 3 magazines for £5 or alternatively 10 magazines for £10. The prices are fairly cheap comparable to those on the high street because the magazine publisher does not have to spend money on printing and transporting the magazine, passing the savings on to you.

Those not fussed about lekiosk's arrival on Windows 8 can check out rival services such as Apple's Newsstand, Zinio or Google Play Magazines. However, a quick scan of the lekiosk library, in my opinion, shows lekiosk to have the most comprehensive range of the gang.

For more on lekiosk and its arrival on Microsoft's platform, click here.

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Xbox product planning boss Albert Penello believes that any differences in the specs of the new generation of consoles is meaningless.

Speaking to OXM, Penello stated that he feels that the hardware differences between the forthcoming Xbox One and Sony's PS4 matter less than the software and game play experiences both will offer. "This isn't like 1990, when it was 16-bit versus 32-bit," he said.

This could be because the difference in gameplay experience offered between the two devices is going to be very minimally impacted. Both powered by AMD chipsets, graphics will almost certainly look very similar, with interface and feature sets more clear differentiating factors than hardware. 

The main difference in the hardware of the new consoles is the RAM, with the PS4 leading the way with 8GB of high speed DDR5 RAM (176 GB/s) all of which will be used for games. The Xbox One has the same amount of RAM but at a lower speed with around 2GB being allocated to apps. This could affect the way developers of multi-platform titles approach working on each console.

If there's one clear difference however, it's with pricing - there's an immense difference of £80.99 in favour of the PS4. A PS4 will cost £349, while an Xbox One is set at £429 (albeit with a Kinect motion sensor bundled in, with no comparable device included with Sony's package).


Albert Penello also spoke about consumers not knowing what they are arguing about,  claiming that a lot of them wouldn't know what each spec number means, how hardware affects pricing and how it will affect their experience of using the console.

Even though Penello talked about how frivolous the hardware argument is, he still took an opportunity to boast about how hands-on the development team had been with the creation of the Xbox One console, saying that they "touched every single component in the box and everything there is tweaked for optimum performance", compared to Sony's PS4 being built from "off the shelf parts."

xbox-one-top.jpgThough the pre-launch buzz around the Xbox One has so far focussed on its abilities as a next-generation gaming machine alongside its entertainment-hub potential, the console may have another trick up its sleeve: the ability to run Windows 8 apps.

Covered briefly during Microsoft's annual Build conference in San Francisco, Steve Guggenheimer, vice president of Microsoft's Developer and Platform Evangelism group, discussed the relationship between Microsoft's new gaming hardware and their PC operating system.

"Xbox One has two engines; it's got a gaming engine and it essentially has a Windows 8 engine," he said, hammering home the fact that the console runs on a Windows kernel.

Because of this, hinted Guggenheimer, the console could feasibly run Windows 8 applications.

"If you want to know about how to get a head start about thinking about developing for Xbox One, the logical thing to do is go build Windows 8 applications," he told the collected developers at the conference according to The Verge.

Bringing Window 8 applications to the console could prove a massive bonus to owning a Xbox One console over a rival PlayStation 4 from Sony, given the wealth of flexibility Windows 8 apps offer beyond console standards like media streaming and game play. However, Microsoft have also already stated that developers cannot self-publish on the Xbox One, instead requiring a publishing mediator to cut the deals for them. This would obviously stifle the potential creativity of the Windows 8 dev community, many of whom self-publish their wares to PC users. Microsoft should be looking to make an exception for Windows 8 app publishers on the Xbox One if Windows 8 app compatibility is indeed in the pipeline for the console, if the exception isn't already planned.

Windows-8.1.jpgWindows 8.1 is finally available to download in preview form, updating Microsoft's divisive operating system with new features that should help ease the pain of those turned off by the new-look OS.

The preview build is available for all to try out now. Click here to find out how to give it a go ahead of its late 2013 full release.

We've had some hands-on time with the new build of the OS and have picked out fourteen of the best new additions. Check them out below!

NookHD+-top.jpgMicrosoft may be looking to bolster their tablet business by buying out the Nook line of slates and eReaders, in an attempt to rival Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iBooks offerings.

According to TechCrunch, Microsoft are looking to double down on the £200 million that they've already invested in the Nook tablets, aiming to buy the company out outright. Microsoft already have a 16.8% stake in the company.

The report claims that Microsoft are looking to spend £640 million to acquire the digital assets of Nook Media LLC, the separate Nook spin-off company that spread out from Barnes & Noble last year.

"In this plan, Microsoft would redeem preferred units in Nook Media, which also includes a college textbook division, leaving it with the digital operation -- e-books, as well as Nook e-readers and tablets," reads the report.

Though Nook devices would live on, internal documents show that the Android arm of the business is set to be discontinued by 2014 in favour of a "third party partner". The obvious partner here then would be Microsoft with a Windows-based Nook, a theory that would be certainly strengthened were Microsoft to complete the buyout of the company.

Surface-big-top.jpgThough Microsoft remain tight-lipped over just how many Surface tablets they've managed to flog around the world, new research from analytics firm Strategy Analytics suggests that the company's Windows 8 software has at least inspired consumers to take a punt on Windows tablets.

Looking at the tablet market during the first quarter of 2013, the report shows that Windows tablet demand is on the up, with 3.4 million slates packing the Microsoft OS (from numerous manufacturers) shipping during the period.

That gives the Microsoft OS a 7.5% tablet market share, trailing behind Apple's iOS iPads (48.2%) and the multitude of Android tablets (43.4%) from basically every consumer tech company in the world that isn't Apple. Though only a small chunk of the pie, 7.5% share after 5 months release against two well established tablet giants isn't half bad.

Keep in mind that Strategy Analytics aren't explicitly defining what constitutes a Windows 8 tablet here - with the operating system in its many guises working across tablets and convertible touchscreen notebooks, it's possible that these figures are also taking in sales of those machines too.

windows-8-blue-1.jpgWindows 8 is a grower: you'll be frustrated with it at first, seemingly moving things around just for the sake of it, but give it time and you'll find it a pretty comfortable progression from Windows 7. For many though, that "Metro" Start screen is still an issue, with plenty hoping to be able to just jump straight to the standard desktop view after booting.

With a leaked version of the Windows Blue update now in the wild, Russian Blog Microsoft Portal are suggesting that this feature may indeed soon be offered by the Redmond company.

They've spotted a revamped twinui.dll file that will check either a registry key or policy setting to set whether or not a user wants to see the divisive Start screen, with the value tagged CanSuppressStartScreen within the DLL.

So why would Microsoft perhaps be thinking of offering the option to skip entirely the most-publicised addition to their latest operating system? It seems it will be to appease enterprise users, who need to milk every working second they can get, rather than getting to grips with a new interface. IT Administrators may be more open to upgrading systems to Windows 8 if the Start screen can be skipped.

Even without a simple UI option to implement the Start screen skip, it's still possible to jump straight to the desktop view in Windows 8. Users need only add the Explorer.exe to the CurrentVersion\Run registry key.

The Windows 8 Blue update is expected to land before the end of the year, with a public preview likely following Microsoft's annual developers conference in June.

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