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Last year when Windows 8 was announced one of the devices I was really looking forward to getting my hands on was the ElitePad 900 by Hewlett-Packard. At the time I was looking for a pure Windows tablet which remains a rarity outside of the mini-tablets. The ElitePad also was one of the view Windows devices that had a screen size close to the iPad (4:3) which made it better for portrait viewing (but prevented Windows 8’s Snap view). It was also one of the few (if any) Windows tablet that had 3G/LTE connectivity.

The 900 looked to be a solid device but it lacked one thing…

It wasn’t in my local stores. The 900 was like a lot of the first gen Windows 8 tablets and hybrids Missing in Action. Now it was understandable that HP would be gun shy, they had a rough time when they released the HP TouchPad. Also the 900 was being aimed at businesses with its plethora of accessories. But I thought it could work.

Now flash forward to 2013 and HP has moved on. Last year they hired a new guy (whose name I’m forgetting) from Nokia to re-launch their mobile strategy. Their new strategy so far has been a focus on Android with a smattering of Windows. This year HP came out with the Slate 7 (nicely built, but poor screen), the Slate 7 HD (same build, better screen), the Slate 7 Extreme (HP branded but designed by NVIDIA), the Slate 8 Pro, the Slate 10 HD, a couple of Chromebooks (the 11 and 14), and finally the Omni 10 (the Windows one).

 

Now I won’t talk about the Pavilion line, HP’s budget series, because I want to save it and because I want to get to the Omni. Also understand this is a literal hands on; I am not a reviewer I was at a store looking and they had it so I touched it.

So in a lot of ways the Omni 10 is a budget ElitePad with better specs. A lot of that is due to it being 2013, Intel’s BayTrail processor, and Windows 8.1. The Omni maintains the overall look and screen of the 900 (10.1 inch screen with the 4:3 ratio); so holding the Omni is not like holding similar 10 inch tablets in portrait which can be awkward. HP swapped out the Aluminum of the 900 for a Matte plastic (polycarbonate is only for Lumias) that feels nice in the hand. Because HP used the 900 as the base design of the Omni you’ll find most of the ports, storage, and power on the bottom of the device. The volume rocker is on the side and the power is on the top. The Omni has a proprietary charger (like what you use to plug in headphones and not USB). It has a headphone jack.

As I said earlier the Omni 10 is really the successor to the 900. Its basic body is the 900 with added ports and a better screen. The device has weight (similar to the iPad 2 or 1) and has significant bezel. The plastic material makes it feel great to hold but you will probably need a case.

Now if you are wondering how Windows 8.1 handles on this device or how zippy BayTrail is; I want you to know I wonder about it too. And that is why I call this thing a hands on and not review (and apologies if I lead you on, I’m not that kind of tech writer except that one time honest). I found the Omni by chance because I read it had been quietly released for around $329 (US). Office Depot was where I found the device tucked away from their computer section next to a working Dell Venue 8 Pro (which really was nice). The Omni 10 is still not available for sale on HP.com.

I feel kind of bad for the Omni 10 because its kind of red-headed stepchild. HP is looking at Android and Chrome to bolster its mobility score and beyond x2 hybrid line isn’t pushing Windows 8.1. the Omni 10 is this interesting device which seems to be destined to obscurity which is sad.

image: HP.com

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In 24 hours Microsoft will hold its annual Build conference. This year it will be held in San Francisco (aka Enemy territory) at the Moscone Center. On the agenda are Windows 8.1, Microsoft’s first update to its new OS, along with updates to Windows Server, Visual Studio, and Azure.

There are many known facts about Build, but also some things we don’t know. Unlike last year, I will break my Build overview down into what I think will happen and what I’d wish would happen.

This year’s Build will mark the first test in Microsoft’s shift into a services and devices company. It will also be the first public run of it’s change to a faster software cadence or roll out with Windows 8.1. Speaking of 8.1, the first update to Windows 8 will have its work cut out for it. Windows 8’s launch was both controversial and depending where you sat, a failure. 8.1 is being seen as a mea culpa to desktop computer users because of features like boot to desktop and new granular controls to hide the new Start screen. At the same time Windows 8.1 must still compete in the tablet space and in that 8.1 brings new features and refinements to the Modern parts of Windows 8.

What Will Happen

So I talked a bit about 8.1, but also expect to see a lot of talk around Windows Server R2 and Azure. Also expect an update to Visual Studio which has already adopted the faster roll out model. Microsoft will highlight how well both integrate with Windows 8, especially Azure.

One thing to look for at least from the Day One keynote will be the focus on the traditional Microsoft developer base, .NET, C++, and XAML. In the first two Builds, Microsoft confused and alienated some of its core developers by focusing on web technologies like HTML and JAVA. It seems that with 8.1, Microsoft will try to shore up its devs in much as 8.1 does traditional PC users.

We know the Windows 8.1 run through Wednesday will focus on the desktop, but expect the Windows team to also spend time focusing on mobile. At Computex a few weeks ago, Microsoft highlighted Windows 8 on small screen tablets, expect a full run through with emphasis on portrait support. Also expect them to focus on using Windows devices as pure tablets. And while I’ve haven’t singled out Windows RT, do not tune in expecting them to scrap it. And of course we will see new features added to the Windows Run Time.

What I Wish

If there are two X factors for Build it is the Xbox and the Surface. The Xbox One was recently announced and while we know it runs Windows 8, we don’t know what its connection to the rest of Microsoft’s stack will be. I am hoping that the Xbox team will open up the Xbox to Windows developers and more importantly game developers. With the move to centralize game development around DirectX (Microsoft’s game engine) and C++ the next move is to create something that lets developers create and publish games directly to Microsoft’s stores.

And as for the Surface, I do not expect to see any talk of a refresh or new devices. I think at Build they will mention it but focus on partner devices. Now given that next month is WPC, Microsoft’s partner conference, I would love it if Microsoft took Wednesday to premier not just a refresh for the Surface RT and Pro but also expand the brand. Given it’s PC partners increasingly aggressive push with Android and Chrome devices, Microsoft could really push the idea of it as a Devices company.

Now I haven’t mention Windows Phone and that’s because from reports its update will not come out until next year. It would be cool to see the Windows Phone team at least show off Windows Phone Blue and maybe release a Beta. But I doubt the team is ready to announce anything.

And that is my preshow predictions and wishes for Build. I think it is significant that Microsoft has chosen San Francisco for Build 2013; the city is at the heart of Silicon Valley and more importantly the place where most of the key app makers reside. Making an impression and a dent is important if the Software giant wants to get competitive in mobile.

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Well this last week has been interesting for watchers of the Redmond based software company. Microsoft not only confirmed the existence of Windows Blue, but also revealed that much like previously reported that “Blue” represents the movement of Microsoft to move quicker with software releases. With the news of the coming of Windows Blue comes announcement of the next Build conference coming two months from now in June. This year the conference will be held in the land of Apple, Google, and Facebook aka San Francisco at the Moscone Center.

With the leak of Windows Blue and its acknowledgement of it by Microsoft, its now safe to piece together what is known and make wild ass speculations (because that’s what we’re here for)

Well first RT isn’t dead but I get the feeling it will see some major changes in both cost (lower prices for OEMs) and screen real estate. Windows RT is the perfect candidate for the 7-8 inch tablet space especially given the consumption based focus of smaller devices like the Kindle Fire and the iPad Mini. I also suspect Microsoft to push RT by equipping the next Surface RT with a mobile plan.

Windows Blue brings a lot more to the Metro side by adding features from Windows Phone and moving some key PC features into the new environment. From Windows Phone,Blue brings the ability to re-size Live Tiles from a small, almost icon one to a Giant Block. Blue also moves some key PC settings into the Metro settings along with more granular user controls. From a lot of the videos and blog posts breaking down one thing that’s clear is that Windows Blue is about building a more mature Metro environment. Windows Blue will not appease those who wanted a desktop OS or those who do not like Metro as an interface. What Blue looks to do is to feel out the gaps in the Metro environment and make it a hopefully better tablet/touch experience.

While not gleamed from the leaks we now know that Microsoft is aiming the update at making Windows 8 work on smaller screens. Ed Bott of ZD Net found new rules allowing Windows 8 to be used on different resolution screens. The leaked build also shows that Microsoft has removed the barrier for split screen apps and added the ability to have a “50-50” app view and multiple apps. This would mean devices like the HP ElitePad which didn’t meet the resolution requirement can now do so.

I expect to see the next update to Windows to see an increase in tablet PCs and laptops with touch; I also expect to see prices go down for these devices, especially for those running ARM and Intel Atom processors.

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I’ve been looking for a Windows tablet, not a hybrid with a keyboard or a laptop with touch, but a simple slate device.

(and do not tell me get a Nexus or an iPad, if I said I wanted one of those I wouldn’t be writing this here post now would I)

One of the big problems for Microsoft and Windows 8 is lack of touch devices; this is especially true for that small minority of us looking for slates. Other than the Microsoft Surface RT, the Asus VivoTab RT, and VivoTab Smart the choices for a slate device is slim. Now for me the issue is there are some devices I’d really like to get my hands on that are simply not in stores. Devices like the Acer W510 and the Lenovo ThinkPad tablet 2 have received good reviews but aren’t stocked at the local BestBuy. However if there was one device that would seem to offer the best balance for someone who wants a Windows tablet it would be Hewlett-Packard’s ElitePad. The ElitePad is a 10.1 inch tablet that is closer to the iPad than to the average Windows device; which means it doesn’t look to be awkward to most users when holding it in portrait. This also mean the ElitePad can do the Snap feature which allows you to run apps at the same time.

The tablet runs on Intel’s Clover Trail Atom which means it has a good battery life and can run legacy Windows programs. The ElitePad has a nice aluminum unibody design with matching accessories to turn it into a prober computer replacement.

So its nice, attractive, and functional its also not in stores. HP is aiming the device squarely at the business market; its why the devices screen size is smaller. HP has released the device first in India, Asia, and the Middle East. As far as North America goes, you can buy the ElitePad online.

Now to be honest I can understand HP being reluctant to fully re-enter the tablet space after the HP TouchPad and WebOS. There are signs HP will get back in the game but it will be with the Slate 7 a seven inch Android tablet. The ElitePad seems to destined to be a business focused device that will never physically occupy space at the local Office Depot.

Its a shame because the ElitePad is the closest Windows device in terms of size to the iPad, making it palatable to those looking for a Windows device with better support for portrait holding. It is also one of the better designed Windows tablets in the market with its Aluminum casing; along with being the only tablet with Accessories.

(People can laugh but support for styli, covers, and keyboards are getting to be as crucial as apps)

 And that’s the problem facing Windows 8 out of the gate, the devices that could sell the platform are not in the places where people can play with them. The HP ElitePad is just an example.

image: HP

The last few weeks have been interesting if you were watching Windows 8; IDC put out predictions, tech bloggers and pundits ate them up and spat out Windows8 is a dud (Give me back my damn Start Orb).

The last few week have seen post on how Microsoft can fix Windows 8 (hint make it Windows 7), how Windows 8 is Windows Vista (which will make those hanging on to XP cling harder).

I feel like the whole situation with Window 8 is like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day; everything just repeats itself. I mean how many times are we going to hear how jarring Windows8 is, how it’s Frankenstein’s Monster, how people want the Start button.

I mean its getting tedious.

And it always leads me back to what I’ve said about Windows 8 from the first preview on, its about the tablets stupid.

PC makers couldn’t have thought Windows 8 would take the market back to where it was. That thing with Netbooks was a fad and one that couldn’t be sustained with the way those things were priced. The PC market was already a commodity market by then. Even if Microsoft had released a Windows 7.5 it wouldn’t have moved enough units to satisfy the likes of Acer and Samsung.

The simple fact, the only one is Windows 8 and Windows RT are mobile operating systems. They were designed for newer hardware and around a new imput. They were not designed to be desktop systems. Now can Windows 8 run on a traditional desktop/laptop? Yes (and fairly well in my opinion); but it won’t be ideal if your preferred style of computing means being attached to a keyboard AT ALL TIMES.

Windows 8 and Windows RT are aimed at the growing tablet market; something I think is overlooked by a lot of people and the OEMs. Its why I’m less interested in what OEMs do with laptops and more about what they plan to ship in Tablets. Its why neither Surface device is a laptop. Tablets are where the market is now, and the sooner everyone realizes this and Windows 8 purpose, the saner everyone will be.   

With all the talk about Windows “Blue” it is easy to get confused. Is it a whole new OS? Is it an update? Is it free? And will it bring back precious (the Start menu)? A lot of talk around Blue is mostly rumor, speculation, and fanboy hope.

A lot of the Blue reports and posts seem to be what people hope it is; Windows 8 came out to mix reaction and right now people want Microsoft to “fix” it for them. This post is just to clear up what Blue is and isn’t.

Shortly after Windows 8 launched, Mary Jo Foley published a story on the first update to it codenamed “Blue”. At the time Foley wrote that the coming update (to be delivered in the summer of 2013) would add new features along with bug fixes. A while later she would publish another article on Blue, this time adding that the codename was being used company wide to describe a set of updates; including Server, Visual Studio, and Window Phone. These item were confirmed by other sites.

Now things get twisted later because of reports that Windows Phone Blue is on a different schedule than Windows Blue and may ship later. This wa perceded by news of the Windows Phone group hiring people to work on interoperability between Windows Phone and Windows on the back end. Lastly there have been posts saying that Windows 8 would include support for smaller screens (7-8inches).

So here are the known facts: “Blue” is a codname for a set of updates for Microsoft services. It may or may not include support for Windows 8/RT for smaller screens.

Everything else you’ve read…..pure conjecture

Editor’s note: This is the start of a two part series

So many people have such a hard time grasping Windows 8 and Windows RT; the tiles, the jarring difference between the Start Screen and the desktop, and the missing Start button (My God they killed the the Stop Button); that something must, MUST be done to restore balance to the force.

Many power users cling to the hope that Microsoft will abandon the folly of Windows 8 and go back to the true path that is the desktop. That Microsoft will give them the option to hide the Start screen from the light and return to them the orb of Start.

Others wish Microsoft copied Apple and Google and used Windows Phone for a tablet. How nice they say would it have been to have seen Windows Phone apps blown up to tablet size.

This endless battle over the soul and direction of Windows  has led me to think there is only one, clear option (dramatic pause) Kill the Desktop.

(Cue dramatic intro music)  

I recently read this article and the consensus was that Windows 8 needs work, but disagreed on the how. The debate (as it always does) is between making the OS more friendly to power users and desktop enthusiasts, or pushing it further toward mobile scenarios. I mean one succession was to abandon touch and move toward a Kinect like interface.

I think part of the problem with Windows 8is that it takes a clear idea; that tablets and PCs are largely the same and are linked closer than phones and PCs; and muddles it.  Some of this has to do with Windows RT, but not much. And part of it with the message of what Windows 8 is and what benefit it brings to users.

Windows 8’s biggest story is that it makes PCs more mobile. The fact that for the same price as an iPad, you can have a device that offers similar battery life and you don’t need two devices is a tempting narrative.  Now RT does muddle that story because of its lack of backwards compatibility, but makes up for it by offering Office for free.

(People tend to overlook that RT devices were going to be limited to a handful of devices).

Now I’m not going to go into a defense of Windows RT, what I want to discuss is what should happen next for Windows 8. And yes it begins by killing the desktop.

 

As I see it the desktop as it stands now is an impediment to the goals of Windows 8. Its a crutch for businesses and developers (even though both have no issue in looking at iOS). Its an easy mark for detractors and reviewers (you complain about touch on the desktop you know it wasn’t designed for). And slows progress (Win32 is old and needs to be rethought).

Now what I’m about to propose isn’t really a death sentence, what it is is an acknowledgement of use cases and needs; from both the user perspective and Microsoft. I mean even the harshest Windows 8 critic has to know that Windows 8 and RT isn’t about desktop computing; its about addressing the growth of tablets. And Microsoft knows or should know that desktop users are their biggest advocates.

So the goal of this isn’t about compromise (that is too negative a connotation and gets in the way) but a balance (a set of goals that equal an effect). The goal here is simple; create a better balance between Windows’ tablet and traditional apps, improve traditional program performance on SOCs, and give users the ability to run traditional apps on RT. I have others but I’ll start here.

So turn in next time for Part Two