Monthly Archives: July 2019

Why Microsoft killed upgrade versions for Office 2010

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When Microsoft revealed the retail pricing for its Office 2010 lineup earlierthis week, there was one piece of information that previous Office pricing announcements have almost always included. Upgrade versions are nonexistent. This isn’t a case of pricing that has not yet been finalized—no, consumers who already have an earlier Office release on their PC will simply not have the option to purchase discounted upgrade versions. We contacted Microsoft to see why it had made such a decision with Office 2010, and the company responded that it was part of the goal of simplifying the Office lineup (Microsoft has been trying to do this in many of the new versions of its products, including Visual Studio 2010 for example).

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“We are not offering upgrade pricing for Office 2010,” a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed with Ars. “Based on partner and customer feedback we’ve made many changes to the Office 2010 lineup designed to simplify the product lineup and pricing in the retail space. Removing version upgrades was one of those decisions. This reduces the number of products that our retail partners need to manage and also reduces customer confusion about which version of Office they should purchase.”

With previous Office releases, users who qualified for an upgrade (owning the previous version, or even the one before that) were enticed by a lower upgrade price to buy the latest version. The “full version” had a higher price and was for those who did not qualify, for those who did not bother to find out the difference and wanted to play it safe, or for those that did not want to deal with the hassle of having the previous version installed.

With Office 2010, Microsoft has eliminated this age-old concept completely (though you can bet there will be promotions soon after Office 2010’s launch to get users of older versions to upgrade). The new concept actually has a few advantages, though it’s a bit more complicated, if only because we’ve grown accustomed to the previous Microsoft strategy.

Each Office SKU still has two prices, but now instead of “upgrade” and “full” they are Full Packaged Product (FPP) and Product Key Card (PKC). The FPP price of each SKU will get you the Office 2010 media you need to install the suite as well as two licences (the Home and Student SKU is actually a Family Pack that will get you three licenses). The PKC price, which is lower, only gets you one license, and doesn’t come with any media. You’ll need to get the media from elsewhere: download a trial copy from Office.com or use a previously purchased retail copy of Office 2010 (it doesn’t matter if it’s your own, a friend’s, or a colleague’s). The PKC license can also be used in conjunction with the ad-supported Office 2010 Starter (basic versions of Word and Excel) that is set to replace Microsoft Works as the preinstalled productivity suite on newly purchased PCs. That is, preloaded images of Office 2010 will be available on these PCs and you will be able to unlock them by putting in the alphanumeric code from the PKC.

In short, while the upgrade promotion concept is dead in the water with Office 2010, you’ll still be able to save money (and the environment) if you weigh your options right. This especially applies if you’re planning on buying more than one license of Office 2010. You’ll just have to stomach, however, that whether you have a previous version or not doesn’t matter anymore.

Europe’s dysfunctional private copying levy to remain

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Europe’s “private copying levy” system is a mess. You might pay a hidden charge of �3.15 in Spain for an MP3 player but a full �25 in France. An inkjet multifunction printer levy could run �178.84 in Belgium but only �12 in Germany. Some countries, like the UK, have no levy at all. But the talks to reform the system have broken down.

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The levies are designed to compensate copyright holders for “private copying.” The definition of “private copying” varies by country, as do the rules on what devices are covered and how much should be paid. In many cases, no definitive guidance is given, and device resellers and importers have to work out agreements with various collecting societies who distribute the cash to members.

Rules that were clear in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are less clear since the arrival of digital technology; today, just about any computer-like device can make or store “copies,” including computers, external hard drives, multifunction printers, MP3 players, smartphones, blank DVDs, CD-Rs, photocopiers, and more. Which devices should pay the levy, and how much should be charged? A computer’s key job (for most people, at least) is not making private copies of music, so determining a levy amount can be difficult.

The situation got so bad that the EU convened a summit between the device/media people and the collecting society people, hoping to get them to hash out a more coherent situation on their own. That process broke down yesterday.

Digital Europe, which represents the device/media people, said that the talks only served to show that “there are fundamental aspects of the private copy levy system which simply cannot be resolved in a stakeholder forum. A political and legislative intervention is required at the European level.”

GESAC, the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers, deplored the “unilateral decision to abandon talks.” In GESAC’s view, the two sides were close to an agreement that would fix problems with moving and selling goods within the EU. All that was needed was “exemptions and refunds for cross-border movement of goods subject to levies, a regime for distance sales, the call for consistent product definition throughout the EU, etc.” Simple, right?

As it stands, Belgians will keep driving over the border in search of good deals on multifunction printers.

Smartbooks tout battery life, features, but lack polish

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A number of smartbooks are floating around CES, and after spending much of the day looking at them, talking about them, and using them, several things are clear. Vendors are eager to exploit the power of ARM chips and Linux to deliver great devices with novel features and long battery life at low cost, and they’re succeeding. But their success will depend on raising the level of polish and the smoothness of the user experience, something that’s lacking in the models on display here at CES.

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Lenovo Skylight

The most-awaited smartbook here is the Lenovo Skylight, which uses Qualcomm’s celebrated Snapdragon ARM chip and runs a custom version of Linux. It’s got a 9″ 720p screen, advertises ten hours of battery life with the 3G running, which is likely, even accounting for exaggeration, to exceed current Atom netbooks by a wide margin. It will sell for $500 before contract, and is virtually certain to be carrier-subsidized by AT&T, the launch carrier.

The rounded shape of the Skylight is aesthetically pleasing, and definitely novel, but considerably less than practical. It’s thin, but not miraculously so, as compared to a Nexus One smartphone:

In the demo, its mini-HDMI output was connected to an HDTV above, cloning the same image. Unfortunately, this is the only mode the HDMI port supports; no independent multihead is possible. The HDTV was used to demo the Skylight’s unique, smartbook-suited UI:

The main screen, replacing a desktop, has six “gadgets” on the front, displaying realtime information from websites and other information. Clicking on any gadget brings up its appropriate application or website fullscreen. There’s also a three-window mode I didn’t get to see, because trying to open it caused the OS to hang. There’s also a dock at the bottom of the screen.

Most of the applications worked well, and the experience was comparable in snappiness to an Atom netbook. A notable exception was YouTube; stutter was notable and unwelcome. Since Flash support for ARM is one of the enablers for smartbooks, the stutter is somewhat worrisome.

On the hardware side, the Skylight’s chiclet keyboard was comfortable and relatively quiet. Its trackpad, though large, was blocky and imprecise in movements. I was told that the trackpad is one of Lenovo’s targets for improvement in the four months remaining until launch.

Entourage Edge Dualbook: Android learns to read

Another novel smartbook is the ARM-based Entourage Edge “Dualbook,” which, instead of a keyboard, has two screens. On the right is a touchscreen running Android, and on the left, a black and white, non-backlit E-Paper display running an unspecified Linux variant, both about 10″ in size. In Android mode, users can run one application on each screen and the two OSes can communicate, but the Android component can be shut down, letting the E-Reader part run for about 16 hours. This could be really great for use on airplanes.

The Android experience was a little sluggish, although I had to remind myself while waiting for windows to open, and to move from screen to screen, that the comparison point was Windows 7 on Atom. It’s usable.

The Dualbook is relatively heavy, though, and is about as thick as an ordinary laptop. Although I couldn’t measure, it’s probably as large, and as heavy, as the 13″ MBP. Price is unknown.

Conclusions

The takeaway is that while Smartbooks have features which could sell them, the user experience needs polish. Both the Skylight and the Edge had relatively slow UIs. They were both plagued by slightly strange bugs. And while we don’t have an MSRP for the Edge, the Skylight is going to cost $500, much more than most netbooks.

In its current form, the Skylight is slower, buggier, and more expensive than a mature netbook based on Menlow or Pine Trail. All of those things can change, and they’ll have to if the Smartbook is to become a commercial success.

Palo Alto will be prototype for revised Apple Store design

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Apple is planning to build a new Palo Alto store to serve as a “prototype” for future Apple Stores, featuring a completely transparent front and an indoor atrium “feel.” The revised, more open design will serve as a “commons for [Apple’s] community to gather,” according to documents filed with the City of Palo Alto’s Architectural Review Board.

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Though Apple is not named in the filing, uncovered by Silicon Valley Mercury News, the architect for the project is Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, who also designed the 5th Avenue Apple Store in New York. That store is well known for its large glass cube entryway for the underground retail area, open 24/7. Palo Alto planning manager Amy French told the Mercury News that it is her understanding that the location will be a new Apple Store.

“Apple is pretty secretive about that kind of stuff,” ARB chair Alexander Lew told the Mercury News. “But at the same time, when you look at it, the design is pretty unique—I think a lot of people have kind of guessed [that it’s an Apple Store],” he said.

The filing notes that the project will replace the fa�ade of the current unoccupied retail structure at 340 University Avenue with a glass front that will make the street “part of the store’s interior” so that “the energy of the store is shared directly with the street and the larger community.”

In addition to the open glass fa�ade in front, the roof will be modified to include large, open skylights. The natural light coming in will help three large trees, planted near the rear of the store, to grow inside. These features, along with materials choices and other energy efficiency design cues, will qualify the remodeled building for LEED certification.

The renovated location will occupy 10,700 square feet. The existing Palo Alto Apple Store, located just a block away, is about 6,500 square feet. The added space will include plenty of room to offer training for businesses and individual consumers.

The ARB recommended that the city approve Apple’s proposed renovations in a unanimous vote.

Moblin Linux on x86 smartphone: Intel’s small step forward

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During a press briefing at CES on Thursday, Intel CEO Paul Otellini revealed the LG GW990, a Moorestown-powered smartphone that runs Intel’s Linux-based Moblin operating system. The product is expected to arrive on the market in the second half of this year.

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When Intel lifted the curtain on Moorestown last year, the company contended that it would finally make it possible to bring the x86 architecture to smartphones. The claim seemed somewhat fantastical, but now Intel and LG could potentially deliver on that promise. Moorestown is said to be considerably more energy efficient than Intel’s previous Atom offerings, but it’s still not totally clear what kind of battery life we can expect to get from devices like the GW990 in real-world usage scenarios. LG says that the product has a 1850mAh battery and can endure five hours of 3G browsing on a single charge.

In some respects, the GW990—which has an impressive high-resolution 4.8-inch touchscreen display—seems more like a MID than a smartphone. It’s possible that we won’t see x86 phones with truly competitive all-day battery life until the emergence of Medfield, the Moorestown successor that is said to be coming in 2011. It is clear, however, that Intel aims to eventually compete squarely with ARM in the high-end smartphone market.

Intel originally launched the Moblin project in 2007 with the goal of creating an Atom-optimized Linux platform for MIDs. The focus shifted to netbooks when the company started work on Moblin 2, which began shipping on actual hardware last year.

Some of Moblin’s underlying components have great potential for facilitating rich smartphone application development, particularly the open source Clutter scene graph framework, which is used to build the Moblin user interface. Clutter—which was created by OpenedHand, a startup that Intel acquired in 2008—has been shown to be well-suited for building touschreen user interfaces. Although it’s not yet known whether Clutter is used on the GW990, it seems likely.

The GW990 will be Moblin’s first real test running on a smartphone form factor, but the platform is becoming an increasingly desirable choice on netbooks. Samsung had a large number of netbooks on display at CES, but its N127—running Novell’s SUSE-based variant of Moblin—really stood out. Moblin’s snappy and visually refined user interface is impressive and demonstrates the value that Linux can bring to the netbook market. It’s more responsive than Windows XP on the same hardware and it can clearly be customized with a look and feel that is better-suited for small screens.

Although Moblin has a lot of potential, it still suffers from some weaknesses and limitations. When we conducted extensive hands-on testing of Moblin 2 on the Dell Mini 10v back in October, the quality of the user experience was undermined by the platform’s incompleteness and lack of stability relative to other Linux-based netbook platforms.

Power management is still a major challenge, even though Intel is working on a number of ongoing projects to boost Moblin’s energy efficiency. The Novell engineers we spoke to at CES told us that the Moblin version of the N127 is at battery life parity with the Windows XP version (which means that a future Windows 7 version would likely do better still)

Another impediment for Moblin are the unanswered questions about the extent to which Intel will support the platform. Intel hasn’t been particularly responsive to concerns expressed by the Linux development community regarding the lack of proper Linux drivers for the GMA500, an integrated graphics component that Intel sold to many netbook makers.

During the Intel briefing, Otellini cited Nokia as its other major hardware partner for Moorestown smartphone action. As some readers may recall, Intel and Nokia announced a partnership last year to collaborate on Mobile Linux development. They have been working on a shared open source telephony stack for Linux called oPhono, but they haven’t had much to say publicly about what kind of hardware they were planning to build together. Now Intel has confirmed that Nokia is on board for Moorestown.

The GW990 is an impressive step forward for Intel’s vision of bringing x86 everywhere. The extent of its viability for real-world smartphone devices still remains to be seen. Engadget, which got some hands-on time with the LG GW990, found some evidence that it could potentially be headed to AT&T when it launches later this year.