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Salesforce.com Reinvents Partner Program, Adds Fees

Salesforce.com this week unveiled a new partner program with an elaborate scoring system designed to evaluate the comprehensive value of each partner, but the online CRM giant also introduced an annual partner fee.

The Salesforce Partner Program now involves a Partner Value Score, or PVS, that determines the tier for consulting partners -- either Platinum, Gold, Silver or Registered.

"Every partner receives a PVS based on the total contribution they make to Salesforce's business across three primary 'categories': ACV, Expertise, and Customer Success," Salesforce.com explained in a blog post. The ACV, or annual contract value, category counts for 45 percent of the PVS and is determined based on ACV and ACV growth. Expertise, at 35 percent of the score, includes ratings for certifications and specialization. The remaining 20 percent comes in the Customer Success category, which is based on customer satisfaction surveys and customer stories.

The new fees start for the Registered level at $1,000 in mature markets and $750 in emerging markets. Current partners have until April 30 to pay for their highest eligible tier, while new partners submit payments when they join, according to the blog post.

Other enhancements to the program include onboarding resources, updates to the Partner Community site, more partner development resources, sales and marketing aids, training resources and co-marketing funding.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 05, 2015 at 12:22 PM0 comments

Veeam Declares 2014 Revenues of $389 Million

Privately-held Veeam Software booked $389 million in revenues in 2014, a 40 percent increase compared to 2013, the company declared in a press release this week.

Veeam, which has been selling software since 2007, released the Veeam Availability Suite v8 during 2014 and upgraded more than a third of its customers within 60 days, CEO Ratmir Timashev said in a statement. Veeam positions itself as a datacenter availability vendor and helps users manage virtualization, cloud and storage technologies.

The revenues included $288 million in new license bookings, a 33 percent year-over-year increase, and $101 million in renewals bookings, a 66 percent increase.

"We fully expect our momentum to continue, carrying us toward our goal of $1 billion in annual revenue by 2018," Timashev said.

The company also released some channel stats. It now has 29,000 ProPartners worldwide, and the Veeam Cloud Provider (VCP) program added 2,500 service and cloud providers in 2014 to bring total VCP partners to 6,800.

Paid customers number 135,000 worldwide, with 44,000 customers added in 2014, the company said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 05, 2015 at 1:46 PM0 comments

Despite Microsoft's Wicked Acceleration, AWS Sets a Mean Pace on Cloud

The cloud successes that peppered Microsoft's most recent financial earnings report are helping Microsoft rack up higher growth rates on cloud revenues than any of the other major cloud infrastructure vendors.

Yet new industrywide data released by Synergy Research Group this week show that market leader Amazon's own consistently high growth rate, despite its comparatively huge market share, make Amazon Web Services (AWS) a tough-to-catch target.

In earnings statements and calls last week, Microsoft reported that commercial cloud revenues grew by 114 percent year-over-year, for the sixth straight quarter of triple-digit growth. Sales of its cloud products, including Office 365, Azure and Dynamics CRM, are at an annualized revenue run rate of $5.5 billion.

Synergy, which looks strictly at IaaS, PaaS and private and hybrid cloud, put Microsoft's year-over-year growth for the quarter slightly lower, at 96 percent. That was still good enough for the highest year-on-year revenue growth among the leaders. For the quarter, and for the year, Microsoft's share was 10 percent of a market Synergy valued at $5 billion and $16 billion, respectively.

Yet AWS remains in a league of its own. Amazon's share for the quarter hit 30 percent and for the full year was 28 percent. Despite enjoying triple the market share of its next closest rival (Microsoft), Amazon still managed 51 percent year-over-year growth for the quarter (see figure). The next three contenders after Microsoft were, in order, IBM, Google, Salesforce.com and Rackspace.

[Click on image for larger view.]

"The momentum that has been built up at AWS and Microsoft is particularly impressive," said John Dinsdale, chief analyst and research director at Synergy, in a statement. "They have an ever-broadening portfolio of services and they are also benefitting from a slowdown in the super-aggressive price competition that was a feature of the first half of 2014."

Amazon's position remains strong, but the company is less dominant than it was earlier this year. After slipping in the second quarter of 2014, Amazon could no longer claim to be bigger than its four closest rivals, Dinsdale pointed out at the time.

Microsoft's 96 percent growth rate and Google's 81 percent growth rate in this latest quarter has to have Amazon focused on the rearview mirror in the IaaS/PaaS world. At the same time, Amazon is trying to turn the tables in the overall cloud market with the recent debut of Amazon WorkMail, which allows the company to come after Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 05, 2015 at 11:44 AM0 comments

New Kaseya Release Enhances Mobile Management, Cloud Architecture

Continuing with its ambitious every-four-months update cycle, Kaseya shipped Release 9 of its product portfolio this week with significant enhancements to its mobility management, at an aggressive price, and to its cloud architecture.

Officially announced on Tuesday, R9 was available Jan. 31, in keeping with a shipment schedule of the last day of January, May and September that the company followed all through 2014.

On the mobility side, Kaseya released an Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solution that ties together BYOD management, mobile device management and mobile application management.

"Mobility is an area that our managed service providers, especially, have come back to us and said they are getting bombarded," said Tom Hayes, vice president of product marketing for Kaseya, which has a customer base of over 70 percent MSPs, with the rest consisting of midmarket IT departments. "The market has multiple confusing, overlapping solutions. They've said it's really difficult for them to cobble together a service for their customers."

Hayes also said the price of $1 per month per user aims to disrupt a market filled with solutions that run from $4 to $15 per month for limited to full feature sets. "The reason we're being very aggressive is that we believe the market needs to get to this pricing level to [handle] the millions and millions and millions of devices that businesses will need to manage," he said in an interview.

In response to a question, Kaseya CEO Yogesh Gupta clarified that MSPs and direct customers could get the EMM solution as a standalone without dependencies on any other Kaseya products. "Of course, if they have VSA, these capabilities also integrate with server management, desktop management, et cetera," Gupta said. VSA is Kaseya's Virtual System Administrator, the company's full IT management platform.

Steve Brasen, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, agreed with Hayes' claim that the pricing is disruptive. "I've been reviewing pricing, and I have to say this is very aggressive pricing compared to the other vendors," Brasen said, noting that the $1 per month is per user, not per device.

To Brasen, the most important feature of the new release is unifying mobile management. "What Kaseya is doing here is they're taking their solutions across the mobile space and creating integration points. They can be managed from a single interface, they use a single asset database, which is very important, and they use the same processes for managing them," Brasen said.

With R9, Kaseya also went back to the drawing board to re-architect its cloud infrastructure. For several years, Kaseya has offered a Software-as-a-Service option for its systems management platform, and the approach is becoming increasingly popular with customers.

About 60 percent of new customers deploy with the cloud option, and of Kaseya's 10,000-customer user base, the number choosing the cloud platform is approaching 30 percent, Gupta said.

Working with its existing hosting partner, Kaseya overhauled its server architecture that supports the cloud it offers to clients with flash memory upgrades, enhancements to its security posture and new redundancies and fast failover configurations.

Gupta described Kaseya's ability to reconfigure the hardware as an advantage to working with a private-cloud hoster as opposed to one of the megavendor cloud providers. "In our architecture, everything has physical and logical parallel paths for full redundancy. You can't get that with the generic AWS and other providers, where you cannot configure the hardware to your liking," Gupta said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 04, 2015 at 9:01 AM0 comments

East Region Microsoft Partners Intellinet and ICS Merge

Two of Microsoft's highest-profile systems integrators (SIs), one in the Southeast and one in the Northeast, are merging into one East Coast services company.

Intellinet, based in Atlanta with offices in Charlotte, N.C., and Durham, N.C., and Innovative Computer Systems (ICS) Inc., with offices in Farmington, Conn., and Waltham, Mass., on Tuesday announced a definitive agreement to merge.

The combined entity will operate as Intellinet, which was an RCP Rocket Award winner in 2013, and Intellinet CEO Mark Seeley will retain that title for the combined organization. Steve Roux, founder and CEO of ICS, becomes president of the Northeast district of Intellinet. Together the longtime companies have won more than 70 awards from Microsoft, industry groups and the media. Both are back-to-back winners of regional Microsoft Partner of the Year awards.

"The merger of Intellinet and ICS will enable us to deliver more strategic, comprehensive, technology-enabled business solutions to our customers throughout the East Coast," Seeley said in a statement. "By combining our business acumen and technology expertise, our teams will drive further innovation and deeper engagement with our customers from strategy to technology solution implementation to managed services."

Mark Seeley (left) will remain the CEO of Intellinet, while Steve Roux (right) will become president of the Northeast district of Intellinet.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Both Seeley and Roux participated in a panel discussion at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) last July that was excerpted in Redmond Channel Partner magazine's September issue.

Based on comments during that session, the combined firm should have revenues well into eight figures, with Intellinet accounting for about twice as much revenue as ICS. Intellinet, which started out in 1993 as a Microsoft mail migration partner, has invested heavily in moving upstream into management consulting and advisory services, in addition to projects, cloud and managed services.

The company's mix of business is weighted heavily toward larger clients, with (in Microsoft parlance) Enterprise Partner Group-level and Corporate Account Managed (CAM) engagements heavily outnumbering a small base of Corporate Territory Managed (CTM) customers.

The bulk of ICS' presence is among the customers of the CAM and CTM spaces, and the company has a strong portion of its business in managed services through its co-sourcing agreements, making the deal complementary in more than just a regional sense.

"This merger, with another award winning, committed partner, will enable us to raise the bar even higher on our customer impact," Roux said in a statement. "Our joint commitment to unparalleled client satisfaction, a strong breadth of technology expertise, and a culture of giving back to our communities makes this merger a perfect fit.  We are looking forward to collaborating with the Intellinet team to offer enhanced end-to-end solutions to our clients."

UPDATE (2/6): Mike Harvath, CEO of Revenue Rocket Consulting LLC and the M&A advisor on the deal, called it a classic merger. "It is a one-plus-one-equals-three deal in the pure sense, and I would expect their firm to do very, very well in the future," Harvath said in an interview Friday. "They definitely bring an interesting overlap of skills and geography and covering enterprise through CTM."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 04, 2015 at 8:35 AM0 comments

Microsoft Rebrands Acompli as Outlook App for iOS and Android

Less than two months after acquiring Acompli, Microsoft stamped the Outlook logo on the iOS and Android mobile e-mail app and loaded it into the Apple App Store and Google Play store on Thursday.

The quick move fulfills many partners' requests to have a full Outlook component in Office for iPhone, in the Office for iPad suite released last March, and in the more recently delivered Office for Android suite, which graduated out of preview stage on Thursday. Microsoft bought Acompli on Dec. 1 in a deal reported to be worth more than $200 million.

Previous users of the critically acclaimed Acompli app noted that the new Outlook app seemed identical. In less blunt terms, Microsoft officials acknowledged as much.

"For our Acompli users, Outlook will be a familiar experience, as we're developing the apps from this code base. You will see us continue to rapidly update the Outlook app, delivering on the familiar Outlook experience our customers know and love," said Julia White, general manager of the Office Product Management Team, in a blog post.

In a separate blog post, Javier Soltero, former Acompli CEO and current Microsoft general manager for Outlook, described the work since merging into Microsoft in primarily administrative terms. "Since the acquisition, we've been working hard on integrating our teams and development processes to ensure we're able to continue rapidly delivering new features and functionality to our customers," Soltero wrote. He described Thursday's release as "the first step in a greater journey to bring a true Outlook email experience to every mobile platform."

Soltero's blog also described the design principle that animated Acompli's founding -- the quick-hit nature of mobile e-mail usage. "We've learned that users spend an average of 24 seconds inside our app every time they open it -- and that happens dozens of times per day. Our goal has been to make those 24 seconds as productive as they can be," Soltero wrote.

The iOS version of mobile Outlook, which is a 22.5MB download and requires iOS 8.0 or higher, is a full release, while the Android version is a preview.

Ric Opal, vice president at Peters & Associates, is one of the partners whose customers have been clamoring for a great Outlook experience on the iPad.

"A lot of people ran in droves, as I suspected, to grab Office on the iPad. Then they were saying, 'Now, gosh darn it, where's Outlook?' Today you can say Outlook is there," Opal said. Next, he hopes to see Microsoft fully integrate mobility management for iOS and Android devices into the Office 365 tools, and after that, he'd like to see Microsoft start surprising the industry with next-generation features customers don't yet know they need.

Microsoft on Thursday claimed 80 million downloads of Office on iPhone and iPad and 250,000 downloads of the Office for Android tablet previews. Opal said all those free downloads are changing his customers' perceptions of Microsoft.

"They used to have to go get all this other stuff and cobble it together," Opal said. "By dropping the applications down, it's kind of softened a lot of people and warmed them back up toward Microsoft. They're saying, 'I'm not on their device, but I am having their experience.'"


Posted by Scott Bekker on January 29, 2015 at 2:13 PM0 comments

Channel Takeaway from Microsoft Earnings: Cloud, Cloud, Cloud

Microsoft reported earnings this week, the comparison with Apple earnings was unflattering, and Wall Street hammered MSFT.

As usual, the news release, 10Q filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and earnings call transcript contained lots of tidbits that didn't make headlines but have implications for the Microsoft channel.

The combined messaging was notable in its near-exclusive focus on cloud and devices, and CEO Satya Nadella provided one of the clearest and most concise explanations of his strategy and attitude toward Windows that we've seen so far.

Cloud is still a relatively small part of the overall revenue picture, but getting larger fast, and Microsoft obviously intends to do everything in its power to keep that momentum going.

Overall Microsoft revenues for the quarter were $26.47 billion. Commercial cloud revenue grew by 114 percent year-over-year, representing the sixth consecutive quarter of triple-digit growth. Microsoft said commercial cloud revenue is at an annualized revenue run rate of $5.5 billion. It's an impressive amount of revenue, but if you divide that by four quarters, or maybe three to roughly account for accelerating growth, it's got a long way to go.

In a statement, COO Kevin Turner indicated that Microsoft will keep pushing partners toward the cloud (emphasis mine): "Our sales engagement worldwide continues to focus on helping customers and partners transition to the cloud and navigate the shifting product mix related to our services and solutions."

The earnings release called out Office 365, Azure and Dynamics CRM as the core of the cloud mix. The earnings transcript, however, revealed how seriously Microsoft takes the Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) as a major component of its cloud effort. Almost every mention of cloud by Nadella and other executives on the call included EMS.

One analyst asked Nadella what kinds of cloud and hybrid products SMBs are buying. "One of the products that's doing very, very well for us is the StoreSimple product, which is essentially a storage product that cloud tiers virtualization storage from on-premise to the cloud," Nadella said.

He added that the real movement in the SMB segment is toward Office 365. "One of the things in Office 365 is we are getting people to effectively use servers, which now happens to be in cloud, who never bought servers from us ever before because they didn't have Exchange, they didn't have Lync, they didn't have any of the core capabilities of Office 365."

The traditional Microsoft business was a mixed bag this quarter. A tough comparison to the Windows XP refresh cycle brought a 13 percent drop in Windows OEM Pro revenue, and commercial Office fell 1 percent both from the Windows XP issue and as businesses shifted to Office 365 subscriptions. Server products and services revenue, on the other hand, bounded up by 9 percent and SQL Server and System Center enjoyed double-digit growth.

Microsoft steered the focus to its other favorite new topic, devices.

Microsoft phone hardware did all right, or at least it seemed to until Apple's iPhone 6 results blew analysts' estimates out of the water a day later. Microsoft brought in phone hardware revenue of $2.3 billion and sold 10.5 million Lumia units.

Surface broke the $1 billion revenue mark for the first time in a quarter, with Surface Pro 3 and accessories driving 24 percent growth to $1.1 billion.

Fielding an analyst question, Nadella navigated the minefield of OEM mistrust on Surface. Asked to what extent Surface Pro cannibalizes full-featured Windows PC sales, Nadella replied, "I think it's definitely expanding the market opportunity. One of the things that I feel very good about is the risk we took to introduce the two-in-one category. And I feel now that we inspire even a lot of activity in our own OEM ecosystem, and we see many good designs coming because it's viewed as a category that drives growth."

With Microsoft reaching out to support Android, iOS and Mac across various product lines, it's sometimes unclear how Microsoft is going to make money. Although Nadella has answered the question many times over the last few months, his answer at the end of the Q&A Monday was one of his clearest yet.

"At the highest level our strategy here is to make sure that the Microsoft Services -- i.e., cloud services, be it Azure, Office 365, CRM Online or Enterprise Mobility Suite -- are covering all the devices out there in the marketplace, so that way we maximize the opportunity we have for each of these subscription and capacity-based services. So that's sort of the core rationale for why we are doing cross-platform," Nadella said. "So the best way to measure our progress is Office 365 subscription growth, Azure growth and EMS growth."

If that's how Nadella wants investors to measure Microsoft's progress, that's how the Microsoft field will be assessing partners' value, as well.


Posted by Scott Bekker on January 29, 2015 at 9:10 AM0 comments

Veritas Is Back

After a decade in the corporate embrace of Symantec Corp., Veritas will emerge again as its own entity in a separation planned for December.

Symantec revealed the plan to split into two independent, publicly traded companies back in October, but on Wednesday revealed that the name of the information management company will be Veritas Technologies Corp.

The name is nearly identical to the pre-acquisition name of the business, Veritas Software Corp.

"Veritas remains a powerful brand that still has tremendous equity with our customers, partners and employees, and after careful review it was an easy choice as a name for our information management business," said Michael A. Brown, Symantec president and CEO, in a statement.

Symantec unveiled the new Veritas logo Wednesday.

The information management portion of the business includes backup and recovery software and appliances, storage management, clustering, disaster recovery, archiving and e-discovery solutions. According to Symantec, the products are in use in 75 percent of the Fortune 500 and accounted for $2.5 billion of Symantec's revenues in fiscal year 2014. In 2004, the year before Symantec's $13.5 billion deal to acquire Veritas Software closed, Veritas' revenues amounted to about $2 billion.

Symantec's security business is larger, accounting for $4.2 billion in revenues for the most recent fiscal year.

Symantec announced on Oct. 9 that its board of directors approved a plan to separate the company into a security business and an information management business. At the time, Brown said it had become clear that the security and information management businesses required different strategies.

In November, Symantec confirmed that it would be laying off about 2,000 people, or 10 percent of its 20,000-strong workforce, as part of the split.

Veritas was the centerpiece of a series of about 30 acquisitions that Symantec made between 2004 and 2012.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 28, 2015 at 3:24 PM0 comments

That $60 WinBook Tablet Is Still $60

Earlier this month, we reviewed a 7-inch WinBook tablet running Windows 8.1 that cost just $60. Our verdict was that it's an amazing value. The catch was that the price was part of a promotion at Micro Center stores that was good through Jan. 25.

In the updates department, the sale is over, but the price remains the same. In fact, the price now also applies to online orders, as well, meaning this little PC isn't just for those within driving distance of one of Micro Center's two dozen locations.

Also, in case you were wondering, the TW700 Tablet we tested still works one week later.



Posted by Scott Bekker on January 28, 2015 at 3:26 PM0 comments

LANDesk Refreshes Partner Program

IT management software vendor LANDesk on Wednesday updated its partner program with expanded partner training, new benefits and incentives, and director-level channel managers in three global regions.

"With the announcement today, we're providing end-to-end comprehensive training," said Jim Kilgour, senior director of global channel sales and programs at LANDesk, in a telephone interview. "What also changes today is that we have, I believe, industry-leading deal protection and gross margin. We've been listening to our partners over the last couple of years, and doing competitive analysis. We know where the competition is. We set out a strategy for our partners to be even more successful than they have been."

Salt Lake City-based LANDesk offers solutions for systems management, security management, IT service management, asset lifecycle management and enterprise mobility management. Lately, the company has refocused its messaging to emphasize being user-centered, and acquisitions in the last year bolstered its mobility management capabilities -- LetMobile in May and Naurtech in October. Those buys follow the 2013 acquisition of patch management company Shavlik.

LANDesk has more than 400 solution provider partners worldwide, according to the company Web site. Kilgour said that 70 percent to 80 percent of LANDesk revenues come through the channel.

A new global structure installs directors in each of three geographies -- the Americas, EMEA and APAC. "Because of the growth we're seeing and the opportunity out in the industry, I needed that local executive leadership to ensure that we're optimizing the entire solution set to potential customers around the world and also to show greater value to the customers we already had globally," Kilgour said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 28, 2015 at 5:33 PM0 comments

Nadella Singles Out Minecraft for HoloLens

Another data point on Microsoft HoloLens and Minecraft. A few days ago, I argued that Microsoft's revolutionary holographic computing headset, HoloLens, reframes Microsoft's earlier purchase of Mojang (see the full argument here), but my premise is that the low-resolution, insanely popular Minecraft game that Microsoft acquired with Mojang is the killer app for the HoloLens.

For what it's worth, Minecraft was the only application that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella mentioned during his prepared remarks in Microsoft's Q2 earnings call this week.

"It's also getting clearer how games people love today will evolve to mind-blowing experiences in the future when designed for [the] mixed reality that Windows 10 and HoloLens create. Just imagine what is possible with Minecraft," Nadella said.


Posted by Scott Bekker on January 28, 2015 at 3:26 PM0 comments

First Impressions of the Windows 10 January Build

If Windows 10 is going to keep Microsoft relevant, the operating system has to fill two tall orders that conflict. It's got to be an attractive operating system for tablets, phones and 2-in-1s that is loaded with forward-leaning features. At the same time, it must provide a more intuitive interface for legacy Windows users who need to be able to get stuff done from the keyboard and mouse.

A critical milestone release in Microsoft's effort to ship Windows 10 in 2015 came on Friday with the January build of Windows 10. Build 9926 closely followed the major consumer event last week about forthcoming features in the operating system, and the new release delivered many of its hotly anticipated features.

While not quite a beta, Build 9926 is the first major release since November and provides an outline of how the OS will work. For those who haven't tried a Windows 10 build previously, it's a good place to start. At first blush, it's relatively easy to use from a point, click and type standpoint. Absent major UI changes in future releases, users will need some training to get the hang of Windows 10, but not nearly as much as Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 required.

To get the new build, Microsoft simply asks that you sign up for the Windows Insider program and meet the minimum system requirements. Most aren't too severe -- 1GHz or faster processor, 1GB of RAM for a 32-bit system or 2GB of RAM for 64-bit, a Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device and a Microsoft account. The OS footprint on disk, however, is hefty at 16GB. Many systems these days have embarrassingly large hard drives. But at a time when online services are offering oodles of storage for free or for cheap, many other systems skimp on hard drive size to beef up on other features at a price point.

In my case, trying to pry free enough storage space to load the preview build was the most time-consuming part of the installation process. Once begun, the install process was relatively seamless and maintained most of the Windows 8.1 settings that were previously in place.

Starting Up
The first noticeable change moving from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 is where Windows starts. The new version boots into a traditional desktop, largely indistinguishable from Windows 7 except for some minor changes to the Taskbar. No unfamiliar tile interface fills the screen, as in the default Windows 8/8.1 configuration.

The Start Button is in the expected place, right from the beginning. Score one for the legions of users who complained loudly and often about Windows 8's lack of a Start button. Windows 8.1 brought it back, but it behaved differently than the old Start button, serving as a toggle between the Desktop and the tile-heavy Start Screen. The idea behind Windows 10's Start button appears to be combining the best of the legacy Windows 7 Start button and the tile interface of the Windows 8-generation Start Screen.

Start Menu
[Click on image for larger view.] The Start Menu for Windows 10 is a cross between the old-style menu of Windows 7 and the Start Screen of Windows 8, with a Cortana Search box thrown in for good measure.

Clicking on Start calls up a menu that fills about half the Desktop screen. Along the left column is a list of apps grouped into "Places" such as File Explorer, Documents and Settings; "Most Used" with a list of your go-to apps; and "Recently Added" for new apps. Below that is an option for listing "All apps," which are grouped alphabetically much like in the Windows Phone Apps list. Rather than a regular Search box, the Start interface pops the cursor into Cortana's search box (more on that later), for users who want to type in what they'd like to open.

In the large portion of the Start Menu to the right of that main column are tiles that look similar to the Windows 8 tiles. The top-right corner shows a Power button and a button for expanding the Start Menu into a Windows 8-style Start Screen.

The Windows 10 Start Menu tries to be all things to all people, and does a decent job of it.

A headline feature of Windows 10 is the integration of Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant that had its debut in Windows Phone 8.1. By bringing Cortana to the desktop, Microsoft is introducing a new input method to the Desktop in a way that's appropriately take-it-or-leave-it.

Cortana's home is a small Search box on the Taskbar just to the right of the Start Button. Inside the Search box are Cortana's trademark triple-circle on the left side and a microphone button on the right. Those who want to search the old-fashioned way can type in their queries. Those who want to search using voice can hit the microphone and ask a question out loud. A new feature, not yet available to Windows Phone users, is the ability to launch searches by saying, "Hey Cortana," without clicking, typing or touching anything. The feature must be turned on in Cortana's settings, and in this early build it only responded to me about a third of the time.

[Click on image for larger view.] Cortana opens in a window that is similar in size and dimensions to the appearance of the digital personal assistant on a Windows Phone.

Clicking on the Cortana box causes a phone-sized window to pop up, giving a very similar user experience to the one on the phone. Meanwhile, executing a Cortana search for files on the PC or in OneDrive kicks off a larger window for results. Many searches will simply launch a browser window with Bing results.

The Cortana integration at this point is at best a preview with a lot of bugs and seemingly unpredictable behavior. For the record, it's also only available in the United States and in English. I'll take a more detailed look at the Cortana experience over the next few days.

Bye-Bye, Charms
One of the hardest things for users to get the hang of in Windows 8/8.1 was the Charms. Those going straight to Windows 10 from Windows 7 won't have to figure them out because they're gone (for now). The infamous swipe-in-from-the-right border to bring up the vertical bar of icons for sharing, going to the Start Screen or changing Settings, along with surfacing the clock and battery level, is no more. In Build 9926, users click on Settings in the Start Menu. It's a simpler and more intuitive process.

[Click on image for larger view.] The Windows 8 Charms are gone. Now users access Settings from the Start Menu. Pictured: The new Settings icons.

Task View
One element common to Linux distributions that was added to Windows 10 in the fall is the Task view. Accessed from an icon on the Taskbar, the Task view allows users to create several simultaneous desktop environments. For example, one Desktop might have Word and Internet Explorer open for writing a report, while another desktop might have an Excel spreadsheet and a browser open to statistical Web pages, while a third environment might have some games running.

[Click on image for larger view.] A "Task view" icon on the Taskbar allows you to switch among several desktop environments, with different applications open on each.

Tablet Mode and Continuum
An important concept in Windows 10 is Continuum, which means that users with 2-in-1 devices like the Surface will have one experience when the keyboard is attached and the OS will switch seamlessly to another experience when the keyboard is detached. It's possible to manually switch to tablet mode by clicking on the Notifications icon, which looks like a speech bubble, on the far right side of the Taskbar.

Tablet mode is for touchscreen devices, and the swipe motions are different from those in Windows 8. Swiping in from the right brings up the Notification window. Swiping in from the left puts all the open windows in a line, where they can be selected or closed.

Future Features
Some of the most significant features of Windows 10 aren't in the January build. Not included is "Project Spartan," the code-name for the new browser that includes a new engine, UI, tab management, built-in annotations, a Reading Mode and Cortana integration. Also not included are universal app versions of Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The holographic Windows features that will work with the HoloLens device are coming later, as well.

One of the big questions about Windows 10 is whether the user experience will be good enough for non-touch, legacy users. From a full day of experimenting with the OS, the answer is an unqualified yes. The Windows 10 January build is intuitive enough for mouse and keyboard use, and the OS has enough bells and whistles to make the experience interesting for tablet users. The new input methods either need work (Cortana) or have yet to be delivered (Spartan annotation and HoloLens), but Microsoft's promised faster cadence of builds from here on out should bring rapid development on those fronts.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 26, 2015 at 4:32 PM0 comments