Opinions

How Full Windows 10 running on ARM CPU will affect computing future

So it finally happened! I have been predicting x86 emulation on ARM CPU ever since Intel stopped product development for Atom for mobile SoC.


@WinHEC 2016, Microsoft showed Windows 10 running on ARM

A few major things happened over the year to make this happen.

  1. Windows 10 Mobile Continuum
  2. Intel ending development of Atom SoC
  3. Qualcomm adding virtualisation support for SnapDragon SoC
  4. Various bridges for developers to easily port their apps to Windows 10
  5. Windows 10 Common Core (or why there’s no 64bit mobile Windows 10)
  6. Some special sauce from the brains @Xamarin
  7. Microsoft letting go of the last vestiges of Nokia

Let’s look at this point by point.

First point. Windows 10 Mobile Continuum feature has always been this dream of making your smartphone act more like a PC when connected to a large display + keyboard/mouse. However, people quickly notice far too many icons don’t work because the developer hasn’t written their app in Universal Windows Platform (UWP) format or their mobile app isn’t optimised for a larger display yet.

Rather than waiting for mobile developers to get around to adding UWP support, why not ask PC developers to scale their apps down? And at the same time, support legacy Windows program through the Desktop to UWP bridge so it’s possible for Windows 10 to run these UWP on ARM64 SoC.

Second point. (This is my speculation.) Intel has made a terrible mistake in ending Atom SoC development. They pushed Microsoft to seek an alternate SoC and they are the probably the reason Qualcomm added virtualisation support. I don’t remember Google/Android asking for x86 capability.

Third Point. Despite how fast Snapdragon (SD) SoCs are, the Atom X7 can keep up with it easily & in fact outperform it, albeit using slightly more power. The reason is every core of Atom can process SIMD (DSP) SSE instructions which gives it an advantage in terms of mathematical calculations. The letdown of Atom is in the GPU. Unlike Qualcomm, Intel obviously doesn’t want to put a flagship class GPU to compete with their Core CPU.

Recently, Qualcomm announced DSP & Virtualisation support for their next-gen SD835 SoC with an even faster GPU. This allows Microsoft to enable many of the desktop class features that required DSP to accelerate their functions. Many of Windows 10 Mobile functions like its User Shell & Cellular functions will be integrated into full Desktop Windows 10 as shown in the video. Finally, full Windows 10 can compete with IOS & Android for Tablets.

Fourth point. Microsoft is a software company at its core. Their oldest and strongest products are their OS and Visual Studio development environment. It comes as no surprise they can create conversion tools to directly take other platform codes and make it work on theirs. It’s also no surprise when you consider the fact that Windows NT (which Windows 10 is based on) was created to run on multiple CPU architectures.

Fifth point. For the longest time, Windows Phone fans had been wondering why Microsoft refused to create a 64-bit version of Windows 10 Mobile. I have always argued that mobile platforms don’t need 64-bit at all because no single mobile app will ever use 4GB of memory. Now we know the reason is because Microsoft has been concentrating in making full Windows 10 even more mobile.

We already know that Windows 10 shares the same kernel & some of the hardware stacks between PC, Xbox, Mobile, Hololens and IoT. However, what most people don’t realise is Microsoft has been breaking their Service Stacks into smaller and smaller pieces with every new revision of Windows 10.

Just look at your Services manager in Computer Management, there’re more and more Services running in the background. However, RAM usage hardly increase. The reason is to allow more services to be compartmentalised so Microsoft developers can pick the services relevant to that particular platform and reuse as much code as possible. This isn’t possible if the services are large and monolithic in nature.

My prediction is, instead of emulation, Windows 10 will run natively in ARM64 mode. Not surprising since Surface RT IS running an ARM version of Windows 8. This means all (desktop) Windows 10 services AND first-party apps will run at full speed since they’re compiled for ARM64.

All UWP apps can run in either native ARM or virtualised x86 mode depending on the developer. Also not surprising because when you run a 32-bit program in 64-bit Windows, Windows will launch the program in Windows on Windows 64-bit mode (WoW64). So now, instead of apps running in an x64 sandbox, it’s a Windows app running in an ARM64 sandbox.

Sixth point. I bet the brilliant minds at Xamarin had been cross-pollinating with the minds at Visual Studio to create the most powerful x86/x64/ARM cross-compiling toolkit possible! I’m guessing these are the people convincing Qualcomm to add virtualisation support for the latest SD. The power of software!!!

Seventh point. I’m guessing former Microsoft staff of formerly Nokia mobile division still have a static mindset about the future of mobile and smartphones. It’s probably good they’re let go to work on other worthwhile projects like the new Nokia-branded smartphones ODM by the China firm that bought over from Microsoft, or SailFish for the Russian bloc.

However, we also know that certain key ex-Nokian went to work at Microsoft Research. I wouldn’t be surprised if these are expert in camera and cellular tech.

The future. This part is my speculation about Microsoft’s strategy moving forward.

If Intel had continue to invest in Atom SoC, we’ll probably have the mythical “Surface Phone” by now that can run UWP & Legacy programs through Continuum.

Qualcomm seem to have fill that gap but I’m still skeptical over the emulation performance. However, if the Adobe Photoshop presented by Terry Myerson in the video is running in emulation mode and the video wasn’t edited, then I’m cautiously optimistic. The “Surface Phone” can now get back on track but don’t expect it to ship until end of 2017.

This is also the first time desktop Windows 10 gain cellular radio stack and mobile-context specific features related to voice calls and sms. The Skype Preview app is already hinting at the direction Windows 10 is taking so it’s more proof of mobile features added to Windows 10, rather than more desktop features added to Windows 10 mobile. Microsoft is moving in the opposite direction as IOS & Android.

With a Cellular stack built into Windows 10, Windows will finally become a full fledge mobile OS. With ARM’s more simple RISC architecture, power management should be easier to manage and Windows 10 should have much better standby time. Intel Atom (Enhanced SpeedStep) has great running time but the standby time still lacks far behind Qualcomm’s Snapdragon high/low-power cores. It’ll be interesting to note how Windows 10 handles the ‘big.LITTLE’ Kryo 28x Cores.

Windows 10 Continuum will also have a combined dual-shell or a morphable shell (called CShell) that switches interface depending on the screen (not device) context. Maybe now we’ll finally have a Landscape mobile Start Screen, and of course, multi-screen is naturally supported. It better support dock-able Windows for larger 5-7″ screens too!

Ultimately, the “Surface Mobile” can be your only computing devices. So what kind of a device is this Surface Mobile? Well I think it’ll be running a SD835 clocked at 1.9Ghz on battery, and 2.45Ghz when plugged into the Microsoft Display Dock. It should have 4GB of RAM and has a 5.5″ – 6″ display to allow adequate space for heat spreading. A 1440P display is good enough, a 4K display will be a waste of battery and GPU cycles. Now, Windows 10 requires a lot of space, so 64GB of eMMC 5.1 Storage is required.

Where does that leave Intel or even AMD? Well, Intel has abandoned Atom because they have probably figured out how to make a Core series based SoC hit the 2W TDP but their 10nm fab is having yield issues, which is why CannonLake is postponed. AMD has also announced new APU that can step through the clock at 25Mhz increments thus providing more aggressive power management but being fab on a 28nm process, I reckon power consumption will be higher than KabyLake.

What this means is, Intel is trying to make their Core m CPU fit into a mobile environment so the CPU wouldn’t fry your smartphone. And AMD new Ryzen CPU isn’t ready for mobile.

Qualcomm just released information on their latest Snapdragon 835 SoC.

Based on the information released, SD835 supports new 3D audio processing and enhanced camera image processor. It looks like a future Microsoft Hololens 2 could be powered by the SD835! The Surface 4 could also be based on a SD835!

In the meantime, you can check up my past predictions which has come true below.

How Windows Phone 8 & Windows 8 can share software

OEMs can’t do it, so Microsoft DID IT!

Samsung losing patent case is Good for consumers!

Update 03 Feb 2017: Updated with the product codenames for future Windows features I have corrected predicted, like CSHELL and clearer explanation of CPU terminology.

Solutions

Solving Contact/Calendar sync issue in Windows 10 Mobile

If you’ve recently upgraded your Windows Phone 8.x to Windows 10 Mobile, you may encounter some lag in synching your contact and calendar with your Outlook or Outlook.com. The lag may be a few hours to never. I’ve even read the Microsoft Support forums of people hard resetting the phone to solve this problem.

This problem seems to be especially pervasive if you’re like me and your primary Microsoft Account is NOT a Microsoft domain like Hotmail.com, MSN.com or Outlook.com.

In Windows 8.x, all we needed to do was to go to Settings -> EMail account and long-tap to Sync the account manually. However, in Windows 10 Mobile, this is not possible anymore.

I’ve just discovered the reason and the solution. It’s actually very simple, but it may cost some battery life in the short-term.

As you can see from the screen caps, my primary Microsoft Account has an alias to a now defunct domain. This means that I don’t receive ANY email to this email account anymore.

By default, your email accounts (& by extension, Microsoft Account), is set based on your usage as shown in the 3rd screen cap.

If you regularly send and receive email, Windows 10 Mobile will internally set your Sync frequency to “as item arrive”, so whenever you receive an email, it is automatically pushed to your phone or tablet immediately.

However, if you don’t receive ANY email and only occasionally change items in your Contact or Calendar, Windows 10 Mobile will try to save battery by toggling the Sync frequency to “daily” or less.

All you need to do is to go to Settings -> Accounts -> Your email and accounts -> Tap <your primary Microsoft Account> or any other accounts where you’ve chosen to sync Contacts and/or Calendar -> Manage -> Change mailbox sync settings -> Download new content -> change to “as item arrive” -> Done -> Save.

Windows 10 Mobile will immediately sync your Contacts & Calendars, and will continue to do so immediately when you make any changes in Outlook or Outlook.com.

Note that your battery life may suffer a little so if you have less active accounts, you should set those to “based on my usage”.

All comments and questions are welcome. Be sure to like this article if it’s useful and share it with your friends and family, or colleagues who can benefit from it! Buttons are all over my website just waiting for you to click them! :)

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Solutions

Malware XcodeGhost Infects 39 iOS Apps, Including WeChat, Affecting Hundreds of Millions of Users

Unit 42 finds that malware XcodeGhost infects 39 iOS apps, including WeChat, affecting hundreds of millions of users.

Update your software now as many of the affected developers have updated their official Apple Xcode IDE, which is NOT affected, and republished their apps. If you can’t update the app, it’s better to temporarily uninstall it.

Also make sure to change your app passwords and AppleID password as it’s likely being phished by hackers.

Here’s the list discovered by Palo Alto & FOX-IT.

网易云音乐  2.8.3
微信  6.2.5
讯飞输入法  5.1.1463
滴滴出行  4.0.0.6-4.0.0.0
滴滴打车  3.9.7.1 – 3.9.7
铁路12306  4.5
下厨房  4.3.2
51卡保险箱  5.0.1
中信银行动卡空间  3.3.12
中国联通手机营业厅  3.2
高德地图  7.3.8
简书  2.9.1
开眼  1.8.0
Lifesmart  1.0.44
网易公开课  4.2.8
马拉马拉  1.1.0
药给力  1.12.1
喜马拉雅  4.3.8
口袋记账  1.6.0
同花顺  9.60.01
快速问医生  7.73
懒人周末
微博相机
豆瓣阅读
CamScanner
CamCard
SegmentFault  2.8
股公开课
股市热点
新三板
滴滴司机
OPlayer  2.1.05
电话归属地助手  3.6.5
愤怒的小鸟2 2.1.1
夫妻床头话  1.2
穷游  6.6.6
我叫MT  5.0.1
我叫MT 2  1.10.5
自由之战  1.1.0
Mercury
WinZip
Musical.ly
PDFReader
guaji_gangtai en
Perfect365
网易云音乐
PDFReader Free
WhiteTile
IHexin
WinZip Standard
MoreLikers2
CamScanner Lite
MobileTicket
iVMS-4500
OPlayer Lite
QYER
golfsense
同花顺
ting
installer
下厨房
golfsensehd
Wallpapers10000
CSMBP-AppStore
礼包助手
MSL108
ChinaUnicom3.x
TinyDeal.com
snapgrab copy
iOBD2
PocketScanner
CuteCUT
AmHexinForPad
SuperJewelsQuest2
air2
InstaFollower
CamScanner Pro
baba
WeLoop
DataMonitor
爱推
MSL070
nice dev
immtdchs
OPlayer
FlappyCircle
高德地图
BiaoQingBao
SaveSnap
WeChat
Guitar Master
jin
WinZip Sector
Quick Save

Source: Malware XcodeGhost Infects 39 iOS Apps, Including WeChat, Affecting Hundreds of Millions of Users

Solutions

Solving Windows 8.1 Upgrade Error 0xC1900101 – 0x20017

Unsolved mystery of Windows 8.1 upgrade

As readers on my website knows, I’ve been using Windows 8.0 since the Developer Preview beta program on my Fujitsu T4210 TabletPC and I bought the license on Day one for my TabletPC.

I also bought 2 additional licenses for my desktop PC & for my wife’s laptop but I didn’t install Windows 8.0 on my desktop for quite a few months because Windows 8.0 was less keyboard/mouse friendly than Windows 7.

I did do a multi-boot for my wife so she can try Windows 8.0 if she wanted on her Fujitsu S6310 laptop or she can continue to use Windows 7 if she didn’t like Windows 8.0. Turns out she didn’t like Windows 8.0 because her laptop doesn’t have a touchscreen, which makes Windows 8.0 harder to grasp and use than it needed to be.

Before Windows 8.1 was launched, I installed Windows 8.0 on my desktop in anticipation of the much better keyboard/mouse environment in Windows 8.1.

My Fujitsu TabletPC and DIY desktop upgraded without any issues but my wife’s laptop couldn’t be upgraded. Whatever I tried, I ended up with the error 0xC1900101 – 0x20017 which indicated some kind of driver issue or hardware problem.

The symptom is always the same. It’ll install everything but during the final phase of booting up to Desktop, it’ll crash and refuse to boot, thus triggering a roll-back to Windows 8.0.

No Solutions in sight

You can find MANY threads at Microsoft forums of people who have this exact problem or something similar but few people manages to solve it.

This issue dragged on for months and months with Microsoft promising to solve it once and all in a major patch for Windows 8.0. Unfortunately, while it solved the problem for many people who has driver issues, it didn’t help my wife’s laptop.

I’ve tried different versions of drivers, including NOT installing drivers for unknown devices. I’ve tried upgrading Windows 7 using a Windows 8.1 Boot disc, which had the same issue, rendering the Windows 7 partition corrupt. I even tried to rename the Windows 7 partition as “System Reserved” because I read Windows 8 requires a separate recovery partition. Nothing worked. So my wife was stuck with 2 Windows 8.0 installation at the Boot screen but only one works.

Suffice to say my wife wasn’t too happy with the situation but since she only uses the laptop to watch TV dramas, I wasn’t in any danger of having to sleep on the sofa.

Solution came after solving an unrelated problem

Well if you read my previous post about installing Windows 8.1 without DVD or Product Key, you’d know that Microsoft recently updated their Windows 8.1 installation to handle more hardware, especially the new Ultrabooks which doesn’t have any DVD drives and all the recovery information are stored on the harddisk. So if said harddisk were to crash, like the one in the article, you must download a program from Microsoft which creates a bootable recovery disk on a USB thumbdrive or DVD disc.

After I recovered that laptop, I noticed that the Recovery disk has created 2 additional hidden “System Reserved” partitions at the front & back of the SSD besides the main System partition. Now in my wife’s laptop case, I only have the one at the back of the harddisk.

During the installation of Windows 8.0, the installer created 1 additional System Reserved folder which exceeded the maximum number of 4 allowable for a Basic Disk. In order to have more than 4 partitions, I needed to convert to a Dynamic Disk but that will create a lot of compatibility issues with harddisk and data recovery software that I have. So I opted to stick to a Basic disk and of course, Windows 8.0 couldn’t boot to continue the installation.

So I booted up to Windows 7 and ran Eason Partition Manager 8 to delete the extra partition and shifted some other partitions around. Windows 8.0 booted up fine and finished the installation after that but as a consequence, the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) now has missing and non-continuous partition numbering. I had to edit Windows 7 BCD so it can dual-boot with Windows 8.0. It was messy.

This turned out to be the actual problem with our Windows 8.1 upgrade!

The Solution

Since I still have the USB thumbdrive for Windows 8.1 installation, I tried to upgrade my wife’s laptop and of course, the same error code cropped up. Then, I remember about the partitioning issues a few years back & realized that I could just edit the BCD! But I thought, now I have an extra partition, it’ll be cleaner to just backup her data and just delete off all the partitions and start over.

So I did just that and it was the exact same procedure as my previous article except before installing, you have to delete off ALL the partitions on the harddisk/SSD. My wife’s laptop was based on the old IBM-PC BIOS so I had to key in her Windows 8.0 Product Key. And YES, even though the Recovery Media program is meant to install Windows 8.1, it happily accepted the Windows 8.0 Product Key!

After that, it was smooth sailing all the way! 🙂

Her laptop is working better than ever!

I hope this helps some of you. Like the article and subscribe. If you have any questions, feel free to comment!

Photography, Solutions

How to take great photos on the Lumia 1020

WP_20131009_18_46_31_Pro

So you have just purchased the best camera phone of 2013 & you’re excited to get started taking incredible photos like those seen in reviews.

In bright daylight, all the photos turn out great but when the lights dim, your photos aren’t turning out so great. What’s up? Lumia 1020 is supposed to be the champion in low-light photography. Is your Lumia 1020 faulty?

Likelihood it’s performing fine. It’s just not what you’re expecting in the picture.

This article aims to help you overcome inherent problems in digital photography. It’s broken down into sub-sections, each corresponding to an individual manual setting in the Nokia Camera app, the default camera app on all Lumia 1020. This article also applies if you’ve install Nokia Camera on other Lumia WP8 models although instead of the Xenon Flash, you’d only have the LED light.

Click here to start the tutorial!

Solutions

Still getting poor battery life from your Windows Phone 8.0?

Update 10 Sep 2014: This article is only applicable for WP8.0. WP8.1 removed this setting!

While reading an IOS7 review, I come across a power-saving tip, which I didn’t thought of as a power-saving tip at first.

We have the same setting in Windows Phone. If you go to WiFi settings -> Advanced, you have “Notify me when new networks are found.” By default, it’s ON.

WP8 WiFi Advanced Setting
WP8 WiFi Advanced Setting

This feature was available since WP7 but it never crossed my mind that it actually controls the WiFi Roaming Aggressiveness of WP OS. I just found it annoying so I have switched it OFF immediately after getting a new WP phone. So I never had a chance to see the effects when it was on.

According to the IOS7 review, switching this off saves power!

For me, my WiFi is always ON, “Keep WiFi on when screen times out” is ON & “Notify me when new networks are found” is always OFF. And because of this, my Windows Phones’ battery life have always been good! I couldn’t understand why there’re still reports of poor battery life even after switching to 3G on their 4G phones + switching off all Background Agents.

Then I remembered last year I posted a comment on whether switching ON the WiFi ALL the time is a good idea or not & I concluded that as long as the WiFi radio is not roaming & it can enter low-power state when associated with a wireless access point, it CAN save power. However, unlike in Windows where you can select WiFi Roaming Aggressiveness, you can’t do so in WP7/8. Or so I thought until the IOS7 article.

I connected the dots & BAM! This Notify setting is the Roaming aggressiveness setting!

Switch it OFF guys & gals!

Sound off in the comments below on how your battery life is affected.

Opinions

Microsoft buys Nokia! …

WOW! But not all that surprising…

OK, Microsoft buys Nokia’s devices division & licensed their IP non-exclusively for 10-years for USD$7B. Nokia will keep their Nokia Networks & Here Mapping, not sure about their Advanced Imaging group (Scalado) though.

More information here. Microsoft acquires Nokia’s Devices division.

Some history

Nokia has been hemorrhaging market share for a long time. Symbian was fine as an advanced feature-phone but based on today’s metric of counting apps & multi-touch, it’s not really considered a modern smartphone. Sony Ericsson withdrawal from Symbian in 2010 hit the final nail in Symbian’s coffin as a mobile OS. Nokia just prolonged the inevitable and by the time the board realize it, it was almost too late. Which is why they brought in an ex-Microsoftie, Stephan Elop.

Nokia Symbian steadily losing market share.

There are some undercurrent of mistrust generally coming from an ex-Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen but that’s to be expected because after all, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile was an competitor’s platform for the longest time, even though Stephan Elop was in charge of Microsoft Office 2010 & Microsoft Dynamics for 2 years only. The truth is probably somewhere in between but that point is moot since the Symbian-based Nokia Asha product line didn’t do as well as expected in China & India.

Nokia has underestimated the demand for high-quality smartphone at an affordable price. Which is why the Nokia Lumia 520 sold extremely well while the Asha line didn’t. Everyone seems to want to launch expensive flagship phones but market share is built from bulk purchase of entry-level & mid-tier phones. In fact, most of Android’s market share come from cheap phones & even “smart” feature-phones using Android.

Despite the fact that investors are increasingly questioning Elop’s “Burning Platform” approach, it stands to reason that the world don’t need another Android maker. HTC is tepidly recovering with their HTC One, Sony & LG are posting some profits for their Android handset business after years of loss & Moto still seems to be flat on their face. Only Samsung is making real money so Nokia isn’t so bad IF you consider their record USD$3B lose in 2012. However, turning businesses around is always painful and Elop has handled it pretty well.

If Nokia had gone with Android in 2011, they may not have been desperate enough to bring OIS to phone cameras (Apple & Samsung are not expected to bring OIS in 2013), or improve Navteq (now called Here) to be a true Google Maps competitor in 2013, or Wireless charging across most of their product range starting in 2012. All this happened within 2 years of Elop coming on board.

The Nokia Lumia 800 was my first Nokia phone ever, while the Lumia 920 was my second. I’ve always used Windows Mobile because it’s a true smartphone compared to Symbian but seeing how Nokia was committed to Windows Phones & bringing so much to the eco-system, I remain convinced that going with Nokia phones was the right move because other partners like HTC & Samsung eventually gave more resources to their Android phones & I can’t blame them since it made more business sense. And I was right. My third Windows Phone will be the upcoming Nokia Lumia 1020, the 41 megapixel monster which looks just like my Lumia 920. 🙂

The present

3 months ago, it was reported that Microsoft and Nokia talks about Nokia’s hardware division sales to Microsoft had collapsed. On retrospect, this was a red herring created to throw everyone off-balance. Good business move. I always wondered why that news pop out of nowhere.

With HTC going down (executives leaving and/or defrauding the company, Q3 2013 expected loss) & Samsung disinterested in WP and plans for Tizen (based on Intel Atom SoC rather than ARM), now is the right time for Microsoft to buy Nokia. No one will likely challenge this move and it’ll help Windows Phone immensely.

With the combined strength of Bing Maps + Here Maps, Microsoft now have 2/3 of what’s needed to take on Google Maps. The last one 1/3 is Foursquare, which Microsoft is actively courting.

MS has also licensed a huge treasure trove of Nokia IP, which has proven to be lucrative & effective in fighting off patent trolls unlike Moto’s IP. They have also acquired Nokia’s up & coming Lumia brand which is synonymous with innovation & clever advertising.

Clever guerilla ad campaign by Nokia Lumia 1020 against the Samsung S4 Zoom.

Nokia Asha & other feature-phones will most likely be wiped off the roadmap by 2014. I could be wrong but I don’t see Microsoft is interested in fighting with China & India low-end phone makers.

Nokia will have access to Microsoft (Pegatron) factories in China, Microsoft will also acquire Nokia supply-chain management & manufacturing capabilities so there’ll be no more USD$900m write-down.

Elop has proven to be a great person in reversing Nokia’s diminishing fortunes but at the same time, conspiracy theorists will continue to accuse Ballmer of sending Elop to Nokia as an acquisition target some time in the future. The truth is probably in between, since Microsoft has ALWAYS sent seed money & people to friends & frenemies alike.

This is part of Bill Gate’s legacy. To have Microsoft software everywhere whether they be thay friend or thay enemy because in business, everyone is a bit of both.

 

Stephan Elop as a leading contender of Steve Ballmer’s successor.

The Future

We already know that Bill Gates, Microsoft board & ValueAct all had a role in Steve Ballmer’s surprise retirement announcement a few days ago. His leadership was controversial from the beginning but he has fans and critics alike.

Now is also a good time for him to step down because although he had keep Microsoft growing strongly all these years, he obviously missed the mobile boat. It can be argued that Microsoft needs a CEO that doesn’t exist, someone who’s a strong Microsoft team-player & supporter, someone who has strong leadership & management skills and someone who has a good track record.

Stephan Elop seems to fit the bill very well & many pundits are already predicting this deal confirms Stephan as the best candidate since he’s a solid Microsoft supporter, so he wouldn’t rock the boat too much like selling off Bing; he’ll bring an outside perspective to Microsoft but is not marginalized like Steven Sinofsky; he’s shown his brilliance in making people like the Office 2010 ribbon & saving Windows Phone and finally, his PR-friendly face & press-friendly nature means there may be less bad press and more love for Microsoft moving forward. Perception is a very important factor in the success in any product or services.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned in a post from last year where I predicted Windows 8 & WP8 will share code in a common IDE, we may actually see WP9 be based on Windows RT, thus coming full circle where Windows is finally Mobile.

Oh, did I mention Xbox One will also run Windows 8? 😉

Solutions

How to get Rainbow Text & Legacy WordArt Effects in Word 2013/2016

* Update 10 March 2016 – New info from Eudes Martins & free eBook from Vaclav Krejci. Thanks! 

Where are my Presets?

Office 2013/2016 generally improved the usability & productivity of Word, PowerPoint, etc. However, for some reason, WordArt wasn’t fully ported over in Word 2013/2016.

For example, when I wanted to create Rainbow text in Word 2007, I just “Insert -> WordArt” & select the Rainbox preset, but in Word 2013/2016, this is what we’ll all get.

WordArt in Word 2013

Blah! All the effects are missing!

After some searching on MS Office forum, I found someone who suggested saving your document in Word 97-2003 format, then Insert WordArt & you’d get the usual WordArt that we’re all familiar with, like so…

Legacy WordArt

Updated solution!

Thanks to Eudes Martins (his comments below), I now know that you can just go to File -> Convert and the WordArt effects will carry forward to the new DOCX format correctly after following the previous steps.

However, the port is not 100% compatible because when you click inside the Textbox, the rendered text looks different, like so.

Manual Rainbow Text Converted

Strangely, the rendered text shrank and it became a double-rainbow! 😀 Oh well at least it works! You can also see that the new Office 2013/2016 way of doing rainbow text is to use Text Fill -> Gradient Fill -> Add Gradient Stop 4 times, then choose Color for each Gradient Stop. Don’t you agree it is just a big hassle?

So here’s hoping the Microsoft Office Team adds more Quick Styles instead of the 15 bland and boring styles that we see now. Maybe they can sort out the imported WordArt from Word 97-2003 as well? 😉

Now I like how everything in Word 2013/2016 is a Live Preview, no more entering Text in dialog box business. But, they should quickly port over all these older Preset because, Yes, there’re still people using them a decade after they’re introduced. I have the number of hits this page gets to proof it! 🙂

Just a bit of fun to show how powerful the new Format Shape Gradient Fill feature is, check this out! I use “Gradient Fill” for both Shape Options AND Text Options. Yeah yeah, you wouldn’t see me using this in a professional report but I’m sure there’re many people who would find this useful!

Manual Rainbow Text

Incidentally, have you checked out the AWESOME Free eBook on how to create the “7 Best Text Effects in Word” by Vaclav Krejci? It’s the first comment in this post!

 

All comments and questions are welcome. Click Comment button now if you don’t see the comments.

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Opinions

Creative Technologies, missed opportunities or lost cause?

Ancient History

Update 1 27/2/2014: Thanks to Arthur for new info
Update 2 09/3/2016: New info/insights from FY15 financial report + clearer grammer. I’m still getting regular hits to this old and rushed article! What do you, the reader, hope to learn? Share with me in the comments!

Creative Technologies (CT) became famous for their SoundBlaster soundcards in the 1980s. They were the first company in the world to combine FM Synthesizer (MIDI music) & PCM Codec (Voice/Sound effects) + a MIDI/Game port in a single ISA peripheral card. The all-in-one card was sold at a price that basically undercut the competitions at that time. From my memory, their main competitors were Adlib card (also an ISA card) & Covox Speech Thing, which is an external device that plugs into the parallel (printer) port.

Perhaps more importantly, the driver support was open to all PC & games developers, who started the multimedia revolution. This got a huge kickstart when Microsoft announced plans for the Multimedia PC (MPC) and SoundBlaster was the only card in town to meet those specifications.

From there, enhancements were made rapidly as new components (Integrated Circuits) with new capabilities became available from chip suppliers. CT was also very smart in ensuring new hardware and drivers were 100% backward-compatible so every new generation of soundcards provided an almost irresistible urge for gamers and enthusiast to upgrade! Even if the games at that time didn’t yet support the new features.

There were many competitors from Singapore & abroad but an aggressive marketing campaign + aggressive product roadmap soon see them to the pole position. Needless to say, CT became a darling on NASDAQ & SGX. Every new product launch will see a corresponding spike in share price & a nice dividend payout.

They were doing very well in the Soundcard industry in the 90s, especially with the acquisition of E-MU & then Aureal, which turned their soundcards so powerful, it can be used in industrial applications due to the E-MU DSP. Games were specially written to take advantage of all these 3D positioning sounds as Aureal APIs allow game and multimedia developers to place sound/music at specific spatial locations relative to the listener. Games written for Aureal 3D sounded truly immersive!

For music/video playback, only QSound encoded audio sounded more convincing with distinctive sound playing in and around your head. SRS & CMSS-3D extracted audio cues while stereo audio is streamed so these algorithm only expanded the soundstage and was not suitable for gaming. Aureal 3D was not suitable for music/video playback because you have to tell the algorithm where to place the sound.

DirectSound actually heralded the downfall of CT’s dominance. Microsoft introduced DirectX for multimedia & game developers to standardise on the PC platform. Intel also released reference motherboard designs to OEMs to copy. Microsoft followed up with Direct3D & DirectSound3D which brings arcade level gaming to PCs.

Being in pole position for so long, CT became so big & bureaucratical that they fail to notice the development of inexpensive soundchips being built & integrated into motherboards. Granted these early generation soundchips sounded horrible due to multiple issues like the inability to play & record at the same time + grounding issues on motherboards causing all sorts of noise & interference on the audio output & unstable drivers causing crashes.

CT was still selling SoundBlasters like hotcakes & everyone would switch off the onboard sound. They didn’t realize that after just a few generations of soundchips, these ICs were gaining in capability fast, like the ability to support multiple DirectSound3D streams + 24bit sound output + 108db sound quality + 7.1 sound output.

With each generation being less than 9 months, motherboard makers quickly learnt from their mistakes by isolating the sound circuits with better grounding & by moving high noise data pathways from the North & South Bridge chipsets away from the soundchips.

Windows drivers also got much better with Microsoft support. DirectX was also rapidly improving in capabilities, so much so that in less than 3 years, integrated sound became good enough to compete with SoundBlaster! $0 vs $300+ for a high-end Audigy Gold card or $100+ for a AWE32.

Consumers flocked to the cheaper solution of course, driven not just by price but the irrelevance of the main feature of the AWE-32 & Audigy. That feature is wavetable-synthesized music. With the Audigy, you can get studio quality music from a PC Soundcard that cost $300+ versus a professional card/deck that cost thousands. CT was slow to respond to this trend, probably blindsided by the professional market so it wasn’t till it was too late that CT has integrated Soundblaster in a few select motherboards. But due to cost from integrating the much larger Soundblaster IC, most OEMs didn’t support it. The market just dried up and now the Taiwanese company, Realtek is the undisputed leader.

In the past, if you wanted music in your software or games, the only way was through FM synthesizers. These chips modulated a base frequency into a shape that somewhat resembles real instruments. The best early example is the Nintendo Entertainment System. A simple script called a MIDI file has information on when to play a note and for how long on a selected channel. Every MIDI file has multiple channels each assigned an instrument. When all these channels were played together, a surreal synthesized music is heard. The main advantage of MIDI is these files were extremely small so were favoured due to disk & memory constrains in the past.

With 16-bit CD quality sound becoming the norm, the music portion needed to keep up and Wavetable Synthesis was brought over from the professional audio equipment market. Instead of a frequency modulated waveform being generated, the note from the MIDI file being played actually comes from a pre-recorded sample from a real instrument, called a patch.

At that time, if you wanted the most compatibility for wavetable sound, you had to go for the SoundBlaster AWE-32. But if you wanted the BEST music, you got the Gravis Ultrasound, which also supported a newer even more powerful music scripting format called the MOD(ule). This allowed more reverb, variation, cross-channel mixing, patch manipulation and unlimited patch size.

In the past, Voice & Sound effects were stored in PCM wave format whose file size was huge in comparison to MIDI. As with all inventions, necessity was the main driver of innovation. People wanted to compress CD-quality wave files to make them easier to transport & work with in games & multimedia applications, especially over the new media called the Internet. MP3 was quickly adopted & formed the basis of all music in games, media & movies over the Internet. This basically spelt an end to all synthesized music (both MIDI & MOD) in the consumer realm, rendering all Soundblaster AWE/Audigy & competitor standalone cards overkill. The integrated soundchips with their ability to handle 64 channels of PCM sounds were all that’s needed by consumers. From my memory, the first local casualty of this was Aztech Singapore with their Sound Galaxy range.

Unfortunately, CT’s trouble didn’t end there. A few misstep along the way soon confounded their recover. First was the CD-ROM drive. In the 90s, there were quite a few companies in Singapore making CD-ROM drives. However, once again, cheaper alternatives from overseas (Taiwan mainly) soon convinced consumers to buy those white-box OEM drives instead of the nicely boxed CT drives, which always seem to be a generation slower than these white-box drives. Wearnes Technology was almost wiped out during that episode. CT had a much better balance sheet so they were able to secure Singapore government assistance in the ensuing write-off.

However, the assistance comes with unintended consequences. According to (unverified) insiders of the deal, the agreement was for the Singapore government investment branch, Temasek Holdings, to take over a majority stake of the equitable shares of CT basically nationalizing it, & Sim Wong Hoo in effect lost the company he fought so hard to build. It could be this reason that CT was forced to delist from NASDAQ. The fund was injected through the Economic Development Board of Singapore. Sim Wong Hoo did eventually bought back much of the shares but at great costs.

Now, we all know that government top-down bureaucratic management style doesn’t work in a hi-speed hi-tech industry & that may be what happened to CT, where bottom-line was the overwriting concern rather than taking risks by pumping millions of dollars into R&D to create new products.

CT did have a second-wind with their Zen MP3 players which looked nice, had different form factors/colours, supported all common music formats, can be expanded with external memory & had great software that can transcode one format to another easily. However, Apple came along & stole the thunder with the iPod. CT’s lawsuit against Apple only secured a lifeline, not a victory.

CT’s foray into the 3D graphics card industry also met with poor results. The 3D GPU industry moved at an even faster pace than the soundcard industry. I’m not sure why CT acquired 3Dlabs, but I doubt it’s for their PC potential since CT used nVidia chips before calling it quits.

CT bought Cambridge Soundworks in 1997 with the hopes that the resulting synergy can reinvigorate the company but the gaming surround speakers failed to take off & CT had to sell the division away.

Along the way, they also acquired some gaming peripheral companies which didn’t work out and had to be divested. At this point in the 2000s, CT was completely off my radar and I no longer tracked any of their product range.

In 2009, CT launched a well-publicized but poorly executed (in consumer-space at least) campaign for their (poorly-name) StemCell CPU with “a 100-fold increase in supercomputing power over current technology”. No one understood what the fuss was about. CT’s only real showcase of the technology was an Android powered tablet that few people had a chance to try & a backplane-like cascade of ZMS-05 modules doing 1-teraflop but rendering something rather mundane.

As far as I can tell, the ZMS-05 platform is simply a dual-core ARM-based CPU with 3DLabs GPU component capable of performing 100 concurrent streams. The only difference may be the development platform allows the GPU to handle general programming tasks rather than simply graphical tasks. This may be similar to OpenCL for PC GPU. At that time, this capability was not available for the ARM architecture.

Unfortunately, it was not marketed enough & competitors like Qualcomm (Snapdragon), Samsung (Exynos) & NVidia (Tegra) soon signed up all the tablet OEMs leaving very little for CT.

CT did have a design win when Intel acquired the Ziilabs team for the StemCell architecture in 2012, probably to bolster Intel’s inadequate GPU. I wonder if it was integrated in the new Haswell Core-i CPU thereby giving that CPU the graphics boost it demonstrated in 2011. Haswell chips were eventually released in 2013.

However, for CT, it may not be a good deal because all the best engineering minds from 3DLabs have gone to Intel. Even though CT still owns the IP & Intel is technically licensing it, an IP that doesn’t generate new IP and/or products will be obsoleted in just a few years.

Lastly, CT also have a “Hanz” line of Chinese language hardware platform & software education system but those didn’t really help the bottom-line as shown in the Financial Report 2015.

So what’s left?

Not much actually. They probably ODM certain products, ship the design to China for manufacture & probably rebrand China products for sales elsewhere. Their revenue and R&D spendings have been reducing YoY & they posted a USD $33m loss in FY2015. Their longtime Creative Store at Marina Square is gone. CT is still holding on to USD $99m in cash + cash equivalent down from USD $140m in FY2013.

Where did it go so horribly wrong?

Like the fall of Rome, the collapse did not happen overnight. There must have been many events that lead to disaster. We could point to the failed investments in the past or the lack of direction or even top-level mismanagement. Some may even blame the Singapore Government in meddling in the private section.

I think it’s because CEO Sim Wong Hoo is 61 this year. With no succession plan in place (that I heard of), there’s not likely to be any change in CT’s direction nor will there be a change in their fortune or share prices.

Whatever it is, CT is a pale shade of what it used to be.

Is it a lost cause?

It really depends on whether they have someone to succeed the CEO position and bring fresh perspective & fresh blood into a still pond. It’s currently trading at SGD$1 on SES.

They’re trying to sell a high-end soundbar called X-Fi Sonic Carrier, which admittedly looks good and support Dolby Atmos 15.2 sound but carries a $2800 Pre-order price tag and ships towards the end of 2016. Most sound-bars comes bundled with a mid-range SmartTV so I’m not sure how well this will sell, especially since the launch price is an eye-watering $7000! I believe I can get an LG 50+” OLED UHD SmartTV with sound-bar + sub-woofer for that price!

Is Creative trying to do high-end audiophile market like Bang & Olufsen?

What can they do now?

In 2013, I thought AV Receivers may be worth investing in. I don’t think so anymore, what with most young people abandoning huge TV for huge phones with hundreds dollar headphones. For older folks who still prefer huge TVs, the AV Receivers & box speakers are replaced with a SmartTV coupled to a multi-directional sound-bar with a powerful sub-woofer.

The only gadget trends that’s big right now, with sustained interest for the next 3 years, is Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) goggles and Internet of Things (IoT.)

I doubt they have the engineering talent left for VR/AR, so maybe CT can start with small IoT projects based off ZMS-05?

They have a lot of great IP which they seem unable to tap. Soundcards (both PCI-e & USB) are essentially dead. With ARM CPU makers integrating DSPs inside their SoC, the DSP cores from E-MU are no longer special.

Without an aggressive marketing strategy like Beats (Apple) or Sonos, I’m not sure how much the Sonic Carrier can add to the bottom-line, even if the sound is awesome. CT really needs to find a niche where they can sell/bundle truckloads of these sound-bars. Maybe small auditoriums or lecture halls?

With that in mind, I have always wonder why CT never went into the AV Receiver market. That’s a market that people are willing to spend on great sound & video, including speakers!

The 3DLabs GPU can be put to great use by upscaling lower res video source from RCA or Component and outputting through HDMI 1.4 for HDTV. The streaming engine can easily be programmed to do deblocking, de-interlacing, Motion interpolation & sharpening of digital video, or 3D-comb filtering, smoothing of TV & other analog signals. Then to top it all off, perform a 3D-conversion!

For Audio, just couple that ZMS-05 module with a ton of balanced Class-AB OP-AMPs and they’re good to go!

The Android OS can be used for onscreen navigation with integrated apps for things like YouTube, Vimeo, Netflicks etc., similar to media boxes from Western Digital & A.C. Ryan.

Conclusion

As a Singaporean, it’s sad to see CT fall from grace but at least they’re still around. I hope someone takes over CT or let CEO Sim Wong Hoo retire from daily running. CT definitely needs a direction so they can recover soon before the cash runs out.