This is why Microsoft needs a Surface Pro 5 – and fast

Microsoft just revealed its latest fiscal results, with a bit of a sting in the figures when it comes to sales of Surface hybrids, which have slumped considerably – in marked contrast to recent times.

In fact, in the latest quarter, revenue from Surface devices dropped by a worrying 26% year-on-year. Compare that to the ‘best sales to consumers ever‘ which Microsoft was boasting about at the end of last year.

Of course, the problem here is that the current Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are now starting to look long in the tooth, and more and more folks are almost certainly waiting for the next iteration of either of these hybrids before parting with the considerable wedge of cash that their price tags represent.

Microsoft admitted as much, with CEO Satya Nadella observing that: “This quarter our Surface results fell short of expectations, impacted by end of product lifecycle and increased price competition.”

Compounded misery

The latter is the second compounding factor here – ever since analyst firms started picking up on the boom in 2-in-1 devices (which runs very much against the tide of the overall downturn in PC sales of recent times), more PC vendors have been rushing convertibles to the market.

And as Nadella notes, that has forced pricing to become more competitive, and with Microsoft’s devices carrying a premium price tag, they’ve suffered.

Surface fans out there have also doubtless been dismayed by the news that we won’t see a Surface Book 2 at Microsoft’s big spring hardware event next week, and it seems very unlikely that we’ll see the Surface Pro 5, either. (What we will likely see is Chromebook-style traditional notebooks running Windows 10 Cloud, pitched at the education market).

And that being the case, sales of Surface devices are going to continue to dwindle, and, for example, those who are poised to make the upgrade from a Surface Pro 3, but are waiting for the fifth incarnation to emerge, might just get fed up and jump ship to a PC manufacturer other than Microsoft.

Which is why Microsoft really needs to get a shift on with pushing the next Surface Pro out the door (and the Surface Book sequel as well – although that’s far less important as it’s a relatively niche product compared to the Pro model).

Via: The Register


The best free video converter 2017

There are many reasons why you might want a video converter. You might want to play a particular video on a device that has limited storage and there need to reduce the size of the file. You might want to keep your entire video collection in the same format, but have a few rogue entries messing up your system. Or you might want to change a video recorded in a strange format on your phone into something that is more easily shared with others.

Converting video is nowhere near as complex a task as video editing, but many people will be put off doing it because of the mistaken belief that a complicated and expensive video editor is needed. In reality, you can do it for free; here is the best software you can use.

1. Freemake Video Converter

Quick, flexible and easy to use; the best free video converter today

Freemake has built up something of a name for itself for producing powerful yet easy to use software, and making it available free of charge. Freemake Video Converter is no exception, continuing the company’s enviable track record.

The free video converter can not only convert files from your hard drive to almost any format, it can also be used to download and convert online videos from the likes of YouTube.

With simple editing tools to trim unwanted footage, the ability to add subtitles, and convert to and from DVD, Freemake Video Converter has all of your everyday conversion needs covered – and more.

One word of warning: the installer sneakily tries to add a malware blocker, browser search bar and, ironically, an ad remover. Pay close attention and be sure to use the custom installation option to avoid unwanted extras.

That aside, Freemake Video Converter is the best free video converter around.

Download here: Freemake Video Converter

2. Any Video Converter Free

Free and fast conversion for videos stored on your PC or published online

When it comes to the number of supported file formats, Any Video Converter Free certainly doesn’t disappoint. Like Freemake Video Convertor, the program handles online as well as offline files, meaning that if you like the look of some videos on YouTube, you can quickly and easily convert them into a format suitable for offline viewing on your mobile without worrying about your data allowance. Incidentally, the same warning about unwanted software installations also applies.

More than just YouTube, you can also download and convert videos from Facebook, Vimeo, Metacafe and more, and Any Video Converter Free also features the option to rip audio from CDS and DVDs.

You’ll find support for all of the video formats you can shake a stick at, including ready made profiles for different devices, and editing options such as trimming, cropping and rotating allow for basic cleanup tasks. If you want to get creative, you can experiment with video effects to achieve a completely unique look as well.

Review and where to download: Any Video Converter Free

3. Free HD Video Converter Factory

Video conversion and simple editing rolled into one convenient free package

Free HD Video Converter Factory prides itself on being so easy to use that its website features a 10-second guide to getting started. This might seem like an exaggeration, but it’s actually true. You can drag and drop a video onto the program interface, or use the selection menu, select the format or destination device and hit the Run button. That really is all there is to it.

You’ll be pleased to know that the software’s convenience doesn’t come at the expense of features. While you can start the conversion process in a matter of seconds, you may wish to spend a little more time customizing the output. Cutting, cropping and impressive special effects are all on hand to give your videos the look you want, and the way destination formats are presented is highly intuitive.

Beginners can select the make of device they want to play video on to ensure that the correct format is automatically selected, while more advanced users can make a manual selection and customise things further.

Download here: Free HD Video Converter Factory

4. Handbrake

An powerful video and audio converter that’s made the leap from Mac to PC

Handbrake is a free video converter that’s well known to Mac users, but less famous in the world of Windows. It is worth noting that this is still something of an experimental program and it hasn’t even reached version 1.0 in its Windows incarnation, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.

Available for Mac, Windows and Linux, Handbrake is a great choice for anyone who works on multiple platforms, but is also great for anyone who is dedicated to Windows.

A slight word of warning: the other programs featured in this roundup have very approachable interfaces, but the same cannot really be said of Handbrake. The program is powerful, but utilitarian.

There are a lot of features that allow for fine-grained control of video conversion – including very precise cropping, advanced filtering, frame rate adjustment – but there are also presets for those who just want quick results. Handbrake may take a while to get used to, but the output is worth it.

Download here: Handbrake

5. MediaCoder

Whatever the video format, MediaCoder can help – and it’s lightning fast

As we’ve seen, there are lots of great free video converters available to download, but MediaCoder stands out from the crowd thanks to its sheer speed and the number of audio and video formats it supports. No matter how old and obscure the format of that video you have lurking on an ancient hard drive, MediaCoder should be able to bring it bang up to date in next to no time.

The language used by the program (‘transcoding’ rather than ‘converting’, for instance) might be a little off-putting at first, but it’s worth persevering.

Like HandBrake, MediaCoder’s interface is slightly intimidating, but the payoff includes a load of extra features such as video joining, sound syncing, aspect ratio adjustment, and much more.

It would be easy to become overwhelmed by what’s on offer here, but MediaCoder should be approached as a learning experience. Start off using the wizards to guide you, but as your confidence grows, you can make use of more of the tools on offer to take greater control of each process.

Download here: MediaCoder


Amazon’s new service puts all your subscription purchases under one roof

No stranger to introducing new products, Amazon has added something different from its regular selection of goods: digital subscriptions.

Subscribe with Amazon is the newest addition to the retail giant’s ever-expanding repertoire, offering a way for subscription-supported services to let customers check out directly through Amazon’s website.

According to a press release, Subscribe with Amazon will improve visibility by offering a service its own listing on the Amazon site, as well as easy-to-use APIs for conveniently managing a page and offering simple payment plans of the introductory, monthly, and annual variety.

What does that mean for customers? For the regular Amazon shopper, the process of picking up a few months of Consumer Reports or premium Dropbox access is virtually the same as adding anything else to your Amazon cart.

Integration with Amazon also means you can manage multiple subscriptions just by checking one site — a boon to those who prefer not having their personal and credit card information spread out over a dozen different online locations.

Prime and subscribe

Of course, Amazon is ultimately running a business, so services that go with Subscribe with Amazon will have to fork over 30% of whatever they make from new subscribers, dropping to 15% for repeat buyers.

Additionally, Subscribe with Amazon also gives the company a chance to increase the value of its own subscription service. Amazon plans to offer special deals via Subscribe with Amazon exclusively for Amazon Prime members, such as a discount on a digital magazine subscription or a free month of online crafts courses.

To qualify for selling through Subscribe with Amazon, a service currently has to offer a product via an app, website or software. Second, the business needs to be based in the US. Finally, customers must pay a recurring fee to access the product.

This is far from Amazon’s first attempt at doing everything in-house for digital services. The company introduced Amazon Coins back in 2013 as an incentivized, alternative digital currency for buying apps and making in-app purchases, though these are currently exclusive to Amazon Fire devices.


Google is fighting fake news in search — here’s how

From Facebook to Wikipedia, internet organizations are focusing efforts more than ever before on cracking down on fake news, or poor-quality web content that typically spreads through misleading, often offensive headlines.

Google is yet another titan of the ‘net looking to cut down on fake news, and today it announce a plan to improve its search algorithms to deliver more accurate, reliable results to users.

The first step in Google’s plan is a change made last month to its Search Quality Rater guidelines — a list of red flags used by Google’s human evaluation team.

The team will assess the quality of the search giant’s algorithms using the updated guidelines, which now include watching out for results containing “misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes and unsupported conspiracy theories.”

Google is also altering its search parameters to give priority to “more authoritative” sources over lower-quality or unfounded web pages — an effort Google says will prevent scenarios like one that happened late last year, when an article denying the Holocaust preceded all other results for “did the Holocaust happen”.

Feedback loop

In addition to tweaking its search algorithms to prioritize more credible content, Google is also adding feedback tools to help improve an often overlooked part of the company’s search features: autocomplete.

We’ve all seen our fair share of auto-fill phrases going in a bizarre direction after just a few words, but some intentionally misleading ones can potentially divert a user away from more relevant search queries.

To fight this trend, Google is allowing users to report autocomplete suggestions that are either offensive, inaccurate, or just plain irrelevant to the intended search.

Google plans on adding the same reporting features to also allow users to flag inappropriate Featured Snippets — those little blurbs at the top of a search that save you the effort of clicking through any links, such as when looking up a basic definition or a celebrity’s age.

According to Google, the site sees searches numbering in the trillions each year, with 15% of searches made each day being entirely new. This means that Google’s experimental plan to combat fake news may take a while to have an effect, though we’re taking Google’s side that this cause is worth the effort.


Here’s how the FCC wants to roll back net neutrality and what it means for you

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced today the next big front in the ongoing debate over the future of the internet in the US.

Making his remarks in Washington, D.C., Pai detailed plans to remove regulations enacted in 2015’s Open Internet order, designed to “protect and maintain open, uninhibited access to legal online content.”

The 2015 order invokes a Title II common carrier classification for internet service providers (ISPs), which makes it illegal for them to throttle, block, or otherwise discriminate any kind of internet traffic from its users — a major component of net neutrality.

Pai, a committed voter against net-neutral regulation, claims continued Title II restrictions on ISPs “gives the FCC a roving mandate to micromanage the internet” and “would reduce investment in broadband infrastructure.”

The full text of the chairman’s plan to replace the Title II legislation will release to the public tomorrow, allowing Americans to look over the proposed actions before the FCC votes on them on May 18.

Holes in the net

Pai’s goal is rather simple: to revert the Title II status given to ISPs from 2015’s order to its previous state, returning to what he calls the “light-touch regulatory framework” originally set in place over 20 years ago by President Bill Clinton following the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

“Under this framework, a free and open internet flourished,” said Pai. “Under this framework, America’s internet economy produced the world’s most successful online companies: Google, Facebook, and Netflix, just to name a few.”

However, the internet has changed a lot since the days of President Clinton, with many major companies and groups coming forward to advocate keeping the 2015 regulations, including Google, Facebook and Netflix, just to name a few.

Though the heart of the upcoming Title II debate will mostly center around the classification of internet providers as a common carrier, the issue is inseparable from the debate of net neutrality as a whole.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, second from right, next to current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, far right

Net gain, net loss

The topic of net neutrality is complex and easy to get tangled in like, well, a net. In essence, net neutrality is the idea that internet service — regardless of what is being accessed or who is accessing it — should not be restricted.

Pai argues that qualms over net neutrality were unfounded leading up to the 2015 Title II vote. “For decades before 2015, we had a free and open internet,” said Pai. “We were not living in some digital dystopia before the partisan imposition of a massive plan hatched in Washington saved all of us.”

Pai — as well as many ISPs — argue that pro-net neutrality regulations hinder the growth of internet companies and their networks, stifle competition, and ensure Americans get high-speed access even in rural areas.

To that end, Pai said domestic broadband expenditures dropped 5.6% across the nation’s top 12 ISPs between 2014 and 2016, attributing the loss to Title II restrictions.

However, many supporters of net neutrality argue that removing regulations only serves to help internet companies, with a 2016 report claiming the US broadband market actually grew in the year following the Title II vote, with Verizon in particular expanding its networks to accommodate the upcoming 5G standard at the time of writing.

Many supporters for net neutrality also argue that it’s essential for keeping the competitive field even for businesses new and old, with a group of over 800 startups, investors and internet entrepreneurs asking the FCC chairman to reconsider his upcoming proposal in a recent letter.

Over 170 advocacy and civil right groups, including the ACLU and National Economic & Social Rights Initiative, state that net neutrality is also essential for equality in the country, saying it allows “all people in the US to access essential healthcare services, educational resources and employment opportunities.”

Following the 2015 Title II vote, internet service providers have found themselves in an intriguing position where many Americans consider internet access to be a right, especially as the technology continues to play a major role in the nation’s job market, education system and political sphere.

Be you in favor of tearing down government oversight or in support of net-neutral policies, we urge you to keep a close eye on what comes out tomorrow because if you’re reading this in the US, the outcome of May’s decision could have a major impact on you.


The best Steam skins 2017

Welcome to the wonderful world of Steam customization – a realm full of customisable fonts, UI rearrangements and gaudy color schemes. That’s right, you don’t have to keep using the nondescript version of the PC gaming platform you’re used to. There’s a whole community of users out there who have crafted brand new skins that turn Valve’s favourite son into a colorful, rejuvenated version of its former self.

We’ve selected nine of our favourites from the community, as well as a special customization suite for building your very own Steam persona.

How to install Steam skins

Steam skins are very easy to use: simply download the ZIP archive, then extract and drop the files it contains directly into your Steam Directory (to find this, go to C:Program FilesSteamSkins).

Now, reload or launch Steam, head to the Settings menu and select the Interface subheading. There should be an option with the title ‘Select the skin you wish Steam to use (requires Steam to restart)’ – click on this and select the new skin you want to use from the drop-down menu. Steam will now close and relaunch with your new look.

1. Minimal Steam UI V3

Much like a very similar (but much less supported) skin known as Compact, Minimal Steam UI V3 offers a stripped down experience that banishes much of the empty space in Steam’s standard interface in favour of a smart, minimal look. The brushed metal aesthetic is easy on the eye, and that compact form works well on almost any display size.

Download here: Minimal Steam UI V3

2. Air

One of the most popular skins in the Steam community, Air is exactly what you’d expect: bright, breezy and open. This is the kind of skin you load up when you’re ready to break out the chillout mix and find your happy place. Its blue and white coloring never gets old, and plenty of regular updates have this turned this skin into a functional powerhouse.

Download here: Air

3. Metro

Another of the most used and lauded Steam skins, Metro has built its popularity on two powerful pillars: simplicity and customization. Its interface strips away a lot of the clutter that makes the default skin so busy, and its customization tools enable you to change everything from font styles to the layout and positioning of menus.

Download here: Metro

4. PixelVision

Sadly, PixelVision hasn’t received a proper update in a while, but its continued popularity is a real testament to its quality. Load it up and you’ll find a clean setup not too dissimilar to the likes of Air or Metro. If you’re looking for a good way to bridge the gap between the standard skin and a fully-fledged modern design, this is the one for you.

Download here: PixelVision

5. Pressure 2

One of the newest skins on the Steam customization scene, the second iteration of Pressure is one of the most carefully calibrated interfaces we’ve ever tried. Building on the basic design on the default Steam Skin, Pressure 2 takes everything from Music Details to the Game Grid Display and makes it feel even more intuitive and easy to use.

Download here: Pressure 2

6. Blue Pulse

One of the simplest Steam skins aroundt, Blue Pulse doesn’t go in for the whole massive interface overhaul. Instead, it builds on the layout you know and gives the whole colour wash a much needed change. There are plenty of blues and blacks here to make the fonts pop and give the client a whole new look.

Download here: Blue Pulse

7. Digitally Unmastered

For some of us, the Matrix series never ended and we’re still living in a fantasy world of long trenchcoats, needlessly complicated lore and streams of falling green code. For those happy/deluded few, there’s Digitally Unmastered, a Steam skin that offers all the greens and blacks you could ever need. There are plenty of customization options too, in case those sequels left a bad taste in your mouth.

Download here: Digitally Unmastered

8. Plexed

Plexed is another one of those skins that keeps its changes to a minimum yet manages to make Steam feel fresh and new again. There a few small tweaks here and there – font styles and sizes have been adjusted, while the soft blue background colour offers a charmingly inoffensive backdrop. The back button is a little odd and ostentatious, but no skin is perfect.

Download here: Plexed

9. Old Flat Green

Old Flat Green was created as a throwback to the earliest days of Steam’s PC gaming delivery service. It’s not the most comprehensive of skins in terms of UI rewrites – and it can’t reprogram the look of the central Store page – but all those greys and greens will send you back to those pre–2010 days of playing WoW and Counter–Strike on a CRT monitor.

Download here: Old Flat Green

10. Steam Customizer

If none of the above have tickled your Steam-related fancy, how about the option to create your own Steam skin from scratch? For those who aren’t able to code their very own skin quite yet, there’s the option to customise your own via Steam Customizer. It’s not too in–depth, but offers enough options to create a setup that’s right for you.

Try it online: Steam Customizer

Welcome to TechRadar’s 3rd annual PC Gaming Week, celebrating the almighty gaming PC with in-depth interviews, previews, reviews and features all about one of the TechRadar team’s favorite pastimes. Missed a day? Check out our constantly updated hub article for all of the coverage in one place.


Warning: manually installing Windows 10 Creators Update could ruin your PC

Microsoft is telling people running a Windows 10 PC that they shouldn’t manually install the new Creators Update, lest their machine get hit by some manner of potentially PC-busting bug which hasn’t been ironed out yet.

Instead, folks should wait for the update to be rolled out to their PC by Microsoft. In other words, be patient and let Windows Update offer you the upgrade when it’s ready for your rig, rather than getting antsy and using the software tool to manually grab the Creators Update.

The reason for this, as the company points out in a blog post, is that during the phased rollout of the update Microsoft is closely monitoring for any issues users encounter.

If a problematic gremlin rears its ugly head, software engineer will tackle it (of course), but while they’re doing so, Microsoft also blocks the update from all other devices which carry the piece of hardware (or software) that’s impacted by the issue.

This means that those PCs won’t have a spanner thrown in the works, and won’t get the Creators Update until that particular issue has been resolved – unless they download the update manually, of course, which is when Microsoft’s blocking system is bypassed.

Microsoft stated: “It’s important to note that when customers use the Software Download Site to manually install the Creators Update they bypass many of these blocks.

“Therefore, we continue to recommend (unless you’re an advanced user who is prepared to work through some issues) that you wait until the Windows 10 Creators Update is automatically offered to you.”

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Smoother upgrade

While the current upgrade certainly seems to have run smoother than the Anniversary Update (which had some beefy problems when it first emerged), the Creators Update hasn’t been without glitches, including a Bluetooth connectivity issue with certain Broadcom radios.

And clearly there are other issues kicking about, otherwise Microsoft wouldn’t be publishing this warning.

The initial phase of the Creators Update rollout targets newer PCs, as these are less likely to have older pieces of hardware and/or drivers, which have a greater chance of causing problems.

So certainly those with older machines are taking a bigger risk if they download the update manually, although apparently everyone is taking something of a risk by ‘jumping the queue’ of the phased rollout.

So patience would definitely appear to be a virtue here, unless, as Microsoft says, you’re a clued-up advanced Windows user who doesn’t mind tackling whatever bugbears pop up.

Via: The Register


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