Windows 8 Features, IE6 Doom, CES Prep Dominated Microsoft's Week

Microsoft's week involved the unveiling of still more Windows 8 features, the trumpeting of Internet Explorer 6's imminent doom, and prepping for CES.

Microsoft's week was relatively quiet as the company ramps up for the Consumer Electronics Show, slated to kick off with CEO Steve Ballmer's Jan. 9 keynote address at The Venetian hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

Microsoft will almost certainly offer CES attendees a glimpse of Windows 8, the company's next-generation operating system slated for release in the latter half of 2012, along with a variety of Xbox and Windows Phone products. It's a more open question, however, whether Microsoft will acknowledge the decision to make this CES its last, perhaps with some sort of public event.

Speaking of things reaching the end of their life spans, Microsoft spent part of this week trumpeting the imminent demise of Internet Explorer 6 in the United States.

According to research firm Net Applications, the use of IE6 in this country has dropped to beneath 1 percent. This is good news to Microsoft, which has been anything but private about its all-consuming desire to have users switch from the 10-year-old browser to a newer version.

"IE6 has been the punch line of browser jokes for a while, and we've been as eager as anyone to see it go away," Roger Capriotti, a member of Internet Explorer's marketing team, wrote in a Jan. 3 posting on The Windows Blog. "We hope this means more developers and IT Pros can consider IE6 a -low-priority' at this point and stop spending their time having to support such an outdated browser."

A number of countries have also dropped below that 1 percent mark, he added, including Austria, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway.

Early in 2011, Microsoft even started a Website, The Internet Explorer 6 Countdown, which used data from Net Applications to detail IE6 usage around the world. As of December, that total stood at 7.7 percent, most of it in mainland China. In addition, Microsoft has encouraged users to spread the word about upgrading to a new browser, and offered Website owners code for displaying a "You are using an outdated browser" banner to visitors using IE6.

In the run-up to CES, Microsoft has also detailed additional features of Windows 8. In a Jan. 5 posting on the Building Windows 8 blog, Rajeev Nagar, a group program manager on the Windows Storage and File System team, broke down the two overarching themes behind Storage Spaces: one, the ability to organize multiple physical disks into storage pools, and two, the use of virtual disks.

In a separate posting, the Windows team also detailed Windows 8's streamlined ability to reset or refresh a PC experiencing issues. Resetting a Windows 8 PC will, obviously, wipe out all the user's personal data while reinstalling the operating system. Refreshing it, on the other hand, will preserve all that personal data, along with key settings and any "Metro"-style applications.

As with many things Windows 8, Microsoft is also emphasizing the security angle. "For those of you who worry about data that may still be recoverable after a standard reset, especially on PCs with sensitive personal data, we also will be providing an option in Windows 8 Beta to erase your data more thoroughly," Desmond Lee, a program manager on Windows 8's Fundamentals team, wrote in a Jan. 4 posting on the Building Windows 8 blog, "with additional steps that can significantly limit the effectiveness of even sophisticated recovery attempts."

Microsoft is also looking to ramp up its Windows Phone efforts. Windows Phone devices from manufacturing partners such as Nokia will certainly make an appearance at CES. This week, Microsoft has updated its App Hub so that developers can distribute applications and games into new markets such as Argentina, China and Peru. Just as the company needs Windows 8 to succeed in order to maintain its primacy in the realm of desktop operating systems, it also needs Windows Phone to make a more robust showing with customers in 2012, if it wants to maintain and expand a presence in mobility.

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