Windows 8 Update: Smaller, less expensive gear on tap for back-to-school

Start is back, Microsoft report says Windows 8 is the safest OS

Smaller, less expensive Windows 8 devices based on upcoming Intel processors are in the offing for later this year, the company says.

Specifically, the devices will be based on Haswell and Bay Trail Atom processors, both of which are designed for longer battery life, Microsoft's outgoing CFO Peter Klein said in the company's quarterly earnings meeting.

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"In the upcoming back-to-school selling season, we expect to see devices that incorporate advances from throughout the supply chain, including chipsets," he says.

Those prices could be as low as $300 with Haswell chips inside new form-factor devices such as ultrabooks, detachables and convertibles, says Intel CEO Paul Otellini in a Seeking Alpha transcript of Intel's earnings call. He didn't mention the rumored Microsoft watch or 7-inch tablet, but those could be thrown into the mix.

Even cheaper devices -- in the $200 range -- could become possible using non-core chips in thin, light notebooks, he says.

Otellini says that Haswell chips open the door to better compute and graphics performance as well as better battery life.

Otellini says touch is key to Windows 8 adoption, and the new chip will enhance that, too. He says he recently switched to Windows 8 with touch and he thinks it's better than a Windows 7 desktop when using applications built for touch. "There is an adoption curve, and once you get over that adoption curve, I don't think you go back," he says. "And I think people are attracted to touch, and the touch price points today are still fairly high, and they're coming down very rapidly over the next couple of quarters."

He says Intel has written specifications for ultrabooks that will cost as little as $599 with some specially priced at $499 If you look at touch-enabled Intel based notebooks that are ultrathin and light using non-core processors, those prices are going to be down to as low as $200 probably.

Rumored return of Start button

When the next version of Windows 8 -- Windows Blue -- is released later this year look for the Start button. Missing from the initial versions of Windows 8 desktop, the Start button has emerged as the biggest source of complaint from customers about the operating system.

But the rumor, attributed to sources close to Microsoft, are all over the place that Start is coming back, and if it proves false, Microsoft will suffer a renewed wave of complaint about taking it away in the first place and then failing to restore it despite overwhelming popular demand.

Even if the rumor is false, Microsoft should use the time until Blue comes out to make it so.

And if it does prove false, there's already a host of software products that can restore the Start button even without Microsoft cooperation.

Another popular Blue rumor is that users will be able to boot Windows 8 machines directly to desktop mode, avoiding the Windows 8 Start screen that many people find confusing and annoying.

Windows Defender protects Windows 8

"Windows 8 has the lowest malware infection rate of any Windows-based operating system observed to date," according to the latest Microsoft Security Intelligence Report.

Part of the reason is that Windows 8 runs Windows Defender by default, running malware scans in the background and blocking dangerous code. As a result, just 81.% of 32-bit Windows 8 machines and 7% of 64-bit Windows 8 machines are unprotected, the report says.

Also, Windows 8 is still pretty new, so there's been less time for customers to disable the anti-malware or for the real-time protection to expire, the report says. The operating system was only available for the last two months of 2012, and the report covers the second half of the year.

Those Windows 8 machines that didn't have protection turned on had an infection rate 16.2 times greater than machines with protection, according to the report.

The most common threat family found attacking Windows 8 was Win32/Keygen, software that generates product keys for pirated software, allowing the software to be run on a machine illegally, the Microsoft report says. Customers who choose to use these key generators typically turn off malware protection in order to load the generators, increasing their chance of infection, the report says.

The third most common threat found attacking Windows 8 machines was INF/Autorun, malware that is ineffective against Windows 8 even if it is unblocked. Windows Defender blocked it anyway, Microsoft says.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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