The Meta Quest 3’s popularity is proof a cheap Vision Pro can’t come soon enough

The Oculus Quest 2 has been the most popular VR headset in the world for the past couple of years – dominating sales and usage charts with its blend of solid performance, amazing software library and, most importantly, affordability. 

Now its successor – the Meta Quest 3 – is following in its footsteps. 

Just four months after launch it’s the third most popular headset used on Steam (and will likely be the second most popular in the next Steam Hardware Survey). What’s more, while we estimate the Quest 3’s not selling quite as well as the Quest 2 was at the four-month mark, it still looks to be a hit (plus, lower sales figures are expected considering it’s almost double the launch price of the Quest 2).

Despite its higher cost, $ 499.99 / £479.99 / AU$ 799.99 is still relatively affordable in the VR space, and its early success continues the ongoing trend in VR that accessibility is the make or break factor in a VR gadget’s popularity.  

Oculus Quest 2 floating next to its handsets

The cheap Oculus Quest 2 made VR mainstream (Image credit: Facebook)

There’s something to be said for high-end hardware such as the Apple Vision Pro bringing the wow factor back to VR (how can you not be impressed by its crisp OLED displays and inventive eye-and-hand-tracking system), but I’ll admit I was worried that its launch – and announcement of other high-end, and high-priced, headsets – would see VR return to its early, less affordable days.

Now I’m more confident than ever that we’ll see Apple’s rumored cheaper Vision Pro follow-up and other budget-friendly hardware sooner rather than later.

Rising up the charts 

According to the Steam Hardware Survey, which tracks the popularity of hardware for participating Steam users, 14.05% of all Steam VR players used a Quest 3 last month. That’s a 4.78% rise in its popularity over the previous month’s results and means it’s within spitting distance of the number two spot, which is currently held by the Valve Index – 15% of users prefer it over other VR headsets, even three-and-a-half years after its launch.

It has a ways to go before it reaches the top spot, however, with the Oculus Quest 2 preferred by 40.64% of Steam VR players. The Quest 3’s predecessor has held this top spot for a couple of years now, and it’s unlikely to lose to the Quest 3 or another headset for a while. Even though the Quest 3 is doing well for itself, it’s not selling quite as fast as the Quest 2.

(Image credit: Future)

Using Steam Hardware Survey data for January 2024 (four months after its launch) and data from January 2021 (four months after the Quest 2’s launch) – as well as average Steam player counts for these months based on SteamDB data – it appears that the Quest 3 has sold about 87% as many units as the Quest 2 did at the same point in its life.

Considering the Quest 3 is priced at $ 499.99 / £479.99 / AU$ 799.99, a fair bit more than the $ 299 / £299 / AU$ 479 the Quest 2 cost at launch, to even come close to matching the sales speed of its predecessor is impressive. And the Quest 2 did sell very well out of the gate.

We don’t have exact Quest 2 sales data from its early days – Meta only highlights when the device passes certain major milestones – but we do know that after five months, its total sales were higher than the total sales of all other Oculus VR headsets combined, some of which had been out for over five years. Meta’s gone on to sell roughly 20 million Quest 2s, according to a March 2023 leak. That's about as fast as the Xbox Series X is believed to have sold, which launched around the same time.

This 87% of Quest 2 sales figure can be taken with a pinch of salt – you can find out how I got to this number at the bottom of this piece; it required pulling data from a few sources and making some reasonable assumptions – but that number and the Quest 2 and 3’s popularity on Steam shows that affordability is still the most powerful driving force in the VR space. So, I hope other headset makers are paying attention.

Lance Ulanoff wearing Apple Vision Pro

The Apple Vision had me a little concerned (Image credit: Future)

A scary expensive VR future

The Apple Vision Pro is far from unpopular. Reports suggest that between 160,000 and 200,000 preorders were placed on the headset ahead of its release on February 2, 2024 (some of those orders have been put on eBay with ridiculously high markups and others have been returned by some disappointed Vision Pro customers).

The early popularity makes sense. Whatever Mark Zuckerberg says about the superiority of the Quest 3, the Apple Vision Pro is the best of the best VR headsets from a technical perspective. There’s some debate on the comfort and immersive software side of things, but eye-tracking, ridiculously crisp OLED displays, and a beautiful design do make up for that.

Unfortunately, thanks to these high-end specs and some ridiculous design choices – like the outer OLED display for EyeSight (which lets an onlooker see the wearer’s eyes while they're wearing the device) – the headset is pretty pricey coming in at $ 3,499 for the 256GB model (it’s not yet available outside the US).

Seeing this, and the instant renewed attention Apple has drawn to the VR space – with high-end rivals like the Samsung XR headset now on the way – I’ll admit I was a little concerned we might see a return to VR’s early, less accessible days. In those days, you’d spend around $ 1,000 / £1,000 / AU$ 1,500 on a headset and the same again (or more) on a VR-ready PC.

Valve Index being worn by a person

The Valve Index is impressive, but it’s damn expensive (Image credit: Future)

Apple has a way of driving the tech conversation and development in the direction it chooses. Be it turning more niche tech into a mainstream affair like it did for smartwatches with the Apple Watch or renaming well-established terms by sheer force of will (VR computing and 3D video are now exclusively called spatial computing and spatial video after Apple started using those phrases).

While, yes, there’s something to be said for the wow factor of top-of-the-line tech, I hoped we wouldn’t be swamped with the stuff while more budget-friendly options get forgotten about because this is the way Apple has moved the industry with its Vision Pro.

The numbers in the Steam Hardware Survey have assuaged those fears. It shows that meaningful budget hardware – like the Quest 2 and 3, which, despite being newer, have less impressive displays and specs than many older, pricier models – is still too popular to be going anywhere anytime soon.

If anything, I’m more confident than ever that Apple, Samsung, and the like need to get their own affordable VR headsets out the door soon. Especially the non-Apple companies that can’t rely on a legion of rabid fans ready to eat up everything they release. 

If they don’t launch budget-friendly – but still worthwhile – VR headsets, then Meta could once again be left as the only real contender in this sector of VR. Sure, I like the Meta headsets I’ve used, but nothing helps spur on better tech and/or prices than proper competition. And this is something Meta is proving it doesn’t really have right now.

Girl wearing Meta Quest 3 headset interacting with a jungle playset

(Image credit: Meta)

Where did my data come from?

It’s important to know where data has come from and what assumptions have been made by people handling that data, but, equally, not everyone finds this interesting, and it can get quite long and distracting. So, I’ve put this section at the bottom for those interested in seeing my work on the 87% sales figure comparison between the Oculus Quest 2 and Meta Quest 3 four months after their respective launches.

As I mentioned above, most of the data for this piece has been gathered from the Steam Hardware Survey. I had to rely on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to see some historical Steam Hardware Survey data because the results page only shows the most recent month’s figures.

When looking at the relative popularity of headsets in any given month, I could just read off the figures in the survey results. However, to compare the Quest 2 and Quest 3’s four-month sales to each other, I had to use player counts from SteamDB and make a few assumptions.

The first assumption is that the Steam Hardware Survey’s data is consistent for all users. Because Steam users have to opt-in to the survey, when it says that 2.24% of Steam users used a VR headset in January 2024, what it really means is that 2.24% of Steam Hardware Survey participants used a VR headset that month. There’s no reason to believe the survey’s sample isn’t representative of the whole of Steam’s user base, and this is an assumption that’s generally taken for granted when looking at Hardware Survey data. But if I’m going to break down where my numbers come from, I might as well do it thoroughly.

Secondly, I had to assume that Steam users only used one VR headset each month and that they didn’t share their headsets with other Steam users. These assumptions allow me to say that if the Meta Quest 3 was used for 14.05% of Steam VR sessions, then 14.05% of Steam users with a VR headset (which is 2.24% of Steam’s total users) owned a Quest 3 in January 2024. Not making these assumptions leads to an undercount and overcount, respectively, so they kinda cancel each other out. Also, without this assumption, I couldn’t continue beyond this step as I’d lack the data I need.

The Oculus Quest 2 headset sat on top of its box and next to its controllers

Who needs more than one VR headset anyway? (Image credit: Shutterstock / agencies)

Valve doesn’t publish Steam’s total user numbers, and the last time it published monthly active user data was in 2021 – and that was an average for the whole year rather than for each month. It also doesn’t say how many people take part in the Hardware Survey. All it does publish is how many people are using Steam right now. This information is gathered by SteamDB so that I and other people can see Steam’s Daily Active User (DAU) average for January 2021 and January 2024 (as well as other months, but I only care about these two).

My penultimate assumption was that the proportion of DAUs compared to the total number of Steam users in January 2021 is the same as the proportion of DAUs compared to the total number of Steam users in January 2024. The exact proportion of DAUs to the total doesn’t matter (it could be 1% or 100%). By assuming it stays consistent between these two months, I can take the DAU figures I have – 25,295,361 in January 2024 and 24,674,583 in January 2021 – multiply them by the percentage of Steam users with a Quest 3 and Quest 2 during these months, respectively – 0.31% and 0.37% – then finally compare the numbers to one another.

The result is that the number of Steam users with a Quest 3 in January 2024 is 87.05% of the number of Steam users with a Quest 2 in January 2021.

My final assumption was that Quest headset owners haven’t become more or less likely to connect their devices to a PC to play Steam VR. So if it's 87% as popular on Steam four months after their respective launches, the Quest 3 has sold 87% as well as the Quest 2 did after their first four months on sale.

You might also like

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Microsoft finally teaches Copilot AI some new tricks – but is this enough to stop Windows 11 users getting impatient?

Windows 11 just received improvements in testing to make its Copilot AI more useful with implementing changes in the actual OS environment – in other words, the features that we’re all waiting for.

Copilot has a pretty limited repertoire in terms of what the AI can do for manipulating Windows settings (as opposed to its standard tricks in terms of replying to queries, image creation and so forth).

However, the bag of settings tricks just got considerably heavier, with a raft of additions having just been made to preview build 26058 of Windows 11 (in the Canary and Dev testing channels).

That build was actually released a week ago, but Microsoft just ushered in these extra improvements as Neowin noticed.

So, what can Copilot do for you now? There are a number of important accessibility changes, so for example the AI can be instructed to turn on Narrator or Live Captions, or voice functionality (Voice Access or typing).

And you can get Copilot to take out the trash (empty the Recycle Bin), turn on battery saver mode, or even tell you the IP address of your device.

Here’s the full list of the new capabilities of Copilot when it comes to engaging with Windows settings:

  • Ask for available wireless networks
  • Ask for system or device information
  • Ask for battery information
  • Ask to clean storage
  • Ask to empty Recycle Bin
  • Ask to toggle Battery Saver
  • Ask to show startup apps
  • Ask for your IP address
  • Ask for system, device, or storage information

And the new accessibility features are as follows:

  • Ask to turn on Narrator
  • Ask to open Voice Access
  • Ask to turn on Magnifier
  • Ask to change text size
  • Ask to start Live Captions
  • Ask to turn on high-contrast
  • Ask to start voice typing

This expands on Copilot’s existing powers to tweaks settings, which already includes taking a screenshot, or changing between the dark and light themes, for example.


Analysis: Expansion pack

There are 16 new abilities introduced in testing here, which should be coming through to the finished version of Windows 11 soon enough. That more than doubles the existing abilities of Copilot at the moment – there are just 12 ways to operate Windows 11 settings via the AI right now – so it’s a welcome expansion.

At the same time, progress on this front feels rather sluggish, given that Copilot and more broadly AI is such a major focus for Microsoft, ever since Bing Chat burst onto the scene about a year ago.

Windows 11 users were sold Copilot partly on its features related to operating various settings and modes easily and conveniently, rather than having to dive into a search deep in the Settings app (or hunting elsewhere in the interface). And thus far, not a lot of capabilities have been added, really.

We’re hoping Microsoft will get its foot to the floor on this side of the Copilot experience later this year, with the Windows 11 24H2 update, but for now, a doubling of numbers is at least a sign of some decent forward momentum.

You might also like…

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Windows 11 users can’t get enough of Copilot, apparently – that’s why Microsoft supersized the AI’s panel

The Copilot panel in Windows 11 has been tinkered with a good deal in recent times, and a newer change that has been applied is one to switch up the way it appears by default, which has now been accompanied by a prompt from Microsoft explaining why.

This was spotted by regular leaker Leopeva64 on X (formerly Twitter), who noted that the Copilot pane is now wider than it used to be, and opens as an overlay, rather than in side-by-side view (a more compact form, where it’s always nestling next to your active window).

See more

Leopeva64 explains that the Copilot interface has opened this way for a short while now, but a new addition is a prompt Microsoft has added to explain why.

The ‘What’s new’ pop-up tells us that the recent change to make the panel wider so there’s “more space to chat” was due to Windows 11 user feedback requesting that additional real-estate. It also notes, however, that there’s a button at the top of the panel you can click to switch back to the more compact side-by-side layout, if you wish.


Analysis: Copilot expansion

It’s useful to have an explanation of the recent move to change the default settings for how the AI opens, and by all accounts, this points to Windows 11 users favoring a larger Copilot panel. (Or at least some of them, and we could assume the majority, at least of those who’ve fed back to Microsoft on Copilot’s interface).

Certainly those who use Copilot quite a lot in Windows 11, engaging in longer sessions of queries, may welcome the AI assistant getting more screen space by default.

The truth is we can expect to see a lot more of Copilot, one way or another, going forward. By which we mean Microsoft is already testing the waters for having the AI assistant appear when Windows 11 first boots (in a limited fashion thus far, mind). Furthermore, there are clues that Copilot may be integrated into other parts of the Windows 11 interface (such as File Explorer). We can envisage further possibilities like being able to dock Copilot elsewhere (it sits on the right-hand side of the screen currently).

What we definitely don’t want to see are nudges or adverts to use Copilot, but sadly – yet somewhat predictably – this has been spotted in testing too (promoting Copilot Pro, the supercharged paid version of the AI, we should clarify).

You might also like…

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Not spending enough on Amazon already? Its new AI chatbot is here to help

If there's one tech innovation that our bank accounts didn't need in 2024, it's an Amazon chatbot with infinite knowledge of the site's array of potential impulse buys. But unfortunately for our savings, that's exactly what we've just been given in the form of Rufus.

Amazon says its Rufus chatbot has now launched in the US in beta form to “a small subset of customers” who use its mobile app, but that it'll “progressively roll out to additional US customers in the coming weeks”. Rufus is apparently “an expert shopping assistant” who's been trained on Amazon's product catalog and will help answer your questions in a conversational way.

Rather than Googling for extra advice on the differences between trail and road running shoes, the idea is that you can instead search for pointers in the Amazon app and Rufus will pop up with the answers. 

Quite how good those answers are remains to be seen, as Amazon says they come from “a combination of extensive product catalog, customer reviews, community Q&As, and information from across the web”. Considering the variable quality of Amazon's reviews, and the tendency of AI chatbots to hallucinate, you may still want to cross-reference your research with some external sources. 

Still, it's an early glimpse at the future of shopping, with retailers looking to arm you with all of the information you need so you can, well, spend more money with them. Amazon says that the questions can be as broad as “what are good gifts for Valentine’s Day?”, but also as specific as “is this cordless drill easy to hold?” if you're on a product page.

How to find and use Rufus

Right now, Rufus is only being made available to “select customers when they next update their Amazon Shopping app”. But if you live in the US and are keen to take it for a spin, it's worth updating your iOS or Android app to see if you're one of the early chosen ones.

If you are, the bar at the top of the app should now say “search or ask a question”. That's where you can fire conversational questions at Rufus, like “what to consider when buying headphones?”, or prompts like “best dinosaur toys for a 5-year-old“ or “I want to start an indoor garden”.

The ability to ask specific questions about products on their product pages also sounds handy, although this will effectively only be a summary of the page's Q&As and reviews. Given our experience with AI shopping chatbots so far, we'd be reluctant to take everything at face value without double-checking with another source.

Still, with Rufus getting a wider US rollout in “the coming weeks”, it is a pretty major change to the Amazon app – and could change how we shop with the retail giant. Amazon will no doubt be hoping it convinces us to spend more – maybe we need two chatbots, with the other one warning us about our overdraft.

You might also like

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

I’ve had enough of password frustrations – here’s how I’m finally fixing them in 2024

Passwords are a pain, let’s be honest – a necessary evil to keep us secure. None of us wants to have to deal with these cumbersome little beasties, but they’re an inescapable part of online life. In the future, things will change – as a new passwordless reality comes to fruition and passkeys evolve. But for now, traditional typed passwords remain prevalent and in need of taming.

There are simple ways to deal with passwords, some of which are terrible. Like having ridiculously simple passwords that are easy to guess. Or ‘remembering’ them by writing them all down in a notepad, where a nosy person might find them and get access to your online accounts, if they’re a nefarious sort.

I don’t do anything like that, of course – perish the very thought – I use mnemonics to help make passwords complex enough, but still memorable, so they don’t have to be jotted down. However, even that’s not an ideal way of dealing with passwords, and so I have some (admittedly dull) new year’s resolutions to vastly improve my relationship with passwords and my overall online security.

A person using the ExpressVPN Keys password manager on their phone and their laptop.

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

Taking the plunge with a password manager

This is the main pillar of my reformed relationship with passwords – yes, getting someone else to do them. Or rather, getting something else to do them in the form of an application.

Password manager software automatically generates passwords for all online accounts without me having to lift a finger. These are incredibly secure passwords, too – lengthy strings of garbage that I wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of remembering.

Taking the plunge with a password manager is something that’s been on my computing to-do list for quite some time, and one of those things I simply haven’t got around to doing. Mainly because it seems easier to carry on as I’ve been doing for a long, long time now (I owned a PC before the worldwide web even existed). So, 2024 is the year it’s going to happen, and I’ll relinquish my old system for a more convenient and secure way of dealing with passwords.

Which password manager am I going to run with? After weighing up the pros and cons of the various options out there, I narrowed it down to either Dashlane or NordPass – but in the end, the latter won out. Why? NordPass scored with its wide-ranging support across multiple platforms, regular updates – and plentiful features – not to mention that it represents a great value proposition.

It’s also the top-ranked product in our roundup of the best password managers, so comes with the TechRadar Pro seal of approval (and a deal to make it even better value, it should be noted). For those after the top freebie option, by the way, check out the best free password managers.

Hand increasing security protection level by turning a knob

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

2FA achievement complete

3 tips for avoiding the worst password pitfalls

1. Never, ever, use stupidly simple passwords
‘Password’ is not a good password, much like a riot shield is a bit pointless if it’s made out of tissue paper. Choose a complex password with a decent mix of characters, and a mnemonic to remember it (or better still, use a password manager).
2. Don’t reuse passwords
Never reuse the same password for multiple online accounts. It may seem tempting to do so for easy recall, but if a hacker or other ne’er-do-well gets hold of that password, obviously they could then access more than one of your services.
3. Don’t keep the same password forever
You don’t have to change any given password much, but it’s worth doing so every now and then. Especially if a company you have an account with has a data breach, it’s a good pre-emptive move just to change your password, even before you’ve been told if you’re affected.

Getting a password manager isn’t necessarily bulletproof, of course. What if that company or their systems are somehow breached in some manner? It’s very unlikely that this will happen with a reputable vendor, but it has happened in the past.

At any rate, a robust approach to security doesn’t rely on a single solution, and 2FA (two-factor authentication) is a seriously valuable addition as a second line of defense to back up passwords. This often takes the form of a code texted to your phone, or emailed, after your initial login to an account.

My problem in this department is that I don’t have 2FA enabled on all my online accounts yet. I do have it running on most important services, mind you, but I need to go through my array of various online accounts, check where it’s supported – in theory, on most big sites and services – and implement it, if 2FA isn’t already active.

Much like migrating over to a password manager, this is something I’ve been meaning to do for some time now – and it’s been nagging away at the back of my mind all that time as a task that really needs attending to. In most cases, it'll simply be a case of going into my account > settings > security (or a variation of that process), and turning on two-factor authentication. So, I shall get it done, and tick another niggle off my list of password blues for 2024.

Biometrics

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Biometric bonus

While I’m fixing password security issues, my final resolution is to actually use biometrics wherever possible. Until fairly recently, I used a hardware token for logins to my online banking, but have since switched to use the fingerprint sensor on my phone (via the bank’s app). It’s a much more convenient and secure way of logging in, and wherever there’s an option to use a fingerprint login, I’ve resolved to switch to it.

Another point on this subject: while initially I wasn’t convinced about the tech, I now love the Windows Hello login on my Surface Pro tablet – it has got better over time, and works pretty much flawlessly now, even in different lighting conditions. 

I’d advise strongly in favor of using facial recognition, fingerprints, or other biometrics wherever you can turn them on, which is usually a case of exploring an app's settings for security options that can enable hardware like fingerprint sensors. None of this is exactly fun, but you'll go into 2024 feeling all the more secure and smug for it.

You might also like

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Amazon says even AI isn’t powerful enough to stop fake reviews

Amazon has renewed its war on fake reviews by developing new AI-powered tools to help tackle the problem, but the retail giant admits they aren't enough to solve the issue on their own.

In a new blog post, Dharmesh Mehta, who's Amazon's VP of Worldwide Selling Partner Services, writes “we must work together to stop the fake review brokers that are the source of most fake reviews”, calling on “private sector, consumer groups, and governments” to work together to stop the brokers.

What are these so-called 'fake review brokers'? Amazon says the brokers have become an industry in recent years, and have “evolved in an attempt to evade detection”. They work by approaching average consumers though websites, social media or encrypted messaging services and getting to them write fake reviews “in exchange for money, free products, or other incentives”.

Amazon says it's using increasingly sophisticated AI tools and machine learning to stem the tide. These fraud-detection programs apparently analyze thousands of data points, including sign-in activity and review history, to help spot fake reviews. The figures involved are pretty staggering; Amazon says that last year it blocked over 200 million suspected fake reviews in 2022, and sued over 10,000 Facebook group administrators. 

But Amazon's financial might and its increasingly sophisticated AI tools seemingly aren't enough to stop fake reviews. The retail giant says that because much of the misconduct happens outside of Amazon’s store “it can be more challenging to detect, prevent, and enforce these bad actors if we are acting alone”.

A hand holding an iPhone showing Amazon reviews

(Image credit: Amazon)

So Amazon has made a three-point plan to get some extra help. Firstly, it wants there to be more cross-industry sharing about fake review brokers and their various tactics and techniques. Secondly, it wants governments and regulators to use their authority more to take action against bad actors. 

And lastly, in a veiled nudge at Meta and other social media giants, it's asked that “all sites that could be used to facilitate this illicit activity should have robust notice and takedown processes”. Amazon wants to work with “these companies” (read Facebook, WhatsApp, Signal and more) to help improve their detection methods.

Whether or not these three steps are realistic remains to be seen, but the message from Amazon is clear – it doesn't think it can stem the tide of fake reviews on its own, and that's a problem for all of us. Until that improves, it's more important than ever to follow advice on how to spot fake Amazon reviews during Prime Day and other big shopping events.

How to spot fake Amazon reviews

A laptop screen on an orange background showing an Amazon review in the website ReviewMeta

Sites like ReviewMeta (above) can help you weed out suspicious reviews from an Amazon product’s rating (Image credit: Future)

We've been highlighting the problem of fake Amazon reviews for over a decade, and it's clear that the issue has become a game of whack-a-mole – while Amazon's tools have improved, the retail giant admits that the “tactics of fake review brokers have also evolved in an attempt to try to evade detection”.

This is a big problem for the average online shopper – in the UK, the consumer group Which? says that around one in seven reviews are fake. And that means you can be misled into buying poor-quality products.

Mehta's blog post is a reminder than even the world's biggest tech giants, and the latest AI technology, aren't powerful enough to stop fake reviews. And that means we all need to be increasingly savvy when shopping online.

As our in-depth guide to spotting fake Amazon reviews highlights, there are some simple red flags to look out for in product reviewers, including “overly promotional language, repeated reviews, and reviews for an entirely different product”. 

But there are also handy third-party tools like ReviewMeta and FakeSpot (which was recently bought by the Firefox owner Mozilla) that can help you use AI to detect fake reviews and scams. These allow you paste in Amazon product URLs to get an analysis of the reviews or use Chrome extensions for a quick check.

While Amazon's three-point call-out for outside help is understandable, recent history suggests that progress is going to be slow – which means we'll all need to remain on guard when doing our online shopping, particularly during big events like Amazon Prime Day 2023.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Windows XP activation has been cracked – for those desperate enough to still use it

The activation algorithm for Windows XP has been cracked, so those stuck not being able to get the ancient operating system working can now do so – and yes, there are folks who still use this OS.

Granted, it’s a seriously slim – vanishingly so – niche of Windows users, and we’ll come back to that. For most of us, though, this is just a curiosity.

As The Register reports, the encryption algorithm for Windows XP product activation has been cracked and reimplemented, with the details provided via a tinyapps blog post.

This means anyone can now generate a valid product key to install and activate Windows XP offline.

Microsoft turned off the servers required to activate Windows XP long ago, so you can’t use a genuine old product key to activate the OS. Well, not online anyway, though from what we can see on Reddit, Microsoft still facilitated a product activation on the phone back in 2020 – and The Register reckons this way still works.


Analysis: Desperate times, desperate measures…

So, if you don’t want to get on the phone and try to persuade Microsoft to activate your Windows XP when you have a genuine product key that can’t be validated online anymore, you can simply do-it-yourself at home (or in the office) with no fuss.

Why would you ever want to use Windows XP, though? Yes, it was a much-loved operating system without a doubt, for many reasons – mainly that it was such a big step forward for performance, and the quality of the interface, over its predecessor – but it’s obviously ridiculously outdated at this point in time.

However, some people must remain on Windows XP due to legacy software or hardware that won’t work with any more modern Microsoft operating system. These are most likely businesses, who might, say, have eye-wateringly expensive machines that only work with software that runs on XP and hasn’t been updated in forever.

In those cases, this crack could prove very useful, but clearly, anyone running Windows XP is exposing themselves to a whole lot of potential pain in terms of the vulnerabilities present in the OS. Which is why if you are in this boat, whatever you do, keep that Windows XP installation offline for obvious reasons.

Are you now wondering how many Windows XP users are still out there? According to the latest from analytics firm Statcounter, XP amounts to a 0.35% userbase out of all Windows versions (not all that far behind Windows 8, Microsoft’s most recently defunct OS which is on 1.28% as of April 2023).

Cracking rusty old Microsoft operating systems appears to be quite the trend at the moment. You may recall that Windows 95’s (relatively flimsy) activation was recently hacked, with a twist – ChatGPT was fooled into generating keys that worked with the OS (in a small number of cases).

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Google Sheets thinks it might finally be smart enough to topple Microsoft Excel

Google Workspace has announced an upgrade to its spreadsheet software that could make the tool more useful than ever before.

In its battle to take on great rival Microsoft Excel, the company's Google Sheets platform has enjoyed a number of recent updates to help users get more from their data.

This includes so-called “smart chip” technology, which lets users quickly access information or data from other Google Workspace files, bringing the likes of Slides, Docs and Gmail even closer together for the ultimate collaboration tool.

Google Sheets smart chip metadata

Following an initial rollout in February 2023, Google Sheets has already seen an initial smart chips upgrade, taking the form of richer experiences, including extra functionality when posting YouTube clips in a spreadsheet, further expansions have now been announced.

Going forward, the company says users will be able to quickly extract information from smart chips to give your work extra detail or analysis, pulling in information from people, file and event chips. It will also allow users you to pull out metadata associated with specific smart chips into its own cell, all whilst maintaining a connection with the chip it was extracted from. 

Google Sheets smart chips metadata

(Image credit: Google Workspace)

The company gave the example of making it easier to keep track of a set of documents, as well as who owns them and details such as creation time or who last modified the file, which can now be done by extracting those fields from the relevant file chips.

“Smart chip data extraction allows you to track and organize data more easily, and also perform deeper analyses using data that is derived from smart chips,” a Google Workspace update blog post announcing the change read.

“Useful actions include using file chips to understand when a document was last updated or using people chips to sort and filter employees based on job location to best delegate region specific tasks.”

The feature is rolling out now for users on Rapid Release domains, with a wider release scheduled for June 14. 

The ability to extract data already stored in chips will be available to all Google Workspace customers and users with personal Google Accounts, but some limits on extracting all available data will be placed on the latter, along with users with Google Workspace Essentials Starter, Business Starter, Frontline Starter, Frontline Standard, and Nonprofits accounts.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

iCloud’s free tier hasn’t improved since 2011 – 5GB just isn’t enough anymore

Apple's iCloud service passed its 10th birthday in 2021, and syncing photos and messages between my iPhone, iPad by now, makes me feel as if the service has been around as long as the original iPod.

I remember when the iPhone 4S debuted with iOS 5 and iCloud in 2011, and being able to take a photo, then see it on my iPad 2 soon after felt like magic. You could argue that we've had the same method for email for years, as your messages have synced between your devices for much longer than Apple's service.

But while we've seen huge advances in iPhones and iPads, even a chip transition of the Macs from Intel to Apple Silicon, iCloud's free tier has remained the same, offering just 5GB.

When you consider iPhones that can record in full 4K video, with one minute taking up 440MB, you'll already be needing to pay for a higher tier of iCloud storage once you record for ten minutes. With this in mind, this is what I'd like to see for the free tier going forward.

Match the tiers with iPad storage

Displaying the tiers of iCloud storage

(Image credit: TechRadar)

We need to look at how the paid tiers have changed over the years, while the 5GB free tier has remained the same. These three tiers arrived with iCloud in 2011:

  • 10GB
  • 20GB
  • 50GB

2015 saw some changes to this:

  • 200GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB

In 2020, we saw the latest change to the tiers:

  • 50GB
  • 200GB
  • 2TB

Across these changes, free with 5GB has remained the same. I've always been paying for the highest tier due to the number of photos and videos I both store and take on my devices, alongside keeping hundreds of files that were once on a OneDrive account, Microsoft's cloud storage service.

While the jump between 200GB and 2TB is baffling to me in how far apart they are, it's something I've come to accept, and it's the 2TB tier that I'm paying for each month.

But 5GB for a free tier is ridiculous in 2022. When I used to work at a phone store in a previous life, as soon as I discovered that there were so many photos that one customer had on their iPhone, I'd help set up an iCloud plan, mainly because they were adamant that they needed their photos to be on their new iPhone.

Setting this up would mean that the photos would be stored in the cloud, and a weekly backup of their iPhone content would be possible without facing the 5GB wall.

64GB free storage for all

But it's time for a change. This is what I'd like to see in the future for all the tiers:

  • Free: 64GB
  • 500GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 5TB

The free tier should match the lowest amount of storage that's available on Apple's products – in this case it's the iPhone SE (2022) and the iPad Air (2022), both offering 64GB as an option.

It's not great to see these as storage options in 2022 regardless, but increasing the free tier could help with this. Backups would be possible with these devices, and you could store a good amount of photos and videos.

Our Deputy Phones Editor, Tom Bedford spoke to me about how he still constantly sees the 'iCloud storage is getting full' on the free tier he has with his iPad, and he's primarily a Windows and Android user.

5GB in 2022 makes no sense anymore – let's see a tier that matches the lowest storage option on Apple's devices, to help remove any anxiety about needing to free up iCloud space to create a successful backup.

And as a bonus, the paid tiers should see more choice – start at a tier for the users like me who have multiple Apple devices, to those who are content creators for the 5TB tier, who want to store hundreds of gigabytes on their iCloud Drive.

In this scenario, everyone wins. Apple can afford to allow users on a free tier of 64GB storage, especially with its services growing in revenue every year. iCloud has become a useful service for many, but mainly on the paid tier, and that needs to change so that it can benefit all of its users.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

iCloud’s free tier hasn’t improved since 2011 – 5GB just isn’t enough anymore

Apple's iCloud service passed its 10th birthday in 2021, and syncing photos and messages between my iPhone, iPad by now, makes me feel as if the service has been around as long as the original iPod.

I remember when the iPhone 4S debuted with iOS 5 and iCloud in 2011, and being able to take a photo, then see it on my iPad 2 soon after felt like magic. You could argue that we've had the same method for email for years, as your messages have synced between your devices for much longer than Apple's service.

But while we've seen huge advances in iPhones and iPads, even a chip transition of the Macs from Intel to Apple Silicon, iCloud's free tier has remained the same, offering just 5GB.

When you consider iPhones that can record in full 4K video, with one minute taking up 440MB, you'll already be needing to pay for a higher tier of iCloud storage once you record for ten minutes. With this in mind, this is what I'd like to see for the free tier going forward.

Match the tiers with iPad storage

Displaying the tiers of iCloud storage

(Image credit: TechRadar)

We need to look at how the paid tiers have changed over the years, while the 5GB free tier has remained the same. These three tiers arrived with iCloud in 2011:

  • 10GB
  • 20GB
  • 50GB

2015 saw some changes to this:

  • 200GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB

In 2020, we saw the latest change to the tiers:

  • 50GB
  • 200GB
  • 2TB

Across these changes, free with 5GB has remained the same. I've always been paying for the highest tier due to the number of photos and videos I both store and take on my devices, alongside keeping hundreds of files that were once on a OneDrive account, Microsoft's cloud storage service.

While the jump between 200GB and 2TB is baffling to me in how far apart they are, it's something I've come to accept, and it's the 2TB tier that I'm paying for each month.

But 5GB for a free tier is ridiculous in 2022. When I used to work at a phone store in a previous life, as soon as I discovered that there were so many photos that one customer had on their iPhone, I'd help set up an iCloud plan, mainly because they were adamant that they needed their photos to be on their new iPhone.

Setting this up would mean that the photos would be stored in the cloud, and a weekly backup of their iPhone content would be possible without facing the 5GB wall.

64GB free storage for all

But it's time for a change. This is what I'd like to see in the future for all the tiers:

  • Free: 64GB
  • 500GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 5TB

The free tier should match the lowest amount of storage that's available on Apple's products – in this case it's the iPhone SE (2022) and the iPad Air (2022), both offering 64GB as an option.

It's not great to see these as storage options in 2022 regardless, but increasing the free tier could help with this. Backups would be possible with these devices, and you could store a good amount of photos and videos.

Our Deputy Phones Editor, Tom Bedford spoke to me about how he still constantly sees the 'iCloud storage is getting full' on the free tier he has with his iPad, and he's primarily a Windows and Android user.

5GB in 2022 makes no sense anymore – let's see a tier that matches the lowest storage option on Apple's devices, to help remove any anxiety about needing to free up iCloud space to create a successful backup.

And as a bonus, the paid tiers should see more choice – start at a tier for the users like me who have multiple Apple devices, to those who are content creators for the 5TB tier, who want to store hundreds of gigabytes on their iCloud Drive.

In this scenario, everyone wins. Apple can afford to allow users on a free tier of 64GB storage, especially with its services growing in revenue every year. iCloud has become a useful service for many, but mainly on the paid tier, and that needs to change so that it can benefit all of its users.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More