Sunday, 28 June 2020

Mixer and Microsoft Retail Stores Closing

Microsoft Retail Store

Last week Microsoft announced that it was closing its retail store presence and Mixer, it’s game stream service. The timing is probably related to the end of the Microsoft financial year on 30th June 2020 more than any deep sense of timing.

Both of these closures are heavily focussed in the consumer market. Retail stores are normally for people to buy products and Mixer was acquired to provide a service for gamers. Microsoft has spent recent years focussing on cloud based business services rather than everyday consumers so these areas of its business were outliers.

Retail stores were primarily in the USA with just a small number at “flagship locations”. Most notably London, which opened in 2019. The flagship locations are going to continue as “experience centres”. I am assuming that this will mean no actual products are going to be sold but rather as places to get the Microsoft brand on display.

Mixer has struggled in the streaming and esports space. The market leader is Twitch, owned by Amazon, and both Google and Facebook have a presence. Microsoft spent millions on attracting high profile streamers but could not make it work.

Microsoft profits continue to soar with its business customers and, other than Xbox gaming, it has failed time and time again to create attractive consumer offers.

No good news in these announcements. 

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Apple WWDC 2020

WWDC is the Apple World Wide Developer Conference.  Apple now makes most money from the iPhone, wants the Ipad to be taken seriously as a laptop replacement and still has a tiny share of the personal computer market. 

WWDC is an annual event for people who create the software, make money from the iPhone app store and “live” in the Apple ecosystem of devices. 

Apple also want even more control of their devices. For this reason they have decided to accelerate the impact of making their own chips for devices. In the next two years Apple will move the Mac from Intel chips to ARM based chips that they design. 

On the other hand the iPhone will get the ability to actually customise more of the experience bringing “widgets” and allowing users to set a default browser and mail application. Not revolutionary but annoyances for iPhone users. 

Apple always announce these things as “world changing”. Mostly it’s catch-up. Android has allowed many more configuration options for years and is more a fundamental part of the operating system than just a feature. Microsoft has been dabbling with ARM chips in PCs since 2012 with limited success. Microsoft always felt constrained by their huge customer base depending on Intel compatibility. Apple have never felt constrained to just flip to a new paradigm on their PCs but announce their slow motion moves on mobile as a revolution. The reason for the difference is volume. Get it wrong on the Mac and it doesn’t affect too many people and the bottom line won’t be hit. Get it wrong on mobile and then you hit your largest customer base. 

The new IOS 14 comes out in the autumn. The new Macs will start arriving at the end of 2020. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Time travel in lockdown

Lockdown Metro

Time travel is becoming possible. Not literally but metaphorically. The lockdown process has accelerated technology changes that were already sitting there waiting to happen.

Working from home is the most obvious example. Before coronavirus (BC) we were in a situation that some people did work from home but it was nowhere near a majority that could. There will always be jobs that can’t be done from home but the creation of a knowledge economy has made homework possible. With a laptop, phone and website you can start a small business from your house. Call centres have had part time staff logging in from home. Some staff would work from home when they couldn’t get into the office.

The barriers to home working have rarely been technological. Some managers felt they needed to see their staff working. Some staff wanted a firewall between work life and home  so work didn’t become 24x7. There was also the social aspect of work. The simple idea that you meet people and exchange ideas. The combination of these factors has slowed adoption of working from home.

Coronavirus has turned a lot of this upside down. Companies are looking at how many people they can have in an office with social distancing. Workers are now thinking about the safety of commuting and travel with the same constraints. Technology has moved quickly to enhance video meetings and respond to the needs of home work. We are literally seeing developments that could have taken years happening in 12 weeks.


Consumers have also accelerated change. With handling of cash being a way of passing around the virus many more businesses are preferring digital payment rather than cash. Many people have wallets of cash they haven’t used for weeks. Buses are encouraging more digital ticketing. The disappearance of the wallet with cash, which has been a trend for years, has gone on overdrive over the last few weeks.

While actual time travel is still science fiction our ability to accelerate change due to the pandemic seems to have genuinely moved some aspects of life years ahead in just a few weeks.


Sunday, 7 June 2020


USB Fingerprint reader

Windows Hello is Microsoft’s answer to the problem of passwords. These days almost all smartphones allow you to unlock your device with face id or a fingerprint. All premium priced iphones have come with this for a couple of years. However going passwordless is not so common on a PC.

Some business PCs have supported logging in with a smartcard or fingerprint reader. However, security was originally quite alien to PCs. The first computers didn’t even need passwords. To get onto one the administrator had to know you and setup your account. Then as more people got access it became necessary to secure systems with passwords. PCs were not originally connected to networks and they went through a similar security transformation. A transformation accelerated by the internet.

Your user account name (username) is often public information. An email address is common. Your password is something you keep secret. These are your personal credentials. Unfortunately, people don’t easily create complex passwords that can’t be cracked. They will make it easy for themselves or use the same password on multiple systems.

To make accounts more secure there is multi-factor authentication. This is an additional step on top of a password. This can be a physical key that has to be plugged into a PC, an app on your phone or a text message with a code. All of these are being used.

Microsoft has developed Windows Hello that removes the need for a password. Windows Hello is a biometric identification process. A PC camera that meets the Windows Hello standard can be used or some other biometric element. One of the first devices to use Windows Hello was the Microsoft Lumia 950 smartphone. Most Microsoft Surface devices now support Windows Hello.

The cheapest way of getting your own PC to work with Windows Hello is with a USB fingerprint reader. This upgrade brings passwordless biometric id to your PC. As a driverless device you just plug it in and setup Windows Hello in settings. Once done you don’t have to type in a password.

I have been using this for a couple of days. It’s not revolutionary but it is convenient. For the price it’s a good PC upgrade.

Link to buy a USB Windows Hello FingerPrint Reader

Monday, 25 May 2020

WSL 2.0 - Windows Evolving

WSL 2.0 is the Windows Subsystem for Linux version 2.0. This release will come as part of the Windows 10 update for the first half of 2020. Expected to be called Windows 10 2004. The naming convention has been year and month for sometime with the 04 being April. As it is now May the actual name was a little optimistic but last minute fixes sometimes do this in the Microsoft world. 

The new WSL 2.0 brings a Microsoft built Linux kernel to Windows and, later this year, the ability to run Linux graphical applications in Windows. We are now approaching a world where desktop Linux may mean running Windows! 

Many of Microsoft’s open source critics are still living the world of Microsoft from 20 years ago. Former CEO Steve Balmer described Linux as “a cancer”. He meant that Microsoft made its money from software and giving it away undermines their business model.

However, things have changed. Microsoft is moving to cloud services. The world has gone mobile and the key operating systems are no longer based only on Windows. Developers have turned towards open source and re-usable code. Microsoft Azure hosts Linux as well as Windows. 

Microsoft would like developers to choose Windows PCs. So Microsoft bought GitHub, the developers choice of repository of source code. Now they have added a Linux subsystem within Windows to play well with web software development. The new Edge browser is part of the Chromium project. 
The latest move to WSL 2.0 is good news for developers. They can use Windows and Linux natively on one PC. New Windows apps will bring together development models of both Windows and open source. 

This won’t mean Microsoft abandoning Windows and being a Linux company. It does mean the next step in transforming Windows in a way that isn’t too scary for it’s main customer base – the enterprise. 

Sunday, 17 May 2020

The HP Stream 7 finally goes into recycling

Microsoft Store, San Francisco, 2015

Last week my HP Stream 7 ended its life. I bought it at the San Francisco Microsoft retail store back in 2015. It had Windows 8.1 and a 32-bit Intel processor. It was at the end of the short life of Windows tablets.

It didn’t bother me because the $79 price tag included Office 365 Personal for a year and $20 of Windows store credit. So the tablet was free. I used the Office activation as 9 months payment for an Office 365 Home Subscription.

I had upgraded the tablet to Windows 10. It worked quite well. The only issue was that Windows 10 changed over time and the chipset was no longer supported. I was stuck in a version of Windows 10 that would never update. So the maximum upgrade was to an 18 month old version of Windows 10.

The other problem was space. The tablet had 32gb and with temporary files the upgrade process it would frequently get down to zero. No space left.

These devices were underpowered in 2015. It has less space than my smartphone.

So it has gone to recycling. A low cost way of having a Windows tablet. It illustrated why Windows tablets ultimately failed as standalone devices. They have now been re-born as PCs with detachable screens in the more expensive Surface brand. I was happy with the purchase. It was a cheap way of buying an Office 365 subscription.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

WeChat is the route to Facebook Bank

Facebook wants a stake in the world financial system. It has 2 billion users and wants to be a bank.

Despite global concerns over Facebook's role in destabilising democracy through facilitating fake news, lies, misleading claims and pumping out unchecked ads it wants to be your bank.

Last year it announced plans for Libra, a cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies are digital currencies that allow fast transfer of value. Typically they are based on a blockchain to record ownership of value. The blockchain being a giant global spreadsheet documenting digital transfers. It works similarly to banks keeping a digital record of how much money is in your account. However, the blockchain is designed to be an unalterable record of transactions. For more detail there are many videos on YouTube and other places. Suffice to say the idea is that Libra will be a way Facebook users will be able to pay for goods or services without involving a bank. In some parts of the world millions of people don't even have a bank account and are excluded from the sort of financial management most people in the developed world use every day.

Facebook also own WhatsApp and Instagram. So they will also be on the radar for using Libra.

Unsurprisingly the idea that 2 billion people might use Facebook instead of banks has caused the banking system some anxiety. Facebook has disrupted the news business, organising social events, messaging and much more. It could potentially have the same impact on banking.

The way this could work is the way it works in China.

In China a cashless society is in progress. Many Chinese were already unbanked with no access to credit or debit cards. The chat app WeChat, along with AliPay, are social media experiences that include payment, shopping and food delivery.

If the Chinese companies behind WeChat and AliPay actually entered western markets with the same services then China could dominate international digital transactions.

Facebook want to be a global bank and centre for shopping. The Chinese seem to already be doing it and it could come to an app near you soon.