Sunday, 22 March 2020

My struggle with mobile

From 2010 to 2018 WindowsPhone was my chosen mobile device. I mostly used Nokia devices. If you have a PC and you were working for the IT industry then most of the client side is based on Windows as well as the server side. Microsoft had committed to their software working best on Windows so WindowsPhone was a reasonable choice. 

However, in a Twitter post a senior Microsoft executive said WindowsPhone was over. Support continued until December 2019 but Microsoft recommended people moved to IOS (Apple) or Andoid (Google) devices. A big blow to those of us who really found the WindowsPhone environment to be the best mobile environment.

I gave up my WindowsPhone permanently in 2018. I sold my remaining device on Ebay. For the previous year support from services on the device had been ebbing away slowly and Microsoft had withdrawn functionality. I tried a number of Android devices. Samsung, LG, and then the new Nokia devices. Currently I am on an iPhone 8 Plus. 

My concerns with leaving the Microsoft environment were several. The first is data privacy. No tech firm entirely segregates your data from others. Apart for the obvious factors like location data each company sells advertising. Primarily your personal data. Microsoft’s main customer base is business so they spend a lot of time on data privacy, compliance, protection and the like. 

Google seems to have the weakest data privacy stance. If you give data to Google it will sell it to someone. Apple is a lot better. So just from a perspective of trust in data handling I feel better with Apple. 

The devices available for both Android and Apple all provide are a grid of icons. The apps are similar although Apple’s apps seem more polished. The problem with the Android world is manufacturer customisation. Samsung is possibly the worst but LG is close. They have apps that they make that can’t be removed. Samsung duplicate Google apps for the sake of a corporate strategy of trying not to rely on Google and almost avoiding mention of them. 

Another problem of the Android world is updates. Security of Android is a problem. If every manufacturer can customise Android they can also leave the OS open to security issues. In the case of Chinese manufacturers there is the ongoing suspicion of Chinese Government monitoring. It’s a world in which users seem to have make decisions on devices not just on colour and features. 

I have been using Apple’s IOS for about 6 months. I have another phone, a Nokia 8.1, in a box. I don’t really work inside the Apple ecosystem of services so having an iPhone is a bit odd. 

There is a certain pressure to move back to Android. Microsoft has put all it’s services on Android, the Microsoft Launcher customises Android to be a “Microsoft Phone”. In a turnaround it seems that Google has created a mobile operating system for Microsoft to customise  whereas Apple’s closed and locked down environment provides a lot less.

I haven’t settled. I would still be using WindowsPhone if it still existed. I am keeping the iPhone for now but I think the draw of Microsoft services and PC integration will take me back to Android.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Windows Lite is now Windows 10X

Last year I wrote about Windows Lite. That never was a real name or at least I hoped it wouldn't be. However, now we have the first look at what it may be and the name is Windows 10x.

Back in 2015 Microsoft announced that Windows 10 was the "last version of Windows". True, if you mean there won't be something called Windows 11. There wont! What Microsoft has settled into is a series of updates that happen twice a year in spring and autumn. The older schedule of monthly security updates also applies. That is Windows we already know about.

However, for a long time Microsoft has wanted to modernise Windows. By modern we mean a more mobile style OS. The sort of operating environment that links to Microsoft's cloud services, is a lot less complex for daily tasks, is secure and updates like a phone.

They have tried. Windows 8 was a touch friendly move to get rid of old Windows. However, the PCs were not ready for such a radical change. Business users, who make the most money for Microsoft, were not ready for the move. So they staged a retreat. Similarly Windows RT, using ARM processors, looked like Windows but couldn't run traditional Windows applications and Windows 10 S ran only applications you could download from Microsoft's online store.

Each attempt had positive aspects but all failed because Microsoft were trying to marry the experience most people get on their mobile device with the requirement to run full screen applications like Word, Photoshop or Excel.  Trying to get both things working proved to be a long road.

What they have come up with is firstly reducing Windows to it's core components. This is Windows Core OS (WCOS). This is designed to provide the fundamental things and operating system can do. On top of this is container technology. A container is a space where an application can run on it's own. The container has the application but also, and crucially, the parts of the operating system that make it run. Types of containers include traditional Windows applications, new web style applications and Universal Windows Applications (UWP). This latter category was the type of application that WindowsPhone was championing.

Windows 10X will first launch on dual screen devices. You won't see it on a PC near you soon. However, it might become the modern Windows that allows Microsoft to transition from the the PC world of the 1990s, where Windows started, to the lighter mobile applications and services environment of the 2020s.

Microsoft Blog Introducing Windows 10X

Friday, 4 October 2019

Surface Phone

Microsoft ran a Surface Event in New York City recently. Much to the surprise of many people they announced a new phone was coming in 2020. It is called the Surface Duo, not the tempting "Surface Phone" that almost everyone will write about.

Surface is a brand within the Microsoft ecosystem. It primarily targets business users with premium PCs and related hardware. It tends to use new device types. Devices that show how Microsoft believe hardware should be to take forward the ecosystem based on it's Windows operating system. It needs to carefully not be seen to directly compete with it's hardware partners. However, what it can do is stir their partners to make different device types by showcasing new designs under the Surface brand. You won't buy a Surface device as a budget item.

The big surprise for the event was that Microsoft would release a dual screen device running the Android operating system in late 2020. This device would be a phone.

Windowsphones running Windows 10 Mobile will end support in December 2019. Microsoft has decided if it wants to produce a phone then the phone must have the applications people expect. As a result it needs to be Android. There are plenty of good Android devices available so, in the spirit of the Surface mission, it needs to have a new form factor that is not being out out by other manufacturers. Therefore it is a dual screen Surface device running Android.

The new Microsoft. Going with what works.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Exprience Economy with Apple

Apple are all about experiences. In particular they have retail stores that deliver an experience. The selling of Apple products is all about aspiration to premium quality devices. Like perfume or up market clothes the Apple brand is defined by how you feel about Apple.

The other side of this is free stuff. Yes, you can get free stuff from Apple. If you do have a retail store nearby you can sign up to an hour’s training with Apple staff. They do short events about music, using Apple products, photo editing, video editing and mixing music. Of course, it uses Apple products. Whether this be Mac, iPhone, iPad and the rest. However, there is no pressure to buy things. This is soft selling.

I signed up to improve my smartphone photography. I use an Android device but I do have an iPad at home. I booked online for one hour of street photography.

When I arrived at the store I was asked whether I had brought an iPhone with me. I hadn’t. So I was offered the choice of different loan devices. Another person had booked in but was a no show. I ended up having a solo session with an Apple Creative. He explained the groups can be up to 20 people. It was raining so I guess the other person was put off by the weather.

The session covered photographic composition, which could apply to any phone, and some specific iPhone features. I expected the latter because it was a very soft sales technique.
It is possible to try an iphone in the store but for a real world test, this is the way to do it. Spend a training session and borrow the device you are thinking of buying.

I don’t have money to buy an iphone today. Nevertheless I must confess that if you are selling a phone costing hundreds of pounds the experience shop seems a good tactic to bring out warm feelings about your brand.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

What is Windows Lite?

Windows is a dinosaur but in a good way. In technology terms it's decades old. It's a mature operating system designed to run every kind of application for every kind of user. Up to an estimated 1.5 billion people use Windows. 

In its code it can support applications created 20 years ago. It is filled with operating system functions for long dead file systems because somewhere on the planet someone may be using them. It is filled with proprietary code that makes Microsoft software work together and, when 90% of PCs used Windows and 90% of people used PCs as their primary computing device, this was fine.

However, in 2019 that isn’t true. Many people have a PC in their pocket called a mobile phone. They pick up a laptop when they need a real keyboard to type an essay or create some kind of official letter. Professionals still use Windows for editing video, autocad or the like. Businesses still use Windows PCs. There are specialist gaming PCs. Most normal users are now practised with the “app” model of mobile devices and services delivered from the cloud. People are no longer storing huge numbers of MP3 files on a PC.
All of this means that PCs are now around 30% of the computing market. The rest of the market is something else.

Windows isn’t going away soon but there is now a lot of talk about “Windows Lite”. It probably won’t be called Windows Lite but something else. Microsoft want to create some kind of computer operating system that people will be more like the instant on continual update system of mobile. There are a lot of ideas floating around; it will be like a Chromebook, it will be able to run virtual sessions of “old windows” to run older software, it will be tied to your Microsoft account and so on.

What Microsoft have talked about is a modern experience. Microsoft have tried this before. Windows RT was developed for ARM processors. It looked like Windows but only ran specially developed applications. So it wasn’t really Windows. It didn’t do well. Windows 10 S was Windows that could only run Universal Windows Applications (UWP) from the Windows app store. It turns out people didn’t like that either and converted “S” to a full version of Windows via a free upgrade. Windows 10 S then became Windows 10 in S mode. The re branding didn’t work any better.

The modern OS, Windows Lite or whatever it may be called, will be the third attempt Microsoft are making to move customers from Windows as their primary client operating system. Microsoft now makes most of it’s money from cloud services, business and Office software. Windows is less important. Catching the next operating system wave is what they want to do. 

Windows Central on What is Windows Lite going to be
My first take on a new Windows

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Hp Stream 7

In 2015 I was on holiday in San Francisco. It was a place I wanted to go for a while. I was in the shopping centre and saw a Microsoft store. There are no retail stores in Britain. Although, a flagship London store is said to be planned. So I went in with a casual view of just looking around. On sale was a 7 inch Windows tablet by HP – the HP Stream 7.

Windows Tablet computers are nowhere in the market. Android Tablets exist but the clear winner is Apple. The ipad is the tablet of choice. However, this device was $79 and it came with a free Office 365 subscription and $20 credit in the Microsoft Windows Store. As a Windowsphone user that credit could come in pretty handy! The dollar was at $1.55 to the pound as it was “pre-Brexit” so basically this was a discounted Office 365 subscription with a tablet for free.

I went ahead an bought it. The slow Intel Atom processor has just 32gb of storage and ran the least popular version of Windows – Windows 8.1. However, being a technology enthusiast means sometimes you just try things out.

Fast forward to 2019. Could this device really run Windows 10? It was gathering dust but it was a decent size to tweet from while in my front room. You can also run the Netflix app. So why not see.
Being a Windows tablet means it’s not separate design from a PC. You can put a keyboard and mouse on it. If you go to the Microsoft website you can download the media creation tool and create a bootable Windows 10 32-bit USB that will upgrade Windows on the device.

What you need at this point is an “on the go” adaptor for the tablet, a USB hub, a keyboard and mouse. I went into the BIOS and switched off the UEFI BIOS and the security. You can then boot the device from the recovery USB and do a completely fresh install. The screen is below 10 inches so my understanding was that Windows 10 will just work and activate. This seemed to be the case.

The installation was smooth. It installed just like a normal PC. Post-install tasks included downloading the touch drivers from the HP website for Windows 8.1. They worked. The Windows key on the front of the keyboard doesn’t. You can just use touch gestures to swipe in for the bottom menu.

I did the update on an HP Stream 7 and an HP Stream 8. Nice to put some life back into some really low-cost Windows tablets.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Microsoft is less interesting.

It’s true. In the world of technology Microsoft is less interesting. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, founded the Boring Company to dig holes and build hyperloop transport. He called it the Boring Company. Both a pun on digging through rocks and, in one sense, the idea that utilities just work.
Microsoft is doing the same thing. It has become boring. It has a cloud-based service business that everyone can yawn at. It has Windows, a thirty-year-old operating system that has been there forever, and Office. If you are under 24 none of this makes the world light up because these are utilities. It has all the excitement of switching on a light bulb. Sharing a video of getting to a concert with mates, photographs of a skiing weekend or a day on the beach are all interesting. The tech that you have with you is your mobile phone.

This week Microsoft made it more irrelevant to millennials. Another consumer service, it’s ebook store, closed. Granted vast number of people didn’t know Microsoft did books. People didn’t know Microsoft had a music service and their mobile phones never broke through to mainstream acceptance. However, this followed closely on the announcement that the health service apps that supported it’s fitness band were closing down. All of this is the story of decline from Microsoft being everywhere as a visible presence to it being like switching on a light bulb or turning on a tap.

The last real service for the average consumer is movies and tv. This is really an Xbox only service for people who have the Xbox connected to their TV and don’t have access to services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Back in 2013 the Xbox One was supposed to be a home entertainment hub. That idea quickly disappeared when they managed to alienate the game players and people who wanted cheap content streaming in equal measure.

So the ebooks store is gone. Microsoft are making more money than ever by ignoring consumers. The modern tech blogger or YouTube video maker rarely covers Microsoft anyway. Microsoft, a technology company so interesting no one really bothers talking about it anymore.