Sunday, 19 May 2019




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. 

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Microsoft goes wholesale



In a private press briefing this week Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella admitted that the Cortana AI was not really winning the personal assistant battle. It wasn’t even in second place. At launch, it was ahead of the competition but a failed mobile platform, stagnation in features and a limited global roll out have left the door for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to rule. The Windows 10 update expected in March 2019 is likely to de-couple Cortana from search and potentially allow other personal assistants to live in Windows as equals.

The story of Cortana matches other failed Microsoft consumer technologies;

Zune music player – Never released globally.

Groove music – a service that was called Zune, Xbox Music and then Groove. Never released fully globally and never had a family plan to encourage the use.

WindowsPhone – Killed via constant reboots of the operating system and no consistent app ecosystem.

Band – the fitness band that was always being repaired by its owners. Never released outside the USA.

Windows RT tablets – took at $900 million write down. Discontinued.

For the first 30 years of its life, Microsoft wanted to offer products and services to everyone. Apple envy was felt as the iPod and iPhone were greeted with religious enthusiasm but Microsoft products were not regarded as cool and bombed. However, both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, were CEOs that tried to keep Microsoft in every market. They were in the enterprise, small business and at home. They were “retail” CEOs wanting to sell to all.

When Satya Nadella became CEO the world changed at Microsoft. One aspect of this was what markets Microsoft would cease to address. Nadella quickly decided to kill WindowsPhone and gradually removed consumer services that were not making the profits he expected. The share price soared. One of the few pure consumer services left is the Xbox. Nadella published a book with the title “Hit Refresh” in which he discusses the change in culture in more depth.

The main thing I can see is the Microsoft is ending things it believes it’s competitors do better, partner with more people and seek to sell its services rather than things. Microsoft is now a wholesale business rather than a retail business. Consumers will see less of Microsoft and businesses will run on Microsoft services.

This is incredibly frustrating for tech enthusiasts that follow Microsoft. There is little to get excited about. This is the new normal for Microsoft. They will have premium laptops and devices under the Surface brand. They will have Xbox and games. What they won’t have is the broad consumer portfolio of products consumers bought a few years ago. It’s Microsoft going wholesale and letting other people make a consumer offer.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Digital Nomads



Technology has changed the way we travel and see the world. For some people, the intersection of travel and technology has actually created lifestyle choices in which permanent residence almost anywhere is no longer a factor in life.

Over recent years I have noticed a lot more activity promoting a nomadic life travelling. People working and travelling at the same time.  The existence of ultra-portable laptops (ultrabooks), mobile devices and service based applications.

With a "carry on" backpack, you can store a camera, laptop and pretty much all you need to work anywhere.  AirBnB seems to be the "hotel" of choice for the digital nomad. Sorelle Amore is an Australian YouTuber who promotes the nomadic lifestyle. There are videos of how to live out of a suitcase, how to find cheap flights, how to find cheap places to stay. In a world where us ordinary people are stuck on commuter trains, traffic jams and are paying mortgages or rent the global travel lifestyle seems a big contrast.

Other travel and lifestyle vloggers are all across Youtube too. Sorelle is not unique.

However, although anyone can become a mobile worker, the idealised opportunities for making money out of photography in Bali are not a mass industry. I am a little cynical about the real-life possibility of nomadic working being a mass movement or available to all. Questions like how you earn money are left hanging. You sometimes wonder if you are watching a pyramid marketing scheme where viewing the nomadic lifestyle on YouTube generates the advertising revenue which generates more clickbait videos to generate money. What is clear is that technology is constantly re-inventing work and how we define it.

So as we see Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon and the like generating uncertain work for people who want certainty, regular wages and a set career path we also see digital nomads seeking alternative insecure lifestyles. Technology creating new Victorian conditions where vast warehouses have workers monitored by artificially intelligent apps. Drivers controlled by requests on their mobile phone. However, for a self-selecting few, an international free-wheeling aspirational lifestyle of constant holiday and choice. The contrast is stark and is two worlds created by technology.


Thursday, 1 November 2018

IoT

Nest
As a technology consumer it was always tough to get my head around the Internet Of Things. I have never really seen the point of wifi lightbulbs, self-drawing curtains or an internet fridge. However, I recently took an IOT step.

For consumers the idea is simple. You start connecting stuff in your home to the Internet. To the world of AI, machine learning and potentially some benefit managing your home.

For me all this happened by accident. My old Honeywell combi boiler controller just stopped displaying properly from time to time. It was a wireless thermostat that required programming and adjusting periodically. It was pretty good 11 years ago when it was fitted but was getting old.

To replace this old technology would cost about £130. To get a new thermostat that connected to the Internet about £200. However, the latter option did include "learning" about me and having an idea about the outside temperature.

I chose a learning thermostat from Nest. The pack you buy includes a connector for your boiler. You need a professional installer to help with this. My gas fitter was left alone for 30 minutes and got it done.  There are basically two wireless connections running. One is from the boiler controller "heatlink" to your thermostat and the other is the wifi link from your thermostat to your wifi router.

You can program a schedule of on and off via the website and via an app on your phone. You tell the device what temperature you want, where it is located, what times you want it to work. Off it goes.

So far it keeps track of how long your heating works for. It keeps track of the outside temperature via the Internet. It also is quite easy to adjust. The termostat can also work with voice assistants like the Amazon Alexa device and the Google Assistant.

My first realisation that this was different was waking up early, leaning over the bed, picking up my phone and switching on the heating with an app. When I actually got out of bed it was warm.

This is very much a "first world" technology problem. My main hope is that the new device will control the efficiency of my home heating to save money and maybe even reduce my impact on the planet's resources through controlling my gas consumption.

One obvious issue is that every Internet connected device can be hacked. I am not sure if a smart thermostat is significant target. People could just have a laugh by increasing the heat or switching it off. I haven't yet investigated whether it can be controlled enough to allow access to other device. Its a concern.

So far so good. I think over time the "smart thermostat" will just become the thermostat everyone has. For now it's a bit of a novelty and something I am watching closely.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

HTTPS




I have switched on https proper on these minor pages in a remote part of the Internet. Google will love me for it. Secure your site with HTTPS is the title of their advice. Not only is it good advice the Google search algorithm now pushes your site up the queue if you use https.

Configuring the site to use https was easy here. I host the domain on Google itself so it just works. If you have your own small website you may have looked at using secure certificates. However, they normally cost money. If you just run a site for a club or yourself spending £60 a year for a certificate is more than you really want to spend.

The answer I have found is free ssl certificates. The site sslforfree.com will give you an ssl certificate for free if you can prove you own the site. An easy way is just to put a TXT record in your DNS that sslforfree.com recognises. The only downside I can see is that you need to renew the cert every three months. Not a problem for the amateur blogger.

Secure sites mean that people get end to end encryption, more privacy when they browse and Google gives you a higher ranking. SSL has been around for a while but now everyone can afford to encrypt.



Saturday, 4 August 2018

Messages

One of the ways many people use their mobile phones is text messaging. Apple “disguise” the differences between text messages and instant messages, that use the data network, is through their iMessage that uses either depending on your connection. However, text messaging has still some way to go yet.


If you use and Android phone then you are firmly in the Google messaging camp and iMessage doesn’t exist. One trick for android users is to get away from just using their phone keyboard when creating a text. You can go to Messages for Android located at; https://messages.android.com/ .


A number of people have done short YouTube videos to demonstrate how to do this. Search for “messages for web” on YouTube.



You need to be using the Google messages app for your texts. You also need to have a wifi connection connected to the phone and PC. After this go to the website and, from the messages app, click on the thrTee dots on the top right corner as if you changing settings. Then select “Messages for Web” to connect the website to your phone.


That’s it. You can now text from your PC!