Sunday, 2 August 2020
Saturday, 25 July 2020
Sunday, 28 June 2020
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
Wednesday, 24 June 2020
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
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.