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.

iPhone SE 2020 is a game changer

The iPhone SE 2020 costs $399 in the USA. This is the same price as the older SE launched a few years back to deal with iPhone users who loved the screen size of the iPhone 4 and just kept their device until it died. They then went to eBay and replaced it with the same device.

Apple have spent recent years raising the price of the latest iPhone. If you pay cash then $999 is the price of the latest iPhone. Add some more storage and it zooms past $1000. 

The $399 iPhone launched in April 2020 has the latest processor, a decent camera, runs the latest software, has a smaller screen and uses the body of an iPhone 8. A design recycle rather than a refresh.

However, at this price it is now in the space that mid-range Android phone makers occupy. There are premium Android phones at more than $1000. They have been competing with iPhone. However, in the mid-range lower price market a lot of manufacturers have been making money well away from Apple.

The $399 iPhone is something that people that thought it was a too expensive brand can now consider. The iPhone SE 2020 is at a price that should change the market for lower priced Android devices even more dramatically in the coming months.

Mr Mobile Review of the iPhone SE 2020.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Lockdown Video

This month the UK, along with half the planet, has been in lockdown due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Technology is allowing people to communicate much more freely despite this. We have seen the UK Parliament recently go into virtual sessions as just one example.

We are allowed to leave home to shop for essentials, medical needs, and for exercise. Working from home, for many people, has become mainstream. This should have been a good time for one of the instant messaging and video applications to come out on top. Apple has Facetime and iMessage. Google has Hangouts and a number of IM apps. Microsoft has Skype. Facebook has Messenger and WhatsApp. However, it seems the biggest benefit has gone to the relatively new video conferencing software Zoom.

Figures show that back in December 2019 Zoom had 10 million daily users. This has gone up to 200 million. However, it is controversial. Due to security concerns companies like Tesla have banned the use of Zoom and the UK Government cyber security specialists have recommended it only be used for public meetings and not any classified meetings. Whole countries have banned the application. Mac users have found hidden servers installed on their MacBooks and the company has been accused of using software that sends data to Facebook. If that wasn’t bad enough alarm bells rang when Canadian security investigators found Zoom sending data via China.

The principal reason for Zoom’s success seems to be that it is has been easy for people to use. The principal reason for concern seems to be that the ease of use has been created with lax security.
If you are concerned about privacy the message seems to be that you should look at these products very carefully before doing video conferencing.

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