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.
Monday, 25 May 2020
Sunday, 17 May 2020
|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
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.
Saturday, 25 April 2020
Sunday, 22 March 2020
Saturday, 15 February 2020
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