Friday, 19 August 2016

US Only

This is the Microsoft Store at the Westfield Center off Market Street in San Francisco. I stopped by and bought a small Windows tablet on special offer for $79.

I was on holiday. The offer was pretty good. There were software vouchers in the deal and a year of Office 365. So it was all good.

The experience was excellent and the staff were great. However when I buy a PC or tablet in the UK I go to a general PC store. They are what they are. In the back the store sells TVs, the staff are paid commission, they know very little about what they are selling but that's not their fault. Retail has moved on for the US PC buyer but for most of the world only Apple retail stores are a presence. Microsoft is US only. They do have some Canadian outlets and one in Australia but it's really US only.

The most important downside to this is the 'signature PC'. All the PCs sold in a Microsoft retail store are crapware free. They are just a pure Windows experience. Buy from regular retail and you get a PC bloated by unwanted special offers, advertising, "enhanced experiences", and sometimes even malware.

The global PC buying experience is dire and customers want something better. However Microsoft fails as a global company by being US Only.

However it's not just Microsoft. Want to use Google Voice in the UK? That would be US only. How about Project Fi? Not available in my region.

What about Cortana for Android? US Only too. You can sideload from an APK site but it's locked for US regional settings.

Bing Rewards? No. That's US only too. I get emails telling me I have rewards waiting. You just can't get them outside the USA.

There is also this advert from Microsoft. Years behind Apple and Google with NFC mobile payments we have these young people tapping to pay. However it's US only.

After 4 years of announcing Tap to Pay on Windowsphone in 2012 it is now available in the US market that has the worst take-up of Windowsphone globally. All Nokia phones, except for the extreme low budget models, were NFC ready globally. Microsoft, with it's head in the US market that was still swiping magnetic strips, was unable to launch in countries that have supported this for years. I have never seen so many Windowsphones used by Microsoft in any advert for a long time. It makes me think they used every Windowsphone in the US to make the ad.

If you are not in the USA it's worth a giggle looking at the insular approach of the US tech giants. However this does have a dramatic effect. The top selling mobile devices are designed and built in the far east. Cambridge based ARM in the UK, not Intel, is now at the centre of the mobile chip market because it was not UK only.

US only is not a mark of exclusivity but rather the failure of a global technology vision for US giants with the sole exception of Apple.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Windows 10 Anniversary Update Key Feature

Unless you are a lover of Linux and Bash the key feature of Windows 10 Anniversary Edition is the browser.

Windows 10 retired Internet Explorer last year on release and created 'Edge'. Created to compete with Chrome from Google. Almost no one really spotted Edge because it wasn't ready for prime time. However it does render text very well and copes with the high dpi screens that people get with the current generation of laptops.

The missing piece was extensions. The addons that give power to the modern browser. The anniversary update added extensions so now people are using Edge.

My own browser extension I use every day is 'LastPass' the password manager.

Adblockers have also arrived as extensions. So Edge is probably the feature people are most likely to use in Windows 10 now.

I use Chrome a lot but extensions means that I am giving Edge a try. You can find out more about Edge here; Edge

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Windows 10 Anniversary Update and the end of free upgrades

On 29th July 2016 we will be one year on from the launch of Windows 10. It's the last day of  free upgrades to the OS. After this, in the US,Windows 10 will be $120 to upgrade.

A short time ago Microsoft announced that 350 million devices had Windows 10. The Windows 10 core now being on PCs, tablets, xbox one, hololens, and Windowsphone. The calculation of Windows deployment has also changed. When licenses were sold this was counted as a copy. Now it's the number of actual PCs seen by Microsoft. So the numbers should be the most accurate ever.

On 2nd August 2016 the anniversary update will happen. In this new world of product development Windows is now never finished and is on a continuous update cycle.

In the past we had an RTM version. RTM was "release to manufacturing" and literally the moment a gold CD or DVD was created with THE finished version of Windows. This concept is no more.

Windows Insiders, who receive the latest updates, have received multiple updates this year. Insiders switch on the reception of pre-release builds. These can be the "production ring", "slow ring" and "fast ring". The faster the ring the more of a test version. I actually have a spare cheap laptop for the test builds and I never put them on my daily computer for reliability reasons. You would not want to brick your daily laptop and have to reinstall Windows suddenly so the "fast ring" is really only for the adventurous.

This year really does mark the change of Windows to this continuous update cycle. Microsoft is often looked at as not as revolutionary as Apple. Continuous updates and taking business to the cloud is every bit as revolutionary as Apple. Its not just as visible as an Apple keynote speech.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Nadella Pivots

Microsoft purchase the Linkedin social network this week for $26 billion. A lot of money by anyone’s calculation. Previous misses in this space have included  Microsoft’s offer, under CEO Steve Ballmer, for Yahoo! at $40 billion. Yahoo turned it down because they thought they were worth more. Actually it looks like they were worth less!

Ballmer also purchased Skype for $8 billion and Nokia for $7.2 billion. At best you can say Skype is stagnating unable to really become the default messaging tool facing competition from iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and the like. Nokia was bought to try and prevent the complete collapse of Windowsphone but ultimately the entire investment has been written off.

With LinkedIn what is the strategy here?

I think the actual answer is Satya Nadella the new CEO. Ballmer was the sales guy. Nadella is the guy from engineering and servers. Nadella sees the world from a business perspective. Nadella is focussed on the the enterprise and cloud side of Microsoft. Microsoft is moving it services to the cloud and selling them to enterprise. On premises server and software products will still exist but are complementary to the move to the cloud.

LinkedIn is a business social network. Offering services like Office 365 and Microsoft’s CRM directly to the businesses using LinkedIn makes sense. Putting together Microsoft’s services with LinkedIn Premium subscriptions could create a social network of enterprise customers globally.

Nadella’s big buy seems to be moving the vision of Microsoft from consumer client based operating systems to accessing business services provided by Microsoft.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Microsoft are a midwife at Nokia Rebirth

A peculiar press release appeared on Nokia’s website this week. It said that Nokia were re-joining the mobile phone device market again. However not with the Windowsphone platform but Android. You can read the detail here; Hello again

The wording is a little more careful saying the “Nokia brand” is returning. So what has happened at Microsoft?

In short two years ago Nokia had 97% of the Windowsphone sales but, despite making nice devices, it wasn’t making money. So it was slowly going bankrupt. This wasn’t new. When Stephen Elop, the former Microsoft executive, came to Nokia as CEO he cancelled the development of Nokia’s own smartphone OS called Symbian and went all in on Windows. His reasoning was that there was no distinctiveness in Android. This latter comment was also true because most Android phone makers are also not making much money.

As Nokia headed downhill if they suddenly went under then Microsoft would have almost no-one making Windowsphone. So CEO Steve Ballmer spent $7.2 billion to rescue Nokia’s phone business. Ballmer himself was on his way out and left what was left to the new CEO Satya Nadella. It is reported that Nadella was against the purchase but that’s what he got.

In fairness to Nokia Microsoft had never capitalised on the assets in the Nokia brand. Nokia had global feature phone business, recognition in many markets and in some areas such as Europe and South America sales were in double digits. Nokia had even pioneered putting NFC in phones for mobile payments. Only in the USA was the brand an unknown.

Microsoft didn’t do much. It produced a series of lacklustre low powered value smartphones for the developing world. It did little to progress Nokia’s brand and the lead Nokia had in mobile photography. So in July 2015 a new strategy was born. Three markets were going to get phones; enthusiasts (premium), business and value. These translated into the Lumia 950XL, 950, 650 and 550. They also wrote down the purchase of Nokia as and spent billions more on severance.

Microsoft were now depending on Windows 10 Mobile and the Universal Windows Program to help. The latter being apps that ran across all Windows 10 devices. The reality was that by October 2015 the OS was not ready and there were few apps. The main apps have always been there but the stop start ecosystem and chaotic Windows Store has never fired up developers.

At the beginning of 2016 Microsoft said no more Lumia phones for 2016. Two weeks ago they sold the feature phone business to Foxconn in China and last week they sold the remains of the mobile business, including the Nokia employees, to a company in Finland called HMD. HMD have the right to brand mobile devices “Nokia” and will be creating new Android based Nokia phones. In practice after buying Nokia mobile for $7.2 billion Microsoft have sold what was left for $350 million. They do keep some patents and technology but nothing else.

In the background there is a rumour that Microsoft may produce a “Surface” branded phone in 2017. Surface is their premium laptop/tablet product that up until now has been their reference design to encourage partners. They say that Windows 10 Mobile will continue and be available to partners for their devices and existing devices will be supported. They also say that Microsoft will focus on business phones and Continuum.

From the perspective of most consumers Microsoft is out of the mobile business. Microsoft “experiences” will be via apps on either IOS or Android devices.

My personal view is that I still have a Windowsphone. It was fast, responsive, the design was not based on endless grids of icons but on what made the phone a personal information tool. Unfortunately a number of self-inflicted damaging decisions and a world that made IOS and Android the only game in retail crippled Microsoft’s worthy effort.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Flight Tracking

One of the promises of Windows 10 is to become more personal. The tool that is most obvious in this vision is Cortana- your digital personal assistant.

One feature of Cortana is tracking aircraft flights and keeping you informed. Your flight booking arrives by email and Cortana keeps you informed.

However Cortana is still a work in progress. So much so that it has never successfully tracked any flight I have ever taken. That’s right - 100% failure.

Meanwhile since I have side loaded Cortana on an Android device I can do a comparison with Google Now. By complete contrast Google Now seems to know al my travel plans, buses, work location, traffic conditions, metro delays and flights.

This is much more than technology though. Google has a reputation of delivering loads of a free stuff to consumers that is useful. Microsoft, on the other hand, if you read the bloggersphere is this rapacious company that spies on customers and sends their data back to it’s corporate servers. Yet the two key ‘AI’ apps that are supposed to reflect the knowledge Google and Microsoft have about their customers seem to react wrongly. You would expect Cortana to just know everything if Microsoft was really trawling personal information the way bloggers think then Cortana should be way better than it is.

Instead Google knows it all. Could it be that the deep integration of Google apps and Google’s never ending quest to know you enough to serve relevant ads is more intrusive? Could it be that Microsoft’s claim that it sandboxes your personal information is true and the data it collects is really anonymous?

If you investigate you find that Cortana needs to read an email in the format described by In other words it doesn’t go through the email itself but reads the meta data defined by the format. Your airline needs to support this or maybe Expedia or whoever you use for bookings.

Google just reads your stuff to serve you ads.

The bottom line is that Microsoft have the reputation for trashing privacy but if you judge via the Cortana personal assistant then the reputation is mis-placed.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Is Yahoo still a thing?

Today I ended up finding Yahoo again. I cant remember when I last used Yahoo search. I vaguely remember using Yahoo email. I had forgotten it was even there.

The reason why I had to use it is because my wife’s email account wasn’t syncing on her mobile. She got her email address more than a decade ago. Many people only have Yahoo today because they have an email address that has been with them so long they can’t be bothered to switched or is linked to services they care about, It’s using Yahoo out of inertia rather than desire. On the bus the other day people were talking about getting some information on the Internet and they used the word phrase “Google it” rather than “search for it”.

Yahoo started as a directory with search and it is now a “portal”. This means a directory with search. A lot of the “news” on Yahoo is spamvertising. Advertising of get rich quick schemes, celebrity gossip leading to get rich schemes or links to fake news about diet pills. So called clickbait. There is almost nothing of actual relevance. Nothing you would want to visit for.

Not too long ago Microsoft offered Yahoo about $40 billion to buy the company. Yahoo’s founders declined, Microsoft built Bing instead. As it happens Bing is the back end search tool for Cortana personal assistant in Windows 10 now.

Yahoo isn’t bad, evil or anything else. There is almost no press on it because almost no one has a use for it anymore. I would like it to be useful. Flickr was always a pretty good photo sharing site but in the mobile world Instagram is a thing.

Apart from legacy email accounts we get back to the question of whether Yahoo is a thing. The answer is – probably not any more. I guess it will become a generational matter. If you connected to the Internet in the 1990s you will remember Yahoo with a touch of nostalgia whereas everyone under 30 will ask – what is Yahoo?