Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Last Version of Windows

When Microsoft said that Windows 10 was the "last version of Windows" a lot of people didn't really know what that meant or were more concerned with the "free upgrade for 12 months".

Over time it is really become clear what this is all about. There simply aren't any versions any more unless you are an on-premises IT Pro.

What we are seeing is the monthly patch cycle on patch Tuesday and a couple of feature updates each year designated by year/month numbers. The first year anniversary update was 1607 was the July 2016 update - eventually released in the first few days of August 2016. The point is not to pick apart exact release schedules in the old style monolithic update every few years but rather to recognise we are in a new world. The cloud has now changed versions. You just sit there and your new feature update just piles in until your PC just stops working. Upgrades for life.

Similarly businesses that have gone to the cloud just use Office 365 and Exchange Online.

You can add Office 2016 to your local PC if you have an Office 365 subscription but it's updated monthly. If there is an Office 2018 you will get that. Its an all you can eat buffet. If your small business has an Office 365 account with email you have Exchange Online. Your OneDrive is really Sharepoint. No versions.

So the continuous updating cloud is removing versions. It's a new world for the PC user.

Monday, 27 February 2017

It's Back.

Mobile World Congress 2017 saw the return of Nokia with consumer mobile devices.



Nokia has been restricted on producing mobile phones over recent years because Microsoft bought the brand in order to save Windowsphone. The story is full of irony.

Nokia had been late to understand how much the smartphone industry changed with the iphone. Over the years it had about 50% of the mobile phone market globally and had a massive design, distribution and manufacturing base. Such a huge infrastructure meant high quality and end toend control. Unfortunately Nokia had internal battles. It's own Symbian OS was not really able to produce the new devices inspired by Apple and the mobile internet. Some of it's engineers wanted to turn to a Linux based OS called Meego.

As smartphones dominated sales and Nokia's internal decision on the OS raged a series of decently designed but confusing smartphones came out of the company. Nokia decided it need a new CEO and Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft executive, was appointed. Elop changed the primary OS to Windowsphone. Many people criticised this decision saying Android was the better choice.

Nokia costs were high and it's market share had dropped. Elop reduced staff and many technically well designed phones were produced. The difficulty was that Windowsphone was not well received. As 'apps' dominated with related services Microsoft was found to be in a distant third place.  After committing to Windowsphone Nokia found itself not selling enough product, having high costs but dominating the Windowsphone sales at 97% of all Windowsphones.

Microsoft was slow at developing apps and an ecosystem of compelling consumer services. Google services were never available. Microsoft was obsessional about the US market even though sales in places like Europe, where Nokia was strong, should have had some priority. The net result was Nokia  consumer phones was about to go under. Microsoft paid $7.2 billion to buy the business and license the name. Most of this money was subsequently written off. Financially it was a complete waste for Microsoft that, if they had spent it on developing apps and ecosystem, might have saved Windowsphone.

Nokia can now use it's name for phones again. It has no infrastructure to build phones but former Nokia engineers have formed a company called HMD Global, literally across the road, and have a license to produce Nokia phones. So ex-Nokia people are creating new phones based on Android.

Their pitch to consumers is;

1. It's a Nokia!
2. The Android will be the pure experience without crapware.
3. Security updates monthly.
4. Available at all price points - by which I suspect there will be others coming but the Nokia 3, 5 and 6 look to be in the space vacated by the Nexus 5x.

If the phones are the same hardware quality as the Windowsphones then this combination might suit people annoyed by all those manufacturers who bloat their phones with apps that are not wanted and cant be uninstalled.


Monday, 20 February 2017

835


Mobile gets really serious in 2017 with the 835. The new Qualcomm processor is likely to be seen on almost all new flagship mobile phones this year with the first outing at Mobile World Congress.

The significance is the growth of ARM as the primary design for processors on power restricted mobile devices. Rdeuced instruction set processors didn't lead the PC revolution in the 1980s because desktop PCs had big beefy power supplies, fans, and lots of space. Intel designed ever faster processors with ever larger fans to disperse heat. The problem with mobile devices is that they are not permanently attached to huge power supplies, they need to be very small and have little space to get rid of heat. This has meant performance took a second place to power.

Meanwhile Intel was unable to make viable low power chips. The Intel Atom processor was put on a number of devices but was unpopular because it felt to be under-performing.

The 835 could be the mobile processor that can also power computers. Last autumn Microsoft demonstrated Windows 10 running on an 835 powered PC. Journalists are reporting that future Microsoft Windows portable devices will be 835 powered and will run a mode that allows existing software to run on a different processor family from Intel.

Also coming up is a new Nokia phone powered by the 835 running Android, an LG phone and possibly an update to the Oneplus with the 835.

The 835 looks like it could be game changer for ARM processors as it moves to significantly more powerful mobile computing.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Powershell Doesn't Run Scripts "Out of the Box"

Most people think that Powershell is a "scripting language" but when you install the current version the first thing you notice is that you can't run scripts.

In fact you are more likely to see errors like this.

"Install.ps1 cannot be loaded because the execution of scripts is disabled on this system."

The first reaction to this could be something less polite than "Hey I thought this thing did scripts". However scripting has a history in Microsoft that makes this completely normal.

In the beginning Microsoft was a languages company. It wrote computer programming languages for operating systems. It got pushed into operating systems with the launch of the IBM PC and DOS (Disk Operating System). With this the first 'batch language' came into play. You could put a few commands into a file with the extension 'bat' and it would run. The 'autoexec.bat' ran automatically if it was present when a PC booted. The command processor 'command.com' loaded and ran the batch file.

Your 'hello world' announcement in batch would look something like this.

echo off
cls
echo "Hello World"

This was scripting 1980s style. You can still use batch today. Even Windows 10 will run a batch file.

Third parties wrote enhancements to this. One of the most well known in the 1980s was 4DOS from JP Software. You can still get a freeware copy here. I know a little about JP Software because I worked for a firm that sold their products in the UK.

Microsoft introduced two major enhancements to scripting. The first was the'cmd.exe'' command processor introduced with Windows NT. The second was VB Script, a variation on their Basic language product.

Both of these enhancements were created in a world of standalone PCs rarely connected to the outside world. Both assumed the person running the script was the PC's owner, primary user, and knew what they were doing. So they just ran. Anything with the file name ending in .bat, .cmd or .vbs would just run. These scripts ran commands that immediately made changes and, in the case of vbs, quickly were used in Microsoft Office products like Excel, Word, Powerpoint and Outlook.

Outlook was the most dangerous. You could receive an email with a vbs attached and just by clicking on it could run a massively distructive script. Microsoft added approved file extensions into Outlook so criminals just embedded their scripts in Word or Excel documents. The war was on.

On 15th January 2002 Bill Gates sent his "Trustworthy Computing" memo. Microsoft was under massive pressure from it's customers in the new connected world of the Internet that Windows was not sufficiently secure. This was true. Unlike Unix based operating systems that were built to be connected to the Internet the Microsoft world had been a world of standalone unconnected devices. Once these were attached to networks then fundamental design issues could not be dealt with by patches. Gates announced that from 2002 Microsoft's priorities would be; Security, Privacy, Reliability, and Business Integrity,

After the memo the world changed for Microsoft. Every product now had to be secure by default. Windows XP got service pack 2 and Windows Server began to be delivered with services switched off by default and ports blocked and then administrators had to switch on features.

In 2003 project monad was first revealled to developers. This project eventually became Powershell As a product devised in the new "switched off by default world" scripts dont run by default. 

To run a script you need to devise an "execution policy" to make the script secure by default.  A comandlet called Set-ExecutionPolicy is used to decide whether a script should run or not. This does not effect the command line just scripts. 

Microsoft recommend you dont set the policy to "unrestricted" but use signed scripts to protect your system. 

This is why Powershell doesn't run scripts "out of the box".

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Bots

Google Assistant, currently available on the Google Pixel phone, is the default interfaee for Google's first designed phone.

The assistant is also available from the Google Allo application for those who dont have the £650 to buy Google's latest phone.

The idea is that instead of just searching Google you have a conversation with the assistant. The conversation understands context so after asking how long is the Golden Gate Bridge you can follow it up with  "How do I get there?". Google assistant is supposed to work out that what you want is directions to the previously mentioned query. Context.

Behind all this is the idea of "bots". Robotic like beings that live on the internet and respond rather like call centre staff. You might say this is an extension of search or the direction that customer service is heading.

However it's not just Google. Microsoft is also putting money into the bots too.

The Skype Preview app now has a bots section where you can interact with freewheeling bots. The Skyscanner bot allows you to book a flight just by talking to the bot. You can order a pizza, play blackjack and lots more.

Both Microsoft and Google think the future is "bots". I am not so sure. It seems to me that to command a bot you have to have a clear idea of what you are doing. Booking flights is sometimes a matter of browsing, looking a different prices, backing up, checking times and much more. I tend to think websites are better.

However in the era of Snapchat and Twitter maybe bots really are the future.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Batteries

Fast charging
Smartphone technology may have moved on a lot in recent years but battery power is stuck in the slow lane.

Just recently a neighbour was around for coffee and he asked whether I had a lightening connector for his iphone to give it a charge. I haven't had an iphone for years so I had to decline. Apple actually makes this stuff a little more difficult with small batteries that dont really last a whole day and not adopting the global USB charging standard. It's an Apple thing of course. Apple prefer the look and feel of a  deviee being perfect even if it means their customers have to keep plugged in every couple of hours.

The next day I headed off to Edinburgh for the day. I forgot to put a charging power pack in my bag and sure enough during the day the phone dropped to a miniscule 1% when I switched it off about an hour before I got back home. From almost no charge it need about an hour just to get back to around 10% on the wireless charger.

The obvious thing is that batteries need to be bigger and better. However until that happens 'fast charging' is with us. Samsung has got fast charging along with a number of other manufacturers. Getting a fairly impressive charge in about 35 minutes.

ARM chip maker Qualcomm supports Adaptive Charging (Quick Charge 2.0). This is on Samsung devices. However you can't quick charge with the screen on and it generates a lot of heat.

Oneplus have their own take on fast charging called Dash. Tech nerds are getting quite excited by the Dash charger pumping up the amps, allowing the phone to be used and charging up in 30 minutes. They also seem to have a reasonably sized battery too.

The choice seems to be splitting into the fashionista phone with frequent pit stops to charge up or something like the Oneplus with fast charging that means fewer visits to the wall socket for shorter periods.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

3 + 1 = T

Oneplus has been the self-proclaimed "flagship killer" phone maker arising from startup status with the Oneplus One phone 3 years ago.

Initially the mid priced phone was promoting itself as having all the features of a premium priced Android phone without the price. While other manufacturers sold through traditional retail Oneplus was a direct seller. Dell began it's PC business this way too as an insurgent in the PC market during the 1980s.

The latest Oneplus phone, called the Oneplus 3 was just released in June this year. However surprisingly Oneplus now have a phone called the 3T six months later. Oneplus seems to have destroyed the expected annual upgrade cycle beloved of traditional marketing rules.

The price of the new device has also crept up and is now very definitely mid-priced. In the UK you can even get devices on a conventional contract with O2. Very much the opposite of the direct model.

What has happened?

Oneplus might answer that it is just innovating. I think it's something else. Let's remember the love Android hacks have for the "pure Android experience" the so-called "stock Android". This is a reaction against the crapware many manufacturers cram on their phones and useless apps you can't get rid of. Samsung is one of the worst.

To counter the crapware is the pure Android experience that comes from Google and their Nexus range of phones. The 5X was a mid-range, mid priced phone. The 6P was more expensive but well under the price of an iphone. All that changed in the last couple of months. Google is now selling phones as fashion items like Apple. The Google Pixel has replaced the Nexus at a much higher price.

Android purists, to get the latest OS, the latest features, long battery life, decent camera and no crapware need to spend eye watering iphone prices now. No cut price pure Android except on the pages of ebay.

So here comes Oneplus with it's Oxygenos. An Android experience that people say is pure Android with useful customisations. The 3T has the same processor as the Pixel, more memory, same storage, decent camera, good battery life and fast charging.

It looks to me that Oneplus is positioning the 3T as the alternative to the expensive Pixel phones. The replacement for Nexus owners. Could be that the 3T, although more expensive than it's predecessor, is hitting a market sweet spot vacated by Google.