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.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Should I Learn Hungarian?

I like Windowsphone. I use a Lumia 950 right now as my daily phone. However there is no doubt about it that Windowsphone users like the product better than Microsoft. Microsoft are in full on "abandonware mode" with the platform in intensive care for a variety of reasons too numerous to go into. My Lumia still has a great camera and even with all the hot air about Apple's "best camera on any iphone" and Google Pixel's "best camera on any smartphone" the 950 has a superb Zeiss lens and 20mp pictures despite being last years' flagship.

However I do miss the apps. My bank doesnt even have one. So I have a Samsung Galaxy S6 that occasionally use. The problem is that Samsung has done something that PC users has been hit with for years - crapware. You buy a new PC, or a Samsung device, and it's filled with apps to "help you". Apps you never use except by accident and wish weren't there. In the Windows world most, if not all, uninstall. If you are an IT Pro you can even do a whole clean install on a PC. Not so with Samsung. The official Samsung phone comes with built in crapware you can't remove unless you download and root the device. You can remove it a bit but it sits there as an update. If you press update all then it comes back.

My problem is a bought my phone from Ebay. Actually that overstates it. I bought a brand new device at a decent price as a European phone from Ebay. By European I mean unlocked and working well except for one thing. It was destined for the Hungarian market. After setting the default language to English all worked well and there is literally no problem except for the crapware.

The crapware deal Samsung has done in Hungary seems to be some kind of electronic magazine or newspaper. Every so often I get asked to update my Hungarian magazine.

I can't remove it unless I root the phone and that is lot of effort to remove just one app. I have disabled all the other Samsung crapware but this one is just vaguely irritating. It sits there in a sort of unwanted pointless way.

I do feel guilty that I can't use this app. The unwanted and slightly unloved dimension to apps you cant install is not just annoying but also wasteful of space.

The only route to liberate this app from limbo would be to learn Hungarian. That's crapware for you.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

What Apple Music tells us about who Apple think is the market leader

The first ipod launch by Apple was in October 2001. It had a 5gb hard disk and could store 1000 songs in you pocket. Slightly less well remembered is that it used a FireWire port, standard on a Mac, and synced with iTunes only on a Mac.

It was only a Mac product. That mean't it reached a tiny fraction of home computer users. Even if 100% of all Mac users bought an ipod around 90% of computers would not be able to use it. This was because they used Windows.

Not only did no version of itunes exist for Windows the hardware interface, FireWire, was rarely found on a Windows PC and was usually an expensive add-on card. To expand the sales of ipod it would have to go for the Windows market.

Apple first did a deal to get another music software program for Windows to sync to the ipod. Eventually itunes was available for Windows and the ipod used a USB cable to sync.

The ipod took off. When the iphone was launched in 2007 it was immediately available for Windows due to a version of Itunes being available.

Steve Jobs used to say that people wanted to own their music not rent it. So Apple pretty much ignored the streaming music services like Spotify. Even Microsoft has had streaming services  - Zune, Xbox Music and now Groove.

All this changed with the release of Apple Music in 2015.

Like most Apple products it works only on Apple devices. Apple Music is a streaming service that you use with your iphone.

However there is also an app for Android. Nothing for Windowsphone, no app for Windows 10 UWP (Universal Windows Program).

Apple's view of the world is that they are the premium mobile device company and their competition is Google and Android. Microsoft Windows is now a legacy consumer platform with itunes. Just a few years ago Microsoft was a serious player in the consumer computing space, Steve Ballmer, the former CEO would bite off the hand of any journalist with an iphone near him. He would carry a Windows laptop and a Windowsphone everywhere.

Today Microsoft is the enterprise and cloud company. Making Windows for consumers is a legacy business. Xbox One is a outlier. They are not interested in consumer products.

You can tell the most important consumer technology companies by the apps on iphone and android. You can tell the company Apple thinks is the biggest market for their products because their music app is available for Android.