Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Is this the end for Windowsphone?

I am one of the few. I have a Nokia Lumia 1020 Windowsphone. Windowsphone, as a platform, has been around for 4 years. Launched as Windowsphone 7, became Windowsphone 8 and is now Windowsphone 8.1. I am not a 'Johnny come lately' to the system. I bought a heavy Nokia Lumia 800, I broke the screen and moved onto a 610, then an 820 and now a 1020. The latter has the 41megapixel camera and it is great.

My Windowsphone is easy to use, takes great pictures, has a bunch of apps and generally performs well. The shutter speed is a little slow but that seems to be the trade off for the pixels.

However the market share has not reached a tipping point except in the very low cost phone market. In effect the low end Windowsphones have replaced the feature phones of old. A basic phone is now pretty much a low end Android device or a Windowsphone. The killer flagship Windowsphone has disappeared. Some large 'phablet' phones have arrived but nothing that has excited the market.

In the meantime the Microsoft mobile ecosystem has gone Android and IOS. Exclusive Windowsphone apps are now available for IOS and Android. There is almost no reason to have a Windowsphone other than the new personal digital assistant 'Cortana' – which is still in beta.

The apps infrastructure for Windowsphone has not improved. It is not a matter of quantity but availability and function. A range of apps from my local taxi company, my bank, my local transit companies, the loyalty cards I use are all 'unavailable'. The apps I do have are lower in function than the equivalent Android apps and are months behind in release cycle.

The market share of Windowsphone is dreadful. In the USA it's about 2%. In Europe it's nudging 10% but not gaining much traction. After 4 years people have less compelling reasons to have a Windowsphone than they did. If anything Windowsphone is gathering a lower profile than previously.

What are Microsoft going to do? Windows 10 is just around the corner. With the app infrastructure being still so poor and with a low end value market being targeted it is likely that Windowsphone will not be killed off but will become a sort of low cost entry level smartphone that leads people to Microsoft services. The $7 billion paid to Nokia for their phone business is increasingly looking like a great deal for Nokia.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

2FA

Two Factor Authentication sounds almost the most boring subject in the world but this is all about protecting your online identify and digital content.

Today your email address and password is used for a lot of stuff. Whether you use Android, IOS, Windowsphone or something else many websites provide the ability to login with the ID and password for one of these services. In addition you may have bought digital products like music, games, videos etc using these ids. You also may have registered your credit card on these services for easy one-click shopping. It's easy and convenient to tie all this together with your email address. It is also a magnet for criminals, scammers and fraudsters. They want your card details or your identity to commit fraud and make money.

So your password is your first line of security. A lot of people use the same one for everything but are put off from remembering complex passwords. The easy way around this is to use a identity management application like Lastpass. Lastpass, along with other programs, can help manage complex passwords and provide extra levels of password security.

However this is not enough. Two factor authentication is a way that your service provider can give you a second layer of security. Typically this involves a single use code or pin. The code only lasts for a limited time and is requested everytime you log in unless the device you use is used 'frequently'. In this latter case you can allow a device not to need two factor authentication every time. However the normal procedure is after entering your password you will be asked to type in a code that is sent to a mobile phone that you have registered. You can also register an app or other programmable device to generate a single use code.

Security should not just be about big corporations looking after your data. It also means protecting your own data and 2FA helps you do that. I recommend this to everyone.

Links

Google Two Factor Authentication

Microsoft Two Factor Authentication

Apple Two Factor Authentication

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Nineteenth Century Banking in the Twenty-first Century

Last week I got £50 in a cheque, or in the US, a check. It was cashback from house insurance that I had earlier this year. With all the recent talk about Apple Pay and NFC it was a little quaint to receive an actual printed cheque.

I left it on the table for a couple of days because I would not be near my bank but it eventually was time to get it into my account. So I took the bus into town and banked the cheque. I asked the cashier when the funds would be available. In Britain the banks like to give the impression that they are in the 21stcentury but cheques got back hundreds of years. The original cheque acts state that someone has present a cheque to the actual bank for payment. So my cheque has to physically be transmitted to somewhere and at some point the bank, whose customer my insurance company is, verifies that this did come from that customer to authorise the movement of money. Total turnaround time – 5 working days.

In other words a nineteenth century process, slightly modified for computers, is going to transfer this money. The cost of the transfer is massive. Firstly the insurance company creates the cheque and posts it. Potentially a few pounds there. The cheque is then taken on a bus ride, costing me money, and, ends up in my local bank. The bank then posts it to their clearing location and presents it to the other bank of the account holder for clearing. The face value of the money hasn't changed but the actual transfer may well have cost 10% of its face value.

The bank then tricks me. It adds £50 of uncleared funds to my account. This makes my account look bigger with funds that may not get cleared. This is totally useless money because I can't really spend uncleared funds. If something goes wrong with the process, such as the company stopping payment, then the cheque is returned and my account goes back £50. Uncleared money is not really spendable until the cheque process ends but it indicates that the bank thinks it might be OK.

Banks can move billions in minutes in their casino banking arms but most regular customers see a very nineteenth century system. On top of that they append a 40 year old credit card system.

That is why Apple Pay, Google Wallet and the rest are the next great frontier on the Internet. Getting rid of these nineteenth century processes.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Voice

If you have a smartphone made in the last 12 months you are very likely to have voice command capability. In the mid-1980s the improbability of talking to your computer was shown on the movie Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home. Mr Scott was trying to use computer to create transparent aluminium but found that the Apple Mac (brand new at the time) was unable to understand voice commands.

Star Trek was set in the world of the late 23rd century so when you find Siri, Google Voice Search and Cortana on your mobile device the real world is becoming stranger than science fiction.

My first experience of mobile voice devices was being driven home one evening from work. On this particular contract I took public transport but tonight I was offered a ride. My colleague had a new(ish) Apple iphone and during the journey he decided to text his wife while driving. Voice commands with Siri supported this. Unfortunately he was from India and had developed, through his work in the UK, a northern British accent. The result was a complete inability of Siri to pick up even the simplest words accurately. He had more success with the weather as the iphone declared that the weather would be fine. Since we were driving in a rainstorm that proved somewhat optimistic.

Google Voice Search seems pretty good. I have used that a few times on my Android Nexus 7 tablet. It is an accurate way of doing search and does not overstate its usefulness. When combined with Google Now it can tell you quite a lot but it does depend on disregarding your privacy and being a bit creepy. I don't take the tablet out and about too often but on a couple of occasions it noticed I was in the same place and thought, as it was away from the house, it must be work. It was wrong and started reminding me I was late for work. Accuracy depends on understanding your life but it provokes the question of whether you want Google to understand your life that much.

Then there is my phone – the Lumia 1020. Microsoft claims that my voice search called Cortana is a digital personal assistant. It's not quite as creepy as Google because you can keep stuff on the phone and out of the cloud. Cortana promises it will use personal preferences without recording them. I have found that it copes with my British accent pretty well but it seems to still have difficulty discovering where I work, helping me with public transport and the personal information that you would expect a personal assistant to know.

We are still some way from Star Trek but I am amazed we are this far along at all.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

On the bandwagon


This is the Microsoft Band. Only available in the USA right now but the first product by Microsoft to get into the watch/wearables market.

One of the interesting things about this wearable is that it is not just for Microsoft products. Unlike the Google Wear and the Apple Watch this product is open enough to work with IOS, Android and Windowsphone.

Right now it is only available in the USA at a relatively cheap $199. Cheap by comparison with Google and Apple wearables.

Since I am not exactly a fitness and sport person this will pass me by pretty quickly. However I do think this is another Microsoft product reflecting a focus on mobile and working across devices.

http://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-band/en-us

 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The technology of nfc payment hits practical buffers again

Apple Pay is the revolution that NFC was waiting for. Google had Google Wallet and Microsoft had a wallet. However neither set the world on fire.

Google, despite its impact on the online world, was unable to get buy in to its wallet solution. It had some success with a small number of retailers using the technology but the main problem was the market itself. Each bank wanted its own solution, as did MasterCard, Visa and PayPal. In addition the USA still used swipe terminals and signature checks to process payments. This 40 year old process had been replaced by smarter secure 'chip and pin' almost everywhere else on the planet.

Google wallet in action can be seen here. You can't but help notice that the video dates back a few years. Wallet never made it out of the USA because the banks didn't want to give Google a slice of the pie.

Microsoft announced their own Windowsphone wallet in 2012. It wanted to reassure customers that using mobile payments was safe. So it added two barriers to adoption. Firstly you had to use a credit card, debit card or voucher card that supported wallet. Secondly you needed a special 'secure sim' which almost no phone service in the world had or planned to have except a small experiment by Orange in France. Two years on the inevitable result is that no-one is using the Microsoft Wallet.

So Apple have now rolled up with Apple Pay. The unique security propositions is that the payment is made via the transmission of a single use token via NFC. Your credit card or debit card number is never held by the retailer. The phone is secured by a fingerprint reader. Apple kicked off with a long list of retail and banking partners. Surely now a technology company had hit the ground running with an NFC payment system that means you can leave your wallet at home.

Almost. In the first day allegations that Apple Pay was double-debiting cards and causing payments to be made twice. This weekend one of the largest US pharmacies called CVS seems to have switched off NFC all together to stop all touch payments. There is some reporting that CVS pharmacy and a number of other US retailers want into the payments party and want to use their own network. All of them realise the winner in the mobile payments space will make millions. The result of all this competition is that the consumer may be faced with an array on incompatible payment systems for mobile. The only obvious way out may be to use cash. This is where capitalism and greed disadvantage progress and the consumer. Like a mafia boss all these corporations want a percentage of the transaction fees.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Apple matures their own market

In a relatively small venue yesterday Apple announced a new set of iPads that improved their screens, introduced new models and, perhaps most significantly, added fingerprint recognition. If you are inclined to be an Apple fan then probably a good source in the UK media is the Guardian. The Guardian is always subtle in that it tries to appear 'independent' but always seems more positive than the technology warrants. For a more comprehensive view you can look at the supersite for Windows. The supersite is definitely favourable to Microsoft but the site has favourably reviewed competing technologies.

You can watch the whole Apple event by following this link.

The key thing for me is that Apple is now in the position of not disrupting the market but rather adapting to being the establishment. Apple coined the phrase "think different" to describe the way an Apple Mac user was challenging the Microsoft monopoly in the PC market. Right now Microsoft is not a monopoly in mobile and owners of the Windowsphone can legitimately become the owners of the phrase "think different" facing an Android/IOS duopoly.

In the USA and the wealthy west Apple products do have a certain fashion kudos. It's no surprise that this week the Apple Watch was featured on a Vogue model.

Apple created the modern touch based smartphone market in 2007. It created the modern tablet market. It's not possible to say Apple invented smartphones or tablets. My 2003 HP TC1100c tablet PC ran Windows XP tablet edition but was a 'PC'. So in part the innovation part of the conversation is also about definition however Apple have been significant in creating markets. The central point is that Apple is the established player in the luxury end of the market. The majority of the market is now being taken by Android and the Google ecosystem.

By not producing a cheaper iPad, a cheaper iPhone and a mass market PC Apple is saying they are comfortable with being exclusive. New CEO Tim Cook is changing the company to be the incumbent rather than the young upstart. Cook's innovation using Apple's fashion credentials to to create a payment system with Apple Pay that is much more usable by consumers.

For me the new iPads are not so much about the technology but rather a definite marker, along with the recent iPhone 6 launch, that Apple is now the establishment.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Ecosystems

One of the talking points in IT today is 'ecosystems'. What is meant by this is that if you have an Android mobile phone you are pretty much going to use Google Mail, Google Maps, Google Search and the Google Play Store. Similarly if you use IOS devices then you are in the Apple 'Itunes' universe. If you use Blackberry or Windowsphone you end up buying goods and services there.

In years before the 'mobile revolution' the ecosystem was more simply described as 'lock in'. Up and coming products would tout openness and interoperability. Established players would be trying to keep consumers by making it more difficult to leave. Apple is a good example. The first Apple computer was built with standard components based around adding adaptors to increase functionality. The Mac was a closed environment in which upgrades were only possible from Apple dealers and, latterly, the Apple Store. They even added proprietary screws on their PCs and lots of glue to make maintenance and upgrades next to impossible. IBM PCs were so open it spawned a whole clone industry. By 1987 IBM decided to change the design so that only approved add-in cards could be used. This was called microchannel architecture. The industry rebelled and the clones won leaving IBM to retreat from the PC business.

Microsoft was criticised in the past because it had a virtual monopoly on PC operating systems and having a closed environment in which Microsoft were gatekeepers.

Standing against this business model were people such as Richard Stallman, who is best known for the Free Software Foundation and GNU. He believes all software should be free, source code published and people should be free to modify code as they see fit. Open software advocates see lock-in and manufacturer based ecosystems as being absolutely against this. These days although Linux fans tout the openness of their system the most popular version by use is Android on mobile devices. So there is some irony that the mobile implementation is dominated by Google and the Google ecosystem locking consumers into a particular experience mandated by Google on manufacturers that want to use Google services. So in the Android world, despite its 'open' origins, it is now a closed ecosystem.

Microsoft do champion Windowsphone. I have a Lumia 1020. However there is an irony that Microsoft produces apps for Windowsphone, Android and iPhone meaning that Microsoft's ecosystem is available on all popular mobile platforms. Microsoft was always criticised and, in some instances, hated by open source advocates now finds itself as a cross-platform service provider in the most open ecosystem.

Funny old world.

 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Apple Bank?

Is Apple going to be your next bank?

It would have seemed a strange question but not any longer. One of the most revolutionary announcements about the iPhone 6 was that it included NFC (Near Field Communications) and they (Apple) had created a payment system that could allow you to use you mobile phone to buy stuff.

This has been done before Google Wallet promised mobile payments some time ago. Microsoft have had NFC and wallet functions in their phones for a while but nothing has cracked the mobile payment process. The reason, in my view, is that all the players in the space want to be THE mobile payment system rather than A mobile payment system. Online payment processing giant PayPal wanted to be master of the space. Mobile phone companies wanted to lock payment systems to your phone number or SIM and get cash. The banks wanted to be kingpins too.

On top of that was cost. All of the players wanted to charge a lot of cash for relatively small transactions. Small retailers will often set minimum purchase values to justify accepting card payments. Contactless payment is almost all 'micro payment' with no room for high cost. If you charge 16p to a retailer for a payment when the item is a £1.00 then retailers would be made to do it. Its got to be fractions of a penny.

Electronic money has never happened not because of technology but because of banking greed.

Apple have a reported 800 million credit card numbers they use to pay for their products. They are big enough to get banks and the credit card companies to co-operate. If they are really successful is it really too far a jump to see Apple becoming a sort of 'ebank' in which iphone owners ditch their wallets and just rely on their mobile as their daily cash!

Or will it be Bitcoin. The Bank of England is now treating this seriously. Five years from now actual cash may be something that is a memory for most of us!


Link; Apple Pay

Friday, 15 August 2014

I'm a Surface Pro 3

Almost 10 years ago Apple was running an ad campaign that contrasted the ease of use and features of a Mac against the PC. Microsoft didn't respond. Apple had fun with Windows Vista and portrayed the PC as consumer unfriendly, bloated, slow, old fashioned and something that often went wrong for no apparent reason.

Consumers bought the PC because it was cheap and ran the same software as they had at the office. Consumers never loved the PC in the way Mac owners loved their favourite technology. It was a clash of two worlds. Apple controlled both hardware and software. Microsoft had no control over their hardware manufacturers who often shipped PCs with trial software that frustrated customers in order to enhance their profit margins. PC owners referred to this trial software as 'crapware' and were often desperate to remove it when they found their PCs grinding slowly to a halt with the inevitable overhead of multiple trial programs starting up each time the PC booted.

Microsoft are now making their own PCs. They are controlling the hardware and software so, in an echo of the Apple comparison ad, they are putting their Surface Pro 3 up against the Macbook Air.



Microsoft have done 3 ads that I am aware of. Quite brave to go up against the MacBook Air given Apple's brand recognition. Whether you like the Surface Pro 3 or not I think the ad works. I guess you could say it was 10 years in the making.....

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Samsung Ad Battle

Samsung is trying to point out the big hole in the iPhone armoury - it's battery.

IPhone owners have a battery that can't be replaced and some journalists say is under-powered. IPhone 6 rumours have speculated that Apple are going to put in a super battery to stop the habit of constant charging and a bigger battery is the number one request from iphone owners.

The only problem with a bigger battery is that you need a bigger phone to put it in. Iphone owners are really demanding and want a slimmer iphone.

Playing on this dilemma Samsung have highlighted the problems of low battery power and arguably chipped away just a little more at the image of Apple products.

 

Friday, 4 July 2014

We're Back!

Yes my Surface Pro tablet/pc has arrived back. Microsoft didn't fix it they replaced the device. In the meantime they launched a Surface Pro 3 at an incredible price.

My Surface Pro is essentially a tablet. A 10 inch screen that is highly portable but does run Windows Pro 8.1. That means you can install Office and other apps and actually use it for something useful. You wouldn't use my Surface Pro as a real PC most of the time. This contrasts with IOS on the iPad and Android tablets that are more single use devices. There is nothing wrong with single use tablets but as it turned out Microsoft make a good tablet. The problem with Surface is lack of maturity as a tablet OS. There is a massive contrast between the tablet experience of Surface and the PC experience. That's why I spent a little extra on the 'pro' edition so I could use real Windows applications.

Although the big move in the consumer space is towards the 'app' and the 'browser' there are plenty of enterprise tools that require Windows desktop. That's where the Surface Pro comes in.

The Surface Pro 3 is a different beast. It is a reluctant tablet. The screen is 12 inches that makes it almost too big for a tablet. However the same screen makes it too small to be an ultrabook. It doesn't come with a keyboard but once you fit one then you can see the marketing strategy to compete with the MacBook Air on price, performance and occasional tablet capability.

The Surface Pro 3 is too expensive for the average consumer wanting a PC/Laptop/Ultrabook but for the business or the pro-consumer that would have looked seriously at the MacBook AIr this may be the pc for them.

One finally postscript. My ssd drive failed on the Surface Pro. I lost everything. However not really because most of my documents I care about are in Onedrive in the cloud. So while it took ages to do the Windows updates my documents were just where I left them - in the cloud. So moving to the cloud really does work.

Link

Microsoft Surface

 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

It's Dead Jim!

Like Dr McCoy I had an experience with my relatively new Surface Pro tablet today. A one point it froze, said something was wrong and then couldn't boot.

I would like to be nice to Microsoft and praise the company for a website that really helped but it sent me round in circles.  Like most companies they want to minimise the support calls and get the customer to go through the troubleshooting process before they pick up the phone. This isn't unique. The call centre for most broadband providers run through a script that involves the cliché of switching off your router and turning it back on again!

Being an IT guy (ah ha!) I had already done that with the Surface Pro, done a hard reset etc and I still had a brick that booted to the 'trusted' bios and would not go further. The flashing amber light beyond the air vent pretty much screamed hardware failure.

When you actually discover the correct rabbit hole on the Microsoft website that gets a warranty repair it's very straightforward. They even send you a postage paid label to ship it back by UPS.

However it was the wrong day for Microsoft to ask me to complete a survey. I gave them zero for the process. It was only smooth on the third attempt to navigate the options. Choose the wrong menu and you are in no mans land.

When I get the Surface Pro back I will report on the repair process.....

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Bitcoin 2 - Mobile Payments

My 'adventure' into Bitcoin has revealed a whole new world of virtual crypto currency. If you look around you also realise that mobile money itself is quite controversial.

From a technology perspective this should be pretty simple. You have a smartphone with an app and then, instead of taking a wallet, you just have an app that just transfers money when you want to buy something. Easy!

The first hurdle is that too often not every smartphone platform has an 'app'. Your bank app is usually there for an iPhone and current Android versions. My Windowsphone is often not covered. Secondly no one has a payment system that works everywhere. In the UK there is Barclays Pingit, Paym, Paypal mobile payments and more....  Even baker Greggs has a payment card that requires pre-loading money. It has absolutely no advantage over using cash.

In the US there is Google Wallet, Isis and more.

The big barriers are not technology it is rather the perceived potential market. Internet companies want the billions that will pass through mobile payments, tech companies want it, banks want it, so all of them have different standards. They all want paying too  - so a percentage paid by merchants for micropayments mean that micropayments are too expensive for retailers. The customer wants to give up needing to keep cash but cash remains the cheapest form of payment for the retailer.

NFC was supposed to herald micropayments and contactless payments. However since Apple haven't built in an NFC chip the market for adoption, particularly in the USA, has been reduced. I have followed the BBC technology correspondent on a few occasions using mobile payments and he has pretty much confirmed to me that you can't ditch your wallet.

The most successful mobile payment system in the world is in East Africa. it only uses codes and SMS text messaging. Nothing nearly as sophisticated as the modern smartphone.

So back to Bitcoin. It turns out that having a tenth of a Bitcoin I can't figure out how to spend is normal in the mobile payment space. Almost no-one really accepts mobile payments in a convenient consumer friendly way. Bitcoin isn't unique.

Link

BBC - Rory tries mobile payment

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Bitcoin!

Bitcoin_logo_svgA month ago I decided to find out what all the fuss was about. The media had been banging on for a while about Bitcoin so I just decided to find out more. The first I took was literally to buy a Bitcoin.

A single Bitcoin is pretty expensive right now. As of today it's more than $500 or £300+. I don't have the actual exchange rate to hand but unless you have a specific purchase in mind then just being curious is expensive. So I bought 0.1 of a Bitcoin - expressed as 0.1 BTC.

Bitcoin is totally digital. It's just a number. So you need a 'digital wallet' to store it. Actually you can create as many digital wallets as you want. Coinbase is one of the digital wallets. Once you have a digital wallet you need some digital money to put in it. The way I did it was make a small purchase of £25 of Bitcoins and I used the address of my account in the wallet as a store. Sure enough within a few minutes I had 0.1 BTC. A few days later this was worth about £26.00 at the then exchange rate and today it is worth £30.00.

This brings me to the first point. Bitcoin is a pretty immature and volatile currency. Some would even regard the word currency as wrong. Like any commodity it has dragged in speculators who buy in the hope the price goes up. A 'currency' gets real traction when ordinary people can buy stuff with it. At present you can't buy a lot. One couple decided to see if they could live only using Bitcoin and their story is here; Life on Bitcoin

If you watch their video you do get the impression that some people are using Bitcoin as a currency. The case against the Bitcoin is that is really just a money laundering scheme for criminals to avoid the police. Of course traditional currency is not immune from criminals either.

Back to the question of what is a Bitcoin. It's a number. It's a number that is so mathematically complex that it takes a lot of computing resources to create it. When a computer generates a number that demonstrates it used a lot of electricity and a lot of computing resources it can become a Bitcoin. In fact graphics cards are good at this job and people have built highly specialist PCs with more than a dozen graphics cards just to calculate impressive numbers using the Bitcoin algorithm. This process is called 'mining'. Creating these numbers is as rare as discovering gold which gives Bitcoin it's commodity status.

Real currency is controlled by Governments or Central Banks. The scarcity of circulation is decided by committee. If too much cash is supplied and you have too few goods you get inflation. Bitcoin is restricted by maths. Only a limited number of Bitcoins can ever be produced and the maths to create them makes it ever more difficult to produce a Bitcoin. Some people believe the lack of a regulator presents a problem in that no one makes sure that suitable people are engaged in Bitcoin trading. (Back to the criminal use/fraud argument).

Some people who, post economic crash, are annoyed at the banks are looking to lock them out of financial transactions all together. This is almost like a political reason rather than a purely financial one to promote Bitcoin.

Bitcoins are registered in something called a 'blockchain'. This is basically a list of transactions in blocks validated by the network. Some people query whether blocks can be faked or forged. Others take the view that if Bitcoin is successful there will no way that the blockchain will scale up to manage millions of transactions per second. A Bitcoin 'payment' is just a transaction on the blockchain. How busy the blockchain is will determine how fast the transfer is.

The  curiosity of the Internet is that everything is non-geographic except for money. There are many attempts at digital wallets. In the UK we have 'pingit', 'paym' and others. In the USA there is 'Google Wallet', 'Isis' and others. There is also Paypal. All of which propose revolutionising money. Bitcoin is a non-national, non-geographic replacement for money. So it's interesting.

So far my small experiment has allowed me to pre-register for a digital download of a movie. Worth about $20. A some point I will get to do the download. Looking more widely it does provocatively ask the question 'What is money'. In a sense 'money' is what someone accepts for goods and services. If Bitcoin becomes widely accepted it could become a currency. However outside technical people the process of buying and exchanging coins is still a bit complicated. To become acceptable it has to be a no brainer.

One major criticism is that Bitcoin is a bubble waiting to explode. MtGox, a big Bitcoin exchange, recently went bankrupt taking people's money with it. Non-regulation is also dangerous to your wealth.

I wont be giving up the pound really soon but Bitcoin is interesting and I shall keep an eye on it.

Links

Wikipedia on Bitcoin

 Coinbase

Life on Bitcoin

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The missing tech stores .....

Recently I have returned from a holiday of a lifetime. I visited New York City. New York is a city of approximately 8.5 million centred around Manhatten island. One of the things a UK visitor is interested in is the price of technology. Gadgets are just cheaper in the US than Europe. There is an array of small tech shops selling Chinese tablets, cameras and gifts. There is a great new Apple Store at Grand Central Station but where could I buy a PC?

Unfortunately there is no flagship store to buy a lap. HP, Dell, Lenovo etc don't have any sales strategy for the millions of tourists passing through NYC. Microsoft don't have a flagship store. Google don't have a place to buy Chromebooks or promote their platform(s).

It's interesting that Apple have created a technology experience for shoppers worldwide and the other vendors are a long way from competing - even in a key US city.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

If Microsoft had done this ...

One of the effects of being involved in IT for years is the questions you ask when you see a story or article written about the current big hitters and 'popular' technology corporations.

From the mid 1990s until the early days of Steve Ballmer's tenure as Microsoft CEO the company faced big questions about its business practices. Whatever the arguments were is now IT history but the EU fined Microsoft many millions of dollars for bundling their browser into their Windows operating system and demanded that a 'browser ballot' screen on their OS. They also objected to a media player being bundled. In the USA the tough anti-trust laws were concerned that Microsoft had used it's power in the operating system market to force computer manufacturers to install Windows by default making Windows the market monopolist in PCs and pushing out alternatives.

Microsoft, to many technology enthusiasts, became 'evil' and was perceived to be stifling innovation and just in it for the money. Even today when Microsoft announce something the technology press almost say 'Meh' and 'so what' whilst simultaneously cheerleading for the 'cool kids' like Apple, Google and Facebook.

Having worked with enterprise systems for 25+ years it would be bad for me not to declare an interest that I am firmly embedded in the Microsoft ecosystem of products and services. I think almost anyone who works with servers and enterprise IT has to have more than a passing understanding of Microsoft products. However I am no fanboy having used Google services and Apple products too. My question is how would the IT press and regulators act if Microsoft had behaved like Apple, Google and Facebook.

In the 'search' market Google dominates and uses it's position to almost decide whether businesses do well or fail via search rankings. It's products are linked in a broad system of advertising relationships to users data to advertisers across the internet in monopolistic use of their own services. Their Android operating system requires specific services be integrated if manufacturers want to provide apps through the Google Play store effectively dominating a system that should be an open OS. It has a near monopoly of the OS in the mobile space via Android.

Yet few questions are asked by the US government or the EU about anti-trust. Users don't see this as an 'evil empire' but, because the services are 'free' at the point of use almost a benevolent provider.

Facebook similarly dominates social networking. Many websites require you sign-in with a Facebook id just to use their service. Facebook dominate social network advertising. Amazon dominate eBook readers.

There almost seems a journalist double standard. Regulators and the law are also playing catch-up in the digital economy. Almost no lawmakers understand technology and they direct their attention to regulation of internet pornography and child access (which do need attention) but neglect the wider framework.

Once you have book eBooks from Amazon they are locked to amazon. Buy a movie from Apple and it's locked into ITunes. Corporations want the lock in to keep customers - I understand this. However after the experience of the years in which Microsoft was publicly shamed for this I wonder if the current crop of aspiring monopolists are being treated differently.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

VMWARE Recertification

A few days ago I passed my VCP (VMWARE Certified Professional). Actually you don't get a VCP at all. What you get is a VCP5 meaning qualified with Vsphere 5.x. In particular mine is VCP5-DCV. This is for datacentre vertualization.

So it is a 'qualified' title. Everyone knows the version you understand and know about. There are no secrets there. To get a VCP you have to pass an exam (cost £179 or $286). To register for the exam you have to go through and official training course. The most recent UK price for this course is £2800 + VAT. In other words if you are not a VAT registered business and are paying out of your own wallet the training is £3100 (or just under $5000).

Basically it is a very expensive certification and it only lasts for the version you pass the exam for. So my certification ages over time when version 6 comes out or version 7. Fortunately you never lose your original qualification that you have spent money on and work hard to obtain.

That was true because in March 2014 VMWARE brought in re-certification. Your qualification is 'revoked' after 2 years. This has been brought in due to 'industry standards'. Nothing to do with selling more expensive training courses then! To be fair if you do another exam before your existing exam times out then you don't need to do another course. However its very easy to imagine that a new version is out or is coming out and you don't have a chance to do some learning and therefore have to take the old exam (again) to preserve your VCP.

The detail is full of issues that make a VCP less valuable. Some businesses don't upgrade that fast and old versions stick around. Your two year old qualification may be valid for years in terms of knowledge but not in the eyes of VMWARE.

However industry standards are a bit different from what is described. Older qualifications are not 'revoked' but just become a 'legacy' qualification if you do a Microsoft cert (for example).

VMWARE needs to lighten up. The pressure to re-certify is already there just by naming the certs VCP3, VCP4 and VCP5. They don't need a 2 year timeout. They also don't need to punish people who have achieved certification via revocation.

Uncool VMWARE.

LinkVCP-DCV

VMWare Certification FAQ

 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Almost the end for XP

It's the last few hours for updates to Windows XP. After today the 400 million copies of XP still sitting out there somewhere will no longer be updated by Microsoft.

Even after the very long notice given to people about the end of life for XP the UK Government has done a last minute deal to spend £5 million on keeping Windows XP running a little longer. Apparently they haven't had time to upgrade to Windows 7 (2009) or Windows 8 (2012) or Windows 8.1 (2013).

When Windows XP was born Twitter and Facebook hadn't been invented, Apple had the ipad but no phone and Windows mobile was selling well. XP gained its reputation after Windows Vista failed completely. The upgrade cycle was broken. Microsoft even gave XP a bit more life by allowing it to be installed on Netbooks when they (Microsoft) thought Linux might take hold of the Netbook.

So we are heading to unknown territory. XP is now open to attack by viruses, malicious software and the like. As well as hitting people running this software on their PC there is also the problem that XP may hit Microsoft's reputation by simply failing on people's pcs. Never before have so many 'unsupported' computers been live on the Internet. How it all turns out is currently unknown!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Learn Microsoft Virtualization

VMWARE are kings of the virtualization world. In a distant second place is Microsoft with Hyper-V. In order to kickstart IT Professionals into learning Hyper-V they offer a great little online course here;  Microsoft Hyper-V Learning

This is all done via the Microsoft Virtual Academy - an online learning resource.

In addition to the learning you can, at time of writing, get an exam voucher to do the associated Microsoft exam for free. This is $150 (£99) worth of exam credit.

So you can potentially get a real qualification out of the course. I thought it was great and invaluable to understand Hyper-V.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Home Server

I am one of those IT people who has a little home server. Some time ago I decided it would be a great idea to install VMWARE ESXi on it. Basically turning it into a small data centre. At the time I could get a PowerEdge T110 from Dell with 16gb of memory pretty cheaply and it has served me well. I have some virtual Windows servers, a Solaris server and a Linux server all together.

With this kind of combination you can test new software, install different versions of Windows, check out new stuff and not affect the laptop I use day to day.

All this was good but what you can't do (easily) is run Microsoft's virtualised environment (Hyper-V) inside VMWARE ESXi. You can in theory and there a few Internet articles on the topic. Some are a little dated but mostly you end up doing unsupported processes on ESXi.

So I came to the conclusion that I needed another little home server. I begin to feel like I am building a larger data centre in my home now. I got down to some reasonably priced alternatives and settled on a HP Proliant Microserver from ServersPlus.

The two issues I had were; Would it run Windows Hyper-v virtualisation and could I stack it with 16gb of memory as it specified on most of the adverts I had seen that it only worked with 8gb.

Yes was the answer to both queries. it comes with barely 2gb of memory but you can install 16gb (8 x 2 slots). Hyper-v on Server 2012R2 didn't work out of the box but the latest firmware upgrade fixed that.

it's not going to win any speed awards but if you want a home server for educational purposes then it fits the bill.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Cabinet Office to switch to open source

For the past 15 years or so every year has been the 'year of open source'. Chief demon has been Microsoft. So today's news story in The Guardian must have been music in the ears for open source advocates. We have been here before. Some years ago the state government of Bavaria in Germany was widely reported as 'ditching' Microsoft.

Clearly with the UK Government committed to savings in all Government departments it must be a no-brainer for Ministers to cut the software expenditure. The article tends to only be talking about Office rather than open source in general. There seems to be no mention of ditching Windows for Linux.

If the Government was prepared to standardise of OpenOffice then that would be big win. it could also consider the 'cloud' and be enticed to Google Docs. There would be a training implication but Google has been winning business. Open source advocates would like to pretend that Google is this little upstart business and Microsoft is the evil corporation. Unfortunately the truth is that they are both corporations. In some respects, with around 80% of the mobile phone OS market, Google is a monopolist corporation in mobile computing and Microsoft a small also ran competitor.

The problem for the Ministers in Government is that 'Office' is no longer just word processing and spreadsheets but it is also an ecosystem. It links into other enterprise collaboration tools such as Exchange email servers, Dynamics CRM, SharePoint and more. Most enterprises pay the license for all these tools combined so the saving on one component is less than you might imagine. Removing Office (the product) from Office (the ecosystem) would be like deconstructing a Spaghetti Bolognese.

A more cynical explanation for the story might be that it is a planted non-story to try and get better licensing terms from Microsoft.

Whatever the truth of this I guess we are in the year of open source (again).

Link The Guardian