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.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Iphone Day

Iphone day is a moveable annual feast where Apple believers gather at stores worldwide to buy the latest model. Although these days we have the Internet so people should be able to order from home and have it delivered there is a special need for Apple fans to come together. Almost like religious belief.

The new Apple iphone 7 Plus comes in at $749 although this price is masked by the monthly payment plans. In the UK the price has risen due to post Brexit falls in the value of the pound, However mere money wont get in the way of the true believer.

This iphone is not mush more than it’s predecessor. It is always, in the words of Apple, “the best iphone ever”, but it reflects a maturing of the market. The 2007 iphone was revolutionary and made the most important personal computer one you could carry in your hand. The apps ecosystem and the the marketing power Apple had over phone carriers forced combined voice, sms and data plans into affordable tariffs.

We are now 9 years into the iphone revolution and almost everyone who wants, and can afford, iphone in the west has got one. Older iphones are used as “hand me down” phones in families further diluting the market. Apple has quietly upped the spec of less well selling products such as ipad and Apple Watch as well as reducing prices. Its also noticeable that Apple is no longer going to give the number of phones sold on the first weekend as it has every other year. You could just think cynically that Apple dont want to announce because sales are going down but I think the market is simply maturing and iphone is now an evolutionary product rather than revolution.

The annual Apple Day seems now to be something for fans and part of the marketing process. Buyers who need an iphone now should order online. If they want an in-store experience of enjoying shiny new things then wait a few weeks and pop in to feel the love. Queuing in the rain seems something for the fanboys.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Nougat feast

If you are in the IT world and you hear Kitkat, Marshmallow and Nougat you will think Google.

These are all versions of the Android mobile operating system. Android is now on 80% of the world's mobile phones. Huge market share when compared to Apple iPhone, Blackberry and Windowsphone. Blackberry now sell "secure" Android phones. Which should tell you something about Android "security".

Apple do well out of iphone as a premium device that makes a lot of money. Microsoft have now integrated Windows 10 so much into all their products that Windows 10 Mobile is now just a compiler switch and costs next to nothing to produce. Microsoft just produce a couple of reference models now and rely on partners to make Windowsphone with no license fees for devices below 8 inch screens. Basically free.

Google is in a different position. Android is free. There are literally thousands of Android variants and you can pick up a tablet for very little cash. Google have partners that make Google branded phones once a year but most Android phones are not Google. Google earns money from advertising and the Play Store. Microsoft gets the most money from Android directly because of the Microsoft technology in Android. Microsoft makes an estimated $2 billion per year from Android.

Saying Android's success is a Microsoft success sounds daft but financially it's true!

Android's numeric success has led to thousands of compilations of Android and thousands of versions. The only real benchmark has been the regularly updated Google Nexus devices which reviewers praise for running "stock Android". Google themselves have switched between HTC and LG as manufacturers.

As a result the first upgraders to Android Nougat will be Nexus owners. Then it's up to the other manufacturers to send it out. Samsung are often pretty good just being a few months behind.

For the phone carriers upgrading and security patches are not that important. What they want to do is sell a new phone. They would rather you bought a product every couple of years than do software upgrades, unlock your phone and go to a sim only contract. For this reason Google like their unlocked phones and do their updates over wifi.

There is so much money in Apple that carriers dont delay an Apple update. Also Apple news quickly gets to Apple owners. Not so much for Android. IT Pros will be flashing roms, customising etc but this will by pass the great mass of purchasers. They will just stick with their 2013 copy of Android Kitkat (4.4) unless they get an onscreen prompt to update. If they go into a store they get offered a Samsung, HTC or Sony device.

On the eve of Android Nougat (7.0) we find 30% of Android users are still on version 4.4. If apps want to take advantage of 7.0 features at least 30% of the audience is excluded. The success of Android OS and it's lack of central control means many users are actually using old software versions and potentially subject to security vulnerabilities. Market dominance has it's price.

This is the same position that Microsoft found itself when it had 94% of the PC market. Microsoft developed a patch and update policy. Google hasn't and cant because of the diversity of Android.

So it's with some sense of irony that Microsoft's Windowsphone, with little market share, now running Windows 10 Mobile is being updated almost monthly using the same technique as the PC update strategy. Arguably this makes Windowsphone the most secure and most updated of any mobile OS and most suitable for non-IT Pros. Funny thing that.





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 schema.org. 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 yahoo.com 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?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

First bash on Windows 10

So bash is installed and running on Windows 10 here. Its actually a whole Ubuntu sub-system running inside Windows 10 talking to the NT kernel. This basically means user space programs on the cli are available. Things like ssh, ftp and the like. You can also download things.

Right now to enable this you have to run the cutting edge buggy Windows 10 Preview enabled in Settings>Update & Security>Windows Update>Advanced Settings. You need to set the ‘fast ring’. Once that is done you get an update and you then add Linux as a feature here;

 

image

In order not to mess up my daily laptop I have this Lenovo T410 just to run the beta. Makes more sense than crashing the regular one.

For me the first app on the Linux system is PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). Invented by Phil Zimmerman to protect internet users privacy in communication it’s still a great tool today, The best implementation seems to still be the command line Linux/Unix variant although Symantec make a version for Unix when they bought Network Associates.

Windows has always provided the cheapest experience for “normal people”. The license price was effectively bundled with the PC purchase price so most people think Windows is free. Yet Linux, the free OS, has always had this kind of utility set of programs that IT Pros and developers have liked to have. So whilst this might look like Microsoft embracing Linux arguably a better interpretation is Microsoft gives option of a full Unix toolchest to IT Pros. It’s pretty unlikely that Grandma will be adding Linux to her Dell laptop any time soon.

I have now uploaded my public key to the PGP keyserver;  http://keyserver.pgp.com

image

This will join my onename link here; https://onename.com/ponsaelius

I don’t much encrypted signed email but I think that privacy should be the default position of everyone in IT and I am doing my little bit to help make it work!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Hello from Windows

One of the new great little features of Windows 10 is “Windows Hello”. Windows Hello is the name for the biometric login feature that Windows 10 supports.

So far Windows Hello gives the impression that it is only supported on clear facial recognition cameras in the most modern of PCs. Apparently this is not true.
This week I bought an old Lenovo T410 from ebay. I was keen to have a spare machine that I could run the fast ring preview editions of Windows 10. Specifically the new Linux integration with the bash command line. For more about this check the Channel 9 video.

The Lenovo T410 is a poor replacement of my regular pc. The keyboard is crowded, the fan whirrs but tucked away to the right of the mouse touchpad was a fingerprint reader. When this laptop was made you had a separate security level to deal with fingerprint readers on Windows 7 however it was biometric so would Windows Hello work with it.

After doing the Windows 10 upgrade I located the Lenovo Thinkpad Fingerprint reader tools. This laptop is 4 years old and £130 from ebay so I held out no hope that it would work like the £1200 Surfacebook Windows Hello biometric. However I thought that if it could secure something it might be a worthwhile add-on.

I scanned most of my fingers on my right hand. Previously on mobile phones I found that fingerprint readers were pretty ‘hit or miss’ affairs. So not only did I hold out little hope that Windows Hello would work but I also doubted it would reliably scan at all!
The scanning was pretty painless and after doing some fingers I rebooted the laptop. Unbelievably the login screen offered me the option of a fingerprint scan using Windows Hello.

Rather unexpectedly I got Windows Hello with an otherwise unremarkable laptop.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Myths about Android

One of the great myths about the Android operating system is that because it's open you can update it any time and put anything you want on it. Of course you can if you actually have an interest in these things but "normal people" simply don't do that. They wait for an over the air (OTA) update.

However unless you have actually got a Google device such as the Nexus 5X then your Android is really the manufacturers Android. Manufacturers often need to provide their version of Android not the generic one to actually differentiate their device in a crowded "me too" market.

Then the carriers themselves have an issue. Your contract phone is locked to a carrier. They are not interested in keeping your 2 year old phone up to date. They want you to pop into their store and get a brand new phone for fear you might unlock the phone you paid for and defect to a better deal. Keeping your existing phone on an old operating system is an opportunity to sell a new phone. If the carriers get their arms twisted by a big player like Apple (for example) then they will let those updates through.

So the consequence is that Android enthusiasts have to go through multiple configuration changes and downloads to update their phones with the latest Google OS. Normal people just have old versions of Android as this article explains; Most popular Android 2 years old.

The myth of Android is that openness means frequent updates. For the majority of customers this simply doesn't happen. For the tech savvy it's a pretty complex update of rooting phones and updating.

Microsoft have had this issue too. Not only are the carriers not interested in Windowsphone devices in their stores they are also not interested in updates. With Android devices a "no brainer" for a quick profit by retail sales staff Windowsphone has never gained traction and Microsoft had no leverage to do updates.

The Microsoft solution was rather elegant. They let everyone become a developer via their Windows Insider scheme.

For the majority of Windowsphone users this just means downloading an app.

 Once you download your Windows Insider app you just need to join the programme and you will get one of the OS preview builds.

With very little effort you can setup OTA updates of the Windows 10 Mobile OS.

The enrol screen allows you pick a 'ring' to receive builds. Real developers who want the latest build will opt for the fast ring. They will probably set up a special phone to do this in case the version they download introduces a whole bunch of bugs.

Other people can go for the slow ring, release ring or just for actual production ready versions.

Microsoft have made a virtue our of being the smallest mobile OS by introducing apps that make it really easy to get the latest version.




Saturday, 6 February 2016

Flight Tracking

Cortana, Microsoft's new assistant for PCs, integrates its Bing search engine front and centre of Windows 10. This is designed to compete with Siri (from Apple), and Google Now.

You can get Cortana for Windows PCs, Windows phones (Windows 10 mobile) and now for Android if you are in the USA.

If you want to try Cortana for Android and you are prepared to side-load it by switching off (temporarily) the security of downloading apps from other sources then you can get Cortana from here; APK Mirror

App security settings are shown on Google's pages.

I flip from Google Now to Cortana. Although my preferred mobile device is Windows 10 Mobile my daily phone is Android due to the 'app gap' in Windows Mobile. I would like to have all my devices run with Cortana because it is genuinely cross-platform and I should be able to standardise on one personal assistant.

The main issue is how "intelligent" is Cortana. Most recently I booked a flight for my holidays. So when I receive an email from British Airways Cortana should be aware of it and notify me of the new booking and the details. It should keep track of any changes to the booking that are sent by BA etc. If I use my Google email account then Google Now is pretty good with this. The last two times it has popped up information and kept me updated.

Cortana is not so good. Could it be that being from Microsoft it only like US airlines! It might be true because all the demos you see from Microsoft execs are for their flights to San Francisco from Seattle. You can actually query Cortana about flights but it is blissfully unaware of email bookings.

After some looking on the web it seems that Google does something special in Gmail to get Google Now to recognise flights. I suspect it's deep trawling of personal data to deliver "targetted advertisements" makes it, rather than the NSA, the best way of scanning your personal data. So Google Now has the edge.

The only way Cortana can get you up to the minute flight data is if your airline uses a data format schema; www.schema.org 

So personal information intrusion is a two way street. If we want these intelligent AI type functions in mobile devices the trade off is allowing tech companies to read your personal mail.


Sunday, 24 January 2016

Historic Microsoft change that means nothing for average users.

Related image

If you are looking for underwhelming and completely opaque news I urge you to read the Microsoft Windows Blog.

In a fairly lengthy blog the Windows team have announced absolutely no change for most users. The reason for this is that most people who buy a PC get a version of Windows and never touch it except for updates. Most users often have no idea which version of Windows they have. I have heard people say they have Windows 2012. Unless they installed a server version what they mean is they have a PC they bought in 2012 with Windows on it.

What Microsoft was announcing in the blog was that if you bought the very latest all singing PC with a super Intel "i" processor using the latest "Skylake" technology and you then installed Windows 7 you might find that stuff doesn't work. Installing a 2009 operating system that was developed back in 2007 on a 2016 PC may seem weird and rare but Microsoft have traditionally supported this. Behind the scenes driver updates for newer firmware and hardware have made 'backwards compatibility' a Microsoft differentiator.  The Apple users of the world were often told when a new version of OS X came out - sorry but your Mac is 24 months old so we are not updating it this new OS is for new machines only. Mac users are used to their expensive hardware being stuck in a sudden OS timewarp. PC users have valued the ability to install 'historic' versions of Windows.

Well no more. If you buy a new PC with Windows 10 you will be expected to run Windows 10. It's almost an announcement from the Department of the Obvious.

Yet one group will be mulling over this. Microsoft's biggest customers - business and large enterprises. Business is mostly on Windows 7. Updates take months and sometimes years of preparation. That's why businesses have 'downgrade rights'. They are specifically allowed to get a new PC and install their standard onto it - usually Windows 7 at this point. From now, if businesses want to do this, manufacturers will produce a list of PCs that can be downgraded to a supported configuration. From July 2017 you will basically only get critical updates for new PCs running an old version of Windows.

This makes commercial sense for Microsoft. While it wont directly increase Windows sale, because the businesses just buy Windows and choose to use an old version, it does reduce cost. Taking engineers away from constantly patching old Windows versions to deal with new hardware will save money for Microsoft. Microsoft are basically acknowledging that the world of Windows 10 means they update a device for life and evolve Windows 10 in-place. The monolithic 3 year upgrade cycle of upgrading a whole version of Windows is over. In other words, from an upgrade perspective, Windows is going to start looking like Apple OSX. Strange new world.