Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Windowsphone actually “died” a couple of years ago. After Steve Ballmer, the previous CEO of Microsoft, bought Nokia for $7.2 billion you might have assumed that Microsoft was serious about mobile. However Microsoft had little choice. Nokia had made Windowsphone it’s primary operating system and now had 98% of the Windowsphone market. If Nokia’s phone division had just gone bankrupt or made Android handsets then Windowsphone would have ended in 2014.
Nokia had done a pretty good job for Microsoft. Good industrial design, striking colours, double digit market share in places like Europe, South America and Asia where Nokia was a known brand and Microsoft had neglected. Nokia’s handsets had great cameras and additional apps that added value to the device. Nokia had teams of designers and specialists that knew how to make mobile hardware. Microsoft, on the other hand, struggled to sell Windowsphone in their US home market, contantly re-booted the operating system making older handsets incompatible, re-branded services, failed to create a mobile payments system and undermined developers with a poor quality app store and changing developer tools frequently. It seems astonishing that the weaker partner in Windowsphone, in terms of product development and innovation, was Microsoft.
Spending $7.2 billion dollars was not universally popular in the Microsoft board room. The current CEO, Sataya Nadella, in his book “Hit Refresh”, says he did not support the decision to buy Nokia. However after becoming CEO he said that Microsoft would continue to support phone, even when the evidence was not showing Microsoft had confidence in their own phone business. In 2015 Microsoft did launch the Lumia 950/950 XL flagship phones on a very iffy Windows 10 Mobile OS. This was the 3rd reboot of the OS itself and reviewers found the speed of the device as great but it showed none of the flare of the Nokia designs and the OS frequently crashed or froze. Developers had not embraced the UWP (Universal Windows Platform) to develop apps and most store apps were compatible with previous generations of Windowsphone. Microsoft watchers pointed out a shift in language. Microsoft talked about mobile experiences, applications on any device and not just Windowsphone, they wound down their efforts to get developers specifically on board with mobile and Terry Myerson, the chief of the Windows division, said that Microsoft was not “focused” on phone in 2016.
Saturday, 7 October 2017
In the recent ransomware attacks where computers are controlled by malware the old version 1 of SMB has been used to spread the malware over networks. Very few systems, except the odd printer/scanner, use SMB 1 any more. Mostly you see version 2 or version 3 on networks today. So unless you know you need version 1 it’s best to switch it off in the Windows control panel.
If you select switching on/off Windows features you see something like this.
Basically you just switch off SMB 1 by unticking the box. Probably a good thing to do on all your PCs to make them a little safer.
For more detailed information click here.
Sunday, 3 September 2017
Computer calculate the value of PI to the last possible digit. I paraphrase slightly but with these words Mr Spock instructed the Enterprise computer to prioritise the calculation of PI. It was a plot point to rid the computer of an alien. Maybe the 24th Century version of malware. In the 1970s viewers of the re-runs of Star Trek in the UK were treated to a vision of the 24th century. In the 24th century you could communicate via a small handheld device, you could view the world through flat wall mounted screens and you could command your computer via voice making keyboard input a
aberration from the 20th century.
We didn’t have to wait for the 24th century after all. Today the mobile phone provides global communication from your hand, TVs can hang on the wall and now the new technology battle is voice based digital assistants.
Currently the field of digital assistants seems to be;
Siri. Apple’s iphone based digital helper.
Cortana. Microsoft’s largely PC based digital assistant with a name based on a character from the Halo game series.
Google Assistant. Google’s home and mobile based assistant.
Alexa. Amazon’s smart assistant for the home.
Bixby. Samsung’s smart assistant. Currently available only on the Galaxy S8
This market in AI is nascent. All of the digital assistants use cloud technology to discover information and provide functionality. Apple’s Siri was first introduced in the iphone 4S and provided a way of access to the iphone via voice commands. Next came Microsoft’s Cortana. Cortana was first available via Windowsphone and is now available on the PC and, in some countries, as an Android app. Google Assistant as evolved from Google Now. Google hasn’t gotten a real personal name for the assistant but kicks off with “OK Google” . Alexa, also known as the Amazon Echo, is a surprise because Amazon is associated more with shopping and has no mobile platform at all. However Amazon’s prime services such as music link in nicely to its capabilities. Bixby is Samsung’s attempt to unbundle itself from Google services. Each entrant has it’s own strengths but all are trying to lock you into their service ecosystem.
So if you primarily use Google services then the Google Assistant should be your number one choice. Productivity workers primarily using a PC and Windows 10 should probably be in the Cortana camp. Apple users will find Siri most useful. Leading to the conclusion that we are heading into walled gardens of service specific assistants. What users really want is universal access to personalised services everywhere. Cortana users will see that the failure of Windowsphone and lack of a home speaker system means it is useful primarily on the PC. Google users will find the PC lacks the assistant natively. Iphone users who use a PC will find no connection at all.
The solution appears to be “skills”. These are the software extensions to home assistants that add capability. An Amazon Alexa user with a Spotify subscription can add Spotify as a skill via the app or web browser. Now if you ask Alexa to play music it knows you mean Spotify and not Amazon. Alexa now has thousands of skills. This week Amazon and Microsoft announced that Amazon devices were going to get Cortana skills. For a Microsoft user like me this means I can use an Amazon device and call up my calendar or information from the Microsoft ecosystem with the same ease as Amazon itself.
Right now I have an Android phone that is setup to use Cortana. I have a PC using Cortana. I have a new Amazon echo box using Alexa but shortly to have Cortana skills. We are moving to the world of the universal voice assistant and Star Trek. The only disappointment I have is that Majel Barratt Roddenberry, who provided the voice of the USS Enterprise computer, has passed away and can’t voice my digital assistant and make me feel it’s the 24th century.
Saturday, 26 August 2017
Greggs history has been about adapting to change and you can now get a Greggs app for your smart phone to pay in-store and collect some rewards.
What about going really out on the edge and buying Greggs with Bitcoin. A few years back I picked up a few Satoshi* just to see how Bitcoin worked. For me it was a computer science experiment rather than a serious financial transaction.
*What is a Satoshi?You can see (above) just how small a Satoshi is and my lack of an actual single Bitcoin puts me at the bottom of the Bitcoin millionaire scale. However if I read the casual comments of the Internet it seems that Bitcoin users only want Bitcoin to buy drugs. I suspect cash is much easier for that task but let me play along with the myth.
Each bitcoin (BTC) is divisible to the 8th decimal place, so each BTC can be split into 100,000,000 units. Each unit of bitcoin, or 0.00000001 bitcoin, is called a satoshi. A Satoshi is the smallest unit of Bitcoin.
I wanted to know if I could buy a Greggs steak bake and a coffee with Bitcoin. Surprisingly it turns out you can!
I found Giftoff - a website you can exchange Bitcoin for gift cards. With your gift card you can buy a steak bake and coffee.
So I bought a Greggs gift card. What you get is a code that is basically the same as the Greggs app generates. When you want to pay just ask the cashier to tap in the code as if it's on the app and you get your steak bake.
Now with the rising price of Bitcoin it looks like lunch is now paid for a few weeks.
Having said this the activity is pretty pointless for normal people because money works just as well. However as a bit of fun with digital cash the temptation to try and buy at Greggs was a challenge I had to try.
Saturday, 5 August 2017
Amazon is great. I have been shopping with them since 1998 when you could only buy books and CDs. Today you can buy almost anything.
Over time the idea of delivery has changed. Amazon is online so they also deliver services online. Movies, TV, music and probably a few other things I haven’t spotted. However I just buy stuff occasionally. It does bother me that Amazon is the creator of zero hours contract low wage jobs but its really hard to avoid the low wage low cost economy.
Amazon have been doing Amazon Prime for a while now. If you are not a regular user of Amazon you may not be aware of this premium service where you can get free delivery, next day delivery, movies, tv and music for a yearly fee of about £79. They also throw in some exclusive offers, discount days and almost anything that gets customers into the store. I have no problem with this subscription model and that it has made Amazon founder Jeff Bezos a load of money. Briefly, as the Amazon share price went up on 27th July 2017, he became the world’s richest man. So business is good.
Many people find the Amazon Prime service great value and love all the bundled offers. I don’t. I like Netflix, Spotify and mixing up my online purchases. What I don’t like is being cursed by Amazon Prime. Most times I just want to buy something, get it delivered with free postage and I don’t care if it takes 5 working days to get to me. I don’t even care if I have to collect it next week from a locker or some other place. Prime now haunts me during the buying process. Without huge care you click the button for your free 30 day trial. By which they mean we hope you forget and we swipe money out of your credit card every month 30 days from now.
The curse is that we have been seduced by one click shopping. The continue button always just completes the purchase – right? Nothing sinister there?
Not on Amazon. Those large buttons in the final page offering free next day delivery are really now a passive sign up to Amazon Prime. I now have to double and triple check every option before buying anything just in case I get signed up for Prime, or drone delivery, or maybe (at some future stage) rocket launched orbital delivery. After all Bezos seems to want to go to Mars!
A few days ago they caught me again. It’s been a couple of years since I last unwittingly signed up for one month of Prime trial. Then it’s happened again. I have one month of free Amazon Prime again! I immediately switch it off because I don’t want to forget and then have them raid my account in 30 days. Switching it off involves going to a buried menu in “Your Account – Manage Prime Benefits”. They don’t just have an off button to undo the very big “Continue” button that signs you into the service you don’t want.
With all big successful companies there is a moment when they think they are so wonderful you will want to send them money all the time. Amazon has reached that stage. I call it the curse of Amazon Prime.
Sunday, 2 July 2017
In some ways it's an unusual channel because it rarely does tech reviews but instead talks about the business models and strategies adopted by companies to sell their product. The channel does definitely make you think.
Recently one of the big tech launches for enthusiasts has been the OnePlus 5. Oneplus has established itself as the company that never settles, creates smartphones as affordable flagships at budget pricing, and has whacky advertising. Moreover it styles itself as a startup business.
Their product might be great but how does the image match up to reality. Techalter does a good summary of why it's not quite as simple as it appears.
If you are interested in the detail of smartphone companies story then it's a well put together alternative view of OnePlus.
Sunday, 28 May 2017
It's a mobile phone company that puts your number in the cloud. You could potentially have two numbers such as business and personal tied to the same device. A sales team could all have one number so all their phones ring. You could even have numbers in different countries. You have on-call shift workers that need the on-call number. No problem. Just re-assign the number to their device and you dont have to pass around the on-call phone between staff.
The T-Mobile version still relies on SIMs in phones but that may change with the SnapDragon 835. The 835, which I have written about before, includes LTE on the chip. This means that the chip is pretty much a self-contained phone. All you need now is some software on the device that can have your number programmed in with a suitable mobile operator supporting phone numbers "in the cloud".
Right now T-Mobile US is the smaller of the mobile networks and it's adding this service to ramp up it's consumer offer. However the next generation of mobile chips could mean your number gets personal and you can have it on any phone that is charged in the morning and even that Nokia 3310 left in your desk for emergencies.
Sunday, 30 April 2017
Yep. I have to confess I was analogue delusional. Although I have been taking digital pictures on my phone and camera for a few years I suffered from being delusional.
Years ago I had a normal camera. Just to be clear I mean one with film. The 24 or 36 shots in a roll you loaded into a camera and then snapped away. Once you were done you could process the film in a camera shop or supermarket or even send it away.
You would then get back a bunch of prints and the negatives. In the 1970s and 1980s we all hoped to be David Bailey who advertised Olympus cameras. Just a compact camera and you would take great pictures. Off you went on holiday, got through a few rolls of film, mostly over-exposed them and made a mess and paid for a bunch of blurry pictures with the occasional good one.
However for most of us we didn't have a clue and unless you became a photography anorak you just did a point and shoot.
With digital photography we became obsessed by megapixels and whether the new digital images were as good as film. Lots of people wrote articles about not going digital because good old film was better. Point and shoot photographers, who never really had a clue, began to get converted but were really looking for the camera that was as good as film.
It became a personal conceit of mine that I actually took some decent pictures on film and the last few years have been a disappointing digital experience due to lack of megapixels or not having the best camera tech. There are some legitimate problems with cheap digital but nothing like what was in my head for some reason.
I took a decision to scan all my old photos in boxes. It was a bit of a mess but as I looked through the out of focus blurry images that had become peculiarly stained and sun drenched I had a few thoughts.
The first was that my old film camera was better in my memory than in actuality. I took rubbish pictures. Not deliberately of course but largely because of the technology. Waiting for stuff to develop to work out you had someone standing with a tree coming out of their head with the angle you used is annoying. Particularly because you can't re-take them. Also cameras were too cheap. The lenses weren't great and point and shoot meant point and miss. You also only had one type of film with one ISO value.
Digital is now really good. The average smartphone, not the best, does take great pictures. You can also take as many as you want and select the best later. If you need to check a picture instantly you can on a screen and re-shoot.
I was delusional about the good old days of film. For most of us amateur happy snappers digital is genuinely better in every way that matters and people are taking the best pictures that have ever been taken. Now the issue is that all the pictures are digital and the photo album needs re-inventing somehow to preserve this century's pictures because developed film had one advantage - you could touch and feel the pictures. Therefore you could establish an emotional connection with photography that may be missing. However perhaps that's a conceit too.
Sunday, 23 April 2017
It's been rejected!. OK so I made up this completely rubbish address but if you get an email that has been rejected, a so-called "bounced" mail, you can do some good analysis of the reason if you can read the SMTP logs. SMTP being the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol that sends mail between servers and other places too.
Before you yawn this is what you get back.
Remote Server returned '550 5.1.351 Remote server returned unknown recipient or mailbox unavailable -> 550 Requested action not taken: mailbox unavailable'
DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed; d=outlook.com; s=selector1; h=From:Date:Subject:Message-ID:Content-Type:MIME-Version; bh=lURfIqW7JBVRaKyNHMwqLzWn5AAyxsprWeqWekgSchc=; b=rH8HpA6mqgsmvED575S7sZZ3m6fy36WII+18d68flJNvd0IaNC+lLUb7bpDA90kQ7JH3DJEX5hbER4tORPoZfJW51WYKlGZdFfjBBvTkph4HD3u+yXavkOWhdYK1uTPMKV8DxJusJNWJcX+7uK7zs6cWWaHLm0X4LjHozOhbR71dFXREGzI1eODcOHj7rw0Eb6JtCA7xPwNdCP7GBrfJjhBGX5VfwI0ld1EPPPEeNst3fiIvu2rzfy35uregBnhzZlqKmZDGbel2HeE7bDsO8a8Ix9HdQSIsjEBKBnzNGuKyoma4AKyOUtp/dgUFPgeVhjq+9Dd3rTQbw6eoAXxZRw== Received: from AM5EUR02FT045.eop-EUR02.prod.protection.outlook.com (10.152.8.60) by AM5EUR02HT096.eop-EUR02.prod.protection.outlook.com (10.152.9.222) with Microsoft SMTP Server (version=TLS1_2, cipher=TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA384_P384) id 15.1.1019.14; Sun, 23 Apr 2017 13:13:40 +0000
Tuesday, 28 March 2017
You can build a home lab with either the free version of ESX from Vmware or a free Hyper-V host from Microsoft. Next an old server or an HP Microserver would get you a basic home virtualisation platform. Software could come with Linux or you could splash out on a Technet Subscription at £99 per year.
Sadly Microsoft ended Technet Subscriptions and replaced them with time limited evaluations. Not so good if you want to set up domain controllers and a test SQL server that you want to return to periodically. However it's better than nothing.
However IT moves on. IT Pros need to understand about cloud services. From a Microsoft perspective this means Azure.
They offer a month trial with £150 of credit. Just sign up with a credit card. I have discovered that the card basically isn't billed because the default billing is set not to charge when you exhaust your credits but just turn it all off. So the £150 is good for 1 month.
If you want to run up some vms and build a virtual network over 30 days then this is a good deal. However I rarely get that concentrated time. So a little more often would suit me. Fortunately you can do that too.
First you need to sign up for Microsoft's cloud essentials; https://www.microsoft.com/itprocloudessentials/en-GB
It's free to join. Sign in with a Microsoft account and you are ready. Once inside head to the offers page.
Finally activate an Azure subscription with £20 per month credit.
I think it's a good deal for IT Pros and I will be trying it out over the next few months.
Sunday, 19 March 2017
Over time it is really become clear what this is all about. There simply aren't any versions any more unless you are an on-premises IT Pro.
What we are seeing is the monthly patch cycle on patch Tuesday and a couple of feature updates each year designated by year/month numbers. The first year anniversary update was 1607 was the July 2016 update - eventually released in the first few days of August 2016. The point is not to pick apart exact release schedules in the old style monolithic update every few years but rather to recognise we are in a new world. The cloud has now changed versions. You just sit there and your new feature update just piles in until your PC just stops working. Upgrades for life.
Similarly businesses that have gone to the cloud just use Office 365 and Exchange Online.
So the continuous updating cloud is removing versions. It's a new world for the PC user.
Monday, 27 February 2017
Nokia has been restricted on producing mobile phones over recent years because Microsoft bought the brand in order to save Windowsphone. The story is full of irony.
Nokia had been late to understand how much the smartphone industry changed with the iphone. Over the years it had about 50% of the mobile phone market globally and had a massive design, distribution and manufacturing base. Such a huge infrastructure meant high quality and end to end control. Unfortunately Nokia had internal battles. It's own Symbian OS was not really able to produce the new devices inspired by Apple and the mobile internet. Some of it's engineers wanted to turn to a Linux based OS called Meego.
As smartphones dominated sales and Nokia's internal decision on the OS raged a series of decently designed but confusing smartphones came out of the company. Nokia decided it need a new CEO and Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft executive, was appointed. Elop changed the primary OS to Windowsphone. Many people criticised this decision saying Android was the better choice.
Nokia costs were high and it's market share had dropped. Elop reduced staff and many technically well designed phones were produced. The difficulty was that Windowsphone was not well received. As 'apps' dominated with related services Microsoft was found to be in a distant third place. After committing to Windowsphone Nokia found itself not selling enough product, having high costs but dominating the Windowsphone sales at 97% of all Windowsphones.
Microsoft was slow at developing apps and an ecosystem of compelling consumer services. Google services were never available. Microsoft was obsessional about the US market even though sales in places like Europe, where Nokia was strong, should have had some priority. The net result was Nokia consumer phones was about to go under. Microsoft paid $7.2 billion to buy the business and license the name. Most of this money was subsequently written off. Financially it was a complete waste for Microsoft that, if they had spent it on developing apps and ecosystem, might have saved Windowsphone.
Nokia can now use it's name for phones again. It has no infrastructure to build phones but former Nokia engineers have formed a company called HMD Global, literally across the road, and have a license to produce Nokia phones. So ex-Nokia people are creating new phones based on Android.
Their pitch to consumers is;
1. It's a Nokia!
2. The Android will be the pure experience without crapware.
3. Security updates monthly.
4. Available at all price points - by which I suspect there will be others coming but the Nokia 3, 5 and 6 look to be in the space vacated by the Nexus 5x.
If the phones are the same hardware quality as the Windowsphones then this combination might suit people annoyed by all those manufacturers who bloat their phones with apps that are not wanted and cant be uninstalled.
Monday, 20 February 2017
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
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 "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".