Where’s Windows?

Being busy with a full-time job (REMINDER: What I post here are my own views and are not in any way associated with my employer) I haven’t been able to post in a while.  A long weekend affords an opportunity to catch up a bit after 3 months.  I thought it would be useful to check-in on where the Windows world is at the end of 2014, though I could easily summarize the situation as “Where’s Windows?”

Regular readers may recall that I’ve long lamented the lack of LTE options in Windows Tablets.  Sure enough 2014 is coming to an end with only one Windows Tablet with built-in LTE, the new HP Stream 8.  The Stream 8 (http://www.amazon.com/HP-Windows-4G-Enabled-Includes-Personal/dp/B00NSHLUFQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417190343&sr=8-1&keywords=stream+8+lte) was listed as unavailable earlier this week but is available now.  So far I haven’t found any reviews.  On the good side the Stream 8 with LTE is available for only $179 at Amazon.com.  On the other, it’s hard to say bad, side it only seems to come with T-Mobile LTE support.  And its specs are decidedly low-end (as in no better than more than year-old mainstream 8″ tablets like the original Dell Venue 8 Pro).  At $179 I’m sorely tempted to add one to my collection, but in many ways I’ve moved on from Windows Tablets.  At least for now.

One I started carrying a company-issued Ultrabook around with me my tablet needs diverged somewhat and I made Entertainment more of an overriding priority.  That is, being able to run Windows desktop apps was definitely not a priority.  And that made a number of non-Windows tablets more interesting.  Because I’m an Amazon Prime customer and have made (both Prime and non-Prime) Instant Video a major source of content I decided to go for an Amazon Fire 8.9 HDX.  Light, high-end specs, a fantastic experience around Amazon content, and it has LTE.  It’s also more than twice the price of the Stream 8.  But that says more about Microsoft’s current focus on low-end tablets than anything else.  Microsoft and its OEMs just don’t have a device in the class of the Fire 8.9 HDX (or Apple iPad Air).

That’s not to say Microsoft doesn’t have anything in the high-end tablet space as we head toward the end of 2014.  The Surface Pro 3 is a bona-fide hit, though targeted clearly in 2-in-1 space rather than being primarily a tablet.  I’d really like to have one, and if I could get away with carrying a single device around with me the SP3 would be it.  At this point I’m probably going to wait for a next-generation, hopefully fanless, follow-on running Windows 10.  Indeed my entire commitment to Windows is probably tied up in Windows 10, something I’ll get to shortly.

Another interesting development since I stopped my regular writing about the Microsoft world is the emergence of a class of true cloud-centric Chromebook competitors running Windows.  HP is at the front of the line here again with the Stream 11 and Stream 13 notebooks.  The Stream 11 was introduced at $199 and the Stream 13 at $229, but you can get either at $199 right now.  Stream 13 LTE and Touchscreen options also appear to be available, as is a Stream 14.   I’m having trouble with an old notebook I use occasionally at a second home, and one of these inexpensive devices might be in the cards as its replacement.

Strategically it is interesting to see HP as the thought-leader OEM this year, whereas a year ago I was calling out Dell for staking out this territory.  Dell’s 2014 upgrade to the Dell Venue 8 Pro, the Dell Venue 8 Pro 5000, offers nothing significant over its predecessor.  And the Dell Venue 8 Pro 3000 is very similar at a reduced price, but the HP Stream 7 and 8 are far more innovative on both the pricing and capabilities front.  The only thing the DV8P 5000 has going for it is its active digitizer, and I didn’t find the one on the original DV8P very useful.

The truth is that the second half of 2014 has been rather boring on the Windows front.  While Windows 10 was revealed, what we’ve seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg.  Yes there is a new Windows on the horizon that will be a worthy (and probably not so controversial) successor to Windows 7 on the desktop.  That will be good for business.  But so far Microsoft has revealed very little that demonstrates Windows 10’s ability to establish momentum in the mobile (phone, tablet, or 2-in-1) environment.

For Windows in mobile environments the situation remains just short of bleak.  The library of modern apps remains empty of what is needed to capture either the tablet or phone space.  Microsoft has gone so far as to talk about the combined store having 500K apps, although that is not the number available for any given device.  What you want may be for tablets, or phones, and if it is for both then Microsoft probably double counted it.  But fundamentally, despite some improvement, on either a Windows Tablet or Phone you are going to find desirable (perhaps necessary) apps missing in action.  If apps are important, look to iOS or Android devices.

So what will 2015 bring?  Windows 10 of course.  One can’t underestimate the importance of Windows 10 to Microsoft’s prospects in the client OS realm.  It is realistically their last chance at avoiding a slow slide towards irrelevance in this particular space.  I’m not just talking about phones and tablets, where Microsoft has yet to establish relevance, I’m talking about desktops as well.  When I’m in a room with executives from just about any industry there is a mix of PCs and Mac’s.  If it is a room of technology professionals, Mac’s are equal to and sometimes a majority versus Windows PCs.  Throw in college environments and the handwriting is on the wall.  Leading indicator audiences are adopting the Mac.

If your senior executives have Macs it means your Helpdesk and the rest of your organization’s IT department are learning to support Macs in the environment.  Your organization’s apps, third-party and bespoke, are being called on to treat the Mac as a first-class client.  Even the projection equipment in your conference rooms are now equipped with Mini-Displayport adapters for Macs.  (For an almost humorous example, I was recently in a hotel conference room where the projection equipment was only set up for Mini-Displayport and the presenter couldn’t use their PC to display the presentation.)

I’m in no way claiming the death of Windows, just pointing out a shift that is not healthy for Microsoft.  It is bad enough for Windows that enterprises are letting employees self-select on phones and tablets they use to access corporate resources.  But when employees show up for their first day at a new job and are asked “PC or Mac” it means shrinking market share for Windows.  And it means that Microsoft must now fight for every sale, something that wasn’t the case just a few years ago.  Windows 10 will heavily influence what percentage of those sales Microsoft wins versus loses.

The next indicator of what Windows 10 will bring is expected in late January, when Microsoft is set to unveil a number of consumer-oriented advances.  It will likely also make available a consumer preview of Windows 10.  But the real excitement including, I hope, significant advances on the hardware front from both Microsoft and the OEMs, won’t come until next fall.  And if either Windows 10 or new hardware fall short?  Maybe I’ll start writing about the Mac.

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Posted in Computer and Internet, Microsoft, Windows | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL

Take a look at Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL Update – Read Replicas, 9.3.5 Support, Migration, Three New Extensions  for some news.

Posted in Computer and Internet | Leave a comment

Landed. Hiring.

I’ve landed at Amazon Web Services as Vice President of Relational Database Services (RDS).  And I’m hiring!

Please keep in mind that this is my personal blog and the content does not necessarily represent the view of Amazon!

 

Posted in Amazon, Cloud, Computer and Internet, Database | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

On the Threshold with Windows Phone (amongst other things)

Microsoft is working on its next Windows release (isn’t it always) and most rumors point to it being a release code-named Threshold.  The rumors also suggest developers may see Threshold before the end of this year, but general availability is sometime in 2015.  I don’t know about the name or dates, but I do believe that whatever Microsoft does next is absolutely critical for its success or failure in the client OS business.  That particularly holds true for Windows Phone.  So I’m going to call the next release Threshold and discuss it, particularly in the context of Windows Phone but also a more generally.

The most recent bit of Threshold rumor is that Microsoft may make it available for free to Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8.1 customers.  This is neither surprising nor particularly significant financially.  Recall that the vast majority of Windows revenue comes from two sources, new copies of Windows licensed through OEMs for new devices and volume licensing agreements with enterprises.  The Enterprise version of Threshold is unlikely to be free, unless of course you essentially already paid for it by having Software Assurance.  And the OEM version is only free for small form factor devices that currently are not a material part of the business.  So free upgrades is a nice way to encourage adoption, but its financial impact should be negligent in the short-term (and positive in the long-term if it does encourage adoption).

Throughout the rest of this post I’m going to merge rumors and my opinions of what Microsoft must do, and in many cases what I believe they are doing.  Don’t get confused into thinking I have any contacts feeding me facts.  It’s all speculation as far as I’m concerned.  But I wouldn’t bet against what I’m about to say.

Threshold is clearly a release designed to (a) clean up the Windows mistakes of the past few years, (b) reposition Windows as a single platform across a wide variety of devices with experiences tuned for device classes, and (c) establish Windows as the platform for running apps of all types.  A lot has been written about (a) and (b) already so I’ll spend most of my effort here on (c).

The main mistake to be fixed is Windows 8’s de-prioritization of the desktop user, but there are plenty of others.  Even within the Modern user experience there are things that just don’t make sense.  For example, even heavy Windows 8.x users struggle with having Print buried inside the Devices charm.  Tweaks in 8.1, 8.1 Update 1, and in the apps design guidance (e.g., most print-oriented apps now expose their own Print menu item) have worked towards addressing these smaller items.  In Threshold those shortcomings should become mostly a memory.

One of the mistakes for Windows 8 was the incomplete state of the Windows Runtime.  Because the initial version was targeted at specific categories of apps, many developers wrote it off as a dead-end and stuck with their focus on desktop Win32 applications.  Even Microsoft’s most critical application for succeeding in tablets, Office “Gemini”, is held up because the Windows Runtime doesn’t yet support everything it needs.  Threshold will fix this problem, rounding out the Windows Runtime so that it is capable of supporting the vast majority of applications that developers would care to write.  From the lightweight front-end kinds of apps generally found on phones and tablets to the heavyweight productivity and enterprise applications that currently call the Desktop home.

If you combine a fleshed out Windows Runtime with the recently introduced concept of Universal Apps you get a very powerful environment for addressing the app gap.  The app gap is a problem both on tablets and phones for Microsoft, and the initial divergence in development platforms has only made it worse.  Fitbit did an app for Windows early on, but only just released a Windows Phone (universal) app.  On the other hand Yelp has an app for Windows Phone but not Windows.  Add on directional changes in the app platform between Windows Phone 7 and 8 and Microsoft certainly wasn’t making it easy on developers.  That’s already changing, and with Threshold developers should have a clear, complete, and more stable platform to target.

Unfortunately Windows Universal Apps and a stable complete Windows Runtime based development platform isn’t enough to save Windows Phone.  As much as I’ve been a supporter and booster of Windows Phone since it came out, I recently left the fold.  And I have one foot in the “Microsoft should just abandon Windows Phone” camp, because on current course, speed, and publicly visible strategy it will never break out of single digit percentage market share on a world-wide basis.  And if that is the case then it isn’t clear what strategic value it has, nor is there any way it can yield a positive financial return.  So is there a viable strategy for Windows Phone and how does Threshold play into it?

First let me restate the problem.  On a world-wide basis Android has now achieved 85% market share, and its share is growing.  It has achieved roughly the same virtuous cycle as Windows achieved in the 1990s.  Most of the remaining market share accrues to Apple’s iOS, which increasingly looks like it has carved out the same high-end niche that it owns with the Mac in the PC business.  In affluent countries the iPhone has a much stronger position than the world-wide numbers indicate, but the world-wide trends mirror what happened in PCs.  There is, in essence, no room for a third player.

Being that third player means it is hard to gain and keep the attention of the channel (carriers, retailers) or garner the top-tier of OEM support.  And most importantly, it means that Developers see your platform as having the worst return on investment of any they do, or might consider, supporting.  That means they either never bring their apps to your platform, or treat them as second class citizens that are updated less frequently and receive mediocre support, or abandon the platform when they see it makes no financial sense to continue supporting an app on it.  Windows Phone is having all three problems, and unless it gains share rapidly I think abandonments will accelerate.

So how can Microsoft work around developers’ barriers to supporting Windows Phone, and thus close the app gap?  One that we’ve already discussed is making the overall market bigger by having the same apps target all Windows variants.  But in the short run that strategy does more to attract enterprise, as well as more productivity-oriented, apps than the broader consumer app category that makes up the app gap.  So Microsoft has been embarked on a mission of supporting multiple efforts around cross-platform app development.

Microsoft has gotten very close to Xamarin, who offers a way to do cross-platform development using Microsoft technologies.  So close in fact that speculation surfaces periodically that Microsoft will acquire Xamarin.  Microsoft has also thrown its support behind Apache Cordoba,  A platform focused on using JavaScript and HTML to create cross-platform native mobile apps.  In many ways this is a natural move.  With Windows 8 Microsoft sought to capture the attention of the largest development community there is, web developers, by making JavaScript/HTML5 a native Windows app development platform.  It has since made WinJS, the library behind Windows’ support for JavaScript/HTML5 apps, open source and added support for WinJS-based apps to Windows Phone 8.1.  But these moves, while helpful in the long-term, still will not address the app gap in the short or medium terms.

Microsoft has only one play to really close the app gap in the next 12-18 months, and that is something they have to do that if they want Windows Phone to have a future.  That play is make it easy for developers to port Android apps to Windows Phone, a capability I think is likely to be part of Threshold.  It’s possible that Microsoft would simply choose to allow Android apps to run on Threshold, perhaps just on phones but tablets are also a possibility.  There are a number of existing sources for technology to do this, but I suspect Microsoft is working with OpenMobile World Wide.  Want a clue on this?  Open the data sheet for the upcoming OpenMobile ACL for Windows and look at the picture on the upper right.

While being able to run existing Android apps on Windows Phone would close the app gap extremely quickly, it would leave a problem with the quality of the app experience.  I suspect Microsoft is looking to take this another step, and use the opportunity to easily run Android apps on Threshold to convince developers to adapt them to the Microsoft environment.  For example, first use it to encourage developers to support Microsoft services (when running on both Windows and Android).  Then use it to convince developers to turn their Android apps into multi-platform apps, with customizations (to the user experience) when running on Windows.  How far they will go is a big question mark, but I believe they will go beyond just wanting to run existing apps unchanged.

There are lots of risks around supporting Android apps on Threshold.  The first one everyone brings up is that it would seem to discourage developers from creating “native” apps for Windows.  In some cases this will be true, but as (and if) the Windows Phone platform grows in market share than user demand for a higher quality application experience will solve this problem.  But I think a bigger issue is that the strategy doesn’t have a great history of success, at least on a cross-vendor basis.  The analogy most people use is that the ability to run Android apps on the Blackberry hasn’t helped it, but I don’t think that the app gap has been their biggest problem.

I like the OS/2 example better than the Blackberry example.  IBM kept OS/2 going after Microsoft abandoned the effort because (IMHO) they wanted a platform they could control even if its prospects for success on the desktop were virtually nil.  To solve the app gap problem they included the ability to run Windows applications on OS/2, and even had a deal with Microsoft to run Office on it.  It may have helped sell some copies of OS/2, but didn’t help OS/2 achieve anything other than a marginal market share followed by a trip to oblivion.

So the strategy of running Android apps on Windows Phone is risky, but when you have 3% market share how much risk is it really?  And to be clear, closing the app gap is not all that it will take to grow Windows Phone’s market share.  But failure to close the app gap certainly dooms the platform.

While press and pundits will focus on running Android apps on Windows Phone, assuming it is true that Threshold will support this, I think it misses the bigger point.  With Threshold Microsoft may be completing the move away from the our way or the highway application platform to broad acceptance of multiple development technologies and runtimes.  If you follow Azure you’ve already seen Microsoft do this in a big way.  They’ll continue to offer their own application platform, and open source much of it to encourage broader adoption.  But we are clearly in the waning days of Microsoft focusing intensely on a proprietary Windows application platform.

And speaking of thresholds, this is going to be my last blog post on Microsoft or any kind of IT industry analysis/commentary.  There is a time to blog and there is a time to build, and I’ve decided it’s time once again for me to build.  I’ll reveal my plans at an appropriate point in the future.

Posted in Computer and Internet, Microsoft, Mobile, Windows, Windows Phone | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

72 hours with Android

I went ahead and replaced my Nokia Lumia 1020 with an LG G3.  I selected the G3 over a Samsung or Sony device for a couple of reasons, one being stronger recommendations and some of the reviews I read, but also because AT&T was offering a G Watch at half-price if you bought a G3.  And given the Samsung Galaxy S5 is more expensive than the G3, I basically got the G3 and G Watch for just a few dollars more than the S5 alone.  AT&T may (the signage had disappeared) also have had a deal on a Gear purchased with the S5, but it was for a Tizen-based watch and I wanted Android Wear.  So, after 72 hours how do I feel about my choice?

Well to start with, Android is Windows.  I mean, I joked back in the early days that Android was Windows 3.1.  Ok, its more like Windows XP.  In all ways, good and bad.  The UI with frequently used apps on the “desktop” and then there is “All Programs”? Check.  The OEM model leading to a broad variety of hardware?  Check.  The UI that is customized by every hardware vendor and every device is laden with crapware?  Check.  The unbelievable breadth of applications coming out of the ecosystem?  Check.  The complete randomness of app quality and UI consistency coming out of the ecosystem?  Check.  The OS vendor leaving what its competitors have cleanly integrated into the platform to third-parties, resulting in more powerful but poorer quality solutions?  Check.

As an example of that last point take Windows Phone 8.1’s Quiet Hours and Inner Circle features.  I’ve been using it for months and it works perfectly.  Now, try to do the same thing on Android 4.4.2 (KitKat).  It has a Quiet Mode, but no ability to schedule when that should be turned on or off or a provision for designated family and friends to break through it.  Getting alarms during quiet mode requires that you know to go into the settings in the Clock app and enable alarms breaking through.  Not very functional or user-friendly.

But of course we have third parties to the rescue and there are a variety of apps that do everything from give you a simple widget to toggle quiet mode on/off to complex scheduling of when to turn it on or off and creation of multiple groups to whom you can allow breaking through.  The latter gives you a much more powerful capability than Windows Phone’s built-in feature, except….  If you read the reviews of these third-party apps they all appear to have reliability issues.  The scariest one, because no amount of testing on your part will let you trust it not to happen, is that at some unknown point in the future the breakthrough capability will stop working.  No doubt when some critical phone call or text comes through.  Scary!

Otherwise it’s just a computer.  Or phone.  Or whatever.  No I don’t particularly care for Android’s UI, I think both Windows Phone and iOS are better phone user interfaces.  They certainly are better for 90% of users out there.  But does this really matter?  How many people will argue that the Mac had a better UI than Windows during most of their lifespans to date?  Most, including many who were on the Windows team!  Yet Windows won.

But the apps I want are all available and I’m having a blast no longer feeling like the cobbler’s kid with no shoes.  And that is also the main reason Windows won in the PC era.

But actually the surprise here for me was the G Watch.  I’d told friends that I was holding off on my next phone until later this year when I could see what the best smart watches were and which ecosystems they worked with.  I was hoping I’d get to compare, at least, Google Wear devices, a reported iWatch, and reported Microsoft smartband.  And then I’d go with the phone that could support the watch.  My Total Connect 2.0 problem accelerated the phone decision and the G Watch deal accelerated my initial smartwatch decision.

I like the G Watch.  I’m amazed at how useful the small screen actually is.  Do I wish I could do even more?  Sure.  Am I disappointed?  Not at all.  The G Watch has cut the frequency I need to pull the phone out of my pocket by at least 60%.  For example, I don’t pull the phone out of my pocket to check email until I see notification on the phone that something important has come in.  Or my favorite, touch the watch and say “Remind me to…” rather than fishing out the phone to do that.  I was thrilled with my Lumia 1020 and Cortana making that scenario work, but being able to do it through an interface that is always a fraction of second from being ready is amazing.  And having the reminders always there at a glance is equally amazing. There is more to the G Watch and to Android Wear, and this isn’t a review.  I’m just saying the device is not only useful, but something I’m actually willing to wear.

And now to do something I almost never do, give Google credit.  For a V1.0 product they’ve done a great job on Android Wear.  I thought it would take Apple to make a smart watch capable of going mainstream, and they may yet leapfrog Google, but Google certainly got there first with a decent platform.  With this good a first pass the OEMs are going to be pumping out devices.  The LG G Watch isn’t a bad attempt at all, but others (such as Motorola) have more fashionable devices coming.

I’m sticking with the Microsoft ecosystem.  Fortunately Microsoft has OneDrive, Outlook.com, Xbox Music, and other apps for Android.  Oddly the Play Store won’t offer me OneNote or Office Mobile because it thinks they aren’t compatible with the G3.  It isn’t known if this is an actual application problem, or a problem in the metadata that Microsoft supplied to the Play Store.  And most speculation is that the problem is with the G3’s unusual QHD screen.  Whatever, I hope that this gets solved soon as I do depend on OneNote.

Google of course did coax me out of my attempt to totally avoid its ecosystem, and so I do now have a Google Account.  And that includes Gmail, although I plan to use it for a very narrow set of things. Of course using Google Now means I’m sharing a lot of information with Google.  And I can certainly see myself drawn a bit more into Google’s world over time.

There isn’t much else to report at this point.  I’m really liking being able to run all the apps I’ve always wanted, but I do miss Windows Phone.  Hopefully in another year or two the app gap will truly have closed enough that I can go back.  But I’m not holding my breath.

Posted in Computer and Internet, Microsoft, Mobile, Windows Phone | 4 Comments

I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up

I’ve been using a Windows Phone since Windows Phone 7 shipped, and for many years before that (with the exception on 1 year on the iPhone 3GS) I used Windows Mobile.  Indeed my history with Microsoft’s mobile offerings goes back to the original Handheld PC followed by a number of Pocket PCs.  So for the last few years, with the occasional complaint , I’ve worked around Windows Phone’s so-called App Gap.  It hasn’t been pleasant.  And now I have hit an app requirement that doesn’t appear to have a workaround.  One that might drive me to Android, if not back to an iPhone.

There is no Windows Phone application for the Honeywell Total Connect 2.0 security system.  There is one for the iPhone, Android, and (get this) Blackberry.  The website requires Apple QuickTime, so that isn’t an answer.  In fact if you go to the website with WP8.1 it thinks you are on a Blackberry and tells you to download the Blackberry app!

There is a third party app.  Many users report trouble getting it to work, and even those who rate it highly say it has very limited function.  Basically you can arm or disarm.  But that isn’t the only reason I need to access my system, so the app (even if it works) is inadequate.  Further, it costs $2.99 and there is no trial.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered downloading it, but I wanted to see for myself.  So now I’m down $2.99.  The app works, but won’t do what I need.  So I’m S O L.

Of course moving off Windows Phone would bring other benefits, like being able to control my SONOS  (another case of inadequate third-party apps not really filling the gap) or sync my Fitbit without using my wife’s iPhone.  Or actually get a smartwatch.  Or run a dozen or more other apps where I’ve resigned myself to struggling with a website for the last few years.

Of course some of these things are coming to Windows Phone.  Eventually.  Maybe.  I mean, Uber finally made it this week.  Finally.  Are the other things imminent?  Who knows.  They could appear next month, or I could get someone pregnant and see my child graduate high school first.  Someone said that to me recently and I thought they were joking, now I’m not so sure.

So I’ve finally fallen into the app gap.  And as long as I stay on Windows Phone it seems I can’t get up.  I’m done fighting, tomorrow I’ll probably get a Samsung Galaxy S 5.  Lemming seems like a fine label to wear right now.

 

Posted in Computer and Internet, Linux and Android, Microsoft, Mobile, Windows Phone | Tagged , , | 54 Comments

Microsoft the OEM

I’ve started blogging at CITEworld.  I’ll keep blogging here as well, so watch this space :-)

 

Posted in Computer and Internet