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Aside

Microsoft buys Xamarin

25 Feb

About time.

Not just got the technology, but just as much (if not more so) for the awesome staff.

Good move.

So now the bridges really can go both ways.

The top 1%

1 Feb

Or to put it more accurately, the bottom 1%.

That’s where market share of Windows Mobile has plummeted to (worldwide, I see quite a few WM phones in the wild here), and it’s depressing. As one developer who is pulling out of Windows Mobile put it “the market share is falling, and Microsoft doesn’t seem to be doing anything to combat it”.

And finally, I’ve come to agree.

I think Microsoft does see a future in Windows Phone, but it doesn’t see it as anything other than rounding out its offerings and as an insurance policy if they get locked out of Android or iOS.

What a shame. Competition was good, and having a third player is better than having two competing companies for everyone involved. Plus, I do genuinely believe Windows Mobile has the better interface, but that’s now largely academic.

So My lowly Lumia 550 may well be my last Windows Mobile device, even if the surface phone was to arrive. This makes me sad as it feels like taking a step back.

So where to next? Well, probably Android rather than iOS, purely because I’ll probably be concentrating my development efforts there, now Windows Mobile is effectively dead.

Which itself is interesting. I spent some time refreshing my Android knowledge mid last year, only to switch back to Universal Apps and then ASP.Net/Knockout/Bootstrap as work dictated.

With Windows Mobile out of the picture there isn’t as much of a draw to develop Universal Applications, after all, they’ll be universal on what?

HoloLens? Brilliant. No good to me now though.

IoT? Very interesting. But not commercially any use for me.

XBox? I love my XBox. I’m not interested in developing for it.

There’s only one thing that Microsoft can do to reignite my interest in Universal Applications right now – add Android compatibility.

Microsoft dropped the Astoria bridge (or at least postponed it indefinitely) which bought Android applications over to Windows Mobile. Perhaps it is looking at the problem the opposite way around now – bring Windows Universal applications over to Android.

That would be great!

But what would Microsoft get out of it?

Possibly sales of its development tools, which is not to be sniffed at.

If the apps go in the Amazon or Google Play stores they won’t get a cut of the revenue there, but licensing apps developed with the technology could also produce a revenue stream (although be unpopular I’d imagine). Or launch their own store, which would be silly.

Or perhaps the best thing they would get is more apps in the Windows 10 store – both desktop and mobile. That would be one hell of a Trojan horse. Possibly even enough to make Windows Mobile a viable proposition again if enough apps were released this route…

That’s one hell of a long shot, based on zero evidence. It’s just flights of fancy from a disheartened developer. But my god it’s appealing!

But that’s not where the company is going. They are more interested in seeing people using their services on whatever platform these days, and that is a good thing for them. The days of Windows being king are long gone, as well they should be in this new world.

But a unified development platform could also be potentially good for Microsoft. They too would benefit from the develop once run anywhere model that Java never quite achieved. But it’s a lot of work with many compromises…. which they have already worked out how to address with the current UWP implementation.

So come on Microsoft – make Universal Apps that little bit more Universal, and restore my faith!

Until then, I’m going back to the web.

Cutting Edge Technology?

6 Jan

I’ve just purchased a new Windows Phone (OK, we’re calling it Windows Mobile again now we’ve hit Windows 10 everywhere, I’m sorry). It’s my third Windows phone device (I’m referring to the device, not the OS, so it’s a Windows phone – with a small ‘p’) and the ninth Windows phone device I’ve been responsible for purchasing.

This phone is for me, and it will be used for development purposes as well as a daily driver.

So what did I get?

The new flagship Lumia 950XL that I’ve had my eye on for months?

No.

I went for a SIM-Free Lumia 550 for £49.99 (plus £10 top-up).

Yep. My main phone for (at least) the next few months is about the cheapest device Microsoft is churning out at the moment. It’s also about 1/8th of the price of the 950XL I had my eye on.

I’ve had it a week, and so far I’m impressed… stunned when I consider how much it cost.

The 550 doesn’t do everything I want, the biggest omission being Continuum support that I plan to look into developing against, but I feel this functionality requires a bit more work from Microsoft before it is ready for prime time so I’m OK holding off on that for a while.

Then there’s things like the camera which isn’t a patch on the beast on the 950 variants (but surprisingly seems to be able to knock out better photos than my partner’s Lumia 640).

The speed is also nothing to write home about, but then Windows Phone/Mobile have always been very responsive so it’s quite zippy, and it’s still better than my aging Lumia 920.

Oh, and it already runs Windows 10 natively, by which I mean the device is supplied with Windows Mobile 10 out of the box, and doesn’t require the current workaround of signing up to the Insider Preview required by all the other handsets other than the 550 and 950 variants (of course, that’s likely to change in a matter of days as the rollout for prior devices should start commencing very soon).

Otherwise the phone is very good. Windows Mobile 10 is still a work in progress, but very good with only a few little gripes (why did my screen go blank for a few seconds earlier today?) which are more than outweighed by the new functionality available. I decided to start fresh with this device and not install any backups from other devices so this is probably helping the stability side, and fortunately for me I’ve not encountered any serious issues… so far.

The SD card slot is a godsend. I’ve put a 128Gb Micro SD card in the phone (Amazon Black-Friday deal), and almost all apps and data are installed on this, so even though the phone only comes with 8Gb of internal memory, I’ve still got almost 3Gb of that free (more than I typically had on my Lumia 920), with acres of space left on the SD card for me to fill up with my media, etc.

So all in all I’m impressed with this cheap little device, and can see myself using it for a while. Longer term I’ll be tempted by something a little more powerful (be that the 950 XL when some of the issues are sorted and the price has dropped) or should a Surface Phone arrive that actually offers something new (X-86 and desktop apps under Continuum? Yes please!)

Then again I should be impressed, I have just come from a handset that was released over three years ago, a lot has changed in that time.

But still, £50!!!!

It’s a steal.

To The Cloud!

1 Apr

I’ve been using OneDrive for many years now, starting not long after it’s release as SkyDrive. Back then new users were allocated 25Gb of storage space for free, an incredible amount for the time. In later years this initial free allocation has fallen to 15Gb for new members, although existing users kept their 25Gb quota (this is listed as 15Gb free and 10Gb loyalty bonus in the graphic below).

Also over the years I’ve taken up or been assigned various other offers of additional free space, the most notable of which was the 200Gb of free space for two years after I purchased my Surface Pro 2. This has meant that I’ve always had plenty of cloud space to play with, and saw me starting to transition my digital photo backups to the cloud, consisting of many gigabytes of files.

Recently I took out an office 365 subscription which now means I have 1 terabyte of cloud space at my disposal. Actually, that’s not true, I have unlimited space but either Microsoft is still rolling this out, or it’s assigned as you come close to needing it, I can’t remember exactly what the situation is but it’s not an issue right now.

OneDriveAllocation

So how much does all this cost… well an office 365 Home subscription for 5 people officially costs £79.99. So that’s Office on the desktop for 5 people (including all updates, so when patches or the next version are released you are eligible for them), plus that 1Tb/Unlimited OneDrive space for each of the 5 users (alternatively for £59.99 is Office 365 Personal, a single user licence is available). Oh, and there’s 60 minutes of Skype calls to landlines (worldwide I think) per month included too.

It’s expensive for some users, but for somebody like me it’s good value. Not that I paid full price, a quick search on eBay can reveal some decent savings, along with the fact that a lot of phones and small screen tablets come with a year of Office 365 Personal thrown in for free, sometimes with devices costing less than the £59.99 of the licence when purchased on its own!

So considering I never used more than about 10% of my free allocation, with more than 1Tb of space I now have it was time to start shifting more of my precious files to the cloud. I’ve already mentioned moving my photo archive over. This is a slow process as I’m trying to take the opportunity to make sure the photos are correctly tagged and filed as I go.

So what else goes up?

Well, I started to copy over the FLAC rips of my music CDs I’ve completed, since this took so much time and it would be nice to have an offsite backup.

And now Xbox music allows you to stream MP3 and AAC files stored in the Music folder on OneDrive, so I’m currently copying them over slowly (the flac rips have gone on hold until this process is completed). Unfortunately this archive consists of many gigabytes of data so it is a slow process, especially with the comically bad upload speed I get on my current Virgin cable connection (I can’t upgrade as I’ll be locked in to a new contract for another year and I want to move house soon). I’m trying to alleviate this by performing as many uploads as I can over hotel Wi-Fi, but even so it’s a slow process.

So what next?

Well, my documents are already on there. Personal videos are going up as a by-product of the photos. I don’t think I have the bandwidth to put ripped DVDs and Blu-Ray files in the cloud. So I’m not sure.

What I do know is that it’s good knowing I have a backup of my files offsite. Being able to easily stream or view those files is also a fantastic feature.

Now then, let’s get that move sorted and get some serious internet upload speed.

Cheap as chips

5 Mar

I’ve just seen this advert on the front of a free newspaper somebody left on the train:

The Lumia 435 is the lowest specified Windows Phone available, but for £25 you are getting a stunning amount of hardware.

This would make a brilliant back up phone or a first phone for a child.

There is a catch though, you need to be an existing customer for 3 months which is the biggest downer, otherwise the phone is £60 from Carphone warehouse, in which case I’d either pay the extra for a Lumia 635, or wait for the Lumia 640 to arrive.

Still, I’m impressed with the aggressive pricing.

Miracast Woes (continued)

30 Jul

Some time ago I purchased myself a new 3D Blu-Ray player (probably over a year ago) with Miracast built in. When I subsequently acquired my Surface Pro 2 I was, as far as I was aware, ready to go.

Only the Surface couldn’t communicate with the Blu-Ray in either direction. At various points in time the two would see each other momentarily, then just disconnect for no apparent reason.

As time has passed both these devices have had numerous firmware and software updates, which leaves me in the state I’m in today.

Now, the two devices are somewhat more likely to discover each other (although not consistently) and long enough for Windows to “install” the device as a projection target, but after this the devices disconnect again.

Only once have they managed to connect long enough for the Surface to start projecting the screen contents, unfortunately this wasn’t long enough for anything to actually appear on my TV.

I thought it was just me, but reading through several unassociated reports on the web it appears that Miracast is just not ready for prime time – yet.

And this is a problem for Microsoft, even though it’s not of it’s own doing.

Unlike Apple’s AirPlay or Google’s ChromeCast, Miracast is based on open standards. Unlike the other two, Miracast is only just getting to the stage where it is starting to work reliably on new devices with new chipsets. AirPlay and ChromeCast have both been working for a while now.

So what will people choose to use?

I’ve just been sat listening to a couple of people discussing how easy it is to use AirPlay. Everything “just works”.

This almost makes me cringe, after all: What can I use as an alternative. At the moment the answer is nothing really.

I also find it ironic that the Android crowd who constantly bemoan how much better and open Android is (when it isn’t, but more on that another time) rally around their closed alternative.

But then that’s exactly why Apple and Google could get their products working first, by controlling both ends you control the fixes for any issues found and are not so heavily reliant on anyone else.

So by doing “the right thing” and going for an open standard, Microsoft have lost some ground yet again. Of course, I don’t know how much of the problem is down to Microsoft themselves, but since these issues exist with Miracast on other platforms I’d suggest there is an underlying issue there somewhere.

So now I expect the only way I’ll get Miracast working reliably is to sit out the next few months and buy a new device at some point.

Shame.

Phone Updates

15 Apr

Microsoft, quite rightly, came in for a lot of flak when it was revealed that users of Windows Phone 7.x devices would not be able to upgrade their devices to Windows Phone 8. I was affected by this, but wasn’t as annoyed by some as I only had a few months remaining on my contract before I was able to upgrade my phone, and besides I’d been through this type of pain before having owned an Android device.

It seems that Android users will regularly receive no new manufacturer implemented updates after a short space of time, typically I’d guess within a year. Sure these phones can be unlocked (often without jumping through too many hoops) and a custom ROM applied on the device. Many of these custom ROMs are of outstanding quality and implement features not found on the manufacturer equivalent… but they are ultimately unofficial. For many this is of no consequence, however it was always something I was a little uneasy with.

Yesterday I downloaded the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview to my aging Nokia Lumia 920 (I’ve had this device 14 months, the phone itself was released about 18 months ago I’d guess) without any issues, and it all seems to be running without issue. In doing so I wondered to myself how many Android devices launched around the same time are still receiving official manufacturer updates now. Not too many I’d guess.

The Windows Phone 8.1 update will be available for all Windows Phone 8 hardware with the exception of one carrier specific variant in the US (Lumia 810?), however even users of this will be able to update via the developer programme if they want (the restriction has been imposed by the carrier that released this model apparently).

It’s not all good though. The updates will trickle out to non-developers only as the update passes approval on each device from each carrier. This seems a little crazy to me, and something Apple should be applauded for by bypassing this restriction. Still, at least there is a way to get the update early, so that’s something I guess.

Now I just wonder how long my current phone will be supported for with further updates? By virtue of the fact that the OS is getting increasingly lightweight and running on ever less powerful hardware, I’m hopeful updates will continue for quite some time yet.

Touchy touchy

10 Mar

Several times recently (actually, since it was released) I’ve had people ask me my opinion on Windows 8. It’s always been a case of “I like it a lot, but it’s not without its issues. Overall I prefer it to Windows 7”

It used to be the case that I would almost be told that my opinion was wrong and that Windows 8 was in actual fact a bag of balls, usually by people who had read about it but not used it for more than a few minutes in PC World (if at all).

I have started to see the negative attitudes soften recently, but the response since I’ve had my Surface has been “Well you’re using it with a touchscreen”

True, sometimes. On the train, taking notes in stand-ups, etc. but mostly I use the surface as a regular set-up with mouse, keyboard and either one or two monitors connected. This is just a natural set-up for me, especially when doing productivity work or coding.

My Work Setup

I guess I use the surface in a conventional configuration about 75% of the time (if not more) as I’m mostly using it for, or at work.

So how well does this set-up work for me?

Fine. In fact I’m impressed with some of the multi-monitor control in Windows 8.1, although less impressed with some of the scaling issues on older desktop software, but it’s an irritant rather than a deal breaker. Other than that I’m happy to have the choice between modern and desktop apps. For me modern apps work well with a mouse, and if intelligently written the layout on a large monitor is used well.

Again, I’ll say it’s not perfect, but it is as good as Windows 7 in many ways, and in others it’s better. But that’s just me, I went in not so sure but with an open mind as I like new shiny things.

Oh, and all those additional cables and extra mice in the photo – there are multiple desktop only machines under my work desk. I’m not currently using them, why would I?

Aside

Blinkered…

31 Jan

I’m listening to a podcast at the moment (which I won’t mention as week by week it is going down in quality very rapidly) and one of the presenters has just commented that he is surprised how Outlook (the desktop client) has become so entrenched in enterprise.

He makes a valid point, but I feel you have to take a step back. Outlook may be getting a little long in the tooth now, but it provided such a breath of fresh air to companies moving from the clunky Lotus Notes that it really was a genuine step up for many purposes. The document repository functionality wasn’t there (in my experience), but grudgingly I can accept SharePoint offers something similar.

I’m fairly fond of Outlook on the desktop, but my move into Microsoft cloud services and Windows 8 has seen me use it mainly for work rather than leisure nowadays. Times are changing, but for the enterprise time moves more slowly and often in an alternate direction.

As an aside, I was also reminded of a conversation I had with a colleague a couple of years ago:

“I remember using the beta versions of Outlook and the initial versions which were free before they folded it into the Office SKU” I remarked.

“Outlook has never been free” he replied.

Okay…..

PhotoSynth 2 Preview

12 Dec

The new version of PhotoSynth has been released as a preview, and now offers walk, spin, panorama and wall modes, but loses the zoomed source photo functionality that I’m particularly fond of (apparently it doesn’t work so well in a “touch first” world, but they may add it later.

It’s still in beta, but well worth a look, see http://photosynth.net/preview/

My efforts can be found at http://photosynth.net/preview/users/Imorital , let me know what you think in the comments below.

Blackwall Basin Wall by Imorital on Photosynth

Blackwall Basin Walk by Imorital on Photosynth

Canary Wharf Panorama by Imorital on Photosynth

Blackwall Basin Spin by Imorital on Photosynth