Posts Tagged ‘ Wireless ’

Microsoft created a virtual assistant, made Windows free on small devices, and brought back the Start button – but it’s still playing catch-up

This has been a big week for Microsoft, with a flood of new announcements and changes of direction. Along with its Build conference, new CEO Satya Nadella has made a number of moves designed to reverse the public perception that the company is an aging also ran in the technology races.

The changes include
Rolling out its new Cortana digital voice assistant
Announcing that Windows would be free to manufacturers of devices with small screens
Coming out with “universal” Windows technology that helps developers build apps that run on multiple versions of Microsoft’s operating system
Reviving the popular “Start” menu for Windows 8.1

Though some of those moves are more important than others, they’re all good things. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be enough to solve Microsoft’s problem of being seen as your father’s technology vendor. Here’s why:

Consumers vs. IT
As noted above, Microsoft’s issues right now revolve around how the company is perceived by consumers, and it’s unlikely that these initiatives will be enough to change those perceptions. While all useful, none of them are truly new. Instead, they’re playing catch-up to existing products and services from Microsoft’s competitors, perhaps with incremental improvements, or acknowledgements that previous Microsoft strategies simply weren’t working out.

Technology professionals will welcome these changes, but the IT community isn’t where Microsoft’s problems lie. In my experience,, enterprise IT generally likes and trusts the company. Microsoft’s challenges lie in convincing fickle consumers that it’s as cool and innovative as Apple and Google. I can’t imagine these moves being exciting enough to do that.

Better, but not better enough
While initial reports suggest that Cortana is a credible or even superior alternative to Apple’s Siri and Google Now, the fact remains that other companies pioneered the voice assistant idea. Cortana would have to be light-years better than its already-in-place rivals to truly give Microsoft a significant advantage.

Similarly, making Windows free for mobile devices may help spark more device makers to adopt the platform, but it’s not like it will make an immediate difference to consumers. Besides, Android is already free to license. Once again, Microsoft is playing catch up.

Universal Windows app development may pay off with more app choices in the long run, but it’s a pretty geeky concept for most end users. Finally, bringing back the Start menu will ease the transition to Windows 8 for some holdouts, but let’s face it, the cool kids aren’t really interested in desktop Windows at this point.

Put it all together and you’ve got a collection of tweaks and that could change the substance of what Microsoft does, but won’t dent the way most people think of the company.

More, please!
Still, there’s a big ray of hope here. The fact that Microsoft was willing and able to make these changes could signal that more are on the way. If Microsoft can keep shaking things up and continue to show that things really are different now, eventually people will begin to notice and perhaps change their minds about the company. And then it truly won’t be your father’s Microsoft any more.


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I made the switch to an (almost) entirely Android environment, and you can too.

Over the last few months, my household has become increasingly “Android-centric.” Between my Nexus 7 and my Samsung S3, roughly 90% of my computing needs (reading news, email, messaging, etc.) have been taken care of. Even my game console and TV have become Android-powered (with mixed results).

This got me thinking…

Would it be possible for me to live entirely on Android devices? This ends up being a pretty tall order, as my “work life” is pretty all over the map. In order for this to be viable, I need a way to build Linux, Windows, Mac and DOS software, as well as do general web development, write and do some graphic design for my comics.

Basically, I’m asking my Nexus 7 to be a complete desktop PC replacement – which it was never really meant to do. No PC. No Linux (other than within Android). No Windows. No Mac. No laptops. No desktops. Just Android tablets and phones.

Want to know something crazy? It worked. And it worked really, really well (at least for me). Here’s how I went about it.

For my graphic design needs, I make use of Photoshop Touch (for general layered design needs) and Pixelesque (as I do a fair bit of pixel-art). Neither is perfect – Photoshop Touch, for example, has an astoundingly under-powered Text tool – but both are pretty doggone good.

For my writing, things get really simple. There are plenty of Office Suites available within the Google Play store – some are even completely free. But, for me, I ended up just using good-old Google Drive. It’s not the most feature-filled word processor on the planet, but it has served my needs well. And having all of my documents always available on every device using the same interface? Glorious.

Which brings me to software development.

This one seemed like the biggest potential problem to start with. Is the screen large enough to edit large quantities of code? How about for GUI designing? Are there tools even available to build desktop PC apps on an Android device? Do these little devices have enough horsepower to handle this?

That’s when it dawned on me… remote desktop. Here’s how I approached it.

I got myself a virtual private server from a hosting company. You can find a decently powerful rig (2+ gigs of ram, lots of storage, etc.) for pretty cheap. I’m currently paying around $30 bucks a month and have a server running that I can dual boot Windows and Linux (actually triple boot: openSUSE and Ubuntu) and connect via VNC, Splashtop or RDC (depending on my mood and which protocol is fastest on any particular system).

Then connect a USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (yes, Android handles mice just like any desktop computer operating system) and you’ve got a desktop replacement in every sense of the word. You could say that I’m not really “living in Android” if I’m remoting in to a non-Android system to do some work, and you’d kinda-sorta be right.

But, in practice, that works quite well. Is it as fast as having a dedicated, brand-new, dev PC sitting on my desk? No. Certainly not. But it’s close, and for most purposes it’s definitely fast enough. And the benefits far outweigh the downsides.

The big benefit: I have my full dev system with me wherever I go. My phone. My tablet. Anywhere. And the screen resolution on newer Android phones and tablets is pretty comparable to that on any laptop you might get – heck, the Nexus 10 has a 2,560×1,600 display. That handily beats my primary monitor on my desk.

Some other benefits:

I don’t need to buy a new PC.
I don’t need to pay for power for a big PC.
I don’t need to find a place to stick a PC.
When I want a new, more powerful, development machine… I simply upgrade to a new virtual private server with any hosting company I like. (I keep everything stored in Dropbox and GitHub… so moving to new machines is just a few-minute process.)
If I need desktop PC functionality for any other reason… it’s right there, ready for me to use.

Approaching it from this angle makes me mobile. Very, very mobile. I’m also not tied to any particular device. For a guy like me, that means a lot.

So, it works. It provides me with all of the functionality of having a dedicated tower PC sitting on my desk, except it’s more mobile and flexible.

But what about the financial side? How does that compare?

The only additional cost for me is the dedicated server, which is currently running $30 per month. This can range from $15 to upwards of $100 monthly, depending on your needs and choice of host. Assuming I stick with the $30 server (which is working thus far) my total cost for my dev server is $360 per year.

Let’s say you upgrade your PC every three years. If you would typically spend more than $1,080 on a new dev machine… you’re saving money by simply using a remote server (especially after you factor in power). If you’d normally spend, say $600 bucks, well then having a remote server is going to be more expensive for you during a 3-year cycle.

Another variation on this would be to buy yourself a little cheap, low-power PC (such as a higher-end Atom powered Net-top rig) and let that be your dedicated PC that you remote into. That would save a few bucks overall.

For me, this approach saves me money – though only a little, especially after you factor in any accessories (like portable Bluetooth keyboards and such) – and makes me more portable, which is a big win.

In short: Is it possible for most Software Developers, Writers and Artists to live entirely on an Android device?

Yes, if they’re willing to have a remote PC somewhere to pick up the slack.

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Latest report says Windows Phone will be neck-and-neck with iPhone by 2017.

Some time back, IDC predicted that Windows Phone would overtake iPhone to be the dominant platform in the smartphone business. This was met with a round of snickering and outright laughter. IDC gave Microsoft and Nokia until 2015, so they have two years to go, but right now, it doesn’t look like it will happen, does it?

And, according to this report from Canalys, it won’t happen. Canalys predicts that by 2017, the iPhone will have a 14.1% market share, while Windows Phone is right behind it with a 12.7% share. As of last year, the iPhone had a 19.5% market share, and Windows Phone a 2.4% market share.

Nothing changes with the Android market, which at this point should be called the Samsung market. It had 67.7% market share last year and will be at 67.1% in 2017.

Jessica Kwee, analyst with Canalys, said in the report that “Apple’s growth will be curtailed by the fact that momentum in the smartphone market is coming from the low end, and Apple is absent from this segment.”

Conversely, Microsoft and its partners, particularly Huawei, will deliver lower-end phones at more competitive pricing. Over the long term, the low-cost Chinese manufacturers will be what pushes Windows Phone into double digits.

“Longer-term it is the Chinese vendors that are best placed to challenge Samsung’s market dominance. Microsoft already has a relationship with Huawei and ZTE in the phone space, and Lenovo is a major partner in the PC space. These partners will be needed to help deliver the scale that Microsoft needs,” Kwee wrote.

I can agree on the Apple side of the analysis. Apple has always been a premium product maker for an affluent audience, and there is no intention of changing that. The game changer will be if Windows Phone ever lands OEMs that will push into the high end. It had LG and Samsung, then lost both. Nokia is going a great job, better than I expected, but it is essentially going it alone.

Then again, that’s how most of the smartphone market is operating if you think about it. The iOS market is Apple only. BlackBerry has talked of licensing its OS; so far, no takers. Nokia is pretty much the Windows Phone market with a little on the low-end via HTC, and Samsung is almost half of the total Android market.

There are other variables I don’t think Canalys took into consideration. What will Samsung do when it ships its Tizen OS? That will surely change the landscape. What if Windows Phone gains momentum and some of these also-ran Android phone companies decide they have a better chance with WP than against Samsung?

That’s why market predictions, like the weather in New England, are impossible to predict beyond one day.

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Microsoft and Google are working together to support the FCC’s free Wi-Fi proposal that might mean you could dump that monthly cellphone bill.

How sweet would it be to dump that monthly cellphone bill in favor of making calls over free Wi-Fi networks, so powerful it would be like “Wi-Fi on steroids”? Microsoft and Google are working together to support the FCC’s powerful Wi-Fi for free proposal. As a bonus, Super Wi-Fi is also “super for improving how we transmit and distribute energy in America.” However, as you might imagine, wireless carriers are fit to be tied and doing their best to put a stop to providing such free access.

Of course, it’s not the first time that the Microsoft-Google team — now there’s a phrase you don’t see very often — joined forces. In 2007, Microsoft, Google, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Philips came together to give FCC officials a “free phone” prototype device built by Microsoft. The FCC later rejected the white space device. Microsoft had wanted to be named an administrator to rule the white spaces, but so did Google. Microsoft came up with Wi-Fi over narrow channels which the company called WiFi-NC last year. In February 2012, Microsoft, Google and hundreds of other nonprofit groups and companies urged Congress not to restrict the FCC’s authority to structure proposed spectrum auctions.

Now, the Washington Post, which has jumped on the “Chinese-hacked-us-too” bandwagon, reported that Google, Microsoft and other tech giants “say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.”

The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.

The new WiFi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.

Meanwhile, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and chip makers Intel and Qualcomm are lobbying hard against the FCC’s proposal. In fact, AT&T announced that it, Verizon and T-Mobile had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Defense “to test the viability of sharing 95 MHz of spectrum that is currently used by DoD and other federal agencies. This spectrum is located in the 1755 to 1850 MHz spectrum band, which NTIA has analyzed in great detail for potential clearing and sharing opportunities.” These wireless carrier companies are opposed to using the spectrum for free Wi-Fi to the public and insist that the airwaves should instead be sold to businesses.

But FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has designed the free Wi-Fi plan. If you are interested, you can read Genachowski’s Presentation on White Spaces for Wireless Broadband and Genachowski’s remarks to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology. He told the Washington Post, “Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers.”

As Neowin pointed out, Microsoft and Google want more devices connecting to their cloud services such as Microsoft’s new Office 365, dubbed as “Your complete office in the cloud.”

It would seem as if law enforcement would be vehemently opposed to such free Wi-Fi. After all, law enforcement has a gold mine when it comes to spying via wireless carriers. In 2011, the cops collected a staggering 1.3 million customer records. Innocent Americans get caught in dragnet surveillance via cell tower dumps. The ACLU has warned that location tracking is out of control. Additionally, the ACLU uncovered “new” law enforcement/mobile carrier spying deals, such as “voicemail cloning, copying existing voicemail to a different account, resetting voicemail PIN, or the Verizon smorgasbord for law enforcement mobile/landline spying.” It seems the feds hope to replace warrantless GPS tracking with warrantless cell phone surveillance. But on the other hand, even with free and powerful wireless networks, cell phones wouldn’t go away entirely.

Besides, as it stands now with ECPA, the cloud is the cloud and any info stored there is not private, but is a favorite surveillance hunting ground used by law enforcement. Also, keep in mind that when an online service is “free,” it is because you are the product. Just the same, let’s hope the Microsoft/Google “team force” can help bring on the free Wi-Fi on steroids!

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