I was watching an interview between Mark Minasi, tech author and columnist, and Mark Russinovich, CTO of Microsoft Azure on cloud computing. It was an interesting conversation and I was reminded of it recently with the release a new service bundle by Microsoft. Now in the conversation, Minasi brought up an interesting point about services and the Cloud. he suggested that Amazon with its already dominant cloud service, AWS, could be enhanced by marrying it to its consumer focused service Amazon Prime. Minasi asked Russinovich if Microsoft is thinking about something along these lines. It was an interesting suggestion; marrying cloud, essentially back end, services with consumer offerings. And while Russinovich had no response then; it appear Redmond sees a benefit to such a thing.

The Work and Play Bundle combines Office365 Home, Xbox Live, Xbox Music, and Skype into one bundle for $199 and last for 12 months. Its available  only through the physical Microsoft Stores; so the bundle will be US and Canada only. Its also not as full featured as some may hope; but it is a possible start to a future where Microsoft essentially develops a Prime service. It is interesting to note while Xbox Music is on tap Xbox Video isn’t. Also I’ve heard a few people wanting to have the bundle be more of a mix and match. As of now its limited availability will make the Work and Play bundle more of an experiment than full blown service.

image: Neowin

Windows10_UniversalStore

Windows 10 is bringing changes large and small to the Windows platform; and one key change involves the Store. Introduced in Windows 8, the Windows Store was a place for users to get applications much like the App Store or Google Play. There was and is a lot of questions that Microsoft faced when creating the store beyond consumer applications and it involved the enterprise.

Many enterprises and businesses, while adopting mobile devices, don’t handle iPads and Nexus phones like an individual would. There are certain restrictions employed or specialized apps that are aimed at a specific company. And these needs were not being met by the consumer focus of the Windows store. Functions like device management were light and didn’t include certain services like Active Directory or were not uniform across devices. Side loading applications was also an issue. If a company wanted to use or run an app it had to go through the app store. It made it hard to make a case for Windows devices and especially Windows tablets.

All this will be undergoing a change for Windows 10. During this year’s TechEd Europe conference Senior Vice President, SVP, Mike Niehaus detailed the changes coming for enterprises. The biggest takeaway from the presentation is the Windows Store’s next iteration will be about pushing flexibility. Not only is the Store expanding to take ID beyond the Microsoft Account it’s also becoming optional. Enterprises can also create their own stores or portals making it easier to fit modern apps into the enterprises using the Windows Stack. Additionally Microsoft is making it easier for businesses to do more with app deployment and tracking, This includes things like bulk app buying and the ability to monitor who gets what and how.

The talk did not cover the consumer story but it did show off things regular users will see. For one the Windows 10 will bring a new look for the Store. When Redmond started talking about the idea of One Core it talked about a uniform platform; one of these places was a unified store. The image above illustrates that Windows 10 will combine the various app stores across Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox into one. The Store seems to be expanding to offer some things like music and video directly from the Store instead of Xbox Music and Video; it also appears that PC games and desktop software will also be downloadable.

//channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Europe/2014/WIN-B334/player

It’s not all wine and roses though, recent reports have Microsoft retiring the sales terms for developers starting in 2015. Right now a developer on Windows developing for tablets (Metro applications) gives up 30% to Microsoft. This is similar to how much Apple takes for apps in their marketplace. However if you a reached a certain level of users Microsoft’s take goes down to 20. In the new year Microsoft gets read of the drop. It’s a sad change in pace but the 20 percent was not across the board.

All in all Windows 10 looks to be a lot more than a simple update.

image: Microsoft

Microsoft-Band_Exploded

It all happened very fast. The rumors may have circulated for almost a year or more, but the actual hardware came faster than anyone thought it would. Like most events of note I watched it go down in a series of messages on Twitter. First it was Brad Sams on Neowin and Tom Warren from the Verge both talking about a site for a Microsoft Band going live along with the Microsoft Health app showing up across the App stores for Windows Phone, Google Play, and the App Store. Next came the profile on the Verge that revealed Microsoft’s entry into the smart wearables category; the Microsoft Band.

The Band is a simple device when compared to smart watches running Android Wear or the soon to launch Apple watch. It is a thick, black strap packed full of sensors for monitoring your steps, heart rate, and even your sleep patterns. It has a thin rectangular screen that shows the time and allows access to GPS, messages, Twitter, Facebook, and Starbucks (cause you know you want that Latte). The Band tracks your health and your steps and enters a crowded market with companies like FitBit and Jawbone. Unlike many wearables, the Band is cross platform out of the box.It works with not only Windows but iOS and Android. The device runs $199 before tax and as of now is being sold only in the US. In its first hours of life it sold out at both the online and physical Microsoft Stores.

Microsoft-Band_Cross-Platform

To me the most interesting thing around the Band in its first iteration isn’t the hardware or even the software; most of that will evolve, get slimmer et cetera. What’s interesting is how much the Band and more importantly Microsoft Health is a Platform and Data play. The Band as a device is about digesting health information. Microsoft Health is about taking that information and crunching it to better understand it. In fact I’m surprised no one has talked up the fact Microsoft is talking about licensing the sensor technology and design to other companies. The Band looks to represent moves around Big data instead of high fashion.

Microsoft-Band_Lifestyle_F1

This focus and the device itself will probably disappoint those looking for something like the Moto 360; a smartphone that you put on your wrist. But the Band I think will be an interesting chapter in the future of Microsoft’s Devices and Services.

images: Microsoft

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Last week, Microsoft announced the end of Nokia branded handsets. In a blog posts on the Nokia Conversations blog Senior Vice President Tuula Rytilä talked about the transition from Nokia to Lumia as the brand going forward. She also discussed how Microsoft’s own name would be appearing more prominently on the devices going forward. The blog post also showed off images of how future Lumias would look with Microsoft of the phones.

Rytilä also touched on how Microsoft would handle devices already in market (they’ll be supported) as well as hint to when the first Microsoft Lumias would launch. The changeover had already begun before the post. The various Nokia applications were rebranded and slowly so has the social media accounts. What the post did was to confirm what many already knew; mark the end of Nokia and the beginning of Lumia.

The post marks the end of Nokia as a phone brand and it means Microsoft is now in the driver’s seat as the biggest Windows Phone handset maker. Windows Phones growth has been largely on the back of Nokia and the Lumia line. In almost every way Lumias have become the Windows mobile device to get because of Nokia making betting on Windows Phone. Some would and continue to say that was why the Finnish phone maker ending up selling its hardware business. For me it will be interesting to see how the name change affects sales. The most recent quarter found Microsoft selling 9.3 million units up one million last year. However sales of non-Lumia phones were down. For Redmond there is a concern phones no longer branded as Nokia won’t sale; that many only bought them because of the Nokia. While information was scarce, the VP did discuss the first Lumia branded device. While many are hoping it’ll be a new flagship, I don’t think we will see one until Windows 10.

image: Microsoft

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s New CEO in his 87th week made his first gaffe. He did it in a room he shouldn’t have to a an audience he shouldn’t have and he got burned for it.

Now to set the scene Nadella was at the Grace Hooper Celebration, an event about women in technology. He was part of a keynote session and Q and A hosted by Dr. Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd college. Dr. Klawe is also a member of Microsoft’s Board of Directors. Much of the interview was easy going and Nadella handled himself with his usual casual manner. The problem came when he was asked about how women should go about asking for a raise. Nadella’s response was classic Nadella (complex and deep) it was also a bit tone deaf given the audience. Here is the audio (with a tip of the hat to Neowin):

At the end of Nadella’s talk the headlines about Microsoft’s CEO condoning inequality of pay and one article highlighting him as systemic of a system that hinders women’s advancement in the tech industry. At a time when many are discussing the difficulties women face in technology and the need/want to increase girls and young women to choose the STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) field; Nadella’s comment would be stripped of any nuance.

To his credit, or at least Redmond PR, he clarified his statement. First on Twitter:

Later he made a definitive statement on the matter in which he agreed wholeheartedly that his statements were,

Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong.

Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.

I am pretty sure Mr. Nadella meant no harm in his response and hopefully this was a teaching moment for himself and others. I think that the subject of women in technology is complicated. Not complicated in the larger scope, but on the smaller one. There is a lot of mess going on much of it done by a pack of internet trolls that feel the need to berate women, especially women commenters, who talk about gender issues in field of gaming, computing, and the like. They have created a toxic atmosphere that has many women abandoning social media or retracting their web presence to avoid these fools.

Nadella was again tone deaf in his remarks. What he said sounded to attendees like be good little workers, don’t push and one day you’ll be rewarded by HR. Now he didn’t mean and in his head it probably was clear, but it wasn’t to his audience. Now it also didn’t help that his words were chopped and screwed but that doesn’t matter. The effect was the same. There were a lot of angry people who decided to be heard afterwards.

If I am being honest what he said was a gaffe which he apologized for. It won’t calm those who were incensed and it will just confirm ideals about technology and patriarchy. I just know its hard doing the right thing and harder saying the right  thing and too easy too get it all wrong.

So Hewlett-Packard is getting out of the PC business.

Well really they are splitting the company into HP, the PC and Printer company, and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, the enterprise and solutions company. In many ways the split is as much an abandonment as anything else. HP is following a number of PC vendors who have either refocused on enterprises (Toshiba), stopped selling in certain markets (Samsung), or left the market altogether (SONY).

For HP it makes sense to split off the flailing PC business. It seems to have been in a spiral ever sense former CEO bought Palm in a quest to jumpstart HP’s mobile ambitions. Ever sense his firing it seems like HP has slowly been plagued by the FUD that has spread with the growth of mobile. What I mean by FUD is the moment stories were being written about the iPad as the harbinger of the end of the PC, PC makers scrambled to get to the tablet promised land.

The emergence of mobile as something that competed with laptops and desktops had hardware makers throwing a lot of different things to the wall to see if they’d stick. Couple this with a PC market that is essentially slowed down to predictable patterns and saturation and you have a field where people got nervous. Now I am not going to get into a blame game, namely because there is no one to blame. The PC market is a commodity market; they all offer the same engine (Windows) and are only bought when needed. And while PC makers have added non-Windows devices to their lineup (Android tablets/devices and Chromebooks) They have move the needle little for most. However there is a silver lining; from all accounts PC sales have improved compared to tablets.

Right now an interesting thing appears to be happening to the PC market: it’s consolidating. While the PC market has shrunk it is also stabilizing. However the market going forward will be different. The PC market unlike tablets or smartphones is both mature and saturated. While there is some growth there is also low margins. With Windows PCs the expectation is consumers can buy them cheap. There is also the fact that many keep their computers until they break or they need replacing. These factors look to be forcing some OEMs to make changes. A number of PC makers can no longer live by the meager margins of the hardware business, or if they can they want the stability that focusing on enterprise provides. It is interesting or example to see Samsung pull back from not just Windows but also Chromebooks in Europe (and anecdotally it seems from stocking them at their mini stores in BestBuy).

So what does all this mean for companies like Microsoft and Google? For Google it probably means little. Android is bigger than Chrome and OEMs like Lenovo and Acer seem not to have issues in selling Chromebooks. I do expect for the Mountain View based company to push Chrome OS as a viable option over Android. I say this because they are adding Android apps onto Chromebooks making the occasional Android based laptop or desktop moot.

With Microsoft I see both a push to gain back hardware maker support and also a continued push into branded hardware. For Microsoft I think hardware will never be the revenue stream software is, but it could be solid revenue nonetheless. In a market where OEMs are scarce and split between itself and Google Microsoft could see hardware as a form of insurance. Hardware can also be used to highlight the companies technological innovations. I think the experience with the Surface (both good and bad) will make them continue to keep their toe in the hardware waters.

For users, especially those that identify as being PC users, the future will mean a smaller set of choices and potentially choices that will be regional. The VAIO brand continues but as a Japan specific one; it’s a potential trend. Beyond that I think we will see a mix of old and new faces going forward.

With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft has announced (whether they want to admit it or not) the end of Windows 8 and in many ways a period of uncertainty for users who like and use it. While the heads of Windows were assuring they were not retreating from touch or hybrid devices many are in a mode of wait and see.

Others are openly saying Windows 10 is a major step backwards in terms of mobility.

Right now, I feel like we are too early into Windows 10 to say it’s a retreat. Realistically it is an acknowledgement that Windows 8 didn’t move every Windows user toward the mobile promised land. I hate saying it but Microsoft had to address the wants and desires of its customers that wanted a desktop in the traditional Start menu mold. Not having the menu was an issue hampering progress; in fact the debate between mobility, touch, and mouse and keyboard was a serious distraction.

So now we find ourselves on the march to Windows 10 and it begins by addressing the desktop. We also now are facing a reverse situation in which people who have embraced 2-in1s, hybrids, and Windows tablets wondering what is in it for them. People like technology reporter Mary Branscombe have been vocal on Twitter about the pull back and the seeming reduction in functionality of Windows 10 for Windows 8 users. It is an issue that is not only coming from enthusiasts but also developers who adopted the new Modern environment.

Right now we know little about Microsoft’s plans for touch in Windows 10. We know they will be overhauling the Charms bar (replacing it with an unknown new UI). We know that the designers at Redmond will be introducing Continuum which will switch a users’ device between being a laptop and being a tablet. Lastly, we know the gestures instituted in Windows 8 are being changed. Beyond the Charms bar, swiping from the left will bring up a new task switcher which will show all open apps and desktops.

I don’t know what to make of what we are seeing in Windows 10 from the perspective of a tablet fan. Windows 10 will make the changes from 8 palatable for some diehard keyboarders but not all. It could also alienate users who have come to embrace the benefits of Windows tablets and hybrids. People who have found benefit in having mobile devices that can be workhorses. The whole thing makes me concerned, only in so far, as I think the idea of the tablet being another form factor and not totally divorced from the PC is solid. It is just the execution that needs fine tuning.

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