So instead of posting initial impressions of the Microsoft Build conference the day of (because of procrastination) I’m doing a recap.

Most walking away from the Day 1 keynote will talk about two things: Cortana and the return of the Start menu to Windows. A few will talk about Microsoft’s focus on Windows Phone 8.1 (formerly Blue) and talk about how its really Windows Phone 9. And then there will be those who few the whole affair as an act of Satya Nadella’s will to change the company in 6 whole days (literally someone wrote just that). And even after all that someone will have a complaint about all that transpired.

Watching the kickoff to Build, I was looking to see where Windows would sit in the mobile first, cloud first world Microsoft was building. It was only last week the software company was showing off Office for iPad and everyone was wondering if it were a sign that Windows no longer mattered. I was wondering what would be the vision that the new Operating Systems Group would show.

In many ways it was the idea of “3 screens and a Cloud” the company has pushed for the last few years but it also was a sort of return to Microsoft of old with a developer conference focused solely on selling to developers (there were even callbacks to old conferences like PDC).

Now what I have found interesting is how much the story was Windows everywhere and yet not in the ham-fisted way people associate with the idea. Maybe it was the fact that the team selling it wasn’t as bombastic as Steve Ballmer or as surgical as Steven Sinofsky. Terry Myerson doesn’t cut the profile Sinofsky did. He was a bit quieter; he focused the opening remarks on developers and Windows place as a platform the supported the work of developers.

It was telling how when discussing Windows and Windows Phone they used the word platform and also didn’t refer to version numbers. I get the sense that the OS Group is thinking less in terms of major releases than in incremental improvements.

Of course the big story was Windows Phone. 8.1 brings with it features that will bring parity to the eyes of reviewers (Action Center) and a feature (Cortana) that could make Windows Phone an interesting third party.

Cortana is of course Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now; it’s a digital assistant that gathers and aggregates information for the user. Cortana is interesting because it’s the first real outgrowth of Microsoft TellMe voice service and Bing’s big data work. Microsoft has long been in the speech and machine learning space but its been more on the back end and research. Cortana brings all that forward. Using both voice and text, Cortana like Google Now learns about the user to gather information they can use or want. With Cortana that information will be localized both to the phone and controlled by a user’s access to Cortana’s notebook (a digital collection of a users preferences and information a user can control and change.) Cortana will be able to tie into 3rd party applications given it additional functionality.

In addition to Cortana, Windows Phone 8.1 brings a host of business features such as VPN to the platform. Such features were part of Windows Mobile and the new features are a benefit of moving Phone to the NT kernel. 8.1 also brings changes to the Calendar, Photos, and apps like Music and Video. Internet Explorer 11 has been added bringing webGL, in Private mode, and reading mode to phones.

Lastly 8.1 brings the ability to add an image to the Live Tiles but not the actual phone background (which I still want along with app grouping).

Microsoft also briefly went over Windows 8.1 Update which brings changes to the OS to make it easier to use on traditional desktops and laptops. The Update will bring the Metro tablet applications closer to the desktop allowing users to pin Metro apps to the Taskbar.

Perhaps the biggest developer news from Day 1 was the announcement of  Windows Universal apps. One of the issues with Windows development was the disconnect between Windows Phone (which used first Silverlight and later  WinPhoneRT) and Windows 8 (which was based on WinRT). The new Universal App model allows the creation of applications that can run across all screens from Window Phone and soon the Xbox. As proof of its ability to build deep apps Microsoft showed off its PowerPoint Metro app built using the Universal app model. This cross Windows experience was carried over with graphics and the forthcoming DirectX 12.  

The second biggest hidden news item was Microsoft dropping the price of Windows and Windows Phone for tablets (under 9 inches) to $0. This follows the reduction of Windows licenses for devices under $200 and indicates Redmond is serious about competing with Android and Chrome OS. Microsoft also previewed a revamp of Windows Embedded for the “Internet of Things” and announced it too will be $0 at launch.

And all of this happened before new chief Satya Nadella took the stage for a brief Q and A. The entire Day 1 keynote set the stage for Day 2 and a Microsoft that seems to be coming out of the doldrums.

Okay this went long and honestly I left out things I know people will think is more important and that is why there will be a few more posts.

So tune back  in soon.

images: Microsoft Corporation

Build 2013

In 24 hours Microsoft will be holding their annual developer conference known as Build. This year’s Build is coming with a different Microsoft in tow. This year will be the first Build with a new CEO in Satya Nadella and also a conference in which the main attraction is expected to be the long awaited Windows Phone “Blue” update. Windows Phone 8.1, as the Blue update is to be called, brings major feature changes to the platform including new customization to the Live tiles and the Siri/Google Now like Cortana.

Also expected to be discussed at Build is the Xbox platform’s development story. Since the launch of the Xbox One in December developers have wanted to know how games and apps could be developed. Microsoft teased information at the last Build conference and maybe this time it will be discussed in detail.

Now usually I write the Pre-Build posts to make predictions on what will be discussed; Microsoft did me and others the courtesy and posted the speaker events today. Now they don’t show information for the keynotes but we already know Nadella will be speaking on Day 1 and just announced head of Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie will headline Day 2. I also think a major part of Build will be spent on Microsoft’s work around mobile and cloud technologies. I think that while Windows Phone will get the majority of the sound bites and attention it will be whatever news around cloud computing and big data discussed that’ll have longer impact.

Saying that; the one thing I will be interested in seeing is on how Microsoft talks about its client side platforms. Now that Microsoft has released Office for iPad it should be clear that Windows’s role has shifted. Microsoft move to focus on devices and services and not specifically software has confused developers, Microsoft watchers, and enthusiasts. Specifically I think many have wondered what it would mean day to day.

The Office for iPad along with the apps Microsoft has ported to the Mac and Android illustrate the Services part; it means making it services widely available on multiple platforms. With Build the question left will be around devices and specifically devices running Windows.

Tomorrows opening keynote is expected to run 3 hours and at least during two of them I expect the software giant to discuss the present and future of Microsoft because on a certain level this year’s Build will be about Microsoft’s commitment to Windows and its ability to move the platform forward.

Okay that was my yearly drivel, if you want to watch Build or see the live blogs yourself I will leave links below

Official Chanel9 Stream
The Verge’s live Blog

In a few weeks Microsoft will be holding its annual Build conference. The conference is expected to unveil the developer platform story for the Xbox One, the full introduction of Windows Phone 8.1, and a preview of the next version of Windows codenamed Threshold.

Before Build however will be an event that should be keeping Microsoft’s OS team up at night. Its been reported by ZDNet and Bloomberg that on March 27 Microsoft will show off Office on iPad and launch it before its Windows tablet counterpart. The tablet version of Office is following the recently launched OneNote for Mac and a series of apps/programs on Android and iOS.

It has been clear for a while that Microsoft is serious about providing cross platform services that work across devices and operating systems. For a company like Microsoft concentrating on services and software is almost more important than maintaining OS dominance.

However the platform is still important.

The question facing the OS Group (formerly the Windows division) head Terry Myerson is a simple question,”Why Windows?”

Why choose Windows when Office, SharePoint, Skype, Yammer, and a number of other applications are available on platforms with more  momentum. Specifically from the standpoint of mobile operating systems.

Why choose Windows when there are easier and simpler options built around what the majority use computing devices for (and we are not talking about Visual Studio)?

Why choose Windows when its main feature, legacy and compatibility, is no longer a major selling point to the mass consumer market?

Why choose Windows when the apps people know about are on Android tablets or the iPad first?

Myerson and team face the challenge of making the case for Windows as a viable platform. Not just to businesses or developers but regular users. In all the commentary and opinion pieces no one has talked about the need for Microsoft to make a case for Windows that isn’t about legacy, compatibility, or Office. The move towards a devices and services company means Windows needs to be able to stand on its own. This means starting at Build when people ask why Windows there needs to be a compelling answer.

Sorry for the delay.
I will admit that Mobile World Congress this week was a bit underwhelming. Samsung decided to both not bring the crazy with its Unpacked 5 event for the Galaxy S5 and second generation Galaxy Gear devices. HTC announced mid to low range phones based off their HTC One. Alcatel showed a smartbook concept running on Android. and Lenovo showed off new models of it mobile phone line (that won’t be coming to the North American market anytime soon).
samsung-galaxy-s5-blue-730x743
Canonical showed off the two Ubuntu phones that will ship sometime late this year or in 2015. They are being made by BQ and Meizu respectively. The funny thing about the devices is that Canonical still isn’t showing a prototype with working software. Other than a brief video on shared code nothing new has come out about Ubuntu for mobile. Canonical says the first Ubuntu devices will launch in the fall
Actually for me the biggest news out of MWC this year was the Nokia X line; and that was mostly because of what it meant for Windows Phone.
In looking at the coverage for MWC it is easy to be underwhelmed by the products being shown. I mean company X has new Android phones, maybe a tablet and they look almost exactly like the one from last year. Yes chips have advanced and there has been serious hardware innovation, but the reality that the mobile landscape is settling down is clear.
samsung-galaxy-gear-fit
Some writers complained about Microsoft not having a bigger presence at the Conference but honestly outside of new hardware most of the big software news will come from Microsoft’s Build, Apple’s WWDC, and Google’s I/O. New hardware is only exciting when there is new software to run it on. I think that is why the developer shows are more important than the hardware conferences now. I am not saying there is not news to be found, but I think the big story is that mobile is mainstream to the point of being kind of boring now.
I think the thing that has struck me with this year’s MWC and honestly for the last year is that consumer tech has become predictable. Now for some this predictability will equate to a lack of innovation. This past decade saw a rapid cadence in consumer technology. From the iPhone to the iPad and the introduction of Android there has been new features and devices launched. We are now watching the slowdown. Android and iOS are settling into their place as the big two platforms. Samsung is settling into its position as a mobile powerhouse. Platforms like Windows Phone and a plethora of Linux operating systems and Android clones are more often staring from the outside in. Devices like wearable’s and smart watches feel more like mobile phone spinoffs than the next big thing. They are part of the predictability I mentioned earlier.
Having said that mobile is getting predictable doesn’t mean its uninteresting.
The biggest overall trend has been the shift away from markets like Canada, the US, and Europe to the emerging market. Countries like China, Brazil, India, and Ghana where mobile adoption is still growing. This shift in focus changes things for incumbent players and newcomers. Chinese based companies like Oppo have overtaken Samsung in these markets. Windows Phone does better in these markets than in the US. Its in the emerging market that Android (AOSP) has massive growth. These markets are forcing lower prices, cheaper hardware, and changes in OS software. Fore example both Google and Microsoft are redesigning their software to run on lowered powered hardware. Google pushed out KitKat a few months ago and Microsoft will offer Windows Phone 8.1 soon.
I think this shift in focus will have a longer effect and will effect the more established markets. And that was MWC (for me).
Editors note: This was written on February 23, 2013.
So today is Sunday and Mobile World Congress has kicked off in Barcelona.
Mobile World Congress or MWC is one of the big technology expos along with CES (held every January in Las Vegas) and Computex (the large vendor showcase held in Taiwan). Over the last decade MWC has grown in importance as smartphones and mobile devices have become a part of everyday life.
This year’s MWC is likely not to hold a lot surprises with many handset makers expected to show off new devices running (hopefully) the most current version of Android. Samsung is expected to showoff the next version of its Galaxy S phone tomorrow with a possible refresh of its Touch Wiz skin. LG (excuse me for not being omnipotent) showed the G2 Pro. I also expect to see phones that highlight the shift to low end devices moving the mobile landscape. Another example is Mozilla showing off the next update to Firefox OS with a new swipe feature and new hardware. Chinese manufacturer Huawei and ZTE are now joining the Firefox OS bandwagon with phones and Mozilla itself is looking at pushing the OS to new form factors (tablets) and lower prices ($25).
Nokia is expected to show of its last handsets as a mobile device maker before selling the hardware and manufacturing to Microsoft with a device running Android. The Nokia X is rumored to be the replacement for its Asha line of entry level phones aimed at the emerging markets. The X phone is supposed to run a modified version of Android. I am not sure of the specs, but most reports say it will be close to the Lumia 520 or 525 which are low powered but higher spec devices than the Asha phones. Recent post from tech sites have rumored Nokia may announce one or more Windows Phone devices but at this point those are unknown.
Beyond phones, there was some news on tablets.
Both Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard (HP) showed off refreshes to some of their current tablet lineups. Lenovo showed an update to their Lenovo Yoga tablets. The “possibly Ashton Kutcher designed” Android tablets have had a slight tweak to the design and a bump in screen resolution and performance. HP came to Barcelona not only showing their first smartphone since the HP Pre, but also a refresh to the HP ElitePad 900. The ElitePad 1000 replaces the 900 and comes with improved screen, the new Intel Baytrail chipset, and 64-Bit Windows 8.1. HP also showed off a variant of the ElitePad, the 600, aimed at the Point of Sale (POS) market.
In a bit of irony, HP also announced the Pavilion x360, a sub $400 laptop similar to Lenovo’s popular Yoga laptops. The x360 looks to be a blend of the HP Envy x2 (their 2-in-1 hybrid PC) and the HP Chromebook 14 (with the use of colored plastic and faux aluminum finish for the keyboard). Last in HP news is the Slate 6 Voice Tab. The Slate 6, which was previously released recently in India, is a 6 inch phone running Android (its not the current Android KitKat so stop asking). Coming in multiple colors their is no date of when the devices will hit the US.
The last bit of news from Sunday was Microsoft.
While the Redmond software company was expected to be a presence at the Conference it was not expected to make any news. However in an event held early Sunday (my time), Microsoft revealed news on the next updates to Windows and Windows Phone. In addition to confirming features and the existence of Update 1, Microsoft also revealed new partners for Windows Phone. Along with new partners original Windows Phone 7 maker LG has returned.

(This is a Rant; an emotion fueled tirade screamed into the echo chamber of the Internet. My apologies)

Sometimes you read something so damn stupid that it really makes you question why you even bother trying anymore. I admit I am a Microsoft fanboy and that I like learning about Microsoft technologies and the latest tech. I have always tried to be a realistic fanboy and understand that the OS and platform I like are not the default platforms for many.

But sometimes I read shit like this and I wonder why I even care.

So today Microsoft named a CEO (YAY!)

And with a new CEO comes the obvious question of where the company goes now. So this means a few dozen articles listing the top 10, 8, or 5 things the new head must do/face/overcome to resurrect Microsoft. Then there are the articles trying to decipher the “real” meaning behind the new CEO’s first memo and interview. And so there are blog post out now highlighting the words used or not used to decrypt where Microsoft is headed.

And that brings us to, To Grow, Microsoft Must Deemphasize Windows by Paul Thurrott. Now I follow Thurrott and consider him one the best Windows watchers around. I like that he isn’t a fanboy (we have enough already thank you). But there are times when I disagree and this is one of those times.

Now let me preface by saying I agree with Thurrott’s overall point in principal. I agree that Microsoft should release a number of its services unto other platforms. Office, Bing, Sky OneDrive, and Xbox Music and Video are but some of the services that Microsoft makes that should exist on iOS and Android. What I disagree with is the idea of deemphasizing Windows in order to do this.

I am sorry but this is stupid; only thing stupider is Microsoft forking Android. Its a mistake to for all intents and purposes “kill” Windows because a new board member has a hard on for Office on the iPad. I understand that in this new world of technology, a PC platform like Windows isn’t the focus for developers or even a lot of consumers, but its still a sizeable platform.

Realistically Microsoft will bring Office to the iPad and Android devices and while it will help Office, it could very well kill Windows and Windows Phone. I am not advocating ignoring the iPad (that’s stupid), but I don’t think that should come at the cost of improving a platform Microsoft owns.

There are some who want Microsoft to go back to being a pure software vendor and go where the customers are. They want Microsoft to focus on the enterprise because that is where the money cometh from. The problem with that is the technology industry is a mut. Very few of the companies the Redmond giant goes against sticks to their lane. Apple is business and Google has a desktop/laptop OS. All the serious contenders to Microsoft in enterprise have consumer platforms and options.

It fucking unrealistic to hide behind the Enterprise wall and hope this shit blows over.

Publicly deemphasizing Windows, will kill Windows as a platform more than it is now. Who will buy into it if the sense you get is that Microsoft itself didn’t give two flying fucks. Its like the whole idea of Microsoft going Android or forking Android to make a platform.

Why?

The only thing you get is a App catalogue and apps that don’t fit the skin you put on top of Android. Anyone familiar with what OEMs using Android go through knows the reality of this. People will bitch about app selection (because Google will not be opening the gates to Goggle Play or Google apps) and the version of Android forked (“Why the hell isn’t this Android Twizzler?”). Microsoft has a development platform and a mobile OS, what the fuck do they get forking Android?

Microsoft has a lot of challenges, but I sorry but the solutions suggested so far have just plain stupid.

The Consumer Electronic Show, commonly known as CES, is now over. The thousands of reporters, bloggers, dealers, and buyers are slowly peeling out of las Vegas. The yearly event marks the new cycle of boom and bust that is the consumer electronic market with many items destined to be seen toward the middle of the year or not at all.

CES-2014

CES is one of those events that everyone says you should do once just to experience, like the San Diego Comic-Con. Except there is more bitching about it than anything. It is considered a big deal in consumer technology and that’s why they go. The reality is the show is more for connections, deal making, and selling than it is for the front page of the Verge or Engadget. Much of the show won’t and can’t be covered; there is literally too much to see. Beyond the big names there are thousands of smaller companies and start-ups trying to sell their products to potential buyers. Retailers of all stripes come to see potential goods. And of course in between there are deals being made.

This year’s CES was a bit of repeat of last years. For the past three or four years there has been a shift away from computers and gadgets to items like televisions and cars. This year was no exception. Its not to say that there was nothing new on the PC and phone front (more later) but it clear TVs and Cars are getting more attention.

If I were to summarize CES it would be 4K, Sensors, and Car tech. The big news around televisions was 4K. 4K is just the next step beyond HD (high definition) and replaces 3-D as the new flavor of the month. However while 3-D felt and landed onto the market like a gimmick, 4K looks to be a true upgrade. 4K was so ubiquitous this year it even ended up on a few laptops and computer monitors. The second big thing was sensors (and honestly the “Internet of Things” which are made up of sensors). This year everything had a sensor and almost everyone a sensor platform. SONY introduced

Lastly the biggest thing in cars were how much of them would contain computers. Chip maker NVIDIA announced their K1 chip which in addition to running on tablets and phones would run in cars. Potentially bigger news was the announcement by Google and select car makers of the Open Automotive Alliance which would bring the Android OS into cars as the on board information system.

On the PC and phone front Android and Chrome make further inroads with PC makers and chip vendors. Both AMD and Intel announced initiatives to bring Android apps to Windows. HP and Lenovo both introduced devices running Android aimed at businesses and consumers in unusual packages (All in Ones). As usual there were new Android phones and tablets announced. Asus is bringing it PadPhone line of phone/tablet hybrids with ATT along with a new line of ZenPhones with a new customized skin for Android. SONY will bring their Xperia Z line of phones to the US with the Z1 S and the Z1 Compact. SONY also announced their long awaited game streaming service called PlayStation Now which covers everything in the SONY roster except their laptops and PCs. Samsung announced Pro versions of their Note and Tab devices which now run a new skin called Magazine UX and looks a lot like Microsoft’s Metro interface. A number of Windows devices were announced including 4K workstations by Toshiba, an interesting Ultrabook by LG, and an 8.3 inch Lenovo tablet under its ThinkPad line. Valve finally introduced their SteamBox platform along with 13 partners in a short presentation.

Beyond gadgets Yahoo showed of its plan to recreate itself in Vegas. Yahoo chief Melissa Meyer trotted out Katie Couric, former Times columnist David Pogue, and even SNL’s latest to show off new services by the Internet pioneer. Yahoo introduced new “web magazines” for food and technology, a new news app for iOS and new ad models based on Tumblr.

There was more but this was a fast walk through the the things I found interesting. Thanks for reading.

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