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The Universal app platform is our future platform–Terry Myerson

On Thursday morning in Shenzhen, China Microsoft held their second Windows Hardware Engineering Community event (WinHEC). At this event a number of new hardware initiatives were announced; but the one everyone is still discussing is Windows 10 for ARM chips with x86 emulation.

For those that don’t know this is “full” Windows running on mobile processors with the ability to run legacy x86 programs; things like iTunes and Chrome. This is in addition to the newer mobile apps built on top of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP).

The new ARM news brings up a lot of interesting topics and questions with one being the future of universal Windows platform.

What is UWP

The Universal Windows Platform is simply the developer platform for making software for Windows. It makes use of a number of different languages such as XAML, C, C#, win JS, and .NET. UWP based applications can run across all device screens running Windows; so they can be used on mobile, PC, Xbox, HoloLens, and Internet of Things (IoT headless) devices. UWP apps are usually touch enabled or are built for things other than the classical PC. UWP apps are different from .exe x86 programs because they were designed to be sandboxed away from the underlying bits of a device and restricted in how they can change functionality.

If you want a real overview of the history of UWP please read Peter Bright’s article on Ars Technica.

While Microsoft executives and program managers have stated UWP was the future of Windows development many still wondered. For one the platform lacked features found in older developer platforms like WPF. Second was Microsoft’s recent history of creating then retiring platforms in haphazard manners. Third has been the need to maintain x86 for legacy support.

UWP vs x86

The big issue facing UWP (amongst other) is x86. For the purpose of this post x86 is the current set of technologies to make programs; also it implies these programs can only run on Intel chips.

x86 has been the main platform for Windows for the better part of three decades. Most applications people use is based on it. However x86 development has waned over time. X86 is a mature platform, but it has limitations. For one x86 has no app model. Second it has security issues in the form of programs having no set limitations. Three, X86 is quite power hungry. For not designed for the mobile world.

Going forward: Wither x86 or UWP?

So which wins: x86 or UWP?

Well after the most recent WinHEC x86 and UWP will coexist but UWP will supplant x86 over time.

 

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Recently news leaked about another delay in the release of Tizen, the open source system created by Samsung and Intel. In particular the delay was over the Galaxy Z which would be the first mobile device (other than the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo watches). Samsung is said to have delayed the Z to work on further refining Tizen, but the delays have more and more people saying dead OS walking.

I think tech writer Mary Branscombe said it best when she said Tizen might be cursed. The code on which the operating system is built has a certain amount of bad juju around it. It is a Linux based OS made up Intel (Moblin), Nokia (Maemo), Intel/Nokia (MeeGo), and Samsung (Bada). In its first incarnation it was used by Intel to push mobile phones, tablets, and Netbooks. This was when Intel was pushing Intel App Up as a way to get x86 specific apps. Then Intel hooked up with Nokia to create MeeGo. Of this union one phone was created, the N9, which was stillborn. Then came the announcement of Tizen. It was backed by Samsung and other than watches and prototype devices, there’s been little noise.

People like to complain about Blackberry or Microsoft’s struggles in keeping a foot in mobile. Then there are those who want to rewrite mobile history and say that everything was fine until (insert person) changed (insert company/platform) for the worse. Then there is the dreamers and idealists who think true, open Linux, or HTML5 is the answer.

Mobile is growing rapidly and it has changed the face of computing. But its also changed computing in different ways. A phone is a more locked down device than a PC. Mobile is also more dependent on applications than a laptop or desktop. Its a market where the OS is more important. The PC market and especially the rise of Windows PCs made it easier for Linux adoption.

In the mobile world Linux is something trotted out at a small event during Mobile World Congress. Some chip vendor or OEM will remark on the need for a true open source option and the Linux Foundation will launch a new initiative. Afterwards you may see a prototype, meanwhile the same company will show an Android device they will actually ship,

Software and Hardware is hard, but doable. Building an ecosystem and maintaining it is madness. That’s why there are few companies that do it or can do it. Tizen is just another example of how hard it can be. 

 

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.

Right now the Consumer Electronics Show has unofficially been kicked off by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich who spoke yesterday at the event’s pre-show keynote. While Krzanich’s presentation was this mix of future projects around mobility, sensors, controls, and platforms, it was Intel’s DualOS initiative that stood out.

DualOS is Intel’s initiative allowing Windows and Android to sit on the same system and allow almost instant switching between the operating systems. A similar program is going on with Intel’s competitor AMD who has signed a deal to work with software vendor BlueStacks which allows users to run Android applications on their PCs. Both initiatives stem from the fact that the Personal Computing space has slowed down in terms of sales; losing out to the growth of tablets. Windows 8 hasn’t been the solution many hoped it would be. So now PC makers and vendors are looking for any solution to the declining sales.

I can see Intel, AMD, and PC makers looking at Windows 8 which has had slow adoption with both users and developers and thinking adding Android could work filling out the app gap and giving them a mobile platform they could sell easily. Android is after all the biggest mobile system out. It has the application numbers and developers. Its also free and allows OEMs to differentiate their products.

The one fly in this ointment is going to be Microsoft. I think this year we might see DualOS and the BlueStacks deal bringing issues to a head in the PC industry. The growth of mobile, specifically tablets, has forced a lot of the traditional PC makers to rethink strategies. Its not loss on any of them that the emergence of tablets has left them playing catchup. So they are moving logically to Android which is the mass market OS in mobile. I also think Microsoft’s entering the market with the Surface line and buying Nokia’s hardware group has also been a factor in these dramatic shifts.

Intel and AMD are in more precarious positions because the mobile space revolves around ARM. Apple makes its own chips and the rest of the mobile landscape is under Qualcomm and NVIDIA. Intel adapted Android a while back, practically dumping its side OS. AMD recently announced support for the mobile OS. The chip makers’ backing of Android will be seen as a blow to Microsoft and a clear vote of no confidence in Windows’ ability to get mobile.

I don’t see how running Android on top of Windows will solve the problems facing OEMs, Intel, and AMD. I talked earlier of the perceived benefit of DualOS and its ilk but lets discuss the downsides. Android is a solid mobile OS on phones and tablets, up to 7 inches. Android does have issues in terms of scaling to larger screens; not the OS but the majority of apps which were written for phones. Until recently Android tablets sold poorly which was why some OEMs were looking to Windows 8. Lastly the PC industry has been plagued by saturation and commoditization that has led to low margins. Android and Google’s other OS don’t solve this. The biggest reason Android would work would be because it has the apps.

Microsoft and Google so far have been mum on the subject. Microsoft is at CES doing things in the background (CES is after all a trade show) and Google is there to promote its new push into Automotive software. I cannot imagine Microsoft is having a good time with its partners deemphasizing Windows products for Android and now dual booting it in lieu of helping them push its own mobile platform. To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if the news coming out of CES doesn’t push Microsoft further down the devices path. The company has the technical know how in house to make chips (and not just for ARM but also x/86) and hardware. So for me the question is increasingly is what will be the trigger to make Microsoft become a serious hardware vendor.

I also really wonder why this was simpler to do and less confusing than encouraging development on the Windows Run Time (winRT) or using Windows on ARM (Windows RT). Creating DualOS has to be causing some conflict within the WinTel alliance. So I guess in the end my summation of events is DualOS looks to be the straw that will break the camel’s back. All we have to do now is wait.

 

In a lot of ways this years Computex, the annual computer trade show in Taipei, was not a good one for Microsoft. All the news was about the continued rise of Android on tablets and now PCs. But the funny thing was as much as there was talk about Android, Windows was lurking in the background.

Now if you want what the biggest story of the show was it was Intel and Haswell its 4th generation Core I chip. Unlike Ivy Bridge which was more of a traditional release, Haswell is seen as Intel finally getting into mobile. Along with Haswell Intel showed off BayTrail its System on a Chip (SOC) offering that competes directly with ARM chips. Intel also showed off their discreet graphics card known as Iris which competes with fellow x86 chip maker AMD.

A lot of the press was focused on Haswell because of the work Intel did in pushing its high performance Core stuff into something that was more mobile and power efficient. With Haswell comes new PCs such as refreshes to many Ultrabook lines (like Asus’s Zenbook) along with new designs (fan less Core tablets). One thing Intel was touting was its 2in1 devices, basically a rebranding of Tablet PCs with hybrid designs. The one interesting thing about the 2in1 is that it cements the hybrid design (where a tablet comes with a keyboard dock) and the flip (a laptop that can be used as a tablet) as valid form factors.

Well Haswell got the glory I think BayTrail will end up being the story. BayTrail is Intel’s response to ARM’s army of mobile, low powered chips that run most of the worlds tablets and phones. BayTrail is interesting not only because it runs Android (IDKNDIGF) but it looks to eclipse ARM with a mix of both power and energy efficiency. I think for many tech writers its ability to run Android makes it a winner, and that Intel landed the chip in the next Samsung Galaxy tablet.

I personally thought it ironic that there were more Windows devices than Android ones on stage.

Speaking of Windows you would be forgiven to think they had no presence at Computex. While Intel was treated to Live blog coverage as were a few others, Microsoft’s briefing received scant attention until after the fact. And that is a shame because this year’s briefing was news worthy. Microsoft showed off Windows 8.1 its update to Windows 8. It also announced price drops for PC makers, Office for Windows x86 devices, and full support for portrait in tablets.

One thing is certain, this year’s Computex highlights a major shift in the PC market, one that when finished will see Android taking more ground and Microsoft getting more vertical.

I don’t think Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini regrets what he said, I believe he meant what he said. But I doubt he wanted it to get out and I’m certain he doesn’t like how his words have played in the media. In a short 48 hour period the story has gone from Intel saying Windows 8 had bugs, to Windows 8 isn’t ready, to Oh My God Windows 8 is a puss filled disease laden system not ready for primetime.

As of today’s writing, Intel is planning to showcase x86 based Tablets and PCs in San Francisco; all running Windows 8 or Windows RT.What would have been another showcase for Windows 8 and Intel’s Atom and Clover Trail chips, will probably end up being another PR opportunity to show Intel’s support for Windows 8.

The concept of Wintel has always seem more menacing in legal files and on paper than in practice. And also the notion that this marriage is only now showing strains. For me I think the strains were evident in the aftermath of the Ultra Mobile PC or UMPC.

UMPC was a form factor initiative between Microsoft, Intel, and a number of OEMs. Its goal was to create a cheap, mobile internet connected device that in function was similar to the tablets used today. It was preceded by a viral campaign called the Origami Project and was met with natural excitement.

However issues arose when the first devices hit the market. The software wasn’t optimized for screens, the Intel processor was not the best, and the OEMs charged the devices out of regular consumer reach. The category broke down with Microsoft putting out a skin and Intel renaming their part Mobile Internet Devices or MID and Asus taking the hardware and building the first Netbooks.

Today Intel and Microsoft retain their relationship but I notice that their seems to be a tug of war going on between them (and honestly every OEM and ISV) over who ultimately runs Windows.

I’ve noticed it in Intel’s move to have more of a presence up the software stack with AppUp (Intel’s software store) and its push for Ultrabook apps running HTML5. Also in its passive aggressive tone about Windows RT (the ARM version of Windows). I honestly believe that Otellini’s comments were probably more about Windows RT than on Windows 8 itself.

Actually Intel along with others seem to be fervently struggling to stick a flagpole in Windows and declare ecosystems of one sort or another. AMD, Asus, and Acer are using Blue Stacks to Port Android apps to Windows. Samsung has announced it knows how to build one and will with Android and Windows 8.

But Intel is doing the most. The problem I see with it however is they don’t make the software and honestly all they and others are doing is trying to fork Windows (which I think is a mistake).

long story short, Wintel was always a temporary thing and the mobile space along with past history has moved the two farther apart in certain areas. In the long run it will probably be better for all involved    

It’s a strange coincidence that while I was procrastinating (researching) a piece on tablets and education I run across Amplify on Engadget. Amplify is a new company bringing learning software for tablets aimed at the Kindergarten through 12th grade markets. The software includes tools for monitoring student improvement and tools for teachers and parents. Amplify is working in conjunction with ATT to get these services into classrooms.

 

 

Amplify is a subsidiary of News Corps (yes the one owned by Rupert Murdoch). The company is made up of News Corps Scholastic publishing and another eLearning company, Wireless Generation (a maker of education software for mobile and tablets). Amplify’s CEO Joel Kline is the former Chancellor of New York’s Department of Education and a well known thinker in its education. Many of the top heads of Amplify have backgrounds in Education for Profit (Privatized Education), business, and one guy who worked on Barnes and Noble’s Nook and related software. 

It’s strange but looking at the videos showing off Amplify’s software and the testimonials about the effectiveness of its software package, I was remembering my first run-ins with technology in a classroom. For me that was elementary school in the Eighties. I remember it was around 2nd or 3rd grade we saw the technicians bring in the boxes and install 30-40 computers in the room near the councilors office. Now I can’t tell you the model or what OS it ran and we didn’t spend a lot of time in the Computer Room; going there was one of the rewards for being good students and behaving (so we didn’t go often). If you went into the room you did one of two things, you played the Oregon Trail or Super Number Crunchers. Back then and honestly until I was in 12th grade computers were seen and barely used. Depending on your class a teacher might use some educational software but it wasn’t an integral part of the curriculum. And I’m not going to bore you with my High School computer class which wasn’t much better (one of my assignments was learning how to use Paint). Honestly the one class that made great use of computers wasn’t a class, it was the Yearbook.

Now that was a century ago (damn you Father Time) and if I went into a class today it would be different, but only slightly. And it would depend on a lot of factors like whether it was a technical school, AP, Optional, or a Charter.

You get the idea. Technology in a classroom is a mixed bag; depending on teachers, students, and planning it can be asset or a time waster. For all the talk of the world being changed by technology and technology changing how we live; it hasn’t had a clear success in education. The reason is because no one honestly knows how to fit them in.

There are the obvious places for them, what some call STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) courses. These are the courses that define the 21st century workforce or at least that’s what they tell you. These are also the courses that rely on computational power; CAD comes to mind. But what about the social sciences, history, and art? What role does a PC have there? There is no clear answer. And yet if you look at the conversation about education reform one of the solutions is to push Computers (along with smartphones and tablets).

And into that quagmire Amplify and others walk. I will give Amplify credit because it system has ways of monitoring students and measuring results. And from the videos (the site lacks a lot of info) it appears teachers can set the agenda. I do worry that its pushing a model of teaching that maybe too data focused; I think we are in enough trouble with the test based mess now.

As much I would like to see tablets be embraced as educational tools, I worry that educators, politicians, and parents will inflate their importance. That the simple act of having them in the room will make a smarter child.

The reality is that computers and tablets can be distracting. Yes they can sit there and write a report, but they can also sit there and watch videos on YouTube. We need to see smarter uses of technology in classrooms. Technology needs to be a reinforcement for whatever subject the teacher in the room is teaching. I see tablets and computers as extenders; an add on. Teachers need to have a plan on how to integrate them into the lesson plan. I’m sorry but if you don’t need the distraction of a glowing screen, don’t use one. I also question why no one looks at using the stylus to reinforce the seemingly forgotten R which is writing. Writing reinforces memory and honestly I don’t think we need to be living in a world where we have adults who can’t recognize hand writing.

The digital revolution is coming to education, I’m just hoping that it will be smart about it.