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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface event

I’m pretty excited for Microsoft. I’ve been excited for what they’ve been doing as a company, on several fronts, for a few years now.

I won’t rehash all of the nice things I’ve been writing about them, but I can link to how I feel about Satya, the work they’ve been doing in open source and for developers, Surface, and Windows 10.

Yesterday’s Surface event was very good. I really like how Panos makes everything so dramatic. It is just more fun than how so many other tech companies present things. I totally understand if others don’t feel the same way. But I don’t think anyone has ever accused him of being disingenuous.

The updates to the Surface hardware were excellent. I think the 15″ laptop looks very, very good. And while I wish the Surface Pro was more of a direct competitor to iPad*, I don’t have any other wishes for their hardware. It is all very good.

The Neo and Duo products, both coming late 2020, are fascinating products. I have no idea if they will be successful or be hits – but I’m very glad Microsoft decided to make them.

Though I have to agree with John Gruber, they overshadowed the rest of the products that are available today a little. They likely knew they would though. So perhaps they are ok with it.

I have two quick I told ya sos, if I may.

In July Windows Central said they hoped someone at Microsoft was working on a phone, but if they were, they should keep expectations low. I vehemently disagreed with that sentiment. I wrote:

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

[…]

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels.

Guess which way they decided to go with Surface Duo?

I was wrong, though, they didn’t call it a Surface Phone. They are avoiding the word phone, which I think we all should as well. My Pixel is no more a phone than it is a book, but I can read and make phone calls on it.

And did they ever swing for the fences! A completely new form-factor, category of product, operating system based on Android. SWING!!!

The only thing Windows Phone was missing, you’ll remember, was apps. And now it will have that. Well, not Windows Phone. Android. Which I think is the right call.

I’d love to get one of these Duo devices, only to support bold vision and the stones to put them out into the world.

A few other random observations

  • Windows 10 X looks interesting. Could that be the new tablet mode?
  • The EarBuds look like a miss.
  • The way the Neo keyboard interacts with the device reminds me of the dial you can purchase with the Surface Studio. Microsoft should double down on this sort of thing. It really makes these devices truly like surfaces that you do stuff on. So, by next year we’ll have a Pen, Dial, and Keyboard. I say make a ton more of them.
  • I sort of think they could allow Android apps to run on Windows, this way Duo could still be a Windows computer. But there must be reasons that I don’t know about why they wouldn’t do this. Or perhaps it is still coming.
  • I think both the Neo and Duo will be very different by launch time. They don’t even have outward facing cameras on them yet.
  • Panos’ analogy of flow using his daughter at the piano is apt. When I’m in flow, it could be while I’m writing this blog post, writing code, editing a photo or video, etc I do feel like everything just disappears.

* Windows 10 tablet mode is simply no competitor to iPadOS in a tablet form factor. I’d go so far as to say it sucks in comparison. But, I’ve seen rumors that they’re working hard on this. So, we’ll see.

Microsoft invests $1B in OpenAI

Microsoft on the investment of a cool $1B in OpenAI:

The companies will focus on building a computational platform in Azure of unprecedented scale, which will train and run increasingly advanced AI models, include hardware technologies that build on Microsoft’s supercomputing technology, and adhere to the two companies’ shared principles on ethics and trust. This will create the foundation for advancements in AI to be implemented in a safe, secure and trustworthy way and is a critical reason the companies chose to partner together.

Don’t let the name OpenAI fool you, as there is no word from either company on whether their efforts will be open sourced.

However, OpenAI does publish a charter to which they say they hold.

Either way, it seems to align with Satya’s Microsoft that believes in empowering people to do their work and in doing it ethically and morally.

Nice partnership.

On a Microsoft Surface Phone

Zac Bowden:

It’s fair to say that in 2019, Microsoft is “all-in” on the Android platform thanks to its efforts like the Microsoft Launcher, Edge, and Office, all first-class experiences on Android smartphones around the world.

I’m glad Bowden wrote this post. I’ve been wanting to.

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I liked Windows Phone very much. I bought a Lumia for testing and immediately fell in love with the device and OS. If only it had apps! It was the only thing holding it back.

Today, if Microsoft decided to do what Bowden is suggesting, that wouldn’t be an issue. Android has tons of apps. And so many of Microsoft’s own apps are already first-class citizens on Android (as well as built to be cross platform from the ground up).

Bowden points out Launcher, Edge, and Office as Microsoft’s strongest efforts on Android. But that isn’t all of them. Your Phone, which he mentions later in his post, is also a big piece. Not to mention OneDrive, Skype, and a myriad of apps. They are all very good experiences on Android already.

Bowden says…

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people internally at Microsoft thinking about this very idea right now, weighing up whether it’s worth trying. Does Microsoft want to put money into researching and developing a new smartphone, while also maintaining its own Android ROM, updates, and paying Google for a Play Store license?

This is a given. They have already been doing this for years. Microsoft R&D is one of the largest, most expensive R&D departments in the world. Has been for decades. They shed off billions of dollars per year in R&D. And they aren’t slowing down.

Also, do you think Panos Panay hasn’t already prototyped 10 or 20 or 50 different designs of Surface Phone by now? Of course he has!

One other area I will disagree with Bowden. He writes:

This isn’t a bad thing, but an Android smartphone wouldn’t be the worst idea Microsoft has ever had, especially if it keeps expectations low and doesn’t make any huge bets on it.

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

Steve Jobs passed away 10 years ago. Jony Ive is leaving Apple. Huawei has regulatory issues I can’t even dream of. Samsung’s devices are months behind on Android updates and one of their recent models exploded in people’s hands. And Google’s Pixel has yet to have a foothold.

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels. That is; pumped.

Microsoft releases WSL 2

Lots of Microsoft developer related announcements over the last few days. Since I use WSL every single day I am really looking forward to this WSL 2 release.

Initial tests that we’ve run have WSL 2 running up to 20x faster compared to WSL 1 when unpacking a zipped tarball, and around 2-5x faster when using git clone, npm install and cmake on various projects.

Significant speed improvements. But this bit really takes the cake:

WSL 2 uses an entirely new architecture that uses a real Linux kernel.

WSL 1 used an entirely different approach. They described it like this:

It is the space between the user mode Linux binaries and the Windows kernel components where the magic happens. By placing unmodified Linux binaries in Pico processes we enable Linux system calls to be directed into the Windows kernel. The lxss.sys and lxcore.sys drivers translate the Linux system calls into NT APIs and emulate the Linux kernel.

WSL 1 is a light-weight emulated Linux experience that allows us to use things like Bash commands within Windows without a full VM. WSL 2 is full Linux kernel properly piped to use the Windows stack.

I’m no expert in these sorts of things but this work seems pretty amazing on the surface and using it every day has been great and it has gotten better very rapidly.

I’m calling it, Satya Nadella is Microsoft’s best CEO ever

Me, in September 2017:

I have the feeling we’re going to look back at Nadella as one of the best CEOs in the history of tech.

We’ll see how this bold prediction pans out but I’m ready to call Satya Nadella the best CEO in Microsoft’s history.

Microsoft reported a record-setting Q1. They are killing it in the cloud. But they are also doing very well in many other areas.

While I do think this performance speaks to Nadella being Microsoft’s best CEO it isn’t my only reason for saying so.

Microsoft now feels like it has an ethos I can get behind. While it may have had one under Gates or Ballmer it wasn’t a very attractive one to me. It now feels as though the company has a bright vision for the future not an overly technical (Gates) or competitive (Ballmer) one. Satya appears to care about customers in ways his predecessors didn’t.

Here are some things I’ve had the time to write about Satya (if I was a full-time blogger I would have written far, far more).

Me, in April 2016:

He’s only been in the CEO chair for a little while but I believe he has a vision for the future of the world and of Microsoft that is based on his core beliefs far more than his predecessor. I welcome it. And I like him.

Me, in April 2017:

Today, Microsoft is on the lips of nearly every developer I talk to. And the conversations are about building products using Microsoft hardware and software.

Relatedly, in May 2017:

I have no idea if I’ll ever be a full time Windows user or not. My lock-in on Mac may last another decade or two and by then who knows if I’ll even own a computer as we think of them today.

I’ve now been full-time on Windows 10 for over a year. And while I miss my Mac sometimes (but not all the time) I think this speaks volumes.

Me, later in May 2017:

Overall, I continue to be super impressed with Microsoft under Satya Nadella. Seems I’m not alone.

Me, in March 2018:

I’ve written a lot about Windows 10 here on my blog. It, along with WSL, Azure, Visual Studio, Xamarin, HoloLens and people like Satya and Panos have me extremely bullish on Microsoft. More than I’ve been since the 90s.

June 2018, when MSFT bought Github:

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last few years you’ll know that I’m rather bullish on what Satya Nadella has been doing within Microsoft. Today’s Microsoft is one that embraces open source, contributes heavily to it, allows developers to use any language and platform, etc.

and…

Keep watching, I think we’re going to be seeing a Microsoft that none of us would have ever thought possible just a few short years ago.

Reid Hoffman in June 2018:

Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft has re-invigorated itself with an exploratory, future-oriented, and developer-focused mindset.

I named Microsoft best company in 2018:

In my opinion, Microsoft has been firing on all cylinders for nearly the entirety of Satya Nadella’s lead.


To sum up, Microsoft:

  • is setting financial records each quarter
  • is growing their customer base on products they’ve had for decades
  • is arguably contributing to open source as much or more than any other company
  • has one of the best, if not the best cloud services suite available
  • is manufacturing the best hardware available for Windows computers
  • is leading the way in nascent fields such as AR, ML, AI, IOT

I don’t know how long I’ll be a full-time Windows 10 user. This year’s WWDC will likely have a significant bearing on that. However, to have seen this run and been some small part of it has been fascinating. And I’m still surprised that Microsoft is even a choice for me since it wasn’t for nearly two decades. I’ll continue to watch closely.

My interpretations of announcements by Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter

Apple pre-announcing something: “We’re excited to get this in customer’s hands late next year”. My interpretation: “We never pre-announce things. Why are we doing this? We’re terrible at it. In fact, we make fun of other companies for doing it! Steve Jobs would never allow this! (mostly) We must be doing this because some group of people is really angry with us. Oh, and this product will likely never ship and we’ll tell you about it after the market closes on a Friday”

Apple reassuring their customer base of an upcoming update (read: late in whatever next year is) to a beloved product by a small set of people: “We love the Mac”. My interpretation: “Crickts.” (E key didn’t work)

Apple announcing something that is available today: “We think our customers will love it. Available today. $PremiumPrice”. My interpretation: “Yes, other companies have tried to build this. Yes, our’s is much better in nearly every way. We’ve perfected it. And it is made of diamond and leather and unobtainium. Hence the price. Enjoy.”

Facebook, calling a mea culpa: “We didn’t intend for this to happen. And it happened only to # of users.” My interpretation: “We totally intended for this to happen. We just didn’t intend to get caught. But I don’t know why because we ALWAYS get caught. Oh, and it actually happened to many multiples of # of users. You’ll find that out in a few days.”

Facebook announcing something: “We are connecting people all over the world.” My interpretation: “Our massive drones are really to collect even more information about people than we already collect and sell to that information to people we say we won’t sell information to. Oh, and to misinform people about just about every topic possible.”

Google announcing something: “Here is our brand new cloud-based service that is free to use” My interpretation: “Here is our thing. We consider it beta but it is actually pretty good. Go ahead and use it. Fall in love with it. The moment you come to depend on it we’ll shut it down because we only make money on Google Ads. But you knew that and you fell for it anyway!”

Bonus: Microsoft, announcing a new cloud-based service. “Containers! Buzzword acronym, buzzword seamless integration acronym, buzzword, Kubernetes Docker.” My interpretation: “There are organizations in the world that pay Microsoft incredible amounts of money to license Windows on sub-par hardware, to use Windows Server to manage web applications and services that use far too much RAM, and to use Azure (which is actually quite amazing) to do literally anything they ask it to do.”

Bonus: Twitter announcing a much needed feature. Wait, Twitter hasn’t built any much needed features since 2008.

Microsoft open sources Windows Calculator

Microsoft:

Today, we’re excited to announce that we are open sourcing Windows Calculator on GitHub under the MIT License. This includes the source code, build system, unit tests, and product roadmap. Our goal is to build an even better user experience in partnership with the community. We are encouraging your fresh perspectives and increased participation to help define the future of Calculator.

This is a trend I’d like to see continue.

Microsoft is the MVP

Raymond Wong:

The seeds Nadella’s been planting since he hopped in the chief executive seat blossomed in full this year. Looking ahead, Microsoft’s future looks bright so long as it doesn’t drop the ball.

You already know where I stand on this topic.

Microsoft gives up on EdgeHTML

Chris Beard, CEO Mozilla Corporation:

Microsoft’s decision gives Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us.

From one point-of-view this move by Microsoft might seem to make total sense. They spin this as “it will be easier for web developers to target one less browser engine”. However, this is exactly what web standards are supposed to afford – developers target the same set of standards and the browser engines, however many there are, target the same set of standards. In theory, having multiple engines shouldn’t make it too much more difficult for developers. In practice, however, it has. But most developers would agree that to avoid a monopoly in the browser market we’d take on the added complexity we’ve had for years. In fact, having multiple browser engines has made browsing on the web better since the competition has led to faster load times, less battery drain, and less computer memory usage.

Beard’s take is right on. Google has not shown themselves to be the best steward of privacy, of web standards, or of leading the most popular browser engine. In fact, they routinely build web applications that only work using their engine. This is the exact antithesis of the web. And giving Google even more power is obviously not a good thing.

Microsoft, though, can do whatever they’d like. It is just unfortunate they’ve decided to go this route.

I switched away from Chrome in 2017 for good. I’ve been using Firefox on every device I own and while it is a little more work to do so on iOS I will continue to.

Beard’s call-to-action is to use Firefox. I think you should too. But I would simply say use anything but Chrome for a while just to swing the market in more directions.

My opinion of Microsoft Surface, 6 years later

Me, in 2012, writing about the first time I saw a Surface device:

I could have played with it longer. But I wouldn’t want to. The Surface is terrible. Even if you’ve never picked up an iPad or an Android-powered tablet you would think the Surface is pretty slow, hard to use, and heavy; three things a tablet device should probably never have said about it.

I’m writing this on a borrowed Surface Pro (using it until my Dell XPS comes in) and last year I spent a lot of time on a Surface Book (a review that I wrote 2,100 words on and never published).

Today I’d be willing to say that the Surface line from Microsoft is very good and only getting better. The Pro, Laptop, Studio, and now Go are excellent computers, well-built, and worth investigating as your next computer.

A lot can change in 6 years. I wrote this paragraph 2 years ago already:

I’m keeping an extremely close eye on all things Microsoft lately. I’ve even stated, publicly, that I think if they continue on their current course they are going to be beating Apple on several fronts within half a decade.

They are well on their way.