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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Is VR overrated?

Kristopher B. Jones, an entrepreneur from near my neck of the woods, weighs in on VR in a recent Forbes piece debating the applicability of the technology:

I’m a strong believer that virtual reality is overrated, as it has limited applications outside of very specific industries. Industries like gaming and medical training are likely to see a boom from VR, while other industries such as food service, retail and finance with have limited to no applicability of VR. Much like Google Glass and 3-D television, the buzz will eventually die down.

In November of 2016 I said VR wasn’t ready. But that I thought it wasn’t far away. I was wrong because I was lumping VR in with a much larger mixed reality landscape. It wasn’t until I dug deep into mixed reality that I understood the subtle nuances between VR, AR, and the various other degrees of mixed reality experiences.

Kris likely understands this landscape even better than I do. He’s is right. VR will never be as big as the hype. In fact, I’d bank on it. However, “mixed reality experiences” (such as augmented reality) are popping up in every single app we currently have and will continue to do so. You already see it in Facebook, Instagram, Apple’s Clips app, even within the Uber app and Google Maps app. Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are already shipping platforms, frameworks, and APIs to help developers bring MR into their apps and services. And Google recently demonstrated an amazing technology called Lens that will be inside of Google Assistant and Google Photos soon. I also think the automobile dashboard and windshield is a huge future play for AR.

I don’t think Forbes or Kris lumps VR together with AR. But I do think that many consumers do. They think mixed reality is all about wearing huge goggles. It isn’t until you dig a little deeper that you see that mixed reality is all around us already. It’s already a hit. And it is just going to keep growing.

VR as a subset of MR is overrated. But, MR is far from overrated.

E16: The Dark Crystal, Netflix, Amazon and more

Danny and I sat down on Saturday afternoon to chat about a few things. Below are a few links relevant to our conversation.

Links

Download MP3

My thoughts on Build 2017

I have a few thoughts on Build 2017.

First, how did Build 2017 measure up against my very short wishlist?

  • Windows Phone. Although a few presenters over the few days managed to get an applause from the crowd when referring to Windows Phone, we saw zero announcements from MSFT in this area. The complete opposite of what I was hoping for. For now, it seems they are embracing iOS and Android.
  • HoloLens. MSFT seems to be leaning away from a 1-brand approach and more towards providing all of the tools needed to do Mixed Reality. This approach, for a company like Microsoft, is likely better but I still wanted to see HoloLens (a standalone MR system) be invested in heavily. Maybe they’ll have announcements in the future.
  • Windows or Office being open source. This was a long shot. But, I’ll keep it on my list in perpetuity. Esp. Windows.
  • Band. I don’t think Microsoft mentioned wearables at all (besides the amazing Emma). Did they?

So I completely struck out. So it goes.

I’m not unhappy though. Microsoft had some amazing announcements and, overall, had an impressive amount of work accomplished since the last Build.

Sayta Nadella started the conference off by reaffirming their commitment to build hardware, software, and services responsibly and inclusively. It is obvious that Nadella’s Microsoft wants to build solutions for everyone (including even the smallest groups of individuals). I really enjoy seeing this from them and I hope it continues to be the driving force behind their decisions.

What Microsoft has been able to do with Azure (and its related services like Azure Stack), OneDrive, and other cloud-based services is really incredible. Between what Amazon and Microsoft currently offer developers – there is almost no excuse a start-up can make that they cannot bring software to the market at scale in an affordable way. And, even if you’re not worried about scale, the ease of development, testing, iteration, and deployment is much more simple. All developers know that these “one click demos” are never that in reality. But it is still very, very impressive to see what Microsoft has been able to create and is able to sell and support.

It was telling, too, that Microsoft swapped their Keynotes from last year. Day 1 was all Azure and day 2 was all Windows.

One more note about Azure; it seems to be a runaway hit in a similar way to Amazon’s S3. A few years ago S3 took over the entire cloud storage market backing so many services we use every day. When it has gone down (only a few times in recent memory) everything we use went down. I think the same could be said for Azure. Azure is the platform upon which an incredible amount of large scale services are built. I don’t know if this is still the case but Apple’s services were once built on top of Azure. If Azure goes down expect a similar blackout to S3 going down.

Windows 10 being on a twice-a-year release cycle is very refreshing. It makes Apple’s already aggressive once-per-year updates to macOS look snail-like. The pace of software updates for an OS are critical since software needs to be nimble to react to the market. Things like mobility, connectivity, speed, memory, device size and screen size, and wireless technologies seem to change weekly. The OSes need to keep up. Longer development cycles can no longer keep pace.

Microsoft also announced their own design framework called Fluent. I’m sure Windows developers will welcome this coherence across all of their devices but I do not think it will have the wide-reaching affects of both Apple’s flat iOS 7 design language (which is nameless?) and Google’s Material Design. I see iOS-inspired and Material-inspired design in every piece of software I use.

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

I recommend watching the videos from Build 2017. There is a ton to glean and I’m sure we’ll start seeing some amazing things come of the announcements made. Well done yet again MSFT.

Build day 1 was great. I’m looking forward to day 2 as there are promises of Windows 10 and MR/AR news. Which, as you know, I’m interested in.

I’m looking forward to today’s Build Keynote. Here is my short list of wishes.

I find it interesting that Microsoft, who just had an education event last week and is holding Build this week, has called another event in Shanghai on the 23rd. Firing on all cylinders it seems.

My Build wishlist

Microsoft’s Build conference starts on Wednesday. I’ve been watching this conference closely for the last three years.* Each year Microsoft has shown that they are a completely different company since Satya Nadella has become CEO. They actually make the things they show.

Over these same years they’ve improved upon Windows so-much-so that I have a hard time defending my choice to use Mac. They’ve made Surface hardware that is so good that people are switching from the Mac. And their developer apps and cloud services are incredibly good.

So I thought just prior to this year’s Keynote that I’d jot down my wishlist for this year. It is very short because I don’t use a ton of Microsoft services day-to-day.

  • Windows Phone. I’d like Microsoft to make a large commitment to bringing Windows Phone back. They’ve already made investments in the developer toolchain to allow app developers to use their own languages and frameworks and create iOS and Android applications. Windows Phone was so good it could easily be the third horse in the mobile OS race. (Also, a Surface Phone would be cool to see)
  • HoloLens. I’d like to see HoloLens be available to consumers at an affordable cost (say $500.00). HoloLens is one of the only AR packages out there that I think has the platform, services, and is a standalone unit that could be valuable to anyone from games to the enterprise.
  • Windows and/or Office Open Source. This is a big one and is a much, much longer term goal I think. However, I don’t think it is impossible. Microsoft has been embracing open source more and more. Windows being open could actually eliminate some of their woes rather than compound them. Running Windows as an open project would take a huge team but I think would be worth it in the long run and actually allow Windows to mature even quicker than it is now (which is two releases per year).
  • Band. I’d like to see Band make a comeback. I thought it was a great wearable platform that had a future but they’ve killed it. So in some way, perhaps under a new name (Surface Band?), I’d like to see it come back.

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. But I always want to see honest competition between two giants because that inevitably leads to better products for everyone involved.

Let’s see what happens on Wednesday.

* And I’d like to attend some year.

 

Update: Here is what actually happened.

Bashing Windows

Ben Brooks likes the look of the new Surface Book Laptop. But he says this about Windows:

Still runs Windows though.

I don’t know if Ben has used the very latest Windows 10 builds but if he hasn’t he should give it a try. I’ve already said not to bet against Microsoft but I would also say, at this point, not to bet against Windows 10. It is so so so much better than it used to be. Comparable to macOS at every level.

It used to be no question that macOS was better than Windows 10. Less viruses, better file management, easier app installs and uninstalls, polish. Now I believe it simply a matter of preference.

How Microsoft is doing

Fred Wilson:

Even more impressive in many ways, is what Satya Nadella has done at Microsoft. He slayed the Windows Everywhere albatross that was holding Microsoft back for most of the post Gates era and has made Microsoft relevant again in the world of tech. Windows is enjoying a resurgence, the Office app suite is finally and successfully moving to the cloud, and Microsoft’s cloud offerings are strong and getting stronger.

Five years ago you’d walk into any developer conference and all you’d see were Mac laptops. If you saw a Windows laptop it was either running a distribution of Linux or that developer’s company didn’t have the budget to afford company Macs.

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. The languages and frameworks being used to build these products are ones that were traditionally a real pain to use on Windows like Bash, Rails, PHP, Apache, nginx, mySQL etc. etc. And today, its easy.

This trend has been building.

How is Microsoft doing? For the relatively small segment of the world that builds software products; I’d say they are doing extremely well. And with Surface Studio I’m guessing a huge number of artists are jumping from the Mac to PC. Now, can they recapture students and consumers and mobile? We’ll see. They have an awful lot of work to do there.

How we got Linux on Windows

Brian Jepson writing about the Windows Subsystem for Linux:

But there’s a lot more going on. First, WSL is really a new infrastructure for Windows that implements a Linux kernel-compatible ABI (Application Binary Interface). It allows Windows to run unmodified ELF-64 binaries, and is distribution-agnostic. When you configure it, WSL downloads and runs an (unmodified!) Ubuntu cloud image, but WSL is designed to support other Linux distributions as well. There are a few system calls not yet implemented, but that list gets smaller and smaller with each Insider Preview Release of Windows.

Much of what Jepson discusses here is above my pay grade, however, in the most simple terms, this is what the WSL is. WSL, allows any Unix distro to “talk” to Windows in such a way that makes the Unix kernel indistinguishable for an actual Linux kernel. So a Linux app doesn’t need to be modified at all to run on Windows 10 with WSL enabled. And while there are some things that still don’t work on WSL that list is shrinking fast.

We’ve been using WSL at Condron Media for weeks and have had great success. We’ve run into a few snags but Tucker Hottes has reported those via Twitter and oftentimes sees an update to Windows within a week or so. Microsoft is really killing it with this.

People are switching from Macs to Surface

Brian Hall at Microsoft:

More people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before. Our trade-in program for MacBooks was our best ever, and the combination of excitement for the innovation of Surface coupled with the disappointment of the new MacBook Pro – especially among professionals – is leading more and more people to make the switch to Surface, like this. It seems like a new review recommending Surface over MacBook comes out daily. This makes our team so proud, because it means we’re doing good work.

I see tweets every single day from known Mac users that picked up a Surface product. Just last night I saw Sebastian de With, a well-known designer and Mac user, tweet repeatedly about his Surface Studio. He seems to like it.

Apple fans, myself included, cannot ignore this. However, Apple may. As I’ve written, and said, their move away from the pro user seems intentional and may be a very good move for their bottom line.

E15: Bots, Windows 10 Surface Book review, Twitter Head of Product

Last weekend Danny and I sat down and discussed our current experience with bots, the progress I’ve made on my still forthcoming Windows 10 and Surface Book review and also Twitter’s new Head of Product hire.

Links:

Download MP3

How Surface changed Microsoft

Jason Ward, writing for Windows Central:

Windows devices once perceived as low-end bargain basement devices are now seen as expensive cutting-edge hardware that rivals or exceeds Apple’s long-standing high-end market position.

I make this same point in my forthcoming review of the Surface Book and Windows 10. I’m so sorry it is taking so long to finish up this review. I didn’t want the review to be based only on first impressions but rather real world every day use.

A tablet and a notebook in one

John Gruber:

To me, an iPad in notebook mode — connected to a keyboard cover — is so much less nice than a real notebook. And the difference is more stark when compared to a great notebook, like these MacBook Pros. There are advantages to the tablet form factor, but no tablet will ever be as nice as a notebook as these MacBook Pros. I also prefer MacOS over iOS for, well, “doing work”. I think I’m more productive on a Mac than I am on an iPad. I can’t prove it, but even if I’m wrong, the fact that I feel like it’s true matters. I always feel slightly hamstrung working on an iPad. I never do on a Mac (at least once I’ve got it configured with all the apps and little shortcuts, scripts, and utilities I use).

I totally agree with John. An iPad does not feel as nice as a MacBook. I’ve owned both devices and used them both daily for years. And I, like him, feel much less productive on an iPad than on a notebook computer like the MacBook. I used my iPad for reading, watching videos, and doing light work-related tasks like note taking at a client meeting. But for real work I grabbed my MacBook and, preferably, connected it to a display.

But what if you could have both? What if you could have both a tablet and a notebook in one? And what if all of the work that you do on the notebook could be possible on the tablet? I’ll be writing much more about my experiences with the new Surface Book with Performance Base in the coming weeks (I have only had mine three days and I want to get a little more comfortable with it prior to a proper review) but I can say this – without hesitation – the Surface Book is the marriage of the iPad and the MacBook and I’m loving it.

I read John’s post with the Clipboard portion (read: the display) of the Surface Book and was compelled to write this post. So I docked the display on the keyboard and began typing. Not because I couldn’t have used the on-screen keyboard, but more because I’m much quicker with a full computer. I have all of my shortcuts and customizations. The small little things that make more far more productive.

And, let’s not forget the actual reason John gave for feeling “hamstrung” while using the iPad – it is the software. The operating system. With my new Surface Book I’m running Windows 10 in desktop mode when docked to the Performance Base and in tablet mode when detached from it. But, in both situations I have my data, my customization, my small tweaks, my multitasking capabilities, etc. It truly is the best of both worlds.

I’ve long written on this blog that I believe Microsoft’s vision of one operating system for both contexts is better than Apple’s two-OS approach. John disagrees with me on this. And I don’t know that there is a right or wrong answer but there certainly is a preference. My preference is to keep my “power user” stuff at my fingertips for when I need them but to hide them when I don’t. The Surface Book does this.

I’m truly enjoying this device and I’m very much looking forward to sharing more about my switch back from the Mac to Windows 10. But for now I’m going to detach my display and get back to watching YouTube videos on my couch.

E13: Switching to Windows 10 and the Surface Book, and pre-orders

Danny and I have a Saturday morning conversation about my purchase of the new Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base and switching from macOS to Windows 10.

Links:

Thanks to Danny for the early wakeup.

I edited this MP3 and published this post on Windows 10. Yay!

Download MP3

Surface Book reviews

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.

One product out of Redmond I’m watching closely is the new Surface Book. Even though today is the day they are supposed to be out, most stores that carry Microsoft products do not have them. Not even for display. Even Microsoft’s own retail stores only have them on display and you can’t buy one yet. (This information came from multiple calls to multiple stores, not from me physically visiting one.)

As the embargo on reviews has seemingly been lifted the reviews are pouring in. I’ve read/watched a few so far… notably Norman Chan’s, Mr Mobile’s, Dan Seifert’s and Dana Wollman’s. Go read/watch their reviews.

Here are a few other details I’ve picked up:

  • The new Surface Book isn’t new. But the base, or keyboard, is. The Performance Base, as MSFT calls it, comes with a GPU now and it didn’t before. There are also a few subtle configurations that are different now.
  • The Surface Book gets no where near the battery life that Microsoft claims. The only reviewer that got anywhere close to the same battery life as Microsoft claims was Dana Wollman at Engadget. And this was only because she set up the Surface Book simply to play video rather than do any real tasks. Norman Chan and MrMobile both got abysmal battery life.
  • Apple catches a lot of flak for the MacBook Pros doing away with ports, but the Surface Book is also lacking many of the ports you’d want on it. It rather relies on a proprietary port and a $200 box you can use to extend the port offerings.
  • When gaming (which I never do) it gets pretty hot.

I was very eager to purchase the new Surface Book. I was ready to trade in my MacBook Pro and get one today, actually. But I’m glad I didn’t after these reviews. My excitement has been squashed a bit. It shows it pays to wait for the reviews to come out rather than rely on what Microsoft puts on display during their events.

So now I’m back to being truly torn. Do I purchase a new MacBook Pro or the Surface Book? I have no idea.

E11: Browsers, Surfaces, MacBook Pros, and Tesla roof

Danny and I have an early Sunday morning conversation about our browsers of choice (he likes Vivaldi), Microsoft and Apple’s announcements this week and the Tesla roof.

Download MP3

Touch Bar

I’ve been tweeting like crazy about the new MacBook Pros and how I’ve found the most recent updates underwhelming. But I couldn’t come up with a great way to describe how I felt about Touch Bar in a way that I wanted in my blog archives. Until I read this.

Michael Tsai:

I’m not crazy about Touch Bar, but it does seem potentially useful.

That’s exactly it for me. The Touch Bar does not excite me. But, I can see how it could be potentially useful.

Apple asked a bunch of people to fly to their campuses to show them a new version of the MacBook Pro that is, of course, lighter thinner and has less ports. And it has the Touch Bar. But it isn’t what I wanted from them. And, as you see from Tsai’s post, perhaps they don’t care. I don’t care about lighter or thinner. I care about performance, storage, reliability.

I am underwhelmed. No. It is worse than that. I’m disappointed.

I’m using a 2012 MacBook Pro. I’m ready to upgrade. But I can see no compelling reason to do so. Not for Touch Bar that’s for sure. After spending some time with the Surface Book this weekend I can now say I’m going to purchase one and see if I can make the switch. Microsoft’s software may not yet be up-to-snuff but they certainly have my attention and it appears I’m not alone.

Microsoft open sources .NET Core

Richard Lander on the .NET Blog:

We are excited to announce the release of .NET Core 1.0, ASP.NET Core 1.0 and Entity Framework Core 1.0, available on Windows, OS X and Linux! .NET Core is a cross-platform, open source, and modular .NET platform for creating modern web apps, microservices, libraries and console applications.

They said they would, and they did. Good on MSFT. Likely an incredible amount of work to get this out. And supposedly this is also a deep rewrite of .NET Core.

Google has JAVA (though, they didn’t make it), Apple has Swift, and now MSFT has .NET*. All fully open source languages, frameworks, and platforms backed by public companies. A good time to be a programmer.

* MSFT has had .NET forever, it is just that now it is open sourced.

Digital Transformations

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, on LinkedIn:

Each of us are part of our economies and our societies. Long-term growth is directly related to our ability to make our climate more sustainable, our economies more viable and our societies more equitable. Those changes can only happen if we ask ourselves two questions: What difference is our business making? And what difference are we making?

Satya’s Build keynote introduction made it clear that he believes technology can change society for good. We can all agree that it is changing society, but it is arguable whether or not all of it is for good. His position is that he’s both optimistic — that in the long run the changes will be good — and driven — that he and Microsoft will try to make good decisions about how technology fits into our lives.

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.