Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

GeekWire Summit: Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

Satya Nadella in a video interview on YouTube at GeekWire Summit:

By the way, all of these efforts didn’t started three-and-a-half years ago. It was Bill [Gates] who started MSR and Steve [Ballmer] who started our cloud push.

A sprawling, candid interview with someone who may end up being Microsoft’s best CEO. I love that he doesn’t take sole credit for Microsoft’s most recent successes. Only a few hundred views on Youtube.

What’s new in WSL in Windows 10

Tara Raj for Microsoft:

We’ve been documenting many of these new features and improvements on this blog over the last few months, but we’ve often been asked for a single document listing all the new improvements, and with FCU (version 1709, build 16299.15) shipping on October 17th 2017, we thought it was time to publish a list these improvements!

We’re coming up on our first year of using Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) at Condron Media. I mentioned in January of this year that we’ve been using it pretty extensively. Since then Tucker Hottes has been getting the insider updates (or, beta updates) of Windows 10 and has enjoyed the incredibly fast pace that Microsoft’s teams are on. If you look at the linked blog post you’ll see the improvements are myriad.

A request: If you’re a developer using Windows 10 and know about WSL do Microsoft a favor and let other Windows-using developers know. Tucker and I are always amazed at the number of developers that have no idea about WSL still. In fact, just yesterday we met one and made sure to tell them about it.

To put this in perspective; Tucker is on Windows 10 and I’m on macOS. Yet, we use nearly the same development environment, configuration, tools, etc. This allows us to collaborate in a way that was previously much more difficult. Microsoft is doing great work on WSL and more developers need to know.

Microsoft releases Edge on iOS and Android

Joe Belfiore:

Introducing Microsoft Edge for iOS/Android and Microsoft Launcher for Android, two apps designed to make it easy to move what you’re working on between your phone and PC.

Great move. Likely tons of Surface users that also have iPhones and definitely have Android devices.

The Launcher is an interesting move. I’m anxious to see if they continue to improve it. Facebook made one years ago and gave up on it in very short order.

Browser struggle

In the opening scene of It Might Get Loud, Jack White fashions himself an instrument from a single guitar string, a glass Coke bottle, a piece of wood, and a few nails. He goes on to describe how he appreciates an instrument that he has to physically struggle with in order to force it to perform. He also appreciates constraints while on stage. One of his bands, The White Stripes, limited their color palette for their brand and their music was all composed using a single guitar and a set of drums (though they did meander a bit from time-to-time for special occasions).

The constraints breed creativity. Much like an artist living within the bounds of their medium by forcing themselves to use their tools in ways not thought of before. Stretching, pulling, twisting.

For some odd reason I’m reminded of these constraints, this struggle, this art whenever I switch internet browsers.

To most people an internet browser isn’t something they choose to use. In fact, they use whatever comes on the device they own. If they switch to a new one it is because they were forced to or that they switched on accident.

To a web developer an internet browser is more than just the way we can view the web. It is one of the primary tools that helps us to build the web. So while just about any web browser should be fine to use for most people – a web developer like myself comes with a set of requirements above and beyond that of the common surfer.

While feature parity has settled into the browser market for the most part, there are extremely subtle yet key differences between them all. If I were forced to list all of the nuances between the browsers such as how they handle tabs, bookmarks, page rendering, etc. I’d be here for days.

Here are some very broad descriptions of the primary browsers:

Safari comes on pre-installed the Mac and seemingly puts the user’s privacy and attention at the forefront. It is seamlessly integrated on both desktop and mobile. It is also the most popular browser on mobile*.

Edge comes pre-installed on Windows 10 and isn’t available to me on desktop or mobile. While Microsoft has made enormous strides since ditching Internet Explorer I have no idea what edge Edge has. I haven’t seen huge claims made by them and I don’t know what the browser itself stands for. But, I’d wager that a large portion of Windows 10 users use that browser without even knowing it. So long as Edge works well and has enough features for Windows 10 users – most users won’t need to shop around for a new browser. Unfortunately, I cannot use it.

Chrome is the most popular browser in the world on the desktop. Mostly due to the popularity of Google Search, Google Docs, and Gmail. These three services have billions of monthly active users – each – and if you’re using any other browser except Chrome you’ll be “reminded” to download it. Also, Google has a few Chrome-only features that inevitably get people to make the switch. It is also pre-installed on many Android devices. It is very good and while I’d have a small list of asks on desktop my biggest request on mobile would be to be able to set it as my primary browser – unfortunately Apple doesn’t allow that**.

Firefox is open source and presumably cares the most about the open web. Its development is by far the most transparent of the browsers (though Apple, Google, and Microsoft do an excellent job of making their development fairly transparent) and just about anyone can contribute to the project. Firefox’s footprint in the market, however, is tiny in comparison to its competition. The latest releases seem to be leaps forward for Firefox.

There are more browsers; Opera, Brave, Tor, Konqueror, etc. but these are relatively small userbases*** and I’ve never used any of them for any length of time other than to see if they were usable.

Lately Apple is claiming that Safari is the fastest browser available. A claim each web browser maker claims with nearly each release of their software. It is sort of like having a few friends with similar dates of birth. Someone is always a few days older than the other for a few short days until everyone is the same age again. This is what it is like with speed and web browsers. One may be “the fastest” today but the other will catch up next week.

For the last few weeks I’ve been using Firefox and there are several small niggles that I have that prompted me to write, and rewrite and rewrite, this post. It is what reminded me of this struggle. This bending and twisting of metal and wood in order to get the browser to do what I need it to. I started out creating a list of things Firefox would need to do in order to have me as a user fulltime – some examples include allowing me to use my mouse’s features, enabling macOS dictionary lookup, being the default browser on iOS, etc. But then I backed off of that and realized it will always be a bit of a struggle. I’ll always switch back and forth between browsers. I’ll have a favorite. And that will change.

I’d bet Jack White has never found the perfect guitar. He has a favorite today and it may change tomorrow. Today I’m using Firefox. Tomorrow who knows? And that’s fine.


* Chrome has more installs on mobile, iOS has far more usage.

** Can someone please sue Apple over this already?

*** Opera seems to have a huge marketshare in mobile in places like India and Africa.

An interview with Satya Nadella and Bill Gates

Seth Stevenson, for The Wall Street Journal:

In February 2014, Satya Nadella became the third CEO of Microsoft . Nadella, more soft-spoken than his predecessors, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, assumed the company’s helm amid one of its stormiest chapters. Ballmer, toward the end of his 14-year tenure, had purchased Nokia ’s mobile phone business at great cost ($7.2 billion) but failed to make a dent in the market dominance of Apple and Samsung . Nadella quickly nixed those ambitions and instead ramped up investment in artificial intelligence and commercial cloud computing. The result has been a remarkable turnaround, featuring major growth in cloud services revenue, a doubling of year-on-year profits and an all-time stock price high.

Me, in early 2016, regarding Nadella:

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.

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

Be sure to read the interview.

Microsoft holding Surface Keynote in October

Tom Warren for The Verge:

Microsoft’s Surface chief will hold a keynote speech in London at the end of October. The software giant is holding its annual Future Decoded event in London from October 31st to November 1st, and Microsoft revealed to The Verge today that Panos Panay will be speaking. Microsoft typically launches new Surface devices in October, and sources familiar with the company’s plans tell us to expect at least one new device at the event.

I sincerely hope they launch a Surface Phone. I want more pressure on Apple and I’d love to see Windows Phone (which I thought was fantastic) return to the battle of mobile OSes.

However, I don’t think it will happen. If this was a possibility I think (knowing Microsoft) they would have tried to build up more hype around this event than they are. They likely wouldn’t hold the event in London either. But, I can hope.

Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality

In this video Tom Warren of The Verge uses some mixed reality headsets for Windows. Watching them I’m reminded just how far this industry has to go. I’d call much of what I see in this video very much beta-level hardware and software.

It has only been 5 months since I wrote the aforelinked piece and we’ve seen some major, major movement in this space during that time. Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all thrown massive amounts of resources into mixed reality. I feel the pace of updates will only quicken over the next 24 months. By 2020 everything we see in this video will look ancient.

/via Dan Kimbrough on Twitter.

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.


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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.


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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.