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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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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.

Windows 10 May 2019 update brings better Windows Update

Zac Bowden, writing for Windows Central:

Windows Update received some pretty significant upgrades with the May 2019 Update, and it’s good news for users. Microsoft is backing off its heavy-handedness when it comes to forcing updates onto users. Starting this month, users will no longer be forced to install new feature updates unless they explicitly click on an install button for it. You will still have to install security patches and driver updates, but the big feature updates won’t be forced straight away.

This alone is worth updating for.

I like to choose when to update my computer, especially when I’m working on a big project and I don’t want anything in my environment to change until I’m finished. No longer are Windows Updates forced until 18-months after they are released. That is more than enough time.

Lots of other nice updates as well.

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.

This time of year is always good for developers with Microsoft’s Build, Google I/O and Apple’s WWDC happening within the span of a few months. This week is Microsoft Build and I’m looking forward to seeing some great announcements.

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.

Xamarin videos, now on YouTube

Me, 17-minutes into an audio bit in 2017 (paraphrasing):

If you go onto YouTube search for a problem you’re having for Xcode and Swift you’ll find 15 well-produced videos to solve your problem. […] But you won’t find 15 well-produced videos with Visual Studio + C# (or Xamarin).

For the last few years I’ve thought that Microsoft needs a much larger presence on YouTube (in addition to Channel9). They also need other developers that make these sorts of videos to do them as well. I’ve long thought they should directly sponsor a series of videos from Lets Build That App’s Brian Voong.

But, perhaps this new channel will help.

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.

Firefox 66

There is a lot to love about Firefox lately (especially the last 20 or so releases) and 66 is no different.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster for Windows Central:

Firefox version 66 includes support for Windows Hello for web authentication, allowing you to log in to websites that support the latest FIDO2 standards for passwordless logins.

Very cool and a feature that reminds me of using an Apple device.

And also, from Mozilla themselves:

Starting with version 66, Firefox will block audible autoplaying video and audio. This means media (audio and video) have to wait for user interaction before playing, unless the muted property is set on the associated HTMLMediaElement. Blocking can be disabled on a case-by-case basis in the site information overlay

If you haven’t tried Firefox lately on any of your devices I recommend giving it a try.

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.

The Mac is turning less Pro

skywhopper, on Hacker News, commenting on a thread relating to Mark Gurman’s scoop on Apple’s (supposed) plan to have apps running on iOS and macOS using the same (or, similar) code bases by 2020:

And then the Mac is losing what should be its primary audience through unwanted innovations and otherwise stagnant hardware, and a failure to recognize the importance of catering to the power users who might want an actual escape key, multiple types of ports, and a keyboard that doesn’t feel like it came off a rejected tablet accessory.

I can see an argument for fragmenting the laptop world into Pro/developer hardware and consumer hardware. But Apple seems to have got the needs of those groups mixed up. Do Apple’s own software engineers love the newest Macs I wonder?

I left the Mac (but may come back some day) for two primary reasons:

  1. Apple doesn’t cater to me (a professional computer user, programmer, video and photo editor, that owns a bunch of peripherals) any more. They used to. In fact the Mac was originally for exactly the type of person I am. The hardware choices they’ve made make it clear they care far more about consumers than professionals.
  2. The price gap between a Windows computer and a Mac computer is no longer commensurate with the build quality gap. It used to be that Macs were so much nicer than Windows computers. It was inarguable. These days it is arguable, if not nearly indistinguishable. Microsoft’s Surface line, Lenovo’s ThinkPads, and (dare I even mention) Huawei’s laptops are nearly on par with the latest Mac laptops. And the price difference is significant. My DELL XPS 9370 was about $1,400 less than if I had purchased a somewhat comparable Macbook.

You might ask: But what about the Operating System? macOS is still nicer than Windows in a variety of ways. It used to be far nicer and far more capable. But the niceness gap and the capability gap have also shrunk.

Windows 10’s WSL has been a boon for me personally to allow me to do the types of things I need to do on a computer. Combine that with Docker and I’m able to do every single thing I used to do on a Mac.

The biggest gripe I have with Windows 10 is its inability to strip away the legacy stuff you find in the corners of the OS. They are being eliminated one by one – like the plates in the shooting gallery at the county fair – with each release I download. But even this gripe isn’t much different from what I’m seeing on macOS. The Marizipan apps have been universally panned, the updates to macOS haven’t really been all that compelling (Dark Mode is your biggest selling feature?), and when will Mail.app ever get the update it so desperately needs?

To sum up: Mac hardware and software is still (albeit arguably) better than most Windows 10 hardware and software. But the gap is all but closed – leaving the consumer the ability to choose based on budget for hardware. And with PWAs, web apps, Electron apps, etc. taking over both platforms a huge portion of the software we use every day is nearly identical.

Apple is going less Pro. I don’t blame them. There are more buyers. Apple will continue to string along developers into believing they care deeply about the Mac because they need developers (and the Mac) to build apps for their consumers – especially on iOS. You need a Mac to build an iOS app (at least today). But I think it might be time to stop believing them and start opening up ourselves to the fact that there are other options for some of us that don’t only build Mac or iOS apps.

One less comment from me: I’m not anti-Apple at all. I still really like the company and what they stand for. I miss my Mac nearly every day. Windows 10 still has a ways to go. And the grass always seems greener elsewhere. But, I prefer to continue to have an open mind. To not be dogmatic and to choose the hardware and software I use based on principles I care about as well as on the reasonableness of their cost.

/HN comment thread via Michael Tsai.