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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

E14: Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts, streaming video solutions, Nintendo

On Sunday Danny and I discussed learning Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts, a bit about video streaming services and the value they bring, and also a bit about Nintendo. Here are some links from this episode.

Links:

Download MP3

The Twitter grabbag

When I signed up to Twitter over 10 years ago the site was remarkably simple and easy to use. Back then using Twitter on mobile meant crafting SMS messages using particular syntaxes like “follow username” or “d username message”. It was a fantastically simple experience with huge implications on how we all communicate.

Today, there is no such thing as a unified Twitter experience. And all of the experiences are far from simple. Twitter on the web, or Twitter.com, feels pretty much the same across many desktop platforms. The issue I have with the web experience is that it is a pretty terrible way to use Twitter. The algorithmic main feed, the UI being shoved full of useless information, the confusing conversation layouts, all of these make Twitter.com not very fun to use. And the web experience on mobile is such a departure from the web site that I’d be surprised if anyone at all could use it. I’ve tried. A lot. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

On the Mac there are several excellent Twitter clients to get the most of our Twitter. I remember when Twitterrific debuted. It was amazing to have a running feed to bring all of my online friends right into my office. Today, on iOS, the Twitter applications are second-to-none. I’ve used nearly all Twitter clients for each platform and iOS is, hands down, the best way to experience Twitter both via the official apps and the best client of them all; Tweetbot.

Tweetbot is so far and away the best way to use Twitter it isn’t even funny. If you like Twitter at all and use Tweetbot  you know how much value it brings you. You’re able to keep up with what is going on, easily create and reply to tweets, and search for what people are saying about a given topic.

On Windows, which I’ve switched to using this weekend, the Twitter experience is so bad that I have no trouble figuring out why Twitter has a hard time growing. A few weeks ago I quipped that if anyone was forced to only use the official Twitter apps or web site that they’d likely not use Twitter at all. The same could definitely be said for people using Twitter on Windows 10.

When I’m in a group of people and I’m the only person that really uses Twitter – uses it every single day – I always used to wonder why. Why aren’t these people on Twitter? Why aren’t they getting as much value from it as I have? I don’t wonder that any longer. The experience is terrible. For anyone using Windows 10 or Android I’d bet they open Twitter from time-to-time (if they have an account at all) and then close it wondering why people use it at all.

Take this scenario as a for instance. Someone signs up to Twitter, they follow a few accounts like a celebrity or two, their favorite sports teams, a journalist or two, a politician or three, and maybe one or two friends that are using Twitter. All told they are at around 40 accounts. And I’d say this is likely the median for Twitter. They log into Twitter. The algorithm shows them 4 tweets they “missed while away”. And the rest of their main feed is a hodge podge of some recent tweets. They scroll down once or twice but not much else is interesting and they move on with their day.

If this was how I used Twitter then I could never get any value from it.

Contrast that with the Tweetbot experience. I open Tweetbot and I’m presented with my main feed from the point I left off from. I have 56 tweets that I missed since the last time I opened the app. And, just like my email, I quickly glance at each one – sometimes stopping to follow a link or look at a photo – before moving on. I won’t be “done” looking at Twitter until I’ve gotten through all of the tweets. Like being done with looking at my email. For some people this may seem overwhelming. They may ask “how can I keep up?” They hate having emails in their Inbox and so they hate having Unread Tweets. But for many this would produce a valuable use of Twitter. The more tweets people see the more chance they have of seeing something that interests them. Of course that is the purpose of Twitter’s main feed algorithm, but more is more in this context. Ask any user of Tweetbot and they will tell you that they get value from being on Twitter. Ask any user of the Twitter web site and I’d bet they only see 20% of the content shared on the site and could live without the service.

To make matters worse, using Twitter on different platforms results in having different features. On some platforms there are Moments. And Lists. On others, they simply aren’t there. Or they are so buried you would never use them. Some have video. Some do not. Some have GIFs. Some do not. And many of the experiences do not support Polls. And so you see tweets that seem out-of-place. On some clients there are keyboard shortcuts. On Windows 10, in the official app, there are none. This is baffling. These little inconsistencies means that different sets of users have wholly different experiences in using the platform. How in the world could Twitter craft that experience to make Twitter valuable to everyone that uses it when they have no idea what features are popular across all platforms? It is a mess. Honestly, I can’t think of a single service that is as popular as Twitter and is as much a mess. Pinterest, Facebook, Skype, Snapchat. All of these are fairly consistent across all platforms.

I still believe Twitter is on the ropes. I’m sad but I believe they have very little chance of survival unless something big happens. And my switching to Windows and realizing that I’d rather not use Twitter on Windows 10 (and, the recent exodus caused by the political fallout) really makes me think that Twitter’s end is closer than ever before.

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

Windows 10 update

Terry Myerson:

Today, we reach our next milestone as the first major update to Windows 10 is now available* for PCs and tablets. With this update, there are improvements in all aspects of the platform and experience, including thousands of partners updating their device drivers and applications for great Windows 10 compatibility.

Looks like a good update especially for older devices. One update, multiple device categories, on the same day. How I wish someone else was doing this same sorta thing!

Windows 10 privacy problems

David Auerbach, writing for Slate:

By default, Windows 10 gives itself the right to pass loads of your data to Microsoft’s servers, use your bandwidth for Microsoft’s own purposes, and profile your Windows usage. Despite the accolades Microsoft has earned for finally doing its job, Windows 10 is currently a privacy morass in dire need of reform.

Oh boy. Fortunately, Auerbach goes on and shows you how to restrict the information that Windows 10 can collect.

/via Nick Semon.

Windows 10 launch

Microsoft is reporting 14,000,000 Windows 10 installs in 24 hours. Not bad.

Me, in May:

I want Microsoft to do great things. I want Windows Phone to be as amazing as it is but with thousands more applications. I want HoloLens to exist. I want to see whether Microsoft’s unified Windows Platform will be a better idea than Apple’s bifurcated one.

From what I’ve seen and heard so far people are enjoying Windows 10. That’s great. I hope what they’re doing will be a home run. Like I said back in May — it is going to be an exciting 5 years.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Vision Isn’t Simple

Cade Metz for Wired on Microsoft’s vision for Windows 10 to be on a billion devices and for applications from Android, iOS, and Windows all running on them “easily”:

But this kind of thing is never as easy as it seems. “I’m skeptical of anything that pretends to be the magic bullet,” says one coder, who requested anonymity because he works closely with Windows. In many cases, coders must manually modify their apps so that they run on disparate devices (these devices, after all, are quite different). And even if Microsoft’s tools provide an onramp to all Windows devices that’s as simple as promised, that’s no guarantee that coders will actually use them to build apps for things like Windows phones or Hololens—particularly if these coders are already focused on other operating systems.

What Microsoft showed at Build is obviously not the best way to build an application for Windows. However, for now, for today, to get up-and-running, it may be the quickest way to get something on Windows so that you’re able to support the new Windows 10 users.

I hope developers port their apps to Windows 10 using Microsoft’s toolset to do so and then go back and rethink them from the beginning if they get any traction there.