James O'Neill's Blog

December 23, 2010

On the future of tablets …

Filed under: General musings,Mobility — jamesone111 @ 9:07 pm

After the last post – and conversations with several people, notably Mark Wilson I’ve been thinking about how Microsoft’s mobile offerings might develop now that Windows Phone 7 is out in the market. As I’ve said before Microsoft talk about slates as if the ideal is a more portable PC.  Early in 2011 Intel’s  “Oak Trail” Atom Processors will deliver better battery life than the X86/X64 platform has known to date, but I doubt that we’ll get a sub 750g  slate with X86/X64 CPU AND all-day battery anytime soon. 

The usefulness of a personal computer – whether it runs Windows, MacOs or Linux – stems from its working with all the programs, data  data and devices (collectively “stuff” ) that you want it to.  Tell a user of one OS they would be better on another and the response and reason for staying is “the stuff I want is here, not there” and that is as true of company IT people defending using Windows XP past the end of its support life as it trying to persuade a Mac die-hard to get a Windows PC.

I read something recently to the effect that if usefulness was only a matter carry-ability and battery life the calculator is more useful than an iPad.  It sounds facetious; but taking a iPad for the subset of work that a calculator can handle  would be overkill. But it applies in the other direction, the attraction of a mobile personal computer is that you can take all your stuff with you, but that too is overkill if all you intend to do is the work that can be done on a slate device.

It was 2007 when I first told people to expect  what we’re now calling “Windows 8” to be launched in 2012. More specifically the slides said “Point release” – Windows Server 2008 R2 [And client Windows 7] – after 2 years, major release after 3 more.  The first part of that came true and the second hasn’t been un-said so I laugh when I hear“late 2012” quoted as news. Developers should get the OS a year before shipping so after the Professional Developers conference late in 2011 we’ll know if things are on course. I’ve seen suggestions that Windows 8 will break cover, on a slate, at CES in January 2011 – but anything beyond “let’s show you some ideas we’re working on” would surprise me.  When it appears, if there is nothing to make it a better slate platform, then everyone will be surprised. I’ll be interested to see if there is a break from the past Pen-Based tablets. Handwriting input failed on the Apple Newton, it failed on the Pocket PC (I found it worked OK, but no-one took to it), we may be approaching the moment to call time on handwriting input for PCs as well.  

Just as an aside, I wish Microsoft would do two things to make “instant on” a non issue. First the video below shows unmodified Windows 7 can boot from cold in 10 seconds, when freed from a legacy bios.  I’d tell OEMs now that computers with legacy BIOSes won’t get a Windows 8 logo

Secondly, what is the point of a start menu action  “Reboot, cutting the power at half way”. Because this action is labelled “Shutdown” and millions of people think that Shutting down is the right thing to do. Millions of hours get wasted each year through unnecessary reboots, if Microsoft cut the to options  “Sleep” , “Deep Sleep” and “Reload Windows”, a lot of people will cease to care about boot time.

Other people are lining up a bigger task for the Windows team, getting Windows on a long-life slate by porting it to the ARM processor. That’s the wrong answer. Drivers can’t be CPU independent, applications can in theory but many aren’t are in practice. (The iPad gets criticised for lacking support for flash, but Adobe still don’t have an X64 bit Windows Flash player, so how long would an ARM one take ? ).  If Windows-on-ARM can’t pick up all the stuff from Windows-on-X86 then it is a new platform, and wouldn’t  a new platform for mobile devices be better off not starting with 25 years worth of baggage from Windows (we accept that on X86/X64 PCs because without it we don’t get access to all our stuff).

Microsoft have supported the ARM processors for a over a decade on Mobile devices and both Windows Phone 7 and Zune devices use it. Embedded Compact 7  – the latest incarnation of of Windows CE for Mobile devices was announced earlier this year but devices using it have huge rarity value. There is confusion whether these bits underpin Windows phone 7, but there is a standard .NET way of asking what the underlying OS is: on a Windows PC the easiest way to use it is from Powershell

>  [system.environment]::OSVersion

Platform ServicePack Version     VersionString
-------- ----------- -------     -------------
Win32NT              6.1.7600.0   Microsoft Windows NT 6.1.7600.0

So I wrote a little code to test this on the phone emulator.

OperatingSystem myos = System.Environment.OSVersion;
OSPlatform.Text = myos.Platform.ToString();
OSVersion.Text  = myos.Version.ToString();
OSString.Text   = myos.ToString();
Firmware.Text   = Microsoft.Phone.Info.DeviceExtendedProperties.GetValue("DeviceFirmwareVersion").ToString();

and here is the result.

image

It doesn’t call itself “Windows Phone” but Windows CE and is quite clear the it is V7 of CE  – it seems that Microsoft producing an OS for ARM based slates running with something as close as possible to Windows Phone 7 and/or Zune HD is both practical and sensible.

Do slates actually matter ?

I mentioned Mark at the start his post started with a view of someone else’s that “the consensus [at a Gartner symposium] is the iPad is either a consumer product or an executive toy” which he disagreed with. Mark takes a more rounded view than just the iPad and quotes Forrester estimating that tablets will account for 20% of PC sales by 2015. It’s not clear if that is saying 1 in 5 new PCs will be tablet PCs (running Windows 8.1 by that point) or if One in 4 PC users will also have a slate device running Windows CE/iOS / Android.

He also quotes a different analyst’s forecast that of 48 Million iPad sales by 2014. Against an installed base of something like a billion PCs it’s tiny.  (It also suggests that there’s not much consensus between analysts, but that’s not news). Apple’s shinny products have made it the darling of Wall Street;  Apples Market value is 20 times its profits, Microsoft’s 12 times , if Microsoft halved that gap, its shareholders would have a heck of a reason to be cheerful.

But will emerging devices have much a role in corporate IT  ? Mark has a wonderfully utopian vision
“What will change (and is changing already) is the type of device that is used to access the desktop. Rather than taking a notebook PC from place to place in the device-centric manner that we do today, enterprises will adapt to human-centric computing models, with end users increasingly accessing their desktop from a variety of devices – perhaps starting out with a smartphone on the way to work; switching to a hosted virtual desktop in the office; using a tablet during meetings; and perhaps using the family PC to finish up some work at home in the evening, with local desktop virtualisation opening up new options for secure computing away from the corporate network”

Truly, I wish I could share this vision. The idea of “Bring your own computer”, which Mark also talks about, is  easy to implement with PCs: acquire a PC connect to the network, install a corporate image, and you have a managed PC in a known state with all your software. How many organizations have got the IT department out of the process ? It’s rare bordering on unheard of. Organisations do allow mail on user phones, but extending that to Bring-your-own-Mac, or Linux PC or even a Windows PC running the newer Windows and Office you use at home (never mind embedded devices) requires a revolution, but talking about that will have to wait for another day.

December 20, 2010

Why tablets shouldn’t take Windows Phone (in this release)

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 11:41 am

The last few posts show how much Windows phone 7 has had my attention in the the last few days and I’ve been thinking about versions.

Some people say products don’t come right until version 3. Version 1 is about getting a product out and the saying goes “to ship is to choose”. Planning for Vn+1 starts before you ship Vn and with little customer feedback to work with, V2 plans start as “put back what was cut to ship V1”. It’s V3 and beyond that incorporate lessons from the field Although I’ve seen Windows Phone 7 called a V1 product it incorporates a lot of lessons from past products.

Then there are point releases. Phone 7 is a .0 release. Point zeros are the big shifts: think of Windows 2.x-3.0 , or 3.x to 95 , or 9x/ME & NT4 to  Windows 2000 or 2000/XP to Vista. Point zeros are sometimes where the wheels fall off; nearly 20 years haven’t erased the memory of DOS 4.0; and Windows 6.0 (Vista) got a bad name which it never shed. Windows 6.1 (which is what Windows 7 is technically) has people talking about Microsoft getting its mojo back; Windows 2000 (NT 5) wasn’t widely adopted but 5.1 (Windows XP) became entrenched, and so on.

The rumour mill has turned to when Windows Phone 8 will come and what it might contain and what might be in point releases of 7, how many point releases and when might they be? I don’t know the answers, but like a lot of people I have given some thought to what I’d like to see. I said in my review of my Windows 7 phone the improvements I want fall into 3 groups. 

  1. Improve support of cloud services (or the Services themselves)
  2. Make it easier to get stuff on and off the phone
  3. Allow developers to do more.

A couple of  friends of mine think it would be great to see Windows Phone 7 on slate devices, there are two blockers to that: first is Microsoft view of the world, which I described in a previous post

portable computing is carrying your computer (your office) with you – if you don’t want to lug a desktop replacement around to achieve that, then a tablet PC or a netbook is a better way. …  the iPad has proved the market exists for something that is neither personal computer (and a Mac is a personal computer in this context)  nor pocket sized.

It’s wrong to say Microsoft say anything bigger than a Phone must absolutely, non-negotiably must run full Windows, because there have long been Windows CE devices in the not-quite-a-PC part of the market – Microsoft seems to take the lack of success enjoyed by these devices as supporting their view that above a certain size full Windows is better. Engineers at HTC (or LG or Samsung) could easily mate the main board of a smart phone with an 8” display (instead of a 4” one) doubling the diagonal quadruples the area,  so battery space increases four-fold (without making it any thicker) allowing enough capacity to match the iPad. I haven’t investigated Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy tab enough to know if Samsung have done much more than that; but I if device makers told Microsoft they wanted to use Windows phone in slates I don’t believe they’d be told “You can’t. You know where to get Android.”

Here’s a thought: the second blocker is that shortcomings in Windows Phones 7.0 – which might be fixed in 7.1 or 7.5 or whatever it ends up being called – are more painful on a tablet.

To see what I mean look at Office. On my HTC trophy I can sync my One-Note notes via Windows-Live SkyDrive so all my notes come out with me and new ones I jot down while I’m out and about get back to my PC. It’s what I want in my pocket.  But what about PowerPoint – do we really want to take lots of slide decks out on our phones ? Microsoft must hope not because the Zune software which owns all transfers only syncs media files , not documents.  I can open a slide deck from SkyDrive, but I can’t save it back there much less sync it. The only sync option is to have internet-facing SharePoint (and unless it has changed very recently Microsoft itself doesn’t have that for its own staff).  If SharePoint lives on the corporate network it’s accessed remotely from a PC with VPN or Windows 7’s fabulous direct access, but there is no VPN or direct access client in Windows Phone 7.o. Take the phone to the office and if the WiFi there uses certificate based authentication you can’t connect (that was in Pocket PC and Windows mobile but gone from WP7).  Plug in a memory card ? Nope: there’s no socket for one.

The main way PPTx , XLSx and DOCx files will reach the phone, and the only way they will leave is via email, but the limitations don’t matter much. The phone gives the functional equivalent of having a printed copy. It’s no accident that “Comment” is one of only 3 or 4 buttons on the App bar in Word and Excel; a major use to receive documents by mail, comment on them and send a copy back (Third party apps can’t access mail to send their files, but office ones can.)  But using the 4” screen to  show a slide deck to a client or put together a complex document or spreadsheet, aren’t things I expect to often (or at all).

Limitations which are acceptable on a phone aren’t on a slate: lack of cut and paste changes from an occasional and minor inconvenience to a complete disaster. Anyone who wants a keyboard will soon discover the phone’s Bluetooth stack doesn’t support one.  I might not want to take my whole office with me, but I’d want more documents on the device and sync’d back to the cloud or the office than I would with a phone.

A handful of changes to WP7 which are desirable for phones are essential for slates:

  • Shared storage. Today developers can write files only to their app’s Isolated Storage area. Those files are invisible when composing a new mail message – and there is no “attach file to message” API.  A parallel set of file calls to open / read / write files in shared storage would solve a lot of problems, especially if an additional storage device and Windows Live Skydrive both appeared in “shared storage”. A Live mesh client syncing all or part of shared storage would be useful too. 
  • Corporate network support (VPN and certificate based authentication) at least on a par with Mobile 6.5
  • Extensible sync. An option to enable sync of an app’s Isolated Storage at the phone, and a popup in the Zune software which says “Would you like to sync TypeX files to and from your phone ? Select a (PC) folder”. Certificates for logging on to corporate networks (and the requests to generate them) could be sent this way, so could ring tones.

I think the tablet market is going to get more diverse, with different form factors, price points and capabilities. There are some cheap (and frankly quite nasty) Android tablets, the iPad as a premium device, Windows 7 devices (this one from RM looks nice and  Dell’s Inspiron Duo is getting a lot of attention) when Windows Phone 7.x is ready I won’t be surprised to see it on a tablet either.

December 17, 2010

How to get the cheapest Windows Phone deal in the UK…

Filed under: Mobility — jamesone111 @ 9:13 am

The last few posts have been about my experience with Vodafone and the HTC Trophy Windows 7 phone. I know carriers hate it, by I view them as utility companies: they are all interchangeable, none of the services they offer constitute worthwhile differentiation, and if they can get me a decent signal that’s fine. In my 8 years or so with Orange they scored highly on customer service, but where I is a bit of a dead spot for signal: my wife gets a decent signal on Vodafone, and the others are a bit of an unknown.

Similarly there isn’t much to choose between Windows 7 phones, yes there are slight differences in display, and memory ranges from more than enough for now, to lots more than enough for now. Keyboarded devices are coming but I couldn’t wait. Since I was paying, my choice of phone and carrier was driven mostly by cost.

I had been able to transfer my old Microsoft number 07801 8 8 10 10, as a big corporate customer Microsoft have an on-site person from Orange, who was able to tell me how to get permission and then she could swap my number onto a new Orange Pay-as-you-go SIM. Unfortunately she was ill when I needed her to do this, so the process was held up for 10 days, which robbed me of patience needed to make the process smooth. I called Orange to get the necessary porting code, and didn’t wait for it to arrive before ordering the trophy. It’s possible to sort things out afterwards, but if you ever have to do this WAIT FOR THE CODE. Orange sent mine out out by first class post on the next working day.

Microsoft have a page where you can see the phones currently available the choices were:

  • The HTC Mozart on Orange @ £449 or Free on a £32.50 x 24 month plan
  • The HTC HD7 on o2 @ £380 or Free on £35x 18 month or £30×24 Month plans
  • The Samsung Omina on Three or T-Mobile , Free on a £35 x 24 Month plan
  • The HTC Trophy on Vodafone:  Free on a £25 x 24Month plan
    • The LG Optimus 7 on Vodafone: Free on a £30 x 24Month Plan

After trying a few price comparison sites I found Dial-a-phone have a stonking deal on the Trophy. I hadn’t heard of Dial-a-phone but they’re part of Phones-4-U, one of the biggest retailers so that seemed OK. First an 18 month contract; Second it’s a £30 Month plan. But third there is a 50% mail-in rebate for the first 10 months. So you get 10 months at £15 and 8 at £30 for £390  – roughly what you’d pay for the phone off contact, you get the phone + line + Unlimited texts, 500MB of data (which is enough for me) + 300 voice minutes (likewise).   There are two catches first if you don’t mail in your bill, you don’t get your rebate, and secondly the phone comes with both insurance, a subscription to the “gadget helpline” which you have to cancel or pay £6.99 a month for insurance and £17.99 twice a year for the help line. My home insurance covers “possessions you carry on your person” away from home, so I had no qualms about cancelling both. I have a lunch that Dial-a-phone make a tenner a month out of those too lazy to cancel and anther £15 if they don’t send their rebate in.  Still if it seems like the deal for you, click the link above and put in my number 07801 8 8 10 10 as a friend who referred you … heck, if you find another deal on their site, put that in anyway 🙂

It wasn’t all plain sailing. First I ordered on a Sunday, it took longer than usual for Dial-a-phone to sort the paper work so the phone wasn’t sent out till the Wednesday. In the meantime I had received my porting code from Orange, but I couldn’t change the order, so I had to wait for the phone to arrive and then change the number. Going to Vodafone’s web site for the information on how to do this is frustrating – in fact I’m forming the opinion that their site designer gave up a career as a village idiot. It turns up pages which either tell you how to do this when you buy the phone (too late), or old forum posts which say it can’t be done, which is just plain wrong. You phone the Vodafone Transfers team on 08700 720 265  . When I called they were quick confirm it was all possible when I had the phone.  The phone came by Royal Mail special delivery and I was straight back on the phone to them, but the phone needs to be activated before Vodafone’s systems can process it and Dial-a-phone wait until the parcel tracking system shows the phone has been received before activating it: this can take 48 hours but a call got it working by the afternoon. My first call from it was to Vodafone transfers and within 2 minutes the port was arranged; I might not think much of their website but all the people I’ve spoken to at Vodafone have been good. Of course various things are tied to the initial temporary number. Vodafone’s web site shows me my number until I try to look at what I have used this month, when it can only show me information for the temporary number.  I don’t plan on changing networks any time soon, but when I do I will get the port code before I do anything else.

December 16, 2010

How to get ISP mail over SMTP on Vodafone.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 11:15 pm

There are some days when I want to be really sarcastic to companies – and the reason I don’t is when a company truly deserves it, it is only possible to vent on some poor customer service rep who isn’t to blame and can’t fix it. For example

Dear Vodafone, I would like to nominate the person or team responsible for your email software for an award in the category of user-mendacious* software….

For background, I use 2 ISPs – when I got cable in 2000, I kept my mailbox with my Dial-up ISP, for which they charge me a token fee; as soon as I hooked up the cable, they wouldn’t let me send outbound mail through their server.  I understood why this was; servers have one of two rules: either a message must be sent to a mailbox we control or it must come from a network address we control. The opposite of these rules says “A message sent through us but not from or to one of our people is probably spam”. So you need to send through the server of the connection provider, not the mailbox provider (Or give up on a mail clients which use Pop and SMTP protocols and access your mail through a web browser). ISPs understand this and usually have an outbound (SMTP) server named SMTP.ispName.com (or .net or whatever). Authentication is taken care of by network address: remember the thinking “our users are OK, unless we see them spamming”.  

Until a couple of weeks ago every GPRS or 3G connection I had made had been made via Orange – the carrier provides the network so I need to use their server , i.e. SMTP.Orange.com. It was a piece of cake to have my Exchange AND ISP mailbox from my phones. Moving from Orange to Vodafone I thought I would just have to use SMTP.Vodafone.com. I was wrong.

imageFirstly my attempts to find a simple guide to setting up on Vodafone’s web site proved fruitless. Now that I know the server name I thought I’d do a search to see if is there at all.  You can see what I got.

So first, if you are trying to do this, you might be told to use Smtp.vodafone.com, Smtp.vodafone.co.uk, Smtp.vodafone.net or send.vodafone.net; but that is because a lot of the advice you will find is out of date – even if you do find it via Vodafone’s own site search. I’m sure the .net one worked for me only a matter of days ago but as I write in December 2010 they don’t. 

imageThe mail server for Vodafone is SMTP.360.COM.
I had to find this out from a text chat with a Vodafone technician. 360.com ?  What’s that ? Oh yes, I remember Vodafone stuck a link on the phone called “My vodafone” which goes to something at 360.com – here’s a screen shot. 
Whatever…  SMTP.360.COM needs to go in the “Outgoing (SMTP) server” box.  Tap tap tap “logon error”. The person in the text chat said I did not need to enter credentials. But … excuse me Vodafone, you can tell from my IP address that I am one of your customers so why are things structured so I need to log on ? and what credentials do I use? 

Searches keep saying “Use your vodafone mail account” I didn’t think I had one, and I don’t want one. If I say I have over 20 years experience configuring mail systems, you’ll understand how you humiliating the next bit was. I called the help desk.  And this is the reason for not getting sarcastic with the poor customer service rep: she could fix my problem. So It turns out you need to go to 360.com and create a user account. This has nothing whatsoever to do with any account you might already have at Vodafone, you then set the mail settings to “Outbound server requires authentication”, put in the user name (just the name, no @360 or similar nonsense), and password. Then you can forget all about 360 (unless you want an example of how carriers think they’re adding value). 

Since I’m doing all of this on a Windows Phone 7 device I wish that Microsoft could impose something on carriers to get this right. Couldn’t Microsoft, Apple and the others team up to make this happen ?  


Footnote
* The description of “User mendacious” was one that Douglas Adams applied to the computer game of the HitchHikers Guide to the galaxy.

December 15, 2010

My review of Windows Phone 7 on the HTC trophy

Filed under: Exchange,Mobility,Music and Media,Office,Windows Phone 7 — jamesone111 @ 7:51 pm

I have already looked the move from Windows Mobile 6.5 to Windows phone 7, from the point of view of what’s gone. Now I want to look at what’s better.

The Trophy is the thinnest phone I have ever had, at 12mm. Its frontal area is fractionally larger than the Touch pro 2 I had before, but without the need to accommodate a keyboard, overall volume is down about 20% and weight down about 25%. By way of comparison it 3 grams heavier than the Iphone 4, and a whisker bigger in all dimension. It’s my sixth HTC device and the tidiest design, the finish feels nice in the hand, and the ergonomics are good; held in two hands – like a camera – the camera button is under right index finger, as it should be.  The camera has a 5MP sensor I remain to be convinced that the lens justifies even 5MP and an LED flash, so it is usable under more circumstances than its predecessors. The Touch Pro 2 had a second, front-facing, camera for video chat, but I never used it and so it won’t be missed..

Holding the device in the left hand to work with the right, puts the volume controls are under my thumb and (like the camera button and Power button) they work when the phone is locked.  When the phone is unlocked these buttons bring up a mini menu with Music player controls and access to the ring/vibrate settings; if the phone locks with music playing this menu appears when you tap the power switch – which is naturally under the index finger – so you can pause or skip tracks without needing to unlock the device.
By contrast, Mobile 6.5 devices locked out all the buttons  – even power – so the only way to silence one left on a desk to ring was to remove the battery. Now colleagues can turn a phone off or set it to silent and add a photo to remind you not to leave it on your desk when you go to meetings. You can enable Voice dialling while locked, on Mobile 6.5 you needed to add Voice command, now a subset of it is built in.

Music shows the change from previous Windows Mobile devices: Firstly Microsoft’s hardware spec demands a Micro-USB connector (which is becoming the standard for all phones), with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack: that means the end of HTC’s combination audio / Mini-USB connector which required an adapter to connect headphones. Pulling out the headphone connector pauses music (instead of blaring out to a carriage full of tutting commuters). And secondly the old devices tried to shoe horn Windows-Media-player into a mobile device:  sound quality was fine but the experience was way behind that of proper music player (which I never wanted to carry).  The new phone is a Zune:  Zune isn’t the market leader people who have them really like them, and I can see why.

Over the years I had grown used to the mobile mail/messaging, contacts and calendar applications being the round pegs of their Outlook equivalents hammered into the small square hole which is a mobile display. The same philosophy which got rid of Windows media player has seen these replaced with versions work better on a phone and took zero time to learn.

Volume, camera and power are mounted on the edge, on the front are three buttons which take longer to explain than to learn   “Back” and “Start” are the main navigation buttons going 1 step at a time or straight to the Start screen and “Search” which applications can use to start their own search (want to find a contact ? – Press search in people – it’s very intuitive), otherwise it launches Bing.  The search destination in Internet Explorer is fixed by the carrier: that’s out of character for the phone, you can remove the carrier’s or phone maker’s apps, but with Vodafone I’m stuck with Google in the all-new IE. IE supports multiple open pages, and “pinch zoom”: I’m still learning to tap accurately with a fingertip (the old touch screens worked with a fingernail or any stylus, the new ones don’t – though there are capacitive styli available to stop me obsessively polishing finger-marks off) so zooming in on a link is good and pinch zoom has come more naturally than using the on-screen keyboard.  Zooming is smooth and rendering is snappy which I attribute to having graphics acceleration as standard, rather than the faster processor. Competing phones have graphics acceleration but  introducing it piecemeal into Windows Mobile 6.5 (or earlier) wouldn’t have worked: the “Break with the past” means all apps can count on a certain level of graphics,  accelerometers and so on,  very little should be specific to one phone. Nowhere is the new hardware standard more obvious than in games. 

This is my first phone without built in games;  odd as Microsoft positions it as consumer more than corporate, but it means that people will find their way to the Market Place. Plenty on offer is free, and most paid games and apps have demo versions. The quality runs from truly great to truly lousy. Videos and music are downloaded in the same way as software, all three can be driven from the phone or the PC Zune software. I blogged early in the life of Vista that Windows had what it took to handle podcasts, it was just ugly and buried: finally Microsoft has decent podcast support through Zune. Microsoft are pushing Zune pass, all you can eat music streaming for £8.99 a month – which works from the Xbox, Phone or PC – as well as traditional purchase and download

There are some new look and feel elements, so besides the search button, when the built-in apps produce a long list – like songs or people – they break it up by letters: pressing a heading letter displays the whole alphabet, as a “jump-to” list To listen to “zest” or phone “Zoe”, a couple of taps saves a long scroll. It will be interesting to see how developers stick to the style – I  compared two Sudoku games one would look wrong on anything but WP7 and another looked like a port by people who hadn’t seen a finished phone. Chunky tiles on the start menu make simple targets to tap on)Word press have copied it for their newly launched app.) I already think of the icons interface we’ve grown as the Windows 3.1 program manager, the phone’s start menu is like what we’ve been used to since Windows 95/NT 4. “Start” button jumps to something like main part of the menu; and “All Programs” is off to the right. I looked in settings, for “Uninstall” without success: taping and holding anything brings up an action menu (think “right-click”) for a  program this has options to uninstall, pin to the start menu or write a review for Marketplace.

There is a distinction between Marketplace apps and the built in ones; the latter can run in the background (and update their tiles)  downloaded ones deactivate when they lose focus – although the phone locking doesn’t count. Storage for apps is compartmentalized –so a rogue app can’t do much damage, but the Trophy’s storage device isn’t removable (it is on some WP7 devices, but the phone does some weird magic with the file system, so the card won’t work anywhere else). There is a hack to make Zune files visible from the PC, but it can’t see any  other “compartments” The Zune software will only sync Music Videos and photos, Contacts and Appointments need to go via Exchange or Windows Live.

One-note syncs with Windows live, which is great, but you can only to get something from the other office apps to your PC via SharePoint or by mailing it to yourself. The button attach inside mail only offers photos. I had a look at the developer tools and there is no API for add-on apps to e-mail an attachment or to upload / sync to Windows live and so on.

These are among the things which I hope to see fixed in an update early in 201.1 Paul Thurrott has a long list of What needs to be fixed in Windows Phone, here’s my cut down version of his list.

  • Add Copy/cut/paste
  • Allow Custom ringtones, notifications, and alarms
  • Support Multitasking for Third-party apps
  • Appear as a camera to  photo importing applications, e.g.  Windows Live Photo Gallery
  • Allow Zune PC software to be extended to Sync 3rd party file types.
  • Allow third party services to integrate hubs; The Pictures hub should share with and see photo services and Twitter should be able to add people to the people Hub
  • Support all the policies in Exchange ActiveSync (EAS)  instead of just a subset
  • Provide Access to Microsoft services in all supported locales (Voice search with TellMe is US only)
  • Provide a  service like MyPhone for Mobile 6.5 to deliver Cloud-based backup
  • Provide Windows Live SkyDrive in all of Office Mobile
  • Provide Developer APIS for all functions (speech, mail attachments, live sync)

Most of the list can be summarized as (a) Improve support of cloud services (or the Services themselves) (b) make it easier to get stuff on and off the phone (c) Allow developers to do more. The updates will come when Microsoft declares them ready, not when/if the device makers and carriers get round to it, and yes that’s another plus about saying goodbye to Windows Mobile 6.5

December 14, 2010

A Doctor Who Christmas carol

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 10:47 am

Christmas is coming and the BBC are showing their trailer for the Christmas day episode of Doctor Who… at the weekend we had a 400 mile round trip to do a hospital visit and on the way home we were working on a our own Doctor who version of the 12 days of Christmas. Ending with 12 time lords leaping and starting with a TARDIS in a pear tree were pretty obvious – especially with the current doctor parking his TARDIS rather clumsily more than once in the garden of his current companion Amy pond: we just needed 10 more. For those of you with children the right age and long trips over the holiday season, you might like to have a go at this and see if you can do better than we did.

On the first day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
A TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Two Cybermen
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

 

On the fifth day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Five Sontarans
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Six Angels weeping
Five Sontarans
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Seven Ood a-serving 
Six Angels weeping
Five Sontarans
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the Eighth day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Eight Judoon marching
Seven Ood a-serving
Six Angels weeping
Five Sontarans
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Nine Slitheen farting
Eight Judoon marching
Seven Ood a-serving
Six Angels weeping
Five Sontarans
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas the Doctor sent to me
Ten Vampires biting
Nine Slitheen farting
Eight Judoon marching
Seven Ood a-serving
Six Angels weeping
Five Sontarans
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas the Doctor to me
Eleven smilers smiling
Ten Vampires biting
Nine Slitheen farting
Eight Judoon marching
Seven Ood a-serving
Six Angels weeping
Five Sontarans
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

 

On the twelfth  day of Christmas the Doctor to me
Twelve Time-Lords leaping
Eleven Smilers smiling
Ten Vampires biting
Nine Slitheen farting
Eight Judoon marching
Seven Ood a-serving
Six Angels weeping
Five Sontarans
Four Silurians
Three Daleks
Two Cybermen and
and a TARDIS in a pear tree.

December 8, 2010

One small step for IE9, one giant leap for privacy

Filed under: Internet Explorer,Privacy — jamesone111 @ 3:06 pm

After reading an an announcement from Microsoft , I feel the need to go back to an old draft post I saved 6 weeks or so ago –  parts of which appear in italics here. 

I’ve been playing with the beta of Internet Explorer version 9 and as with most betas there is stuff to like in it, with the occasional “why did they have to change that”. Certainly it is faster, and all the tests show it is a lot more complaint with standards – some of which are still emerging. Dragging a tab to the task bar to make a short-cut to a page (complete with support for jump-lists) is neat… …I expect more accusations that Microsoft is  half hearted over In-Private filtering – streamlining has made it less visible; it still can’t download a block-list from a a central service and still doesn’t stay turned on without going to the registry.

The Microsoft announcement means the last sentence is out of date.  Here’s a quote from  Christopher Soghoian’s blog , which I picked up courtesy of Privacy international. Soghoian needs a bit of convincing: early on he says:

Microsoft today announced that it will be improving the InPrivate Filtering feature in its browser — which would have been a great feature, if the company hadn’t intentionally sabotaged it in response to pressure from people within the company’s advertising division.

That’s the expected charge of being half hearted over In-Private filtering, but after seeing the change to IE he ends:

“This is a great, pro-privacy and strategically savvy move on Microsoft’s part. I am delighted to see companies competing on privacy, and building better features into their products”

Soghoian goes into a lot of detail and his post is worth reading. But I’m aware a lot of people either don’t know about In-Private-Filtering or muddle it up with In-Private Browsing, which is the history-less working sometimes called “porn mode”.  In-Private-Filtering is a system to compile a list of “Bad” third party sites, whose content is embedded on other sites’ pages – with the support of those sites’ owners. “Bad” ranges from ads with attention getting flash that stops me reading the content of a site, to a single invisible pixel which allows someone to track where you have been. In private filtering blocks this stuff – it can build a list of what to block or it can import an allow/block list from XML file. But filtering is off by default and only the registry hack I mentioned above will keep it on between sessions. The XML file is actually formatted as an RSS feed, IE8 can’t to subscribe to the feed; According to the WSJ article Soghoian links to, subscriptions were planned for IE8, then cut at the behest of Microsoft’s own ad business. 

I maintain one of these XML files – which today needs to  imported manually; back in that old draft post I wrote:

The feature I like best is the [F12] developer tools view, this was present in IE8,  [but new in ] IE9 there is a network tracking tool which helps developers spot troublesome pages – those that are slow or fail to load at all.

image_thumb5

No wonder this page is slow – the status bar says 75 items and 600KB , a lot a home page probably less than 10% is content and the rest is advertising slurry. In the middle of the list you can see it’s getting content from SmartAdServer,  which I might want to block. 

IE 9 will allow users to subscribe to a block/allow list – just by clicking on a link as they can in IE8 to add Accelerators, Search providers and Web slices. So now I can publish my XML file of bad sites, so can anyone else. And I expect that good lists – those managed with a degree of professionalism to filter the ever-shifting list of third party content that nobody wants – will be very popular. 

You expect this to be worrying for ad industry: the internet they have know so far has been good to them. If  it becomes easy people to withdraw their consent to be profiled or to have certain ads sent to them, some ad firms will die, and the likes of the Electronic Frontier Foundation will dance on their graves. It’s easy to categorize the EFF as the lunatic fringe – but now they seem to have dance partners in  Wall Street Journal and US government bodies including Federal Trade Commission in the US there is talk of legally enforcing this.  I’ve seen the same quote from the Direct Marketing Association  in multiple places.

“Any ‘do-not’ national list doesn’t work and undermines the basis of the Internet as we know it now, in terms of free content and companies being able to monetize the Internet… Self-regulation is the way to go.”

It doesn’t work, but it is ruinous… they would say that, wouldn’t they?  I’m looking forward to seeing how this one pans out.

December 6, 2010

Bye bye Windows mobile, hello Windows Phone 7

Filed under: Mobility,Windows Phone 7 — jamesone111 @ 2:45 pm

The postman delivered my new Windows 7 phone on Thursday. My choice of the HTC trophy was coloured by: what’s available now, which carrier give a good signal at home  (I can only get a usable Orange signal upstairs) and price. I got the phone, free on a £30 x 18 month contract with an allowance of 500MB data 100 voice minutes, and 500 texts but the first 10 months are half price. A Total of £330 over 18 months seemed a good deal: the process gave me enough for another post.

The first impression of the phone is fantastic and the upside will also get it’s own post – here I want to talk about the change: I liked Windows Mobile 6.5, on my HTC Touch Pro2. That’s not surprising, in 2000, got the first “Pocket PC”, an iPAQ 3630 (actually made by HTC) which followed by Orange-supplied SPV (the HTC “Canary”)  C500 (HTC typhoon), E650 ( HTC Vox).  The Touch pro 2 ran old Pocket PC apps and with a few things turned off it looked like Pocket PC 2002. but that’s not an automatic condemnation, its still a darned good phone.

Microsoft is sometimes accused of putting compatibility before progress in desktop and server OSes: but that’s OK if the original design assumptions still hold. Xbox 360 runs games written for the original Xbox even though the processor changed from a Pentium chip to PowerPC . Window phone 7 is unique among Microsoft platforms in not running applications from its predecessor: assumptions from the early 2000s don’t work today.

  1. Personal Digital Assistants are a PC in your Pocket. I wrote about that before. The iPhone is closer to the iPod than an iMac. When Microsoft people were asked about a “Zune-phone” they always said “We’re not going to make one” – the new phones are Zunes made by other companies. 
  2. Greater choice must be better. Microsoft  has been selling operating systems to OEMs since the early 1980s, so that was the natural way to sell a mobile OS. But the freedom of specification that PC makers enjoy causes fragmentation in mobile devices – a common OS doesn’t iron out the differences to the degree it does in PCs.  Apple’s attitude of “We will have one consistent platform, and if you don’t like it, buy from someone else” worked. Microsoft didn’t dictate specs to Windows Mobile device makers – perhaps as a legacy of the DOJ experience, and got an consistent platform. For example the my 2 previous HTC phones fed audio out through the USB connector; you needed an adapter to use your own headphones. Windows phone 7 audio uses a standard jack.  It also standardizes the USB connector as Micro USB (I would have preferred Mini USB).
  3. The phone companies rule. I remember asking back in about 2001 “Why not have a Microsoft branded phone, manufactured by, say, HTC”  the answer was “Carriers wouldn’t take it”.  When Orange launched the SPV I defended their right to determine what could run on it, but carriers testing and signing apps was a horrible model.  They dread being “dumb pipes”, but when carriers change software in the name of differentiation it is usually for the worse. Use the iPhone as a way of thinking customer views of carriers “added value; when it was exclusive to 02, did people ask “What shall I buy to exploit O2’s differentiated network ?” and end up with an iPhone or was it “Which carrier can sell me an iPhone ?”.
  4. The world of 2002 wouldn’t let Microsoft say “Applications for devices running our OS will all be approved by and bought through us” which is what Apple did, and the model is accepted now, people are even talking about desktop Windows or Mac OS having an “App store” in future versions; I can’t see either being closed to non-validated programs (that’s all ones you use now), or regulators allowing Microsoft to take a cut of all sales onto Windows PCs. But why shouldn’t Microsoft (or Apple) sell third party applications they’ve validated for their platform ? Small vendors might prefer that to handling distribution themselves.

Windows Phone 7, then, comes from a recognition that the world has changed (how much of that change would have happened without Apple is unknowable): a panic reaction to iPhone as device would have been quicker, but doomed to fail . But some things I’ve grown used to were lost in the change.

Not a “Storage device”
Active sync exposed the whole file system of a Windows Mobile device to a PC, so copying files in either direction was easy. The  Touch pro 2 could act as a USB drive and plug into the  Xbox 360 (or an in-car device) to play music; I even used it as installation media. The Xbox didn’t recognise the Trophy: the Zune software syncs music, pictures and video (but not Calendar and Contacts from Outlook on the PC) without exposing the file system. A known hack for Zune devices works on WP7 , but it doesn’t show everything all of which means, among other things, there is No method to install ring tones, so much for personalization.

No Internet connection sharing: this in Windows Mobile 6.0 and possibly earlier. The Trophy is the first Bluetooth phone I’ve had which doesn’t support the “dial up networking” profile where dialling *99# on a pseudo modem brought up an internet connection. That means sorting out a dongle for the handful of times I need to connect my laptop over 3G.

Still on Bluetooth profiles there is no keyboard profile support, and no keyboarded devices have arrived yet, one must use the on-screen keyboard. that’s step into the unknown; I loved the built in keyboard on the last two Windows mobile devices, and through Ctrl + X,C & V combinations it provided cut and paste – missing for now from Windows Phone 7, not that I used it much.

Voice command.  was an add-on for windows Mobile, Voice control is built in to Windows 7 but with less functionality – in particular it won’t read the calendar or play music from a voice command, and the Internet and map searches use TellMe which is a US only service – at least for now.

Even without Tellme, the mapping application is nice but it is a route planner with GPS assistance but there’s no true satnav – third parties haven’t launched yet.

Finally Microsoft MyPhone backed up various bits of my old phone, and the new  WindowsPhone.live.com does extra things (like remotely locking the device),  but currently backup and restore are missing.

In short – and after more than 1000 words, that might seem ironic – everything I liked about Windows mobile has gone (along with the stuff everyone else hated) – so why on earth do I like this device ? And that’s what the next post will be about. 

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