On the Future of Computing

What is the future of computing? What is the present of computing? Tech-minded folks like myself have been arguing that for years. Now we see a few people that have convoluted looks at what is indeed the future of computing. It’s definitely mobile. We all know that. But there are other questions to answer. Where does the PC go? Can PCs and mobile devices coexist? So what does our present and the future we are working toward look like? Here’s my take.

My biggest pet peeve in the arguments surrounding what the future looks like is that people that conflate different characteristics of mobile computing with the DEFINING characteristics. There are characteristics of mobile devices that define the category, and there are characteristics that describe the category. I’m not splitting hairs here. The fact that most mobile devices these days are Android and iOS, with a smattering of smaller players, does not define the category. The fact that most use ARM processors does not DEFINE the category. First, what does define the future?

The future of computing is devices. Yes, yes, even a PC is a device, but what I’m talking about is the appliance-like nature that we think of when we think of a device. This defining characteristic is all about reliability and simplicity. Simplicity of the UI/UX enables more people to have access to computing power than ever before. It gives a chance for folks that didn’t understand the convoluted UI’s of yesteryear to use technology to make their lives easier. The new OS’s also bring simplicity of configuration, which is as important as any feature that the device provides. Setting up a PC in the 90’s could take hours. Today, you can grab a phone or tablet and in 10 minutes be up and running. Most people will never touch the settings past the first-run experience.

Reliability comes from the fact that iOS and Android aren’t very old, and when they were initially written, the teams involved had a chance to rethink what an OS is and does. They also had a chance to rethink and restructure the interface, the app model, and the hardware to make the devices we use the most, the most reliable. We’re not yet that far removed from the days of reinstalling Windows once a year to combat the odd problems that seem to creep up. Ideally, you never have to reset a Surface, iPhone, or Android phone once in their useful lives.

There are two more defining characteristics of the future of computing that I think are important, but not strictly necessary for a computing device. One is coolness of operation. The device must have no fan and not be uncomfortably warm to the touch. This excludes desktop PCs and laptops, of course, but I see no reason that they can’t be included in the list of devices, as long as they continue to become more simple and easy to configure. Computers running Windows 10 and OS X are heading closer to being true devices every day, and the software is continuing to make it easier to use those systems.

Lastly, I think the future is touch, but a computer that does not include touch isn’t automatically not part of the future. A computer can be device-like without including touch, just as it can be device-like with fans involved to keep it cool.

Characteristics that describe the present of computing today are different that the defining characteristics, though. This is the only reason this blog post even exists. I see analysts defining the future of computing based on the present. The present is iOS and Android are hugely dominant. ARM processors power most of the phones, tablets, and even some PC-like devices. iOS and Android may be the future of computing, but they also may be close to their height, and ready to fall when a new computing paradigm comes, or a new competitor enters the mobile space with novel ideas about what an internet connected mobile computing device is and should do.

This post is rather wordy, and I know that. It may also be rambling and I apologize for that. So, long story short, the future of mobile devices is, err, devices. Appliance-like devices. Low configuration, simple user interfaces, reliable devices.  It’s not defined by the platform leaders (iOS/Android), CPU architecture (ARM with a spattering of Intel), or necessarily the form-factor (laptop, desktop, tablet).

Folks that define the future by the present leaders and architectures are incredibly short sighted. 20 years ago, Apple was a dying company that many suggested should close shop. Now they are a juggernaut. iOS and Android are dominant, but no one knows what tomorrow brings. That is why I hate defining the future by the companies currently involved or the technology that they currently employ.

Windows 10 Fall Update Wish List

Note: This is an post I meant to publish months ago. I figured it would be nice to finish it and publish it on the eve of the Fall Update for Windows 10. -Ezra

Both the “final” release of Windows 10 and many bug patching updates for it are out in the wild. Now my attention turns to what we might see in this Fall’s update for Windows 10. Some of these items we already know about, others just things I hope to see. Some of these are related to built-in apps as well, so they can definitely be added without an OS release. Let’s jump in!

Bugs and Notifications

There is a great deal of improvement to do across the system to get it where Microsoft should want it. It’s not there at the moment. First, the bugs. There are still so many, it’s hard to count them all. That being said, this is something that will improve drastically over the next couple of weeks and months, so I’m not going to dwell on it.

Second, I’d love to see notification syncing via Microsoft Account. When I jump on my tablet at the end of the day, after a busy day on Twitter, I get spammed with reply notifications that I’ve dismissed on other devices (my phone), or the web. This may be on twitter more than anyone else, but how great would it be to dynamically dismiss notifications? Pretty awesome. And, it would make things like alarms work nicely across devices. Every device could wake you, but you need to only dismiss on the phone.

App Updates and Additions

We also know the Skype apps are being added to Windows in this update. Or at least available in the store. What we’ve seen so far, and we’re just days from release, is a set of poor-looking, functionally lacking placeholder apps. If this is what they’re planning on shipping, the Skype team needs burned down and rebuilt from the ground up.

I’d also love to see a pop-out video player for Microsoft Movies & TV. This seems like a basic request, but it’s odd to me that it doesn’t exist. (Come to think of it, BRB, I’m submitting feedback.)

Continuing on the theme of the media apps, I’ve often wondered why Photos on PC doesn’t sync albums between devices. That’s super puzzling. Cloud-first, and mobile-first, the current setup is not. I have, however, gotten feedback from Microsoft that this is happening. Awesome.

Microsoft Edge

I really, truly like Edge. It’s generally fast, and I’ve had very few hang-ups with it during serious use. I can’t wait for it to get better and continue its maturation. It does need quite a bit of polish and work to the UI, but it’s great to see the beginnings of what will become great. It is lacking in a few areas that need improved, but they are small and I’ll be brief.

Extension support is the first one. I don’t use many extensions, but many power users do. Since Microsoft is planning on compatibility with existing Chrome extensions, this should be a big hit.

Second, I expected to see better/more tablet features. The swipe to go forward/back from IE 11 is missing and inexplicably so. It’s very strange to see features simply disappear when Microsoft rebuilds their apps. Also, it’s plainly unacceptable for them to pull and re-add features continually. That impedes progress. Apple’s apps? Do they ever lose features, even though they might be rewritten? No they do not.

Fit and Finish

Now we get to a few small, and not so small things that need updates in Windows 10. The biggest one that comes to mind? When you are on an 8 inch table, head over to Microsoft Word Mobile, and then attempt to open a document. Then, up pops the Metro file picker, wait, what is that? It pops up a weird, non-centered window above my app? No, your joking right, Microsoft. Oh, wait, you’re not…

There are a few other issues I wanted to write about, but I’ll save those for another time. Now that we are so close to the release of Windows 10, we can see what we did get, and we’re getting most of what we asked for, and I’d say that bodes well for the coming update.

The Real News in Today’s OneDrive Announcement

Today, as you may have heard, the OneDrive team drastically slashed the available storage they offer subscribers for free as well as eliminated the unlimited storage that they had promised Office 365 subscribers earlier this year. However, there was a more alarming statement in their blog post:

Since we started to roll out unlimited cloud storage to Office 365 consumer subscribers, a small number of users backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average. Instead of focusing on extreme backup scenarios, we want to remain focused on delivering high-value productivity and collaboration experiences that benefit the majority of OneDrive users.

Wait, you guys are actually admitting to looking into what some folks are storing in their OneDrive? That’s the best way to build consumer confidence in cloud storage, I’ve heard. Admitting that you snooped on the data stored there.

My Technology Pet Peeves

1. OEMs and Retailers who get branding wrong are the first, and possibly worst, of my pet peeves. It’s so terribly easy to get branding right that it’s essentially inexcusable. Recently, I was calling around to several AT&T stores to check on availability of the Nokia Lumia 920. AT&T has a prerecorded message that you can listen to before ultimately connecting to the staff of the store. This message references “Windows 8 tablets and phones”. If you’re a Windows Phone fan, you know that there are no “Windows 8 phones”. It’s a branding misstep by AT&T.


Worse is this ad sent to me in AT&T’s AT&T Insider ad booklet. The add you see is an ad for a Windows RT tablet. Unfortunately, the screenshot is very obviously from Windows 8, and not even a recent one at that. It looks like a screen from the Developer Preview version of the OS. It also shows icons for Visual Studio, and a few other developer apps that are definitely not available on Windows RT. I’ll let you figure out why an ad like this would be bad.

2. People that have never used and have no intention of using a product having strong operative opinions of that product. This is a pet peeve simply because there are select number of tech pundits that are obvious fans of specific platforms that have little intention of doing anything but denigrating the opposite platform. What I find really interesting is that it’s the Apple fans that are the worst about this. Jim Dalrymple and John Gruber have the potential to give very insightful commentary on the state of modern computing but sometimes ruin it by linking to derogatory articles about Windows. Not negative, but insightful ones, but garbage stories. There’s plenty to criticize about Windows 8, aside from stories written by amateurs, or MG Siegler for that matter. I strongly believe that Jim and John have a lot of insightful commentary to give, just don’t mix junk in with the good.

3. People, with obvious biases, who are unable to give products a fair shake. Case in point, MG Siegler and his Surface RT review. He notes in his review that Microsoft wouldn’t send him a review unit. After seeing his review and his childishness that concludes the article(a picture of his Surface in the trash can), it’s no surprise that Microsoft wouldn’t and didn’t send a review unit. For the same reason that Apple sends Walt Mossberg and John Gruber review units, Microsoft chose not to send Siegler one. It doesn’t profit either company to get negative reviews of products and they certainly won’t send a review unit to get a guaranteed failing grade from a reviewer. I won’t link to the garbage review, but I trust you can find it if you’re interested.

Microsoft Research Apps Roundup

Note: This article was first published on Go Windows Go on July 26, 2012.

Microsoft has a large and vibrant research department.  They also make quite a few experimental apps for Windows Phone, Android, and iOS.  Here are a few of the best from Windows phone, along with their official store descriptions. Note that we excluded a few apps that are either Chinese only or have been replaced in the Marketplace with official, non-experimental apps.

Academic Search

“Academic Search WP7 client is a free academic search application based on new technologies from Microsoft Research. It gives users access to more than 36 million publications on multiple academic domains.” Get Academic Search here.

Face Mask

“Want a fun way to play with photos? Or for reasons like privacy, would you like an easy way to hide a person’s face before sharing a photo? Then Face Mask is the right app for you. It offers a wide selection of masks/stickers to apply to your favorite photos.

Face Mask is a magic tool that enhances your pictures with cool effects. Just take a picture, and add a mask either by a tap or through a shaking gesture. Photos can be saved to your photo library or shared directly on Facebook, Twitter or Sina Weibo.” Get Face Mask here.

Sketch Match

“Do you want to try and practice sketching in a fun way? Do you want to search images by sketching what you’re looking for? Then Sketch Match is a great entertainment app for you!

Here are the main features:

– Get rated on your sketches of given images

– Search similar images using a sketch

– Keep your sketch history in the gallery

– See your sketching rank in the global leaderboard”

Get Sketch Match here.

Face Swap

“Have you ever thought of swapping your face with someone else’s?

Face Swap provides a simple and quick way to swap the faces of people using a photo taken with others. All you need to do is to take a photo facing the camera or select one you already have, and then shake your phone. Then let Face Swap do its magic! You’ll see the faces are automatically swapped.

Photos can then be saved to your photo library or shared directly on Facebook, Twitter or Sina Weibo.

Main Features:

• Multiple face detection enabled

• Shake to create a new photo with people’s faces swapped!

• Share your photos on Facebook, Twitter or Sina Weibo

For more information, please check http://msra.cn/faceparty-en

Get Face Swap here.

Face Touch

“Create funny facial expressions by poking different parts,  unlock different steps and solve the final mystery!

This app uses face-related technologies from Microsoft Research.  For best results, please select a photo with frontal faces in good lighting condition.

Main Features:

• Tap your face to create funny facial expressions

• Multi-face detection

• Integrated with Pictures Hub

• Share your photos on Facebook, Twitter, SkyDrive or Sina Weibo

For more information, please check http://msra.cn/faceparty-en

Get Face Touch here.

Tip Tap Tones

“Tip Tap Tones for Windows Phone 7 helps language learners to identify the sounds and tones of Mandarin Chinese in a way that is fast, fun, and effective.

In the game, you listen to a Mandarin sound before tapping the button representing the tone and syllable you thought you heard. The game begins with just a single syllable and four tone options, but as you progress by giving correct responses, the sounds get faster and the number of confusable syllables increases. By making you pay close attention to small differences between similar sounds, Tip Tap Tones gets you learning to listen just like a native speaker.

The game ends after 60 seconds, in which time you need to complete as many game screens as you can by giving fast and accurate responses. The game also shows you how often you get each tone correct as well as how often you confuse it with other tones, giving you the information you need to increase your accuracy, your game scores, and your real-world listening skills.

Overall, Tip Tap Tones represents a new way to “sharpen your ears” and retrain your brain to identify the foreign sounds of Mandarin Chinese, in a game format that is challenging and enjoyable for learners of all levels.“ Get Tip Tap Tones here.


“TestMyNet provides detailed information about network conditions, such as open and blocked network ports, HTTP compression, round-trip delays, and throughput. By using TestMyNet, you gain more insight into the performance of your network connection.” Get TestMyNet here.

Windows Phone: The Accessories Problem

Note: This article was first published on Go Windows Go on June 25, 2012.

One of the best things about the iOS ecosystem is the plethora of first and third party accessories for each of the devices.  On Windows Phone, these accessories are close to non-existent.  Sure, our friends at Windows Phone Central have a store that sells accessories like cases and a few chargers, but what’s really lacking is are accessories like docks.  Especially first party accessories and docks.  How will Microsoft, and by extension the mobile device makers, bring a greater breadth of accessories to Windows Phones?

First, a further explanation of the issue at hand: While accessories for mobile phones certainly aren’t necessarily the driving force behind sales of individual devices, the availability of such is a bonus for users of that platform.  When I purchase an iPhone, I don’t have to wonder if there are any quality cases for it, I know there are.  There are literally thousands of companies making thousands upon thousands of cases, screen protectors, and docks.  One of those is bound to be quality.  If not them, then Apple’s first party bumper case and their iPhone dock will suffice.

If I purchase a Lumia 900, there’s literally nothing to choose from. Sure, someone sells a cover or a case.  I’m sure someone has specialty screen protectors for the 4.3 inch screen. It would be especially frustrating to bring a beautiful Lumia 900 home and not have a nice charging/sync dock (It also has the charge, sync connector at the top of the device, but I digress).  What’s missing is a bigger, more robust ecosystem for accessories. Some of this will come with greater market share, but there are solutions for the here and now.

Googling ‘Lumia 900 dock’ results solely in this. A Lego dock.

Before I detail any solutions to this issue, I’d like to point out that this may be a moot point within a couple of years.  If Windows Phone 8 comes out and becomes a smash success or even a modest success, there will be many, many more accessories available for Windows Phones.  The Lumia’s will lead the pack in accessories as the flagship phone of the flagship company offering Windows Phones.  For the purposes of this article, let’s think about the current state of the accessories market.

Microsoft already controls a great deal of the Windows Phone experience; even with WP8, they aren’t ceding control of the experience, just expanding it to new screen sizes, more powerful hardware, and more choice.  Microsoft currently doesn’t allow ‘crapware’ installs on the devices that are not user-removable, doesn’t allow modification of the main interface, and controls the hardware externally by designating the exact buttons allowed on the device.  With such influence on the Windows Phone platform, why not mandate that the manufacturer must supply a set of basic accessories to go with each device sold?

Microsoft could mandate that each manufacturer produce a dock, two cases (hard and soft), and the other nominal accessories like ear buds, screen protectors, and charging cords/plugs.  This would solve the issue the instant new devices are released this fall.  Each and every device would be a first class experience in terms of the amount and quality of the accessories available.  Note that I’m not saying that the accessories be bundled with the phones, just that they be made widely available by the manufacturer.

I’m sure there are a lot of Windows Phone users out there that would love to have a nice charging dock to stick their phone in at the end of the day.  I sure do. Every time I plug in my first-gen Samsung Focus in in the evening, I think of how great it would be to have a dock to plug in to(And for the charging port to not be at the top of the device. But, once again, I digress).  I can’t say definitively that the dearth of device accessories are hurting Windows Phone, but I can definitely say that it isn’t helping.

What do you think?

Windows 8: A Chance for a Fresh Start

Note: This article was first published on Go Windows Go on May 17, 2012.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has a chance to make fundamental change to the way they update Windows.  In a day and age where consumer products are updated as fast as six months and rarely slower than a year, Microsoft is in the dark ages with a 3-year update cycle.  If Windows is going to continue to be the dominant computer operating system in the future, the time has come for change.

When the original iPhone was released in June 2007, Apple ushered in a completely new era in mobile computing.  Smartphones are now smarter, easier to use, and have widespread adoption.  Apple also ushered in another change to the mobile ecosystem we now take for granted: yearly software updates.  We can now expect to see a new iOS detailed each and every year in June and released sometime in the fall.  Apple looks at itself as a mobile devices company, and it updates the iPad in the same timeframe as it updates the iPhone and iPod touch.  Each and every year the iPad receives all of the iOS improvement goodies that the iPhone gets.  Even OS X is moving to a yearly update model, with Mountain Lion coming out this summer – exactly a year after Lion.  Microsoft acknowledged the fast paced world of mobile computing when Windows Phone 7 was released in late 2010.  Followed by a major update this past fall and the expected Windows Phone 8 update this fall, there’s no doubt that Microsoft understands the need for a least a minimum yearly update.

Which brings us to Windows 8 and Microsoft’s tablet strategy.

Microsoft chose a different path from Apple for Windows 8 tablets.  Instead of moving their mobile phone OS up to fit the table hardware, they decided to move the desktop OS down to tablets (and apparently phones too, if the rumors about Windows Phone 8 are true).  What’s left up to our imagination is how Microsoft plans to keep Windows 8 fresh.  If Microsoft decides to keep the current 3 year update schedule, I’m not sure the tablet market bodes well for the Redmond giant.  Apple and Google will continually update iOS and Android, leaving Windows 8 and the new Metro environment in a perpetual 1.0 state.  In the mobile market, Microsoft needs to constantly iterate to catch up to, and surpass, the quality of iOS.  Apple has built a mature platform and Google is slowly getting there as well.  A 1.0 product can’t stay in the market for 3 years and expect to compete successfully in the long term.

Microsoft is so tied to its business customers and a well planned, long, and transparent release cycle, they are losing the consumer mindshare.  Apple and Google keep excitement to their platforms high by constantly updating them.  Microsoft doesn’t have that level of excitement around their desktop and tablet OS, and they need that excitement back to hold onto the market they captured in the mid 90’s.

The solution lies in the most unintuitive place: Linux.

Yes, Linux.  Ubuntu Linux to be specific.  No, I’m not suggesting that Microsoft build Windows on top of Linux or Windows Phone on top of Android.  Rather, I suggest that Microsoft adopt the updating model that the most popular Linux distribution in the world uses.

Hear me out.

Ubuntu updates on a 6-month cycle, with October and April releases.  Every three years, an April release is tagged a Long Term Support (LTS) release.  Each of the releases is supported 18 months with bug fixes and security updates.  For the LTS release, Ubuntu offers the same bug fixes and security updates, but for 3 years on the desktop (and 5 years if you grab the server version).

I’m not suggesting that Microsoft move to such an aggressive update cycle for Windows.  What I am suggesting is a 1-year to 18-month update cycle.  To appease the business customer, every major release (i.e. Windows 8.0, 9.0) can be approximately 3 years apart, and can be supported for the normal Windows support cycle.  The shorter release cycle will maintain the excitement around Windows 8 and keep consumers interested.

Do I think that Microsoft will follow that path?  Sadly, I don’t.  I think there’s a business-first mindset at the company that the Redmond giant is struggling to break.  I don’t see Microsoft surprising the skeptics this year, however very few could have predicted the direction that they went with Windows Phone.  Maybe there’s a trick up their sleeve after all.

What do you think?