Microsoft Had a Very Good Year

While I haven’t had a lot to say on any subject lately, I would be remiss in not congratulating Microsoft on having an excellent year in 2014. I have been quite critical of Microsoft in the past. From the days of the OS wars to the introduction of the Surface tablet, I have been vocal in my distaste for their methods.

Now, that never stopped me from using many of their products. Some of it out of necessity mind you. However, competition forces have made Microsoft grow and change more in the last year than they have in many years prior.

The most significant event of the year to me was the naming of Satya Nadella as CEO. The changes that he has brought about have clearly transformed the company back into a true industry competitor.

Now, while many of the other important changes this past year had been started under Steve Ballmer’s watch, I doubt that they would have been implemented in the same way utilizing his vision. So without further ado, here is my list of Microsoft’s other significant achievements:

  • Microsoft Office for iOS
  • Windows 10
  • Visual Studio 2013 Community Edition
  • Surface Pro 3 launch
  • Completion of the Nokia acquisition

Kudos Microsoft!

Update 2015/01/21: How could I possibly forget this one?

  • Open sourcing .NET stack and expanding it to run on Linux and Mac OS platforms
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The Engineer is the Steward of the Earth’s Resources

Some very optimistic and forward thinking published by Fred Alger Management, Inc. I encourage everyone to watch this and “think forward”.

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Brave New Phone Call

This sounds fantastic – Ray Ozzie has always been a great thought leader. I can’t wait to give this a whirl!

Brave New Phone Call

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Strategy by Drucker

I have been a big fan of Peter Drucker’s writing for a long time. Today’s management still has lots to learn from him.

Strategy by Drucker

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Life Without Flash – Part 2

Almost three weeks have passed since I decided to remove Flash from an older laptop. Now it’s gone from all of my systems. So what have those three weeks been like?

At first there were the odd d’oh moments where I’d totally forgotten that I had disabled Flash, and I was wondering what was happening on a page. Then there was the time that I realized that the Amazon widget that I used on my blog used Flash. I quickly switched it to a banner ad, as I did not want to be a hypocrite (I detest hypocrisy).

Even with Flash removed from the system, Google Chrome allows me to selectively toggle its built-in Flash on an as-needed basis. I’ve looked for (but haven’t found) an extension that will make this easier to perform. Maybe I’ll just have to write one.

But overall, I’d say that I’m happy with the results.

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Life Without Flash

Being a software developer I run multiple systems, with different configurations and operating systems versions. System and application updates are a fact of life, however annoying they may be. Rebooting is disruptive to workflow, particularly when you have dozens of windows and tabs open.

Recently after rebooting, I received a popup from Adobe telling me about a new version of Flash, so like I always do, I clicked continue, etc, etc, until the new version was installed. Later that day I did the same on another system.

Today I booted my Vista laptop and received the same popup. After completing the install, I paused and asked myself, “why am I doing this? I don’t really use Flash. It has no particular value to me”. And it has started to include the annoying habit of trying to install some McAfee something or other, as well trying to cajole me into making these kinds of updates automatic. Damn it, I said “no” the last time. Quit asking me!

Well, enough is enough. I decided to uninstall it completely from that system. One problem is that I have been gradually making Chrome my default browser over time, and Chrome has Flash builtin. Time to switch back to Firefox as the default on that system.

I don’t do a lot of browsing on that particular system, but I think that that makes it a good test bed for living without Flash. Let’s give it a try!

Update: It turns out that you can disable Chrome’s built-in Flash. Just type “about:plugins” in the address bar (omnibox), and click “Disable” next to the Flash plug-in. Sweet.

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My Twitter Account Got Hacked

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Twitter claiming that my account had been compromised. My initial thought was that this must be a mistake, or that maybe this was a phishing attempt. You see, I *never* run into these kinds of problems. I always use unique (and generally pretty secure) passwords, and I’m pretty careful with authorizing any third-party applications.

After verifying that the email was legitimate, I followed the process to select a new, hopefully stronger, password. Logging into my account for the first time since the hack, I saw that there was a tweet that I hadn’t tweeted less than two hours ago. The text was something like, “lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks”, followed by a link.

I clicked on the link, but Avast immediately detected this as a phishing site, so I proceeded no further. After closing the new tab, I deleted the tweet and the email from twitter.

It all went down pretty quickly, but I wish that I’d taken the time to study the situation a little bit further. I’m still curious as to how my account got hacked. Recently, I had authorized a new app called “twenty feet” to post a weekly tweet indicating new followers, but I seriously doubt that they had anything to do with it.

That leaves the password itself as my suspect. It was only 8 characters long; short by my standards. The account itself was created relatively long ago when I wasn’t quite sure why I even needed a twitter account, so I wasn’t exactly thinking of the security ramifications that it could have.

And how did Twitter detect the hack? Was it the tweet itself? Do they monitor links to see if they are malicious? Had the same tweet been sent from numerous accounts in short order? Don’t know, but somehow Twitter detected the security breach pretty quickly. Kudos to them for that.

What bothers me is that the only way that the password could have been cracked then was by brute force. Are there no safeguards as to the number of invalid login attempts at Twitter? I’m certainly going to be on the lookout for any further suspicious activity on my account.

Once bitten, twice shy.

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V is for Vapourware!

It was a pretty big week for Microsoft, first with Surface, then with Windows Phone 8. While there is no doubt that both of the products are on the horizon, and will ship, then questions becomes what will I actually get, when will it ship, where can I get one, and how much will it cost?

After thinking things over for a couple of days, I feel quite comfortable calling out Microsoft for vapourware on both of this week’s announcements. As I said in my last post, these types of announcements have historically delayed consumer purchase of competitive products. When you consider the likely availability dates, the primary motive becomes more clear.

With Windows 8 most likely to appear sometime in September, buyers who now are considering the Samsung Galaxy S III are put in a quandry. Okay, the diehards will still pick the Samsung, but others will wait. Less of an impact to Apple, as the iPhone 5 is anticipated in September as well. Five bucks says that more iPhone 5 devices will be in hands sooner than Windows Phone 8 devices, but that’s an easy bet.

Android tablets sales will likely take a hit as well as folks sit on the sidelines and wait to get a look or read a review of the Surface. Now consider how many Surfaces will Microsoft even have ready for sale in the first 90 days? These aren’t keyboards; more like the Xbox. But Microsoft has never made such an expensive device either. Quality is important here. Supply will likely be limited

And with the Windows 8 Pro model, “which will be available about 90 days later” (emphasis mine), there’s no way that it will make the Christmas selling season.

Can’t see one, can’t touch one + no price, and no availabilty = vapourware.

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Classic Microsoft FUD

IBM may have invented FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), but Microsoft has clearly perfected it. After laying dormant for many years, they’re back, and in fine form. On Monday June, 18th, Microsoft announced Surface to a very receptive audience.

Surface by Microsoft

While the product that they demonstrated does indeed appear to be an interesting device, one has to question the timing of this announcement. Compared to a product announcement from Apple, there were no availability dates, no pricing information, and for the most part, no hands on for the media either.

Historically, whenever Microsoft has made this kind of announcement it’s had the effect of delaying consumer purchases. Now the strategy becomes clearer. What we’ve got here is a kind of a preemptive strike against her competitors. Designed to make consumers take a “wait and see” approach to a tablet purchase.

When this does become available (probably in the fall, timed to coincide with the release of Windows 8), where will people get to test drive one of these shiny new machines? Well, according to Time, “Microsoft’s own chain of Apple Store-like retail establishments will be the only place you’ll be able to try it out”.

That wouldn’t be so bad if there were many of those around. Even up here in Canada, Apple has 23 stores with the newest one opening this weekend at the London’s Masonville Place Mall. Compare that with the 20 stores that Microsoft will have open in the US by the end of June, and the zero (so far) in Canada, it will be hard to try one out in person.

I wonder how Best Buy feels about this?

So who will be hardest hit by this announcement? I doubt that there will be much impact to Apple, as the demographic that the Surface appeals mostly to were unlikely to buy an iPad or an Air in the first place. RIM is likely to be bruised, as well as the Android partners (Samsung, Acer, Motorola, etc). The Ultrabook manufacturers (including Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Gigabyte HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba) will likely be not too pleased.

But for now, it’s just a game of wait and see. Let’s hope for Microsoft’s sake, that it doesn’t become a case of, “as you sow, so shall you reap”!

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Original Ideas

Is there really such a thing as an original idea these days? Somehow, I doubt it. Before you read any further, you just have to watch this video:

Okay. So you have an idea, and you think that it is winner. Odds are, that right now, 1000 people have a very similar idea to yours. Of that 1000, maybe 10 will take action. Now don’t be discouraged. Your idea still has merit. There is probably a component of your idea that is truly unique. That will be your differentiator.

What you need to do now, is to perfect your differentiator. Do that in silence. Do it in isolation. Tell everyone around your about what you are doing, but don’t reveal your differentiator until you have it perfected.

Then sell it. Hammer the competition with it. Dominate your sector with it. But don’t stand still. You had better have some more differentiators up your sleeve if you want to stay the market leader.

And don’t be surprised if the world doesn’t “get” your differentiator the first time that they see it. With time, they will.

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” — Howard Aiken (American computer engineer and mathematician 1900-1973).

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