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Tag Archives: Microsoft

One Password To Rule Them All And In The Darkness Bind Them

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The giants of the web are fighting to become your de facto passport to the digital world.

These days we’ve all got too many passwords to remember. The likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft want to ease your burden by letting you use their accounts to access all of your other services. A growing number of sites and services let you login with your Facebook details, for example, turning your Facebook account into your online identity card.

Facebook recently upped the stakes by striking a deal with Telstra to let pre-paid mobile customers access their account directly from Facebook. Telstra pre-paid customers can track their account balance, top up their credit and view usage history. Considering how much of a hassle it can be to deal with telcos, organising your phone bill via your Facebook account sounds pretty useful.

The Telstra deal is part of Facebook’s move beyond a simple “service” to become a “platform” on which other applications and services run. Game developers were quick to get onboard but Facebook wants to expand much further. Its aim is to develop a microcosm of the internet within Facebook’s walls, so in theory you never need to stray beyond Facebook’s grasp. Naturally this doesn’t sit well with the likes of Google and Microsoft who also have their own vast ecosystems and want to “own the customer”. Remember, if a service is free you’re often the product.

Of course Facebook and the others giants of the web aren’t introducing extra features such as phone bill management to make your life easier. They’re doing it to make sure that they’re so tightly entwined in your life that you can’t walk away. Facebook wants you to be too reliant on your account to abandon it. In return it gets to track what you do in every corner of your life.

Facebook and the others aren’t evil, they’re simply trading your privacy and personal information in return for convenience. It’s a reasonable trade to make if you comprehend what you’re trading and take the time to understand the various privacy settings. But Facebook does seem to benefit from the fact that many people don’t comprehend this transaction and think they’re getting everything for “free”.

Long before Facebook was on the scene, Microsoft dreamed of acting as our digital passports. Microsoft’s Hailstorm system was later renamed Microsoft Passport Network, .NET My Services and .NET Passport. You probably know it as a Hotmail account.

When Passport was integrated into Windows XP way back in 2001, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie said the public would fully accept Microsoft as a trusted repository for all their personal information within five to 10 years. Clearly he was wrong about that one.

Of course Microsoft’s Passport efforts failed because most people trusted Microsoft about as far as they could kick their computer. Yet the concept of trust has changed considerably in the last decade. Today people trust the likes of Facebook and Google with a surprising amount of personal information. But it remains to be seen whether they’ll become our one password to rule them all.


Twenty Five Years Of Windows

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The chances are pretty good that you’re reading this on a Windows-based computer. Rough estimates suggest there are around billion personal computers on the planet, and Windows accounts for around ninety percent of those systems. Even if you are using a Linux or Mac OS based system, you’ll have felt the impact of Microsoft’s market-leading operating system.

A quarter of a century ago as I write this, if you were using a computer, the odds are quite high that you weren’t running a version of Windows, even though that was when Windows 1.0 was brand spanking new and on the software seller’s shelves after a couple of years of development. The cutting edge system you’d need to run it required MS-DOS 2.0, two double-sided disk drives, 256K of memory and a graphics adaptor. If there’s a lift where you work, it’s probably over the minimum specification to run Windows 1.0 now.

By what you’d expect from an operating system Windows 1.0 wasn’t much to get excited about, and the DOS (Disk Operating System) it ran on was arguably a bit more interesting than what Microsoft referred to as an “operating environment” than an operating system.

At the time, IBM-compatible PCs were solid business tools, but at the smaller business end of things plenty of users got by on systems as simple as the Commodore 64 and its 8-bit ilk. Microsoft couldn’t even make particularly good advertisements if this pitch for Windows 1.0 (featuring current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer doing his best dodgy car-salesman impersonation) is anything to go by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl5a9qUX_D4

It wasn’t until the third release of Windows, and its network capable upgrade, Windows 3.11, that Windows really picked up steam and became a truly competitive operating system. Microsoft continued with DOS-based Windows operating systems through Windows 95, 98, 98SE and the particularly poor Windows Millennium Edition before switching over for Windows XP to the codebase used for its more business-centric Windows NT lines. While Windows XP has its problems, it’s a note of its success that nearly a decade after its release, there’s still plenty of systems running Windows XP quite happily. It’s quite likely that its successor, the much derided Windows Vista, won’t be seen much in a decade, although the much more stable Windows 7 just might have that chance.


Is Windows Phone 7 Too Little, Too Late?

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I’ve spent the past couple of weeks testing Microsoft’s latest smartphone operating system, dubbed Windows Phone 7. Microsoft supplied me with a review phone (under, it should be noted, a fairly horrible non-disclosure agreement that’s thankfully now expired); in my case it was an LG Optimus 7Q, which is currently a Telstra exclusive. I’ve had brief hands-on time with a couple of the very similar HTC and Samsung handsets, as well as a bit more time with the LG Optimus 7, an Optus exclusive. For those wondering, the big difference between the Optimus 7 and the 7Q is that the 7Q has a physical keyboard which slides out from the side. A frankly somewhat useless keyboard, as roughly half the Windows Phone 7 applications I’ve tested don’t think in a widescreen way, leaving you typing in a vertical column.

The hardware isn’t the thing with Windows Phone 7, however. There are minor changes, like the aforementioned keyboard on the Optimus 7Q or the lovely looking Super AMOLED screen on Samsung’s Omnia 7, but Microsoft has very strict guidelines on the componentry and build of Windows Phone 7 devices. This leaves them all looking and feeling rather samey, and that concept I’ve got to admit worried me at first glance.

I should point out here that I’ve never been a huge fan of Windows Mobile, the predecessor to Windows Phone 7. Windows Mobile was for far too long a lumbering dinosaur with a painful interface that tried way too hard to replicate the Windows experience on a tiny mobile screen, and badly at that. I’m on the public record as wondering why they ever bothered releasing Windows Mobile 6.5, the last in the Windows Mobile series at all. Bad news for any Windows Mobile fans who didn’t already know, by the way – Windows Phone 7 is an entirely new platform, and it’s not backwards compatible. If you’re heavily invested in Windows Mobile-specific applications, you’ll have to hope that new versions come out that you can once again pay for, or stick to your ageing hardware.

When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 back in February, I was sceptical, and even more so when it was announced that the phones themselves wouldn’t be available until late 2010. It felt rather like they were announcing something to stay in the smartphone game, but at the cost of giving opposing platforms a lot of time to gain users, mindshare and even combat some specific features.

Enough with the history lessons! Enough, indeed, with the rather samey hardware as well. The operating system itself is, I’ve got to say, curiously named as Windows Phone, as the one thing it’s distinctly not much like is Windows. Aside from some naming conventions, such as the browser labelled as Internet Explorer or the games labelled as Xbox Live, it doesn’t look like Windows at all”¦ and that’s Microsoft’s most sensible step in the mobile operating system world ever.

Instead of trying to cram the desktop metaphor onto a tiny screen, Windows Phone uses a series of large buttons labelled as “Live Tiles” that display particular information in a semi-live fashion. Some are more useful (and more lively) than others, but you can cut any of them out of the main start page and re-arrange them at will. The experience testing across a couple of handsets was slick and fast, helped no doubt by Microsoft mandating some reasonably hefty (for now) internal minimum specifications. Naturally in terms of available applications Windows Phone 7 is still dwarfed by the heavy hitters of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Marketplace (or even Nokia’s Ovi Store), and it’s rather game-centric so far, but most of the important application bases have been hit, and there’s certainly room to grow.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, and there’s still some very obvious signs that despite being labelled as Windows Phone 7, this is really a version one software, complete with the problems that version one of just about anything has. There’s no cut and paste. That’s apparently going to be rectified with a future software update, but it’s baffling that in the eight months in-between the announcement and the launch nobody thought to actually include such a basic function. There’s no tethering to use the phone as a mobile modem. Third party applications cannot multitask, which sometimes leads to lengthy re-loading times. There’s no ability to add extra memory, and the launch models ship with only 8GB or 16GB onboard, which is limiting. The Xbox Live integration isn’t really integration at all, as it loses too many of the social aspects of the gaming service along the way. You can view your own Avatar and Gamerscore, but not check out what your friends are doing on the main Xbox Live service, or co-ordinate games on the Xbox at all, at least yet. There are mobile games, and you can send invites to those – but only to your friends with Windows Phone 7, at least as far as I can see. There’s a lot that could be done with Xbox Live integration, but most of it is still to do.

There’s a lot of iPhone users out there. A lot of Android users, Blackberry users, Symbian users and even legacy Windows Mobile users, although the dumping of code means they’re free to jump to any platform they like – they’ll have to re-buy new apps anyway. Windows Mobile 7 does represent a good fresh start for Microsoft, and if you’re in the market for a smartphone, and not already heavily invested in iOS, Android, Blackberry or Symbian applications it’s worth consideration. Whether it’s too little and too late is a question that only time can answer, but I will say that I’m far more impressed with it overall, even given the bugs and omissions, than I ever expected to be.


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