Thursday, September 11, 2014

Trading iPhone for Windows Phone - What You Give Up

As Jornata continues to integrate with BlueMetal, lots of things internally are coming together.  One of the things I'm loving is the internal dialog with the team that I'm now a part of at BlueMetal.  Our "geek chat" messaging reminds me of the best dialogs I'd been a part of at other companies, except amped. This isn't coming from just any technology architect. These folks are well-known technology thought leaders, evangelists, and MVP's. With sincere respect, I'll try to avoid getting myself in trouble with them and BlueMetal, but I'm feeling a bit like a kid in a candy store.

Being the C#/mobile (and therefore Windows Phone) junkie that I am, I always watch what's going on in the space. 

While the Windows Phone market share at BlueMetal is significantly higher than the general population, BlueMetal's not just some extension of Microsoft.  There's a lot of the team internally that are Apple and Android fans.   Naturally, when the news of Apple Watch broke, the conversation really picked up, and it was all fantastic stuff to consider.

One bit that came up that I wanted to write this post about, however, was a number of misconceptions that Apple fans had about Apple vs. "not Apple" in the smartphone area.  I can't resist. There are good reasons to not consider Windows Phone, but some are just misunderstandings.

Here was a viewpoint:
-------------
The things I would be giving up by switching [from iPhone] to Android or Windows Phone:
  1. iMessage 
  2. Photostream
  3. Find My iPhone
  4. My apps - the ones which I’ve already bought and the free ones which all work so well.  Windows phone doesn’t have the volume of Apps and Android doesn’t have the stability and polish
  5. iCloud backup
  6. iTunes - songs  I purchase are automatically downloaded to other iPhones and Macs
  7. Apple Watch
-------------
 
The response was quick and, interestingly slanted in defense of Windows Phone... here's a synopsis, including my own viewpoint:
  1. iMessage is platform specific, locking out non Apple users.   Consider Skype, Lync, or even Facebook Messenger instead.
  2. Photostream - Windows Phone has this functionality built into the OS, uploading photos to OneDrive.  (and OneDrive has working multi-factor authentication, so you won't have to worry so much about selfies unexpectedly going viral.
  3. Find my Phone - yes, built into the Windows Phone OS... just a check box, and yes, it's saved several of my family members more than once.
  4. Apps -  I have to admit, there's no recovery for the investment made on iPhone/iPad apps, but there is this saving grace...  with Windows Unified apps, the app purchases you make on phone apps often entitle you to the same app for tablet and PC as well.   The marketplace is improving daily, so the general marketplace app gap is narrowing.  The Windows Phone app marketplace has better technical governance than Android's, but not as mature as Apple's, yet.
  5. iCloud backup - Windows Phone has OneDrive backups with much easier access to the content.
  6. iTunes - consider Xbox Music. With a low priced subscription, you can stream music to your phone, PC, tablet, and Xbox, and if you purchase or rip music, it makes it available thru the cloud to ask your devices... No need to sync your phone with a PC. Content just shows up.
  7.  Apple Watch?   Hard to say on this one... but I consciously traded my watch for a good smartphone long before iPhone came out.
Still others piped up and noted how well integrated Windows 8 & Windows Phone 8 (and I would add Xbox)...  All of them work independently, but put them together, and you have a ton of really great ways to do things like manage your home network, participate in entertainment, and even keep your kids safe while browsing the 'net.
 
In my opinion, Apple serves a few purposes...  they change folks' minds about what technology is socially acceptable.  The industry needs them for their competition and for their tech fashion sense.
 
It seems clear to me that the net result is that by trading in an iPhone for Windows Phone, you give up some investment in Apple, but you gain quite a bit of functionality and security for doing so, especially if you're also a Windows and/or Xbox user already.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#RandomAppOfKindness #PayItForward #WPDev Challenge

Yesterday, I happened to be at the Panera Bread café down the road with my family.  We took a table next to a sign that boasted an iPhone / iPad app for the company.   Out of curiosity, I checked to see if there was a Windows Phone app...  the search in the app store turned up four apps, none of which had much to do with Panera Bread.  

On a hunch, I redirected my phone's web browser to appstudio.windowsphone.com, and drafted a new project... a wrapper for Panera's mobile site.   In minutes, I had used my phone to generate and sideload a brand new app.  I realized I could publish the app with only a few tweaks, and from the time I sat down to eat to the time this new Panera Bread app was certified & available for download only about two hours had passed.

I've decided to issue a challenge to the Granite State (NH) Windows Phone Users Group (and anyone else who wants to join in) to a "Pay it forward" style friendly 'competition'.  

Whenever you see an app marketed for platforms other than Windows Phone, see if you can't whip up a respectful/respectable presentation of an app that provides some approximation of the functionality advertised... for the Windows Phone platform... and publish it as a free app with no advertising or in-app purchases.  It should be a "gift" of sorts in honor of the subject.

Then feel free to let the folks who might be interested that they are subject to our #RandomAppOfKindness pay-it-forward activity. 

If the subject of your app complains of copyright issues, you may be required by copyright holders to remove the app...  and you should comply.  After all, this app was created and published out of good will.

Here's my first #RandomAppOfKindness...
http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/panera-bread/2b1e2cd1-a440-4657-910d-a0eec15ecc5e

I'd love to turn this into a real competition... Perhaps in the future we'll discuss crating a list of #RandomAppOfKindness apps and set a finish date to see who's published the most qualified apps... but I don't have a budget for that (as of yet)  :)

Have fun!

Addendum:
Three new #RandomAppOfKindness entries since the Panera Bread app:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Doctor Who Video Hgihlights Privacy Policy

In order for my son to publish his "Doctor Who Video Highlights" app for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1, he needs a published privacy policy.

The privacy policy is simply this:
The app itself makes no attempt to send any information back to the publisher.  The only privacy policy that applies otherwise would be Microsoft's Privacy Policy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thoughts on the Surface Pro 3: One Device To Rule Them All

I never got in on the GPS craze... or pagers...  or the portable media player craze...  or the netbook thing...  or the ebook readers...  or even the tablet thing.  My first cell phone was the only non-smartphone I ever suffered.

As a technologist, I saw the serious value in combining devices... to the point where I decided that I would only ever carry one electronic device... a sufficiently powered, hand held computer for which I would have development tools.  My current oversized smartphone even suffices as a tablet, reader, and semi-connected third display for my PC.  

I now carry all of those individual fad items (and far more) as one unit.  Watches, GPS's, pagers, portable media players, ebook readers... all fully redundant to the power of my contemporary smartphone... and I can (and do) write apps for it.   I will never waste resources buying smart watches or smart glasses... my smartphone offers just the right amount of accessibility and utility without needing yet more.

I have a similar relationship with my computer.  I have long struggled to find value in a game console.  Sure, there's a nice Xbox One in my home now, but I definitely don't log any significant time on it;  it really more or less belongs to my kids.  I have a PC...  The one and only thing it lacks for function is the ability to fold it up and take it with me... which is what I have a smartphone for.  (Yes, work provides me with a laptop, so as the some-time code warrior, I have a laptop that suffices as a desktop... but it's definitely no tablet.)

I don't feel I need the best in every technology, but a few things are very important to me in a PC.  I've long said I need visual bandwidth...  multiple displays are a must, and not just any.  The displays must have at least 1200 lines of height resolution... width only depends on aspect ration from there, and 4x3 and 16x9 describe the pair I have on my desk as I write this.   Touch would be nice for this, but I don't have touch now...  I can survive without it.  As a software developer, having a display dedicated to my development tools and another dedicated to alternate info (communications, email, technical documentation, work queues, server desktops, or debug UIs) is a must.  The more I can see on the surface of a monitor, the less time I have to waste hunting for the window that has the info I need in it...  my PC is a content creation station.  I can still take advantage of my oversized smartphone to offload communications (email, video/teleconf/chat, music playlists, etc)  I could easily make use of more displays...  I just don't physically have room for more on my desk.

My PC is more than just a PC... it's a workstation.  A laptop won't even suffice for it...  whenever I am reduced to working on my laptop alone, I feel constricted... like being forced to do detail level work while wearing a diver's mask and welders gloves.  Work goes much better when I connect a full size keyboard, mouse and displays to the laptop in one form or another.

Of course, my workstation being my own actual personal computer, I also like to play games on it, and so it's yet more than just a workstation... it's also a game console.

Needless to say, it's the things that a tablet can't do that make a normal tablet superfluous to me.  Most importantly, I can't fully replace my workstation/gamer console/PC with it...  If I can't do that, it's just another display that doesn't fit on my desk... and I already have a phablet that satisfies my  portable computing needs.... anything more than that would only leave me wanting to just take my workstation with me everywhere.

When I go into Best Buy, or Staples or shop on Dell, I'm asking for a device that bridges the gap between the portability of a tablet, the creation-centricity of a workstation, and the gamer power of a console.  Worse, I get way more bang for the buck out of a desktop system than anything that even claims to be mobile, so replacing it with a mobile system that has close to the performance will be pricey. 

With the release of the Surface Pro 3, it's very clear that Microsoft is hearing me, and fighting hard to do something about it.   I'm not sure it fully balances cost with my requirements, yet, but the Surface Pro 2 was tempting...   The 3 may get me to bite.   The ability to convert a tablet into a workstation and/or gamer console is definitely on track, plus it has some nice features that make it a better tablet than an iPad.  To match my current set of requirements, I would have to go with at least a mid-range (i5) unit.  The docking station would be a must.  If I kept my current non-touch, 2k display, using the tablet's 2k display as well, it could finally be the tablet to bite on.  If I could find a good 4k touch enabled display for a reasonable price, that may be the clincher.

Is Surface Pro 3 a breakthrough product for you, or are you already rocking a more complete range of hardware?


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SharePoint 2013 Distributed Cache error "cachehostinfo is null"

Doing a fresh SharePoint 2013 SP1 deployment, I ran into a couple things I want to remember.

1)  SharePoint 2013 RTM won't install on Windows Server 2012 R2.  You must install using SharePoint 2013 WITH SP1.

2)  Somehow after configuring things, the distributed cache service wouldn't run on one of the hosts.  The error was "cachehostinfo is null".   Advice I got was to remove the service instance and re-add it, but even trying to run "Remove-SPDistributedCacheServiceInstance" came back with that.  The following powershell script allows you to remove the service instance on the machine you're on, which then frees you up to run add-spdistributedcacheserviceinstance.

Originally from StackExchange:
http://sharepoint.stackexchange.com/questions/58326/sharepoint-2013-distributed-cache-cachehostinfo-is-null-with-remove-spdistrib

$SPFarm = Get-SPFarm
$cacheClusterName = "SPDistributedCacheCluster_" + $SPFarm.Id.ToString() 
$cacheClusterManager = [Microsoft.SharePoint.DistributedCaching.Utilities.SPDistributedCacheClusterInfoManager]::Local 
$cacheClusterInfo = $cacheClusterManager.GetSPDistributedCacheClusterInfo($cacheClusterName); 
$instanceName ="SPDistributedCacheService Name=AppFabricCachingService"
$serviceInstance = Get-SPServiceInstance | ? {($_.Service.Tostring()) -eq $instanceName -and ($_.Server.Name) -eq $env:computername}  
$serviceInstance.Delete()   #You may have to issue the Delete command a couple of times.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Net Neutrality and the Return of AOL

For cable TV customers, there's something oddly familiar about the idea of channel providers.  Trading off television channels by switching cable TV providers has long been commonplace in regions where there's more than one cable TV provider, and long been the envy of those who don't live in such regions.  If Time-Warner wants to cut off CBS over contract issues, and you live in a place where you only have Time-Warner, you don't get your NCIS fix.

Flashback to a couple decades ago...  America Online, GEnie, and CompuServe WERE the "Internet".  If you wanted IN on the "online craze" you had to go to one or more of these companies and buy your seat at their table.  Companies didn't advertise their web URLs.  They advertised their AOL keywords.  CompuServe had great educational content providers, but AOL was king of chat at a time when chat was king.  Most companies flocked to AOL as a result, and so AOL wasn't just an ISP, it was THE digital content channel provider.

The channel model died with the rise in popularity of the Internet.   Suddenly, all you needed to connect content to customers was the same thing that everyone needed.  A connection.  Thanks to a convention called "Net Neutrality", the channel model built by services such as AOL & CompuServe were walls that were knocked down.  Your connection was every "channel", simultaneously, all the time, with no bundling.  As a business, wanting to publish and contribute your content as a channel, you had only to invest in your own connection, and a little technical infrastructure, and you were in.

Facebook has taken serious shots at bringing the channel model back.  If you want to play certain online games or see some online content, you must join Facebook... and content/gaming providers who want to participate in that must come to agreements with Facebook, of course. 

Yet, with the breakdown of Net Neutrality, the pendulum is swinging solidly back to the channel provider model.  Your ISP now has the right to decide what traffic they carry over their networks and/or throttle performance from different content significantly...  if they want to cut back on Netflix... they can.  If they want to nix Google services, whatever.

Clearly this happened almost instantly with recent judicial rulings...  The jinni is already out of the bottle.  Verizon has decided to effectively drop the "Netflix channel" by cutting Netflix' bandwidth down to reportedly unusable levels.  This means if you're on Verizon and were using Netflix, you either have to find a new video streaming service, or you have to find a new channel service provider. 

How long will it be before this impacts every Internet service provider (and even cellular network providers, since VOIP services are reducing them to ISPs as well)?  

Here's some fictitious quotes from a not so hard to see future (roughly within the next decade):

  • "I left Verizon for Time-Warner because Verizon charges too much for the Office 365 and Facebook channels.  Comcast is tempting, though, because they have Google Hangouts and enhanced YouTube in their HD package." 
  • "I wish Verizon had the same educational channels as T-Mobile or Sprint, though, cause my kids could use that for school."  
  • "Thankfully my channel provider and my folks across the country both have enhanced Skype.  I can't Skype my sister at all, though."
  • "I had to switch banks when I switched carriers.  AT&T hasn't come to an agreement with my old bank, so I couldn't use their online services."
  • "Amazon's gone bust since they failed to become a viable channel provider, and every other channel provider decided to compete against them."
  • "Google is the new AOL.  Most folks can't even get online except thru Google Fiber. Your business does not have an online presence unless it's thru them.  It's too bad your competitors already have exclusive agreements with them."

ISPs love this, because as cable TV providers will tell you, there's a lot of pricing power in being a channel provider, but not so much is being a connection provider. 

Businesses will struggle with this, however, because getting your website on the Internet will become a much more complicated proposition.  Sure, you'll be able to get online the same, but your content won't be carried the same.   Essentially, small business content will be at the whim of "local access channels" provided by each channel provider.  They'll all have their own rules and regulations, and even more importantly, their own fees.  Is your audience growing?  You'll have to hammer out deals with each channel provider to make sure your content gets to all your customers.

Further, how long will it be before we start having a resurgence in custom network interface hardware to the point of ending Wi-Fi and Ethernet as we know it?  We've already seen netbooks and tablets that have wireless Internet service tied to specific cellular carriers.  I'd be willing to bet that as channel providers gain hold and start to flex their newfound muscles, a breakdown in connectivity standards will take hold.