Posts Tagged‘feature’

Windows 10 Brings Smaller Footprint, Better Updating.

Windows 10 is fast shaping up to be one of the greatest Windows releases with numerous consumer facing changes and behind the scenes improvements. Whilst Microsoft has been struggling somewhat to deliver on the rapid pace they promised with the Windows Insider program there has been some progress as of late and a couple new features have made their way into a leaked build. Technology wise they might not be revolutionary ideas, indeed a couple of them are simply reapplications of tech they’ve had for years now, but the improvements they bring speak to Microsoft’s larger strategy of trying to reinvent itself. That might be awfully familiar for those with intimate knowledge of Windows 8 (Windows Blue, anyone?) so it’s interesting to see how this will play out.

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First cab off the ranks in Windows 10’s new feature set is a greatly reduced footprint, something that Windows has copped a lot of flak for in the past. Now this might not sound like a big deal on the surface, drives are always getting bigger these days, however the explosion of tablet and portable devices has brought renewed focus on Windows’ rather large install size on these space constrained devices. A typical Windows 8.1 install can easily consume 20GB which, on devices that have only 64GB worth of space, doesn’t leave a lot for a user’s files. Windows 10 brings a couple improvements that free up a good chunk of that space and bring with it a couple cool features.

Windows 10 can now compress system files saving approximately 2GB on a typical install. The feature isn’t on by default, instead during the Windows install the system will be assessed to make sure that compression can happen without impacting user experience. Whether current generation tablet devices will meet the minimum requirements for this is something I’m a little skeptical about so it will be interesting to see how often this feature gets turned on or off.

Additionally Windows 10 does away with the recovery partition on the system drive which is where most of the size savings comes from. Now instead of reserving part of the disk to hold a full copy of the Windows 10 install image, which was used for the refresh and repair features, Windows 10 can rebuild itself in place. This comes with the added advantage of keeping all your installed updates so that refreshed PCs don’t need to go through the hassle of downloading them all again. However in the advent that you do have to do that they’ve included another great piece of technology that should make updating a new PC in your home a little easier.

Windows 10 will include the option of downloading PC updates via a P2P system which you can configure to download updates only from your local network or also PCs on the Internet. It’s essentially an extension of the BranchCache technology that’s been a part of Windows for a while now but it makes it far more accessible, allowing home users to take advantage of it. If you’re running a Windows home (like I am) this will make downloading updates far less painful and, for those of us who format regularly, help greatly when we need to get a bunch of Windows updates again. The Internet enabled feature is mostly for Microsoft’s benefit as it’ll take some load off their servers but should also help out users who are in regions that don’t have great backhaul to the Windows Update servers.

If Microsoft continues to release features like this for Windows 10 then it definitely has a bright future ahead of it. Things like this might not be the sexiest things to talk about but they address real concerns that have plagued Windows for years. In the end they all amount to one thing: a better experience for the consumer, something which Microsoft has fervently increased its focus on as of late. Whether they’ll amount to the panacea to the ills of Windows 8 remains to be seen but suffice to say I’m confident that it’ll line up well.

My Windows Phone 7 Dilemma.

You know I was pretty hyped about getting a WP7 handset after having a short play with one in the store. The slick interface and overall usability of it was so high that I thought it was worth a shot and I had really nothing to lose since my work would be paying for it. The NoDo update was on the horizon however so I decided that I’d hold back until it made its way into production so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the same frustrations that day 0 customers had. Most notably this would be the inclusion of copy and paste, but there were also a few other fixes that I thought would be good to have and worth the wait.

The problem is however that unlike regular Windows patching there’s a gate keeper between me and Microsoft’s patches for their new mobile platform. You see the patches have to pass muster with the carriers first before they can be distributed to the handsets although Microsoft had said in the past that they were working with them to make the process as quick as possible. Unfortunately for us Australian customers looking for a WP7 handset you really only have one carrier to go with: Telstra. Now this wouldn’t be so much of a bad option normally since Telstra had to start playing straight after their retail and wholesale arms were broken apart but it seems that they’re not up to the job of testing WP7 updates:

Universal availability of the copy-and-paste update to Windows Phone 7, codenamed NoDo, is almost here, according to Microsoft’s latest schedule update. The final unpatched phone available in the US market, the HTC Surround sold by AT&T should start to receive its updates within the next ten business days. The network’s other two handsets, the Samsung Focus and LG Quantum, have been receiving updates since last week.

European carrier Deutsche Telekom (which includes T-Mobile UK) has at last finished its testing, as has Australian carrier Optus. Updates from phones on these networks should also appear within the next ten business days or so. This leaves only two carriers still delaying the updates due to “testing”: Telefonica, in Spain, and Telstra, in Australia.

This was the one area where I was expecting Microsoft to shine through since their bread and butter products have depended so heavily on their patch services for well over a decade. Sure the vast majority of the blame should be leveled at the carriers since they’re the ones causing the delays, but Microsoft isn’t innocent of incurring delays either. Of course the original iPhone and Android handsets weren’t immune to problems like this either but I had expected Microsoft’s late coming to the party to be at least coupled with a strong patch and feature release scheme so they could play catch up quickly.

It might seem like an extraordinarily small gripe considering the rest of the platform looks solid but when minor feature releases like this take so long to get through the pipeline it makes me wonder just how long I’ll have to wait for the next update, codenamed Mango, to drop. Amongst other things Mango will bring full HTML5 support to WP7 something which it currently lacks in its browser. Whilst the IE9 implementation of HTML5 does leave some things to be desired (my newest app idea uses HTML5 bits, and IE9 mangles it) it is a lot better than not having it at all, especially when so many mobile versions of sites rely on HTML5 functionality. With speculation now brewing that this update might slip to next year that’s starting to put WP7 at a serious disadvantage, unless some enterprising browser developer ports to WP7 ala Opera et al.

I’m still planning to nab myself one of these handsets if only for the few times I’ll want to try my hand at developing an application for it but with such delays piling up on each other I could very well see myself changing to Android or back to iOS until they’re finished playing the catch up game. I’m sure as time goes on they’ll develop a much better relationship with the carriers and hopefully they’ll be able to leverage that to remove some of the roadblocks to getting patches and updates out to us consumers. Until then however WP7 users are going to be at the whim of the carriers, even more so than they are normally.

Maybe I’m Doing Things Backwards.

I’ve been working on my burgeoning web service idea for just over a year now and I’m finally at the point where I feel like I’m actually making in roads into a fully usable system. It took 3 complete code dump and rewrites to get to this point but I’m finally satisfied with the way it works and how the client has turned out. Each iteration brought with it a rethink of what the application was going to be and a much better focus on what would be important to it. The decision to dump the last code base and start anew was probably the best decision I’ve made in a long time as the resulting product from it is strongly focused on what initially drove me to build this application.

Still after diving head first into the world of handset programming I can’t help but feel that I might have been going about this the wrong way. I initially started coding up the web client first because it would be the easiest of the lot and would ensure that I had the majority of the APIs working properly before I tried my hand at coding for a completely different platform. For the most part that was true as the API I have created facilitates all the functions I require and will work across platforms so long as they’re able to access the Internet. However had I developed a handset application first instead of going for the web client I would have been forced to make some of the hard decisions quite a lot earlier, possibly saving me those 3 code dumps that led to the current incarnation.

You see the first 3 versions I created were heavily focused on the idea of aggregating information around a particular location. I did this mostly because it was a good programming exercise and got me thinking in right direction for coding services destined for the Internet. At the same time however it had me lost in adding in numerous information streams all of which took a significant amount of time to implement. In the end once I got to the core feature that had been rattling around in my head (that whole location based communication thing) it was lost amongst the noise of the other features and the small trials I did with people didn’t even notice it as a feature.

After taking a month long break from coding I had a look at what I was doing and knew that it needed to change. This, I have found, is referred to as a pivot:

That’s the pattern we see in so many successful startups. They did everything they could to take advantage of what they’d built so far. Most engineers naturally think about repurposing the technology platform, and this is a common pattern. But there are a lot of other possibilities. I’d like to call out three in particular: pivot on customer segment, pivot on customer problem, or pivot on a specific feature.

In particular I was pivoting on a particular feature. Up until that point all I had been doing was finding an information feed and adding it in as an option. The core location based messaging feature became an afterthought but that was the hook with which I felt people would find the most use for it. After reading countless articles and looking to those who had come before me for inspiration I knew that if I intended to use such a feature as the main draw it had to actually be the most prominent aspect of the application. Thus Lobaco was born and I feel as if I’m finally taking steps in the right direction, rather than stumbling in the dark.

Working first on the handset would’ve forced my hand with this as you can’t afford to have a scattered focus when you’re working with such a limited environment. Still the lessons learned from those failed attempts have proven to be quite valuable and the coding experience wouldn’t have come any other way. It’s quite possible that I might have been a lot further down the track had I gone for a handset first but that’s not something I’m going to dwell on. Right now I have 3 handsets and a web front page to code up and I’m looking forward to doing each and every one of them.