The Joel test

10 02 2015

Yesterday I got asked my thoughts on the “Joel test”, as a good friend of mine got the bad news that his development team is scoring just a 7 on the Joel test. He wanted to know what it is and “Is that score a cause for concern?”

This post is going to be a little tech focussed as I am sure you are guessing, but if you are a CEO/CFO and want to know what’s going on (what you’re spending your money on in an IT development team), then you will find this post of value.

Now, I’m not a strong believer in trying to measure your development team success or their strengths by any means other than, are you happy with the product being delivered? All too often we get caught up in some form of metric for measuring just how good something is, and while we are doing that and maybe getting great “scores” we seem to lose sight that the product being delivered is actually poor. However, that being said, I think the Joel test is a good indication of your software development environment, and if that is in good working order you are at least giving them the best chances to succeed.

The Joel test is dead simple, and though I’ve read lots of opinion on it not working for Agile, I simply have to say – use a bit of common sense and apply it in the correct fashion to your preferred development methodology. I am a strong believer in agile and SCRUM, we operate that here religiously, and I would say our Joel score is at 11. Not the perfect 12, simply because I don’t always fix bugs before continuing on with new development work, I personally prefer to address bugs towards the end of a development cycle.

So here we go, the Joel test:

Do you use source control? You must be saying YES to this, simple as that. Good source control will also provide you with build services for continuous builds, see a later question.

Can you make a build in one step? Should be a YES. Builds or build scripts or continuous build services ensure your code is at least always able to build and run. When a build is broken, you have to fix that before anything else, and what’s great about a continuous build is you find these problems out sooner rather than later.

Can you make daily builds? See above I would say

Do you have a bug database? You MUST have something like this otherwise you have no hope tracking issues and fixing them. You don’t even need to be that sophisticated, though I like my UAT testers to push bug issues into the same control we use for specifying out storyboards (SCRUM).

Do you fix bugs before writing new code? This is the one I let slide. I make sure everyone is aware of them, and if they are in an area of the system that will be worked on then YES, let’s do that. However, often bugs are not in the same areas, and in such cases I prefer to keep the development velocity up and come back to those bugs at a specified date and time (typically the start of the following development SCRUM).

Do you have an up-to-date schedule? Now some will say NO to this as they use XP or something. Personally XP is hit and miss. SCRUM lets me specify out what storyboards we need to work on, and then we work on them. We don’t have an old fashion specification as such, nor an old fashion schedule, rather we have lightweight roadmaps and storyboards, because that is what SCRUM needs. So I still answer YES to this question, though we use SCRUM.

Do you have a spec? You need to have some spec, so if you answer no to this, then your development efforts will fail. SCRUM provides developers with a spec in terms of the storyboards they follow with the identified tasks. Without them, you have no hope.

Do programmers have quiet working conditions? This should be a yes, even if you are using XP. Collaboration is always ok, but the conditions will on the whole be conducive to concentration.

Do you use the best tools money can buy? We do, but I don’t think this is the end of the world if you write no to this. I personally like to push the team forward as the best tools typically help productivity.

Do you have testers? I hope you answer YES to this.

Do new candidates write code during their interview? This is harsh, but I insist on this, and what’s worse I insist it be done with just a pen and paper. I’m not looking for syntax, rather a good understanding of OOP and problem solving.

Do you do hallway usability testing? Not sure many people do this, but I do like it. I especially like expanding this out to focus groups if and when you get the chance. If you don’t have resources for this, hallway testing can be easily completed, just get some friends and family involved J

Anyway, that’s my take on the Joel test, don’t get too hung up on your score, but like Joel states, a score lower than 10 indicates serious development problems…I would probably say lower than 9 is big trouble…

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The cost of plastic

7 02 2014

We live in a digital age, and yet all our online and over the phone payments are carried out based on a very non-digital technology – payment cards. Essentially cards are protected by you needing to know a few numbers off the face of the card, and 3 additional security numbers on the back. If you aren’t the only one who knows those numbers, then you aren’t the only one limited to spending on that card.  Yes, there are many new security measures online, such as 3d secure and verified by blah, and yes, there are endless reams of PCI compliancy rules that businesses should follow. But at the end of the day, a bunch of numbers is hardly the easiest thing to secure.

 

The end of cards?

Cards have served us well for a long time now. But the cost of issuing a piece of plastic with some numbers on, isn’t cheap (on such a large scale). The costs of trying to protect those numbers for banks and mainly businesses are always on the increase, and this always results on businesses being charged more to accept a card based payment. What’s worse is, that when that card isn’t physically present, such as online or over the phone (especially when online sales are increasing) the poor old merchant is charged even more for the pleasure of accepting their customer’s payment.

What we must remember is that fraud doesn’t cost your issuing bank much at all. Rather it is the merchant who sold the goods that loses out financially, and they will lose out on the value of whatever they sold. For small businesses that’s quite a risk, especially when they branch out onto the web. I have known many small businesses to be stung like this, loosing thousands in revenue and of course lost product (a double hit for them).

Now we have a number of alternative payment systems and services starting to become available, some in the form of virtual currencies, mobile payments, different payment schemes and processes online (ala PayPal) and these are starting to become quite disruptive to the traditional card schemes and banking business. With alternative payment options growing in popularity, could this possible be the beginning of the end of the card? I say the beginning, as cards are heavily entrenched in our daily lives, and to date, only Starbucks IMHO has shown that consumers and businesses are starting to really make a choice when making a payment – and opting for something other than their card.

 

Digital payments for a digital age

I am a strong believer that when the technology landscape changes drastically, you need to embrace it fully. When cards were first becoming popular, there was no internet, no over the phone payments nor over the phone banking. But the internet is here, and cards haven’t changed at all. The infrastructure hasn’t changed, all that has changed is that software developers let us type in our card details so that the card can be identified. Not much evolution or embracing of the new digital age there.

Payment schemes need to be designed with their current landscape in mind, payments need to be designed for the digital world, which with mobile devices now blends seamlessly at times into the real world. This is what we have done at CloudZync. We have designed a payment scheme for the digital world that can be used online and out there in the real world, day to day via your personal mobile device.

For me, this is just the beginning of looking at how we transact, how commerce takes place, how customer relationships are forged in the real and digital worlds, and it’s an exciting time to be in this space. CloudZync is pushing the boundaries of what we expect from financial products, commerce, customer relationships and in terms of technology making our lives easier. Technology making my life easier and safer as a consumer, and the same applies to businesses. Technology making sales, transactions, experiences and relationships easier to manage and more profitable. To achieve these goals, we must always challenge what has gone before and that includes cards and banks…





The cost of taking our money

29 07 2013

As consumers we don’t really think about the costs involved with doing business, all we care about are the products or services we are looking for, and getting them at the lowest possible price. Oh, and to be fair, there is nothing wrong with that. All consumers know there are costs involved in running a business, but some costs, like a business paying to take our money, we often forget about…

This is something that even the EU is now trying to look into, proposing a cap on the “interchange fee” charged by your bank back to the merchant for taking your money from your debit / credit card. The problem here though, is that those fees will probably move elsewhere, meaning it will be pushed onto the consumer – more than likely in the form of us having to pay annually for the privilege of having a debit / credit card (something many EU banks already do).

So in this post I want to quickly look at costs businesses have to pay in order to take our money…

Someone has to pay, every time we use these

Someone has to pay, every time we use these

 

The average costs

When a business accepts debit / credit cards, they pay for being able to provide that option to us, the consumer. Now you may think that it’s a cost based purely on the transaction process itself, but you would be wrong. Typically, in order to take card payments, a business has to register for merchant services (SMEs and independents usually go through high street banks – though the actual merchant service is usually sub-contracted out). The business pays a monthly fee for this, and the cost of that will depend on the business, amount of transactions they process and their value. But many small businesses, start-ups etc pay around £30 per month per terminal. On top of that, there is a standard flat fee per transaction that goes through the machine, again this will vary in price. For debit cards though, a start-up maybe looking at loosing 20p per transaction, while credit cards may also have a fixed fee associated with them, but will include a fee based on a percentage value of the transaction value. To give you an idea here, this fee could be anything from 1% right up to 4% of the value of the transaction, again depends on your business, your provider etc etc.

Now these fees may seem small, but remember these fees per terminal are per month, and that every single transaction is subject to these fees. When you look at tight operating costs and small profit margins, you all of a sudden see why providing card facilities isn’t always an option for a business.

Here are some facts and figures. The average cost of a credit card transaction (remember average) to a business is 36.2p. This cost drops to 9.6p for debit cards, while handling cash is 1.5p. If you were to calculate your shop sold 100 items in a day – that would mean you have spent £36.20 in handling those transactions (if credit card). Now multiple that by 300 working days (just for simple maths) and you see you have £10,860 lost in credit card charges (not including the monthly fees). Now, for many SMEs, independents, start-ups, actually any business, this is a large chunk of money lost.  Obviously these are just some figures to illustrate my point, and that point is that actually, processing cards is not cheap.

So with these sorts of costs, is it any wonder that businesses want a cheaper alternative, and are actively looking for alternatives.

 

Will Mobile drive down costs?

Mobile payments are the most obvious alternative to typical card transactions. But there are 3 different form factors of mobile payments at the moment:

  1. Typical card processing, but using a mobile phone as a card terminal
  2. Using NFC technology for contactless payments
  3. Use real mobile payments, originating from mobile devices and no need for cards at all

 

So, option 1: Companies like Square, iZettle, Sumup etc provide a dongle that allows any business to turn their smart phone device into a device that allows them to process card transactions. This proposition brings down the monthly cost to the independent and SME business – they no longer need to pay for their merchant accounts with high street banks etc. But these solutions are still expensive for the merchant. Typical fees are at least 3.75% per transaction! That’s very high and ultimately expensive for the merchant. You must remember that these are still card transactions, so in our example earlier, the £30 per month fee may have been removed (saving the company £360 over the year), but their fees have gone up, so still looking at £10,000+ in card charges.

Option 2: Use contactless technology…Well you still need merchant accounts here, so you are still paying your £30 per month (if not more if your bank charges etc for NFC enabled technology). However, your card processing fees will drop a little – and this is because at the moment the interchange fees on an NFC transaction are lower than those associated with Chip and Pin transactions, signatures, and card not present. But this is making only a small dent in the overall fees paid, and again the merchant in our example is shelling out £10,000+

 

Option 3: Real mobile transactions offer real options to merchants. Since they aren’t dependent on card schemes such as VISA, MasterCard, there are less companies involved in the transaction handling process. This means savings can be made in every step of the process, and these savings are passed onto the merchant. Companies like CloudZync and their Zync Wallet product provide drastic savings to businesses. Take our merchant example, with CloudZync the merchant pays no monthly fees, and since they are processing 100 transactions per day, are simply charged 1p per transaction. That means their daily processing fee has dropped from £36.20, down to £1. So the business annual handling fee drops from in excess of £10,000, down to just £300 for the year.

 

Cost of business, and cost of not adding value

What we must remember with mobile though, is the potential here to add value to the merchant – consumer experience and relationship. While cards, cheque and cash provide payment methods, mobile has a lot more to give (just as it does with our emails, social connections, organisers etc). Mobile transactions can be the gateway to greater consumer merchant engagement, better shopping experiences and ultimately, provide a potential tool to ensure business growth.

So while this post really is focussed on the cost of doing business, and potentially doing business with mobile devices, we should also remember the cost of potentially not doing business with mobile devices….Can a business afford to not make processing savings and not increase customer engagement and retention? I don’t know any that can afford to miss out on both…





Windows Phone 8 Summit

21 06 2012

It’s been a big week for Microsoft, first on Monday its big surprise, the arrival of Surface tablets, Microsoft’s own branded tablet hardware running Windows 8 RT or Windows 8 Pro, and yesterday (Wednesday) Microsoft lifting the covers on Windows Phone 8.

What has amazed me is that for once, I didn’t feel let down by Microsoft presentation, nor the actual products they are delivering. For my look at Microsoft Surface read here.

Windows Phone 8

So what are the big things with Windows Phone 8, and why might Windows Phone finally grab some market share?

Windows Phone new start screen

Windows Phone 8 start screen (right) provides greater flexibility to the user, and delivers more info through live tiles on the start screen than before

Well it’s been broken down into 8 areas; however I won’t run through all of them just the big ones.  Firstly, new hardware. Microsoft is actually supporting smart phone hardware that all other smart phones have, so that’s dual core technology, greater screen resolution etc. What is testament to the Windows Phone OS is that it has been quicker than any other mobile phone OS while running on hardware that really doesn’t stack up. If you have paid attention to any of the “smoked by Windows Phone” campaigns, then you will see that on day to day tasks, things that really matter, the Windows Phone devices beat all comers easily. Impressive.

The second thing, and probably the most important, is that Windows Phone 8 is running off the same core code as the full version of Windows 8. Now that may not sound that impressive, but it actually is. That means Microsoft has delivered on its one OS across all devices. From a developers point of view it means writing drivers once, it means writing applications once and then following some simple steps to quickly port to Windows Phone. In addition, Windows Phone now supports native code, which will open up the device to many more games and apps, and make life easier for people to move a game from iOS to Windows Phone for example. We must remember that Microsoft has the largest developer network out there, and all of a sudden these developers can write code that works on any device. We must also remember that Windows Phone market place (app store) is growing at quite a good rate at the moment, nothing spectacular but not bad. In recent reports and surveys we see that many app developers have been holding off for Windows 8, knowing they would have greater cross over across all devices then, and knowing they will have better features to access. This move to the one OS for all devices, though technically very tricky (lets face it Microsoft is the only company actually daring to do this) may well be the right decision – I for one can see endless benefits which will no doubt help Windows the brand. Another benefit here is re-use of code from other Microsoft applications, a great example being IE10. It seems IE10 is a bit of a new thing, and its the same IE10 engine across all Windows 8 devices – including Windows Phone 8. For website developers that makes life soooo much easier, in addition to the end user, it means a mobile browser that delivers all the features of a full fledged browser. Microsoft have worked hard here to make it the quickest mobile browser available, and looking at like for like comparisons, it is now leading the way. (Just a shame many will just here IE and groan, I want Chrome or something without using it). I personally hated IE until the release of IE9. You can’t argue with IE9, its a great browser, and IE10 seems to be now the best out there…Mind you has taken Microsoft long enough on that front!

The third thing is maps. Now Apple with iOS 6 has made a massive break with Google maps, and though Apples own app looks stunning (as to be expected) when you actually start comparing with what they did have, I fear users may be let down. Apple maps simple don’t have the same level of detail as Google maps, nor does it support different forms of transportation (so only plans journey if I am driving) and it’s not as fast. This will be a concern for many iOS users (though I am sure many will say iOS maps are much better – and that will be based on an Apple blog which shows the improved graphics etc.) I would hedge my bets that many will update to iOS 6 and then go straight to the app store and search out Google Maps and Google drive. Anyone who has spent some time looking at mapping on mobile devices and drive navigation will know that Nokia here is a very long way ahead. Even Microsoft has admitted that its own Bing maps cannot compete, so what they have done is teamed up to deliver Nokia maps and Nokia drive across all Windows Phone 8 devices. Thats a big deal, it means Windows Phone will have by far the best mapping system possible on a mobile device, it also means with the new live tiles some added richness – such as your app learning your most common routes and your live tile telling you how long your journey home will be before you even leave!

Finally, the start screen. Metro has been highly successful and well received and many phone reviewers love the Windows Phone OS, its just a shame the public hasn’t really gotten to see it that much. That I feel is down to the historic name of Windows on a mobile and or the hardware used. I have heard many people say they wont buy a Nokia because they didnt like the Nokia they had 6 years ago….Thats not a good thing, but it does show that with some exposure and sales reps pushing the devices, there is room to increase sales drastically. Some may say Metro is too restrictive, but with the updated metro UI on Windows Phone 8, the user really can personalise their phone to a greater extent. That’s a good thing, and it means all the benefits of live tiles actually just got better. You can now see a host of information on your home screen set out how you want it. I know widgets provide some comparison to a live tile, however they are big and clunky. Live tiles in this new format have got better, with 3 different sizes allowing the live tile to show basic, medium, or highly detailed information.  See the above screen shot comparing Windows Phone 7 Metro start screen with Windows Phone 8. Remember you can configure those tiles however you want. I personally think the new home screen makes other OS home screens look rather dated and clunky. A sea of static icons is never good, no matter how much art work you put into them…

The competition

I’m not going to get carried away and say Windows Phone 8 is going to take the market by storm, simply because of the history involved with mobile, and the fact that at present, Windows Phone has around 2% market share in the US and about 4% everywhere else. That’s not good. The smart phone market is dominated by the iPhone and the multitude of Android devices, so gaining market share is going to be tough. But it seems many of the technical barriers have now gone. There will be more apps, apps that you love on iOS are already on their way, there will be more power in the hardware, greater capabilities and features you will come to expect from Windows 8 across all your devices that you simply won’t get with anyone else (be you an end user or a developer). But, and it’s a big but, users will need to know their fav apps are in the marketplace or they simply wont jump ship and move to Windows Phone. There are still apps missing re productivity, business and games that are real barriers to entry for people who have had their smart phone devices for a few years. Only once these apps are available will Windows Phone 8 be on a level playing field in the eye of the consumer.

However, on a positive note, with Windows 8 hitting PCs later this year, people will become accustom to the Metro UI, and though at first, I think many will feel intimidated by the change, I’m positive that the change will be for the better.  Once users get used to it, it makes sense they will look at Windows tablets, as the UI, the experience is the same…From tablets, we then move to mobile phones, and again, its the same UI, the same apps, the same experience. All of a sudden, life is a lot easier for the average consumer, to quote Apple “it just works”. I see this as the foundation from which Microsoft and its mobile partners can build upon and get some market traction. (As long as those key apps are there)

Business market

I must not forget that Windows Phone 8 also included a bunch of business functionality that no doubt will have the enterprise looking at Windows Phone devices. This functionality is mainly around security, but also the fact that the enterprise can get its own hub on the device, and deliver its own apps to the devices without having to go through the Windows Marketplace. That’s a big deal. Throw into the equation that it’s the same UI across all devices, that they can secure and manage all devices in the same way and Windows Phone is all of a sudden a great idea for business. Oh I didn’t mention full blown office, sharepoint or lync either.

Business may even see Windows Phone adoption as a way of getting users ready and used to the move to the Metro UI either in a Windows 8 update or more than likely, Windows 9 when it is released.

Focus

Finally I wanted to say that I’m glad Microsoft has focused on the things that its users want, and have pointed out. In the IT world the old 80-20 rule should apply to most things, and though you may not get all the functions you can get on the latest Android device or iOS 6, what you do get is 80% of those functions working a hell of a lot slicker. For almost all of the consumers out there, even that 80% of functionality is too much, with most of it never getting used.

What I found surprising this week after sitting through the iOS 6 launch and then the Windows Phone 8 launch, is how much of iOS 6 was about adding functionality that Windows Phone and Android already have, and focus on things that demo very very well, but in the real world are a little gimmicky or lack substance (though I often find this with Apple products). I have spent some time with the new Galaxy device, and what a bit of hardware and such a rich set of features. But, in doing 95% of my tasks that I use a phone for, it had me frustrated. What I would say to anyone is actually spend some time using the OSs available, find out the best ways to access facebook, twitter, news, stocks and shares, calender functions etc and then compare. Play with the devices as if you were using them on a daily basis before you judge any of the mobile operating systems available. Unfortunatly in the modern world, it seems too many people simply voice opinion not based on any form of facts. I find this frustrating, but also missleading to others. So my advice, use the operating systems for yourself before you judge any of them….I have, and though I find more on iOS and Android, I know I wont use those features. When I compare like for like with the features, apps etc that I use, I find my daily tasks etc are done better with Windows Phone.

I’m glad MS hasn’t gone into a feature race as such, rather it is focusing on what the majority of us use our mobile devices for, and made that experience better than its competitors. That’s typically an Apple trait, perhaps MS is out “Appleing” Apple….





Microsoft Surface arrives

19 06 2012

Monday June 18th was a weird day in the tech world, for once Microsoft managed to create a buzz and a stir regarding an announcement they were to make, yet no one knew what that would be. This felt more like an Apple announcement than anything we have come to expect from Microsoft – which is a good thing and lead to a lot of speculation.  I too joined in with that speculation, believing that Microsoft was to announce a 7” eReader device with new partners Barnes and Noble, how wrong could I have been…

Microsoft Surface Tablet, showing off its built in stand and magentic cover that doubles as a keyboard

Microsoft Surface Family

We now know that Microsoft has announced a family of tablets named Surface. For those of you who keep up to date with technology, you would already have heard of the Surface name from Microsoft, that particular product being a multi-touch enabled table device that was highly focused and sold to businesses. Now though Surface is the brand name for Microsoft’s own made tablet devices, meaning Microsoft has gone into the tablet market in a big way.

This is a bold move from Microsoft and quite a break from tradition. Typically Microsoft doesn’t do hardware, rather it lets its OEM partners build the hardware and Microsoft focuses on the software. However, in recent years it seems the hardware that runs Windows just doesn’t look as sexy as anything produced by Apple, none of the devices have that wow factor which can only harm sales. The latest ultimate laptops are starting to compete, but it has taken a long time for many of the OEMs to get with the game and start designing good looking, light weight hardware. I can’t help feeling that Microsoft has been forced into delivering its own hardware for the tablet market, simply because it cannot rely on OEMs to deliver hardware that looks as sexy as that produced by Apple.

Microsoft Surface Devices

Essentially Microsoft has shown us two tablets, one that runs Windows 8 RT on an ARM based processor tablet, and the other, running full blown Windows 8 pro on a tablet powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge processor. Here is some information on the specs:

  • A full-size USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio angled at 22 degrees.
  • 10.6-inch, 16:9 widescreen HD Display.
  • Integrated Kickstand: Built-in kickstand lets users move Surface from active use to passive consumption.
  • Touch Cover: 3 mm pressure-sensitive Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures will come in different colors.

    Microsoft Surface Magnetic Covers that are keyboards

Surface for Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT
  • Light(1): 676 g
  • Thin(2): 9.3 mm
  • Clear: 10.6″ ClearType HD Display
  • Energized: 31.5 W-h
  • Connected: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Office ‘15′ Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 32 GB, 64 GB

Surface for Windows 8 Professional

  • OS: Windows 8 Professional
  • Light(1): 903 g
  • Thin(2): 13.5 mm
  • Clear: 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD Display
  • Energized: 42 W-h
  • Connected: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 64 GB, 128 GB

    Microsoft Surface with its own stand

From the specs I would suggest that Microsoft is going after the business user and home users who like to do more / want to do more with tablet devices. I think this is a wise move as Apple devices still have a very long way to go to get real market share in the enterprise. For any business looking into tablet devices, Microsoft Surface has just made their choice a no brainer. Get Surface for Windows 8 professional and you get the best world of a fully blown ultimate laptop, combined with the flexibility, portability and battery life of a tablet – not to mention the capabilities to hook the device seamlessly into your network at work and run legacy applications if needs be. Why would any business opt for an iPad now?

With regards to home users, Microsoft has really only targeted those users who want a tablet in place of their laptop. Until now, the problem has been for many users (including myself) is that I would love the flexibility of a tablet device, yet I potentially want all the power a laptop provides, meaning I would need to purchase both. Microsoft Surface has changed that, and with the neat magnetic cover doubling as a real keyboard, Microsoft has basically removed my need for a netbook or laptop. For me, and I am sure many other users, Microsoft has moved us to a desktop and tablet only world with the laptop for some acting as a desktop.

OEMs

One of the reasons I personally didn’t think Microsoft would build their own tablets, was that of Microsoft’s relationships with OEMs such as Samsung, Asus etc. It does seem harsh that Microsoft now will actually compete against them in the tablet market, but after spending some time thinking about this move, Microsoft may actually be helping them.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe some of the OEMs will be a little annoyed at Microsoft Surface, however Microsoft is in a far better position to get marketing and the tech world reviewing Windows 8 by having their own hardware. In addition, Microsoft is actually setting the bar quite high in terms of design, and what consumers will now expect from a Windows 8 tablet device. Let’s look at Windows Phone as a comparison.

When Windows Phone launched there was quite some anticipation, however the devices launched by the OEMs (Samsung, HTC etc.) actually were not that attractive to look at. The hardware specs were not that great, and compared to some Android devices and the iPhone, the Windows Phone looked quite underpowered. What is the saving grace is the actual OS itself; however, many people base their phone purchase on how the device actually looks. Only now with Nokia Lumia devices are we seeing some aesthetically pleasing Windows Phone devices, and with that, a little more marketing and market traction. With Windows 8, Microsoft cannot wait for one of the OEMs to finally get their design act together, Windows 8 in many ways is already a big enough risk. Here with Microsoft Surface, Microsoft are showing OEMs what can be achieved, and almost saying “go out there and do better!”. That’s a good challenge to set, one I’m sure will lead to many more Windows 8 tablet devices turning up that a) look stunning and b) contain some real punch.

By Microsoft only announcing two higher end devices, I feel we can read that Microsoft is not wanting to be the biggest hardware player in the tablet market, rather they are showing the way for their OEMs.

Marketplace

One of the main concerns many may raise is the lack of apps available for Windows 8 at launch or the marketplace ecosystem. I personally don’t see this as a problem at all. We have already seen in the past couple of weeks numerous reports about how developers and software companies love developing for Windows phone, how simple it is and how important they feel developing for Windows 8 will be. Attracting developers is not a problem for Microsoft, so getting the “apps” available also won’t be a problem for Microsoft (Windows Phone now has over 100,000+ apps all of which will be available on Windows tablets).

We must also remember that the Windows Marketplace will also allow older software to be sold, which means that on a Windows 8 pro surface tablet, the user has access to any software ever written to run on Windows. They also have access to the complete windows market place for metro based apps too.

I know that Apple has a great ecosystem, but you cannot deny that the Microsoft ecosystem is its equal if not better.

Conclusion

Windows 8 is a big release for Microsoft, and it’s quite a gamble, so much so that I feel Microsoft couldn’t leave it to OEMs to deliver sexy tablet devices when Windows 8 launches. If the OEMs failed, then Windows 8 could possibly fail in this market place, something Microsoft obviously doesn’t want. By producing their own Microsoft Surface tablets, Microsoft has ensured the tablet market has some wonderful Windows 8 tablets available when the general public can finally start purchasing Windows 8 tablets. If anything, this reduces the risk associated with Windows 8 and tablets for Microsoft a little, and ups the potential profits for them at the same time.

Microsoft Surface also sends a message to OEMs, that they can build sexy devices that rival and beat the iPad in terms of design, and with Windows 8 they will have an OS that beats iOS in terms of user experience and productivity, not to mention flexibility in how the user works.

Android has been the OS of choice for most tablet makers, probably because there wasn’t a viable tablet option until Windows 8. Microsoft may have in one swoop confined Android to just the mobile phone world, which makes it quite isolated when we think of how users want to share content across all their devices. That isolation could really harm Android in the smart phone arena in the long run.

Microsoft has come to the tablet market with a bang (this time round) and has actually delivered something special…I for one never doubted them….





Windows 8 has got it right

14 03 2012

I have read a lot of great things about Windows 8 and a lot of negative things about it too. It seems that Windows 8 has polarized opinion across the media, and this really is shown on blogging sites such as ZDNet and Business Insider. I have noticed with Windows 8 that there are two types of bloggers, those that want to use it, feel it, see what’s actually new and think of it as a new piece of software at beta release (which it is), and those who simply are looking for any reason to say why it will fail and why Windows 8 is the next Vista, or why we should all use an iPad for business or something….What is weird, as yet, I haven’t read a blog that really skews its slant in a biased way towards windows 8 (must be the sign of the times).

So like many things in life, there is no point listening or reading so called journos on such matters (just as I rarely listen to film critics), you simply have to use it, and spend some time with it. So when the CP of Windows 8 was released at the end of February I thought it was time to install it on my work machine and see what it really is made of…

By the way, I am writing this on my Windows 8 machine, using Metro IE 10, which I have to say is the nicest browser experience I have used on any form of device, be that mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop…I really like it….

 

Windows 8 Start Screen

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen

 

Touch

OK, many blogs say Windows 8 is far too focused on touch, and it neglects the desktop and the good old days of mouse and keyboard. This may seem true, when you read the blogs and see some screen shots, but actually use it for a few days (in my case in a hard work environment) and you soon realise that actually, Metro works just as well with a mouse and keyboard. Sure it’s nicer with touch, but everything is nicer with touch, far more intuitive and even dare I say still novel.

What we must all remember is that touch is the future, and that includes the desktop and laptop worlds. Already we see many PCs with touch monitors, and if you have used them, you find their experience is better than standard PCs without it (even running Windows 7). By the start of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if most new PCs came with a touch screen option. Windows 8 is a new UI for the next 10 years for Microsoft, and touch has to be at the centre of it, like it or not. If you are one of those people who still want to use a mouse and keyboard, that’s fine too, but don’t knock an OS for supporting what will be the mass market shortly.

Clashing Metro and Desktop

Clashing user interfaces is something that is also being thrown at Windows 8 at lot, people claiming that its “jarring” moving from the metro world to the desktop. I really think this is looking for faults for the sake of looking for faults. I have 3 monitors and 2 of which are in desktop mode, the third Metro, and to be honest I don’t find the experience jarring at all. Sure they look and behave differently but so do many programs you run. Currently with any OS, you have a few windows open and the experience between those windows is just as “jarring” as there is no standard design for apps.

I really don’t find a clash, especially if you stop seeing them as different user interfaces, and see them for what they are. Metro home screen is the start button, just full screen. When you run multiple monitors it’s really nice having the metro side of things on a screen on its own, it works really well. I also have the option to ditch it and go full desktop. We have to realise that metro is start, and metro apps are immersive experiences, designed yes for touch and tablets, but work just as well on the desktop. The Maps App for example means I will never use Google maps or any maps in a browser again! It is a brilliant experience on a desktop machine.

When you run multiple monitors you find that probably on one of them you will have one window open to the full screen, typically for me this will be Outlook, and the other monitor may have VS 2010 open full screen and the third lots of multiple windows open, depending on what I am doing. So the concept of full screen apps in metro fits in nicely with multiple monitors I find. If on a single monitor, if you want to have two windows open at once, you can with Metro, nothing stops you, just that the apps run side by side (a feature many of us use in Windows 7 to snap windows side by side). Not many of us have multiple windows open so we are viewing them all the time, we have multiple windows open so we can work with them, but to actually view them no, we switch between windows. I think the alt tab is the most used key, and with Metro this doesn’t change, nothing is stopping you from opening many many apps…

 

Mystery in using the Metro UI

With anything new, comes new ways of doing things. Many have written that you have to “re-learn” the Metro world, and know where to hover your mouse etc. This is sort of true, sure you have new areas or zones where you hover your mouse and new things happen, but that is “added” to your windows experience, and if you can’t remember to move your mouse to one of four corners to activate something then you really won’t even remember why you are on the PC in the first place.

There are new things to learn, for example start button is gone, but metro home is start, you access “charms menu” by hovering the mouse in the bottom right, or top right hand corner of the screen, sure its new but now you know, it’s pretty easy to remember. If anything its very intuitive once you give it a chance. My Dad who is approaching his 70s is always scared of a new OS coming from Windows as he is still in XP mode, but after 10 mins with Windows 8 he was more than happy with it.

Once you get used to some of the new ways of doing things, you soon find that these are standardised across everything in Windows, which makes life so so so much simpler. Think about changing settings in your browser, or an app, often we end up looking through menus to find where they are (not always in the most obvious place). You then go to a different application and you want to change those settings and yeap, you spend ages looking for them in that app as they are not in the same place. With Windows 8 all that is gone, just go to the charms menu, and there they are, settings…No matter what app you are in.

Oh, and don’t forget, Metro is for all your devices, phone, tablet, laptop, desktop….

Lumia800

Nokia Lumia 800 showing its Windows Metro Interface. Metro across all your devices makes life simple

 

Default classic desktop

So you boot up and you are greeted with Metro, some saying they want to be greeted by the classic desktop and bypass metro, but I really don’t see why. Once in the desktop, what will you do, you will look to open an application. So why didn’t you simply open the application from the metro start screen? If it’s a desktop app, it fires and you are in desktop mode? Booting into desktop, and then clicking on start, then programs, then selecting your application of choice is far more time consuming than selecting it from the metro start screen. Plus, in desktop mode, do I have live tiles telling me information I may need?

 

Metro doesn’t work for everything

Ahh this is true, and this is the point of Windows 8 in some ways. You have one OS for all your devices, so just as typical Windows desktop apps don’t work well for mobile devices, certain metro design concepts won’t work for certain applications. I doubt there will be a VS 2012 in Metro, or a Photoshop metro app. You simply need the accuracy of a mouse, you need the text based menus with all your options, so traditional desktop interface works well.  With Windows 8 you get the best of both worlds, and more to the point the flexibility. I want to be able to do “everything” on my chosen device, and with Windows 8 I have that flexibility. It maybe that I have a metro version of outlook or mail open, but then need to work with Photoshop; I have the freedom within the OS to work as efficiently as possible in both environments. Can you say that with any other OS across any or should I say all of your devices?

I personally am glad metro doesn’t suit everything. If it did, think of those entire legacy apps people would be trying to re-write…They won’t will they, and the desktop works well for those apps, so why re-invent the wheel for something that isn’t broken.

 

Kinect Support missing

This made me laugh out loud; that someone has complained about this is mad! Windows 8 is a beta / consumer preview edition; it’s not a finished OS. Likewise do we have Kinect Support on all other operating systems…erm, no. I’m sure it will be there come the end of 2012, and in many ways you can argue it is there already. Since the desktop world supports legacy apps, it will no doubt support the current Kinect drivers, API etc available for Windows 7.

 

Live tiles ….

I think you either love these or hate the look of them. I personally love the practicality they bring. With my Metro start screen I see so much information without doing anything other than look at the screen. I have noticed I do the same with my Windows phone, no longer do I flit between multiple apps for quick updates, and I simple look at the screen and the various tiles. In many ways, Live tiles are great from productivity and making sure you are aware of what’s going on…

I think if you hate the look of them, you haven’t actually spent any time with them. If you have, the blocky nature makes things easy and clear to see, and the fact they are actually live, constantly moving and updating you with information is great. Many have said that they will look messy once you get different apps and graphics being used, I have to disagree, if anything the tiles look more vibrant. I think the tiles look more standardised, even with lots of different apps and graphics being shown than a sea of icons which I used to have (be that on my phone or desktop). Moving back to the old icon world really does feel like a step back in time now, and I think that will be many people’s thoughts once they spend a little time with Metro and live tiles.

 

Business adoption will be slow

This may be true, but not because Windows 8 is something they don’t like, rather because the Enterprise update in cycles, and this usually means an update ever 2 versions of Windows in recent years. Most companies went from Win 95 to Windows XP. I don’t recall anyone opting for Windows 98. On the server side we went NT 4 to 2000. Roll forward and enterprise moved from XP to Windows 7 and server side from 2000 to 2005/8. It’s not because the other versions of Windows were cra* rather the releases didn’t fit in with the Enterprises upgrade timescales. I think Windows 8 is being released so soon after 7 so that it does miss the Enterprise upgrade path on purpose. This means by the time Windows 9 is being released; everyone will be happy with the Metro concept and be very eager to move to Windows 9 in the enterprise.

Sure in the tablet scene, many businesses will opt for Windows 8 tablets, especially with support for legacy apps. I read in one blog though that because windows 8 on ARM won’t support these legacy apps that business will turn to the iPad….You see the sort of rubbish that gets written? Why would any business chose an iPad in such a case? The iPad also won’t run your legacy apps, so I think the business will opt for Windows tablets on Intel chips and sacrifice the added 2 hours of battery life (so that’s 10 down from 12 looking at the battery span of the Windows 8 Developers Preview tablet).

 

Gamble…

Is Windows 8 a gamble…Yes, but is it a massive one, no not really. If you hate metro, you will live in the desktop mode. If like me you like to move forward, and you are prepared to spend more than 5 minutes judging a book by its cover, then you will soon like Metro and everything it stands for, and that will include the Metro start screen and “apps” in Windows 8…

I think Microsoft have got it right with Windows 8, and we have seen some real innovation finally from a desktop OS.





BUILD and Windows 8…

19 09 2011

So last week saw Windows 8 developer preview being shown off at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and well, there was a lot to take in. BUILD was also showing off Windows Server 8 and a host of other Microsoft initiatives / solutions, including Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Azure. With all that being shown off, it was hard to keep up and understand what exactly Microsoft was telling us about their future products and services. Unfortunately, as with most things Microsoft does, this meant that there was a lot of “dodgy”, to put it politely, blogging and tweets being thrown around. Essentially many tweets and blog posts were simply wrong, or written by pure Microsoft haters, so the messages coming out from BUILD did get a little lost for some…

Anyway…Let’s have a look at Windows 8 and what it could mean to consumers and businesses…

Metro

Well this is the new interface style if you like, what Windows now looks like by default. Metro is something Microsoft has been pushing, but it’s essentially a design look and feel. Many people see this as
primarily just for tablets, but I disagree. I like the idea of switching on my PC to see the “live tiles” environment, allowing me to peer into applications without needing to open them. It’s a feature I like on the Windows Phone 7+ platform, and I personally think it works really well for the PC, laptop, tablet market. Metro applications also look and behave great, and I have no problem with moving away from “chrome” based windowed applications.

Windows 8 new Metro UI. It's Alive...

The “Metro” side of Windows 8 only supports “metro” style apps and HTML running in IE10 (currently no Silverlight or Flash in the Metro browser experience). Metro also provides a design methodlody for applications, and as such, a framework for developers to work within when delivering “apps”.

There are also “contracts” in place between applications, allowing them to share functionality via “charms”, such as the “search charm”. What does that mean, well it means you can search inside your app from the standard search dialogue. Even better, you can share content between apps using the “share” charm, so I am in one app, and I wish to share some content, I can click on the system charm and simply share it with another application. This provides a real slick feel to using the system, as if the Apps are part of Windows 8, as opposed to a single bit of software that simply runs on Windows 8. There is quite a difference there…Essentially metro and charms all adds to the user experience, and rich environment, Windows 8 aims to deliver.

Charms in action

Using "Charms" with touch screen keyboard to search within apps

Many though have stated, why ship Metro style for the PC if you are also supporting the more traditional “desktop” look and feel, which essentially is Windows 7 updated. There have even been calls for supplying metro only for tablets, and desktop view only for traditional laptops and desktops, a bit like Apple shipping iOS for tablets and full on Mac OS for Mac Books. Well to these people I simply say “you don’t get it”…

Flexibility, choice and function is what people want. If I own an iPad and I want to edit some pictures by using Photoshop, I can’t. That means switching over to my laptop, Mac book, PC whatever to do that work, not great if I am at the mother in-laws for example. So why not deliver a tablet that can allow me to do that work if I want? What’s wrong with having the flexibility and option there? Nothing…After all, I don’t have to go into the standard desktop if I don’t need to…

Native Desktop

The native desktop is still there, essentially it looks and feels like Windows 7, and there is nothing wrong with that. The native desktop is used to support more complex applications, applications such as Photoshop or Visual Studio, applications that need lots of tool bars, need to show lots of actions and functions to the user. There is nothing wrong with these types of applications, and not all applications could be designed the “metro” way (nor should they).

The native desktop is just that, it’s everything Windows 7 is right now, so all your legacy / business applications that have gone before will run fine on Windows 8.

 

Tablets, Laptops, Netbooks, PC’s, Phones…ARM, the lot…

One of the big things with Windows 8, and something Microsoft kept on pushing at BUILD, was that Windows 8 is for all devices, and that means all forms of hardware. So Windows 8 runs well on my fully blown development beast of a PC, yet it works just as well on a small wafer thin tablet running an ARM processor. This is actually great, it means I have a single experience across all my devices, while Microsoft needs only support a single platform.

Now, throw into the mix Microsoft’s investment into the cloud and Windows Live, and you start to see added benefits of this kind of thinking. You can have all your devices understand “state” between them, so understanding where I am in an xbox live game for example, or where I am in terms of a business process. That makes life a lot easier and flexible. Simple things such as changing my “Avatar” on my PC is replicated across all my devices, which is a great touch…

For quite sometime I have wanted a tablet that allows me to install everything I may ever need on it, so that includes development studios, it includes database administration suites, it includes photo editing software etc etc and I simply cannot do that with a tablet. So that means I lug around a great laptop just in case I need these things, yet I mainly use that to search the web, run some power point presentations, check email etc etc. With Windows 8, I can get my PC on a tablet, and use it as a tablet, until I need to use it properly, and in such an event, I can…

 

WinRT, .NET, WPF and Silverlight

Ok, now this is where many bloggers etc really annoyed me, especially those saying “Microsoft has killed .NET and Silverlight”. The essential truth is that many “components” that make up the .NET framework (and therefore the Silverlight framework) have been incorporated into WinRT (which is the metro side of Windows 8 libraries – if you like). Metro apps run either XAML or HTML 5 (note that if you are familiar with WPF and Silverlight that XAML is the front end of those technologies) but don’t run what we could term “native WPF or native Silverlight” applications. Metro apps “managed code” environment is either C++, VB, or C# (oh that’s just the same as WPF and Silverlight), and pretty much everything is the same. If you have an old Silverlight or WPF app,
you do need to make a few, and I do mean few changes, before it runs in the metro environment. I personally don’t see the big problem with this. Sure if you have a business application running on Silverlight, you now need to change it if you want to run it in the Metro world, however, you can always run it in the desktop environment…If you want to migrate, make the few changes and away you
go, and you now have a Metro application. Those changes are essentially a few include changes, and that’s it…

When you look at “Metro”, you see that it really is just an update to Silverlight / WPF, actually the whole of Windows 8 looks and feels like a Silverlight / WPF.

 

HTML 5 and scripting languages

HTML 5 is now supported along with Javascript in Visual Studio 2011, now I don’t think this shows any movement away from Microsoft technologies (such as XAML), rather it shows Microsoft’s aim of allowing as many developers as possible to develop great applications for Windows 8.

From some of the videos I have watched, I would suspect that using XAML is better for Metro applications (well delivering some of them), however, HTML 5 is going to do more than adequate job.

 

Windows Azure

There was a lot on Windows Azure, especially when we start looking at how Windows 8 synchronises between all your devices. Now I am not one who has shouted about the cloud from day 1, I have often spoken of some of the issues regarding compliance and many issues with the cloud. However, that being said, Microsoft uses Azure very very well with Windows 8. They have also gone through a lot of work of exposing may Azure interfaces to developers, allowing them to take advantage of the power of Azure across all devices. Great thinking…

I also liked a lot of things being done with Azure, and how Microsoft have really addressed compliance issues that do raise their head when we think of cloud computing. If I am honest, I think the stuff I have seen on Azure of late has me praising the concept of the cloud so much more. Though I feel that’s more aimed at “Azure” than cloud computing in general. I still have issues with IaaS and concepts of cloud applications running in my browser (I hate that, I want a real user experience, a real application, and guess what, with Metro or the desktop and Azure, I can get that very easily).

 

Developers, developers, developers

BUILD was all about developers, and that means putting them at the forefront of Windows 8, giving them the tools they choose to develop with and allowing them “sell” to potentially millions of customers. On that note, there was a lot made about the sheer number of devices out there that will be running Windows 8, and just how big that audience is for developers. I know that Apple has gained traction here; I know that Android has gained traction too, but at the end of the day, if you develop for Windows you have the biggest audience out there. And that is a fact…Throw into the mix Windows 8 capabilities on tablets and the deal with Nokia, and I think you see that Microsoft is working hard to get even more devices running their software.

 

Much more I have missed…

There was simply so much at BUILD that I can’t possibly start talking about all the things I am aware of, nor did I fancy writing multiple blogs on essentially a platform that is only at developer preview stage.  I didn’t touch on Windows Server 8, nor other features such as NFC enablement, but there you go. Go visit Channel 9 and watch the hundreds of hours on BUILD.

Essentially, Microsoft has been working very hard, it has taken on board the need for touch, and the fact that mobile and tablets are becoming must have devices, and as such, Microsoft should have Windows running on them.

I personally think Microsoft has done a great job with Windows 8 and Azure, and I can really see them taking Apple on head to head in markets where Apple currently dominates. Is this Microsoft getting back to their best? I think so…