Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

Blogging Windows 8 (and other bits of computational thinking)

Over on our ZDNet blog I've been doing a lot of thinking about Windows 8 (especially with the arrival of the Release Preview), and over the last couple of weeks have churned out a few thousand words on it in reviews and blog posts. Here's a few recent posts from over there. Click through and comment there please!

Going Hybrid: the old new form factor for Windows 8

It's just over a week since the Windows 8 Release Preview hit the download streams, and it's certainly been an interesting week for the Wintel ecosystem, with a whole raft of new form factors and devices announced at this year's Computex. Ultrabooks look here to stay (even if Apple has taken a patent out on the thin wedge form factor they all seem to be using), and this year's new trend is the hybrid PC/tablet.

Except of course it isn’t new. And neither are the form factors.

I'm actually writing this piece on a hybrid PC/tablet, running Windows 8. But it's not a prototype, and it's not something cutting edge I've been lent by Intel or Microsoft. It's just a plain old HP laptop, one I bought about two years ago. It's covered in stickers and held together with Sugru, the epitome of a journalist's battered travelling machine. It’s not even particularly hi-spec, just a 1280 by 800 screen with a Core i3 processor and Intel integrated graphics. The only difference between it and many of the other laptops sold back in 2010 was that I stuck with my habit of buying a Tablet PC, purely for pen support in OneNote. The fact that the screen was also a touchscreen was more an inconvenience than a bonus, and I quickly uninstalled all HP's bundled touch applications.

Now here I am two years later, and the once pristine screen is covered in fingerprints and smears. That touchscreen I'd ignored, or occasionally used to scroll through web pages has suddenly become part of my workflow. In fact there are now fingerprints of my other Windows 8 test machine, a plain old Toshiba laptop…
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Playing Cluedo

Sometimes being an IT journalist is like being a detective. You look for little pieces of evidence, and then start to put two and two together to come up with something that starts to make sense. You're sniffing out information in a blackout, trying to find out what's going to happen when no one is talking outside a corporate cone of silence. It's why the Apple blogs look at each new piece of spare part to leak from China to see what the new iPhone will look like, and why those of us who track Microsoft look carefully at every PowerPoint and every piece of marketing collateral that we see…

It's like playing Cluedo (Clue, for our American readers), as you lay out the cards you have collected tell the world your deductions. Take for example the still rumoured 7-inch Windows tablet: "It was the Windows Phone four screen size rumour, in the Nokia World presentation, with the tablet icon in the PowerPoint".

And now we have the invitations for the Windows Phone Summit to peruse, an event that's rumoured to be where Microsoft will be unveiling Windows Phone 8, codenamed "Apollo" and expected to be the place where Windows 8 and Windows Phone finally meet.
Read more.

Imagining re-imagining selling Windows

Windows 8 is, as Microsoft likes to say, re-imagining Windows. With the Release Preview out the door and the final straight now ahead of Redmond, it's time to throw a little wild speculation into the froth of Microsoft-watching, as we like to do every now and then chez Simon and Mary.

What if (and I hasten to add, this is a big what if, and not a rumour or any whiff anything from the expanses of the Pacific Northwet) that re-imagining is much more than a new desktop and a new way of developing Windows applications? What if, instead, it's also a fundamental change in the way Microsoft builds and deploys its flagship software, delivering it in a (dare I say it?) more Apple-like way?

We all know the drill. Every three years or so, a new version of Windows arrives. Sometimes it's quicker, sometimes it’s slower. But it keeps on coming, on and on and on, tick, tock, tick, tock. It’s a cadence that drives PC renewal cycles and powers an industry. But it’s also a drag on innovation, forcing a drive to the lowest common denominator of plastic PCs and low cost components. If Windows is changing, then why not use those changes to change the entire PC industry at the same time?
Read more.

More generally:

Maker in the UK

The other weekend we visited Maker Faire. It's a fascinating place, a modern science fair full of neat technologies, hand-built hacks, and every type of machine tool you can imagine. Hundreds of thousands of people thronged the midway, while mechanical giraffes and flaming dragons strolled by. It was a geek mecca.

What's most interesting about Maker Faire is the enabling technologies and the organisations . There's something about the democratisation of sophisticated tooling through places like TechShop that's liberating ideas and innovation in ways that we really couldn’t imagine. Instead of having to invest in tooling, engineers and designers are able to use the shared tooling to collaborate on prototypes for hardware – a process used by the designers of the Square credit card reader that was everywhere at the Faire.

Sign up for TechShop, and you get access to everything from sewing machines to laser cutters. It’s a time-shared machine shop, that offers machine tooling using the same utility model as cloud computing. You'll get training and support, as well as access to new tools as they arrive. Showing what could be done, GE, TechShop and Quirky had set up a workshop at Maker Faire where Quirky engineers and designers were collaborating with the wider Internet to design a better milk jug, opening up the design process to interested bystanders – as well as demonstrating the capabilities of modern computer controlled machine tooling.
Read more.

You are the computer

Way back when, computers were people. Problems were broken up into lots of little pieces, and shared across a room full of mathematicians armed with logarithmic tables, Napier's Bones, slide rules and the like. That way codes were analysed, paths plotted, and ballistic tables computed, ready to simplify the art of war. No one person knew the answer to the problem, they just had their little part of it, ready to deliver and add to the corpus that would become the final answer.

People still are computers, and the underlying concept carries across to ideas like Amazon's Mechanical Turk, where problems can be spread across many thousands of users, parallelising complex tasks. It's an approach that can help analyse air sea rescue photographs, or run art projects that simulate artificial intelligence. There's also something similar that happens when a problem goes viral across a social network. Names and addresses can be found as minor connections expand across the world, people identified, property returned.
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Software with everything

Back when I started my career in electronics and IT we used to say "Chips with everything". But those days are gone, and there's a new sheriff in town. Today it's "Software with everything".

Here's the thing: I bought a razor.

It's the best shave I've had in a long time: blades that stay sharp, an almost never-ending lubricant strip, and a handle that fits into my hand. Someone did a lot of work designing it, and it's become just part of the background of my life. Most of the day it sits on a shelf in a bathroom somewhere, only getting used on weekday mornings in the shower.

Here's the next thing: it turns out it’s a computer.
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IT security? You're doing it wrong!

Sometimes change is abrupt, sometimes it just sneaks up on you.

For quite some time I've been thinking about the impact of many different trends on the world of IT, as virtualisation and cloud combine with new devices and service-oriented application development to change the way we build and deliver applications. It's one of those megatrends that we can see pushing its way through the industry, leaving trails of service clouds in its wake. But while it's big and very very visible, it's not the biggest change facing IT departments across the world. That change is already here, and it’s one that's sneaked up on us, arriving from left field with little or no fanfare.

It all stems from that cloud trend, and from the other big elephant in the room – IT consumerisation. How do we manage devices we don't control, and in fact that we can’t control, in a world where information flows from device to device, from server to server, and between data centres and the cloud? It’s a complex world that is getting more and more complex every day, one where organisations are managing not just their hundreds and thousands of servers and desktops, but adding in tens of thousands of devices offering mobile computing and storage.

It’s a nightmare for traditional IT. Managing servers, desktops and applications just doesn't scale – and users don't take to IT departments applying the management techniques they've always used to their personal devices. Everything we know about it IT management has turned out to be wrong.
Read more.
Tags: writings, zdnet
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