Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Microsoft Continuum: dreaming of the future of computing

Almost ten years ago I sat with a friend and I explained to her what I thought would be the future of computing. This is what I described. You would have a device you would carry with you at all times your "phone". I actual prefer the old term MID(mobile internet device) but that ship has sailed. Far more than just making calls this device would be always connected to the internet. It would also be powerful enough both processor wise and memory wise to do almost everything a normal person does on a laptop. When you arrive home it automatically connects to your home network of devices. You sit on the coach and pull out a wireless keyboard. Hit a button and your phone projects a desktop screen onto your tv. Or perhaps there is a smaller photo frame type screen next to your couch and it displays there. Your phone would adapt its interface to whatever input and output devices you connect to it.

This was not some unique insight on my part. Many people have pursued this same concept. A few years ago, Motorola had a cell phone that you could buy a laptop like dock to use the phone as a laptop. It barely worked and was horrible but it showed people were looking at the sort of convergence I mentioned above. Apple has taken some steps in that direction with continuity. Just recently at their Build conference Microsoft announced something that seems really intriguing. With Continuum, Microsoft is moving computing in a direction that could make my dream a reality in only a few short years.  I'll let Microsoft's Joe Belfiore explain it for you.

The I don't watch videos version:  an app on your phone will automatically adjust to a bigger screen or a connected mouse. keyboard etc.

I was so excited about Microsoft's adaptive UX development kit and now I see its full potential.  You will be able to write an  app for the phone that can adjust its interface to any screen size or input devices.

The future is now. I just need my faster than light travel.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Talking Microsoft Edge and Vivaldi: is there space in the market for new browsers

I have been running the Windows 10 technical Preview for a few months on my slow old netbook.  They have been including early looks at their new browser originally called Spartan now officially known as Edge. I've also downloaded and spent some time with Vivaldi a new browser from some of the original people who worked on Opera.

Project Spartan toolbar

Is there room in the browser space for new players?

Throughout the history of the web there has been great fluidity in the browser world. Netscape ruled the early world of the web. Then Internet explorer conquered all. At one point in the early 2000s IE had 95% market share.  You could have looked at that and just assumed it was over and the browser for all time had been found. But as we know, that is not what happened. Along came Firefox and then IE's market share fell and fell.  Firefox stood tall until Chrome came and started chipping away at Firefox.  Current statistics show a somewhat diverse landscape. Chrome is dominant at around 50% market share with the rest largely split between IE and Firefox. Though the smaller plays such as Safari still have their niches. What we learn is that people don't stay with the default. Many normal people will actively choose and download a new browser. Even my Mom downloaded Firefox.

Why is the browser space so volatile?

Most software areas tend to stagnate around one or a few dominant players with only an occasional tectonic shift. The browser space seems particularly unique and fluid. The early browser war  between Netscape and IE revolved around two main battlegrounds. First off, IE was provided as default on windows computers. I don't think this is the major reason that IE became dominant. The two browsers fought over who could bring the best unique powers to the browser. They didn't really care a whole lot about the standards.  Netscape came out first with javascript and IE introduced Active X.  IE won because it provided an easier platform for doing interesting things. Active X was a security nightmare but it gave a lot of power to developers.  As a web developer in the early 2000s It was easier to do interesting and dynamic things on IE. Thus it's dominance. Then things started to shift to Firefox.  Firefox offered tabbed browsing and then add-ons that allowed a lot of customization.  It also worked a lot faster and was more secure than IE. Then Chrome came along and and it was even faster than Firefox and offered great tools for web developers.

What will it take to succeed in the browser space?

The next successful browser will not win because of unique features.  With add-ons and extensions almost any feature can be added to any browser. Vivaldi is trying to push forward with excellent tab management for using a huge number of tabs, but this can be added to other browsers.  Edge touts its annotation features and minimalist design, but, once again, these can be added to other browsers. I believe three things will describe the next dominant browser. It will defined by speed. It will load pages quickly, do javascript quickly, and show videos quickly. Efficiency will be paramount. Chrome has earned a reputation as a memory hog.  The next browser winner will need to use as little memory and CPU as possible. This should be solvable, but both Firefox and Chrome eat memory. It will need to be easily extensible and theme-able. Whatever browser provides these will become dominant. Maybe it will be a future version of an existing browser or maybe it will come from somebody new.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

No, Silly Pundits, Google+ is not dead

Since the service's inception, declaring the imminent demise of Google+ has been a regular main stay of the lazy tech pundits. Steve Denning of Forbes went a step further recently and declared Google+ not dying but already dead. I call this sort of tech punditry lazy because it is a very easy way to get a lot of views and comments.  Google+ has a number of devoted followers that will rush off and defend it when it's threatened. Denning doubled down with a followup article about how he was really right and Google+ is dead. 

I'm not going to go through these articles point by point and rip them apart, others have done a good job doing that. The TL:DR version is that his claim is based on a secret report we can't see that isn't even about Google+ users and the fact that some other tech outlets have written click bait stories.  

I've noticed a common denominator for people who declare Google+ either dead or a graveyard. Whether the person is an actual tech journalist or just a standard person, they all have spent very little time on Google+. "I went on Google+ once and there was nothing going on." "Well who did you circle?  What communities did you join?"  "What now with the circle communities huh?" 

That guy who wrote those two google+ is dead articles, joined, posted twice and that was it. He then declared it dead. You want to know what social media site is a graveyard to me? Facebook. My Facebook stream, dash, whatever, gets about on average twenty posts a day. Most are fairly useless and stupid. No I will not take a quiz to figure out which Frozen character I am. Because of the people I've circled and the communities I have joined, I see about twenty posts an hour on google+.  A good four or five of the posts are even interesting.  On top of that google+ lets me tweak how much of the content from my communities and circles show up in my stream. You post three quizzes about what sort of plywood I am and I'll stick you in a circle I call purgatory where I will never hear from you again. 

From a corporate brand perspective Google+ has not been much of a success. In the early day, some brands made noise about going into Google+. They then posted three times and gave up.  A few brands have put some time into it and have seen some success on Google+.  Some individuals have had success at developing "personal brands". There are Google+ celebrities. 

There is an ever present threat looming over those of us you really like Google+.  Google has achieved an infamous reputation for shutting down things it no longer deems important to its business.  They don't care how many people love it and are still using it: see google reader. A good argument can be made for Google shutting Google+ down. Google+ failed to achieve their original goal. It seems clear they hoped to field a direct challenger to Facebook with the hope that some large number of the already two billion people who regularly use Google products becoming engaged with Google+. This can be seen in the many attempts to force it on other Google users.  I don't think they will shut Google+ down anytime soon. They claim continued growth. Yes maybe some secret report that nobody can see without paying money says they are losing 98% of active people year over year.  Which if you think about it makes no sense. There would only be one person talking to a squirrel left if that were the case. Even if Google+ is only at three to six million heavily active that is a lot of posts to suck in. Remember Google is all about taking in as much information from the internet as it can.

If you want a much better defense of Google+ check out Mike Elgan. He's a tech pundit but he's ok in my book because he agrees with me. That sentence is self deprecating sarcasm for those who didn't get it.