A Microsoft Future

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

VidaBox Introduces LiivNAS : Dune Edition with Media Management and NAS Support

If you are not familiar with VidaBox, the company makes some of the best media center computers, extenders and servers in the business. Today the hardware maker announces its latest version of the LiivNAS — this one co-branded with Dune Player. “LiivNAS: Dune Edition is highly unique as the only archiving and storage solution with official external/NAS storage device support, plus integration with popular control systems,” states Steven Cheung, President of VidaBox.

The new LiivNAS is intended to streamline library creation. The LiivNAS: Dune Edition features a Blu-ray/DVD/CD drive, internal 500GB hard disk drive and expandable storage capacity with USB or NAS external hard disk drives. It is also energy efficient, using as little as 15-25 watts of energy during peak usage, which allows for an always on instant response user experience.

liivnas

The box also promises lossless video recording of DVD and Blu-ray discs with no compression, and automatic meta-tagging of both music and movies.

All of this functionality does not come cheap — the LiivNAS: Dune Edition is on sale by Dune Player for a price of $1,699.95. You can visit VidaBox to check out their other products, but be prepared for sticker shock.

Twonky Mobile Server

It’s always fun when technology intersects, and it becomes possible to do something cool that was previously not possible and/or was never thought of.

Such is the case with my Sprint HTC Evo smartphone. Sure, it’s a pocket computer. Sure, it has WiFi. As such, sure, it’s a network device with a potential node on my home network.

Rewind. What was that last bit again? My phone is a network device with a potential node on my home network. Let’s see – what can I do with network devices – share resources, share drives and therefore share files.

Enter the free Twonky Server Mobile for Android. Twonky Server Mobile is a free piece of software available in the Android Marketplace that shares audio, video and photos from the phone to UPnP and DLNA certified receiving devices on a home network. This includes software such as Boxee and UBMC among others.

I had a copied a number of videos to my Evo’s 8 media card so I’d have them available to watch if and when I had time. Hummm – with the Evo’s WiFi turned on and connected to my home network, if I ran the Twonky Server Mobile software, would I be able to see Twonky Mobile Server as an available network share with my Western Digital TV Live Plus boxes? If so, how would it work?

I’m happy to report that the free Twonky Mobile Server for Android works flawlessly. Simply start the app and there’s nothing else to do on the phone. Twonky Mobile Server shows up as an available server on the network, and the audio, videos and photos show up and play with UPnP and DLNA certified receiving devices such as WD TV Live Plus boxes.

Twonky also offers a small array of inexpensive server software products that make it possible to easily share audio, video and photo media from your Windows or Mac computer via UPnP and DLNA to certified devices such as Playstation 3, many digital photo frames, many Blu-ray players, and other devices and softwares.

Knoppix Linux: 30 Minutes to Being Free of Windows

I upgraded one of my network file servers, yesterday. I replaced a hard disk that was setting off occasional error notices, and, while while I was at it, I replaced the current operating system (Mandrake Community 10.1) with Knoppix 3.7. Knoppix is the Linux distribution that I use in class to demonstrate how simple Linux is to use, because Knoppix is a fully-functional operating system with common applications that can boot from a single CD. So, with the bootable CD, I can quickly convert any computer to Linux without the risk of deleting any existing files from the Windows operating system.

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