A new Microsoft emerges

It’s the first time in a long time I’ve watched an entire tech keynote. The Apple keynotes have become formulaic and leaks online mean you can skip quickly through to the key moments or just bypass the video and head straight to the news sites. There are only so many times I can watch overhyped fans whoop and cheer at the same MacBook Air with a mildly different processor and an extra stick of RAM.

And yet was I alone in wishing that Microsoft had let a few enthusiastic members of the public into their January 21st event?

As I watched the public facing “dream team” of Terry Myerson, Joe Belfiore, and Phil Spencer, live demonstrate some really impressive developments in the world of Windows I felt that this time, at this event Microsoft truly deserved some whooping and cheering of their own.

Windows 10: The Next Chapter press event (day 2 of 2)

Now don’t get me wrong, Windows 10 isn’t a future shift in operating system technology, but it represents a new era in how Microsoft develop their behemoth OS, and even more importantly it looks promising, promisingly good even! New CEO Satya Nadella is refining a very clear vision of a Microsoft for the future decade and even the detractors have to admit that so far his vision seems bang on the money. Out goes the reliance on PC’s, instead it’s services for all platforms, Office on Android sir? Well certainly.

As an IT Director myself I can identify with the vision, I “get” it, I can see where Microsoft are going and it’s a hard push to argue with the logic. They still have the resource and clout to be the leader of cloud computing, taking back some of the ground snatched by Amazon and Google. Their offering in Windows Azure is proving popular with some pretty major global companies and the best part? If Windows 10 comes off as Satya Nadella seems to envision then it will be a gateway to these cloud services and Microsoft products will become a built-in part of peoples online lives like never before.

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Reassuringly they haven’t abandoned some of my favourite hardware either but rather they are refining it to a specific segment or purpose. Xbox firmly takes on the role of putting Windows in the home, Windows 10 this time, not it’s own minor version of the OS. The Lumia phones must continue their 3rd place fight in an Apple, Android dominated market whatever the profit or loss because they pin Windows 10 to your pocket. So you’ve got it at home, you’ve got it in your pocket, and thanks to early engagement with the enterprise and IT professionals you’ll most likely have it at work. Although it looks like Windows 10 might not be free for enterprise customers Microsoft are working hard to make it an attractive upgrade.

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I am fortunate to use a Microsoft Surface Pro as my primary device so I have become accustomed, even a fan of, Windows 8 (well actually Windows 8.1 Update because original Windows 8 was pants). So in some respects I find the new “Start” menu of Windows 10 a step backwards. But Microsoft understands that corporate customers haven’t got around to deploying tablets en mass and therefore are not going to migrate to Windows 8. If it wants to bring these customers along to the future of Windows it has to find a solution to please both camps, the corporate number crunchers and the consumer futurists. Now I’m fairly sure when 10 is released both camps will have complaints, and in adopting this approach Microsoft have already lined themselves up for a kicking. You can’t please everyone, we know that. But initial builds show that it might hit just the right spot to win the highest number of averages, in other words if it can please enough of a cross section in both camps it’s future will be safe and it’s services will grow.

I liked almost everything I saw, sure they could, and will, tweak a few things but overall this was an upbeat Microsoft, a winning Microsoft, a company that had re-thought it’s life and come back with new philosophy and belief. You can nitpick and Troll all you want but the Windows 10 interface is shaping up nicely to do what needs to be done in the new Microsoft world.

Win10_Windows_Cortana_PrintCortana, a favourite feature on my phone, looks set to get even better on Windows. True cross platform, seamless gaming through the Xbox App looks set to make the big “M”s console offering stronger than ever. And Surface Hub showed that although Microsoft is very much a “services” company from here on in it’s not going to abandon the creation of showcase hardware to highlight the very best use of it’s software. I hope this approach extends to the Surface Pro line which I love, and believe does showcase the best of hybrid devices.

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And then there was HoloLens, at this point I let out a little “Whoop!” right there in front of my screen. When the main company focus is so clear, so defined, the fact that they can still make something so truly ground breaking and spectacular, well it puts the Apple pocket watch in the shade!

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But HoloLens is a blog for another day, next up will be my real world impressions of Windows 10, for I type this live on Technical Preview Build 9926. Yes people my beloved Surface is living the beta testing dream!

Cortana in the UK – Developing for Windows Phone and installing Windows Phone Developer Preview

After my excitement last week testing the Windows Technical Preview (aka WIndows 10) it got me to thinking about my phone.

My chosen mobile device is a Nokia Lumia 920 which I’d updated to Lumia Cyan, otherwise known as Windows Phone 8.1. I’ve had the 920 for a little over a year having switched from an iPhone 4s at contract renewal. I am not an avid smart phone user, I have very little time for exploring Apps outside of the built-in and social media Apps you would expect. I had become bored with iOS’s flat, “blank faced” operating system, akin to a Windows desktop full of icons if you will. By contrast the live tiles and bright colours of Windows Phone I found new and exciting, appealing to my desire to be drawn to interact with my phone. I decided I could not reprogram myself to constantly pick up and play with my phone so a phone that tempted and teased me through interactive tiles to play with it, well lets just say I have no desire to go back to iPhone, even iPhone 6.

So I’m running Windows 10 on a laptop with its shiny new start button and I get to thinking about Windows Phone 8.1 and more importantly the features I know our cousins across the pond are enjoying that are currently still to be deployed in the UK and much of the rest of the world. If I can run a beta OS on my computer surely I’m game to do the same on my phone?

So I head to Microsoft’s Developer Site over at dev.windows.com. You’ll want to go to the “Develop” link at the top and then “Downloads”. On the downloads page you’ll want to scroll down to Windows Phone and then under the Windows Phone Preview text follow the “Find out more” link.

If you are not a hardened developer (and I’m not) then the easiest way to dabble in developing for your phone is to look into option 2, “Build Apps using App Studio”. App Studio is a high level “App Creator”, allowing you to create Apps with little or no knowledge of code. This may be something I will visit in a future post but for now we’re interested in the link “Start New Project” in the top right corner of the page.

You will need a Microsoft Account to proceed further but once signed in you are dropped into the App Studio creation page showing you various templates to get started with developing your first app. By all means delve in but for our purposes we need go no further, by simply triggering an App Studio account using our Microsoft Account we have enrolled ourselves as a developer. We can now click “OS Preview” at the top of the page and then go straight to step 3 “Download the App“.

At this point we need to switch to our phone (assuming you’ve come this far on a PC). ‘Preview For Developers’ is an App for your phone which once installed will ask you to sign in with your developer Microsoft Account. Sign in complete, you will be asked if and when you would like updates to be applied to your phone.

Developer Preview App

Word of Caution! At this point there is no going back. You cannot downgrade your phone from a developer preview version you can only stop future updates. If you decide you want to try the developer OS on your Windows Phone then once installed you are committed so be sure!

So there you have it, roughly half and hour of download and update time and your phone will be running the latest preview version of the OS. Say hello to Cortana, the Battery Saver App, and various settings tweaks.

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I have experienced no problems running build 8.10.14176.243 on my Lumia 920. I enjoy using Cortana, it’s a clever piece of AI programming and to my mind more personal than Siri. It’s worth mentioning that one of my other devices is an Apple iPad Mini running iOS 8.0.2 which I enjoy as a device and it helps keep me abreast of Apple’s iOS development.

You follow this article at your own risk, I am purely tempting you by showing the way. I accept no responsibility for anything that happens to your phone be it fools, mishaps, or regret. This is not an official article and you should refer to Microsoft’s own resources before proceeding.