Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

September 2013 - Posts

  • The Case of the Missing GDR2

    UPDATE: Here is proof that the first version was not going according to plan: New GDR2 builds started hitting NaviFirm today.

    Richard Hay over at Windows Observer has an excellent breakdown of the progress of the GDR2 rollout, which presently stands at 60% worldwide. I'm going to build on this information and offer my own view on what has happened.

    I've seen the build in action on my wife's Lumia 1020, and was lusting over Nokia Pro Cam. For a while, I had complained about not getting the update, so I decided to flash the AT&T Canada developer ROM on my Lumia 920.

    Now, it is important to understand that this build is already months old. Microsoft had to deliver this build earlier in the summer in order for Nokia to be able to deliver the Lumia 1020 on time. So Microsoft is already well beyond this version in the development process. In fact, they may have already wrapped on GDR3, as it has features that are required for Nokia's next major launch next month. The 1080p phablets due on Verizon and AT&T all run GDR3 and the Nokia firmware update called "Bittersweet Shimmer" (aka Orange).

    Now, during the time my wife has owned this phone, I've noticed some issues she's had to deal with, like apps freezing in their tracks. My friend Robert Shubet (who also developed Hashtastic) had problems with his "Me Tile" updating consistently. And I had two separate bugs on the Lumia 920 that resulted in serious OS malfunctions while debugging applications.

    This says to me that the build is buggy, and that Windows Phone is suffering from the lack of a beta program. So while the update has rolled out over half the planet, my theory is that AT&T and others will not roll out GDR2 if they don't have to, because it will cause more support issues than it will solve. Matthew Crommert is correct, Nokia, AT&T, and others will skip this release and pretend it never happened, just like they did with the Windows Phone 8 Beta program.


    The Beta program that was promised but never delivered. Image from Latiff Cherono.

    GDR3 is right around the corner. My theory is that AT&T will roll it out at the same time the Lumia "1520" (I say it in quotes because I don't believe that will be the number) goes on sale in November. I personally would rather see Microsoft put their effort into making sure the GDR3 release is smooth and *early* than have them try to fix what was botched months ago.

    As nice as it would be to be able to blame AT&T, they are clearly not the only ones making this decision. The fault for this, IMHO, lies squarely at the feet of Microsoft. Every time Microsoft pushes out a Windows Phone release, from the very beginning, have had irritating regressions. That is mostly because of the (frankly) bull$h!t decisions around secrecy. Microsoft thinks Windows Phone 7 suffered because it was so open, but that's not the case. They suffered because it took for-freakin-ever to release WP7, and then WP8.

    You would think Microsoft would have gotten their sh!t together after losing several rounds of the Smartphone wars, but sadly I don't believe that is the case. Hopefully with the Nokia purchase, they will finally fix this crap and stop shooting themselves in the extremities. Like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there are only so many limbs to cut off until you are left to die by the side of the road.

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  • Microsoft is Running Apple's Playbook with Next-Gen Surfaces

    It has been a long time since Apple released the iPhone, so it's easy to forget the game Apple has played with the high-end device market. When the iPhone first came out, it was ridiculously expensive. This led to Steve Ballmer's infamous quote that it was too expensive, and no one would ever buy it. To a certain degree, that was actually true. Apple only sold 6 million 1st generation iPhones over 5 quarters. These are the kinds of sales that Windows Phone 7 had in its first year or two, but for some reason everyone complains about it having "no market share". But that's another blog post for another time.

    Then, something amazing happened. The iPhone 2 launched in the 6th quarter of availablility, and in that one quarter, they had more sales than the entire 5 quarters combined. Essentially, everyone that had ever bought an iPhone 1 upgraded immediately. From there, sales increased significantly. As the iPhone got more and more customers, the notion of paying so much for a premium product became easier to stomach, for one simple reason: Every year, the previous generation got a price drop, while the new one stayed the same price. This was initially a brilliant strategy on their part, because very year the value for the price increased substantially in a way that was readily apparent. That has been a tough act to follow lately for Apple, even though that hasn't appeared to affect sales.

    Taken in the context of Surface vs Surface 2, this is readily apparent. USB3 instead of USB2. 72 graphics cores instead of 12. 1080p screen instead of 720p. 4x the processing power. All for the same price you paid (or would have paid) before. That's why Microsoft dropped the price a few months before launch: in anticipation of units coming out at the same price (which actually turned out to be $50 cheaper), Microsoft dropped the price of the Surface RT by $150 and saw a significant uptick in sales.

    For $449, there is HUGE value in the Surface 2, ESPECIALLY running Windows RT 8.1. Same for the $899 Surface Pro, but not quite to the same extent due to the more marginal improvements.

    So, you might complain that the prices are high, but high prices = higher margins = more room for sales + more revenue to further innovate. Price it lower and you get, the same crap the PC market has been doing for the last decade. The Surface does not need a race to the bottom. That market is already covered.

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  • Upgrading Your Surface RT to Windows RT 8.1 RTM

    UPDATE: If you read the comments, someone posted a torrent of the Windows RT 8.1 ISO with the Surface drivers already inlines. Check the comments for the Magnet link, and skip steps 2, 3, and 14.

    I upgraded my Surface RT to Windows RT 8.1 RTM tonight. It's not as easy as a regular Windows 8.1 upgrade, and it has some risk associated with it. You could definitely brick your Surface if you do not do this properly. I am not responsible for bricked devices.

    That said, here's how I did it: NOTE: You will need to use a separate Windows 8 / 8.1 / Windows Server 2012 / R2 system to do some of this work on, in addition to your Surface. There will be some work required in order to integrate the drivers and grab your Product Key.

    ALSO NOTE: None of this is illegal because you will use your existing and legitimate Windows RT 8.0 Product Key to activate your copy of Windows. The key I provide for installation is just to get you through the install process. It *will not* activate.

    Step 1 (Work machine): Download the RTM package from BitTorrent. Here is the MAGNET link. I've been downloading WZOR ISOs for almost a decade. They are always legit and never messed-with. You can trust them. NOTE: The Surface drivers the post mentions are already in the torrent.

    Step 2 (Work machine): Extract the Surface Drivers to an easily-accessible folder.

    Step 3 (Work machine): Create a folder on your C drive called "test".

    Step 4 (Work machine): Double-click the ISO from the torrent to mount it to your system.

    Step 5 (Surface): Clean a 4 GB or larger USB key, and plug it into your Surface.

    Step 6 (Surface): Hit the Start button, type "regedit", and hit Enter.

    Step 7 (Surface): Navigate to HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion. Then go to File | Export. Type the name "registration" in the file name box, and save it to your Documents folder.

    Step 8 (Surface): The only keys you need are "DigitalProductId" and "DigitalProductId4". Select those in the text editor, then hit Ctrl+X. Hit Enter after the 3rd line at the top of the file, then hit Ctrl+V to paste the keys. Then, select everything from the top of the file to the end of the "DigitalProductId4" key, then hit Ctrl+x again. Then hit Ctrl+A to select all, and hit Ctrl+V again to paste only what we need. Trust me, this method saves several minutes of scrolling to delete the rest of the exported data.

    Step 9 (Surface): Copy the file to your USB stick and plug it into your Work machine.

    Step 10 (Work machine): Repeat steps 6 through 8. This creates a backup of yoru regular product key so your "work" machine registration stays intact.

    Step 11 (Work machine): Double-click the registration.reg file on the USB key to import your Surface RT product key onto your work machine.

    Step 12 (Work machine): Download Ultimate PID Checker, extract the RAR file, and run the application. In the screenshot in the link, you'll see a Windows icon button next to the "Go" button. Click it, and take down the Installation Key. You'll need that later to legitimately activate your copy of Windows RT 8.1.

    Step 13 (Work machine): Copy the files from the mounted ISO to the USB stick.

    Step 14 (Work machine): Inline the Surface drivers with both the boot.win and install.wim files by executing the following commands, one at a time. Substitute X for the drive letter of your USB stick, and [DRIVERSPATH] with the path you extracted the Surface RT 8.1 drivers to, when necessary. NOTE: Put quotes around "[DRIVERSPATH]" as the extracted path has spaces in it.
         - Dism /Mount-Image /ImageFile:X:\sources\boot.wim /Index:2 /MountDir:C:\test\
         - Dism /Image:C:\test\ /Add-Driver /Driver:"[DRIVERSPATH]"
         - Dism /Unmount-Image /MountDir:C:\test\ /Commit
         - Dism /Mount-Image /ImageFile:X:\sources\install.wim /Index:1 /MountDir:C:\test\
         - Dism /Image:C:\test\ /Add-Driver /Driver:"[DRIVERSPATH]"
         - Dism /Unmount-Image /MountDir:C:\test\ /Commit

    Step 15 (Surface): Remove the USB stick from your Work machine and plug it into the surface. Navigate to the drive and double click the setup file.

    Step 16 (Surface): When it prompts you to download updates for Setup, SKIP THIS PART. Failure to do so will not let you use the key for the next step.

    Step 17 (Surface): Enter the following Product Key: NK2V7-9DWXG-KMTWQ-K9H9M-6VHPJ

    Step 18 (Surface): Select "Keep my personal files". If you are on the 8.1 Preview, this will also keep most (if not all) of your settings.

    Step 19 (Surface): Complete the installation. It will take about 30 minutes, with at least 6 reboots.

    Step 20 (Surface): Select "Customize" for the installation settings. It will walk you through your options, then let you log in under your main account and re-download your settings.

    Step 21 (Surface): Hit WinKey + C, select "Settings", then "PC Settings" at the bottom. Then select "Activate Windows". In the space provided, type in the Product Key from Ultimate PID Checker. After 30-90 seconds, your copy should be activated.

    Step 22 (Work machine): Navigate to your documents folder, and double click "registration.reg" to return your registry settings back to its previous state.

    Step 23 (Work machine-optional): Close and re-open Ultimate PID Checker, hit the Windows Key again, and verify that your Windows Key does not say "Windows CoreARM".

    Step 24: Enjoy Windows RT 8.1 RTM on your Surface RT.

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  • In One Swoop Microsoft Purchases a New OS, Apple Dominance

    Most of the tech press has it's anti-Microsoft bias so embedded into their souls, that they can't even recognize a good Microsoft play when they see it. And they have this deeply held notion that, because they are important and they live in the US, that their markets are the most important markets in the world.

    But they are wrong, and this Nokia acquisition is case-in-point.

    As I mentioned in my blog post yesterday, Nokia is the #2 handset maker in the world, second only to Samsung. Samsung is #1 because Asia is a huge market, and Asians love Asian brands (it's a patriotism thing, nothing wrong with that). But Nokia is right behind them, selling millions of feature phones to developing nations every quarter.

    So far, Nokia and Samsung (plus a handfull of regional makers) are the only ones with the clout to really make any serious plays for the "next billion" smartphone users. Nokia is one of the most recognized brands throughout the Eastern and Southern Hemispheres, and is deeply entrenched in areas like mobile payments, operator billing, and phone experiences that bridge the divide between smart and dumb phones. There was a time not that long ago, when almost any cell phone sold in the US was either from Nokia or Motorola. Google bought one; now Microsoft has the other.

    Apple has no such hold over the developing market. In a few days, you'll see Apple make it's first play into the "developing world" market with the iPhone 5C, which (no joke), stands for iPhone 5 Cheap. This is because Apple knows that it has already stripped its potential customer base dry, and is losing ground to Google consistently quarter after quarter. Sure, they get a bump every time a new version of the iPhone comes out, but then it's right back to losing ground. So they are just starting their push into the area of cheap handsets. But here, they will ultimately fail.

    You see, Steve Jobs was an @sshole. He really was, you've read his biography. Most perfectionists are assholes. It's OK if you love someone who is an @sshole, just be honest with yourself about it. I'm both perfectionist and @sshole, and my wife loves me, so I'm all for it. The thing is, perfection doesn't come on the cheap. This is why Apple has always been a "luxury" brand. Because nice things that are made well are almost always expensive.

    Every time Apple tries to do cheap, it fails. You could argue: "well, the iPod Nano is cheap", but it's not a standalone device. It requires a computter with iTunes to work, which is expensive, so that's not gonna fly in Africa. People forget that Apple was weeks away from total bankruptcy when Steve Jobs came back and borrowed a hundred million or so from Bill Gates. Now, Apple has come full circle, is without it's Chief of Perfection, and is moving back into the world of cheap. History will repeat itself again. What about Apple's current position makes you think they will be successful selling cheap stuff? Because they have a lot of money to burn?

    UPDATE: Apple investigating worker-abuse charges at iPhone C supplier. Winners don't treat their workers this way.

    Nokia, on the other hand, has a history that is several decades long of building quality, inexpensive phones. Its prior playes into smartphones, (like the N9 and the 808) never did very well before. Windows Phone is by far their most successful play into smartphones to date. But Nokia was extremely successful at the other end of the spectrum, and the Nokia acquisition brings the next billion smartphone users to Microsoft's doorstep on a silver platter.

    As Nokia posted earlier today, Microsoft will continue evolving the Asha OS as their primary on-ramp to Windows-based smartphones in the developing world. They will bring more Microsoft services, like Xbox and Skydrive, to that platform. Along with the patents and manufacturing contracts, Microsoft now owns one of the most extensive set of mobile operator agreements on the planet. That means that Microsoft is now a huge player in NFC payments, and has the clout to push that infrastructure ahead in the US, where we are far behind.

    Before, Microsoft had to bend to the will of the carriers when it came to updates, and didn't have the same clout as Apple. Now, Microsoft will be able to bully cell carriers into pushing out updates faster, so flacgship carriers won't drag their heels on updates (like AT&T and the Lumia 920).

    And in the biggest coup for the company, Microsoft out-foxed Tim Cook's supply-chain expertise, by purchasing one of the most efficient production organizations on the planet. Now, when dealing with parts contracts from Asian, Apple will have to compete against Microsoft at every turn, instead of the other way around.

    Apple was right, it is better to own the entire ecosystem. But Microsoft has *always* out-executed Apple in the end. Google out-Microsofted Microsoft with the Android platform. Now Microsoft just out-Appled Apple, and Google has a new problem in their rear-view mirror.

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  • Thoughts on Microsoft's Acquisition of Nokia

    Filed under: , ,

    So, wow, right? I heard the same rumors you did, but I honestly didn't think it would happen. My thought process initially thought it was a bad idea for Microsoft, as Nokia has driven Windows Phone innovation externally, and provided the kick in the butt that the lagging OS division needs. But I hasn't been thinking of the bigger picture. Well, after hearing of the transaction last night, and reviewing the materials today, not only do I think it's a good idea, but I think there are a number of details that journalists are missing. So I thought I'd take a few minutes and lay them out.

    Microsoft just re-imagined how it recognizes revenue for the Devices division
    This may be the singular most important part of the transaction that no one is talking about. In keeping all of the existing facilities, Microsoft now has a significant footprint for Devices in a tax-friendly European country, giving Microsoft a legitimate way to recognize more than $1B a quarter through a new European subsidiary. This avoids the massive tax increases that have been and are continuing to take effect in the US for a growing revenue base of Android and Windows Phone revenue. Depending on how the operation is structured, they might even be able to recognixe Xbox and Surface revenue though this subsidiary. This could be a massive win for the company on a tax front, while obviously being a great loss for the US Government. Heather Timmons has more on the tax implications.

    Microsoft significantly increased it's manufacturing capabilities
    Microsoft sells a lot of hardware already. Between keyboards and mice, Xbox, and Surface, Microsoft has significant need for production facilities. It typically outsources practically all of those functions, but now it just bought a global, functioning manufacturing division. Microsoft now owns Nokia's worldwide production facilities, including contracts with all of Nokia's suppliers. This will have a significant impact on Xbox and Surface, from allowing Microsoft to buy similar parts at lower prices, to expanding these facilities to manufacture and/or assemble Microsoft's other products in-house. The impact of that on Microsoft should not be underestimated. Nokia was already manufactuting a very strong Windows tablet competitor for launch in the next 60 days. That device, and others like it, will likely still launch, but they might not see future iterations as that design experience is integrated with the Surface team. Oh, and the Lumia 41MP camera in the Kinect? YES PLEASE.

    UPDATE: Now, some people are writing stories that Nokia made this sale so they could sell Android phones in 2016 when the agreement for Nokia not to make it's own smartphones expires. I'm not going to link to those articles, because that is a stupid idea. Why on earth would Nokia sell it's production facilities if it planned to make phones again someday? It's not going to rebuild an entire 30K-employee supply chain just to re-start something they were already doing. Nokia is out of the phone manufacturing business. Period.

    Microsoft is a year from the entire Windows Phone division breaking even
    Nokia sold 7.4M Windows Phones last quarter, which equates to 29M phones over the next 12 months if growth suddenly drops to zero. That means that Microsoft only needs to double it's current Lumia sales (at 78% growth rate, that won't be a problem) for the entire division to break even. That is HUGE for shareholders, who have been needing to see this division see some key successes.

    UPDATE: And this doesn't include feature phones. According to Reuters, though Nokia has only 5.8% of the total smartphone market, it is the second largest mobile phone company in the world, behind Samsung. You wanna know why the Apple folks are screaming bloody murder? Because in one fell swoop, Microsoft bought a company with a worldwide presence in phones that sells more devices that make calls than Apple. Sure, many of those phones are $20 dumbphones. But Microsoft now owns a major on-ramp for getting those people onto Windows Phones, an on-ramp that Apple and Google do not have.

    Microsoft just became a mobile patent behemoth
    The deal sends over 1/4 of Nokia's 30,000 patent portolio to Microsoft. They also just assigned Microsoft as beneficiary to 60 patent agreements they have with other companies, including Qualcomm, IBM, Motorola Mobility, and Motorola Solutions. Combined, Microsoft will now have one of the most, if not the most, extensive patent portfolios in the smartphone industry. This will pad the bottom line on the devices division, which already makes more money from the Android OS than it does from Windows Phone. It will also drop the cost of the Windows Phone OS license to Samsung, LG, HTC, and others. And, as Alan Griver points out, Microsoft now sells 60M phones a year across Lumia, Asha, and feature phones. UPDATE: Florian Muller of FOSSPatents.com has more on this in Part 1 and Part 2.

    Microsoft just bought a smartphone OS
    Nokia had ditched its Meego operating system, and had focused on an Asha OS for lower-end feature phones, and Windows Phone OS. That Asha operating system just moved over to Microsoft, and will continue to be released on low-end feature phones. This is a huge win for existing Asha customers, as it is likely that more Microsoft services and applications will be coming to that system. How this all plays out for the rest of the ecosystem remains to be seen, but Microsoft loves software, and there are likely some innovations in the Asha codebase that will make their way elsewhere.

    Bing Maps is dead-ish, HERE Maps data is coming to Azure
    On the heels of Nokia's recent announcement that they would be licensing Microsoft technology for a new in-car OS and mapping experience, Microsoft is now a licensee of the HERE Maps platform. With Nokia's sale of the devices business (where it may never have dominated again), they can now focus on mapping technologies, where they are arguably positioned to be #1 in the industry. Bing Maps had also already announced their technology would be phasing out Bing Maps products on Windows 8 and the web, in favor of HERE Maps apps. But now, Bing can focus their work on other areas while leveraging Nokia's superior mapping data, and more importantly, Bing Maps data currently available to 3rd party developers will be supplanted with HERE Maps data delivered through the Windows Azure Datamarket. This, combined with the announcement that Microsoft will build an Azure datacenter in Finland, means that HERE Maps is likely to move most if not all of their infractructure to Azure, which will be a huge win for Microsoft and Azure's growth.

    The Surface Phone is likely dead
    Most of the arguments towards building a Surface phone centered around Microsoft needing to have an in-house Windows Phone brand to really showcase the power of the device. Well, the Lumia brand is already fantastically well-established with its current userbase, and so it is unlikely that Microsoft woudl take a PC computing brand and extend it to smartphones. However, can you picture a gracefully-curved Lumia phone with a thin, light, and tough VaoprMG case? Hell yes you can. ;)

    Very exciting time for Microsoft. They are in the middle of this huge transformation for the company, and I'm excited for what's coming. Things are looking up!

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