My Sojourn with Android

I am a global traveler, spending a significant amount of my time in our Ottawa, ON; Copenhagen, DK; and Brussels, BE offices combined with a fair bit of time in the United Kingdom. Being connected is part of my job, which means having a local mobile plan is a must. I have 3 SIM cards (US, Canada, and Denmark with EU-wide coverage). But 3 phones is at least one too many to carry.

I broke down and bought a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge Dual-SIM unlocked from Amazon. This is the closest Android equivalent (sans the single SIM Nexus 6P, which is what I really would have liked if there were a dual SIM variant) to my workhorse iPhone 6S Plus.

And, after two weeks, I thought it’d be interesting to journal my impressions of Android. On the hardware front, I’d give the Samsung a more favorable impression than Apple on a couple of fronts:

  • Curved display
  • Waterproofing
  • OLED screen

But it is a step backward in terms of camera and storage (as you lose the MicroSD support when using dual SIM’s and I’m not brave enough to try the hack). Battery life is about the same.

On the software side, the two couldn’t be more opposite:

  • Android has a setting for everything; figuring out what is what can be quite confusing and Search is your best friend. But, you can personalize the device until you’d hardly recognize it from the default.
  • All of the app-store applications are there – but some are clearly not as polished or stable as their iOS brethren.
  • Android from Samsung ships with both the Google Apps as well as Samsung Apps + Samsung-based lock-screen and launcher. In theory, you can replace all of these with apps of your choices…
    • In practice, I have not been able to replace the Lock Screen without running into challenges.
    • I have replaced the Launcher and all default applications with Arrow and the applications from Microsoft.
  • Chrome vs. Safari is a matter of personal preference; I prefer Chrome but still end up using Safari given Apple’s reluctance to truly let the browser get replaced on iOS.
  • iTunes is definitely a missing link (though with limited storage I could not sync that much anyways).
  • Dual SIM support is pretty elegant, but you can only have 1 primary SIM working at LTE speeds and you have to manually set which one is primary (which was slightly confusing to figure out).
    • The inability to have separate data roaming settings for each SIM is definitely a missing hole I hope gets fixed in Android Nougat.
  • Software updates to Android seem more frequent than iOS; however OS upgrade-ability is a huge problem. Who knows when this S7 Edge will see Android Nougat?

My overall verdict is that there is plenty of room for both Android and iOS, but that other operating systems are probably a lost cause at this point. How to size them up:

  • If price matters, Android is the way to go, as you can get a very affordable device with a complete app store repertoire.
  • If you want to customize everything, Android is the way to go. You just can’t customize to this degree with iOS.
  • If you want an absolutely seamless, intuitive experience where everything “just works” – then the choice is simple – get an iPhone.
  • Those that are heavily invested in Apple ecosystem’s choice is also very simple: iPhone.

This post wouldn’t be complete without mention of Windows Mobile 10. I very much wanted to be able to buy a Lumia 950 XL. This was the phone I really wanted to buy. Microsoft does dual SIM better than anyone and it has the same polished end-to-end experience as iOS. However, the uninspired industrial design of the 950XL (which is outshone by the lesser 650) coupled with longstanding reports of bugs or carrier feature incompatibility (no WiFi calling) and an absolute lack of applications made it a no-go.

Would Android make me switch from iOS? No…but it is interesting and fun to have it and I will definitely enjoy it while maintaining connectivity in Canada and the European Union (and I guess now Great Britain).

This is also a perfect product management case study of customer segmentation and the room-for-both phenomenon (and conversely the lack of opportunities for Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, or others).

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Windows 10 and the Surface: Winning Me Back

To celebrate the 30th birthday of Windows, I figured it was time to share my own thoughts on the operating system.

With the Threshold 2 build of Windows 10 (build 10586) and the third generation of Surface devices (Surface Pro 3, Surface 3 LTE), Microsoft is winning me back. For those that know me well – that may be a surprising statement. But it’s true and I have to give credit where due.

By mid-2006, I had switched all of my personal computing to Intel-based Macs instead of upgrading to Windows Vista. From 2008 onward, I used a Mac almost exclusively as my daily machine and used Windows in a VM or BootCamp only where necessary. Although Windows 7 was good, the hardware available simply wasn’t that great. At the same time I traded my trusty Treo running the original Windows Mobile for an iPhone 3G and never looked back.

Windows 8 and its attempt at redemption – 8.1 – was a disaster. Windows RT was a disaster. The first generation of Surfaces were great to look at and touch – but not that great to use in real-life.

Then, Microsoft woke-up and re-focused itself on its customers. Relentlessly. And its working.

The Surface Mini was killed. Given Windows RT, it rightfully probably never saw the light of day. Windows RT was rightfully killed – though it represented an interesting missed opportunity I may blog about as a different topic.

But, the Surface Pro 3 emerged and it is a genuinely great device. All the rough edges of the first- and second-generation devices were filed off. Now, finally, there was a decent Windows laptop (some software/driver quirks notwithstanding). The Surface 3 LTE gave those that are hardcore mobile users something that was very decent (also with some software/driver quirks). The Surface Pro 4 is nicely providing refinements where needed – and I can’t wait to get one when the model I want is available. And the Surface Book – although controversial – is a very interesting contender against the MacBooks.

Windows 10 is another story. It is actually very pleasant to use. All of the goodness of Windows XP and 7 is brought forward. The good ideas of Windows 8 and 8.1 remain. But its nicely wrapped into a single package. And it delivers an experience and applications that are quite pleasant when faced up against stiff competition from Apple. And, with Threshold 2, it mostly works as expected from a stability perspective.

How do I know its working? I had several devices to pull out on this long Washington DC->Seattle flight tonight; the Surface Pro 3 with Windows 10 on Threshold 2 won. As the Surface 3 or Pro 3 did in many meetings this week while traveling.

And, it’s not just me. I have traveled extensively for the last four years. Airports and airliners are a great litmus test of public opinion globally. Apple was clearly winning. But now I’m seeing Surface Pro 3s/Surface 3s pop up more and more. And most of the ones I see lately are Windows 10. This is a much needed regaining of ground with the high mobility professionals that has been absent for Microsoft for many years. And in an even bigger testament – the Surfaces have captured the interest of my mother, who has used nothing but Apple since 2006.

The recipe for this success is very simple. They are focusing relentlessly on their customers and on delivering a quality user experience. There’s no rocket science to this; its just just very hard work.

On the hardware front, I applaud Microsoft for the Surface. They have brought the much needed cachet back to Windows machines – something the OEM partners were definitely not doing. Although its taken far too long and several iterations, credit where its due for finally building a great desktop operating system and hardware combination.

(This post was written over Idaho on my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10 Build 10586.)

For US Travelers, EMV Can’t Arrive Soon Enough

Most of the rest of the world has had EMV for years. For example, I had it from the time I moved to Canada in Winter 2008. Just what on earth is EMV? It is the chip/PIN support on your MasterCard and Visa credit cards that allow you to make purchases via PIN versus swipe and signature.

Why is this important? Besides the obvious anti-fraud benefits, it is almost mandatory to make even basic purchases when traveling abroad. Consider my case. I’m working out of our Copenhagen office this week. I went to the local supermarket and went to buy things the TSA frowns upon like razor blades and shaving cream – and Kleenex, which apparently my hotel doesn’t believe in.

And I find myself unable to make a purchase using my Visa or my MasterCard. My MasterCard, which supposedly has a PIN, didn’t work either. Try my debit MasterCard with a PIN? Another fail. Try a different store. Same result. My story had a happy ending. Others might not be so lucky.

I try resetting my MasterCard’s PIN over the phone (which was successful) and go back – it still didn’t work. (And this is after two lengthy calls to my bank.) I call Visa – they were able to setup a PIN, but warned me all transactions may be treated as cash advance. Low and behold, I was finally able to make a purchase. Kudos to the United Club Visa Card and excellent customer service from Chase, who provides the card. They truly understand what world travel means.

But, this required a great deal of patience, persistence, and resourcefulness that the average traveler might not possess. If you’re traveling abroad, beware and vet this in advance. Otherwise, when you get a chip and PIN in the next year or so, rejoice.

 

Lots of Good Stuff from Build and Beyond

So far, Microsoft has done a very good job of impressing me the last week. In fact, I have seen some of the best decision-making out of the company in years. Although a lot of this may be due to One Microsoft and other forces already in play, some credit also certainly goes to Satya Nadella in his new role as CEO.

In short, what I saw that I liked:

  • Office for iPad – The overnight success of this shows that Microsoft has been leaving money on the table, even with a 30% cut going to Apple. Given its a v1.0 and is this polished, I look forward to what the updates will bring. Hopefully they will update it frequently in the style of a true iOS application and not on a Microsoft ship cadence. It has earned overnight status in my daily-use list and is hopefully a harbinger of a lot more to come of delivering great experiences on other platforms.
  • Scott Guthrie – I worked for Scott directly for two years. I would count those as amongst the absolute top highlights of my career. He is a rare mix of technical excellence, but more importantly – customer focus. Including looking beyond the boundaries of the Redmond campus. He is absolutely the right choice to deliver technically innovative products that will do what people want. Congrats to him and kudos to Satya.
  • Universal Applications – This has long been one of Microsoft’s biggest opportunities. They finally delivered. And offered some decent migration strategies to boot. Microsoft built much of its success on developers, but that has gone by the wayside for a while. This felt like the start of them getting their groove back. The Xbox One support is a fantastic touch and key differentiator – and may end up seeing me get one even though I am a staunch anti-gamer in the wake of the discontinuation of Flight Simulator…
  • Cortana – This one exceeded expectations. Microsoft played to its strengths and brought in context from all of the other things they have the ability to touch, such as your inbox and calendar. And gave you the extensibility to teach it (also playing to one of their historical strengths not seen lately). They acted uncharacteristically cool by maintaining the codename from the Halo franchise, using the actor from the Halo games, and hiring screenwriters to make the dialogue entertaining. Now, can we get a desktop and tablet version please? Maybe, unlike Google Now, it won’t think I work at the local QFC (another story)…
  • Mea Culpa on Windows 8 Desktop – The renewed focus on the desktop was great to see. It’s what people fundamentally want. Tim Cook was right on this one; you have to have a device appropriate experience. Which Windows 8 failed to deliver. And coupled with the lack of applications on the tablet side, it turned into a disaster. Giving people the experience they want and a true universal platform gives it hope…we shall see.
  • Free Windows on < 9″ Devices – This was the unexpected one (along with offering O365 via the Apple App Store). Microsoft has long held onto its licensing policies with religious fervor. Seeing them be pragmatic with respect to where they are at in the market was a refreshing change, and one guaranteed to not have happened under the previous regime.

What was unimpressive (beyond Cortana) was Windows Phone 8.1, sans the very elegant dual-SIM support (very key for international travelers like me or those in emerging markets where multiple carriers are a reality). This was a me-too play that should have been there all the way along.

Overall, my expectations have been exceeded. Kudos to everyone in Redmond – and especially all of my friends and former colleagues. Congratulations on delivering some of the best in a very long time and finding some of the right grooves again.

Converting from Parallels to Hyper-V

You would think converting a virtual machine from one format to another would be simple. Especially when there are multiple blogs out there on how to do it. But, of course not – so time for another misadventure in computing post. I was asked by a colleague to get a copy of a demo virtual machine for some upcoming analyst activities. The problem: my colleague’s system is a Surface 2 Pro running Hyper-V on Windows 8.1. And the source system was a personal Retina MacBook Pro running Parallels 9. And the VM is running Windows Server 2012 R2.

The core issue was that the source image in Parallels was a virtual UEFI system with a GPT partition table. The destination image was a Gen 1 Hyper-V VM with a virtual BIOS, which necessitates a MBR partition table. (I was unable to get the Gen 2 Hyper-V VM that supports UEFI to work given the differences in hardware drivers.) 

The first problem is actually converting the disk file itself, as they are in very different formats. And the steps of using VMWare and VirtualBox utilities to do the conversion did not work – I ended up with a corrupt virtual hard disk (probably because of this GPT issue). 

So to do this, I found the awesome Disk2VHD utility from SysInternals (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/ee656415.aspx). With this utility, I ran it and chose not to grab anything except the C:\ partition and voila – I created a new VHD that I was able to load up on my Hyper-V server and at least not have corruption.

Then, the fun of trying to get it to boot began. The normal way to fix a modern Windows system that will not boot is:

  • Boot from Windows installation image
  • Go to Command Prompt
  • Enter the following commands:
    • “bootrec /fixmbr”
    • “bootrec /fixboot”
    • “bootrec /scanos”
    • “bootrec /rebuildbcd” – except this critical last step fails because the partition table is not MBR.

So, you have to convert the partition table to MBR. And that’s where life gets interesting. After trial and error, I found the following to be the best way to do this without losing data:

  • Download the latest Live x86_x64 Fedora image from http://www.fedoraproject.org/. Yes, you really need a live Linux image because of a really handy utility called gdisk.
  • Boot the VM with the Fedora Live image and login to the desktop.
  • Run the Terminal utility.
  • Then, run the following commands:
    • “su -” – get into administrator mode
    • “yum -y install gdisk” – actually install the gdisk utility
    • “gdisk /dev/sda” – start running gdisk against the virtual hard drive
    • “r” – to enter gdisk recovery/transformation mode
    • “g” – to convert from GPT to MBR
    • “p” to preview the converted MBR partition table
    • “w” – to write changes to disk.
  • At this point, the VM can be rebooted with Windows installation media to get to a Command Prompt to fix the rest of the problems. Once there:
    • “diskpart” – enters the Windows disk partition utility
    • “select disk 0” – selects the boot drive
    • “list partition” – should show the disk partitions present. The largest one is the actual one that you want to boot. It is probably going to be the third or forth partition on the disk. In my case it was the fourth.
    • “select partition 4” – select the partition we want to boot.
    • “active” – to mark the partition as active in MBR.
    • “exit” – to exit diskpart
  • The next step is to find the actual disk itself – it is probably going to be D:\ (at least it was on my system) because of the reserved GPT partitions in advance of the actual usable partition. Once you determine the drive letter, you can proceed as follows:
    • “bootsect d: /nt52 /force /mbr” – makes D: bootable.
    • “bootrec /fixboot” – fixes core startup environment
    • “bootrec /fixmbr” – fixes core startup environment
    • “bootrec /scanos” – find the OS; note it will probably be D:\Windows in my example (and this is OK)
    • “bootrec /rebuildbcd” – update the BCD environment; note it will be D:\Windows in my example (and this is OK)
  • At this point the system can be rebooted without any installation media – and it should just boot up with everything in C:\Windows\ as it should be. Once booted:
    • Uninstall Parallels Tools
    • Install Hyper-V Integration Services (if required – not applicable on this system since Windows Server 2012 R2 has them built-in)
    • Reactivate Windows

And voila! I hope this helps.

 

 

 

Still a Jaguar Fan

I got my start in exotic cars with a Jaguar. A 1992 Vanden Plas, to be specific. I loved them for the formative years of my driving experience.

But, for many years, I thought they lost their way. I couldn’t see much worth owning beyond a late 1990s performance-oriented XJ – which I bought with a 1995 XJ12 in early 1997. There were frankly better alternatives, starting with the Aston Martin DB7 (which was born from the still-born original F-type) from the 1990s). And nothing post 1995-XJ12/XJR from the British saloon market until Bentley found its way with the Arnage Red Label.

But, this is a marque that shares the same birthday as I; I have a soft spot. The XF started to find the spirit of the Mark II. It is a very good car.

The new F-type coupe – in my opinion – has brought them back to the supercar status they once owned (but now are regaining credibility). The combination of the F-type coupe and the XF Supercharged / XFR / XFR-S  have brought me back – from having not wanted anything since the 1995/1996 XJ12s.

I look forward to the future – and continue hope it regains the specialness of the Mark II’s and E-Type’s of old. They seem to be well on their way. May they be Britain’s automotive headlines once again in 2014…

Time for 2014

My New Year’s resolutions (in no particular order):

  • Have fun building awesome products that delight customers and move markets (I’m not going to miss M&A mode – that’s for sure…)
  • More time for hobbies (which have been sadly neglected) – including photography, cars, and writing
  • More quality time with family and friends (also neglected as of late)

That is all. I’ve decided for this one to keep it simple and stick to Steve Jobs’ golden rule of 3s.