Sep 14

Microsoft would be smart to keep offering Nokia Lumia smartphones


Windows Phone, even with a small market share, is a truly revolutionary smartphone operating system. It was a risky gamble by Microsoft and, just by looking at market share, one would tend to think it was a failure. In fact, market share has been steadily rising throughout the world, especially in Europe and Latin America. Even if it is still very small compared with the leader Android, and is painfully small in the US, Windows Phone is the smartphone OS with the biggest growth in general.

Windows Phone arrived late in the modern smartphone OS scene and it still has an uphill battle. The progress it has seen lately is essentially due to Nokia, who, in 2011 decided to leave its own, floundering, Symbian OS, for Windows Phone. Since then, Nokia has been producing some outstanding phone models that, a bit like Windows Phone itself, agitated the stale waters of phone hardware design. Nokia has brought colorful, fresh designs, with innovations such as wireless charging or the revolutionary 41 Megapixel camera of the Lumia 1020. It also introduced low price Windows Phone handsets, like the Lumia 520, which on a dual core CPU configuration, manages never to be sluggish, as opposed to 4 core CPUs running the latest Android versions.

The Lumia series of smartphones, remarkable as they are from an hardware point to view, didn’t bring as much market success as the phones technical merits deserved. This left Nokia in a bit of a fragile position, with rumours of a possible acquisition occurring rather frequently. The rumours finally became real, with Microsoft and Nokia reaching an agreement at the beginning of this month, and Microsoft will buy the Nokia Devices and Services business. This may be a correct move by Microsoft, as Nokia has a Windows market share around 85% and there was the risk that the agreement between Microsoft and Nokia, under which Nokia had special access to Windows Phone, set to be reviewed in 2014, would not be renewed ¬†– there have been recent rumours that Nokia was even testing Android on its Lumias, as a fallback if the agreement failed to be renewed.

Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will be able to use the Nokia brand on feature phones for up to 10 years. This use doesn’t seem to extend to smartphones, though. This seems to me to be a rather serious threat to continued market growth for Windows Phone. Until Nokia brought its weight to the ¬†ecosystem, Windows Phone was even less relevant, with pretty much uninteresting hardware, that provided no compelling reason for anyone to buy them. The Nokia Lumia series changed this – a family of phones and accessories, great exclusive software (not restricted, but including the HERE location based series of apps) and choices ranging from great low cost devices, such as the mentioned Lumia 520, to high end, best of class devices, such as the Lumia 1020.

Nokia also brought the awareness of its own brand, that commanded a loyal following in markets all around the world. Here lies one of the greatest risks with Microsoft’s move. What happens, in terms of market penetration, if the Nokia brand is no longer used, for new smartphones? Is Microsoft’s name and the quality of the hardware, that surely will persist once the buyout operation is completed, enough to ensure continued growth in market share? I am not convinced it will. Microsoft’s name behind the operating system clearly was not enough, before Nokia’s arrival, to command any meaningful smartphone market share. Why would it different now?

If I look at things from a personal perspective, while I jumped to buy a Lumia 800, almost 2 years ago, I doubt that I would have done the same for a Microsoft’s branded phone. I have learned to trust Nokia’s quality, while I am growing increasingly dissatisfied with Microsoft’s obvious moves to become another Apple. While reaching Apple’s profitability may be desirable, alienating a loyal base of developers and IT people, like Microsoft has been doing (finishing Technet being a case in point) doesn’t bode well for the future. To mitigate some of these risks, I think Microsoft would be safer in keeping the Nokia brand for its smartphones, even if that entailed paying a few more licensing rights to Nokia.

Windows Phone is a truly innovative, pleasant to use, easy to learn, smartphone OS. I would hate it to see it stop growing as a result of a move that is intended to make it better and ensure continued growth. I hope Microsoft is smart enough to realize this, but I am not holding my breath. The Microsoft Apple wannabee doesn’t really inspire me much trust, but I definitely hope I am wrong here.


Sep 12

Let’s face it, no one can be trusted to update our computers

The problem with automatic updates is mostly known in Windows based systems when updates go bad and cause troubles, that can go from ad nauseam offerings of the same updates, no matter how many times you try to install them, to having your computer rendered unbootable.

Software manufacturers, though, seem to love them. Google is nice enough to install about 32723 versions of Google Update, purportedly to update whatever Google software you were not so wise to install. For some time now, Google Chrome started updating itself automatically, which obviously brings some unexpected surprises, at times. I have had to cleanup after Google’s updates, that rendered Chrome unusable, at least twice.

The recent problematic newcomer to the automatic update troublemakers list is Cubby. I must say I like Cubby. It allows me to keep my work files synchronized between my computers without me having to worry about it. It just works. Additionally, it keeps a copy of the files on Cubby’s servers, meaning I have a copy of my most valuable files off premises. This is a safety measure that anyone that cares about its files should implement.

Liking Cubby does not meant that I like the fact that cubby updates itself automatically because, well, things can go wrong. Today things went badly wrong with Cubby. Both my computers showed Cubby restarting itself early in the morning and a simple check allowed me to see, to my despair, that all my cubbies (all the folders that I use Cubby to keep synchronized) were syncing. They have been syncing all day (50 GB of files in each computer), taking 25% of my CPU time and wasting valuable bandwidth, while some files that actually needed immediate syncing, are just queued due to the huge overload of Cubby checking and syncing every single file.

The Cubby episode today closed the deal for me. I no longer want software that updates itself automatically. If Cubby does not provide an option to disable automatic updates, I will not renew Cubby, when my subscription is up for renewal next December. My time is too precious to be left to the mercy of any software manufacturer’s poor testing practices. I know software can have issues, but thorough testing is supposed to avoid scenarios such as the one I experienced today.

No one seems to be deserving confidence when providing automatic updates to your software. At the very least, you should be offered the option to accept an update and provided with the choice to go back to a working version, when the latest update fails, usually miserably. It’s just not acceptable that you have to waste precious time because someone who provides you with software, cannot test it properly.

I have Windows Update set not to install updates automatically. This allows me to backup before updating and to update only when I have the time to do it. I will get SysInternals autoruns and disable GoogleUpdate. As to Cubby, well, it’s decided, either the option to avoid automatic updates is added, or Cubby will be gone from my systems in December.