Tag Archives: windows

Disabling automatic update restarts in Windows Server 2016

Windows Server 2016 is in effect the Windows 10 version of the server OS. If you look in Settings it seems to have the same attitude to updates; in other words, you get them automatically whether you like it or not. Currently my server is even offering me Windows 10 Creators Update:

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However, I prefer to have servers just download updates and let me decide when to install them. There can be good reasons for this. For example, I run Exchange Server on a machine that is not really up to spec, and the Exchange services have to be manually started every time it reboots. Well, there are ways round this, but it makes the point.

It turns out that you can after all set Windows Server 2016 to download-only. Just run sconfig from the command line and choose option 5:

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The sconfig menu will be familiar if you have worked with Server Core or other variants of Windows Server without a GUI.

Incidentally, I tried to install Exchange 2016 on Server 2016 without a GUI but it appears not to be supported. A shame.

Returning to the subject of updates, Brendan Power at Microsoft popped up on Reddit to say that this is a bug in in the settings:

The "Available updates will be downloaded…" text in the UI is a bug that doesn’t represent the actual automatic update settings.

To verify the actual server settings, you can open the command prompt and run sconfig.cmd; in the menu, you should see option 5 set to Manual.

A bug? I am not sure. If so, it seems an odd and obvious one. I think Microsoft is keen to have us update automatically. That said, Windows Server 2016 is meant to follow the Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) model rather than the “Windows as a service” approach in Windows 10, unless you run Nano Server, according to this post. So compulsory update to retain a supported configuration does not apply here.

Of course you should patch your Windows Server installations in a timely manner, however you choose to do it.

Microsoft improves Windows Subsystem for Linux: launch Windows apps from Linux and vice versa

The Windows 10 anniversary update introduced a major new feature: a subsystem for Linux. Microsoft marketing execs call this Bash on Windows; Ubuntu calls it Ubuntu on Windows; but Windows Subsystem for Linux is the most accurate description. You run a Linux binary and the subsystem redirects system calls so that it behaves like Linux.

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The first implementation (which is designated Beta) has an obvious limitation. Linux works great, and Windows works great, but they do not interoperate, other than via the file system or networking. This means you cannot do what I used to do in the days of Services for Unix: type ls at the command prompt to get a directory listing.

That is now changing. Version 14951 introduces interop so that you can launch Windows executables from the Bash shell and vice versa. This is particularly helpful since the subsystem does not support GUI applications. One of the obvious use cases is launching a GUI editor from Bash, such as Visual Studio Code or Notepad++.

The nitty-gritty on how it works is here.

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Limitations? A few. Environment variables are not shared so an executable that is on the Windows PATH may not be on the Linux PATH. The executable also needs to be on a filesystem compatible with DrvFs, which means NTFS or ReFS, not FAT32 or exFAT.

This is good stuff though. If you work on Windows, but love Linux utilities like grep, now you can use them seamlessly from Windows. And if you are developing Linux applications with say PHP or Node.js, now you can develop in the Linux environment but use Windows editors.

Note that this is all still in preview and I am not aware of an announced date for the first non-beta release.

Sweetlabs Android App Services: what is it?

Margins on smartphones are thin, which is why we regularly hear commentary about how only Apple and Samsung are making any money from them. Vendors therefore look for other ways to monetize their business, though it is never easy, and there are plenty of examples of failed music stores and other premium services. Google can always make money, through Play Store revenue, ads served via Search, and monetizing the data it collects. But what of the smartphone vendors?

One obvious strategy is to pre-install applications, for which the app developer may pay. I say may because without inside knowledge its impossible to tell whether the Facebook app, for example, is pre-installed as a benefit to customers or because Facebook has paid something. Most users would probably install the Facebook app anyway; but fewer would install the Opera web browser, to take another example, so common sense says that if you find Opera pre-installed, it is more likely than Facebook to have paid for the privilege.

On Windows PCs, which also suffer from low margins, the pressure on manufacturers to make money from pre-installed applications has had a dire affect, significantly reducing the appeal of the product. At worst, you can pay good money for a PC, turn it on for the first time, and be greeted by a flurry of dialogs inviting you to install this or subscribe to that, along with warnings that your new purchase is “not protected”. Apple has never allowed this of course, which is one of the attractions of Macs. Another consequence was that Microsoft introduced its own brand of PC, Surface, and opened stores selling “signature” editions of PCs on which most of the foistware is absent.

The situation on Android should never be as bad. The operating system has a modern design, which means that applications are isolated and cannot cause as much damage as on Windows. If an application that you do not want is installed, it is easy to remove.

Even so, pre-installed apps on Android do introduce clutter and confusion, especially when combined with the constant requests for various types of permission which characterise the initial setup experience. I imagine that many users simply agree to everything, since the consequences of denying permission are rarely clear, and most want their new device to “just work.”

Sweetlabs is a company which specialises in monetizing app installs on Windows as well as Android. On Windows it is best known for the Pokki app store. Sweetlabs does not always present its brand overtly to users. Users are not its customers after all; its customers are app developers and smartphone vendors.

I reviewed a smartphone recently, and soon after switching on for the first time, I saw a notification inviting me to “Complete device setup” and to “Allow App Services to push messages to the n…” (I am still not sure what is the cut-off word):

If you tap this notification an app installer opens, presenting a small selection of apps categorised as either “Essentials” or “Entertainment”. You are meant to select the apps you want and then tap Finish to have those apps install, agreeing the terms and conditions as you do. Once you tap Finish, the notification disappears, though I noticed that the Sweetlabs service continues to run in the background:

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My understanding is that the service continues to run because at some future date more apps may become available. The Sweetlabs site talks about promoting apps through “multiple customer-facing touchpoints, including white-label apps and widgets that integrate into the out-of-box experience and persist through the lifetime of the device.” This can include a Featured Apps widget on the home screen that recommends apps “over the lifetime of the device.”

Is this a good or bad thing? The answer is nuanced. I dislike the way the notification implies that these optional app install are part of device setup; it is not, it is a marketing app. You can get all these apps through the official Play Store and App Services is consuming unnecessary system resources.

On the other hand, if you accept that pre-installing apps is inevitable given the low margins in this business, the Sweetlabs approach has advantages. Instead of simply dumping a bunch of unwanted apps on your device, you can choose which ones you want, if any. Therefore the company promotes itself as a better approach, even presenting itself as a fix for crapware. My review device had pre-installed apps on it as well, though, so it is more a case of putting up with both.

From the perspective of app developers, any service that helps get your app noticed in a beyond-crowded market is a significant benefit. Sweetlabs also offers an app analytics service focused on who is installing your app.

I wrote this post because I did not find much information about App Services when I searched for it after seeing the notification on my review device. If you are wondering whether you need it on your device, the answer is no; it does nothing essential, it is a vehicle for promoting apps, and you can safely disable or remove it. I recommend installing apps from the Play Store instead, where you can see user reviews and other information. It is not really evil though; it may have reduced the price of your smartphone as well as providing app developers another way to get their products noticed.

Microsoft financials April-June 2016: on track but continued drift away from consumers

Microsoft has announced its latest financials, and I have made a quick table summarising the year-on-year comparison for the quarter. See the end of this post for what the confusing segment categories represent.

Quarter ending  June 30th 2016 vs quarter ending June 30th 2015, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Operating income Change
Productivity and Business Processes 6969 +308 3000 -167
Intelligent Cloud 6711 +415 2190 -443
More Personal Computing 8897 -346 964 +359
Corporate and Other -1963 -1943 -3074 +5384

A few observations.

Office 365 is Microsoft’s current big success. According to the company’s press release, Office 365 revenue grew 54%, which is huge. However, on-premise sales declined which meant that overall revenue growth in “Office commercial products and cloud services” was only 5%. Still, that’s a successful transition.

The picture was similar in consumer Office, with Office 365 consumer increasing by 23.1% while overall revenue grew by only 19%.

Dynamics CRM is moving to the cloud. Microsoft says that Dynamics CRM online grew by more than 2.5 times, while overall revenue grew only 6%. The maths may be deceptive, if CRM online grew from a small base, but it is a clear trend. Not to be confused with Dynamics 365, which is ERP/Business process management, though Nadella is also bullish on the latter.

Azure revenue grew 102%.  Microsoft’s cloud results are not quite as sparkling as those from Amazon Web Services, but still impressive.

Enterprise Mobility is growing. This is a suite of tools built around InTune, Microsoft’s Mobile Device Management solution.

Surface is doing OK. Revenue up 9% thanks to Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book.

Windows news is mixed. “Windows OEM non-Pro revenue grew 27% and OEM Pro 2%” says the release, which given the weak PC market is decent. Windows 10 is at 350 million active devices, which Nadella said in the earnings webcast is the fastest ever adoption rate for a new version Windows; hardly surprising given the free upgrade offer and high-pressure upgrade marketing.

Xbox news is mixed. Gaming revenue is down 9%. Xbox Live revenue grew 4% but Xbox console revenue is down.

Windows Phone dives towards oblivion. Revenue is down 71%, from a base that was already tiny.

Microsoft cares less and less about consumers. “We will deliver more value and innovation” in Windows, says Nadella, “particularly for enterprise customers.” I also note the remark in the press release that “Search advertising revenue excluding traffic acquisition costs grew 16% (up 17% in constant currency) with continued benefit from Windows 10 usage,” suggesting that part of the Windows 10 consumer strategy is to use it as a vehicle for advertising; this is known in the business as “adware” and does not encourage me; it will push canny users towards Mac or Linux. In the earnings call, Nadella said that 40% of search advertising revenue is from Windows 10 devices. “The Cortana search box has over 100 million monthly active users with 8 billion questions asked to date,” said Nadella.

A reminder of Microsoft’s segments:

Productivity and Business Processes: Office, both commercial and consumer, including retail sales, volume licenses, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Skype consumer, OneDrive, Outlook.com. Microsoft Dynamics including Dynamics CRM, Dynamics ERP, both online and on-premises sales.

Intelligent Cloud: Server products not mentioned above, including Windows server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, System Center, as well as Microsoft Azure.

More Personal Computing: What a daft name, more than what? Still, this includes Windows in all its non-server forms, Windows Phone both hardware and licenses, Surface hardware, gaming including Xbox, Xbox Live, and search advertising.

Microsoft SQL Server is coming to Linux. What are the implications for Windows Server?

Microsoft is porting SQL Server, its popular database manager, to Linux. According to Executive VP Scott Guthrie:

Today I’m excited to announce our plans to bring SQL Server to Linux as well. This will enable SQL Server to deliver a consistent data platform across Windows Server and Linux, as well as on-premises and cloud. We are bringing the core relational database capabilities to preview today, and are targeting availability in mid-2017.

Why do this? The short answer is that like any other software company, Microsoft wants to sell more licenses, and porting its premier (and excellent) database manager to Linux extends its market and helps it compete more directly with the likes of Oracle and even MySQL.

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However that begs a second question, which is why has Microsoft not done this before? After all, SQL Server has been around forever. The first release was in 1989, jointly with Ashton Tate and Sybase, and was for OS/2. The first Windows release was 1993. There was a significant leap forward in SQL Server 7.0, in 1998, which I think of as the beginning of the product as we know it today.

Microsoft in the nineties and in the first decade of the new millennium was all about Windows. Dominant on the desktop, the idea was to build synergies between Windows desktop and Windows server so that running server applications like Active Directory, Exchange and SQL Server was the obvious choice. The Visual Studio development environment pushed developers towards Visual Studio in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Some programming language innovations like LINQ to SQL (a form of Language Integrated Query) only worked with SQL Server. It was not quite lock-in, it was always possible to use a different database engine, but SQL Server was always the default, used in all the examples and documentation, and the best understood when you needed support.

Today Microsoft’s circle of dominance is breaking down. Windows still has desktop dominance, but the importance of the desktop is less, thanks to mobile devices which mostly do not run Windows, and a move away from desktop applications towards web applications that do not care which operating system you use. Active Directory is still important, but cloud computing giants like Google and Amazon are encroaching on that space.

“Only on Windows Server” has become a liability rather than the key to keeping customers locked to Microsoft’s platform.

You can see this in the company’s development strategy, which is migrating towards a cross-platform implementation of .NET as well as embracing iOS and Android via the recently announced Xamarin acquisition. You can also see it in the Azure cloud platform, and Microsoft’s partnership with Red Hat for Linux on Azure. The company is happy to take your money whatever operating system you choose.

It is early days though, and Microsoft is still a Windows-centric company. SQL Server on Linux, expected sometime next year, will probably not be feature-complete compared to SQL Server on Windows – I am guessing, but things like .NET Stored Procedures may be tricky to get right, as well as features like in-memory databases that are tightly integrated with the operating system.

It is worth noting that cross-platform is actually a burden as well as a strength and may involve compromises. It will be fascinating to see how performance compares on equivalent hardware.

Microsoft is now betting than opening up new markets for SQL Server is more important than keeping customers hooked on Windows Server – especially as that last strategy is failing in the cloud computing era.

Finally, there is the question I posed in the title of this post. How does moving key server applications to Linux impact the appeal of Windows Server? After all, Linux licenses are generally cheaper than Windows Server and in some cases free. The answer is that it is one less reason to buy Windows Server, presuming SQL Server works properly on Linux.

You can see this as a process of commoditizing the operating system so that in time expensive server operating system licenses are a thing of the past. This is probably not a good trend for Microsoft. It can still prosper though if you rent your virtual infrastructure from the company and use its cloud services, like Azure and Office 365.

Another way of looking at this is that there is more pressure on Windows Server architect Jeffrey Snover and his team to make Windows Server better than Linux, so that you want to run it because of its merits, not because it is the only way to run SQL Server or Exchange.

Microsoft’s story continues: Windows down, cloud up in financials Oct-Dec 2015

Microsoft has reported its latest financial results, for the quarter ending December 31st 2015.

Here are the latest figures (see end of post for what is in the segments):

Quarter ending  December 31st 2015 vs quarter ending December 31st 2014, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Operating income Change
Productivity and Business Processes 6690 -132 6460 -528
Intelligent Cloud 6343 +302 4977 +272
More Personal Computing 12660 -622 3542 +528
Corporate and Other -1897 -2222 -1897 -1980

A few points to note.

Revenue is down: Revenue overall was $million 23.8, $million 2.67 down on the same quarter in 2014. This is because cloud revenue has increased by less than personal computing has declined. The segments are rather opaque. We have to look at Microsoft’s comments on its results to get a better picture of how the company’s business is changing.

Windows: Revenue down 5% “due primarily to lower phone and Windows revenue and negative impact from foreign currency”.

Windows 10: Not much said about this specifically, except that search revenue grew 21% overall, and “nearly 30% of search revenue in the month of December was driven by Windows 10 devices.” That enforced Cortana/Bing search integration is beginning to pay off.

Surface: Revenue up 29%, but not enough to offset a 49% decline in phone revenue.

Azure: Azure revenue grew 140%, compute usage doubled year on year, Azure SQL database usage increased by 5 times year on year.

Office 365: 59% growth in commercial seats.

Server products: Revenue is up 5% after allowing for currency movements.

Xbox: Xbox Live revenue is growing (up 30% year on year) but hardware revenue declined, by how much is undisclosed. Microsoft attributes this to “lower volumes of Xbox 360” which is lame considering that the shiny Xbox One is also available.

Further observations

This is a continuing story of cloud growth and consumer decline, with Microsoft’s traditional business market somewhere in between. The slow, or not so slow, death of Windows Phone is sad to see; Microsoft’s dismal handling of its Nokia acquisition is among its biggest mis-steps and hugely costly.

CEO Satya Nadella came from the server side of the business and seems to be shaping the company in that direction, if he had any choice.

Azure and Office 365 are its big success stories. Nadella said in the earnings call that “the enterprise cloud opportunity is massive, larger than any market we’ve ever participated in.”

A reminder of Microsoft’s segments:

Productivity and Business Processes: Office, both commercial and consumer, including retail sales, volume licenses, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Skype consumer, OneDrive, Outlook.com. Microsoft Dynamics including Dynamics CRM, Dynamics ERP, both online and on-premises sales.

Intelligent Cloud: Server products not mentioned above, including Windows server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, System Center, as well as Microsoft Azure.

More Personal Computing: What a daft name, more than what? Still, this includes Windows in all its non-server forms, Windows Phone both hardware and licenses, Surface hardware, gaming including Xbox, Xbox Live, and search advertising.

Is Windows 10 stable? Mostly it is, but there are some concerns

“Windows 10’s lack of stability is really starting to be an issue for me” says Mary Jo Foley over on zdnet.

The problems she experienced include the Store not working, the Mail app not syncing and then wiping her accounts after an update, and the PC randomly shutting down. She has now done a clean install and so far all is good.

I am using Windows 10 now for most of my work, having in-place upgraded from Windows 8.1. My experience has been better, with no random shutdowns, and the desktop environment has been perfectly stable. There are some bugs and annoyances though. Here are the ones that come to mind:

The Start menu bug is the biggest annoyance. This one deserves some reflection. If you have a lot (possibly more than 512, possibly some other factors) of Start menu entries, Windows 10 does not show them all. Even Cortana/Search does not find them. The entries exist though, and I use my Explorer workaround to find them.

I find this bug astonishing. It looks like poor coding in a hugely sensitive part of Windows, the first thing people mention when they explain why they dislike Windows 8. There is still no fix from Microsoft, though some users report improvement after various updates.

Another annoyance is that on my HP laptop I cannot disable tap-to-click. I can disable it temporarily but it reverts, certainly on the next start-up.

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While some users like tap-to-click, I loathe it and do not think it should ever be on by default. In many Windows laptops the setting is hard to find and some users have ditched Windows because of it, and switched to Macs. The reason is that it is easy to tap the trackpad by mistake; and an accidental click can have dire consequences, such as sending an email by mistake, or clicking Yes in a dialog when you meant No. If you suffer from any sort of tremble it is a disaster.

I am not sure who is responsible for this bug; it could be the Synaptics driver, but it was fine in Windows 8.1.

Another annoyance relates to the new Windows calculator. On my desktop PC I am in the habit of pressing the Calculator key to open it (I have a Microsoft keyboard). In earlier versions of Windows the calculator appears instantly. In Windows 10 it may take several minutes or not appear at all. Of course what you tend to do is to assume that you did not press the key hard enough and press it again. Eventually lots of instances appear. I’ve looked into this a little; the Calculator does appear in the Task Manager process list, but with a status of Suspended. I’ve also had a scenario where the calculator appears but does not accept input until you click on it with the mouse, defeating the value of the key.

I am using the Edge browser but in practice it is not that good. I like the direction Edge is taking, but some sites do not work properly, and there are bugs. Favourites do not work when you have a long list; you click a sub-folder but the wrong entries appear, until it settles down and starts functioning correctly. You can pin the task pane (with Favourites, History etc) but the setting does not persist when you next start the browser. I also sometimes get long delays opening a web page; it is always hard to say what causes these and sometimes it will be a server issue, but Edge is worse than other browsers so I think it is partly to blame.

Some of the new apps show promise but are not 100% stable. Photos is good but I have had it exit silently when scrolling through a long list (perhaps related to OneDrive issues). I still prefer Paint for quick cropping and simple editing. The Music app has its attractions, but Foobar2000 is much faster, and Spotify is better if you want all the cloud streaming and social aspects.

Talking of OneDrive, the lack of placeholders in Explorer, where a file is listed but only downloaded on request, is an issue though I do not find it too difficult to work around. I have a OneDrive folder called synced which I sync on every PC I use. Photos of course does have a kind of OneDrive placeholder system.

So there are annoyances, and others will have different ones, but nothing I would describe as instability. Most applications run fine, and I have found application compatibility with Windows 7 and 8 very good. I like the faster boot and resume. I like the new Task View button and the multiple desktops. Overall it is working OK for me.

My general advice when consulted about whether to upgrade is to wait until next year, unless there are pressing reasons to go more quickly. I am also aware of numerous issues related to the in-place upgrade. One user for example upgraded from Windows 7 because of the annoying nags from Windows Update. The upgrade worked, but for some reason resulted in tablet mode being enabled (I cannot be sure whether this was a mis-click or an upgrade issue). This is on a desktop PC. Unfortunately, tablet mode is almost as confusing as Windows 8 was for a less technical user. The taskbar is hidden and it is not easy to find your applications.

I am sure Windows 10 will be the best version yet. It is taking time though and from a user perspective there is no rush (yes, it was released before it was ready). From Microsoft’s point of view it is important that the worst bugs get fixed soon (Start menu, please); and the generally poor performance of the Universal apps is a concern, considering the strategic significance of the platform.

Update: a newer Synaptics driver on the HP site has improved the trackpad problem; at least, the setting has survived a reboot so I hope it is fixed.

Microsoft financials April-June 2015: loss from Nokia write-down, comments on future direction

Microsoft has reported its financials for its fourth quarter. The company made a loss of over three billion dollars ($bn 3.195) but this was because of an eight billion dollar write-down mostly on the phone business – in effect, writing off the value of its Nokia acquisition. It still has plenty of cash in the bank – over $96 bn according to its balance sheet. Perhaps it is too easy for companies of this size to make bad business decisions (I leave open whether it was the acquisition or the way it was handled that was the bad decision, but one of them was).

Here are the latest figures:

Quarter ending  June 30th 2015 vs quarter ending June 30th 2014, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Gross margin Change
Devices and Consumer Licensing 3233 -1670 2966 -1555
Computing and Gaming Hardware 1933 +591 435 +417
Phone Hardware 1234 -748 -104 -158
Devices and Consumer Other 2300 +538 594 +303
Commercial Licensing 10451 -782 9529 -769
Commercial Other 3076 +814 1350 +659

A few points to note. The confusing segment names are summarised at the end of this post. Revenue was slightly down quarter on quarter, from $bn 23.4 to 22.2, largely because of a decline in consumer Windows (weak PC sales). Commercial licensing was also down, which Microsoft attributes to the end of the XP migration boom.

Phone aside, Microsoft’s hardware is performing well, thanks to Surface Pro 3 and Xbox One. Although Xbox One has been outsold by Sony’s PlayStation 4, it is holding its own and Microsoft says that Xbox Live usage has grown by over 30% over the year. The company says this is “deeper user engagement”; another way of looking at this is that playing games without an Xbox Live subscription is often disappointing.

Microsoft’s cloud and server projects are both growing. Business cloud revenue (Office 365, Azure and Dynamics CRM) is up 106% over the year and server products up 12%.

A bright spot is that search advertising revenue grew by 21% and Bing is expected to be profitable in the next financial year. The search wars are last year’s thing but Microsoft’s determination has won it a small but viable slice of the market. It is important because the data from search is essential for high quality predictive analysis and personalisation services, which is still a coming thing (Cortana, Siri, Google Now).

In the earnings call, CEO Satya Nadella revealed some data:

  • 15 million consumer Office 365 subscribers growing by 1 million per month
  • 50,000 new SMB customers for Office 365 per month
  • Paid seats for Dynamics CRM up 140% year on year
  • 17,000 customers for Enterprise Mobility Services (Mobile Device Management)
  • Over 100% growth in Azure both in revenue and compute usage

Of Windows 10, Nadella says:

While the PC ecosystem has been under pressure recently, I do believe that Windows 10 will broaden our economic opportunity and return Windows to growth.

A short-term boost from Windows 10 would not be surprising, but does he think that Microsoft can reverse the trend from PC to mobile, or that Windows can be successful enough in the mobile category (tablets and phones) to benefit from that trend? If the latter, perhaps destroying the Nokia acquisition was not the best move (but I must not harp on about this).

On Windows 10, Nadella described three phases:

Upgrade phase: From July 29th when free Windows 10 upgrades begin.

OEM device phase: From “the fall” when Windows 10 PCs and devices go on sale.

Enterprise upgrade phase: Piloting and deployments from January 2016

Note from the last that Windows 10 is not fully business-ready yet. Enterprise Store, OneDrive for Business client, “Project Centennial” which lets you wrap Win32 apps for Store deployment, none of these are done.

How is Microsoft hoping to grow its business? CFO Amy Hood identified three areas, in response to a question on operational expenditure:

The first one is Windows 10. The second is the first party hardware where we just had such terrific performance again this Q4. And then, finally, the third bucket was about accelerating our commercial cloud leads.

Of these, the third looks a sure bet, the other two are more speculative. Microsoft will continue to be a fascinating business to watch.

Microsoft’s segments summarised

Devices and Consumer Licensing: non-volume and non-subscription licensing of Windows, Office, Windows Phone, and “ related patent licensing; and certain other patent licensing revenue” – all those Android royalties?

Computing and Gaming Hardware: the Xbox One and 360, Xbox Live subscriptions, Surface, and Microsoft PC accessories.

Devices and Consumer Other: Resale, including Windows Store, Xbox Live transactions (other than subscriptions), Windows Phone Marketplace; search advertising; display advertising; Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions; Microsoft Studios (games), retail stores.

Commercial Licensing: server products, including Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server, Visual Studio, System Center, and Windows Embedded; volume licensing of Windows, Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync; Microsoft Dynamics business solutions, excluding Dynamics CRM Online; Skype.

Commercial Other: Enterprise Services, including support and consulting; Office 365 (excluding Office 365 Home Premium), other Microsoft Office online offerings, and Dynamics CRM Online; Windows Azure.

Windows Phone puzzles: strategy, what strategy?

Today Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that 7,800 employees will be removed “primarily in our phone business” and that the company is taking a $7.6 billion “impairment charge … related to assets associated with the acquisition of the Nokia Devices and Services business.”

Time for a quick resume of the company’s troubled mobile efforts since the introduction of Windows Phone in October 2010:

October 2010: botched launch of Windows Phone. Despite much good work in the OS and user interface, Microsoft had lacklustre support from hardware partners, and focused on the consumer when its potential strength was in business integration with Office, Exchange etc. In addition, availability was poor; after the UK launch I went down to my local town centre and not one of the 4 or 5 mobile phone shops had it on sale.

February 2011: Nokia announces that Windows Phone will be its primary smartphone OS.

October 2011: First Nokia Windows Phones appeared. Lumia 800 was a nicely designed phone in some respects, but suffered from poor battery life and some quality issues.

Nevertheless, the Nokia Windows Phones were the first ones where the manufacturer made an effort to get the best from the OS and to tailor the hardware for it. In addition, Nokia brought excellent mapping and photography expertise, so that Windows Phones began to get some standout features.

11 July 2013: Launch of Nokia Lumia 1020 with an amazing 41MP camera.

September 2013: Microsoft announces that it will acquire Nokia.

An awkward period follows before the acquisition completes. It is meant to be business as usual at Nokia but of course it is not.

February 2014: Despite some progress, Windows Phone is not getting the market share Nokia needs, so CEO Stephen Elop announces the Nokia X range, Android smartphones with Google removed and replaced by Microsoft services. A curious announcement, since why would anyone buy Nokia X? It was not because Android works better than Windows Phone on low-end hardware; vendors have told me that the reverse is true. Nor does it make sense bearing in mind the Microsoft acquisition – though it will have been in the planning stage before that was decided.

April 2014: Microsoft’s Nokia acquisition completes. Elop joins Microsoft to head up devices. As soon as July, it is obvious that Microsoft will not be continuing with Nokia X.

September 2014: Microsoft announces Windows 10. “we are delivering one application platform for our developers … Windows 10 will deliver the right experience on the right device at the right time. It will be our most comprehensive platform ever,” says Windows VP Terry Myerson.

The new universal app platform is all very well, but it means that Windows Phone is now in stasis, waiting for Windows 10 before anything much can happen to it. There is a notable lack of new high-end phones. No phone since the Lumia 1020 has had a camera of equal resolution.

At the same time, part of the point of Windows 10 is to revive the application platform across phone and PC. If you remove the phone, the Universal Windows Platform is what, PC, Xbox (mainly a games console) and HoloLens? With a few Raspberry Pis and IoT devices thrown in?

17 June 2015: Elop leaves Microsoft following an executive re-shuffle.

8 July 2015: Suspicions that Microsoft is wavering in its commitment to Windows Phone (or Windows 10 Mobile) are confirmed by the announcement of major cuts to the phone business.

A few observations

Microsoft has given Nokia little chance of success following the acquisition. It is not quite a repeat of the Kin disaster (acquisition of Danger in February 2008, a strong company wrecked by its acquirers), but there are echoes. It is only a year and three months since the acquisition completed, and the phone range is in an uncomfortable “waiting for Windows 10” phase. What did the company expect, that a Microsoft halo effect would suddenly lift sales, even without distinctive new models?

Nokia did a much better job with Windows Phone than either Microsoft or its other hardware partners. Nokia’s retail presence, operator partnerships, and marketing, were all far superior.

The main reason for the failure of Windows Phone is the lack of apps and ecosystem, and the reason for that is that Microsoft was too late to launch; iOS and, more to the point, Android, were already well entrenched. The Windows Phone OS is pretty good, and superior to the competition in some respects; apps are easier to find, for example.

Another problem is that Windows Phone has been more successful in Europe than in the USA. This means that US-centric vendors perceive that Windows Phone has an even smaller market than in fact it has.

Bearing in mind that the app story is the biggest single problem for Windows Phone vendors, and that Windows 10 is intended to address that, it is puzzling that Microsoft is now writing off the phone division before Windows 10 has launched.

Nadella writes:

I am committed to our first-party devices including phones. However, we need to focus our phone efforts in the near term while driving reinvention. We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem that includes our first-party device family.

The problem is that frail market confidence in Windows Phone will be further shaken by today’s announcement. Further, if Nadella thinks that Microsoft’s trusty hardware partners will step up their game if Lumia is given less investment, than he has forgotten their dismal performance first time around.

Does Microsoft need Windows Phone?

Microsoft has been investing in Android and iOS apps since Nadella’s appointment, and it may not have a choice about whether or not it needs a mobile OS, if it cannot find a market for it.

There some strategic issues though. Microsoft itself succeeded first with Windows on the desktop, and exploited its desktop presence to drive server products that integrated with Windows and shared its user interface and operating system.

Mobile operating systems are now ascendant, and if Microsoft has little or no presence in that market, it is vulnerable to its competitors exploiting their control of the client to drive users to their own services, rather than those run by Microsoft.

Therefore it seems to me that ceding the mobile market to Apple and Google is a strategic risk.

How to overcome “A required drive partition is missing” in Windows 8.1 reset

Here is the scenario: an HP all-in-one PC gets a virus and as a precaution the owner wishes to reinstall Windows.

The recovery drive on the PC is intact, but attempting to use the Windows 8.1 troubleshooting tools to “Reset your PC” (in effect reinstalling Windows) raises the error “A required drive partition is missing”.

This seems to be a common scenario in cases where the PC was supplied with Windows 8 and upgraded to Windows 8.1. The problem seems to be that Windows 8.1 makes some changes to the drive partitions that make it incompatible with the Windows 8.0 recovery partition.

Here is the workaround I used:

1. In Windows 8.1, make a recovery drive. To do this, first connect a USB drive that you are happy to have wiped. It will need a capacity of around 16GB or more. Then run Control Panel, search for “recovery”, and choose Create a recovery drive.

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2. When creating the recovery drive, make sure the option to include the recovery partition is checked. This will copy the recovery partition from the PC to the USB drive.

3. When you are done, you will be able to boot from the USB drive. You could choose the Reset option from there, however you will still get the error. First, go to Troubleshooting and Advanced and select the command prompt. When the command prompt opens, type:

diskpart

Now type:

list disk

You will see two disks (or more) listed, one for the USB boot device, and the others the disk(s) in the PC. Select the internal boot drive. It is normally obvious from the sizes which is which. Select it by typing:

select disk n

where n is the number of the drive as shown by list disk.

WARNING: the next step will delete all data on the selected drive. If in doubt, back out and make a backup of the drive before proceeding. If something goes wrong, your PC will no longer be bootable and you will need recovery media from the manufacturer, or to buy a new copy of Windows.

Once you are happy that it is safe to delete everything from the drive, type:

clean

or

clean all

The first command does a quick removal of the partition table from the drive but does not zero the data; it will be invisible but possibly recoverable using data recovery tools. The second command zeroes all the data and takes much longer (several hours), but it is more secure, if for example you want to sell or transfer the PC.

Once this is done,reboot the PC using the USB recovery drive. Select troubleshooting, then Reset your PC. This time it will work and you will be back in Windows 8.0.

Note: This scenario is common enough that it seems to be a flaw in the Windows 8.x recovery tools. I do not understand why Microsoft has so little regard for its users attempting to recover Windows (and usually highly stressed) that it has not fixed this problem.

Note 2: What if you cannot boot into Windows 8.1 to make the recovery drive? I have not tried it, but in theory it should be possible to create a recovery drive on another PC and copy the recovery drive to it.