Microsoft puts carriers before users in new Windows Phone update which you might not get

Microsoft has posted a new update for Windows Phone, update 7.10.8107.79. The list of fixes is here, not huge, but including one fix for an issue that has irritated many users:

On-screen keyboard. Fixes an issue to prevent the keyboard from disappearing during typing

But will you get the fix? The real news in Microsoft’s blog post announcing the release is this:

The update, available to all carriers that request it …

Microsoft is also discontinuing its Where’s My Phone update site:


Why? Microsoft General Manager Eric Hautala is blaming growth in the number of model, country and carrier variations. That makes the site more work to keep up to date, but no less useful for users.

So what is going on? When Microsoft ditched Windows Mobile for Windows Phone, it sought to learn a lesson from Apple and to provide consistency in user experience, hardware and software. One important part of that is to control updates, so that users do not have to wait for carriers to authorise updates (or not to bother), but get them in a timely manner. This is a potentially a selling point against Android, where users have difficulty getting updates, especially on older devices.

In March last year, Hautala said:

There’s one more thing I want to clear up. I’ve seen a lot of speculation on blogs and forums lately about whether carriers can “block” an update. We work closely with carriers to test and schedule updates. They may ask us for a specific date to start an update. They may ask for updates to be bundled together. But you should ultimately receive all the updates we send out [emphasis mine].

Microsoft now seems to be back-tracking on this commitment, though we need clarification. It is possible that all devices will eventually get the fixes, though not necessarily in this release but in a future roll-up. Check the comments though: users fear the worst.

For background, I recommend you read my piece from February 2010, before the launch of Windows Phone, where Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, Joe Belfiore and Andy Lees discuss the partner problem.

One further thought: if Microsoft is losing control over its partners, this represents an opportunity for specific partners to make the commitments that Microsoft is backing away from. How about it Nokia?

Update: Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore tweets:

ps – on updates, pls don’t overreact, our focus is on users first! As greg said “nothing has changed” in how we work w carriers on updates.

Greg is Greg Sullivan, Senior Product Manager on Windows Phone.

This still strikes me as a worrying development for users though. The disappearing keyboard bug is troublesome. How can a user find out when they will get the fix? “Ask your carrier” is all very well, but many find carriers unresponsive on this kind of issue.

Trying out nide – a cloud IDE for Node.js

I was intrigued by reports of nide, a web-based IDE for Node.js. It was one of the entries in the Node.js Knockout challenge last summer.

So how do you install it? One line on Linux; but I did not want to put it on my web server and I re-purposed my spare Linux machine last year after one of my other servers broke.

I decided to run up a Debian install on a Hyper-V server that has a little spare capacity.


I then followed the setups here for setting up Node.js and npm (Node Package Manager). I also installed nginx which I have been meaning to try for a while. Linux on Hyper-V works fine, though you have to use a “Legacy” network adapter which compromises performance a bit, unless you are willing to tackle installing Microsoft’s Hyper-V integration components for Linux, which do not support Debian though it is said to work. I do not need a GUI and the legacy network adapter is OK for this.

Everything works OK, though I found that nide does not work in Internet Explorer 9. I used Google Chrome, which makes sense I guess since the same JavaScript engine is used by Node.js.

Nide is a simple affair which is essentially a file manager. Projects are displayed in a tree view, and you select a file to view or edit it. The icons at the bottom left of the screen let you create and delete files and folders.


The smartest feature is version management. Files are saved automatically and you can easily compare versions and revert if necessary. The “Go backward in time” button shows that auto-saves are quite frequent.


There is also a GUI for npm built-in. Pretty good for a competition entry, though I had a few problems.

If you are interested in web-based IDEs, another interesting one is Orion, an Eclipse project.  Executive Director Mike Milinkovich says Orion will ship a 1.0 release later this year.


Storage Spaces coming to Windows 8 client as well as server

Steven Sinofsky has posted on the Building Windows 8 blog, making it clear that this feature is coming to the Windows 8 client as well as to Windows Server 8.

I took a hands-on look at Storage Spaces back in October.

The feature lets you add and remove physical drives from a pool of storage, create virtual disks in that pool with RAID-like resiliency if you have more than one physical drive available. There is also “thin provisioning”, which lets you create a virtual disk bigger than the available space. It sounds daft at first, but makes sense if you think of it as a resource to which you add media as needed rather than paying for it all up-front. It

The server version includes data deduplication so that similar or identical files occupy less physical space. Another feature which is long overdue is the ability to allocate space to a virtual folder rather than to a drive letter.

I do not know if all these features will come to the Windows 8 client version, but as data deduplication is not mentioned in Sinofsky’s post, and the dialog he shows does not include a folder option, it may well be that these are server-only. This is the new Windows 8 dialog:


Storage Spaces occupies a kind of middle ground in that enterprises will typically have more grown-up storage systems such as a Fibre Channel or iSCSI SAN (Storage Area Network). At the other end of the scale, individual business users do not want to bother with multiple drives at all. Nevertheless, for individuals with projects like storing large amounts of video, or small businesses looking for good value but reliable storage based on cheap SATA drives, Storage Spaces look like a great feature.

Most computer professionals will recall seeing users struggling with space issues on their laptop, not realising that the vendor (Toshiba was one example) had partitioned the drive and that they had a capacious D drive that was completely empty. It really is time that Microsoft figured out how to make storage management seamless and transparent for the user, and this seems to me a big step in that direction.

Asus Transformer Prime update: Google video rental or unlocked bootloader, you choose

Asus has responded to demands for an unlocked bootloader for its its latest Transformer Prime tablet.

It turns out that DRM is the culprit – at least, that is what Asus says on its Facebook page:

Regarding the bootloader, the reason we chose to lock it is due to content providers’ requirement for DRM client devices to be as secure as possible. ASUS supports Google DRM in order to provide users with a high quality video rental experience. Also, based on our experience, users who choose to root their devices risk breaking the system completely. However, we know there is demand in the modding community to have an unlocked bootloader. Therefore, ASUS is developing an unlock tool for that community. Please do note that if you choose to unlock your device, the ASUS warranty will be void, and Google video rental will also be unavailable because the device will be no longer protected by security mechanism.

My guess is that most modders will cheerfully unlock their bootloaders and ditch the DRM. That said, I am not clear why this should void the warranty unless it is software related.

Users petition Asus over locked bootloader in Asus Transformer Prime

The new Asus Transformer Prime TF201 Android tablet is winning praise for its performance and flexibility. It is driven by NVIDIA’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor and can be equipped with a keyboard and dock that extends battery life and makes the device more like a laptop.

All good; but techie users are upset that the bootloader is encrypted, which means the kernel cannot be modified other than through official Asus updates.

A petition on the subject has achieved over 2000 signatures. Detailed discussion of the implications are here.


Why do vendors lock the bootloader? One reason is for support, since it increases the user’s ability to mess up their machines. On the other hand, most users who hack to this extent understand what they are doing. This comment from the petition stood out for me:

We understand that custom firmware cannot be supported by ASUS, but we consider that it is our right to customise our devices in any way we wish: once bought, the Prime is our property alone to modify if we choose.

This is something we have taken for granted in the PC era, but the tablet era is looking different, with locked-down devices that give vendors more control. The success of the Apple iPad suggests that most users do not mind if the result is a good experience. It is a profound change though, and one that makes users vulnerable to vendors who are slow or reluctant to provide updates.

What is the best way to choose a development tool?

Research company Evans Data sent me a link this morning to its new Tool Grader service. This is a simple web application for reviewing and rating software tools. The same tool may rated separately rated for different platforms. For example, there is one entry for Eclipse under UNIX/Linux, and another separate one under Tools for Mobile.

I took a quick look and rate the site mostly useless. There are not many reviews, and most of the reviews are of little value, for example “This Is The Best Programming Tool i Have Ever Used,” from somebody who says that Eclipse “Must be used as a competitor for Java.”


The site would improve of course if a lot of people were to use it; but currently there is little incentive to do so, since most developers will take one look and never return. Evans Data could do better; it has a ton of data from surveys it has conducted and if it were to take some of the more useful data from those reports and integrate it with the Tool Grader the site would be more valuable. It will not do that I guess because its business model is to sell those reports, and because it would be a lot of work.

It gave me pause for thought though. What is the best way to choose a development tool? Part of the problem is that context is everything. The same tool will be great for one purpose and poor for another; it depends what you want it for, especially when it is a multi-faceted product like Eclipse or Visual Studio, both of which are really tool platforms.

If you are looking for information on which tool will be best for your project, I doubt that either Tool Grader or even purchasing an expensive report will help you much. One approach that has value is to install several candidates and try them out, but it takes considerable time and effort. Another idea is to go along to an active community like Stack Overflow, describe your project in some detail including any constraints like “our developers span three continents” or “the boss insists we use Rational ClearCase for source code management”, and ask for opinions from other users.

When I am assessing a tool I always try to visit forums where it is discussed and get a flavour of the types of problems and queries users have. If there is little discussion that suggests the tool is most likely little used, usually a bad thing. If the vendor has no open discussion on its site and emphasises the “contact support” route that suggests a weak community. I also look for potential showstoppers like instability or intractable problems such as difficulty wresting acceptable performance from either the tool or its output.

I do not pretend it is easy though. Tool choices are important because they have a significant impact on productivity, and it is hard to change your mind once you and your team have invested money, skills and code in a particular product.