Sunday, 3 November 2013

Why the FCC needs to get with the times, finally

  We are in the midst of a transition away from copper wire-based communications services to broadband Internet-based services -- a transition that then-FCC commissioner Michael Powell called the "Great Digital Broadband Migration" way back in the year 2000.
  To its credit, on October 23, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the implications of this migration to digital services. While the hearing's title -- "The Evolution of Wired Communications Networks" -- might put you in mind for a good nap, the hearing did focus needed attention on important public policy issues raised by the digital transition. And now, with the Senate just confirming Democrat Tom Wheeler as President Obama's choice for new Federal Communications Commission chairman, along with Republican Michael O'Reilly as a new commissioner, the House hearing couldn't have been timelier.
  Because the FCC, with a new chairman and a full complement of commissioners now on board, needs to act with dispatch to adapt its regulations to the new digital age marketplace realities.
  The digital migration, or migration to IP (Internet Protocol) services as they are often called, already is far along. According to a just-released report by Anna-Maria Kovacs, a visiting senior policy scholar at Georgetown University's Center for Business and Public Policy, as of 2012 only 5 percent of U.S. households still rely only on copper-based wireline POTS (plain old telephone service) lines for voice communications, while 38 percent of U.S. households are wireless only. Over 90 percent of households subscribe to wireless service, increasingly delivered over IP broadband platforms. All the while, the number of subscribers to IP-based voice services provided by cable companies and others has increased steadily as POTS subscriptions have declined.
  The IP migration presents policymakers with a fundamental question: will the century-old public utility-style regulatory framework that still largely governs communications service providers be replaced by a free market-oriented framework that benefits consumers, while, at the same time, stimulating investment and innovation? Or instead, will the legacy framework, with rate regulation, nondiscrimination mandates, and other regulatory strictures, be an obstacle to realizing the full benefits of the digital revolution?
  There is near universal agreement that IP services provide consumers with more features and functionalities in less costly, more efficient ways than do the old copper-based services. There is also widespread agreement that IP-based services have fostered increasing competition among broadband providers for the provision of voice, high-speed data, and video services, regardless of whether these providers offer these services over wireline, cable, wireless, satellite, fiber, or some other technology.
  So the relevant point for the FCC and other policymakers is not, as pro-regulatory advocates often imply, that all of the services offered by all of the competitors are not perfectly substitutable all of the time for all consumers. No, the relevant point is that, for a large, ever increasing number of consumers, a choice of various IP-based competitors exists, and these competitors, in turn, offer a choice of attractive service options.
  In other words, within the past decade or two, the communications marketplace has been transformed from a monopolistic environment into a competitive one characterized by increasing consumer choice.
  The transition to all-IP networks almost certainly will be completed at some point in time, but given the benefits of IP services, sooner is better than later. The key hangup is this: telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon are required by existing regulations to maintain in place their old copper networks even as they become economically unviable as the traffic they carry declines dramatically. Indeed, in 2010, when the FCC adopted a National Broadband Plan, it acknowledged that continuing to require telephone companies to maintain the copper-based networks "siphons investments from new networks and services" and "reduces the incentive for incumbents to deploy" new IP facilities.
  Despite that now 3-year-old acknowledgment, the FCC nevertheless has been slow to act. The Commission opened a proceeding to consider IP transition issues a year ago, but since then, the proceeding has stalled.
  The Commission needs to act more quickly because the longer the old copper facilities must continue to be operated, the greater the costs incurred through loss of foregone investment and innovation. The FCC likely possesses the authority under the Communications Act to eliminate the regulatory changes that impede completion of the digital migration, while, at the same time, safeguarding certain important public safety and universal service interests. For example, as the copper network is phased out, questions relating to the continued availability of reliable E911 services must be addressed.
  To the extent the FCC lacks any needed authority, or fails properly to exercise such authority in a timely fashion, then Congress should be ready to step in with near-term legislation. For example, Congressman Bob Latta's recently introduced bill, H.R. 2649, requires the FCC to presume that relief from existing regulations should be granted to the telephone companies, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. This measure establishing a deregulatory presumption could be a useful tool in enabling the FCC to accelerate the IP transition, especially if applied to all entities subject to FCC regulation.
  Aside from any near-term legislation that may be needed, ultimately Congress should adopt a comprehensive Communications Act overhaul that substitutes a deregulatory, free market-oriented regime for the current public utility-style regulatory mandates. Under a new Digital Age Communications Act, the FCC's regulatory interventions in the new IP world should be required to be tied closely to evidentiary findings of market failure and consumer harm.
  In today's communications environment, the reality is that public utility-style regulation is no longer needed to protect consumers. Maintaining the old regime in place is unduly burdensome and too costly. Marketplace competition can protect consumers, while spurring both investment and innovation crucial to the health of our economy.
  With a newly reconstituted FCC ready to get to work, it's an opportune time for the agency to abandon its traditional pro-regulatory mindset.

Of course the terrible news for Microsoft is that its two older operating

  The percentage of Computer users running Windows 8.1 doubled within a month’s time, in line with the latest October data compiled by metrics firm Net Applications.
  Not surprisingly, that is still just a tiny fraction from the general Pc market place: 1.72 %, as measured by the firm. But combined with the quantity of users operating Windows eight, the combined market share of the Windows 8.x OS topped 9.25 %. At its existing pace, that share really should top ten % by the finish of your windows 7 professional pack year. (In September, Windows eight commanded 8.02 %, and Windows 8.1 0.87 %, for any combined share of 8.89 percent.)
  And sorry, Linux: Windows 8.1 now tops you, as well. Linux commanded 1.61 % of all PCs measured by Net Applications for the month of October. Mac OS X 10.eight was utilized by three.31 % of customers, Net Applications found.
  Of course, the terrible news for Microsoft is that its two older operating systems continue to dominate the Computer landscape. As outlined by Net Applications’s figures, greater than 46 percent of customers run Windows 7, and 31.24 % of customers continue to run Windows XP. Both numbers dropped much less than a percent from a month ago.
  XP’s marketshare is undoubtedly the most troubling, given that Microsoft will discontinue support for Windows XP by next April, leaving the 13-year-old operating program with out any way of being patched. The “XPocalypse” will leave PCs in a “zero day forever” mode, exposing them to any and all future vulnerabilities. Organizations starting to panic have selected Windows 7 as a stopgap, nevertheless.
  “Since Windows 8 launched, our guidance to business buyers has been to continue Windows 7 migrations that happen to be already in course of action,” a Microsoft representative told PCWorld in a statement final month. “We advocate our customers continue these deployments and look at Windows eight in targeted scenarios exactly where it makes probably the most sense, for example very mobile workers. As Windows 8 launched much less than a year ago, we're still seeing a lot of corporations completing those planned Windows 7 migrations now.
  “Every organization is unique and has different demands,” the Microsoft representative added. “The most important issue is that firms move off XP ahead of April eight, 2014, and onto a modern operating technique, and moving to Windows 7 will not only make sure that consumers remain on a supported version of Windows, but they will likely be on a path to Windows 8 and may make the most of innovations inside the Windows 7 platform, like enhanced safety and handle, increased user productivity, and streamlined Pc management.”
  Regrettably, there’s about 5 months before the XPocalypse draws nigh. Although Microsoft stands to advantage from the shift-31 % in the Computer user base stands to upgrade to some thing, no matter whether it be Windows 8 or Windows 7-there’s a actual threat to users who stay around the older OS. It is worth remembering-again-that if you’re one of those affected, think about producing an upgrade to a newer OS a priority.

Monday, 14 October 2013


  Sonos is like the Apple of the distributed audio scene. Its products “just work” thanks to intuitive design, and they strike an aesthetic that is simultaneously simple and classy. Unfortunately for many, the similarities between Sonos and Apple also extend into pricing. The fantastic Sonos:Playbar, for instance, is one of the best sounding options in the sound bar category, but it runs a spendy $700, and that’s without a subwoofer. But the latest speaker from Sonos, the $200 Play:1, is a deliberate effort to attract a new fan base to the company’s walled sound garden, and it looks mighty enticing.
  The Play:1 is smaller in both stature and price than the larger, $400 Play:5 or the $300 Play:3, but that doesn’t mean it will sound smaller. Sonos has a way of coaxing big sound out of its small packages, and we expect this speaker will be no exception.
  The Play:1 isn’t a Bluetooth speaker, and it doesn’t work off of Apple’s AirPlay wireless protocol. Instead, it works off a dedicated wireless “mesh network” that you set up in your home using a Sonos:Bridge. The Bridge simply hooks up to your home’s network and sets up a peer-to-peer network exclusively for any Sonos products in the home. You control the speaker with your phone or tablet, and can stream just about anything – from Spotify to Pandora to your personal music library – to any number of Sonos speakers.
  The Play:1 is a mono speaker, but if you use two of them, they can be paired to offer stereo sound. And, since the Play:1 is part of the Sonos family, a pair could also be used as surround speakers in conjunction with a Playbar and/or Sonos:Sub.
  Through the holidays, the Sonos:Bridge is free with purchase of a Play:1, but when the deal runs out it will cost you $50. The Play:1 comes in white and black and is available now. Check out Sonos’ video below to see the Play:1 in action.

Microsoft includes a issue with partners

  The optimist would say that Windows Phone's prospects have by no means been brighter. The pessimist would disagree.
  Around the vibrant side, Microsoft just announced Windows Telephone eight Update three, which includes new support for quad-core CPUs and phablets that assists keep its spec lists seeking fresh. Additionally, the buyout of Nokia's smartphone arm will bring Redmond's biggest hardware ally entirely into the fold, all whilst BlackBerry's apparent demise topples the competitors for third-largest ecosystem. All this provides the application giant a opportunity  windows 7 professional retail version  to no less than double Windows Telephone development by 2017.
  On the other hand, Windows Phone adoption has been slow, together with the OS fighting for significantly less than ten percent of mobile's global market share, even though Android and iOS gobble up the overwhelming majority.
  Moreover, Microsoft includes a issue with partners. At the moment it is trying to woo back HTC to after once more expand the Windows Telephone ecosystem. If that fails, Microsoft may very well be the only outfit generating Windows phones. That single-source technique may well perform for Apple, but even the iPhone is possessing a difficult time standing as much as Android's diverse and seemingly inexhaustible players.
  Back in 2010, and once more in 2011, Microsoft pleaded for patience in receiving its Windows Telephone off the ground. But this year, the newest update's most visible enhancements are a modified interface for extra-large phones as well as the capability to close apps in multitasking mode. You also can customize text tones by make contact with.
  This is hardly hearty fare, but Microsoft points out that they are the most-wanted additions requested by fans.
  Nonetheless, Windows Phone shoppers also clamor for a notification center, a file manager, a personal assistant, superior storage assistance for microSD cards, and indicator lights that signal missed calls and alerts. Several of these have been requested because the OS debuted and have lengthy existed on Android and iOS.
  Then there is Skype, the other business that Microsoft bought in 2011 (and for 1.three billion greater than Nokia), but the enterprise has however to integrate it into Windows smartphones by default to counter Apple's FaceTime and even Google Plus Hangouts. Yes, Windows Phone 8 Skype customers can place calls from the Individuals hub, after 1st downloading the app. What I'm speaking about is producing this an out-of-the-box function.
  We do know, at the least, that Microsoft is challenging at work on a private assistant of its own known as Cortana, which understands natural language and can replace the legacy TellMe voice input at present in use.
  Microsoft's next update need to be a major one particular that includes this individual assistant, notification center, and Skype integration at the incredibly least. Just after the Nokia acquisition is complete (assuming it gets shareholder and regulatory approval), Windows Phone should quickly incorporate Nokia-designed application tools, like its camera add-ons, in to the native OS expertise.
  From exactly where I sit, Microsoft's biggest asset -- and challenge -- is usually to take the major risks that make a organization stand out as a player worth paying interest to. After the transition, the Windows Telephone group need to not just use, but push Nokia's venerable style philosophy into edgier territory.
  Microsoft ought to waste no time funding projects that discover and apply new finishes and components (like continuing its work on graphene), publish a few wacky proofs of notion (like this 1 from 2011, also under), and probably make a high-end luxury phone of its own.
  Why? Microsoft's Windows Telephone project has spent its lifetime getting reactionary, trying to catch as much as Apple and Google devoid of truly managing to maintain pace. This isn't the time for you to be conservative with cookie-cutter style and characteristics which might be just good sufficient.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Apple iPhone 5s: My First Week

  I've spent a week using the Apple iPhone 5s as my primary device. In general, it is a solid effort on Apple's part, but it is not without its faults. Here are some of the strong points and weak points I've observed over the last seven days.
  iOS 7 is a bit buggy on the 5s. I've installed iOS 7 on an iPhone 5, an iPad 3, and an iPad Mini. It runs best on the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini. On the iPhone 5s, iOS 7 is prone to app crashes. Third-party app crashes aren't too awful, but when native apps such as the Settings Menu and Safari crash, you know something's not right.
  The hardware is fine, if unexciting. The 5s is a solid little device. Apple designed it with care and everything about it exudes quality and class. The display is great, even if it is smaller than I'd like, and the small form factor makes it easy to carry around and use.
  t's not the best voice phone. I've been testing an AT&T model of the iPhone 5s and am not impressed with its phone calls. I heard lots of interference and the earpiece speaker doesn't get quite loud enough. The speakerphone produces plenty of volume, but it also amplifies the interference. The iPhone is a better voice phone.
  The battery hasn't given me any trouble. The first few days were a bit iffy, but that's true of most smartphones. Once the battery cycled through a few charges, it settled into a good rhythm. I routinely got a full day out of it, despite heavy use. It's worth noting, though, that the battery cannot be removed or replaced, so you're stuck with what's sealed in the iPhone 5s.
  The camera is great. The new software, combined with the improved sensor, go a long way toward making the iPhone 5s one of the best camera phones available. The camera app is simpler to use and includes more features, such as burst mode and slow-motion video capture, and the results are on par with today's best devices. The improved gallery app is far more powerful when it comes to organizing photos, and some of the editing tools are a welcome addition.
  iOS 7 is still inflexible. Apple's simple smartphone/tablet user interface may win usability awards, but it is nowhere near as flexible or customizable as Android or even Windows Phone. The inability to control exactly where apps are positioned is frustrating, and the lack of resizable home screen widgets and apps leaves the OS looking too homogenous. I'd love to see some truly dynamic content on the home screen.
  Control Center is convenient. Apple's new dashboard for controlling some of the iPhone 5s's features is a big help. It makes simple tasks such as turning on and off the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios a breeze. I also like the fact that it includes controls for the music player as well as apps like the flashlight, calculator, timer, and camera. This is definitely a time saver, considering that it took several steps to reach many of these controls in previous versions of iOS.
  There's plenty to like about the 5s, but at the end of the day it offers only a slightly different experience than last year's iPhone 5. The Touch ID fingerprint sensor is the biggest difference. The camera and processor improvements in the 5s, though very real, aren't all that much better than the iPhone 5. We can only hope that Apple will make significant changes in next year's iPhone 6.

UI and UX paradigms as well as a big variety of hardware targets

  In an work to save each of its ailing platforms, Microsoft is arranging to combine each the Windows eight and Windows Telephone eight app retailers into a single, all-encompassing app shop. It isn’t entirely clear regardless of whether this can result in total cross-platform compatibility for each Windows eight and WP8 apps - like Apple’s iPhone and iPad App Store - or if it’s far more a case of designing a genuinely kick-ass app retailer that both platforms will then use independently of one another. In either case, the new combined app store will seek to rectify two enormous complaints: That Windows eight and Windows Telephone eight have poor app ecosystems, and, specifically inside the case of Windows eight, the utterly atrocious app store practical experience that generally leaves you asking yourself why on earth you decided to get a Windows tablet rather than an iPad.
  This news comes from the usual “sources acquainted with the company’s plans,” who spoke for the Verge. In line with the source, the head of Microsoft’s newly formed Operating Systems group, Terry Myerson, held a meeting exactly where he told a huge number of Microsoft personnel concerning the new strategy to combine the app shops. There didn’t seem to become substantially inside the way of facts, only that the new store - which we’ll bet excellent funds on it being called One particular Store - would include the “next release” of Windows and Windows Telephone. This need to imply Windows Phone eight.1 and an update for Windows eight.1, each of that are due in spring 2014.
  As for how the One Shop will truly work, we can only guess. In a perfect world, it would perform like the iOS App Shop: apps developed for Windows Phone 8 will be scaled up for use on Windows 8 tablets, and apps especially designed for tablet interfaces would show up if you’re browsing the shop on your Windows 8 tablet. Apple can get away with this because its smartphones and tablets run the identical operating technique, and therefore developers can target the precise very same APIs. Windows eight and Windows Telephone eight share a great deal of comparable characteristics, and in some cases some low-level code, but it is nowhere close to the same level of similarity as an iPhone and iPad.
  Microsoft, for its component, has previously taken towards the stage and promised a unified ecosystem - but the specifics on how such unification may well really take place haven’t been forthcoming. As it stands, when you develop a Metro app very carefully, porting it to Windows Phone 8 can be as easy as altering a handful of lines of code. In reality, although, as a result of wildly various screen sizes, UI and UX paradigms, and a massive variety of hardware targets (from Tegra 3 and integrated GPUs, by way of to Haswell and discrete GPUs), cross-platform compatibility has remained elusive.
  Unless Microsoft features a magic trick up its sleeve to enable developers to simply develop apps that run on both platforms - a compatibility layer (emulator) of some type, probably - then it’s a lot more most likely that the 1 Shop will just be a new app retailer design and style that is certainly utilized by both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Windows eight sorely requirements a brand new app store, and if a really unified app ecosystem is coming for Windows 9 and Windows Telephone 9, then it wouldn’t hurt to have people today made use of to the new app store nowadays. (Study: The Windows eight Store is broken: Here’s ways to fix it.)
  One more possibility, as I’ve hinted at ahead of, is the fact that 1 of Microsoft’s OSes might basically consume the other. As not too long ago as last week, Microsoft’s Myerson told some analysts that we should really anticipate to determine Windows RT on larger phones - and it goes the other way, also, together with the Lumia 1520 phablet operating Windows Telephone. I'd not be shocked if Windows/RT ultimately consumes Windows Phone, which would extremely neatly solve the challenge of cross-platform compatibility by removing the pesky “cross” bit.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Google, Microsoft outages: Two different outlooks?

  It might be something to do with a complete inability to trust my fellow human, but I don't stick to any one provider of Web services.
  I use three different browsers and three different e-mail services.
  I have no adoration toward any of them, but if there's one thing that's hard not to admit, it's that most of Google's tend to work a little better than anyone else's.
  Which made me wonder how last week might have proved that point.
  Microsoft's Outlook e-mail has sometimes -- at least for me -- been more erratic than a Fernet-ridden fly.
  Far too often, if I try to reply to a message, the system tells me it can't complete that action just at the moment.
  Sometimes, I try to send a message and the software keeps spinning without conclusion.
  I have to open Outlook again in a separate tab to discover that, yes, despite what the first tab was telling me, the message had been sent, but Outlook hadn't quite updated its outlook on that.
  When Outlook (and SkyDrive and Contacts) went down last week, it was more than awkward.
  It started with no mobile syncing and ended with no anything at all.
  After hours of this, I contacted Microsoft's Service arm via Twitter. The apologies were expansive. The explanations weren't.
  All I was told was: "Thanks for letting us know, Chris. Please keep checking for service status updates."
  This I did. However, even when the service status update finally said that Outlook was working normally, mine actually wasn't.
  Microsoft Support suggested I keep checking the service status updates. Franz Kafka, do you read me?
  "We understand your concern. We're working to resolve this as soon as possible. Check out for updates," read the message.
  Ultimately, the company explained that it was having caching problems.
  Three days seemed a very long time to solve them.
  For some time now, Microsoft has been telling me (and you) that Google is a quite heinous little organization.
  From the Scroogled campaign to an anti-Chrome campaign, I'm supposed to think that if Google bought me a latte, it would be polluted.
  Yet one thing Google can largely be trusted with it to make things that work more often than they don't. When it suffered an outage Friday, it also suggested people look at the service status board.
  The outage lasted between 2 and 5 minutes, and no meaningful explanation beyond "nothing to see here" was offered.
  That might reflect a certain confidence (or even arrogance) on Google's part, just as Microsoft's outage might reflect a certain confusion at its end.
  It's tempting to whisper that these two outages show two companies headed in opposite directions -- though, who knows, it's summer time, so perhaps Microsoft's best engineers are sunning themselves somewhere in the Bahamas, while interns man the fort. (Googlies don't do vacations, do they?)
  But there can surely be little doubt that Google buys loyalty (if not love) because its products just work, while Microsoft doesn't quite have the same reputation.
  Sunday morning, I looked again at the status of my Microsoft accounts.
  Everything seemed to be normal. Well, except: "A problem was recently resolved, and Calendar is now running normally."
  I'll keep using my three e-mail services. I might, though, spread the load a little differently.