Sling

For well over 8 years, I have avoided paying for cable TV.  There was a time I was paying over $100 for the privilege to have channels I never watched and increase my couch potato actions to make sure I was using what I paid to have.  Unfortunately, there is good content on several cable TV channels.  I have heard the argument that paying for channels you don’t need allows less popular channels to exist.  Shouldn’t supply and demand dictate?  And the excuse by cable companies that they cannot unbundle is just their way of making sure they maximize profits now without regard to the long term damage created towards their customers who are turned off by their tactics.

Enter Sling.  They have a streaming service that provides some al-la-cart choices, lower cost, and the ability to start/stop the service as needed in my life.  In the winter, I am more likely to catch a show or sport event.  In the summer, it is time to be outside and not watch TV.

While not perfect, it has really come a long way.  Their Windows 10 application (UWP-based) is actually decent.  The web browser works.  Their iOS (testing on iPhone and iPad) and TvOS (tested on Apple TV) apps work.  Their DVR service is handy.

If you are an aggressive TV watcher, then it might frustrate still, unless you would like to reduce your costs as much as possible.  For the casual watcher, it does a good job.  I have been able to watch the Olympics on NBCSN and Olympic Channel.  I had been watching the World Cup Alpine Ski racing up to the Olympics to get caught up with the various athletes and their disciplines (Downhill, Super-G, GS, Slalom, Combined).

This is a taste of the future – a centralized (single provider – not separate apps for each piece of content – that is a hassle!), lower cost, a-la-carte service that is accessible from multiple devices.

Net Neutrality, Early 2018

On 12/14/2017, the FCC changed the rules, effectively eliminating Net Neutrality, so consumers legally lost equal access to all content for a given price based on bandwidth speed and amount of data consumed. With Net Neutrality, we could use the data as we wished, accessing the services desired on the same equal field. Paying for more data or bandwidth allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to receive more funds to pay for increased infrastructure improvements while still keeping an equal playing field for all content providers (and ISPs for that matter).

In each market, the internet services providers are essentially a monopoly.  While I could use my mobile carrier’s data, realistically for my data needs, I really only have DSL (one provider) and Cable (one provider).  This constraint is similar for most and for many one or both providers are not especially favorable in the big picture.  Like telecommunication providers before them, they provide the connectivity (or phone back in the day) to the rest of the world and should be treated as a basic essential service.  In reality, Internet access is required to live life such as getting a job, pay bills, monitor credit, research information, do schooling, collaborating, book flights, and so forth.  In essence, Net Neutrality helps people in a manner that is already stacked against them with the ISP monopolies.

One major problem for me is that ISPs also provide content.  They have every incentive to provide poor service to other content providers and give premium access to their content.  They can now charge extra to access outside content so their services look more attractive.  This is a very big conflict of interest.

Fortunately, while untested legally at this point, states are coming to rescue where the FCC (and specifically Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission) has failed us individuals.  They are helping to represent their constituents.  There is overwhelming support by individuals to have Net Neutrality.  People should come before business on basic (essential) services.  Time will tell how this shakes up.  But it is a good idea to keep an eye on what is happening and keep the conversation going.

iPhone X cross out?

The iPhone X has a lot of nice features.  It feels good in the hand.  It has a nice edge-to-edge screen. It is stylish and unique (especially with the notch).

What is problematic about it is numerous.

It has the notch (unique but looks silly, especially until apps catch up, unless you make the screen smaller.  This gives the perception to users that the screen has lost real estate.

It doesn’t have a thumbprint reader, not even on the back.  This is a big deal for daily use.  I am constantly unlocking the phone.  Having to position the screen just right is annoying.  Facial recognition is a good idea, especially if an additional authentication factor could be used (thumbprint and facial recognition for those very security conscious folks).  But it has a hassle factor too.  Now if they had been able to incorporate an under the screen thumbprint reader and been the first mobile phone to market with this feature, that would have earned Apple big innovation points.

It is expensive.  Way too expensive.  The iPhone 8 and 8+ are much less and there are solid Android competitors that are also much less.  Do we really need OLED for a lot more cost?

Siri is terrible.  Granted, this isn’t specific to the iPhone X, but users don’t necessarily know that.  None of the digital assistants are great but Siri is the worst of the mainstream bunch.

The iPhone is still a good device.  It is my favorite for providing support since it is the same for everyone.  The carriers don’t control iOS and the update process.

The iPhone 8 and 8+ are just more realistic devices in the Apple ecosystem in terms of daily features and acquisition cost.

iPhone Batterygate is short term

I generally like Apple products. They are attractive and work well. One complaint that has always been present and kept me from the Mac OS as my primary platform is their dumbing things down too much. When a technical problem arose, they expected users to get help from, well, Apple. Or a reseller. Information on self-help was sparse. They didn’t realize how harmful it was to technical people to have such a closed system. These are the same people that could significantly promote their technology.

And now, they have done it again. They thought they were doing the right thing by providing maximum battery life at the cost of performance. They were thinking for us. They benefited with old phones getting pitched for faster new phones, made more amazing with a greater perceived delta in performance. They didn’t disclose the fact that we could replace batteries to preserve our phones a little longer and reduce “digital waste”.

Apple needs to understand that outside of their fan-base they need to be a lot more transparent.  They could have given us an option to adjust battery life vs performance (how amazing of an option would that have been?!).  They need to understand that we don’t want to have to change our phones every year (or even two) – that should be our individual decision based on our choices absent of manipulation or potential coercion.

In some ways this is similar to VW Dieselgate in that actions were taken to manipulate the system to their benefit and it wasn’t disclosed until an outside person made it known.  I have lived through this debacle thus naturally comes to mind.

While it may not have the same environmental impact, this will cause confidence issues and there will be greater scrutiny into their products.  Apple has spent many years to gain the trust of the typical buyer that wouldn’t purchase a Mac and aren’t apple loyalists.  How this will impact?  Only time will tell.  My guess is that unlike the VW scandal, this shall pass despite the betrayal.  Phones cost a lot less than cars.  Apple still makes a good product that is consistent and easy to support.  The iPhone market hasn’t dropped.  Apple is taking action that helps us now.  While we are temporarily angry (it takes little effort to be indignant while a lot of effort to change our ecosystem) and they have lost long term trust for some, we are now better informed consumers understanding we can take our products to Apple ($29 to replace right now instead of the normal $80) or a 3rd party (accepting risk vs price) for a new battery.  Or we can try to replace ourselves if so bold or interested.  There is no current fix for most of the formerly beloved VW TDIs and likely no Apple employee jail time.

This is also an opportunity for all (including those hurt) to review the other options available (on the Android OS really) to see if Apple still measures up or if it is time to bail and rethink your platform.  Ultimately, the drama will cool off and we will return to our own cool-headed thinking and selection process that represents our best interests for the time being.

Joining Azure Active Directory (1703+)

The process of joining an Azure Active Directory (AAD), starting with Windows 10 build 1703, has changed.

Why Azure AD Domain Join?

There are a number of benefits of joining AAD so you are able to use your Azure AD / Office 365 login:

  1. Centralized login credentials, especially nice with multiple devices
  2. Eliminate Office 365 and Azure-based login prompts when accessing word-based resources (e.g. Single Sign-On or SSO).
  3. Enterprise-based roaming of user settings across joined devices without the need for a Microsoft Account (e.g. account.microsoft.com).
  4. Access to Windows Store for Business using the AAD account.
  5. Doesn’t require a Windows Domain Controller (Windows Active Directory, or WAD) for smaller businesses.

If you are an enterprise (or even a smaller business with local authentication services on Windows AD, you can connect AAD to WAD and automatically link devices via Group Policy to AAD.

This requires allowing devices to join the Azure Active Directory. This is done via the Azure AD Portal. Navigate to Azure Active Directory and Devices, and finally Device settings.

Notice that the setting Users may sync settings and app data across devices is missing. This is because Intune and AAD Premium are not being used.

Without this setting being enabled, on Windows 10, the following will be displayed (Sync is not available for your account. Contact your system administrator to resolve this.) to end users with respect to Syncing your settings (which is available when a Microsoft Account is used).

Azure AD Domain Join

Windows 10 devices can join AAD for centralized authentication and limited management (unless you have an Intune Subscription).

Click on Start and then Settings. Click on Accounts.

Click on Access work or school. Click on Connect.

Click on Join this device to Azure Active Directory link:

Ignore the fact that the title states Microsoft account, which could be confused with a Microsoft Account. This is the right place for using AAD logins.

Enter in your AAD login (email address) and click Next button:

Enter in the password for the account and click Sign in button (noting that your screen will look slightly different, depending on the branding done on the AAD side of things):

Confirm you are joining the right organization and click Join button:

If all goes well, you will receive a confirmation message and can click Done.

You are now connected to the domain AAD (so the account is technically AzureAD\youremail@domain.com using the previous examples).

It is recommended you restart your computer and login with the new login by clicking Other user on the login screen and entering the email address of your AAD login.

Windows 10 on ARM

Microsoft is releasing Windows 10 on the ARM platform.  It will start with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with devices initially being released by HP and Asus.  They will come loaded with Windows 10S, with a free upgrade (for a limited time after purchase) to Windows 10 Pro if desired.  Windows 10S supports built-in and Windows Store native 32-bit (x86) applications and UWP apps.

Due to the nature of the Snapdragon processor, it will support cellular connectivity and gigabit Wi-Fi.

All of this allows for significant battery life and brings the mobile device world into the traditional computing (e.g. laptop) world.  In short, it gives consumers more choice with another device dimension.  Through emulation, it can run native x86 Windows applications as well as natively run Windows UWP applications.  It appears there is no x64 emulator.  For the most part, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Specific top x86 applications are being tested (such as Google Chrome, Adobe Products, Microsoft Office, etc.  Hopefully (hint, hint Microsoft!), Visual Studio 2017 will be included in the mix to allow .NET Core and UWP apps to be developed.  While many, if not most, developers will still favor Intel-based processors for maximum device coverage (they could, for example, run Windows 10S in a Virtual Machine), there is a segment of the market that could benefit from a long battery life, less expensive device.  This includes students who can be influenced to make a career in the development industry.

Exciting times!

The New Firefox (Quantum)

In November, Firefox Quantum (Version 57) was released.  It is a big deal (at least to me now, and those that have always liked Firefox).  It is fast.  It is beautiful.  It is on a wide range of platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux).  And it has brought me back (at least for now) to Firefox after 6 years of being on Google Chrome (I was a Firefox devotee for many years before Chrome).  Yes, I still like Chrome (for the most part) because it is still the most used (right now) but it has become stale and bloated.  Yes, I like Edge (for the most part) because it is also fast but it is only on Windows 10 and with limited add-ons.

It feels fast when I launch the application for the first time.  It feels fast when I use it.  It has nice built-in themes (Default, Dark, and Light).  Firefox once again defaults to Google’s search engine (instead of Yahoo!).  It has a new browsing engine that takes advantage of multiple cores in modern devices.  It has moved to a unified address and search bar (sometimes I like the separate bars when searching for something it believes is a domain name), drops legacy extension support, implements stronger security (better sandbox, for example), and more touch device friendly.

I am still testing Firefox with all my websites and using as a debugging tool.  Right now, it is doing great (for the most part) and it is my default.  It will be interesting to see what the others do in response.  In the meantime, it is great to see a standalone initiative (the non-profit Mozilla Foundation) releasing such a quality product.

OneDrive for Business 101-ish

I have been a long time Dropbox user.  I also have been a long time Office 365 Business User.  OneDrive was always subpar to Dropbox, but I kept an eye on it because I would like to eliminate the redundant expense for 1TB storage.  With the introduction of Files On-Demand with Windows 10 1709, OneDrive for Business and Personal are now much stronger contenders.  Dropbox Plus doesn’t have this feature via Smart Sync.  At double the cost, you have to upgrade to Dropbox Professional to get this service.  This means that if you synchronize a subset of folders/files (Selective Sync) to your local machine, you have to use a browser to determine if a folder or file in the cloud exists and set it up to sync.  A lot of extra steps.

Dropbox still has a simpler experience in general.  Managing the OneDrive client is confusing especially if you have multiple OneDrive accounts and have folders shared and synchronized (which creates landing folder separate locations).  It is made additionally confusing, but powerful, if you synchronize SharePoint Online files locally.

If you like simple, stick with Dropbox or other favorite file sync software.  Dropbox also offers long term file retention option (at an extra cost) in case you delete a folder or file and don’t check often.  If you have Office 365 (and all of its services) and are wiling to spend time to  learn its configuration, OneDrive is very useful.

Configuration OneDrive for Business

If you have OneDrive for Personal Setup

To add an Office 365 account (which accesses OneDrive for Business) or right-click on OneDrive in your Windows tray (typically on the lower right corner).  Select Settings.  Click Add an account button.  Enter in the credentials for your Office 365.

If you don’t have OneDrive for Personal Setup

OneDrive for Personal doesn’t need to be setup.  Open the OneDrive application (click Start and start typing OneDrive).  When it prompts for an account, enter in the Office 365 credentials.

Once OneDrive for Business is setup

A new OneDrive icon will appear in your Windows tray (it is currently a blue cloud icon).  Hovering with the mouse on the cloud icon will indicate which account is associated with the specific tray icon.  You can configure settings for each of the accounts by right-clicking on the cloud icon and selecting Settings.  This includes setting up Files On-Demand (currently not enabled by default with Windows 10 1709), Selective Sync, etc.

Accessing OneDrive files

This is where it gets a little weird until it becomes ingrained.  There are essentially three folders when using OneDrive for Personal, OneDrive for Business, synchronizing shared folders in OneDrive for Business (done by going to http://onedrive.live.com, selecting Shared with me, opening a desired folder, clicking Sync button) and synchronizing folders in SharePoint Online (opening the desired folder and clicking the Sync button).  Assume your Office 365 directory is called RecursiveGeek.  Your Windows profile will have the following folders:

  • OneDrive
  • OneDrive – RecursiveGeek Directory
  • RecursiveGeek Directory

The first folder is for OneDrive for Personal (folders and files setup to sync and, if enabled, Files On-Demand).  The second folder is your OneDrive for Business synchronized folders (folders and files setup to sync and, if enabled, Files On-Demand).  The third folder is your Sync folders from shared content (by other OneDrive for Business users) and SharePoint Online.

Conclusion

OneDrive for Business is really useful and has come a long way.  It would be nice if they cleaned up the UI with the OneDrive client in the Windows tray (single icon, single application that is managed in a single interface).  Files On-Demand is awesome, allowing you to conveniently and seamlessly access files in the cloud when not on the local drive to save space.  Dropbox Plus is no longer a compelling reason for me to use them and thus I will be dropping them once it is time to renew.

Windows 2016 without UWP

Microsoft would like greater UWP (Universal Windows Platform) acceptance.  Right now, only Windows 10 supports UWP.  One operating system out of many present.  Not so universal.

While it may be understandable to not go back and support older Operating Systems, such as Windows 8.1, 8, and 7, Microsoft has continued to bypass Windows 2016 (which was released after Windows 10).  Developers use Windows 2016.  Developers create UWP apps.  There is a desire to make UWP more accepted, but it doesn’t support the latest server OS.  The reasoning given is that UWP support is often updated, which is counter to server OSes.  Yet there is the push to use the most secure and fastest browser, which is Edge and not Internet Explorer 11 (talk about sending contradictory messages).

Windows Server 2016 only supports Internet Explorer from Microsoft (as well as Chrome, Firefox, Opera, etc.).  Yep, still scratching my head on this one.  And yes, still not developing UWP apps because of it.

Hello world!

Welcome to the new website.  This is being setup to talk about geek things.  Typically it will be about the Microsoft Platform.  But it won’t be limited since their ecosystem is expansive and there are other interesting technologies.

This blog may go no where.  It may go everywhere.  It is a test of my willingness to post content despite the numerous shiny objects and life living objectives.  Regardless, I hope you enjoy your visit and come back soon (provided I keep updating).