Netflix: A Lot More than “House of Cards”

netflix_logoNetflix has become a big star by moving from its successful business of lending DVDs to streaming to the even greater success of its own productions. What’s less known is that Netflix has become a technological leader, teaching the rest of the industry how to run a vast system in the cloud that has made it a winner.

Last year, the company had revenues of $5.5 billion, up 25.8% from 2013. Profits were $267 million. Streaming delivered 88.9% of the business though it has only been in 2007 that Netflix’s business consisted entirely of shipping DVDs and Blu-rays.

But another place Netflix has by itself is as a huge and extremely clever, successful user of Amazon Web Services (AWS), to which it moved its operations in 2010. Any Netflix service a customer gets — from signing up to a subscription to making the service available on just about any device capable of displaying the content to watching a showing of “Orange Is the New Black” to data and streaming is handled on AWS.

Big distribution, big failures. A massive distribution system built on the cloud seems asking for big failure. In 2011, AWS had a large breakdown that cut off the services from a good number of cloud participants including Reddit, Quora, and FourSquare. Netflix kept its service intact with almost no loss. And it wasn’t luck; Netflix has gone on to suffer virtually no losses during subsequent network problems.

I’m not sure how many users with cloud bases services (even private clouds) use the Netflix-developed techniques. Netflix is so pleased with the processes, it is happy to share what it has learned to anyone who wants the information. Not only that, the critical software of its diagnostic and control service is available freely through GitHub.

From the beginning, Netflix laid out its intention of using AWS. John Ciancutti, then a Netflix vice president and now chief product officer at Coursera, wrote a blog post (( If you are at all interested in the Netflix effort, follow the blog. It contains a wealth of information on how to run a big cloud-based service. )) on why AWS was chosen. The four top reasons: flexibility in architecture of a growing service, letting Netflix engineers focus on the business while Amazon provided the data center, the ability to easily adjust the size of the system even if the company itself isn’t good at predicting, and a commitment to the cloud as the future. [pullquote]The design of Netflix operations on AWS and the means for testing them was in large measure because of the warning from Amazon CTO Werner Vogels: “Everything fails. All the time.”[/pullquote]

The Simian Army. The design of Netflix operations on AWS and the means for testing them was in large measure because of the warning from Amazon CTO Werner Vogels: “Everything fails. All the time.” A major accomplishment for Netflix has been a large package of routines with the quaint name of the Simian Army. It was getting organized just around the time of the 2011 AWS network failure and has been expanding steadily in recent years with additional functions such as security tests. It’s quite notable that the inventions of Netflix are recommended to its cloud-using customers by IBM.

The oldest and one of the best known is Chaos Monkey, a tool available since 2012 to anyone who wants to use it. It is designed to improve the system by injecting failure, teaching engineers how to make the network service the daily threats with minimal loss.

“The name comes from the idea of unleashing a wild monkey with a weapon in your data center (or cloud region) to randomly shoot down instances and chew through cables — all the while we continue serving our customers without interruption,” Yury Izrailevsky Ariel Tseitlin wrote in the blog. “By running Chaos Monkey in the middle of a business day, in a carefully monitored environment with engineers standing by to address any problems, we can still learn the lessons about the weaknesses of our system, and build automatic recovery mechanisms to deal with them. So next time an instance fails at 3 am on a Sunday, we won’t even notice.”

I’m convinced that Simian Army is one of the reasons behind Netflix’s excellence (of course, there is also the willingness to spend a lot of money on content and internet capacity). For whatever reason, there’s no indication Amazon itself uses Simian Army, though that may be just part of Amazon’s secrecy. In any event, I regularly watch both Netflix and Amazon Prime and the quality of Netflix streaming is better. It may be the quality of the network testing.

Killing Tools Before They are Ready to Die

image g3

Before the iMac appeared in 1998, the back of a Mac was crowded with ports. Among them was an Apple Desktop Port for the keyboard and mouse, a Local Network Port to connect with printers, scanners, or other Macs, and a SCSI port for external storage. The iMac featured a couple of USB 1.0 ports. The floppy drive, a previously vital component of any Mac or PC, disappeared too. This was the first major source of what would become the Apple-led change to new technology, a history current reviewers continue to ignore.

The iMac design set off a considerable howling from critics, who felt the switch of ports and storage was the end of the world. Consider what a knowledgeable tech writer (ahem…myself) wrote at length in BusinessWeek:

Unfortunately, the very simplicity that makes iMac appealing to some buyers is a drawback for others. If you don’t have a lot of data or software on floppy disks and don’t need to use them to share information with others, you may never miss the floppy drive that Apple chose to leave off. But if you need removable storage, you’ll have to spend $150 for an add-on unit–and put up with an external drive and cable that makes a bit of a mess of the iMac’s elegance.

Apple’s choice of the new universal serial bus (USB) as iMac’s only way of attaching accessories allows owners to use the flood of devices designed for Windows 98–provided that the necessary Mac software is available. But current Mac printers will only work with the iMac through adapters, and existing external disk drives and scanners that use a regular Mac’s SCSI interface won’t work at all.

The biggest drawback of the iMac’s design is the lack of expandability. The only thing you can add inside the case is memory. While the iMac could benefit from an extra 32 megabytes of RAM, the difficulty of installation means that this job is best left to a pro. There’s no provision for a digital videodisk drive, though one could be designed as a substitute for the built-in CD-ROM. USB, meanwhile, is not fast enough for external hard drives or CD recorders. The 233-megahertz G3 processor is certainly fast enough to use with video editing software, but there’s no way to link your camcorder to the iMac.

Of course, the assumption that time was needed to meet the new requirements was correct, but the transformation was a lot shorter than most of us expected—and didn’t just affect the Mac. Intel had been doing everything in its power to force the adoption of USB for a couple of years, including on PCs where it was rarely used. Apple’s USB-only commitment help produce a conversion of printers, scanners, and storage devices for the common connection. Floppies, which were increasingly too small, fell out of use. Apple’s one mistake, a CD-ROM, was quickly surpassed by a DVD-ROM.

It took a long time to get rid of the old standards. Windows PC kept aged floppies, mouse and keyboard ports, and even RS-232 serial ports, for years. But they increasingly went unused as USB ports, CD-Rs, and the network replaced the originals.


Apple kept making the same “mistake”. The company was lambasted for not including a replaceable battery and an SD storage card in the first iPhone in 2007. Samsung, in fact, kept criticizing the decision until this year, when it eliminated that key feature on the Galaxy S6. The iPad, introduced in 2010, was vehemently criticized for its lack of support for Flash video, a criticism maintained until a substitution of others overcoming the technical and security flaws of Flash led to its overwhelming replacement. And there was no shortage of complaints in the design of the MacBook Air, particularly the elimination of the RJ-45 ethernet port.

Given that history, there should be no surprise many reviews were critical of the elimination of traditional features on the new 12” MacBook. As Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal wrote:

But as ahead of its time as the MacBook is, there’s a slight problem: You have to use it right now. Here in 2015, the majority of us still require two or three ports for connecting our hard drives, displays, phones and other devices to our computer—not to mention a dedicated power plug.

It’s an improvement over the past, when critics argued that Apple decisions were perpetually out of line, by merely saying they are too early. In fact, Apple is likely to prove users will move along faster than critics think—and some of the changes will move on to other laptop designs.

I realize I found myself rarely missing the ports on my MacBook Air 13″. ((Cable-locking Kensington ports, found on earlier MacBooks, were probably left off the Air because the slot just didn’t fit. Kensington has now announced a shrunken slot and new locks, with Lenovo as the initial customer.)) With the MacBook Air, I think I plugged in a CD player a couple of times to load software that is now more likely to come as a download and I had a dongle to (rarely) connect to projectors. I never got around to buying an intended USB-to-ethernet dongle because I never actually needed a cable connection. The only thing I am likely to miss on the new MacBook is transferring photos to an external hard drive when shooting a lot of pictures with a real camera, but today that would be more likely to be sent to the cloud. If the rare occasion when I need a power and USB connection at the same time comes along, a multiport USB-C dongle will do the job. The $79 charge from Apple is steep, but I suspect some competition will come along for less.

I doubt my position is all that unusual. Most people who use computers don’t really need extensive features and, for those who need power or lots of internal storage or a big screen, the MacBook is not a good choice—nor was the Air. A major reason Windows PCs have retained features that are rarely used is that enterprise models, which also often shape the design of consumer products too, must comply with corporate feature component checklists to be considered. Features tend to remain on those lists for years after they are needed.

The MacBook will disappoint those who feel a need for features including multiple ports that can be used simultaneously. But those who discovered the virtues of the super-thin, super-light Air are going to find the new model even better.

Amazon’s Dash Button and the Internet of Shopping

Huggies Dash ButtomWe’ve been hearing for years about how the internet would keep track of the refrigerator and let us know when we need milk and eggs. Now it is finally coming, as should surprise no one, from Amazon. The question is, will imposition of what we’ll call the Internet of Shopping be worth it to anyone?

Amazon started this approach  with the Amazon Dash, a camera and microphone-equipped device that used a WiFi connection to order goods from AmazonFresh, the grocery store-by-truck being offered in selected cities. But the Amazon Dash Dot, for which an Amazon Prime consumer can submit an advance order, is both a more complex and simpler service.

The button is linked to a specific product, at the moment at least from a collection of massive consumer companies such as General Foods, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble. Stick the 2″ by 1/2″ Button to a surface. When you are running short on Tide Pod detergent, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, or Kraft Easy Mac Cups, the Button sends a WiFi signal to an iPhone, Android phone or a PC to generate an order to Amazon.

Once the Amazon Internet of Shopping device starts shipping in volume it is likely to do well. The Dash button will be easily available to anyone–it can be had by any purchaser for no cost and is likely to become popular.

Dash Button products Assuming that the button works as expected, and that seems like a realistic expectation, its real significant will be its economic potential. Amazon, starting with taking over the book business, has had a significant impact on a considerable variety of products.

In our house, we order lots of stuff from Amazon, at least enough that we get a delivery nearly every day. We’ve essentially replaced drug store purchases with Amazon, in large part because our neighborhood CVS is a pain of a store. But we–and by this I mean my wife, Susan, who does most of the ordinary shopping–still buy most basic home products in supermarkets. We want to buy our own fresh food (AmazonFresh is not an option here yet, though PeaPod or Safeway deliver) because we want to check out quality, availability and price. I personally prefer hitting the H Mart Korean store for produce and seafood.

The Dash button could make the Internet of Shopping a winner for both Amazon and consumer product makers. Amazon, of course, would increase its sales if the button succeeds. And product makers lock customers into the brand for which they have a button; it’s likely to get an order for needed detergent with Tide, dissuading customers from taking advantage of an in-store special. Products with firm customer loyalty for the brand, such as toiletries and cosmetics, are likely to do best.

I suspect the Internet of Shopping is likely to do best among relatively well-off families. Of course, the option only works when you have a WiFi connection at home, but that comes close to 100% when you eliminate the poorest and the oldest. But those relatively high in income tend to be longer on money, shorter on time and more interested in the ease generated by the Dash button than in saving.

The New Yorker offers a somewhat tongue-in-cheek view of the disadvantages of Dash button, “The Horror of Amazon’s New Dash Button” by Ian Crouch:

But what if there is actual value in running out of things? The sinking feeling that comes as you yank a garbage bag out of the box and meet no resistance from further reinforcements is also an opportunity to ask yourself all kinds of questions, from “Do I want to continue using this brand of bag?” to “Why in the hell am I producing so much trash?” The act of shopping—of leaving the house and going to a store, or, at the very least, of one-click ordering on the Amazon Web site—is a check against the inertia of consumption, not only in personal economic terms but in ethical ones as well. It is the chance to make a decision, a choice—even if that choice is simply to continue consuming. Look, we’re all going to keep using toothpaste, and the smarter consumer is the person who has a ten-pack of tubes from Costco in the closet. But shopping should make you feel bad, if only for a second. Pressing a little plastic button is too much fun.

That, of course, is a problem that only applies to the relatively comfortable. My guess is they are going to find Internet in Shopping too much of a helpful offer.

Meerkat, Periscope, and Hope

Meerkat & Periscope logosI’ll give Ben Rubin some credit. Ready to launch his product and with a upcoming rival from Twitter breathing down his neck, the CEO of Meerkat launched the product in time for South by Southwest’s technology segment. SXSW, loaded with hundreds of tech reporters with little to do but eat and drink, is a great place to release a new product, especially one that offers lots of novelty.

It got what it wanted. As Casey Newton declared on The Verge:

The live-streaming app built from the ashes of a stagnant app named Yevvo took Austin by storm this year. Festival-goers used it to stream concerts, panels, pedicab rides, and strolls down Cesar Chavez Street.

While attending the live taping of a podcast, I noticed the man sitting in front of me Meerkatting the first few minutes. The previous day, some Verge friends and I shot a three-way Meerkat of us Meerkatting (( Verge’s spelling. What can I say. )) each other. (It was self-indulgent, terrible, and watched by more than 100 people.)

Of course, the glory of Meerkat was short lived. Right after SXSW, Twitter announced the similar Periscope, a step that was no secret as Twitter had bought Periscope just a couple of weeks earlier and was active in trying to restrict Meerkat. The flock of Meerkat acquirers installed Periscope on the iPhones and were putting out a fresh flood of live videos on the new service.

Meerkat-Periscope graph

Although there were some skeptical posts, the initial reports to both services left them excited. But to anyone paying attention, there should have been a lot of questions, even with financial issues aside. Some serious problems were immediately seen. One is that making even tolerable videos live isn’t easy and the overwhelming majority of Meerkat and Periscope posts are dreadful. (You can see samples at any time on Mac or Windows by going to the web pages if you don’t want to install the apps or lack an iPhone — Periscope is only available on an Apple phone now.) As Mic Wright said in The Next Web: “Periscope and Meerkat have flooded our social streams with hours of awful new content, just like Snapchat and Vine before them.”

Another issue — you must be able to drop what you are doing whenever you get a notice and watch a live video. If you don’t see it then, it’s gone. Finally, students, workers, and other who surreptitiously deal with text messages or tweets while they are supposed to be doing something else usually don’t have access to video that usually depends on some audio.

Even for most actual live news, these services leave something to be desired. Laura Abernethy’s Guardian article in praise of the benefits of the apps to news services said:

When a building collapsed in New York City’s East Village, bystanders began sharing what they could see with Periscope. The Huffington Post publicised a link to one of the streams on Twitter and at one stage, one stream had more than 600 people watching.

The problem is that 600 people, or the 600 to 700 that watched a Los Angeles car chase on both Periscope and Meerkat, are very small audiences. A cute cat video on YouTube is likely to have far more viewers at any time. Unless you have nothing better to do with your time, you are going to miss even good live videos if you don’t have time to drop everything each time a possibly interesting notice hits your screen.

The slow growth of both services after a jump and slump suggest that rapid, extended growth of these services isn’t likely to happen. Periscope clearly exists to be integrated in some way with Twitter. It’s not clear exactly how it will be changed to make its service work, but videos attached to tweets could resemble Facebook videos. Meerkat, which has a new $12 million investment led by Greylock and a $40 million value, has no obvious means to generate income and is probably looking for a buyer that could bring it into a service.

Meanwhile, those who follow tech news from SXSW should give the flood of one or more products that will probably come out next year a cautious view. Twitter did not actually launch at SXSW but it made a hit in its success there in 2008. It’s worth remembering, however, that it took several years before Twitter became wildly popular. On the other hand, there was FourSquare, which got great publicity for helping SXSW participants find each other at parties. Like Meerkat, it was greeted as the new mobile miracle. Anyone you know still using it?


If you are an Insider, check out Tim Bajarin’s The Good, the Great, and the Ugly of Meerkat and Periscope.

It’s a Different Microsoft, and It Matters

Nadella and Ballmer

Back in the days of Microsoft’s glories, the company lived on one simple approach to the world: Every decision the company made was to promote Windows. In a period when PCs were the only thing that mattered and Windows’ control was close to absolute, this was a simple formula to building market and profits.

The nature of the industry began changing quite a while ago, but business stayed pretty good for Microsoft and there was little reason to redo things. But having finally been hit by huge changes–especially the realization that the PC, Windows or otherwise, no longer completely dominated the market–Microsoft is going through a major rearrangement that finds Apple and Android as important as Windows.

It’s been just over a year since Steve Ballmer turned over the CEO post to Satya Nadella. A great deal of change was probably underway while Ballmer was still in charge. But being the boss of the new environment gives Nadella the credit. He would be given it in any case, seeing as he goes for the change with more enthusiasm than Ballmer ever could, as the heir to Gates and executive of Windows.

office-tweetThe change in thinking is the decision that Microsoft’s critical software should be available on any device that makes sense. For years, Windows and Office (( For those of with long enough memories, you may remember Office was actually invented as a way to package Word with the popular Excel for the Mac. This was in an era when most PCs still ran MS-DOS, Lotus 1-2-3, and WordPerfect. )) leaned against each other as the center of Microsoft’s business.

The success of this past has been to make make Office applications, particularly Word and Excel, indispensable for those who must work, at least from time to time, with text or numbers. Enterprise ran their work on Office and people needed the software to work with both office and personal content at home. While it was possible to at least read Office documents on other devices going back to the Palm, Microsoft never made much of an effort for non-Windows competitors. For example, despite their years of experience, Office components on Macs long have been inferior to Windows versions. And Microsoft programs for iPhones or Android were largely non-existent. The goal was Office for Windows and Windows for Office.

Chris CaposselaIn a presentation at Convergence 2015, Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela came with a presence that would have been unimaginable a couple of years ago. “We have pockets of real strength around the world, but we have some areas where our products just have not become important enough compared to what we would like them to be.” he said. And what is behind it is a fundamental change in how Microsoft, which claims has earned $25 billion a year from Office, will make money in applications from both consumers and enterprise customers: “We have a history of making money on Windows licenses that OEMs pay us on Enterprise Agreements, on EAs, if you will, and we’re changing that dramatically, and we’re moving to a model that we talk about as freemium innovation.”

One of the more obvious changes is Office 2016 for the Mac, available now as a beta, and reasonably close to finished for use with Yosemite. I have worked with both Word and Excel and they are considerable improvement over the applications in Office 2011 in both appearance and performance. The current version of Outlook was developed ahead of the new Office and it still needs works. It looks good, but it a pain to set up with accounts on anything but Exchange.

A bigger move is the deployment of Office to users of iPhones, iPads, or Android devices. Office is now available free. And it is surprisingly good. I recently wrote an article of length on Word on my iPad with a keyboard and found it about the best writing experience I had on the device. (I found an iPhone 6 too small for anything but reading a document, though iPhone 6 Plus might be big enough to work.) And Outlook for iOS is an excellent mail client, especially for–of all things–Gmail on an iPhone or iPad.

microsoft-johnsonMicrosoft is not trying to leave a mystery about where it is heading. Peggy Johnson, who came aboard as executive vice president for business development last October, said in a company blog post that it is going ahead with its effort to get device manufacturers to install Microsoft applications on PCs, phones, and tablets. She wrote: “Now we see an opportunity to turn our focus to our device partners—easing mobile access to great apps and services for customers by pre-installing them directly on the device.”

The names of Samsung and Dell are hardly surprises. But other participants are regional device makers including TrekStor, JP Sa Couto, Datamatic, DEXP, Hipstreet, QMobile, Tecmo, and Casper, along with Pegatron, a Chinese contract manufacturer (for whatever it may mean, Apple is a major customer of theirs).

“For OEMs, these deals will increase the value of and enrich people’s experiences on Android devices,” wrote Johnson. “Original device manufacturers are important because they extend Microsoft services to the ecosystem. More specifically, they help to reach a greater number of other device manufacturers, resulting in even more choice for customers around the world. And for Microsoft, this is part of the company’s mobile-first, cloud-first vision. It is addressing consumer demand for top services by making them already available on a device, instead of requiring consumers to download them separately.”

For this to succeed as a business, Microsoft has to find a way of creating lucrative services for the user of apps and a large variety of devices. But Microsoft knows how to run a back end and how to support enterprises. It’s going to take effort but there’s a chance they can deliver well for the future.

The Electronic Car: Today and Tomorrow

Apple CarPlay dashboard

What is an electronic car?

To some, it’s the model of the future, the complete electrical car with the Tesla as the winner. For some, it is a car with improved electronic entertainment and information systems. Another view is that, while petroleum may power most engines, nearly everything in the car, from fuel injection to tire pressure, is monitored and controlled by dozens of computerized electronic systems.

The day of dominant electric powered cars will come but it will take years before prices fall and the availability of battery charging sites rise enough to dominate the market. And despite speculation, it seems unlikely Apple or Google will become major players in the field. For now, this is an important but fairly small piece of the car market and one where no one has figured out how to earn money.

Information and entertainment is a much hotter area. The field consists of two different systems. Microsoft tried to get away with its plan to combine both the control of the gear in the car–audio, maps and routing, displays, and all the gear–and the system that receives and plays locally stored and wireless content. After years of struggling effort, with Sync as the most recent version, Ford has dropped Sync and Microsoft has largely left the field. Instead, the two sections have been split.

Where QNX  came from. QNX, a service based on a real time operating system, appears to be the leader. Oddly enough, QNX is a unit of BlackBerry, which had bought it as the source of an operating system for its new, and unsuccessful, family of smartphones. Support of auto systems came along with the deal and may now be one of the few sources of profit for BlackBerry (the company’s statements do not include details). This system is critical yet effectively invisible to users. The system controls the entertainment and communication equipment built into the car including amplifier and speakers for music and voice, microphones, and a dashboard display.

The stuff that shows up in the car is getting the attention. Both Apple and Google are moving aggressively with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with deals with car makers. These approaches, which are more than a little similar to each other, consist of an app installed on a relatively recent Android phone or iPhone ((Apple CarPlay supports all phones since the iPhone 5. Android has not yet specified which phones will comply with Auto.)) and assume support, such as QNX, built into the car.

The phone links to the car system with Bluetooth and can be controlled by voice, touch of dashboard screen, or built-in knobs and buttons. Content includes music–either on the phone or available through services–maps and navigation, phone calls, and messages. At this point, they do not support video; this will probably come eventually for rear seat video, but they are going to need guaranteed safety.

Fast growing service. The vehicle systems are appearing now and will become standard in cars. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have arrangements for support from most U.S., European, Japanese, and Korean companies. Each has a list of about 30 companies with relatively few differences, the major one being both Mercedes-Benz and BMW support Apple but not Android.

Of course, Apple CarPlay and Google Auto will only work on new cars. But there is a way to add the function to existing cars. Pioneer’s high-end, display-equipped systems will support Apple and Google. Similar systems from Alpine support CarPlay, though Android support is probably coming.

Auto electronics units

The many, many systems in a car are a complex story for the future. The drawing from the Clemson University Vehicular Electronics Lab shows more than 50 units, many including a computer of some sort. Some, such as airbag deployments and windshield washer controls, are independent. Others, such as automatic and antilock braking, have to work together though they may not be connected.

Getting components together. The next challenge is getting these components to work together. Many of these functions will be much improved if they can communicate and work together far more efficiently. But everything has to be done right and nearly everything has to pass government inspection.

The long term game is for all of those car components to become part of a network of an Internet of Things. With IoT, the devices will be able to communicate with each other and control each other as allowed. They will be able to send information to both internal car controls and also to sensors and control centers outside the car. But this is a very complex job, both technical and legal, for this system and it will take years to be completed. Gartner, for example, projects that 250 million cars will include some IoT components by 2020, probably a reasonable estimate.

I suspect this is a computer industry that computer and software companies are unlikely to dominate. Apple and Google may be interested, but it is a very tough business for them–and one the auto makers will not want to see them run. I suspect most of the moves will be made by car makers themselves, in cooperation with technologists like Intel and Texas Instruments and auto specialists such as Siemens and Bosch.


iPhone, Apple Watch and Better Medical Research

For the past year, I have suffered from a serious illness, though blessedly at least for the time being, I’m in a healthy and functional condition. Not surprisingly though, I am interested in the efforts of research that turns out to be very low because the number of patients is small. But there should be little doubt I am fascinated and pleased by Apple’s efforts to change the game by aiding research efforts.

Apple put out the plan when it announced HealthKit  to developers at the Worldwide Developers Conference last June. It gave the plan a boost at its latest announcements by talking about how what it nw calls ResearchKit (( Apple originally named the program HeatlhKit at WWDC, then changed the name recently to RearchKit. Both names are still in use. )) will work with the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, which will ship in mid-April. A key and unusual part — participation in ResearchKit is open source, allowing free participation in development of research applications by anyone. Apple also makes sure the individual data collected and transmitted to researchers is not stored on the phone, both to protect the privacy of users and comply with legal requirements, such as HIPAA.

The Apple Watch adds capability to the iPhone 6 with features such as heart beat ((Unfortunately, the iPhone I and another user tried at Apple’s post-presentation demo showed heart beat rate significantly too high–by more than 30 beats per minute for me. I hope this gets straightened out before the Watch ships.)) and motion. The data adds to the information available to phone apps, both the built-in Health app and third party offerings.

The improvement of data for measuring and recording physical activity is a big help to iPhone and Apple Watch owners and the usefulness of the Apple Watch as an addition to exercise tools is a major selling point. But HealthKit may prove more important to society in the long run. Apple has gotten the project going with studies by at least a dozen research centers, from the Dana-Farber Research Institute to UCLA.

Stanford MyHeartJeff Williams, Apple senior vice president for occupations (above), noted the most important needs in medical research testing include getting volunteers to participate in studies. Inadequate numbers of participants or lacking the broad enough availability of patients can damage research. Cases where the number of patients is relatively small to begin with face particular difficulty working with enough cases. The availability of software on an iPhone and, where available, an Apple Watch, can dramatically improve participation. “Many of the 700 million with phones will contribute,” said Williams.

One example of a current ResearchKit application, mPower, is a collection of diagnostic data on Parkinson’s Disease by the University of Rochester and Sage Bionetworks. The iPhone, and presumably the Apple Watch as it becomes available, is used to measure hand tremor, voice stability, and gait precision. Without the iPhone and software, the data can generally only be gathered during doctor appointments; with a ResearchKit app, it can be collected with much more frequency and over a much greater range of circumstances.

Other initial apps for studies include asthma (Icahn Medial School/Mount Sinai Hospital and LifeMap Solutions, Asthma Health), heart disease (Stanford MyHeart Counts), diabetes (Mass General GlucoSuccess), and breast cancer (Dana-Farber, Penn, Sage Bionetworks, and UCLA, Share the Journey.)

The Apple Watch/iPhone combination offers a system competitors would have great difficulty matching. The variety of Android phones and their physical behavior measurement makes designing the software difficult and the large number of smartwatches with varying capability makes including them even more difficult. Samsung, if it were inclined, might manage an effort if it were limited to the Samsung S5 and S6 and Samsung’s watch, but there’s no indication of a market to match Apple’s.

Apple’s support for health research is a great start but, while it is likely to provide helpful research, the initial focus is on areas that are already heavily studied. My hope is ResearchKit will increase the research of conditions often inadequate today because the population of patients is too small and too dispersed for ideal studies.

Samsung Pay May Add Opportunity — or Confusion (ADDITION)

Samsung at MWCSomeday, sooner rather than later, we’ll be using our phones instead of credit cards for all our purchases. But the big question as the technology spreads today is are we — customers, merchants, finance companies — getting into a field that is better or worse for us?

The latest move came from Samsung, which announced at the Mobile World Congress the new Galaxy S6 phones that feature a service called Samsung Pay. It will let you use the phone to pay for purchases by holding it near a receiver at a store and touching your fingerprint to the phone.

Sound familiar? Samsung’s move is similar in more than name to Apple Pay, though it has some different functions. There’s also Google Wallet. And if you are really confused by the names, Google’s Sindar Pichai has announced Android Pay, which is quite different. It’s an API that allows developers to build a credit card payment function into Android apps. (We won’t bother discussing an app called Samsung Wallet in Google Play.)

PayPal enters. And there’s more. PayPal announced it has just bought Paydiant, a builder of mobile payment software specifically for retailers that use their own credit cards. And, of course, there is still the CurrentC plan, backed by big retailers, that will allow a phone to make a credit card purchase with a QR image that appears on the screen. CurrentC was built on Paydiant software and anything PayPal does is likely to have much in common with CurrentC.

Five separate apps on two different approaches are not all going to make it. For Samsung, the big question is what Samsung Pay–the company’s choice of the name showed off its lack of imagination once more–will accomplish. Samsung moved quickly after Apple’s launch of Apple Pay by using the software programming on LoopPay, which Samsung acquired just last month. The design depends on EVM and NFC semiconductors, just like Google Wallet and Apple Pay. [pullquote]For Samsung, the big question is what Samsung Pay–the company’s choice of name showed off its imagination once more–will accomplish.[/pullquote]

Samsung Pay will be available immediately on the Galaxy S6, although Samsung’s announcement did not made it clear whether it will be pre-loaded on the phones or left to be added to S6s through Google Play. Samsung left a mention of Pay out of its preliminary web site promotions on the Galaxy S6, while Apple and Google both promote the credit card offering. If  Samsung steps up its promotion, it could easily become more popular than Google Wallet, at least among Galaxy customers with whom it has never promoted the Google offering. Samsung claims it also provides additional security protection through its KNOX mobile security, a potential match for Apple and advantage over Google.

Samsung’s finance interest. Samsung has some support from credit finance companies and retailers, but its position seems some distance behind Google Wallet, let alone Apple Pay. Visa Jim McCarthy, executive vice president of Visa offered a tepid endorsement: “Mobile commerce just got a lot more interesting. Combining Visa’s expertise in payment technology with Samsung’s leadership in creating innovative mobile experiences, gives more choice to financial institutions who want to enable their customers to pay by phone.”

It does seem unlikely that five rival systems will all survive. A grouping into two rival systems seems more likely–Apple, Google, and Samsung combining on the one hand and CurrentC and PayPal on the other. Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Samsung Pay have significant design differences, but they are very similar at their cores. A critical question remains whether Apple, which has by far the deepest relationship with the credit card industry, wants to control the effort through a union of some sort or whether it wants to keep Apple Pay limited, as it now is, to iPhones.

The roles of PayPal and CurrentC is more obscure. The purchase of Paydiant means PayPal owns the technology behind the design of CurrentC, but commonality beyond that isn’t clear. While the approach is not tied to hardware requirements like the competition, it does not provide the security or ease of use. What it has going for it is mainly distaste for Apple and for banks in the retail industry, but that could offer some success.


ADDITION: Though Apple Phone was blamed for the use of fraudulent cards, the error was the fault of banks, not Apple, and was as likely to go on with the Google or Samsung apps. The problem was that banks were accepting the registration of credit cards stolen, including some of the big card thefts. The problem was a lack of proper checks before registering the card accounts and the banks are now toughening it,

Apple, Microsoft, and the Success of PCs

Microsoft Signature

Maybe the disaster of Lenovo may help save the PC sales business.

The world’s leading brand of PCs got into a lot of trouble when customers discovered a program called Superfish, ostensibly designed as a shopping aid but leaving computers vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, had been installed on Lenovo brand computers – not ThinkPads (( Computers, like ThinkPads, designed for business use are typically sold with much cleaner installations. Of course, a fair number of consumer units end up in businesses, especially small companies. )) — between September, 2014 and January, 2015. It was an obvious example of how PC makers load machines with junk to bring in a little more revenue.

But the Superfish (( Ars Technica offers a good technical piece describing Superfish and related offerings.)) mistake also illustrates an important reason why Microsoft has some serious work to be done on the practices of its partners. They’ll need it if Windows is to prevent the loss of the profitable end of the PC market to Apple, whose Mac sales are rising as the rest of the industry declines. When you buy a Mac, you don’t have to worry about what is on the machine. Third parties are never allowed to add applications and, should you for any reason not want one of the standard Apple apps, you may easily delete it.[pullquote]Retail margins are so small, manufacturers can’t bring themselves to reject the idea of third-party apps.[/pullquote]

Manufacturers of Windows PCs buy the OS from Microsoft but are free to add third-party applications. They can add programs they have actually designed themselves or third party products, like Superfish or the common anti-virus programs, in exchange for payment. Retail margins are so small, manufacturers can’t bring themselves to reject the idea.

Annoying but harmless Most of the stuff loaded on Windows PCs is annoying but harmless. Typically, it offers a brief amount of free use, requiring a payment or subscription to go on. I have seen many PCs of less-than-expert users that have been in use for years with uninstalled third party add-ons sitting on the desktop. But then, dangerous software like Superfish comes along. The only good news is, despite end-of-the-world warnings from some commentators, evidence of losses is rare. So far, there have been a couple of attempted class-action suits, one brought by a woman who complains Superfish caused pictures of “scantily clad women” to turn up on her Yoga PC.

Microsoft these days seems to realize the problem. It is offering a plan called Signature on PCs it sells itself, both online and through the limited number of Microsoft retail stores, with no software junk added. Microsoft even takes a poke at its own partners’  plans on its  Signature sales web site (see picture above.) And although many of the Windows PCs are top models at prices similar to Macs, the Signature includes some very inexpensive laptops, including the Hewlett-Packard Stream 11 for $199. The same Stream is available directly from HP for 99 cents more; it includes several HP apps (but no indication of third-party apps).

Un-Apple-like margins The problem the makers have is extremely low, un-Apple-like, margins. HP, Dell, and Lenovo can probably get decent margins out of lines their enterprise market PCs. The prices of those systems tend to be well below Macs but, by the time you upgrade their base capabilities to match a base Mac, the price is close to a MacBook. For example, a ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop with a 14″ display costs just about the same as a $1,999 MacBook 15″ with a Retina display after you match MacBook components with an Intel i7 processor, maximum pixel display, and 256 GB in solid state storage.

Prices of retail laptop and desktop Windows units aimed at consumers, except for low volume but expensive game machines, are fiercely priced. Therefore, any addition they can add from a third party is attractive if it adds a bit of revenue.

I doubt Lenovo’s Superfish experience will lead it to drop third-party software, but it may at least make it and other manufacturers more careful. “We messed up,” Lenovo CTO Peter Hortensius told Ina Fried of Re/code (( Insiders looking for more on Lenovo’s challenge should check out The Lasting Impact of Lenovo’s Adware Crisis. )) “We should have known going in that that was the case. We just flat-out missed it on this one, and did not appreciate the problem it was going to create.”

Entertainment and the Internet


mark_cubanMark Cuban is one of the inventors of internet-based video, having gotten rich selling to Yahoo in 1999. He still admits he doesn’t know that it is desirable for all the new means of network distribution to dominate entertainment. He owns a television network, movie theaters, the Dallas Mavericks (where he bars fans from using phones or tablets while at an NBA game), and, of course, “Shark Tank” on ABC.

Why does he make such investments considering the background? Simple. He said in an appearance at the Code/Media conference (( Code/Media in Laguna Niguel, CA, was set up by the Re/code service. The conference was organized by Re/code’s media reporter and editor, Peter Kafka. )) on Feb. 18: “I don’t want my 16-year-old daughter to watch Netflix with her boyfriend. And I want to go to a movie so I don’t have to talk with my wife for two hours.”

Cuban was joking a bit, but there’s no doubt his judgment of business doesn’t matter. The folks in various entertainment/technology/internet enterprises tend to be committed to whatever line they are in. The rest of us are still figuring out what works.

Roku, Apple TV, and more. This jumble of services is delivered to smart phones, tablets, and PCs. In lots of homes, it comes to your TV through Roku, Apple TV, sticks from Google and Amazon, or sometimes features of a “smart TV” itself. For most homes, the internet device sits next to a cable box, but it is become an increasingly feasible choice to drop cable service and rely on the internet.

Kevin TsujiharaKevin Tsujihara, CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment, is one of the pushers behind industry UltraViolet, a program for cloud-based sharing of recorded Bluray recordings among multiple devices. But Disney, one of the industries most successful players, has developed its own, more successful solution. And the public has shown little interest in figuring our how to get the disks they have bought registered and replayed on UltraViolet. But Tsujihara still sees UltraViolet developing into a solution.

Internet-based entertainment appears to be based on two rival areas of attack. The set of mostly short-form video, the work of both amateur and professional programmers, appearing mostly on YouTube and Facebook and traditional video, mostly movies (including a lot of offerings that used to be know as direct-to-disk films) and TV shows, are being sent out through a variety of distribution, sometimes subscription, sometimes rental.

Chernin and Sling. DISH Network’s Sling TV is an extremely interesting startup because its program, in addition to a lot of competition with Netflix and other entertainment video, includes live sports events on ESPN and ESPN2—programming that, until now, was available only with cable service. Peter Chernin, the former president of News Corp. and now a production backer with the Chernin Group, told the Code/Media conference that he sees the Sling approach—likely to be offered by others—that live TV over the internet is the future.

“I’m not sure what the timeline is,” said Chernin. “But there’s clearly more money to be made online. Fifteen years ago people said sports would never be on cable.” (In a bit of a slip, he means internet, not the traditional TV cable channels.) And it is world business. In the U.S. we tend to think of football, baseball, and basketball. In the rest of the world, there is soccer and, as demonstrated recently, cricket, especially in India and Pakistan.

The existing TV networks are also pushing hard into the internet business as an outlet for current broadcast, not just recent shows. HBO has long made its programming available through HBO Go over the internet only as an alternative for cable subscribers. A new service is a direct subscription for those who want only internet service. Now NBC will soon offer the content of its owner-operated stations to consumers who want to subscribe only over the net in nine large cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Internet regulation. One issue that remains a threat to how content is delivered over the internet has been the failure of regulation to keep up with the progress. So far it is working in a mostly acceptable way while politicians continue to argue over the future. But any day we could start to see issues where, for example, a network carrier such as Comcast or Verizon agrees to provide quality delivery to one competitor—or maybe just its own service.

The effort to settle it has sank into a political mess. The Democrats want internet carriers to be regulated like utilities. Republicans want pretty much everything left alone. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, tried to find middle ground but was jumped on by Republicans in Congress and his fellow Democrats, led by President Obama. Congress is now working on a regulation plan that probably will pass the FCC on a party line vote and be attacked in both Congress and the courts.

Cuban, as usual, took the tough role. He seems to respect Wheeler, but doesn’t think much of his effort to come up with a version of the Democratic plan because he will be replaced in a couple years by a new Democrat or Republican with unknown intentions. The action of the FCC “will f*** everything up,” he told the conference in his usual blunt way. “Having [political appointees] overseeing the internet scares the s*** out of me.”

Cyanogen, Android, and iPhone: The Future of Phones

Cyanogen logoCyanogen Inc. is hardly one of the best known companies in the mobile phone business. It is a recent outgrowth from CyanogenMod, a not much better known developer of Google-free versions of Android for mobile devices. And now it’s making a move to turn the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) into a challenge to both Google and Apple.

There have been three interests controlling most of the phone world–Apple, Google Android, and AOSP. The Google version, which includes a broad range of Google apps, is dominated by leading Android phone makers, particularly Samsung. The AOSP approach is used on millions of phones sold in Asia, especially China, by Xiaomi and many others (it is also popular with a minority of Google device buyers who want to install their own software).

Tough moves. Cyanogen is now planning a tough move into the market. Microsoft has shown itself to be a investor in the project spending perhaps $70 million, though it has not made a formal commitment. Amazon is another likely contributor. (Ina Fried has written an excellent report for Re/code.)

Amazon’s potential is obvious. It has been doing its own AOSP version for the Kindle Fire tablets and the unfortunate Fire Phone. It could almost certainly benefit by managing Android without leaning on Google. The Microsoft game is somewhat more dubious. One possibility is it is just looking for an OS other than Windows or Google Android for lower-end Nokia phones intended for third world countries.

The other is to play to the advantage of Windows Phone, which has struggled as a distant competitor for both Apple and Google. The logic, which is purely speculative about Microsoft’s intent, is that injecting a third, well-funded developer into the Google/iPhone battle could help create a better position for Windows Phone.

Unlikely problems. The  Cyanogen move is unlikely to cause problems for Apple. The iPhone is designed only for the upper part of the market–remember the lack of success of the iPhone 5c–while whatever Cyanogen offers is likely to be aimed primarily at the low end. The addition of a new OS is unlikely to have much impact on Windows Phones either.

The big issue is the entry of a new layer into the market of Google’s Android. The relationship of Android between Google and AOSP is a complicated affair. (( For more on the complications of Android, see Ben Bajarin’s The Android Schism. ))  At first, AOSP was attractive primarily to tinkerers who wanted to tamper with their phone software. They replaced the manufacturer-supplied software with CyanogenMod versions, which were offered for a wide variety of Android phones.

But producers of phones in the rapidly growing Chinese market were strongly attached to AOSP. They wanted to get a free OS and they had little interest in installing the Google services, many of which would not work on the Chinese network anyway. ABI’s survey found AOSP software was responsible for about 20% of the smartphones sold worldwide this summer.

Cyanogen could bring  some valuable stability to the chaotic assortment of software and OS versions being sold. But there is a question about just what Google does with AOSP while a new rival company does its best t0 take charge of the system. Google typically has made each new version of Android available to AOSP (Honeycomb, the short-lived tablet version was an exception).

Google’s interests. With Cyanogen trying to take charge, Google my be far less interested in helping. Google’s mostly unprofitable Android business has been to gain use of the services built in to the phones. But Google is already being hurt by the growth of the disorganized AOSP phone network and it could suffer significantly more if Cyanogen turns this into a real, competitive business. Android software is available free for any would-be user, but Google is not required to maintain it.

Of course, there are still a lot of questions about how Cyanogen will make this a real success. Right now, its only business is to provide software for Micromax, a maker of low end phones in India. It can provide a business of helping manufacturers get a more efficient operating system from AOSP, but it is hard to see how that can produce a whole lot of business.

But it certainly can contribute to the already growing fragmentation of the Android world. Google’s interest in Android has tended to cycle, hitting a peak with the acquisition of Motorola and at something of a low right now. Android’s market continues to grow significantly, but the biggest part of the expansion remains on the AOSP side while the top Google Android makers, led by Samsung, are hurting. Google should be worried.

DISH Moves In

DISH Network is a company that has not gotten a lot of attention in the internet business. After all, it mainly exists as a cable TV competitor, suppling service to about 14 million customers through satellite dishes. But, pushed along by founder Charlie Ergen (left), it is moving in on the business, starting up new internet television services and elbowing its way into U.S. wireless channels.

The satellite-based internet service doesn’t draw a lot of envy from customers except those who have no better way of reaching the net. It has about 550,000 customers of what it calls “broadband” service, not enough to qualify for the term under the Federal Communication Commission’s new definition of 25 megabits per second. But DISH is making its way based on facilities of landline and terrestrial wireless services.

Aggressive DISH. The latest has been an aggressive movement into the most recent auction of wireless service. DISH is spending about $10 billion for wireless spectrum, most recently $3 billion in the FCC’s Advanced Wireless Services (AWS-3) auction. “That spectrum, combined with the wide-ranging spectrum licenses that DISH already owns, will turn Charlie Ergen’s company into a spectrum powerhouse,” writes Phil Goldstein of FierceWireless.

DISH is no stranger to controversy and this deal is no exception. It was able to get bargain prices on some of the AWS bids by working through two small companies, Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless, which were eligible for a discount program. DISH owns 85% of the companies. According to the Wall Street Journal, Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai will ask Chairman Tom Wheeler to investigate the action, which he claims “makes a mockery” of the small business program.

DISH has not yet laid out plans for the new spectrum it is acquiring, but it seems a safe bet it is not about to get into the wireless telephone business. Its aggressive bidding increased prices in the auction for competitors Verizon and AT&T. Maybe it’s hunting for a deal with the hungry Sprint or T-Mobile, or perhaps outright acquisition of one of these second tier companies. Or it could be building a network for a new land-based video service.

DISH’s new ideas. One description of the video idea is DISH has been looking for ways to expand its current TV services over the internet. In 2007, EchoStar, DISH’s parent company, acquired Sling (original model below), a device that accesses your cable TV system so you can watch service on any internet capable device in any location. ((Sling was the invention of Blake and Jason Kirkorian and sold for $380 million. One of its key functions was its ability, in pre-Netflix days, to adjust its service to capture the best available bandwidth.))

SlingAlthough Sling remains a separate product, DISH has incorporated the technology in several ways. Hopper, originally a feature for moving cable service to different TVs in the house, now has Sling capability that lets you move content from your cable device to any device on the wired or wireless internet (as the ad points out, so the kid can watch the big game on his phone while making a visit to his TV-less aunt).

Now, a new service called Sling TV will be launched to compete head-on with an internet-based service available on PCs, mobile devices, and several plug-into-your-TV systems (detail for Insiders). A $20 monthly subscription will provide a variety of programing. The basic service is very close to what is available on Roku, Google TV, Xbox, and other internet-based services, either free in the basic subscription or, such as Netflix, at extra subscription costs.

But the difference that makes it a standout from the crowded field of internet delivery competition is the availability of ESPN and ESPN2. The inability of non-cable carriers to present live sports events has been a big disadvantage. Customer insistence on live sports kept them as cable service customers. While DISH has yet to demonstrate the success of its service, it has a real chance to make a dent in the existing cable business.

Cable competition. DISH, and Ergen, are well positioned for a cable and TV business that is changing in fundamental ways. The cable carriers are holding their share of the market–there have been slow decline in TV subscribers, but each year their landline business is developing more and more into providing internet (broadly defined as all TCP/IP traffic) rather than video channels. The wireless carriers are seeing less and less voice traffic and more and more data and video. Their growing LTE service runs on TCP/IP that is more like the traditional wireline but available anywhere. Cable carriers programming began mainly with broadcast channels and ESPN. Then it added enhanced networks, first paid channels such as HBO, then original programming on ad-supported ones such as AMC and Lifetime.

The companies that own most of the businesses–from CBS to Comcast to Verizon–move slowly, seeking to replaced their expensive services. It’s hardly a surprise HBO is prepared to offer its shows over the internet to buyers who are not already cable subscribers after Time Warner unloaded Time Warner Cable from the business. In a field marked by this turmoil and with real room for change, it is potentially a fine market for a daring company like DISH.

The Big Picture for Windows 10

Joe Belfiore

Microsoft’s latest in a series of Windows 10 show-offs yielded, seemingly as planned, attention for two display products under development — the 3D personal HoloLens and the giant Surface Hub. But the risk is not in these designs which, though very sexy, would cause little damage if they never made it to market. The challenge is Microsoft’s latest effort to unify its software as Windows across its product lines in reality, not just branding.

Microsoft has always been a bit ambiguous about the meaning of Windows. In the beginning, Windows was an operating system for PCs built on x86 processors (there were occasional stabs at other chips, even the PowerPC, but none survived for long). But versions varied. From the introduction of Windows NT in 1993 until the unifying release of Windows XP in 2001, Microsoft offered two families of Windows for PCs based on very different code

Early mobile Windows. The Pocket PC, a competitor of the Palm (( Microsoft wanted to call it the PalmPC, but was beaten down by the threat of lawsuits)), bore a resemblance to Windows in appearance but almost no relationship to the code. As Microsoft looked for the success in Windows Phone, the company fiddled with making it a winner. But it never got the display to work satisfactorily, nor found a way to unify the PC and phone code. Windows has moved closer with Windows 7 and Windows 8 and will get there with Windows 10 (9 has been skipped).

By itself, the change will be of little importance to Windows Phone owners. Even the developers of Windows Phone applications probably won’t see much change. The impact is on where the market goes from here. In terms of phones, Microsoft is starting with a new version of Office–Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook–where a single code base serves PCs, phones, and any tablets that come along, and with UIs appropriate to the devices. In terms of user functions, I suspect the difference will not be very great and I still expect the function of, say, Excel, will remain limited to the small display of a phone.[pullquote]Windows is a bit odd from other approaches to operating systems[/pullquote]

Windows is a bit odd from other approaches to operating systems, however. Almost everything except BlackBird’s software is built on Linux or, in the case of OS X and iOS, Linux’s cousin BSD Unix. But Linux is just an operating system in the classical sense; the file systems, user interfaces, and everything else are done separately. Android is built on Linux.

Unix’s children. OS X and iOS are both built on Unix, but are separate code from each other. They share some APIs but nowhere near all of them; for example, OS X does not have the phone functions and screen touch that are critical to iOS. But Windows will have the same full OS for all products.

TwitterAlthough Microsoft has said this, it is not completely clear what it meant. Microsoft Vice President Joe Belfiore tweeted information explaining the difference between “desktop” versions of Windows for PCs and any devices with displays bigger than 8″ and the “No dsktp” version for phones and smaller devices.

The veteran Windows watcher Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet did her best to make sense of what she calls “the muddy waters.” One problem is Microsoft is coming up with so many APIs for different products. There is one basic version designed for devices running on ARM processors, including Lumias and other manufacturers’ Windows Phones and any tablets with displays less than than 8″. What Microsoft refers to as the Desktop SKU ((The use of SKU, which stands for stock keeping unit, is mysterious. It is normally a retailing and wholesaling term used to describe specific versions for stocking and pricing, but Microsoft seems to use it for versions of Windows used for different products.)) are devices including desktops and laptops as well as larger tablets. It’s not clear how many versions there will be for consumers and business customers, but there will definitely be special versions for HoloLens and the Surface Hub. (Microsoft has not yet talked about Windows Server and its code relationship to Windows 10.)

The fate of Surface RT. There will also be a Mobile SKU, described by Foley: “The Mobile SKU is aimed at devices with small RAM and disk requirements. It’s built for locked down devices, though, in theory at least, it could run on a device with any size screen.” One question is whether Microsoft will find a way to revive something replacing Surface RT, a sort-of tablet running a stripped down Windows 8, without the Win32 component, which permits the use of pre-Windows 8 versions.

Windows RT was a flop, both on the Surface and a handful of other tablets. One of the major flaws was the fact that pre-Windows 8 applications would not run and new Metro apps did not develop quickly enough–or even by now–to make a Windows version that couldn’t run them be attractive. Would the version of Windows 10 for the 10″+ tablet run Win32? Microsoft’s division at 8″ also rules out the approach of Apple, along with Samsung, HP, Lenovo, and other makers of Android tablets, of offering functionally equivalent tablets with screens between 7″ and 10″.

This all gives the evidence of why the operating systems story at Apple is so much simpler. iOS goes on the iPhone, iPad, and what’s left of the iPod (a stripped-down iPhone). The Apple Watch will use a version called, of course, Watch OS. One version of OS X runs on all Macs. Apple got out of server hardware and Xserve in 2010 and abandoned the Mac Pro Server in 2013. It now offers the OS Server, which is just a $20 add-on of server management for Yosemite intended for using a standard Mac for low demand server applications.

It would be nice if Microsoft’s offerings were as simple as Apple’s but the world of Windows is much more complex and, in the line of PCs, much bigger. We haven’t even seen the pricing plans yet (except for the free upgrade of Windows 8) but we can expect it will be expensive. But Microsoft doesn’t have the beautiful, simple freedom of supplying an OS to its own hardware and always updating it without charging users.