Surface Hub and Hololense

Hot on the heels of all the Windows 10 announcements come 2 very cool new products from Microsoft. First is the Surface Hub, a smart board on a TV that runs Windows 10. The Surface Hub harkens back to a failed Microsoft product, which was the first to sport the Surface name — an interactive Windows based table filled with sensors that allowed you to do very cool things with the items you sat on it. Now, this table is mounted on a wall and runs a suite of software focused on making meetings better. The new Surface Hub has cameras, microphones, multi-touch sensors, and other “advanced” sensors that help you get your meeting completed. The Surface Hub’s first trick is to become a smart board. Surface Hub runs OneNote and comes with some special pens for writing on the screen just like you would on a whiteboard. Skype is also included and can be used to bring in other people to share and access the whiteboard. The camera and microphones in the Surface Hub allow you to have a full 2 way video conference call in addition to sharing what is on the screen. You can share files from nearby Windows 10 devices, allowing them to be opened, viewed, and shared with everyone in the meeting. Then once the meeting is over you can have the Surface Hub email all the files and whiteboard images automatically to all the meeting participants. Then with a tap, the Surface Hub is reset and ready for the next meeting.

While the Surface Hub was interesting, the HoloLense really stole the show. A new feature of Windows 10 is support for holographic computing. So Microsoft built a set of glasses that can make use of this new holographic computing feature. This isn’t virtual reality though and Microsoft isn’t competing with the likes of the Oculus Rift. The HoloLense glasses project digital items in 3D onto the real world. Microsoft demoed the glasses live, showing someone using a 3D modeling tool to put together a 3d model using their gaze and hand gestures to interact with the holograms. Now this is not like Star Wars where a 3D image is floating in space, but from what I could tell watching the demo wearing the glasses makes it look like these images are right there in front of you, real enough to grab. Microsoft has been working with NASA on this project, allowing scientists to virtually step onto Mars and examine 3D images of the landscape the Mars Rover has sent back. The promo video Microsoft ran showed using the HoloLense to play games that jumped around on your furniture, virtual notes on your refrigerator, Netflix on any open wall, and working in 3D on a concept model of a motorcycle gas tank in 3d superimposed over the real thing. The technology is really amazing, but for all the interaction it brings when using them to communicate they still cut you off from other people who are physically around you. Much like the Google Glass, I think the isolation using this device in a group setting will be a stumbling block for broad consumer adoption. People want to be able to interact together with technology in the same room more than they want to interact with people who are a world away. Devices more like the Surface Hub are likely to have a greater chance at both business and consumer adoption.

The types of technology and innovation that are happening every day astound and thrill me on a regular basis. I look forward to the next new innovation no matter how strange or confusing and try to imagine how it could be used in the real world. These inventions spark the imagination and give others the opportunity to improve on the ideas, leading to new discoveries until we arrive at a point where nothing in science fiction is fiction any more.

Windows 10 Security Features

For many years, Microsoft has touted their commitment to security and trusted computing. With each new iteration of Windows, Microsoft introduces a new set of strategies to foil the unyielding efforts of cyber-attackers. Microsoft has identified several key areas to focus on securing in their latest operating system.

The password is the bane of today’s user as well as the security professionals tasked with protecting the devices and data you use. One of today’s most common methods of breaking into a computer system is by using stolen passwords. Why is it so popular? Well, because it is so easy. Microsoft aims to make this much more difficult though in Windows 10 by including multi-factor authentication directly into the operating system. Let’s talk about the ways you can authenticate so this becomes clearer. First, you can provide something you know like a password to prove you are who you are. You can provide something you have like a smartcard or a code from a key generator like an RSA key. Finally, you can provide something you are…this sounds a little weird, but what we are talking about is biometrics like a finger- print. Most systems will let you use one of these methods and to a certain degree stealing any one of these authentication methods can be accomplished easily, and an attacker then has the keys to the kingdom. If you start mixing and matching them say by using biometrics and an RSA key it becomes much harder to get both when trying to compromise a system. Windows 10 includes everything you need to set this type of authentication up out of the box with no additional software needed. Another feature of this built-in, multi-factor authentication is the ability to enroll devices as the something you have. For example, you can enroll your laptop and add fingerprint scanning as your two forms of authentication. In this example, anyone trying to access your network account would need to be physically using the laptop you enrolled and have your fingerprint in order to be authenticated. The device enrollment can be implemented a few ways. You can enroll a single device or multiple devices you use to access the network with or you can enroll a Windows 10 phone and use it like a secure key that communicates with whatever device you are using via Bluetooth, like a smart card. Multi-factor authentication is not a new concept but it is the first time Microsoft has built the ability to use multi-factor authentication into the Windows operating system rather than just handing it off to a third party vendor. This shift could eventually spell the end of the password…I hope.

Another area Microsoft is focusing on is securing data. Microsoft does a fine job securing data on your network and local machine using technologies like permissions and encryption like BitLocker, but what about when it leaves like in an email or is shared and someone makes a copy and suddenly your data is out in the wild and you have no control over who can see it. With the latest round of security that is being baked into Windows 10, Office 365, and the rest of Microsoft’s suite of products you will be able to control everything. You will be able to classify data and apply rules that scan documents and files for those data classifications, and if the rule says it can’t be emailed the file will not go out over an email. If you are accessing a classified contract on a Word application on a phone and the rules for that type of file say that you can take a screen capture or copy the text in any way all those features are disabled on the device even if it is an Android or iPhone. And it all works seamlessly behind the scenes. The corporate data is always kept separated from personal data on mobile devices, but transition between the two is undetectable by the user.

Lastly, Trusted Apps. When it comes to employee computers, the unapproved software that gets installed either on purpose or by accident can have an effect on the performance and security of the system. With Windows 10 you can lock the system down so that it can only install apps that have been digitally signed by a Microsoft authorized signing service, similar to the way applications in the Microsoft App Store are vetted and signed to make sure they contain no malware. You can even go so far as to create a white list of trusted software, and any application not on the list will not be installed.

While these are not the only new security related features Windows 10 has to offer these are the ones that are most directly geared at blocking some of the most common attacks and data breaches of the last year or so.

Windows 10 is Coming

Last September Microsoft announced that Windows 10 was on its way. Since then they have been doing something very few tech companies have done — they asked the world what it wanted in the next Windows operating system. Since then they have been working to build out the look, feel, and features Windows users want. If the January 21st announcement is any indication of what is to come, I think they are doing just that, building the Windows users want. The Windows Insider program which is free and open to anyone willing to test and provide feedback seems to have been a smashing success, and Microsoft is thrilled. Now I know you are thinking, “Another operating system! I just upgraded to Windows 7!” It isn’t as bad as it sounds though. When the new operating system is released later this year (I am guessing August-September time frame) it is going to be a free upgrade for all Windows 8.1 users and amazingly enough for Windows 7 users, too. This is a limited time upgrade offer. This free upgrade will only be available for 1 year from the release of Windows 10. Windows 10 is, under the hood, the same core operating system as Windows 8.1 and Windows 7. It has many of the same user interface features Windows 8.1 users have grown accustomed to but also better implements a fusion of the Windows 7 style interface, making it much friendlier for Windows 7 users and folks using traditional mice and keyboards to use. Standard Windows applications that run on Windows 7 and 8.1 should be just as happy running on Windows 10.

The free upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 is an interesting move for Microsoft that I think is going to pay off. Microsoft is betting this will be incentive enough to get everyone to upgrade to Windows 10, creating a user base that is standardized on the latest version of Windows. Microsoft’s vision for Windows is to no longer have major releases and tie licenses to versions but to provide the operating system as a service, much like Office. Smaller more rapid releases called flights will come out like updates to the operating system, providing improvements and new features as the software giant continues to work with the user community to fulfill their dream of making this version of Windows the Windows you love. Microsoft is taking the stance that Windows will no longer be an operating system that is release centered but provided as a service. An operating system as a service. This tracks directly with the cloud first vision of Microsoft. I don’t yet know what this will mean for licensing, but I am hopeful that it will simplify Microsoft licensing and lower the cost of maintaining releases of Windows going forward by removing the need for upgrade licenses.

Among the features demoed during the keynote was a new version of Internet Explorer code named Spartan that allows you to mark up and write on the web then save it or share it with friends or team members via social media. Improved reading features make perusing the Internet easier. You can even take items in your reading list offline and read them when you are not connected to the web. Of course Microsoft promises this latest version of IE to ship with Windows 10 will be more secure and more standards compliant for HTML5. That doesn’t mean however we will not be facing the same compatibility issues we have come to expect with many of our favorite web sites when a new version of IE is thrust upon us.

Many of the key features Microsoft touted were centered on the user interface, which has been the biggest pain point new Windows 8.1 users have complained about. Windows 10 looks a lot more like Windows 7 in that you start with a familiar desktop and have a start menu with your programs in. This start menu is really just the start screen compressed back into a fly-out menu. If you want, you can expand the start menu back into the touch friendly start screen. The new continuum feature allows Windows to modify the user interface based on the device that is being used. For example, a 2-in-1 tablet will have many of the touch features disabled or hidden when you are using it as a laptop, but then being used in a tablet mode Windows 10 will automatically adjust to a more touch centric interface. Many of the tools and features users expected to find were split between the modern and the classic user interfaces. For example, the Control Panel had 2 interfaces that exposed different sets of tools. This became very confusing when needing to access settings on the system. Windows 10 has merged these interfaces and tools back into a more familiar interface.

Some of you may be familiar with Siri on Apple iPhones and iPads, or you may have already met Cortana on Microsoft phones. As a new feature and improvement, Cortana has a new home on Windows 10 PCs. Cortana is an impressive natural speech recognition engine and in the demos seems to be able to provide very helpful and intuitive responses to natural speech requests. Rounding off the “that’s nifty” category of updates is the new integration with Xbox One. The Xbox Live apps give you full access to the library of Xbox Live games. You can stream a game from your Xbox One console and play it on a Windows 10 PC. You can DVR gameplay without additional software. The operating system has an updated graphics engine DirectX 12 which greatly enhances the graphics abilities of Windows 10, allowing it to provide the rich Xbox gameplay experience.

Worth mentioning briefly are universal apps. This new category of apps allows developers to create applications that scale and run across any device running Windows 10. It doesn’t matter if it is a phone, tablet, laptop, or PC the application will run providing a write once, run everywhere feature for software developers so they can get their applications installed on larger numbers of devices quickly and easily.

Windows 10 looks great and is now in public beta which means I am ready to get my hands on it and begin testing it. I expect that Windows 10 will be in full release by the end of summer. If it holds up to testing I will most likely be recommending all of my clients running Windows 7 or 8.1 to take full advantage of the free upgrade while it is available.

CES 2015

The Consumer Electronics Show never fails to bring out the coolest devices and gadgets, and CES 2015 was no exception. While nothing truly earth shattering was unveiled this year there was certainly some cool tech. Last year the 4K TV was introduced, bringing even sharper picture than the HD TV in your living room today. These TVs were big news last year and they continued to impress this year by getting larger, lighter, and thinner. None of the new TVs really stood out to me. I did notice in my research that the crowd seemed to have gotten bigger this year. Speaking of TVs, most of us are still tied to cable or satellite services, but there are more ways to enjoy the content you love on these giant 4K monsters. I am talking about streaming media services, and even some of the traditional providers are getting in on the act. Dish announced a streaming media service called Sling TV that will launch with a bundle of around 20 channels streamed on demand and live over the internet. Sony is still rolling out its streaming service with its lineup of Viacom channels that Suddenlink dropped this past year. TV continues to move into the cloud, and the content producers that continue to tie themselves to traditional carriers and delivery methods are going to be left behind.

Wearable technology continues to grow and has even found a home in high fashion in the form of 3D printed IoT enabled interactive apparel. More down to earth wearables include a new round of more fashionable looking smart watches and fitness bands. Some of the fitness sensor wielding devices even disguise themselves as beautiful jewelry. More wearable treatment devices have even popped up like one unit that delivers electrical stimulus to manage pain. While the smart watch revolution continues to move forward, I am still looking forward to the Apple iWatch which should be on sale before the end of March. If having a watch, shirt, dress, or belt that is smart isn’t your thing how about another smart device for your home. Google’s Nest is looking to become the hive mind that controls all of the smart devices in your home. New electrical outlets that let you control appliances really isn’t news, but how about one that knows if something wrong is put into it — for example, a finger? One line of smart outlets is able to sense what is plugged into it and if it isn’t a proper item like a light bulb or plug it doesn’t pass electricity, rendering it safe to the touch. More new smart cameras and smart home security devices like smart locks were present this year, signaling a shift from appliance automation to security automation. Security automation uses apps and devices like cellphones to allow doors to be unlocked and garages to open as you approach as well as monitoring your home for problems like carbon monoxide or fire and alerting you via your mobile device.

3D printing has continued to evolve, bringing us lower cost printers that cost under $1000. New printing materials are being introduced, such as carbon fiber and resin, allowing for the printing of very strong finished pieces. These 3D printers are being used to print parts and pieces for everything, even designer clothing. My favorite thing that they are being used to print though are DRONES! Drones of the quad-copter variety were all over the place at CES. Many media outlets reported on the fascinating drones that danced together or were able to run a gauntlet of obstacles in order to navigate between two points. I was most impressed with the camera drones that follow you. Some use GPS on a phone and others use custom hardware as an electronic leash, causing the drone to follow you like a pet. If these folks could get together with Apple and Microsoft and merge their research on programmability, object avoidance, stabilization and then inject a little Siri or Cortana the ultimate robotic digital assistant might be born.

I love CES. It always gets my hopes up for the future of technology and my imagination going. Science fiction gets closer to science fact every year. Do any of you have any plans on buying a 3D printer for your workshops? How about using one of these drones to film your next outdoor adventure? The technology of the future is here today — how do you plan to use it in your daily life?