Microsoft Ubuntu

“Microsoft and Canonical have partnered to bring an outstanding value proposition for Ubuntu users on Azure; no other platform has this level of performance, security and platform integration.”
– Christian Reis, VP Public Cloud, on https://ubuntu.com/azure

I’m calling it: In a few years from now, Microsoft will announce the acquisition of Canonical Ltd. and Ubuntu will become an official Microsoft product. Just like they did it with Xamarin and Github.

Truth be told, I even believe that this would be a good thing for all Ubuntu users. But that’s just me, and I have given up on being idealistic and ideological and political about Open Source platforms or software in general.

Software is a tool like a hammer or a screwdriver; you use a tool that fits in your budget to get a job done. I have never seen craftspeople who expected their tools to be “free” (as in beer or speech for that matter), exactly like nobody ever expected craftspeople to work for free.

Nowadays, even Free and Open Source software (FOSS) is mostly used to build proprietary (cloud-based) (subscription) services. Free and Open Source software just makes it more economic for companies and corporations to build these services – but it doesn’t actually help the users anymore to gain a level of independence and sovereignty over their computing platforms. That might still have been the ultimate argument for FOSS in the 1990s and early 2000s, when desktop computers were the big thing. But then came the Internet and it made the desktop computer irrelevant, just like it made the client operating system irrelevant; we only care for the app or the web browser that we use, not for the OS it runs on.

Today, almost everything lives in the cloud – and all the great idealistic ideas behind FOSS from a few decades ago don’t help the user there anymore. Now it’s just about the numbers in the financial spreadsheets.

So, it won’t matter anymore at all if Microsoft will own the most popular Linux distribution on the planet. Microsoft is no longer the Evil Empire that rules the desktop with an iron fist – the Internet destroyed that power a long time ago and it allowed new players to become dominant.

Microsoft now tries to own a huge chunk of the Internet’s true backbone: The data centers that host the Internet’s servers and services, commonly described as “cloud”, and Microsoft even gave it a color: Azure.

“We’re building out Azure as the world’s computer.
— Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft Corporation, in his ”Vision Keynote” at the Microsoft Build 2019 Conference

I believe that the Science-Fiction series “The Expanse” very accurately shows what computing will look like in the not so distant future: Our smart phones will turn into ‘converging’ client systems and all the software and data will exclusively live and run in what we today call “the cloud”. Those smartphones in “The Expanse” can also turn into equivalents of “desktop systems” on demand. There won’t be any local intelligence on those devices anymore. Everything will be streamed from the cloud. And exactly as the show demonstrates, if the cloud is switched off, nothing will work anymore. But this is where we’re headed.

Back to today. According to Microsoft, roughly half of their Azure workloads run on Linux – so it would make sense to own the most popular Linux distribution, Ubuntu. (Yes, Microsoft have an own tiny Linux distribution designed to host Azure services. I just don’t know anybody who uses it.)

Since the 1990s, we have Windows Terminal Servers, now re-branded as “Remote Desktop Servers” – your Windows desktop actually runs on that server that you remote control via a Remote Desktop client.

Then we do not just stream music or movies over the Internet anymore, we already stream the most demanding software that we usually use on a desktop system: Games. We have Microsoft’s Project xCloud, we have Sony’s PS Now, we have Google Stadia, nVidia is also entering that market.

This all demands high bandwidth networks and Internet accessibility everywhere – lucky us, 5G is coming. And if the ISP’s won’t be able to provide 5G fast enough, I believe that Microsoft, Google and other big Internet companies will simply subsidize the network rollout. They need people to be able to access the net from everywhere at any time, and they have the financial resources to bankroll the infrastructure. Who owns the infrastructure controls the world’s computing.

Seriously, Free and Open Source software – or who owns a Linux distribution – was yesterday’s battle.

Asus Transformer Book T100T – And the failure of the hybrid concept

I spent the weekend testing the new Asus Transformer Book T100T 32GB.

In case you don’t know what this is, it is a convertible/hybrid tablet that comes with a keyboard dock and thus can also be used as a ultrabook/notebook. The screen is detachable on the fly and makes for a very nice 10 inch Windows tablet.

The beauty of this machine is that it comes with the brand new Intel “Baytrail” Atom Quad Core CPU, which provides this little device with a lot of CPU power and also enables it to run the “real” Windows 8.1 instead of the very restricted Windows RT. Furthermore, the Transformer Book also comes with a Office 2013 Home & Student license – so at an unbeatable price of 379 Euros, you get a an awesome tablet computer with a full productivity suite pre-installed.

The IPS display of the machine is of very good quality, very sharp and it is very responsive to touch input. The sound is also astonishingly good for a machine of that size and price.

The keyboard itself is small, but feels quite well when you’re typing it.

The touchpad of the keyboard dock, however, sucks. But, to be honest, I think that all touchpads on all PC notebooks utterly suck. For reasons that are beyond my understanding, Apple seems to be the only company on the planet that knows how to design and built tocuhpads that actually work well and do not get in your way.

In tablet mode, the “Modern UI” (formerly known as “Metro”) interface of Windows 8.1 works very, very well. Also, in tablet mode, the 10 inch screen does not feel small at wall – that’s because Microsoft does some nice magic with the font rendering and the scaling of fonts. That is something I never thought I would say in my life: Surfing the web with Internet Explorer in Modern UI mode is a very nice experience. The browser looks nice, is very user friendly and fast. I don’t like and don’t use Internet Explorer on the desktop, but in the new user interface, IE is awesome. Amazon’s Kindle app is also magnificent – and Asus advertise a special “reading mode” for the Transformer Book that does not strain the eyes as much. I must admit, though, that while reading, the 10″ screen felt like holding a heavy book in my hand. That probably goes with the 10″ territory and I see why Apple is trying hard get rid off every gram.

Actually, when you’re in Modern UI, everything is great with this little machine. At this price point, I would say that the Asus Transformer Book T100T is probably the best Windows tablet that is currently on the market. If you want a full sized tablet, and especially if you want one that runs the Microsoft OS, the Asus Transformer Book is the best thing that money can buy at the moment. Sure, the Surface RT or the Vivotab RT come at around the same pricepoint (with keyboards), but they only run Windows RT. This little fellow runs the “real thing” – and that is a rather significant difference.

For me, the problems with the Asus Transformer Book started when I began using the desktop mode. After all, that was my main interest in the machine: That, at least in theory, it can be used as a “real” notebook with “real” Windows software on it. Read: Putty. Filezilla. WinSCP. Photoshop CS3 (I never upgraded). Scrivener. Yes, even Microsoft Office. And, of course, one of my most favorite games of all time: Zeus.

Yes, all of these applications run on that machine. And they all perform reasonably well.

But with my rather bad eyes, the desktop experience kills the usefulness of the machine. The screen is way too small for me. In desktop mode, all fonts look tiny. And I got a headache during the first hour of using the machine in desktop mode. Of course, you can connect an external display to it – there is a Mini HDMI port available for that. But is that why you buy a notebook/convertible/hybrid? No.

Should I have known this before? Probably. But sometimes, you only realize how bad – or great – things are when you experience them first hand.

For me, the tiny 10 inch screen is unusable in desktop mode. I need a magnifying glass for this to work. And unfortunately, since I planned on using the Transformer Book as my sole device, there was the show stopper right there. Maybe people with better eyesight than me will have a completely different experience. But I ran into a “no go” sign and had to let the machine go.

If you’re in the luxurious position that you can afford to buy yourself a full sized tablet in addition to a regular sized notebook or a desktop PC, the Transformer Book is a great choice. I don’t buy or recommend iOS gadgets, so when it comes to touch devices, my choice is only between Android and Windows. I don’t see any real reason for a 10″ Android machine, to be honest, because unfortunately Apple is absolutely right about this: Most Android tablet apps are just scaled up versions of phone apps. And there is a natural limit as to how far you can scale things up before they look ridiculous and useless. Windows is a much better choice on full sized tablets, and I think the new Asus is by far the best choice at this price.

Just for the record, last weekend I also played with the Google Nexus 7 (2013) for a couple of minutes, and if you’re looking for a 7″ or 8″ device – this definitely is where your money should go. An amazing screen, super light in your hands and unbelievably fast. Unlike almost all other Android devices, the Nexus 7 does not know what the word “lag” means – everything is ultra fast. Just wow! Unfortunately, I already own a Galaxy Note, which already has a 5.3″ screen which does not feel that much smaller, so I cannot justify adding another gadget for the same purpose to my collection. If the Nexus 7 could also make phone calls, I would swap the Note in a heartbeat. I only make a fistful of phone calls in a week, so I wouldn’t mind carrying around a 7″ phone.

Maybe that is the lesson that I have learned this weekend: Although I’m a convinced phablet user, I’m definitely not a tablet user. Large tablets don’t work and don’t make much sense for me, but Phablet-sized devices like the Galaxy Note or the Nexus 7 do.

A farewell picture of the Transformer Book:

Transformer