Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Live Process Migration

For years now, I’ve been watching Microsoft Windows evolve.  From a bit of a distance I’ve been watching the bigger picture unfold, and a number of details have led me to speculate on a particular feature that I think could be the next big thing in technology….   Live process migration.  

This is not the first time I’ve mused about the possibility… [A big feature I’d love to see in Windows 11] it’s just that as I work with tools across the spectrum of Microsoft’s tool chest, I’ve realized there are a few pieces I hadn’t really connected before, but they’re definitely a part of it.

What is live process migration?  Folks who work with virtual machines on a regular basis are often familiar with a fancy feature / operation known as live virtual machine migration….  VMWare’s vSphere product refers to the capability as vMotion.  It’s the ability to re-target a virtual machine instance, while it’s running… to move it from one host to another.

In sci-fi pseudo psycho-babble meta physio-medical terms, this might be akin to transitioning a person’s consciousness from one body to another, while they’re awake…  kinda wild stuff.

As you can imagine, live VM migration is a heavy duty operation… the guest machine must stay in sync across two host computers during the transition in order to seamlessly operate. For the average user, it’s hard to imagine practical applications. 

That said, live process migration is no small feat either.  A lot of things have to be put in place in order for it to work… but the practical applications are much easier to spot. 

Imagine watching a movie on Netflix on your Xbox (or maybe even your Hololens), but it’s time to roll.   No problem, with a simple flick gesture, and without missing a beat, the running Netflix app transitions to your tablet (or your phone), and you’re off.   Then you get to your vehicle, and your vehicle has a smart technology based media system in it that your tablet hands off the process to.   It could work for any process, but live streaming media is an easy scenario.

From a technical perspective, there’s a bunch of things required to make this work, especially across whole different classes of hardware…  but these problems are rapidly being solved by the universal nature of Windows 10 and Azure.

Commonality required:

  • Global Identity (e.g. Windows Live)
  • Centralized Application Configuration
    • Windows 10 apps natively and seamlessly store configuration data in the cloud
  • Binary compatibility
    • Universal apps are one deployable package that runs on everything from embedded devices to large desktops and everything in between.
  • Inter-nodal process synchronization
    • Nothing exemplifies this better than the 1st class remote debugging operation  in Visual Studio.  You can run an app on a phone or device from your laptop, hit breakpoints, and manipulate runtime state (local variables) from the laptop and watch the device react in real time.
  • Handoff protocol
    • I’m sure it exists, but I don’t have a good word to describe this, but it’s probably based on something like SIP
  • Runtime device capability checking (the part that sparked this blog post).
Over the years, there have been a lot of “write once, run anywhere” coding schemes.  Most involve writing a program and having the compiler sort out what works on each type of hardware…. what you get is a different flavor of the program for different kinds of hardware.  In Windows 10, it’s different.  In Windows 10, the developer codes for different device capabilities, and the application checks for the required hardware at run time.  
While the UWP does an amazing job of abstracting away the details, it puts some burden on the hardware at runtime…  the app developer has to write code to check, anyway: hey, is there a hardware camera shutter button in this machine?  If yes, don’t put a soft camera shutter button on the screen, but now the app has to check the hardware every time it runs.
I struggled a bit trying to understand this latter point…  why would Microsoft want it to work that way?  Except for a few plug & play scenarios, it could be optimized away at application install time…  unless your process can move to a different host computer/phone/console/tablet/VR gear.
While I am (more recently) a Microsoft V/TSP working for BlueMetal, an Insight company, I have no inside information on this topic.  I’m just looking at what’s on the table right now.   We’re almost there already.  Yesterday, I showed my son how to save a document to OneDrive, and within moments, pick up his Windows 10 phone and start editing the same document on it.
In my mind, there’s little doubt that Microsoft has been working its way up to this since Windows Phone 7… the only question in my mind is how many of these tri-annual Windows 10 updates will it be before “App-V Motion”-style live process migration is a practical reality.
Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

A big feature I’d love to see in Windows 11

With all the announcements coming out of //Build, I’m pretty jazzed about what’s coming in Windows 10.   That doesn’t stop me from wishing there were one or two other scenarios Microsoft would get to… and at this point, I’ll have to hope to see them in something after Windows 10.

“App-V-Motion” running apps, migrating them across devices. 

Enable an app running on the phone or tablet or laptop or desktop to seamlessly transition from device to device.

Imagine it’s getting late in the day…  you have a long running process on your desktop that you need to babysit.  Poor timing, sure, but it happens far too often.   Now, rather than being tethered to your desk, you can transition the process to a mobile device, and simply take it with you.   Perhaps it’ll take longer to complete on the mobile device, so when you get home, you hand it back off to bigger iron. 

or, my other favorite scenario…  you’re watching your favorite movie, but it’s time to roll…. so you hand off the movie player app to your phone, and keep watching while you’re on the go, without missing a beat.

With cloud configuration & storage, this scenario is getting more and more feasible, but given where I’m seeing Windows 10, now, this could potentially be a 10.1 or 10.2 feature.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Google’s Challenge, by the Numbers

Google may have inadvertently worked itself into some awkward dependencies that could be troublesome for it in the next few years.

It’s hard to imagine Web 2.0, now a decade gone by, as the peak of the web, but I think the numbers speak volumes about it.  Below, I’ve grabbed some stats from Wikipedia, as of today (4/26/2015) ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems ), that puts together some puzzle pieces together in my head, but introduces a few new ones. 

Originally, I was thinking about Windows market share this past weekend, and how absurd it is that folks think of Windows 8/8.1 a “failure”… (It came up at the Global Azure Cloud Camp Jim O’Neil hosted at BlueMetal’s office in Watertown this past Saturday.)  There’s more Windows 8+ machine (alone) than all versions of Mac OS X combined…  Microsoft’s “failure” is only a failure when compared to Windows XP and Windows 7.

Desktop operating system browsing statistics
Windows 7
  
58.04%
Windows XP
  
16.94%
Windows 8.1
  
10.55%
Mac OS X 10.10
  
3.96%
Windows 8
  
3.52%
Windows Vista
  
1.97%
Mac OS X (other)
  
1.71%
Mac OS X 10.9
  
1.61%
Linux
  
1.5%
Windows (other)
  
0.2%

Windows 8 / 8.1 comes sums at roughly 13%, while OS X (all versions) is (estimating generously) 8%.  So 13% may be a failure compared to Windows 7’s 58%….  but no one thinks of OS X’s 8% market share as anything less than a smash hit.  

I get that the terms of failure for 8.x come from it’s largest customer, the enterprise market, which has largely ignored it. It’s why Windows 10 is a significant comeuppance for Microsoft.

All told, though, among desktop OS’s, Windows is king.  No surprise there, really.  That’s only the beginning of the story. 

Some of the other stats started to catch my attention with respect to all devices, and what folks are using them for.

From the same Wikipedia page:

According to Gartner, the following is the worldwide device shipments (referring to wholesale) by operating system, which includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs together.

Worldwide Device Shipments by Operating System
Source Year Android iOS/OS X Windows Others
Gartner[1] 2014 48.61% 11.04% 14.0% 26.34%
Gartner[2] 2013 38.51% 10.12% 13.98% 37.41%
Gartner[3] 2012 22.8% 9.6% 15.62% 51.98%

The above table establishes that “device” shipments of Windows devices is relatively small compared to Android devices, with Apple devices coming in 3rd overall.  If we set form factor aside and look at all consumer “computing devices”, Android is undeniably tops, and has been for a few years already.

Now look at this…  (a breakdown of what OS folks are using web browsers on.)

Web clients’ OS family statistics
Windows
  
55.74%
Linux based
  
22.02%
iOS, OS X
  
17.17%
Symbian, S40
  
2.02%
Other
  
3.05%
Linux based is actually composed of both desktop and Android based devices… digging a bit, the stat that shows Android usage specifically shows it at less than half of “Linux” based stats.

See the rub?

The web is unequivocally consumed by desktops, which are owned by Windows.

Android… the most popular consumer “device” (by an allegedly monopolistic margin in some markets), represents less than half the web traffic.

Either the margin of error is so far off these stats, rendering them all useless, or there’s an interesting story there.

This means the good old browser is being left behind by mobile devices.   This has been observed before, but it’s interesting to note that Google’s hanging on it.  I mean, what’s your home page?  If you’re like a lot of folks, it may well be www.google.com.

Here’s a question.  Is the browser propping up Windows, or is Windows propping up the WWW?

Here’s an answer…  Microsoft’s go-forward strategy is Mobile First / Cloud First.  Windows 10 is a mobile OS that supports desktops, not a desktop OS that supports mobile.  Clearly, Microsoft is taking risks, but their goal is to push Windows into the mobile app world, taking only the parts of the world wide web that are important to mobile and cloud.

One might argue that Windows 10 includes both IE 12 and the Spartan browser.  Further, Microsoft is just releasing a new ASP.NET and MVC web development tools.

No matter what, the web app is not going to vanish overnight.  Still, Microsoft adding yet another browser and more tools is 1) further fragmenting the already terribly fragmented web app platform, 2) a bone thrown to the many enterprises who have built their infrastructure on web technology and can’t afford to fully shift their enterprise app platform (and developer skill set) to mobile apps in the next few years, and 3) continued support for the still critical http protocol that is a core network transport for everything in the Internet of Things.

One might argue Office 365.  The backfire there:  pretty much everyone who has Office 365 also has desktop and even mobile apps.  This leaves Office 365 to be primarily a services back end for those apps, with a web-based UI as a fallback if you for some reason can’t run the native apps.

Apple’s iOS success and Google’s Chromebook failure led Google to cannibalize itself into the (unexpectedly?) wildly successful Android.

Android’s success, in turn, is eating away at Google’s classic model…  Google will likely always be a media platform first, but more and more, that media platform is being confined to (and defined by) Android.  (Like a genie enslaved to its bottle…  “Phenomenal cosmic power, itty-bitty living space.)

All in all, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Microsoft is about done propping up the consumer web as an application platform.

Still, forgetting what Microsoft is doing, Google is SaaS heavy, and has no PaaS or IaaS offering to fall back on.  They have no desktop OS to elevate them.  All the cards in their foreseeable future appear to rest on Android (and therefore Samsung).

With the anti-trust suits already starting against Google because of Android, it’s hard to really see Google’s future over the next decade.

Being at the top, it’s pretty easy to say Android is peaking.   The question is where does that leave Google.  YouTube?  Self-driving cars?

I find myself thinking it makes a bit more sense that Apple and Yahoo have aligned their search with Bing.

What am I missing?

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Apache Cordova and Windows Universal (8.1)

Thanks to everyone who made it out to the Granite State Windows Platform Users Group last night (April 16, 2015) to see my presentation on using Apache Cordova to create Windows Universal (8.1) “store apps”. 

I walked away feeling like I’d helped inspire everyone who attended…  even as an “intro” level presentation, the demos seemed to keep everyone engaged, asking questions, and prompting me to go “off-roading” to check out various features. 

We really had fun with it!

So while the best part of the presentation was the demos, the slides do have some great links in them.

 
 

If you missed it, don’t worry too much…  I’ll keep this presentation dusted off & ready for upcoming events, as well…  I could imagine it fitting well into a Code Camp event or something akin to it in the coming year.  

Heck, feel free to reach out to me if you think this is something you’d like to know more about… I’m happy to have a chat about it.

Next month’s meeting is already scheduled…  we’re looking forward to Jim O’Neil coming to reprise his Boston Code Camp 23 presentation on Themes in Windows Universal (8.1).   Please join us!

Meetup:  http://www.meetup.com/Granite-State-NH-WPDev 



Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Data Persistence in Windows Universal (8.1) apps (Boston Code Camp 23)

Thanks to everyone who joined me for my Boston Code Camp 23 presentation.  Shuffling data around is a core responsibility of any serious computing platform.  Windows Universal really goes above and beyond the mundane call of duty with consistency and utility. It’s part of what makes the Windows client platform a true “cloud car”, especially with its Backup, Roaming Settings / Folders, and Roaming Password Vault capabilities as native functionality… all from the Windows.Storage namespace.

Here are

For the individual who asked what encryption level the Windows Password Vault functionality uses, I looked it up, and it’s 128bit AES encryption.  Stern stuff there.

Another question came up about app backups.  As I said in the presentation, the content of the Local storage is backed up automatically to the cloud by the OS.  (Isn’t that fantastic?!)

Likewise, as mentioned, the Temporary storage is excluded from backups.

One detail I missed however… the LocalCache storage area.  LocalCache is like Local except that it is not backed up.  LocalCache differs from Temporary storage in that the OS will not wipe it as it occasionally does the Temporary storage.  Next time I do this presentation, I’ll make sure to update it to discuss LocalCache.

Here’s a comparison of the storage options available to developers in the 8.1/universal platform. Note that each user on a device gets their own app-specific sandbox *and* OneDrive space for each installed app.

Type Availability Limits Settings hashtable Backed Up By OS Sync’d to all App / User / Devices by OS Encryption Wiped By OS if space is low Uri prefix Suggested use
Install Package Universal Static/ReadOnly Media from Install No No No Sandboxed No ms-appx:// Version specific static app media
Local Universal Available free storage Yes Yes No Sandboxed No ms-appdata:///local/ General
Local Cache Windows Phone Only Available free storage Yes No No Sandboxed No   Persistent cache
Temporary Universal Available free storage Yes No No Sandboxed Yes ms-appdata:///temp Semi-persistent cache
SD/Removable Universal Available free storage No No No None No   Removable/general
Roaming Universal 100k Yes (by virtue of roaming) Yes Cloud Partitioned No ms-appdata:///roaming Roaming settings
Password Vault Universal 100k (included in Roaming) Password-friendly structure (by virtue of roaming) Yes Cloud Partioned + 128bit AES No   Roaming credentials /OAuth tokens

I asked my stunt audience (the kids) later what my presentation had been about.  I was glad to know at least one of them had gotten it right. 

They were inspired, though, and that’s the important part. 

I hope you found inspiration in technology from both the day and maybe in some small part from my presentation.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Is Your Solution Delivery Strategy About to get Avalanched by Windows 10?

HoloLens took the spotlight when //build/ 2015 announced it had sold out in under an hour, but I can’t help but think at least as big a chunk of the excitement is around Windows 10 (or as we developers like to think of it, Windows Unified). As cool as HoloLens is, Windows 10 will most likely be landing in your lap long before HoloLens has images dancing in your living room. 

If you’re not already preparing for Windows 10, your solution delivery stack could be in for a shock from the client up. Microsoft is in the process of launching a re-boot of itself, and Windows 10 is the fulcrum of that effort. As usual, many of its changes are aimed at pulling developers in. If solution development has a place in your organization, this will likely impact you as well. 

“Mobile First / Cloud First” is, as always, the key phrase, and for a client OS… if it’s not for cloud devices…. give it a moment…  let that sink in…   Yes.  Windows 10 is an OS for mobile devices. Even if your device is a big heavy block of a workstation sitting near your monitor.  It will have the same mobile app store as phones and tablets, and it can be managed by the same Enterprise Mobile Device Manager (MDM).

Windows 8 was an introductory / transitional OS. With Windows 10, the transition matures.  Windows 10’s maturity is likely to make it far more palatable than Windows 8 was. (Keep in mind that Windows 8 is only a “failure” in terms of Microsoft’s other OS releases… Windows 8/8.1 has a bigger install base than some of the most “successful” of its non-Microsoft competitors. If Windows 10 becomes the hit many foresee it to be, it has potential to become the de facto standard platform to truly de-throne XP and even Windows 7.)

Windows 10 also adds a bit of a surprise, especially around browser technology.  Microsoft is tossing in to Windows 10 a whole new web browser (in addition to Internet Explorer) currently code-named Spartan. This new browser is intended to go after the consumer browser market, which IE has lost considerable ground in. I speculate that Spartan will be a breath of fresh air for consumers who feel IE’s bloat-related flaws collectively compels them to download Chrome or Firefox.

If you’re a web application developer who does more than a little HTML, on the other hand, you’re probably already groaning. You know what a pain browser compatibility is. (The browser was never intended to be a homogenous cross-everything platform, but that’s how a lot of web designers treat it, and they’ve shaped culture to expect it. Despite the best efforts of tools like jQuery and others to try homogenize, and trends like responsive to try to change the culture of presentation homogeny, web application developers get severely burned in the crossfire.  I’ve got more than a few scars to prove this, but you don’t have to look further than jQuery’s failed mechanisms for helping developers with these issues.    (First there was $.browser and $.browser.version, then $.support… then, “awe… heck… we give up, use Modernizr“.) /rant )

Spartan is a move that makes total sense, but it can’t help but add complexity to web application developers’ lives.  

In fact, in my mind, the long term net message is… there’s only one way to end browser pain… by getting out of web as a client platform. (Web services are the only part of the web worth salvaging.)

Microsoft has seen what platform diversification has done to its core OS business, and it’s not good. Developers need a consistent platform to deliver consistent solutions on, and that’s been a bigger part of Microsoft’s success over the years than even they seem to have realize.

So if web application development is becoming ever more complex in an already over complicated domain, how should one produce and deploy apps?

In a word:  native (aka mobile).

Windows 10 is a unifying platform, a “pentecostal” event to counter the “tower of babel” event of Windows platforms that have fractured into existence since the end of the .NET Compact Framework era. Where before development was requiring more and more effort to support PC, tablet, smartphone, wearable and even Xbox, Windows 10 has a unified SDK across all those platforms. For the first time ever, a .NET developer can build a single solution that runs in all those devices. There may be runtime differences between platforms that have to be ironed out, still, but not compile-time  (if(system.capability.phone) {} rather than #ifdef WINDOWS_PHONE_APP)

And think about it… what are the big reasons for web deployment?   Centralized management and centralized deployment.  Think back to MDMs and mobile app stores.

(Xamarin plays a roll in all this as well. Between Windows 10 and Xamarin, developers will be able to leverage a good chunk of their code base across all hardware, even non Microsoft platforms such as IOS and Android. This, too, is a breath of fresh air, because the cost of maintaining multiple code bases (and talent pools) is ever climbing. Xamarin will likely never be the 110% development experience that the latest .NET framework is, but neither was Silverlight for Windows Phone 7, yet one could do some fairly heavy lifting with it.)

Because Windows 10 is one platform that runs across form factors, it essentially means that any app written for Windows 10 is a mobile app. In that light, it means that Windows 10 is most likely to vault Windows into the top spot for mobile platforms by its projected install base. 

This on top of Microsoft’s recent “trickle up” theory of mobile market share growth, where Microsoft has been grabbing market share by targeting the feature phone market.  (This tactic has little effect in the US, where carrier subsidies nullify the low end to “$0”)  At some point Windows Phone will hit critical mass outside the US. Once that happens, even US developers will no longer be able to afford to ignore it.

Even if Microsoft is not contributing directly to your solution stack, Windows 10 and its biases have potential to culturally influence your solutions and solution delivery over the next decade.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Lumia Problems

I’m a pretty serious fan of Windows Phone, and especially Lumia devices.   In addition to the NH Windows Phone Users Group (now Granite State Windows Platform App Devs),  I’ve convinced everyone in my immediate family, and a good chunk of my extended family to go Lumia… 

So it breaks my heart when I see a Windows Phone that’s gone awry.  Among the many I’ve come in contact with, I’ve seen one or two develop issues that seem outside of normal hardware wear & tear.

My own device has occasionally had trouble with its SD card, occasionally forcing a restore.   These are annoyances to me, Windows Phone is a cloud car, so resetting the device and getting it back to normal is really only a mater of re-entering credentials, and the phone’s back in business.   The restore tends to re-apply start-screen layout and the set of installed apps on the device… the apps themselves are responsible for their individual recoveries, typically from their own cloud backups.   The few times I’ve been forced to do a full hard reset & restore, it’s been an ordeal that typically lasted under an hour (with a good Wifi connection).

This past week, I think the SD card flaked out again, but restoring from a backup didn’t resolve the issues.   I identified a number of odd behaviors, and was almost convinced my device was beyond recovery:

  • Power button:  the typical short-click which should toggle the device in & out of standby mode simply was not operating.   Long clicks, intended to shut the device down completely, were working, so… not a hardware disconnect.   In order to wake the phone up, I had to plug in a power source… and then had to wait for it to put itself to sleep.
  • App updates:  app updates were identified and the device would queue them, but rather than automatically downloading and installing, they’d hang in the download queue, all marked as Pending.  Occasionally one would come up with an error, but a retry would simply hang it back in Pending state.
  • WiFi internet sharing would not allow clients to connect.
  • Power saver:  on a whim, I put the device in power saver mode.  At first, it wouldn’t take the change.  Then I told it to always go in powersaver mode, and then, ironically, I couldn’t get it OUT of power saver mode.
  • Data Sense:  the app would crash and abend when trying to open it.
  • Mail sync:  would only sync manually
  • Alarm:  I missed my usual bus twice this week because my alarm failed & I overslept.

The end solution:  hard reset, but don’t restore from a backup…  just manually set up your accounts and re-download apps.  It took me a couple hours, but to get my 1520 back on track again, it was well worth the time.  In retrospect, I’m also happier because I didn’t re-install a ton of apps that I don’t use anymore, so the device is much leaner.  

The Windows Phone platform is relatively mature… it doesn’t fail often, but I think I’m going to have to pick up a better SD card.  The hard part is that I think I’ve heard rumors of some of these symptoms on devices that don’t have SD card slots.

My understanding is that it has something to do with the Cyan firmware update.  The Denim firmware may provide more stability, and that update started rolling out to devices in December with a promise that by the end of that month, it would be rolled out to the full Lumia nation.  We’re pushing into Feb 2015, and most in the US are still waiting.

[Addendum, 5/7/2015]:  My Lumia 1520 had a relapse of the above symptoms on Windows Phone 8.1.1 / Denim.   On a whim, I decided to try upgrading to the Windows 10 Insider Preview.  The problems with the SD card intensified as well.  I finally bit the bullet and replaced the SD card.  I did have to hard reset the phone back to the “stock” Windows 10 Insider Preview, but after that, not only were all the above symptoms resolved, but another long running annoyance…  a problem I thought to be related to the Lumia 1520 itself, went away.  The problem…  often, entering the unlock code, number presses would repeat so quickly that the phone would fail to unlock.  Occasionally it was bad enough to lock my phone for a minute or two.    Again, this issue is now resolved along with the other symptoms I noted in this post by replacing the SD card with a new one.