Massive Microsoft Machinations For Makers

If you’re not stuck in the tech news filter bubble, you may not have heard the Microsoft Build Developers Conference is going on right now. Among the topics covered in the keynotes are a new Office API and a goal to have Windows 10 running on a Billion devices in a few years.

There are, however, some interesting things coming out of the Build conference. Windows 10 is designed for hackers, with everything from virtual Arduino shields running on phones, Windows 10 running on Raspberry Pis, and Visual Code Studio running on OS X and Linux.

This is not the first time in recent memory Microsoft has courted the maker market. Microsoft begrudgingly supported the hardware dev scene with the PC version of the Microsoft Kinect, and a year or two ago, Microsoft rolled out drivers for 3D printers that were much more capable than the usual serial interface (read: the ability for printer manufacturers to add DRM). To the true, tie-die wearing, rollerblade-skating, acoustic coupler-sporting, Superman III-watching hackers out there, these efforts appear laughable – the product of managers completely out of touch with their audience.

Depending on your perspective, the new releases for the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and other ‘maker-themed’ hardware could go one way or the other.

As far as educational efforts go, the Windows Remote Arduino and Windows Virtual Shields for Arduino are especially interesting. Instead of filling a computer lab up with dozens of Arduinos and the related shields, the WVSA uses the sensors on a Windows 10 smartphone with an Arduino. Windows Remote Arduino allows makers to control an Arduino not through the standard USB port, but a Bluetooth module.

If Arduinos aren’t your thing, the Windows 10 IoT preview for the Raspberry Pi 2 and Minnowboard Max is out now. The Win10 IoT distribution does not yet have working WiFi or Bluetooth, making it the single most useless operating system for Internet of Things devices. It was, however, released at the Build conference.

Also announced was a partnership with a fabulous hardware project hosting site, Hackster.io. Microsoft and Hackster.io will be collaborating with hackathons and other events focused on Windows technology. I get why they wouldn’t want another, vastly more popular project hosting site doing this, but I’m a little confused at why Instructables wasn’t the top Microsoft pick.

As always, you may express your infinite derision in the comments below. Spelling Microsoft with a dollar sign will result in a ban.

89 thoughts on “Massive Microsoft Machinations For Makers

  1. Say what you want about the potential futility of such endeavours, at least they are trying… If the community can at least accept that and embrace it, then the possibilities are truly endless. All sorts of native integrations between windows devices and random microcontroller based devices really does improve the possibilities for easy project development.

    1. The possibilities have always been endless. The reality is that closed-source tools require take away time. We have to crack them or work around them just to get on with our projects. Then we have to fear they’ll sue us, patent what we did on their equipment, or somehow lock us out of our own achievements.

      The Open Source Community worked hard to get to this point with open-source software. Linux allows us to boot almost any CPU with an MMU (so an ATMega328 is out but a lot of 32-bit chips are in). We get the GNU tools from a basic installation: gcc, gmake, vi. We also get the scripting languages that pull everything together: Perl, Python, Tcl. We can see processes, fix problems, and maintain from any distance.

      This has enabled us to create and support other tools for people that may not be technical but have fascinating ideas. They want to make cute robots, make gardening easier, bring ancient toys and classic equipment back to life. Having free tools that talk to each other and the world mean a fun future. We’ve just crossed the threshold into a fully Open Electronics realm. — we barely know what people will do.

      In comes the company that burned us so many times before. Why should we touch that hot stove again?

      Can we disable lines of code to optimize Windows 10 IoT performance on slower chips with less RAM? Will Windows 10 IoT offer any features that are at least as valuable as the basic GNU tools? Can we see their code? Do they only want to see what we’re doing so they can find a way to take it from us?

      Let’s not forget that a certain company in the suburbs of Seattle helped the remnants of the Santa Cruz Operation sue to get money from Linux users. Even though there was nothing in the code that they could claim, it took IBM’s financial and legal resources to fight that successfully.

      I’m not eager to encourage the revival of Bellevue’s businessfolk. If Atmel, Texas Instruments, and other computer hardware people get my money instead, I also get their luscious documentation. I can still find out how to use ICs that are older than I am. I have learned an amazing amount about each level of computers thanks to these docs.

      This may sound crazy, but Open Source software and hardware are the Protestant Reformation of computing and electronic power. I understand why the keepers of the Nicene Creed would want us back — they want our money and mindshare. I’m not going back to Roman Catholicism and I’m not going to turn my Raspberry Pi into a Windows box. I can read the electronic Bible, whereas they did not even want me to read Latin. I’ll keep my direct line to empowerment, thanks all the same.

      1. >This may sound crazy, but Open Source software and hardware are the Protestant Reformation of computing and electronic power. I understand why the keepers of the Nicene Creed would want us back — they want our money and mindshare. I’m not going back to Roman Catholicism and I’m not going to turn my Raspberry Pi into a Windows box. I can read the electronic Bible, whereas they did not even want me to read Latin. I’ll keep my direct line to empowerment, thanks all the same.

        Holy fuck this is so out of touch it is crazy.

      2. While you have valid points regarding unscrupulous behavior by Microsoft, I think your mistrust of the company is bordering on fanaticism and has you partially disconnected from reality.

        Microsoft’s Raspberry Pi and Arduino announcements aren’t targeted at hardcore Linux users, or Mac enthusiasts. As I see it, they’re targeting two different segments of the maker community. The first is people who are invested in the Windows platform but also want to be apart of the IoT revolution. The second is people who want to get into hardware but are intimidated by the software stack.

        Regarding Raspberry Pi and Windows 10 performance on it. The NT kernel is a macrokernel design that was horribly crippled in the 90s and early 00s by tight coupling with Win32. Starting with Vista, it has undergone an extrication process called MinWin to remove and modularize all nonessential aspects of the kernel and put userland crap back in userland. Compared to the monolithic Linux kernel, the NT kernel today is surprisingly sparse and extremely efficient. I fully expect there to be a lot of apples to oranges benchmark comparisons coming, and by that I mean a Windows 10 image with a full GUI and software stack compared to a stripped down Linux install, but I expect headless Windows 10 to run just as fast and light as a headless Linux install would on the platform.

        With respects to Arduino, what Microsoft announced is a collection of open-source libraries for working with Arduino and not a replacement for the bootloader or existing Arduino frameworks. They’re also going to be offering tighter integration and support with their tool-chain. If I can build sketches in Visual Studio and upload them directly to my Arduinos, I’ll be in heaven. Say what you want about Microsoft as a company but their development tool-chain is untouchable. Open-source is usually good enough but no one offers the level of cohesion, reliability, documentation, support, and ease of use that Microsoft does with their tool-chain. I’m also looking forward to using serial and networking libraries that have tight integration with a PC side framework, getting Arduinos talking to PCs is such a painful affair.

        1. I agree that simplifying the tool chain is great for users – but i question labeling MS tools as cohesive and reliable given the churn of frameworks with which to work. For example – ODBC, to ADO.net to Linq to EntityFramework to … you get the idea.

          Developing a technology for future stacks (client, server, and now IOT thingy) requires a rich developer, deployment, and maintenance environment – of which, Microsoft’s is closed.

      3. You’re not crazy at all. Your analogy is dead-on accurate, and I couldn’t have said it better myself.
        I believe in the same way that you do, that the open source movement as a whole is both an analogy to the protestant reformation, as well an analogy to the free-born children of Zion & the awakened pod-born humans versus the oppressive will of Zero-One.

        Interestingly, nmap was shown running in a Linux terminal in the second Matrix film.
        (bringing up the question of “Does reality reflect art? Or Does art reflect reality?”)

        The proprietary software community of old, does indeed want to keep their claws buried deep in this market, which in many ways they built, but that we are beginning to take over. That scares the shit out of them. It’s much like when Emperor Constantine called together the Nicean council to forge the foundations of what became the republic’s marching orders for the coming few centuries, and laid the foundations for Catholicism. Microsoft was so terrified of the developments coming up in the open source community, both in terms of hardware and software that they brought in Satya Nadella to straighten things out by aligning them in the direction that would seem much more ready to work with open source technology (** in an integrative, if not necessarily cooperative way) because it was costing the investors, which are the old money backbone of their whole existance as an industry.

        After the Halloween Report (I think that was the one…? correct me if I’m wrong) and the following few months of really great investigative reporting that followed in the aftermath of that case, It was obvious to anyone really following those events that Microsoft was out to kill our movement underhandedly by funding SCO to do their dirty work for them, so that Microsoft could avoid all the negative publicity in the wake of their own anti-trust cases that had been getting global news attention.

        I like to bring in to discussions like this, a saying that I picked up from a film, which said “What’s the answer to 99 out of 100 questions?… Money”. (Source: Vanilla Sky). It tends to be true in most cases, and this one is no different. This is all about their survival strategy, doing what they know how, in order to keep fueling a bottom line. But, the reformation is underway. It’s taking on a life of it’s own that is out of control of the likes of the old technical establishment. IBM knew this early on, and if you look back (via youtube) at some of their early Linux related commercials, it really shows that they saw what was coming…. a revolution brought on by the users themselves that were done with greed holding the reins of technological evolution.

          1. Hey! I’m with Hackster. Microsoft has been a partner in our ongoing Hardware Weekend hackathon tour for the past few months, so this grows from a continuing relationship.

            We first opened up in 2013; our founder, Ben, came out of HAXLR8R with a plan to make building your own hardware easy. We approve every project – so most will have a downloadable code base, BoM, and schematics. And we host communities for hardware platforms: if you used a Spark Button in your project, it shows up on the Spark page, etc.

            Hope that helps :) I didn’t come here to pitch and I don’t want to hijack the convo. Shoot me an email (alex@hackster.io) if you’re curious!

    1. $adly to $ay, my keyboard’$ “$” key (the letter, not the dollar $ign), i$ $tuck, $o I have to type $ in$tead of $ (you get the picture…). $o, I mu$t therefore be exempt from the ban on $ in Micro$oft and can type it with immunity! ;-)

      In regard$ to M$ and the IoT… well let me be the fir$t to $ay, “too little, too late”. A$ far a$ I am concerned, M$ is now e$$entially irrelevant for tho$e who care to $witch to $ome alternative. Linux ha$ been u$eable as a de$ktop O$ for year$ now (and ye$, I have been running it). For tho$e who prefer commercial $oftware, O$X ha$ $upport for mo$t application$ (or rea$onable replacement$) out there. $hort of $pecialized $y$tem$ or legacy cu$tom built $oftware, there i$ no need to $tick with M$ anymore.

      Per$onally, I find that Linux better addre$$e$ my need$ at home than either O$X or Window$ doe$, both for general computing a$ well a$ for hardware hacking. YMMV, of cour$e: I know there are people out there who prefer Window$ for variou$ rea$on$. If you choo$e to run it, that i$ no problem by me… but ju$t don’t feel like there are no other option$ out there, a$ wa$ ($omewhat) the ca$e 10+ year$ ago.

        1. excu2e you thii2 ii2 what a lii2p quiirk look2 liike. al2o, ii wonder iif miicro2oft ii2 planniing two 2upport grub-ba2ed deviice2 yet. platform emulatiion wriiten iin ~ATH ii2 not the mo2t reliiable thiing.

          ((I know HaD is the /last/ place I should be roleplaying in comments, but as a homestuck, this joke was compulsory.))

        1. Didn’t you get the memo, once you switch to OSX, you become a graphic designer, so your reasonable replacement is Photoshop, and Adobe is years away from abandoning OSX at this rate, no matter what they say.

          Also, ignore the people talking about some mythical beast named Darwin, there is no BSD hidden underneath the pretty aluminium shell. Nothing worthwhile could be homebrew’ed, and no amount of elixir from your wineskin will allow you to do anything productive.

  2. Step 1: Embrace
    Step 2: Extend
    Step 3: Extinguish

    Microsoft knows that fragmenting the 6million plus developers on POSIX systems may again increase their market share slightly. Anyone who has dealt with the 20 years of orphaned DDK and SDK from Microsoft knows how they make their money.

    Don’t feed the Bears…

    They bring nothing to the table, and kill innovation though patent trolling start-ups…

  3. Microsoft is getting weird. [Open sourcing .net](http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/12/microsoft-takes-net-open-source-and-cross-platform/) and now making a [linux & mac](http://techcrunch.com/2015/04/29/microsoft-launches-its-net-distribution-for-linux-and-mac/) distribution for it, as well as releasing a [cross platform web focused IDE](http://techcrunch.com/2015/04/29/microsoft-shocks-the-world-with-visual-studio-code-a-free-code-editor-for-os-x-linux-and-windows/). It’s easy to be cynical and see it as them trying to jump on a whole fleet of bandwagons in an attempt to claw back developers they’ve alienated by being so closed in the past. I dunno what to make of it.

  4. Does this mean that M¥₡₹osoƒ₮ will be providing native, driverless support for standard USB devices, specifically CDC serial devices, in a similar way to Linux and OSX’s current solution? Because THAT would be the biggest contribution towards enabling makers, rather than simply expanding vendor tie-in.

      1. What are you talking about? You can easily access USB devices from userspace. Just use the WinUSB driver for them, and then call functions in winusb.dll. I’ve done this in Win32 and .NET apps before. It’s super simple. LibUSB also runs under Windows, so you can use that API if it’s more familiar to you. There’s nothing similar to udev on Windows, and I don’t know why you would need something like it. Win32 APIs for USB access do not require administrative privileges.

    1. Actually yes, at least in the Win 10 preview builds USB CDC devices work without drivers. (It was perfect in the first preview, the latest update still works but shows a driver install progress bar that waits indefinitely)

  5. I think the biggest thing for Microsoft is the potential revenue stream from opening up the the wider hacker/maker collective both local and global. There is a great amount of ‘convenience’ in using a Microsoft product. I can also appreciate how alternatives, generally linux based, are becoming more usable for the tech audience, as well as the pebkac’s. We may soon really be able to inform ourselves on our tech decisions and not just be stuck in a proprietary showdown. I think that the more people who support the open source movement, the more these larger tech companies will have to follow in stride to keep up with their money market

  6. Awesome alliteration, amigo!

    All of these developments are surprising to say the least. How much have they modified the kernel to run on low powered ARM devices? Do we still get blue screens of death, or do we get blue smoke of death instead?

    As a side note, can we spell it Mi¢rosoft?

  7. I can’t tell, my sarcasm meter is either broken or pegged.

    I like this one:
    “Can I set up a Raspberry Pi 2 using Windows 8.1?

    You will need Windows 10 on your PC to be able to set up Raspberry Pi 2 running Windows 10 IoT Core.”

    I’ve honestly gotten to the point I’m considering doing away with dual boot and just going with a full Ubuntu install.

  8. All the big companies have now targeted “Makers”. I wonder how well that will work out for them – as their long term corporate culture has always done everything is can to marginalize individuals – from ordering policies through information access.

    Microsoft, Texas Instruments, National Instruments, etc. have expensive products they are trying to sell and promote – but individuals need good documentation without NDAs, open libraries, and free tool chains..

    1. National Instruments! £3.5k for a compact rio, and £400 ea for some stepper motor drivers! not to mention using labview is like having a wank with sand paper – you’ll get what you’re after in the end… but it’s gonna hurt.

      1. Ha! As someone who does some limited dev on LabVIEW for work, I had to set down my sand paper and reply. I’m stuck at work between PLC’s (that are too slow, proprietary and have nasty data logging interfaces) and NI. So until our esteemed controls engineer creates the ultimate Beckhoff machine, I’m stuck with sand paper for testing that is too fast or complicated for PLC’s and has to be easily maintained once I metaphorically cross the rainbow bridge.

  9. Maybe its just me but I really don’t get the appeal of Windows 10 running on a Pi? I mean unless Win10 offers some distinct performance advantage vs Linux? Specifically when being run headless.

    1. It is so the Windows guys don’t feel left out. One day they might bother to learn GNU/Linux and be much better people for it but as Stephen King said “If the column of truth has a hole in it, they neither know or care”

  10. Well here I am to laugh and deride about this apparent product of out-of-touch management – I can almost see some stuffy corporate suit trying his best to dress down and blend in at a hacker expo where they’re showing off the usual goodies all bizarrely tainted with Microsoft software for some reason, as passersby raise and eyebrow but then try to pretend they didn’t look to reduce the awkwardness of the situation.

  11. I think there are a large number of reasons for this. In the development world, MS/VS/.NET are very popular. I suspect a lot of the recent moves by MS are simply to expand the appeal of the MS platform to developers who need cross-platform capabilities. With Mono having brought .NET to *nix, I think MS realized that their historically resisting the community’s calls for portability and integration has cost them a great deal of money.

    That said, it just makes sense to keep expanding. I recently posted an article about MSBuild(http://scientifichooliganism.net/?p=102), and toward the end I discuss some of the potential reasons for their move to open source their build tool. Ultimately, I think it just makes sense from a business perspective, and they have finally realized that.

    I think most people can see the consumer technology market changing, and MS is no different. The irony is that their software will not be what hinders them in the “maker” space, it will be their licensing. I think MS is actually in a very good position(from their perspective) if they play their cards right.

    1. The problem with Microsoft – they can’t innovate faster than the open source world for anything.

      Microsoft has been continually playing catch-up on everything that is not Visual Studio, Office or XBox. For example:

      Web MVC: implementing functionality already in Rails
      Node: Let’s just port that one
      iOT tools: Let’s co-opt Arduino
      Search: Let’s coy Google.
      Cloud infrastructure: Let’s copy Amazon/Google or any other PAAS/SAAS platform
      Phones: Let’s copy Apple/Android.

      I’m just looking for one area where Microsoft is leading the way…

    2. MS does not need to lead the way. One of the biggest failings of the open source community is in courting business, and the reasons for that are a rather in-depth discussion on their own. It suffices to say that companies like MS do not fail in that way, and that is a large part of the reason why they are still around.

      Businesses are rarely interested in the bleeding edge. Again, the reasons for this are a discussion in and of themselves. MS targets the business world, and has been doing so for a while. They do so because that is where the money is at.

      Every XBox sold at a loss increases the value of every Visual Studio w/ MSDN subscription, which currently lists for $1,200. That subscription is paid for annually by the way. Every device that supports .NET increases the value of a host of MS products.

      Where MS leads the way is in profitability, and at the end of the day that is probably the area where they have the most interest in leading.

  12. My feelings – many iot devices should run the smallest OS possible and strive for efficiency. If Moore’s law makes processing power a non-issue – then I’d rather see devices running with as little power as possible.

    Watch-battery powered, cloud connected, and OTA updatable.

    We should also be decoupling ecosystems (.Net/Andriod/iOS – even tool chains) from iOT devices. It makes me think MS will want a .Net layer on my Teensy, or Apple will only make watches that needs an iPhone. Microsoft already tried and failed on lock-in with Windows. Let’s not let anyone else succeed. There’s plenty of opportunity to not need that kind of lock-in.

      1. So – there’s a future with .net on my Teensy – what will it be able to do? Will MS port and maintain countless libraries to work with countless sensors? Or some small subset? Or will they be more interested in having a micro .net framework that doesn’t do much but talk to their cloud?

        It’s like working with Intel’s Edison – sure it seems like a great idea, but then some army needs to come in and work on libraries for all those sensors because they don’t just work. Intel seems to have punted on the idea for the time being. What will MS do?

        By all means – let’s see it! Any fresh ideas will spur more creativity in this space.

  13. Love how people manage to bring apple into this, then bash them for having products that work, AND bash microsoft for not. Nobody gives a fuck if you spend your time in your mothers basement, bashing in “sudo apt-get upgrade” trying to get a printer to work.
    Behave.

    1. Beats having to constantly remind everyone in the office to press F8 when windows is booting up and then disable driver signature enforcement. That awful printer is still alive and kicking, but now it’s hooked up to a Linux based print server. People are no longer breaking keyboards hammer the F8 key, and the IT guy seems a lot happier.

  14. I’ll post again since it looks like it disappeared…

    Spelling it Micro$oft is a complement. They made a ton of money because they had the best product for that time and place.

    1. You’ve got to be joking. MS has been a ruthless monopoly for a very long time(going back to MS-DOS era). They deliberately bullied computer makers like Compaq and Dell to keep other OS’es off their hardware, practiced “embrace and strangle” – which was nothing but getting access to small company’s IP and stealing it. You name the dirty practice and MS has done it.

      In terms of best products – no way. They were just better at freezing out or buying out competitors. Their OS’es were garbage until XP. They can’t do embedded for squat, they aren’t hobbyist friendly.

      No one in the maker field should trust them. With them everything is top down and command driven.

      1. What other OS’s were there at the that time? Apple was the only alternative consumer software but they wanted to stick to macs, maybe OS2 but that was very buggy. As for servers, unix was a b to set up and if it failed everything was lost be interesting if with ms the rpi becomes a bit more stable.

  15. I’ll say it, I love Microsoft. Visual Studio is a great IDE. .Net is a great platform. SQL Server is great. Asp.net MVC must be better than Asp.net Web forms (I hate WebForms). The more things I can use .Net/VS to code against the better.
    Don’t be a hater.

  16. I think that Radio Shack going under leaves an interesting opportunity for the Microsoft Stores. Last Summer my (then 9 year old) son went to the free Microsoft camp and learned two coding programs and had a really great time. I’ve thought ever since that if they cleared out some of the accessory commodity junk from the back of the store and replaced it with maker/IOT stuff and had some activities which support it they could turn the Microsoft Stores into a cool place for young learning geeks to hang out, learn, and collaborate. That could breath a whole new life into their retail strategy and turn into a really good thing.

  17. I hope this doesn’t take steam. We’ve worked hard and long to make open source more accessable for people and the only one that wins on microsofts sheames are microsoft. While in open source everyone benefit in the long run.

    They might have changed strategy and are trying to look more open and nice while in the back developing new inovating ways to enforce drm. But if they start getting people on their platforms again you can bet they’ll try to close them in again. The only reason they’re going for “open” is because they feel forced to.

    Just my 2 cents.
    A

  18. [No offence, plain reality]
    So, here is my view on Microsoft on over all marketing thing.

    Microsoft Stragegy: http://www.catb.org/esr/halloween/
    they have not changed their strategy, till today their are sign of lock down.
    for example: “WinUsb decriptor” in Usb descriptor. Microsoft windows specific.

    This post is just a marketing strategy by Microsoft.

    So, using Microsoft Windows is useful to me, NO!
    why, because the day i wanted to learn how things work, open and tinker them, Microsoft was not their.
    it was the Free/Open source community that helped me learn.
    their was no resource for people like use to learn about how things work.

    these close source companies are just money making machine.
    they make money, by killing or selling software. they just need money.

    their are also peoples who died and those who are living actually doing for the better of the community by contributing.
    we never had access to knowledge that we have today.

    for people like us these companies have nothing for us because i do not have money.

    Microsoft is doing all this because this is good for their business, not for the community.

    why they open sourced .Net? what OpenJDK did to Java, Mono will do to .Net.

    so, at the end, ixfn brx Microsoft.

    (this comment is more oriented toward developing nation people view)
    (English is not my primary language, i cannot write enough emotion in this text)
    —-
    HaD, why do not just create a section for advertisement instead of pushing this into genuine stream.
    hope HaD do not publish this garbage main stream, or else they will surely have one subscriber decreased.

  19. Dear Mr. Toad, we aren’t a scorpion, we only pretended. We won’t sting you halfway across!

    THREE decades of ill-will and evil aren’t so easily dismissed.

    Stealing the “Internet Explorer” trademark (they didn’t own it when they started using it).
    Planting logic bombs to blame DrDOS.
    Changing one registry entry changes $100 window to $300 windows.

    I really have a strong desire that Microsoft ceases being evil (and that Google has started, with censorship, politics, etc – with Apple joining in). But as long as Melinda and Bill Gates of Hell are around, I don’t trust it. It will take more than hot air to convince me that the GOP “means it this time”.

    Freedom is freedom and games are not.

    1. I hope you are saving millions of affrican children lives every day too, to be abke to say “Melinda and Bill Gates of Hell are around”…
      Otherwise, keep your hate at the company, NOT the person.

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