The mantra for 2014 will be "put up or shut up" when it comes to achieving IT revenue growth and market position in the coming year. That was a key theme outlined by IDC chief analyst Frank Gens during a one-hour webcast yesterday to discuss the influential market researcher's annual worldwide IT forecast.
Spending on IT technology in 2014, excluding telecommunications services, will grow 5.1 percent to $2.1 trillion, which represents a slight uptick over the current year, Gens said. In the coming year, IDC is forecasting a continued move to what it calls the "3rd Platform," centered around mobile devices and the migration to cloud architectures with substantially increased investments in enterprise social networking tools and technology that lets users mine big data.
"2014 will be all about battles across this platform," Gens said. "The past five years of the third platform build out has been all about laying the infrastructure and developer platform foundations. This next chapter is about fostering an explosion of innovation on that foundation, with hundreds of thousands to millions of new killer apps and solutions."
Recalling Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's "developers, developers, developers, developers" rant from years ago, Gens emphasized during the one-hour call that indeed winning over developers will be critical for those who are going to survive in the coming decade. Ironically for Microsoft, winning over developers will be critical if it's going to be a player in the new mobile era.
Microsoft has about a year to win over developers or it will be doomed in the mobile market, Gens said. The good news is developer interest in the new Windows platform has risen by eight points, according to IDC's latest Appcelerator report. However only 37 percent of developers say they are very interested in developing mobile apps for Windows, still 35 points below Android and 50 points below Apple's iOS. Microsoft honestly needs to double that interest level within the next 12 months, or it could be game over," Gens said.
Increasing sales of tablets will continue to take a bite out of the PC market, which will continue to slide by 6 percent. Tablets will grow by 18 percent and smartphones 12 percent. Mobile devices will outsell PCs by two and a half to one, Gens said.
Cloud spending, which includes service providers, infrastructure and software will grow 25 percent reaching $100 billion. More than a third (35 percent) of that spending will be on cloud service providers and shared hosting facilities. Just like mobile, cloud providers will fight for developers to support their platforms, Gens noted. "Over the next four years, we will see a tenfold increase in the number of apps in the cloud, driven in part by a tripling of the number of developers and contributors to cloud app ecosystems," he said. "Two-thirds of these new apps will have an industry specific or a role specific focus."
With the amount of digital data growing 50 percent in 2014, users will create 6 trillion terabytes, or 6 zetabytes of data. That will fuel 30 percent growth in infrastructure and tools to mine big data, exceeding $14 billion. IDC is also predicting that in the next three years, 80 percent of the most successful apps will leverage large data streams. Demand for big data and analytics skills will outstrip supply, Gens said.
While many enterprises continue to assess whether they'll see any value by investing in social networking, IDC is predicting within the next three years, 80 percent of Fortune 500 will use it as a key foundation for marketing, selling and maintaining community, up from 30 percent today.
Social networking will also increasingly invade product and service development, according to Gens. By 2016, IDC forecasts 60 percent of the Fortune 500 will deploy social-enabled platforms, solutions that gather input from their communities of customers, partners and other components of their supply chains. To enable that, IDC predicts in 2015 the key social platforms will converge and merge with the major cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS) clouds.
It stands to reason the intense competitive environment in IT will not let up in 2014. How does IDC's forecast for 2014 line up with your predictions?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/04/2013 at 2:04 PM0 comments
On this Cyber Monday, if you were hoping to find a good deal on a Windows 8 PC and/or tablet you'll have to search long and hard. And even those that may appeal to cost-conscious shoppers are already sold out.
In an apparent effort to clear out inventory of its first-generation Surface devices, Microsoft slashed the price of its Surface Pro to $649 for the version equipped with 64 GB of storage -- down from $799. Unfortunately it's sold out. Though if you want the beefier Surface Pro with 128 GB of storage it was still available this morning for $749 (down from $899) at the Microsoft Store. That's $250 less than the Surface Pro 2 and you will sacrifice battery life and performance if you believe then the savings are worthwhile.
If you're looking for a hot deal on the first-generation Surface RT, Best Buy had them listed at an attractive $199. The bad news is they're sold out. Microsoft is offering the Surface RT for $299 (down from $349), though it's a refurbished version. The newer Surface 2s cost $449.
The only PC equipped with Intel's 4th generation (Haswell) processor at the Microsoft Store is HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15-n011nr touchscreen laptop offered as a Cyber Monday deal. It's listed at $499, which Microsoft claims is $200 off the regular price. It has a 15.6-inch touch screen display, an i5 processor, a 500 GB hard drive, 4 GB of RAM and battery life of six hours.
Some other deals tweeted by Microsoft Sales Excellence Program Manager Eric Ligman include the Dell XPS 18 Touchscreen All-in-One for $699 (down from $1,349) and the ASUS VivoTab Smart ME400C-C2-BK touchscreen tablet reduced $100 to $299 -- but alas they too are sold out. Others, touted as deals, are really the same prices they were advertised at in the past such as the New Dell Venue 11 Pro (64 GB). Also beware of low-cost PCs that don't have touch displays. Whether or not you think you'll ever use the touch features, it makes no sense to buy one without a touch interface. At some point you will need it.
If you're looking for a Cyber Monday deal on a Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2, good luck! If you see any deals on Windows 8 PCs and/or tablets, feel free to share them.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/02/2013 at 2:56 PM0 comments
Microsoft's CEO search committee reportedly is honing in on Alan Mulally and Satya Nadella as the top two candidates to succeed Steve Ballmer.
A report by Bloomberg on Thursday said the committee is leaning toward Mulally, now CEO of Ford, and Nadella, who oversees Microsoft's enterprise and cloud business and is well respected within the company. Sources told Bloomberg that internal candidate Tony Bates and Nokia former CEO Stephen Elop "remain in the mix," though are less likely.
The thinking of the committee remains "fluid," according to the report, meaning any candidate could still float to the top. The committee has aimed to wind down its search by year's end but the process could go into next year, according to the report.
Based on various reports over the past several months, Mulally appears to remain the favorite because of the way he parachuted into Ford last decade and brought it back from the brink, despite his newcomer status to the auto industry (he was previously CEO of Boeing where he rose through the ranks). As I noted back in September, Mulally has already advised outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer and helped him architect the One Microsoft strategy modeled in part after One Ford.
Critics argue just because he was able to turn Ford around doesn't mean he can do the same for Microsoft. Many take issue with Mulally's age (68) as well. But perhaps the committee is considering a scenario where Microsoft brings Mulally in for a few years, while naming Nadella president and grooming him as heir-apparent?
The other issue is it is not clear if Mulally wants to, or can, leave Ford in the midst of its own transition. Because Mulally hasn't emphatically ruled out heading to Microsoft, he remains in the mix. But if he does shut the door on leaving Ford, then perhaps Nadella will get the nod?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/02/2013 at 2:55 PM0 comments
Yesterday's latest Windows Azure cloud crash, caused by a DNS failure, overshadowed an upgrade to the service and briefly interrupted Microsoft's much-anticipated Xbox One launch last night.
The malfunction apparently brought down portions of the Xbox Live service on the eve of its midnight consumer unveiling. Microsoft is touting the Xbox One release as its most significant gaming launch to date. Fortunately for Microsoft, the outage's impact in Xbox Live didn't lead to major headlines that could have outshined last night's midnight launch.
As speculated, a DNS failure on the management servers outside of Windows Azure indeed was the cause yesterday's failure, Microsoft corporate VP Scott Guthrie confirmed in a tweet last night. "No -- Azure is not having issues (customer apps continue to run fine). The problem is a DNS name server issue outside of azure [sic]," the tweet read.
In addition to Xbox Live inconveniently going down on the eve of the launch of Microsoft's first new upgrade of its Xbox console, Office 365, Outlook.com and SkyDrive also experienced failures.
Yesterday's failures also overshadowed several key upgrades to Windows Azure that Guthrie announced yesterday on his blog including:
- BizTalk Services: General Availability Release
- Traffic Manager: General Availability Release
- Active Directory: General Availability Release of Application Access Support
- Mobile Services: Active Directory Support, Xamarin support for iOS and Android with C#, Optimistic concurrency
- Notification Hubs: Price Reduction + Debug Send Support
- Web Sites: Diagnostics Support for Automatic Logging to Blob Storage
- Storage: Support for alerting based on storage metrics
- Monitoring: Preview release of Windows Azure Monitoring Service Library
Microsoft and its key rivals are all in an aggressive race to gain ground in cloud computing on Amazon Web Services. Of course Amazon has had its own share of embarrassing outages.
Presuming yesterday's outages are remediated, as the Windows Azure Service Dashboard indicated this morning, yesterday's failure will be added to the growing annals of disruptions. But it also adds fuel to the fire for opponents of using Windows Azure or any cloud service.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/22/2013 at 10:58 AM0 comments
Salesforce.com announced Salesforce1, its new sales, marketing and service cloud-based platform, at the company's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco this week. Salesforce.com operates the largest software as a service (SaaS) cloud platform and this new addition aims to focus on social features, while making its apps and those of its large ecosystem of ISVs suitable for mobile devices.
Salesforce1 is also architected for the notion of cloud-connected devices and introduces a new application infrastructure designed to enable developers to build apps with social interfaces that are designed for mobility. The company said the new platform has 10 times more APIs and services.
The new community oriented Salesforce1 is available to all customers of the Salesforce CRM and Salesforce Platform. The Salesforce Mobile and Salesforce Admin apps are available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play.
"It's the world's first CRM platform for everyone -- for developers, for ISVs, for admins, for end-users and, most of all, for your customers," Benioff said on the company's third quarter earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "So you can go social, mobile, cloud and get connected."
Also at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com and Hewlett Packard inked a deal to let customers build virtual instances of the Salesforce CRM platform. Using HP's "Converged Infrastructure" of servers, storage and network gear, the companies will collectively build the Salesforce "Superpod."
"The Salesforce Superpod will allow individual customers to have a dedicated instance in the Salesforce multi-tenant cloud," Benioff said in a statement announcing the deal.
However Salesforce will host the Superpods in its own datacenters and not HP's. In fact, the Superpods are identical to the existing 15 pods in Salesforce datacenters used to host the company's CRM platform, InformationWeek reported. The key difference is that Salesforce will equip the Superpods with HP infrastructure.
Furthermore Salesforce is only offering the Superpods to the largest of enterprises, the InformationWeek report pointed out, adding that it's intended for those who have governance and security requirements. "For the vast majority of customers, this is not appropriate," he reportedly said. "But there are customers who want to go to another level."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/21/2013 at 8:19 AM0 comments
With last month's launch of Windows 8.1, the new Surface Pro 2 and the Windows RT-based Surface 2, Microsoft has made its SkyDrive service a key component of the company's "devices and services" strategy. The concept is great but the execution falls short because SkyDrive isn't as easy to use on any device as Dropbox.
That's a major problem and one I believe Microsoft must fix sooner than later. Indeed time is of the essence. Dropbox is reportedly on the verge of securing a whopping $257 million in financing on top of the $250 million it already has raised, Bloomberg Businessweek reported Monday. Dropbox officials believe the company's market cap is worth $8 billion, according to the report. The company has 200 million users, though a vast majority of them use the free service. Nevertheless Dropbox's revenues have grown from $12 million in 2010 to $116 million last year and it's estimated it'll exceed $200 million, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.
Microsoft has offered its SkyDrive service for many years and those who were fortunate enough to sign up before April of last year secured 25 GB of capacity for free before the company slashed the amount of complimentary capacity down to 7 GB. Even now, the 7 GB limit is more than three times more generous than the 2 GB limit of Dropbox, though you can receive incremental promotional upgrades. I've managed to up my free Dropbox capacity to 5 MB.
All things being equal I'd rather use SkyDrive as my default personal cloud storage provider. Its integration with Windows 8.1, Office 2013 and Office 365 (which Microsoft says is on a 1.5 million user run rate) make it an ideal way of synchronizing documents across multiple devices and PCs. It also makes the latest versions of Windows and Office quite compelling. Enterprise users with SharePoint Online can use the even more manageable SkyDrive Pro, but that's a separate story.
Unfortunately all things aren't equal. Though close, SkyDrive is no Dropbox -- at least not in its current form. Perhaps the biggest downside to SkyDrive is its interface on the current crop of devices and on Windows 8.1. The Dropbox app on Apple's iOS and Windows 8.x is much easier to use as it displays files and folders the way users are accustomed to using the Windows Explorer model. SkyDrive doesn't. It renders files as icons. While you can search for content, good luck trying to sort files. In fact, the best way to organize files is by using the traditional Windows desktop.
Of course, one way around that is to use Windows Explorer in Windows 8.1, which does provide a good view of all your files. But that defeats the purpose of using the modern app and it isn't even an option with non-Windows devices.
At the same time, there are some key benefits to SkyDrive versus Dropbox, as Microsoft points out, including remote access and the ability to edit and add notes. And Microsoft makes it easier to do certain tasks like attaching a file to a message in Mail from SkyDrive, which isn't easily done with Dropbox.
Still, I find it easier to find files in Dropbox than SkyDrive and at the end of the day, that's what matters. Microsoft needs to address this in its apps if it wants to appeal to those happy with Dropbox. Moreover, there's no shortage of alternative personal cloud services from the likes of Apple and Google as well as those already reaching out to enterprises such as Box, which also has raised a boatload of funding and has a sizeable installed base.
Also rest assured Dropbox isn't sitting still. The company last week announced Dropbox for Business, which addresses a key objection to the free service: the lack of IT control and questions about security. Dropbox could be an attractive acquisition target for Microsoft, Google, Apple and even Amazon. The latter could be especially attractive as Dropbox currently hosts its infrastructure on Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service S3.
But Microsoft doesn't need to shell out the billions it would take to acquire Dropbox.All it needs to do is make SkyDrive's user interface more flexible in its modern apps across all platforms.
What's your preferred personal cloud storage service?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/20/2013 at 12:23 PM0 comments
Microsoft's decision to do away with its so-called "rank and yank" method of evaluating the performance of its employees (made famous by GE's former CEO Jack Welch) is Redmond's latest effort to get them to work more closely toward CEO Steve Ballmer's vision of One Microsoft.
It's no secret that the siloes between divisions in Microsoft have led to bitter disputes over technical and product direction. Critics argue those rivalries and fiefdoms helped pave the way for companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Salesforce.com and VMware to lead or eat into markets where Microsoft once had an edge. How the notion of employees being ranked played into those rivalries is hard to say. But removing employee ranking should reduce the Survivor mentality it aims to foster. Experts also argue companies that don't have rigid employee ranking processes are more attractive to talented developers. Removing employee ranking could also help retain valued employees. Of course the end goal is making all Microsoft employees more focused on customer needs.
The One Microsoft reorganization aimed to bring development, sales and marketing with a common goal and it appears this latest move is an outgrowth of this transition. The irony of One Microsoft of course is that it's modeled after One Ford, which the auto-giant succinctly describes as One Team, One Plan, One Goal. As I noted yesterday, Ballmer has called upon Ford CEO Alan Mulally for advice on how to turn Ford around. Of course it's also intriguing given that Ballmer and Chairman and Founder Bill Gates are said to want Mulally to take the reins of Microsoft.
Does removing "rank and yank" further stack the deck for Mulally? That could be one way of looking at it but regardless who becomes Microsoft's next CEO it's in his or her interest to have employees who are on the same page. Only time will tell to what extent this will accomplish that or if a new CEO will have a different philosophy for evaluating employee performance.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/19/2013 at 12:40 PM0 comments
When Microsoft issued the stunning news that longtime CEO Steve Ballmer would retire, some observers questioned whether he jumped or was pushed. For the first time Ballmer answered the question with graphic detail in an apparent effort to etch his legacy in stone.
In his uncharacteristically self-effacing interview with The Wall Street Journal late last week, Ballmer maintained the decision to leave was his, which he made while in London back in May. Well aware Microsoft needed to change faster or risk becoming marginalized by Apple, Google and others, Ballmer recalled reaching an inflexion point that Microsoft would be able to change faster without him.
"At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern," Ballmer told The Journal. "Face it: I'm a pattern."
Later that month Ballmer set the wheels in motion to inform the board. Also weighing in was lead director John Thompson, the onetime CEO of Symantec, who had made clear to Ballmer in January Microsoft needed to embrace change at a much more accelerated pace.
Ballmer recounted how he met with his close friend Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford who is a candidate to succeed Ballmer, though the automaker has stated its chief will stay put through 2014. During that Christmas Eve meeting at a Starbucks near Seattle, the two talked for hours about Microsoft's new "devices and services strategy" and how Mulally turned around Ford by implementing a more team-oriented approach. Looking for a way to overhaul Microsoft, Ballmer saw that the team-oriented model would help to eliminate the legendary siloes that have held the company back. Ballmer then changed his management style to fit with this new idea.
It is well-known Ballmer didn't want to retire until his youngest son graduates in 2017. At the time of his retirement announcement, Ballmer said bringing in a new CEO in the midst of a transition might not be in Microsoft's best interests.
The report is a fascinating story of how Ballmer fell on his sword for the good of the company he loves so much. That may very well be how things played out. On the other hand, a skeptic could argue if the board (with or without support from founder and chairman Bill Gates) did force Ballmer's hand -- wanted to spare one of its largest champions and shareholders humiliation -- it's not beyond the realm of imagination that they agreed to give him this graceful and humble exit.
But regardless how you feel about how Ballmer ran Microsoft over the years, the company has grown in revenue and profits consistently throughout his tenure even if its share price did little to increase. An orderly transition is critical and throwing Ballmer under the bus certainly wouldn't further that cause.
The story Ballmer revealed is quite plausible even if he displayed unusual humility. Unless evidence surfaces to the contrary though, I'll take Ballmer at his word. Do you?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/18/2013 at 10:53 AM0 comments
When Amazon announced plans to disrupt the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) market Wednesday by launching WorksSpaces at its re:Invent customer and partner conference in Las Vegas, Citrix shares dropped 4.5 percent on the news. Amazon pitched its desktop-as-a-service offering as a more affordable approach to traditional VDI offered by Citrix, VMware and Microsoft. That's because with WorksSpaces, IT can spin up virtual desktops without buying hardware or software just as they can with Amazon's cloud and storage portfolio of services.
Given its track record in upending traditional business models, one doesn't want to ignore Amazon when it offers anything new (remember Borders?). But analysts I spoke with following the announcement noted Amazon is not likely to take the VDI world by storm overnight for a variety of reasons. Maybe that's why Citrix shares are inching back up today?
One noteworthy barrier to adoption of Amazon WorkSpaces is the end user. When Amazon launched EC2 over seven years ago, it gave developers a way to bypass IT to quickly procure infrastructure. End users on the other hand are not clamoring for VDI, said Forrester analyst David Johnson. "There aren't employees inside a company that are going to run out and sign up for Amazon desktops," Johnson said. Desktop as a service will appeal to those who need "pop-up-desktops" for contractors or to quickly get projects started, Johnson said.
A Forrester survey last quarter found that 11 percent of SMBs and enterprises in North America and Europe are including desktop as a service within the next 12 months. This is up from 5 percent during the same time last year. Looking beyond one year, 12 percent said they are planning hosted desktops, up from 7 percent last year.
When it comes to overall plans for VDI, 52 percent said it was a high priority, up from 48 percent last year and 43 percent in 2011, according to Forrester. IDC's current forecast for client virtualization spending overall this year is $175 million. It projects next year it will rise to $311 million and hit $600 million by 2016.
Although VDI deployments that use public cloud infrastructure are part of a small but emerging piece of that market, Microsoft recently made its Remote Desktop Services (RDS) available for Windows Azure. Amazon WorksSpaces gives users their own instance using portions of Windows Server 2008 R2 and renders a user interface that looks like Windows 7. "There are positives and negatives to both approaches but at the end of the day it's similar for the end user," Waldman said.
Meanwhile VMware also has its sights on offering a desktop as a service VDI offering with its recent acquisition of Desktone and Citrix is also developing a similar offering. But Waldman said large enterprises are wary of putting user data in the cloud. "We see enterprises taking a slow cautious approach to cloud hosted virtual desktops. However, for small and mid-sized companies where VDI is too expensive and complex to get up and running, it makes it more accessible to them."
The most likely candidates for Amazon WorkSpaces are those that are already using Amazon's cloud infrastructure services, Waldman noted. But there's a case to be made that many IT pros will consider Microsoft's RDS, because of the application compatibility, Waldman said.
"While 95 percent of apps can work on client or server, many apps were poorly written and literally hard coded to run on a client operating system," he said. "Even though apps written for Windows can run on Windows Server, there are many instances it would not because of that one bad line of code."
While there are solutions to remediate that, such as Citrix's AppDNA, it could be a showstopper for those looking for quick deployments.
Are you considering a desktop-as-a-service VDI deployment? If so, which offering sounds most appealing?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/15/2013 at 1:53 PM0 comments
More than seven years after upending how IT consumes compute, storage and application services, Amazon is going up the infrastructure stack to the desktop. Amazon Web Services today said it's gunning to shake up the struggling VDI market with a cloud-based alternative that requires no hardware, software or datacenter infrastructure.
The company announced its plans to offer Amazon WorkSpaces, which it claims it can offer services at half the cost with better performance than traditional virtual desktop infrastructure platforms today. Amazon Web Services senior VP Andy Jassy revealed the new cloud-based VDI offering in his opening keynote address at the company's second annual re:Invent customer and partner conference taking place in Las Vegas.
Saying VDI hasn't taken off because it's complex to setup and manage, Jassy told the thousands of attendees and online viewers in his keynote that Amazon WorkSpaces promises to reduce those barriers. It will allow organizations to move their desktop licenses to Amazon and provides integration with Active Directory.
"You can access your Amazon WorkSpace from any of your devices whether it's a desktop, laptop or an iOS device," Jassy said. "And you get persistent sessions, so if you're using a WorkSpace on your laptop, and you switch to your Android [or any other] device, the session picks up just where you left off. What's also nice, because it's a cloud service, all of the data lives in the cloud -- it doesn't live local to those devices, which of course is a concern for an IT administrator."
The company described in a blog post a use case with 1,000 employees that would cost just $43,333 using Amazon WorkSpaces. This would be 59 percent less expensive than an on-premise VDI deployment that would cost $106,356 (which includes datacenter investments).
Amazon will initially offer a Standard service that costs $35 per month for one virtual CPU, 3.75 GB of memory and 50 GBytes of capacity; and a Performance plan that costs $60 for two virtual CPUs, 3.75 GB of memory and 100 GB storage per user. A Performance Plus package will come with 7.5 GB of memory. Customers that don't have licenses to move over can purchase licenses for Microsoft Office and antivirus software firm Trend Micro for $15 per month per user.
Jassy said the company intends to first offer invitation-only trials. He did not disclose general availability. Customers can register for the preview now.
Do you think Amazon can change the economics of VDI and make it more appealing? Given Amazon's track record, I wouldn't bet against the company becoming a player in the VDI market.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/13/2013 at 12:49 PM0 comments
In its quest to build greener datacenters that are also more efficient and reliable, Microsoft is exploring the use of fuel cells installed in the server racks.
Microsoft announced that it is studying the impact of installing fuel cells directly into the racks as a more efficient means of bringing the power plant into the datacenter than using outside generators. A datacenter powered by fuel cells can reduce operational costs by 20 percent, Microsoft projects, according to a research paper the company published.
The study is the latest evolution of Microsoft's Data Plant project, the company's first zero-carbon datacenter launched last year in Cheyenne, Wyo., where it integrated the infrastructure and its components with a wastewater treatment plant. The study aims to determine if integrating fuel cells can improve service availability, reduce infrastructure costs and meet our commitments to sustainability," Sean James, senior research program manager for Microsoft's Global Foundation Services, explained in a blog post.
This would extend Microsoft's Data Plant concept to determine how to take the entire energy supply chain -- from the power plant to server motherboards -- in a single cabinet, James added. In the paper, the authors illustrate how adding a small generator to the server racks can substantially remove the datacenter's complexity by eliminating the electrical distribution within the grid and datacenter.
By using fuel cells instead of outside power, he notes, they're not restricted by the limits of typical Carnot Cycle Efficiency found in traditional power generators. "By integrating fuel cells with IT hardware, we can cut much of the power electronics out of the conventional fuel cell system," he wrote. "What we are left with is a very simple and low cost datacenter and fuel cell system. As the fuel cell industry becomes more mature, especially small form factor fuel cells for automotive and IT applications, the cost of fuel cells will drop. You may end up with one someday delivering clean electricity and heat to your home."
James pointed out this study is only in the early stages but it's a noteworthy step in the company's effort to bring fuel cells into the server rack.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/13/2013 at 4:02 PM0 comments
Update: Joe Belfiore, Windows Phone corporate VP, will apparently oversee Internet Explorer's user experience and application development, according to a report by The Verge's Todd Warren.
Dean Hachamovitch, the Microsoft corporate vice president who oversaw the development of the company's Internet Explorer browser for nine years, is taking on a new role in the company. In a cryptic and brief blog post, Hachamovitch on Monday announced he will join a new team within Microsoft.
While he didn't say what new group he's joining, Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley reported in her ZDNet All about Microsoft blog that he's joining a team focused on data sciences. The move is part of new Windows group head Terry Myerson's effort to assemble his own team, Foley noted. She also pointed out that most of the key personnel who reported to former Windows chief Steven Sinofsky have (or are) moving into new roles.
The move comes just one week after Microsoft released Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7. Since Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7, the company made aggressive moves at improving the browser under Hachamovitch's watch, including notably its support for HTML 5.
When Hachamovitch joined the Internet Explorer team nine years ago, Microsoft's browser was falling out of favor. That's because in wake of the demise of Netscape, which Microsoft neutralized, Redmond had little incentive to improve its browser. Microsoft's complacency eventually caught up with it, as the Mozilla Firefox browser gained share followed by Google's launch of Chrome.
The inflexion point came at the first-ever Mix conference in 2006, when Hachamovitch followed chairman and founder Bill Gates in apologizing for neglecting the bug-ridden Internet Explorer 6, which was full of security holes, as recalled by GeekWire on Monday. "We messed up," he said at the time.
It doesn't appear Microsoft will tap anyone to oversee Internet Explorer, Foley noted. Does that suggest Microsoft is going to let the browser once again fall by the wayside? Hachamovitch in his brief post said he is confident that won't be the case.
"Microsoft will of course continue to invest in the browser, in Web standards, in developer tooling for the Web, in privacy, and in even more areas than before," Hachamovitch noted. "There's a new set of capable leaders who will continue the strong work."
Of course, what would you expect him to say?
What's your take on Hachamovitch's move? Is that an omen that Internet Explorer will be marginalized if it doesn't get a new chief? Does it still matter at this point? Or are you confident Myerson plans to ensure future development of the browser?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/12/2013 at 3:58 PM0 comments
Microsoft is joining the chorus of tech companies, notably Google, that plan to do away with cookies, the tracking component used on the Web that's typically exploited by advertisers.
AdAge last month reported that Microsoft is developing new ad-tracking technology that would work across PCs, tablets, smartphones and its Xbox gaming platform. The new ad-tracking component would also be integrated into Internet Explorer and Bing, the report noted.
The move doesn't appear to be intended for your convenience though. It's more about continuing ad tracking across TV and video broadcast networks. Michael Schoen, EVP-programmatic product management at IPG Mediabrands, told AdAge that cookies have become irrelevant for television and Web-based video delivery. "For the past two to three years now, there has been a lot of talk about the impending death of the third-party cookie," he said.
Microsoft is developing a "device-identifier" to replace cookies, AdAge reported, meaning users would give permission to share information via a device's terms of service.
"Microsoft would then become directly responsible for users' data and -- assuming it doesn't share it with third parties -- confine privacy concerns to the Redmond, Wash.-based company rather than countless companies that currently collect data on people's browsing behaviors."
Rather than letting hundreds or thousands of advertisers put cookies in the browser, the "device-identifier" would be the sole component doing the tracking. With Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and other large players developing similar technologies, there will ultimately be a smaller pool of those tracking user data.
Windows 8.1, which shipped last month, includes a new identifier designed to render higher quality and more targeted ads in Windows Store apps, while providing other services, including analytics and app-discovery, said Steve Guggenheimer, Microsoft's corporate VP for Microsoft's development platform, in a blog post. Users can turn on and off the advertising ID, Guggenheimer noted.
In addition, Windows 8.1 ships with Internet Explorer 11, which comes with a "do-not-track" feature turned on by default. However, Microsoft's do-not-track feature is just a URL string that signals the user's preference to third-party advertisers. It's up to the advertiser to honor the request or not. Microsoft recently admitted that its efforts to standardize do-not-track browser technology at the Worldwide Web Consortium is mired by disagreement among browser makers and other stakeholders.
While not addressing plans to eliminate cookie use with Internet Explorer, Guggenheimer announced the release of SDKs for developers to implement the advertising ID, though he noted more SDKs are in the works.
What remains to be seen, of course, is whether eliminating cookies will improve the performance of Internet Explorer or if the new ad identifier will come with its own baggage.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/08/2013 at 3:42 PM0 comments
According to a Reuters report, Microsoft has reportedly narrowed its shortlist to at least three internal candidates and five external candidates.
Among those still in the running to replace Ballmer are Ford CEO Alan Mulally, former Nokia Chief Stephen Elop and two internal candidates -- Satya Nadella, executive VP for the Cloud and Enterprise Group and Tony Bates, the former CEO of Skype who is now executive VP for the Business Development and Evangelism group. The remaining candidates weren't noted, though the report pointed to Computer Sciences Corp. CEO Mike Lawrie as one on Wall Street's desired list.
The search could still take several months, according to the Reuters report, which cited unidentified sources familiar with the matter. Short of luring back Microsoft exec Paul Maritz, who ran VMware before settling into his current role as CEO of spinoff Pivotal, Nomura Securities Analyst Rick Sherlund today said he believes it will be Mulally and thinks he will be named next month. Mulally's name as a preferred candidate surfaced in late September.
Sherlund believes Ballmer will make a quick exit and the company will purchase back his shares, valued at $12 billion. Sherlund said Ballmer will opt to exit the board because he "doesn't want to be second-guessed."
To compensate for Mulally's lack of experience running a tech company, Sherlund believes founder and Chairman Bill Gates will contribute in terms of directing product strategy. "Bill Gates is going to have to roll up his sleeves to compliment Mulally," Sherlund told CNBC's Jim Kramer.
A new CEO would be wise to sell or spin off Microsoft's Bing and Xbox businesses, which are huge drains on profits, Sherlund said. Added Kramer, the new CEO will have to "blow the company up."
I'm still in the camp that Gates isn't going to come back even in the roll Sherlund is predicting. As for speculation that Ballmer may walk away from the board and cash out his shares, that's his choice and I don't see it having a major impact on Microsoft's future direction either way. Despite the latest buzz, there are still many balls in the air. But I do get the sense that the news is going to come sooner than later.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/06/2013 at 2:26 PM0 comments
Once again the soap opera surrounding BlackBerry took an unexpected turn and the struggling former mobile handset leader's already uncertain future became even more questionable. The $4.7 billion buyout by BlackBerry's largest shareholder Fairfax Financial Holdings that was reached in September fell apart yesterday, resulting in CEO Thorsten Heins stepping down in the wake of the news.
As a result of yesterday's drama, which caused the company's stock to plummet 16 percent, Fairfax and undisclosed investors are instead issuing $1 billion in debt securities that can be converted to stock at $10 per share. Meanwhile taking the helm as "acting" CEO is John Chen, the longtime CEO of Sybase. When Chen took over Sybase, it was a onetime large database company that found itself on the brink. Sybase fell on hard times after being squeezed by Oracle, IBM and onetime partner Microsoft, which it ironically helped get into the database market.
While Sybase never was able to regain the share it lost to Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, Chen oversaw the company's expansion into mobile middleware and the development of an in-memory database. Those moves made the company attractive to SAP, which acquired Sybase in 2010 for $5.8 billion, a 40 percent premium to its market cap at the time of the deal.
It remains to be seen whether Chen plans to take "acting" off his title, or merely stand-in for a new CEO. But if Chen does have long-term plans for BlackBerry that might suggest the company may not be destined to be sold off in pieces as many have predicted will happen.
Indeed Microsoft, along with Amazon, Ericsson and Google were "possible buyers" for BlackBerry, an informed source told The Wall Street Journal, because they were interested in pieces of the company but they all ultimately walked away.
It appears there's little BlackBerry has to offer Microsoft, as reported by technology journalist Mary Branscombe in September. She points out BlackBerry has little to offer Microsoft: the company has no need for its hardware or operating system. Thanks to Skype the once popular BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) would offer little value. Nor would there be value from its enterprise "crown jewel," the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), thanks to mobile device management capabilities in the latest versions of Exchange, System Center and Windows Intune. Given Microsoft's tendency to license patents and not buy them, Branscombe said it's unlikely Microsoft would buy the company for $5 billion just to get them.
I have to agree with her points and even though Microsoft shocked those who never thought the company would acquire Nokia's handset business, it still appears unlikely the folks in Redmond are going to spend heavily for BlackBerry. That doesn't mean there won't be licensing deals or other partnership possibilities. That could be especially possible if Chen decides to focus on expanding BlackBerry's technology assets rather than take the company to the chop shop.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/05/2013 at 1:58 PM0 comments
A vast majority of Redmond magazine readers are holding off on moving their SharePoint infrastructures to the cloud and the small portion that are typically opt for Office 365. However a growing number of those planning on running SharePoint in the cloud are looking at Windows Azure at the expense of Office 365.
To be sure, even the majority of those planning to move to SharePoint in the cloud are leaning toward Office 365. But an online survey of nearly 500 readers last week showed a surprising and interesting trend: While 66 percent of current SharePoint online users have Office 365 subscriptions (compared with 14 percent using Windows Azure and 15 percent using other cloud providers), of those planning to run SharePoint in the cloud in the future, 55 percent will opt for Office 365 and nearly 29 percent will use Windows Azure.
That points to a segment of SharePoint shops that are turned off by the lack of code portability from older versions of SharePoint. By standing up their own SharePoint servers in Windows Azure, they get the benefit of running their custom or shrink-wrapped apps in the cloud.
"People don't do customization of SharePoint Online using the old method because the product limits what they can do," explained Forrester analyst John Rymer, who, along with colleague Rob Koplowitz, released a study late last month of their own enterprise customer reluctance to move SharePoint to the cloud. "Integration, for example, is pretty limited, and Microsoft will not accept 'just any random code' and the rules indistinct."
Most SharePoint experts I talk to agree with this but whether or not Office 365 is a real deal-breaker depends on the customer's application and overall requirements. "If you want to use all of the content management capabilities, deeper integration into other line of business systems, those are the kinds of customers that will continue to run SharePoint either in their own servers or Windows Azure," said Adriaan Van Wyk, CEO of K2, a provider of a SharePoint workflow app for Office 365 that uses Windows Azure.
When I shared the data with Forrester's Koplowitz, he was intrigued by the number of respondents who are looking to run SharePoint in Windows Azure. "That's a real interesting data point," he said.
For now, only 15 percent of respondents to Forrester's August survey said they were using Office 365 SharePoint Online, up just 3 percent over last year, prior to the release of the enhanced service. That's relatively consistent with our survey, which shows just 17 percent of our readers are running SharePoint in any cloud service.
While smaller organizations are the most obvious candidates to go to SharePoint Online Office 365, especially if they don't have a collaboration solution, larger shops have more complicated decisions to make. Whether or not larger shops are using Office 365, Windows Azure or third-party infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or managed services providers (or any combination of those), the largest trend is toward hybrid implementations where they are adding capacity to existing SharePoint infrastructure incrementally.
"We're probably seeing 80 percent of our customers go hybrid cloud in some way, maybe for example moving My Sites and some of their extranets to the cloud, and keeping their line of business integration on premise for now," said Ben Curry, managing partner at Summit 7 Systems. Curry and a number of other SharePoint MVPs will be sharing their views on this in two weeks at the SharePoint Live! conference in Orlando, Fla., which, like Redmond magazine, is produced by 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.
Are you among the growing number of SharePoint shops looking at Windows Azure (or other IaaS providers) to make your foray into the cloud? Or do you find SharePoint Online Office 365 more appealing?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/04/2013 at 3:34 PM0 comments
William Lowe, who led the engineering team responsible for bringing the first mainstream PC to market in 1981, died last month at age 72 from a heart attack.
News of his death was reported earlier this week by The New York Times. Lowe, a longtime engineer at IBM, proposed bypassing IBM's conventional development model and led a team of 12 engineers that produced the IBM Personal Computer 5150 using off-the-shelf parts and software from third parties. The move led to the creation of IBM's PC within a year. Had IBM opted to build it internally, it would have taken several years.
Lowe's effort also put two companies on the map, Intel and Microsoft. The IBM PC 5150 was powered by Intel's 4.77 MHz 8080 processor based on Microsoft's MS-DOS 1.0 operating system. The team engineered the PC in an IBM lab in Boca Raton, Fla. The secret effort was internally known as Project Chess and the PC's code-name was Acorn. It was available with one or two floppy drives at a price of $1,565 (not including a monitor).
The decision to build the IBM PC on an "open architecture" paved the way for the IBM clone market, ultimately dominated by companies such as Compaq and Dell, as well as dozens of other players at the time. While it gave birth to the PC market and Microsoft, it didn't serve IBM well in the end. While Lowe would become president of IBM's Entry Systems Division and later a corporate vice president, he left IBM in 1988 to join Xerox.
Lowe had no apologies for the decision, as The Times noted. "We are committed to the open architecture concept, and we recognize the importance of an open architecture to our customers," Lowe said of IBM's work with Intel and Microsoft. Some say many top executives never believed the PC would amount to anything major -- a key reason Microsoft was permitted to license MS-DOS to other then unknown suppliers.
While we know how that played out for IBM, it certainly makes one wonder if Microsoft would exist in its current form had IBM not gone down that path. For that matter what might computing and devices look like today?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/01/2013 at 2:23 PM0 comments
While sales of Nokia's line of Lumia phones have shown steady growth in Europe and Asia over the past two years, they have failed to make strong inroads in North America. In a surprising turn, the company's third-quarter earnings report yesterday revealed a sudden spike in North America and the United States.
Between July and September, Nokia reported it has sold 1.4 million Lumias in North America -- an 180 percent increase over last quarter's 500,000 units and a 367 percent rise year-over-year. Overall, Nokia sold 8.8 million Lumias worldwide last quarter, a 19 percent increase over the prior quarter and 40 percent over the same period a year ago.
Does that mean Windows Phone is catching on? The sudden rise in Lumia sales in North America suggests Windows Phone may be gaining appeal but it will take several more quarters to see if that trend continues.
To be sure, the 8.8 million Lumias sold worldwide pale in comparison to the 33.8 million iPhones Apple sold during the same period (on top of the more than 250 million already in the market). Also Nokia indicated that the most popular phone was the Lumia 520, not the high-end Lumia 1020, released in the beginning of the quarter.
So while Lumia, and by extension Windows Phone, sales are on the rise, it remains in a very distant third place to Android and iOS. Microsoft is betting its acquisition of Nokia's handset business for $7.2 billion, which closes early next year, will give it further leverage in advancing its mobile phone business. But just as the company is marketing its new line of Surface tablets, success will ride on killer apps in the Windows Store.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/30/2013 at 11:27 AM0 comments
Looking to further solidify its tooling offering for SharePoint administrators, Metalogix last week said it has acquired Idera's SharePoint business. The move aims to bolster Metalogix backup and recovery software for SharePoint with Idera's monitoring and diagnostic tools, and comes two months after Metalogix acquired Axceler's SharePoint tools business.
Metalogix CEO Steve Murphy has had his sights on Idera's tools business for two years and told me he convinced them to sell, letting it use the proceeds for Idera's more-lucrative SQL Server tools business. Though terms weren't disclosed, it doesn't seem Metalogix intends to spread its wings into offering SQL Server tools. Rather Murphy's key objective is to challenge AvePoint for leadership in the SharePoint administration market.
"We were looking for a more robust backup play to compete against AvePoint and provide much more robust end-to-end infrastructure management for SharePoint," Murphy said, adding that Idera's diagnostic tools for SharePoint fills a key gap in its offering. "We believe from an infrastructure management perspective, this puts us on par or ahead of our competitors."
For its part, AvePoint doesn't see Metalogix's move as a threat. AvePoint Founder and Co-CEO Tianyi (TJ) Jiang, said in an e-mail what every rival says when a challenger comes its way: that it validates its place in the market.
"It is necessary to provide customers with an integrated, comprehensive enterprise solution that can meet all of their collaboration needs, which AvePoint has done since we first opened our doors in 2001," Jiang said. "While we have seen other vendors try to achieve this by attempting to grow and scale -- be it through acquisition or through internal development -- AvePoint continues to utilize our deep resources, 1,400-plus employees globally, to create the integrated enterprise-grade product experience our customers demand in order to collaborate with confidence with their technology investments."
The acquisition of Idera's SharePoint tools business gives Metalogix a customer base of 13,500, according to Murphy, and a more robust partner network and overall "operational maturity," he argued. "This is a big changing of the guard in the marketplace," he said.
The SharePoint Diagnostic tool Metalogix is acquiring from Idera lets IT monitor the content and server performance of a SharePoint farm, provides custom alerting on pages and controls servers from its own dashboard or the SharePoint user interface, according to a description of the tool. It also offers historical trending and forecasting and the tool does not require IT to deploy agents on server farms.
In addition to SharePoint Diagnostic Manager, Metalogix is acquiring SharePoint Audit Manager, SharePoint Audit, SharePoint Backup, SharePoint Performance Monitor and SharePoint Admin Toolset, according to a FAQ on Idera's Web site. Though these are all now Metalogix products, the transition will take several months and for now Idera is providing technical support.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/28/2013 at 1:19 PM0 comments
Microsoft can talk up "devices and services," the consumerization of IT and BYOD all it wants, but it can thank enterprises for its unexpected surge in revenues and profits.
Overall, the company yesterday reported revenues for the first quarter of its 2014 fiscal year were $18.53 billion, nearly 5 percent higher than the $17.7 billion analysts had expected and up 16 percent year-over-year, while posting earnings of 62 cents per share, compared with consensus estimates of 53 cents per share. Moreover, Microsoft gave a positive outlook for the current quarter which ends Dec. 31. That was a welcome relief to investors after Microsoft reported one of its most disappointing quarters back in July.
The lift came primarily from commercial revenues, which added to $11.2 billion for the quarter, up 10 percent year-over-year. Noteworthy bright spots were sales of SQL Server up 30 percent and sales of its Office products increased 11 percent with Exchange, Lync and SharePoint all growing 30 percent. Server and tools sales increased 12 percent and commercial cloud revenues increased 103 percent.
Improvements in Microsoft's enterprise revenues were especially noteworthy given the fact that IBM and Oracle both fell short during the same period. Microsoft's stock was up 6 percent midday today on its better-than-expected performance along with the positive forecast for the current quarter.
In a category Microsoft calls Commercial Other, which include enterprise cloud revenues from Windows Azure and Office 365, revenues this quarter could reach $1.9 billion on the high end of the forecast, Microsoft said. Revenues in that category this quarter of $1.6 billion were up 28 percent, which the company said reflects increased demand for its cloud services.
Meanwhile, consumer device revenue of $7.46 billion showed modest growth of 4 percent, though device and consumer licensing was down over 7 percent. Microsoft said that was better than it had expected going into the quarter, where it expected a decline in the mid-teens. In Microsoft's struggling Windows business, which continues to be hammered thanks to the growth of tablets, the commercial business held its own.
While non-Pro Windows revenue declined 22 percent, Windows OEM Pro revenue grew 6 percent, Microsoft said. Microsoft revealed Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions have now hit the 2 million mark.
After taking a $900 million charge last quarter on unsold Surface inventory, Microsoft said Surface revenue this quarter doubled to $400 million over the prior period. With this week's release of the new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, Microsoft CFO Amy Hood believes this quarter will show further improvements, noting that customers were delaying purchases in anticipation of the new releases. "With Surface, we are making progress with better end market executions," Hood said.
Now that the new line of Surface hardware is shipping along with Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and upgrades to the Windows Azure portfolio, we'll get a better sense of how enterprises and consumers alike are embracing these new offerings in three months from now when Microsoft reports its next quarterly results.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/25/2013 at 11:36 AM0 comments
Nokia yesterday launched its first tablet, the new 10-inch Lumia 2520, while also adding two new 6-inch smartphones, the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 1320. Rumors of a Windows RT-based tablet from Nokia surfaced over the summer but it fell under the radar when Microsoft announced its plan to acquire the company's mobile handset business for $7.2 billion last month.
But apparently that didn't deter Nokia from launching its new tablet. Of course, the deal hasn't closed and Nokia must run its business as it sees fit until the transaction is complete.
Nevertheless, Nokia's decision to launch a tablet line today is either a foolish act or a brilliant move. That remains to be seen but it takes a lot of guts for the company to attempt to upstage Apple, which it and everyone else knew was launching new iPads today -- the new iPad Air, a thinner and lighter version of its full-sized tablets and a new iPad Mini with Apple's Retina display. The Nokia launch also comes on the day Microsoft is shipping the new Surface Pro 2 and the Surface 2.
Unlike Microsoft's Surface lineup, the Lumia 2520 will ship this quarter with support for 4G LTE connectivity. It also comes with a 6.7 megapixel camera and Zeiss lenses. Besides the Surface, it's one of the only other tablets bundled with Windows RT 8.1. That will likely result in a poor reception for the new Nokia tablet, said independent analyst Jack Gold in a note today.
"Windows RT is not popular and is not selling well, for good reason," Gold noted. "It is a 'dumbed down' version of Windows which does not run all the apps Windows users expect. Most users have not been thrilled with the user experience. I don't expect Nokia to do well with this product for that very reason."
Gold nonetheless described Nokia's new tablet as sporting an impressive design and will appeal to those who want 4G LTE built in.
The future of this new device will likely serve as a test case for Microsoft and it will invariably be integrated as part of Microsoft's Surface portfolio once the deal closes.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/23/2013 at 1:07 PM0 comments
The botched rollout of the Web site built to let customers enroll in an insurance plan under the controversial Affordability Care Act -- aka Obamacare -- will go down as one of the most high profile IT disasters to date.
That's a high bar if you consider all of the major debacles over the years (think of widely publicized E-Trade, Schwab, eBay and Victoria Secret site meltdowns over a decade ago) to more recent Black Friday retail site failures, and over the past year outages that have knocked off Facebook, Twitter and major advertisers of the Super Bowl. Still fresh on many minds was last year's major meltdowns that shut down major portions Windows Azure, Office 365 and Amazon Web Services, which brought down many key sites with it including Netflix last Christmas Eve.
Yet those seem to pale in comparison to the failed launch of HealthCare.gov, the signature effort of the Obama presidency that has become a lightning rod for opponents that played a key role in this month's shutdown of the federal government. Regardless where you stand on Obamacare, you never want the president telling the world how mad he is about how poorly your IT project was planned and implemented, which is what happened yesterday in the White House Rose Garden.
"Nobody's madder than me about the fact that the website isn't working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed," the president said. But that may not be easy. According to a report in The New York Times yesterday, Healhcare.gov is a text-book-case study in how not to manage a critical IT project of this magnitude and importance. The site may need 5 million lines of new code, according to yesterday's report. Overall, it's built with 500 million lines of code --five times the amount needed to run a large bank's computer systems, according to the report.
One of the key factors that may have led to this failure was the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency overseeing the exchange, taking the unusual step (for a federal agency) of managing the 55 contractors and overseeing the effort to ensure they can properly integrate the apps and ensure the databases work together.
While the site has seen incremental improvements, the extensive code rewrite could take several weeks, at the very least. According to The Wall Street Journal, HealthCare.gov's registration application developed by lead contractor CGI, transfers data gathered from registrants creating accounts and transfers that data to an the Medicare agency's Enterprise Identification Management app developed by Quality Software Services, a subsidiary of United Health Care, which submits data to the credit reporting service Experian to confirm user identities.
Apparently the data hasn't interfaced well with Oracle Identity Manager. Oracle reportedly has sent engineers to help remediate the problem and add capacity but a company spokeswoman told the Journal that OIM is not the root of the problem. "Our software is the identical product deployed in most of the world's most complex systems" according to the spokeswoman's statement.
Better preparation in the form of load testing to simulate the anticipated traffic may have helped avoid much of the problems that surfaced at launch as well, observers note. Some critics are calling for the head of Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who announced today that Jeff Zients, a recent acting director of the Office of Management and Budget to advise on the project, will be adding a "surge" of tech support to remediate the problem.
"These reinforcements include a handful of Presidential Innovation Fellows," Sebelius said in a blog post. "This new infusion of talent will bring a powerful array of subject matter expertise and skills, including extensive experience scaling major IT systems. This effort is being marshaled as part of a cross-functional team that is working aggressively to diagnose parts of HealthCare.gov that are experiencing problems, learn from successful states, prioritize issues, and fix them."
As the facts of this story unfold, the failed launch of this site that millions awaited for years is a painful reminder of how a poorly planned development and IT deployment effort can doom a key strategic initiative. While such IT failures happen all too frequently, this one could go in the annals of all time flops.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/22/2013 at 2:54 PM0 comments
One of the many notable improvements IT pros will find in Windows Server 2012 R2 is its improved support for flash-based solid state drives (SSDs). The new server OS, released last week, now offers automated storage tiering, which improves performance when using flash-based SSDs in servers and storage arrays.
Windows Server 2012 R2 analyzes requests for disk IO in real time and allocates the most frequently accessed blocks of data to the significantly faster SSDs, while moving blocks of data not recently accessed to traditional mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs). That approach should appeal to the growing number of shops that have added flash to their servers and storage arrays.
But for those looking to run massive scale-out type datacenters and clouds, Violin Memory last week said it has worked with Microsoft to optimize the performance of its flash arrays running with the new Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. Violin Memory said the two companies started working together 18 months ago to develop arrays that can extend the performance and provide lower latency when the new server OS is used with applications, including SQL Server, SharePoint and Exchange, by taking advantage of the improvements to Hyper-V and Server Message Block (SMB) file services in the new Windows Server 2012 R2.
The new arrays, which will ship in January for a yet-to-be-disclosed price, can perform at more than one million I/Os per second (IOPS) and scale from 8 TB to 64 TB of memory, with sub-second failover and I/O latency measured in milliseconds.
Microsoft optimized the kernel of Windows Server 2012 R2 to run at these memory speeds in collaboration with Violin over the last 18 months, said Narayan Venkat, the company's VP of products. "As a result, the solution offers SMB 3.0 direct support enabling a Windows-to-Windows communication environment for management integration with System Center and other management simplification on top of the world class file access performance for both SMB and NFS," Venkat said.
Violin is far from the only company targeting flash-based SSDs for the datacenter. Among them are Fusion-io, Intel (which in June upgraded its enterprise flash SSD offerings), LSI, SanDisk's FlashSoft and Stec (acquired in September by Western Digital) as well as key storage and systems vendors Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM (which earlier this year said it will invest $1 billion investment in enterprise flash storage) and Cisco, which last month said it was acquiring Whiptail for $415 million.
A number of startups are offering enterprise flash storage including Kaminario, Nimbus Data Systems, SolidFire and Pure Storage, which in late August said it raised $150 million, valuing the company at $1 billion and putting it on track for a possible initial public offering. Meanwhile Violin's closely watched IPO a few weeks ago has gotten off to a rough start. The company offered its shares at $9 raising $147 million, though as of Friday closed at $7.25.
Do you see yourself taking advantage of Windows Server 2012 R2's flash storage support?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/21/2013 at 1:02 PM0 comments
Salesforce.com's storied strategy of displacing premise-based apps with Software as a Service (SaaS) went deeper this week with the company's release of Salesforce Identity. The single sign on service aims to displace traditional software like Active Directory as the central repository for user authentication.
The company's new Salesforce Identity service extends beyond traditional enterprise directories like Active Directory by connecting employees, customers and business partners to any application, device or service, said Chuck Mortimore, Salesforce.com's vice president of product management, identity and security. In addition, ISVs and customers can white-label that single sign-on service into their applications.
Salesforce Identity is not the first SaaS single sign-on offering. A number of third parties, including Centrify, Okta, Ping Identity, SailPoint, Symplified and quite a handful of other players, now offer single sign-on services. I noted late last year that identity management as a service would be a key area of expansion in 2013.
Indeed, Microsoft this year brought Active Directory to the cloud with Windows Azure Active Directory, which Microsoft said at June's TechEd has processed 265 billion authentication requests from around the world. In addition, Brad Anderson, corporate VP of the Microsoft Windows Server and System Center group services, said that Windows Azure Active Directory processed more than 1 million authentication requests in a period of two minutes, or 9,000 per second.
Salesforce Identity supports all the key authentication standards, including OAuth, System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM), Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and OpenID Connect, which allows IT to synchronize directories ranging from Facebook, PayPal, Amazon and Google to Active Directory.
"You can leverage your existing Active Directory, automatically synchronize users between the two, drive authorization out of existing Active Directory Groups and have those drive profiles and permissions and authorizations to any application brokered to the Salesforce Identity platform," Mortimore explained.
Mortimore avoided saying whether Salesforce is gunning to displace traditional authentication systems such as Active Directory, but reading between the lines, that appears to be the goal.
"The identity marketplace is going through a transition," he said. "The old mechanisms of dealing with identity are not really working for the new use cases in front of customers. You see all sorts of different organizations and identity management organizations trying to deal with this reality. Your LDAP directory isn't necessarily going to be the path forward for all of these applications that are no longer inside your firewall."
In addition to applications, Mortimore explained traditional directories were designed to manage identities of employees, while now IT must address identity management of customers and partners and attributes on devices not owned by the enterprise.
"I see solutions like Salesforce Identity initially interacting with existing on-premises directories, but providing a new cloud-based native identity store option for 'long-tail' external identities such as employees of small partners," said Forrester analyst Eve Maler.
Salesforce's move into the identity management space has been long anticipated. The company announced plans for Salesforce Identity at its annual Dreamforce conference last year. Salesforce has also played a key role in several of the standards committees. Gartner analyst Ian Glazer said IT is demanding identity and access management services interwoven with their SaaS-based applications. Salesforce has added identity management services across its entire platform, including Force.com, he noted.
"This announcement represents a fundamental change in the IAM [identity and access management] market in which non-traditional identity companies such as Salesforce are aggressively entering the market with hopes of major disruption," Glazer said. Yet despite that goal, Glazer doesn't see organizations displacing Active Directory with Salesforce Identity.
"I definitely see organizations using Salesforce Identity (or its competitors), but not with the express goal of replacing AD [Active Directory]," Glazer said. "As enterprise computing moves more toward mobile and cloud computing, the value of AD is diminished. As an enterprise directory, AD will remain [in] usage and meaningful, but the locus of control will shift away from AD and it will likely not be the default source of authentication and authorization services in a post-PC world."
KuppingerCole analyst Mike Small noted in a blog post Tuesday that Salesforce.com has long offered an identity service in its traditional CRM and related offerings. Small pointed out that Salesforce Identity includes an extensible cloud directory and the optional Salesforce Identity Connect module, built on ForgeRock's Open Identity Stack, which bridges between existing on-premise directories and Salesforce Identity. Another appealing capability, Small noted, is that Salesforce Identity's monitoring and reporting capabilities let organizations create user activity and compliance reports.
"Through this platform -- Salesforce.com [is] seeking to change the way in which identities are managed by organizations," Small noted. "To alter the perspective away from one focused on internal IT systems and users to an outward-looking one focused on customers and partners whilst retaining internal control: integrating enterprise identity with CRM."
How will the release of Salesforce Identity change the way you manage access to your applications?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/18/2013 at 1:57 PM0 comments
Microsoft's Windows 8.1 arrived yesterday, and as soon as I got to my desk I embarked on the task of upgrading my PC, which was running the preview release.
The experience was more challenging than I expected. In fact, it killed a good part of my morning and was fraught with frustration.
Though Microsoft said yesterday that you can upgrade by simply going to the Windows Store, when I did so, the Windows 8.1 upgrade was nowhere to be found. The first thing I did was to make sure the Windows 8.1 preview on my system was up-to-date. Indeed, I was due for an update and that process took about an hour.
After extensive searching, I finally found a link to perform the upgrade. However, after launching the upgrade, nothing appeared to happen. It wasn't until about an hour later that my screen indicated that my PC was indeed going through the upgrade process, but I waited an additional hour for it to complete.
Microsoft warned users of the preview that certain apps would be gone, so I prepared for the worst. Indeed, quite a few apps were gone, including -- not surprisingly -- Google Chrome. But also gone was Microsoft Office. Those with Office 2013 will need to go to the Office site and re-install it. Make sure you have your license key. The good news is that all your data should be intact.
My mail settings remained intact -- both my connection to my company's Exchange server and my Yahoo Mail account. My colleague, Redmond Channel Partner Editor in Chief Scott Bekker, had a similar experience with his Exchange connection, though alas, he had to reconfigure his Gmail account.
Upgrades are never fun but this seemed more difficult than it had to be. If you are among those who have yet to perform the Windows 8.1 upgrade, consider yourself warned.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/18/2013 at 12:14 PM0 comments
While VMware might want to diminish Microsoft's role in the enterprise, the company understands that if it wants to play an even greater role in managing virtual and cloud infrastructures, it needs to acknowledge Hyper-V as a force to be reckoned with.
In a sign it has embraced that reality, VMware has extended its support for Hyper-V.
At this week's VMworld 2013 Europe conference in Barcelona, VMware announced several new products, but notably VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite 5.8, which provides improved performance monitoring of Hyper-V, as well as SQL Server and Exchange.
The vCenter Operations Management Suite was able to monitor and manage Hyper-V workloads as a guest OS by placing its Hyperic agent in the box. But now, through Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) or VMware's Hyperic management packs for vCenter Operations Manager, it can manage Hyper-V hosts and virtual machines. It also adds support for Amazon Web Services (AWS) EC2 infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
The new version collects data on the CPU, network, memory and other components, and feeds that into its analytics engine to separate normal performance behavior from unhealthy activity and then provides alerts.
Expanding support for Hyper-V is a smart move that will be welcomed by VMware and Microsoft customers alike, says Pund-IT principal analyst Charles King. "By expanding its support for and visibility into Hyper-V and public cloud services like AWS, VMware is highlighting its continuing technical leadership," King said. "Since these new features are also coming with no additional premium, adding them also enhances the value proposition of VMware's solutions and services."
In tandem with the vCenter Operations Management Suite upgrade, VMware also updated its recently launched vCenter Log Insight analytics tool. The new Log Insight 1.5 release provides real-time analytics to provide searchable information and dashboards. Released in June, the Log Insight upgrade supports "content packs" for specific systems such as Exchange Server and SQL Server, as well as products from Hytrust, EMC, NetFlow and VMware's own Nicira software-defined networking platform, said Mark Leake, director of product marketing in VMware's cloud management business unit.
"These new out-of-the-box capabilities enhance the discovery and topology," Leake said. "So you get deeper discovery of app instances and components and you can apply the analytics that we have in vCenter Operations Manager to them."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/16/2013 at 1:13 PM0 comments
Nearly a year since Microsoft disclosed that SharePoint is a $2 billion business, the collaboration platform has become the latest punching bag in the IT community.
SharePoint took its latest hits yesterday at the annual Gartner Inc. ITxpo in Orlando Florida where research vice president Jeffrey Mann led a session called "Should Microsoft Kill SharePoint," as reported by Kurt Mackie yesterday. The answer is no but Mann pointed out the dissatisfaction with Microsoft's latest release of SharePoint 2013 and the SharePoint Online service offered with Office 365.
"Many organizations using SharePoint cannot go to the cloud because they have regulatory restrictions or complex, customized implementations that prevent adopting SharePoint Online," Mann said in a prepared Q&A. "Some third-party add-ons they depend on are not available for the cloud version. Others do not trust the cloud or see no reason to change, so they won't make the move."
The second big issue, according to Mann, is IT's frustration with SharePoint. "We regularly hear end users and administrators complain about features or user-experience improvements that they would like to see in SharePoint," Mann noted. "Although they want new functionality, they are less keen to have more upgrades, which are seen as expensive, disruptive and time-consuming. It is difficult to see how users can expect to get changes without implementing new versions. If upgrades were easier, they might be less reticent to install new versions. This is a move Microsoft is trying to address with the app model introduced in SharePoint 2013."
Gartner isn't the only one sounding the alarm on SharePoint. A report released last month by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found that only 6 percent feel they have achieved success with their SharePoint implementations, while 26 percent say they have struggled to meet expectations and 28 percent report that while it's doing the job, progress has stalled to some extent. Seven percent said their SharePoint implementations were not successful. The findings are based on a survey AIIM conducted in July, consisting of a sample of 620 respondents who are among the trade association's 80,000 members.
As Evidence that there's still trepidation about the cloud, the AIIM survey also found that only 9 percent of small organizations plan to move all of their SharePoint content to Office 365, while 2 percent of mid-sized shops and 3 pecent of large shops plan to do so. Customers, analysts, consultants, integrators and key vendors including Microsoft agree enterprises will widely deploy hybrid cloud models. The AIIM report found that only 20 percent are looking at hybrid clouds, though half will use third-party cloud providers, not Microsoft's Office 365. It bears noting that the AIIM study wasn't aimed exclusively at SharePoint and/or Microsoft shops but at its audience of IT managers and decision makers.
The survey also found that 62 percent are using at least one cloud-based product but only 8 percent said it was SharePoint and 7 percent are using Office 365 as a complete software-as-a-service application. Twenty percent said they're using Exchange Online and 39 percent are using the cloud version of Lync.
When I asked Microsoft for its take on the AIIM study, a spokeswoman noted SharePoint is a leader in Gartner's Magic Quadrant -- two out of three information workers in the enterprise have SharePoint and more than 700,000 developers are building applications for Office 365. "Microsoft remains very committed to SharePoint for the long term, as the product plays a critical role in the future of collaboration and productivity and is a core pillar of the Office 365 suite," the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement. "Office 365 is Microsoft's fastest-growing commercial product ever. In fact, the Office 365 business is now on a $1.5 billion annual revenue run rate."
The statement also defended the security of Microsoft's cloud service. "Office 365 offers the most robust set of certifications and standards options of any major cloud based productivity service. In fact, each year, we undergo third-party audits by internationally recognized auditors to validate that we have independent attestation of compliance with our policies and procedures for security, privacy, continuity and data handling."
Another survey by SharePoint tools provider Metalogix Software Corp. earlier this year showed 55 percent intend to continue running SharePoint entirely in-house and only 10 percent plan to run it purely in the cloud. The remaining 35 percent are planning hybrid SharePoint implementations.
While naturally findings are going to vary depending on the audience that's surveyed, another alarming stat piqued my attention back in August: Overall salaries for SharePoint administrators -- though still six figures -- declined by 7 percent this year, according to Redmond magazine's Annual Salary Survey. That especially raised a red flag because our survey showed overall IT salaries increased 3 percent this year. It's not clear what has led to that decline, whether it's a glut of SharePoint experts or the fact that some SharePoint is now running in the cloud.
Yet many SharePoint consultants are seeing more movement to the cloud than these surveys suggest. "We're probably seeing 80 percent of our customers go towards a hybrid cloud in some way, maybe, for example by moving My Sites and some of their extranets to the cloud, and keeping their line of business applications on-premise for now," said SharePoint MVP Ben Curry, managing partner of Summit 7 Systems, a Huntsville, Ala., consultancy and systems integrator.
Curry knows all the pitfalls of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 and will be among numerous experts talking about the future of SharePoint design and architecture at the SharePoint Live! track of the Live 360 conference in Orlando next month. Like Redmond magazine, the conference is produced by 1105 Media Inc.
In an interview last week, Curry told me he'll discuss the deployment of business-critical applications using SharePoint and how to maximize the performance of server farms, as hybrid environments emerge. Curry was once a skeptic of using SharePoint in the cloud but he now believes in it. "That's where a lot stuff's going – online. I'd say the rare client is going all SharePoint 2013 on premise. It really is upgrading pieces of it to 2013 on premise and pieces of it to the cloud, which makes performance a little bit more challenging because you have to first decide what workflows are on premise to know what to architect for."
What's your take on the future of SharePoint? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/14/2013 at 11:04 AM0 comments
When Microsoft invited us to Monday's press conference in San Francisco for a rare appearance by the head of the company's newly created cloud and enterprise group, we were informed he'd discuss how Redmond is planning for future growth in that business and how it will differentiate itself from its competitors.
Packed with the typical vagueness of a press invite, we certainly weren't going to pass on the opportunity to hear what Satya Nadella had to say. Would there be a major unexpected announcement of a new product or service to come, perhaps a blockbuster acquisition or would he merely describe what those who follow Microsoft already know?
As it turned out, Nadella effectively did the latter, formalizing the already disclosed release dates of products like Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, among other deliverables. But Nadella's media event was also an open Q&A not unlike a presidential press conference, sans the podium and the moderator on stage (and the cocktails that follow).
Though we at Redmond magazine watched the Webcast, our Silicon Valley contributor John K. Waters was on hand to provide color. While an even mix of tech journalists and business media were on hand, it appeared this event were staged for Nadella to make his case to skeptical business journalists who, like us, wonder if Microsoft can remain a force in the post-PC and cloud era.
Given his appearance on CNBC earlier that morning, it also appeared as though this event was staged not only to articulate Microsoft's blueprint for growing its key $20 billion enterprise business but to have him audition as a candidate to succeed Steve Ballmer as CEO. Nadella is one of numerous candidates that pundits have floated as potential successors but typically only in passing. Many of them are those who work or have worked at Microsoft. On Monday, Nadella was hammered with questions about just about everything that may impact Microsoft's future, including how the re-org might be impacted by the next CEO and whether or not he considered himself a candidate for the job -- asked predictably by All Things D's Kara Swisher.
Nadella answered the question just like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie responds when asked if he might run for president in 2016. "Our board's looking for a new CEO and that process is well on our way," Nadella responded. "Steve is very much the CEO today and I'm excited about my job. That's the sum total of what I have to say on that." Do you think he saw that question coming?
Despite the fact that he didn't drop any bombshells, he certainly had answers for a lot of questions which haven't come his way of late. Perhaps the most interesting was a reporter who asked, and I'm paraphrasing here, how Nadella can effectively run Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group when a key component of the company's enterprise portfolio, Windows Server and by default Hyper-V, which powers Windows Azure, is controlled by a different group, the operating systems organization headed by Terry Myerson.
"This 'One Microsoft' reorganization is just fantastic from us not having in fact any of these notions of who controls what," he said. "If you look at what I'm doing here, you're talking about everything that's happening across Office 365, Dynamics, CRM. What's happening inside our server products and Azure has not changed. The servers are very much part of my organization, but that's kind of immaterial, because some of the componentry like the hypervisor itself is in the core OS, but the entire server gets put together. And that I think you can say this 'One Microsoft' thing is more a reflection of how we were already working and more formalizes it. I celebrate this notion of being able to decouple what I think are our engineering efforts and what is our marketing and business model, because I think categories are going to rapidly shift. What is a developer product, what is an IT product, what is an end user product, all have to be rethought, we think about this as one unified engineering effort, and one unified go to market effort. Especially with consumerization, that becomes even more important."
It's interesting to hear that Windows Server is part of his organization, even if it's also part of the operating systems group. The implication is that there's more overlap and shared resources in these organizational lines than Microsoft has articulated.
The next test of his well-roundedness on the Microsoft portfolio came in the form of a question regarding the role of tablets with apps like CRM. Of course Nadella worked in the Dynamics group years ago so it wasn't foreign territory. "We're really thrilled about some of the client work around CRM and [how] some of our ERP applications are taking advantage of the new Windows 8 touch form factors to enable real work," he said.
Nadella then tied that to his own line of business. "Any time you're innovating in the front end for different mobile form factors, you also want to have the back end as a service," he said. "So Azure Mobile Services, which I think is one of the fastest-growing services out there. When it comes to mobile, we've done a fantastic job of making the business applications or application development for these new touch and mobile form factors, with the back end that much more easier."
Not only did Nadella get a pitch in for the company's software-as-a-service (SaaS) story, he related that to the company's devices and services strategy, tying it to Windows 8 and the company's development environment.
Some interesting figures Nadella shared worth noting:
- 70 percent of Windows Azure usage is Microsoft's six-month-old infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offering
- 2.5 million organizational tenants now reside in Windows Azure Active Directory, aided mostly by Office 365. Nadella said that's key for any ISV that can now do single sign-on using WAAD. Note: Despite the figure he gave, a Microsoft spokeswoman sent an updated figure that's actually now 3 million tenants).
- While Microsoft claims its software runs on 75 percent of Intel-class hardware, Nadella says Microsoft's $20 billion in enterprise revenues makes it a small player in what he sees as a $2.2 trillion market. "What I tell my team is it's not about building software for enterprise IT, but the best way to think about it is to build software that we use in our own stuff [Bing, Office 365, Dynamics Online, Xbox Live, etc.], which is powering our own first-party services and by doing so we're going to meet the future demands of enterprises."
Who knows if Nadella will emerge as a leading candidate to succeed Ballmer. While he might not have the aura of an Eric Schmidt or a Paul Maritz, they didn't either before they were thrust into the limelight. Nevertheless, Nadella could become the same type of executive as those two, whether or not he becomes Microsoft's next CEO. What's your take on Nadella's audition?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/09/2013 at 12:16 PM0 comments
While Dick Tracy's notion of a watch that enables two-way communications dates back to the 1960s, it's no longer science fiction. How quickly watches that extend the smartphone to your wrist catch on is anyone's guess but it seems like we're about to find out.
Samsung is kicking off an ambitious marketing plan for its new Galaxy Gear smartwatch (check out this commercial). Reviews have largely panned the $299 device for a variety of reasons including the fact it currently has limited functionality. As David Pogue noted in his review in The New York Times last week, the watch will alert you that you have a message, but you have to look at your Galaxy Note smartphone to see that message. It doesn't even work with more widely used Galaxy phones such as the more popular Galaxy S4, though that will apparently be rectified later next month.
The watch does let users receive and make phone calls presuming your phone is nearby (using Bluetooth), controls music playback and take a small number of photos and videos. Oh and it still displays the time. The Galaxy Gear must be charged every night, it's not waterproof and it's big (but that's to be expected).
Samsung is surely not the first to introduce a smartwatch -- Kickstarter-based Pebble Technology, Sony and Motorola now offer smartwatches. But Samsung's huge install base of Galaxy phones and its decision to roll out an aggressive marketing campaign for Galaxy Gear will be a real test of demand for smartwatches. Market researcher Canalys, which forecasts 500,000 smartwatches will ship this year, recently forecast that number will grow nine-fold next year to 5 million.
Besides Samsung, a widely rumored iWatch from Apple next year could be a hit, according to a survey of 799 U.S. consumers by Piper Jaffray. The survey forecasts Apple could sell 5 to 10 million iPhones in the first year they're available. Still, only 12 percent of iPhone users said they'd be interested in purchasing an iWatch, according to the survey. In other words, an overwhelming 88 percent are not interested.
For its part, Microsoft is said to have moved its latest effort to release a smartwatch to the group that designs and markets the company's Surface devices. While The Verge recently reported Microsoft is working on smartwatch prototypes with modified versions of Windows 8, it remains to be seen whether the company's recent move to acquire Nokia's mobile handset business and the company's search for a new CEO will delay Microsoft's entry of a smartwatch.
Many scoff at the idea of having a smartwatch. But those same people never imagined they'd one day have a smartphone too. Are you warming up to the idea of glancing at your wrist to check your e-mail?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/07/2013 at 2:14 PM0 comments
Three of Microsoft's top-20 investors this week said the unthinkable: The time has come for fo Bill Gates to step down as chairman. I say "unthinkable" tongue-in-cheek as many with various motives have undoubtedly thought Gates should go. But it appears this may be the first time investors made a concerted effort to advance the idea.
The three mysterious investors told Reuters they feel Gates holds too much power considering he continues to sell off shares, holding only 4.5 percent of the company's outstanding shares today -- a figure that will give him no stake by 2018 if he continues to sell them off at the pace he has indicated he will.
The investors, who were not identified, reportedly believe Gates' presence on the board interferes with the creation and adoption of new strategies and would hold back a new CEO's ability to make changes. They see Gates participation on the special committee to find Ballmer's successor as troublesome, according to the report.
Gates' departure as chairman may be inevitable in the coming years, and while anything could happen, it doesn't seem likely the board will strip the founder from having a say in who becomes Microsoft's next CEO. But he won't be able to rubber-stamp anyone if lead independent director John Thompson, sticks to his word to take a broader view.
"I have enormous respect for Bill," Thompson told The Wall Street Journal last week. "But I didn't accept the role on the board or the role as the lead independent director to be Bill's pawn." Thompson, the onetime CEO of Symantec and longtime IBM executive is said to have no problem standing up to Gates.
Do you think Gates should remain Microsoft's chairman and remain on the committee considering Ballmer's successor?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/04/2013 at 1:10 PM0 comments
Dell this week refreshed its entire line of tablets and notebook PCs with its new Venue brand of systems, including a wide variety of form factors, price points and sizes ranging from a 7-inch tablet running Google's Android OS to a powerful 15-inch Ultrabook running Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 8.1.
I attended the launch at a hotel in New York and addressed the elephant in the room, asking if there are any Windows RT devices in the pipeline. After taking its existing Windows RT tablet, the XPS 10, off the market last week, I already had an idea how Dell officials would respond. The answer is no.
"We are not planning to refresh our range of RT products, we've had them on the market for a year. Right now we're focused on the full Windows products," said Neil Hand, vice president of Dell's tools and performance PC group.
Later on I asked him what made the group come to that conclusion.
"I think the market data speaks for itself in terms of what the volume has been," Hand said. "We focused very hard on it. We fully supported it with a great product with the XPS 10. It was an award-winning product. Sometimes the best product doesn't always create customer demand. The application base wasn't quite there."
Dell showcased a slew of new tablets, notebooks and hybrids that will start shipping this month and next, coinciding with the launch of Windows 8.1 and the peak holiday season. Among the refreshed systems for Windows 8.1 are:
- XPS 11: This Ultrabook starts at 2.5 pounds and converts from a tablet to a notebook with a 360-degree rotating hinge, a backlit touch keyboard with a Quad HD (2560 x 1440) display. It starts at $999.99.
- XPS 13: With a similar form factor to the above-mentioned XPS 11, the XPS 13 is targeted at mobile professionals. This Ultrabook starts at 3 pounds, comes with a more-powerful fourth-generation Intel Core processors, Intel HD 4400 graphics and an improved battery. It has a 1920x1080 HD display and starts at $999.99.
- XPS 15: Targeted at those who want full multimedia capabilities, this15.6-inch system is available with a Quad HD+ (3200 x 1800) display with Intel's fourth-generation i5 and i7 quad-core processors with optional NVIDIA graphics cards. It's available with 500 GB and 1 TB hard disk drives, a 512 GB solid state drives and Intel's Rapid Start Technology. Pricing starts at $1,499.
Dell also unveiled its new Venue line of tablets, which include Windows 8.1-based units available in from factors ranging from 8 to 11 inches and Android devices in the 7 and 8 inch form factors. The Windows 8.1-based Venue 8 Pro and Venue are powered by Intel's latest Atom quad-core processors, code-named "Bay Trail." It starts at $299. The $499 Venue 11 Pro is based on Intel's fourth-generation Core i3 and i5 processors and comes with the option to use Intel's vPro management software. Both are available with optional keyboards.
The Android-based Venue 7 and Venue 8 tablets are based on Intel's Atom "Clover Trail" Z2760 processors and cost $149.99 and $179.99, respectively.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/04/2013 at 1:07 PM0 comments
Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service can now be used for systems that require high levels of security. The U.S. government certified Windows Azure as meeting the FedRAMP Joint Authorization Board (JAB) Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO).
That means the Windows Azure meets the security requirements of federal agencies looking to use public infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS), said Susie Adams, chief technology officer for Microsoft Federal, in a blog post.
While many cloud providers already meet FedRAMP requirements, Microsoft claims Windows Azure is the first to meet the P-ATO requirements from the JAB. The FedRAMP JAB P-ATO includes representatives from the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
"Securing a P-ATO from the JAB ensures that when government agencies have a need for an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS), they know that Windows Azure has successfully met the necessary security assessments," Adams said in her post. "This not only opens the door for faster cloud adoption, but helps agencies move to the cloud in a more streamlined, cost-effective way. Additionally, since Microsoft datacenters were also evaluated as part of the JAB review process, other Microsoft cloud services are ultimately better aligned to meet these security controls as well."
Certainly customers -- either government agencies or others that require the highest level of security -- will welcome this latest milestone. But it remains to be seen whether Microsoft's latest cloud security milestone will be enough to overcome concerns over the government's surveillance efforts under such programs as PRISM , as noted in our cover story this month. What's your take on Windows Azure achieving FedRAMP compliance?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/02/2013 at 3:52 PM0 comments
Microsoft has taken a key step toward letting SharePoint and Office customers purchase apps on a usage-based subscription from the Office Store. The company is letting ISVs submit subscription apps in its Seller Dashboard starting today. By next month, customers will be able to purchase apps on a subscription basis.
Since its launch last year, Office Store customers could only purchase software with traditional perpetual-use licenses. By offering subscription-based apps in the Office Store, Microsoft officials believe it will increase the appeal of its Office 365 service and for using SharePoint in the cloud. Two-thirds of the applications in the Office Store are SharePoint apps, given participation from ISVs and developers, said Dene Cleaver, Microsoft's senior product marketing manager for Office.
"We hope the ISVs and developers can drive innovation and update their apps and I think it allows them to price accordingly, so they can continue to drive value," Cleaver said.
Apps developed for the Office Store can work with Office 365, SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2013. However these apps will not work in earlier versions of SharePoint including SharePoint 2010. "The app model [on-premise] is tied to SharePoint 2013," Cleaver said.
One early supporter of the new model is Adlib, which provides an app called PDF Publisher, software that takes multiple documents from any format and publishes them it into a single PDF document. It can also encapsulate them into an internal report. PDF Publisher began as an application that runs on a premises-based server. Adlib President and CEO Peter Duff said the company's cloud-based version offers many of the key features provided in the server implementation.
"We're based in the Windows Azure cloud, and we can integrate that directly into Office 365 as well as on premise," Duff explained. He added that he believes there's pent-up demand to purchase apps for SharePoint on a subscription basis. "People can utilize our technology on a subscription basis without having to implement significant costs associated with on premise hardware and software and operating systems and things like that," he said.
A rich portfolio of apps in the Office Store will be a critical factor in swaying organizations to move to Office 365 and SharePoint Online, experts say, noting many developers are eager to offer them on a subscription basis. "Today it's just pockets of legacy apps that have moved to the app store," said Ben Curry, managing partner and a principal architect at Summit 7 Systems, a Huntsville, Ala. Microsoft partner, consultancy and solutions provider.
Many of his clients have turned to Nintex, a SharePoint workflow provider that is frequently mentioned as one of the first key ISVs to embrace the Office Store with the trial version of its Nintex Workflow Online app. "Clients who love Nintex on premise are now loading the app version. It's an easier model to keep updated."
While Microsoft says there have been 1 million downloads from the store, few are using it in a big way. "I think that will change," Curry said. "As the app store grows, demand will grow."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/01/2013 at 12:03 PM0 comments
Despite turmoil in Redmond this year, Microsoft held on as the fifth most popular brand in Interbrand's Best Global Brands, released today. Microsoft's key rivals Apple and Google jumped in rank taking the number 1 and 2 spots respectively.
By becoming the leading brand, Apple ousted Coca Cola, which had topped the charts every year since Interbrand launched the survey 14 years ago. While the ascent of both Apple and Google is hardly surprising, Microsoft's ability to hold on to its spot as number 5 is a feat, considering a weak reception for Windows 8 and its Surface tablets, both released last year.
But Nokia, whose key assets Microsoft is acquiring for $7.2 billion, didn't fare as well. Nokia dropped from 17 last year to 57 -- an overall decline in brand value of 65 percent. After the deal closes of course, Nokia will continue to exist as a company that will retain patents and its telecommunications infrastructure business.
The good news for Microsoft is that its brand equity remains strong in spite of many who question the company's relevance in the post-PC era. IBM's slipped a point, while Apple and Google hold the top brands. Also on the rise, and a considerable threat to Microsoft is Amazon.com, which has a thriving cloud business and remains an aggressive contender in the tablet business.
In case you're wondering, Ford's brand equity increased 15 percent, moving from 45 to 42 percent. That's relevant only if Microsoft ultimately selects Ford CEO Alan Mulally to replace Steve Ballmer. As reported last week, Mulally is said to be a top contender for the job.
Brands are a critical factor to any company's success. Redmond magazine's reader survey this summer showed the jury is still out on Microsoft, though over 90 percent said they plan to spend the same or more with Microsoft in the coming year.
Microsoft will need all the brand equity it can get as it tries to convince customers to give its next generation of Windows software and devices, as well as cloud services, a chance.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/30/2013 at 3:10 PM0 comments
In wake of Metalogix acquisition of Axceler's SharePoint business, the remainder of the company is charting a new path and identity. The company, now called ViewDo Labs, will emphasize enterprise social networking, not just for SharePoint but for all collaborative environments.
Part of the deal when Metalogix acquired Axceler's SharePoint business last month was that Metalogix would retain the Axceler brand, hence the new name and focus. ViewDo Labs describes itself as a provider of enterprise social network (ESN) analytics and governance tools. Michael Alden, Axceler's former president and CEO, will hold the same title with ViewDo.
"Our team's goal is to help organizations increase adoption of ESNs by offering visibility into what employees are collaborating on and what platforms are most successful," Alden said in a statement.
ViewDo will release a cross-platform enterprise social network analytics service called ViewPoint Enterprise, which offers a common view via a dashboard of activity in a variety of enterprise social network environments including SharePoint, Yammer and Salesforce.com's Chatter. The company plans to support other enterprise social networking platforms in the future.
ViewPoint is designed to help increase usage of these networks, while reducing overall risk, such as confidential data getting into the wrong hands. The company says VIewPoint will track who is collaborating, what's driving adoption and help determine business metrics from that collaboration.
According to a survey fielded by ViewDo, 46 percent of enterprises don't measure overall productivity and large enterprises are having the most difficult time getting users to adopt social collaboration tools in the workplace.
A trial version of the software is available for download now and is slated for general availability next month.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/29/2013 at 4:32 PM0 comments
Microsoft's first stab at tablets with the Surface RT and Surface Pro have made little inroads in enterprises, which is hardly a surprise given this summer's $900 million write-down of the devices. The company is hoping it can do better with the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, launched Monday and due to ship next month.
One of the biggest non-starters for IT managers with the Surface RT and the Windows RT operating system that runs the tablets is IT can't join them to Active Directory domains. While the forthcoming Surface 2s don't do so either, Windows RT 8.1's new "workplace join" feature could make the new tablets more palatable to some IT pros.
As reported in June by Kurt Mackie, the use of a "workplace join" feature adds a security safeguard that ensures that only registered devices can connect to a company's data. Microsoft didn't mention that during Monday's launch event in New York, though I sat down with Surface director Cyril Belikoff right after the formal presentation, who emphasized the workplace join.
"Workplace joins are the access components of a directory service that allows a user to use their ID and password to access their corporate network documents and shares in a secure way," Belikoff said. "It's not a fully domained device but you get the administration of mobile device management and get the access component."
Within the server, IT can assign access rights to document shares and files on the network and can be managed with MDM tools from MobileIron, AirWatch and Microsoft's own Windows Intune device management service.
But he acknowledged that might not suit those organizations that mandate all devices must be jointed to an Active Directory domain. "Surface pro has all the security and management functions those IT organizations need," he said.
Is the Surface 2 and Windows 8.1 RT more appealing to you with the workplace join?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/27/2013 at 12:50 PM0 comments
Ford CEO Alan Mulally is reportedly Microsoft's lead candidate to replace Steve Ballmer, who is set to retire within the next year.
Once viewed as a longshot, All Things D's Kara Swisher reported yesterday that Mulally has risen as the top contender to replace Ballmer, though it's not clear if he would take the job if offered. Mulally's work turning around Ford is not done and he promised the automaker he would stay on board through the end of 2014.
Swisher, who noted that Mulally is one of the few CEOs who has candidly responded to her e-mails -- and on-the-record -- said he has gone dark after sources told her he's a front-runner. Bloomberg TV suggested maybe the leak was aimed at putting pressure on Mulally to consider breaking his promise to Ford.
It's not surprising that Gates and Ballmer might want to see Mulally take the job. Ballmer himself has deep ties to Ford. His father Frederic was a manager there and Mulally reportedly advised Ballmer in advance of the company's latest restructuring. The new One Microsoft even shares a similar name to One Ford, the automaker's own mission statement to reinvent itself. Indeed Mulally won huge plaudits for saving the company without accepting a government bailout, as General Motors and Chrysler did back in 2009.
Until yesterday's report, many pundits were betting former Nokia CEO and former Microsoft president Stephen Elop was among the top contenders to take over the top spot at Microsoft. Swisher's report said he remains a top candidate, along with Tony Bates, the former CEO of Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2011. Microsoft also reportedly has contacted another former key Microsoft exec Paul Maritz, the recent CEO of VMware, who is now running that company's spinoff Pivotal.
Ford COO Mark Fields today told reporters at a fundraising event in Detroit, that Mulally remains "focused" on the automaker's long-term turnaround.
Would you like to see Mulally take the reins of Microsoft or do you prefer the Board choose an insider or one who once held a leadership position to take the top slot?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/27/2013 at 12:49 PM0 comments
While the recent NSA leaks have caused IT decision makers and individuals alike to reconsider their use of cloud services to store and selectively share their files, several SharePoint experts today said they believe online collaboration is inevitable. Nevertheless most mid- and large-size organizations that are using cloud-based implementations of SharePoint -- or considering doing so -- will continue to employ a hybrid strategy.
That was the consensus of a number of participants, including myself, in a Tweetjam organized by Metalogix SharePoint evangelist Christian Buckley this morning. "Companies will use more and more hybrid scenarios to find their way into cloud offerings," said Michael Greth, a SharePoint MVP, specialist and community leader.
Antonio Maio, a product manager at TITUS and SharePoint MVP agreed. "Hybrid will be around much longer than previously anticipated," he said. "Reality of difficult change."
That change has become more difficult following this summer's NSA leaks. For example, 46.3 percent of 300 Redmond magazine readers responding to an online survey said they were concerned about potential government surveillance and 13 percent said they're pulling back on such initiatives. But the economics of cloud computing are going to ultimately dictate more usage not less over time, many predict.
"You will be left behind if you aren't in the cloud and left to watch the people use the nice new features," tweeted Ben Henderson, client services manager at Colligo. Nevertheless it will remain a hybrid world for the foreseeable future, Buckley predicted. "Data storage/ownership issues will get resolved," he said.
So what do organizations need to do to prepare to move to the cloud? Buckley tweeted, "1) priorities of each workload, 2) governance strategy between cloud and on prem systems, 3) THEN focus on new functionality."
You can view the entire discussion and feel free to weigh in here.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/25/2013 at 12:40 PM0 comments
It looks like Microsoft is going it alone with tablets running its Windows RT operating system -- the version of Windows 8 that runs only applications that support its Modern UI accessed from the Windows Store.
As reported by The Verge this morning, Dell's XPS 10 tablet, which sported an optional keyboard, is listed as unavailable in Dell's online store. As an alternative, Dell recommends the $499 Latitude 10, powered by an Intel Atom processor with the full version of Windows 8. As noted last month, the few PC suppliers offering Windows RT tablets were cutting bait including Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung. I noted at the time that Dell appeared to be the last one standing with the XPS 10, though it could only be found online.
Though Dell is scheduled to announce new tablets Oct. 2, analysts told PCWorld that one running Windows RT 8.1 appears unlikely, leaving Microsoft as the last man standing. That's my bet as well, though it remains to be seen whether OEMs will give Windows RT another chance.
For now, the future of Windows RT is now in Microsoft's hands when it releases its second-generation Surface 2, announced on Monday and scheduled for release next month. The question is will business users give this revamped model a shot or is Microsoft's future in tablets for now aligned with the full-blown Windows 8.1? What's your take? Comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/25/2013 at 12:41 PM0 comments
When Edwin Snowden revealed the National Security Agency's covert surveillance of communications with the cooperation of the largest service providers, it validated what many cynics and security experts presumed as fact. But the leaks outlining blatant surveillance by companies including Verizon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, among others caught the large universe of IT decision makers off guard.
As my colleague Chris Paoli and I have noted since the June leaks, many organizations were alarmed to read reports that the NSA could access data stored in the public cloud even though the U.S. government has insisted it was only doing so to track suspected terrorist activities overseas. The revelations also came as a growing number of organizations were starting to use Microsoft's Office 365 and SharePoint Online.
In wake of the reports, many organizations have pulled their cloud deployments back in house. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said cloud providers in North America alone stand to lose between $21.5 billion to $35 billion in revenues by 2016 after it came out the NSA was invoking the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) and the Patriot Act for programs such as PRISM to obtain and mine data to investigate suspected threats.
I don't believe the damage will be that severe, though. A survey of Redmond magazine's readership last month revealed many shops are cloud migration plans on hold, while many are retreating from those under way. According to our online survey of 300 readers, 35 percent are putting planned projects on hold in wake of the NSA leaks while 13 percent brought cloud projects back in house.
That and other findings from the survey are the basis of our October cover story, which we'll be publishing next week.
But given the large universe of SharePoint administrators, developers and users who make up the readership of Redmond magazine, many decision makers are having new reservations over whether to run SharePoint and other collaboration and enterprise social media tools in the cloud. So when Christian Buckley, the SharePoint MVP evangelist at Metalogix, invited me to participate in a Tweetjam on Security and Cloud Collaboration, I was happy to participate. It takes place Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT. If you can't make it, you can review the comments at your leisure.
Participating on the Tweetjam are a number of SharePoint MVPs including Antonio Maio, (@antonionmaio2), product manager at TITUS and SharePoint MVP, Eric Riz, (@rizinsights), executive vice president at Concatenate and SharePoint MVP, Tom Resing, (@resing), systems engineer at Jive and SharePoint MCM and MVP, Michael Greth (@mysharepoint), SharePoint specialist and community leader, SharePoint MVP. Buckley, who has organized the Tweetjam, outlined in a blog post the questions it will cover:
- Are most organization ready to move to the cloud?
- Did the NSA data breach in the US by Snowden affect your near or long-term plans for the cloud?
- What are the key risks with moving to the cloud, and what can companies do to mitigate them?
- Which workloads are most effective in the cloud?
- How can Microsoft make their cloud options more viable?
- What 3 things should companies prepare for in their move toward the cloud?
- What are your cloud predictions for the next 2 to 3 years?
If these are questions on your mind and you're free, join in the discussion and share your views. Just click here to participate. You can follow me on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/24/2013 at 3:42 PM0 comments
When Nirvanix last week abruptly informed customers they have weeks to find a new cloud storage provider because it was shutting down its operations, it left more than 1,000 enterprises scrambling to save their data. Many are likely to turn to Amazon Web Services, which has the most mature and advanced cloud infrastructure, but Microsoft will also likely become a beneficiary of Nirvanix's demise.
Initially Nirvanix told customers last Monday they had two weeks to find a new home for their data but the company later in the week extended the deadline to Oct. 15. Still for those with terabytes or even petabytes of data stored in Nirvanix datacenters, moving all of that data in less than a month is a tall order. Further adding to the difficulty is the fact that Nirvanix doesn't have the most robust network infrastructure, which is being heavily taxed with the fact that all of its customers are trying to pull all of that data at once, explained Andres Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Nasuni, which provides its own storage service that once used Nirvanix as its back-end target.
Rodriguez last week told me he saw this coming long ago and tried warning some of his customers whom he knew were using Nirvanix for some of their cloud storage that he believed Nirvanix was at risk of going out of business. Now every NIrvanix customer is trying to get their data out. "What's happening now with Nirvanix is the equivalent of bank rush," Rodriguez said. "Everyone is trying to get their data out in a hurry and you know what that does to a network, and it's going to be very hard to get their data out."
When Nasuni used Nirvanix as its cloud storage provider two years ago, Rodriguez became increasingly concerned that it couldn't scale. Nasuni now uses Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service (S3) for primary storage. Nasuni runs annual tests against what Rodriguez believes are the largest cloud providers. The most recent test results released earlier this year concluded that Amazon S3 and Windows Azure were the only two viable enterprise-grade storage services.
Nasuni just added a mirroring option that lets customers replicate their data stored in Amazon S3 to Windows Azure for added contingency. While Rodriguez believes Amazon S3 and Windows Azure are the most scalable and resilient, he warns it could be years before the majority of customers feel comfortable using the latter as their primary target.
The Nirvanix demise validates warnings that it's easier to upload to the cloud than to recover large quantities of data and the need to have contingency and migration plans in place, said Forrester Research analyst Henry Baltazar. "The recent example with Nirvanix highlights why customers should also consider exit and migration strategies as they formulate their cloud storage deployments," Baltazar said in a blog post last week. Now they have a difficult task in gathering their data, he noted.
"One of the most significant challenges in cloud storage is related to how difficult it is to move large amounts of data from a cloud. While bandwidth has increased significantly over the years, even over large network links it could take days or even weeks to retrieve terabytes or petabytes of data from a cloud. For example, on a 1 Gbps link, it would take close to 13 days to retrieve 150 TB of data from a cloud storage service over a WAN link."
Gartner analyst Kyle Hilgendorf also emphasized in a blog post that failure to have an exit strategy when using a cloud service, especially for storage, can be a recipe for disaster. As for this week's Nirvanix news, Hilgendorf said: "What are clients do to? For most -- react...and react in panic. You may be facing the worst company fear -- losing actual data."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/23/2013 at 12:52 PM0 comments
In addition to the 9 million who stood in line to get their new iPhones over the weekend, millions of existing iPhone and iPad users were able to download the new iOS 7, released late last week. For those who are holding off, enterprise IT managers have good reason to encourage (perhaps even insist) users to upgrade their iOS devices to the latest operating systems.
Here's a list of some of the new capabilities in iOS 7 that Apple highlighted, which promise to improve security and management of corporate data accessed on user-owned devices:
Protect Corporate Data
IT can now manage which applications and accounts are used to open document and attachments. IT can prevent users from opening personal documents from managed apps, while allowing administrators to configure a list of apps available in the sharing panel.
Per App VPN
Administrators can determine which apps can connect to the VPN, ensuring data transmitted by managed applications only goes through the VPN, while ensuring personal activities do not go travel through it.
App Store License Management
Business can now purchase apps on behalf of users while maintaining ownership of the apps and retaining control of the licenses. Enterprises can now purchase licenses though the Volume Purchase Program (VPP) site and use their mobile device management (MDM) platform to assign apps to users. It lets employees enroll with their personal Apple IDs without providing it to the enterprise. IT can also revoke apps and reassign their use to others. The VPP also now supports purchase of Mac apps.
IT can now set up managed apps wirelessly, install custom fonts and configure accessibility options. IT can configure company owned devices in line with corporate settings and policies. It also supports highly managed deployments.
Enterprise Single Sign-On
Now users can sign on and authenticate across apps including those from the App Store. All apps configured with SSO verify user permissions to access enterprise resources, logging users in without having to re-enter passwords.
Improved Exchange Integration
Exchange 2010 users can synchronize their notes with Outlook, while they can now view PDF annotations. Search is also improved.
Have you tested any of the new enterprise management features added to IOS7? Share your observations below or drop me a line at jschwartz@11105 media.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/23/2013 at 2:43 PM0 comments
Microsoft's departing CEO acknowledged his biggest regret was failing to lead Microsoft into the smartphone and tablet worlds before Apple and Google, which he blamed on Microsoft's botched development of Windows Vista a decade ago.
"I regret that there was a period in the early 2000s when we were so focused on what we had to do around Windows, that we weren't able to redeploy talent to the new device form factor called the phone," Ballmer said at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting yesterday. "The time we missed was about the time we were working away on what became Vista, and I wish we'd probably had our resources slightly differently deployed, let me say, during the early 2000s. It would have been better for Windows and probably better for our success in other form factors."
It will be up to Microsoft's next CEO to take the company forward but Ballmer made clear it will be along the strategy he rolled out in July.
"My greatest desire will be to see the company be so much more successful four or five years from now than it is today," Ballmer said. "That will be grounded in three things: Number one, we've picked a great new CEO. Number two, we made fundamental bets before that new CEO came out. The strategies that we put in place, the approach that I've put in place that the board has endorsed -- those things are important. The new CEO is important. And the leadership team and the talent pool that is here is very important."
Ballmer also emphasized Microsoft's financial strength. "The ability to invest, to get into new areas, to think about the next big thing, none of you should take that casually as an investor, "he said. Much of what Microsoft outlined at the financial analysts meeting we've heard before but here are four points Ballmer and the executive team emphasized at the meeting:
One Microsoft Will Empower Devices and Services
Microsoft believes the employee is critical to creating demand for its enterprise IT infrastructure and cloud services. "We do believe that consumers drive a lot of what's coming into the enterprise," Ballmer said. "When I was in Office, Excel was brought into the enterprise because consumers liked Excel and brought it in over Lotus [1-2-3]. We've seen the same thing with the iPad. Consumers have the iPad and bring it into the business. So we think these end points of these desirable, high-quality devices, combined with the power of our high-value scenarios and services is what's going to propel us forward into reaching customers the way we'd like to."
By bringing together the operating systems groups two months ago, the company is moving forward with tying them together. "We really should have one silicon interface for all of our devices," said Terry Myerson, executive VP for Microsoft's recently formed operating systems group, tasked with unifying Windows. "We should have one set of developer APIs on all of our devices. And all of the apps we bring to end users should be available on all of our devices." Myerson said the focus on devices will be to ensure they are even more integrated with cloud services. Whether we're branding them Windows or Xbox, we really need one core service which is enabling all of our devices," Myerson said. "We have a very clear vision of what we want to get done, and we're moving very fast."
More Apps Coming
Despite the fact that the Microsoft Store lags that of the Apple iTunes App Store and Google Play in terms of the number of apps available, Myerson believes the company will catch up. "We really are working our angles on this locally, globally," he said. "We're looking at all of it. We're looking at domains for ISVs. We're looking at consumer apps. We're looking at enterprise apps. We're looking at how the virtuous cycle works on other platforms, how it should work on our platform. And it really is a top priority for me and my team, and we're working it."
Satya Nadella, executive VP for Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group added: "We're really building out our tooling across all of our assets and enabling these developers to exploit our broadest platform, and I think that's another source of innovation around our platforms that I think will translate into sort of unique app experiences for our platforms."
Microsoft is not throwing in the towel on search and it will relentlessly pursue taking on Google from all angles including seeking relief from the antitrust authorities that were once the bane of its own existence. "I do believe that Google's practices are worthy of discussion with competition authority, and we have certainly discussed them with competition authorities," Ballmer said. "I don't think their practices are getting less meritorious of discussion. We've highlighted some of their bad practices in our advertising, in our discussions with regulators, the bundling that they're doing with YouTube and Google Maps and some other things. Anyway, suffice it to say that I think they need pressure from competition authority. I think they need pressure in the marketplace."
That pressure isn't just going to rely on the feds bringing Google down but further investments in Bing, Ballmer added. For instance he cited working with Apple to integrate Bing search into its Siri-like voice assistant.
Eat its Own
Cannibalization is very much in play, COO Kevin Turner said. "As we move people from on-premise to cloud, yes, we're willing to cannibalize ourselves to do it," Turner said. "And we've embraced that. And when I said that transition is underway, it's underway." Saying Office 365 is already a case in point, "I think the cannibalization stuff is imminent."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/20/2013 at 2:24 PM0 comments
While our annual Redmond Magazine Salary Survey showed average wages increasing 3 percent, we discovered a surprising anomaly in this year's report: SharePoint experts are making less this year.
Granted the average SharePoint administrator or developer still earns a six-figure salary, our survey found a decline of 7 percent. Last year the average SharePoint Salary was $107,063, dropping to $100,817 this year.
Given the growth of SharePoint and the release late last year of SharePoint 2013 as well as a substantial upgrade to the SharePoint Online feature of Office 365, I found that surprising.
"I've noticed that trend also and I don't understand that either because it seems everybody wants to use it more," said survey respondent Chris, who told me he was equally surprised when I ran the number by him. "I see SharePoint expertise required in job descriptions all the time."
Could it be that there are more SharePoint experts out there, thereby giving employers a larger pool of candidates to select from? Or is it perhaps an aberration in this year's survey?
If you're a SharePoint expert, or one who hires them, please share your observations. You can comment below or send me a note to email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/18/2013 at 2:20 PM0 comments
It appears Microsoft is planning a voice assistant for its Windows Phone platform after all. As Mary Jo Foley noted in her Redmond magazine column this month, Microsoft has spent the past decade working on natural language platform, though it has stepped up its effort over the past two years.
Since that column went to press, it appears she, along with Tom Warren of The Verge, unearthed information that points to a Siri-like voice assistant coming to Windows Phone early next year. In a post on her All About Microsoft blog last week, she said technology Microsoft has under development that goes by the code name "Cortana" aims to compete with Apple's Siri and Google's Now.
While Windows Phone already understands basic voice commands, according to her sources Cortana, named for an artificially intelligent character from Microsoft's Halo game series, "will be able to learn and adapt, relying on machine-learning technology and the 'Satori' knowledge repository powering Bing."
In addition to Windows Phone, Foley learned Cortana could work itself into the core Windows and Xbox operating systems because Microsoft is adding it to its entire services-enabled "shell," -- the services Ballmer described in his July reorg letter.
Following her report, Warren learned Microsoft is testing the Cortana UI's ability to gather notifications, weather reports and calendar information. It also uses location information and has access to Bluetooth controls.
Whether you're a fan of voice assistants, or at least the concept of them, it appears all device makers will be focusing on advancing the technology sooner rather than later. If they get it right, as Google appears to have with its new Moto X phone, that can be a good thing, especially for those who can't seem to keep their hands off their devices.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/16/2013 at 2:59 PM0 comments
Microsoft's latest attempt to garner interest in its Surface hybrid tablet-PCs is a trade-in program the company launched that will let customers swap out their iPads for a $200 gift card applicable toward a Surface.
Actually the $200 gift card can be used toward anything offered in the Microsoft Store but Microsoft is obviously trying to get people to trade in their iPads for a Surface RT or Surface Pro.
The company quietly kicked off the deal last week but word of it started to spread in recent days. The offer runs through Oct. 27, though I'd bet it will remain permanent – unless it turns out that's the date the new Surfaces are available.
Nevertheless, I'm curious how many pe ople will actually take Microsoft up on this trade-in offer. Most people I know love their iPads and have no desire to get rid of them. Also the oldest unit Microsoft will take is the iPad 2. In most cases you can get more for it selling it on eBay or elsewhere than trading it into the Microsoft Store.
Perhaps if your device is broken it's a good deal. While the fine print didn't say the device must work, it did say it's up to the store manager's discretion.
But the move underscores the increasingly aggressive posture Microsoft is taking toward Apple -- following an ad campaign showing Siri explaining everything an iPad can't do that users can perform on a Surface.
Still, I'll be surprised if many people take Microsoft up on its latest offer. Will you?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/13/2013 at 1:37 PM0 comments
By now you've probably heard Apple launched two new iPhones yesterday, the 5S and the 5C. The long-rumored devices were equipped as expected but analysts gave the lower-end 5C a thumbs-down due to its higher-than-expected price tag and lack of broad appeal to emerging markets.
Many reports have described the new higher-end iPhone 5S as an incremental upgrade but I think it could prove to be a key indicator whether the smartphone market will embrace fingerprint-based authentication. It uses technology Apple gained when it acquired AuthenTec for $356 million last year, which lets users unlock their phones and make purchases on the iTunes App Store, instead of using passwords.
The phone's new Touch ID apparently doesn't let users authenticate to other sites but I would imagine the company is waiting to see how users accept this new feature and iron out any kinks before broadening its use. Should users widely embrace this form of authentication on smartphones, I would expect to see all of the other players rush to add similar features. It would naturally spread to tablets as well.
Apple's new iPhone 5S also sports a vastly improved camera, which will put it in competition with camera offered on Nokia's new Lumia 1020. The sensor on the iPhone 5S is improved and 15 percent larger, the phone supports more pixels and sports a new ƒ/2.2 aperture. The camera also has an improved LED-based flash. The new ARM-based A7 CPU doubles the speed of the iPhone and it's the first based on a 64-bit processor.
As I noted, the 5C is intended as a lower-cost unit and while it will be available in the U.S., analysts are banking on Apple breaking into emerging markets with it. Unlike previous units, the 5C is made of plastic rather than aluminum -- and lacks some of the newer features in the 5S such as the improved camera and Touch ID.
The $99 price tag (with a two-year contract), though half the cost was higher than most analysts expected and not scaled down to the extent anticipated and doesn't appear targeted at emerging markets, according to analysts, who noted it will compete with the newly priced iPhone 5. "The market placement was different than our prior expectations," wrote Piper Jaffrey analyst Gene Munster in a research note. "Previously we thought the 5C would be a lower end phone to address emerging markets like China and India."
Apple also didn't announce an anticipated partnership with China Mobile to offer a lower-end iPhone. "We believe that based on the pricing of the 5C ($549 unlocked), the phone is only a replacement for the 5 instead of downgrading the old device, and still plays in the higher end of the market," Munster wrote.
As for the 5S, Munster, a noted Apple bull, also believes Touch ID could pave the way for a broader payments offering. "We view security as the biggest hurdle in offering a successful payments platform and the biometric feature may be able to address that in iOS 8," he noted.
Do you see fingerprint-based authentication becoming the mainstream on all smartphones? Would you like to see it replace passwords? Feel free to comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/11/2013 at 9:09 AM0 comments
Microsoft is hoping those in the market for a hybrid tablet PC will find the second wave of Surface devices more appealing than the first. We'll get a better sense of that later this month when Microsoft likely unveils new Surface RT and Surface Pro devices.
The company is expected to disclose more details at an event in New York. An invitation to the event only indicated Microsoft will discuss "Surface growth and expansion, specifically pertaining to the commercial and business enterprise sector" and "Microsoft's ongoing commitment to Surface and its business customers."
Microsoft declined to elaborate but several press leaks about both devices appeared this week suggesting a new Surface Pro equipped with Intel's long-awaited Haswell processor is in the works (Intel said yesterday those processors are coming shortly, though it didn't specify when).
A Surface Pro with a Haswell chip, which I've long presumed would be in version 2 of the higher-end unit, will address a key objection to the first Surface Pro with regard to power use. An upgraded Surface Pro unit would support 8 hours of battery life, noted Paul Thurrott at Supersite for Windows, rather than the meager four hours that its predecessor offered.
Also reportedly in development is a new Surface RT 2, according to Neowin.net. The upgrade will have the more-powerful Tegra 4 processor, a 1080p display, a two-step kickstand and potentially support up to 8 GB of RAM (the current device maxes out at 4 GB). The site earlier this year reported that a Surface Mini is also in the works.
It will run on a "variant" of the Windows 8.1 RT operating system, sources tell All About Microsoft's Mary Jo Foley.
It's unclear when the new devices will actually ship but presumably the company will want to make them available in the critical fourth quarter holiday shopping season. Do the upgrades sound more appealing to you than the first versions?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/11/2013 at 1:01 PM0 comments
After a long and protracted battle, activist shareholder Carl Icahn has walked away from his effort to acquire a controlling interest in Dell, though he hasn't backed away from his insistence that shareholders are accepting an inferior deal.
The tide was clearly against Icahn's Southeastern Asset Management with founder and CEO Michael Dell's pending shareholder vote set for Thursday and all indications that its offer, backed by Silver Lake Partners with a lift from Microsoft, had enough support to win. But Icahn maintains the $13.75-per-share deal valued at $25.5 billion undervalues Dell even though they nominally sweetened the deal in July. After a Delaware court last month ruled in favor of the Dell team's contention that needed fewer votes in favor of the deal than Icahn's group claimed, momentum was in the favor of Dell.
"Dell is paying a price approximately 70 percent below its ten-year high of $42.38," Icahn wrote in a letter to shareholders filed with the SEC today. "The bid freezes stockholders out of any possibility of realizing Dell's great potential."
While expressing regret that he was not successful in his bid, Icahn took solace in the fact that he forced Dell to revise the terms of its bid somewhat. "It certainly makes the loss a lot more tolerable in that as a result of our involvement, Michael Dell/Silver Lake increased what they said was their 'best and final offer.'"
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/09/2013 at 12:00 PM0 comments
With Microsoft now in search of a new CEO, the noise level suggesting Microsoft should split itself up into multiple companies is predictably up. Yet the steps that "retiring" CEO Steve Ballmer and Microsoft's board have taken make that seem unlikely in the short term, though of course in business anything can happen.
But with last week's deal to acquire Nokia for $7.2 billion, short of it unexpectedly imploding before the deal closes early next year, Microsoft is on a path to add parts, not remove them. Even so, the latest buzz theorizing a Microsoft divestiture comes from Nick Wingfield, the Seattle-based reporter with The New York Times who today stitched together a scenario that has Microsoft being split into four businesses based on interviews with longtime Microsoft watcher Rich Sherlund of Nomura Securities and other experts.
Wall Street always becomes infatuated with the notion of breaking up companies investors feel they can chop up to make a quick buck. Sometimes divestitures happen for good reason and they're successful. While most IT pros might not care if Microsoft were to spin off its Xbox gaming business or Bing search engine, most have a stake in the ties between the client, server and the cloud. Hence few IT pros have interest in Microsoft breaking itself into multiple businesses, especially if those ties are broken.
An online survey of more than 1,100 Redmond magazine readers fielded immediately after Microsoft announced that Ballmer will retire as CEO in the next year shows only 12 percent feel Microsoft's next CEO should split Microsoft into multiple companies. So what do they think the next chief executive should do?
Nearly half, or 49.4 percent, believe the next CEO needs to focus on breaking down the silos and fiefdoms that many believe has stifled Microsoft's ability to provide common services across different product lines. Ballmer's "One Microsoft" strategy, which coincidentally is the basis of his July corporate re-org, aims to break down those silos. Just as Ballmer solidified his "devices and services" strategy with the Nokia deal, the new CEO will inherit One Microsoft.
Nearly a quarter of respondents (24.7 percent) believe the new CEO should make major acquisitions that would embolden the company's "devices and services" strategy (ironically we fielded the survey just days before Microsoft announced it plans to acquire Nokia's handset business). Only 13.9 percent believe Microsoft should make moves into new markets.
Just as many investors and others on Wall Street had long wanted Ballmer to go, more than half (58.2 percent) of Redmond readers also welcome the change in leadership. Only 10.6 percent were disappointed in the news, believing only Ballmer or Gates could run Microsoft, while 31.2 percent don't believe Ballmer's departure changes anything.
"There's a lot of finger pointing and blame to go around," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Sanfilippo. "Whether Ballmer has caused some of the issues at Microsoft over the last decade, I think [it] is a lot more complicated than could be blamed on one person."
Some survey respondents agree, saying Ballmer deserves more credit than he received. "Microsoft's rise in the enterprise over Ballmer's tenure is explosive, and he's on the right road to fix the consumer missed opportunities," one respondent said. "Mr. Ballmer is a one-of-a-kind individual, in every positive sense of the word," adds another. "He's a human dynamo -- one of the few people in the world besides Bill Gates who could keep a juggernaut like Microsoft on the track."
One reader sees Ballmer's departure as an opportunity for Microsoft to reevaluate everything. "Ballmer's retirement is a chance for Microsoft to reinvigorate itself," the reader said, adding his successor needs to reevaluate Microsoft's Windows strategy, restore the traditional (Windows 7) interface, work closely with application vendors in regard to mobile versus desktop use and make Windows 8 really effective for tablets and phones. The new CEO also must work to make cloud-based applications "the most secure [and] effective available and sell subscriptions at a very reasonable price-point."
While many are relieved Ballmer is leaving, they're also anxious about the uncertainty new leadership might bring. "His successor needs to first define why Microsoft is in business and not just follow Ballmer's plan of [becoming a] services and devices company."
Many survey respondents believe Microsoft's next CEO must accelerate Microsoft's break with past protective practices, such as offering Office on Apple's iOS platform, while breaking down the political divisions across business units that have stifled innovation.
"Whoever succeeds Ballmer must find a way to continue to break down silos and depoliticize if that's even possible for Microsoft, and accelerate innovation," one concluded. "Microsoft may survive forever as an 'also [ran]' company but their time in the limelight (publicly and to investors) will never return if they don't break out of their current ways including kingdom building and other such silliness. I am not convinced that hardware can save Microsoft... too little too late as there are far too many players that are better at it, and faster."
Respondents were divided on what type of leader Microsoft should seek with 41.4 percent favoring an outside tech visionary in the mold of Steve Jobs and 38.8 percent preferring a turnaround expert such as Lou Gerstner, credited with bringing IBM back from the brink in the 1990s, despite coming from outside the technology industry.
Microsoft's next CEO has one thing going for him or her: A vast majority (69.2 percent), say the company will remain a key provider of enterprise software and services. But a healthy one in four (26.2 percent) say Microsoft will become a less influential player over time, while 4.2 percent believe the company will become marginal. And while a return by Gates is extremely unlikely, 9.2 percent believe only he can save Microsoft. Absent of that happening, one reader said, "They need to find someone who is a technology first person like Gates was, not a marketing-first person as Ballmer is."
Time will tell how history treats Ballmer's tenure but for now, many respondents believe Microsoft needs a leader with more vision and less bluster. "Under [Ballmer's] leadership Microsoft has deeply hurt [its] reputation with IT professionals like [me]," opined one critic. "They need someone with enterprise IT vision who understands that driving wedges with IT professionals gives us the freedom to think past our fears of moving our shops to other products."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/09/2013 at 2:19 PM0 comments
Microsoft and Nokia certainly caught the tech world off guard earlier this week when Redmond said it was acquiring the core business of the struggling phone maker for $7.2 billion. And if you don't think this changes everything for better or worse, think again.
The notion of Microsoft buying any major hardware company, much less a phone maker, was once unthinkable by founder Bill Gates and lame duck CEO Steve Ballmer. Now Ballmer has effectively described this deal as the missing link to the "devices and services" company he wants Microsoft to be. The first thing to ask: Is that the path the board and the next CEO will see for Microsoft as well? Since they signed off on this deal, that appears to be the marching orders for now -- though we all know how things can change.
Apparently Microsoft investors don't agree Nokia is the missing link. The company's stock has been down since the deal was announced, basically erasing the surge in market cap Microsoft gained when announcing Ballmer's retirement.
Although the deal appeared to be dead after talks fell apart in June, Ballmer and his team have been negotiating all summer, according to a report in The New York Times on how the deal went down. So this is Ballmer's deal but he'll be long gone before he can accept credit or blame.
Critics of the deal argue it pairs two companies that are both afterthoughts in the mobile phone and tablet markets today. Two weak players don't necessarily add up to a strong one. Is this move indeed the missing link that can put Windows Phone and tablets running Windows 8 or Windows RT on the map or is it the ultimate act of desperation?
"I don't think Ballmer's vision matches up with reality," said independent industry analyst Jack Gold, of IT market researcher J. Gold Associates. "I just don't think Microsoft can pull this off effectively. I see it as a knee-jerk reaction to Apple and Google, rather than a real strategy to become a leader in the market."
Yet on a conference call Tuesday, Ballmer said he believes this deal will boost Microsoft's market share in the mobile phone market from 3 percent to 15 percent. An aggressive target, indeed, but depending on how Apple's iOS and the Google Android ecosystem play out, the deal would still render Windows Phone a much smaller player in the market. IDC Wednesday predicted Windows Phone's share will double by 2017 and will cover 10.2 percent of the smartphone market. Google's Android will be the dominant player with 68.3 percent and iOS will be in the middle with 17.9 percent.
Ballmer emphasized on Tuesday's call that acquiring Nokia's handset business will ensure Microsoft bolsters its share in the market -- which he deems critical. "We want to strengthen the overall opportunity for Microsoft from a devices and services perspective and for our partners as well," Ballmer said on the call. "We need to be a company that provides a family of devices ‑‑ in some cases we'll build the devices, in many cases third parties, our OEMs, can build the devices ‑‑ but a family of devices with integrated services that best empower people and businesses for the activities that they value the most."
The message is that not only does Microsoft gain the ability to take charge on how Windows Phones are designed, delivered and marketed, it gives the same capability to refine its Surface tablets and other hardware it decides to deliver.
As part of the deal Ballmer said Microsoft is buying the assigned rights in Nokia's IP license with Qualcomm and other key IP licenses. The company is also licensing, though not buying patents that can work with Windows Phone and other Microsoft products. Microsoft is also licensing rights to use Nokia's HERE mapping geospatial location technology, which it wants to use broadly in Microsoft products. According to various reports, Microsoft wanted to buy the patents and HERE technology outright but Nokia didn't want to part with it. Microsoft sees HERE as critical to breaking Google's hold on mapping.
Whether or not this deal makes you want to run out and buy a Nokia Lumina or have visions of using Bing more often once HERE is integrated, it changes everything about how Microsoft will develop Windows and deliver on its "devices and services" mission.
Do you like this deal or are you concerned about the direction this takes Microsoft? Share your thoughts below or feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/06/2013 at 2:33 PM0 comments
Not happy with the bonus or raise you received this year? Perhaps you're long overdue for an increase, want more recognition or you have a boss who knows less about IT than you do. If so, you're not alone.
The number of Redmond magazine readers that say they may change jobs has doubled since last year, according to the 18th Annual Redmond magazine Salary Survey, published Tuesday. Salaries overall are up 3 percent, slightly lower than the 3.25 percent average salary in last year's survey. But here's the most interesting finding in this year's report: More than a quarter of the 1,018 qualified respondents (26.8 percent) say they are weighing the possibility of changing employers up from 13.1 percent a year ago.
The surge in those who plan to put out feelers suggests IT organizations are poised to see marked turnover, which is hardly surprising, given the fact that unemployment, though still uncomfortably high continues to come down. The national unemployment rate early last month when we analyzed the survey was at 7.4 percent but IT unemployment was only 3.6 percent according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
When I shared the findings of our survey with Mike Durney, CEO designate of Dice Holdings, which operates the popular job recruitment service for IT pros and developers, he wasn't at all surprised at the trend. Many IT pros and managers have been stuck in jobs where they're being asked to do more, while salaries have not increased at the pace they did before the financial crisis of 2008.
It all comes down to simple supply and demand, Durney and others I spoke with noted. "There are lots of reasons people are afraid to make the leap, but it looks like this year, they're finally starting to make that leap."
Are you making the leap? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/04/2013 at 2:06 PM0 comments
In an unexpected reversal, Microsoft has agreed to acquire Nokia's devices and services business for $7.18 billion (EUR 5.44 Billion), in cash, both companies announced early Tuesday morning in Espoo, Finland, where Nokia is based.
The deal is Microsoft's second largest, rivaled only by the 2011 acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion and puts an even larger bet on its expansion into hardware. The company's third largest acquisition was aQuantive for $6 billion, which Microsoft wrote off last year.
From a scale perspective, the deal is huge. When the deal closes in the first quarter of 2014, an estimated 32,000 Nokia employees will transfer to Microsoft, including 4,700 in Finland and 18,300 involved in manufacturing, assembly and packaging of products worldwide, the companies announced.
Terms of today's agreement, approved by both companies' boards, covers the acquisition of all Nokia's devices and services business, the licensing of Nokia's patents and of its mapping services.
Such a deal seemed all but dead back in June when the two companies were reportedly in advanced discussions before talks broke down and it appeared unlikely the companies would renew negotiations.
That the two companies had consummated a deal is surprising considering there were no reports they had resumed negotiations. The timing is even more unexpected considering less than two weeks ago Microsoft announced CEO Steve Ballmer will retire within the next 12 months.
Ironically one of numerous candidates to succeed Ballmer is Stephen Elop, Nokia's CEO, who under the terms of today's agreement will return to Microsoft as an executive vice president.
"Building on our successful partnership, we can now bring together the best of Microsoft's software engineering with the best of Nokia's product engineering, award-winning design, and global sales, marketing and manufacturing," Elop said in a statement announcing the deal. "With this combination of talented people, we have the opportunity to accelerate the current momentum and cutting-edge innovation of both our smart devices and mobile phone products."
Speculation that Microsoft might one day acquire all or part of Nokia had surfaced back in 2011 when the handset maker chose Microsoft's Windows Phone as its smartphone operating system of choice. But such a deal had remained remote even though both companies have struggled to gain share over the much more dominant phone and tablet platforms iOS from Apple and Google's Android.
Microsoft is presumably hoping that adding Nokia's handset business and related software to its arsenal will give it the scale to expand the Windows Phone platform. Given reports that Nokia is also developing a Windows RT-based tablet, Microsoft may also be betting that the Nokia deal will help bolster its fortunes with its own struggling efforts to gain share with its Surface tablet line. Microsoft's first crop of Surface devices have been a disappointment – the company in July took a $900 million charge on unsold inventory.
Even though the Nokia deal and Microsoft's bigger push into hardware may put the company at further odds with its PC and phone partners, Microsoft may be betting that just as Google has leveraged its acquisition of Motorola, Microsoft can do the same with Nokia using it to bolster its manufacturing capability and leverage Nokia's relationships with wireless carriers.
"It's a bold step into the future – a win-win for employees, shareholders and consumers of both companies," Ballmer said in a statement. "Bringing these great teams together will accelerate Microsoft's share and profits in phones, and strengthen the overall opportunities for both Microsoft and our partners across our entire family of devices and services. Nokia brings proven capability and talent in critical areas such as hardware design and engineering, supply chain and manufacturing management, and hardware sales, marketing and distribution."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/02/2013 at 2:23 PM0 comments
Looking to round out its SharePoint migration and management platform, Metalogix Software Corp. today said it has acquired Axceler's SharePoint software business. The deal makes Metalogix one of the largest independent SharePoint ISVs. Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Metalogix is assuming ownership of the entire Axceler brand and SharePoint software portfolio. Neither company will have a stake in the other.
What remains of Axceler is its Lotus Notes business and new suite of enterprise social media management tools called ViewPoint, launched earlier this year for Yammer and Salesforce.com Chatter environments, among others. Axeler CEO Michael Alden said on a conference call this morning that the company will unveil a new name next week.
It appears Metalogix CEO Steven Murphy wanted to keep his company focused purely on SharePoint migration and administration. By acquiring Axceler's SharePoint governance and permissions tools, it gives Metalogix a much broader offering, said Forrester Research analyst Alan Weintraub.
"The portfolio is larger which gives Metalogix a broader opportunity in the market," Weintraub said. "Metalogix growth was restricted by the limited amounts of capabilities they were delivering and their acquisition has allowed them to grow without completely overlapping."
While Axceler brings 3,000 new customers and 70 employees to Metalogix, Weintraub said this deal wasn't about bringing in new customers. Rather it was to allow Metalogix to expand into the important area of governance and permissions management, which complements its existing archiving and capacity management suite.
One area both companies overlap is SharePoint migration. Metalogix offers its Metalogix Migration Manager included in its Content Matrix suite while Axceler offers ControPoint. In an interview Murphy said Metalogix will wean new customers toward Metalogix Migration Manager product but will continue to support the Axceler ControlPoint tool and may issue some updates.
"There's not going to be a strategic roadmap on the ControlPoint Migrator but we'll continue to issue enhancements and support as necessary as that installed base is migrated to the Content Matrix platform," Murphy said. "We don't sunset products in this market, we provide enough functionality in the next releases that people move forward to the new platforms. Microsoft helps with that with their migrations [new releases]. They kind of force everyone to move forward."
Murphy said the two companies already have many common customers and Metalogix was constantly hearing that governance is a key concern among SharePoint customers. "It's the SharePoint governance and administration features that overwhelmingly our customers are looking for, that it made sense to link up with our migration, upgrade and ongoing management capabilities of Content Matrix," Murphy said.
The combined company will have over 13,000 customers and 250 employees. Murphy said Axceler customers will immediately have access to its 24x7 live telephone support service.
Among the 70 employees moving from Axceler to Metalogix is Christian Buckley, a SharePoint MVP and evangelist who is widely regarded in the SharePoint community. "There are a lot of interesting integration stories and products in the pipeline," he said.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/28/2013 at 12:44 PM0 comments
While the guessing game of who will replace Steve Ballmer as Microsoft's CEO is on, the bigger question is can any executive fix the troubles in Redmond?
Wall Street tech analyst Rick Sherlund this morning told CNBC perhaps no one can help Microsoft make up for the ground it has lost in the tablet and smartphone race. But he said that may not be the criteria the search committee of Microsoft's board, which includes chairman and founder Bill Gates, will be looking for.
"You can certainly continue to try but I think this is not about fixing the company in that regard," Sherlund said, adding the bigger priority will be creating shareholder value. Does that mean breaking up the company or using Microsoft's mountain of cash to buy back shares or pay hefty dividends? Or does creating value mean making some key acquisitions that would help increase Microsoft's share value, which has held relatively steady over the past decade?
Stakeholders including enterprise IT decision makers and those who manage their infrastructures with Microsoft products -- as well as those who use them for content creation and management -- might have different views on creating value and consequently how Microsoft should evolve. And that will also be critical to creating shareholder value.
The first thing the new CEO will need to consider is whether the company can deliver on the new "One Microsoft mantra," which really is just a marketing slogan for a concept Microsoft has long aspired. Remember Ray Ozzie's "three screens and a cloud" message, which referred to Microsoft's goal to tie devices, phones and TVs together with the cloud. And over a decade ago when Microsoft first announced the .NET Framework, its goal was to create intelligent devices and services, known as Project HailStorm.
"One Microsoft" looks to break down the organizational siloes -- and in many cases fiefdoms -- with a management structure that the company hopes can better achieve that model. Make no mistake, Apple and Google have similar goals and though unstated Amazon.com has shown signs that it also aspires to a similar goal. Companies like Citrix and VMware have similar worldviews.
It seems unlikely Gates would sign off on a CEO who would want to dismember that anytime soon. That would be a last resort. Despite Microsoft's troubles, they're not on par with the problems that plagued Apple when it was on the brink of collapse before Steve Jobs returned or IBM in the early 1990s when it appeared Big Blue was toast (and its CEO at the time, John Akers, had the wheels in motion to break up the company). Akers was replaced by Lou Gerstner, who was CEO of Nabisco at the time and had no background running a technology company.
Gerstner revived IBM in one of the most unlikely and remarkable corporate turnarounds ever. But I can't imagine that type of executive running Microsoft. And despite Microsoft's troubles, which aren't trivial, I don't see it in the dire straits IBM was in two decades ago. Ironically Microsoft was founded as a company looking to disrupt IBM's business model and prided itself on the fact that it didn't have the corporate makeup and legacy issues that faced Big Blue. In many regards, Microsoft has become what it once rallied against.
Along came Google, VMware and a re-christened Apple, who are now trying to do to Microsoft what it did to IBM. But if companies like Apple and IBM can return from the brink, it's certainly reasonable that the right leader can revive Microsoft's tenuous, though less severe issues and put it on a path to future growth.
In the meantime no one knows how long it will take to name a new CEO or how this will play out. The search committee has a big task on its hands and whoever it chooses will have a major impact on Microsoft's future.
Have any thoughts on who you'd like to see as Microsoft's next CEO and how he or she should take the company forward? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/23/2013 at 11:05 AM0 comments
While Microsoft continues to promote Windows RT, the version of its client OS designed to work only with software offered via its Windows Store interface, third-party support is fading fast.
Other than Microsoft's Surface RT, try finding anyone else who offers a tablet with Windows RT. I swung by my nearby Microsoft Store, Best Buy and Staples, and the only Windows RT device I could find was the Surface RT.
In the latest sign that everyone appears to be cutting bait on Windows RT, ASUS last week said it's dropping its Windows RT-based systems, while Acer said it was scaling back. Last month, Lenovo said it would no longer offer the Windows RT-based version of its IdeaPad Yoga. And HP long ago tossed its plans to offer a Windows RT tablet.
Both Acer and ASUS also started selling smaller form-factor Windows 8 tablets, now priced below $400. The ASUS VivoTab Smart ME400, priced at $399, has a 10.1-inch display, weighs 1.3 pounds and has a claimed battery life of 9.5 hours.
The 8.1-inch Acer Iconia W3, which costs $299, is in the same size range as the iPad Mini, most Android tablets and the larger Kindle Fire. While the Acer Iconia W3 hasn't received rave reviews, with full Windows 8 hybrid tablets-PCs hitting the sub-$500 price point, it's no wonder these companies are putting their Windows RT counterparts on ice.
However, not everyone is abandoning ship. Dell still offers the XPS 10, which it introduced last October with the launch of the operating system. Even with that Windows RT tablet, no one would accuse Dell of flaunting it. Has anyone spotted one of these?
If anyone can save Windows RT other than Microsoft itself, it's Nokia. The mobile phone company that has pinned its survival in the smartphone market on Windows Phone is said to have a Windows RT-based tablet in the works. According to Microsoft-News.com, Nokia will announce its Windows RT device at an event in New York. According to the report, the 10.1-inch tablet is based on Qualcomm's quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and equipped with LTE support.
It will have to be pretty inexpensive and offer long battery life to gain any footing. The keyboard will reportedly have an added battery for extra power. As far as pricing is concerned, consider the new Lenovo ThinkPad 2 LTE tablet: That 10.1-inch device with an Intel Atom processor, 2 GB of Ram and a 64 GB solid-state drive costs $699 for just the base model and $119.99 for the optional keyboard. It gets 10 hours of battery life, according to Lenovo, and comes with Windows 8.
Unless the next iteration of Windows RT devices can outperform their full Windows 8 counterparts -- presumably from the next crop of Surface RTs and possibly from Nokia's offerings -- it could be an uphill battle. That is, of course, unless Microsoft can further lower the economic bar and show that developers are actually on board. It wouldn't hurt to see some more apps surface, pardon the pun.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/21/2013 at 11:32 AM0 comments
A venture startup financially backed and run by a deep bench of VMware talent is hoping to re-invent the way IT pros manage their virtual infrastructures using a new cloud-based big data analytics service.
CloudPhysics last week went live with its namesake service aimed at simplifying the administration of virtual machines by using a vast real-time analytics engine that aggregates and analyzes billions of data points. Administrators will be able to use the results of these analytic queries to ease the burden of solving the multitude of complex operational issues that come up, according to the company.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company also said it has raised $10 million in a second round of venture capital financing from Kleiner Perkins. The company's first round came from Mayfield Fund.
CloudPhysics operates a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) consisting of what it described as a sophisticated real-time data analytics engine. This knowledgebase, which constantly takes in new data feeds, diagnoses and troubleshoots thousands of issues that might affect the function of a VMware ESX virtual server cluster environment such as incorrectly configured scripts, network configuration errors, and memory and IO utilization issues.
"The administrator has multiple questions, literally thousands of questions that are very well-defined explorations or responses to very well-defined problems," explained Founder and CEO John Blumenthal, who is among the VMware veterans who helped launch CloudPhysics in 2011.
Naturally I asked if this is a VMware-only play or if the company will support the growing presence of virtual machines powered by Microsoft's Hyper-V, as well as Xen and KVM hypervisors. Blumenthal said that is indeed the plan and by the end of the year it will support one of the above-mentioned hypervisors. While there's a good chance it will be Hyper-V, he said it's not a certainty. The company is still weighing whether it should consider KVM before Hyper-V.
"The commercial midmarket user who is our targeted customer as we go to market is looking more curiously at Hyper-V," Blumenthal said. "And as you move up in the size of organizations, we are encountering an increased presence and interest in KVM and OpenStack."
Blumenthal described the service as a big data repository that collects more than 80 billion pieces of data each day from a variety of sources, ranging from technical blogs to configuration data from customers and other sources. The data is all "anonymized" and used to create patterns that are subsequently analyzed.
Data fed from customer datacenters and other sources are kept anonymous by using sophisticated cryptography to debunk concerns about the privacy and security of data, Blumenthal said. While I didn't dispute the wisdom of those measures, especially with heightened concerns about surveillance, I asked Blumenthal why an organization would be worried about their memory utilization getting into the wrong hands.
"It's more of a policy issue than anything else," Blumenthal said. "When you talk to users, they make extensive uses of SaaS services, including Salesforce.com, where actually the most sensitive data in a corporation is now off-prem in the form of the customer contact list. Usually, in most of our discussions with our users who raise these concerns, they back down from it very quickly when they stop and think it through."
More than 500 enterprises globally tested the service, which is hosted on the Amazon Web Services EC2 service, though Blumenthal said it can easily be moved to another infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
"It's not tied to Amazon in any way," Blumenthal said. "Amazon's back-end provides the running infrastructure for compliance and security."
Customers install a virtual appliance on their VMware ESX clusters, which function as an agent. Administrators can discover and troubleshoot hundreds of operational problems using specific analytic components that CloudPhysics calls Cards, available from an app store-type environment also launched this week. In addition to accessing cards that offer pre-configured reports, a customer can create their own with a tool called Card Builder.
The analytics engine is designed to help administrators optimize storage, compute, network and other components using various modeling methods that can address performance and cost benchmarks. A planning component lets administrators simulate the effects of adding new hardware, software and other components.
CloudPhysics offers a free community edition. For a standard edition with more features and e-mail support, pricing starts at $49 for customers signing a one-year contract or $89 for those who opt to go month by month. An enterprise edition is available for $149/$189 per month and offers telephone support and the full menu of features.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/19/2013 at 3:32 PM0 comments
When President Obama last week called for the government to be more transparent about its data surveillance activities, critics saw it as a step in the right direction, though it's unclear how, when or if that will happen. As I noted at the beginning of the week, claims by Edward Snowden that Microsoft may be feeding the National Security Agency customer data -- which Microsoft insists is not true -- is having a chilling effect on customer confidence that data is safe in the cloud.
Yet well before Snowden disclosed surveillance activity such as PRISM, the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) had established mechanisms for service providers to disclose their data-protection practices. A key initiative was the Security, Trust & Assurance Registry (STAR), launched by the CSA two years ago, which is where cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft have provided audited security controls.
Now that Snowden has unleashed a flood of classified information that points to PRISM and the NSA's widespread use of surveillance to thwart terrorism, the CSA has sprung into action, calling attention to its efforts and leading the discussion on the effect of surveillance on cloud security.
The Snowden leaks come just as IT organizations have started to become more comfortable with the notion that data can be securely stored in the public cloud. As I pointed out Monday, less than a third of those surveyed by the CSA in wake of the Snowden leaks believe there is adequate transparency on how often the government accesses their information. That lack of transparency was a recurring topic in the CSA's first-ever town hall panel held Monday.
"Today, there's no mechanism in place for cloud customers, any user organizations that rely on these cloud providers, to know when their data was exposed," said moderator Elad Yoran, VP of finance with the New York City chapter of the CSA and the CEO of Vaultive, an up-and-coming provider of a cloud encryption service. This is an issue Yoran has studied quite intensely for obvious reasons.
Not only is there a lack of transparency by the NSA and other U.S. law enforcement agencies, but many key cloud providers have complained that their hands are tied in that they're restricted in what they're permitted to disclose.
"This is definitely a hot topic for me," said panelist Peter McGoff, general counsel of Box, the popular cloud storage provider. "One thing we look at as a cloud provider, and what we're asking for, is more transparency in the process. We want to be able to communicate to customers at a minimum the numbers of such requests that we get in and what our process is. Right now, it's not quite super clear that we have that flexibility."
McGoff did offer that Box hasn't received an overwhelming number of warrants for enterprise data.
Until last week, the Obama administration has resisted supporting changes in the disclosure policies, but the president is now proposing that the government step up its efforts to be transparent. The proposal was vague and opposition from both parties indicated nothing will change in the near term. However, panelists during the hour-long CSA town hall webcast said Obama's proposal was a positive move.
"It's a good first step," Box's McGoff said. "I felt much better with president Obama coming out and putting a bright light on this."
Robert Brammer, a senior advisor to the Internet2 Consortium and CEO of Brammer Technology, agreed. "The review the president has talked about with the intelligence process with one of the objectives to create more transparency in the process will improve the level of dialogue on this subject," he said.
While calling for more transparency, Brammer argued there's a lot of misinformation, if not hysteria, about government surveillance activities. "Some of the emotional and superficial and narrowly based commentary that's come out in the media -- either in the newspapers or Sunday morning talk shows -- frankly makes this problem worse," he said. "We need a substantive dialogue on the issues and not a bunch of emotional sound bites."
One substantive point, Brammer noted, was a whitepaper (PDF) released last week by the Obama administration that lays out how telecommunications providers access and analyze metadata gathered from calling information.
"This information is limited to telephony metadata, which includes information about what telephone numbers were used to make and receive the calls, when the calls took place, and how long the calls lasted," according to the whitepaper's executive summary. "Importantly, this information does not include any information about the content of those calls -- the government cannot, through this program, listen to or record any telephone conversations."
While Snowden revealed surveillance efforts that were previously not public, much of the concern that has surfaced is old news, added Francoise Gilbert, founder and managing director of IT Law Group, a law firm focused on domestic and international information privacy and security. The U.S. government has had surveillance initiatives in place dating back to the late 1960s, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was initiated in 1978, Gilbert pointed out during the CSA panel discussion.
"The topic of government access to data is not something new," she said. "There have been many iterations and many amendments to these laws to keep up with technology, technology progress, and there has been a movement for the past two years to amend one of these laws -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act -- to also bring it to the 21st century."
Gilbert also pointed to due-process requirements such as the Wiretap Act. While critics of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), created under FISA, believe the judges rubber-stamp most law enforcement warrants, Gilbert argued U.S. citizens have more protections than those in many foreign countries such as the United Kingdom.
"There is no FISA court -- they just come in and have access to your information," she said of many foreign counties. "In general, the laws I would say are definitely more favorable to the governments in foreign countries, especially in the U.K.," than in the United States.
Perhaps, but there's a growing chorus of critics in the United States who don't view the current laws along with the Patriot Act as very favorable to their privacy. While the government argues its surveillance efforts have thwarted potentially deadly attacks, even the panelists on this week's CSA webcast concurred that the feds are going to have to look at becoming more transparent.
I'd say that's especially true in wake of the latest leaks by Snowden, reported yesterday by The Washington Post. The report reveals an audit last year that found that the NSA overstepped its legal authority by erroneously tapping both foreign and American targets here in the U.S., typically the result of typographical, operational or computer errors. The audit cited 2,776 such errors, Snowden told the Post. According to the report, Snowden shared the documents from the audit with the newspaper. An anonymous NSA source sanctioned by the White House told the Post "We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line."
What effect have the disclosures of programs like PRISM had on your plans to use public cloud services? If you haven't already, please take a few minutes to participate in our brief survey, which can be accessed here.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/16/2013 at 4:25 PM0 comments
While most watchers presumed Microsoft would deliver its next wave of Windows client and data center products sometime this fall, the company today has made it official: all will be released Oct. 18.
Microsoft didn't say if it was planning a major live launch event but the company will make all of the recently announced new software available on that date. PC makers will launch new PCs and tablets with Microsoft's new Windows 8.1 client, Microsoft senior marketing communications manager Brandon LeBlanc said in a blog post this morning.
Though there was no mention of a new Surface device on that date, commenters on the blog were already speculating on one. It's possible Microsoft will hold off on that to not upstage its already aggravated OEM partners. "We haven't announced RTM today," LeBlanc noted. "This announcement is just for general availability. We also haven't made any new announcements for TechNet subscribers."
At launch, Windows 8 customers can upgrade to the improved Windows 8.1 version via the Windows Store (see MSDN Magazine Editor-in-Chief Mike Desmond's take on some of the key new features in Windows 8.1 here).
In the case of Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, existing customers can download it that day, while new customers can buy the new release on Nov. 1. The fact that Microsoft is launching its client and server upgrades underscores the so-called seamlessness the company has emphasized since the June TechEd conferences in New Orleans and Madrid.
Brad Anderson, the Microsoft corporate VP who outlined the new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 in the opening keynotes at TechEd in June announced the release date for the new server operating system in a blog post today. The two, along with an upgraded Windows Intune also slated for release that day, are part of Microsoft's release strategy.
Apparently Anderson sees Windows Server 2012 R2 as a work of art, having noted the release date coincides with the 501st anniversary of Michelangelo exhibiting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time. "If you love great works of art, then it's up to you to decide," he said.
Indeed, some IT pros might agree that building a hybrid cloud datacenter architecture takes both artistic and technical skills. Also it's not surprising that Microsoft is looking to tie the launches of the client and server OSes together, especially given Microsoft's emphasis on how IT can provide more seamless management of user-owned Windows PCs and tablets.
Perhaps most noteworthy in the Windows Server 2012 R2 upgrade is improvements to Hyper-V and easier integration with public cloud services including Windows Azure. To enhance Windows Server, Microsoft is launching the Windows Azure Pack, though it wasn't immediately clear if that will be included in the Oct. 18 launch.
If you've looked at any of the upgraded wares, feel free to comment below or pass along your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/14/2013 at 3:35 PM0 comments
The leaks by Edward Snowden revealing the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA's) classified but wide-ranging PRISM data-gathering effort -- which is aimed at intercepting and thwarting terrorist threats -- have had a chilling effect on customer confidence that data is safe in the cloud.
For better or worse, these revelations have also caused consumers and enterprise customers to cast a more skeptical eye on Microsoft and other key tech stalwarts including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Yahoo. I say "more skeptical" because there was no shortage of cynicism about what role these providers were already playing in sharing their data.
Snowden cast Microsoft as a key villain when one of his leaks charged Redmond was cooperating with the NSA in letting it tap into e-mails from Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), data stored in SkyDrive, and Skype chat sessions and phone conversations.
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith swiftly denied allegations that the U.S. government had back-door access to data and encryption keys. "Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer's data," Smith stated. "Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand." The company only responds to requests for specific accounts and identities, and governments must serve court orders or subpoenas for account information, he added.
The problem is the U.S. government has tied the hands of providers as to how much they can reveal about their level of cooperation. Smith argued Microsoft wants to disclose how it handles national security requests for customer information, but as of mid-August, the U.S. Attorney General has denied the company's request to allow it to be more transparent. "We hope the Attorney General can step in to change this situation," Smith said
Meanwhile, customers and enterprises are rethinking how they use the cloud for their data. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in early August released a report predicting that absent of the U.S. government taking action, recent security concerns could cost the cloud computing industry anywhere from $22 billion to $35 billion.
A survey by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) found 56 percent of respondents outside the United States are less likely to use a domestic cloud provider, while 10 percent have actually cancelled a cloud deployment here. Less than one-third of all participants -- including those domestically -- believe there's adequate transparency on how often the government accesses their information.
It's possible the U.S. government will never let Microsoft and other cloud providers fully disclose what covert activities go on in the name of national security. That's a consideration that has to play into every enterprise IT decision maker's choice to use any cloud service, whether it be Amazon Web Services, Windows Azure, Office 365 or even letting employees use consumer services such as Box, Dropbox and SkyDrive.
President Obama's proposal Friday to improve transparency was a step forward -- but it will certainly face political obstacles.
We want to know how you're addressing these issues. We've fielded a survey to get your views and we'll be reporting on what you can do to protect your organization's data in the cloud. You can also e-mail me your thoughts at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/12/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Hardly a week goes by when Google or Microsoft doesn't announce a key win for their respective cloud-based productivity services. While analysts say it's premature to declare a winner, Google Apps continues to gain ground on Microsoft's Office 365.
While none of the major IT researchers have published data, Gartner back in April indicated Google Apps is gaining ground on Office 365. Under what it described as a narrowed analytical framework, Gartner analysts on a webcast suggested Google Apps had anywhere from a 33 to 50 percent share of the cloud productivity app market.
Gartner hasn't published any formal research nor has Forrester Research. "The number of customer acquisition announcements both vendors make and the inquiries that we do on this topic don't really give a clear picture as to which is up, either," analyst T.J. Keitt said in an e-mail. Pointing to a video Forrester posted earlier this year on how to choose between the two, Keitt said "We're too early to declare a winner and loser in this competition."
In a nod to Google, auditing software provider BeyondTrust this week unveiled a version of its PowerBroker Auditor for Google Apps. The company said the free tool available for download is designed to simplify the manual task of making configuration and administrative changes for security and compliance reporting.
When I asked if there's a version for Microsoft's Office 365, the company said that will follow in the future. "Customer feedback indicated that Google Apps was being widely deployed, more so at this point than other online collaboration solutions, so we went with that feedback and released support for Google Apps first," said Brad Hibbert, BeyondTrust's vice president for product strategy and operation, in an e-mail. The company says it has 5,000 customers.
Making this more noteworthy is the fact that BeyondTrust lists itself as a Microsoft Gold Partner. BeyondTrust doesn't have a partnership with Google, according to the list of partners on its Web site. However that's in the works, according to Hibbert. "We've begun the partnering process with Google as a result of this product development," he noted.
Is your organization forsaking Office or Office 365 in favor of Google Apps? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/09/2013 at 3:06 PM0 comments
Microsoft's announcement last week that it must find a new name for its SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro cloud storage services is the latest blow to Microsoft's efforts to maintain consistent branding for its flagship products.
The company must stop using the SkyDrive brand after coming up short in a legal dispute with British Sky Broadcasting Group, which claimed it had dibs on the name. It's a setback for Microsoft, which has heavily marketed SkyDrive over the past several years and has described it as the key cloud storage component for Windows 8x and Office 365. Likewise Microsoft last year attached the SkyDrive Pro brand to the cloud-based online storage component for SharePoint 2013 and the SharePoint Online component of Office 365.
So what should Microsoft call it? Should the company emphasize the Azure brand and call it Azure Drive? That's a bit of a tongue-twister. What about WinDrive? That's presuming Microsoft could work out something with Tormax, which has a glass sliding door called Win Drive. Share your suggestions below.
Speaking of naming changes, one that Microsoft quietly changed this week was Power Pivot, which originally was one word. The company acknowledged the change explaining it was intended to bring consistency to the other BI offerings. Microsoft outlined plans this week to release a preview of its new Power BI tool for Office 365.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/09/2013 at 2:15 PM0 comments
Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company in Japan is rolling out one of the largest known deployments of Windows 8-based tablets. The company is giving Fujitsu tablets to 30,000 of its sales reps, both Fujitsu and Microsoft announced today.
The companies say it's the largest rollout of Windows 8 tablets in Japan and it probably ranks among the largest known deployments anywhere. Meiji Yasuda Life will start using the tablets next month at 1,200 locations, according to Fujitsu. Both Fujitsu and Microsoft worked together to develop what they describe as a sales terminal.
Equipped with a 12.1-inch display and just 15mm (.59-inch thick), it weighs approximately 880 grams (1.15 pounds) and is powered to last an entire day. In addition to sporting the typical Windows 8 touch interface, it's designed to allow for handwritten input, allowing customers to sign documents.
The tablet has a built-in mobile WAN module to work on the wireless NTT DOCOMO LTE-based network. The systems are also designed to encrypt data on the tablets' solid state drives.
Erwin Visser, Microsoft's general manager, Windows Commercial said in a blog post today that the tablets are replacing Windows XP-based PCs, where sales reps put together proposals and then printed them out. "Using the Windows 8 tablets, their sales efforts will be more efficient and the customer experience will be greatly improved," Visser said. "The company also expects to process contracts more quickly, while ensuring customer security is protected and eliminating the need for printed documentation altogether."
This is a big win for Windows 8 and Microsoft and probably welcome news after the release of last quarter's tablet market share report from IDC released Wednesday. Now Microsoft needs many more big deployments to get enterprises interested in Windows 8.
Many IT pros tell me they plan to pass on major Windows 8 rollouts for the mere reason that they typically skip releases after performing major upgrades. Most organizations have upgraded their Windows XP (and earlier) PCs with Windows 7 and don't see a need to transition again at this time. But there are still a huge number of Windows XP-based systems that will no longer be supported with security patches after April 8 of next year and Microsoft is encouraging organizations to consider Windows 8 rather than Windows 7.
As more organizations find use for tablets, perhaps the resistance to Windows 8 could subside. It remains to be seen how quickly enterprises will take a keener interest in tablets and even when they do, whether they'll choose those based on Windows 8, iPads or devices loaded with Google's Android or Chrome OS.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/07/2013 at 12:29 PM0 comments
Ahead of Friday's scheduled vote -- or should I say re-scheduled scheduled vote -- Dell's Special Committee accepted last week's revised bid from founder Michael Dell and his investors led by Silver Lake Partners.
Consequently the vote was once again rescheduled until Sept. 12. Michael Dell and Silver Lake agreed in return to not require that shares not cast count as "no" votes, a sticking point over last week's revised bid. The committee also agreed to reduce the breakup fee to $180 million from the original $450 million.
"The Committee is pleased to have negotiated this transaction, which provides as much as $470 million of increased value," said Alex Mandl, the committee's chairman, in a statement posted this morning. "We believe modifying the voting standard is in the best interests of Dell shareholders, both because it has enabled us to secure substantial additional value and because it provides a level playing field for the decision facing shareholders. The original voting standard was set at a time when the decision before the shareholders was between a going-private transaction and a continuation of the status quo. Since then, the nature of the choice facing shareholders has changed because of the emergence of an alternative proposal by certain stockholders."
That alternate proposal was the $12-a-share bid led by investor team Carl Icahn and Southeastern Asset Management (which actually values at $15 to $18 a share because shareholders would retain a portion of their shares after receiving a payout). Icahn and his team fear Dell's offer undervalues the company. Icahn last week filed a lawsuit on Delaware Chancery Court in Wilmington, Del. to block the vote change. Icahn and his investors are aiming to replace the entire Dell board and Michael Dell as CEO.
It appears (so far) that the revised offer from Dell-Silver Lake has a better chance of succeeding than it did before they upped their offer. But anything can happen over the next month and Icahn isn't throwing in the towel just yet.
By going private, Dell and Silver Lake argue they can be more competitive by not having to disclose information, while allowing the company to make long-term bets that may not pass muster with the scrutiny of public shareholders.
So the battle continues.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/05/2013 at 1:28 PM0 comments
Windows is now installed on 4 percent of all tablets (1.8 million licenses sold) in the second quarter. However, Windows RT only shipped on 200,000 systems, mostly Microsoft's Surface RT, IDC reported today.
The findings in IDC's second-quarter Tablet Tracker report presented the latest stinging data point that systems with Windows RT are not catching on with consumers, business users or IT pros despite rapid growth during the same period for iPads and Android-based tablets. Because the second quarter ended June 30, the numbers don't take into account the fact that Microsoft last month slashed the price of its Surface RT devices and took a $900 million charge on the extra inventory.
But it doesn't look likely it will have a dramatic effect on the next quarter. "We don't see [Windows RT] making traction at all," said IDC program manager Ryan Reith, in an e-mail. "The bigger problem is hardware partners are beginning to shy away from the platform as they don't see consumer demand or its fit in the industry."
As for tablets running Windows 8, Reith is more optimistic. "As we have said all along, uptake for Windows 8 will be slow but eventually it will stick," he said, acknowledging the latest quarterly report is unlikely to silence critics. "Windows 8 is slowly making progress but it's a huge focus point for the industry and media with a very large target on its back, so I'm not quite sure it has come even close to meetings critics' needs."
Indeed the 1.8 million tablets running Windows 8 pale in comparison to the 14.6 million iPads sold and the 28.2 tablets loaded with Android, which respectively account for 32.5 and 62.6 percent market share.
Meanwhile Microsoft over the weekend quietly cut the price of its Surface Pro tablets by $100 bringing it down to $799 for a system configured with 64 GB of storage and $899 for a 128 GB version. Keep in mind that doesn't include the price of keyboards, which can add $129 (for the Type version).
While the latest price cut on the Surface Pros may help move the needle a tad, I'm still betting a forthcoming version with Intel's Haswell processors will offer more appeal to users, presuming they offer the all-day battery life that CPU promises. Current Surface Pros only run about 4-5 hours, limiting their appeal.
Top Tablet Operating Systems, Shipments, and Market Share, Second Quarter 2013 (Shipments in Millions)
||2Q13 Unit Shipments
||2Q13 Market Share
||2Q12 Unit Shipments
||2Q12 Market Share
|4. Windows RT
|5. BlackBerry OS
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/05/2013 at 1:21 PM0 comments
Salaries for SharePoint developers and administrators have dropped 7 percent this year -- but they're still drawing six figures in pay.
As we pull together the forthcoming 2013 Redmond Salary Survey, which we'll publish in the coming weeks, the median compensation for SharePoint developers and administrators was $100,817, compared with $107,063 last year.
Likewise, the average salary of Exchange administrators was slightly less -- $87,569 versus $88,889 last year, a 1.5 percent decline. It begs the question, is the growth of Office 365 cutting into the earnings of those with SharePoint and Exchange expertise? To be sure, those who said they have Office 365 expertise also draw six-figure salaries.
The majority responding to this year's survey say the cloud is having either no impact or a positive effect on their salaries and careers. At the same time, as noted last week, a growing number of respondents are looking for new jobs.
Are you one of them? Drop me a line at email@example.com and let me know how your career as a Windows IT pro is going.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/05/2013 at 1:26 PM0 comments
As the clock continues to tick for Microsoft's Windows XP, Microsoft and others are doing everything they can to motivate reluctant users to migrate off the aging operating system. Suffice to say, it remains an arduous process. In a token effort to remind people of the OS's limited life, Microsoft last week said it's holding a virtual retirement party for Windows XP, which it will officially stop supporting April 8 of next year.
Could that day be the closest thing we've had to the Year 2000 (Y2K) crisis scare -- when any computer not properly updated would be rendered inoperable? And with some of the legacy systems out there that led everyone to wonder if there would be dial tone or running water. Certainly those at Microsoft looking to get people off Windows XP might want people to give it that same sense of urgency.
For those who haven't been paying attention, Microsoft will no longer issue system or security patches for Windows XP after that date. That means continuing to run systems with Windows XP can make them a sponge for malware, viruses and other problems. The so-called retirement party comes in the form of an information graphic Microsoft published with snippets outlining why users should get off Windows XP. But it was really just Microsoft's latest gimmick to draw attention to the issue.
Nevertheless it's not a trivial problem. Larger organizations know what they have to do and if they don't want to do it themselves they'll hire outside partners to help with migration of apps and configuration of the new systems.
Smaller businesses and branch offices of larger enterprises often are the guiltiest of those still saddled with PCs still running Windows XP. Some may beg to differ with the term "guiltiest." I have heard from quite a few stalwarts who will go to the grave with their Windows XP systems and are quite angry at Microsoft for pulling the plug on it. But from everything I'm hearing April 8 is the real deal. No one expects Microsoft to give Windows XP another stay of execution.
There are many who appreciate that sense of urgency and intend to upgrade as the date comes closer, though it's expected many upgrades will happen after April 8 as well. Many shops will ultimately break down and make the move. Those who choose to do it themselves can use some of the tips adeptly outlined by Redmond magazine's online news editor, Kurt Mackie, back in April. But many liken the task to mowing their own lawn or painting their house. Sure they could do it but they'd rather pay someone else a few bucks and not have that burden to deal with it.
For decision makers who feel that way about moving their PCs to a new operating system, there are plenty of third-party options, though some might be costly. In a move to offer an inexpensive approach for smaller organizations looking to make the upgrade, Harry Brelsford, founder of SMB Nation on Thursday August 1 is launching a new service called XPmigrations.com.
Brelsford has run SMB Nation for over a decade in Bainbridge Island, Wash. and is a fixture in Redmond. While Microsoft won't be promoting XPmigrations.com, officials there are well-aware of the effort, Harry told me. And XPmigrations.com will use Microsoft Community Connections to help introduce consultants to appropriate business and civic groups.
Here's how XPmigrations.com works: Any qualified Windows consultant can register at the XPmigrations.com site to apply to become a migration expert. SMB Nation itself has a network of 40,000 SMB IT Pros and Harry explained to me that the goal is to have migration experts available nationwide. The experts will help customers choose how to handle a migration including choosing the right PC for their needs and then moving data over and getting each desktop or mobile system configured and connected to the network. The cost to upgrade each PC is $200.
Breldsford calls it a co-op and XPmigrations.com will operate like a temporary employment agency, which he ran in another lifetime. In effect, XPmigrations.com will sort of function like an online labor pool or marketplace of Windows XP migration experts, he explained. XPmigratiions.com performs background checks on prospective consultants, equips them with a migration assessment tool kit and trains them to become a Certified Migration Expert (CME). "We liken the need to migrate off Windows XP as the equivalent of a Year 2000 issue," Brelsford told me.
While the number and scale of systems that may be affected if organizations didn't update the proper systems may not measure up to a Y2K crisis, the number of systems running Windows XP is significant. An astounding 41 percent of Redmond magazine readers still have Windows XP-based systems within their organizations, according to the Redmond 2013 Readership Survey. Another interesting figure shows only 18 percent have absolutely no Windows XP-based systems (meaning 82 percent have such PCs) compared with 3 percent who say they don't have any Windows 7-based systems.
On the other hand, only 23 percent report that more than half of their systems are Windows XP-based. Yet less than half -- 45 percent -- say they plan to migrate off of those systems by the end of the year, with another 24 percent planning to do so but haven't established a timeframe.
But we all know what's going to happen. Most are going to wait until the last minute and beyond. And then there are the diehards.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/01/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
As I scour the data from this year's 2013 Redmond Salary Survey, it appears salaries on average are on the rise. The average increase in compensation is almost as high as last year's annual salary survey but a notable difference is a growing number of you are looking for a new job.
While you'll have to wait a month for the final results, I'm looking for some of you to give some color to align with some of the trends I'm spotting. If the only thing holding you back is you don't want to tip off your employer or colleagues that you're not happy with your salary or job (or maybe you don't want to admit you're doing better than most), no worries, I won't identify you.
But if you want to share your insights on what's driving compensation for Windows IT pros and how they're navigating their careers these days, your feedback would be welcome. One caveat: I do need to know who you are to ensure I am sharing accurate information but again, I will not identify you unless you want me to. That said, please answer the following questions:
- Is your experience with any Microsoft-based technology valued by your current employer?
- How has the raise and bonus you received this year compare with what you've received in previous years?
- What's your view of why your employer is either being more generous or less with salaries this year?
- Do you feel the only way you can boost your salary is to move on to a new job?
- If salary isn't the reason you're looking for a new job, what is?
- How is the cloud impacting your career?
Other relevant thoughts on the state of compensation and the job market for Windows IT pros are also welcome. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/31/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Never one to miss an opportunity to taunt his rivals, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff gave his unbridled assessment of Microsoft's struggling Surface: The alternatives are superior.
"The reason why they're not accelerating growth is for one simple reason," Benioff told The New York Times, in an article over the weekend breaking down Microsoft's quest to keep Windows relevant in the tablet era. "There's a better technology."
I shrugged it off as typical Benioff bravado as he often takes swipes at Microsoft, which besides Oracle and SAP is perhaps Salesforce.com's largest competitor. Not only does Microsoft pose a formidable threat to Salesforce.com in the market Benioff's company dominates -- CRM -- but Microsoft and Salesforce are looking to draw customers and developers to their competing cloud platforms -- Force.com and Windows Azure respectively.
Salesforce.com officials coincidently put substance behind Benioff's remark to The Times today with the release of its latest tooling for developers. An upgrade to its Salesforce Platform Mobile Services, launched back in April, provides extended support for those building native iOS and Android apps. The new release even targets Microsoft C# and .NET developers with the included Xamarin Mobile Pack, which includes the Mono framework, as one of the new packs added to Salesforce Mobile Services.
As Adam Seligman, Salesforce.com's vice president of developer relations outlined the new additions to its new mobile offering and specifically explained the addition of the Xamarin pack, I asked if he sees adding native support for the new Windows runtime and Microsoft's tile-based app model in Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone. "We have seen no demand for Windows RT," Seligman explained. "What we are doing for these cross platform devices is supporting regular native Web with HTML 5."
While he wouldn't say whether he shares Benioff's opinion that the Surface is inferior, I asked Seligman if ultimately supporting the new Windows runtime is on Salesforce.com's agenda. "Our mobile SDK today supports Android and iOS and if other platforms get some share we'll definitely look at supporting them too."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/30/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
It really gets under my skin when Microsoft's Surface devices are described as an abject failure. Indeed it's fair to say that Microsoft has failed to make a meaningful dent in the tablet market with the Surface including distribution blunders and poor marketing that led to Microsoft's $900 million write-down. But to suggest they're DOA is premature.
The Surface could wind up sharing the same fate as the Zune (it's already outlived the ill-conceived Kin) but the game is far from over despite Microsoft's gaffes with its tablet entries. Forget the failure of the Zune and remember other technology entries where Microsoft was late to the party such as Windows NT, Active Directory, Hyper-V and even Internet Explorer.
Though the clock is ticking, there's still time for Microsoft to generate demand for the Surface and Windows 8/RT. In Nick Bilton's Bits blog yesterday in The New York Times he refers to the Surface as a failure, though he stopped short of comparing them to the Zune.
"The Surface failed because Microsoft confused consumers who didn't want to think about RT or Pro or what version of Windows their new device would run," he wrote.
Bilton is right in that Microsoft needed to offer customers better clarity about the differences between Surface RT and Surface Pro. A better name for RT (maybe Express or Lite) to better clarify the differences between the two would have helped avoid that confusion.
Microsoft's long-term vision for Windows is a day when people have all but forgotten about the traditional desktop interface that now powers over a billion PCs and have moved on to its new modern tile interface. But presuming Microsoft can convince its base of developers and customers to make that transition, it will be many years before that happens.
In the meantime, Microsoft needs to play to those who only want to shell out a few hundred dollars for a device and those who want a full-function system that can appeal to workers who need more than a tablet intended for information consumption.
Until the economics make it possible to offer Windows RT machines -- including Surface RTs -- for less than $300, they will have a hard time moving the needle. It's getting closer with the latest price drop. Having a low-cost alternative to the iPad and devices based on Google's Android (as well as its Chromebooks) is a must if Microsoft wants to be in the game.
At the same time Microsoft has to figure out how to walk the fine line for those who want the desktop. It must make that experience appealing while tempting (but not forcing) them to dabble into the new tile interface. And of course getting key apps in the Windows Store is going to be essential -- emphasis on key apps. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer last week told employees in a town hall meeting that, "We built a few more devices than we could sell," as reported by The Verge. A "few" is a "halfhearted" overstatement, opined Computerworld's Preston Galla who sniped: "To me, a six million tablet oversupply is quite a bit more than 'a few,'" he wrote.
A report by Neowin.net noted Ballmer also said new Surface devices will offer "typical" improvements, though The Verge last month reported that the new tablets will come with Qualcomm Snapdragon processor (the current version has an NVIDIA Tegra 3 chipeset) that will include an option for LTE broadband connectivity. Ballmer is also keenly aware that getting quality apps in the Windows Store is critical, according to the Neowin report.
I for one am looking forward to seeing what the next crop of Surface devices offer (hopefully a mini is in the works too) as well as the anticipated onslaught of new devices from Microsoft's partners in the coming months -- especially the new Ultrabooks based on Intel's new Haswell processor -- which I hope Microsoft offers in the next Surface Pro.
With what's in the pipeline, it's too early to bury the Surface. At the same time, it would be premature to do a victory lap.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/29/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
At a party I attended last weekend, I met someone who provides outsourced support for Windows-based systems and clients. Naturally we got into a conversation about Microsoft and its challenges in the post-PC world.
This gathering was on Saturday, the day after investors bid down Microsoft shares 11.4 percent following the company's dismal fiscal fourth quarter earnings report that was lower than analysts expected. As we were talking, he predicted with a sense of inevitability that Bill Gates will return to Microsoft. I responded that's never going to happen and we had a friendly but spirited debate on the matter.
Gates has made very clear on numerous occasions he's not returning to Microsoft -- his commitment is toward tackling poverty, disease and providing education to those in the poorest parts of the world. This is indeed a much more important endeavor. As we debated the matter at Saturday's party, this person said to me "if it means saving the company he founded, he'll want to come back," arguing it would give him the chance to do for Microsoft what Jobs did for Apple.
I probably would have shrugged off the conversation had an article not appeared in the Australian International Business Times Monday saying there's speculation that Gates may return to Microsoft. The article was devoid of any other substance and didn't even point to unnamed sources.
Again, I was prepared to shrug that off, yet a number of reporters pointed to it including Mary Jo Foley in her ZDNet All About Microsoft blog, where she stuck to her guns in pointing out there's no way Gates is coming back (she has done so in the past in her Redmond magazine column as well).
I'm in full agreement. Nor do I think he should and here are seven reasons why:
- Just because Steve Jobs brought Apple back from the brink and led it to become the world's largest company (and Howard Schultz was able to return to Starbucks and revive its fortunes) doesn't mean Gates is in a position to do the same for Microsoft -- nor are Microsoft's troubles as dire as Apple's were back in the late 1990s. Consider Founder Michael Dell has yet to completely turn around company that bears his name which he came back to fix (and it remains to be seen if he ever will) and Jerry Yang couldn't do so for Yahoo.
- The origins of Microsoft's problems pre-date Gates departure. While he wasn't CEO when Microsoft released Windows Vista, he was an active chairman and chief software architect. Gates arguably could have made decisions back then that might have put Microsoft in a better competitive position today -- particularly in the tablet and smartphone game. Let's not forget Gates was still at Microsoft in a full-time capacity when the company made its ill-advised $44 billion hostile takeover attempt of Yahoo, a deal which could have proven devastating to Microsoft, yet fortunately the aforementioned Yang was foolish enough to fight off.
- As Microsoft's largest shareholder, Gates can steer the company in any direction he wants without running it from day to day. To what extent he's doing so with CEO Steve Ballmer as a conduit is anyone's guess.
- Gates founded Microsoft with the vision of putting a computer on everyone's desk and home. To a large extent he's seen his vision through, though he was never able to make good on his early promise of making tablets ubiquitous.
- When Jobs came back to Apple, he had a vision for the next wave of computing, communications and entertainment and had unfinished business. I've heard little from Gates these days to suggest he shares those same attributes.
- Despite all of the challenges facing Microsoft, it's hardly about to fall off a cliff. The company has over $70 billion in cash and many of its businesses are still thriving, while others are in the midst of multiyear transitions.
- While there are still many developing countries and among the poorest in our society who still can't afford computers or smartphones, Gates best chance for changing that is through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There's no reason he should, or will, give up his work with the foundation.
Do you believe Gates should put poverty aside and return to Microsoft? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/26/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft has hinted for some time that it expects demand for Windows 8 and Windows RT to accelerate with the release of smaller tablets aimed at competing with the iPad Mini, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Amazon Kindle Fire and others.
The topic came up on Microsoft's earnings call last week, and CFO Amy Hood gave a plug for the new smaller Windows tablets in the pipeline that has driven robust sales of competing tablets. I for one am curious if that means Microsoft is readying a Surface device that will take on the smaller tablets and, if so, whether it will include just Windows RT or a full-blown version of Windows 8. A competitively priced "Surface Mini" could be pretty remarkable if it has the right feature set.
So far the most prominent example of what a miniature Windows tablet might look like is the recently released Acer Iconia W3, an 8.1-inch tablet that runs the full-blown Windows 8. It's bundled with a free copy of Office Home and Student 2013 (sans the Outlook client), weighs just 1.1 pounds and is slightly less than a half-inch thin. Battery life is eight hours and an optional keyboard is available. It can fit nicely into a purse or jacket pocket.
I took a brief look at the Iconia W3 over the weekend at the Microsoft Store where sales reps were plugging the device. While I spent some time using it in the store, more extensive reviews suggest while it's a good concept, it misses the mark. A Wall Street Journal review published today by columnist Walt Mossberg captured what I've observed.
Although Mossberg pointed to some advantages the Iconia W3 offers over the iPad Mini, notably Office, an SD card slot, USB and HDMI ports and better resolution (1280 x 800 versus 1024 x 768), he concluded those collective extras aren't enough to make Acer's device a superior alternative.
"Overall, I found it to be no match for the iPad Mini," he said. "Compared with the smallest iPad, the Acer features cheaper, bulkier construction; a worse-looking, slower-responding screen; significantly less battery life; and drastically worse cameras. And it's Wi-Fi only, with no cellular data option."
If you're among those who feel Mossberg's reviews are too consumer focused, keep in mind if this form factor catches on, your organization will ultimately be supporting them in this new era of bring your own device (BYOD). The Iconia W3 also failed to impress PC Magazine reviewer Brian Westover either, who found it performed poorly.
Nor did the Iconia excite someone I know who spent considerable time with it and found it frustrating, especially the display, which he described as "pretty much unusable" in that reading Web pages was "difficult to the point of being painful... I thought mine was defective, only to learn that the W3 was designed to look this way."
It wasn't all bad, he said, noting it is easy to handle with one hand, offers a responsive touch-UI and he likes the extra IO. But all of that is negated by the poor display, he concluded.
The fact that Acer has already slashed the price from $380 to $300 after less than two months on the market may suggest it has received a less-than-stellar reception, Mossberg suggested.
If Acer and other OEMs -- and Microsoft itself -- are able to release $300 tablets that fix these shortcomings, would you pick one over an iPad Mini, an Android tablet or a Kindle Fire? Share your thoughts below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/24/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
In the latest bid to salvage his offer to take the company he founded private, Michael Dell and his team of equity investors led by Silver Lake Partners sweetened their $24.4 billion offer by 10 cents a share, amounting to about $150 million. But tucked in with the drop-in-the-bucket increase to $13.75 per share is a rule change in the vote which this time wouldn't count votes that aren't tendered by proxy or in person.
As a result of the new offer and voting rule change, Dell postponed the shareholder vote for the second time -- the first adjournment occurred last Friday. Now the vote is scheduled for the morning of Aug. 2. Dell postponed last week's vote after it appeared evident he didn't have enough major shareholders on board to approve the deal.
Throughout the near six months since he first made the offer to take Dell private, Michael Dell's team has adamantly held firm with its price saying it would not budge despite a counteroffer from an investor team led by activist investor Carl Icahn, who vigorously opposes the Dell offer and has successfully rallied other shareholders to vote against it. The paltry 10-cent-per-share increase is the group's "best and final proposal," as asserted in a statement this morning. Clearly the sweetened bid looks like a cheap (relatively speaking) way to change the rules in their favor.
However CNBC is reporting the Dell special committee evaluating the offer has indicated it will not change the voting rules for a mere dime. If you've been waiting at the edge of your seat to see how this will play out, it seems you're going to have to wait a bit longer.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/24/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
When Microsoft reported its worst quarter in recent memory last week, the company took its medicine after investors drove down its share price 11.4 percent Friday. On the surface (no pun intended), the culprit was Microsoft's unexpected $900 million charge related to the price reduction of its Surface RT devices.
Indeed the write-down gave analysts and pundits the opportunity to point to the deep-rooted problems of the Surface RT, including weak retail distribution (which it has since broadened), uninspiring marketing and Microsoft's decision to price the devices on par with the iPad rather than lower than its competition.
But there's another reason Microsoft took its medicine last week -- the company missed expectations across all its business units, including Server and Tools and the Microsoft Business Division (aka Office). "It was discouraging to read down the table and see that every division was below expectations," longtime Microsoft watcher Rick Sherlund, Nomura Securities analyst wrote in a research note.
On the other hand, many viewed the Microsoft Surface RT write-down as a tacit admission that it didn't have an iPad killer on its hands. Of course that reality set in long ago. Does that mean Surface RT and its sibling the Surface Pro are dismal failures? I believe it's way too early to write it off, so to speak. Microsoft appears to have cut its losses on its earlier mistakes, while clearing the decks for the next crop of Surface devices.
Presuming the next Surface RT and Surface Pros tablets are vast improvements, and the number of mainstream apps steadily increases, Microsoft is still in the game. It's not clear whether a Surface "Mini' is in the works but I think many would welcome such a device. Indeed some of the new devices offered by OEM partners give a sense of what's in the pipeline.
I stopped by the Microsoft Store over the weekend and spent some time with the Acer Iconia, an 8-inch Windows 8-based tablet powered with an Intel Atom processor as well as another new arrival, the 10.1-inch ASUS VivoTab Smart Tablet, priced at $399. Sporting a 64-GB SSD, 2 GB of RAM and a copy of Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student, the ASUS device weighs 1.28 pounds and has run time of 9.5 hours on a charge. It's certainly more affordable than the Surface Pro and appears to have a better battery life.
Just as Microsoft is working to release faster updates to Windows, the company and its partners need to do the same with its devices. The sooner the better.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/22/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
As a chorus of major investors including Blackrock and mutual fund giant Vanguard said they were going to vote against Dell's bid to buy out its shares to take the company private, at the 11th hour the vote, scheduled for yesterday morning, was postponed until next Wednesday.
The move buys company officials a few extra days to reverse the growing tide against the deal but it appears as if Dell is only delaying the inevitable.
Of course anything can happen and the easiest way to save the deal would be for Dell and his investor team, led by Silver Lake Partners, to sweeten the bid. They have steadfastly said they won't raise their $13.65 per share bid valued at $24.4 billion. I suspect if it becomes clear the only way he can get enough votes to salvage it, Dell and his team will raise their bid. But they won't do so until the bewitching hour.
Nevertheless activist investor Carl Icahn is pushing relentlessly for Dell to do so and Icahn has put his money where his mouth is with his counteroffer to acquire Dell's shares for $14 plus warrants that would give investors a continued stake in the company. Icahn continues to maintain his bid is superior and the Dell offer undervalues the company. Dell has argued the offer by Icahn and his team led by Southeastern Asset Management is risky.
In a statement yesterday, Icahn said he wasn't surprised by Dell's 11th-hour delay adding that it validates his contention that investors are underwhelmed by the offer. "We believe that this delay reflects the unhappiness of Dell stockholders with the Michael Dell/Silver Lake offer, which we believe substantially undervalues the company," he said. "This is not the time for delay but the time to move Dell forward."
Though it's far from certain that Icahn's would prevail if Dell's is voted down, Icahn has indicated he would replace the entire board and would bring in a new CEO to replace Michael Dell. But for now the focus by both sides is to either seal this deal or vote it down.
Dell will spend the next several days trying to twist quite a few arms and change the minds of those who have indicated they'll vote against the deal. As Yogi Berra famously said: "It ain't over till it's over." Of course yay or nay, this saga is far from over.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/19/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
The meltdown in the PC business has finally caught up with Microsoft. While the company has missed expectations four times out of the last five quarters, analysts and investors gave Microsoft a pass. In fact the company's stock has appreciated nicely in recent months.
But yesterday's worse-than-expected fourth fiscal 2013 quartery report showed Microsoft can no longer hide from the shrinking PC business, with Windows revenues declining 6 percent for the quarter and 1 percent for the entire year (take into account an upgrade offer and revenue deferral affected the numbers). Putting that aside, Microsoft said Windows Division revenues increased 6 percent for the quarter and 5 percent for the year.
While it's certainly no surprise that Microsoft's Surface devices, especially those based on Windows RT, have failed to make a dent in the rapidly growing tablet market, Microsoft's $900 million charge hit the company where it hurts and some analysts on last night's earnings call sounded put off by the surprise. Microsoft said it took the charge after slashing the price of the devices by as much as 33 percent.
The revenue and earnings miss are hitting Microsoft shares hard -- near midday they were down over 10 percent. Presiding over her first earnings call as Microsoft's new CFO, Amy Hood said Microsoft believes the price cuts for Surface RT "will accelerate Surface RT adoption and position us better for long-term success."
Certainly cutting the price could help but what will more likely accelerate Surface RT and Surface Pro for long-term success will be the next crop of devices based on improved processors and storage, longer battery life and more popular apps in the Windows Store. Reading between the lines, it appears new Surface devices are coming. Microsoft is also counting on a fresh crop of systems from OEMs based on Intel's long-awaited Haswell processor that will address the shortcomings in the higher-end devices.
Hood pointed to last week's major reorganization of the company -- dubbed One Microsoft -- the planned release of Windows 8.1 and a pipeline of new devices and services will lead to improved results. The company will hold an analyst meeting in September to spell out how Microsoft will grow its business and provide further details on the reorganization, Hood said.
Yesterday's news wasn't all bad. The Server and Tools business posted $5.5 billion in revenues, up 9 percent, driven by System Center (up 14 percent), SQL Server (up 16 percent) and a 25 percent increase in Windows Azure customers. But that was obscured by the overall bad news, which resulted in quarterly revenues of $19.2 billion, up 3 percent year-over year but falling short of the estimated $20.73 billion. Earnings per share were only $0.59 cents, falling way short of the $0.75 analysts had forecast.
Hood acknowledged that "we have to do better" to gain share in the tablet and phone market. "With over 1.5 billion Windows users around the world, a transition of this magnitude takes time," she said. "We're confident we're moving in the right direction."
Are you as confident as Microsoft is? Comment below or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/19/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Shareholders will finally vote on the proposed (and hotly contested) deal to take Dell private tomorrow. The outcome will either put Dell's fate to rest or at least set the next stage of the battle.
How tomorrow's vote will play out is too close to call but there's a good chance the team lead by founder and CEO Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners may not have enough votes to complete the $13.65 per-share deal. This deal is valued at $24 billion, thanks to corporate raider Carl Icahn's counter-offer, which he sweetened Friday.
If Icahn, backed by Southeastern Asset Management, can convince shareholders their offer is superior, and they ultimately accept it, that could have huge ramifications for the future of the storied company. Icahn has made no secret he intends to replace the entire board of the company including Michael Dell.
In a letter to shareholders last night, the company board's special committee, which has recommended the Dell-Silver Lake bid, said despite the appearance that Icahn is offering a higher per-share offer plus provisions to keep part of the company public, Icahn's bid would be riskier. That's because Icahn would presumably have to borrow against Dell's balance sheet, the company has long argued. The Dell letter's key argument:
We consider it unwise to layer substantial financial risk on a company already facing significant challenges from competition and from the rapid pace of technological change. It is, we believe, not an accident that no large publicly traded technology company carries high levels of debt. And while we recognize that, as a private company controlled by Mr. Dell and Silver Lake, the Company will have a significant debt burden, the risks of that capital structure will be borne entirely by the buyers and not by the public stockholders. Moreover, the buyers have the financial resources to invest additional funds if that proves necessary.
Conversely, a leveraged recapitalization of the sort advocated by Mr. Icahn would force Dell stockholders to maintain meaningful equity exposure to a non-investment grade, publicly traded company that we believe would likely be ill-prepared to weather further downturns in the PC business and could be hamstrung in its ability to make the additional investments needed to complete its transformational plan. We believe such a company would face instability that would undermine customer confidence and make it harder to attract and retain the best employees.
For its part, Southeastern Asset Management has argued shareholders are missing out on a superior opportunity for capital appreciation, pointing to the doubling of HP shares since November in a chart it posted showing analyst forecasts for the company at the time, as noted by Barron's Tiernan Ray. Icahn has also accused Dell of using scare tactics.
"They tell us about the profitable PC market drastically declining and point to their quarterly numbers," Icahn said in a letter posted Monday. "But they neglect to point out the reduction in margin is of their own doing because they have, of their own volition, lowered prices which obviously have drastically reduced margins. But even Dell's own management believes this is temporary."
Meanwhile Forbes reported today the current offer by the Dell-led team is facing an uphill battle, with Blackrock Group the latest influential shareholder backing off from supporting the deal. Dell has held steadfast in saying it will not sweeten its offer. Whether or not you're a major Dell customer, the outcome could have ramifications on the entire industry.
Will Michael Dell and his team blink or with it remain firm with its current offer, which Icahn and Southeastern say undervalues the company? And how would you like to see this play out? Comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/17/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
While PC shipments continued to fall off a cliff, declining about 11 percent for the second quarter, there was a changing of the guard as well. Lenovo has ousted HP as the leading global PC supplier in terms of units shipped, according to both Gartner and IDC. However in the U.S., Lenovo has a long way to go before catching up with HP and Dell, even though it made significant strides at all of its rivals' expense.
In terms of worldwide shipments, Lenovo hit the top spot with a 16.7 percent share of the market, according to both market researchers. HP had a 16.3 percent share according to Gartner, while IDC said it had a 16.4 percent share. Dell's share was 11.8 percent and 12.2 percent respectively, the firms said. Asus came in a distant fifth place falling 21.1 percent, according to IDC and 20.5 percent, according to Gartner. Falling the hardest was Acer with a 32.6 decline, IDC reported.
Preliminary Worldwide PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 2Q13 (Units)
||2Q13 Market Share (%)
||2Q12 Market Share (%)
||2Q12-2Q13 Growth (%)
Although Lenovo is a distant fourth in the U.S. (behind HP, Dell and Apple), it showed dramatic growth while everyone but Dell saw their shipments decline in the country. IDC said shipments of Lenovo PCs in the U.S. increased 19.6 percent during the quarter, compared to the same period last year. Dell rose 5.8 percent, while HP's declined 4.1 percent.
Among Redmond magazine readers, Dell PCs are the most widely procured systems, followed by HP and Lenovo. According to 1,157 respondents to the Redmond Magazine Readership Study, 45 percent said Dell is their preferred PC provider, with 29 percent choosing HP and 10 percent selecting Lenovo. One percent chose both Acer and Asus, while 13 percent said they have no preference.
When it comes to PCs, it's hard to find discernible differences in pricing these days thanks to commoditization. Do you see any measurable differences among vendors in terms of design, reliability, support or other factors that may push one supplier over the top?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/15/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's realignment of the company's organizational structure is a major bet that removing the silos that existed in product groups will help fulfill his mandate of transforming Microsoft from a traditional software supplier to a devices and services company. While there are many nuances of the new "One Microsoft" organization Ballmer revealed yesterday, one of the biggest bets Ballmer is making is on Terry Myerson.
Ballmer has tapped Myerson to lead Microsoft's new Operating Systems group. In other words, the future of Windows is on Myerson's shoulders. Just to be clear, that's all of Windows. The new Operating Systems organization is responsible for Windows delivered to Xbox, Windows Phone, PCs, tablets, Windows Server and Windows Azure. Until now, these versions of Windows were spread across three autonomous organizations, which had no stake in working with other groups.
I've read some debate as to whether Myerson should be tasked with ensuring the uniformity of Windows, given the lackluster results of Windows Phone, which he previously oversaw. But that may be an unfair criticism, since by the time Myerson arrived in the Windows Phone group its problems were already solidified. The problems with Windows Phone aren't issues with the quality of the platform -- in fact its likeness to Windows 8 makes the tandem an attractive option if the company can find a way to address the marketing obstacles that seem to be stunting the growth of Windows 8.
Myerson joined Microsoft in 1997, when the company acquired Intersé Corp., a Web analytics company he founded at the age of 21, according to his bio. Before leading the Windows Phone group, Myerson led Microsoft's Exchange Server team.
Just as Myerson will be responsible for delivering a unified Windows, the centralization of Microsoft's marketing under Tami Reller aims to provide a common message about the "One Microsoft" as it pertains to Windows. Equally important will be Myerson's ability to collaborate with Microsoft's OEM partners and Julie Larson-Green, whom Ballmer tapped to oversee the development and distribution of Microsoft's own hardware and online services.
"We've got innovative ideas coming from our OEM partners and Julie's team has some very innovative ideas," Myerson said yesterday during a conference call held for media and analysts to discuss the reorg. "Terry and I have worked together for a long time," Larson-Green added. "We both have worked on the operating system side. I've worked on the hardware side and it's a good blending of our skills and our teams to deliver things together. So the structure that we're putting in place for the whole company is about working across the different disciplines and having product champions. So Terry and I will be working to lead delivery to market of our first-party and third-party devices."
It could take years before it's clear whether Ballmer's sweeping reorg works. The success of Windows 8 will be among the most closely watched barometers of that success. And critics and Wall Street won't be waiting for years to weigh in.
What's your take on Ballmer's choice of Myerson to shepherd the unification of Windows -- and the overall decision to break down the organization silos at Microsoft? Feel free to comment below or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/12/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
When the third iteration of Microsoft's Hyper-V arrived with last year's release of Windows Server 2012, many regarded its virtual machine live migration capability as one of the hypervisor's key improvements. Hyper-V 3.0 offers faster migrations at speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second, while allowing IT pros to conduct simultaneous live migrations. IT pros can also now perform live migrations outside a clustered environment.
As Microsoft explained last year, "You can configure a virtual machine so that it is stored on an SMB [Server Message Block] file share. You can then perform a live migration on this running virtual machine between non-clustered servers running Hyper-V, while the virtual machine's storage remains on the central SMB share. This allows users to gain the benefits of virtual machine mobility without having to invest in the clustering infrastructure if they do not need guarantees of availability in their environment. (Hyper-V with SMB storage can also be configured with Failover Clustering if you do require high availability."
So how is Microsoft upping the ante on live migration in Windows Server 2012 R2? Following up on a demo at TechEd last month, Microsoft Principal Program Manager Jeff Woolsey showed attendees at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston Monday just how much faster IT pros can perform live migrations with the new release. In the demo, Woolsey showed an 8 GB virtual machine running SQL Server, which he described as a worst-case scenario for live migration.
In the demo scenario, migrating Windows Server 2012 to a like system takes just under 1 minute 26 seconds, while the Windows Server 2012R2 Preview performed the same migration in just over 32 seconds. Then using remote direct memory access (RDMA) during the live migration process combined with SMB Direct, it took just under 11 seconds, without utilizing added CPU resources.
"With compression we're taking advantage of the fact that we know the servers ship with an abundance of compute resources, and we're taking advantage of the fact that we know that most Hyper-V servers are never compute bound," Woolsey said during the WPC demo. "So we're using a little bit of that compute resource to actually compress the virtual machine inline during the live migration. This allows us to compress it and it's actually done a lot faster and much more efficiently. All of this is built into Windows Server 2012 R2."
Of course this was a demo and mileage will vary. For those testing Windows Server 2012 R2, are you impressed with the improvements to Live Migration in Hyper-V as well as other new capabilities Microsoft is bringing to its hypervisor? Feel free to comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/10/2013 at 9:03 AM0 comments
While it's hardly common to find someone with a Windows 8 PC and/or tablet, a Windows Phone and using Microsoft's portfolio of cloud services all at once, CEO Steve Ballmer today talked up his longstanding mantra that using the company's homogeneous collection of offerings will make individuals and IT pros more productive.
Speaking in the opening keynote address at Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partners Conference (WPC), taking place this week in Houston (keep up-to-date with the WPC news on our sister site, RCPmag.com), Ballmer spoke of that symmetry both from the standpoint of running Windows 8 on multiple devices but also extended that message to public, private and hybrid clouds, making the claim that customers want one provider for all of those topologies.
Arguing the latter point, Ballmer cited an IDC survey commissioned by Microsoft that found 63 percent of its customers prefer to have a single cloud provider and 67 percent plan to purchase a variety of different cloud offerings from a single operator. The survey also found that 74 percent want the option to take a cloud offering back on premise. "We think we are the only solution and certainly the best solution for customers who want that," Ballmer said.
Also despite miniscule market share for Windows Phone, Ballmer promoted it as a key pillar of extending Windows 8 from the PC and tablet. "It's a little-known secret how unbelievably amazing those phones are," Ballmer acknowledged, as he talked up their tight integration with Office. "The ability to really get work done on a Windows Phone is nothing short of amazing," he said.
Ballmer asserted Microsoft is not backing down on its quest to convince IT that Windows Phone devices are a better alternative to iPhones and Android-based phones, which account for the vast majority of smartphones in use today. "We're going to continue to push hard with the consumer but we think we have a very compelling proposition for the enterprise," he said.
To make his case, Jenson Harris, Microsoft's director of program management for Windows User Experience, demonstrated a new capability introduced in the recently released Windows 8.1 Preview called Miracast that lets a user broadcast the image of their Windows Phone to a PC (or vice versa) using a whiteboard app.
While all of this may sound nice, the reality is Microsoft is living in a heterogeneous world and Ballmer was wise to note the fact that the company is adding support for other platforms, particularly from a systems management perspective.
Indeed Microsoft isn't the only company making its products work better together. Apple, Oracle and VMware, among others have similar philosophies. The question is, do you? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/08/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
The Start button is back in Windows 8.1 but depending on how you used it in the past, you may be extremely disappointed. That's especially true if you used the Start button to launch your favorite apps.
The revived Start button in Windows 8.1, released last week at the Build conference in San Francisco, doesn't let you do that. "Microsoft's Start button 'fix' is worse than doing nothing," wrote Earl Fargis, in response to my post Wednesday on the new Windows 8.1 Start button.
So what should you do? You can stick with the third-party suppliers of Start buttons evaluated by David Pogue back in April. Pogue pointed to seven options, some of which are free, others that may set you back no more than $5. I used the 30-day trial of Start8 and it worked just like the classic Start menu. But when the trial period ended, I didn't bother to plunk down $4.99 to keep it.
Instead, I created Desktop icons for the apps I use most often and that really does the trick. Just like Windows 7, all you have to do is to right-click on the Desktop, click New, then Shortcut and browse your system to find the proper shortcuts.
Though it doesn't let end users launch their programs, the new Start button will be a welcome addition to IT pros and administrators. By right-clicking on the Start Menu, either in the Desktop or Modern interface, what pops up is the option to administer the desktop. Among the features available are power settings, System, Device Manager, Network Connections, Disk Management, Computer Management, Windows PowerShell, Task Manager, access to the Control Panel, File Explorer, Search, Run and the ability to shut down the system.
In the end, the Start button is an improvement for IT pros and for users who configure their PCs. But the days of using it to launch apps appear to be over, unless Microsoft once again succumbs to pressure to "refine the blend" further. Either way, you're not out in the cold. Just set your apps up on the Desktop or use one of the third-party tools and you're in business.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/01/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft is moving Skype to its Windows Azure cloud service, thanks to its new auto scaling and a slew of other features demonstrated yesterday at the Build conference in San Francisco.
Corporate VP for Windows Azure Scott Guthrie disclosed the plan to move Skype off of its own servers onto Windows Azure to showcase the auto-scaling feature Microsoft is planning for the service. The idea is that Skype's need for capacity ebbs and flows and the ability to get dynamic compute and storage will serve Skype well, Guthrie said.
While Windows Azure has always enabled customers to scale up and scale down their apps, it required them to write custom scripts in order to enable that capability, Guthrie said. Moving the Skype service to Windows Azure is a good test case for the auto scaling capability, according to Guthrie. By moving to Windows Azure, Skype can scale to the capacity it requires as fluctuations in usage change, he noted.
"We're going to make this a lot easier by baking in auto-scale capability directly into Windows Azure," Guthrie said during the keynote presentation. "This is going to make it trivially easy for anyone to start taking advantage of this kind of dynamic scale environment and yield the same cost basis."
The auto-scaling feature is now available in preview for those using Windows Azure Web Sites, Cloud Services and Virtual Machines. A menu of other services, including availability, monitoring and alerting, are also available. Only alerts and monitoring are in preview for Windows Azure Mobile Services.
Among other enhancements Microsoft has planned for Windows Azure include support for availability, monitoring and alerting. The improved Azure features are available for preview now. The company has not set, or disclosed a planned release date for general availability.
Guthrie also demonstrated how Microsoft will at some point let SaaS providers and ISVs authenticate to their applications via Windows Azure Active Directory. In a demonstration he showed how they can integrate existing enterprise security credentials, having single sign-on within the application. "This makes it really, really easy for you now to build your own custom applications, host them in the cloud and enable enterprise security throughout," he said.
In addition, Guthrie previewed how Windows Azure Active Directory will also make it easier for enterprises to integrate existing SaaS-based apps and have the same type of single sign-on support with Active Directory.
The single sign-on preview was just a demo. Microsoft didn't release a beta or preview for the Windows Azure Active Directory improvements. The company will disclose more details in the coming weeks, according to a company spokeswoman.
Microsoft also announced the release of several Windows Azure features that were in preview, including Windows Azure Mobile Services and Windows Azure Web Sites. Windows Azure Web Sites, which as the name implies is aimed at letting developers build and host Web sites. Windows Azure Mobile Services are designed for developers who want to build apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone that are cloud enabled.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/28/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
When Cisco said it was exiting server load balancing business last fall, a slew of vendors lined up to fill the void. Among them were Barracuda, Citrix, F5 Networks, Kemp Technologies and Riverbed Technology, looking to position their server load balancers -- also known as application delivery controllers (ADCs), as alternatives.
Cisco apparently decided to pull the plug on ACE, a plug-in load balancer the company offered for its Catalyst switches. Cisco first entered the ADC market back in 2000 when it bought a company called ArrowPoint for $5.7 billion, which is the third-largest acquisition it has made.
Now that Cisco has cut its losses by discontinuing sales of ACE, Kemp is looking to show that it has an edge on its rivals. At the Cisco Live conference this week in Orlando, Kemp said its LoadMaster Operating System (LMOS) for Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) is now available. Kemp said it's LMOS for UCS is certified by Cisco via its Interoperability Validation Testing (IVT) program.
Kemp officials say it's offering the only load balancer operating system to run natively within the Cisco CUS fabric without requiring a server virtualization hypervisor. "The Cisco customer base is crucial to us not just because they've vacated but because the hosting market has been an important element in the way we deliver our technology and the hosters are overwhelmingly going toward Cisco blade infrastructure," said Kemp's co-founder and chief scientist Jonathan Braunhut last week.
While Cisco has also recommended Citrix Netscaler to ACE customers, Kemp approached Cisco with the alternative of offering its ADC within UCS, explained Kemp CEO Ray Downes in an earlier discussion. "With the recent discontinuation of their ACE product, they have a handshake agreement in Citrix Netscaler, however you have a lot of Cisco customers who are looking for a migration path and they would like to continue to work with Cisco," he said.
Because LMOS will run within UCS fabric, customers will be able to gain more efficiency with the blades, said Iain Kenney, Kem's director of product management. "Obviously with our Loadmaster for Cisco UCS running inside that fabric means we can load balance your middle-tier workloads, kind of natively within the fabric."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/27/2013 at 9:03 AM0 comments
The biggest objection to Windows 8 since its release last fall is its failure to appeal to longtime users of the operating system's traditional desktop while drawing them to the new modern interface.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer tacitly acknowledged that fact this morning as he gave the opening keynote of the Build conference in San Francisco, clearly the event of the year for Microsoft. Minutes into his keynote, Ballmer officially announced the release of the Windows 8.1 Preview.
Since the release of Windows 8 back in October, Ballmer said about 100,000 applications have appeared in the Windows Store that run on the new modern interface and application model.
But Ballmer also said there are 2 to 3 million applications designed to run on the traditional Windows desktop environment. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft is aiming to make it easier for users to access the environment and applications they prefer, while making clear that over time it hopes to see most key applications move to the new model. In other words, he's putting the training wheels back on.
"What we will show you today is a refined blend of our desktop experience and our modern user interface and application experience," Ballmer said. That wasn't quite a mea culpa but he positioned the move as a re-tweaking that Microsoft hopes will address the key objections existing and potential users have had to Windows 8.
In the worst-kept secret in the world of Windows, Microsoft has indeed brought the Start button back to Windows, along with a bootable desktop.
"You will see that we [brought] back the start button to the desktop," Ballmer said. "If you want to boot to the desktop, you can boot to the desktop." The response was a rousing applause, which isn't surprising given the reaction we've heard from you over the past several months.
However in a surprising move, Ballmer also announced that Microsoft is embedding its Bing search engine properties across its line of products. It will include adding its Bing search engine in Windows 8.1 as well as for Windows Phone, Office and Skype. Microsoft calls the project Bing as a Platform (see Microsoft's Search blog).
"With Windows 8.1, I would say Bing is inside," Ballmer said. "Our shell experience is powered by Bing, You'll see we are opening up Bing as an application development platform, so you can use all this investment we have put into crawling the Web and understanding entities. You can use that, see that and build that richness into your applications running on top of Windows."
In addition to bringing Bing to Windows, Microsoft is offering Bing Developer Services, which will let those building applications to embed search capability in them.
Indeed, if you're tired of reading about the updates coming to Windows 8.1, now you can see it for yourself. Existing Windows 8 users can access the preview in the Windows Store. Microsoft also said it's available for download here.
My colleagues Michael Desmond and John K. Waters are live on the scene at Build and you'll see plenty of coverage from them, myself and my colleagues at Redmond Channel Partner and Visual Studio Magazine in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, check out the preview and let me know what you think by commenting below or dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/26/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Citrix this week has taken the latest step in its open source onslaught by throwing its XenServer hypervisor platform into the mix. The move offers an affordable alternative to virtualization suites from Microsoft's Hyper-V, which is starting to gain appeal with the latest version released last fall, as well as from VMware's hypervisor and cloud management platforms.
Although parts of Citrix XenServer were already open source, the company yesterday released the entire product to the community via xenserver.org. The new XenServer 6.2 release, which boasts substantial performance and scalability improvements, is the same software as the open source Xen, which Citrix released to the Linux Foundation back in April. The move is also consistent with the Citrix push to open source much of its IP including last year's release of its CloudStack cloud compute platform to the Apache Foundation.
"We are making the Citrix XenServer the commercially supported version of the open source [Xen] product," explained Krishna Subramanian, vice president of product marketing for Citrix Cloud Platforms group. "There's nothing to change when you go from the open source aversion to the Citrix version. It's just a license key change."
Looking to broaden appeal for Citrix XenServer, the company is slashing the cost of subscribing to the pay version, which gives administrators support from Citrix. The entry fees are now $500 per socket, compared with an earlier initial cost of $2,500. Citrix is also now offering perpetual licenses starting at $1,250 per server. That provides all the features in its Platinum version, its highest level of support. The company is removing the SKUs providing all the features offered in Platinum, Subramanian said.
I asked Subramanian what impact this might have on Citrix's revenue and her response was by lowering the cost of implementing the high-end version of its hypervisor platform, more shops will find it a viable option. Hence, Citrix believes it will make up the loss by increased overall volume.
"All the features you can get in the highest end version in the past are all available in the open source Xen server, are now in Citrix XenServer," she said. "It is one SKU and is the commercially supported version of the free Xen server. That makes the value proposition of [Citrix] XenServer very, very strong, because now at a fraction of the cost of the alternative, less than half, even a third of the cost of alternatives, you'll have an enterprise grade virtualization solution."
Scott Lindars, Citrix senior product marketing manager, noted with over 1 million downloads of the free Xen open source hypervisor platform he believes many of those are prospects to now license Citrix XenServer, where in the past it may have been cost-prohibitive.
"Now we have that huge base that's already using free and will continue, and there's a compelling reason for them to think about moving to the paid version," Lindars said. "We see this as a big upsell opportunity and expect a groundswell of users going from free to paid."
Does Citrix believe this give shops eyeing Microsoft's Hyper-V and Cloud OS platform tied to System Center 2012 and Windows Server 2012 a reason to reconsider? Subramanian noted Citrix considers Microsoft a key partner and the company supports Hyper-V, adding that 90 percent of common workloads are Windows based. Those who want to use the complete Microsoft stack will go with Hyper-V, she said, while others who don't want to be tied to System Center will consider Citrix XenServer.
"This is not something we're positioning against Hyper-V," she said. "Most customers that use Hyper-V go with System Center and buy the full Microsoft management stack. Customers that don't want to do that and want to have an open orchestration and management platform that runs on a hypervisor and they don't want to commit to a Microsoft stack but still see value in XenServer."
As I noted last week, 61 percent of 1,153 respondents to Redmond magazine's 2013 Reader Survey said they use VMware for virtualization, while 44 percent said they use Microsoft. Citrix also came in strong with 29 percent, while 12 percent chose Oracle and 8 percent Red Hat's KVM. Subramanian believes this move makes XenServer immediately more attractive to shops running Windows Server since KVM requires Linux.
IDC analyst Al Gillen told me last week Hyper-V's that share has increased to a 28.4 percent share of the hypervisor market, up from 24.6 percent a year earlier but noted very few organizations are ripping out their existing hypervisor platforms.
"With Windows Server 2012, there aren't many customers who would look at it and say it's not ready for prime time," Gillen said. "A lot of the share gain we're seeing is [for new installations] rather than a replacement effect."
While most experts predict Hyper-V will gain share in the hypervisor market, I'm wondering what impact the Citrix move will have on potential siphoning from growth of Hyper-V. Does the Citrix move change your thinking? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/25/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft has added a new security option for those using its Windows Azure cloud service. Administrators can block unauthorized users from accessing virtual machines, Microsoft quietly announced at its TechEd conference in New Orleans earlier this month.
The new option lets administrators put Access Control Lists (ACLs) on individual endpoints. By putting the ACLs on endpoints or subnets, administrators can control unauthorized access to virtual machines that are protected behind a firewall but are accessible in the public cloud.
"We are adding an additional security option so that administrators can control inbound traffic to Virtual Machine," said Microsoft cloud strategy advisor Louis Panzano, from the company's office in Spain in a blog post. "You simply define how traffic from outside of your corporate firewall communicates with your virtual machine public endpoints through PowerShell and soon it will be available in the management portal."
During a session at Friday's MongoDB Days conference in New York (see this blog post), Microsoft cloud evangelist and architect David Makogon noted the announcement of the new security option, saying it offers an important way to control access to an exposed IP port. As Panzano noted in his blog post, Makogon pointed out the option for now is not available in the Windows Azure management portal (meaning it required the creation of PowerShell scripts).
Magogon said a good resource for creating that script is available via a blog post by Michael Washam, who until a few weeks ago was a senior program manager at Microsoft responsible for the Windows Azure PowerShell cmdlets for compute (IaaS, PaaS, and VNET), Windows Azure .NET SDK and areas of the Service Management API (RDFE).
"A significant improvement in the security of virtual machines is the ability to lock down an endpoint so that only a specified set of IP addresses can access it," wrote Washam, now a principal cloud architect at integrator Aditi Technologies. In his blog post, Washam explained how to specify ACLs during or after a deployment using PowerShell. "You create a new ACL configuration object using New-AzureAclConfig and then modify it with Set-AzureAclConfig," he noted. "The created ACL object is then specified to the *-AzureEndpoint cmdlet in the -ACL parameter." He shared an example script in his post.
This is an important new option, Magogon emphasized, advising attendees of his presentation it will keep unauthorized users out of their systems running in Windows Azure. "You probably don't want to have that port hanging out to the public," he said, noting by implementing the script you "can set Azure ACL configuration and create a rule [to] permit or block a particular subnet."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/24/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Chances are if you're considering a database to host unstructured data, MongoDB is high on your list. Experts say it's the leading so-called NoSQL database and the key commercial sponsor of the open-source repository. 10gen is clearly on a roll.
The company points to big commercial adopters including Cisco, Craigslist, Disney, eBay, Forbes, Foursquare, Goldman Sachs, Intuit, LexisNexis, Met Life, MTV, Salesforce.com, Shutterfly and Telefonica.
Likewise, 10gen has lined up partnerships with key IT vendors and cloud providers. In addition to Microsoft, other partners include Amazon Web Services, Red Hat and SoftLayer, the company IBM earlier this month agreed to acquire for $2 billion. IBM itself announced a partnership with 10gen earlier this month to collaborate on building mobile enterprise apps. ObjectRocket, a database as a service provider recently acquired by Rackspace, announced a partnership with 10gen on Friday.
In a sign of the times, 10gen recently settled in its new headquarters in the old New York Times building, which is also occupied by Yahoo. I spent a few hours Friday at 10gen's road show, which it calls MongoDB Days in New York. The event drew more than 1,000 attendees that took part in a wide variety of business-oriented and technical tracks.
Naturally, while attending the crowded gathering, I gravitated to the one session on how to build MongoDB apps running on Microsoft's Windows Azure. Leading the presentation was David Makogon, a cloud evangelist and architect at Microsoft, who works primarily with ISVs.
While only about two dozen people attended the Windows Azure session, Makogon said it's a popular platform among Windows Azure users and ISVs. Makogon said he gets more inquiries from partners and his support team about MongoDB than anything else.
Now that Windows Azure Infrastructure Services is available, MongoDB is easier to deploy, Makogon said. With the PaaS version of Windows Azure, IT had fewer controls, which while suitable for those who don't want to have to address lower-level infrastructure, it's limiting for others do prefer or need that control.
PaaS has worker roles, which is basically Windows Server without IIS running. "It runs fantastic, however, the problem I have with it is I'm imitating a replica set," he explained. "With Worker Role instances, you can't choose which one to shut down. For instance if you want to specifically shut down the primary node, you can take it offline but you can't exactly choose that one to scale. Let's say you scaled to five instances and want to scale back to three, you can't specify which instances you want to let go. So when it comes to low-level management of your replica set, that's where the worker role tends to fall short, just because you can't map it to the exact server."
With Windows Azure Infrastructure Services, IT has full control, he added. "Say I want this virtual machine to be shut down," he said. "My general recommendation is if you're getting into replica sets or shards, especially because there's no scaffolding available today, virtual machines [Windows Azure Infrastructure Services] are the way to go."
Indeed while MongoDB is popular, as I reported from the Visual Studio Live! conference in May in Chicago, there's no shortage of NoSQL databases, depending on your requirements. One popular alternative is Cassandra, as are CouchDB, Neo4j, RavenDB and even table storage offered in Windows Azure.
In a brief interview following his keynote address, 10gen CEO Max Schireson told me the company is seeing numerous MongoDB deployments on Windows Azure but noted despite the addition of IaaS, the cloud service still needs to evolve.
"We're seeing a lot on Windows and some of it moving to Azure," he said. "I think it will take a few more Azure iterations for more of the workloads to move there but if there's one thing people know is Microsoft will keep working on it and as it grows and matures people will move more of their workloads there."
Asked how Windows Azure needs to mature, Shireson said, "I think some of it will be newer hardware and when solid state drive technology shows up in Azure, it will boost it. And as Azure and Windows Server continue to come together it will be a big boost."
Are you running MongoDB in Windows Azure? If so, please share your experience by dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/24/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Server and Tools President Satya Nadella and Oracle President Mark Hurd will gather for a press teleconference Monday to announce a cloud partnership.
During last night's quarterly earnings call with analysts, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison strategically alluded to the forthcoming partnership with Microsoft to support its next-generation database, 12c. The Microsoft deal is one of several partnerships Oracle is inking in the coming days. Others include with the likes of Salesforce.com and NetSuite, Ellison said.
Ellison indicated the companies will support 12c -- its new cloud-based, multi-tenant database. The "c" stands for cloud, Ellison said. It's reminiscent of the company's use of the letter "i" when it introduced its Internet database Oracle 8i in 1999. It's unclear whether it will follow the company's historical nomenclature, which would be Oracle 12c. But given its MySQL assets and the move toward NoSQL repositories, anything is possible. In his remarks on the earnings call, Ellison described 12c as "the most important technology we've ever developed for this new generation of cloud security."
Given Nadella's planned presence on the call, it's not a stretch to presume the pact will involve supporting Windows Azure and/or Microsoft's so-called Cloud OS stack, which includes the combination of Windows Server and System Center. While there's no love-lost between Microsoft and Oracle, they've largely stayed out of each other's hair these days.
Such an arrangement is certainly not without precedent. Even when their rivalry was more pronounced, Oracle made its flagship products available for Windows Server, even though the company tends to push Linux -- and in fact typically the first releases of new products these days always come out on Linux (followed by Windows at some later point).
Despite a chilly relationship of convenience between Microsoft and Oracle, Ellison has saved his ire for IBM, Salesforce.com and, of course, Hurd's former employer HP. The latter company and Oracle became acrimonious following the hiring of Hurd at Oracle and the company's push into the server market with the acquisition of Sun Microsystems. And of course let's not forget Oracle's decision to stop supporting HP's Itanium-based servers. Also, I have heard little to suggest the longstanding animosity between Oracle and SAP has subsided.
Even though Oracle and Microsoft compete in the database market as well as in on-premise and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, they've both carved out their own niches -- and neither is hurting, though they do face increased competition from startups and a slew of alternative big data and NoSQL technologies. And the Java versus .NET rivalry has become more moot these days. Nevertheless, Oracle and Microsoft aren't companies you expect to see on a stage together -- or on a conference call.
It's worth noting that Ellison himself isn't scheduled to be on the Microsoft-Oracle call, though he could decide to parachute in. But he used last night's earnings call with analysts to provide a glimpse of what's coming.
"Next week we will be announcing technology partnerships with the most important, the largest and most important SaaS companies and infrastructure companies in the cloud," Ellison said. "They will be using our technology -- committing to our technology for years to come. These partnerships I think will reshape the cloud and reshape the perception of Oracle technology in the cloud."
While some reports have suggested Ellison let next week's announcement slip, clearly he planned to articulate that Oracle will be launching its new cloud database and partnerships to support it next week. Invites to the conference call arrived from Microsoft less than two hours after the call. It appears Microsoft didn't expect anyone from Oracle to tip the company's hand last night.
However meaningful the partnerships Oracle has planned for next week, Ellison accomplished one thing -- providing a distraction from the fact that Oracle missed analyst estimates again for its most recent quarter by $250 million. Revenues of $10.95 billion for the quarter were flat. Will this new partnership with Microsoft be the same? We'll have a better idea next week.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/21/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
It seems Hyper-V is getting more respect every day. Five years after Microsoft entered the hypervisor market to challenge the standard bearer VMware, a growing number of holdouts are now finding Hyper-V has become a viable alternative.
My friend and longtime colleague David Strom last year made the case that Hyper-V has come of age, arguing more and more organizations are using it. He said Hyper-V has become more attractive to IT pros and partners alike, thanks to better management (System Center 2012) and development tools and integration with Windows 8. That argument came last August, a month before Microsoft started shipping Windows Server 2012, which of course included the third iteration of the hypervisor, known as Hyper-V 3.0.
While many argued Hyper-V wasn't a viable alternative to VMware's ESX, the 3.0 release of Hyper-V upped the ante for Microsoft's hypervisor with features such as concurrent live migration, dynamic memory, the Hyper-V Replica, major improvements to storage, continuous availability with clusters that can support 64 nodes and 4,000 virtual machines up from just 16 nodes. Hyper-V also offers major network virtualization improvements.
And Hyper-V is set to get better with this year's release of Windows Server 2012, which as Redmond magazine online news editor Kurt Mackie pointed out last week will gain UEFI security support, SCSI Boot, automatic activation of VMs, VM copy and paste, Live Migration improvements, Shared VHDX, Linux guest support and Hyper-V Replica improvements. In a separate report, he outlined how the improved Windows Server and Hyper-V releases will let IT pros more easily manage their Linux and Unix environments.
In recent months, it seems enthusiasm for Hyper-V has increased. I was at a conference last week when Bruce Otte, director of IBM's SmartCloud platform and workload, pointed to the growth of Hyper-V. Indeed even The Wall Street Journal recently pointed to the growth of Hyper-V, where it noted that according to IDC, the share of servers running Hyper-V has jumped to 27 percent from 20 percent in 2008, while VMware has dropped to 56.8 percent from 65.4 percent in 2008. Citrix and Red Hat have smaller shares with their respective hypervisors.
According to Redmond magazine's 2013 Readership Survey, 61 percent of 1,153 respondents said they use VMware for virtualization, while 44 percent said they use Microsoft (naturally multiple answers were permitted here). Citrix also came in strong with 29 percent, while 12 percent chose Oracle and 8 percent Red Hat.
In a brief conversation with IBM's Otte after his presentation last week, he said since the release of Hyper-V 3.0, a growing number of customers are choosing it for new infrastructure. "Hyper-V has a greater amount of flexibility and is a little more stable," Otte said. "The other thing I attribute it to, is that Microsoft provided a virtualized license participation program that allows you to lower your license fees if you use their Hyper-V and monitoring and management stack. It's almost free."
As a result of the long-awaited improvements to Hyper-V, the partner ecosystem is expanding. A growing number of infrastructure vendors that have waited on the sidelines are now finding Hyper-V is ready for prime time. At Microsoft's TechEd conference two weeks ago in New Orleans, a number of suppliers of infrastructure software and hardware announced support for Hyper-V. Among them were A10 Networks, ExtraHop, F5 and Riverbed.
Riverbed launched its new Stingray Traffic Manager 9.2, a load balancer that can run as a software virtual appliance for the latest Hyper-V release. Venugopal Pai, Riverbed's VP of global alliances hinted a full-fledged appliance would follow. Riverbed also launched a version of its Steelhead WAN optimization appliances for Hyper-V. Asked why it's taken Riverbed five years to support Hyper-V, Pai said that until the release of 3.0, the company didn't see it widely deployed for functions such as network connectivity and disaster recovery.
"With the adoption of Windows Server 2012 becoming stronger, Hyper-V becomes a real choice," Pai said. "We're seeing more and more of our enterprise customers wanting to get that choice from us as well."
F5 also made a big splash at TechEd about its support for Hyper-V, claiming it will be the first vendor to add support for environments with Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation (NVGRE). Its BigIP gateways will support NVGRE early next year, making it possible to extend Windows Server networks to Windows Azure and other environments using network virtualization and software defined networking, said Jeff Bellamy, F5's global director of business development focused on the company's partnership with Microsoft.
A10 Networks, which launched its 64-bit AX application delivery controller, added Hyper-V support for the first time. Until now, A10's load balancers were designed to work only with VMware hypervisors in its load balancers. And ExtraHop launched an application performance management offering that runs as a Hyper-V virtual appliance, utilizing the new Hyper-V Virtual Switch capability.
ExtraHop Director of Marketing Eric Giesa said that ExtraHop's solution will let customers achieve cross-tier operational visibility of a Hyper-V implementation, allowing IT pros to correlate metrics across the application, database, network and storage tiers. It will also let administrators monitor private cloud and Windows Azure-based public cloud environments.
With the latest and forthcoming improvements to Microsoft's Hyper-V and now that its gaining support from third-party infrastructure providers, do you see it taking on a larger piece of the virtualization pie in your organization? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/19/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Todd Bradley, the longtime HP executive vice president who was in charge of the personal systems group (which includes the world's largest PC business along with tablets and printers), has a one-way ticket to China. HP today said Bradley is stepping down to help develop business operations over there. Bradley's official new title is executive vice president, Strategic Growth Initiatives.
Could this be a graceful exit for the exec who once was CEO of Palm and was twice passed over for the top job at HP? Or is Bradley truly looking to help the company enter into new markets? HP CEO Meg Whitman in a statement described Bradley's new role as critical -- and he will work directly with her to expand its business in China. One of his key priorities will be to develop a channel business in China, according to Whitman.
"There's nothing more important to HP than our channel partners and the future of our business in China," said Whitman. "I've asked Todd to use his expertise to focus on these areas. I've also asked him to study the landscape of small companies and startups that could partner with HP to spur growth."
Bradley's replacement is Dion Weisler, currently senior vice president for the group in Asia Pacific and Japan. Interestingly Weisler joined HP in January 2012 from Lenovo, the company that's gaining the most ground on HP. Weisler served as COO of Lenovo's product and mobile Internet and also ran the company's businesses in Korea, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Weisler also spent 11 years at Acer as managing director for its U.K. business.
Clearly building a presence in emerging markets is an important assignment for any executive and Bradley certainly is a good choice. But Bradley has also made no secret he wants to be a CEO again someday and stepping aside from running a $42 billion business to creating new operations could be an interesting assignment. But I'd still expect to see Bradley on the list for CEO assignments as the openings arise in the coming years.
If Carl Icahn has his way and his team with Southeastern Asset Management are able to pull off an upset and trump the offer by Michael Dell to take over Dell, Bradley would be on the shortlist of candidates offered the CEO job there, Reuters reported earlier this month.
While HP has the leading PC market share, it's the number two choice of Redmond magazine readers, according to our 2013 Readership Survey. According to 1,157 respondents, 29 percent identified HP as their preferred PC vendors, while 45 percent chose Dell. Lenovo came in third with 10 percent, while other players were in the low single digits. Thirteen percent had no preference.
Clearly the stakes are high in this move as HP looks to win over more IT decision makers and consumers alike in a market that is going through its largest transformation ever.
Bradley was well regarded and many credit him with growing HP's personal systems business. Do you think Bradley was pushed or did he jump to this new opportunity?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/18/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Thomas Penfield Jackson, the outspoken federal judge who oversaw Microsoft's antitrust trial in 1998 and ordered the company to divest its Windows business, died Saturday of cancer at the age of 76.
After finding Microsoft guilty of breaching U.S. antitrust laws and violating the 1994 consent decree in which it had agreed not to tie the sale of products to the sale of Windows, Jackson ordered that Microsoft split itself into two companies -- one focused on Windows and the other on the remaining software.
As we all know, that never came to pass. Microsoft is still one very large company -- in fact, larger. But that may be thanks to unusual behavior by the judge. During the dramatic trial, Jackson, a technology neophyte himself was able to disprove testimony of key Microsoft execs including founder, chairman and then-CEO Bill Gates that Internet Explorer was inextricably tied to Windows by decoupling the browser himself.
Jackson's split-up order was overturned on appeal only because he had discussed his thinking during the trial with a few select journalists under the condition that they not publish his views until after he rendered the verdict. While the appeals court found Jackson was biased, it didn't overturn the verdict, just the divestiture order.
Jackson famously compared Gates to Napoleon and the company's executive team to "drug traffickers." Gates had "a Napoleonic concept of himself and his company, an arrogance that derives from power and unalloyed success, with no leavening hard experiences, no reverses," Jackson said in 2001. Jackson also described Gates' testimony as "inherently without credibility."
The fact that Jackson unabashedly shared his opinions gave the appeals court latitude to overturn his ruling that Microsoft split itself into two companies. But for several years, Microsoft faced a significant risk that it might have to split into at least two companies, and perhaps even more. Many, myself included, believed that wouldn't happen. But the possibility weighted heavily on Microsoft.
While customers and investors watched closely, along with lawsuits by 20 states attorney generals, there was little evidence that it affected major decisions by IT pros and investors alike to support their investments in Microsoft. Of course we always hypothesized what a divested Microsoft would look like. After all, many of us lived through the divestiture of AT&T in 1984, a move which reshaped the telecommunications industry.
Microsoft detractors argued vigorously that a Windows company and one that produces Office, for example, would foster more competition because they would have more freedom to align with parties that the combined company couldn't-- thereby offering customers more choice. While others feared a divested Microsoft would result in fragmentation and interoperability tissues, the counterargument was that market forces would require players to make things work together.
As it turned out, market forces did diminish Microsoft's dominance. These days, it would be hard to call Microsoft a monopoly despite its strong presence on PCs today. While there are still plenty of critics who may beg to differ, Forrester Research is predicting only 30 percent of client devices will run Windows in 2017 thanks to the proliferation of iOS- and Android-based smartphones and tablets. Nevertheless Forrester does believe Microsoft's new Windows 8 will start to take hold in 2013.
Despite the diminished influence of PCs, 69 percent of Redmond magazine readers say they plan to upgrade their Windows PCs to Windows 7-based systems and 18 percent to Windows 8, according to our 2013 Reader Survey.
But if Jackson was more discrete and Microsoft had exhausted all appeals (likely to the Supreme Court) there may have been a very different outcome. What would the IT picture look like today?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/17/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft today released a version of its Office suite for the iPhone, the first time the company offered the combination of Word, Excel and PowerPoint on an iOS device. However, the app is only currently available for Office 365 subscribers.
While Microsoft has offered OneNote and Lync clients for iOS, customers have long pushed Microsoft to offer the full Office bundle for the iPhone and iPad. The new Office Mobile for Office 365 is intended for the iPhone, though Microsoft said it's possible to download the new app on the iPad as well. However Microsoft is advising those with iPads to use Office Web Apps with the tablet.
"Like all iPhone apps, Office Mobile can work on iPad, either small or "2X" scaled up, but you'll have a more satisfying experience using Office Web Apps," the company said in a blog post.
I downloaded the new Office bundle on to m y iPad to see if it was suitable. While I only spent a few minutes using Word, it works (but is not ideal). The resolution is mediocre and it offers only a limited view because the on-screen keyboard takes up half the display. Though I didn't test it with an external keyboard, I'd think that scenario might offer more on-screen viewing space.
Nevertheless Office Mobile for Office 365 should be a welcome addition to iPhone users – many of whom are Windows IT pros. According to the Redmond magazine 2013 Readership Survey published last week, 33 percent of 1,163 respondents say they own an iPhone. More importantly, 69 percent say they support iPhones for use by employees within their organizations.
Microsoft no doubt is hoping this will accelerate the momentum of Office 365. According to the Redmond magazine survey, 12 percent of 1,022 respondents said their organizations will deploy Office 365 within the next 12 months, while 49 percent will upgrade to Office 2013. Depending on the license, many of those organizations using Office 2013 will have Office 365 subscriptions as well.
Of course, the big question now is will (or when will) Microsoft develop a version of Office specifically designed for the iPad? Will the company add support for Office 365 features, such as SharePoint Online? Our research shows that out of 1,159 respondents, 51 percent personally own an iPad and 61 percent say their organizations support iPads. Still, those who don't use or plan to sign on to the subscription-based service will be disappointed Microsoft didn't release a standalone app.
What's your take on this move? If you test the app on either your iPhone or iPad, please give us your thoughts below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/14/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Intel believes its latest solid-state drives are ready for conventional use in datacenters. The company yesterday took the wraps off its S3500 Series SSDs, which it says can be used for apps that require high-read performance.
"Our third generation of products we believe has the right features, the right cost points, the right capability to unleash SSDs into the mainstream of the datacenter," said Rob Crooke, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel's Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group, speaking at a press conference in New York. "We're getting increasingly broad capability in our solid-state drive product family both in the breadth of the products as well as in features within those products."
Intel's new S3500 Series drives can run in servers and storage racks, and are available in 1.8-inch and 2.5-inch configurations, ranging in capacity from 80 GB to 800 GB. Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have said they will offer the new drives as options for their server lines, Crooke said, adding that Intel worked closely with HP on the design of the new SSDs. Intel's suggested pricing is $115 for a 1.8-inch 80 GB drive and $979 for a 2.5-inch 800 GB SSD.
This third generation of SSDs from Intel is the first based on its 20-nanometer NAND technology and boasts 75k read, 11.5k write IOPS. Crooke said the drives have a maximum read latency of 500 microseconds 99.9 percent of the time, are rated at 2 million hours mean time between failure and include built-in 256-bit encryption.
While Crooke said the SSDs lend themselves well to systems running big data applications as well as for cloud operations, they're also well-suited to everyday systems where IO performance is critical. Crooke said by replacing the direct attached storage in a server running Microsoft's Exchange with traditional SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) and SATA hard drives with SSDs, the mail server can go down in size from 6U to 2U with 6x improved responsiveness, while reducing the amount of datacenter space needed by 60 percent and requiring 80 percent less power.
"We actually improve the performance and lower the overall TCO of something as simple as the mail server," Crooke said.
So Intel says SSDs have arrived for the datacenter. Are you ready to opt for SSDs over hard disk drives for your everyday Windows Server-based systems?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/12/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Google hasn't lit the world on fire with its Chromebooks -- client devices based on the company's Chrome OS. But some proponents of Chromebooks believe they are a viable alternative to Macs, PCs and tablets.
Indeed only 1 percent of those responding to Redmond magazine's 2013 Readership Survey say they envision replacing their Windows 7 PCs with Chromebooks. Nevertheless that's the same percentage who say they'll replace them with Macs. The only thing that fared worse were PCs running Windows RT, the stripped-down version of Windows 8 that only features the "modern" UI.
Those who have shown enthusiasm for Chromebooks are IT decision makers at schools, and many are already piloting and deploying them. Lisa DeLapo, director of technology at St. Joseph School, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Oakland, Calif., last week explained why she and her team chose Chromebooks.
"Whether they're telling stories of famous heroes using Google Sites, making group study guides with Google Forms, or listening to voice comments on their science fair projects in Google Docs, our students learn more from creating than they ever could from only consuming information," DeLapo explained in a post on the Google Enterprise Blog. "We have found Chromebooks to be the perfect tools -- they're portable and easy to use, have a keyboard and a large screen and are secure."
In addition to using Google Apps with the Chromebooks, the school uses Pearson PowerSchool, an app for tracking grades, test scores and attendance as well as collaborating with parents. Because the app is Java-based, which is not supported in Chrome, she needed to find a way to access it securely from the Chromebook.
DeLapo came across the Chrome RDP app by Fusion Labs, which provides access to any Windows desktop or server directly from the Chrome browser. "Since it uses Microsoft's native Remote Desktop Protocol, no additional configuration or setup is needed after you install the app," she noted. "It gives us secure access to PowerSchool and other legacy applications, and it's straightforward for teachers to use. They download the Chrome RDP app from the Chrome Web Store, open up the app, and enter their login information for secure access to PowerSchool through the school's firewall."
Back in February, when HP became the latest PC vendor to plunge into the Google Chromebook market, I raised the following question: Are Chromebooks a wild card that could make a dent in the Windows PC market moving forward? I subsequently received an e-mail from Paul Jones, who is involved in national education issues. He said that Chromebooks may gradually have more impact than critics and naysayers think. Jones, who permitted me to share his views, said the greatest percentage of Chromebooks are going into school districts. And he believes this is a "huge" percentage.
"What Google is doing is creating the 'next' generation of device users -- kids like my daughters will grow up being educated with Google and Chrome," Jones said. "My girls already have more expertise in Chrome than most technology centric critics. When they reach adulthood, Google will have captured them as die-hard Google fans; kids who have grown up with Google, and trust Google with their technological needs." Thanks Paul for reaching out.
There is certainly a lot to be said for the impact the youngest of users will have on the future of computing devices that will populate the desktops and knapsacks of the next generation of enterprise workers. Still, I expect a hard-fought battle by Apple and Microsoft for that audience as well.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/12/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Perhaps it will come as little surprise but IT pros say their organizations readily support iPads much more than tablets running Windows 8. The numbers are 61 percent and 15 percent respectively. This is according to 1,178 Redmond magazine readers who responded to our just-published 2013 Readership Survey. Only 9 percent support Windows RT -- a version designed for ARM-based tablets that only supports Microsoft's modern apps and can't join Active Directory domains.
Now keep in mind, this wasn't an either-or question. iPads started shipping
more than three years ago and are hugely popular, while Windows 8/RT
tablets only became available in late October and haven't enjoyed the
same success so far. The number of Windows IT pros who expect to
support Windows 8 tablets in a year from now will rise to 39 percent
and to 18 percent for supporting Windows RT, those same respondents said,
while 63 percent expects to manage iPads. .
The survey showed that 32 percent currently supported Android-based tablets while that number will rise to 41 percent in a year. Nearly a third (30 percent) doesn't support any tablets -- a figure that's expected to decline to 19 percent.
Market trends predict tablets outpacing PCs in terms of demand. IDC's latest forecast shows tablets will out ship PCs within two years. The Redmond magazine readership doesn't reflect that view but this is hardly surprising. You're IT pros managing the infrastructure of business or public sector employees, who are still more likely to do their work on some form of desktop or notebook device. Increasingly the trend will shift to hybrid devices that function as both. But most don't see a pure tablet replacing a fully functional computing device. I share that view.
But those same employees will increasingly use their tablets and smartphones more when they don't have access to their PCs. And it will be in the interest of IT organizations to support these devices. Microsoft sees that trend, which is why some of the next versions of Windows Server, System Center and Windows Intune, announced at last week's TechEd conference in New Orleans, will offer more secure mobile device management and emphasize what Microsoft is now calling "people-centric IT."
Today the outlook for Windows 8 and its successor release is uncertain at best. But neither was Windows 3.0 when Microsoft introduced it over two decades ago. The challenge for this next generation of Windows is much higher with much different market dynamics. Nevertheless it's too early to dismiss Microsoft's staying power. And there's another key variable. One thing that hasn't changed is IT pros -- like all people -- don't embrace change overnight.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/10/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Revelations yesterday that telecommunications carriers and key technology providers including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft share information with the intelligence community has put the Obama Administration and Congress on the defensive. But Microsoft yesterday sought to assure critics its scope is limited to data subpoenaed.
"We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis," the company said in a statement. "In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don't participate in it."
At the same time, leaked PowerPoint slides suggest Microsoft may have been the first IT player to participate in the program, called PRISM, as early as 2007.
In a press conference this morning, the president defended the program, noting it was authorized by Congress. "What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls, they're not looking at people's names, and they're not looking at content," Obama said at a press conference this morning from San Jose, Calif. "But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism."
Obama went on to say if the intelligence community actually wants to listen to a phone call, they must get the approval of a federal judge in a criminal investigation. In addition to Congress, he pointed out the FISA court is overseeing this effort. The FISA court evaluates classified programs to make sure that the government is acting in step with the law and Constitution, he noted.
"With respect to the Internet and e-mails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens and people living in the United States," he added. "In this instance, not only is Congress fully apprised of it, the FISA court has to authorize it."
Privacy experts are outraged feeling the government is overreaching and has the potential to abuse people's privacy. Others argue that the only way to combat terrorism is to take these measures.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, that's a discussion to be held elsewhere. The interesting component from an IT perspective is how the intelligence community is using metadata. With a whole new class of technology aimed at analyzing big data, it further highlights how software companies of all sizes are bringing to market new tools to gain intelligence from huge amounts of data, as I recently reported.
From their perspective, it's unfortunate for Obama and Congress that this came to light at all, but the timing of the revelation perhaps couldn't have been worse. The president has a long-planned meeting with China president Xi Jinping in California this afternoon to discuss a variety of trade issues.
Clearly on the list of topics discussed during that meeting will be China's brazen efforts to hack into the networks and systems of government agency systems including those with classified information, as well as recently reported attacks on commercial systems. Among those hit include some of the largest U.S. banks, utilities and media companies.
Certainly with today's disclosures, that will make that a... well let's just say a more awkward conversation. Hopefully the president will find a way to convince Jinping that he won't tolerate the persistent attacks and cyber-spying, which have wide-ranging consequences on all of our systems.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/07/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
More on this topic:
In the first two months since Microsoft released Windows Azure Active Directory, it has processed 265 billion authentication requests from around the world -- or 9,000 requests per second -- while customers have created 420,000 unique domains.
Brad Anderson, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Windows Server and Systems Center, revealed those stats in his keynote address at TechEd 2013 in New Orleans, which kicked off Monday and runs through tomorrow.
"Everything starts with the identity of that user inside of Active Directory," Anderson told TechEd attendees. "We've now cloud optimized Active Directory with Windows Azure Active Directory, so now we can extend your capabilities of Active Directory to the cloud with you in complete control about what you want to have appear inside that Azure Active Directory."
Microsoft released Windows Azure Active Directory in early April following a nine month preview and is offering it free of charge. It's the same directory users authenticate with to access Office 365, Windows Intune and now Windows Azure. Prior to the release of Windows Azure Active Directory, Windows Azure users had to authenticate with their Live IDs, which Microsoft is now phasing out in favor of what it generically calls the Microsoft account.
While administrators in organizations of all sizes can now synchronize identities in Windows Server Active Directory with Windows Azure Active Directory using Microsoft's DirSync, there are limitations. At the recent Visual Studio Live! conference in Chicago, Windows Azure MVP Michael Collier, who is a cloud architect at Aditi Technologies, warned developers that Windows Azure Active Directory doesn't support the management of devices, printers or Group Policy. "It's more targeted around users, authentication and properties for those users," Collier said during a talk on Windows Azure Active Directory.
"You're not going to enforce Group Policy today with Windows Azure Active Directory, added Eric Boyd, also a Windows Azure MVP and CEO of Chicago-based responsiveX. "You don't join your machines in your domain to a Windows Azure Active Directory like you do an Active Directory on premise," Boyd explained.
While customers have indicated they'd like to see Group Policy in Windows Azure Active Directory, Boyd is urging them not to expect it anytime soon. "There are certainly challenges with doing that, if that's the only source of authentication for your company," he said.
In an interview with Microsoft's Anderson, I asked what the future holds for Group Policy in Windows Azure Active Directory, since it was a topic that has come up in frequent interviews. "With that cloud-optimized mobile device management solution you get Group Policy-like capabilities like setting your network and your wireless settings and setting a power-on password encryption," Anderson said. "Think about Azure Active Directory, Windows Intune, as well as Office 365, really driving the move toward these software-as-a-service [aspects] delivered from Azure with capabilities like lightweight policy management coming with Windows Intune."
Lightweight policy management in Windows Intune is one thing I pressed him on -- whether full Group Policy available on premise would come to Windows Azure Active Directory. His response: "I see doing a much more light version of Group Policy but right now we're delivering that through Windows Intune," he emphasized. "So think about these things as all inter-related and things we are building on together. So as we think about Azure Active Directory and Intune, we're doing common planning and engineering milestones across those two things."
I'll take that as a maybe. How does Windows Azure Active Directory fit into your enterprise identity management? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/05/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
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Microsoft announced a major new version of its flagship database, SQL Server, that aims to extend support for big data and the in-memory processing capability added to the current version. It was one of a slew of new wares Microsoft launched at its annual TechEd conference, which kicked off this morning in New Orleans.
SQL Server 2014 is the official name for Microsoft's relational database management system, which will take advantage of Windows Azure with hybrid cloud scenarios. It contains built-in Hekaton technology that converts tables so they run in memory. Other improvements in SQL Server 2014 include improved backup and availability, according to Quentin Clark, a Microsoft VP, on stage during the keynote presentation.
Improved in-memory processing capabilities will support online transactions in near real-time, Clark said. An early tester of the forthcoming SQL Server 2014 is Edgenet, which is a software-as-a service (SaaS) provider of inventory management for retailers, Clark said. Retailers often update their inventory management systems using batch processes, meaning if a customer wants to know if an item is in stock, it may or may not be up to date.
Using the in-memory capabilities to process transactions, they can refresh that data in near real-time, Clark explained. "We're doing it because it's a way to achieve unprecedented latency and scale, low-latency and high scale and throughput for transactional data," he said.
SQL Server 2014 preview is slated for release later this month, according to Microsoft's SQL Server Blog. Microsoft indicated it will ship shortly after the newly launched Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, both due out by year's end. That would imply SQL Server 2014 will likely arrive early next year.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/03/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
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Microsoft outlined plans for Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 saying they provide parity with its datacenter infrastructure software and in its public cloud portfolio. The upgraded server OS and system management platform is also designed to help IT better-manage user-provided devices, providing extended mobile device management capabilities.
The company, which announced the upgrades at its annual TechEd conference in New Orleans this morning, said it will release previews of the R2 versions of Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, which are slated for general availability by year-end. Also planned is an upgrade to its cloud-based Windows Intune systems management service. Microsoft plans to upgrade its entire portfolio of datacenter software and services, as reported by my colleague Kurt Mackie.
Talking up the so-called bring your own device (BYOD) trend, Microsoft corporate VP Brad Anderson, joined on the TechEd 2013 keynote stage by principal program lead Molly Brown, said Windows Server 2012 R2 will let administrators register all user devices by creating a "workplace join" to Active Directory.
In a demo by Brown, an administrator can join a Windows 8.1 device to a domain. IT can use a new "Web application proxy" to publish corporate resources for access by end users, which is tied to Active Directory. Admins can also register a device with ADFS. Windows Server 2012 R2, combined with System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager, supports enabling a two-factor authentication security feature called "Windows Active Directory Authentication," which is based on the technology that Microsoft acquired from Phone Factor. The new R2 releases let administrators verify the identity of a user by initiating a phone call to a mobile device as a secondary security precaution.
Windows Server 2012 R2 with the new System Center 2012 upgrade, will also include a feature called selective wipe, which will let administrators remotely remove enterprise applications and data off of a user-owned device without deleting any data or apps owned by the user.
Another new feature coming to Windows Server 2012 R2 is Work Folders, which lets users store data on a device, replicate it to the file server and push out to other registered PCs and devices. With this feature, data is encrypted both on the devices and on the server, Anderson said. "That is truly enabling what we call 'people centric IT' and enables you make your users productive on all their devices."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/03/2013 at 9:03 AM0 comments
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Looking to flesh out its so-called Cloud OS vision, Microsoft revealed plans to offer the new Windows Azure Pack, which brings the portal interface of Microsoft's cloud service to Windows Server and System Center.
In a keynote address this morning that kicked off the annual TechEd 2013 conference in New Orleans, corporate VP Brad Anderson emphasized the latest version of Hyper-V release introduced in Windows Server 2012 last year is the same hypervisor offered in its Windows Azure cloud service.
"Consistency across clouds is one of the things you should absolutely add to the top of your list as you're looking at your cloud decisions," Anderson said. "If things are consistent, if you have the same virtualization, same management, the same developer interfaces, you have the same identity and you have consistency across data, what that allows you to do is you can just move VMs and applications across clouds, no converging, no migration, no friction."
With the Windows Azure Pack, administrators can let lines of business configure and consume capacity, Anderson explained. It also enables high-density Web hosting, allowing organizations to deploy 5,000 Web servers on a single Windows Server instance just as they do in Windows Azure, allowing it to run in the datacenter. Features such as the Windows Azure Service Bus will also run on this new pack. And Microsoft will offer a set of APIs that let developers build apps and deploy them on premise or in the cloud.
"We're hardening [these] in Azure, and then through the Windows Azure Pack we deliver that and it just drops right on top of Windows Server and on System Center," Anderson said.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/03/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft yesterday made official one of the worst-kept secrets in the world of Windows these days -- that it's bringing the Start button back when it releases Windows 8.1 later this year. Moreover, users will have the option of booting up to the traditional, or classic, Windows desktop rather than the tile-based modern user interface that defines Windows 8.
But these two changes come with a bit of a caveat. First, the Windows 8.1 Start button will be there but it will use the Windows flag, rather than the old round button used in earlier versions of Windows. And by default, clicking on it will take you to the tile-based interface. In order to have it launch the Windows menu a one-time configuration is required, The New York Times Nick Wingfield reports.
Likewise, Windows 8.1 by default will still boot to the tile-based interface and you'll need to configure it to boot to the traditional desktop. Not a big deal but I anticipate grumbling by some already.
The original decision to remove the Start button when releasing Windows 8 angered more than three quarters of Redmond magazine readers, generating more response than any other issue in recent memory. And that response was emotionally charged on both sides of the argument.
Those angered by the move felt Microsoft was making it harder to use Windows in the traditional desktop mode for no beneficial reason. But I heard from plenty of IT pros who felt Microsoft's decision to remove the Start button was necessary to wean users away from it and toward the tile-based touch metaphor. Change happens and we need to adapt to it, the argument went.
But Microsoft failed to realize many business users who have no current need or interest in the tile interface -- and more importantly use machines that are not touch-capable -- resented the removal of the Start button. I happen to like the tile interface. But for applications that run only in the traditional desktop mode, I didn't see the benefit of learning new habits. Nor do I see why leaving it in would discourage me from using the tile interface, which seemed to be Microsoft's concern. Microsoft apparently realized that it was premature to remove the training wheels. I think it was a sensible concession with no downside. Do you?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/31/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
A growing number of employees want to use social networking to improve collaboration, productivity and knowledge sharing. But within some organizations IT is standing in their way. That's the conclusion of a study released by Microsoft Tuesday, which found IT blocking the adoption of social network in many workplaces.
Thirty percent of those surveyed said IT organizations are putting restrictions on the use of social networking for business use, while 77 percent said they want better collaboration tools and 31 percent are willing to spend their own money to get the tools they want. The survey, commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Ipsos, is based on a sample of nearly 10,000 individuals in organizations with 100 or more employees in 32 countries.
Microsoft of course has taken a keen interest in enterprise social networking following last year's $1.2 billion acquisition of Yammer and the addition of social networking features to its SharePoint collaboration platform. Microsoft this summer will begin to integrate the features of Yammer into SharePoint, Office 365 and ultimately across its various product lines. Naturally Microsoft would like to see more universal buy-in from IT.
"The tension and rift we're seeing is fascinating," said Brian Murray, director of enterprise strategy at Yammer, now part of Microsoft's Office group. "Many end users don't believe their employers recognize the value of social tools. We are urging those responsible for provisioning technology to look at the merits, listen to employees and look into provisioning these technologies on a wider scale."
Security concerns were by far the leading reason why survey participants believed IT was reluctant to support enterprise social networking, according to 68 percent of those responding. The belief that social networking would hinder productivity was the number two reason, 58 percent said. Those were the two key fears, with a much smaller percentage naming such issues as HR concerns, risk of harming corporate image and data loss.
Responses varied significantly based on countries. It turns out those in China -- an overwhelming 84 percent -- believe social networking greatly or somewhat improves productivity, while at the other extreme only 24 percent of respondents in the Netherlands believed it provided such gains. In the U.S. only 34 percent are bullish on its benefits, while 46 percent of the worldwide sample believe it so.
Does this portend challenges ahead for Microsoft and others such as Salesforce.com, which offers the competing enterprise social networking tool Chatter? For its part, Microsoft said it added 312 new Yammer customers last quarter with a 259 percent increase in revenues.
But Microsoft believes social networking needs to be used more strategically, a conviction shared by others with skin in the enterprise social networking game. "Just putting Yammer into your environment doesn't make it successful," said Gail Shlansky, director of product manager at Axceler, a provider of SharePoint management tools, which is adding Yammer governance to its ViewPoint management tool. "It takes advocates, it takes telling the resources in the enterprise who are going to use it into being part of that team."
Are you concerned about the use of enterprise social networking tools in your organization? Has your shop given it the green light? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/29/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
When Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman was asked by CNBC Thursday where she saw the bottom when it comes to declining PC sales, she didn't quite say. But Whitman argued there are 140 million desktops and notebooks that are more than four years old. While acknowledging tablets might be growing faster, she said users will ultimately need full-fledged systems as well.
"People are still doing real work on their laptops, and tablets are great. But if you're doing Office or Excel or real creation, it's really hard to do that on your tablet," Whitman said the morning after reporting earnings for its second fiscal quarter.
"We're investing in hybrids where you have a laptop plus a tablet, where the screen comes off, so it's all in one. I think that's the direction the industry will go," Whitman said. "My view is people will want to create, they want to consume, they want to share, and I think that form factor will have a future." But she acknowledged: "The growth is tablets and smart phones, we're in to a whole new era in personal computing, there's no question about it."
Whitman said Windows-based PCs are no longer the only game in town. But nonetheless, she re-affirmed HP's commitment to the WinTel platform. The company yesterday also unleashed a new line of touch-based Windows 8 PCs including what it describes as mobile all-in-one desktop. Weighing in at 12-pounds, you probably wouldn't take this on the road but users can move the new ENVY Rove 20 from room to room.
Overall Whitman was in a better mood than usual yesterday. While HP's year-over-year revenues plummeted last quarter, the company stunned Wall Street with much better than expected earnings, leading to a 17 percent rise in its share price Thursday. HP became an instant darling after reporting a surprise $3.6 billion in cash flow from operations, up 44 percent.
Despite the jubilation, things still aren't exactly hunky-dory at HP's Palo Alto, Calif. headquarters, where personal systems revenues declined 20 percent, enterprise systems were down 10 percent, the services business dropped 8 percent and software was 3 percent lower.
As Whitman re-iterated, HP is 18 months into a five-year turnaround. At this point, things are slightly ahead of schedule but she's not celebrating yet. "I feel good about the growth prospects for 2014."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/24/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
More than eight months after Microsoft released Windows Server 2012, and despite an 11 percent uptick in the company's Server and Tools business last quarter, it appears most enterprises, mostly with fewer than 1,000 employees, have yet to upgrade or deploy the new operating system.
A report published yesterday by Symantec reveals that while 56 percent of respondents plan to deploy Windows Server 2012, 93 percent of them have yet to do so. The survey consists of 530 organizations worldwide. The notion that organizations appear to be moving slowly to Windows Server 2012 is not surprising. Typically IT decision makers are conservative about introducing new platforms into their datacenters and there's no reason Windows Server 2012 should diverge from that practice. Nevertheless IDC in February reported that Windows Server hardware's overall growth increased 3.2 percent in the fourth calendar quarter of last year, though it's unclear how much of those sales are systems with Windows Server 2012. I have a query into Microsoft and will update this blog if I receive an answer.
Symantec's survey found of those planning to move to Windows Server 2012, 13 percent are waiting for the first service pack, 15 percent will do it within six months, 17 percent within a year and 11 percent plan to wait longer.
"It's going to be a wait and see," said Susie Spencer, a senior product marketing manager at Symantec. "Those that are more risk takers will jump on board pretty soon but those wanting to make sure everything is tested and tried before they implement it in their organization are going to wait before they move to Windows Server 2012."
For those that are planning to move to Windows Server 2012, the key reason for doing so is to run SQL Server (67 percent), followed by Active Directory Exchange Controllers (61 percent), Exchange (58 percent), file and print servers (54 percent) and finally SharePoint (52 percent).
Key new capabilities in Windows Server 2012 respondents are seeking are improved VDI, Hyper-V virtualization and the new Resilient File System (ReFS), according to the survey. PowerShell improvements and refined disk de-duplication were close followers, Spencer said.
The survey also found that only 18 percent have more than three-quarters of their IT environments virtualized, while 52 percent plan to be completely virtualized within two years. A survey of Redmond magazine readers found only 12 percent have upgraded to System Center 2012, which combined with Windows Server 2012 is the underpinnings of its so-called Cloud OS strategy. The good news I'm hearing from various third parties is improvements to Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 have for the first time made the hypervisor a viable alternative to the VMware stack.
What are your plans in upgrading to Windows Server 2012 and what do you find most compelling about the new OS and the Cloud OS story? Are you waiting or hoping Microsoft will have more to say about its roadmap at next month's TechEd 2013 conference in New Orleans? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/22/2013 at 9:03 AM0 comments
Microsoft's Windows 8/RT-based Surface devices are pretty slick and attractive to those who want both a tablet and a PC in one lightweight, ultra-modern unit. Yet most people are unaware of the benefits of the device despite a six-plus month ad blitz that's hard to miss. The commercials, slick in their own right, don't explain what a potential customer can do with a Surface.
I know many people who don't follow technology closely but nevertheless use it. Quite a few have no clue what the Surface does and Microsoft's commercials have done little to advance its cause. Microsoft today is finally acknowledging this.
"As much as we love the ads and others have, they've also been a bit polarizing," Michael Hall, general manager for Surface at Microsoft admitted in a blog post. "Some of our biggest Surface fans have been downright angry (ANGRY!) that we aren't talking about more of what it actually does!"
It appears Microsoft has finally gotten the message that if it wants to convince customers to look at the tablet hybrid, perhaps it should tell them why. The company's new ads do just that. The spots implicitly point out what you can't do with an iPad by pointing to the ability to run Office, a keyboard and support for peripherals via SD card and USB ports.
Perhaps these new commercials will help move the needle a bit on Surface sales. But I suspect until the next generation of devices hit the market, presumably with Intel's next-generation Haswell processors, it may remain a tough sell. But it's harder to convince people to buy something if they don't know what it is. Hence the new ads are a step in the right direction.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/20/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
In a defining moment for Yahoo, the company today said it has agreed to acquire the popular micro-blogging site Tumblr for $1.1 billion in cash. Rumors had swirled for several days that Yahoo was the leading contender to acquire Tumblr, though Facebook and Microsoft were also reported to have engaged in serious talks to acquire the company.
It's hard not to see just a bit of irony in the fact that Yahoo bested Microsoft for Tumblr, given Microsoft's failed bid to acquire Yahoo in 2008 and the current search partnership between the two companies. Of course the latter is less unusual given that partners almost always compete at the same time.
It's not clear how badly Microsoft wanted Tumblr, a company that boasts 300 million unique visitors monthly, 120,000 new accounts each day and 900 posts per second. Half of those posts are from mobile devices that conduct an average of seven sessions per day, and Tumblr says its collective audience spends 24 billion minutes on its site monthly. It seems Microsoft is itching to do some kind of deal, coming off reports last week that it's also weighing buying Barnes & Noble's Nook business.
In rather unique verbiage for an official announcement on an investor relations site, Yahoo said the two companies agreed "not to screw it up" by deciding to keep Tumbr as a subsidiary that will continue to be led by its founder and CEO David Karp. For Yahoo the deal is a big bet. While Tumblr has a huge audience its revenues are not so enormous -- a paltry $13 million. That's because it has eschewed advertising. Something Yahoo will undoubtedly change.
Microsoft has a vested interest in Yahoo's overall well-being, at least for now. A report in The Wall Street Journal two weeks ago said Yahoo may want out of its deal with Microsoft to use Bing as its search engine. According to that report, Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer is unhappy with the fact that its revenue per search with Bing is lower than it was when it ran its own engine.
Meyer's former employer, Google, is waiting in the wings, according to the report, though Microsoft is said to have no interest in letting Yahoo out of the deal before it expires in 2020. One source close to the contract said the earliest Microsoft might let Yahoo walk is 2015.
As for Tumblr, what's your take on Microsoft's alleged interest in acquiring a blogging site? Should Microsoft go down that path, either via acquisition or organic development or should it leave that to the likes of Facebook, Twitter and WordPress?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/19/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
The rivalry between Google and Microsoft took on a new twist this week as the two companies accused each other of providing selective interoperability. While that's nothing new, the Google CEO Wednesday kicked off a tirade of barbs at a surprise appearance during the company's annual developer conference where he lashed out at Microsoft and accused the company of impeding interoperability.
During his unscheduled presentation at Google I/O, Page criticized Microsoft for integrating the Gmail chat/IM service into Outlook.com but not letting Google do the same with its service.
"The Web is not advancing as fast as it should be," Page said. "We struggle with companies like Microsoft. We would like to see more open standards and more people involved in those ecosystems." A day later, Google slapped Microsoft with a demand that it remove its Windows Phone 8 YouTube app from the Windows Store for violations of the company's terms of service.
Is there a double standard here or does Google have a legitimate beef that Microsoft is tinkering with the app by blocking ad content, while not returning in kind interoperability with its IM service? The reality is, when it comes to interoperability, it's not hard to find both companies (actually most IT players) guilty of hypocrisy.
Nevertheless, Microsoft continues to make strides in its support for platforms not born in Redmond, most recently by extending support for Android and Apple's iOS. While that hasn't led to a version of Office for those mobile platforms as many would love to see, I saw first-hand at this week's Visual Studio Live! conference in Chicago, produced by Redmond magazine parent company 1105 Media, that Microsoft has stepped up its tooling for those mobile environments, including its Windows Azure Mobile Services offering.
Suffice to say, this isn't altruism here on Microsoft's part. Android and iOS are by far the most widely used platforms for phones and tablets these days. Google revealed 900 million devices worldwide now run Android, up from 400 million last year at this time and 100 million two years ago, said Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice present for the Android, Chrome and Apps teams, in his keynote address at the developer conference.
So it's in Microsoft's interest to reach those users lest it provoke further erosion of the Windows and Office platforms. At the same time, Page shouldn't talk out of both sides of his mouth. Instead of effectively saying "can't we all love one another," if he wants interoperability, he might want to refine his approach. It all boils down to selective interoperability and this week's crossfire is only the latest chapter.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/17/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Yesterday Microsoft released some of the first details of its Windows 8 upgrade, code-named Windows "Blue."
Here's now what we know: The update now has the official name of Windows 8.1. And we also know that Windows 8 and Windows RT users won't need to shell out any more money for the update, which may or may not bring back the start button.
We also have this vague description from Microsoft's Tami Reller on what the offering will be: "Windows 8.1 will advance the bold vision that we set forward with Windows 8 to deliver great PCs and tablets with an experience that does allow you to simply do more," she said during a presentation yesterday.
Even with Reller's presentation, it's still unclear what Windows 8.1 is. In the past, when Microsoft rolled up updates and new features for its OS, these used to be called service packs. But seeing that this will be called Windows 8.1 and not Windows 8 SP1, one might be inclined to believe that this is not the same thing -- that it's something different than a service pack.
However, this is Microsoft -- the company that avoids product name consistency like the plague.
And the few glimmering details we do have (either by rumor or directly from Microsoft) does make it sound like Windows 8.1 will just consist of rolled up updates and new features. So I'm leaning more towards this being more Microsoft naming shenanigans and an attempt by the company to jazz up what is essentially a service pack.
This is a rare occurrence where the naming switch does make sense for the sole purpose of at least getting the public to take another look at Windows 8.
Let's face it -- Microsoft is desperate to move some Windows 8 units. It clearly sees that releasing something called Windows 8 Service Pack 1 won't light a fire under an apathetic consumer base. And calling it Windows 8 "do-over" doesn't really work as well. So what can Microsoft name this to convey both to the public that it's a new and improved Windows 8?
Luckily, Apple has already laid the groundwork. For more than 10 years now, Apple has been rolling out new updates to its OS X operating systems with a yearly refresh that, in some cases, has been drastically different than the previous year. But instead of calling it a new OS, they stick a new version number on it (along with throwing a large cat code name on it).
We've been conditioned to understand that Apple's latest version upgrade, OS X v10.8, is almost a completely different product than its previous OS X v10.7 because of a change in one decimal number.
I could see that Microsoft would want to take a page of the market branding that Apple has already established, especially since Redmond desperately needs some help in this department. And it does want to convince consumers that Windows 8.1 is worth giving a shot, even among those who gave Windows 8 vanilla a shot and have already wrote it off.
However, a name that consumers can get behind can only carry you so far, and a product rarely lives or dies by its brand name (Ok, the Microsoft Kin may be the exception to that).
What we really need to see are the nitty-gritty details of how Microsoft has addressed the legitimate concerns users have with its latest OS. Thankfully, we won't have to wait too long for the missing pieces to drop in during next month's Build conference. And for those looking for a way in the door, Microsoft released some more tickets this morning.
What do you think, is Windows 8.1 Microsoft's attempt to spruce up the service pack name? Let me know in the comments below.
Posted by Chris Paoli on 05/15/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
While Rackspace typically emphasizes that its infrastructure as a service is now based on the open-source OpenStack cloud platform, the hosting provider still has a vested and significant interest in Windows. In addition to offering SharePoint hosting and development services, many of its customers use the Rackspace cloud to run Windows-based apps. The company also points to the improved Hyper-V support in Grizzly, the latest update to the OpenStack cloud OS released last month.
Now Rackspace is trying to make it more attractive to have Windows apps run in its OpenStack environment. The company earlier this month added new tools to help IT pros and developers alike build and manage .NET applications. Among them are Rackspace's PowerClient, a Powershell-based API client for the company's public cloud and the Rackspace Cloud SDK for Microsoft.NET.
"Now you can start seamlessly and easily integrating your applications into your Windows cloud environments," said Cole Humphreys, a Rackspace senior product marketing manager in a blog post. PowerClient is intended for those who want to build custom Microsoft Powershell-based cmdlets.
While Rackspace and OpenStack have a CLI known as NovaClient (for Nova compute), it's Python-based and designed to run natively in most Linux environments. NovaClient can work with Windows as well but it's not optimized for that OS, wrote Rackspace sales engineer Mitch Robins in a description of PowerClient posted to Github.
For systems administrators and IT pros responsible for ensuring uptime, implementing tools designed to run natively in Linux can be a difficult process in Windows, he noted. "You want to be able to use natively supported and functional tools, without the potential headache of having something fail because it wasn't meant for use within the Windows eco-system."
Designed to run on Rackspace OpenStack cloud servers today, Robins signaled that the roadmap calls for it working in any OpenStack environment in the future, however the OpenStack Foundation hasn't established a timeframe for that.
Meanwhile Rackspace is looking for .NET developers to build modern apps designed for mobile environments where the company sees much of the demand for its cloud services. A Rackspace survey found that 82 percent of IT decision makers believe mobile apps will become a standard method of accessing enterprise data and 28 percent say they will build their own enterprise app stores.
"The trend is toward more and more mobile apps and we are in the early stages," said Rackspace CTO John Engates, who also noted that 84 percent access to information at any time from any place while 55 percent said the cloud and mobile devices are enabling that.
To bring .NET developers into the fold, the Rackspace Cloud SDK for Microsoft.NET library runs from within Microsoft's free Visual Web Developer Express 2012 tool using its integrated NuGet extension manager.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/14/2013 at 9:03 AM0 comments
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 widely exposed the fact that if the CIA and FBI had data sharing capabilities, law enforcement could have thwarted the worst attack in U.S. history. Ironically it came to light just a week after Robert Mueller took over as head of the FBI.
As word quickly got out of the CIA's suspicions about the terrorists who carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Mueller's key task as the then new FBI chief was to rectify that problem. Nearly a dozen years later, Mueller is set to retire this summer and he's confronted with the latest revelation that the suspected bombers in last month's deadly Boston Marathon attack had ties to Russian terrorists.
The suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who reportedly had extreme views, was interviewed in 2011 by the FBI, though it later dropped the case. Now The New York Times points out that as Mueller's career comes to an end, while the two agencies may have improved the way data is shared, it still has a long way to go before it can predict with better precision a threat that's about to initiate such unthinkable acts.
Perhaps it's unfair to say Mueller didn't get the job done during his tenure -- law enforcement at many levels have thwarted dozens if not hundreds of attacks in the 12 years since 2001. It may be impossible to prevent someone determined enough to initiate an attack but in the age of IBM's Watson, predictive analytics is already making us safer.
There are numerous companies and approaches aimed at using big data to provide better intelligence. But we're not there yet. President Obama needs to find a successor who is savvy about the role big data can in predicting the risks without overstepping and encroaching on the privacy and civil liberties of innocent citizens.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/10/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
A number of media sites over the past day or so have compared Microsoft's failure to wow the market with its Windows 8 operating system as analogous to New Coke, the ill-fated attempt in 1985 to change the flavor of the century-old popular soft drink.
The change was so widely rejected that three months later Coca Cola Corp. reversed course and brought back the original Coke. First it branded the revived version as Classic Coke while keeping New Coke on the shelves as Coke II, which was ultimately phased out.
Whether or not you're old enough to remember the New Coke debacle, it certainly remains a case study in how not to destroy a brand. Search for "New Coke" today on Google or Bing and you'll see numerous articles and blog entries comparing Windows 8 to New Coke. However, Windows 8 is not a "New Coke moment" for Microsoft and I'll explain why.
But first, here's the latest news on Windows 8. Tami Reller, Microsoft's chief marketing officer and CFO of Windows yesterday revealed on the Microsoft's official Windows Blog that a public preview of Windows "Blue" will debut at next month's BUILD conference in San Francisco and with general releases slated by year's end.
Reller tacitly acknowledged Windows 8 hasn't met customer expectations. She also reported that slightly six months after its release, 100 million Windows 8 licenses have shipped, which includes license upgrades as well as its Surface own devices, PCs and tablets offered by third-party partners such as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.
In enterprises however, IDC analyst Al Gillen, told The New York Times, that 40 percent of those customers have license agreements that allow them to downgrade to Windows 7. I sent Gillen a note asking how many of those customers exercise those rights. While he didn't have hard data, he said "my sense is that it is pretty high, probably similar to or higher than Windows Vista (meaning majority of those with downgrade rights are probably exercising them). It is a classic avoidance scenario having more to do with existing momentum of Windows 7 than anything else."
A survey of more than 1,100 Redmond magazine readers planning to replace their PCs, 69 percent said they will install Windows 7, while 18 percent will use Windows 8.
That Microsoft sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses was also the range most analysts had assumed (or at least in that ballpark), though Microsoft raised eyebrows when it didn't provide an update when it reported its fiscal year third quarter earnings last month. The last update Microsoft offered was in January when it said it sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses.
Now most observers believe Windows Blue will let users configure their PCs to boot up to the classic Windows 7-like desktop rather than to the current tile-based Windows Store interface, which requires them to touch or click on the Desktop tile. Everyone is also expecting Microsoft will bring the Start menu back to the classic desktop. None of this is certain, nor did Reller tip her hand.
Microsoft will face a loud uproar if doesn't include these changes and Reller all but indicated that's not what Microsoft wants. "The Windows Blue update is also an opportunity for us to respond to the customer feedback that we've been closely listening to since the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT," Reller said. "From a company-wide perspective, Windows Blue is part of a broader effort to advance our devices and services for Microsoft."
Also part of that effort is to have smaller devices that can answer Apple's iPad Mini, Amazon's Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7. The Wall Street Journal last month reported Microsoft is planning a 7-inch device, based on interviews with Asian component manufactures.
The BBC yesterday interviewed me for its daily World Business Report for a piece it did trying to compare Microsoft's moves as a "New Coke moment." When asked if I saw similarities I said no because Microsoft's not doing an about face here. Unless planets collide, Microsoft's not scrapping its tile interface. Microsoft's likely plan is to make Windows 8 more appealing to those who want the traditional interface while allowing them to use the tile interface at their leisure or as apps they need make sense.
As far as I can tell, the first to make the New Coke analogy was Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, who last week maintained Microsoft should respond by "dumping the Metro interface."
I wouldn't bet on that happening, nor should it.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/08/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
The Pentagon this week accused the Chinese military of what was long reported: that it was backing cyber-espionage by hackers attacking government and commercial computer systems.
It's the first time the U.S. government unambiguously accused China of backing and engaging in protracted cyber-warfare, potentially putting a rift in relations between the two countries.
"In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military," the Pentagon said in its annual report to Congress.
While the China Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the accusations, an editorial in The New York Times said "there seems little doubt that China's computer hackers are engaged in an aggressive and increasingly threatening campaign of cyber-espionage directed at a range of government and private systems in the United States, including the power grid and telecommunications networks."
To be sure, the U.S. government has had to answer charges that it and Israel were behind the Stuxnet attacks against Iran, in an effort to subjugate its alleged nuclear warfare ambitions.
But a number of major banks and government agencies have sustained crippling attacks, as this month's Redmond magazine cover story points out. President Obama back in his February State of the Union Address pointed to cyber threat as a major risk to the nation's security. The warning came with an executive order mandating government agencies share information about cyber threats between state and local governments, and the private sector.
It looks like the Pentagon has upped the ante.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/08/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
The U.S Senate has a pretty big problem on its hands. I'm not referring to its inability to arrive at consensus on most issues these days The latest setback is much more fundamental: the scarcity of ladies' rooms in the Senate chamber.
Until recently that wasn't as big an issue, but with last year's elections, there's now an all-time high of 20 female U.S. senators. That's causing long lines because there are only two stalls for women near the Senate floor. I suspect it's not so bad at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond but with Amy Hood taking over as the company's chief financial officer last week, the company now has its first woman overseeing its books.
Like many large companies, Microsoft touts its diversity, and the company has taken a step forward with Hood's promotion.
These days, four women make up Microsoft's senior leadership team of 16, meaning they account for 25 percent. Two of them, Tami Reller and Julie Larson-Green have become the face of Windows in recent months.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/08/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Apple's iPad may be a market-leading tablet but Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates this morning dismissed its usefulness saying they lack the breadth and capabilities of new devices based on Windows 8 (including the company's own Surface).
Acknowledging the iPad's dominance Gates told CNBC the following: "A lot of those users are frustrated. They can't type, they can't create documents, they don't have Office there. We're providing them something with the benefits they've seen that have made that a big category, but without giving up what they expect in a PC."
Gates was sitting next to his close longtime friend, the billionaire investor Warren Buffet, in Omaha, which just wrapped up the Berkshire Hathaway annual board meeting (Gates is on the company's board). If you want to listen to his comments but don't want to hear what he has to say about interest and currency rates, investor confidence in wake of the three-year anniversary of the Flash Crash (has it been that long?) and his view on board governance, you can scroll to 7:22 when Gates is asked about the plummeting PC business.
In the interview, Gates also scoffed at the notion the PC's best days are over. "PCs are a big market," he said. "It's going to be harder to distinguish products, whether they're tablets or PCs. With Windows 8 Microsoft is trying to gain share in what has been dominated by the iPad-type device."
Regarding Microsoft's Surface hybrid PC-tablets Gates said: "You've got that portability of the tablet but the richness in terms of the tablet but the richness in terms of the keyboard and Microsoft Office of the PC."
Perhaps Gates implicit prediction that Windows will have a successful second life is right -- he's defied naysayers before -- but Windows 8 and its successors based on the new Windows Store or "Metro" style model will take time to gain acceptance, according to industry analysts and according to a survey of Redmond magazine's readership.
More than half, or 54 percent, said they don't have a single Windows 8 PC in their shop, according to our survey in which over 1,000 registered and qualified readers of Redmond magazine responded. And 37 percent say Windows 8 accounts for less than 10 percent of PCs, presumably a handful in most cases. Over the next year, 39 percent say they won't have any Windows 8 PCs, while in two years, more than a quarter, 26 percent, still won't have one. Only 8 percent say all of their PCs will be Windows 8 based in two years.
At the moment, the iPad and Android-based devices are the devices of choice. Apple delivered 19.5 million iPads, while Microsoft shipped a mere 900,000 Surface Pros and Surface RTs, market researcher IDC reported last month. Meanwhile 27 million devices based on Google's Linux-based Android operating system have shipped from a number of vendors. Windows 8 pales in comparison accounting for 1.6 million units and Windows RT just 200,000 units.
Even though Windows 8 has gotten off to a slow start, I believe it's too early to write it off. Surveys show what people are contemplating based on what they know now. When Microsoft reveals the future of Windows later this month, the company will need to convince users it has a compelling alternative. If it does, people's thinking can change in a very short amount of time. Either way, the future of Windows will take years to play out.
In addition to his enthusiasm for Windows 8, Gates gave a plug for Microsoft's emphasis on cloud computing. "The cloud is a gigantic opportunity because now there are so many things you can do in computing that just wouldn't have been possible before," he said. "You've got a lot of the top companies going to seize that opportunity."
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/06/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Intel's decision to name Brian Krzanich as its sixth CEO comes as the CPU giant is looking to breathe new life to its x86 PC architecture, among many other challenges facing the world's largest manufacturer of processors. Krzanich was an odds-on favorite to succeed Paul Otellini, who in November caught Intel's board off guard when he said he would step down three years earlier than expected.
Otellini's premature retirement left Intel's board scrambling to name a successor with a search that included both outside and internal candidates. The company yesterday stuck with tradition in naming a longtime insider. Krzanich, who joined the company over three decades ago at the age of 22, is now the company's chief operating officer.
While many analysts predicted Krzanich would get the top job, the company also promoted long-shot candidate Renée James, Intel's software head, as its new president. Krzanich is known for his manufacturing chops while James is credited with advancing Intel into next-generation devices, though that work is far from complete.
Both understand that while the WinTel dynasty that once fueled huge revenue and profit growth no longer embodies everything Intel and Microsoft do, it's still a huge business for both companies. Nevertheless Intel will never rely solely on Microsoft to boot up its processors, while Redmond also has turned to many of Intel's rivals such as ARM licensees including NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.
With questions about who will fill Otellini's shoes out of the way, both companies have a lot at stake with next month's anticipated announcements of new PCs based on Intel's new Haswell low-power CPUs. If they push the envelope as expected -- offering 2x to 4x improvements in battery life while providing added graphics capabilities, new Windows 8 machines could become more desirable, especially if the forthcoming upgrade enamors potential customers.
Consumers and enterprises alike are buying new PCs -- they're just not purchasing them in droves the way they once did, as noted in yesterday's report that Windows 8 now accounted for 3.8 percent of all PCs in use as of April. This is up from 3.2 percent in March. They're also stretching the lives of their old machines longer than in the past because they're not the only device they rely on. And, for many, there's no compelling reason yet to upgrade, which undoubtedly contributed to last quarter's worse-than-expected decline in PC shipments, reported last month.
With Haswell and Intel's hybrid laptop design called North Cape, it will be up to the company and Microsoft with Blue, aka Windows 8.1, to change that along with the WinTel ecosystem. Are you optimistic that will happen? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/03/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Many people I know have stopped wearing watches, opting to check their smartphones for the time. I’m among those who feel naked without my Seiko (having experienced that a few weeks ago when the battery suddenly died). I couldn’t change that battery fast enough. At the same time, I found a report in The Wall Street Journal that said Microsoft may be developing a Windows-based watch. Intriguing.
While Microsoft hasn’t commented on the report, The Journal said executives with an Asian suppliers said the company has requested components for a potential watch-type computing device. Microsoft, however, is only in the consideration stage, according to the report.
Until now, I’ve rolled my eyes at the spate of reports that Apple and Google have plans to offer wearable devices. Take Google Glass, the glasses that let people take pictures using voice commands or certain physical gestures, as well as request directions and request other information from their Android phones. Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff gave a demo yesterday on NBC’s The Today Show.
The thought of replacing my glasses with Google's eyewear has as much appeal to me as having a chip implanted in my brain. I just had an eye exam last week, and as it turns out, my prescriptions have changed both for reading and distance. The doctor suggested I consider progressive lenses rather than replacing lenses on two sets of frames. But he warned me it takes some getting used to. Now imagine having progressive lenses that also let you search for information or take pictures? And if you were concerned about privacy before... well that’s a whole separate discussion.
The prospective Microsoft watch would have a 1.5-inch display for the prototype. I’m not expecting to see a Microsoft watch anytime soon but I must admit, I could see a day when I replace my Seiko with a timepiece that could give me a quick glance of my schedule, messages and other quick tidbits of information including of course, the time.
A watch-based interface would be much less invasive, districting and dangerous than eyewear. True the temptation to glance at my watch would increase but it would mean less pulling out of the phone to quickly access information. But I suppose it would suddenly become illegal to look at your watch while driving (but that’s a small price to pay). Perhaps the biggest fear is we’d see pedestrians walking the streets glued to their watches. However, those same pedestrians are already glued to their phones.
So I’m open to a watch that could let me quickly check my messages and perhaps look up information as long as it doesn’t look too odd and is as comfortable as my current timepiece. Nevertheless, I expect I’ll be changing the battery on my Seiko at least a few more times.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/01/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
If you had to double-check to make sure you didn't go to the wrong Web site, it's understandable. But you're at the correct place. Welcome to the complete makeover of Redmondmag.com!
As you can see, this isn't just a minor design tweak -- this is an entirely new look and feel, aimed to make it easier for you to find your favorite articles based on topics based on your areas of expertise and interest. While this new modern look may take some getting used to, I have no doubt you will discover more of the rich information available on the site.
Our design team, under the direction of Scott Shultz, worked tirelessly to give the site a much more visually-appealing, welcoming and less cluttered look, while front-end developer Rodrigo Munoz and site administrator Shane Lee executed the new look flawlessly.
We broke down the six most popular subjects: Windows/Windows Server, Active Directory, SharePoint, Exchange, Cloud/Virtualization and Security. At the same time, the site has menus that make it easy to find anything else of interest.
Perhaps the most welcome change is the fact that you'll find Redmondmag.com much easier to read on a mobile phone or tablet. No longer will you have to resize pages in order to read stories on your devices.
While the look has changed, the mission to bring IT pros the most useful information about the rapidly evolving computing environments in enterprises and to live up to our tagline as the leading "Independent Voice of the Microsoft IT community" stays the same. As always, I appreciate your feedback and hope you'll drop me a line to let me know what you think of our new look.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/30/2013 at 9:03 AM0 comments
He's baaaaackkkkkk!!! As I'm sure you recall, The New York Times columnist David Pogue made a guest appearance in the pages of Redmond magazine last month to offer his Top 20 Windows 8 Tips. His first tip -- that those who bemoan the loss of the iconic Start button could use a third-party alternative to bring it back -- caused an uproar.
Scores of respondents flamed us saying Microsoft should bring back the Start button. Some argued failure to do so would be the downfall of Windows 8. While it's unlikely Windows 8 will live or die by whether or not Microsoft brings it back, which, according to a number of reports, is suddenly looking possible -- at least in some form -- I asked Pogue if he would give us his take on the third-party options that are out there. You can find his update here.
There are seven third-party Start buttons for Windows 8 that caught Pogue's eye. Most of them are free, though some cost $5 or less. When he sent me the piece as I requested the other day, I faced a bit of a quandary. At the time I asked him to run down these third-party options a few weeks back, there was no sign whatsoever that Microsoft was even considering bringing the Start button back. The first evidence suggesting that has changed came last week when ZDNet blogger and Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley reported that it looks likely that Microsoft is bringing back the Start button as an option in Windows Blue, aka Windows 8.1.
If that's the case -- and we all know Mary Jo has good sources -- it made me wonder: should anyone bother with a third-party option when it's possible Microsoft may bring back the Start button? Would it be a disservice to post Pogue's piece with this possibility looming? I thought long and hard about it and came to the following conclusion: Right now there is no Start button and there are at least 60 million Windows 8 machines out there at last count -- and that was in January. Most people I hear from are quite frustrated with the missing Start button, readers, friends and family included. If there's a free or inexpensive tool that could service some of those people today, then what's the downside to getting "started" (pun unintended) right away?
Also, though it's looking likely Microsoft will bring the Start button back, it's still not a certainty. Microsoft could still backtrack since it hasn't made a public decision. And even if it does bring back the Start button, it will be at least several months before Windows 8.1 is available. Perhaps you'll even prefer the third-party Start buttons over Microsoft's once it ships. With that in mind, I didn't feel it could do any harm to post this piece. In fact I believe it will help many of you get "started" right away.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/27/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
In a move that should broaden the appeal of its cloud-based antivirus and monitoring service for PCs and servers, GFI Software has added patch management. The company launched GFI Cloud last year and adding patch management addresses a critical pain point for IT pros looking to ensure systems are secure.
With its Web-based interface, GFI Cloud is targeted at mid-sized companies generally with fewer than 1,000 employees. However GFI's CEO Walter Scott told me it is used by some customers with many thousands of employees. As I reported last month, GFI spun off its security business into a new company called ThreatTrack, which will target large enterprises.
Scott and ThreatTrack's CEO Julian Waits are longtime close friends and while the two companies have the same shareholders, they're separate business. ThreatTrack will continue to license the Vipre technology it inherited to GFI. But our discussion yesterday was about the addition of patch management to GFI Cloud.
Adding patch management was a natural way for GFI to expand GFI Cloud since the company already has patch management technology via its LanGuard software. "We're seeing the trends that more and more applications are trying to do automatic patching -- we've seen Microsoft have two big failed patches this year," Scott said. "If that's not a reason for automatic update, turning those types of features off, I think automatic patching is putting people at risk."
In addition, Scott warned that due to the size of some patches -- which sometimes are as large as hundreds of megabytes -- distributing them across 1,000 machines can create network performance issues. In some cases, that could be trivial and brief but in rural areas that don't have access to high speed networks, it could wreak havoc.
Scott said a growing number of IT decision makers are becoming more comfortable with the notion of using a cloud provider for patch management. "We're seeing that more and more business are giving up the control of trying to control the end point," he said.
GFI Cloud installs the company's TeamViewer, a Web-based interface that lets IT pros remotely access a system with an issue, enabling them to repair it. The new patching option provides updates to Windows, Exchange, Office, browsers, Adobe and Java, among other widely used software.
The cost is $12 per system, per service, per year, with a minimum of 10 computers.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/26/2013 at 9:03 AM0 comments
With the clock ticking on Microsoft's plans to pull the plug on Windows XP, analysts are warning the millions of enterprises users still running the 12-year-old operating system that time's running out. A careful migration can take many months and up to a year (depending on the shop) and waiting until the last minute or past the deadline means there will be no more security patches after April 8, 2014.
Microsoft also confirmed it won't support Windows XP Mode in Windows 7, for those who are concerned about that, though if they are running Windows 7 as their host OS, their systems should be protected. There are many options for migrating to Windows 7 and/or Windows 8, and my colleague Kurt Mackie wrote an exhaustive and thoroughly researched analysis on many of those options, which you can find here.
Yet a reader quickly commented: "We have no plans to move off XP after support ends. Our specific compatibility needs are met only by Windows XP and unless Microsoft reverses course and puts back Windows XP features in modern Windows, it is XP that we will continue to use. In fact we find newer Windows quite a downer to productivity and usability."
I have received a few e-mails saying they'll use Windows XP until they die. One Redmond reader, Mike, responded a few weeks ago with the following: "XP will continue to run millions of users' applications for decades. Just the Microsoft support options are going away, not the OS. No reason to worry."
Well there is a reason to worry, especially if your machine is connected to the Internet, which is pretty much a given these days. Your systems won't only be more vulnerable to attack, but they could very well become purveyors of malware. So if you do plan to stick with Windows XP, you'll need to find some way to protect it -- both for your benefit and others.
As for Windows XP Mode in Windows 7, one reader e-mailed me the following suggestion:
"I understand Microsoft's position regarding XP Mode. After all, users have had plenty of warning and, after all, XP Mode is Windows XP SP3. Microsoft cannot be expected to continue to issue patches for XP Mode and not XP. That said, I would hope that Microsoft will not remove XP Mode from Windows 7 via a service pack come next April. Even if they do, it would still be better for Windows XP users to install Windows XP SP3 under some other VM tool (such as VMplayer) running under Windows 7 than to continue to run Windows XP on bare metal."
While it's true there are some legacy programs that run on Windows XP or below, and some users still have some old MS-DOS-based systems chugging along, most enterprises will be best served by migrating to a newer operating system. The process may be painful, but most should find the benefits worth the effort.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/24/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Many enterprises have stepped up their efforts to reduce the carbon footprints of their facilities to cut the costs of their operations. It makes good business sense but just as important, reducing emissions is a responsibility every organization should endeavor to provide a cleaner environment.
On this Earth Day many companies are using the occasion to share their contributions toward reducing the amount of power their facilities are consuming. For its part, Microsoft's multi-year cloud computing transformation has afforded the company to push the envelope in reducing the amount of power required to run its growing global datacenter footprint.
Microsoft says it is one of the first major organizations to impose internal fees on carbon emissions, which has given those who manage different businesses and operations incentives to conserve energy by using alterative renewable power sources at 100 worldwide datacenters. Robert Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist said in a blog post today the company has so far used $4 million from those fees to invest renewable energy projects around the world.
"While we still have progress to make in reducing our environmental footprint and realizing the potential of technology to address environmental challenges, I'm pleased to say that we are well on our way to making environmental sustainability a core value at Microsoft," Bernard noted. "We're more confident than ever about the role of IT to address climate change and other important environmental challenges."
As a result of its efforts to run greener datacenters, Microsoft this year ranked No. 2 behind Intel on the EPA's Green Power Partnership list this year. Microsoft's annual green power usage was about 1.9 billion kilowatts per hour, representing 80 percent of its energy usage, thanks to its implementation of Sterling Planet's bioenergy products and services as well as Microsoft's investments in hydro and biomass renewable energy.
In its new datacenters, Microsoft's Power Use Effectiveness, or PUE averages at 1.125, compared to an industry average of 1.8. Among some other facts noted by Microsoft, its new Quincy, Wash. datacenter uses primarily hydro power generated by the local Columbia River and at its Dublin, Ireland datacenter uses 1 percent of the amount of water typically utilized in traditional datacenter. Bernard also last year said for every unit of energy not coming from a renewable energy source such as hydro or wind, the company purchases renewable energy to offset that.
Not every organization has the resources and commitment to invest in green initiatives to that extent but everyone can do their part. En Pointe Technologies, a systems integrator based in Gardena, Calif. last week gave some tips that we all can consider:
- Conserve power: Using the power management options in Windows and Active Directory, IT can ensure systems are in sleep mode during non-business hours
- Power down completely: Shutting down monitors, PCs and printers after business hours can reduce 66 percent of power usage. For example large enterprise printer in sleep mode still consumes 26 watts of power but only .5 watts when turned off
- Reduce paper usage by printing less. According to the EPA, the average user prints 10,000 pages per year. Reducing that could add 3 percent to a company's bottom line.
Earth Day is a good day to renew our commitment to making more efficient use of energy not just to save money but to provide a cleaner environment.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/22/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Over the past several weeks, it appeared the sky was falling for Windows and its longtime partner Intel. With PC sales falling more precipitously last quarter than analysts had originally forecast and IDC blaming it on disappointing uptake of Windows 8, we all were anxiously awaiting this week's earnings reports to hear from the horses' mouths themselves as to actually how bad things are now.
The good news is Intel and Microsoft didn't deliver even more dire reports or forecasts as feared. As it turned out they fared better than IBM, which sharply missed expectations with a quarter-over-quarter revenue decline of 5 percent, following last month's shortfall reported by Oracle and fears about Apple. IBM's miss was the first in eight years and doesn't bode well for other major IT players.
The bad news is Microsoft's decision not to provide an update on Windows 8 sales did little to refute IDC's Windows 8 claim, made last week. Noting that Microsoft sold 100 million Windows 7 licenses six months after it was released, the company's silence certainly raises questions, inferred All About Microsoft blogger and Redmond columnist Mary Jo Foley. It's no secret Microsoft is competing with itself with the popularity of Windows 7. Listening to Microsoft's earnings call last night, CFO Peter Klein, who is stepping down at the end of June, stated the obvious about Windows 8: The best is yet to come.
Now that Windows 8 has been available for six months, anyone not urgently needing a PC surely doesn't want to buy something that they know will be obsolete in a few months (I sure don't). Hence anyone who desires a "new" Windows 8 device (tablet, PC or hybrid) is going to wait for the Windows "Blue" to land on the high end systems based on Intel's next generation Haswell processor and on the low-end Bay Trail Atom processor.
Indeed the hardware out there from OEMs and Microsoft's own Surface RT and Surface Pro will clearly appear underwhelming if you stitch together the improvements the new devices will sport once they start to hit the market later this year. Klein suggested as much on yesterday's earnings call.
"We've always felt that with Windows 8 it was a process of the ecosystem really innovating across the board and really starting to see that on the chips," Klein said on the earnings call. "We're very encouraged by both Haswell and some of the Atom processors to really improve the overall user experience that Windows 8 delivers. And over the coming selling season, I think that's very encouraging and we're optimistic about that."
So here's my takeaway from Microsoft's third-quarter earnings report and investor call yesterday:
- Windows 8 systems are shipping at a weaker pace than it would like to admit but the company is bullish that a new crop of PCs, tablets and hybrids later this year will bolster the OS. Our own data shows Redmond magazine readers are deploying Windows 8 incrementally and will continue to go at that pace for many years.
- Microsoft's transition to the cloud is going well, specifically with Office 365. Office 365 saw an increase of five times this quarter over the same period last year and one in four enterprise customers are using it. Klein said the business is on a $1 billion run rate. While it may be cannibalizing traditional Office licensing sales, this is business Microsoft is not losing to Google, which nevertheless continues to gain momentum with Google Apps. "We expect our transactional customers to increasingly transition to the cloud with Office 365," he said.
- With an overall 11 percent year-over-year improvement in its flagship enterprise business -- Server and Tools -- multiyear licensing increased 20 percent, with Systems Center revenue up 22 percent and HyperV gaining 4 points in the market, Klein said.
- This week's launch of Windows Azure Infrastructure Services and Windows Azure Active Directory positions Microsoft to provide a solid public cloud offering and is poised to capture a major piece of the public cloud business. At the same time, Amazon Web Services will remain the market leader for many years to come, and Microsoft will also face a broad array of competitors in the public cloud from AT&T, Google, Rackspace, HP, IBM, Salesforce.com and those in the RedHat and VMware ecosystems.
As Microsoft looks to close out its 2013 fiscal year, it will no doubt be a challenging sprint to the finish line as the company continues to transition to new products and services. While Microsoft didn't knock it out of the park yesterday, no one thought it would. By virtue of the fact that Microsoft performed within expectations (depending on which consensus groups you look at it either slightly missed or slightly beat forecasts) and didn't drop any bombshells, the company can keep its head down for now.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/19/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
IBM may be looking to get out of the commodity x86 server business but it's making a major bet on extending the use of solid state disk (SSD)-based flash storage technology in the datacenter, which holds the promise of enabling faster transactional and analytical applications. At the same time Big Blue believes it can be used for mainstream workloads such as boosting performance and removing latency of key operational systems such as Exchange Server, SharePoint and SQL Server.
I attended an analyst and press briefing last week at IBM's New York office, where the company trotted out its top technology execs to kick off a major corporate initiative to advance SSD-based flash. In addition to investing $1 billion over the next three years to extend its flash technology and to integrate it into its server, storage and middleware portfolio, IBM is opening 12 centers of competencies around the world for customers and partners to test and conduct proofs of concept using its flash-based arrays.
Though IBM and its rivals have offered SSDs in their storage systems over the past several years, Big Blue believes the economics of flash storage make it increasingly more viable for enterprise and cloud-based systems, which led to its last year's acquisition of industry leader Texas Memory Systems.
Steve Mills, IBM's senior vice president and group executive for software and systems, pegged the price of low-cost disk drives at $2 per gigabyte and high-performance disks costing $6 per gigabyte. While SSD-based flash costs about $10 per gigabyte, Mills argued that because only a portion of spinning disk can actually be used in high-performance systems, the actual cost is also around $10 per gigabyte.
"This is such a profound tipping point," Mills said at last week's event. "There's no question that flash is the least expensive, most economical and highest-performance solution." Over the past decade, processor, memory, network, and bus speed and performance has increased tenfold while the speed of mechanical hard disk drives [HDDs] remains the same, according to Mills. "It has lagged," he said.
"We clearly think that the time [for flash] has come," he added. "This idea of using semiconductor technology to store information on a durable basis is what flash is all about."
Specifically, flash can also offer substantially faster transaction speeds -- on average just 200 microseconds compared with 3 milliseconds, Mills noted. "By reducing the amount of time, the IO wait that the database in the system is experiencing, you're able to accomplish more," he said.
Several customers were on hand to validate Mills' argument, including Karim Abdullah, director of IT operations at Sprint, which tied IBM's FlashSystem to an IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC) to improve access to the wireless provider's 121 distributed call centers worldwide. The volume of calls to Sprint's call center increased dramatically two years ago when the company offered its unlimited data plan, leading to much higher volumes of database queries. "It provided a 45-fold boost in access to that piece of data," Abdullah said of the flash systems.
Al Candela, head of technical services at Thomson Reuters, implemented the flash arrays to build a trading system that could offer much lower latency than the existing architecture with HDDs allowed. "I saw benefits of a 10x improvement in throughput and a similar achievement in latency," Candela said.
While some of these early implementations are aimed at very large scale, high performance computing systems, it also could be used to boost the performance of commodity servers and Windows Server-based systems, said Ed Walsh, VP of marketing and strategy for IBM's system storage business unit. "We see it being used uniformly across Microsoft platforms, Linux platforms, Power platforms and to be honest mainframes," he told me
Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group said flash from IBM and others is rapidly moving from niche/vertical/specialist workloads, such as HPC, to more general workloads including Exchange Server SharePoint. "People running Microsoft based systems could absolutely find it appealing," Peters said.
Texas Memory Systems traditionally targeted high-end HPC workloads. "IBM's ownership and focus will swing it to the commercial side way more and faster," Peters said.
In addition allowing systems like Exchange to run faster, Mills said the ability to read and write from flash storage means applications will require fewer server cores, meaning licensing fees for database, operating system and virtualization software, as well as other line-of-business apps, will be much lower.
While that may be true, that doesn't mean some software companies won't try to compensate by raising their licensing fees, warned PundIT analyst Charles King. "Oracle, as an exemplar, a company that hasn't been shy about adjusting its pricing schema to ensure its profits in the face of emerging technologies," King said. "However, that could also work in IBM's favor. If the company keeps the licensing cost of DB2 steady and Oracle attempts to rejigger its own pricing, the result could make IBM's new FlashSystem solutions look even more compelling."
Because of the much smaller footprint -- Mills described a two-foot rack of flash systems capable of storing a petabyte of data -- datacenter operators can lower their costs by 80 percent, including the power and cooling expenses.
As noted, IBM is not the only company touting SSDs. A growing number of companies such as SolidFire and STORServer are targeting flash storage to enterprises and cloud providers. Incumbent storage system provides like EMC, Hewlett-Packard and NetApp also offer flash technology. Likewise, key public Infrastructure as a Service cloud providers including Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and others offer SSD-based storage.
"IBM claims its hardware-based approach offers better performance than what it called 'flash coupled' software-centric solutions from major competitors like EMC and HP, and it didn't really address smaller and emerging players," King said. "Overall, it's going to take some time to sort out who's faster/fastest and what that means to end users, but IBM's argument for the value of flash was broader and sounder than most pitches I've heard."
Scott Lowe, whose Random Access column debuted on RedmondMag.com last week, warned: "Solid state disks still remain orders of magnitude more expensive than hard disks. Many array solutions include powerful deduplication and other data reduction features that can help to address the capacity question while still providing incredible performance for workloads that need it, such as VDI and big data. Here, the cost per IOPS is low, but the cost per GB is high." Lowe cited SSD flash as one of five options in a modern storage topology.
Do you see using SSD flash in your storage infrastructure? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/19/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Game on. Microsoft's launch yesterday of Windows Azure Infrastructure Services, armed with another round of price cuts, puts the two cloud giants in the Pacific Northwest on more equal footing. Three years after launching Windows Azure as a complete platform as a service, or PaaS, Microsoft finally is able to let customers stand up their own virtual machines in the company's cloud. That means for the first time Windows Azure's infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is now a viable alternative to Amazon's widely used EC2.
Thanks to cut-rate pricing and a widely distributed global cloud service, some of the largest cloud implementations run on Amazon's EC2 including Netflix, Nasdaq, Dropbox, and even Salesforce.com's Heroku service. Almost everyone offering various IT services I speak with say they use Amazon as their provider. Yet surprisingly, Windows Azure may be more widely used than it appears.
A survey of Redmond magazine readers, who are obviously skewed toward Microsoft offerings, shows 26 percent of 979 respondents use Windows Azure, while an equal percentage use "other" services not mentioned in our survey (Rackspace, AT&T, Verizon, Google, HP, Dell, IBM and Oracle). That suggests many are using regional hosting providers or nothing at all. As for Amazon, 13 percent indicated they're using EC2, However the number that plan to use Amazon over the next 12 months jumps to 20 percent, while Windows Azure increases to 28 percent. Those using other services will drop to 18 percent.
It's not just Redmond magazine readers who say Windows Azure is the most widely used cloud provider. Morgan Stanley's April CIO survey found 20 percent use Windows Azure for PaaS functionality compared with 12 percent who use Amazon, though it should be noted that Amazon is primarily an IaaS provider. The Morgan Stanley CIO survey showed 13 percent are using Windows Azure IaaS, presumably the preview release, since it was just made broadly available yesterday. As a result, Morgan Stanley is bullish on Microsoft's cloud prospects and it was a key reason the investment bank upgraded the company's stock.
"Our research suggests Microsoft's large technology base and captive audience of over
5 million .NET developers has propelled the company into an early leadership position in Cloud Platforms," wrote Keith Weiss and Melissa Gorham in yesterday's research note. "Additionally, the cloud-based Office 365 platform continues to see good adoption in customers of all sizes. The contribution from these cloud initiatives remains relatively small today and the shift to subscription licensing may actually create slight near-term headwinds. However, the potential positive sentiment impact of Microsoft being seen as a 'winner' in the cloud as these offerings gain scale and exposure could act as a positive catalyst for MSFT shares, in our view."
Still IaaS is where the action is and Amazon appears to be the company to beat. In addition to Amazon a large swath of IaaS providers including Rackspace, IBM, HP, AT&T and Piston Cloud, among a slew of others are building out a formidable rival with OpenStack. Infrastructure providers such as Cisco, Intel and Red Hat, among over 100 others also have big bets on OpenStack as well. Built on the open source cloud compute, storage and networking platform, a lot of players are investing heavily in OpenStack. The OpenStack Foundation, which is having its biannual summit this week in Portland, Ore., just released its twice yearly platform update, code-named "Grisly." Keep an eye on my Cloud Report blog for updates on OpenStack. One thing I should note is that Grisly includes improved Hyper-V support, something that was notably absent in earlier releases, as I noted last month.
Turning back to Windows Azure, Forrester analyst James Staten said in a blog post yesterday that after yawning about the long anticipated Microsoft and OpenStack releases, that Redmond stands to gain further credibility as a cloud infrastructure provider with its IaaS release.
"Microsoft has done a good job of balancing the sense of comfort and familiarity with this release between those who have experience with other IaaS platforms and those who want the familiarity of their existing Microsoft corporate environments," Staten wrote. "Microsoft Windows Azure IaaS will feel familiar to developers who have experience with Amazon Web Services' Elastic Compute cloud."
Staten added that System Center admins will find the service familiar and very much like a Hyper-V compute pool. "This is probably the best validation of the hybrid cloud model from a major tech supplier so far this year," he said. "Microsoft is steadily delivering on its promise to make the extended, hybrid cloud the way forward for enterprise customers; especially systems admins, who want the option of extending datacenter workloads to the cloud without giving up the tools and IT processes they have spent years refining."
It appears Windows Azure will appeal to large audience of enterprise customers but it also looks like many business units will use different cloud service providers depending on the nature of the application, the development platform and the service levels required. Likewise there are hundreds of smaller providers out there offering services.
Who is your cloud service provider of choice now and looking ahead? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/17/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
There are plenty of ways to create PDFs without spending a fortune on Adobe's Acrobat Standard software. Of course you can save Microsoft Office files as PDFs. But if you want to generate PDFs that you can annotate and enable extensive workflow capabilities -- including the ability to electronically sign and stamp them -- Foxit tomorrow will unveil a new free reader that the company said rivals Adobe's Acrobat Standard.
While less expensive alternatives to Adobe Standard offer many of these features from Avanquest, Nitro, Nuance and Wondershare (among others), Foxit is upping the ante with its new Foxit Reader 6.0. The Freemont, Calif.-based company says 150 million have already downloaded a Foxit Reader, which it believes makes it the second most used PDF reader behind Adobe's offering. With tomorrow's release, Frank Kettenstock, Foxit's VP of marketing told me: "We're expecting that to go up significantly."
The new Foxit Reader 6.0 will include a Microsoft Office ribbon interface that lets users create PDFs from Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as and hundreds of file types via drag-and-drop. It'll also support Microsoft's Active Directory Rights Management Services.
Users will also be able to create PDFs by right clicking on files, scan documents, use a PDF print driver, and cut and paste from the Windows clipboard. Users can download the Foxit Reader here.
For those requiring more extensive editing and form creation capabilities, Foxit tomorrow will also unveil PhantomPDF 6.0, which allows users to reformat texts and manipulate objects within a PDF. It also offers extended search capabilities via the company's PDF IFilter, which lets the Windows indexing and other search technologies to index PDFs. Support for Evernote lets users attach PDFs to Evernote notes. Users can also edit scanned documents and implement optical character recognition.
Foxit will offer two versions of the PhantomPDF 6.0. The standard edition is priced at $89 and business edition, priced at $129, offers extended compression features, editing and security for enterprise users.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/15/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft took a lot of heat last week when IDC reported a 13.9 percent decline in PC shipments for the first quarter of this year. While it wasn't a shocker that PC sales were declining, the shortfall far exceeded the 7.7 percent shortfall IDC had originally forecast.
After IDC blamed disappointing sales of Windows 8, I begged the question if Microsoft can turn it around with the next wave of Windows wares code-named "Blue." We'll get more insights on that going into June. However, I'm still of the belief that a better crop of processors from Intel will make Windows 8 more attractive.
Haswell, which promises to offer improved battery life and better graphics rendering, will be key to the delivery of new high-end systems, notably Ultrabooks. Just as important, the redesigned 22 nanometer Atom processor, code-named "Bay Trail," could work its way into new tablets and smartphones. But it faces stiff competition from a number of other players including AMD, Nvidia, Qualcomm and others supporting the low-power processor design of ARM.
As Intel looks to spread its wings, there are a lot of questions about the company's future, including who will replace CEO Paul Otellini, who unexpectedly said he will retire next month -- three years short of the company's mandatory retirement age of 65. Intel apparently did not have a successor lined up, though it appears the company is likely to tap an insider, The New York Times reported today.
Though expectations are that Intel will report revenues and earnings tomorrow on the low end of analyst expectations, the report and any future outlook or guidance company officials give could either amplify or mute IDC's findings.
Regardless, the deliverables from Intel and its partners, along with the new wave of Windows software from Microsoft, should result in some improved new device choices later this year.
Microsoft and Intel may no longer be exclusively tied at the hip but the fact that Wintel has evolved is not a bad thing. What type of Windows 8 device would win you over? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/15/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft over the past week has taken its lumps -- first with Gartner reporting a 7.6 decline in worldwide PC sales last quarter, followed by rival researcher IDC's more dire analysis saying shipments dropped a record 13.9 percent. And if reporting the worst decline in PC sales since IDC first started tracking shipments two decades ago wasn't bad enough, the analysts issued an uncharacteristically direct blow, blaming the deterioration on "weak reception" for Windows 8.
It doesn't matter whose numbers you believe -- every market researcher has its own methodologies. We have long understood demand for PCs have been on a downward spiral, thanks to the fact that tablets and smartphones are rapidly becoming the preferred devices for accessing the Internet. The sucker punch came when IDC said Windows 8 has accelerated the PC decline of PC sales.
"It seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market," said IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell, in a statement. "While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices. Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market."
It appears Microsoft has made some of those decisions, which the company will start to reveal at TechEd North America in early June and the entire plan unfolding at the Build conference in late June. One encouraging sign is that it appears the so-called Windows Blue wave, will facilitate new form factors. As reported by The Wall Street Journal Thursday, Microsoft is developing a new line of its Surface, and the lineup of its hybrid PC-tablets will include a 7-inch device that will compete with the Google Nexus, Amazon's line of Kindle Fires and Apple iPad mini, among others in that size range.
While Microsoft didn't comment on the Journal's report, the company has not discussed plans to address that form factor, as noted by ZDnet blogger and Redmond columnist Mary Jo Foley.
Presumably if a smaller Surface is in the works, Microsoft will also let OEM partners build and market smaller Windows 8 tablets as well. But Microsoft needs to offer licensing terms that can enable OEMs to offer devices that are competitive with Android-based tablets. As we all know, OEMs don't pay licensing fees for Android.
Indeed Gartner sees devices based on Google's Android outpacing anything else, running on nearly 1.5 billion units by 2017. Coming in second is Windows at 571 million and those based on Apple's MacOS and iOS will come in third at 504 million. Those forecasts combine PCs, tablets and phones, further skewing in favor of Android, given its dominance in the smartphone market.
If Microsoft was initially reluctant to offer smaller Windows 8 tablets, there's growing hope that mindset has changed. As Microsoft cuts Windows 8 to size, so is Wall Street. What will make analysts, who have downgraded the company in recent days, more upbeat? In a research note issued by Merrill Lynch today, which downgraded Microsoft from a buy to neutral, PCs will continue to decline by 20 to 25 percent before picking up steam again. "PC unit growth could improve after reaching that trough level, as a function of enterprise and high-end unit demand," the research note said. "However, enterprise upgrade cycles could get elongated from trends like BYOD [bring your own device] and desktop virtualization."
Tablets have indeed made it easier for consumers to put off upgrading PCs. Enterprises, coming off or in the midst of Windows 7 upgrades, are replacing systems as needed. I'm personally waiting to see what the next crop of devices look like once PCs are available based on Intel's new Haswell processor, which will deliver better display and offer much longer battery life.
The next shoe to drop will be next Thursday evening, when Microsoft is scheduled to report earnings for the quarter. Of course, a lot can happen before that.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/12/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
When Microsoft stops supporting Windows XP next year, hopefully using Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 isn't your fallback plan. I received an inquiry from a reader asking if Microsoft will continue supporting the Virtual XP within Windows 7. The answer is no.
"Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 aligns to the same lifecycle as Windows XP," a Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed. Some may see this as a double whammy since that pretty much puts the kibosh on running those legacy Windows XP-based apps that won't work on Windows 7 or above.
"Microsoft made a big deal of having the Virtual XP machine within Windows 7 as a smooth way to transition to the modern world," the reader making the inquiry said, adding users should be able to run Windows 7 as the host operating system and Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) Professional as the guest operating system.
When Microsoft issued its gentle reminder on Monday that Windows XP users have one year to migrate, was Windows XP Mode your fallback plan or did you presume that was on the chopping block as well? Or perhaps will you will take comfort in using Windows 7 security and patches to continue running those apps in Windows XP Mode? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/12/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
For once there's noise coming out of Hewlett-Packard this week that doesn't center on the dysfunction that has surrounded the company for the past two-plus years. As expected, the company this week started shipping its next-generation server architecture known as Project Moonshot.
This is not just about the latest update to a server line. Project Moonshot represents an entirely different system architecture. It also introduces the first major shift in server form-factors since HP's release of blade servers a decade ago. In these racks are cartridges that are half the size of a typical laptop PC. The company describes Moonshot-based systems as software defined servers that have networking and storage interfaces built into the racks as well.
But what's really unique is these new systems take up 80 percent less space, use 89 percent less energy and cost 77 percent less, the company says. "HP is taking head on the challenges of space, energy, cost and complexity of the datacenters for today and tomorrow," said CEO Meg Whitman, in a Webcast kicking off the launch Monday.
"This is not an incremental change, it's the launch of a new class of servers," added Dave Donatelli, executive VP of HP's enterprise group. "With current server technology, the economics behind social, mobile, cloud and big data will begin to deteriorate rapidly as requirements for servers continue to escalate,"
The first deliverable is the HP Moonshot 1500, based on a 4.3U chassis that supports up to 45 hot-pluggable server cartridges and shares storage -- both traditional hard disk drives and flash-based solid state drives -- and network interfaces. And the initial crop is powered by Intel Atom S1260 processors. Look for future systems to support ARM-based processors, those used to power tablets and smartphones, this year as well.
HP is initially only offering support for Linux (Red Hat, SUSE and Ubuntu) and KVM virtual machines but company officials said customers will be able to specify Windows and VMware-based virtualization later this year.
"Windows server support will roll out later in the year and also on additional targeted server cartridges when they're available," explained John Gromala, HP's director of product marketing for industry standard servers and software, in an interview. "It will be specifically targeted towards workloads and applications that are actually taking advantage of those specific types of offerings."
Asked if any customers are testing Moonshot systems bundled with Windows Server, Gromala confirmed they are but he declined to elaborate. It appears HP will only be offering Windows Server 2012.
By virtue of these substantially smaller sized systems, coupled with the equally dramatically lower power consumption requirements (the equivalent of six 60-watt light bulbs), the release of HP's first Moosnshot systems is a key milestone for a company that has struggled to find its way of late. Not that HP pulled Project Moonshot out of a hat. Project Moonshot was a key initiative that HP Labs has had under development for many years.
Presuming these systems perform as advertised, they promise to change the footprint of many datacenters over time. Just like blade servers didn't initially take off (from any vendors), the economics ultimately made them appealing. We'll see if Project Moonshot has the same impact.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/10/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Presuming running a version of Windows supported by Microsoft is a requirement in your shop, you have one year left to rid yourself of Windows XP. On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP. To commemorate -- or considering the wide proliferation of Windows XP, to give customers a kick in the teeth -- Microsoft has launched its one-year countdown.
The pending end-of-life support for Windows XP is a big issue for a lot of businesses. Anecdotally, I can't tell you how many businesses that still have Windows XP running rampant. Every time I'm at the gym, the doctor, at many restaurants and stores, and even my local Bank of America branch (which is a relatively new one), I see Windows XP on their desktops.
A year from now, those with Windows XP, as well as Office 2003, will no longer receive security updates or tech support (at least from Microsoft). Microsoft is kicking off this countdown with a promotion that gives those who upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 8 and Office 2003 to Office 2013 a 15 percent discount though June 30. The offer, dubbed Get2Modern, is available to customers who upgrade via Microsoft's partners for migration assistance.
But regardless of small incentives, many organizations may not feel ready for Windows 8, which Microsoft acknowledges. "For some, moving their full company to Windows 8 will be the best choice, and for others it may be migrating first to Windows 7," Erwin Visser, a senior director in the Windows division, noted in a post on the Windows for Your Business blog today. "Still, for many, it will be deploying Windows 8 side-by-side with Windows 7 for key scenarios, such as Windows 8 tablets for mobile users."
According to the latest market share reports published by Net Market Share, Windows 7 is the most deployed PC operating system, accounting for nearly 48 percent with Windows XP filling in nearly 39 percent. Windows 8 now accounts for a mere 3.17 percent, though up from 2.67 percent a month earlier. Clearly Windows 8 will grow much more incrementally than previous versions, which, given the scope of change it introduces, isn't surprising.
Research of the Redmond magazine readership indicates within the next year, 61 percent will have deployed Windows 8, though, in most cases, only to a small percentage of employees. In two years, 74 percent will have deployed Windows 8 on a much broader basis.
Currently 95 percent of Redmond magazine readers have Windows 7 deployed, while 76 percent still have Windows XP, 41 percent have some Windows 8 and 20 percent have Windows Vista. Since multiple responses were permitted, the data doesn't say to what extent these various versions are deployed. But given the survey was based on 1,178 respondents it should give a valid measure and point to the strong proliferation of the various versions of Windows.
For those of you that still have Windows XP what are your plans? Are you going to let it go down to the wire (or perhaps beyond) or are you planning to act sooner than later? Will you go right to Windows 8 or are you going with Windows 7?
Please share your Windows XP migration plans by dropping me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/08/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Miffed that there still isn't a Windows 8/RT app for Facebook nearly six months after the launch of the new operating system, I tried in vain to ignore yesterday's launch of the new so-called Facebook phone. The new smartphone software, dubbed Facebook Home, and the HTC First phone coming next week, takes a forked version of Google's Android and puts the social network front and center.
If Facebook Home gains critical mass, we may become a society of zombies -- though some may argue that's already occurred. Either way, it promises to only make things worse. It remains to be seen whether the software -- downloadable April 12 from the Google Play app store for select Android phones from HTC and Samsung -- will gain critical mass.
"The Android launcher approach allows it to target a huge installed base of hundreds of millions of Android users, which will be a large chunk of Facebook's total user base of more than a billion people," wrote Ovum chief telecom analyst Jan Dawson, in prepared commentary.
Much of the reaction I've seen has given it a thumbs-down. Analyst Jack Gold said in an e-mail to me he predicts only the Facebook diehards will embrace it. "I think this appeals to the 10-20 percent of true junkies," he said. "Others will find it very intrusive."
I agree, though it's the teens and twenty-somethings that will seal its fate either way.
I'd like to think most people don't want Facebook to take over their phones and will be content using the app (that is unless you're a Windows Phone user in which case like those with Windows 8/RT PCs and tablets, you're stuck accessing it via the Web browser or through third-party apps). But if Facebook does what some fear -- offer free phones in exchange for their privacy -- there are suckers who will go for it without batting an eye.
As IT pros, will the potential proliferation of Facebook Home lead to the demise of BYOD? Probably not but it might require a re-thinking of what IT needs to do to recapture employees' attention while on the job. Does this mean invoking policies that ban the use of this software on BYOD-supported devices? Will IT need to put new rules in policy management systems and security software to put the kibosh on Facebook Home?
"I think this will just exacerbate an already big problem in many companies -- mobile anarchy," Gold said. "Companies have to establish some level of governance on devices (many have already). Some user devices just are not acceptable in the corporate environment. If you buy one, don't expect it to get connected to the corporate network or use the apps."
All of these are issues IT may confront if Facebook Home is even a moderate hit. Meanwhile, now that Facebook has finished developing its phone software, how about giving Windows 8 and Windows Phone users an app?
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/05/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
It was long overdue but Hewlett-Packard chairman Ray Lane yesterday said he was stepping down, but will remain on the company's board of directors. Two other board members, John Hammergren and G. Kennedy Thompson said they will exit the board when their terms expire next month.
The three were up for re-election this week and got by with a slim majority but the vote made clear investors were not happy with the three. Many fault Lane for the way he guided former CEO Leo Apotheker and the chaos that erupted under Lane's reign as chairman.
The dysfunction came to a head in August of 2011 when Apotheker simultaneously announced the company was evaluating the divestiture of its PC group, the demise of its TouchPad tablets less than two months after their release and the $10.3 billion acquisition of Autonomy -- a deal that turned out to be worth a small fraction of what HP paid. The company wrote off most of that deal. That led to Lane's ultimate ouster a month later when Meg Whitman was named CEO.
In a statement, Lane tacitly acknowledged the level of dissatisfaction with him. "After reflecting on the stockholder vote last month," Lane said. I've decided to step down as executive chairman to reduce any distraction from HP's ongoing turnaround."
Indeed Lane and his board colleagues did the right thing. By most accounts, HP is making progress, albeit incremental, under Whitman. Employee morale is improving and the company's stock is up. But as Whitman warned, it will take years to right HP's ship. Investor confidence is a step in the right direction.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/05/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
A Forrester report released this week found that only 8 percent of IT shops in North America and Europe plan to deploy VDI and/or hosted Windows desktops. This is consistent with a recently fielded study by Redmond magazine.
Though we asked the question in broader terms than Forrester, about 1,130 responding to our online survey indicated that 63 percent will have a hosted desktop or VDI implementation -- though mostly for a small percentage of employees -- over the next 12 months, compared with 54 percent last year.
That would suggest 9 percent of shops will implement VDI this year. The increase, though moderate, suggests slightly more growth than the Forrester sample revealed, which found the same percentage had VDI/desktop hosting plans last year.
But as Redmond's Kurt Mackie reports: about a one-fourth (24 percent) of respondents were interested in VDI, yet had no plans to deploy it, according to the Q4 2012 study. That figure represents a decline from the 33 percent showing interest in VDI in Forrester's Q4 2011 study. It should be noted that Forrester is comparing surveys fielded last year and the previous year -- our conclusions come from a single survey fielded in February.
The Redmond magazine survey, which was fielded to those who subscribe to the magazine, showed 37 percent will have no VDI/hosted desktops this year, compared with 46 percent who say they currently have no such deployments.
Of those who do have VDI/hosted desktops, the largest number of respondents --30 percent -- said they only have rolled them out to 10 percent or less of their employees. That suggests it's being used for specialized applications such as for help desks, employees who may not need to use a PC all day and perhaps contractors. That's not a surprising finding. Interestingly those planning rollouts to 10 percent or less of their employees will decline this year to 28 percent.
Interestingly, a growing number of shops planning rollouts in the next 12 months plan to do so to a larger percentage of their workforces, according to our survey. Whereas only 12 percent planned rollouts for up to 25 percent of their workforces, that number will increase to 17 percent this year. And those who plan even larger deployments of up to 50 percent of their employees will increase from 6 percent in 2012 to 11 percent this year. Very few plan rollouts to larger portions of their users and only 1 percent said they plan to do so to their entire workforce.
Are you planning a VDI/ hosted desktop implementation -- or expanding/upgrading an existing one? If so, what's your infrastructure of choice? If not, why is it unappealing? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/03/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
It's no secret to anyone in IT that the number of reported cyber attacks is on the rise. And while victims have historically avoided at all costs disclosing the fact their systems were penetrated, some now have to do so.
The result, The Wall Street Journal reports today, is that many victims are hiring law firms or seeking legal counsel so they can invoke attorney-client privilege. I'm not a lawyer or an expert in compliance but my first thought was: "really?" In one of several such examples cited by the Journal, Nationwide Insurance disclosed a breach in which customer records were accessed. Nationwide reported the breach in compliance with new state laws and under strong urging by the Securities and Exchange Commission that they do so.
The FBI investigated further, even while class action suits were
filed on behalf of customers saying that Nationwide failed to
protect their information. In response, the insurance giant
hired the law firm Ropes & Gray and then declined to comment
further, citing the litigation.
While companies need to act in the best interest of their shareholders and customers, clamming up is a dual-edged sword. Certainly disclosing more information has its own risks but hopefully companies like Nationwide are quietly sharing information with the proper authorities that can help better protect themselves and others, as President Obama ordered back in February in his State of the Union Address.
The number of breaches disclosed over the past two years has increased 40 percent, according to accounting firm KPMG, the Journal noted, adding that hackers have penetrated 681 million records between 2008 and 2012. I obtained a copy of the KPMG report, which also noted that 60 percent of all incidents reported were the result of hacking.
The report does show an encouraging development: the healthcare sector, which just a few years ago accounted for the highest percentage of data loss incidents (25 percent) saw that drop to just 8 percent last year. It looks like health care providers are doing something right.
With the recent spate of attacks, such as last week's Spamhaus distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack reported Friday or the recent and quite significant strikes I noted back in March:
We're under siege purportedly by the Chinese, Iranian and Russian governments. Organizations including the Federal Reserve Bank, The New York Times, NBC News, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, heck even Microsoft itself, have all recently sustained cyber-attacks.
As the President noted in his State of the Union Address, "We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy."
As long as we continue to fight back, IT needs to contend with the fact that hackers and cyber-terrorists will only get smarter and find new ways to attack our systems. So what are you doing or what do you feel needs to be done? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/01/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Microsoft will court Silicon Valley developers when it holds its Build developer conference June 26-28 in San Francisco, where the company is expected to preview the future of the Windows platform and the apps that will run on it.
Steve Guggenheimer, Microsoft's corporate VP and chief evangelist for Microsoft's developer and platform group made the announcement at the Visual Studio Live! Conference in Las Vegas last week. (Disclosure: Like Redmond magazine, Visual Studio Live! is produced by parent company 1105 Media). Guggenheimer subsequently posted details on the planned conference in a blog post. Registration opens tomorrow.
Former Redmond magazine editor Keith Ward, who is now editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine, caught up with Guggenheimer at Visual Studio Live! after the announcement and tried to get some details about what Microsoft will reveal at the upcoming conference.
In the interview, posted on the Visual Studio Magazine Web site, Guggenheim (not surprisingly) kept details close to the vest. "It's a little early to get into the details," Guggenheim told Ward. "The key is we'll provide updates across the range of our platforms, and depending on where we are with different pieces we'll give updates. It will be the Windows family of products, Visual Studio, many different things."
As All about Microsoft and Redmond columnist Mary Jo Foley noted in her post, the Build conference will overlap with TechEd Europe, due to take place in Madrid. The implications of that remain to be seen.
Certainly watchers are anticipating Microsoft will have more to say about the next wave of Windows updates, code-named Blue, which have indicated support for new form factors, among other things. As reported by Foley and Redmond's Kurt Mackie, Microsoft's chief spokesman Frank X. Shaw confirmed Blue, albeit with few details.
Not only is it good to hear that Build is in the not-to-distant future but the fact that Microsoft chose San Francisco as the venue for the conference was a wise move -- the company needs to have Silicon Valley in the fold.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/01/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
This week's attack on the Spamhaus Project was the worst known distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack raising the bar on the brute force weapons at the disposal of cyber assailants.
Spamhaus is often attacked by those who take issue with the fact that it blacklists spammers. But this week's DDoS attack started at 10 gigabits per second and peaked at an unprecedented 300 Gbps, The New York Times reported. "It is the largest DDoS ever witnessed," said with Dan Holden, director of Arbor Network's Security Engineering and Response Team, noting that the unknown attackers were well aware that Spamhaus already had sophisticated cyber defenses.
"It's unique because of the amount of power they've been able to harness," added Dean Darwin, senior vice president for security at F5 Networks. Despite the new level of magnitude, Darwin warned it may just be the tip of the iceberg. "It's the kind of attack we're going to see a lot more of," said Darwin, saying the Spamhaus attack is the latest data point showing the need for CIOs and CSOs to step up their game by providing application-level security to their systems.
"The attacks we've seen in the past are very network centric," he said. "Now we're seeing the sophistication of the attack profiles as being very application centric." In effect, Darwin said unless firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, threat management gateways and malware remediation programs, among other tools, can work intelligently together, victims of DDoS and other attacks will remain vulnerable.
Despite its magnitude, Spamhaus is just the latest of an onslaught of cyber-attacks that have gripped companies of all sizes in recent months, especially some of the nation's largest banks. While DDoS attacks are nothing new, most have lasted a few days or at most a week, Holden said. "To go for months is unprecedented."
Experts also pointed out this week that the largest telecommunications and Internet service providers (ISPs) need to make their networks more intelligent so as to know that a flood of millions of packets targeted at DNS at once from organizations is the result of botnets rather than legitimate traffic.
There is a best practice recommended by the Internet Engineering Task Force published in 2000 called BCP38. David Gibson, vice president of strategy at Varonis, a provider of data governance solutions, pointed out in a blog post that most providers have implemented these best practices except for 20 percent. The problem is 80 percent isn't good enough, he noted.
"Just like on the road, where a few (or many) distracted or careless drivers can cause harm to countless others, a group of sloppily configured routers can allow attackers to disrupt critical infrastructure that we've come to depend on," Gibson noted. "We can't turn off DNS. Though it's theoretically possible to make everyone use TCP instead of UDP for DNS queries (which would make these queries much more difficult to spoof), so many people would be adversely affected during the transition that this might make things worse than just living with the DDoS attacks."
Has the onslaught of attacks caused you to change how you defend your company's systems? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/29/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
- Read Jeff's in-depth interview with ThreatTrack CEO Julian Waits here.
GFI Software earlier this month spun off its security business into a new company called ThreatTrack, whose core assets came from the 2010 acquisition of Sunbelt Software. The move is aimed at creating a separate business targeted at large government agencies and enterprises such as big-box retailers and financial services firms. GFI will continue focusing on its heritage customer base consisting of small and mid-sized companies with fewer than 1,000 users.
Earlier this week, I spent a half-hour chatting with ThreatTrack's CEO Julian Waits, who has spent much of his career in the IT security industry, most recently as general manager of GFI's security business. Waits is a longtime friend of Walter Scott, CEO of GFI, and despite the plethora of companies that offer IT security software and services, the two believe they have a unique set of offerings such as ThreatAnalyzer, based on the company's SandBox technology.
In the interview, Waits emphasized his belief that despite the increased onslaught of attacks from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, enterprises need to take a more proactive stance in trying to predict where the next threat will originate. "I still believe 80 percent of security problems are risk management problems," Waits said. The company is using Cloudera's Hadoop distribution technology to use big data to more proactively predict future threats, Waits explained.
An encouraging development was President Obama's executive order announced last month for the government and private sector to share more information to protect the nation's critical infrastructure. The executive order promises to boost the amount of data that can be collected and analyzed, Waits said.
"The more of that data we can collect, the more fancy analytics stuff we can use to do our job a lot faster," he said. "There's no way we'll be able to anticipate an APT before it's created. God knows they're becoming more and more sophisticated. All we can do is become more sophisticated about how rapidly we can respond to it, and it's going to take a community to do that."
Waits said ThreatTrack has about 300 employees at its Clearwater, Fla. headquarters and is looking for a site in Washington, D.C. where it will staff 50 additional people. The company is also considering a presence in the San Francisco Bay area, Waits said. In addition, Waits indicated he'll be shopping for companies to acquire, especially those that can help ThreatTrack apply predictive analytics to the big data it collects.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/27/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Dell's bid to go private is very much up in the air, and with it is the future of the company and who will run it. When founder and CEO Michael Dell lined up Silver Lake Partners and an ensemble of other investors, including Microsoft, early last month, it appeared reasonably certain the $24.3 billion deal would sail through.
However a week after Michael Dell and Silver Lake made the offer, some key shareholders felt it was a lowball bid and indicated they'd vote against it, hoping for a better offer. As the 45-day "go-shop" period to consider superior offers arrived Friday, the company received two bids.
One was from the private equity fund manager Blackstone Group and the other was from activist investor Carl Icahn, who said he has amassed a 4.6 percent stake in Dell. Under both bids, a portion of the company would remain public.
Icahn wants to buy 58 percent of the company at $15 per share (compared to the existing $13.65 per share offer). Under that scenario, investors could only sell part of their holdings, according to Icahn's proposal, published by Dell this morning. Subsequently, Icahn would hold a 24.1 percent share, Southeastern Asset Management would wind up with a 16.6 percent share, and T. Rowe Price would receive a 9.3 percent share.
Blackstone's offer of $14.25 per share would give shareholders the option of receiving cash or stock, according to the company's proposal. Alex Mandl, chairman of the Special Committee of Dell's board evaluating the bids, issued a statement saying the board will review both bids. "There can be no assurance that either proposal will ultimately lead to a superior proposal," Mandl warned. "While negotiations continue, the Special Committee has not changed its recommendation with respect to, and continues to support, the company's pending sale to entities controlled by Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners."
If either rival bid is successful, it remains to be seen whether Michael Dell would continue to run the company he built 29 years ago, The Wall Street Journal reported today (subscription required). There were rumblings last week that Blackstone approached former Hewlett-Packard CEO and current Oracle President Mark Hurd about taking the helm of Dell, should Michael Dell not stay on.
Blackstone has more than a passing interest in this deal. The company hired Dell exec David Johnson, a key player in the computer giant's acquisition efforts and now "actively involved" in Blackstone's attempt to acquire Dell, sources told WSJ.
While Blackstone has retained Morgan Stanley to help it secure financing of the deal, several reports say GE Capital is a leading contender to acquire Dell's financing arm for $5 billion.
Silver Lake and Dell have insisted they believe their offer fairly values the company and hence don't plan to counter with a higher bid. An increased offer would add to the already high level of debt the investors would be taking on to go private, thereby extending the risk they're taking on.
The bigger problem for Dell, however, is customer confidence, warned analyst Roger Kay in a Forbes blog post published today, noting with irony that HP by comparison is suddenly looking more stable than Dell. "During HP's rocky time of management changes and policy reversals, Dell and IBM made as much hay as they could," he said. "Now, HP is looking stable-ish and its customers have begun to calm down."
It's too early to tell whether the committee will accept either offer and, if they do, whether the Dell-Silver Lake team will up the ante. Or if the committee rejects both offers favoring the original one, investors could still nix the deal if they can gather enough votes -- an unusually distinct possibility.
And even though Barron's (subscription required) noted today that HP's situation is much improved and its shares are up 62 percent from its 10-year low in November, the report noted HP's revenues are still declining.
As Dell customers, how would you like to see this play out? And is the current uncertainty leading you to shop elsewhere? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/25/2013 at 9:03 AM2 comments
Microsoft took a key step forward in its quest to bring "big data" to the cloud this week when it released the public preview of its Windows Azure HDInsight offering. The cloud-based service, first made available on a limited basis last fall, aims to let enterprise customers process huge volumes of structured and unstructured data using Microsoft's SQL Server and the Hortonworks distribution of the Hadoop file store.
A growing number of organizations have started using file management systems based on the Apache open source Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS). The Java-based file repository lets users store huge volumes of unstructured information in massively distributed clusters based on commodity servers. Using query tools, users can rapidly find and access that content.
Organizations of all types -- law enforcement agencies, retailers, financial services firms and health care providers, among others -- are rapidly gravitating to Apache Hadoop to store information gathered from sources such as social media, news feeds and user-generated content in order to determine trends to deliver insights and intelligence in near real time.
With scores of startups and established players all jumping on the Hadoop bandwagon, Microsoft has hitched its wagon with the Hortonworks distribution, which the company emphasizes is 100 percent Apache-compatible. The HDInsight service in Windows Azure lets organizations spin up Hadoop clusters in Windows Azure in a matter of minutes, noted Eron Kelly, general manager for Microsoft's SQL Server group, in a blog post this week.
"These clusters are scaled to fit specific demands and integrate with simple Web-based tools and APIs to ensure customers can easily deploy, monitor and shut down their cloud-based cluster," Kelly noted. "In addition, [the] Windows Azure HDInsight Service integrates with our business intelligence tools including Excel, PowerPivot and Power View, allowing customers to easily analyze and interpret their data to garner valuable insights for their organization."
Among the first to test HDInsight is Ascribe, a U.K.-based Microsoft partner that provides healthcare management systems for hospitals and large medical practices. Its solution handles the lifecycle of patient care using key new components of Microsoft's portfolio including Windows 8-based tablets, SQL Server 2012 and HDInsight to perform trending analysis using anonymous patient data.
Paul Henderson, Ascribe's head of business intelligence, demonstrated the application at the GigaOM Structure Data conference in New York this week. "Rather than building our own server farm or incurring huge capital costs, HDInsight provides us with the ability to process that volume of stuff at scale and that is a huge benefit," Henderson told me after the demonstration.
But at the Structure Data conference, there were scores of other players talking up new ways of capturing, analyzing and processing huge amounts of data. While Microsoft once only had to worry about players like Oracle, IBM and Teradata, now there are a vast number of players looking to offer modern alternatives to traditional SQL database stores.
For example, a growing number of customers are using NoSQL databases such as those based on MongoDB (the leading player here is 10gen) to store data in the cloud, as well as a number of other approaches I'll touch upon in future posts. "The majors, as we may call them, Amazon, Google and Microsoft all have multiple plays going on in the cloud database world," noted Blue Badge Insights analyst Andrew Brust, who was on a cloud database panel at Structure Data.
Despite the growing number of players and approaches, Brust believes many customers will look for the mainstream providers to embrace them. "We're seeing specialized products from specialized companies doing things that the major databases have glossed over," Brust said. "That's great, but when it's going to really become actionable for companies is when the mega-vendors either implement this stuff themselves or do some acquisitions and bring these capabilities into their mainstream databases that have the huge installed bases, then it becomes a lot more approachable to enterprise companies."
Noted cloud analyst David Linthicum, also on the panel was more skeptical. "It pushes them to be more innovative but I haven't seen much innovativeness come out of these larger database organizations in the last couple of years," Linthicum said.
As for Microsoft, the company is addressing growing demand for in-memory databases, brought to the mainstream last year by SAP with HANA. In-memory databases can perform queries much faster than those written to disk. Microsoft revealed its plans to add in-memory capabilities to the next release of SQL Server, code-named Hekaton, at the SQL Pass Summit back in November.
"This is a separate engine that's in the same product in a single database and will have tables optimized for either the conventional engine or the in memory engine," Brust said. "You can join between them so you are going more towards an abstraction."
But with a growing number of startups looking to re-invent the data repository, such as NuoDB, Hadapt and the new Pivotal initiative from EMC, Microsoft is now in a more crowded field. While Microsoft has broadened its data management portfolio with SQL Azure and now HDInsights, the requirement to find, process and analyze new types of information is greater than ever. All eyes will be on Hekaton and Microsoft's ability to deliver new levels of performance to SQL Server.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/22/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
While software and service providers continue to support OpenStack, the open source cloud infrastructure initiative, there are still a healthy number of key players who haven't committed to it (or have done so in a limited way).
The behemoths that come to mind are Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Verizon (including its Terremark business unit). That's quite a few heavy hitters missing, even though some 200 players have joined the OpenStack Foundation including AT&T, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, EMC, HP, IBM, Intel, NetApp, Rackspace, Red Hat, Suse, Ubuntu and VMware.
Yet some of those, notably Citrix and VMware, have offered half-hearted support for OpenStack. Citrix was an original sponsor of the project until last year when it launched its own CloudStack open source project, offering up its cloud management platform from its 2011 cloud.com acquisition, to the Apache Foundation, much to the consternation of Rackspace. Oracle hasn't endorsed OpenStack either, though last week's acquisition of Nimbula, at least gives it a foot in the door, but its intentions remain to be seen.
As for VMware, it became an overnight supporter following last summer's acquisition of software-defined networking (SDN) provider Nicira, a major OpenStack contributor. Still Rackspace execs say VMware needs to step up and make its ESX hypervisor fully OpenStack compatible.
The same holds true for Microsoft. Though not a member of the OpenStack Foundation, Microsoft has participated in various OpenStack meetings and has provided some support for Hyper-V (outlined in this OpenStack wiki). A Microsoft spokeswoman also pointed out that Microsoft is enabling System Center 2012 to monitor, orchestrate and backup open source cloud environments.
The only hypervisor that can run as a host in an OpenStack cloud is the open source KVM, said Jim Curry, a Rackspace senior VP. "There's no reason there shouldn't be five or 10 well-tested and implemented hypervisor choices for customers that's the promise of OpenStack," Curry said.
Only 25 percent of Hyper-V's features work in an OpenStack cloud, Curry added. "We can run Windows as a guest, but if customers require it on the host, it would require Microsoft to step up the Hyper-V compatibility," he said.
When it comes to Microsoft's own cloud efforts such as Windows Azure, the company likes to talk up its support for Java, PHP and Python, though it's still geared toward .NET applications. Microsoft is also readying infrastructure as a service capabilities for Windows Azure via support for virtual machines including Linux instances.
Given the limited Hyper-V support for OpenStack, it's probably a long way off, if ever, that Windows Azure would gain OpenStack compatibility -- at least from Microsoft unless there's some stealth effort in Redmond.
Would you like to see Microsoft step up its OpenStack support or is that best left to others? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/20/2013 at 1:15 PM1 comments
Last week's post questioning whether Microsoft should have kept the traditional Start button in Windows 8 really hit a nerve. I can't recall a topic of late that has generated such a flood of comments and e-mails.
An overwhelming majority of respondents said Microsoft should bring it back -- some went as far to say the company never should have ditched it in the first place. The pushback comes as PC sales are on pace to decline for the second year in a row and analysts are predicting Windows 8 tablets will only have a single-digit share in 2017. That's not the only bad news. As I noted Friday, now it appears Microsoft has only sold 1.5 million of its Surface devices, according to a report by Bloomberg.
While it's a stretch to blame all that on the absence of the Start button, the visceral reaction is a clear example of how resistant people are to change. "Microsoft should bring back the Start button, I think that it would definitely aid the transition of all Windows users into Windows 8, increasing sales as the result," wrote Kirk Lewis, a tech support expert in Northridge, Calif. "The start button has been the intuitive glue that all desktop versions of Windows have shared since Windows 95."
An IT pro in Montana who supports PCs running everything from Windows 98 to Windows 8 described the removal of the Start button as "probably the worst thing Microsoft could have done."
One consultant said: "This is honestly the first version of Windows I can't recommend to my business customers," while an IT pro expressed his annoyance with Microsoft. "The fact that Microsoft has once again decided that they are smarter than the thousands of administrators who use it every day once again has turned me off," he noted. "Why replace it for the simply sake of replacing it?! Bad call. This looks to me to be the next ME or Vista."
For business and enterprise environments, many IT pros are concerned users will struggle to find and easily launch their programs when running Windows 8 in the classic Desktop mode.
"I have used Win8 enough to understand Microsoft's thinking, but I believe they made a mistake by not including a fully functional Win7 style desktop so people could ease into it," argued another IT pro. "Use of Windows 8 on non-touch screen devices is awkward at best, and without the complete Win7 style interface, it requires a pretty steep initial learning curve. This is because you can't just click past the tile start screen and go to work on the desktop. You have to figure out how to use it, and how to mimic gestures with a mouse, to get anything done. I dread trying to support users through that transition. And this is from someone who has supported users thru the green screen to GUI transition, the Win 3.x to Win 95 transition, Win95 to XP, etc."
Also, third-party Start programs may not be an option for many shops, he added. "Many corporate environments will not allow it," he noted.
Despite all the complaints, a vocal minority believes all this fuss is about nothing and people need the need to change their habits. "It has been since 1995 since Microsoft made a real change in then desktop GUI," says Allen McEuin, MCSE from Louisville, Ky. "Leave it be and get used to it. It ain't 1995 anymore." And said another from Brazil: "Bringing back Start menu would be a major step backwards to this technology."
Then there are some who are actually glad to see it go. "I do not like the Start button and happy that they removed it. It is cleaner and easier to use the 'search' function or the Start screen. I have Win8 on all my computers and it really is not different than Windows 7 except [minus the] Start menu. I understand the annoyance it causes to learn new ways to do it but it is also more efficient and cleaner this way."
Noel from Kentucky agreed: "It took very little time to get to know the interface. The desktop is a click away. You can have all the apps listed with a click or have shortcuts galore. You can still have multiple Windows open. I think some of these respondents may be pushing against Windows 8 for other reasons. Bottom line is that it is a very fast and secure OS."
Microsoft had no comment on the reaction to last week's post on the topic. Though the company has surprised me plenty of times before, I wouldn't bet on Redmond bringing the Start button back.
So how am I dealing with this? I've created shortcuts on the desktop to applications I use most frequently. Using Search is another easy alternative. There are some keyboard shortcuts as well. But it appears many are less forgiving of Microsoft on this one.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/18/2013 at 1:15 PM32 comments
Google's decision to pull the man known as the father of Android from that group is a huge gamble by CEO Larry Page and one that poses a new threat to Microsoft and Apple.
The unexpected move to bring Android under the auspices of Sundar Pichai, who already oversees Chrome and Apps, suggests Page remains determined to upend the PC business just as his company has done with tablets and smartphones.
While Page didn't say that outright, read between the lines: "Today we're living in a new computing environment," he said in a blog post announcing the move. "While Andy's a really hard act to follow, I know Sundar will do a tremendous job doubling down on Android as we work to push the ecosystem forward."
Since their debut in 2011, Chromebooks have not moved the needle much. Page's move this week looks like he has a master plan in hopes of giving Chromebooks a major lift. Windows fans and Microsoft shouldn't shrug this off, at least not yet, lest we forget how many did the same when Google first announced the Android phone OS. By bringing Android, Chrome and ChromeOS together, Google will be able to draw from the ecosystem that to make Chromebooks a more compelling alternative to Windows PCs (and Macs for that matter).
In addition to piggybacking on the Android ecosystem for Chrome OS, leveraging technology from Android could have all kinds of ramifications including the ability to provide application portability and an improved touch interface, among other things. While the initial crop of Chromebooks boast a low price tag of less that $500 (some half that amount), they have had limited capabilities -- effectively only allowing you to use the Chrome browser to run Google Apps in the cloud.
Things are changing and now the latest entry, the Google Chromebook Pixel, starts at a hefty $1,299, which PCWorld labels "an expensive curiosity." One of the key objections to Chromebooks -- that you have to store your Google Apps in the cloud -- is going to go away. As Derik VanVleet, a senior solutions engineer on the sales team of Atlanta-based Cloud Sherpas, Google's largest partner, explains, Google will offer a native client for Chrome that will be natively built into Google Apps thanks to the company's acquisition of Quickoffice last year.
"This whole conversation of documents fidelity and document conversion goes away," VanVleet told me. "Quickoffice allows me to natively edit Microsoft documents in their native format with virtually 100 percent fidelity, better than what Microsoft is able to offer in Office 365 Web Apps. Once Quickoffice is fully integrated to Google Apps whole conversation is going to go away and Microsoft is going to have a real problem."
All About Microsoft blogger and Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley has often pointed to the possibility of Microsoft bringing together its Windows and Windows Phone groups. Weighing in on Google's OS consolidation move this week, she again raised the specter of Microsoft finally merging the two groups and platforms.
There's another factor to consider. PC makers are fuming over Microsoft's covert development and ultimate release of its Surface tablet. That has led quite a few, the latest being HP, to jump on the Chromebook bandwagon. But just as PC makers need to keep Microsoft in check, Google is offering its own branded device and with its Motorola Mobility unit, has the resources to continue that push.
Google's realignment also comes as Bloomberg today reports that sales of Microsoft's Surface devices are more dismal than originally projected. Microsoft has sold only 400,000 Surface Pros and 1 million Surface RTs -- half of what it projected, sources told Bloomberg. Microsoft did not comment on the report.
Chromebooks haven't made a dent either, so right now Google and Microsoft are in the same boat. While I asked last month if HP and others jumping on the Chromebook bandwagon might bolster ChromeOS's prospects, the response was that Chromebooks will have their place but so will Windows 8 and Windows RT.
Do you think Google's move Wednesday will up the ante in making Chromebooks more appealing to consumers and business users? And how do you think Microsoft should respond? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/15/2013 at 1:15 PM4 comments
Hardly a week goes by when Google doesn't announce an enterprise signing on to its cloud services, notably Google Apps and to a lesser extent its Google App Engine platform as a service (PaaS), usually at the expense of Microsoft. But now Google is stepping up its assault on Redmond in more ways than one -- the company's moving in.
Google is doubling its capacity in nearby Seattle, The New York Times reported last night. In addition to embarking on an aggressive campaign to recruit engineers and other cloud experts in the area, the company is adding 180,000 square feet of datacenter capacity there. The new office in Kirkland, Wash., is about the size of a Walmart Supercenter, making the location its third largest -- outpaced only by its headquarters in Silicon Valley and its facilities in New York.
One of Google's latest recruits from Microsoft is 10-year veteran Brian Goldfarb, who now heads up cloud platform marketing at the search engine giant. He acknowledged to The Times that his new employer is coming from behind. But he insisted Google will be a force to be reckoned with. "We have the best data centers on the planet. You can't really give engineers a bigger, badder thing to work on," he said.
The latest endorsement of Google's cloud offering came yesterday from Swiss-based Holcim, which is said to be one of the world's leading suppliers of cement and related supplies. The company is rolling Google Apps out worldwide to its 40,000 users.
"We chose Google Apps because it will help us concentrate on our core businesses, and bring our employees, customers and partners across the globe closer together," wrote Holcim CIO Khushnud Irani, in a blog post Tuesday. On top of the Google Apps productivity and collaboration suite, Holcim plans to use the Google Search Appliance, Google App Engine and Google Apps Vault, the latter to archive and manage e-mail content.
"With the introduction of Google Enterprise products, we are embracing modern cloud-based delivery models that ease the technical complexities of internal operations," Irani said. "Such a model takes away the technical complexities of internal operations and instead allows IT personnel to focus on closer involvement with their business counterparts in creating deeper business value."
Among other big wins for Google are Japan's All Nippon Airways, California's City of Monterey and The Chicago Public Schools -- the latter deploying 40,000 seats in 681 locations.
Microsoft has announced its fair share of big Office 365 wins as well, such as the retail giant JC Penney, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the State of Texas, which is deploying 100,000 seats.
So who's winning this battle? "I would say we see them neck and neck at this point," said Sara Radicati, president and CEO of The Radicati Group, a market researcher firm that tracks enterprise use of e-mail, collaboration social networking and security software and services. "Google Apps tends to appeal more/gain more traction with SMBs and non-US customers, Microsoft seems to be doing better in small- to medium-size market in the US, so if you look at it on a worldwide basis I would say they are about even right now, whereas in the U.S. I would put Microsoft slightly ahead at this time."
Meanwhile, some of the key arguments Microsoft is making to warn customers of the risks of moving to Google Apps are becoming moot. Perhaps the biggest one, that you can't store documents locally, is about to go away, said Derik VanVleet, a senior solutions engineer on the sales team of Atlanta-based Cloud Sherpas, Google's largest partner.
Google is going to make Quickoffice, the company it acquired last year, a native client with its Chromebooks, effectively letting users store documents on their systems, rather than requiring them to only save them in the cloud, VanVleet pointed out.
"The capability from our understanding is very close," he told me. "What that allows me to do is use the Google Apps platform and this whole conversation of documents fidelity and document conversion goes away. QuickOffice allows me to natively edit Microsoft documents in their native format with virtually 100 percent fidelity, better than what Microsoft is able to offer in Office 365 Web Apps."
The rivalry between Microsoft and Google in the cloud is nothing new. In fact I've followed this for many years. Now with the revamp of Microsoft's Office 365 released two weeks ago, and Google's moves toward reducing the shortcomings of its offering, the battle is entering a new phase.
Who do you think has the edge? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/13/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments
Perhaps the most controversial of David Pogue's Windows 8 tips was the first one suggesting third-party tools that let users effectively re-instate the Start menu that made its debut with Windows 95 but was removed from the new OS.
Pogue said those who bemoan the absence of the Start menu can get it back via third-party apps such as StartIsBack, Classic Shell, Start8, Power8, Pokki and StartW8. Admittedly, I tried Start8 and found it to be a nice crutch. It made me wonder, why doesn't Microsoft just bring it back in the next service pack?
I asked a spokeswoman at Microsoft if there are any plans to bring back the Start menu and she said the company had no comment. One critic slammed Pogue for even suggesting users bring back the Start menu, arguing such a move would be a step back. "I look forward to an article on Windows 8 by a real enthusiast, not someone who explains how to undo the interface," wrote Mark Justice Hinton.
While Microsoft removed the Start menu to wean people off its traditional way of using Windows to the new app model in Windows 8 via the Windows Store, some habits die hard. Some agreed, asking why Microsoft didn't leave Start menu intact?
"The start menu would have minimized retraining, provided continuity and allowed both the tablet and desktop communities to be well served," a commenter known as D Weeberly wrote. "A simple option could have been provided to disable it for those with an opposite preference."
For some, the removal of the Start menu has turned them off to Windows 8 altogether, especially those who had to get new PCs and were content with the way earlier versions of Windows worked. "I have several friends and acquaintance that have needed new computers recently and HATE W8," one commenter said. "I have now found StartW8 and 8GadgetPack so I can now at least offer them a working solution."
Keep in mind, if Microsoft wanted to play hardball, it could h