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Microsoft Restoring Sidekick Data, but Troubles Remain

Microsoft sent a letter to T-Mobile Sidekick users on Thursday claiming that most of the customer data thought to be lost during a network failure is now being restored.

The Oct. 15 letter from Roz Ho, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Premium Mobile Experiences group, apologizes to T-Mobile's customers. It describes the data loss, which started on Oct. 2, as affecting just "a minority of Sidekick users."

Ho's letter offered a more hopeful message to T-Mobile Sidekick users than an announcement issued just two days earlier by Microsoft. That announcement had only suggested that "recovering some lost content may now be possible." It offered $100 and a free month of service to customers who had permanently lost data.

Ho now says that Microsoft is rebuilding the system, but it is taking some time.

"We have determined that the outage was caused by a system failure that created data loss in the core database and the back-up," she said in the letter. "We rebuilt the system component by component, recovering data along the way. This careful process has taken a significant amount of time, but was necessary to preserve the integrity of the data."

An update on the progress of the data restoration work will be posted on Saturday at the T-Mobile Sidekick forum, she added. Meanwhile, a few lawsuits from users of the service are starting to emerge, as noted in a CNet article.

T-Mobile sells the Sidekick mobile device and subscription, but Microsoft runs the service in the background using technology it acquired in 2008 when it bought Danger Inc. for $500 million. The Sidekick device features a small physical keyboard and backs up data in the cloud. Unlike some other mobile devices, it apparently does not permanently save data to the physical device itself, which is why T-Mobile warned Sidekick users during the service outage not to remove batteries from the device.

Microsoft did not explain exactly how the service outage occurred. Ho, as part of the Premium Mobile Experiences group, presumably spearheads Microsoft mobile consumer technologies, including a rumored "Project Pink" aimed at challenging Apple's iPhone. Ho is recorded in a Channel 9 interview last year -- in her pink office -- alluding to some kind of secret project that's part of her responsibilities.

The Sidekick service outage represents a black eye for Microsoft's software-as-a-service efforts, championed notably by Microsoft's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie. However, it also reflects continued slow-going mobile efforts at Microsoft. Much of the horror is depicted in two Apple Insider articles, which provide accounts from unnamed "insiders" who presumably worked at Microsoft. They depict the Sidekick service outage as due to Microsoft's neglect of the Danger acquisition, as well as its managerial incompetence.

On the technical side, Microsoft supposedly uses technology left over from the Danger acquisition to support the Sidekick service, including "an Oracle Real Application Cluster" that stores data in a storage area network, according to one Apple Insider story. The inside source speculates that Microsoft wasn't properly backing up the data or that it tried to move the data onto Microsoft technologies, thereby "dogfooding" it. A third explanation by the source is that a Microsoft employee engaged in sabotage, since a failure of the backup system seems unlikely.

On the management side, Microsoft's Premium Mobile Experiences group initially started without an engineering team, according to a second Apple Insider story. The group is run separately from Microsoft's Windows Mobile group, which just announced Windows phone, based on Windows Compact Edition technology. Windows CE is described as more limited technology compared with the rest of the Windows family.

Danger technology is based on Java Micro Edition technology. Presumably, Microsoft was interested in acquiring Danger more for its expertise in consumer mobile technology rather than maintaining the specific platform. The source describes Microsoft as having "an irrational hatred of Java."

Finally, Microsoft's Pink project is alleged to be failing because of a management decision to build both UMTS and CDMA phones in the same form factor, which was a technical nightmare, according to the source. The source claims that Microsoft deceived T-Mobile about the resources it has put into Danger -- all the while focusing more on Project Pink.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Oct 20, 2009

"Danger, Inc." proved to be a most prophetic name after all ...

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 Patrick Pichette California

Microsoft needs some new leadership in their Premium Mobile division. They need to replace their current VP Roz Ho by someone like Martin Frigon or Jean-Philippe Paradis. Both have great track records in the telecom industry and both received those coveted Merit awards.

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