Microsoft Talks Mobility Management on VMworld Keynote Stage

As competition in the IT industry has brought together strange bedfellows lately, it appears Microsoft and VMware are the latest to publicly share their love-hate relationship. Of course it's to mutual benefit. In the keynote session on the second day of VMworld 2015, taking place this week in San Francisco, Windows Enterprise Executive Jim Alkove became the first Microsoft executive to appear on stage at VMware's annual confab.

Sanjay Poonen, general manager and executive vice president for end-user computing at VMware, called Alkove on stage during his keynote presentation where both execs explained how the two companies worked together to ensure tight integration between Windows 10 and VMware's AirWatch enterprise mobility management platform

"We love Windows 10 because you've opened up Windows 10 for an enterprise mobile management player like AirWatch," Poonen said to Alkove. "It's unprecedented."  In response, Alkove said: "In order to address modern security threats, it's critical [that] hardware and software be designed to work together in tight partnership. With Windows 10 we're bringing enterprise mobility management to the entire family of Windows devices and we are simplifying deployment to put an end to the days of wipe and reload."

The unique aspect of this brief public display of mutual admiration comes as Microsoft is fiercely aiming to take on VMware AirWatch, which is one of the leading enterprise mobile management platforms (VMware acquired it in 2011). Microsoft corporate VP Brad Anderson has said on numerous occasions that with Redmond's own new Enterprise Mobility Suite, organizations don't require a third-party EMM suite.

"You would think of Microsoft as being low in the ability to execute," said Kevin Strohmeyer, director of product marketing for workspace services and end user computing at Citrix, in an interview at VMworld. "They are a big company." At the same time Strohmeyer lauded Microsoft for its commitment to ensuring compatibility between Windows 10 and AirWatch. "To Microsoft's credit, they've been great in terms of a development partner," he said.

Looking to demonstrate it's looking to leapfrog others in mobility management, VMware revealed Project A2, which ties together AirWatch and App Volumes, the tool introduced at last year's VMworld that can deliver hundreds of virtual apps. Project A2, which will be made available for technical preview and released next year, will enable the management of virtual and physical apps on desktops.

Also on the end user computing side, VMware announced Horizon 6.2 and Horizon 6.2 for Linux, which the company said will provide richer user experiences, support for Microsoft's Skype for Business and Nvidia's GRID vGP (virtual graphics processing unit), improved VMware Virtual SAN storage optimizations, support for biometric fingerprint authentication and FIPS 140-2 compliance for those with federal government governance requirements.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/01/2015 at 1:23 PM0 comments

Machine Learning Is Key To Improving Accuracy of Next Microsoft Band

When Microsoft came out with its Fitbit-like band last year, it introduced some interesting new capabilities to the crowded market for such gadgets. But one of the reasons I returned the first iteration of the Microsoft Band after using it for a month was that it didn't appear to render precise and consistent heart rate data. I have come to learn I wasn't the only one to come to that conclusion and decided to wait and see what the next version offers before spending $200. In all fairness, not all share that view.

It appears the company is readying the next version for the upcoming fourth quarter holiday season, according to published reports. In a briefing at the Microsoft Research Center on the Redmond campus yesterday, Corporate VP Peter Lee, who oversees new experiences at the lab (NExT), indicated that the next Microsoft Band will render more accurate heart rates thanks to improved sensors, though he didn't get into the timing of the release. These improved sensors aren't coming in the form of better hardware but rather major advances in the software developed by Microsoft, he explained.

These same advances apply to other work such as Microsoft's Bing platform, which is all emerging as major Microsoft assets for Microsoft's efforts to advance machine learning. Lee gave the brief discussion about the Microsoft Band as an example of a skunkworks project called "Jewel" that came out of its research labs focused on applying machine learning. While machine learning has long been a key focus at Microsoft Research, the company this year took a step forward with the release of Azure ML. The compute and storage enabled by cloud-based machine learning has helped improve the algorithms used to render data such as blood flow, according to Lee, speaking with journalists Thursday at Microsoft's research center on the company's Redmond campus.

Lee admitted that the hardware BOM (bill of materials) included in the sensors of the Microsoft Band was limited and indicated that won't change in the next version. "We found the signal was woefully inadequate, especially when under physical stress, the key use-case for the Microsoft Band," he said. "While I am making disparaging remarks, it is on par or better than what you would find in the Apple Watch and other fitness bands."

It'll be interesting to see how the improvements in the software algorithm contribute to the next version of the Microsoft Band both in terms of accuracy and other yet undisclosed features of the new device.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/28/2015 at 12:32 PM0 comments

Microsoft Says 1.5 Million Enterprise Users Have Deployed Windows 10

While Microsoft this week said 75 million users have upgraded to Windows 10, an additional stat IT pros may find noteworthy is that 1.5 million of them were organizations upgrading their Enterprise Edition licenses.

Members of the Windows team meeting with journalists on the Redmond campus today revealed the figure to demonstrate the rapid adoption of Windows 10, which was released just a month ago. While the number pales in comparison to the consumers or users of the Windows 10 Home and Pro edition, the number of enterprises who have deployed Windows 10 in just four weeks after its released is "unprecedented," said Stella Chernyak, a senior director for Windows Commercial at Microsoft.

Chernyak didn't say how many companies the 1.5 million licenses represent but said some of them are among some of the largest global customers. "Some of them are rolling out hundreds of machines in some very large pilots," she said. Like all Windows upgrades over the past few decades, most organizations tend to wait up to a year before performing large rollouts of a new version, a trend that appears to be holding despite the large pilots.

The officials noted that the company anticipates an even larger uptake of Windows 10 once a whole new crop of devices roll out later this year and new features are added through the Windows as a Service updates. Added integration to offerings such as Azure Rights Management is currently in the works. Enterprises are also quite enamored with the new biometric authentication feature called Windows Hello, which is aimed at replacing passwords.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/28/2015 at 6:12 PM0 comments

Server Market Continues Modest Growth Trend

PC sales growth may be on the downward spiral but expenditures on servers continue to rise, albeit at a single-digit rate. The latest quarterly reports from Gartner and IDC show revenues for servers increased 7.2 percent and 6.1 percent respectively in the second quarter of 2015.

While Gartner and IDC have somewhat different methodologies, both show continued demand for servers. That may surprise some cloud computing purists who wonder why anyone would buy a server. For sure many of these sales are shifting to cloud providers and MSPs but many build their own systems.

Most of the $13 billion that Gartner and IDC reports was spent on servers in the last three months went to the key players: HP, Dell, IBM, Lenovo and Cisco. It marks the fifth consecutive quarter of year-over-year revenue growth, IDC said.

"The recent growth trend in the server market is confirmation of the larger IT investment taking place, despite dramatic change occurring in system software thanks to open source projects such as Docker and OpenStack," said Al Gillen, IDC's program VP of servers and systems software, in a statement. "While we do anticipate an impact on product mix and potentially on volumes, it is too early in the adoption cycle for these new software products to have a material impact on servers today. In the meantime, the market demonstrated healthy revenue and shipment growth this quarter."

Much of the growth is coming from demand for x86-based hyper-scale systems as well as refreshes of servers among small and medium businesses, likely an outgrowth of Windows Server 2003's end of support. Microsoft issued its last patch for Windows Server 2003 in April. Refreshes of IBM mainframes helped growth on the high end, though mid-range systems declined 5.4 percent, according to IDC.

In terms of shipments, HP remains the leader with 21.7 percent of the market, posting 2.5 percent growth while No. 2 Dell at 18 percent saw a slight decline (0.4 percent), according to Gartner. Though a distant No. 3, Lenovo, which recently acquired IBM's x86 server business, saw volume growth of 185.7 percent year over year. Both researchers said Lenovo saw 500-plus percent revenue growth, although obviously both increases were aided by picking up IBM's commodity server line.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/26/2015 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Microsoft's Cloud SQL Database Gets Row Level Security

Microsoft's cloud-based SQL Database now supports row level security (RLS), a feature offered in a number of other databases. RLS lets administrators provide row-level access to data based on a user's identity or role.

The company released the RLS feature in its Azure SQL Database last week. RLS will appeal to organizations looking to restrict access to financial data based on an employee's region and role, ensure specific tenants of a multitenant app can only access their own roles of data and it allows analysts to query various subsets based on their position, according to Tommy Mullaney, Microsoft's program manager for SQL Database.

"RLS enables you to store data for many users in a single database and table, while at the same time restricting row-level access based on a user's identity, role, or execution context," Mullaney said in a blog post. "RLS centralizes access logic within the database itself, which simplifies and reduces the risk of error in your application code."

In his post, Mullaney shared how SharePoint workflow vendor K2 Architect Grant Dickinson was able to ensure it was enforcing security and policies across all database vectors. Before implementing RLS, his team had to use query predicates but that mode of enforcing security was "onerous and prone to bugs," according to Dickinson.

"Furthermore, the data access layer and business logic are able to evolve independently from the RLS policy logic; this separation of concerns improves code quality," he said. "The developers could use a policy language they were familiar with -- T-SQL  -- and as such we were productive on RLS from day one."

Microsoft's Mullaney said it plans to add new RLS capabilities through its iterative development and deployment process.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/24/2015 at 1:26 PM0 comments

Surface Pro 4 with Windows Hello May Appear in October

Rumors that new devices including a Surface Pro 4 and a major launch event by Microsoft planned for October amplified this week following a number of published reports. Though the chatter comes from unnamed sources, all along we've said it makes sense that the next wave of systems would hit at that time presuming Intel's next-generation Core 6 architecture is ready. Even without it, October is the time all the major players roll out their lineups for the critical fourth-quarter holiday buying season.

The buzz about a new Surface Pro 4 picked up earlier in the week when the Chinese site WPDang reported that the new tablet-PC will be joined by two new Lumia phones and a Microsoft Band 2 (as of midday Friday the report was not accessible, suggesting perhaps it was pulled). A subsequent report by The Verge added that Microsoft indeed is planning a launch event. The Surface Pro 4 will be similar to its predecessor, meaning it will support the same peripherals and docking station but it's believed it will have Intel's new RealSense camera and will support the new Windows Hello capability. Windows Hello is the new sensor technology designed to let users replace passwords with facial recognition or fingerprint readers to log into the OS.

It is unclear whether the new device will include the new Intel Core 6 processor, code-named Skylake, but Intel is set to release the chipset in two weeks, according to several reports including this Zacks research note. Skylake, like all new CPUs, is faster and more power-efficient but will "drive multiple 4K displays, feature novel instructions to accelerate security operations, and hardened memory defenses [and] has enhanced Iris Pro integrated graphics which can drive up to three 4K monitors at 60Hz." The site Softpedia published a breakdown of SkyLake this week.

At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) this week in San Francisco, the company announced a broadening of the RealSense camera sensor interface technology for Windows, Android and MacOS. Intel also released its RealSense SDK for Windows, which includes a tool for developers to access the sensor-based capabilities of its Unity platform.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/21/2015 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Citrix Releases Its Workspace Cloud Platform

In what could be the most new product offering from Citrix in years, the company today said its new cloud-based offering for deploying and managing virtual and mobile devices is now available. The company unveiled the Citrix Workspace Cloud back in May, hailing it as architecture for the modern digital workplace.

With its control-plane architecture, the company designed the Citrix Workspace Cloud to give IT administrators or third party managed service providers the ability to securely deliver virtual desktops or applications to users using any public or hybrid cloud offering. The architecture behind the Citrix Workspace Cloud is the Lifecycle Manager, which was built using the engine from ShareFile, the document sharing platform it acquired back in 2011.

The Lifecycle Manager creates blueprints that ease the migration of earlier versions of XenApp to current releases and provides the ability for IT to deploy them in the new management platform. These blueprints "are effectively groupings of things that you need to do to define whatever workload it is you want to deliver," as Citrix VP and CTO Christian Reilly explained back at Synergy.

Citrix said its Lifecycle Management packages let IT pros design, edit and deploy application and desktop blueprints, and once-distributed administrators can manage and monitor the deployed images or apps. The company is offering an entry-level version free of charge to existing customers with maintenance agreements. Citrix is offering various other Lifecycle Management configurations starting at $2.50 per month per user.

Among the deployments it will manage are the Workspace Cloud Virtual Apps and Desktops, which Citrix said will let IT shops securely deliver Windows and Linux apps, browsers and desktop images to any type of device. Priced at $35 per month, it lets IT pros build, design, edit and roll out app and desktop images. It also includes file, share and synchronization functions. Another option for $40 a month is the Integrated Apps and Data Suite, which adds on top of the Virtual Apps and Desktop Services mobile device and app management, as well as productivity tools.

"With Citrix Workspace Cloud, we are opening up virtualization and VDI to a whole new range of customers, for whom it was too complex or too expensive for in the past," said Jesse Lipson, vice president and general manager, Citrix Workflow and Workspace Cloud, in a statement. The move to expand its customer base comes as the company is under pressure by activist investor Elliott Management, which holds 7.5 percent of Citrix's common stock, to grow the company.

Uptake for the Citrix Workspace Cloud by managed service providers and IT organizations is poised to be a critical measure of whether the company can achieve further growth.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/20/2015 at 1:29 PM0 comments

Windows Containers Debut in New Windows Server 2016 Preview

Microsoft today released the third technical preview of Windows Server 2016 and it will give IT pros and developers the first chance to see the company's new Windows Server Containers, which includes the open source Docker Engine. The latest Windows Server 2016 technical preview also includes improvements to Active Directory (both AD DS and AD FS), Hyper-V, failover clustering, remote desktop services and file and storage services. Microsoft posted an outline of all the new features introduced in this release. Not included in Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 3 (in Microsoft lingo it's TP3) is the new Azure Stack announced back in May at Ignite that will bring Azure functionality to Windows Server or Hyper-V Containers, though Microsoft has indicated that it will show up in a technical preview later this year.

Windows Server Containers and the yet-to-be released Hyper-V Containers with the Docker Engine will introduce a new way for organizations to build and deploy applications faster and more scalable in on-premises and cloud environments. Through last year's partnership with Docker, the two worked to help Microsoft build Windows Server Containers in the server OS to  insure applications built for them are interoperable via new APIs that are compatible with Linux containers, both from a deployment and orchestration standpoint.

"This is a big step on a journey we started a while ago," said Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich, in an interview this week. "This TP3 release is the first time we're making publicly available in preview form Windows Server Containers with complete Docker tool chain ported to Windows as well as integration of container deployment and management through Visual Studio."

Docker Senior Engineering Manager Arnaud Porterie noted in a blog post today that "the Docker Engine for Windows Server port is not a fork, nor a different project: it's the same open source code base being built for Linux and Windows." Porterie also emphasized that "the Docker daemon for Windows Server doesn't run Linux images! No virtualization is involved. The Windows Server Containers reuse the host kernel and create a sandboxed environment for the process, exactly like it does on Linux."

From the perspective of development of applications for the Azure public cloud and the on-premises Azure Stack, Windows Server Containers introduce the most important new capabilities in Windows Server 2016 TP3. Yet for IT pros this is just as important as the notion of containerization is to DevOps to allow organizations more business agility, Russinovich explained.

"If you take a look now at any enterprise, they've got to get applications out faster and they've got to iterate on them faster," he explained. "The business motivation for an agile development workflow is what's driving a lot of enterprises [to] the top-level business requirement that you're seeing [from] what started as a grass-roots-driven wave by developers themselves. They're looking for a faster way to iterate as they develop their applications. One of the value propositions Docker likes to tout is a developer can debug and test their container on their own development laptop, and then with high confidence know that that tested application is going to deploy in the same exact way to a production server. And if they're iterating, for example, on their development laptop, they can do that very quickly because the containers deployed so quickly."

Containers in the context of allowing DevOps organizations to iteratively build applications that are scalable for modern cloud environments using micro services is a new concept. But many Fortune 50 companies are either piloting or have small deployments of applications for these new architectures. Because each container is small and isolated, they should help create applications that are less monolithic and more secure. While the technology is still emerging, Russinovich believes the use of micro services will be the next wave of software development, virtualization and IT operations.

"What  you're seeing is the power of this isolation and agility fit nicely with an application level that's decomposed, which also goes back to the business driver of agility," Russinovich said. "If you've got a complex application and many enterprise applications, and even CSV type applications or ISV type applications are complex, [they] consist of many subsystems. If you break down that monolithic application into constituent components, containerize them, and then have the whole thing managed by a microservice application platform you get the benefits of containerization, the agility of deployment, you've got things like rolling update, you get the independence of updates so different teams can work on different parts."

Enterprise Strategy Group Senior Analyst Mark Bowker says he's seeing growing interest among large IT organizations that are enamored by the agility of sites such as Amazon and Facebook and those who offer modern apps, though warns it's still very early days. "I think you're seeing the operating system vendors essentially react and design, and ultimately look at where modern applications are headed, and ultimately making a more efficient operating system to run those types of workloads. It doesn't necessarily have all the full-blown features because a lot of those features are actually written into the application itself," Bowker said.

Many IT pros still don't understand containerization. Russinovich gave a far more extensive explanation of Microsoft's view of what the future of containers holds in a blog post published earlier this week. It's worth reading to understand Microsoft's container vision and what it means for the future of Windows.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the technical preview included Hyper-V Containers and has been updated to reflect that they'll actually come in a subsequent release.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/19/2015 at 9:50 AM0 comments

Microsoft's Latest OneDrive Update Doesn't Include Popular Placeholders Feature

Looking to make OneDrive the cloud storage service of choice, Microsoft last week added improved synchronization, search and support for the new Apple Watch. The upgrade of OneDrive now includes the ability to synchronize shared folders from a desktop app, visibility to when someone edits a file and Microsoft says it's now easier to search for documents. While customers welcomed the improvements, many lamented the lack of a once popular feature called Placeholders, also known as Smart Files, which Microsoft removed in January.

Microsoft first introduced Placeholders in OneDrive with Windows 8.1 but subsequently removed the feature. Placeholders allowed users to see files that are online in addition to local documents. Users complained about the missing feature in the comments section of the blog post by OneDrive Group Program Manager Jason Moore last week announcing the upgrade, imploring Microsoft to bring Placeholders back.

"I switched from Dropbox to OneDrive because of the placeholders," wrote Mark Newton. "Now, OneDrive is just Microsoft's Dropbox." Tom H. added: "This is great folks but there are thousands clamoring for placeholders, especially those of us who bought your Surface tablets. I would have hoped you would have brought placeholders before this other stuff."

 Many complained that they bought the Surface and Surface Pro specifically because of Placeholders. "The elimination of placeholders has made my 'tablet that can replace my laptop' just a tablet," wrote Jeremy. "OneDrive was the only thing allowing your own devices to do what you advertised. Thanks for selling me a thousand dollar tablet. Downgrading now."

Microsoft's Moore did weigh in last week welcoming the feedback. "Folks -- I definitely recommend checking out our UserVoice and leaving feedback there -- write up the features you want and how you'd like us to go about them! We love seeing the passion," he said. One poster, who didn't leave a name called that lip service. "You already know that placeholders back on Uservoice  [Microsoft's customer feedback platform] have more than 13,000 voices, but it's easier to say, 'give your feedback, but we will do what we like to do.'"

Not everyone commenting on Moore's post want Microsoft to bring Placeholders back. "The placeholders were a nightmare for me. Just keep adding reliable functionality," wrote Rusty Gates. But those commenting who want Microsoft to bring Placeholders back far outnumber those who could live without it.

The obvious compromise would be to offer both options and allow customers to choose either configuration.

In the meantime MVP Kent Chen explains in a blog post on Next of Windows how to map OneDrive files to a network drive or alternatively to consider third-party apps such as Odrive.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/17/2015 at 1:24 PM0 comments

Microsoft Is Working with the Canonical Linux Container Hypervisor Project

Ben Armstrong, Microsoft's Hyper-V and virtualization guru, will outline the company's participation in two open source projects: the Canonical-backed Linux Container LXD hypervisor project and OpenStack. Armstrong tipped off that he'd be speaking at ContainerCon 2015, a Linux Foundation event, and at OpenStack Day. Both will be taking place on Microsoft's home turf of Seattle.

As reported Wednesday by open source expert Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, Microsoft and Canonical, the parent company that distributes Ubuntu Linux, are working together on LXD, a project to develop Linux container hypervisors. As part of the project, Canonical last year revealed the specs for Linux Containers, or LXC, which is a new stratum on top of LXC that endows the advantages of a traditional hypervisor into the faster, more efficient world of containers," noted Dustin Kirkland, a member of Ubuntu's product and strategy team, in a blog post yesterday.  "Hosts running LXD are handily federated into clusters of container hypervisors, and can work as Nova Compute nodes in OpenStack, for example, delivering Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud technology at lower costs and greater speeds."

Microsoft of course has openly embraced Linux containers with its collaboration with Docker, where the two are among others working on the Open Container Initiative, so the collaboration on LXC and Canonical appears to be a natural evolution of that work. In a quote shared in Kirkland's post, Microsoft's Armstrong, whose actual title is principal program manager lead at Microsoft on the core virtualization and container technologies, said that "Canonical's LXD project is providing a new way for people to look at and interact with container technologies. Utilizing 'system containers' to bring the advantages of container technology to the core of your cloud infrastructure is a great concept. We are looking forward to seeing the results of our engagement with Canonical in this space."

Meanwhile, Armstrong noted in his own MSDN blog post that he'll be speaking at OpenStack Day Seattle 2015 in Seattle later in the week, which is taking place in conjunction with ContainerCon. While Microsoft has been a silent player in OpenStack, Armstrong pointed out that the company's Nova and Open-vSwitch drivers for Hyper-V connect to Active Directory and Cinder drivers for Windows iSCSI.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/13/2015 at 11:16 AM0 comments

Investors To Acquire Symantec's Data Protection Business for $8 Billion

Long wishing to exit the business of backup and recovery and high availability to focus on IT security, Symantec today said it has agreed to sell its Veritas business to private equity firm The Carlyle Group and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC for $8 billion in cash. Carlyle has tapped Bill Coleman, BEA Systems founder and CEO as Veritas chief executive, and former 3Com Chairman and CEO Bill Krauss was named chairman.

The moves will end a decade in which Symantec and Veritas never seemed to find the symmetry they were seeking when Symantec acquired the server and storage management and data protection software provider in 2005 for $13.5 billion. Symantec last year said it was creating two separate businesses with the data management business to retake the Veritas name. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year.

Once the transaction is complete, products such as Backup Exec, NetBackup and Cluster Server will no longer carry the Symantec name. As Veritas reenters the data protection market it will find numerous new competitors who have already spent years going after the business run by Symantec, among them Acronis, ArcServe, Asigra, CommVault, Dell, EMC, IBM, NetApp, Veeam, VMware, Unitrends, Vision Solutions and Zerto.

It also remains to be seen what Veritas' new owners have in store for the business such as en eventual sale or IPO. For its part, Symantec said it plans to use the proceeds to shore up its security business.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/11/2015 at 2:02 PM0 comments

Satya Nadella Congratulates Google's New CEO Sundar Pichai

Google has a new CEO and that's significant news for the company, its competitors, partners and those who use its wide array of offerings -- consumers and businesses alike. So it's hardly surprising that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was among those who yesterday reached out to Sundar Pichai, who was unexpectedly named to run Google as part of the largest restructuring in the company's history, via Twitter: "Congrats @sundarpichai well deserved!"

Through that massive company reorg, Google becomes the largest of several subsidiaries that will fall under a new corporate holding unit called Alphabet, which will be led by former Google CEO Larry Page and President Sergey Brin, both of whom are also cofounders. The surprising development appears to be aimed at allowing Page and Brin to focus on new and emerging businesses and creating a new financial reporting structure.

Page described Pichai as a natural choice to lead Google. Pichai, who most recently headed all product development and engineering for the company, is responsible for the development of the Chrome browser and had recently headed up the Android mobile division. "I know Sundar will always be focused on innovation -- continuing to stretch boundaries," Page said in yesterday's announcement. "I know he deeply cares that we can continue to make big strides on our core mission to organize the world's information."

Nadella and Pichai share a common heritage as they both are from India and Pichai's name was among dozens of outsiders rumored for the Microsoft CEO job when the company was searching for a replacement for Steve Ballmer.

When Page named him to replace Andy Rubin to head the Android business two years ago, Page described him in a blog post at the time as someone who has a "talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use -- and he loves a big bet," as pointed out by The New York Times.

Nadella and Pichai share something else in common: they're both only the third CEOs of their respective companies, though Microsoft is quite older than Google. Pichai's challenge is to lead Google so it can age gracefully -- and with fewer bumps in the road than Microsoft, Apple and others have traveled.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/11/2015 at 11:28 AM0 comments

Google To Restructure as New Company Called Alphabet

Google today said it will create a new publicly traded company called Alphabet, which will serve as the parent for its separate business units including Google itself. Larry Page, Google's cofounder and CEO, will lead Alphabet with Cofounder Sergey Brin as president.

The move is clearly the largest restructuring in the company's history and a major change in organizational makeup for any company its size. The creation of Alphabet aims to separate Google's core search and cloud business from other groups such as the company's investment companies, its Calico life sciences business and Xlab, the incubator for new technologies such as drones, Page said in a blog post announcing the planned move.

"Our company is operating well today, but we think we can make it cleaner and more accountable," Page said. "Alphabet is about businesses prospering through strong leaders and independence. In general, our model is to have a strong CEO who runs each business, with Sergey and me in service to them as needed. We will rigorously handle capital allocation and work to make sure each business is executing well. We'll also make sure we have a great CEO for each business, and we'll determine their compensation. In addition, with this new structure we plan to implement segment reporting for our Q4 results, where Google financials will be provided separately than those for the rest of Alphabet businesses as a whole."

Details of the new organization are still unfolding but it appears Google is looking to provide a new reporting structure to make its business attractive to investors. Page said by leading the parent company, he and Brin can focus more on emerging businesses, while turning Google over to Sundar Pichai, who will take over as CEO. Pichai is currently Page's top lieutenant at Google.

Ruth Porat, who recently took over as Google's CFO, will assume that role at Alphabet. The name of the parent company has raised some eyebrows. "We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity's most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search," Page said.

Page emphasized the goal isn't to establish Alphabet as a consumer brand. "The whole point is that Alphabet companies should have independence and develop their own brands."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/10/2015 at 3:59 PM0 comments

IBM To Swap 200,000 Employee PCs with Macs

IBM's partnership with Apple has taken a new twist as Big Blue plans to deploy up to 200,000 Macs. That could equate to more than half of IBM's workforce.

In an internal corporate video published by MacRumors, IBM CIO Jeff Smith revealed the company's plans to roll out up to 50,000 Macbooks to employees to replace their existing Lenovo Thinkpads. Of course it was IBM who developed the Thinkpad before selling its PC business to Lenovo over a decade ago. Nevertheless, Thinkpads remained the client device of choice at IBM. In a separate video clip, Smith recalled a conversation in which IBM Vice President Fletcher Previn told  Apple CEO Tim Cook that one day 50 to 75 percent of IBM employees could have Macs.

Apple and IBM formed a partnership last year in which IBM will develop industry specific mobile apps for iOS and MacOS and offer services to help deploy them. The apparent leak was clearly a precursor to last week's announcement from IBM in which it said it was offering new cloud-based services to help large enterprises deploy and integrate Macs within their IT infrastructures. In the announcement, IBM said Mac deployments in enterprises are on the rise.

The services let IT managers order Macs and have them delivered to employees directly with the system image installed without requiring setup or configuration. IBM partnered with JAMF Software, whose Casper Suite is enabling the ability to create and deploy the system images.

IBM's decision is somewhat ironic considering it delivered the first enterprise PC back in 1981, though the company has no vested interest in the fate of Windows PCs. It remains to be seen how aggressive IBM intends to be with bringing Macs to more businesses as Microsoft looks to convince customers to upgrade to Windows 10. Perhaps IBM is finally getting even with Microsoft for leaving it holding the ball with OS/2. Is a new battle brewing?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/10/2015 at 12:38 PM0 comments

Will Microsoft's Planned Badges Someday Replace MCSE and MCSA Certifications?

The revamp of Microsoft's certification process is under way and the newest offering will come in the form of skills-specific badges for those who don't want, need, or see the value in MCSE or MCSA certifications. For those who do want to pursue MCSE and MCSA certifications, Microsoft is rolling out major improvements to the testing process, to include performance-based exams and the ability to take them anywhere using the company's new online proctoring capability.

Liberty Munson, Microsoft's Principal Psychometrician, outlined the new certification initiatives in a fireside chat earlier this week at the TechMentor conference, taking place on the company's Redmond campus. TechMentor, like Redmond, is produced by 1105 Media. The fireside chat was moderated by Greg Shields, conference cochair,  Redmond columnist and author-evangelist at IT training company Pluralsight.

"We're continuing to evolve the program, and as a result we're going to make some changes where we start badging skills," Munson said. "So we're going to really focus on learning paths, where you pick the skills that you want to go and learn. Some of these courses you will be seeing you can take specific skills and you can get badges and those badges will show up on your transcript and you can show people that you're skilled in certain areas."

The badging training curriculum is likely to roll out in January, according to Munson, and the initial focus will be on Windows Server. Asked if these badges will one day diminish the requirement or desire to seek MCSE or MCSA certifications, Munson told me after the keynote session that it's addressing a generational shift. "The millennials are really about bite-sized chunks, and so we're trying to address that need," she said. "But as a result, certification becomes more difficult of a sell to them because of their learning mind set."

Elaborating on that point, she added: "I think you are going to see fewer people get certifications in the future. If we look a decade from now, two decades from now, certification is going to be something -- I'm going to call it like self-service -- where somebody goes in and they pick the skills that they want to be certified. They design... their own exams and their own certification. I think what we need to do to appeal to that younger generation is give them the flexibility to choose what they want to be measured on so certification takes on a whole different meaning in that potential future. And quite honestly, if certification is going to survive, I think it has to do something like this, it needs to break this mold. Otherwise the millennials are not going to buy into it."

Shields agreed with her, telling me that the notion of badging is a novel approach that many hiring managers and candidates alike may prefer to broader, more extensive certifications that don't necessarily prove specific skills. "As a hiring manager, the ability for someone to look at the badge or to see that someone has certified or passed an assessment in a very particular technology is something that very directly will help him as he goes through finding the right people for the right jobs," Shields said.

At the same time, Microsoft is rolling out a number of significant new capabilities to those who still see and value more traditional MCSE and MCSA certification, Munson emphasized. The new performance-based testing, which is also slated to roll out in January, will represent Microsoft's second attempt to offer exams that go beyond traditional multiple choice questions, enabling candidates to showcase their actual skills.  Microsoft's first stab at performance-based testing years ago was a bust primarily because the underlying infrastructure supporting it wasn't reliable. Given the rollout of Azure, Munson says she's confident that issue is now resolved.

"We think we cracked that nut with Azure in the cloud and really leveraging some of the big things that Microsoft is really focused on right now," she said. "Right now we're in the proof-of-concept phase with our performance-based testing. We probably will start with Windows Server and you'll start seeing elements where performance-based requirements are part of the certification process on the Windows Server exams."

Microsoft is already in the midst of rolling out online proctoring, which eliminates the need for people to have to travel to testing centers. Depending on where a candidate lives,  under the current guidelines, he or she might need to travel hundreds of miles to take an exam, whereas the online proctoring allows people to take them at home or any place they can be monitored to ensure they're not cheating, Munson said. "You have to make sure you're going to be in a location that's going to be uninterrupted," she said. People can take the tests at "home, work, wherever, it doesn't matter.  You can be in your PJs, but you do have to be dressed, because there is a proctor that is going to be watching you."

Online proctoring is already available in 53 countries and Munson hopes to have it rolled out by the end of the calendar year.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/06/2015 at 11:57 AM0 comments

Major Changes Coming from Microsoft Will Impact Your Career

Windows Server, System Center and every other key Microsoft product are now undergoing fundamental architectural and design changes, and if you don't adapt to them and embrace cloud computing, your career in IT likely will be cut short. Regardless of how much experience you have as an MCSE or MCSA, Pluralsight Curriculum Director Don Jones pointed to key changes coming from Microsoft that'll have a major impact on the careers of all IT pros and developers who specialize in all or any component of the Redmond stack.

The changes in Windows Server 2016, the move toward system automation, the shift to applications based on containers,  Microsoft's cloud-first approach and  a move to continuous updates will all require IT pros to gain new skills. Speaking at the TechMentor conference on Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Wash., which, like Redmond, is produced by 1105 Media, Jones' stern warning to attendees was to keep up on these changes and get educated accordingly "or run calculations on the days you have until retirement."

Jones, a cochair of the TechMentor conference (and a former Redmond columnist), also warned that IT pros who aren't proficient in PowerShell -- or have people on their teams who are -- will face problems. It should be noted that Jones is a longtime proponent of using PowerShell and scripting for automation and is a cofounder and president of

"It's PowerShell or bust," Jones said. "That's the future." That's because in order to use the forthcoming Windows Server 2016 Nano Server, administrators will have to rely on PowerShell remoting since the server OS won't support video connections or have a GUI.  "How many of you have administrators [and] server admins who are not comfortable with PowerShell? That's a limiting career decision. You're still going to have GUIs. Even Nano has a GUI. Nano is actually going to offer a Web-based GUI, potentially even in the cloud, that connects to the actual Nano server via PowerShell remoting. They are not going to run on the server."

Jones warned that learning PowerShell is a major undertaking. "The thing is if you're not doing anything with PowerShell already, and I don't want to say this in a bad way, you've kind of missed the boat. PS has gone from a curve to a giant block, and it's a lot to learn, if you can devote enough time you can still learn this tech. But, my god, don't wait any longer."

Perhaps the best route is to learn Desired State Configuration, or DSC, the "forward-evolution" of PowerShell, Jones suggested. "It is literally the most important management service that Microsoft has ever created. And if you're thinking, 'well my company is not sure if we want to use it,' you should consider whether that company deserves your time or not. Or whether you would be safer career wise someplace else. This is a big deal... saying we're not going to use DSC is like saying we're not putting gas in the car but we'd still like to drive it."

Here are some other changes coming from Redmond to some of its core products that IT pros will need to adopt to, according to Jones:

System Center: Microsoft's systems management platform in 10 years will look nothing like it does today, yet will remain critical as Microsoft offers fewer tools in the operating system itself. "If you've never used the System Center products before, you need to start becoming familiar what they can do, particularly System Center Virtual Machine Configuration Manager and things like Operations Manager," he said. "Pieces of it will move to the cloud, pieces of it will live on premises and pieces of it will change completely."

Hybrid Cloud: Jones said those who ignore the rise of cloud computing architectures will be making fatal career mistakes. Take Windows Server 2016 and beyond. The new operating system release with the Azure Stack shows a shift toward Microsoft upgrading its public cloud infrastructure and throwing those pieces into Windows Server releases.  So even your datacenters will evolve into cloud environments, he said. "You ignore this cloud thing at a very high risk to your career," he said. "It is not going to be long before every single corporation of any size has got some workload in the cloud." How should IT pros skill themselves for this shift?  "I think you need to be doing something so that you get familiar with incorporating your on premises services with certain cloud services. I'm not saying you have to migrate all of your stuff to the cloud -- that is not the right answer for most organizations. But you need to start looking at the workloads that are suitable and doing some pilots so you as a person can get familiar with it whether your company appreciates it or not. How many of you can could draw a meaningful picture and walk me though the process of setting up a VPN from on-premises into a private section of Azure? That is a core skill."

Big Data: One of the most ambiguous and disliked term in IT, the ability to process massive amounts of data to facilitate the move toward better systems automation will be important, Jones said. "Imagine scraping every single log and performance monitor counter you have and, constantly being able to predict what that data means based on past patterns. This is adding a lot of operational intelligence and insights to IT operations and is a big part of automation. Big data for us is where it loops it back into automation. We look for trends, patterns and correlations. These are all important things."

Heterogeneity: The dream of working in all Windows environments is long gone, Jones notes. And specializing in just one operating system is not going to be the accepted norm moving forward.  "If you don't know how to do some basic maintenance on a Mac or have ever  built a Linux device, it's a good hobby take up because it's going to be a key part of your career," Jones advised. "This is a good way to hedge your bets."

Exchange Server: It's no secret that high on the list of endangered species are Exchange administrators thanks to the rapid push toward Office 365 and hosted versions of the e-mail platform. "Don't bet the rest of your career on a counter argument to something like Exchange is going to go away," he said. "Have a plan B."

Active Directory:  The ability to configure and manage Azure Active Directory and AD Connect are critical. Those who earn a living by adding users to Active Directory are the equivalent to those who pump gas at full service stations.  "If you have someone in your organization because they add users to Active Directory, that paycheck is in threat," he said.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/05/2015 at 1:31 PM0 comments

Windows 10: Try Before You Buy

Last week's launch of Windows 10 was really about the release of the bits online to those who can get it -- mostly Windows Insiders. PC makers took a backseat because they only recently received the final bits. That's a historic deviation for new releases of Windows, but as the OS moves to a more continuous upgrade cycle, that looks to be a moot point going forward.

Between that and Intel's delay in shipping its Skylake processors, PC makers had little choice but to dial back on the hoopla. Most issued reminders that many of their most recent releases support Windows 10 and many more are coming in August and into the latter part of the year. That's not to say they entirely ignored the launch. There's tons of business to be had by hardware manufactures following the launch of Windows 10 and Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, Acer and Toshiba issued reminders of their existing and forthcoming systems.

HP briefed media and analysts last week by outlining which systems are now optimized for Windows 10 and those that are in the pipeline. The unstated message was 'try before you buy.' Take advantage of the free upgrade on your existing system, if eligible, and become familiar with what Windows 10 has to offer.   

"We've been working with Microsoft from the very beginning on Windows 10. As a result we had the opportunity to design our entire 2015 portfolio with Windows 10 in mind," said Mike Nash, VP of product management at Hewlett Packard, on the Tuesday call. "Whether you buy a product that comes from the factory with Windows 10 or you have one of our products that came with Windows 8.1 and you upgrade in the field, it's going to deliver a great Windows 10 experience. We're really confident about that."

According to HP's own research, 22 percent of those it surveyed earlier this year said they'll purchase a new device, while 44 percent will upgrade their current system. Given the falloff in PC sales, that's not a surprising feature and Nash, a former longtime Microsoft exec, is encouraging users to upgrade their existing systems to Windows 10. The implication of course is users will like what it has to offer so much that they'll ultimately want new hardware that takes advantage of its features. And since HP and others are still readying new hardware, the notion of try before you buy will suit them well, according to Nash. "The upgrade becomes a way for you to demo and try out Windows 10," he said.

Indeed when people ask me if they should buy a new system, I say, run Windows 10 on your existing system for now but wait until later this year, as the best is yet to come.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/03/2015 at 11:57 AM0 comments

Windows 10: 14 Million Served on First Day

Some 14 million devices are now running Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system. But many who have reserved their free upgrades will have to wait for days or weeks, the company reiterated last night.

"While we now have more than 14 million devices running Windows 10, we still have many more upgrades to go before we catch up to each of you that reserved your upgrade," wrote Yusuf Mehdi, corporate VP for Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, in a post last night on the Windows Blog. "Rest assured we are working 24×7 to continue the upgrade process and are prioritizing the quality of your upgrade experience over anything else. We are grateful for your excitement and enthusiasm and we appreciate your patience over the days and weeks ahead as we carefully roll out Windows 10 in phases to all of you that have reserved."

Microsoft's 5 million Windows Insiders who tested the Windows 10 Technical Preview are getting priority, according to the company. While I ran the Technical Preview on one of my machines, I have two others that I don't use often and continued using Windows 8. If you don't want to wait, there are many ways you can fast-track the process, as reported earlier this week. One is to go to a Microsoft Store and have them download it for you (it's free).  Another avenue is to follow Brien Posey's advice to get in front of the line.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/31/2015 at 10:51 AM0 comments

Windows 10 Launch Puts Spotlight on Its Retail Stores

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Windows 10 Launch Puts Spotlight on Its Retail Stores


Manager at Microsoft Store in Garden City, N.Y. is enthusiastic about opportunity Windows 10 presents.

By Jeffrey Schwartz

The Windows 10 launch Wednesday put its 110 retail stores worldwide in the spotlight as Microsoft decided to celebrate with local charities it supports such as The Girl Scouts, Habitat for Humanity and the YouthSpark Summer Camp program, among others. While the Microsoft Stores are intended for consumers, partners and IT pros often come in to peruse the store's wares.

An hour before yesterday's opening of the Microsoft Store at Roosevelt Field, in the New York City suburb of Garden City, store manager Scott Goeke spent a few minutes to chat about the preparations for the Windows 10 launch and some of the expectations he has. Until recently Goeke managed the Microsoft Store in Santa Clara but took the opportunity to return east when an opening came up to manage the Garden City, N.Y. location.

What have you been doing to gear up for the Windows 10 launch?
There's been a ton of excitement from our employees and customers. Our main job is to harness that and make sure we really deliver. We've been working on training our employees for months now, making sure that they have the ability to properly recognize and show off what's going on to our customers and show off all the cool features of Windows 10 and really be the experts.

Have customers been asking questions about what to do about Windows 10 -- should they wait -- and those kinds of questions?
It's not so much about should they wait, they've been coming in ever since we announced it earlier this year. Very rarely are we hearing "should I get it?" It's more "when can I get it," which is really cool for us because that's exactly the kind of customer event we want have for Windows 10.

How are you dealing with these upgrades?
We have a well-oiled plan as to how we work with each one of these upgrades. Our employees are ready to roll. If they have Vista and they're looking to upgrade, they have the ability to purchase Windows 10. But from our initial stuff getting checked in -- we've been checking in computers for the last few days and comparing them so people can have them today -- it's been all Windows 7 and Windows 8.  Our goal here is to make the experience for customers as easy as possible. A lot of people don't know but we offer a ton of free services and the upgrade is a key one of those. We're not looking to charge customers for that. That's a last-case scenario. Most of our customers who are going to be walking in are going to have a great experience.

The online upgrade process has been slow in the early hours of the release.
It's a rollout. We haven't been given specifics and times and places where people are going to get it but anybody can come in here right now. We have the bits for it. We can get it on your computer for free. If you have other computers that you're not sure about or are not running well, we can fix those up for free as well. We are trying to expose our customers to all the cool services that Microsoft specifically has to offer. I think it's fair to say that the Microsoft Store is going to provide the absolute best Windows 10 upgrade experience you can find anywhere.

Are you going to initially try to persuade customers to purchase new Windows 10-based computers?
It's going to be a case-by-case basis. It's certainly not our mission to drive devices exclusively. We're going to assess each computer that comes in on a case-by-case basis. There's a system of rating based on what capabilities a computer has and what operating system it has, if it's full of viruses or malware or things like that. We're going to give them the options that they have.

When customers come in for the free upgrade, are you advising them to reimage the machine with a clean install?
No, it's a bootstrap install. It leaves your old Windows image on there and it holds your information on to your new image.

It appears everyone on line is here to see Abby Wambach. No one I spoke with seemed interested in Windows 10.
We have Abby Wambach, which is awesome, but I'm expecting a great kickoff and I think it will escalate into the weekend and beyond. I know we have a significant number of appointments to get their upgrades.

Do customers ask a lot about using Windows 10 for business?
When we talk to business customers, the common thing I hear is "we're still on Windows 7 and it's time to get something new so I'm sure my IT person is going to be doing this." That's the common theme that we're hearing. They're just kind of under the assumption that this is the answer their company has been waiting for.

Many machines are already able to run Windows 10 but, given the quick release of the bits, it's mostly the new machines that will take advantage of new features like Windows Hello. Are you going to let customers, particularly those who are power users that they may want to wait for the newer machines to come out later in August and into October?
Absolutely. If I'm talking about giving the best experience possible, we have to be very realistic with our customers and help them understand that there are certain features of Windows 10 that not all hardware can take advantage of. People need to understand that this is a service that will continue updating, unlike Windows in the past.

When people do buy new systems, what has been the situation regarding the Office 365 upsell. Do most customers do that?
Oh yes. Office 365 has been doing phenomenal for us. When people start to understand really what's in it for them and the OneDrive storage opportunity that comes with Office 365. We have Office 2016 coming out.

Do some balk at the idea of an annual subscription?
Of course that conversation comes up. For us it's helping them understand. And individual licenses are still the right solutions for some people.

What's your favorite new feature in Windows 10?
The Start menu is my thing. I love the fact that it's back, but more importantly that I have my Live Tiles on my Start menu, so I have the best of both worlds.

Do you think those who have avoided Windows 8 because they didn't like the idea of Live Tiles, balking when they see that even though the Start menu is back that the Live Tiles are still there?
You know what? They see it and say "I didn't expect those to be on there." Then they look at it and understand if you show them what they can do with them.  They say it makes sense. So I don't foresee them balking at that. The way it works and how easy it is to move it around and make it personalized, I think people will be perfectly fine with them.

Once you go through that core new interface with them, what's the next feature in Windows 10 you emphasize?
Microsoft Edge. Showing them the new browser and showing them the reading options and the inking options -- they think is pretty cool.

Have you been playing up Cortana?
That's usually number three for me. I see a lot of my employees after they go to the Start menu that's their number two. It's a great tool to make it more personal. That's what we want people to understand, that it's a personalized experience.

Do you talk about Continuum or are customers not interested in that?
It comes up with certain customers. The ones who are power users are the ones having that conversation or the people with the 2-in-1 experience.

What's your level of confidence as to how many Windows Universal apps will be there?
I'm very, very confident about it. Hearing [CEO] Satya [Nadella] at MGX at our Global Exchange [employee conference] a couple of weeks ago gives me that confidence. I came here from Silicon Valley and over the last couple of years, I've had the opportunity to build some pretty good relationships with customers and understand where they're at in their journey and I see the level of confidence they have which gives me a heck of a lot of confidence as well.

And these are developers who were skeptical about Windows in the past?
They're the whole spectrum but there are plenty who are skeptical that weren't developing for Windows that are developing for iOS and Android. When we started making these announcements and they started seeing what the capabilities are, they were excited about it too. And they're some of the most skeptical people in the world. So if they're excited about it, I have no reason not to be.

Even if Windows Phone doesn't gain critical mass, which appears to be the case at this point, are you confident that Windows as a platform has a strong future?
Oh yes. The size and scope of what we're doing here, this is a huge rollout. This is the best Windows we've ever made. It's a free upgrade, there's no reason it's not going to get there.

How many customers come in asking about the Surface Pro 4?
It's a common conversation. My answer is "I wish I had an idea."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/30/2015 at 12:29 PM0 comments

Microsoft Urges Patience to Those Waiting for Windows 10 Download

More Windows 10 Content:

Did you reserve a free upgrade for Windows 10 and still can't get it even though it's supposed to be available today? Apparently you're not alone.

Microsoft's forum page for Windows 10 upgrades currently has a note stating that those who reserved a free upgrade, but don't have it yet, should "watch for your notification in the coming weeks."

Microsoft said Windows Insiders -- those who were testing the Technical Preview -- get first dibs.  A Microsoft spokeswoman sent the following explanation:

"With millions of reservations and Windows Insiders to serve, we want to make sure everyone has a great upgrade experience, so we're rolling-out Windows 10 in phases to help manage the demand. We are rolling out Windows 10 to our Windows Insiders. From there, we began notifying reserved systems in waves, slowly scaling up. If you reserved your upgrade of Windows 10, we will notify you once our compatibility work confirms you will have a great experience, and Windows 10 has been downloaded on your system."

That explains why the system I was runnin g the Technical Preview already has the upgrade and a separate Windows 8.1-based system can't get it. There are ways around that of course. One way is to go to one of Microsoft's 110 retail stores and drop off your machine. Not sure how long that will take and perhaps you don't live near one, so that's not an option.

Another alternative is to take Redmond contributor Brien Posey's advice and run a script that will apparently push though the upgrade. Or you can do what most people will likely do  -- just wait!

Microsoft's forum page for Windows 10 upgrades currently has a note stating that those who reserved a free upgrade, but don't have it yet, should "watch for your notification in the coming weeks."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/29/2015 at 12:54 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Launch: Online but Not On Line

More Windows 10 Content:

What if you had a party and you found out everyone came for the food and not to see you? That was the case for people who showed up for Microsoft's Windows 10 launch party at the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, N.Y. -- one of nine Microsoft-owned retail stores picked for celebrity events for the launch of Windows 10. Lower key, in-store festivities were planned for all 110 Microsoft Stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

It's a far cry from Microsoft's biggest launch event nearly two decades ago, when computer and electronics stores all over the world opened at midnight for the launch of Windows 95, the desktop OS that ushered in the mainstream PC era. While today's launch of Windows 10 was decidedly more low key and primarily virtual, in the early hours at least it appears to be a non event.

At the Best Buy Store in Westbury, N.Y., other than a few balloons and a couple of signs, it was business as usual. In fact the sign in the front entrance flags the newest Apple MacBook and the Surface Pro 3s still have Windows 8.1 running on them. A few machines do appear to have Windows 10 on them but other than a few people browsing the Best Buy Microsoft department, there was no extra influx of customers. At the Staples store next door, there was no one by their modest PC section and the few systems that were turned on were also running Windows 8.1.

When I asked an employee at Micro Center, also in Westbury, why the store wasn't opening early for the Windows 10 launch, he said Microsoft prohibited the store from doing so. "They still call the shots and they want the focus to be on their stores," he said, though added that the retalier has Windows 10-equipped machines ready to go.

At Roosevelt Field, one of the largest shopping malls in the country, Microsoft is showcasing an appearance by Abby Wambach, who was on the U.S. team that won the women's World Cup Soccer championship this summer.

A line for passes for Wambach's 7 p.m. appearance -- and to take a look at Windows 10, of course  -- formed at 7 a.m. By the time I arrived around 9 a.m. there were about 100 people on that line. I started asking people if they were there to check out Windows 10 and they all universally said they were there to see Abby Wambach. Another who was there asked me "what is Windows 10?" With his two daughters in tow, he continued: "I'm a paper and pencil guy. I still look for payphones." One person waiting on line said bluntly he uses a Mac and was also just there to score some passes to see Wambach.

Well, at least someone was there who has an interest in Windows 10. It turns out Jimmy Solis is a local consultant in the New York City suburbs to small businesses, mostly with 10 to 20 employees. Solis said he's a Windows Insider and has been testing the Windows Technical Preview since it was released in early October, and he's impressed with the final build.

"It's good -- it's going to be like the new Windows 7," Solis said. "It's user friendly, that's for sure. A lot of my clients have complained about Windows 8 but they've fixed all of its bugs." By bugs he was referring to the design of the operating system. Like any IT consultant, Solis said he's going to wait for the first set of patches before recommending any of his clients upgrade to Windows 10.

Scott Goeke, the store manager at the Roosevelt Field location, took about 20 minutes to talk just before the store opened and said he wasn't dismayed when I told him that the crowd was primarily there to see Wambach and not Windows 10. "I'm fully expecting a great kickoff and think it will escalate this weekend," Goeke said. "People have been coming in for months asking about Windows 10."

Many customers had already dropped off their PCs to have the store take care of the free upgrade for them, according to Goeke. The store is offering free installation for those who can't or don't want to go through the process of the download.

While I didn't expect to discover people had camped out for the release, I was surprised to see fewer people waiting there in advance than the crowd that showed up a year ago to celebrate the grand opening of that store. It appears a free Demi Lovato concert on a weekend is a bigger draw than a weekday meet-and greet with Wambach.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/29/2015 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Citrix CEO Mark Templeton To Retire Amid Push for Growth

Citrix today said longtime President and CEO Mark Templeton will retire once the company appoints a successor.  Simultaneously, the company has agreed to give activist investor Elliott Management, which holds 7.5 percent of Citrix's common stock, a seat on its board. The seat will be filled by Jesse Cohen, who will replace Asiff Hirji. Citrix also said that the company's board has formed an operations committee to work closely with the company's management team to find ways to improve margins, profits and its capital structure.

The board has also agreed to Elliott's demands that it consider the sale or spinoff of the Citrix "Go To" business, which includes Go To Meeting, Go to My PC and Go to Webinar, among other related product lines. Citrix said it will conduct a review of strategic alternatives for that business.

Elliott last month sent a letter to Templeton and Citrix chairman Thomas Bogan indicating that it wants to see the company improve its operations and spin off some assets, arguing that Citrix is significantly undervalued and suggesting its stock could be worth up to $100 per share by the end of next year. The stock closed at $61.47 per share on Thursday, though rose on the news and a slightly better than expected second quarter report. The company last quarter collected $797 million in revenue, up 2% year over year, and $103 million in earnings.

In addition to the new board director Cohen, the operations committee will include Citrix director Robert Calderoni, who was also named executive chairman of the board. Bogan was also named to the committee and he'll become lead independent director of the Citrix board.

"We believe the addition of new and fresh perspectives to our board will ensure Citrix continues to lead in application networking and virtualization markets," Bogan said in a statement

Added Elliott's Cohen: "We are confident that the initiatives announced today and the addition of new directors to the company's board will allow Citrix to build upon its position as an innovative industry leader, and to drive significant shareholder value."

Citrix, best known these days for its XenDesktop and XenApp desktop virtualization platform, is also betting big on its new Cloud Workspace platform. The company demonstrated Cloud Workspace for first time at its Synergy conference in Orlando, Fla. back in May. Citrix Workspace Cloud is the company's next-generation digital workspace for Windows-based PCs, Macs, iPads, Android tablets, Chromebooks, new Linux-based systems and even embedded devices that enable Internet of Things-type environments. It's based on a cloud delivery architecture that provides orchestration across servers and nodes.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/28/2015 at 3:17 PM0 comments

Amazon Shocker: Profit Buoyed By AWS' Runaway Growth and Efficiencies

Anticipating another report of an unprofitable quarter by the margin-pressed, analysts were shocked by the e-retailer's $92 million profit for the second quarter on $23.2 billion in revenues, reported Thursday. Albeit the profit was miniscule, Amazon notoriously posts losses and last quarter wasn't projected to be an exception. Remarkably, taking the squeeze off margins was its Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud service.

AWS revenues surged 81 percent year-over-year to $1.82 billion, showing markedly accelerated growth over the first quarter's 49 percent jump in sales. Analysts also were impressed by AWS margin of 21 percent, up from 17 percent last quarter.

Investors rewarded Amazon pushing its shares up more than 16% during Friday morning trading, boosting its market cap above $250 billion and giving the company a larger valuation than its brick-and-mortar rival Wal-Mart, making it the largest retailer in the world. In addition to tighter companywide cost controls, analysts were notably impressed by the performance of AWS, some even suggesting Amazon may profit by spinning it off or selling it. Wall Street has overnight fallen back in love with Amazon.

What a difference a year makes. At this time in 2014, Amazon posted disappointing results quarter after quarter, with much that blamed on the tight margins of its retail business, huge investments and a slowing AWS business.  

Despite AWS' heavy price cutting to compete with Microsoft and Google, Amazon Chief Financial Officer and Senior VP Brian Olsavsky credited the subsidiary's team with the rollout of numerous new services and features for enterprise customers as well as improved cost efficiencies. "We are seeing continued increases in usage, both sequentially and year-over-year," Olsavsky said on Thursday night's earnings call. "Innovation is accelerating not decelerating. We had over 350 significant new features and services and we believe that's what resonates with customers. While pricing is certainly a factor we don't believe it's always the primary factor. In fact what we hear from our customers is that the ability to move faster and more agile is what they value."

AWS performance gives it new momentum. Though always the undisputed leader in the growing market for enterprise public cloud services, Microsoft and Google have built out large global infrastructures that rival its footprint, features and pricing. IBM, Hewlett Packard, Oracle and Rackspace, among others, continue to mount challenges as well. While these rivals talk up their hybrid differentiators and continue to expand and gain share, so far it isn't stymying AWS' growth. 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/24/2015 at 10:09 AM0 comments

What's Next for Microsoft's Surface Tablet PC?

Microsoft may be scaling back its hardware ambitions but the company claims it's still very much committed to its Surface tablet PC business, which several years ago gave the company a black eye following lackluster demand. These days, Microsoft's Surface business is on the rise.

Sales of Surface devices were $900 million in the last quarter and $3.6 billion for the entire fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30. Don't expect a vast line of Surfaces as Microsoft doesn't want to alienate its OEM partners.  But CEO Satya Nadella appears upbeat about the business.

"Surface is clearly a product where we have gotten the formula right, earned fans, and can apply this formula to other parts of the hardware portfolio," Nadella said during Microsoft's earnings call on Tuesday.

So what's next? The Windows 10 release is now just days away and many are wondering whether an upgraded Surface Pro is in the wings. The company isn't saying but DigiTimes last week reported various components suppliers have pegged a new high-end system powered by Intel's Skylake processor, the successor to its Broadwell chips, that arrived early this year but later than planned. Skylake is expected to offer incremental CPU power improvements and improved battery life for devices. According to Digitimes and other reports, the newest Surface Pro devices will maintain the same form factor.

Some news regarding the Surface 3 hit today.  The company announced the general availability of its newest Surface 3 tablet PCs with 4G LTE via AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile. The new units should appeal to those who desire or need a device that has cellular connectivity when WiFi isn't available.

A cellular option, available for iPads, Chromebooks and Android tablets, was absent on the latest crop of Surface devices. The price of the units is effectively $100 extra. Microsoft released the Surface 3, based on an Intel's latest system-on-a-chip, quad-core Intel Atom x7 processor, back in April.  It's available with either 2GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD for $499 or 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $599. With the 4G LTE they will cost $599 and $699 respectively.

The company isn't saying whether it will add 4G LTE for the Surface Pro 3 but given it's been out for more than a year, it's more likely if 4G LTE is slated for a Pro unit, Microsoft will offer it with the next version.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/24/2015 at 2:23 PM0 comments

Cloud Native Computing Foundation Launches To Oversee Container Standards

An industry group formed last month to create standards for containers is on a fast track to get its work done. The Linux Foundation today announced the formation of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which will take on the work of the Open Container Initiative (OCI), formed at last month's DockerCon gathering in Santa Clara, Calif.

The group, which initially called itself the Open Computing Project before changing its name to the OCI, describes cloud-native apps and services as those packaged as micro-services-type containers and is aiming to ensure cloud-native apps and services such as automation tools work irrespective of cloud service, operating system and virtual machine. The Linux Foundation used the annual O'Reilly OSCON conference in Portland to launch the new Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Among the founding members of OCI at last month's DockerCon were Amazon Web Services, Apcera, Cisco, CoreOS, Docker, EMC, Fujitsu Limited, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Joyent, Mesosphere, Microsoft, Pivotal, Rancher Labs, Red Hat and VMware. AT&T, ClusterHQ, Datera, Kismatic, Kyup, Midokura, Nutanix, Oracle, Polyverse,, Sysdig, SUSE, Twitter and Verizon have since signed on.

In forming the new organization, Docker has contributed its base container runtime which will be the underlying compute spec.  It will fall under the governance of the OCI, which will also use the Application Container (appc) spec.  The foundation has published its governance charter and the specs are available on GitHub.

Interestingly the technical lead at Docker who is organizing the effort is Patrick Chanezon, who was hired away from Microsoft in April after a two-year stint in Redmond where he worked with Azure GM Mark Russinovich on the Docker container ecosystem. "My main role there was to bring all the Docker ecosystem partners on Azure," he said. "And Microsoft loved the Docker workflow so much that they decided to implement it for Windows. What Mark said a year ago is happening right now."

Docker founder Solomon Hykes recruited Chanezon from Microsoft to help work on the next wave of the Docker platform. The OCP effort kicked off at last month's DockerCon, with Chanezon becoming the company's liaison for the project. Working on standards was nothing new for him, having worked on the JSR 168 Java portlet specification at Sun Microsystems and at Google he worked on the HTLL 5 and Open Social specs.

Chanezon's  formation of the Native Cloud Computing Foundation and agreement on specifications over the past month has happened faster than any other such project he has worked on. "I remember at Sun with JSR 168 there was endless discussion between different vendors," Chanezon recalled. "Here, six week after we announced, we will have the first draft spec on which all participants agree. I've never seen anything get to an agreement so fast. And one of the reasons that's the case is I think container-based computing is being adopted by everyone in the industry. Lots of people want to innovate at the higher level, which is at the orchestration level, and then we can all agree on the standard image format."

From the perspective of advancing interoperability of containers, Chanezon compared OCI to the adoption of the TCP/IP networking standards in the 1990s. "We had lots of protocols, like FTP, Gopher, HTTP and there was lots of competition between all of these protocols, but TCP/IP was the basis on which everyone would agree," he said. "I think with OCI, we're establishing a single basis, and then there will be a lot of competition at the orchestration layer."

The runc spec is now available for comment on and the OCI's goal is to have a first draft available in the next three weeks.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/23/2015 at 10:14 AM0 comments

Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite Could Be a $1 Billion Business

One year after releasing its Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS), Microsoft says it's the "hottest" product the company now offers. Microsoft COO Kevin Turner last week said EMS is on pace to become the company's next $1 billion product (in annual revenue).

While Turner didn't indicate when that might happen, the company yesterday in its earnings release said it has 17,000 Enterprise Mobility customers, up 90 percent for its fourth fiscal quarter ended June 30, year-over-year. The overall installed base has increased 600 percent, the company said, though naturally from a small base. EMS is a cloud-based service consisting of Intune, Azure Active Directory and Azure Rights Management. Subscriptions start as low as $4 per month per user.

"It is the hottest product we have in the company," Turner said in his keynote address at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando, Fla. "This product has exploded. It will be a $1 billion product in the future and the market is being made on it now."

At the same time, many competitors with mobile device management suites and various security tools are fighting back. The latest to do so is VMware, which last month enhanced its AirWatch suite by adding its own single sign-on offering that could compete with Azure Active Directory. Adding insult to injury, VMware was named a Leader in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for enterprise mobility management along with Citrix, IBM, MobileIron and Good Technology, while Microsoft was a Visionary for having "a strong vision but falling short of the leaders in terms of execution." Likewise Okta was showcased as the only leader in the Identity Access and Management as a Service category with Azure AD, showing as a Visionary. When I spoke with Microsoft at the time about that, the company spun it as a good thing that Microsoft was recognized as a visionary for a product that wasn't in the market for even a year.

When Microsoft launched EMS at last year's TechEd conference in Houston, Corporate VP Brad Anderson said outright he believes it will obviate the need for traditional MDM products. In a blog post today showcasing EMS, Anderson maintains that prediction.

"The market is definitely still emerging," Anderson said.  "As the value and necessity of EMM grows, we see customers evolving their approach, innovating, and bringing new needs and demands every day.  On a really regular basis I see the traditional point solution MDM vendors, or the identity and access management vendors, struggling to keep up with these demands – customers are seeking more comprehensive and holistic solutions that are architected for (and can scale to) the cloud."

Since its release a year ago, Anderson said Microsoft has extended EMS support for the newest Outlook app, Android (improved), e-discovery, privileged identity management and improved connectivity between Active Directory and Azure Active Directory with the release of AD Connect.

There are big stakes for Microsoft in its move into the MDM market and its success, or lack thereof, could have a major tailwind effect on other offerings, notably Active Directory. Is EMS on your short list?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/22/2015 at 2:29 PM0 comments

Microsoft Posts Worst Loss Ever but Looks Ahead to Win in Cloud

When Microsoft acquired Nokia's handset business last year, many feared it was doomed on arrival. The new CEO, Satya Nadella, was stuck with the deal struck by his predecessor Steve Ballmer and stuck with trying to make it work. Clearly that didn't happen as Nadella earlier this month warned employees of plans to write off most of the business, resulting in Microsoft posting the worst quarterly loss in its history. 

Microsoft decided to take its medicine and start the new fiscal year 2016 with a clean slate and focus on Windows 10, which arrives a week from today, and its growing cloud business. In the conference call with investors last evening to discuss the quarterly and year-end results, Nadella emphasized Microsoft's growing cloud business, which includes Office 365, Azure and Dynamics, among other services.

Nadella said its cloud business is on an $8 billion run rate this year on pace to become a $20 billion business in 2018. On the call, Nadella focused on the three key areas of focus for Microsoft moving forward, which he outlined at last week's Worldwide Partner Conference Orlando, Fla. The three areas of focus are:

  • Productivity and Business process including its Office 365, SharePoint and Dynamics offerings
  • Building an "intelligent" cloud platform via Azure, which includes everything from its Enterprise Mobility Suite consisting of InTune, Active Directory Premium and Azure Rights Management;  the company's business intelligence and analytics business and security.
  • Windows: Making computing more personal with Windows across PCs, tablets and phones.  While phones may not play out the way Microsoft had once hoped (in terms of gaining large share), its support of iOS and Android is set up not to diminish that ambition.

For those three to play out, Microsoft is betting tens of billions of dollars on building out its cloud infrastructure and beating out its rivals -- most of whom are also critical partners as well including Amazon, IBM, Google, Hewlett Packard, Oracle and VMware.

"We need to own the cloud," said Kevin Turner, speaking in his WPC keynote address, where he typically gives his annual competitive sizing of the markets Microsoft compete in. "The cloud market is being made right now. And I promise you if we don't own it with the customer, somebody else is going to own it. We have the technology, we have the solutions this is the time to own the cloud."

Turner claims that 85 percent of the Fortune 500 runs at least one Azure service and 60 percent run two or more. While it's too early to say whether Turner's prediction of owning the cloud will play out, the numbers, opaque as they are, look promising at this point. It's 8 billion run rate represents an 88 percent year-over-year increase. If Microsoft can maintain its cloud growth goals, its worst loss ever will be a lot easier to swallow.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/22/2015 at 11:49 AM0 comments

Microsoft Premieres First TV Spot for Windows 10

The ad blitz for Windows 10 has begun. Microsoft last night premiered its first TV spot online for the new operating system, which the company is set to release over the air waves next week. The new Windows 10 spot introduces the personal assistant Cortana and Hello, the feature that aims to replace passwords with biometric authentication. Those two features promise to change the way people interact with Windows and Microsoft used babies and young children to bring this point home, saying that "these kids will grow up with Windows 10."

The 60-second spot is emotional yet gets to the heart of what Windows 10 is all about with the takeaway line: "Windows 10: The more human way to do." Microsoft posted the commercial on YouTube last night.

"The campaign tells the Windows 10 story through the lens of the newest generation, inviting people to join a new era with us," according to a post on Microsoft's Blogging Windows. The commercial shows young children "in their natural settings" in England, the U.S., Iceland Morocco and Thailand. According to the company, " the ads show how technology should be more natural, human and intuitive and adapt to people's needs. The key notion -- Windows 10 delivers a more human way to do."

The commercial kicks off Microsoft's year-long advertising and promotional campaign, which the company is calling "Upgrade Your World."  Microsoft's ability to convince everyday users to upgrade to Windows 10 will be critical to the future of the operating system. When it comes to advertising, Microsoft doesn't have the history of connecting with consumers the way others, notably Apple, has long been able to do. Of course convincing IT decision makers to roll it out on PCs over the next two years is equally crucial. But as more people bring their own devices to work (or use them for work), winning them over has never been more critical.

What do you think of the new commercial?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/20/2015 at 11:36 AM0 comments

Google Surges, Crashes and Snoozes

Higher advertising spending on YouTube and on mobile platforms, along with growth in programmatic ad buying helped Google post a stronger-than-expected second quarter. Cost cutting and hints by its new CFO Ruth Porat that Google may, for the first time, offer investors a dividend or repurchase shares helped push its stock and market cap today to an all-time high past $400 billion.

Google revenues of $17.7 billion were up 11% for the quarter, blowing past Wall Street expectations of $14.28 billion. That's right -- the company posted $3 billion more in revenues than analysts expected. Investors applauded the strong quarter by pushing its shares up more than 14% today. Porat, who came over to Google last month from Morgan Stanley, noted that viewership on YouTube has increased 60 percent --  the fastest growth in two years.

The surge in its overall business competed for attention with news that Google's self-driving car was involved in another crash yesterday, this one in Mountain View, Calif. where the company is headquartered. Google said the crash wasn't the fault of the driverless car. A Lexus SUV behind it didn't break at all, wrote Chris Umson, who oversees Google's driverless car program. In a blog post, Umson said it was the 14th time that another driver hit one of its cars, 11 of which were rear-end collisions.
"The clear theme is human error and inattention, Unson said. "We'll take all this as a signal that we're starting to compare favorably with human drivers. Our self-driving cars can pay attention to hundreds of objects at once, 360 degrees in all directions, and they never get tired, irritable or distracted."

Meanwhile, if all of this makes you want to snooze, Google has taken care of that today as well. Google has added a snooze button to the interface of its Gmail program. So if you have a message you want to pop up to the top of your inbox at a more appropriate time, the company now supports that capability. Google said users can now snooze such messages as restaurant reservations, hotel confirmations, calendar invites and package tracking updates.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/17/2015 at 12:23 PM0 comments

Rackspace Will Offer Support for Microsoft Azure Cloud

In what may sound like an unusual arrangement even by today's standards of "coopetition," Rackspace will offer managed support services for Microsoft's Azure cloud. It's a curious arrangement in that Rackspace runs its own public cloud infrastructure as a service that competes with Microsoft Azure. At the same time, the two companies, partners for 13 years, obviously concluded both could benefit from offering the service.

Rackspace is known for its so-called "fanatical support" for the managed hosting and cloud services it offers. While that should like hype, I've talked to many Rackspace customers who have said it's really true. Apparently Rackspace has found there's money to be made in helping customers monitor and manage the rival cloud service. Rackspace recently added Office 365 support as well, has long offered SharePoint hosting and more recently added SQL Server support, along with other Microsoft infrastructure-based services. Last year Rackspace said it would support Microsoft's Cloud OS hybrid cloud software as well as emphasizing new services based on Hyper-V. Meanwhile Microsoft, which offers Azure primarily as a self-service cloud, is relying in partners like Rackspace to offer Azure-based services and support.

Rackspace's own cloud IaaS is based on OpenStack, which the company helped create and championed its move into the open source community five years ago. But the company has struggled over the past few years and recently put itself up for sale only to subsequently decide to remain a publicly traded company.  The company recently named Taylor Rhodes as CEO, who joined Scott Guthrie, executive vice president for Microsoft's cloud and enterprise business, on stage at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this week in Orlando.

"We have hundreds of Microsoft-certified professionals on our team," Rhodes said at WPC. "And now they can help customers who want to leverage the power of Azure to architect their applications the right way from the start.  To deploy to the platform much faster than they usually can on their own, and importantly, you will keep evolving your product, so we'll keep up with your releases in hopes that they use Azure to its full potential so they get full value. "

Rackspace will offer managed 24x7x365 support via its staff of Microsoft certified engineers, architectural guidance, monitoring and hybrid deployment services. Customers can utilize just support for existing Azure services they already have or purchase Azure infrastructure and have Rackspace support it as well.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/17/2015 at 2:28 PM0 comments

Microsoft's Top Office Exec Affirms Commitment to SharePoint

Despite revealing that a new version of SharePoint Server is on Microsoft's roadmap for next year, many customers and partners have wondered how committed the company is to the on-premises version of Microsoft's collaboration platform. Those concerns escalated following the company's first Ignite conference back in May where the company emphasized Office 365 and its new tools such as Delve and left SharePoint Server 2016 largely in the background.

Julia White, general manager of Microsoft's Office division, which oversees SharePoint, admitted that she received 423 e-mails following Ignite asking why she barely mentioned SharePoint in her keynote address at the time. In her keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, taking place in Orlando this week, White acknowledged giving  the short shrift to SharePoint at Ignite and said the company is not deemphasizing SharePoint. "Today, I'm here to say, SharePoint," she said in her keynote Monday.  "SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint. We are absolutely committed. We have a fantastic SharePoint Server 2016 coming out. Rock-solid code based on the cloud. For the first time, we're taking the cloud code base and delivering that with our SharePoint Server 2016, which means you get the great reliability, performance [and] scalability that we've learned from the cloud into the Server code base."

SharePoint 2016 is slated for release in the second half of next year, and it will be built with a 'cloud-first' approach. To be sure, despite the lack of love given to SharePoint by White in her Ignite keynote, Microsoft did hold some sessions at the Chicago confab to outline plans for next year's release. A technical preview or beta is likely later this summer. As reported at the time by my colleague Kurt Mackie, Microsoft is continuing to focus on SharePoint's Files, Content Management, Sites and Portals components going forward. It plans to make it easier to use hybrid architectures (SharePoint Server plus Office 365 services) and make it easier for organizations to perform migrations when they are ready.

"We know that SharePoint will be in hybrid for a long time, [as is ] the nature of that workload," White said. "But it doesn't mean our customers don't want to take advantage of cloud capabilities as well. So now you can have all of your custom workflow on-premises and still be able to tap into the Office Graph in a hybrid capability.  And that's what [SharePoint] Server is delivering."

New features will also include built-in data loss prevention (DLP), auditing, reporting and e-discovery, White emphasized.

Microsoft realizes and has acknowledged that many enterprises will want to use SharePoint Server to keep certain data on premises. At the same time, it appears Microsoft is emphasizing the hybrid nature of SharePoint Server 2016, tying the new on-premises server with much of what's available via Office 365 services.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/16/2015 at 11:46 AM0 comments

Windows 10 Will Be the Last Major Microsoft OS Release

Microsoft has alluded to it for some time but when COO Kevin Turner gave his annual pep talk to partners today, he said in no uncertain terms that the launch of Windows 10 will be the last major new release of the operating system.

Speaking at Microsoft's Worldwide Partners Conference, taking place this week in Orlando, Fla., Turner said the move to more continuous upgrades means the company is officially moving away from its model of releasing substantial new versions of Windows every three years. "This will be the last monolithic release we have that was built around the three-year upgrade cycle," Turner said. "We will continually be improving the product."

Does that mean there will be no Windows 11, Windows 12, etc.? While Microsoft hasn't explained how it'll number or name these more frequent upgrades, it would be a safe bet that those with bug fixes and just a handful of new features will be point releases. Upgrades with more significant feature sets could get new version numbers much like Apple does with iOS and MacOS X. Hence, a Windows 10.1 followed by Windows 10.2, etc. appears a likely scenario for point releases. It also wouldn't be surprising to see Microsoft downplay those version numbers over time.

What remains to be seen is the business model for Windows moving forward. Will Windows as a service mean customers over time must pay to receive continuous upgrades? Customers that have become accustomed to free operating systems on other device platforms may be reluctant to pay a subscription fee for Windows, particularly consumers. One possible route Microsoft could go is to have a bare bones starter edition that's free and premium versions that are subscription based. It could also be tied to other subscription-based offerings, notably Office 365.

Microsoft's shift to the new Windows-as-a-service model is a likely reason the company is taking a different low-key approach to this launch. Rather than hosting a major event, Microsoft is having distributed celebrations.

Turner and others have noted that Windows 95 hit RTM 20 years ago today. The Windows 95 launch event, which took place in August 1995 on the Redmond campus outdoors with the rights to the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" and Jay Leno serving as master of ceremonies, was a major media spectacle.

As Microsoft sets to kick off delivering Windows as a service moving forward, a new way of introducing it and generating interest makes sense.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/15/2015 at 12:09 PM0 comments

Microsoft Reveals Plans for Windows 10 Launch Events

As the July 29 Windows 10 release draws near, Microsoft today revealed its plans to debut the new operating system. The company will kick off a TV ad blitz next week (July 20)  and planned events at its retail and third-party stores.

Microsoft is also planning "special events" at 13 of its stores throughout the world on the launch day including Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, New Delhi, Dubai, Nairobi, Berlin, Johannesburg, Madrid, London, Sao Paolo and New York City. Among the major retail chains participating include Best Buy, Bic Camera, Croma, Currys/PC World, Elkjøp, Jarrir, Incredible Connection, Media Markt, Staples, Wal-Mart, Yamada, Yodobashi and others, Microsoft said.

As part of its promotional campaign called "Upgrade Your World," Microsoft will showcase those who use Windows 10. The company is also contributing $10 million to 10 global and 100 local nonprofit organizations to promote awareness of their causes, Microsoft said. They include CARE,, Keep a Child Alive, Malala Fund, Pencils of Promise, Save the Children, Special Olympics, The Global Poverty Project and The Nature Conservancy.

The launch event and ad campaign is largely targeted at consumers but the announcement was conveniently timed with Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference, which CEO Satya Nadella, Windows and Devices Chief Terry Myerson and other key executives kicked off with the opening keynote session. In talking about Windows 10, Nadella emphasized major new security features that enable IT to encrypt and manage access to all business data and separate it from personal information. Nadella took the stage reminding its vast partner base of the principal on which Microsoft was founded: bringing personal computers to mainstream business and home users.

It'll become more personal thanks to Continuum, which will bring a common Windows platform to all types of devices from sensors and phones to tablets, PCs and large conferencing rooms. "We are going to have this one unified platform, and that to me is a key differentiator of what Windows stands for," Nadella said in his WPC keynote.

Also critical extensions to Windows 10 will include the Cortana digital assistant and HoloLens, which will bring 3D user experiences to consumer and business environments.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/13/2015 at 2:37 PM0 comments

Anticipation of Windows 10 Release Stalls PC Sales

It's not unusual for PC sales to fall off in advance of a new operating system release and last quarter was no exception.

PC shipments plummeted 11.8 percent in the three-month period that ended June 30 over the same period last year, according to IDC's quarterly PC Tracker report released Thursday night. The decline was 1 percent more than IDC had earlier projected but was overall in line with the fact that the comparative period last year was buoyed by Windows XP's end of life and the fact that sales channels were reducing inventories to make way for this month's release of Windows 10.

Similar to Gartner, IDC doesn't anticipate an immediate bump after Microsoft's July 29 release of Windows 10. Gartner earlier this week said it's predicting a 5.7 percent decrease in PC spending this year.  IDC points to another noteworthy, but certainly not surprising, point: the free Windows 10 upgrade for those with Windows 7 Home and Pro editions will certainly stall new PC purchases.

Another reason IT professionals will want to wait, at least initially, is for new PCs based on Intel's new processor line, code named Skylake, as well as a new line of Broadwell CPUs. "All of the hardware vendors are readying new designs based on Skylake and to take advantage of the new Windows design with thinner, lighter and better battery life," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst with Moor Strategy.

Moorhead, who follows the PC industry closely, believes Windows 10 will be a popular operating system. Despite the obvious criticism of its predecessor, Moorhead believes the return of application developers will be key to its success.  "I believe there will be many more apps in this ecosystem, if nothing else because of the ease for which you can get them into Windows 10," Moorhead said.

However, Moorhead believes some predictions that Windows 10 will get a strong lift in in the first year are overstated. That includes our survey, published Wednesday, that found that 55 percent will upgrade in the first year, with 21 percent doing so in the first three months. A more reasonable expectation, Moorhead said, is 20 to 30 percent will roll out Windows 10 within a year. "I don't believe any research out there is worth anything because upgrades will be dependent on the promotions Microsoft does," Moorhead said. "We haven't seen them yet but they're coming."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/10/2015 at 12:05 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Upgrade Outlook Appears Strong Despite Weak PC Demand

With just three weeks until Windows 10 is scheduled to arrive, early indications continue to suggest that there will be significant demand among business PC users, though it's less clear whether the new OS will boost Microsoft's share of the tablet market.

More than half of 675 Redmond magazine readers responding to an online survey conducted last week said that they plan to upgrade their existing PCs to Windows 10 within one year. According to the survey, 55 percent will upgrade in the first 12 months and 21 percent will do so within the first three months of Windows 10's release. Thirty five percent say they intend to upgrade within the first six months.

The question was asked in conjunction with the annual Redmond Third-Party Reader's Choice Awards, which will be published in September. With the release of Windows 10 on July 29, 35 percent of those responding said they plan to refresh their PCs at a faster pace than before. On the other hand, 65 percent have no plans to expedite PC refreshes.

Microsoft's plan to offer consumers Windows 10 as a free upgrade could have an impact on demand for new systems given that the new OS could extend the life of older systems.  However, only those with Windows 7 (or later) Home and Pro editions are eligible for free Windows 10 upgrades. Volume licensees and those with Enterprise editions must have Software Assurance to get the Windows 10 upgrade, which has to be downloaded from the Microsoft Volume Licensing Servicing Center.

Microsoft has indicated that it sees a strong pipeline for new PCs and devices despite its push to get customers to upgrade their existing systems. Yet, a number of indicators don't bode well for new system sales for the rest of this year. Among some recent signs that demand for PCs will remain weak were Gartner's report this week that the $606 billion PC and computing  device market will decline 5.7 percent this year and AMD's warning that its revenues for the quarter that ended June 27 would be down 8%, which is much sharper than the 3% that was earlier forecast.

AMD attributed the decline on weaker PC sales, sending its shares down more than 15% Tuesday. Weak PC demand is also likely to impact Intel, according to a Goldman Sachs research note last month. Micron, the largest provider of RAM for PCs, last month blamed a falloff in PC demand for posting lower revenues for its third quarter earnings report.

Does your organization plan to upgrade to Windows 10? If so, will it be via a new system or an upgrade of your existing device? Either way, what is the impetus for you to upgrade to Windows 10 (or not, if that's the case)? Feel free to comment below or drop me a line at


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/08/2015 at 1:40 PM0 comments

Microsoft Links System Center to New Operations Management Suite

When Microsoft launched its new cloud-based Operations Management Suite (OMS) two months ago, the company emphasized that IT organizations could use it directly or as an extension to their existing System Center management implementations. Microsoft last week added that extension with the release of its System Center add-on for OMS.

The idea behind OMS, released during Microsoft's Ignite conference in early May, is that organizations that don't use System Center can use the cloud-based management platform to administer workloads running on Microsoft Azure, Windows Server, Amazon Web Services, Linux, VMware and OpenStack.

"The OMS add-on provides System Center customers access to the full suite of OMS solutions at one low cost," the company said in a blog post. "For every System Center Standard or Datacenter license you own with Software Assurance, you will be able to purchase a corresponding Microsoft Operations Management Suite add-on for access to allocated solutions that enable you to extend your datacenter, quickly enable hybrid cloud scenarios, and take advantage of cloud bursting, migration and dev/test scenarios."

According to Microsoft, OMS for System Center Standard Edition is priced at $60 per month for a two VM pack, though with an annual commitment the cost is $36 a month for those signing up by year's end. If purchasing OMS separately without System Center, the service costs $83 per month, Microsoft said. The company posted a price list, noting that for each System Center license owned, customers can purchase a corresponding OMS add-on.

Microsoft also said it's now looking to extend its use of Azure for backup and recovery to a broader base of customers including small and medium businesses (SMBs) by offering its Azure Site Recovery service with OMS. The company is extending its Azure Backup offering with a new System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) agent, available for download. Also new is Azure Backup for IaaS VMs, which Microsoft says provides access to multi-disk storage and PowerShell automation and a new Azure Backup management console.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/07/2015 at 10:34 AM0 comments

Microsoft’s Stature on Wall Street Surges

As Microsoft wraps up another fiscal year, it appears it was a good one with significant changes that'll shape the company for years to come. Despite the tough choices that CEO Satya Nadella last week said that Microsoft must make, the company is also getting respect for the moves he's made in Silicon Valley over the past year as well as another important place: Wall Street. 

Microsoft has risen sharply among the 100 most respected companies by institutional investors, though it still has a long way to go before coming close to Apple, which once again topped the Barron's annual ranking. While Google dropped one notch to No 4 this year, the two were the only tech companies in the top 10., which still scored better than Microsoft, saw its ranking drop this year to 17 from 7 last year, while Intel at 25 dropped a bit from 21.

Last year, Microsoft was closer to the bottom of the list at 62 but has jumped to 27. Despite that impressive rise in standing among investors, the question is: does Microsoft have much to show for itself? Its stock today hovering just below $45 per share is up 8%, year-over-year. If you use Apple as the metric, Microsoft's growth was impressive but not earth-shattering. Apple shares have jumped 40% year-over-year. On the other hand, while investors may respect Google more than Microsoft, they haven't put their money where their mouths are when it comes to the search giant. Google shares are down 9% over the past 12 months. Some other notables in the tech market: Cisco is up 12%, Oracle is flat, IBM is down 10% and VMware shares are down 12%. The S&P 500 is up just under 6% during the past year. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 index has jumped up 14%.

When you're in that plus or minus 10%  zone of course, valuations can swing sharply on major news or even the most speculative of rumors. So is Apple the only one to enjoy a meteoric rise in value? Well, Amazon is up 31% (putting aside it's primarily an online retail business, many believe Amazon Web Services is fueling its growth). is up about 20%, buoyed by recent speculation that Microsoft made an offer to acquire the huge SaaS provider. According to reports, has held out for much more and many believe such a combination would wreak havoc on both companies and their customers.

In addition to cultural differences, Barron's cover story this week, examined another well-known trend in Silicon Valley, the Pacific Northwest and other technology providers that has many wondering whether we're in another tech bubble. is among a number of companies that use non-GAAP reporting to hide the expenses of huge stock-based compensation that critics say masks the true earnings of a company. Among others who use non-GAAP reporting in a big way to pay large amounts of stock to executives are Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Qualcomm, Barrons noted. Microsoft, Apple and Intel eschew such compensation. That would certainly complicate Microsoft absorbing Salesforce.

Many IT pros and developers make big investments in these companies, whether or not they hold shares. If Wall Street is taking more notice -- and interest --that may have all types of consequences in Microsoft's next fiscal year and beyond.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/29/2015 at 12:19 PM0 comments

What 'Tough Choices' Are in Store for Microsoft?

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella yesterday warned employees against believing the company's culture can remain "static" and cautioned that some "touch choices" will be made. The letter, obtained and published by Geekwire and confirmed as authentic by Mary Jo Foley's All About Microsoft blog, doesn't specify what those though choices will be but it's a reasonable guess they could have a major impact on Microsoft's smartphone ambitions.

The memo also said that Microsoft will evolve last year's goal to become a productivity and platforms company in a mobile-first, cloud-first world, to "reinvent productivity services for digital work that span all devices."  As Foley pointed out as she read "between the lines" of Nadella's memo, "Tough choices is many times a sign for layoffs and/or product-line phase-outs." That's true and as Nadella put it, "we will need to innovate in new areas, execute against our plans, make some tough choices in areas where things are not working and solve hard problems in ways that drive customer value."

The market share for Windows Phone remains static in the 3 percent range and there's little evidence that share will increase at all. At the very least, it wouldn't be surprising if Microsoft writes off its $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia's handset business. Despite limited demand for Windows Phone, it would be surprising to see Microsoft give up on it before the release of Windows 10, which potentially could prop up demand for Microsoft's mobile platform. Last week's decision to combine its devices business with operating systems does suggest there will be some job reductions, certainly in areas where there's overlap. The move reaffirms Nadella's commitment and further moves to support the One Microsoft mission initiated two years ago by former CEO Steve Ballmer. Microsoft also appears committed to gaming, which, as Foley pointed out in this month's Redmond magazine column, is important.

Also worth pointing out, Nadella said in his memo that Microsoft will invest "in three interconnected and bold ambitions" which aim to:

  • Reinvent productivity and business processes. "We will reinvent productivity services for digital work that span all devices. We will also extend our experience footprint by building more business process experiences, integrated into content authoring and consumption, communication and collaboration tools. We will drive scale and usage by appealing to 'dual-use' customers, providing productivity services that enable them to accomplish more at work and in the rest of their life activities with other people."
  •  Build the intelligent cloud platform. "All these experiences will be powered by our cloud platform -- a cloud that provides our customers faster time to value, improved agility and cost reduction, and solutions that differentiate their business. We'll further provide a powerful extensibility model that is attractive to third-party developers and enterprises. This in turn enables us to attract applications to our cloud platform and attach our differentiated capabilities such as identity management, rich data management, machine learning and advanced analytics."
  • Create more personal computing. "We will build the best instantiation of this vision through our Windows device platform and our devices, which will serve to delight our customers, increase distribution of our services, drive gross margin, enable fundamentally new product categories, and generate opportunity for the Windows ecosystem more broadly. We will pursue our gaming ambition as part of this broader vision for Windows and increase its appeal to consumers. We will bring together Xbox Live and our first-party gaming efforts across PC, console, mobile and new categories like HoloLens into one integrated play."

As Foley pointed out, Nadella never mentioned Windows Phone, though he used the term mobile. Some have also raised the question of whether Microsoft will continue to put resources into Bing, which Nadella didn't mention.

What tough choices do you think Microsoft should make?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/26/2015 at 10:11 AM0 comments

Microsoft Demos First Multiplatform Container App

A year ago, Docker was just the latest upstart promising to change the way software is developed, deployed and managed. With key industry players supporting its software container platform, Microsoft's partnership with Docker last June was quickly noted for its promise to enable developers to build applications that can work regardless of operating system, virtual machine and cloud. On the heels of joining the Docker-driven Open Container Project this week, Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich gave a keynote address at the annual DockerCon conference in San Francisco, demonstrating a key milestone toward building apps that can run on multiple server operating systems.

Russinovich demonstrated what Microsoft claims is the first ever multiplatform container application. "Built, shipped and running using Docker, this container application is the first in the industry to work across both Windows Server and Linux," said Corey Sanders, Microsoft's director for Azure product management, in a blog post. "We want to bring you broad choice and flexibility for building your apps, combining Windows Server and Linux containers with Docker Compose and Docker Swarm, to offer a truly cross-platform experience."

Also demonstrated for the first time was how developers and IT pros can use Microsoft's Azure Marketplace to select and deploy single or multicontainer apps that are sourced from a Docker Hub Image using the Docker Compose developer interface, Sanders noted.

Microsoft also showcased its support for the new Docker Trusted Registry VM image, an on-premises authentication repository launched by Docker this week. The Docker Trusted Registry VM image, also added to the Azure Marketplace, runs on premises where customers can store and share Docker container images.

Along with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and IBM also are offering the Registry, with costs starting at $150 per month. Docker describes it as a highly available registry that offers integration with Active Directory, LDAP directories and other authentication platforms and offers role-based access control and audit logs for organizations looking to manage authorization or with compliance requirements.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/24/2015 at 11:16 AM0 comments

Startup Snowflake Launches Cloud-Based Data Warehouse Service

A Silicon Valley startup led by former Microsoft Server and Tools President Bob Muglia has launched a cloud-based data warehouse service that it claims will significantly extend the limits of traditional analytics platforms. Snowflake Computing made its Snowflake Elastic Data Warehouse, which Muglia described as a big data platform built from scratch and designed specifically to run in the public cloud, generally available this week. Its release is the latest effort to bring data warehousing to the masses.

Muglia joined Snowflake, founded in 2012, last year. The company, which was founded by the lead architect for the Oracle RAC product along with other database and storage veterans, also said this week it received a C Series investment of $45 million from Altimeter Capital. That brings the total amount invested in the company up to $71 million.

Snowflake says what separates its offering from other high performance data warehouse technology is that it was built from scratch to run in the public cloud. Company officials argue that the cirumstance makes the service much more scalable and less expensive because it uses low-cost cloud storage. Muglia said Snowflake has come across numerous customers capturing machine-generated, semi-structured data using Hadoop-based clusters who have struggled to transform that data into a form that a traditional data warehouse can handle that can enable a business analyst to connect to it with common BI tools such as Excel or Tableau.

"We just eliminate those steps and load the semi-structured data directly into Snowflake and immediately business analysts can run queries against it directly using the tools they understand, and this is a huge savings of complexity and time," Muglia said. With traditional data warehouses, "typically there's a loss that happens from a data perspective as you go through that transformation. Some data is not available because it is not transformed and also the data warehouses tend to only be able to handle a subset of the data. One of our customers was only loading one week's worth of data into their data warehouse because that's all they could support in that, whereas with Snowflake they could keep all the historical data around and when analysts wanted to run a query on data that's say three months old, that was no problem."

Muglia said it's not a problem because of the infinite amount of storage available in the back-end repository of Snowflake -- Amazon Web Services S3 storage. Many of the early customers using Snowflake are using hundreds of terabytes of S3 data. Muglia said the service can easily scale to multiple petabytes of data stored in S3.

"There's no limit to the amount of data you can store," Muglia said. "Obviously if you issued a query that for any reason needed to scan a petabyte of data, that would be very costly and it would be long query to run. Physics still apply but one of the key things is that the way we store that data and the information we gather about the data allows our query processor to do something we call pruning. If you stored five years' worth of data and let's say it was 5 petabytes in size, and you issued a query against one week's worth of that data, regardless of what week it was, we could just select exactly the data we needed. And let's just say we only need half a terabyte of something, we could munch through that relatively quickly and return the results pretty quickly even though you may have 5 petabytes of data."

Asked if in scenarios where a customer has petabytes of data whether Snowflake uses AWS's Glacier archive service, Muglia said that's not necessary given the current economics of storing data in S3. "It's probably the most economical place to store it actually," Muglia said. "Compared to enterprise-class storage it's crazy cheaper, and compared to putting it on nodes, which is what you'd need to do with Hadoop, it's also quite a bit less expensive. Even what people tend to think of as the low-cost alternative they talk about building things like data lakes using Hadoop. In those cases, the data is stored on the active nodes and while that's a whole lot cheaper than EMC storage, it's much more expensive than S3 would be and much more expensive therefore than Snowflake would be."

At today's rate of about $30 per terabyte per month for S3 storage from AWS, Snowflake charges "a slight premium" on top of that for the service. Snowflake is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, so the underlying cloud storage infrastructure is relevant only to the extent customers have other data there. Despite the fact that Muglia left Microsoft four years ago after 23 years, it was ironic to hear him hawking AWS. As Microsoft's Server and Tools president, which was a $17 billion business when he left in 2011, Muglia was one of the first to extoll the virtues of Azure to IT pros prior and right after its launch -- he frequently gave the keynote addresses at the company's annual TechEd conferences. Snowflake hasn't ruled out offering its service on Azure in the future. The company has not conducted a detailed analysis of Microsoft's Azure Blob Storage. "It's feasible to do it in the short run. The question is customer demand," Muglia said. "I think there will probably be a day but it's not tomorrow that we'll do it."

While running Snowflake on S3, Snowflake most pointedly will compete with Amazon's own Redshift data warehousing service and ultimately Microsoft's Azure SQL Data Warehouse, announced in late April at the company's Build conference and set for release this summer. Snowflake Vice President of Product Marketing Jon Bock said for now Amazon's Redshift is a most affordable cloud-based data warehouse service today but argued that its underlying engine is based on code from existing database technology.

"We have the benefit of starting with a completely new architecture and writing the full code base ourselves," Bock said. "One simple example of that is semi-structured data support, that machine data that's increasingly common that people want to analyze. Traditional databases weren't designed for that at all. So what you ended up having to do is put another system in front of that, which is where Hadoop came in. Then you preprocess that data, take the result and load it onto a relational database. We spent time making sure you didn't have to do that with Snowflake. You can take that machine data, load it directly into Snowflake and be able to query it immediately without any of that preprocessing or delay in the pipeline."

If the service lives up to its claims, it should boast a nice valuation, or become an attractive takeover target.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/24/2015 at 11:19 AM0 comments

Combining Windows and Devices Engineering Makes Sense

The big headline behind last week's annual Microsoft reorganization was that Stephen Elop and several other longtime senior executives and engineering heads are leaving Redmond. But the bringing together of Windows engineering with devices and Dynamics under cloud and enterprise is a sign that CEO Satya Nadella  is looking to further break down the siloes and, quite frankly fiefdoms, that stood in the way of successful products.

Having the executive who leads the engineering for the software that powers devices such as its Surface tablet PCs, Lumia phones, Xbox gaming consoles and even the new HoloLens, in charge of that hardware as well seems like a no brainer.

Nadella likely realized that, which meant Elop and Terry Myerson couldn't both remain in charge of their respective organizations indefinitely. As The New York Times reported today, Myerson's elevation makes him among the most powerful and visible executives at Microsoft under Nadella. Myerson's 18 year tenure with Microsoft began with an engineering role with the Exchange group, though his work in the operating systems group goes back to when he reported to onetime devices lead Andy Lees where the two reportedly clashed.

Before heading up the Windows group, Myerson was tapped to replace Lees as the head Windows Phone chief. Realizing the Windows Phone software predecessor Windows Mobile had too much legacy baggage to be salvaged a year after modern phone OSes iOS and Android started to take hold, Myerson was a key advocate for starting from scratch and developing Windows Phone, The Times report noted.

Likewise bringing the Dynamics group into the Cloud and Enterprise Group under Scott Guthrie's leadership promises to align the various applications with Azure and the various services and APIs built around it.

While bringing the two groups together looks like a wise move, there's more at stake with the consolidation of operating systems and devices. The question about both is whether they were brought together too late.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/22/2015 at 12:45 PM0 comments

Java License Snafu May Explain Lack of Native Android for Windows 10

Perhaps one of the most interesting announcements Microsoft made at its Build conference in San Francisco six weeks ago was the ability for developers to bridge their Android and iOS applications to the new Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Making it easier for developers to port their existing mobile apps, as well as new ones, to UWP could be critical to making Windows 10 an appealing OS.

However, there's a somewhat different approach developers must take when building their UWP apps for Android versus iOS. Developers looking to port their apps from iOS to the new Windows 10 OS may find it easier than doing so with Android. That's because Microsoft EVP Terry Myerson -- who, in addition to overseeing Windows, is also now responsible for devices -- said in his Build keynote that developers can compile the same Objective-C code used to build iOS apps for iPhones and iPads within Visual Studio on Windows, "enabling you to leverage that code and use capabilities only found on [the] Windows platform." When doing so with Android apps, there isn't a comparable native approach.

That isn't sitting well with at least some Android developers. During the Q&A segment of a one-day Build roadshow stop in New York last month (the show is currently on a worldwide tour), an attendee asked if Microsoft has any plans to do for Android the equivalent of what it has done for iOS and allow native Java development in Visual Studio. Kevin Gallo, who is Microsoft's partner director for the Developer Ecosystem and Platform organization and who gave the day's keynote, responded: "I would love to do that. The challenge we have is there's a company that is currently the steward of Java who doesn't make that easy. For Objective-C it was possible. So we went that route. We see it as a great way of integrating with the application, where you can start with the codebase you've got and just use that language to build."

Implicitly, Gallo was saying Apple didn't stand in Microsoft's way.

The preferred language for native Android is Java. "Java is a very popular language. There are challenges in the Java space," Gallo said. "We're evaluating what we can do there. It's something we definitely are considering." The audience member asked if the issue lies with Oracle. "They're the steward," Gallo said. "They call it a steward for a reason."

The response was followed by laughter, and that was the end of that discussion.

Yet that brief exchange quickly reminded me of the feud Microsoft had in the late 1990s with the original steward of Java, Sun Microsystems, which Oracle acquired in 2010 for $7.4 billion. Sun revoked Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine license in Internet Explorer after accusing Microsoft of violating its terms. The dispute resulted in a lawsuit between the two companies. Concerns that Oracle would be able to engage in anti-competitive behavior also came up among critics of its bid to acquire Sun before the deal was approved by regulators. In more recent years, relations between Microsoft and Oracle have improved and the two announced a broad cloud compatibility pact two years ago.

To what extent Microsoft attempted to gain access to those Java components for UWP isn't exactly clear, but it doesn't look as though a contentious dispute -- if it is even contentious at all -- is rising to the levels of yesteryear.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said the issue appears to be more of a licensing matter than a technical barrier. "I actually think that it would be a big win for Oracle to be involved more directly with an Android development platform on Windows and potentially elsewhere," Hilwa said. "In theory, vendors like Microsoft can do a parallel implementation of Java, much like Google did, but the legal exposure here is still open because of the Oracle/Google case."

Oracle said it's not commenting. A Microsoft spokesperson pointed to the company's new Project Astoria, the tooling announced at Build, which lets developers bring code from their Android apps to Windows while working within their current IDE. "It uses an Android subsystem to run code from your app in a highly efficient, Windows-optimized way," the spokesperson said.

For iOS, Microsoft's Project Islandwood, also announced at Build, imports iOS apps to the Windows ecosystem. "Via a Visual Studio extension, Islandwood takes a project-based approach -- translating your existing Xcode project into a Visual Studio solution, providing native support for Objective-C and its runtime, and providing a strong subset of the APIs you'll find on iOS, which makes it easy to bring your code across without significant modification," the spokesperson said. "Once it's in Visual Studio, it's a regular Universal Windows app app that happens to be written in Objective-C and uses some APIs from another ecosystem."

IDC's Hilwa said he believes most Java developers should find the bridging approach suitable. "The feedback I hear from developers and app owners is that they are more likely to use the Android 'bridge' approach to bring an app to Windows 10," he said. "It promises to be quicker, though admittedly less strategic in terms of commitment to the platform. But, as long as the services being used are Microsoft's services, then essentially Microsoft gets what it wants out of the exercise."

Forrester analyst John Rymer said that to his knowledge, Microsoft doesn't have a Java license but "it relies on Oracle and Azul for the Java VMs that run on Azure." Azul and Microsoft partnered two years ago on a Windows distribution build of the OpenJDK that will run on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.

"Underscoring all this, of course, is the assumption that Android and iOS developers will have any interest in Astoria and Islandwood in the first place," wrote Ars Technica's Sean Gallagher last month in a deep look at Microsoft's push to incent Android and iOS developers to port their apps to UWP. "With its broader reach, Islandwood may be the easier sell, but none of this is automatic. There are plenty of developers today using Xamarin to write apps for Android and iOS using C# and .NET. These apps should be easily portable to Windows 8 and Windows Phone -- but often those developers aren't bothering."

Either way, for those wondering why Microsoft is offering native iOS support for UWP but not for Android, that's presumably why. Regarding the question of whether Microsoft will offer native Java support on Project Astoria, the spokesperson said Microsoft has no immediate plans but recommended an alternative in the form of a plug-in available in the Visual Studio Gallery.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/19/2015 at 12:53 PM0 comments

Key Microsoft Execs To Depart Amid Restructuring

Microsoft today said Stephen Elop, once considered a frontrunner to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO in 2013 following the company's $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia's handset business, is among several senior executives who'll be exiting Redmond.  CEO Satya Nadella said Elop, along with Chief Strategist Mark Penn, Dynamics Chief Kirill Tatarinov and SVP for Technical Strategy Eric Rudder are leaving the company.

The shakeup comes as Microsoft looks to close out its fiscal year on June 30. Microsoft typically has its annual reorg at this time of year. Nadella said in an e-mail to employees that the company is consolidating the company's business units. The Dynamics business long held by Tatarinov will fall under the Cloud and Enterprise business led by Scott Guthrie, while the devices group headed by Elop will be combined with the Operating Systems Group lead Terry Myerson. The combined organization is called the Windows and Devices Group.

"This new team brings together all the engineering capability required to drive breakthrough innovations that will propel the Windows ecosystem forward," Nadella said in his e-mail. "WDG will drive Windows as a service across devices of all types and build all of our Microsoft devices including Surface, HoloLens, Lumia, Surface Hub, Band and Xbox. This enables us to create new categories while generating enthusiasm and demand for Windows broadly."

Nadella noted that combining Dynamics with the Cloud and Enterprise Group "will enable us to accelerate our ERP and CRM work even further and mainstream them as part of our core engineering and innovation efforts. C+E will work closely with ASG [Applications and Services Group] to ensure the end-to-end experience is cohesive across communications, collaboration and business processes."

The only surprise about Elop's departure is that it took so long, considering he was the only senior executive not seen at major events. Penn is sticking around until September, according to Nadella's e-mail, to pursue something else. Could it be that Penn will be jumping back into the political arena?

Bringing these groups and their engineering teams together makes sense as the company looks to build a more cohesive strategy around mobility, productivity, platforms and cloud.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/17/2015 at 12:13 PM0 comments

LastPass Breach Again Underscores Weakness of Passwords

The popular password management service LastPass disclosed yesterday that it discovered "suspicious activity" on its network in which e-mail addresses, password reminders and authentication hashes were breached, though the company said it doesn't believe encrypted user vault data was seized.

LastPass is among numerous cloud-based password management services that allow individuals and enterprise users to store their encrypted passwords in an online vault to provide single sign-on to Web sites and mobile application services. I have used the LastPass service for several years and have found it useful in an age where we have scores of passwords to remember. The inherent risk of using a password vault service such as LastPass is if your master password is compromised, every site you have registered is at risk as well.  The LastPass breach is the latest evidence that passwords are indeed hard to protect, even by experts

Founder and CEO Joe Siegrist said he has confidence in the encryption methods LastPass uses to protect passwords. "LastPass strengthens the authentication hash with a random salt and 100,000 rounds of server-side PBKDF2-SHA256, in addition to the rounds performed client-side," he wrote a blog post announcing the breach yesterday. "This additional strengthening makes it difficult to attack the stolen hashes with any significant speed."

If you're willing to accept that your passwords are still safe, the fact that password reminders were stolen, they could be used in targeted attacks, Columbia University computer science professor Steve Bellovin told Brian Krebs in his KrebsonSecurity news site. The bottom line is that users should change their master passwords.

The breach hasn't made me decide to stop using LastPass but it does make me look forward to a day when biometric or the common use of two-factor authentication replaces the use of passwords, even though that comes with its own baggage.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/16/2015 at 11:09 AM0 comments

Microsoft Pulls Modern App To Give Skype the Right Touch

Microsoft's decision to scrap the modern version of Skype for PCs means, effective July 7, you'll need to settle for the desktop version of the popular voice, video and chat application. Many PC users probably won't have an issue with the move, announced last week, but it's yet another black eye for Microsoft's Modern app model, which many still call "Metro."

After July 7, if you click on the Modern app version of Skype, it'll automatically switch you to the desktop version.  For its part, Microsoft points out that PC users have said optimizing Skype for touch isn't a necessary part of their experience when using it.

"With the upcoming release of Windows 10 for PCs, it makes sense to use the Skype application optimized for mouse and keyboards use, capable of doing touch as well rather than two separate applications performing the same function," said Aga Guzik, Skype's head of desktop product marketing, in a blog post announcing the switch. Guzik said the move won't impact Microsoft's plans to offer Skype functionality within a specific app planned for Windows 10. "This way if you want to quickly make a call or send a message you can use task based apps and for those of you power users who like the advantages of the all in one app, you can pick what's right for you."

As Mary Jo Foley pointed out today in her All About Microsoft blog, "Microsoft's decision to kill off the Modern Skype client and move customers to the Desktop version seemed to fly in the face of what company officials have been telling developers and customers for the past several years," referring to its push toward Modern (aka Metro) apps.

Guzik told Foley that Universal phone, video and text apps based on Skype will be built into Windows 10 but they won't come with the initial version of the operating system that ships on July 29. Rather, Microsoft will release these three Skype-based Universal communications apps (chat, video and phone) in Windows 10.

Microsoft's focus around the Universal Windows Platform is built on the notion of a common code base for applications whether they run in desktop or touch modes. As such, perhaps this shift away from the Modern Skype app is indicative of Microsoft's plan to deemphasize the Windows 8 app model. Microsoft has said, though, that the modern Skype app would be available for Windows RT users. Windows RT systems can only run modern apps.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/15/2015 at 3:20 PM0 comments

Citrix Targeted by Activist Investor Elliot Management

Activist investor Elliott Management wants to meet with the top brass at Citrix, one of Microsoft's largest partners, to discuss options that would boost the value of Citrix's shares, the hedge fund manager said this week.

 In a letter to Citrix CEO Mark Templeton, Chairman Thomas Bogan and the company's board of directors Thursday, Elliott indicated it wants to see the company improve its operations and spin off its assets. Given Elliott's 7.1 percent stake in Citrix, and its history of targeting companies it believes are undervalued because of how they're structured, the move pushed Citrix shares up 7 percent yesterday and were up 2.6 percent midday Friday. Given Elliott's influence and holding in the company, Citrix can't ignore the request either.

In the letter, Elliott said it believes Citrix is significantly undervalued, suggesting its stock could be worth up to $100 per share by the end of next year. It was trading at $72 Friday but has jumped since Elliott released its letter Thursday.  Elliott released the letter following a 13D filing which requires disclosure when acquiring more than 5 percent of a publicly traded company's shares.

In its letter, Elliott believes that  the 50 percent jump in value "is achievable because Citrix has leading technology franchises in attractive markets but has struggled operationally for years. As a result, today Citrix's operations and product portfolio represent an opportunity for improvement of uniquely significant magnitude." In a statement, Citrix responded: "We will review Elliott's suggestions and respond as we do with all shareholders who engage with us. The Citrix Board and management team continually evaluate ideas to drive shareholder value and are committed to acting in the best interests of all our shareholders."

Citrix stock has grown only 2.8 percent over the past year before this week's jump in response to Elliott's move. In its April earnings release, Citrix lowered its outlook for the year amid a 48 percent drop in profit, resulting from this year's January restructuring. Citrix is betting big on its new Cloud Workspace platform, which aims to bring together key assets including ShareFile, XenDesktop, XenApp and Netscaler. Cloud Workspace, which Citrix emphasized at its annual Synergy conference last month in Orlando, can function as an organization's cloud control plane, bridging multiple public and private clouds, including core datacenter assets, to various client systems including a wide array of mobile devices.

According to various published reports, Elliott likely wants Citrix to shed or spin off some assets, reduce headcount or buy back shares.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/12/2015 at 12:08 PM0 comments

Many Enterprises Will Wait Before Deploying Windows 10

While Microsoft is expecting 1 billion devices to run Windows 10 within the next three years, the company better not count on large enterprises to hit that ambitious goal early. The results of a survey of enterprise Windows IT pros shows a vast majority will wait at least six months to begin deploying the new operating system and a substantial amount will wait more than a year.

The survey, conducted at last month's Microsoft's Ignite conference in Chicago by  Windows tools vendor Adaptiva, showed that 71 percent will wait at least six months and nearly half (49 percent) will wait more than a year to upgrade. Only 186 people participated in the survey, which would lead some to question its statistical validity, but Adaptiva Founder and CTO Deepak Kumar explained all of the people interviewed are deeply involved in the management of their organizations' client systems.

Those responding to an online survey conducted by Redmond magazine at the beginning of this year found that nearly 41 percent planned to upgrade in the first year.

A vast majority (84 percent) of respondents used Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and 40 percent managed more than 10,000 nodes. Eight percent managed 100,000 nodes or more. The largest percentage of those surveyed (35 percent) managed between 1,000 and 10,000 systems; 19 percent had 100 to 1,000 systems and 7 percent were small shops with less than 100 systems. Not surprisingly the larger organizations are most primed to wait.

"With the free upgrade and some of the technology they've put in for ease of upgrade, the expectation in the market is there will be this landslide of Windows 10 adoption," said Kumar. "The surprise for me, is what people are planning to do with Windows 10 is the same as they have done with every other version:  slow adoption."

The fact that organizations may wait is hardly a shocking news flash -- it's consistent with best practices analysts and consultants have given regarding major operating system upgrades since organizations first deployed Windows PCs. "People want to test it and have complete control where it goes out when it goes out," Kumar said.

Microsoft could still hit the 1 billion milestone if it's successful in convincing the vast number of consumers with Windows 7 and Windows 8 on their systems to take advantage of the free upgrade as well as a wide swath of new PCs and tablets expected to appear in the coming months.

Another noteworthy finding from the survey: only 11 percent had at least some machines with Windows XP still in use. This is a marked decline from a year ago at TechEd where 53 percent claimed to still have PCs running the discontinued operating system. Not surprisingly, Windows 7 was most preferred operating system, with 84 percent saying that their organization is running that OS. Windows 8 was in use, at least to some extent, by 57 percent of those organizations.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/11/2015 at 3:14 PM0 comments

Microsoft Acquires BlueStripe To Boost Heterogeneous Monitoring of New OMS

Microsoft today said it has acquired BlueStripe Software, a popular provider of software used to monitor the performance of infrastructure and help systems administrators track down bottlenecks at the transaction layer of applications. The companies didn't disclose terms.

While BlueStripe's performance management platform is popular among enterprises that use System Center Operations Manager, its wares appealed to IT managers for their ability to monitor events throughout the infrastructure and applications stack. The two companies only started working together a few years ago but since BlueStripe talked up the SCOM management packs they've developed, I wondered if Microsoft would swallow the company.

Microsoft said it will stop offering BlueStripe's products on a standalone basis -- the company indicated temporarily -- and will absorb the technology into the new Microsoft Operations Management Suite. OMS, announced at last month's Ignite conference, will be Microsoft's new cloud-based offering that will help manage the components of its new Azure Stack, which the company said will provide Azure-like functionality in the enterprise.

The new OMS, which will work with System Center but not require it, will also provide management of key components of an enterprise infrastructure including (presumably) VMware's virtualization and vCloud Air public cloud, Amazon Web Services and OpenStack-based clouds. BlueStripe and its team could help Microsoft further achieve that goal with OMS. BlueStripe last year developed richer ties to offer a System Center Management Pack for its FactFinder service and late last year integrated it into the Windows Azure Pack.

Despite its ties with Microsoft, BlueStripe also boasted the ability to monitor the impact of transactions in the performance of key applications such as IBM CICS and SAP R3, as well as other transaction-oriented applications running on everything from mainframes to RISC-based Unix systems and Linux-based applications.

"BlueStripe's solution helps map, monitor and troubleshoot distributed applications across heterogeneous operating systems and multiple datacenter and cloud environments. BlueStripe is commonly used today by customers to extend the value of Microsoft System Center by adding application-aware infrastructure performance monitoring," wrote Mike Neil, Microsoft's general manager, enterprise cloud. "Now that we have welcomed BlueStripe employees into the Microsoft family, we will be hard at work making BlueStripe's solution an integral part of Microsoft's management products and services, like System Center and Operations Management Suite (OMS). We will discontinue selling the BlueStripe solutions in the near term while we work on these updates, although we will continue to support existing BlueStripe customers during this time."

Certainly BlueStripe's customers will wonder what this means for the future of its performance management software as a standalone offering. While that remains to be seen, Microsoft said at Ignite that so-called "solution packs" will be a key part of OMS.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/10/2015 at 1:25 PM0 comments

Facebook Unfriends Microsoft

Microsoft apps are no longer linked to Facebook accounts. The news came in the form of an e-mail to millions of Microsoft account holders this morning. The social network severed the link between its Facebook Connect interface and Microsoft apps thanks to a change in the Facebook Graph API, which the company officially announced over a year ago.

The link connected contacts from Facebook accounts into and the Windows 8.1 People app. In addition to synchronizing contact info, Facebook Connect linked to various apps that were common among the two companies such as Microsoft's Photo Gallery, Movie Maker and, allowing users to share content directly in Facebook.

"Due to these changes, Facebook Connect features will no longer be supported," Microsoft's e-mail stated. "If you've connected Facebook to your Microsoft account, your Facebook contacts will stop syncing to or the People app on your Windows devices, and the sharing options to Facebook will stop working as early as June 9th."

While Facebook didn't address the removal of support for Microsoft apps in last year's announcement, the company did say "are removing several rarely used API endpoints."

Is the lack of this connectivity something you'll miss?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/09/2015 at 10:39 AM0 comments

Edward Snowden: No Regrets Two Years After First NSA Leaks

Two years ago, Edward Snowden took it upon himself to release classified documents that revealed widespread surveillance activities by United States and foreign governments, most notably the National Security Agency. In so doing, Snowden became one of the most wanted fugitives by U.S. law enforcement.  Yet he also became the IT industry's most famous martyr for putting the spotlight on how the government was "monitoring the private activities of ordinary citizens who had done nothing wrong."  

Snowden reflected on the impact of his actions in an op-ed column published last Thursday in The New York Times.  The revelations of programs like PRISM outraged privacy experts and IT decision makers alike, making them wonder if data stored in the cloud and their electronic communications were secure. To its credit, Microsoft Chief Counsel Brad Smith led an effort to fight back, as I noted last week following Congress's long battle to put some limits on The Patriot Act, which officially expired June 1.

"Privately, there were moments when I worried that we might have put our privileged lives at risk for nothing -- that the public would react with indifference, or practiced cynicism, to the revelations," Snowden admitted.  "Never have I been so grateful to have been so wrong." Despite violating key espionage laws, the former NSA contractor Snowden marveled at the rapid impact of his actions. "In a single month, the N.S.A.'s invasive call-tracking program was declared unlawful by the courts and disowned by Congress," he noted of the initial fallout of his revelations. "After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack. Even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated. This is the power of an informed public."

Two years later, the beat goes on, he added, pointing to the impact of his ongoing leaks. "Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls under the Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen, but it is only the latest product of a change in global awareness," he wrote. "Since 2013, institutions across Europe have ruled similar laws and operations illegal and imposed new restrictions on future activities. The United Nations declared mass surveillance an unambiguous violation of human rights. In Latin America, the efforts of citizens in Brazil led to the Marco Civil, an Internet Bill of Rights. Recognizing the critical role of informed citizens in correcting the excesses of government, the Council of Europe called for new laws to protect whistle-blowers."

For sure, the recent changes to the Patriot Act with the new Freedom Act are the equivalent of a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Still, it's a step in the right direction. Snowden also lamented the way the IT security industry has responded. "Technologists have worked tirelessly to reengineer the security of the devices that surround us, along with the language of the Internet itself," he noted. Secret flaws in critical infrastructure that had been exploited by governments to facilitate mass surveillance have been detected and corrected. Basic technical safeguards such as encryption -- once considered esoteric and unnecessary -- are now enabled by default in the products of pioneering companies like Apple, ensuring that even if your phone is stolen, your private life remains private. "

Despite the changes enacted in wake of Snowden's actions, he still used privileged access to classified systems making him a traitor by the letter of the law. The ability for anyone in an organization with unfettered access has put IT decision makers on notice as well that their information systems are at risk. Initial reaction to the revelations two years ago made many organizations wary that data they presumed safe from prying eyes, was subject to backdoor penetration from the Feds.

I recently asked noted security technology expert Bruce Schneier, who I've known for many years, whether he believed Snowden was a traitor or a hero. The silence following my question was deafening and I suddenly felt like the journalist asking a quarterback who just threw an interception at the Super Bowl that cost his team the game how he felt. While Schneier wasn't going to give me a sound bite, he gave me an opaque response. "I don't care about the person. What matters is the documents," he said. "That question will be answered in 20 years by history." Ok, but did Snowden do the right thing by breaking the law and disclosing what was going on? "Yes," Schneier said.

Reading Snowden's op-ed piece, Snowden appears to feel the same way, having marked the June 4 anniversary by revealing that U.S. has expanded its spying initiatives at the border to find hackers.  "The balance of power is beginning to shift," he concluded in his op-ed column. "With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear."

Do you see Snowden as a traitor or have his disclosures of wrongdoings made him worthy of indemnification?



Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/08/2015 at 10:45 AM0 comments

Microsoft Extends Global Cloud Footprint with New Datacenters

Microsoft capped off the week by touting the latest expansion to its ever-growing global network of cloud datacenters. The company announced plans to add two datacenters in Canada and expansion of facilities in The Netherlands and in India.

In all, Microsoft said it will shortly have 22 cloud regions and datacenters for Azure and nine for Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online. Microsoft COO Kevin Turner presided over this week's launch of its new Canadian datacenters this week, where the company announced it'll host its cloud services in Quebec City and Toronto sometime next year. "This data residency will provide Canadian businesses with improved latency and geographic redundancy to help them better operate and compete," said Takeshi Numoto, Microsoft's corporate VP for cloud and enterprise marketing, in a blog post today.

Microsoft pointed to an IDC forecast that projects spending on cloud computing services in Canada will grow 45 percent next year to $2.5 billion. Microsoft claims 80,000 businesses are already using the company's cloud services. Among them Microsoft referenced was a, a startup based in Ontario that uses Azure to push 850 million page views per day. Among other key Canadian customers are AutoTrader, Genetec and PCL Construction.

The new datacenters in Bangalore, India will be available in preview mode next month, with plans to offer the deployments in the first half of next year, said Microsoft Executive Vice President for Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie in a presentation in Bangalore Wednesday. "Services from local datacenters will open infinite computing capacity for Indian government departments, banks, telecom companies and enterprises of all sizes," Guthrie said. "This will help make Digital India a reality."  


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/05/2015 at 1:15 PM0 comments

Active Directory Certificate Services Advice Roils PKI Security Experts

The idea came off as a simple one: implement Microsoft's Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) and you'll be on your way to a more secure infrastructure. That was the premise of this month's Windows Insider column by Greg Shields, which was quickly criticized by some well-known Microsoft security MVPs and PKI experts.

Among the critics who posted comments were Brian Komar, author of a number of books and guides on Windows PKI security including the Windows Server 2008 PKI and Certificate Security and MVP Paul Adare, a consultant and trainer with a focus on enterprise PKI and Active DIrecotry Rights Management Services (RMS) deployments. Several others weighted in, all lambasting Shields for suggesting that deploying AD CS will jump start a more secure IT infrastructure.

"This is one of the worst security related columns I have ever seen," Adare wrote in the comments section. "Redmond magazine should be ashamed for allowing this to be published at all. As an MVP myself, and one who specializes in AD CS, I'm embarrassed by this." Komar suggested we should remove the article from our site. "It really should be pulled as it would only create disaster in a company as written," Komar  noted. "One of the worst articles I have ever read on PKI. This should be titled ADCS: Worst Practices."

Several commenters criticized Shields for suggesting that you should install an AD CS role onto an existing Active Directory domain controller. It turned out that was a typo which has since been updated, which appeased some but not others, who took issue with the column beyond the typo. Shields acknowledged and regretted the implication of deploying AD CS as a best practice wasn't the best phrasing. In a rebuttal Shields said some of his critics missed his point.

"The comments below have succeeded in manifesting the opposite effect of what I had originally intended. My goal was to merely incent individuals to get started and to highlight a barest minimum of steps that might accomplish that -- even as those steps aren't, as y'all have stated, the very best ones," Shields responded. "There appears an unspoken assertion in these comments that the mere presence of this article presents something like a danger to society. But let's be rational adults here. Would any IT pro, experienced or no, seriously go about creating a PKI solution based solely on a handful of paragraphs in a trade magazine? Likely not."

Shields added that the point of his column was to get people started toward building more secure infrastructure and perhaps on the road to building a more extensive PKI. "And if they turn to Brian's book, Paul's community contributions or the body of PKI knowledge elsewhere, then I've accomplished my goal."

I reached out to David Strom, a longtime colleague and expert on networking, security, PKI and other issues, to get his take on the column and subsequent criticism."​There's an element of truth in both sides," said Strom. "Yes, CAs should be used more, and you should know what you are doing."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/04/2015 at 12:24 PM0 comments

Microsoft Praises Curbs on U.S. Surveillance

It was the latest bruising battle among lawmakers but the U.S. Senate finally agreed on a compromise that will put an end to the Patriot Act, which has allowed government eavesdropping on telephone and electronic communications following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The new Freedom Act, signed by President Barak Obama last night hours after its passage by the Senate with a 67-32 vote, takes away the National Security Agency's authority to gather calling data of millions of Americans and instead puts that in the hands of phone companies.

In wake of the disclosures two years ago by Edward Snowden at the scope of the NSA's surveillance efforts, which proponents say is critical in thwarting terrorist attacks, Congress and the president were under intense pressure by privacy advocates to stop the practice. Despite last month's Senate agreement to come up with a compromise that would water down the Patriot Act, which officially expired Monday morning, a strong coalition at the 11th hour moved to preserve it in the days leading up to the deadline.

Opponents of the new Freedom Act argue that it  still doesn't go far enough to protect the privacy of Americans but it is "an important step forward in striking a better balance between public safety and privacy," as noted today in a post by Microsoft Chief Counsel Brad Smith.

"The USA Freedom Act will increase trust in technology by implementing essential reforms to the USA Patriot Act," said Smith in a blog post. "The legislation will ensure that the public is aware of what their government is doing by allowing companies to publish detailed transparency reports. Governments also need to act with proper accountability with proper regard for legal process and people's rights. The reforms of the FISA Court in the bill moves government accountability forward by increasing the transparency of its proceedings and rulings and introducing a process for amicus curiae. And the new law ends the bulk collection of data -- a program that a federal court recently struck down."

For its part, Smith, on behalf of Microsoft, took a leading role in bringing the IT industry together to push for the easing of surveillance. While praising the new Freedom Act, Smith renewed his call on the government to take further steps to ensure data privacy. "There's still more work to do, both here in the United States and internationally," Smith wrote. "High on that list is the creation of new international legal frameworks to tackle other important issues we face in ensuring the free flow of information around the world while respecting national sovereignty."

Passage of the new Freedom Act doesn't put an end to surveillance but keeps it out of the direct purview of the feds. Of course, if you have little trust in the phone companies' ability to better ensure your privacy, the new Freedom Act probably offers little solace.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/03/2015 at 1:35 PM0 comments

Windows 10 To Arrive July 29

Microsoft has finally revealed a delivery date for Windows 10. The official release date is slated for July 29. The company used the eve of the annual Computex conference in Taipei to make the announcement. It's not a surprise Microsoft chose Computex to make it official given that the event is the largest gathering of OEM systems (PC and device) manufacturers.

Millions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users will be eligible for a free upgrade on that date, as Microsoft announced in January. Microsoft is letting eligible customers reserve the free upgrades starting today. A Windows 10 icon will appear to the right of the taskbar on eligible devices, allowing users to click on it at any time to initiate their reservation. Microsoft posted instructions on how the process works.

By releasing it in late July, Microsoft is making sure Windows 10 is available for the back-to-school season, which begins in earnest in August. When Microsoft said the OS will ship this summer, many wondered if that meant mid-September to target the fourth quarter holiday buying season. While indeed that's important, making Windows 10 available to students is equally --  if not more -- important.

"With Windows 10, we start delivering on our vision of more personal computing, defined by trust in how we protect and respect your personal information, mobility of the experience across your devices, and natural interactions with your Windows devices, including speech, touch, ink, and holograms," wrote Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive VP for operating systems, on Microsoft's Windows blog. "We designed Windows 10 to run our broadest device family ever, including Windows PCs, Windows tablets, Windows phones, Windows for the Internet of Things, Microsoft Surface Hub, Xbox One and Microsoft HoloLens—all working together to empower you to do great things."

Following an eight month technical preview, we also now know what features Microsoft will include in Windows 10 and which will get scrapped. Myerson emphasized the following components will in fact come in Windows 10:

  • Cortana: Microsoft's digital assistant will run on all versions of Windows and other platforms, although languages and device types initially will have limitations
  • Microsoft Edge: the company's new modern browser which Myerson said offers "built-in commenting on the Web -- via typing or inking -- sharing comments, and a reading view that makes reading web sites much faster and easier" Myerson  noted.
  • New Apps: Photos, Videos, Music, Maps, People, Mail and Calendar. All are designed to conform to device form factors and enabled to synch with OneDrive.
  • Windows Continuum: The ability for convertible tablet-PCs to easily switch modes from one to the other.
  • Windows Hello: The new logon technology that will enable devices to have FIDO-compatible biometrics as an alternative to password-based authentication.
  • Windows Store: Revamped and unified to support Microsoft's new Universal Windows Platform applications.
  • Windows 10 Home: Updates from Windows Update will automatically be available.
  • Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise: Users will have the ability to defer updates.

Those upgrading from earlier versions of Windows will have to prepare to download apps that were once included in the operating system, according to a Microsoft release note.  Here are some other noteworthy changes:

  • Viewing DVDs will require playback software.
  • Windows 7 desktop gadgets removed.
  • Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Hearts Games preinstalled on Windows 7 removed and replaced by new version of Solitaire and Minesweeper, now called the Microsoft Solitaire Collection and Microsoft Minesweeper.
  • USB-based floppy drives will require download of manufacturer drivers.
  • Windows Live Essentials with OneDrive application removed and replaced with the inbox version of OneDrive.

In the release note, Microsoft also outlined system requirements, which include 1 GHz or faster processor or system-on-chip (SoC), 1 GB of RAM for 32-bit systems and 2 GB for 64 GB systems, 20 GHz storage, DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver and support for at least 1024x600 resolution.

Do you plan to upgrade to Windows 10?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/01/2015 at 10:17 AM0 comments

Satya Nadella Ranked Top Visionary Among High-Tech Leaders

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is the most influential leader in the high-tech industry, according to Juniper Research's annual ranking released Tuesday. Nadella bested the likes of Apple's Chief Design Officer Tony Ive, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Netfix Cofounder and CEO Reed Hastings, Alibaba Founder and Chairman Jack Ma, Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla Founder and Chairman Elon Musk.

Nadella's ability to surge past this eclectic and prominent group of technology executives is an unusual turn of events given many people have written off Microsoft as a company with vision, which is the basis of Juniper's ranking.

"The rankings, which are based on Juniper's assessment of key criteria including vision, innovation and personal capital, noted that Nadella's implementation of 'Windows-as-a-Service' represented a fundamental change to Microsoft's OS-focused business model, resulting in a very different process of development at Redmond in future," according to Juniper Research's announcement of this year's survey.

Juniper Research's survey of tech visionaries may not represent the most prominent of rankings but it will be interesting to see if Nadella finds himself coming up more often when it comes to looking at who's setting the agenda for the IT industry. And that's not a given, considering Nadella was just named CEO just under 16 months ago.

While Nadella has set the pace for change in a short amount of time and has strived to show the world Microsoft still has some new tricks up its sleeve, his work has just started and success remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this ranking is another sign that critics may not want to write Microsoft off yet.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/27/2015 at 8:39 AM0 comments

VMware Showcases Plans for the Future of Workspaces on Citrix's Home Turf

In a move that appeared timed to rain on Citrix's parade, VMware last week demonstrated technology it plans to unveil which aims to provide the control plane for managing user workspaces. VMware revealed its hybrid cloud architecture aimed at creating "next-generation" workspaces, and did so on its rival's home turf at Citrix's annual Synergy conference last week in Orlando.

VMware took the wraps off Project Enzo, a new platform that it claims will change the way IT organizations deploy and manage virtual desktop environments, just as Citrix demonstrated its new Workspace Cloud architecture to customers at Synergy. Similar to Project Enzo, Citrix Workspace Cloud aims to provide the control plane based on a hybrid cloud architecture for managing user workspaces on a variety of form factors ranging from PCs, phones, tablets and even Raspberry Pi devices.  

"Project Enzo is a new hybrid cloud-scale architecture that is designed to combine the economic benefits of cloud-based VMware virtual desktops and application technology with the simplicity of hyper-converged infrastructure to transform the IT experience," wrote Sumit Dhawan, VMware's senior vice president and general manager for desktop products and end-user computing, in a blog post announcing Project Enzo. "Project Enzo will enable the unified management of on-premises and cloud-based virtual workspace services (desktops and applications) through a single Web-based portal that will be available as a cloud service on VMware vCloud Air."

While there are certainly architectural differences between Citrix Workspace Cloud and VMware's Project Enzo, they appear to have the same goal in mind: being the center of deploying and securely managing user work environments on a variety of device types. The most noteworthy difference is that Project Enzo seems to prefer vCloud Air when it comes to providing the public cloud infrastructure. By comparison, Citrix executives went to great pains last week to emphasize that the Citrix Workspace Cloud can run in any infrastructure as a service, including AWS, Microsoft Azure and IBM Softlayer. Unlike VMware, Citrix doesn't operate a public cloud of its own and when asked last week at Synergy if it planned to do so, executives indicated firmly the company has no interest in doing so due to the massive investment requirement needed. Both companies are relying on cloud service provider partners to deliver these new platforms.

Each company also described their new architectures as deigned to bring together and manage "hyper-converged" software-defined infrastructures. Microsoft has a similar vision with its newly revealed Azure Stack earlier this month at the Ignite conference in Chicago. Azure Stack will come with the next release of Microsoft's server operating system, Windows Server 2016. VMware's Dhawan said the technical preview for Project Enzo is now available.

A key component introduced with Project Enzo technical preview, according to Dhawan, is its VMware Smart Node technology, which integrates hyper-converged solutions. "Smart Node technology enables the intelligent orchestration and automation of common set-up, delivery and management tasks of virtual workspace services across the hybrid cloud," he said.

Apparently VMware's decision to rain on Citrix's parade by announcing Project Enzo was payback, as pointed out by The Register's Simon Starwood, who recalled Citrix announcing a new version of Xen App, Xen Desktop and Receiver products at VMworld last year. 


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/21/2015 at 3:19 PM0 comments

AWS Outguns Azure in Gartner's IaaS Cloud Magic Quadrant

Rarely a day goes by when I don't receive a news release on behalf of a company announcing it was included in one of Gartner's Magic Quadrant as a leader. If I had a dollar for every one of those announcements I deleted, I could retire now. Today both Amazon Web Services and Microsoft notified me that their respective public cloud services were recognized as leaders in the research firm's infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) report.

Gartner pointed to Amazon and Azure as the only "leaders" in its IaaS classification of cloud providers. Close followers, which Gartner describes as "visionaries" include CenturyLink, Google, VMware and IBM/SoftLayer.  Among the others that Gartner described as "niche" providers were Rackspace, Joyent, Virtustream, Interroute, CSC, Dimension Data, Fujitsu, NTT Communications and Verizon.

Despite grouping AWS and Azure as the only leaders, Gartner singled out Amazon as the superior cloud provider. "AWS has a diverse customer base and the broadest range of use cases, including enterprise and mission-critical applications," the report said. "It is the overwhelming market share leader, with over 10 times more cloud IaaS compute capacity in use than the aggregate total of the other 14 providers in this Magic Quadrant."

The report said AWS still maintains a multiyear competitive advantage over both Microsoft and Google. A Microsoft spokeswoman in a statement said Azure still offers more than twice as much cloud IaaS compute capacity in use as the aggregate total of the remaining providers in this Magic Quadrant other than AWS. Microsoft officials also frequently point out that it has more datacenters around the world than AWS and Google combined with 19.

"This speaks strongly to Gartner's belief that the IaaS market is quickly consolidating around a small number of leading vendors," she said. "Microsoft is seeing significant usage and growth for Azure with more than 90,000 new Azure customer subscriptions every month, more than 50 trillion objects now stored in the Azure storage system and 425 million users stored in Azure Active Directory. In addition to strong use of Infrastructure-as-a-Service capabilities, we're also seeing over 60 percent of Azure customers using at least one higher level service."

The report opined that "Amazon has the richest array of IaaS features and PaaS-like capabilities. It continues to rapidly expand its service offerings and offer higher-level solutions." Microsoft argued it's the only vendor identified as a leader in both Gartner's IaaS and PaaS categories. "We also are differentiated in our ability to enable customers to use these capabilities together in a seamless fashion," she said.  "For example, Azure Resource Manager enables a single coherent application model for IaaS and PaaS services and the Azure Preview Portal blends IaaS and PaaS seamlessly so that customers no longer have to work in multiple, disparate environments."

Gartner also pointed to reliability problems that have plagued Azure including numerous outages, though it notes substantial improvements over the past year. "We are committed to applying learnings when incidents occur to prevent recurrences of similar interruptions and improve our communications and support response so that customers feel confident in us and the service," she said pointing to Microsoft's  Root Cause Analysis to see the most recent improvements.

The report also urged those choosing Azure not to jump in too fast. "Customers who intend to adopt Azure strategically and migrate applications over a period of one year or more (finishing in 2016 or later) can begin to deploy some workloads now, but those with a broad range of immediate enterprise needs may encounter challenges," the report advised.

Microsoft said it has aggressive plans to add new features, and said Gartner even acknowledged as much in the report. And, the spokeswoman's statement added:  "Over the past 12 months, we've added more than 500 new features and services to the Azure platform, including robust IaaS and PaaS capabilities as well as offerings that enable consistency across on-prem and the cloud so customers can achieve the hybrid scenarios they demand."

At its Ignite conference last month, Microsoft announced extensive new hybrid cloud computing features coming in the form of the new Azure Stack, which the company believes will give it a further edge over both AWS and Google.

Of course different surveys and customer sets have their own benchmarks and criteria, as I noted last week, when Nasuni's third evaluation of major cloud providers gave preference to Microsoft Azure. Whether or not you give credence to Gartner's Magic Quadrants, it seems to match industry sentiment that AWS remains the dominant public cloud but Azure is a clear No. 2. Both companies would agree this race is far from over.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/20/2015 at 5:21 PM0 comments

Citrix Demos Its Next-Gen Virtual Cloud Workspace Platform

At its annual Synergy conference in sweltering Orlando, Citrix last week staked its future around the company's new Workplace Cloud and a number of new wares that aims to establish it as the purveyor of the modern digital workplace. The major focus of this year's Synergy conference centered around Workspace Cloud, a platform that aims to ease the design, deployment, orchestration and management of secure work environments for mobile workers.

While virtual desktops and apps account for a small percentage of the workplace computing environments deployed today, their usage isn't trivial. Moreover it stands to grow in the coming years in new forms, including desktop as a service, as workers continue to use more device types, rely more on access from various places and organizations want to better secure information accessed by employees, contractors and even customers on these new form factors. The growth of hybrid cloud and the move to bring your own device policies are also enabling these new environments.

Looking to extend its reach from its core strength of offering virtual desktop and application environments, Citrix first started discussing Workplace Cloud a year ago but only demonstrated it publicly at Synergy last week, where customers also began testing the company's latest new platform. The company hopes to make it generally available in the third quarter. Mark Templeton, Citrix CEO, who is revered for his focus on engineering and user experience, showcased Workspace Cloud as the culmination of its effort to bridge public, private and hybrid clouds to the new ways people work with multiple device types. Templeton said the new digital workspace consists of Windows-based PCs, Macs. iPads, Android tablets Chromebooks new Linux-based systems and even embedded devices that enable Internet of Things-type environments.

"We think of Workspace as the core engine of the software-defined workplace," Templeton said in last week's keynote. "So if you don't do a great job with workspaces across all of those kinds of digital tools, then you're not going to have the engine of the software-defined workplace. And we know that everyone's workspace environment is different." The Citrix Workspace Cloud is based on a cloud delivery architecture similar to the company's BlackBeard reference architecture, which provides the service architecture to distribute XenDesktop and XenApp in hybrid cloud environments and RainMaker, which provides the orchestration across servers and nodes.

The control plane that powers Citrix Workspace Cloud is its ShareFile document sharing platform. Citrix, which acquired ShareFile in 2011, is  a smaller competitor to the likes of Box and Dropbox. But Citrix has spent the ensuing years building on the core ShareFile engine to enable it to become the control plane for the new Citrix Workspace Cloud, which the company describes as a management platform for creating mobile workspaces that include desktops, applications and data provisioned in a hybrid cloud environment that could consist of a private datacenter, as well as a public or private cloud.

A key component of Citrix Workspace Cloud is the Lifecycle Manager, which creates blueprints that ease the migration of earlier versions of XenApp to current releases and provides the ability for IT to deploy them in the new management platform. These blueprints "are effectively groupings of things that you need to do to define whatever workload it is you want to deliver," explained Christian Reilly, CTO for the Citrix Workspace.  "And then obviously the management piece comes after that. I'm not talking specifically about just delivering XenApp and XenDesktop because that's a key short term focus. The power of blueprints is if you kind of expand that out to two worlds, one in dealing with blueprints that can group together with different parts of the network topology, different bits of the infrastructure that need to be orchestrated to create an application workload and blueprints that can then provision or talk to Netscaler or other devices to compete the configuration."

In keeping with its history of not running its own public cloud, Citrix is empowering its base of 1,900 cloud service providers to provision Workspace Cloud in any environment, including Amazon Web Services, Azure and IBM's SoftLayer cloud, among others. The control plane itself runs in Microsoft Azure, but Citrix officials insisted that no customer data or apps touch the control plane, or Azure in particular, unless they want it to.

While building the control plane on ShareFile, Workspace Cloud brings together XenDesktop and XenApp platforms as well as networking gear such as Netscaler and CloudBridge. Stitching these together gives Citrix the opportunity to bundle -- and potentially upsell its wares -- though Templeton said the architecture allows organizations to plug in their own components, such as Microsoft and VMware hybrid cloud infrastructure. Workspace Cloud is an ambitious effort by the company to move itself forward with a major new platform designed to create and manage secure user work environments tailored around workers' tendencies to use multiple and often nontraditional devices to access their Windows environments. In addition to launching Workspace Cloud, Citrix previewed several new other key offerings in its pipeline including extensions to its XenMobile enterprise mobility management platform, networking and security upgrades to its Netscaler and CloudBridge tools, data loss prevention and other security improvements to its ShareFile enterprise file sharing offering. It also showed off new automation capabilities to its XenDesktop and XenApp platforms.

Attendees at Citrix Synergy last week seemed impressed with Workspace Cloud, though even its most visible customers said they need to understand how it might fit into their environments. "We will start playing with the beta," said David Enriquez, senior director of information technology for the Miami Marlins. "It looks to me something we could take advantage of such as spring training temporary deployments, if we have to do something at a minor league park or if we have an event at the ballpark that needs infrastructure but we don't want to put it on our existing infrastructure."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/19/2015 at 1:18 PM0 comments

Worldwide Build Tour Lures Developers for Universal Windows and Azure

Now that Microsoft has outlined its Universal Windows Platform and its new model for building and deploying modern applications for its Azure cloud, the company has hit the road to make its case to developers throughout the world.

The Build tour is taking place today in London and New York. These one-day developer confabs follow last month's annual Build conference, which took place in San Francisco. In the coming days and weeks Microsoft is hosting Build events in Atlanta, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo and Mexico City, among numerous other locations.

I attended the New York event today where a few hundred developers took in a condensed version of the larger Build conference, featuring an overview of Microsoft's UWP and Azure strategy and demos on how to build and port apps to the new platform. Kevin Gallo, Microsoft's partner director for developer ecosystem and platform, gave the opening keynote address in which he called on developers to learn how they can enhance Android and Apple iOS applications for the new UWP by bridging them to Windows. At the same time, Gallo emphasized the ability to port legacy Win32 apps to the new UWP.

Key to the new UWP is the notion that developers can build their apps for Windows regardless of whether they're for a phone, tablet, PC or the new Surface Hub large conferencing system. "All these new APIs are to help create different user experiences on different devices," Gallo said.

Likewise, Microsoft's new love of open source platforms is carrying over to the Build tour, both in terms of the new UWP, which includes the new Edge browser, native support for HTML 5 and XAML, which Microsoft officials emphasized is appealing for developing responsive design to apps. Gallo explained how the new "bridge" capability for developers addresses four key form factors: Web, Win32 apps and integration with applications built in Objective C for iOS and editors for Android developers such as CodeMe. Developers "can use their Android tooling and port to Windows," Gallo said.

Gallo also showcased Microsoft's new Windows for IoT  (Internet of Things). The new Windows IoT Core is available for Raspberry Pi, the popular low-cost small device platform and for MinnowBoard Max, the open source environment for developing embedded apps for Intel Atom processors.

Building on Azure
In the second half of the Build tour keynote session, Neil Hutson, a Microsoft's engineering evangelist, took the stage to talk about extensions to the Azure public cloud. In keeping with Microsoft's emphasis that Azure's not just for Windows and .NET apps, Hutson said that 25 percent of the instances running in the company's cloud are Linux based. "If you want to use a favorite language, platform, framework and operating system, we pretty much have you covered so you can do your best work with us," Hutson said.

While Microsoft has extolled that message for some time now, the next key selling point for Azure rests on its new Azure App Services. The notion behind Azure App Services is that it enables developers to build and deploy modern and mobile apps that can scale globally across the Azure cloud.

Hutson also gave airtime to the array of new data services hosted in Azure ranging from what he described as a high performance SQL DB to support for a variety of alternative SQL and NoSQL database types. Hutson outlined three new features in Microsoft's Azure SQL DB service. First is Elastic Database Pool, which will allow customers to maintain separate isolated databases, the ability to aggregate activity to smooth peaks and the ability define strict performance SLAs. Second is support for full text search and the most warmly received new feature -- based on audience applause -- was support for transparent data encryption (TDE). "That means when data is at rest, it's fully encrypted," Hutson said. Hutson also talked up the new Azure SQL Data Warehouse, which "lets you suck information from SQL DB, and aggregate on premises systems," Hutson said.

Circling back to the Internet of Things, Hutson also talked up how the various data services including Azure Machine Leaning and Event Hub can connect to and process data from millions of devices in near real time.

Stream Analytics consolidates all of that data and allows users to create reports using the new Power BI. They can store infinite amounts of data in the new Azure Data Lake. Hutson also underscored the new Office APIs that will enable interactivity among third-party apps and components of the productivity suite, especially Outlook. With the new Office APIs and Office Graph, developers can build native application experiences into Office 365, Hutson explained. Rather than toggle between Outlook and, the two can now be integrated, he said.

Microsoft knows developers will be critical to the success of UWP, Azure App Services and the next generation of Office. If the road show comes to your neighborhood, you may want to learn the details and decide for yourself.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/18/2015 at 11:20 AM0 comments

Microsoft Azure Blob Storage Slightly Edges Amazon S3 in Latest Shootout

Companies looking for a large global cloud provider to store significant amounts of data will do well choosing either Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, with the latter performing slightly better according to Nasuni's third biennial cloud storage report. Google, the only other cloud provider with a large enough global scale that could be compared with the two by Nasuni's standards, came in a distant third place.

It's important to keep in mind that this is one benchmark by a single provider with its own requirements --  primarily using a large global cloud provider as a NAS target. But Nasuni performs the tests to determine which services it should use to provide as a storage target and claims it's not wedded to any one player, unless a customer specifies one. Nasuni first began sharing its benchmarks in 2012 when AWS had an overwhelming edge, though that was before Microsoft had a mature infrastructure as a service available.

Today, depending on the service, Nasuni primarily distributes its workloads between AWS and Azure and is always willing to add or shift to other suppliers. Nasuni currently prefers Microsoft Azure Blob Storage and Message Queue though it uses AWS's Dynamo database and EC2 compute instances, said John Capello, Nasuni's VP of product strategy. The primary test Nasuni conducted between October and February for the report evaluated a variety of read-write and delete scenarios, according to Capello.

"For our purposes, which is to write files for mid-sized to large enterprises to the cloud, Microsoft Azure Blob storage is a better target for us than Amazon or Google," he said. "Amazon is a very, very close second. Amazon and Microsoft seem to be, as many others have said, the real two competitors in this space in providing cloud services in general, but specifically with storage, they're very, very close in terms of both their speed, availability and their scalability."

According to the report, which is available for download if you're willing to give up your contact information, is that Microsoft outpaced Amazon and Google when it comes to writing data to a target 13 of the 23 scenarios of varying thread counts or file counts. When it came to reading files, Microsoft constantly performed better, though not to the extent it did in the write tests. Microsoft was twice as fast as Amazon when it came to deleting files and five times as fast as Google.

For system availability, Amazon's average response time of 0.1 seconds slightly edged Microsoft's 0.14 seconds, while Google was roughly five times slower. Nasuni also measured scalability and when writing 100 million objects to look at the number of read and write misses, "Microsoft had, by far, the largest write variance, which was more than 130 times larger than Google's, who had the smallest variance." Read and write errors were almost non-existent, according to a summary of the report. "Only Amazon showed any misses at all: five write errors over 100 million objects, which gives an error rate of .00005 percent."

Nasuni omitted several key players from the test, notably IBM's Softlayer, which was undergoing system upgrades and led to frequent periods of planned downtime during the testing period, according to Capello. HP was also initially in the test, though Capello said Nasuni chose to leave the company out this time because of HP's announced plans of changes in cloud strategy. "Before we decided we weren't going to continue testing them, they actually did surprisingly well, in some cases --  better than Amazon and Microsoft in some of the read-write and delete benchmarks," he said. "If we had run the full test, it would be interesting to see where they came out. "


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/15/2015 at 10:56 AM0 comments

Microsoft Sets the Stage for Patch Tuesday To 'Go Away'

Yesterday was the latest of Patch Tuesday, the ritual which takes place on the second Tuesday of every month. But its days could be numbered. Patch Tuesday won't disappear anytime soon but the release of Windows 10 will set the stage for its ultimate transition to a different release cadence.

Microsoft said at last week's Ignite conference that its procedure for issuing security patches will change with the new OS's release via new "distribution rings" similar to the fast and slow rings offered with the Windows 10 Technical Preview. The company describes it as part of its Windows-as-a-service transition. It will only apply to Windows 10 and future operating systems, given the change in the way Microsoft builds software.

"Our goal is patch Tuesday will go away," said Stella Chernysak, a senior director for Windows Commercial at Microsoft, during an interview last week at Ignite. "Windows Update for Business essentially means the challenges customers have historically had with their patching will be easier to address."

Chernysak said this will let Microsoft issue patches as needed and allow organizations to better automate how they apply those patches, while at the same time allowing for customers to maintain a predictable process.

"This is our new foundation for us to deliver Windows as a service," she explained. Microsoft will start delivering the first set of Windows Update for Services this summer with additional functionality to be added in the fall.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/13/2015 at 11:50 AM0 comments

Device Guard Joins Windows Hello and Passport To Lockdown Windows 10

Microsoft's effort to displace passwords with technology with its forthcoming biometrics-based Windows Hello and Passport technology has received a fair amount of attention over the past few weeks. But Microsoft has another new technology slated for Windows 10 called Device Guard, which aims to further protect Windows from malware and known and new advanced persistent threats.

Device Guard, announced at last month's RSA Conference in San Francisco, will be an option for those who want deeper protection against APTs and malware in instances where intruders get in. Device Guard uses hardware-based virtualization to block the ability to execute unsigned code. It does so by creating a virtual machine that's isolated from the rest of the operating system. Device Guard can protect data and applications from attackers and malware that have already managed to gain access, according to Chris Hallum, a senior product manager for commercial Windows client security at Microsoft.

"This gives it a significant advantage over traditional antivirus and app control technologies like AppLocker, Bit9, and others which are subject to tampering by an administrator or malware," Hallum explained in an April 21 blog post. "In practice, Device Guard will frequently be used in combination with traditional AV and app control technologies. Traditional AV solutions and app control technologies will be able to depend on Device Guard to help block executable and script-based malware while AV will continue to cover areas that Device Guard doesn't such as JIT based apps (e.g.: Java) and macros within documents. App control technologies can be used to define which trustworthy apps should be allowed to run on a device. In this case IT uses app control as a means to govern productivity and compliance rather than malware prevention."

Device Guard blocks against malware and zero days targeting Windows 10 by only allowing trusted apps signed by software vendors, the Windows Store and internally developed software, according to Hallum. "You're in control of what sources Device Guard considers trustworthy and it comes with tools that can make it easy to sign Universal or even Win32 apps that may not have been originally signed by the software vendor," he explained.

When I met with Hallum and Dustin Ingalls, group program manager for OS security, at the RSA Conference in San Francisco last month, we primarily discussed Windows Hello and Passport, which Microsoft is hoping will replace passwords by enabling biometric authentication. Device Guard is not quite as sexy since it'll be invisible to individual end users but will allow enterprise IT administrators to make it impossible for attackers to execute code not recognized by Device Guard, Ingalls explained.

The VM created with Device Guard creates what Ingalls called a "tiny OS" where the operating system's decision-making components are isolated. "We take the actual critical integrity components and move those out of the main OS," Ingalls explained. "Now we have operating system that's much more difficult to compromise. "On top of that we make use of a feature called user mode integrity, which they know is vetted in the Windows Store."

Stella Chernysak, a senior director for Windows Commercial at Microsoft, described Device Guard as similar to Bitlocker in concept. "Device Guard will be on business systems, where IT has an opportunity to turn it on," Chernysak explained in an interview last week at Microsoft's Ignite conference in Chicago. "It will be an option for IT to take advantage of that feature or IT may make the decision to ask an OEM or partner to turn it on."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/11/2015 at 12:48 PM0 comments

Will Microsoft Really Bid on

As rumors surfaced this week that is seeking bidders to acquire the company, including possibly Microsoft, they were barely noticed in Chicago's McCormick Place, where the Ignite conference was taking place. The mere mention of it to an attendee garnered an uninterested look, where attendees were focused on taking in the wave of new wares Microsoft rolled out.

Though shares of's stock were halted briefly on Tuesday when they spiked on the rumors, the reports don't suggest Microsoft has actually even made a bid, only that there are at least two bidders and that Microsoft could be one of them and SAP the other. So the speculation swirling Wall Street is just that, though oftentimes speculation does turn into reality. 

When I first read about the rumours, my reaction was that it does seem rather far-fetched that Microsoft would shell out as much as $60 billion to acquire, even if it is the leading supplier of cloud-based software-as-a service applications. One has to wonder if the huge investment and cash outlay would be worth it, considering such deals rarely have the upside the architects envision.

Considering's market cap is about $49 billion, a deal to acquire it with the typical premium could reach $60 billion, give or take a few billion.'s 2014 revenues were just over $4 billion with guidance for this year of $5.3 billion -- or 30 percent. While not shabby, last year's annual revenues increased 35 percent, suggesting growth is slowing.  Another problem: despite its revenue growth, lost $263 million last year. Also Microsoft has competing, though less successful, product lines with Dynamics and Yammer, to name a few.

On the other hand, acquiring, which is hugely popular with enterprises, could accelerate Microsoft's shift in transitioning into a SaaS provider and extend its developer footprint into the open source community. It would also give Microsoft an even larger presence in Silicon Valley.

Some of that upside notwithstanding, does Microsoft need to bet the farm on when it could use that cash hoard in more fruitful ways?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/08/2015 at 12:30 PM0 comments

Microsoft Transitions Cloud OS to New Azure Stack

When Microsoft rolled out Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, the company coined it and the then-new Azure Pack as its Cloud OS. While Cloud OS indeed provided the building blocks to build Azure-like clouds in private datacenters and third-party hosting providers, many say it's not seamless. Also Azure itself is a very different cloud than it was in 2012.

Cloud OS is a generic term used by a number of other providers including Cisco and Hewlett Packard. You can expect to see Microsoft phase out its Cloud OS brand that described Microsoft's approach to Windows Server and System Center in favor of the new Azure Stack. Along with the new Operations Management Service, which enables management of multiple servers, clouds and virtual machines, Azure Stack is a product that substantially advances upon the Azure Pack in that it aims to allow enterprises and hosting providers to build and manage cloud infrastructure that truly mirrors the functionality and experience of the Azure public cloud.

While Cloud OS as an amalgamation of Microsoft's datacenter software offerings didn't quite live up to its billing, Microsoft officials were confident at Ignite that the Azure Stack, its new operating system software including the new Nano Server configuration and containers, will enable a common infrastructure for on-premises datacenters and Azure. Time will tell whether Microsoft delivers on that promise but Azure Stack will come next year with Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016, Microsoft officials explained here in Chicago this week. Corporate VP Brad Anderson introduced Azure Stack Monday in the opening keynote of Ignite.

"This is literally us giving you all of Azure for you to run in your datacenters," Anderson said. "What this brings you is you get that great IaaS and PaaS environment in your datacenters. You have incredible capability like a unified application model that gives you a one-click deployment experience for even the most complex, multitier applications and then you get that cloud-inspired infrastructure. We're giving you the same software controller that we built for our network, the name is the same, network controller.  We're giving you our load balancing. We're giving you all the storage innovation."

Microsoft released the second technical preview of Windows Server 2016 Monday and the Azure Stack is slated for a later test version. Ryan O'Hara, a Microsoft program director, explained in an Ignite briefing Tuesday the Azure Stack will offer more features than the Azure Pack. Among other things, it will offer all of the services of both IaaS and PaaS and all of the Azure management tools. "We think about Azure Stack as the delivery of Azure innovations on premises," O'Hara said.

In Monday's keynote, Jeff Woolsey, a Microsoft senior technical product manager, demonstrated the Azure Stack. "You see the same IaaS virtual machines, the same network interfaces, the same public IP addresses, the same BLOB storage, the same SQL [and] the same role-based access control both in Azure and in Azure Stack," he said. Through the Azure Portal, Woolsey showed how to associate such Azure services as networking, compute and storage, as well as Azure's software-based load balancers, software-defined network controllers and the distributed firewall. Into the Azure Stack. "We've packaged those up and put those in the Azure Stack for you so you're getting those same software-defined networking capabilities," he said.

Azure Stack will be a key component of the next version of Windows Server but it will be a separate offering. As it rolls out, we'll see if this provides the true vision of the hybrid cloud platform formerly known as Cloud OS.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/06/2015 at 12:10 PM0 comments

Microsoft Kicks off Inaugural Ignite Event with Barrage of New Tech for IT Pros

Days after courting developers to build apps for its new Universal Windows Platform at the Build conference in San Francisco, Microsoft deluged more than 23,000 IT pros attending its inaugural Ignite conference in Chicago with a barrage of new offerings to manage and secure the new platform and the entire IT stack.

Ignite kicked off today with a three-hour keynote headlined byd CEO Satya Nadella, who talked up how the company's new wave of software and cloud services will enable IT and business transformation in line with the ways people now work. He also highlighted the need for better automation of systems, processes and management of the vast amount of data originating from new sources such as sensors.

Among the new offerings revealed during the keynote presentation were: Azure Stack, which brings its Azure IaaS and PaaS cloud to on-premises datacenters; Microsoft Operations Management Suite to administer multiple server OSes including Linux, clouds and VMs; and Windows Update Service for Business, while making the case for Windows 10 for enterprise users.

Nadella talked up the company's focus on "productivity and platforms" tied with the shift to cloud and mobility, saying everything Microsoft offers aims to bring all of that together in line with the changes in the way people work and new data types generated from sensors and other Internet-of-Things-type nodes.

"Every layer of the IT stack is going to be profoundly impacted," Nadella said in the keynote session. "This sets up our context. It sets up the tension we have as we set out to manage this IT landscape. "We want to enable to our IT professionals and end users to make their own choices for their own devices, yet we need to ensure the security, the management. We want to enable our business units to choose the SaaS applications of their choice, yet we want to have the compliance and control of efficiency."

Nadella emphasized three themes: making personal computing more personal and secure, bringing together productivity and process and providing more agile back-end infrastructure. Just about everything Microsoft offers will be updated.

SQL Server 2016 will be "the biggest breakthrough in database infrastructure," with a technology called Stretch, allowing a single table to stretch from the datacenter to Azure. Microsoft released the second preview of Windows Server 2016 and is readying System Center 2016 "to make it possible for you to have Azure in your datacenter which is consistent with the public cloud Azure," Nadella said. The new Microsoft Operations Management Suite will provide what Enterprise Mobility Suite provides for client device management to datacenter administration, said Corporate VP Brad Anderson.

The company also gave major airtime to new security wares including the release of the new Advanced Threat Analytics tool, which, among other things, manages activity in Active Directory logs. The company also is moving from its traditional Patch Tuesday delivery of security updates, which take place on the second Tuesday of every month, to "rings" of security releases that will start with the delivery of Windows 10.

For the most part, Microsoft emphasized its new release wave and how it will integrate with key platforms, notably iOS and Android. But in a departure, Windows Chief Terry Myerson couldn't resist talking up Microsoft's added security features on Windows, and the company's new wares to keep Windows even more secure, taking a shot at Google. "Google just ships a big pile of [pause for emphasis] ... code, and leaves you exposed with no commitments to update your device." It was intended to showcase Microsoft's new focus on providing regular security updates for Windows.

Joe Belfiore, corporate VP for Microsoft's operating systems group, showcased the new Windows Hello technology, tied to the company's new Passport authentication service, coming to Windows 10. While Windows Hello will support all forms of biometrics, Belfiore showcased Windows 10 using facial recognition to authenticate into Windows 10.  Belfiore also demonstrated many popular features in Windows 7 that will reemerge into Windows 10 and new features, like Cortana, the new personal assistant that will provide answers to questions. "My mission is to convince you and give you the tools with the belief your end users will love and desire Windows 10," Belfiore said.

In coming posts, we'll drill down into these new offerings, which represent much of Microsoft's product waves expected in the next six-to-12 months.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/04/2015 at 2:08 PM0 comments

Can Android and iOS Bridges Really Save Windows Phone?

Microsoft spent the last two days trying to convince its own and the rest of the software development community that building applications to its new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) will let them create innovative and competitive apps. Indeed providing a common architecture for PCs, tablets and Xbox is a lofty goal and has promising implications. Likewise HoloLens, Microsoft's virtual reality headgear, is a worthy attempt to create new capabilities, though its success remains to be seen. The move to provide interfaces that will let Android and iOS developers extend their apps to Windows -- and vice versa -- raised eyebrows this week. It could be a last-ditch effort to save Windows Phone from fading to obscurity but even if it can't save Microsoft's struggling smartphone, UWP could still be a hit in other ways.

In short, UWP will support everything from legacy Win32 apps in the new Windows Store to Web, Android and iOS apps. Michael Domingo, editor-in-chief- of Redmond magazine sister publication Visual Studio Magazine is at the Build conference this week. Domingo explained the various tools that will create these bridges. Among them Project Astoria is the Android runtime bridge, which can be used from the Android Studio IDE to refactor Android app code for the Windows 10 platform. It will include a Windows emulator, and is supposed to allow for debugging and testing of apps from either the Android IDE or Visual Studio IDE. The new Project Islandwood toolkit is an iOS bridge for developing from Objective C. Myerson demonstrated some of the progress his group has made with the tool, showing the ability to debug and test Xcode from within the Visual Studio IDE. Project Centennial is aimed at Windows developers who want a shortcut for recasting current .NET and Win32 Windows apps for the newer Windows Store.

"Windows 10 is going to enable you to reuse your Web code, your .NET and Win32 code, your Android, Java and C++ code, to build amazing new applications, bringing the code over, extending it, putting it in the Windows Store and reaching 1 billion Windows 10 customers," said Terry Myerson, executive vice president and leader of Microsoft's Windows team, in Wednesday's opening keynote at Build, held in San Francisco. Likewise, "you will be able to compile the same Objective C code that's being used in iOS applications within Visual Studio on Windows, enabling you to leverage that code and extend it with the capabilities only found on the Windows platform."

David Treadwell, a corporate VP for operating systems at Microsoft, yesterday demonstrated how Windows 10 will provide a bridge for the Universal Windows Platform and store.  "Apps written to these classic platform technologies will be able to be packaged and deployed with AppX," Treadwell said. "You'll get the same fast, safe, trusted deployment as apps written to the Universal Windows Platform."

Critics were quick to question how well Android and iOS apps will work on UWP, particularly Windows Phone. "Okay programmers, what do you get when you run something in emulation?" asked blogger Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols , on a ZDNet post. "That's right. You get slow performance."

Vaughan-Nichols, an expert on the open source community and Microsoft critic, had a more fundamental question: "If you're a Windows Phone or RT developer, may I ask why?" pointing to its below 4 percent and falling market share. "Microsoft has handed the keys to the Windows Mobile kingdom to Android and iOS programmers. Whether those developers will bother with it is another question. After the first flush of excitement, they too will face considerable technical and market problems getting their apps profitably on Windows. I think Microsoft is making a desperate play to stay relevant in the mobile space with its own operating system and it's one that's destined to fail."

Key to disproving the Vaughan-Nichols theory will be the ability to bridge these apps with ease, agility, speed and with no degradation in performance. Now that Microsoft has built it, will the developers come?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/01/2015 at 12:18 PM0 comments

Microsoft Build: 1 Billion Devices Predicted To Run Windows 10 In Next Few Years

Microsoft believes its new Windows 10 operating system will find its way onto 1 billion PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox gaming consoles and emerging device form factors like its HoloLens by fiscal year 2018, which begins in just over two years. Terry Myerson, executive vice president for Microsoft's Windows group, made the bold prediction in part of the opening keynote presentation at the annual Build conference which kicked off today in San Francisco.

But convincing developers to build applications for the new Universal Windows platform and its application store will be critical if Microsoft can achieve that goal. By providing a common code base for different form factors, Microsoft believes it will have an appealing reason for customers to embrace Windows 10.

In opening remarks, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made the case for Windows 10. "Windows 10 represents a new generation of Windows built for an era of more personal computing from Raspberry Pi (the low-cost touch-based device) to the holographic computer," Nadella said.

"Universal Windows apps are going to enable you to do things you never thought were possible," Myerson said. "With Windows 10 we are targeting the largest device span ever. We're talking about one platform -- a single binary that can run across all these devices." While Microsoft has talked up that theme for some time, Myerson announced four key developments that could further embolden Windows to developers and consequently millennials who tend to gravitate to other computing and device platforms.

Perhaps most noteworthy is the ability to port application code for iOS and Android to the new Universal Windows platform. Windows Phones will include an Android subsystem where an app can be written, but the extensions to Windows will enable Android apps to be extended to Windows, Myerson said. Developers will be able to bring the code over, extend it and put it in the Windows Store, "reaching 1 billion Windows 10 customers," he said.

Myerson also announced developers will be able to compile the same Objective C code used to build Apple iOS apps for iPhones and iPads within Visual Studio on Windows, "enabling you to leverage that code and use capabilities only found on Windows platform. "

Addressing the issue of legacy Windows applications, Myerson announced the new Universal Windows apps by letting developers reuse server-hosted code and tools. "Developers will be able to give Web sites live tiles, integrate with Xbox Live and more," Myerson said. Developers can also now enable Cortana notifications, he noted.

Microsoft is also adding support for .NET and Win32 apps into the Windows Store, enabling these apps to take advantage of all of the Universal Windows platform capabilities. It does so using the learnings from Microsoft's App-V technology that lets developers run their applications in virtual environments. Adobe said its Photoshop Elements and Illustrator will be available in this environment.  

The ability to run iOS, Android, legacy Win32 and .NET code could address key barriers to Windows but what will ultimately make Windows 10 fly is the ability to deliver capabilities not currently available. Much of that is now in, or coming into, the hands of developers.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/29/2015 at 2:06 PM0 comments

Bugs in New Windows 10 Preview Could Test Your Patience

Testing beta software is always fraught with unexpected challenges but the new Windows 10 Technical Preview Build 10061, released last week, might test your patience. If you've already downloaded it, you know what I mean. If you're not on the "fast ring" release cycle of the Windows Insider program and haven't seen it, prepare to roll up your sleeves.

Microsoft gave a heads up to some of the bugs that are always present when we agree to test beta software. None of the problems seems insurmountable. The most obvious issue is if you use Win32 apps, including Microsoft Office, they won't launch from the Start Menu. Microsoft was aware of this when it released the new preview but wanted to showcase the new features and tweaked look.

There's an easy fix for this problem, as Gabe Aul, chief of the Windows Insider program, explained in last week's blog post announcing the release. "We know this one will be a bit painful but there is a bug with this build in which Win32 (desktop) apps won't launch from the Start Menu," he explained. "The workaround is to use search to find and launch these apps and pin them to your taskbar for quick access." Once you do that, launching applications will be fine.

If you liked using Microsoft's new browser, code-named Project Spartan, it'll appear they pulled it from the Technical Preview along with the beta of the new Windows Store. Both are still there -- you just have to find them and "repin them to your Taskbar from All apps on your Start Menu," Aul said.

Despite some of these issues, Microsoft wanted to showcase some of the newest features coming to Windows 10. Among them, according to Aul, are:

Start Menu allows users to resize

  • Black theme across Start Menu, TaskBar and Action Center
  • Taskbar optimized for tablets. In tablet mode the size of the Start button, Cortana and Task View buttons increases making them optimized for touch
  • Boot-to-tablet mode is the default setting for tablets smaller than 10 inches
  • Virtual desktops: Users can now create as many as they need

Fixes from previous build include:

  • Hyper-V now works
  • Visual Studio won't crash when creating Universal Apps
  • Project Spartan browser bugs repaired

What's your reaction to the latest Windows 10 build?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/27/2015 at 12:55 PM0 comments

AWS Is Surprisingly Profitable: Now What?

It's been a long time coming for investors who have grown increasingly impatient with the drag its cloud computing business has imposed on profits but the company last week gave them some good news. Under pressure to give a more detailed breakdown of revenues and profitability of its Amazon Web Services subsidiary, the company caved and promised it would share that information commencing with last week's Q1 2015 earnings report.

In its first disclosure on AWS, Amazon said its cloud computing subsidiary is a $5 billion business that's growing. Specifically, it posted $1.57 billion in revenue for the period, a 49% year-over-year increase. Based on analyst estimates that would put AWS on a $6 billion run rate, according to Redmond's new sister site AWSInsider. The most surprising revelation from Amazon's earnings report was that AWS is profitable. AWS had a margin of 17 percent. Macquarie Analyst Ben Schachter told The Wall Street Journal that AWS "is significantly more profitable than we expected." 

Noting the 15% jump in the company's stock on the news, Finro Equity Analyst Lior Ronen today was among a number of others suggesting that Amazon spin off AWS. In a Seeking Alpha blog post Ronen said based on AWS' $1.57 billion revenue for the quarter AWS segment is on a $6.9 billion annual revenue run rate, based on 11% quarterly growth. Assuming a price-to-sales ratio ranging from 7 to 10, AWS is worth between $48 billion and $69 billion, Ronen predicted.

"By spinning AWS, Amazon will be able to create two tech giants -- one focused on e-commerce and online retail business and the other on cloud computing and IaaS services," he said. "Amazon could leverage the two companies to create a whole that is bigger the sum of its parts: AWS could focus on its niche, develop new revenue streams, and invest further in its technology, while Amazon could do the same on its e-commerce platform. That is the only way Amazon could create a sustainable growth for the long term and employ the advantages it has in both businesses."

However Equity Analyst James Brumely was among those skeptical about AWS' long-term prospects. In a separate Seeking Alpha post, Brumely argued that as cloud services become more commoditized it will put pressure on future margins for AWS. Brumely also said that Google and Microsoft will continue to put pressure on Amazon. "Even as exciting as unexpected operating profits are for the Amazon Web Services (AWS) arm of the e-commerce giant, it doesn't change the fact that the company still lost money last quarter, nor does it change the fact that margins for AWS are more likely to continue to shrink rather than widen as cloud-computing continues to become commoditized," he said.

Furthermore, the 17% margin isn't as impressive as it seems, he argued, pointing to the fact that 291 of the companies in the Fortune 500 have operating profits of 15% or higher. More alarming, he said, is the fact that its 17% margin represents a marked decline from last year's profit of 23% during the same quarter.

"What happened?," he asked. "In simplest terms, Amazon (in a very Amazon-esque manner) has decided to become and remain the low-price leader with the cloud-storage world, and didn't worry about making much -- if any -- profit in the business. As turns out, it still made some operating profit as a cloud-computing provider, but it's making progressively, relatively less as time moves along."

The findings from Amazon's AWS stats may be vague but it's a noteworthy step not just for investors but for buyers of cloud infrastructure services who -- while looking to bet the best deal possible -- surely don't want to see their provider lose money indefinitely. And just as competitors tend to respond to pricing moves of one another, it'll be interesting to see if Microsoft, Google, IBM and others follow suit.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/27/2015 at 7:50 AM0 comments

Azure, Hyper-V and Spartan Browser Added to Microsoft's Bug Bounties

Microsoft is extending its bug bounty program, which pays up to $100,000, to include Azure, Hyper-V and the new Project Spartan browser that will be included in the new Windows 10 operating system.

Microsoft's bounty program has existed for several years and had already provided awards for detecting flaws in Internet Explorer and Office 365. Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich announced the addition of its cloud service, Hyper-V and Project Spartan to the bounty program at this week's RSA Conference in San Francisco. Among his three talks at the RSA Conference was an overview of the security of the Azure cloud service where he made the announcement at the end of his presentation.

"We want to make sure we don't have attacks discovered on Hyper-V before we do, so we're asking now for researchers to be there so we can get on top of them before attackers can take advantage of them," Russinovich said. "It's showing that we really want to keep our systems secure and make sure that the good guys aren't encouraged to go take their information and do evil with it but rather help everybody get some incentive like this."

Bounties for fixes that cover known flaws range from $500 to $15,000 and Microsoft will pay up to $100,000 for a mitigation bypass to any of the company's isolation technologies. It also offers $50,000 BlueHat bonuses for discovery and mitigation of zero-day vulnerabilities. Jason Shirk of the Microsoft Security Response Center said in a blog post Wednesday  that the bounty extension will include Azure virtual machines, Azure Cloud Services, Azure Storage and Azure Active Directory, among others. The bounty will also cover, the preview of Microsoft's new social network for sharing information. Shirk said Microsoft is only offering the bounty for Project Spartan through June 22.

Stephen Sims, a security researcher at the SANS Institute said Microsoft has paid handsomely for a number of discoveries, such as last year's $100,000 to Yang Yu, who disclosed three exploit mitigation bypass techniques to the company. "My experience with MSRC is they're kind of a pain, they're not very friendly about it but it is good that they have that program setup," Sims said. "But they do pay if you can prove to them without a doubt. If you can find one bug, it's a year's salary, potentially."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/24/2015 at 12:13 PM0 comments

RSA Encryption Inventors Lament Its Use for Ransomware

When the developers of the original RSA encryption algorithms built what has become the mainstream means of encrypting and decrypt data, it wasn't lost on them that some bad guys might also find malicious uses for it as well. Two of its inventors yesterday said they were alarmed at the use of encryption for ransomware, which has become a pervasive way of gaining access to users' PCs and enterprise servers using increasingly more sophisticated social engineering and phishing techniques.

"As a security threat, encrypting ransomware has flown beneath the radar of many IT departments. It emerged as a consumer problem and at smaller companies and agencies," said Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist at Cryptography Research, who once again moderated this year's Cryptography Panel at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. "Many IT admins, unfortunately, write off the potential for ransomware incidents as unavoidable end-user errors that merit a slap on the wrist, but can't be helped. But all evidence suggests the problem isn't going away."

Given two of the panelists invented many of what are now the RSA algorithms used in today's encryption methods -- Adi Shamir, a professor at the Weizmann Institute  in Israel, and MIT Professor Ronald Rivest -- Kocher asked them for their perspective on their use for ransomware.

"As the inventor of one of the algorithms, I sort of feel like the mother whose son has been brainwashed and he's off to become a Jihadist in Syria somewhere," Rivest said. "I think that ransomware is one of those areas where our community failed in a particularly miserable way," Shamir added. "There are good security programs you can use in order to protect yourself from this ransomware."

Shamir said he fears the worst is yet to come as the Internet of Things enables homes and businesses to become more connected. "Think about your TV being ransomware'd stopping to work, with a big display that you have to pay in to get the TV service back," Shamir said. "I think it's a very serious problem. It's going to stay with us and we really have to think about new techniques to stop it."

Shamir also noted that because systems can be infected silently for weeks or months before a user is aware of it, backing up files also won't solve the problem. "Eventually your files on the backup are going to be the encrypted files," he said. "This is a huge issue of the correctness of backed up data, which is a major problem."

This month's Redmond magazine cover story looked at the continued impact of ransomware on consumers and enterprises alike. Panelist Ed Giorgio a cryptographer and security expert said the malicious use of encryption is just part of the problem. "Ransomware is not just about encrypting your data so you don't have access to it, in order to do ransomware you have to first penetrate somebody's computer, then you have some sort of an exploit," Giorgio said. "But as we all know, criminals are very innovative and once they penetrate your file, they will find other things in your computer they can blackmail you for. Even if we do solve the loss of data problem, ransomware will still be around.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/22/2015 at 12:16 PM0 comments

RSA's New Leader To Tackle Rapidly Shifting Security Landscape

This is not your father's RSA. That was the message the company's new president, Amit Yoran, effectively gave in the opening keynote on Tuesday at the annual RSA Security Conference in San Francisco attended by more than 30,000 IT security professionals. While it's hosted by RSA, a subsidiary of EMC known for its development of the industry standard RSA public key cryptography algorithm, the conference is an industry event with participation by its partners and competitors alike.

While focusing his keynote on issues that plague security professionals, it set the stage for changes Yoran is planning for the company he took the reins of last year from longtime President Art Coviello, who recently retired. "We're reengineering RSA across the board to enable us to deliver on this vision," Yoran said toward the end of his address. "This time next year, we won't be the same RSA you have known for decades."

Yoran didn't use his keynote to explain how he plans to remake RSA. But at a gathering of press and analysts a day earlier in brief remarks he indicated a move away from RSA's original SecureID strong authentication token platform. Addressing the current risk factors, which extend beyond enterprise perimeters thanks to the growing ubiquity of public and hybrid cloud services, he noted the launch of its new Via identity management product line and extensions to RSA Security Analytics.

RSA described its new Via portfolio as the first smart identity tools that use contextual awareness instead of static rules such as traditional passwords to single sign-on access to systems. The first in the portfolio, RSA Via Access, is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering that offers step-up authentication using mobile devices to provide single sign-on access. The portfolio also includes RSA Via Governance, built on its identity management and governance platform acquired by Aveksa, which provides views into access privileges, automates user access and flags orphan user accounts and inappropriate user access, according to the company. Also built on its Aveska acquisition is the new Via Lifecycle, a user provisioning platform.

The other major area of emphasis for the company is the extended capabilities of RSA Analytics. Based on RSA's 2011 acquisition of NetWitness, which Yoran led as CEO at the time, the company is launching a new release of RSA Analytics that will focus on extending visibility from the endpoint to the cloud. And that gave Yoran fodder for much of his talking points in his opening keynote.

Referring to the 2014 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report that found less than 1 percent of successful advanced threat attacks were spotted by SIEM systems, he argued his call for change. "We're still clinging to our old maps," he said. "It's time to realize that things are different."

Given existing defense mechanisms are not sufficient in and of themselves these days, he believes analytics will be key to proactively identifying attacks. "We must adopt a deep and pervasive level of true visibility everywhere, from the endpoint to the network to the cloud, if we have any hope of being able to see the advanced threats that are increasingly today's norm," he said.

The Stuxnet, Equation Group and Carbanak intrusions are a handful of examples he pointed to. "One of the defining characteristics across all of them is their stealthy nature," he said. "Until written about they were virtually undetectable because they bypassed traditional defenses. Even now many organizations operate completely blind as to whether they are victim to these published techniques. Traditional forms of visibility are one-dimensional, yielding dangerously incomplete snapshots of an incident, let alone any semblance of understanding of an attack campaign. Without the ability to rapidly knit together multiple perspectives on an attack, you'll never fully understand the scope of the overall campaign you're facing."

Arguing he wasn't hawking his products, Yoran said "I'm not just standing up here and saying 'buy RSA gear.' I'm the first to admit that we need to go further than what is available today. We're on a journey to full visibility. Our environments, business practices and adversaries continue to evolve and so must we."

As I said, this is not your father's RSA.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/21/2015 at 2:19 PM0 comments

Microsoft Shuts Down Open Source Subsidiary

Microsoft late last week said it's shutting down the MS Open Tech subsidiary it formed three years ago to invest in open source initiatives and will absorb it into the company. The company announced the formation of Microsoft Open Technologies Inc. in April 2012, staffed with an interoperability strategy team in Redmond that aimed at accelerating its push into the open source community.

In a blog post late Friday, MS Open Tech's president Jean Paoli said the independent organization accomplished what it set out to do and the time is right to bring its people and efforts back into Microsoft. "MS Open Tech has reached its key goals, and open source technologies and engineering practices are rapidly becoming mainstream across Microsoft," Paoli said. "It's now time for MS Open Tech to rejoin Microsoft Corp., and help the company take its next steps in deepening its engagement with open source and open standards."

The move is hardly surprising. In the past year, Microsoft has extended its push into the open source community more than most ever would have expected. Not that Microsoft is positioning itself as an open source company but it in some way supports every major initiative and has made contributions once unthinkable including its .NET Framework. Mark Russinovich, CTO for Azure, earlier this month raised eyebrows when raising the specter of Microsoft open sourcing Windows saying "it's definitely possible."

"Open source has become a key part of Microsoft's culture," Paoli said in his Friday post. "Microsoft's investments in open source ecosystems and non-Microsoft technologies are stronger than ever, and as we build applications, services, and tools for other platforms, our engineers are more involved in open source projects every day. Today, Microsoft engineers participate in nearly 2,000 open source projects on GitHub and CodePlex combined."

Paoli also noted that Microsoft has brought "first-class support" to Linux and Azure, partnered with Docker to integrate its containers to enable support on Azure and Windows, built Azure HDInsight on Apache Hadoop and Linux and created developer support for open platforms and languages including Android, Node.js and Python. In addition to deep support for Docker, Paoli pointed to integration with other key environments, both open and competing proprietary platforms, notably iOS. Among other projects he noted were contributions to Apache Cordova, Cocos2d-x, OpenJDK, and dash.js, support for  Office 365 on the Moodle learning platform and collaboration on key Web standards including HTML5, HTTP/2 and WebRTC/ORTC.

As Microsoft absorbs MS OpenTech, it will create the Microsoft Open Technology Programs Office, according to Paoli. "Team members will play a broader role in the open advocacy mission with teams across the company," he said. "The Programs Office will scale the learnings and practices in working with open source and open standards that have been developed in MS Open Tech across the whole company. Additionally, the Microsoft Open Technology Programs Office will provide tools and services to help Microsoft teams and engineers engage directly with open source communities, create successful Microsoft open source projects, and streamline the process of accepting community contributions into Microsoft open source projects."


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/20/2015 at 11:17 AM0 comments

Docker Client for Windows Released 

Microsoft's efforts to support containers in Windows took another step forward yesterday with the release of the Docker Client for Windows. The release of Microsoft's Docker command-line interface for Windows comes with Docker's updated container platform, dubbed Docker 1.6.

It comes after an active week for Docker, which on Tuesday received a huge equity investment of $95 million, which the company said it will use in part to further its collaborations with partners including Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and IBM. Microsoft also just announced that Docker containers are coming to Hyper-V and for Windows Server.

"Docker Client for Windows can be used to manage Docker hosts running Linux containers today, and managing Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers will be supported in the future to provide the same standard Docker Client and interface on multiple development environments," wrote Ahmet Alp Balkan, a software engineer for Azure Compute at Microsoft. Microsoft and Docker have collaborated to port the Docker Client to the Windows environment in Docker's open source project, which you can see on GitHub."

Balkan also noted that IT pros will be able to find Windows Server Container Images in the Docker Hub among the 45,000 Docker images for Linux already available, a figure he noted continues to grow. IT pros and developers can download the Docker Client for Windows via the Chocolatey package manager or they can install Boot2Docker, which creates a Docker development environment within a virtual machine, Balkan noted.

The new Docker 1.6 includes a new container and labels that let IT pros and developers attach user-defined metadata to containers and images within various tools, Docker said. Also the new Docker Registry and API, along with the Docker 1.6 Engine boasts improved reliability and performance.

Docker's updated Compose 1.2 tool, designed for running complex applications, reduces repeatable processes.  The release also includes the Swarm 0.2 clustering component, which the company said turns a pool of Docker hosts into one virtual host. The updated release includes a new spread strategy for scheduling containers, more Docker commands supported, the ability to add more clustering drivers and support for more Docker commands such as pulling and inspecting images.

Finally, Docker added Machine 0.2, which the company said has an improved driver interface, more reliable provisioning and the ability to regenerate TLS certificates to ensure better security when a host's IP address changes.

Posted on 04/17/2015 at 1:03 PM0 comments

Microsoft Pushes To Further Distance Itself from AWS

Ask most people what companies are Microsoft's biggest rivals and some will say Apple but most will identify Google. Several published reports even point to powers in Redmond as a key force behind regulators coming down on the search giant this week. IT pros may throw VMware and Red Hat in the mix of major Microsoft competitors but its neighbor Amazon Web Services is right up there having launched its famous cloud infrastructure services years ahead of Microsoft. Even the entry of Azure got off to a slow start, lacking a complete infrastructure service to rival the offerings of AWS.

Microsoft talked up the kink in the armor last year when Amazon shocked investors with heavier-than-expected losses, due primarily to its investments in AWS. Anyone who knows Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is aware he's not going to throw in the towel on AWS that quickly, though there are some who'd like to see him agree to spin off the cloud business into a separate company. But Bezos' rationale around AWS was always to let the two businesses feed off each other.

Proponents of a divestiture could be buoyed or deflated depending on what Amazon's numbers look like when it reports next week but, to date, history is not on its side. While we've reported on gains by Microsoft, IBM and numerous others at the expense of AWS, by no means is it game over for Amazon, which continues to crank out new offerings on a weekly basis. Consider over the past week when AWS held one of its regional summits, this one in San Francisco. The company pointed to the fact that software partners continue to extend support for AWS' services, simplified its Amazon Machine Learning service, announced its new new Elastic File Storage service and has extended its burgeoning Amazon WorkSpaces offering.

Rarely does a week go by when where isn't something new coming out from what is still the largest provider of infrastructure services, which is why Redmond parent company 1105 Media has launched the new AWSInsider site, which debuted this week. This new sister site is a welcome addition to our portfolio, but in no way will diminish the way Redmond covers AWS for Microsoft-focused IT pros. Rather it only promises to enhance it.

The timing couldn't be better as AWS Furiously Fights off Cloud Competitors. And it's number one antagonist and Pacific Northwest rival Microsoft is about to step up that battle in the coming weeks at its Build conference in two weeks and Ignite in early May. In a preview leading up to Microsoft's big splash,  Jeffrey Snover, lead architect for the Windows Server division, last week talked about six key sessions he'll be participating with the likes of Azure CTO Mark Russinovich, where they'll talk about the company's datacenter vision moving forward, which includes the combination of new versions of Windows Server, System Center, and Azure. A key component will go deep on how this new datacenter vision extends its hybrid cloud platform, aka Cloud OS, with new levels of automation aided by PowerShell's Desired State Configuration and support for containers.

It will be interesting to see how the new offerings coming from not only Microsoft and AWS but all of the major players as well as the lesser known ones, who will also play a key role in how organizations view and procure IT in the future.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/16/2015 at 1:19 PM0 comments

European Union Accuses Google of Violating Antitrust Laws

The European Union has once again thrown the gauntlet down on Google, this time charging the company with violating antitrust laws by using its dominance in search by favoring its own comparison shopping service at the expense of others. The EU is also launching a separate investigation to see if Google has used its clout as the dominant supplier of mobile phone software to hold back providers of competing mobile operating systems, namely Apple and Microsoft. Google denied both allegations.

Regarding the charges that it skews results in its search engine to benefit its own shopping comparison service, the EU charged that "Google gives systematic 'favourable' treatment to its comparison shopping product (currently called 'Google Shopping') in its general search results pages, e.g. by showing Google Shopping more prominently on the screen."

Google diverts traffic from competing comparison shopping services obstructing their ability to compete, said the EU complaint.

"The Commission is concerned that users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries -- this is to the detriment of consumers, and stifles innovation," it said in a statement. The EU wants Google to operate its own comparison shopping services the same as it treats those of rivals. Google has 10 weeks to respond, at which point the EU will hold a formal hearing.

In response to that allegation, Google said in a blog post it has plenty of competitors and argued its own offerings are often underdogs. "Indeed if you look at shopping -- an area where we have seen a lot of complaints and where the European Commission has focused in its Statement of Objections -- it's clear that (a) there's a ton of competition (including from Amazon and eBay, two of the biggest shopping sites in the world) and (b) Google's shopping results have not harmed the competition," Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search, said in a blog post. "Companies like Facebook, Pinterest and Amazon have been investing in their own search services and search engines like Quixey, DuckDuckGo and Qwant have attracted new funding. We're seeing innovation in voice search and the rise of search assistants -- with even more to come."

As for Android, the EU said it's investigating whether or not Google has violated antitrust regulations by thwarting development of mobile applications to other operating system providers by providing incentives to smartphone and tablet suppliers to install Google's apps and services exclusively. "Distribution agreements are not exclusive, and Android manufacturers install their own apps and apps from other companies as well," said Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google's VP of engineering for Android, in a blog post addressing the investigation. "And in comparison to Apple -- the world's most profitable (mobile) phone company -- there are far fewer Google apps preinstalled on Android phones than Apple apps on iOS devices."

Do you feel the EU has a case or are the latest charges just a witch hunt?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/15/2015 at 11:30 AM0 comments

Docker Founder: 'We've been Given a Mandate To Build Something'

Investors are so bullish about how Docker is poised to play a major role in the future of enterprise IT infrastructure and software development that they filled its coffers with $95 million in D Series funding. Docker, regarded as the leading provider of containers for enterprise developers to build service oriented, scalable and portable software, took the huge cash infusion even though the provider of containers hasn't used up last fall's most recent infusion of $40 million.

The company's meteoric rise in just two years has quickly garnered support by enterprise IT heavyweights including Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, VMware and IBM. Not only does Docker aspire to make operating systems and virtual machines much less relevant but it wants to make it possible for developers to build software without regard to the OS or public cloud provider, with the ability to scale with or without a virtual machine. The company claims that the Docker platform shrinks software development times from weeks to minutes and drives 20x improvements in computing resource efficiency.

Docker says it has logged 300 million downloads of instances for its Docker Hub hosted offering and 15 large Fortune 50 companies are now testing its forthcoming Docker Hub Enterprise offering. More than 1,200 open source developers have contributed to the Docker platform, according to the company. David Messina, Docker's VP of marketing, said on a conference call with journalists that the company plans to use the proceeds of the $95 million to expand the orchestration, networking storage and security features of the Docker platform and build on the APIs that enable extensions to platforms from partners like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM.

"I think we've been given a mandate to build something and clearly there's a community of people who are very excited about what we've built so far," said Docker founder and CTO Solomon Hykes, speaking during the conference call. "The expectations are extremely high, almost impossibly high. Our goal is to build a universal tool. Very specifically we're trying to solve fundamental problems that affect all applications, and although at any given time the implementation is limited in its scope. For example most obviously you can only run applications in Docker if they can run in Linux, but over time we're working to expand that scope, and the most dramatic example is our partnership with Microsoft."

Docker's partnership with Microsoft, launched in May and extended in October, is significant. The next version of Windows Server, code-named "v.Next," will ship with native support for containers and with a ported version of Docker that will support Windows container technology, Hykes noted. Microsoft last week said it will release the next technical preview of Windows Server next month.

"As a developer in an enterprise, you'll be able to develop, build and test applications using Docker's standard tooling and interfaces for both Linux and Windows environments," Hykes said. The notion of using Docker containers is that developers can build applications for .NET, Java and modern programming languages that are portable and scan scale without requiring huge investments in virtualization. 

More Lightweight and Faster than a VM

"The first thing that happens when people play with containers in their development projects is it looks like a VM but faster and more lightweight and consuming less memory. And those are all true," Hykes said. "Several years before Docker existed, a common, wisdom among [IT pros and developers] was a container was just that: smaller, more lightweight, a faster VM. The fundamental difference between Docker and other lower-level container tools is simply we disagree. We think containers and VMs are fundamentally different. They operate at different levels of the stack and as a result they are not mutually exclusive. You can use containers with VMs, you can use containers without VMs, directly on bare metal, and we're seeing organizations do both."

Currently most customers aren't using Docker containers to replace virtual machines, Hykes said, emphasizing the notion that containers are designed to ensure existing infrastructure and applications don't require change.

"Typically what we've seen is the way developers reason about containers is not as a possible replacement for VMs, but as an additional layer on top of their infrastructure, which allows them to pick and choose the best infrastructure for each job. [This] means it now becomes easier for an organization to use VMs where VMs make sense, to use bare metal when bare metal makes sense and, of course, to pick and choose between multiple physical machine providers and virtual machine providers and then layer on top of all these different parts of their infrastructure. On top of which they can express their applications. So the bottom line is containers are for applications and VMs are for machines."

To the point regarding the type of applications Docker containers are best suited, Hykes said they can be applied to any type. "Docker can be applied to any sort of application. Over time, I think we're seeing more and more practitioners grow comfortable with the technology, comfortable with the best practices and evolve from the original pilot project, which is typically a non-vital project and gradually trust Docker with projects of larger and larger magnitude."

Messina said the appeal of Docker Server and the forthcoming Docker Hub played a key role in Goldman Sachs and Northern Trust joining the parade of investors funding this new round. The two companies have used Docker for various development efforts and now these organizations are standardizing on Docker in their application lifecycle infrastructure," Messina said.

Insight Venture Partners led the round with new investments from Coatue, Goldman Sachs and Northern Trust. Also participating in the round were previous investors Benchmark, Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, Trinity Ventures and Jerry Yang's AME Cloud Ventures.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/14/2015 at 1:38 PM0 comments

Microsoft releases Skype for Business Client for Office 2013

Microsoft today as planned is releasing the Skype for Business client just weeks after introducing the Technical Preview. The company announced the release of the new Skype for Business as part of the Office 2013 April rollout. All Office 365 customers are scheduled to receive the update by the end of May.

Organizations not ready to let their users transition to the new Skype for Business client can allow administrators to switch back to the existing Lync interface, Microsoft said. The company posted instructions for how customers can roll back to the current Lync client, both for shops with Lync Online and those with Lync Server.

A new version of the Lync Server, to be called Skype for Business Server, is scheduled for release next month. Microsoft said in March that the new server edition will support high availability including support for the company's AlwaysOn capability included in SQL Server.

Skype for Business is the new phone and conference interface that replaces Lync and will bring the look and functions of Skype to Office. Microsoft claims that more than 300 million consumers use Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2011 for $8.5 billion, its largest acquisition to date. Now comes the litmus test on whether Microsoft will get bang for its buck. By integrating the enterprise features of Lync with the interface of Skype, Microsoft is hoping it can raise the profile of its communications technology among business and enterprise users.

Microsoft first indicated plans to integrate Lync with Skype and give it the Skype brand late last year and released the technical preview of the new Skype for Business client at last month's Convergence conference in Atlanta. Skype for Business represents Microsoft's latest effort to give it an even stronger foothold in universal communications, which it has long aspired to do. Microsoft introduced Lync nearly five years ago as a revamped iteration of its Office Communications Server.

The company is hoping that the familiarity and access to all of the 300 million users Microsoft claims Skype has will increase its appeal and usage both within businesses and among consumers. Microsoft says Skype for Business has "enterprise-grade security" and controls for compliance. Just like the existing Skype and Lync clients, the new Skype for Business provides IM, presence, voice and video calls and meetings. With this new release, Skype is integrated directly into Office.

In the new client, users can initiate and control calls from their Office contact lists. It also brings the Skype emoticons to discussions, improved file transfer including the ability to drag and drop, the ability to let recipients see file details including the file's size and name and it lets users take notes from within the clients via OneNote. It also includes the Skype call monitor.

How quickly do you see your organization using Skype for Business?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/14/2015 at 10:26 AM0 comments

Microsoft Challenges Court Order To Turn Over E-Mail in Dublin Datacenter

Microsoft last week filed a legal brief challenging a court order that is forcing the company to turn over a customer's e-mails stored in a foreign datacenter.

The brief, filed April 8 with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, seeks to argue last summer's court order that Microsoft must turn over the messages from the customer, who is suspected in an alleged drug-related matter. The identity of the suspect is not known and Microsoft said at the time of the ruling, which was upheld by Judge Loretta Preska, that it would appeal the order.

A number of major technology companies last year had filed briefs in support of Microsoft's appeal including Apple, AT&T, Cisco and Verizon, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noting that the outcome promises to set a precedent for all U.S.-based cloud providers storing data abroad.

"Settled doctrine makes this Court's job simple: Because laws apply only domestically unless Congress clearly provides otherwise, the statute is properly read to apply only to electronic communications stored here, just as other countries' laws regulate electronic communications stored there," according to the brief, which Microsoft published. "Even if the Government could use a subpoena to compel a caretaker to hand over a customer's private, sealed correspondence stored within the United States, however, it cannot do so outside the United States without clear congressional authorization."

Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, indicated in a blog post that he's confident the company will prevail. "As we stated in our brief, we believe the law is on the side of privacy in this case, he said. "This case is about how we best protect privacy, ensure that governments keep people safe and respect national sovereignty while preserving the global nature of the Internet."

Smith also argued that the feds are long overdue in evaluating electronic privacy laws. "While there are many areas where we disagree with the government, we both agree that outdated electronic privacy laws need to be modernized," he said. "The statute in this case, the Electronics Communications Privacy Act, is almost 30 years old, he noted. "That's an eternity in the era of information technology."

Those differences of course pertain around combatting criminal activities versus protecting privacy. Smith acknowledged that conflict but renewed his plea for the government to find a resolution. "Law enforcement needs to be able to do its job, but it needs to do it in a way that respects fundamental rights, including the personal privacy of people around the world and the sovereignty of other nations," he said. "We hope the U.S. government will work with Congress and with other governments to reform the laws, rather than simply seek to reinterpret them, which risks happening in this case."


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/13/2015 at 11:11 AM0 comments

PC Sales Decline Not as Bad as Expected

PC shipments have been on the decline. But if you want to look at the glass half-full, those declines aren't as bad as originally forecast.

IDC yesterday reported that 69 million PCs shipped for the first quarter of this year amounted to a 6.7 percent decline over the same period last year. Though that's the lowest number of PCs shipped for the quarter since 2009, this year's decline wasn't as sharp as IDC had originally forecast last fall when the market researcher had predicted volumes to drop by 8.2 percent.

The better-than-expected number -- if you do look at the glass half full -- came from a slower decline in the United States than other parts of the world, according to IDC Senior Research Analyst for PCs Rajani Singh. In the U.S. 14.2 million PCs shipped in the first quarter, a 1 percent decline over the same period last year, according to IDC. The strongest segment of growth was portables, notably in new categories such as new Bing PCs, Chromebooks, convertible PC-tablets and ultra-slim notebooks, according to IDC, which said desktop shipments were sluggish this quarter.

Gartner said desktop declines were in the double digits but figures won't be available for another few weeks, according to analyst Mikako Kitagawa. For its part, Gartner said it had forecast more moderate declines and it says shipments declined 5.2 percent. Gartner is also forecasting moderate PC growth for the years to come.

"The PC industry received a boost in 2014 as many companies replaced their PCs due to the end of Windows XP support. But that replacement cycle faded in the first quarter of 2015," Kitagawa said in a statement. "However, this decline is not necessarily a sign of sluggish overall PC sales long term. Mobile PCs, including notebooks, hybrid and Windows tablets, grew compared with a year ago. The first quarter results support our projection of a moderate decline of PC shipments in 2015, which will lead to a slow, consistent growth stage for the next five years."

The pending arrival should boost PC shipments later this year once Microsoft releases Windows 10, IDC's Singh stated. "Windows 10 should be a net positive as there is pent-up demand for replacements of older PCs," she noted. "Only part of the installed base needs to replace systems to keep the overall growth rate above zero for rest of the year."

Kitagawa in an e-mail said she doesn't anticipate the arrival of Windows 10 playing a significant role in an uptick of PC demand. "We don't expect Windows 10 will stimulate the demand, but will see shipment growth from supply side as manufactures will try to push the volume," she said. "If related marketing activities are visible enough, then it can draw buyers' attention, but it does not mean that it can increase the sales to the end users."

Both research firms also noted that the two largest PC providers, Lenovo and Hewlett Packard respectively, were the only suppliers to grow sales during the quarter. IDC said Lenovo with 19.6 percent share of the market, shipped 13.4 million PCs, an increase of 3.4 percent. HP's sales of just under 13 million systems were up 3.3 percent giving it a 19 percent share of the market. Dell, the No. 3 player, shipped 9.2 million PCs, a 6.3 percent decline giving it a 13.5 percent share.

Smaller PC vendors, defined as "others," accounted for a third of the market and saw their shipments decline 17.6 percent, according to IDC. Naturally that impacted their market share, which dropped from 38.4 percent to 33.9 percent. If that trend continues, expect to see the big get bigger and the rest of the market to be squeezed. One variable is whether HP will be able to maintain its scale after it splits into two companies.



Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/10/2015 at 12:40 PM0 comments

Microsoft Adds Hyper-V and Nano Server to List of Planned Containers

In a move Microsoft says will further advance container technology to more deployment scenarios and workloads and allow developers to build more scalable apps, too, Microsoft today said it will offer Hyper-V containers.

The introduction of Hyper-V containers comes just weeks before Microsoft plans to debut the preview of the next version of Windows Server, code-named "v.Next," which the company will demonstrate at its Build conference in San Francisco. As part of today's announcement, Microsoft also revealed plans to offer a container-based scaled down version of Windows Server called the Nano Server, aimed at modern, cloud-native applications. The latest report of the Nano Server under development surfaced last month.

Microsoft Hyper-V containers will offer a deployment option to running applications on Windows Server. The company announced last fall that the next version of Windows Server will support containers, which are lightweight runtime environments with many of the core components of a virtual machine and isolated services of an OS designed to package and execute so-called micro-services. However, while the addition of containers to Windows Server V.Next has been described before, the Hyper-V containers addition is something new.

Microsoft has previously described a partnership with Docker to ensure its containers could run in Windows Server environments. The move followed an earlier announcement in June 2014 to ensure that the Microsoft Azure public cloud could run Docker containers on Linux-based virtual machines. Microsoft has also indicated that Azure will support Docker's open orchestration APIs and Docker Hub images in the Azure Gallery and Portal.

The latest addition today of Hyper-V containers will offer a deployment option that offers extended isolation utilizing the attributes of not just the Windows operating system but Hyper-V virtualization, according to Mike Neil, Microsoft's general manager for Windows Server, in a blog post.

"Virtualization has historically provided a valuable level of isolation that enables these scenarios but there is now opportunity to blend the efficiency and density of the container model with the right level of isolation," Neil wrote. "Microsoft will now offer containers with a new level of isolation previously reserved only for fully dedicated physical or virtual machines, while maintaining an agile and efficient experience with full Docker cross-platform integration. Through this new first-of-its-kind offering, Hyper-V Containers will ensure code running in one container remains isolated and cannot impact the host operating system or other containers running on the same host."

The Hyper-V containers will support the same development and management tools as those designed for Windows Server Containers, Neil noted. Moreover, he said developers don't need to modify applications built for Windows Server Containers in order to run in Hyper-V containers.

And for modern application scenarios where Hyper-V and Windows Server would be overkill, Neil described the new Nano Server as "a minimal footprint installation option of Windows Server that is highly optimized for the cloud, including containers. Nano Server provides just the components you need -- nothing else, meaning smaller server images, which reduces deployment times, decreases network bandwidth consumption, and improves uptime and security. This small footprint makes Nano Server an ideal complement for Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers, as well as other cloud-optimized scenarios."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/08/2015 at 10:34 AM0 comments

Microsoft To Release Updated 'Windows Server 2016' Technical Preview Next Month

Microsoft late Friday issued a short reminder that the Windows Server preview released in October is set to stop working on April 15. A new preview is slated to arrive in May, the company announced.

The company will release a fix so that testers can continue using it between April 15th and the release of the second technical preview, according to the Windows Server blog. "If you would like to continue your evaluation, we will soon deliver a solution until the next preview is released in May," read the blog post. "We will update this blog with more information shortly."

Given it has taken seven months for Microsoft to release the second Windows Server Technical Preview, it'll be interesting to learn what major changes make it into the new build, especially after a panel discussion last week at ChefConf in Santa Clara when Microsoft Azure General Manager Mark Russinovich said it's "it's definitely possible" that Microsoft is considering making Windows an open source platform.

Windows Server 2016, as it is now called, is scheduled for release next year. The platform, including System Center, is undergoing a "deep refactoring," according to Jeffrey Snover, distinguished engineer for the Windows Server Group. As reported last month, Microsoft is aligning the components of each to create a more software-defined, cloud-optimized platform.

It'll also be interesting to see if the reported "Nano Server" edition of Windows Server will appear with the forthcoming technical preview, which will  be a smaller option to use than the Server Core option that currently exists in Microsoft's flagship Windows Server 2012 R2.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/06/2015 at 1:10 PM0 comments

Former Windows Chief Leads Investment Group in Security Startup

Andreesen Horowitz last week invested on an addition $52 million in security startup Tanium, adding on to the $90 million the Silicon Valley venture capital firm last year infused into the endpoint security provider. Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft's Windows group until his unceremonious departure more than two years ago, is now at Andreesen Horowitz and largely leading the firm's investment in Tanium.

Tanium claims its endpoint security platform is designed to provide near real-time visibility to cyber threats against the largest of organizations. The company's vision is to scale without degradation regardless of the size of the organization or number of endpoints. The Tanium platform has two key components: Endpoint Security and Endpoint Management. Endpoint Security provides threat detection, incident response, vulnerability assessment and configuration compliance and Endpoint Management performs patch management, software distribution, asset management and asset utilization reporting.

The company claims with the Endpoint Security component of its platform it can provide 15-second threat detection and remediation, can connect to key external threat intelligence feeds and supports open standards such as OpenIOC (the open framework for sharing threat intelligence contributed by Mandiant), Yara for creating signatures that identify malware families, the Structured Threat Information eXpression (STIX) language for describing threat information and Trusted Automated eXchange of Indicator Information (TAXII). The Endpoint Management component aims to provide accurate assessments of vulnerability by providing accurate visibility of all endpoint assets.

During a CNBC interview this week, Sinofsky, who sits on Tamium's board, described the company's addressable market as up to 1 billion endpoints and argued Tanium's approach to threat detection and systems management is broader than traditional security providers currently offer.

"It's broader than any one security company, or any one in the traditional area we used to call systems management," Sinofsky said. "What's incredible about Tanium is it takes a modern and novel innovative approach to the difference between what used to be the mundane task of inventory of just tracking your PCs with the network and edge detection of companies like Palo Alto Networks and FireEye, and the like land Symantec is kind of a legacy provider of endpoint protection -- the signature files, and malware. Tanium is all about 15-second response across a billion end points in the enterprise world."

The added $52 million, which brings up the total investment up to $142 million, has doubled Tanium's valuation bringing it up to $1.75 billion, according to reports. Sinofsky declined when asked by CNBC to confirm the reported valuations.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/03/2015 at 12:42 PM0 comments

Microsoft Turns 40 as Stock Drops to 40

The 40th anniversary of Microsoft's founding is tomorrow, April 4. And in a twist of irony, its stock closed yesterday at just a hair above $40 per share ($40.29 to be precise). While that's still higher than the $35 it was trading at when Satya Nadella succeeded Steve Ballmer, the stock has declined 20 percent since November.

Microsoft's history is among the most interesting growth stories of a company that started with nothing and rose into one of the world's most influential companies. It all started in 1975 when Paul Allen and Bill Gates were able to get its iteration of Basic for the Intel microprocessor-based MITS Altair up and running.

Certainly most Microsoft IT professionals and developers know the rich history behind that but for those who don't (or want to recap those interesting times), you can check out this seven-minute Channel 9 video which recaps some key milestones from 1975. Back then, a gallon of gas was 53 cents and Microsoft's revenues that year were $16,705. Microsoft enjoyed many years as the world's most-valued company until recent years when Apple overtook it -- aided by many mistakes made by Microsoft over the past decade.

Nevertheless since Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft's CEO just over a year ago, the company has remade itself, fully embracing open source and rival proprietary software and services and making mobility and cloud the core of everything it delivers. Nadella defined Microsoft as a "productivity and platforms" company. Investors cheered until January when the company forecasted a weaker outlook for the current quarter, leading to its current stock decline.

Most Wall Street analysts see the current decline as a hold on buying opportunity but there are a handful of skeptics. Among them is Goldman Sachs, which downgraded Microsoft to a Sell on Wednesday. Analyst Heather Bellini in a research note warned that the stock will sit at $38 per share over the next 12 months, below the consensus of $46.97. To be sure, this is a contrarian view but it's worth pointing out the headwinds she sees. Among them:

  • Microsoft was buoyed last year by the end of life of Windows XP and there's no equivalent issue that will force upgrades this year.
  • The free Windows 10 upgrades will impact Windows licensing revenue.
  • There's currently little room for lowering costs .
  • PC sales will remain flat.
  • Cloud licensing products such as Office 365 have much tighter margins than traditional software.

Bullish reports counter that Microsoft's strong commercial software business is gaining share and its cloud business, backed by strong Azure growth, is showing signs that it'll become a key cash cow in the future. Microsoft's tendency to exceed expectations has tempered some concerns over the lower guidance.

Noting both that the Goldman findings and bullish reports, Morningstar yesterday said it's holding its four-star rating of the company. "Microsoft remains a cash flow juggernaut," the report said. "Generating more than $26 million in free cash flow in the past fiscal year and with more than $85 billion in cash on its balance sheet, the technology powerhouse has the financial flexibility and resources to remake itself."

Microsoft's biggest challenge moving forward is to keep Windows successful, while attracting and retaining new talent that will help the company move into the future, as described by The Economist.

Many dread turning 40 while others relish the milestone. Microsoft appears to have moved passed its own mid-life crisis before turning 40, but time will tell.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/03/2015 at 9:49 AM0 comments

SharePoint Migration Provider Metalogix Acquires Rival MetaVis

Two leading suppliers of tools that enable migration from SharePoint Server to Office 365, OneDrive for Business and other cloud services are coming together. Metalogix, which also offers Exchange migration tools, today said it has acquired rival MetaVis for an undisclosed sum.

The deal not only eliminates a key rival for Metalogix but it facilitates the company's move to offer a richer set of cloud services tools. Among the MetaVis portfolio are SharePoint Migrator, Office 365 Migration and Management Suite and the Architect Suite, which will extend Metalogix's Content Matrix, Migration Expert, ControlPoint and SharePoint Backup tools.

"What's great is we were in the process of building out a fully integrated cloud solutions platform and MetaVis has exactly that, a very easy-to-install, agentless, simple cloud platform where we're able to combine our efforts," said Metalogix CEO Steven Murphy. "Now we're able to hit the market with a very nice, integrated migration suite which includes ongoing management with a focus on security and compliance administration, which are some really important issues."

With the pending arrival of SharePoint Server 2016, along with several older versions and the growing use of Office 365, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business, many organizations risk making key mistakes if they don't plan out their migrations and insure data is moved in a form that makes it usable once it's moved to a new target, especially if it's online. Maggie Swearingen, a SharePoint consultant at Proviti and a Redmond magazine contributor pointed this out in the April issue.

"As organizations consider a myriad of options from Microsoft, it becomes essential to have not only a long-term strategic technology vision -- but also a SharePoint migration and upgrade roadmap that's big on efficiency and low on cost," Swearingen wrote. "The sad reality is that many SharePoint migrations are considered failures by the organization and business even when the content successfully moves from point."

In her report, Swearingen pointed to five of the most popular SharePoint migration providers. In addition to Metalogix and MetaVis, they include AvePoint, Dell Software and Sharegate (of course Microsoft offers its own free tools).

"We think in a nutshell, this [merger of Metalogix and MetaVis] will solidify our stake as a leader in the migration and movement of content to the cloud -- Office 365 and other targets and this will just extend our range around compliance, security and administration," said Murphy.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/01/2015 at 11:59 AM0 comments

Microsoft's New Ignite Mega Conference Sold Out with 20,000 Attendees

If you were on the fence about attending next month's brand new Ignite conference, designed to bring together the former Tech-Ed, SharePoint Conference and other events into one mega show, you're too late. Microsoft says Ignite, slated for May 4-7 at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, is sold out.

According to the Web site Microsoft set up for Ignite, full conference passes are no longer available. But if you're just interested in attending the expo you can still get into that. A spokeswoman for Microsoft said that 20,000 attendees have registered for the inaugural Ignite conference. Ignite is targeted at enterprise IT pros and is expected to be the site where top executives outline the future of key products including Windows Server, System Center, Hyper-V, SharePoint Server and others.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is slated to kick off Ignite Monday May 4 with the opening keynote. Though it's a rebranded and expanded iteration of TechEd, many MVPs have raised concerns over the way Microsoft has organized sessions for the event. Among them is Redmond magazine Windows Insider columnist and Pluralsight author Greg Shield, who made no bones about his take on the event, saying in last month's column that "the company's next big event may be all flash and no substance."

Describing Ignite as the equivalent of a whitewashed corporate white paper, Shields pointed out, with help from his Pluralsight partner Don Jones, that instead of allowing people to propose outline for a session, Microsoft was looking for MVPs to nominate themselves and offer up three broad topics. "I'd been wondering why the newly rebranded Ignite removed the Ed in TechEd," Shields noted in his column. "Now, I think I know why. A tightly controlled and on-message event is a brilliant spectacle, but at the same time disingenuous. Select groups of trusted speakers make for a perfectly executed storyline, but at the cost of introducing new souls and their thoughts into the process."

While longtime TechEd speakers Jones and Shields won't be speaking at Ignite, they're not boycotting the show either. And apparently neither are 20,000 others.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/01/2015 at 11:49 AM0 comments

Project Spartan Browser Debuts with New Windows 10 Technical Preview

The first preview of Microsoft next-generation browser, code-named "Project Spartan," made its public debut yesterday. The Project Spartan browser is included with the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview build 10049. I downloaded the new build where Project Spartan made its presence known the first time I booted up Windows 10.

As promised last week, Internet Explorer 11 is included as a separate browser and is unchanged, deviating from an earlier plan to include Project Spartan's new EdgeHTML rendering engine, which the company argues is much faster, more secure and reliable. Microsoft claims that the new browser is better suited for modern apps than Internet Explorer. Project Spartan is said to lack Microsoft's legacy Trident rendering engine, but Microsoft has also suggested that Project Spartan will  have good compatibility with Web apps and intranet sites nonetheless. For organizations not seeing that compatibility, though, IE will still be around.

 "It is fast, compatible and built for the modern Web. Project Spartan is designed to work the way you do, with features enabling you to do cool things like write or type on a Web page," said Joe Belfiore , Microsoft corporate VP for operating systems, in a blog post. "It's a browser that is made for easy sharing, reading, discovery and getting things done online."

Project Spartan aims to deemphasize the fact that you're using a browser, effectively putting the user's focus on the content, Belfiore said. The new browser integrates with Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant built into Windows Phone 8.1 and introduced into the Windows 10 Technical Preview. When I highlighted text in a page Cortana guessed what I was looking for and rendered it alongside the page I was reading. It uses the Bing search engine to find information and it will be interesting to see if Windows 10 (with the new browser) gives a boost to Microsoft's search share, now dominated by Google.

The new Project Spartan browser also introduces a new feature called "inking," which lets users type or write with an electronic pen directly onto the Web page. You can make comments on a piece of the page and share it as a Web note either as an e-mail or onto social networks. It's similar to marking up a PDF file. Belfiore also pointed out that users can easily compile Web Notes and save them in Microsoft OneNote. In my quick test of that feature, it permitted ne to share the Web Note on Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and several other networks and apps such as Microsoft OneNote, though there was no obvious way to send it as an e-mail.

Also new in the Project Spartan browser are Reading Lists and Reading Views, designed to make it easier to put aside information from Web pages. It does so by letting you save any Web page or PDF into a Reading List for easy access at a later time. I saved a file to a reading list which in a way combines the function of Favorites and Web browsing histories, except you choose what's key to that history and can organize it accordingly.

At first glance, the browser does appear to render pages faster and introduces some useful new features. As for Cortana, that relationship is yet to take off. Every time I have tried to speak with her has resulted in a response in effect "try again later."

Have you downloaded the new build and looked at Project Spartan? Share your observations.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/31/2015 at 1:34 PM0 comments

Microsoft Launches the Lighter, Thinner Surface 3

Microsoft today introduced its thinnest and lightest model to date of its Windows 8.1 tablet. The new Surface 3, which will appear at Microsoft's retail stores tomorrow, will weigh just 1.37 pounds and a paper-thin .34 inches.

The new $499 device will include a one-year Office 365 subscription and, in keeping with its free Windows 10 upgrade offer, it will be eligible for the new operating system once Microsoft releases it this summer. Powered with Intel's latest system-on-a-chip, quad-core Intel Atom x7 processor, Microsoft makes clear this device is not aimed at those engaging in compute-intensive tasks. It's more suited for everyday productivity such as e-mail, Web browsing and other traditional office purposes.

"If you do very demanding work -- things like editing and rendering video or complex 3D modelling -- then the power and performance of a Surface Pro 3 is for you," said Panos Panay, corporate VP for the Surface product line at Microsoft, in a blog post announcing the Surface 3. "If the majority of your work is less intense -- working in Office, writing, using the Internet (using IE, Chrome, or Firefox!), and casual games and entertainment, then you'll find that Surface 3 delivers everything you need."

Microsoft claims that the new Surface 3 will get 10 hours of battery life even when running video and the company also has eliminated its proprietary charger, instead offering support for a Micro USB charger. The Surface 3 comes with a 3.5 megapixel camera in front and its 8 megapixel rear-facing camera comes with a new autofocus feature.

Though running the low-power system-on-a-chip processor, Paney emphasized it can run 64-bit version of Windows 8.1. Pro, making it suitable for business users in addition to students. It will work with the Surface Pen, though that will cost extra, Microsoft said. Paney emphasized the Surface 3's appeal to enterprise users, noting customers including BASF, Prada and the University of Phoenix.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/31/2015 at 1:12 PM0 comments

IDC Forecasts Huge Growth for Wearable Devices

Many people remain skeptical that wearable computing and communications devices will grow at the pace of smartphones but growth this year is expected to double, according to a forecast released today by IT market research IDC.

Sales of "wristwear," which will account for 89.2 percent of all wearables, will grow from 17.7 million units in 2014 to 40.7 million this year, IDC is predicting. Wristwear, by IDC's definition, includes bands such as the Microsoft Band, bracelets and watches. Other types include clothing, eyewear, ear pieces and modular devices, accounting for the remaining 10.8 percent.

Wristwear capable of running third-party apps will account for the largest amount of new wearables sold, with 25.7 million predicted to sell this year. That's more than a 500 percent increase from the 4.2 million users bought last year. Next month's release of the Apple Watch will certainly play a big role in that growth. Other popular smartwatches include the Moto 360 and Samsung Gear watches will also contribute. But just as Apple kicked off the personal music player, smartphone and tablet markets, IDC predicts that the new Apple Watch will fuel the market for wrist-worn devices.

"Smart wearables are about to take a major step forward with the launch of the Apple Watch this year," said IDC Research Manager Ramon Llamas, in a statement. "The Apple Watch raises the profile of wearables in general and there are many vendors and devices that are eager to share the spotlight. Basic wearables, meanwhile, will not disappear. In fact, we anticipate continued growth here as many segments of the market seek out simple, single-use wearable devices."

The jury is still out on whether the Apple Watch and other devices like it will be a novelty, or if there is a killer app for these devices other than the convenience of being able to look at your e-mails and texts (and answer your phone). As I noted earlier this month, the Apple Watch doesn't have to be a hit right away but the apps available for it and others like it will have to offer a capability not available with smartphones today.

Do you see a killer app coming or is the current convenience alone enough to drive this new market?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/30/2015 at 12:07 PM0 comments

Microsoft Mandates Key Suppliers To Give Employees Paid Sick and Vacation Time

In a move that could broaden the discussion on income equality beyond gender, race and status, Microsoft will require its suppliers of contract workers to offer them paid vacation and sick time. The new policy, which applies to suppliers with 50 or more employees ranging from engineering and development staff to maintenance and security personnel at its numerous facilities, requires they offer either 10 days of paid vacation and five days of paid sick leave or 15 days of unrestricted paid time off.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, said yesterday in a blog post that employees in the U.S. who have worked at least nine months, or 1,500 hours, "who perform substantial work for Microsoft," will be eligible. It's unusual for a large U.S. company to issue what could amount to a costly stipulation for suppliers, but one long sought-after by proponents of fair pay and income equality  The move could lead other companies to enact similar benefits, a report in The New York Times today suggested.

The U.S. doesn't require paid sick leave and 43 million workers aren't offered it, according to the report. Consequently, many people are forced to come to work when they're sick, which often makes others sick and reduces productivity, Smith said in his blog post. Citing a University of Pittsburgh study, Smith said when an employee doesn't come to work when he or she has the flu, it reduced the risk of others catching it from that person by 25 percent and when taking two days off it reduced transmission of the virus by 39 percent.

Another survey, whose source he didn't identify, found only 49 percent of those in the bottom fourth of earners, receive paid time off.  "Lack of paid time off also has a disproportionate impact on minorities at a time when the tech sector needs to do a better job of promoting diversity," Smith noted.  We've long recognized that the health, well-being and diversity of our employees helps Microsoft succeed. Our commitment to them extends beyond the workplace."

While it isn't clear how many employees will benefit from the company's new mandate, Microsoft uses 2,000 outside suppliers who provide contract employees overall, according to The Times report. It surely is likely to raise the ire of those who have fewer employees or individuals who provide contract services to Microsoft. "We recognize that this approach will not reach all employees at all of our suppliers, but it will apply to a great many," Smith said in his blog post. "We've long recognized that the health, well-being and diversity of our employees helps Microsoft succeed. Our commitment to them extends beyond the workplace."

Some suppliers surely won't welcome the move as offering paid time off will be more costly for them. Smith indicated that Microsoft will work with them. "We also want to be sensitive to the needs of small businesses," Smith said. "For these reasons, we are going to launch a broad consultation process with our suppliers so we can solicit feedback and learn from them about the best way to phase in the specific details."

Whether or not Microsoft's move will lead other companies to enact similar policies remains to be seen. Employees working for a smaller company may feel further left out. But if you're a proponent of fairness in pay and compensation, this is a noteworthy step to further that goal.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/27/2015 at 12:46 PM0 comments

11 Device Makers Will Preinstall Office 365 Apps on Android

In its latest show of support for non-Windows hardware, Microsoft on Monday said that 11 device makers will preinstall key apps from its Office Suite onto the vendors' respective tablets and smartphones for consumers and business users. Leading the pack was Samsung, which said it will preinstall Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote on its tablets in the second half of this year. Microsoft said it will offer the apps via a new Microsoft Office 365 and Samsung Knox Business Pack.

Microsoft also said that Dell, along with original device manufacturer Pegatron, local device makers TrekStor from Germany, JP Sa Couto of Portugal, Italy's Datamatic, Russia's DEXP, Hipstreet of Canada, QMobile in Pakistan, Tecno from Africa and  Turkey's Casper, will preinstall the Office 365 components.

Samsung's latest move follows this month's news at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that the electronics giant will offer OneNote, OneDrive and Skype on the new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge smartphones. At the time, reports surfaced that a deal to offer Office 365 apps for Samsung's portfolio of Android devices with Samsung Knox Workspace security integration was in the works -- a scuttlebutt that came to fruition this week. Adding to its Galaxy phone announcement from earlier in the month, Microsoft said the devices will come with an additional 100GB of Microsoft OneDrive free storage for two years.

Microsoft said businesses and enterprises that buy Samsung devices through its channel partners will have a choice of three Office 365 plans: Business, Business Premium or Enterprise bundled with Samsung's Knox, the company's Android-based security platform. The agreement also covers support and setup services.

Samsung and the other 10 hardware providers will offer the preinstalled Office 365 capability later this year, according to Peggy Johnson, Microsoft's executive vice president for business development, hired by Microsoft CEO Nadella from Qualcomm six months ago. "These deals demonstrate how we are working with hardware partners in new ways to deliver rich experiences through their scale," she said in a blog post. "This is a big step forward for our cross-platform and cross-device services strategy, which will bring an array of Microsoft services to every person on every device."

While this is not a major technical breakthrough but rather a bundling deal, it's likely to attract those who buy Android tablets and smartphones that want to continue using Office to procure new subscriptions or keep users happy with their existing plans.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/24/2015 at 2:41 PM0 comments

Microsoft Simplifies Azure PaaS with Combined App Services

In a move aimed at making it more appealing for developers and business decision makers to use its cloud platform as a service (PaaS), Microsoft is bringing together its separate Azure app services into one complete offering.

Microsoft describes its new Azure App Service, now available, as a fully managed service which provides a simple way for developers to build apps that are customer facing. The new packaging effectively brings together three offerings that, until now, were disparate services -- Web sites, Mobile Services and Biztalk Services -- to easily integrate with SaaS and on-premises systems.

"It brings those together in new unified experiences," said Omar Khan, Microsoft's director of Azure engineering. "Developers are challenged with trying to connect all that data from these different systems into their apps. That's what App Service helps with. It helps developers integrate data from on-premises and from popular cloud services into their Web and mobile apps. And App Service also has new capabilities around allowing businesses to automate their business processes more easily, allowing them to be more agile."

Khan explained how the four offerings are coming together:

  • Web Apps: Online tools and templates that make it easy to build, deploy and scale apps that are customer facing, for employee productivity or partners.
  • Mobile Apps: Services that enable the tailoring of Web and other apps to key mobile platforms, notably iOS, Android and (of course) Windows.
  • BizTalk Apps: Also described as Logic Apps, Microsoft now has 50 connectors to popular SaaS and on-premises apps including Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, SAP, Facebook, Twitter and others.
  • API Apps: These provide the services to expose APIs with the three App Services so the other three app types -- Mobile Apps, Logic Apps and Web Apps -- can consume those APIs.

"API Apps allow you to take any existing API, whether it's an API in the cloud or an API on-premises, and project that into App Service adding some simple metadata," Khan said. "And in doing so it exposes a slider format, which is a popular format for describing APIs, and thus allowing the other app types to consume those APIs. API Apps also let you then project your own custom APIs into App Service."

The service essentially provides a JSON file to provide your API and you can load that into app service using Microsoft's standard publishing mechanism. "We support Git, so it's basically uploading a JSON file via Git, and then App Service can basically make those APIs available in a reasonable form. And then you can use them within the regular apps within App Service," he added.

Asked how the service connects to on-premises applications and systems, Khan explained that the BizTalk connectors address that.  "We have virtual networking in Azure that allows you to connect on-premises resources to the cloud," he said. "They also support hybrid connections which is a BizTalk capability that allows you to do app-to-app connection across firewalls. So these API Apps and the Oracle connector or the SAP connector, among others, utilize those connectivity options in Azure to connect to the on-premises resources and then there's a connector piece that you can run on premises that connects to that API App."

Microsoft is betting that, by providing this simplified services together, these will bring more applications to the Azure PaaS cloud service. But Microsoft today is also targeting the emerging developers who'll ultimately decide what platforms to build their applications on. Microsoft is now offering Azure for student developers, in which they can get free usage to learn how to build cloud-based mobile and Web apps using services such as the aforementioned Azure Apps and Azure Insights, which "gives students a 360-degree view across availability, performance and usage of ASP.NET services and mobile applications for Windows Phone, iOS and Android," wrote Microsoft's Steve "Gugs" Guggenheimer, in a blog post announcing the offering.

"Student developers are growing up in a world that requires them to leverage cloud services to deliver cool and modern experiences," Guggenheimer noted. "Microsoft Azure is a great fit for students because of its speed and flexibility enabling the creation and development of Web sites and Web apps. This new offer for students, available today in 140 countries, gives young developers access to the latest technology, allowing them to develop in or deploy sites and apps to the cloud, at no cost and with no credit card required."

In addition to Azure Apps and Azure Insights, Guggenheimer noted that the free offering lets students use Microsoft's Visual Studio Online.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/24/2015 at 2:46 PM0 comments

Free Windows 10 Upgrades for Pirates Still Not Genuine

Microsoft's announcement earlier this week that users of pirated versions of its PC operating system can also take advantage of its free Windows 10 upgrade offer has an important caveat: it's no more official than the bootlegged version.

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's operating systems group, made the head-scratching announcement during Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC)  this week in Shenzhen, China. Talking up Microsoft's January announcement that users of Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and Windows Phone could upgrade their systems to the new Windows 10, Myerson told Reuters: "We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10."

Microsoft's goal is to "re-engage" with the hundreds of millions of users of Windows in China, he told the news service, though he declined to elaborate. Given 90 percent of Microsoft software used in China alone is said to be pirated, that's a lot of free software. But that begs the question: why buy the software when you can get a bootlegged version for a fraction of the cost, if not free? Answering that question, Microsoft issued a statement which points out that if you're upgrading your pirated software, you still have an unlicensed version of Windows 10.

"We have always been committed to ensuring that customers have the best Windows experience possible," according to the statement. "With Windows 10, although non-genuine PCs may be able to upgrade to Windows 10, the upgrade will not change the genuine state of the license. Non-genuine Windows is not published by Microsoft. It is not properly licensed, or supported by Microsoft or a trusted partner. If a device was considered non-genuine or mislicensed prior to the upgrade, that device will continue to be considered non-genuine or mislicensed after the upgrade. According to industry experts, use of pirated software, including non-genuine Windows, results in a higher risk of malware, fraud (identity theft, credit card theft, etc.), public exposure of your personal information and a higher risk for poor performance or feature malfunctions."

By tapping China-based PC makers Lenovo, Qihu 360 and Tencent, Microsoft is hoping it'll convince customers to buy legitimate licensed versions of Windows.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/20/2015 at 11:38 AM0 comments

The Death of Internet Explorer in Name Only

When Microsoft talked up the company's next-generation browser, code-named "Project Spartan," at this week's Windows Convergence conference in Atlanta, the obituaries came pouring in for Internet Explorer. It flashed on the screen of CNBC, it was on every general news site and was talked about all over social media.

Perhaps those outside of IT hadn't heard about Project Spartan, which Microsoft began talking about in some detail back in January. Microsoft explained at the time that the new browser will contain a new rendering engine, called "EdgeHTML." To create that new rendering engine, Microsoft forked the code in Internet Explorer's Trident engine. Spartan will offer both rendering engines, including the legacy MSHTML engine used for Trident. As reported by my colleague Kurt Mackie:

Organizations will be able to use the Spartan browser even if they have legacy IE support issues to address. When legacy support needs arise, Spartan will be capable of running the old IE Trident engine via Enterprise Mode. Microsoft's Enterprise Mode technology is an IE 11 solution that emulates earlier IE browser technologies all of the way back to IE 5 for compatibility purposes.

Reports this week that Microsoft is killing the Internet Explorer brand do appear to be the long-term plan from a branding perspective. MIT Technology Review Senior Editor Rachel Mertz is among those who believe Microsoft should retire Internet Explorer.

"The changes both to the browser and the branding make a lot of sense," she wrote. "Internet Explorer, first released in the mid-1990s, dominated the browser market at its peak in the early 2000s, but it came to be associated with poor security and compatibility with other browsers and has since languished. Spartan's success is critical if Microsoft is to remain relevant in the Web browser business -- a market in which it used to dominate but now trails Google's Chrome."

At the same time, enterprise users aren't going to want to see Internet Explorer, or at least the rendering capabilities of whatever it calls its next browser, go away. For its part, Microsoft is promising the new browser will offer the same compatibility it has offered in past upgrades."Project Spartan is Microsoft's next generation browser, built just for Windows 10," according to a company statement. "We will continue to make Internet Explorer available with Windows 10 for enterprises and other customers who require legacy browser support."

Now the question is: what will Microsoft call its new browser?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/20/2015 at 1:03 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Free for Pirated Versions Too

In what may seem like a bizarre move, Microsoft said its free Windows 10 upgrade offer also applies to those with pirated older versions of the operating system.

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's operating systems group, made the startling announcement at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), taking place this week in Shenzhen, China.

Microsoft earlier this year said it will offer Windows 10 as a free upgrade to Windows 7 and Windows 8.x users. The offer, which will also include earlier versions of Windows Phone, is good only for one year after the release of the new operating system and doesn't apply to all enterprise users.

Given the vast majority of all PC software in China is said to be pirated, Myerson chose a fitting place to announce the move. "We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10," Myerson told Reuters. Microsoft's goal is to "re-engage" with the hundreds of millions of users of Windows in China, he told the news service, though he declined to elaborate.

It appears Microsoft is hoping to get users of pirated software to use legitimate versions of Windows. Microsoft has tapped China-based PC makers Lenovo, Qihu 360 and Tencent to help in that effort.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/18/2015 at 2:13 PM0 comments

Say Hello to Windows 10 This Summer and Goodbye to Passwords

Microsoft has put Windows 10 on the fast track saying in an unexpected announcement the new OS will arrive this summer. That's a surprise escalation in expectations from the fall timeline targeted by Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner back in December.

The company announced the unexpected earlier delivery date at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), taking place in Shenzhen, China this week. Also at WinHEC, as reported yesterday, Microsoft revealed that the release of Windows 10 will aim at transitioning users away from passwords to login to their systems and instead will offer Microsoft's new biometric authentication tool called Windows Hello.

While it wasn't initially clear to what extent the Windows Hello technology would be supported in Windows 10, Terry Myerson, executive vice president for the Windows platform group at Microsoft said at WinHEC and in a blog post that all OEMs have agreed to support it.

Windows 10 will be available in 190 countries and 111 languages when it launches, according to Myerson. Obviously that's a wide window given it can arrive anytime between June 21 and Sept. 20. But the expedited release may suggest that Microsoft doesn't want to miss this year's back-to-school season, a time many students buy new systems. If that's the case, it will need to come in June or July, rather than late September.

The big question an earlier-than-expected release raises: is Microsoft looking to rush Windows 10 out the door too soon and will it come out feature-complete?  Meanwhile, there are many new features testers have yet to see, such as the new browser component called Spartan and yesterday's reveal: Windows Hello. Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Microsoft's operating systems group unveiled Windows Hello at WinHEC, which he said provides system-level support for biometric authentication, including fingerprint and facial recognition as a replacement for passwords.

Hello isn't the first effort to bring biometrics to Windows PCs. Makers of PCs have offered fingerprint scanners on a small selection of their PCs for years now. But few used them and most devices today have done away with them. This time, it looks like Microsoft is aiming for biometrics that will be pervasive in Windows 10 devices. "We're working closely with our hardware partners to deliver Windows Hello-capable devices that will ship with Windows 10," Myerson said. "We are thrilled that all OEM systems incorporating the Intel RealSense F200 sensor will fully support Windows Hello, including automatic sign-in to Windows."

Myerson said Microsoft is also offering a new version of Windows for smaller Internet of Things devices ranging from ATM machines to medical equipment thanks to partnerships with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Intel, Qualcomm and others. Microsoft also unveiled Qualcomm's DragonBoard 410C for Windows 10 devices. It includes the first Windows 10 developer board that's integrated with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, along with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chipset.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/18/2015 at 12:55 PM0 comments

Microsoft Taps Forrester Analyst James Staten as Chief Cloud Strategist

Prominent Forrester Analyst James Staten is joining Microsoft today as chief strategist for Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise division. Word of his move from Forrester to Microsoft spread quickly over the weekend when Staten updated his LinkedIn status.

In a tweet last night, Staten alerted followers: "Just landed in Redmond. Ready to start my new career at #Microsoft." When asked by a Twitter friend if he's relocating to Redmond, Staten replied: "Staying in Silicon Valley. Working w/VCs, startups and local companies r key to my job."

Staten didn't immediately respond to an e-mail from me, though I've known him for many years as someone who had a firm grasp on the competitive strengths and weaknesses of all the public infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud players. Furthermore, he had forecast the evolution of IaaS pretty much from the beginning and has consulted with many customers making cloud computing decisions.

It is a safe bet that his primary focus will be to advance the Azure cloud business. Staten's tweets on regarding his move included the Azure hashtag. Given his deep knowledge of the IaaS landscape, Microsoft will have a strong and credible executive on the Azure team, which should also help in the company's effort to further gain inroads in Silicon Valley.

At Forrester, Staten was based in Silicon Valley and, prior to joining the research firm, he worked at Azul Systems and Sun Microsystems software.

In a statement Microsoft said Staten will report to Cloud and Enterprise Executive VP Scott Guthrie, where he'll "work closely with Scott's leadership team on delivering the most complete set of cloud capabilities and services to customers small and large."


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/16/2015 at 10:18 AM0 comments

Office 2016 and Skype for Business Previews Now Available

Microsoft kicked off this week's annual Convergence conference in Atlanta by announcing the preview of Office 2016 for IT Pros and Developers. It was among several releases which also includes a general preview of Skype for Business.

Office 2016 is the first major upgrade of the Office desktop suite since 2013 and follows last month's preview releases of touch-enabled versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Windows 10. Today's Office 2016 release for IT pros and developers gives a far broader look at the new suite including some new features such as click-to-run-deployment, extended data loss prevention (DLP) support and the new Outlook 2016 client.

Julia White, general manager of Microsoft's Office division, demonstrated the new Outlook 2016 during the opening Convergence keynote. In the demo, she played up Outlook's ability to handle content linked with OneDrive for Business. When a user goes to attach a file, the most recently accessed documents appear and are added as a link to the sender's OneDrive for Business account.

"When I hit send, it looks like an attachment, it feels like an attachment and when I send it, it actually sends the access to the file," White said. "So I don't have to send a physical attachment and deal with versioning." Users can link up on the same document in the cloud, continued White. She also added that the new Outlook will still let users attach actual files.

The new Outlook also offers significant technical improvements, said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Office 365 Client Apps and Services team, in a blog post announcing the Office 2016 preview. Among the improvements in Outlook for IT pros he pointed to include:  

  • MAPI-HTTP protocol: RPC-based sync replaced with a new Internet-friendly MAPI-HTTP protocol that supports Exchange/Outlook connectivity
  • Foreground network calls: The use of foreground network calls eliminated to ensure Outlook stays responsive on unreliable networks
  • Multi-factor authentication:  Support multi-factor authentication via integration with the Active Directory Authentication Library (ADAL)
  • E-mail delivery performance: The amount of time it takes to download messages, display message lists and show new email after resuming from hibernation reduced
  • Smaller storage footprint: New settings  let users better manage storage by only retaining 1, 3, 7, 14 or 30 days of mail on the device
  • Search: Improved reliability, performance and usability of Outlook search and FAST-based search engine is integrated into Exchange.

The new Office 2016 preview doesn't include all of the features that Microsoft is planning for the new release, Koenigsbauer noted. The new DLP support builds on what Microsoft now offers with Exchange, Outlook, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint.  "Now we're bringing these same classification and policy features to Word, Excel and PowerPoint," he said. "With these new capabilities, IT admins can centrally create, manage and enforce polices for content authoring and document sharing -- and end users will see policy tips or sharing restrictions when the apps detect a potential policy violation."

Koenigsbauer noted that the new click-to-run deployment feature for Office 365 customers introduces Microsoft's new Background Intelligence Transfer Service (BITS), which Koenigsbauer said aims to prevent network  congestion on the network. "BITS throttles back the use of bandwidth when other critical network traffic is present," he said.

Other deployment improvements showcased in the new Office 2016 preview include tighter integration with Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), more flexible update management for handling feature updates and bug fixes and improved activation management added to the Office 365 Admin Portal.

White also talked up Skype for Business, which Microsoft said back in November would represent the rebranding of the company's Lync platform with its Skype service. "Now all of the Skype for Business users can connect with Skype from a contacts perspective and communicate [with] them with IM, voice and video," she said. "So imagine a sales person connecting with any customer, a doctor connecting with a patient, and employer interviewing someone via Skype. There's so many possibilities with this new experience."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/16/2015 at 2:13 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Anticipation Puts PC Sales on Skids

Intel's warning that revenues could be off by about $1 billion weighed on its shares Thursday, stoking fears that PC sales may remain weak until Microsoft ships its new Windows 10 operating system.

The chipmaker's revised forecast for the first quarter is revenue of $12.8 billion, give or take $300 million, compared to the prior prediction of $13.7 billion, give or take $500 million. Intel said lower than anticipated demand for business desktop PCs across the supply chain spurred the revised forecast.

Lower than expected Windows XP refreshes have impacted supply for its inventories, Intel said. Businesses and consumers are taking an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude to their old PCs, Summit Research Analyst Srini Sundararajan told Reuters. But with Microsoft's Windows 10 waiting in the wings, many PC buyers are likely putting off upgrades as well. As research by Redmond magazine and others is showing, many users plan to upgrade to Windows 10 and are awaiting the new hardware in the pipeline that will support it.

Like many other companies, Intel also said currency conditions in Europe will also affect revenues. That has led to an increase in PC prices in Europe, which has impacted demand, according to various reports. BlueFin Research Partners is forecasting about 76 million PCs will ship this quarter, a decline of 8 to 9 percent, Reuters reported.

Intel's datacenter business forecast remains unchanged, the company said.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/12/2015 at 11:42 AM0 comments

Free Scaled-Down App Load Balancer Now Available for DevOps

Kemp Technologies is now offering a free version of its Loadmaster application load balancer, a move the company is hoping developers and DevOps managers will use for distributed workloads that don't require a lot of capacity.

While the move is aimed at seeding its virtual appliance, the company is letting companies use it permanently for production workloads. The catch is that operators will have to reregister it with Kemp's licensing server every 30 days, it will only support 20 Mbps applications and it doesn't support the high availability features of its commercial version, said Kemp Product Manager Maurice McMullin.

Nevertheless, the company believes developers and DevOps managers will use the free virtual load balancing for testing, development and running non-critical applications that don't have large amounts of network traffic. "It's reasonably configured," McMullin said, noting that it includes the intrusion detection system and Web application firewall.

"People could use it in a preproduction environment and a dev-test environment and potentially even some production environments for non-critical low volume workloads," he added. One example might be a time sheet entry system where the application is distributed among locations but isn't used frequently and is not business critical.

Kemp isn't the first to offer a free load balancer. For example, HAProxy offers an open source version of its namesake load balancing software and operates a community site. But McMullin argues the Kemp offering is suited for mainstream VMware and Hyper-V workloads and can run in public clouds including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and VMware vCloud Air.

The company said its free offering includes complete testing and validation of applications in Kemp's global site load balancing (GSLB) and Edge Security Pack, which offers single sign-on. The free software also supports the Kemp Web Application Firewall Pac as well as its REST API and Windows PowerShell and Java API wrappers.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/12/2015 at 3:39 PM0 comments

Hillary Clinton Isn't the Only One To Bypass IT

News that Hillary Clinton operated an e-mail server out of her house in Chappaqua, N.Y. for both personal and official communications while serving as Secretary of State underscores how far people will go for convenience and control -- even if it means bypassing IT to do so.

While maintaining that she didn't break any laws or send any classified messages using her personal e-mail account instead of the official e-mail system the rest of the government uses, Clinton has raised fierce debate over the propriety of her decision to take matters into her own hands. Aside from the legal issues and obvious questions, such as did her use of personal e-mail really go unnoticed for four years and was the system she used as secure as government's network (some argue hers might have been more secure), her actions are far from unique.

In my reporting on this month's Redmond magazine cover story about the forthcoming end of life of Windows Server 2003, IT pros lamented that they discovered many unsanctioned servers in use -- often under employees' desks. For better or worse, many companies have become more tolerant of employees bypassing IT than they were years ago in part due to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend brought on by the advent of smartphones and tablets. I often receive business-related e-mail from high-level people at companies of all sizes from their personal e-mail addresses -- usually a Gmail, Yahoo or address -- and I'm sure you do too.

Many employees in organizations not wanting to wait for IT to provision systems have spun up VMs by setting up an Amazon Web Services or Azure account with a credit card. And it's certainly become common for business users to set up accounts using and Workday, among other SaaS applications. Many are also setting up Office 365 accounts on their own.  Services such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and Box have replaced flash drives for copying and storing files. A survey by data protection vendor Vision Solutions found that 52 percent of organizations don't have processes to manage the use of such services, putting at risk the loss of confidential data.

Apparently the U.S. government -- or at least the State Department, which she headed from 2009 to 2013 -- was one of them. Indeed setting up your own Exchange Server (I'm assuming that's what she used since that's what runs the Clinton Foundation's e-mail) is a more brazen move than most take and one that most are unlikely to do, given the cost.

From news accounts we know she's not the only government official to use personal e-mail for routine business communications, though she's the highest level and, for now, the most infamous one to do so. If we're to take Clinton at her word -- and I realize many don't -- she said yesterday she used her own e-mail for convenience. If that's to be translated that she was trying to balance her work and personal life by using one account, I think we can all agree that was a bad idea -- she said as much, though she could have separated them and still used one device, as many of us do.

Given that she was the nation's top diplomat and a potential presidential candidate, the fallout from this is far from certain as this issue continues to create discourse.

In the end, businesses and government agencies of all sizes have to establish policies that address what employees at all levels can and can't do when it comes to using IT. Absent of any clear rules and enforcement of them, you likely have at least one, if not many, people like Hillary Clinton in your organization.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/11/2015 at 1:19 PM0 comments

The Apple Watch Doesn't Have To Be a Hit Right Away

Many people have asked me if I plan on getting an Apple Watch when it comes out next month. The answer is, not the first version and probably not the second either. I'm not sure if I'll ever buy one but haven't ruled it out in case the price and performance are right.

Apple's launch event yesterday confirmed what we already presumed. The Apple Watch will ship next month (preorders begin April 10 and they'll appear in stores April 24) and the starting price is $350. If you want to spring for one with an 18-karat gold band, that'll cost $10,000 and if you must have the most expensive model -- with sapphire faces -- it'll set you back $17,000. If you collect Rolexes and the like, it'll be the perfect addition to your collection.

Who needs an extension of their iPhone on their wrist? Let's face it, the Apple Watch is yet the latest accessory to the iPhone, which is required for the watch to work. If you want to glance at your messages, view alerts and maybe access some information without removing your iPhone from your pocket, it's certainly could be convenient. The question is how much will most people be willing to pay for that convenience?

Back in 2007 when the first iPhone came out it cost $599 and that was with the carrier subsidy (only AT&T offered them for the first few years). And they were basically just iPods with phones on them with e-mail access and a handful of other apps. When the iPod came out in 2001, Apple certainly wasn't the first to release an MP3 player. In both cases though, the company was the first to legitimize and create a mass market for their offerings in a way others before them were unable to do.

Will Apple be able to catch lightning in a bottle yet again? While that remains to be seen, it's a reasonable bet we'll see substantially less expensive versions of the Apple Watch in the next few years that'll be much more functional than the $17,000 models that are now debuting.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/10/2015 at 2:13 PM0 comments

Microsoft and Sphere3D To Develop Windows Containers for Azure

In its push to simplify migration of Windows applications to cloud infrastructures without dependencies on hardware or software platforms, Microsoft has added Sphere 3D as its latest partner to deliver Windows containers. The two companies announced a partnership today to deliver Glassware 2.0 Windows containers for Azure.

Sphere 3D said it's collaborating with Microsoft to develop tools to simplify the migration of Windows-based end user applications to Azure. The two companies are first working to offer Glassware 2.0-based workloads in Azure for schools. Later in the year, Sphere 3D will offer other tools, the company said. Unlike Microsoft's higher-profile container partner Docker, which is open source, Glassware 2.0 is a proprietary platform designed to virtualize applications without requiring a virtualized desktop.

The Glassware 2.0 suite includes a micro hypervisor which the company calls a "Microvisor." Unlike a traditional hypervisor, which requires a guest OS for applications to run, the "Microvisor only pulls in elements of the OS stack needed for the software application to run, and also fills in any gaps that may be present, in particular with applications needing functionality not inherent in whichever OS stack you happen to be using," according to the company's description.

Glassware 2.0 also includes containers, management tools and clustering software. The containers are designed to run multiple instances of the same app in a Glassware 2.0-based server. It provides the ability to share binaries, libraries or the Glassware 2.0 Microvisor, according to the company. This environment provides access only to those components of an operating system an application needs to run. It supports applications running in Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8.x environments.

"When we created Glassware 2.0, we envisioned a time where any application, regardless of its hardware or operating dependencies, could be easily delivered across multiple platforms from the cloud," said Eric Kelly, Sphere 3D's CEO in a statement. "Today, by joining forces with Microsoft, we have taken a substantial step towards realizing that vision."

The company says the Glassware 2.0 Microvisor can virtualize infrastructure components and the application stacks from both Windows and non-Windows-based systems and claims it can "outperform" any existing hypervisor-based infrastructure. Furthermore, the company said it can be used for systems and cloud management, orchestration and clustering. The Glassware Manager runs in Windows Server 2008 and above.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/09/2015 at 1:23 PM0 comments

Apple Is Prepping Larger iPad To Challenge Surface Pro

Forget about next week's anticipated launch of the Apple Watch or the fact that the company will be added to the select 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, knocking out AT&T. Apple's latest assault on the enterprise -- a market it has largely eschewed over its 39-year history -- is said to include a new iPad which, in many ways, could appeal to the same potential users of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3.

A larger iPad has been rumored for some time now. The new device is said to include a USB 3.0 port, keyboard and mouse, according to a report in today's Wall Street Journal. At this point, according to the report (which, as usual, Apple had no comment), the company is still just considering the USB port -- a feature the late Steve Jobs was staunchly against. Apple had originally told suppliers it was looking to deliver the larger 12.9-inch iPad this quarter. Now it apparently is in the pipeline for the second half of the year.

At 12.9-inches, the new iPad would actually be slightly larger than the current Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which now sports a 12-inch form factor. It would be considerably larger than the current iPad Air, which is 9.7 inches.

Would a larger iPad with USB support, a keyboard and mouse compete with the Surface Pro 3 and other Windows-based PCs? Before jumping on me for comparing apples to oranges, keep in mind that an iPad that could let people run Office for basic work processes could appeal to numerous individuals, even if the tablets don't have the 8GB of RAM and latest Intel Core processors that the Surface Pros have.

The move makes sense for Apple, which sold a mere 21 million iPads last quarter. While Microsoft hasn't shipped a fraction of that many Surface Pros, sales are also on the rise. However, they still lack the momentum some would like to see. Certainly the new extra-large iPhone 6 Plus is cannibalizing sales of iPads so the natural way to target the tablets is toward enterprise workers. Just as the bolstered iPad will compete with Windows PCs, it also has the potential to cut into at least some sales of low-end Macs.

In the latest boost for Apple's iOS platform, the company's new enterprise partner IBM this week launched additional applications in its MobileFirst for iOS suite at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Among the new apps are Dynamic Buy for retailers, Passenger Care for companies in the travel and transportation industry and Advisor Alert for banks. Big Blue said with the launch of its latest apps, 50 customers are already using them including Air Canada, American Eagle Outfitters, Banorte, Boots UK, Citigroup and Sprint.

The rise of iOS in the enterprise may yet to have peaked. But at the same time, it's not a death knell for Windows. Microsoft's well aware of the new client device landscape and the fact that these new device types aren't going away. From my standpoint, different devices are suited for various purposes and it's nice to have both at my disposal.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/06/2015 at 11:28 AM0 comments

LinkedIn Pares Back Support for Outlook Social Connector

LinkedIn, the popular social network for business users, has informed customers that its social connector will no longer work with older versions of Outlook after next Monday, March 9.

The announcement, sent in an e-mail to customers, stated that the connector will still work with the most recent release, Outlook 2013. Those with Outlook 2003, 2007 and 2010 will no longer be able to view information about their LinkedIn contacts, the company said in the e-mail.

"Our team is working with Microsoft to build even more powerful tools to help you stay connected with your professional world," according to the e-mail that I received this afternoon. "Until then you can get similar capabilities with the 'LinkedIn for Outlook' app for Outlook 2013 from the Office Store."

The move comes just over five years after Microsoft debuted the Outlook Social Connector for LinkedIn. Though I've tested the feature, I don't currently use it.

Do you use the connector actively, or at all? If you have an older version of Outlook is this move likely to convince you to upgrade to Outlook 2013?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/02/2015 at 1:08 PM0 comments

Update Windows Server 2003 or Die?

Failure to update your systems and applications running Windows Server 2003 could have deadly consequences. That's the message that Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover conveyed over the weekend when he tweeted his warning about what will happen to those who keep Windows Server 2003-based systems running after July 14:

Not updating from WS2003 is like the guy who jumps off a building on the way down says, "so far so good." #ThisIsNotGoingToEndWell

Microsoft has been pretty vocal about the need to update Windows Server 2003. Snover, who is widely regarded by the Microsoft MVP community, is the latest of many in Redmond who are trying to be clear about the risks Microsoft says customers will face if they don't address the situation. In simple terms, there are still millions of Windows Server 2003-based systems in commission. After July 14, Microsoft will no longer issue security patches. That means those servers could become conduits to spread malware or other threats. I go much deeper into that in this month's Redmond magazine cover story.

Microsoft recommends upgrading to Windows Server 2012 R2 or urges users to consider moving the applications impacted by the loss of support to the cloud, if that makes sense. According to a survey conducted last year by application remediation vendor AppZero, more than one third, or 36 percent, said there will be a cloud component to their upgrade process.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to upgrading is it requires organizations to decommission the Windows Server 2003 Active Directory domain controllers and migrate the schema to the more current iteration of AD. MVP John O'Neill Sr., who has joined the roster of Redmond magazine contributors, aptly explains how to do so.

Do you have a plan in place? Will you migrate to Windows Server 2012 R2 or are you looking at a pure cloud-based deployment of your applications? Perhaps you're planning a hybrid architecture? Or maybe you simply don't agree with Snover's latest warning of the perils of doing nothing? Share what you're going to do about the pending end of support for Windows Server 2003.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/02/2015 at 11:49 AM0 comments

Microsoft Extends Support for New Docker Orchestration Tools

Docker today released several new tools aimed at letting IT pros and developers build and manage distributed applications that are compatible across environments including Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM, Joyent, Mesosphere, Microsoft and VMware.

Over the past year, these players have pledged support for Docker's open source container environment, which has quickly emerged as the next-generation architecture for developing and provisioning distributed apps. Today's beta releases are key deliverables by Docker and its ecosystem partners to advance the building, orchestration and management of the container-based platform.

For its part, Microsoft said it is supporting the newly released betas of Docker Machine (download here), the orchestration tool that gives IT pros and developers the ability to automate the provisioning and management of Docker containers on Linux or Windows Servers; and Docker Swarm, a tool that lets developers select infrastructures for their apps including Azure virtual machines. Microsoft also said it will natively support the new Docker Compose developer tool as a Docker Azure extension.

The new Docker Machine beta allows administrators to select an infrastructure to deploy an application built in the new environment. Microsoft has contributed drivers in Azure that allow for rapid and agile development of Docker hosts on Azure Virtual Machines. "There are several advantages to using Docker Machine, including the ability to automate the creation of your Docker VM hosts on any compatible OS and across many infrastructure options," said Corey Sanders, Microsoft's director of Azure program management, in a post on the Microsoft Azure blog.  

"With today's announcement, you can automate Docker host creation on Azure using the Docker Machine client on Linux or Windows," he added. "Additionally, Docker Machine provides you the ability to manage and configure your hosts from a single remote client. You no longer have to connect to each host separately to perform basic monitoring and management tasks, giving you the flexibility and efficiencies of centralized devops management."

With Docker Swarm, which spins a pool of Docker hosts into one virtual host, IT pros can deploy their container-based apps and workloads using the native Docker clustering and scheduling functions, Sanders added. It also lets customers select cloud infrastructure such as Azure, enabling them to scale as needs necessitate for dev and test. Sanders noted that using the Docker CLI, customers can deploy Swarm to enable scheduling across multiple hosts. The Docker Swarm beta is available for download on Github.

The Docker Compose tool enables and simplifies modeling of multi-container Docker solutions using the declarative YAML file format. "This single file will be able to take a developer-modeled application across any environment and generate a consistent deployment, offering even more agility to applications across infrastructure," Sanders noted. "In Azure, we are working to expand our current Docker extension to support passing of the YAML configuration directly through our REST APIs, CLI or portal. This will make the simple even simpler, so you can just drop your YAML file details into the Azure portal and we take care of the rest."

Microsoft said it will be releasing documentation to build Docker hosts on Azure virtual machines using a Docker Machine.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/26/2015 at 12:53 PM0 comments

How Far Did the NSA Go in Alleged SIM Card Hack?

The National Security Agency (NSA) continues to hold its stance that the only way to thwart terrorist attacks and other crimes is to continue the surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden nearly two years ago. The latest report alleges that the NSA, along with the British government counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has hacked encryption keys from SIM cards on smartphones.

Documents provided by Snowden and reported last week by The Intercept allege that the U.S. and British governments specifically were hacking into SIM cards from Gemalto, the largest provider of SIM cards, used in smartphones to store encrypted identity information. According to the report, the breach was outlined in a secret 2010 GCHQ document.

If indeed the encryption keys were stolen, it gave the agencies the ability to eavesdrop on and wiretap voice and data communications without approval from governments or wireless providers. The bulk key theft also gave the agencies the ability to decrypt communications that they had already intercepted, according to the report. The ability to do so was the result of mining communications of engineers and other Gemalto employees, the report added, noting that the company was "oblivious to the penetration of its systems."

Now Gemalto is shedding doubt on the severity of the breach. The company released a statement which did acknowledge it detected the intrusion that took place in 2010 and 2011. The findings of the investigation "give us reasonable grounds to believe that an operation by NSA and GCHQ probably happened," according to the Gemalto statement. However, in questioning the extent of the breach, the statement said that "the attacks against Gemalto only breached its office networks and could not have resulted in a massive theft of SIM encryption keys."

By 2010, the company said it had already implemented a secure transfer system with its customers and in only some rare instances could theft have occurred. Moreover, in many of the targeted countries at the time, many of the networks only had 2G mobile communications networks, which are inherently insecure. The modern 3G and 4G networks weren't vulnerable to such interceptions, according to the company. Gemalto said none of its other cards were affected by the attack. While the statement also pointed to some inconsistencies in the document that was leaked, including some of the customers it claimed the company worked with, Gemalto said that the SIM cards have customized encryption algorithms for each telecom provider.

For its part, the NSA is making no apologies on its surveillance policies. NSA Director Mike Rogers spoke last week at the New America Foundation's cyber security conference in Washington, D.C., where he said backdoors would not have a negative impact on privacy, weaken encryption or dampen demand for technology from the U.S.

Alex Stamos, Yahoo's chief information security officer, who was in attendance at the conference, took Rogers to task on his contention that the government has backdoors or master keys, according to The Guardian. When Stamos asked Rogers how Yahoo, which has 1.3 billion users throughout the world, could be expected to address requests for backdoors, Rogers reportedly skipped over the foreign requests, describing its overall process as "drilling a hole in a windshield. I think that this is technically feasible. Now it needs to done within a framework."

The problem is, it's unlikely that the feds will come up with a framework that will sit well with many people.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/25/2015 at 10:27 AM0 comments

Lenovo CTO Finally Apologizes for PC Security Fiasco

Lenovo Chief Technology Officer Peter Hortensius yesterday apologized for the SuperfIsh spyware installed on several of its PC models, saying it shouldn't have happened and said the company is putting together a plan to ensure it never happens again.

"All I can say is we made a mistake and we apologize," Hortensius said in an interview with The New York Times. "That's not nearly enough. So our plan is to release, by the end of the week, the beginning of our plan to rebuild that trust. We are not confused as to the depth of that this has caused people not to trust us. We will do our best to make it right. In the process, we will come out stronger. But we have a long way to go to make this right."

Hortensius said so far Lenovo has not seen any evidence that the malicious software that was embedded deep within the company's systems put any customers or their data at risk. "We are not aware of this actually being used in a malevolent way," he told The Times' Nicole Perlroth. Asked if it's possible that Lenovo engineers installed this on any other models than the two already reported (the Yoga 2 models and Edge 15), Hortensius said he didn't believe so but the company is investigating and will have an answer by the end of the week.

Nevertheless, some of his responses were troubling. Why did it take more than a month for Lenovo to get to the bottom of this once it was reported to the company? "At that time, we were responding to this issue from a Web compatibility perspective, not a security perspective," he said. "You can argue whether that was right or wrong, but that's how it was looked at it." Hortensius also wasn't able to answer Perlroth's question regarding how the opt-in processes work.

He was also unable to explain how the company was unaware that Superfish was hijacking the certificates. "We did not do a thorough enough job understanding how Superfish would find and provide their info," he said. "That's on us. That's a mistake that we made."

Indeed mistakes were made. Some might credit him for saying as much and apologizing. But based on the comments from my report on the issue earlier this week, it may be too little, too late.

"I didn't trust Lenovo even before this issue," said one commenter who goes by the name "gisabun." "Expect to see sales drop a bit [even if the corporate sales are generally unaffected]. Microsoft needs to push all OEMs to remove unnecessary software."

"Bruce79" commented: "Inserting a piece of software that opens unsuspecting users up to security attacks? That is a clear betrayal, regardless of price."

Kevin Parks said, "We need a class-action lawsuit to sue them into oblivion. That would tell vendors that we won't accept this kind of behavior."

Another had a less extreme recommendation: "What Lenovo could and should do is simple. Promise to never put third-party software on their machines for [X number] of years. After X number of years, no software will be preloaded; Lenovo will ask if you want the software downloaded and installed."

Was Lenovo CTO's apology a sincere mea culpa or was he just going into damage-control mode? Do you accept his apology?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/25/2015 at 9:36 AM0 comments

Docker Container Management Comes to FactFinder App Monitoring Suite

BlueStripe Software today said its FactFinder monitoring suite now supports distributed applications residing in Docker containers. The company said an updated release of FactFinder will let IT operations administrators monitor and manage application containers deployed in Docker containers.

Granted, the number of full-blown transaction-oriented systems that are developed and deployed in Docker containers today are few and far between. But BlueStripe Director of Marketing Dave Mountain said a growing number of development teams are prototyping new applications that can use Docker containers, which are portable and require much less overhead than traditional virtual machines.

"It's something where there's a lot of activity on the dev site with Docker containers," Mountain said. "Generally when you hear people talking about it, it's very much at the development level of [those] prototyping new ideas for their applications and they're pulling things together to build them quickly. We're not seeing them being deployed out to the production environments, but it's coming. As such, we want to be ready for it."

FactFinder is a tool used to monitor transactions distributed across server, virtualization and cloud platforms and is designed to troubleshoot the root of a transaction that might be failing or just hanging. The company last year added a Microsoft System Center Operations Manager module and the Microsoft Azure Pack for hybrid cloud infrastructures. The BlueStripe "collectors" scan physical and virtual machines to detect processes taking place. With the new release BlueStripe can view, isolate and remediate those processes housed within the container just as if they were in a physical or virtual machine.

Despite the early days for Docker containers, Mountain believes they will indeed become a key tier in distributed datacenter and cloud architectures. "As it continues to go, we expect this to become more mainstream. So this was a move on our part to make sure we're addressing that need," Mountain said. "I think it's real, I don't think this is just hype."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/24/2015 at 10:25 AM0 comments

Lenovo Betrayed Customer Trust by Installing Insecure Adware

Lenovo's decision to install the adware program Superfish on some of its PCs, notably the Yoga 2 models and Edge 15, was the latest inexcusable action by a company that we should be able to trust to provide a secure computing environment. It's hard to understand how Lenovo could let a system that was able to bypass the antimalware software it bundled from McAfee (as well as others) into the market.

While Microsoft swiftly updated its Windows Defender to remove the certificate for Superfish and Lenovo on Friday released its own downloadable removal tools including source code, this wasn't just another typical bug or system flaw.

Unbeknownst to customers, Lenovo apparently installed the Superfish software, designed to track users' online sessions including all SSL traffic, making their systems vulnerable to theft from hackers of passwords and other sensitive information. Adding insult to injury, Lenovo took the rather unscrupulous move of installing it at the BIOS level, making it impervious to antimalware and AV protection software.

Justifying the move, Lenovo said it had knowingly installed the adware under the guise that it would "enhance the shopping experience." The only thing it enhanced was the level of suspicion users have that whoever Lenovo does business with are putting their information at risk to further their own objectives.

Just in the past few weeks, we learned that hackers stole user information from Anthem, the nation's second largest health insurer. Some 80 million customers' private information (myself included) were victims of this attack.  Also last week, the latest leak by Edward Snowden to The Intercept accused the National Security Agency (NSA) and the British government of hacking into SIM cards from Gemalto, a company whose chips are used to store personal information in smartphones such as passports and identity information. And the list goes on.

What's galling about the Lenovo incident is that the company only put a stop to it when Peter Horne, the person who discovered it, raised the issue (the company argued it was due to negative user feedback). Horne, a veteran IT professional in the financial services industry, came across the installation of Superfish in the Lenovo Yoga 2 Notepad he bought. Horne told The New York Times that not only did the bundled McAfee software not discover it but Superfish also got past the Trend Micro AV software he installed. Looking to see how widespread the problem was, he visited Best Buy stores in New York, Boston and retailers in Sydney and Perth and the adware was installed on all the PCs he tested.

Yet upon fessing up, Lenovo argued that it was only installed on consumer systems, not ThinkPad, ThinkCentre, Lenovo Desktop, ThinkStation, ThinkServer and System x servers. Horne had a rather pointed suspicion about Lenovo's decision to install the adware in the first place. "Lenovo is either extraordinarily stupid or covering up," he told The Times. "Either one is an offense to me."

But he noted an even bigger issue. "The problem is," he said, "what can we trust?"

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/23/2015 at 2:50 PM0 comments

Microsoft Aims To Make Machine Learning Mainstream

Many of us look forward to the day when we can get any information we want and have systems intelligently bring us what we're looking for. In a sense that's what Microsoft's new Azure Machine Learning service aims to do. While IBM is among those who have demonstrated the concept with Watson and is looking to advance the technology as well, Microsoft is looking to bring the service to the masses more easily and affordably.

"Simply put, we want to bring big data to the mainstream," wrote Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president for Machine Learning, in a blog post announcing the general availability for the service that was announced last summer. Azure Machine Learning is based on templates and usual workflows that support APIs and Web services, enabling developers to tap into the Azure Marketplace to easily pull together components to build applications that incorporate predictive analytics capabilities.

"It is a first-of-its-kind, managed cloud service for advanced analytics that makes it dramatically simpler for businesses to predict future trends with data," Sirosh added. "In mere hours, developers and data scientists can build and deploy apps to improve customer experiences, predict and prevent system failures, enhance operational efficiencies, uncover new technical insights or a universe of other benefits. Such advanced analytics normally take weeks or months and require extensive investment in people, hardware and software to manage big data."

Yet despite the rapid growth and rollout of new Hadoop-based services that are the underpinnings of the most sought out predictive analytics platforms, growth is somewhat stalled, according to a survey conducted during Gartner's latest quarterly Hadoop webinar. The percentage of the 1,200 participants who this month said they have deployed Hadoop-based applications has remained flat since last quarter's survey (only 15 percent said they have actually deployed).

However, when the Gartner survey results are examined based on respondents who said they were in the "knowledge gathering" mode, the percentage of Hadoop deployments was lower than 15 percent. Meanwhile, those who said in the survey that they were developing strategies for Hadoop had rates of deployment that were higher than 15 percent. Gartner Research VP Merv Adrian indicated in a blog post that while it's hard to draw any broad conclusions, it may indicate renewed interest by those who have put their plans on hold. "My personal speculation is that it comes from some who have been evaluating for a while," he said.

And indeed there is plenty to look at. Microsoft has rolled out some noteworthy new offerings and is gaining partner support. That includes the latest entry to the Azure Marketplace, Informatica, which released its Cloud Integration Secure Agent on Microsoft Azure and Linux Virtual Machines as well as an Informatica Cloud Connector for Microsoft Azure Storage.

"Users of Azure data services such as Azure HDInsightAzure Machine Learning and Azure Data Factory can make their data work with access to the broadest set of data sources including on-premises applications, databases, cloud applications and social data," wrote Informatica's Ronen Schwartz, in a blog post. "The new solution enables companies to bring in data from multiple sources for use in Azure data services including Azure HDInsight, Azure Machine Learning, Azure Data Factory and others -- for advanced analytics."

Do you think machine learning is ready for prime time?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/20/2015 at 12:54 PM0 comments

Microsoft Extends Open Source Support for Big Data Services

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella "loves" Linux. So it should come as little surprise that Microsoft is planning to support its Azure HDInight big data analytics offering on the open source server platform. The company announced the preview of HD Insight on Linux at the Strata + Hadoop World conference in San Jose, Calif. Microsoft also announced the release of Azure HD Insight running Storm, the popular Apache streaming analytics platform for streaming analytics.

The open source extensions aim to widen Microsoft's footprint in the growing market for big data services, enable users to gather more information that they can parse and analyze to make better decisions and bring big data into mainstream use, as Microsoft has indicated with its development of Cortana, now available on Windows Phone and in beta on Windows 10.

In addition to the public preview of HDInsight on Linux and general availability of Apache Storm for HDInsight, Microsoft announced Hadoop 2.6 support in HDInsight, new virtual machine sizes, the ability to grow or reduce clusters running in HDInsight and a Hadoop connector for DocumentDB.

"This is particularly compelling for people that already use Hadoop on Linux on-premises like on Hortonworks Data Platform because they can use common Linux tools, documentation and templates and extend their deployment to Azure with hybrid cloud connections," said T. K. "Ranga" Rengarajan, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Data Platform and Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president for Machine Learning, in a blog post.

Support for Storm is also another key advance for Microsoft as it has emerged as a widely adopted open source standard for streaming analytics. "Storm is an open source stream analytics platform that can process millions of data 'events' in real time as they are generated by sensors and devices," according to Ranga. "Using Storm with HDInsight, customers can deploy and manage applications for real-time analytics and Internet-of-Things scenarios in a few minutes with just a few clicks."

Despite its open source push, Microsoft isn't part of the Open Source Platform Alliance that was announced this week to ensure an interoperable Apache Hadoop core.  Among those on board are GE, Hortonworks, IBM, Infosys, Pivotal, SAS, Altiscale, Capgemini, CenturyLink, EMC, Splunk, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, Teradata and VMware.

Asked why, a Microsoft spokeswoman stated, "Microsoft is already partnered with Hortonworks to use HDP which will utilize the Hadoop core from the Open Data Platform Initiative moving forward. We also will continue to contribute to the broader Apache Hadoop ecosystem." The statement also offered support for the project. Microsoft sees the Open Data Platform Initiative as a good step forward to having everyone run on the same Hadoop core including HDFS, YARN and Ambari. "We see standardization in the Hadoop space as a good thing as it reduces fragmentation and makes adoption of the technologies easier."

In addition, Microsoft is focused on contributing Hadoop projects like Hive (Project Stinger, Tez), YARN, REEF and others, as well as partnering with Hortonworks, she said. "We see this Open Data Platform Initiative as complimentary to these efforts and will help the overall Hadoop ecosystem."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/20/2015 at 12:20 PM0 comments

SharePoint MVPs: 'On-Prem is Very Much Alive and Well'

A number of prominent SharePoint MVP experts say they are confident that the on-premises server edition of SharePoint has a long future despite Microsoft's plans to extend the capabilities of its online counterpart -- Office 365 -- as well as options to host it in a public cloud service such as Azure. At the same time, many realize that customers are increasingly moving (or considering doing so) some or all of their deployments to an online alternative, either by hosting it in the cloud or moving to Office 365 and SharePoint Online.  

In one of many Tweetjams -- online discussions via Twitter -- hosted by prominent SharePoint MVP Christian Buckley (@buckleyplanet), the experts weighted in on the forthcoming SharePoint 2016 release, due out later this year, and what it will mean to the future of the premises-based edition.

"On-prem is very much alive and well. Don't think it's going away anytime soon," said MVP Asif Rehmani (@asifrehmani), founder and CEO of Chicago-based VisualSP. "Alive and well. Oh, and heavily customized," added Daniel Glenn (@DanielGlenn), Technical Consultant at InfoWorks and president of the Nashville SharePoint User Group.

Not everyone sees it that way. Some participants say the move toward hybrid deployments is gaining traction and is a sign that SharePoint in the datacenter has peaked. "SharePoint OnPrem is trending down, but still steady and above 70 percent --  there is room to grow still," tweeted Jeff Shuey (@jshuey), chief evangelist at K2, an ISV that provides workflow apps for SharePoint.

Barry Jinks (@bjinks), CEO of collaboration app provider Colligo, argued that the economies of Office 365 are compelling to many customers. "Eventually enterprises will move there," Jinks tweeted. "Just going to take way longer than hoped."

Buckley, the moderator and principal consultant with GTConsult, noted that while Microsoft may want everyone to move to the cloud, enterprises have too much invested in their on-premises SharePoint deployments. "SP on-prem CAN'T be killed by MSFT or anyone, only supplanted as cloud gets ever better," he tweeted. "Our Enterprise customers are looking at Hybrid. Still loving the on-prem #SharePoint as they have hefty investments there," said Gina Montgomery (@GinaMMontgomery), strategic director for Softmart, where she manages its Microsoft practice.

"IT [and collaboration tools] are evolving much faster than a 3 year DVD release cycle," said SharePoint and Office 365 Architect Maarten Visser (@mvisser), managing director of meetroo. " SharePoint OnPrem gets old quickly."

Asked if hybrid SharePoint deployments are becoming the new norm, the experts argued the hype doesn't match what they're seeing from their customers. "I don't think it will be a norm as much as what will be the best fit to meet requirements," said Stacy Deere-Strole (@sldeere), owner of SharePoint consultancy Focal Point Solutions.

"MSFT want it to be [the new norm]," observed SharePoint MVP Jason Himmelstein (@sharepointlhorn), Sr. Tech Director at Atrion. "Like with much of what we see coming out of Redmond it will be a bit before the desire matches the reality."

Yet many acknowledged that many are moving to hybrid deployments, or are in the process of planning to do so. "The story for OnPremises #SharePoint only gets better when you can work seamlessly with the cloud #SPO -- Hybid is a must," said SharePoint MVP Fabian Williams (@FabianWilliams). "Is hybrid the right idea? DAMN RIGHT. Move the right workloads for the right reasons," Himmelstein added.

"Yes, hybrid is becoming the norm for enterprises as well now. It just makes sense," Rehmani added. "Hybrid brings conservative customers the stability they need and allows them to experiment in the cloud," said Visser. "That's why SharePoint 2016 will be all about hybrid to force the transition," said MVP Michael Greth (@mysharepoint), based in Berlin. "Soon -- complex enterprise landscape will require a balance that hybrid can provide," tweeted Michelle Caldwell (@shellecaldwell), a director at integrator Avanade and a founder of the Buckley, Ohio SharePoint User Group. "Many are still planning and dabbling."

Williams added: "Hybrid can be considered normal because you need a 'bridge' to work between SPO & ONPrem since not all features are on both," he tweeted.

Many are also looking forward to hearing about new management features coming in SharePoint 2016. "This will be the super exciting stuff at @MS_Ignite," said Dan Holme, co-founder & CEO of IT Unity, based in Maui. "I believe it will be the differentiator over O365," Glenn said. "But O365 will absorb some (if not all) of it via Azure services over time." Buckley is looking forward to hearing more from Microsoft on this. "There has always been a gap for management across SP farms, much less hybrid," he said. "Will be interesting to see what is coming next."

What is it about SharePoint 2016 you are looking forward to hearing about?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/19/2015 at 7:31 AM0 comments

Hardware-Agnostic Approach to Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Debuts

The latest Silicon Valley startup looking to ride the wave of cloud-based software-defined datacenters (SDDCs) and containerization has come out of stealth mode today with key financial backers and founders who engineered the VMware SDDC and the company's widely used file system.

Whether Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Springpath will rise to prominence remains to be seen, but the company's hyper-converged infrastructure aims to displace traditional OSes, virtual machines (VMs) and application programming models. In addition to the VMware veterans, Springpath is debuting with $34 million in backing from key investors with strong track records. Among them is Sequoia Capital's Jim Goetz, whose portfolio has included such names as Palo Alto Networks, Barracuda Networks, Nimble Storage, Jive and WhatsApp. Also contributing to the round are New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and Redpoint Ventures.

Springpath's founders have spent nearly three years building their new platform, which they say will ultimately host, manage and protect multiple VMs, server OSes, apps and application infrastructure including Docker containers. The company's namesake Springpath Data Platform in effect aims to let organizations rapidly provision, host and virtualize multiple VMs (VMware, Hyper-V and KVM), compute and application instances, storage pools and distributed file systems while managing and protecting them running on commodity servers and storage.

Founders Mallik Mahalingam and Krishna Yadappanavar are respectively responsible for the development of VMware VXLAN, the underpinnings of the software-defined network (SDN), and VMFS, the widely deployed file system in VMware environments. The two believe the new distributed subscription-based datacenter platform they're rolling out will reshape the way enterprises develop and host their applications in the future.

Springpath's software runs on any type of commodity servers and storage hardware offered in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) subscription model. The hosting and systems management platform costs $4,000 per server per year and ties into existing enterprise management systems. Not surprisingly, it initially supports VMware vCenter, but will also run as a management pack in Microsoft System Center.

The platform is based on what Springpath calls its Hardware Agnostic Log-structured Objects (HALO) architecture, which purports to offer a superior method for provisioning data services, managing storage and offering a high-performance and scalable distributed infrastructure. Rather than requiring customers to buy turnkey appliances, the company is offering just the software. It's currently supported on servers offered by Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Supermicro. Customers can deploy the software themselves or have a partner run it on one of the supported systems. Springpath has forged a partnership with mega distributor Tech Data to provide support for the platform.

Ashish Gupta, Springpath's head of marketing, described the HALO architecture in an interview. HALO consists of distribution, caching, persistence optimization and structured object layers, Gupta explained. "Married to all of this are the core data services that all enterprises are going to need from a management perspective like snapshots, clones, compression [and so on]," he said. "The idea here is you can put the Springpath Data Platform on a commodity server and then scale and essentially give core capabilities that can replace your array-based infrastructure. You will no longer need to buy expensive multimillion arrays and isolate yourself in that environment, you are buying commodity servers putting the software on top, and you're going to get all the enterprise capabilities and functionality that you expect."

The hardware-agnostic distribution layer, for example, enables enterprises to take advantage of all the underlying hardware to support an application, he added. "The platform can be running on N number of servers. We can take advantage of all the resources underneath the servers, be it the disk, be it the memory or the flash environment and essentially present that to the applications that are supported by the platform."

In that context the applications can run in a virtualized environment from VMware, Hyper-V or KVM, and can be supported in containerized environments. Gupta noted Springpath is also providing its Platform-as-a-Bare-Metal offering. "So it can look like a traditional storage device, except it can scale seamlessly in a bare metal deployment," he said. Gupta added Springpath has its own file system and supports either block objects or Hadoop plug-in infrastructures. "In essence, we can give you a singular platform for the app your application needs," he said.

While it's not the only hyper-converged platform available, it is the first potentially major one offered not tied to a specific hardware platform or offered as an appliance, said Chuck Bartlett, senior VP for Tech Data's advanced infrastructure solutions division, which is working to line up systems integration partners to offer the platform. "The fact that it is compute-agnostic, meaning the end-user client can use the server platform they have or want to implement, is unique and compelling.

Looking ahead, Springpath's Gupta sees HALO targeting emerging Web-scale applications and distributed programming environments built in programming languages such as Node.js, Scala, Akka or Google Go. The initial release is designed to support VMware environments and OpenStack Horizon-based clouds, though plans call for supporting Microsoft Azure, Hyper-V and System Center this summer.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/18/2015 at 4:02 PM0 comments

Obama's Order Ups the Ante on Cyber Security Information Sharing

President Obama issued an executive order aimed at persuading companies who suffer breaches to share information in an effort to provide more coordinated response to cyberattacks. Though it stops short of mandating that they do so, the president is also introducing legislation that will pave the way for greater information sharing between the private sector and government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security. The legislation also calls for the modernization of law enforcement authorities to fight cybercrime and the creation of a national breach reporting authority.

The order, signed today by the president at the Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., sets the stage for the latest round of debate on how to protect the nation's infrastructure and consumer information without compromising privacy and civil liberties. Obama's push to promote information sharing, which could help provide better threat intelligence and methods of responding to attacks, nonetheless won't sit well with organizations who loathe to do so for concerns over liability and business impact.

Specifically the president has proposed the formation of information sharing and analysis organizations (ISAOs). These will be private sector groups that would share information and collaborate on issues related to cyber security by creating Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs). It extends on the information sharing executive order Obama issued two years ago to the day and outlined in this State of the Union Address that led to the release of last year's Cybersecurity Framework.

Since then of course, the numbers of cyber attacks have become more severe with the 2013 Target breach, major attacks last year against Apple, Home Depot, the IRS, Sony and now this year's compromise of customer info at Anthem, the second largest health insurance provider.

Obama also met today with some key industry executives at the Cybersecurity Summit in Palo Alto, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Intel president Renee James. Besides Cook, top CEOs are conspicuous by their absence including Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Yahoo. The president signed the executive order at today's summit.

The order also seeks to let law enforcement agencies prosecute those who sell botnets, while making it a crime to sell stolen U.S. financial information such as credit card and account numbers to anyone overseas. It will also give federal law enforcement agencies authority to go after those who sell spyware and give courts the authority to shut down botnets.

Several key IT providers and large companies at risk today attending the summit announced their support for the framework including Intel, Apple, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Pacific Gas & Electric, AIG, QVC, Walgreens and Kaiser Permanente, according to a fact sheet released by the White House.

While some just announced support for the framework, Intel released a paper outlining its use and stated that it is requiring all of its vendors to use it as well. Apple said it's incorporating it as part of its broader security across its networks. Also requiring its vendors to use the framework are Bank of America, while insurance giant AIG said it is incorporating the NIST framework into how it underwrites cyber insurance for business of all sizes and will use it to help customers identify gaps in their approach to cyber security.

The White House also said several members of the Cyber Threat Alliance, which includes Palo Alto Networks, Symantec, Intel and Fortinet, have formed a cyber threat-sharing partnership that aims to create standards aligned with its information sharing order. Along with that, according to the White House, Box plans to participate in creating standards for ISAOs with plans to use its Box platform to extend collaboration among ISAOs. Further, FireEye is launching an Information Sharing Network, which will let its customers receive threat intelligence in near real time (including anonymized indicators).

Several companies are also announcing efforts to extend multifactor authentication, including Intel, which is releasing new authentication technology that seeks to make biometrics a more viable option to passwords. Credit card providers and banks, including American Express, Master Card and its partner First Tech Credit Card Union, are all advancing efforts to pilot and/or roll out new multifactor authentication methods including biometrics and voice recognition.

Much of the buzz is about the failure of the tech CEOs to attend, but it looks like today's event at Stanford has shown some potentially significant advances by companies and some proposals by the president that will certainly extend the noise level of debate from Silicon Valley to the Beltway.

What's your take on the president's latest executive order?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/13/2015 at 12:48 PM0 comments

Popular Windows Troubleshooting Site Is Now SSL-Enabled

The popular Sysinternals site acquired by Microsoft nearly two decades ago with troubleshooting utilities, tools and help files is now SSL-enabled. The cocreator steward of the site Mark Russinovich, Microsoft's Azure CTO, tweeted the news earlier in the week.

Microsoft and many others are making the move to use the SSL protocol for Web sites -- the long-established Secure Sockets Layer standard used for encrypted Web sessions. Enabled for decades in sites where financial transactions and other secure communications are necessary, the move to HTTPS sessions from HTTP is rapidly spreading rapidly as the hazards of intercepted communications is on the rise.

If you ask, why would a site that just hosts documentation need an HTTPS connection, consider there are lots of executables there as well, and though all the binaries are signed, using SSL to access the tools via the online share prevents man-in-the-middle tampering in cases where the user doesn't validate the signature before launching the tool.

[Click on image for larger view.] 



Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/12/2015 at 1:28 PM0 comments

Microsoft: How To Use Docker Containers in Azure

Microsoft's announcement back in October that it has partnered with Docker to enable Linux containers to run in Windows was an important step forward for enabling what promises to be the next wave in computing beyond virtualization. While things can change on a dime, it looks like Microsoft is going all in by supporting a widely endorsed (including IBM, Google, VMware and others) new computing model based on application portability and a more efficient use of compute, storage and network resource.

It sounds quite grand but so did virtualization -- and the idea of consolidating server resources -- when it hit the scene a decade ago. Of course, the proof will be in the implementation. It's very likely we'll hear about how to enable Linux containers in Windows Server at the upcoming Build and Ignite conferences in late April and early May, as Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover hinted last week.

"We're also going to talk about containers, Docker containers for Windows," Snover said. "There will be two flavors of the compute containers. There'll be a compute container focused in on application compatibility, so that will be server running in a containers, and then there will be containers optimized for the cloud. And with those containers you'll have the cloud optimized server."

Those wanting to start running Linux containers in Azure can start now, based on documentation posted by Microsoft yesterday. "Docker is one of the most popular virtualization approaches that uses Linux containers rather than virtual machines as a way of isolating data and computing on shared resources," according to the introduction. "You can use the Docker VM extension to the Azure Linux Agent to create a Docker VM that hosts any number of containers for your applications on Azure."

The documentation explains the following:

It also aims to explain how to:

In its description of Docker containers, it points out they're currently one of the most popular virtualization alternatives to virtual machines in that they isolate data and computing on shared resources, enabling developers to build and deploy apps across Docker resources, which may run in different environments.

As I noted earlier in the week, DH2i is now offering a platform that enables containers that run in Windows Server -- the difference being that they're Windows, not Linux-based, though they purport to work with Docker containers as well.

But if you're looking to start with Docker in Azure, Microsoft is making the push.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/12/2015 at 1:27 PM0 comments

Azure Customers Can Use ExpressRoute Free Through June

Microsoft's new ExpressRoute service could emerge as a key piece of its hybrid cloud story for customers wary of using the public Internet to link their private datacenters to Azure. ExpressRoute, introduced at last May's TechEd conference in Houston, effectively provides dedicated links that are more reliable, faster and secure. To encourage customers and partners to try it out, Microsoft is offering the service free of charge through the end of June.

The offer covers Microsoft's Express Route 10 Mbps Network Service Provider (NSP) for new and existing customers in all Azure regions where ExpressRoute is currently offered. Several of Microsoft's telecommunications partners that offer ExpressRoute are also joining in the promotion including British Telecom, Colt, and Level 3. Also, AT&T is offering six month trials of its new NetBond service and Verizon is providing six months use of its Secure Cloud Interconnect offering for first-time users of its basic data plan with customers who sign two-year agreements for up to 1TB per month.

"ExpressRoute gives you a fast and reliable connection to Azure, making it suitable for scenarios such as data migration, replication for business continuity, disaster recovery, and other high-availability strategies," wrote Sameer Sankaran, a senior business planner within Microsoft's Azure group. "It also allows you to enable hybrid scenarios by letting you seamlessly extend your existing datacenter to Azure."

The service is especially complementary for services like Azure Site Recovery, which provides disaster recovery services using Azure targets and Hyper-V replication and for applications requiring private or more reliable links than using an Internet connection.

ExpressRoute is designed to connect on-premises resources such as physical and virtual server farms, storage, media services and Web sites, among other services. The service requires you to order circuits via one of the connectivity partners. Customers can choose either a direct layer 3 connection via an exchange provider or a standard layer 3 link from an NSP. Customers can enable one or both types through their Azure subscriptions but must configure both to connect to all supported services.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/11/2015 at 1:28 PM0 comments

Containers Now Available in Windows Server

A little-known startup that offers data protection and SQL Server migration tools today released what it calls the first native container management platform for Windows Server and claims it can move workloads between virtual machines and cloud architectures. DH2i's DX Enterprise encapsulates Windows Server application instances into containers removing the association between the apps, data and the host operating systems connected to physical servers.

The Fort Collins, Colo.-based company's software is a lightweight 8.5 MB server installation that offers a native alternative to that of Docker containers, which are Linux-based, though Microsoft and Docker are working on porting their containers to Windows, as announced last fall. In addition to its relationship with Microsoft, Docker has forged ties with all major infrastructure and cloud providers including Google, VMware and IBM. Docker and Microsoft are jointly developing a container technology that will work on the next version of Windows Server.

In his TechDays briefing last week, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover confirmed that the company will include support for Docker containers in the next Windows Server release, known as Windows vNext.

DH2i president and CEO Don Boxley explained why he believes DX Enterprise is a better alternative to Docker, pointing to that fact that it's purely Windows Server-based.

"When you look at a Docker container and what they're talking about with Windows containerization, those are services that they're looking at then putting some isolation kind of activities in the future," Boxley said. "It's a really important point that Docker's containers are two containerized applications. Yet there are still going to be a huge amount of traditional applications simultaneously. We'll be able to put any of those application containers inside of our virtual host and have stop-start ordering or any coordination that needs to happen between the old type of applications and the new and/or just be able to manage them in the exact same way. It forces them to be highly available and extends now to a containerized application."

The company's containers, called "Vhosts," each have their own logical host name, associated IP addresses and portable native NTFS volumes. The Vhost's metadata assigns container workload management, while directing the managed app to launch and run locally, according to the company. Each Vhost shares one Windows Server operating system instance, which are stacked on either virtual or physical servers. This results in a more consolidated way of managing application workloads and enabling instance portability, Boxley explained.

Unlike Docker there are "no companion virtual machines running Linux, or anything like that at all," Boxer said. "It's just a native Windows application, you load it onto your server and you can start containerizing things right away. And again, because of that universality of our container technology, we don't care whether or not the server is physical, virtual or running in the cloud. As long as it's running Windows Server OS, you're good to go. You can containerize applications in Azure and in Rackspace and Amazon, and if the replication data pipe is right, you can move those workloads around transparently." At the same time, Boxley said it will work with Docker containers in the future.

Boxley said a customer can also transparently move workloads between any virtual machine platform including VMware, Hyper-V and Xen. "It really doesn't matter because we're moving the applications not the machine or the OS," he said. Through its management console, it automates resource issues including contention among containers. The management component also provides alerts and ensures applications are meeting SLAs.

Asked why it chose Windows Server to develop DX Enterprise, Boxley said he believes it will remain the dominant environment for virtual applications. "We don't think -- we know it's going to grow," he said. IDC analyst Al Gillen, said that's partly true, though Linux servers will grow in physical environments. Though he hasn't tested DX Enterprise, Gillen said the demo looked promising. "For customers that have an application that they have to move and they don't have the ability to port it, this is actually a viable solution for them," Gillen said.

The solution is also a viable option for organizations looking to migrate applications from Windows Server 2003, which Microsoft will no longer support as of July 14, to a newer environment, Boxley said. The software is priced at $1,500 per server core (if running on a virtual machine it can be licensed via the underlying core), regardless of the number of CPUs. Support including patches costs $360 per core per year.

Boxley said the company is self-funded and started out as a Microsoft BizSpark partner.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/10/2015 at 12:15 PM0 comments

White House Taps Former Microsoft CIO Tony Scott

The White House late last week said it has named Tony Scott as its CIO. This will only be the third person charged with overseeing the nation's overall IT infrastructure. Scott, who served as Microsoft's CIO, also served that role for Disney and VMware and was CTO at GM.

Scott's official title will be U.S. CIO and Administrator of OMB's Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology, succeeding Steve VanRoekel. The first CIO was Vivek Kundra, who launched the government's Cloud First initiative. The Obama Administration will task Scott with implementing its Smarter IT Delivery agenda outlined in the president's 2016 proposed budget.

I actually first met Scott when he was GM's CTO in the late 1990s when he spoke at a Forrester conference about managing large vendors, which included Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and numerous others including  some startups during the dot-com era. I later caught up with him more than a decade later attending Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in 2010 in Washington, D.C.

Among his key initiatives at the time as Microsoft's CIO was enabling the internal use of new technologies  the company had recently brought to market, among them Azure. "I think we've done what Microsoft always has done traditionally, which is we try to dog-food our own stuff and get the bugs out and make sure the functionality is there," he said during an interview at WPC, though he qualified that by adding: "We'll move them or migrate them as the opportunity arises and as the business case makes sense."

Nevertheless he was known as a proponent of cloud-enabling internal applications as quickly as possible. Scott's tenure at Microsoft ran from 2008 until 2013 and he has spent the past two years at VMware.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/09/2015 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Microsoft Reveals Its Product Roadmap, Issues Windows Server 2003 Warning

The news that the next version of Windows Server and System Center won't come until next year caught many off guard who were under the impression one would come later this year. Microsoft brought its enterprise product roadmap into fuller view with that announcement and the promise of a new version of SharePoint Server later this year.

This latest information came at a fortuitous time for my colleague Gladys Rama, who was putting the finishing touches on the updated 2015 Microsoft Product Roadmap for sister publication Redmond Channel Partner. Check it out if you want to know planned release dates for anything noteworthy to an IT pro from Microsoft.

As for the delay of Windows Server v.Next, ordinarily it would seem par for the course. But after releasing Windows Server 2012 R2 just a year after Windows Server 2012 and messaging that Microsoft was moving toward a faster release cadence,  it was more surprising. Whether by design or otherwise, the news removes a key decision point for IT pros who were considering waiting for the new Windows Server to come out before migrating their Windows Server 2003-based systems.

As soon as Microsoft got the word out that the new Windows Server is on next year's calendar, it issued another reminder that Windows Server 2003's end of support is less than six months away.  Takeshi Numoto, corporate VP for cloud and enterprise marketing, gave the latest nudge this week in a blog post once again warning of the risks of running the unsupported operating system after the July 14 deadline.

"Windows Server 2003 instances will, of course, continue to run after end of support," he noted. "However, running unsupported software carries significant security risks and may result in costly compliance violations. As you evaluate security risks, keep in mind that even a single unpatched server can be a point of vulnerability for your entire infrastructure."

Microsoft has urged customers to migrate to Windows Server 2012 R2 and, where customers feel it makes sense, consider a cloud service such as Office 365 to replace Exchange Server on-premises as well as Azure or other cloud infrastructure or platform services to run database applications, SharePoint and other applications.

Did the news that Windows Server v.Next have any impact on your Windows Server 2003 migration plans? Or was the prospect of it possibly coming later this year too close for comfort for your planning purposes?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/06/2015 at 4:05 PM0 comments

Goverlan Releases Free WMI Scripting Tool for Remote Windows Management

Goverlan last week said it's giving away its version of its GUI-based Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) tool for remote desktop management and control. The company's WMI Explorer (WMIX) lets IT pros with limited scripting or programming skills perform agentless remote administrations of Windows-based PCs.

The free tool  -- an alternative to Microsoft's own command line interface called WMIC-- leverages WMI, a stack of Windows driver component interfaces supporting key standards including WBEM and CIM. WMI is built into all versions of Windows, allowing for deployed scripting to manage PCs and some servers remotely.

According to Goverlan, its WMIX tool includes a WMI Query Wizard, which will appeal to administrators with limited scripting or coding skills because it lets them create sophisticated standard WMI Query Language (WQL) queries with a filtering mechanism that generates results matching the needs of the specified remote systems. Goverlan's WMIX GUI lets administrators automatically generate Visual Basic scripts to define parameters to generate a script and report. It can also create WMI-based Group Policy Objects (GPO) and performs agentless system administration.

What's in it for the company to give away this free tool? Ezra Charm, Goverlan's vice president of marketing, noted that the company has never officially launched the tool nor has it significantly promoted it, yet it's popular among those who use it. "We are seeing a ton of interest," Charm said. Though many companies release free tools hoping to upsell customers to premium releases, Charm said the release of WMIX is primarily aimed at overall awareness for those who want to perform advanced WMI-based system administration functions and reports. Nevertheless, the effect would be the same.

WMIX is a component of the company's flagship systems administration tool, Goverlan Remote Administration Suite v8, which, depending on your environment, is an alternative or supplement to Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager.

"At first, WMIX was implemented as an internal development tool to assist the integration of WMI Technology within the Goverlan Client Management Tool, but we quickly realized that this product would be of great services to all Windows System Administrators out there as it would allow anyone without advanced scripting knowledge to consume this powerful technology," said Goverlan CEO, Pascal Bergeot, in a statement announcing the release of the free tool

Goverlan requires contact information to activate the WMIX download.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/03/2015 at 12:20 PM0 comments

VMware Releases Long-Awaited vSphere 6 Upgrade

It's been three years since VMware has upgraded its flagship hypervisor platform, but the company yesterday took the wraps off vSphere 6, which the company said offers at least double the performance over its predecessor vSphere 5.5. VMware describes its latest release as the "foundation for the hybrid cloud," thanks to the release of its OpenStack distribution and upgrades to components of the suite that integrate virtualized software-defined storage and networking.

The new wares, set for release by the end of March, will offer a key option for enterprise IT decision makers to consider as they choose their next-generation virtual datacenter and hybrid cloud platforms. With the new wave of releases, VMware is advancing and integrating its new NSX software-defined networking technology. VMware, to some extent, is also challenging the business model of its corporate parent EMC by offering new storage virtualization capabilities with its new Virtual SAN 6 and vSphere Virtual Volumes, which will enable virtualization of third-party storage arrays.

The move comes as VMware seeks to maintain its dominant hold on large datacenter installations looking to move to hybrid and public clouds as giants such as Microsoft, Google, IBM and Amazon Web Services are looking to position their cloud platforms as worthy contenders. In what appeared to be a strategically timed move, Microsoft published its Cloud Platform roadmap, as reported, just hours before the VMware launch event.

With this release, it now remains to be seen whether VMware can successfully leverage the virtualized server stronghold it has with its network and storage virtualization extensions to its public cloud, vCloud Air, as Microsoft tries to lure those customers away with its Cloud OS model consisting of Windows Server, Hyper-V and Microsoft Azure. Despite Microsoft's gains, VMware is still the provider to beat, especially when it comes to large enterprise installations.

"VMware's strength remains their virtualization installed base, and what they're doing through NSX is building that out into cloud environments," said Andrew Smith, an analyst at Technology Business Research. "VMware realizes that they need to gain ground, especially in private cloud deployments, so they're going to use NSX to tie into security along with vSphere, to really try and take the hybrid cloud space by storm. And I think with updates to vSphere and the integration with OpenStack it's all pieces of the puzzle coming together to make that a reality to customers."

OpenStack Cloud Support
The VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO) distribution, the company's first OpenStack distro, includes an API access that provides access to OpenStack-enabled public and private cloud and VMware vSphere infrastructure. "VIO is free to vSphere Enterprise Plus customers and comes as a single OVA file that can be installed in fewer than 15 minutes from the optional vSphere Web client. VIO support, which includes support for both OpenStack and the underlying VMware infrastructure and is charged on a per-CPU basis,  said Tom Fenton, a senior validation engineer and lab analyst with IT analyst firm Taneja Group, in a commentary published on our sister site

"VMware brings a lot to the OpenStack table with VIO," according to Fenton. "Many common OpenStack tasks are automated and can be performed from vCenter. vRealize Operations is able to monitor OpenStack, and LogInsight can parse OpenStack logs to separate the considerable amount of log noise from actionable items." The new NSX software-defined networking infrastructure will enable ties to OpenStack-compatible clouds, as well as VMware's own vCloud Air public cloud.

"The company now has offerings that address all layers of the Kusnetkzy Group virtualization model, including access, application, processing, storage and network virtualization, as well as both security and management for virtualized environments, sometimes called software-defined environments," wrote noted analyst Dan Kusnetsky, in his Dan's Take blog post.

Hypervisor Improvements with vSphere 6
Martin Yip, a VMware senior product manager, said in a company blog post announcing vSphere 6 that it has 650-plus new features, increased scale, performance, availability, storage efficiencies for virtual machines (VMs) and datacenter simplified management. "vSphere 6 is purpose-built for both scale-up and scale-out applications including newer cloud, mobile, social and big data applications," Yip noted.

Compared with the existing vSphere 5.5, vSphere 6 supports 64 hosts per cluster which is double the VMs per cluster, 480 CPUs versus 320, triple the RAM with 12TB per host and quadruple the VMs per host with 2,048. It also supports double the number of virtual CPUs per VM at 128 and quadruple the amount of virtual RAM per VM totaling 4TB, according to Yip.

The starting price for vSphere 6 is $995 per CPU. vSphere with Operations Management 6 starts at $1,745 per CPU and vCloud Suite 6 starts at $4,995 per CPU.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/03/2015 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Microsoft: Software Support Provides Best Route to Windows 10 Enterprise Edition

When Microsoft last month announced that it will offer Windows 10 as a free upgrade to Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 users, the company said the deal doesn't apply to enterprise users. The company clarified that point late last week saying that the free upgrade is available to business users who have Windows Pro, but those wanting enterprise management capabilities should stick with or move to Software Assurance.

In a blog post outlining the way Microsoft will release new Windows 10 features and fixes via its new Windows-as-a-service model, the company elaborated on the free offer. Simply put, the free offer is available to anyone with Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8.x Pro. If you have Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 8.x Enterprise and require the same "enterprise-grade capabilities, Windows Software Assurance (SA) will continue to offer the best and most comprehensive benefits," wrote Jim Alkove, a leader on the Windows Enterprise Program Management.

While Microsoft could change what's offered in its unnamed pro and enterprise versions, the latter edition will offer Direct Access, BranchCache, App Locker, support for VDI and the Windows to Go capability, according to a Microsoft description of the differences between the two SKUs. It's clear that Microsoft wants to get as many users as possible onto Windows 10, which required users to upgrade within a year of its release.



Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/02/2015 at 1:51 PM0 comments

Microsoft Will Deliver On-Premises SharePoint 2016 This Year

Allaying concerns that Microsoft wasn't planning to develop any more on-premises versions of SharePoint, the company today said a new server release is scheduled for the second half of 2015. Microsoft's emphasis on SharePoint Online had many wondering at times whether the company was planning a new server release, although the company had indicated back in March that a new version was coming.

Despite its push to the cloud version, Microsoft has acknowledged and promoted the fact that organizations' best way to transition is via a hybrid architecture providing connectivity between server and Microsoft's SharePoint Online services. However unlike the on-premises version, the Office 365 version of SharePoint Online doesn't support the trusted code and apps developed for SharePoint Server.

"While we've seen growing demand for SharePoint Online, we recognize that our customers have a range of requirements that make maintaining existing SharePoint Server deployments the right decision for some," said Julia White, general manager for Microsoft's Office Products division in a blog post today. "We remain committed to meeting those needs. We're excited about the next on-premises version of SharePoint and we're sure you will be too. It has been designed, developed and tested with the Microsoft Software as a Service (SaaS) strategy at its core, drawing from SharePoint Online. With this, SharePoint Server 2016 will offer customers enhanced, flexible deployment options, improved reliability and new IT agility, enabled for massive scale."

The company didn't offer any details on what its plans are for SharePoint Server 2016 other than to say it will provide more details at its forthcoming Ignite conference in Chicago in the first week of May, although White insinuated that Microsoft would aim to extend the hybrid capabilities that the current on-premises and cloud versions offer.

"A hybrid SharePoint deployment can provide IT agility by creating a consistent platform spanning datacenters and cloud, simplifying IT and delivering apps and data to users on any device, anywhere," she said. "With SharePoint Server 2016, in addition to delivering rich on-premises capabilities, we're focused on robust hybrid enablement in order to bring more of the Office 365 experiences to our on-premises customers."

Microsoft is already jumpstarting that hybrid effort this year with the rollout of APIs and SDKs that aim to bridge the gap between the on-premises and cloud worlds, as noted in last month's Redmond magazine cover story. The topics to be discussed in sessions at Ingite cover the gamut of SharePoint and Office 365 technologies including Delve, OneDrive, Project, Visio and Yammer.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/02/2015 at 7:33 AM0 comments

Microsoft Releases Outlook for iOS and Android

Microsoft today released versions of its widely used Outlook mail, calendaring and contacts app for users of iPhones, iPads and a preview version Android devices. More than 80 million iPad and iPhone users have downloaded Office, according to Microsoft.

 "We have received tremendous customer request for Outlook across all devices, so we are thrilled to fulfill this for our customers," said Julie White, general manager for the Office product management team. Microsoft was able to develop the new Outlook apps thanks to code developed by Acompli, which Microsoft acquired last month , she noted. 

I didn't see it in the Apple Store earlier today but a link Microsoft provided enabled an easy download of the Outlook app for the iPad. It looks a lot like the traditional Outlook client, though it clearly is stripped down. In the Settings folder (Figure 1) you can choose swipe options, browsers and create a signature for each or all accounts. However, unlike the Windows Outlook client, you can only create generic signatures.

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 1. Settings folder on the new Outlook app for the iPad.

The mail client has a search button and allows you to see your folders (Figure 2). It also provides access to OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive storage accounts (Figure 3). In the configuration setting, it provides access to your Exchange account,, OneDrive, iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Dropbox and Box (Figure 4).

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 2. Search feature for the iOS version of Outlook.


[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 3.Available storage accounts.
[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 4. Available e-mail accounts.

Unfortunately if you connect to any other POP- or IMAP-based service you're out of luck. Microsoft didn't indicate whether that will change, though White noted that "you will see us continue to rapidly update the Outlook app, delivering on the familiar Outlook experience our customers know and love." For my testing purposes, I have a Yahoo mail account that I use for less-critical purposes, which enabled me to test the new Outlook client.

Microsoft said the new Outlook app replaces Outlook Web Access for iOS and Android, though Microsoft said it will keep them around for now because some advanced Exchange and Office 365 features still aren't available with the new Outlook app.

Microsoft also announced that its Office for Android tablets is now generally available in the Google Play store. This replaces the preview versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It joins the already available version of OneNote for Android. The company said it will also support native implementation running on Intel chipsets within the quarter.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/29/2015 at 11:26 AM0 comments

Microsoft Upgrades and Discounts Power BI SaaS-Based Analytics Tool

Microsoft is giving its Power BI analytical service an upgrade with added connectivity sources, support for iOS and will be available for $9.99 for a premium edition to be called Power BI Pro. The company will also offer a free version with limited functionality that it will retain the Power BI name.  

Power BI, a cloud-based business analytics service launched a year ago, was aimed at both technical and general business users. The browser-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) tool generates operational dashboards. As noted in our First Look at Power BI last year, this tool adds new functionality to existing Microsoft information management offerings, namely Excel 2013, Office 365 and SharePoint 2013. 

Microsoft currently has three pricing tiers for Power BI, running as high as $52 per user per month included with Office 365 Pro Plus, $40 for a standalone version and $33 when added on to an Office 365 E3/E4 subscription. Starting Feb. 1 Microsoft is offering one paid subscription at the substantially reduced $9.99 price, which is 75 percent less expensive than the highest tier. The company will offer the free version when the upgrade becomes generally available.

The free version is limited to 1GB of data per month per user, whereas the paid subscription will allow up to 10GB according to a comparison of the two options. Users of the paid version will also have access to 1 million rows per hour of streaming data compared to 10,000 rows for the free service. The paid Power BI Pro is required to use such features as access to live data sources, the data management gateway and various collaboration features including the ability to share refreshable team dashboards, create and publish customized content packs, use of Active Directory groups for sharing and managing access control and shared data queries through the data catalog.

With the new preview, users can sign in with any business e-mail address, initially only in the United States. Microsoft said it'll be available for those in other countries in the future. The new data sources supported include GitHub, Marketo, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, SendGrid and Zendesk, noted James Phillips, Microsoft's general manager for data experiences, in a blog post Tuesday.  In the pipeline are Inkling Markets, Intuit, Microsoft Dynamics Marketing, Sage, Sumo Logic, Visual Studio Application Insights and Visual Studio Online, among others. "Power BI is 'hybrid' by design, so customers can leverage their on-premises data investments while getting all the benefits of our cloud-based analytics service," he said.

Microsoft also is offering a new tool called Power BI Designer, designed to let business analysts connect with, model and analyze data, he added, letting them easily publish results to any other Power BI user. The company also released a preview of Power BI for iPad, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store. Phillips noted versions for iPhones, Android and Windows universal apps will be available later this year.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/28/2015 at 3:20 PM0 comments

Apple Results Embarrass Microsoft: Is Nadella's Honeymoon Over?

One day after Microsoft delivered a disappointing quarterly earnings report, Apple Tuesday did the complete opposite by posting its best quarter ever -- far exceeding expectations. In fact Apple is said to have posted the most profitable quarter of any publicly traded company ever, buoyed by the fact that it sold 74.5 million iPhones between Oct. 1 and Dec. 27.

Apple recorded $74.6 billion in revenues with a record $18 billion profit (gross margin of 39.9%). This topped the previous record of ExxonMobil in the second quarter of 2002. The company's shares are soaring a day after Microsoft stock sunk about 9% (making it a key contributor to a down day for the stock market on Monday).

It's not that Microsoft had a horrible quarter -- revenues of $26.5 billion were up 8% year over year -- but profits were down and the growth outlook for next quarter was considerably slower than Wall Street had anticipated. The results have led many to question whether Satya Nadella's honeymoon is over as he approaches his one-year anniversary as CEO. During his first year, Nadella made some major moves to turn Microsoft around, as Mary Jo Foley noted in her monthly Redmond magazine column posted this week.

In addition, Microsoft posted only a 5% increase in commercial licensing and an overall operating income decline of 2%. Impacting earnings were the restructuring of its Nokia business unit and the transition to cloud computing, the company said.

Microsoft also blamed the strong dollar and weakness in China and Japan as well, which could further impact the current quarter should the dollar continue to strengthen, CFO Amy Hood warned on the earnings call. Ironically strong results in China were a key contributor for Apple's growth, while the company indicated only modest impact from the dollar's surge.

Among some other noteworthy improvements that Microsoft reported:

  • 9.2 million Office 365 Home and Personal licenses were sold. This is up 30% since last quarter.
  • $1.1 billion in  Surface sales (24% increase in sales).
  • 10.5 million Lumia smartphones sold, up 30 percent. However, Windows Phone still accounts for just 3 percent of the smartphone market.

But despite those improvements, Apple outshined Microsoft in a number of ways. Apple said it sold its 1 billionth iOS device in November. Average selling prices of iPhones increased $50 as customers opted for more expensive devices equipped with more storage. Not that any major market shifts were expected, but its huge spike in iPhone sales aided by the larger form factor of the latest models continues to leave Windows Phone in the dust.

For Microsoft, while Windows Pro OEM revenue declined 13 percent as did non-Pro revenue, sales of Apple Macintoshes rose 14% to total 5.5 million. Apple App Store revenues also jumped 41 percent. One weak spot for Apple was the decline of iPad sales -- 21.6 million units were sold, which is down from 26 million during the same period last year. The decline in iPads is not surprising given the release of the iPhone 6 Plus, which many might substitute an iPad Mini for due to the fact it's only slightly larger. Also recent upgrades have only had modest new features, giving existing users little incentive to replace the iPads they now have.

Still, iPads are becoming a formidable device in the enterprise and Apple CEO Tim Cook said on Tuesday's call that the company's partnership with IBM has helped boost the use of them in the workplace. "I'm really excited about the apps that are coming out and how fast the partnership is getting up and running," he said.

Many are expecting Apple to increase its enterprise push with the release of a larger iPad. For its part, Microsoft is rumored to have a new Surface device coming later this year, though the company has yet to confirm its plans.

Perhaps Cook is having a better week than Nadella but Microsoft has many other fish to fry where Apple is not in its path. Nadella's turnaround for Microsoft is very much still in progress. If the honeymoon is over, as some pundits suggest, then Nadella's success will ride on his ability to keep the marriage strong.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/28/2015 at 12:32 PM0 comments

Hands On: Windows 10's New Preview

When Microsoft released the newest Windows 10 Technical Preview on Friday, testers saw some major new features the company is hoping to bring to its operating system designed to switch seamlessly between PC and tablet modes. Among the key new features are a new Start Menu and Cortana, the digital assistant that, until now, was only available on Windows Phone.

Along with those and other new features, the new Build 9926 takes a key step forward in showing the progress Microsoft is making to remove the split personality that epitomizes Windows 8.x. Microsoft is designing Windows 10 to launch desktop apps from the Windows Store interface and vice versa. Upon downloading the new build you'll want to look at the following:

Start Menu: One of the biggest mistakes Microsoft made when it rolled out Windows 8 was the removal of the popular Start Button. While the company brought some of its capabilities back with Windows 8.1, the new build of the Technical Preview introduces a new Start Menu that Windows 7 users who have avoided Windows 8.x should feel comfortable with. The Start Menu displays the apps you use most on the left side of your screen and lets you customize the rest of the page with tiles that can be sized however the user chooses and grouped based on preferences such as productivity tools and content. It can be viewed in desktop mode (Figure 1) or in the pure tablet interface (Figure 2).

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 1. The Start Menu in Windows 10's desktop mode.


[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 2. The Start Menu in Windows 10's tablet mode.

Cortana: The digital voice assistant available to Windows Phone users is now part the Windows PC and tablet environment and it was the first thing I wanted to test upon downloading the new build. It wasn't able to answer many questions, though when asked who's going to win the Super Bowl, Cortana predicted the New England Patriots. We'll see how that plays out. Ask it the weather forecast and she'll give you a brief answer. In other cases when I asked certain questions it would initiate a Bing query and send back the search results in a browser view. Cortana is also designed to search your system, OneDrive and other sources based on your queries. Microsoft has warned Cortana for Windows is still in early development but it could emerge as a useful feature if it's able to work as the company hopes.  Like the Start Menu, Cortana works on the traditional desktop (Figure 3) or in the tablet mode (Figure 4).

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 3. Cortana on the desktop.


[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 4. Cortana in the tablet mode.

Continuum: The design goal of Windows 10 is its ability to let users transition between desktop and touch-based tablet modes. In either environment, you should be able to access desktop or Windows Store apps. For example if you have downloaded Google's Chrome browser as a desktop app, when in the tablet mode it will appear as an app in that environment. In either case, you're accessing the same browser, just from a different interface.

Farewell Charms: Microsoft introduced Charms with Windows 8 as a hip new way of configuring machines but many found it cumbersome and confusing. In the new build, Charms are gone, replaced by a new Settings component (Figure 5). As the name implies, Settings offers an easy way to customize the display, connect peripherals and configure networks.

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 5. Windows 10's new Settings component.

New Windows Store: Microsoft is preparing a new store that has a common design for PC, tablet and phone users as well as those accessing it via the Web. The new Windows Store beta (Figure 6) appears as a gray icon, though the existing Windows Store is still available in green.

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 6. The Windows Store beta.

File Explorer: Many users have complained that the File Explorer in Windows 8.x doesn't allow for a default folder. Now when opening the File Explorer in the new preview, it can be set to open to a default folder (Figure 7).

[Click on image for larger view.]  Figure 7.Windows 10's File Explorer.

Because this is still an early beta you'll find bugs and just because you see features here doesn't mean they'll end up in the shipping version this fall. If you've looked at this build, please share your opinions on the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/26/2015 at 3:40 PM0 comments

Box Shares Soar as IPO Shows Investor Appetite for the Cloud

After putting its plans to go public last year on hold, Box's widely anticipated IPO got out of the starting gate today with its shares up as much as 70 percent midday Friday. The company plans to use the estimated $180 million in proceeds to maintain operations and invest in capital infrastructure to grow its enterprise cloud offering.

Founder and CEO Aaron Levie launched the company in 2005 with the aim of offering an alternative to large premises-based enterprise content management systems. Over the years, Levie publicly put a target on the back of SharePoint. Levie's ambitions earlier this decade to establish Box as a SharePoint killer peaked before Office 365 and OneDrive for Business arrived. While Levie still has strong aspirations to become the primary storage and file sharing service for businesses, the market is more challenging now that Office 365 with OneDrive for Business, Google Drive and others are widely entrenched within enterprises.

For its part, Box has always targeted large enterprises, boasting such customers as GE, Toyota, Eli Lilly, Boston Scientific, Procter & Gamble, Chevron, Schneider Electric and Stanford University. Speaking on the New York Stock Exchange trading floor with CNBC, Levie emphasized that the best opportunity for the company lies with targeting large enterprises and mid-size firms with 500 to 1,000 employees.

Amid enthusiasm for Box, there's also plenty of skepticism among analysts. The company incurs large customer acquisition and retention costs, which include "customer success managers" assigned to those with contracts for the life of the relationship, according to the company's S1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Moreover, Box is unprofitable with no target date for turning a profit in sight. According to the filing, Box recorded a $169 million loss for the fiscal year ended January 31, 2014 with a deficit of $361 million.

Also in its filing, Box points to competitors including EMC, IBM and Microsoft (Office 365 and OneDrive), Citrix (ShareFile), Dropbox and Google (Google Drive). There are plenty of other rivals both entrenched and new players such as Acronis, Carbonite, Own Cloud and CloudBerry Lab, among numerous others.

Now that Box believes it doesn't have to displace SharePoint and OneDrive for Business in order to succeed, the company last summer forged an agreement to collaborate with Microsoft. The collaboration pact ensured that Office 365 could use Box to store and synchronize files as an alternative to OneDrive, both of which now offer unlimited storage for paying customers. Microsoft and Box rival Dropbox forged a similar arrangement.

Box also offers APIs for developers to build applications using Box as the content layer, which lets users store content from a given application to centrally and securely store it within its service. and NetSuite are among those that have used the API to tie their offerings together. In addition, Box last month added a new enterprise mobility management service, Box for Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM), which fits into the company's new Box Trust effort. That initiative consists of a string of partnerships with security vendors and those with data loss protection management tools. Symantec, Splunk, Palo Alto Networks, Sumo Logic and OpenDNS join existing partners Skyhigh Networks, Hewlett Packard, Okta, MobileIron, CipherCloud, Recommind, Ping Identity, Netskope, OneLogin, Guidance Software and Code Green Networks.

It remains to be seen if Box and its chief rival Dropbox can go it alone or if they'll become attractive takeover candidates. Of course that will depend on their ability to grow and ultimately turn a profit. Do you see Box or Dropbox becoming your organization's primary file store and sharing platform?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/23/2015 at 12:27 PM0 comments

Microsoft's HoloLens Doesn't Look Like a Google Glass Wannabe

One of the unexpected surprises at yesterday's Windows 10 prelaunch event and webcast was when Microsoft donned slick looking eyewear designed to bring holography to the mainstream. Whether Google got word of it days earlier when it pulled its own failed Google Glass experiment off the market is unknown. But the irony of the timing notwithstanding, Microsoft's new HoloLens appears to have more potential.

Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman, who works in Microsoft's operating systems group and is known as the "father of Kinect," made the surprise introduction of HoloLens at the Windows 10 event. While he didn't say when it would come out or how much it will cost, he positioned it as a product that's designed around Windows 10 and the suggestion is we'll see it sometime later this year.

"Holographic computing enabled by Windows 10 is here," said Kipman. "Every Windows 10 device has APIs focused on humans and environment understanding. Holographic APIs are enabled inside every Windows 10 build from the little screens to the big screens to no screens at all." It has a built-in CPU and GPU, but doesn't require external markers, cameras, wires or a computer connection, he added, and it will blend the physical and digital worlds.

When wearing HoloLens, it is designed to combine an existing environment with holograms, giving a 3D-like visual experience. While it surely will enhance Microsoft's gaming and entertainment portfolio including Xbox and Minecraft, the company also underscored practical uses for HoloLens. In a video, the company described how HoloLens can let workers share ideas, collaborate, teach and learn in a more visually immersive way.

Unlike Google Glass, HoloLens appears to have more practical use cases and may actually offer broader appeal. How broad will depend on price and how useful it ultimately is. But Microsoft has the advantage of seeing where Google Glass fell short and potentially has a larger ecosystem behind it. Perhaps it's even the catalyst that can bring developers of modern apps for other platforms into the fold?

Either way, Google hasn't thrown in the towel in this segment and it could prove to be a burgeoning market alongside other wearable gadgets. Kipman said Microsoft has worked on HoloLens in its research labs for many years, suggesting the demo wasn't just vaporware. It's yet another way Microsoft could draw demand for Windows 10 if users find HoloLens appealing. That could be the case if the price is right and it works as advertised.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/22/2015 at 12:28 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Free Upgrade Doesn't Apply to Enterprise Editions

It's great that Microsoft will let Windows 7 and Windows 8.x  users upgrade their systems to the new Windows 10 for free when it comes out this fall.  But before you cheer too loud, beware of the fine print: the deal doesn't apply to Windows Enterprise editions.

A Microsoft official earlier in the week told me that the company will have an event in March emphasizing the enterprise features of Windows 10. Hopefully Microsoft will reveal whether it will offer the free upgrade or some other incentive for earlier users to upgrade. In the fine print discovered by my colleague Kurt Mackie, Microsoft noted the exclusions, which also include the small number of Windows RT users.

"It is our intent that most of these devices will qualify, but some hardware/software requirements apply and feature availability may vary by device," according to the explanation. "Devices must be connected to the Internet and have Windows Update enabled. ISP fees may apply. Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 Update required. Some editions are excluded: Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, and Windows RT/RT 8.1. Active Software Assurance customers in volume licensing have the benefit to upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise outside of this offer. We will be sharing more information and additional offer terms in coming months."

In many instances, new system rollouts could negate this issue. Will a free upgrade make or break your organization's decision to move to Windows 10?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/22/2015 at 12:22 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Isn't Just a Free Upgrade -- It Talks and Is Smart

Microsoft potentially removed a crucial barrier to the future of its Windows franchise by saying it will offer the next version -- Windows 10 -- as a free upgrade to existing Windows 7 and Windows 8.x  users. The company is also adding some compelling new features that may make the upgrade worth the effort if these new capabilities live up to their promise.

Speaking at the anticipated launch event in Redmond today, Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive vice president of operating systems, announced the free upgrade. The caveat is users must install Windows 10 within a year of its release, though it remains to be seen whether that deadline will hold. Perhaps for consumers, which today's event was aimed at, that won't be a big deal. But businesses and enterprises do things on their own clocks, based on need and compatibility.

In an earlier post, I thought it would be a wise move to offer the free upgrade, though I had no knowledge Microsoft would ultimately do so. As part of the release, Microsoft is also shifting to what it calls Windows as a service, where it will provide continuous upgrades.

"When it comes to Windows as a service, it's a pretty profound change," Microsoft CEO Nadella said at today's event. "For customers, they're going to get a continuous stream of innovation. Not only a continuous stream of innovation but also the assurance their Windows devices are secure and trusted. For developers, it creates the broadest opportunity to target. For our partners, hardware and silicon partners, they can coincident with our software innovation, drive hardware innovation. We want people to love Windows on a daily basis."

Microsoft gave a number of reasons to "love" Windows besides the free upgrade. The company announced the rumored Spartan Web browser, which has a rendering engine better suited for modern Web applications, Myerson said. Microsoft will also offer Cortana, the digital assistant released for Windows Phone last year, for Windows running on PCs and tablets.

Officials also demonstrated the notion of a set of universal apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook, while optimized for each form factor that are consistent across them and designed to let a user stop working on one device and quickly pick up where he or she left off on another. An Xbox app on Windows that will allow Xbox users to run games on their PC or Windows tablet was also announced.

Microsoft also revealed its vision for augmented reality and took the wraps off HoloLens, which ironically is a Google Glass-looking device that Microsoft said has a built-in CPU and GPU and built on sensors. Microsoft described it as the world's first holographic computer. Its APIs are designed to work with the new Windows 10 environment.

More hardware is in the works from third parties and Microsoft. The event showcased the new Surface Hub, a Windows 10-based 84-inch Ultra HD display with Skype for Business built-in, sensors, cameras and the ability to mark up content with any phone or device. The company will also offer a 55-inch version and indicated other Surface hardware is in the works.

The company will release a new Windows 10 technical preview next week with a Windows 10 build for phones scheduled for release in early February. Many of the new features Microsoft demonstrated today will work their way into builds of the technical preview over the next three to five months, said Joe Belfiore, a vice president in the operating system group. Microsoft also plans to reveal more features for enterprises in March, according to a company official.  The company still plans for the commercial release of Windows 10 in the fall timeframe.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/21/2015 at 2:29 PM0 comments

.NET and AWS Pioneer Mike Culver Passes Away

Mike Culver, who served a number of strategic roles with Amazon Web Services from the inception of the company's launch of its popular public cloud, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer this week. He was 63. Culver, who before joining AWS was also a technical evangelist at Microsoft in the early days of the .NET Framework rollout, was deeply respected in Redmond and throughout the world.

In his roles at AWS, Culver trained insiders at the emerging cloud industry in how to build and deploy apps in EC2 and scaling them on the company's Simple Storage Service (S3). "Mike was well known within the AWS community," wrote AWS evangelist Jeff Barr, who had shared an office with Culver years back. "He joined my team in the spring of 2006 and went to work right away. Using his business training and experience as a starting point, he decided to make sure that his audiences understood that the cloud was as much about business value as it was about mere bits and bytes."

Culver spoke at many AWS and industry events including Visual Studio Live. I met Culver at Visual Studio Live in 2008 where he gave a session on how to scale ASP.NET applications with cloud-based content delivery. At the time Culver was head of developer relations at AWS. Keep in mind, this was before Microsoft officially announced Azure and AWS S3 was brand new. I was quite impressed by his presentation and sat down with him. Though that was the only time we met, we became friends on Facebook and occasionally commented on one another's posts. I'm quite saddened that he lost his battle both for him, his wife, grown children, siblings and many colleagues who clearly had deep admiration and respect for him.

When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, Culver was quite candid about his treatment but kept an upbeat yet realistic worldview about his battle. Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest of cancers. I lost my father nearly a decade ago to it. Culver was accepted a few weeks ago to partake in a trial in a new therapy to battle the disease, though in the end, the disease was too far advanced. Culver entered hospice last week. RIP Michael.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/21/2015 at 2:30 PM0 comments

Google Glass Exits Incubation and Enters the Nest

However you feel about the emerging wearables market, many rightfully have found the notion of Google Glass over the top. Given its obvious potential to distract one's attention, it should be illegal to wear them on the streets and certainly when driving.

Google's announcement yesterday that it will end the Google Glass experiment on Jan. 19 was inevitable since all experiments come to an end. On the other hand, Google has a history of labeling new products or services either tests or beta  for an extended amount of time --  remember when Gmail was a beta product for more than five years despite the fact that millions were using it?

Certainly millions weren't using Google Glass and given its $1,500 price tag, it's also not surprising that Jan. 19 is the last day Google will offer it. The company's announcement yesterday that it is moving Google Glass from the Google X research labs headed by Glass chief Ivy Rose into the Nest unit run by Tony Fadell makes sense.

Nest is the company that manufactures and sells network-enabled smart thermostats, which Google acquired last year for $3.2 billion. A few months later Nest also acquired Dropcam for $55 million, the provider of cameras which, like its thermostats, have built-in Wi-Fi connectivity.

Some reports are cheering the demise of Google Glass though the company seems to have future plans for it. Hopefully the Nest division will focus Google Glass on the practical usage: for vertical and specialty functions that can give medical practitioners and all kinds of field workers a tool to do useful things they are now incapable of doing.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/16/2015 at 12:32 PM0 comments

Obama's New Cybercrime Proposal Could Put Onus on IT Orgs

It appears President Obama's forthcoming legislative proposal to crack down on cybercrime could impose additional liabilities on IT pros in that there could be penalties for not putting in place the proper policies, auditing practices and reporting of breaches.

The President this week spoke on his plans to propose the new legislation aimed at stiffening the penalties for all forms of cybercrime that put the nation's critical information infrastructure at risk as well as individual privacy, he said in a speech Tuesday. Obama will emphasize his legislative proposal to Congress in his annual State of the Union address.

"We want to be able to better prosecute those who are involved in cyberattacks, those who are involved in the sale of cyber weapons like botnets and spyware," Obama said in Tuesday's speech. "We want to be sure we can prosecute insiders who steal corporate secrets or individuals' private information. We want to expand the authority of courts to shut down botnets and other malware. The bottom line: we want cyber criminals to feel the full force of American justice because they are doing as much if not more these days as folks who are involved in conventional crime."

The White House also announced it will host a cybersecurity and consumer protection summit at Stanford University on Feb. 13, which will include speeches, panel discussions and a number of topic-specific workshops. Stanford said it is still finalizing details of the summit.

In addition to calling for better information sharing, the legislation will call for compliance with "certain privacy restrictions such as removing unnecessary personal information and taking measures to protect personal information that must be shared in order to quality for liability protection." According to an outline on the White House Web site, the President will also propose giving law enforcement tools they need to "investigate, disrupt and prosecute cybercrime."

The administration has also revised an existing proposal pertaining to security breach reporting "by simplifying and standardizing the existing patchwork of 46 state laws (plus the District of Columbia and several territories) that contain these requirements into one federal statute, and putting in place a single clear and timely notice requirement to ensure that companies notify their employees and customers about security breaches."

Over the next five years, the Department of Energy will also provide $25 million in grants to fund the training of cybersecurity professionals. The move, of course, comes amidst growing concerns about high-profile breaches over the past year including Target, Home Depot and most recently Sony, among others.

Yet the President is sure to face a battle, especially as it relates to information sharing, where the IT industry is fighting to ensure customer privacy and civil rights. For its part, Microsoft has led that fight in its battle to protect data residing on servers in Dublin, despite last year's court order mandating the release of that information. The Electronic Foundation, the non-profit organization focused on protecting civil liberties, swiftly denounced the President's proposal.

"President Obama's cybersecurity legislative proposal recycles old ideas that should remain where they've been since May 2011: on the shelf," according to a statement it released following Obama's proposal. "Introducing information sharing proposals with broad liability protections, increasing penalties under the already draconian Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and potentially decreasing the protections granted to consumers under state data breach law are both unnecessary and unwelcome."

But the White House isn't alone in its effort to crack down on cybercrime. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman yesterday said he plans to propose legislation that would require companies to inform customers and employees following any type of cyberattack or breach. The legislation would also broaden the scope of data companies would be required to protect, impose tighter technical and physical security protection and offer a safe harbor for organizations meeting certain standards, according to a statement released by the AG's office. "With some of the largest-ever data breaches occurring in just the last year, it's long past time we updated our data security laws and expanded protections for consumers," Schneiderman said.

While it's good that cybercriminals will face harsher penalties for their crimes -- and they should -- it's not likely to thwart those determined to inflict the most harm. Still, no one wants to be the next Target or Sony. As the content of this new legislation is debated, it also puts enterprises on notice that they will need to take measures to protect their critical data -- for their benefit and for everyone else.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/15/2015 at 9:48 AM0 comments

Facebook Begins Enterprise Social Network Service Testing

Facebook apparently does intend to enter the enterprise social networking market with its own offering targeted at business users. The new Facebook at Work will let Facebook users establish work accounts that are separate from their personal accounts.

Rumors that Facebook was developing a business network first came to light in November. News that the Facebook at Work pilot would launch today surfaced this morning in a report by Recode. A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that the company has launched the pilot with some undisclosed participants testing the new service.

"We're not disclosing the handful of companies in the pilot, since it's early and we're still testing," the spokeswoman said in response to an e-mail inquiry. I was able to download the new Facebook at Work app on my iPhone but when searching for it with my iPad  and Windows 8.1 PC, the app didn't appear in their respective app stores (as of Wednesday afternoon). The Facebook at Work FAQ indicated that it's also available in the Google Play app store.

"With a Facebook at Work account, you can use Facebook tools to interact with coworkers," according to the FAQ. "Things you share using your work account will only be visible to other people at your company. To set up an account, your company must be using Facebook at Work." The current app allows users to request more information on how employers can establish accounts.

To what extent a full-blown launch of Facebook at Work might have on incumbent enterprise social network providers such as Microsoft's Yammer,'s Chatter and Jive remains to be seen. But as SharePoint and Yammer expert Christian Buckley of GTConsult said back in November, "they will undoubtedly attract users, and have a number of high-profile deployments, but there is a very real line of demarcation between consumer and business platforms, and I just don't see Facebook as being able to close that gap in any serious way."

Do you see your organization using Facebook at Work?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/14/2015 at 12:44 PM0 comments

Microsoft Showcases Retailer Azure Adoption

Microsoft is making a big splash at this year's annual National Retail Federation (NRF) show in New York. The company is showcasing a number of major brand name chains that have kicked off efforts to improve their in-store experiences by using Azure, predictive analytics and new ways of interacting using apps delivered on mobile devices and kiosks.

While Microsoft emphasized that many of its customers were rolling out mobile devices for their employees at last year's NRF show, the types of apps that various retailers and restaurant chains are rolling out this year make use of Microsoft Azure in a big way. A number of big chains including GameStop and McDonalds are making use of applications that make use of Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft's predictive analytics tool rolled out last year.

Usage of Azure by retailers has grown exponentially in the past year, Tracy Issel, general manager of Microsoft's retail sector, said in an interview. "It used to be [that] we talked with people about going to the cloud and the perceived risk and their concern about scalability," Issel said. "I haven't had one of those conversations in a long time. Now it's 'what do I move first and when do I do it?' Many are moving to Office 365 and Azure simultaneously."

In a roundtable discussion today, Issel introduced four customers that are in the midst of major new efforts using Azure and/or Windows 8.1-based tablets and kiosks. Here's a brief synopsis of their efforts:

GameStop: Jeff Donaldson, senior vice president of GameStop Technology Institute, outlined a number of initiatives that aim for customers to use the retailer's mobile app in ways that store employees can engage with them when a customer visits. The app uses a variety of analytics tools including Hewlett Packard Vertica, SAS for statistical analysis and Azure Machine Learning to inform a sales rep when a customer comes into a store as to what interactions have taken place in the past. "When they come into the store, we want to make sure the employees know about the messages we sent to customers so they better understand the intent of the visit," Donaldson says. Another major effort calls for delivering Ultra HD content into each of its 6,400 stores using Azure Media Services.

CKE Restaurant Holdings, aka Carls Jr. and Hardees: The popular fast-food chain has concluded that millennials would much rather interact with a kiosk to order their food than a person, said Thomas Lindblom, senior vice president and chief technology officer. As such, Hardees is rolling out kiosks that allow customers to choose and customize their burgers and it is designed to upsell. Lindblom is using Dell 24-inch off-the shelf touch-based PCs to deliver the highly visual application. Lindblom said CKE is "a significant user of Azure" for a number of functions including storage and disaster recovery. CKE has also rolled out Office 365.

TGI Fridays: Looking to modernize the dining experiences, waiters and waitresses will carry eight-inch off-the shelf Windows tablets with apps developed by Micros (which is now a part of Oracle). The point-of-sale solution is designed to track customer preferences through loyalty cards. "We are cutting training times [and] we are able to deliver this digital touch point in the hands of our servers as they serve their guests," said CIO Tripp Sessions.

McDonalds: Microsoft partner VMob has rolled out an Azure-based application at McDonalds locations in Europe that enables it to track customer preferences using information gathered by his or her purchasing patterns. VMob has also started rolling it out at locations in Japan. VMob founder and CEO Scott Bradley, who was demonstrating the solution in Microsoft’s both, indicated he’s still working on getting the app into United States locations but he implied that may take some time and said it’s not a done deal. Nevertheless, he said he believes McDonalds eventually will roll it out in the U.S.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/13/2015 at 1:48 PM0 comments

Curved Desktop Displays: Ergonomic or Cosmetic?

At last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there were robots, smartwatches, driverless cars, ultra-high-definition TVs and home automation systems. Even the traditional PC desktop display got a facelift.

Hewlett Packard was among a number of suppliers showcasing new curved desktop displays, designed to provide a more "immersive" experience, as Ann Lai, director of commercial displays at HP, put it in a briefing prior to the show.

"With a curve desktop display, you're really sitting right in front of it, so the curve is wrapping around you and providing you a very immersive experience that also makes it easier to read and more comfortable to use for longer periods of time," Lai said . "As displays have gotten larger, we've noticed the edges can be harder to read, especially when you're sitting close to it. With a curved display, you're going to have much more comfortable peripheral viewing as well as a much more immersive experience as you're using your display."

I'm reserving judgment as I've never tried one, though my first reaction was these would have more cosmetic appeal for an executive's office than helping make workers more productive. HP's new Pavilion 27 CM Elite display and Elite display S273 are both 27-inch curve displays that are priced at $399. The price is a slight premium over displays without a curve.

If you were looking for a new desktop display, would one with a curve be on your checklist?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/12/2015 at 3:32 PM0 comments

Do You Use 'Workplace Join' for BYOD?

When Microsoft released Windows Server 2012 R2 back in the fall of 2013, one of the many features we pointed out at the time was "Workplace Join," which is designed to let organizations  give single sign-on capability to their bring your own device (BYOD) employees -- or for anything not designed to join an Active Directory domain. Simply put, it lets you register a non-domain-based device running Windows 8.1, iOS and Android to Active Directory. 

Microsoft was especially happy to tout Workplace Join when it launched its Windows RT-based Surface 2 back in September 2013. In an interview with Surface Director of Marketing Cyril Belikoff at the time, she talked up the Workplace Join capability with me. "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."  Last year, Microsoft added support for Windows 7-based systems as well.

Workplace Join does require Active Directory Federation Services, Active Directory on premises and the Device Registration Service, all part of the "Federation Services Role on Windows Server 2012 R2," as described in the TechNet library. 

I've talked to a variety of mobile device management vendors and suppliers of Active Directory management and auditing tools and I've heard various views. Some say customers (or prospective ones) are questioning how these tools will support Workplace Join and others recommend using the device enrollment features in their wares.

Microsoft boosting the functionality of Workplace Join in the forthcoming Windows 10 operating system could be a factor that builds to its popularity.

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