Microsoft Finally Admits Users Need Help with the Ribbon
It's still amazing how improvements designed to make software easier to use
actually do the opposite.
Microsoft has crowed about how the Ribbon interface in Office 2007 makes that
product easier to use by surfacing up its capabilities through its contextual
menuing system. Even when journalists reported over the past year-and-a-half
that users say it just makes features harder to find in production environments,
company executives just gave quizzical looks.
Well, Microsoft finally appears to be showing some concession on this issue.
Yesterday, Microsoft shipped
something called "search commands" that lets confused users actually
type the function they want to perform. Redmond has been testing this in its
own shop for months now, and believes it's ready for others outside of the Big
House to take it for a spin.
However, an interesting twist here is that the new technology won't be available
as a download from one of Microsoft's typical Web sites. Instead, a new group
established inside the company called Office
Labs will be making it available over its Web site.
This group's charter is to serve as a channel that puts out new productivity
software -- or even just a piece of a software program -- that may not be ready
to get some early help in further refining it. This is a nice idea; Microsoft
won't waste time and money pursuing something users have no interest in, and
so can more smartly invest its money in things users do care about.
Would've been nice to have had something like this for Vista, wouldn't it?
HP Breakthrough Promises More Dense, Greener Memory Chips
It sounds like a technology that should be available in 2050, but it could be
commercially available in PCs and servers a heck of a lot sooner.
Hewlett-Packard scientists yesterday said that they've successfully
designed what they described as a "circuit element" that could
in turn activate almost-microscopic computers capable of imitating biological
functions. They claimed that the Memristor paves the way for building dense
memory chips that require only a miniscule amount of power compared to today's
The HP propeller-heads describe the device as a sort of "electrical resistor
with memory properties." The real appeal of this technology is its potential
to store a very wide array of what scientists referred to as "intermediate
data" -- in laymen's terms, not just the binary 0s and 1s that today's
chips commonly do. This technology functions more like "biological synapses"
and so it seems would be perfect for a whole boatload of applications involving
The good news for our industry is that some researchers believe the Memristor
can be fast-tracked and will likely be applied sooner rather than later to memory
products for computers. While HP declined to give a specific timeframe, it would
be much, much closer to 2010 than 2050.
A nice built-in benefit here is the green aspect of the device; it needs only
a smidge of power compared to what today's chips need. This is because the Memristor
only needs power to switch and hold its state and doesn't need to be constantly
refreshed. But like all promising technologies, the Memristor has what would
be a major drawback -- namely, it operates approximately 10 times slower than
today's memory products.
Big Blue Still Big in Small Companies
Since the mid-1990s, IBM has been making a steady push into the small and medium-sized
business (SMB) market with increasing fervor. While Big Blue has made a healthy
living selling to the Fortune 1000-class IT shops, over the last dozen years
or so the company has placed a big bet that with the arrival of the Internet,
the SMB market would explode -- and it was right.
Most reputable analyst firms now put the total worth of that market at some
$253 billion and growing markedly faster than the enterprise market. In fact,
IBM's SMB sales are hovering around 20 percent of its total sales.
What makes IBM's growth rate impressive among smaller companies is that the
SMB market's natural habitat is archrival Microsoft. While Redmond still holds
the market share lead there, Armonk has made some significant inroads with no
signs of backing off.
This week, IBM continued its push into the SMB space by announcing a raft
of new products and solutions as part of its Express Advantage series, which
it claims will help SMBs better compete not just in their local markets but
One area the new offerings focus on is security, something often overlooked
by smaller shops that have maybe one or no dedicated IT professionals. In writing
a number of stories over the past few years, it was almost shocking to discover
how many small and even medium-sized shops had no security. That's right, none
-- as in none-point-none security. And with no dedicated IT pros in-house, these
companies also had no best-practices policies for employees to follow. Underscoring
this need for security is a recent Gartner report that stated 90 percent of
infrastructure protection for companies with under 500 employees will go to
security by 2010.
A couple of the new products and services include the Express Penetration Testing
Service, designed to show smaller companies where their hidden security weak
spots are by simulating various attacks; and the Express Multi-Function Security
Bundle, a service that provides a do-it-yourself method for fending off all
sorts of nasty bugs, worms and other malicious insects. The latter solution
is all tied together under the company's Unified Threat Management product.
Another practical offering is the Express Remote Data Protection Express. This
one, too, is laced with security features and also provides offsite backup and
recovery capabilities -- something understaffed, under-resourced SMBs can always
To read more about IBM's SMB push -- and about any of the other topics in this
column -- visit our news site RedmondReport.com.
Mailbag: Spammer Gets Canned
Lafe wrote about Eddie Davidson, who has been sentenced to nearly two years
in prison for spamming the heck out of people. Readers share their thoughts:
He may be getting free room and board for those 21 months but there is
still the big cost of no freedom, though most correctional facilities have
access to computers. Is he a hacker, too? If so, he may still do spam if he
is allowed to use a computer. Hmm. Kind of defeats the purpose of his incarceration,
But as an individual, I'm going to use the best-of-breed tools I can
find. Because I have yet to find any integrated systems that are totally infallible.
Davidson is getting off easy. He should be billed for the government's
expenses to convict and imprison him. He likely has a boatload of cash from
his nefarious ways. I say leave him penniless...and tack on a few more years,
I know for a fact that in county jail, an inmate pays for each day of
his sentence. I am not sure about prison, but I doubt it is free.
According to the article, "Davidson made at least $3.5 million sending
e-mails for nearly 20 companies." Here's the solution: Prosecute the
ones who paid him and seize their assets. The quasi-legit businesses that
pay spammers are the real problem -- nobody sends out spam just for fun.
Tell us what you think! Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
or leave a comment below.
Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.