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Windows 10 revealed: Microsoft’s next OS fuses Windows 7 and 8

At a press event on Tuesday, Microsoft launched the next version of Windows: Not Windows One, not Windows 9, but Windows 10, which combines the reborn Start menu with Windows 8’s colorful live tiles and adjusts its behavior depending on how you’re using your device.

Windows 10 will officially launch in the middle of next year, but you’ll have a chance to try it out before that via a new Windows Insider program, launching Wednesday. The platform’s most vocal fans will have a chance to download the technical preview before it launches next year.

Microsoft executives unveiled the new OS at a small press event in San Francisco, where the company tried to position the Windows 10 OS as a “natural step forward” for both Windows and Windows Phone, which will also be renamed Windows 10.

Windows 10 will be designed for the enterprise, Terry Myerson executive vice president of Microsoft’s OS group, said. It will have a “familiar” interface, whether it be for Windows 7 or Windows 8. “They will find all the tools they’re used to finding, with all the apps and tools they’re used to today,” he said.

Windows 10 will be compatible with all the familiar management systems, including mobile device management. MDM tools will manage not just mobile devices, but PCs, phones, tablets, and even embedded devices inpart of the Internet of Things, Myerson said. Enterprise customers will be able to manage their own app stores, so that ther employees get the right apps for them. As Windows 8 did, data security will be a priority, he said.

Windows 10’s ‘Task View’ includes multiple desktops, a feature long desired by power users.
Joe Belfiore, who runs part of the OS team focused on the PC experience, showed off the new OS, which he called a “very early build.” Yes, the new build has the Stat menu, combining the icon-driven menu from Windows 7, plus the added Live Tiles to the right.

Belfiore used the analogy of a Tesla to describe how Windows 7 users would feel when they upgraded—something that Microsoft desperately wants them to do: a supercharged OS, but one that will feel familiar.

One of the things that Microsoft wants to ensure is that Windows 10 is personalized results, including search results, Belfiore said.

Windows 8 had a universal app platform, with a common Windows Store that handle updates independently. Belfiore said that Microsoft wanted all those Windows 7 uses to get all the benefits of Windows 8 apps. Apps will be shown in the Live Tiles, with no real indication whether they are “classic” apps or modern, Windows 8 apps. Apps can be “snapped,” like Windows 8. Users will also not have to leave the Windows desktop to use modern apps, as expected.

Multitasking will also be a priority, with a stated goal being able to “empower” novice users, Belfiore said. On the taskbar there will be a “task view” where users can switch back and forth between different environments—whether it be 32-bit Windows 7 apps or modern apps. And yes, they will include virtual desktops, with the ability to switch back and forth between virtual environments. A “snap assist” feature will allow users to select similar windows to snap alongside other apps. And up to four apps or windows can be snapped to the four corners of the desktop, Belfiore said.

Even more advanced uses will be able to take advantage of new keyboard shortcuts, with the ability to ALT-TAB between desktops. “It’s a nice forward enhancement to make those people more productive,” Belfiore said.

Microsoft even improved the command line interface, with an improved keyboard interface. (You can use Crtl+V to paste now!)
Touch when you need it

Belfiore wrapped up by talking about touch: “We’re not giving up on touch,” he said. But he did say that that massive numbers of users were familiar with the touchless Windows 7 interface, while supporting those who have jumped to Windows 8.

So that means that the Charms experience will be revamped. When you swipe right on Windows 10, the Charms bar is still there. But Belfiore said that the Charms experience would change. When people swipe in from the left, Windows 10, you’ll get a task view. “I’m using touch in a way that accelerates my use of a PC,” Belfiore said.

Microsoft is also working on a revamped UI that isn’t is in Windows 10, yet. For two-in-on devices, a “Continuum” mode will adjust the UI depending on whether or not the mouse and keyboard is present. When a keyboard is disconnected, the Windows 8-style Start menu appears and a back button is available so that users can easily back out to a prior command. Menus grow larger. Bu when a mouse and keyboard is connected, the desktop mode reappears, Windows apps return to desktop windows, and the Start page disappears.

Now, Microsoft needs to take the next step: pitching enterprise customers, Myerson said. And that’s critical for Windows’ future, analysts said. Expect more details on the consumer flavors of Windows 10 early next year, more application details at BUILD, and then a launch of Windows 10 near the middle of next year.

“For businesses, I think there are some businesses who have picked it up and they are really early adopters, but in general, the sense—when we engage with customers, we’re not hearing a lot of reception out there,” Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in advance of the briefing. “We’re hearing a lot of businesses even before whatever that thing comes out tomorrow, before that came out, businesses were saying, we’re going to hang out on Windows 7, it’s stable, it does what we need to do.”

Starting Wednesday, Microsoft will launch a Windows Insider program, distributing the technical preview of Windows 10, Myerson said. Through Window Insiders we’re inviting our more vocal Windows fans” to help refine the Windows experience, executives said. Users wil be able to sign up at preview.windows.com, he said, where they will be able to hold private discussions with Windows engineers and give feedback.

“Windows 10 will be our most open, collaborative OS project ever,” Myerson said.


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Oracle is quietly becoming a cloud giant

Oracle is quietly becoming a cloud giant

Its cloud business is now half the size of Salesforce, and the gap is closing quickly.

One of the drawbacks to the Christmas season is that good stories slip by and no one covers them until much later, if at all. Such was the case with Oracle’s third quarter earnings, released on December 17. By that point, not many people were paying attention (tip of the hat to Forbes for first noticing it) to anything except shopping lists, but what Oracle had to say was significant.

Oracle is pulling off a minor miracle. It is adapting to and adopting a whole new technology and business model that should, in theory, be completely contrary and contradictory to its current model. One of the subtheories of Geoffrey Moore’s business bible, Crossing the Chasm, is that companies established in one old industry are often unable to change with the times when their market shifts. As a result, they are often left behind or forced to go through a painful reinvention.

On paper, that should be the case for Oracle. It’s firmly wedded to on-premises software, has a decidedly 1980s-90s business model of licenses rather than subscriptions, and its leader is 70 years old in an insanely ageist industry where no one over 30 can get venture money.

Yet the company is adapting and picking up customers fast. Look at the stats disclosed by Larry Ellison and co-CEOs Mark Hurd and Safra Catz during their earnings call with financial analysts.
Total cloud revenue reached $590 million for the quarter, a 47% increase from the second quarter of last year.
Cloud SaaS and PaaS revenue of $364 million, up 41% from last year and more than double last year’s growth.
Cloud infrastructure as a service revenue of $155 million, up 62%, although that’s due in part to the prior year being comparatively low.
860 new SaaS customers, 230 of which subscribe to more than one set of apps.
Nearly 650 existing customers expanded their cloud services in the quarter.
More than 460 new SaaS customers in Oracle’s Customer Experience (CX) business.
250 new SaaS customers in its ERP and Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) business.
230 new customers in Human Capital Management (HCM).
Oracle’s Fusion products saw triple-digit growth in both revenue and bookings.
150 new customers in Oracle’s four-month-old platform as a service (PaaS) business.

And in a true sign of hell freezing over, the hardware business is growing. It rose 4% year-over-year, with hardware revenue of $717 million and hardware support revenue of $690 million. Much of that came from Exalogic and Big Data appliances. For years, it looked like the old Sun business was going to wither and die on the vine, but it’s coming back, too.

Oracle’s cloud business is now worth $2 billion at an annualized rate, about half of Salesforce.com’s annual income last year. Larry couldn’t help but point this out.

“What makes this particularly interesting is that next year Oracle will sell about the same total dollar amount of new SaaS and PaaS business as cloud market leader salesforce.com,” Ellison said in the earnings call. “Stay tuned, it’s going to be close. We are catching up to them and we are catching up very quickly.”

Considering Salesforce reported $2.2 billion in revenue in 2012, $3 billion in 2013, and $4 billion in 2014, it will likely come close to $5 billion this year. However, unlike Oracle, Salesforce is also bleeding money. It has reported significant and growing losses for the last three years. Oracle is very profitable.

Oracle’s success story comes down to integration. Its software library is massive from all of its acquisitions. The Oracle database is just a fraction of the story at this point. With all of its integrated applications, from PeopleSoft to the Fusion line, Oracle simply transitioned those apps to the cloud and provided people with a complete, integrated suite. And with the Sun hardware, customers can buy a turnkey solution all in one nice package.

“It’s happened in every generation of computing where the end user, the customer, doesn’t want to be the integrator of 30 separate applications from 30 separate vendors. No different now, just on the cloud now,” Ellison said.

There’s much more to it, all detailed nicely in that Forbes story. The bottom line is Oracle is in the process of a reinvention on a scale that rarely happens in this business.


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10 new features expected in Windows 10

Later this week, Microsoft is expected to reveal more details about Windows 10. But why wait for Microsoft’s announcement? Here’s what we think is coming.

New features
Later this week, Microsoft is expected to reveal more details about Windows 10. We’ve already covered some of the major new features that are in the works, such as the return of the classic Start menu UI, resizable Windows apps, the ability to launch separate instances of the desktop environment and the inclusion of Microsoft’s personal digital assistant called Cortana. But why wait for Microsoft’s announcement? Here’s what we think is coming.

PC Settings replaces Control Panel
One of the confusing things about Windows 8 for desktop users is its “PC Settings” screen, because it includes a number of settings that can also be found in the classic Control Panel. In Windows 10, more of the Control Panel settings will probably be replicated under PC Settings.

Battery Saver setting
This setting will automatically take steps to conserve the battery of your notebook or tablet when it hits a certain percentage of remaining power. We wonder if its final version will be more sophisticated than what has shown up in the Windows 10 Technical Preview versions thus far. It would make sense if it looked similar to Windows Phone 8.1’s, which shows through bars and charts the amount of power that each program uses on your device.

Customizable lock screens
Some evidence in the Windows 10 Technical Preview suggests developers may be able to make custom lock screens. This could be similar to the way lock screens can be customized in Windows Phone 8.1.

Touch targeting
Touch targeting could be implemented throughout the Windows 10 UI. The basic idea is that the design will have icons, menus, and gesture functions tuned to be more responsive for touchscreens. The UI would adjust itself automatically based on whether you are using a mouse or a touchscreen.

Continuum
This looks to be a buzzword Microsoft came up with to market Windows 10’s ability to automatically switch between its two UI modes by recognizing if you are using your device as a notebook or tablet. For example, when you attach a keyboard to a tablet, Windows 10 will switch to the desktop environment. When you remove the keyboard, the OS returns to the tile-based Modern UI.

Updated File Explorer
It’s been hinted that the Windows file manager will get an update. Most likely, the new File Explorer will incorporate touch targeting to make it more accessible for touchscreens, but we’d like to see some new functionality that would benefit its desktop OS use, too: How about allowing for multiple instances of File Explorer to be opened as tabs within the program?

New security measures
There are going to be stronger security options, including two-factor authentication where you can use a device, like a smartphone, to authorize signing into your Windows 10 user account. Also, user access tokens could be stored in a secure “container” to protect them from exposure to hackers. Other measures are aimed at the business environment: users’ personal and work files kept separate from one another; and restricting employees from installing programs that haven’t been digitally signed.

New updating methods
Multiple options will give businesses more control over how they want to update their Windows 10 systems: high priority updates that brings bug fixes and security improvements; updates that add new features to Windows 10; and a third option which lets administrators schedule when they want new features to be installed on their Windows 10 systems.

New animations
Besides refreshed icon designs and background wallpaper that you expect to see in any OS release, there will be new animated effects when you interact with Windows 10, such as a window expanding or shrinking when you launch or close an application. A lingering question has been if the classic Aero theme in an updated form, or other such transparency effects, will return.

Spartan
Lastly, one of the biggies is a brand-new web browser. Appropriately named Spartan, it’s speculated that it will take design inspiration from Google’s Chrome, with emphasis on a minimal UI and performance speed. Internet Explorer will still be available in Windows 10 to ensure compatibility with sites and enterprise services that require this browser, but it looks like Microsoft wants to start moving away from IE (and its less-than-stellar reputation) and have a fresh start with the everyday user in the browser market.


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Windows 7 hits mid-life, but no crisis — yet

The world’s most popular OS exits ‘mainstream’ support Jan. 13, marks midpoint of 10-year support lifetime

Windows 7 will reach the midpoint of its support lifetime this week when it shifts from what Microsoft calls “mainstream” to “extended” support.

The world’s most popular personal computer operating system exits mainstream support on Tuesday, Jan. 13. After that, although Microsoft will continue to issue security updates to all users for another five years, it will not add new features to Windows 7, and any non-security fixes — such as reliability and stability updates — will be issued only to organizations that have signed support contracts.

Next week thus marks the halfway point of Windows 7’s decade-long support stretch, which ends Jan. 14, 2020.

Windows 7 will continue to run, of course: The migration into extended support does not make it inoperable.

Windows 7’s user share is at a near-record high. In December, it accounted for 56% of all personal computer operating systems, and 62% of all versions of Windows. Since the debut of Windows 8, its purported successor, Windows 7 has increased its user share by about 12 percentage points, representing a gain of 26%.

That increasing share may not bother Microsoft, but it should businesses that decommissioned Windows XP PCs and replaced them with Windows 7 systems, ignoring Windows 8. With Windows 7’s life half over, those enterprises now have five years to complete a transition to another OS, probably Windows 10, the upgrade Microsoft will release this fall.

Five months ago, in fact, Gartner began urging corporations to start their post-Windows 7 planning if they wanted to prevent a recurrence of the end of Windows XP’s support, when many had to either hustle to make the support deadline, or worse, continued running the aged OS after patching ended.

“While this feels like it’s a long way off, organizations must start planning now,” said Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Stephen Kleynhans in August.

And the failure of Windows 8 to win enterprise hearts and minds has created one oddity: Even though Windows 7 has made middle age, Microsoft continues to let OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) sell PCs running the business edition.

Microsoft has yet to name an end date for OEM sales of machines powered by Windows 7 Professional. But because it has promised a 12-month notice, those PCs can still be sold at least until early January 2016, when the OS has but four years of life left.


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15 essential open source tools for Windows admins

Sure, Microsoft has a ton of useful admin tools, but terrific, complementary open source tools abound

15 essential open source tools for Windows admins
Microsoft admins seeking solid server-side tools know the mothership offers a mother lode of solutions for supporting Windows Server, Exchange Server, SQL Server, SharePoint, and so on. But for those with an eye on the bottom line or looking to branch out in supporting their Microsoft-based server room, plenty of free, open source tools from both Microsoft, via CodePlex, and third-party providers are available. Given Microsoft’s ongoing shift toward hosted solutions like Azure and Office 365, there is more incentive for Microsoft admins to keep an eye on what’s evolving in the Windows admin tools ecosystem.

Following is a roundup of open source tools every Windows admin should be aware of. We last surveyed this territory three years ago, and while some tools have cemented their place in the Windows admin arsenal, Microsoft’s shift in focus toward the cloud is giving rise to a new set of essentials.

Don’t see your favorite tool(s)? Use the comments section to contribute to the list!

WinDirStat
WinDirStat, aka Windows Directory Statistics, is a disk usage tool that provides a variety of statistical views for analyzing how a system’s disk is being used. Every admin wrestles with disk space issues time and again, whether in support of user systems or when monitoring software generates an alert for a critical production server. Sometimes you can quickly see what is taking up all of the disk space on the troubled system, but for those times when it’s not so obvious or you are in a hurry, there is WinDirStat.

Wireshark
Network packet analysis and troubleshooting is a real art, one that requires solid training and years of hands-on experience. But a tool like Wireshark helps ease the learning curve, thanks to its many powerful features. One look at this free software-based protocol analyzer’s color-coding features and you’ll see how its superior usability makes Wireshark a worthwhile tool for any Microsoft shop.

Download: http://www.wireshark.org/

PuTTY
No list of open source tools used by system administrators would be complete without a mention of PuTTY, one of the most widely used terminal emulators. Whether you need to make a serial connection to a switch, telnet, SSH, SCP, or rlogin, PuTTY can handle it. It’s been around since the late ’90s and has spawned dozens of imitators, but none quite like the original.

Download: http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/download.html

AMANDA Network Backup
Admins looking to ease the pain of backing up Windows-based systems should check out AMANDA, aka Advanced Maryland Automatic Network Disk Archiver. AMANDA provides the ability for an administrator to set up a single master backup server that can support both Windows desktops and servers over the network to a variety of media, including tape drives, disks, or optical media with NTFS support.

ZMANDA maintains and supports the freely available AMANDA, as well as ZMANDA Recovery Manager for MySQL. It also provides network and cloud backup services it sells commercially.

Download: http://www.zmanda.com/download-amanda.php

Nmap
Nmap is a network mapping tool that is great for finding out what hosts and services are connected to a given network. While Nmap is often used in the context of security auditing, particularly for detecting open ports and vulnerabilities, many system administrators find it useful for simply keeping track of what is on their network, such as determining the operating system and hardware address of various hosts.

That’s merely scratching the surface. Nmap can be used in so many ways that it is very much worth exploring if you haven’t already. In addition to network inventory, Nmap can manage service upgrade schedules and monitor host or service uptime.

Download: http://nmap.org/

PowerGUI
If you’re looking for a more graphical means of tapping PowerShell (aside from PowerShell ISE), then you should check out PowerGUI. This free graphical user interface and script editor is valuable in its own right, but perhaps more valuable is the community built around PowerGUI, which offers a vast store of contributed scripts and libraries for administering your fleet.

This tool was originally kept up to date through Quest, which was acquired by Dell. Some worried it wouldn’t be improved on going forward, but Dell has indeed continued to work on it.

Download: http://www.powergui.org/

7-Zip
7-Zip is a free, open source archive utility for compressing files. It’s a great alternative to better-known shareware, which should help you avoid the headaches of registering software or clicking through a bunch of warnings about an expired trial period. It supports 256-bit AES encryption and a wide variety of archive formats, so you probably won’t have to resort to another archive solution any time soon. Combine all this with fast, effective compression, and 7-Zip is easily a tool that you will find useful for yourself and the users you support in your organization.

Download: http://www.7-zip.org/

Azure Storage Explorer
Although still in Beta, Azure Storage Explorer is swiftly progressing. It is a GUI tool for inspecting the data in your Azure cloud storage projects, including the logs of your cloud-hosted applications.

Keep in mind the variety of Azure storage “explorers” since folks often want to view their data easily. Jeff Irwin, program manager for Windows Azure Storage, put together a list of these storage explorers, and you can quickly see Azure Storage Explorer compares with other offerings. It is one of the few with the ability to work with block blob storage, page blob storage, tables, and queues.

Download: https://azurestorageexplorer.codeplex.com/

Notepad++
If you find yourself often jotting quick notes in Notepad, you might want to check out Notepad++. Though easy and lightweight, Notepad is sorely lacking in anything but the basics. Notepad++, as the name implies, is an even better take on the trusty, built-in Notepad application. It’s a source code editor and Notepad replacement.

This is no program for simply taking quick notes. It has a tabbed interface that allows you to switch quickly and easily between multiple open files, and it offers spell-check, auto-complete, and syntax highlighting — perfect for writing scripts.

That’s only scratching the surface of what Notepad++ has in store. There are many text editors, but Notepad++ is one to always have at the ready.

Download: http://notepad-plus-plus.org/

UltraDefrag
UltraDefrag is a tool for Windows that can defrag system files, registry hives, and the paging file. It can handle NTFS metafile defragmentation, MFT defragmentation, the defragging of hibernation files, and more. It also provides HTML readable reports. This valuable addition to any Windows environment is continually updated to ensure improvements in performance.

Download: http://ultradefrag.sourceforge.net/

VirtualBox
VirtualBox is a must-have open source virtualization solution for any admin seeking to run guest OSes on Windows, Linux, Macintosh, or Solaris machines. Familiarity with virtualization is fast becoming essential for all system administrators. VirtualBox is a quick and easy way to get started running your own virtual machines. Whether you want to test something out before running it in production or sharpen your skills on an OS you are less familiar with, VirtualBox is a great way to try out virtualization without having to invest in costly software.

Using VirtualBox, admins can run virtual instances of a wide array of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, OpenSolaris, OS/2, OpenBSD, and even DOS. It’s an open source community effort backed by Oracle.

Download: http://www.virtualbox.org/

Angry IP Scanner
Admins often need to quickly scan their network to find a particular workstation or device. There are lots of ways of doing this and plenty of tools to choose from, but when I need something quick and simple, I use Angry IP Scanner.

Angry IP Scanner offers loads of features and can be extended further with additional plug-ins, but I like it for the fact that it is lightweight, not even requiring an installation. Give it a try and I’m sure it will become an indispensable part of your toolkit as well.

Download: http://angryip.org/

Windows Azure Platform Management Tool (MMC)
The Windows Azure Platform Management Tool enables you to manage your Azure-hosted services and storage accounts through an installed MMC console GUI. You can perform a variety of administration and management operations through WAPMMC, including hosted service management, diagnostics, certificate management, storage services, blog storage management, and so on. Anyone moving to Microsoft’s cloud will find this tool indispensable.

Download: http://wapmmc.codeplex.com/

Google Analytics SharePoint 2013 / Office 365
This is an interesting solution for those folks who want to use the powerful and familiar Google Analytics tools within SharePoint and Office 365. It’s a sandbox solution that allows you to then paste the analytics code into Office 365 sites. It works with publishing sites and collaboration sites, so if your organization is hosting team sites, blogs, and the like, check it out.

Download: http://googleanalytics365.codeplex.com/

ClamWin
This free, open source antivirus solution is essential for security-minded admins. ClamWin supports Microsoft Windows versions ranging from Windows 98 to Windows 8, as well as Windows Server 2012, 2008, and 2003. It includes a scanning scheduler that you can use to configure appropriate scan times, automatic signature updates, Microsoft Outlook attachment scan/removal, and more.

Although it may not be 100 percent comparable to a commercial real-time option for virus scanning, ClamWin is certainly a worthwhile tool, especially for shops seeking a free solution. There are other free solutions, obviously, but this one is also open source, a definite plus.

Download: http://www.clamwin.com/


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2015 Unified Communications Predictions Part I

As has been our custom for over a decade, it’s time for our annual predictions on what will happen in the coming year for Unified Communications (UC). We’ll start with what is a clear 2014 trend that will continue in 2015: the growing adoption of cloud-based UC.

Most cloud providers have reported double-digit growth this year of their IP Telephony (IPT) and UC portfolios, while premise-based systems growth remains in the high single digits year-over-year. We attribute this to both to the adoption of stand-alone cloud services, plus the adoption of cloud-based UC as a hybrid solution that also includes premise-based components. We expect to see continued UC endpoint growth as organizations move beyond simple IPT, especially in hybrid solutions that integrate cloud-based UC with private IPT systems.

Both end users and IT organizations continue to become more comfortable with a mobile device or softphone as an IPT endpoint, and we expect that trend to continue, although many users will cling to their desktop phones for years to come.

Another 2014 trend that will accelerate is the proliferation of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) in the U. S. market. AT&T and Verizon network adoption of VoLTE will be especially noteworthy in 2015, as these two carriers move to eventually retire their 3G voice network—providing consumers and business customers with wideband (high-definition) voice and increased compatibility/interoperability with video and other collaboration media. VoLTE acceleration will also help as a prerequisite for replacing the legacy PSTN for carriers who maintain both wired and wireless networks.

The PSTN will continue a steady march toward retirement as AT&T and Verizon lay the groundwork to replace their legacy switching with an all-IP network. AT&T plans to retire its TDM and SS7 infrastructures by 2020. We expect that AT&T and Verizon will still need a host of gateways in 2020 to interconnect with other carriers that aren’t as aggressive with full-scale replacement within the next five years, so the network planners will be very busy with internal projects and interconnect proposals for an orderly transition.

Next time, we’ll cover some other UC news, and then return in 2015 after the holidays with part two of our predictions.


 

 

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Google’s 14 biggest hits and misses of 2014

A tech company as big as Google is bound to do some amazing things every year, but it’s also not immune to failure. Let’s look back at where the search giant went right and wrong in 2014.

The best of times, the worst of times
A tech company as big as Google is bound to do some amazing things every year, but it’s also not immune to failure. Let’s look back at where the search giant went right and wrong in 2014.

Hit: Android Lollipop’s new look
Android wasn’t exactly ugly in its previous incarnations, but it’s never looked as gorgeous as it does in Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new software combines flat design conventions with just a touch of depth and shadow, giving a sense that Android is built from layers of card stock. Now all we need is for OEMs not to mess it all up.

Miss: Finding a future for Google Glass
It’s been nearly two years since Google launched the prototype version of Google Glass, and its future looks murkier than ever. Instead of building hype, the Glass Explorer program merely exacerbated the stigmas and fears people had about Google’s high-tech specs. Recent reports suggest that a consumer launch is nowhere in sight. A possible pivot toward enterprise uses may help Google salvage the project, but it’s hardly looking like the revolution that Sergey Brin and his Google X labmates had in mind.

Hit: Chromecast beams past the competition
Google’s $35 TV dongle had its share of naysayers when it launched last year, but it’s clear now that Chromecast is a huge hit. A recent survey by Parks Associates found that Chromecast overtook Apple TV in U.S. sales, moving into second place behind Roku. Google also continued to build on Chromecast’s app library this year, with major additions such as MLB.TV, WatchESPN, Showtime Anytime, and Comedy Central. This isn’t rocket science, folks; Chromecast is a smart idea, executed well, at a price no other media streamer has been able to beat.

Miss: Android Silver slips away
Earlier this year, a slew of rumors suggested that Google was working on a white-glove service for high-end Android phones. Dubbed “Android Silver,” the plan was to offer fast upgrades and minimal bloatware on multiple phones from major wireless carriers. Ultimately, Silver may have replaced the Nexus program and helped bring pure Android to the mainstream. But according to The Information, this plan fell apart after receiving little interest from carriers and phone makers, followed by the departure of Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora. Long live the Nexus, then?

Hit: No more Kafkaesque Captchas
Copying jumbled letters into a web form stopped being an effective anti-spam measure years ago, as machines became better at the task than most people. Fortunately, Google is putting an end to the cruel joke. Its latest “No Captcha ReCaptcha” requires only the click of a button, as it picks up on subtle cursor movements to figure out who’s human.

Miss: Staying neutral on net neutrality
Google was once a major proponent of net neutrality, pushing the idea that Internet service providers shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against certain types of traffic. That was before Google forged a pact with Verizon in 2010 and essentially flip-flopped. With net neutrality becoming a hot topic again, Google had a chance to make things right. Instead, it has maintained a healthy distance, refusing to discuss its views with any substance. That’s a letdown regardless of which side of the debate you favor.

Hit: VR goes cheap with Cardboard
While Oculus and Samsung charge hundreds of dollars for their respective virtual reality headsets, Google proved that you can make compelling VR out of nothing but a pair of lenses and some cardboard. Just follow the online instructions (or order a cheap construction kit), download the Cardboard Android app, and enjoy some neat demos. Even if Cardboard never matures beyond its current state, it’s a welcome throwback to a time when Google liked to have fun.

Miss: Twitch today, Amazon tomorrow
It seemed like Google was this close to locking up its Internet video dominance with a billion-dollar acquisition of Twitch, a hugely-popular live video service focused on gaming. But while numerous publications claimed the deal was done, a last-minute arrangement with Amazon left Google empty-handed. The good news for consumers (which, in turn, is bad news for Google) is that Twitch now represents the closest thing to a competitive threat that YouTube has seen in years.

Hit: Google Voice’s new lease on life
Google Voice users had been understandably on edge since last year, as the call management service had been sorely lacking in major updates. Fortunately, 2014 brought substantive improvements, including MMS support and integration of many Voice features in Google’s slick new Hangouts app. While Google is known for putting niche services on the chopping block, longtime Voice users should be able to rest easier now.

Miss: Good grief, Google+
Google’s social network isn’t technically dead, but all signs indicate Google could de-emphasize its social network after the departure of Vic Gundotra in April. Google’s I/O conference came and went without any major Google+ news, and users may now create Google and Gmail accounts without a mandatory Google+ page. An unconfirmed report by TechCrunch also claimed that Google killed a policy requiring new products to have some Google+ element. While the single sign-in aspect of Google+ remains a success, the social networking angle is a failure—even according to one of its former engineers.

Hit: Bridging the Office-Drive divide
For lots of people, Google Drive and its Docs/Sheets/Slides suite have become a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office—until it’s time to deal with someone else’s Office documents. This year, Google updated its apps and added a Chrome extension to allow direct editing of Office documents, and added one-click document conversion from Gmail. There may still be other reasons to choose Office, but document formatting doesn’t have to be one of them anymore.

Miss: Take down that barge
It’s been more than a year since Google ‘fessed up to plans for “ interactive spaces” on a pair of floating barges in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. But now those plans seem to be adrift. Googledismantled the Portland barge in August amid fire safety concerns, while the Los Angeles barge shipped up to Stockton, Calif., near San Francisco, where it can “have a break,” according to Google. Strangely, Stockton’s tourism website has a page about the incomplete barge, but notes that it’s off-limits to the public and is best viewed from a nearby peninsula.

Hit: Peace in the patent war with Apple
While Steve Jobs made no secret of his disdain for Android, and even likened Apple’s patent battle to a “holy war” in company e-mails, Tim Cook seems more willing to let the patent spats slide under the bridge. Apple settled with Google’s Motorola in May, and settled all non-U.S. disputes with Samsung in August. Google also settled with Rockstar, a consortium that includes Apple, Blackberry and Microsoft, for a bundle of patents last month. Maybe now, everyone can get back to competing.

Miss: The right to be forgotten
Although Google doesn’t want to be in charge of erasing the past, that’s exactly what it must do according to Europe’s “right to be forgotten” rules enacted this year. The issue is a knotty one: Crime victims and people who made stupid mistakes arguably deserve a second shot at web anonymity, but the rule also threatens press freedom and gives public figures a way to hide unsavory truths. Either way, it’s Google’s mess now, as the search giant must figure out how to reasonably maintain a memory hole for the Internet.


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In Silicon Valley, do the jerks always win?

We’ve seen a lot of bad-boy behavior out of Silicon Valley, but investors and customers just might say enough already

Do you need to be a jerk to succeed in Silicon Valley? The frequency with which bad-boy behavior crops up in the epicenter of tech culture can certainly make it seem that way.

The latest dustup involves the ride-sharing service Uber, whose senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, said he planned to hire private investigators to dig up dirt on journalists who he felt criticized the company. It sounded like a contemporary take on Nixon’s enemies list.

Michael is still with Uber. Company founder and CEO Travis Kalanick didn’t demote or fire him, opting to merely disavow the idea. And Michael’s transgression was hardly an isolated case of jerk behavior at Uber. A writer for San Francisco magazine has charged that she was told by people inside Uber that the company might monitor her rides on the service. There have been allegations that Uber has played dirty tricks on its competitor Lyft, it was revealed that Kalanick has privately called the service Boober because its success has made it easier for him to pick up women, the company has come out with blatantly sexist promotions, and more.

If you think all of that sounds like a company that is imploding, I have to inform you that Uber is valued at $18 billion.
And Uber is not an isolated case, but merely the latest manifestation of well-documented jerk culture among tech startups. The game company Zynga, for example, has faced lawsuits for illegally copying games of its competitors, has been charged with working with scam advertisers, and at one point forced four senior employees to either give up some of their non-vested stock or be fired. Zynga founder and one-time CEO Mark Pincus admitted in a speech at Startup@Berkeley, “I funded the company myself, but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it.”

Even established companies in Silicon Valley have exhibited jerk behavior. Apple founder Steve Jobs, thought by some to be almost saintlike, was not exactly a warm and fuzzy human being. Biographer Walter Isaacson said Jobs was both “Good Steve” and “Bad Steve,” and he included a variety of “Bad Steve” anecdotes in his biography of him: He denied paternity of his daughter for years (he ultimately accepted it), short-changed Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on a bonus, and more.

Do we have to just accept this as the way things work? No. In fact, it’s not uncommon for bad behavior to come back and bite the founders and their companies.

Take Zynga. It was a high-flying startup, whose stock price in the early days was near $15. Today it’s trading at about $2. Pincus had to step down as CEO and chief product officer in April of this year.

Uber still seems to be riding high, but bad publicity may well take its toll, with numerous high-profile people abandoning the service and deleting the app, according to The New York Times. Kelly Hoey, a New York-based angel investor, deleted her Uber account because of privacy concerns, telling the Times, “I don’t want them to have my information, my credit card or my name.” Lisa Abeyta, founder and CEO of the tech startup APPCityLife, did the same, adding, “There is a difference between being competitive and being dirty. It is bad-boy, jerk culture. And I can’t celebrate that.” And Minnesota Senator Al Franken has written a scathing letter to Kalanick saying that Uber’s actions “suggest a troubling disregard for customers’ privacy, including the need to protect their sensitive geolocation data.”

One of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors, Paul Graham, believes that investing in jerks (his term) is not just a kind of bad karma, but bad for business as well. Graham heads the prominent startup accelerator Y Combinator, which has helped launch countless successful startups, including Dropbox and Airbnb, and he won’t invest in companies run by people he considers jerks.

He told Business Insider, “The reason we tried not to invest in jerks initially was sheer self-indulgence. We were going to have to spend a lot of time with whoever we funded, and we didn’t want to have to spend time with people we couldn’t stand. Later we realized it had been a clever move to filter out jerks, because it made the alumni network really tight … based on what I’ve seen so far, the good people have the advantage over the jerks. Probably because to get really big, a company has to have a sense of mission, and the good people are more likely to have an authentic one, rather than just being motivated by money or power.”

So don’t think the bad buys always win. Sometimes they do get their comeuppance.


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Cool Yule Tools: Best techie gifts for 2014

The National Santa Agency has a handle on what everyone wants.

Our motto: “He Sees You When You’re Sleeping, He Knows When You’re Awake…”
After months of investigations, cups of coffee and several arm-twisting interrogation tactics, the Cool Yule Tools staff of writers and editors has discovered a shocking truth. The government group that has allegedly been spying on us, known as the “NSA”, is actually a cover group for a little-known organization with headquarters near the North Pole. Yes, we are speaking of the National Santa Agency. (See full writeups on these products.)

Thanks to our “Special Agents” who contributed reviews: Keith Shaw, Craig Mathias, Neal Weinberg, Abigail Weinberg, Ken Mingis and Tom Lupien.

Phones, computers and other mobile goodies
A large majority of the subjects we were monitoring were VERY interested in acquiring a new mobile device, whether it was a new laptop, phone or tablet. But we think they’ll be quite happy with these reviewed devices.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus
$299 for the 16GB model with 2-year contract; $749, contract-free

The iPhone 6 Plus represents the epitome of Apple’s phone line, but if you’re thinking of getting one as a gift, make sure your gift recipient can handle it. Literally. With a 5.5-in. “Retina HD” screen, this is one big phone — the biggest Apple’s ever made and its first foray into the phablet market.

As you’d expect from an Apple device, the design and engineering are top rate, and the screen is pixel packed, with 401 pixels per inch. That means everything is razor sharp, colorful and bright. It’s easily the best iPhone display Apple has produced.

Kyocera Brigadier smartphone
Price: $49.99 with two-year agreement, plus data plan

The Brigadier by Kyocera runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and can take any kind of abuse you can dish out. We dunked it in water, dropped it on a hardwood floor, scraped the screen with a sharp knife. And nothing, not even a scratch.

Lenovo Horizon 2 Tabletop PC
$1,500 (our test unit, available via Best Buy)
When you lay this giant 27-inch computer flat on a table, the first thing people may think is that you somehow got your hands on the iPhone 7 Plus (a really really really big phablet). But in reality, it’s still a Windows 8.1 PC, but one with a touchscreen that multiple people can interact with. The Aura interface that overlays the Windows PC to provide the tabletop mode lets multiple people pinch, expand, shrink and move objects around on the touchscreen. While you can collaborate with co-workers via this method (looking at photos, or watching videos, for example), the majority of your time spent with this machine will be spent playing games.

Logitech k480 Multi-Device Keyboard
$49.99
You’re most likely to need/want a Bluetooth external keyboard when you acquire a tablet, but plenty of other devices (such as your smartphone and notebook) have Bluetooth as well, so it’s nice to have a single keyboard that can connect to multiple devices.

Logitech achieves this with its k480, a small, portable keyboard that includes a dial that switches between up to three devices, across multiple operating systems. If you want to connect a Windows PC, Android smartphone and Apple iPad, just turn the dial associated with each of those devices (it’s up to you to remember which device goes with each setting on your dial). The keyboard quickly and easily makes the Bluetooth connection to those devices. (See full review here).

Lenovo Y50
Starts at $1,089
I’ve been in the Mac camp for about three years now, about the same amount of time that Windows 8 has been out. But if I were ever considering coming back to the world of Windows, it would definitely be with this machine – the Lenovo Y50. The latest systems include fourth-generation Intel Core processors, a brilliant 15.6-inch full HD displays (touch-enabled, too), JBL speakers and a very cool backlit keyboard. I’m even coming around on Windows 8.1, if only a little bit (the return of the Start menu and easier access to the desktop definitely helps). (See full review here).

Lenovo N20p Chromebook
$329.99 (as tested)
Chromebooks have been out for a few years now, so the rough edges from earlier models have smoothed out, and Google seems to be doing a pretty good job at filling in the blanks of things that were missing from the operating system (remember, Chromebooks don’t use a traditional operating system like Windows or MacOS). You have to be invested in the Google universe, which means email will be done through Gmail, your browser will be Google Chrome, your productivity applications will be done through Google Drive (Docs, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.), and your music will be located on Google Play Music, etc. In fact, you might want to ask your friend, family or co-worker how comfortable they are with all of these Google offerings – if so, then it’s a definite recommend. (See full review here.)

Macally Quick Switch Bluetooth Keyboard
$69.99
It may seem like overkill to think that you would need one keyboard that quickly switches for use with five different devices, but you could find yourself in a scenario with two computers, a phone, a tablet and then you’re already up to four right there. Even if you don’t need five devices, it’s still a very cool option to have this functionality. In fact, you can connect a sixth device via the included USB cable, which is like Spinal Tap going to 11.

The keyboard itself is a full-sized keyboard with a very light touch and feel – it’s so light that you could carry it with you if you had a big enough laptop bag (it’s the width, not the weight that would be limiting).

REPORT #2: Audio Entertainment (Headphones, Music, Speakers)
After mobile devices, the next most popular item on holiday wish lists focus around musical entertainment. Whether speakers or headphones, we think these items will look great under the tree (or on your head).

Blue Mo-Fi headphones
$350
At first glance, the Mo-Fi headphones from Blue appear to be so large you’d never want to be seen in public with them. The headphones are big – very big compared with other headphones we’ve seen. They’re heavier, too. But the reasons for that will likely cause you to veto any concerns you may have. The extra weight and design are due to a built in audiophile amplifier and “ultra-premium drivers”, which give high-fidelity sounds to multiple devices – whether you’re listening on your phone, tablet, computer or even higher end A/V systems. Sure, this adds some extra weight, and you might get some odd looks while wearing these on your flight. But deal with it, you’ll enjoy the awesome sound compared to your seatmates listening on other headphones.
(See a full writeup of this product.)


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2015 to test Microsoft’s resolve and execution

It’s put-up or shut-up time for Windows, devices and mobile, say analysts

Microsoft faces not only its 40th anniversary in 2015, but a host of challenges that will define it for years to come, analysts said today.

The company, which is in the midst of a strategic do-over after switching CEOs and admitting that its earlier approach to the explosion of mobile wasn’t working, has a hard row to hoe, experts said.
MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: 10 (FREE!) Microsoft tools to make admins happier

“Next year is also the 20th anniversary of Windows 95,” noted Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft. “Remember that? People stood in line to get Windows 95. Everyone was excited. That’s the big deal for 2015, whether Microsoft can reinvigorate the consumer ecosystem.”

Mobile matters

Because “consumer” is now synonymous with mobile, and because Microsoft has thus far failed to make meaningful inroads into the mobile device market — its Windows Phone powered an estimated 3% of the smartphones shipped this year, while Windows tablets accounted for 5% of 2014’s total, said IDC — Microsoft’s reinvigoration will be difficult.

forecast 2015

“They’re the canary in the coal mine,” said Miller of Windows smartphones and tablets. Without a play in mobile devices, Microsoft’s Windows operating system risks, if not irrelevance, then at least diminished importance for consumers. “Windows as an end-point [OS] then gets shoved into the background,” Miller added.

And that’s not good.
Microsoft has touted the next iteration, Windows 10, which is slated to ship in the fall of 2015, as the answer to its mobile problems. More than anything else, it’s stressing what it calls “Universal” apps, which thanks to a continued merging of the code base, will let developers recycle an application’s core, wrapping it with the user interface (UI) appropriate to each device.

Universal apps, Microsoft has argued, will boost the number of apps available to Windows on mobile, including phones and tablets, energize the developer community and put Windows back on firmer footing to take on the two mobile monsters, Android and iOS.

“I’m not sure that’s the answer [to Microsoft’s problems], but it is their answer,” said Miller. “I’m just not sure it will work out.”

Windows 10, front and center
To Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, Windows 10 is the biggest challenge Microsoft faces for 2015. “The single greatest test [in 2015] may be whether Microsoft can successfully charge large amounts of money for a new operating system to consumers and still see significant uptake,” said Dawson in a piece published Monday on Tech.pinions (subscription required).

In an interview, Dawson expanded on his thinking.
“Microsoft has a huge installed base on Windows,” Dawson said, “and the test will be upgrading this installed base to Windows 10.” At least on the consumer side; nothing will dislodge Windows specifically, and Microsoft generally, from the enterprise. “Microsoft’s enterprise business is harder to disrupt in the long term. They’re ultimately going to upgrade, so Microsoft will retain those customers.”

Microsoft’s ability to keep consumers in its fold will be iffier, Dawson said, agreeing with Miller that mobile will be a crucial challenge for the Redmond, Wash. company in 2015. “The reality is that consumers are not choosing Microsoft for mobile. They’re not choosing what Microsoft is making or its OEMs are making,” Dawson said. And that has had, and will continue to have, a knock-on effect for consumers and Windows PCs, as it makes moot going all-in on Microsoft.

“Why would I choose an all-Microsoft portfolio?” Dawson asked rhetorically.

But Dawson returned to Windows 10 as a touchstone for 2015, calling it and Microsoft’s pricing and upgrade decisions “symbolic of all the challenges facing Microsoft.”

Microsoft is the one major operating system maker that continues to charge for its OS. While it has discarded fees for all smartphones, many tablets and some notebooks, there’s no intention to expand that across the board, the firm’s chief operating officer said earlier this month.

Perhaps. But Dawson said Microsoft faces a decision this year. “Can they maintain Windows as a source of profit and revenue?” Dawson wondered. He didn’t think so, not for consumers, and expected Microsoft to take additional steps in 2015 to lower or eliminate the price of the OS to OEMs and users alike.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, went a different direction than Miller or Dawson when asked to tap Microsoft’s biggest challenge in 2015.

Enterprise, enterprise, enterprise
Rather than worry about consumers, Microsoft should instead focus on the enterprise, where it’s more or less guaranteed revenue, said Moorhead. “What’s their play in the public-private cloud?” asked Moorhead. “They’ve made good strides to move Microsoft code from on-premises to the public cloud, but they haven’t made much progress on Open Stack.”

Open Stack is an open-source cloud computing platform that many enterprises have adopted to create private cloud services or run hybrid implementations blending both public and private. Microsoft’s answer to Open Stack is its Azure platform.

Next year will be important, the analysts agreed. How important, though, remains unclear. This won’t be the first time outsiders have called the coming months critical for the company: In 2011 and 2012, much of the same commentary focused on Windows 8. And even though that OS failed to meet Microsoft’s expectations, the firm survived, even thrived.

“These companies are far more resilient than most people give them credit for,” said Dawson. “In a devices-based business, it’s possible to have a rapid implosion of a company, as happened to Nokia, Motorola, and now maybe Samsung. But this is not the devices business.”

Still, Microsoft will be on the spot in 2015. “This year, [Satya] Nadella laid out in words Microsoft’s strategy,” Dawson said. “But those words were very general words. What do they actually mean? Next year must be much more about execution from Nadella.”

Miller had high hopes for that execution, in large part because Microsoft will upgrade not only Windows and another of its big money makers, Office, but will refresh most of the rest of its on-premises portfolio.

“Look at how many products they’re going to ship in 2015,” Miller pointed out. “That will pique people’s interest.”


 

 


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