Posts tagged iOS

Microsoft should grab Apple’s ‘Handoff’ for Office

Rival’s ‘Continuity’ feature would make a useful addition to Office on iOS and OS X, says analyst

There’s no good reason why Microsoft can’t adopt Apple’s “Handoff” technology in its iOS and OS X Office apps, an analyst said today.

“Office would be more useful if they did,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. “I don’t see a good reason not to.”

Handoff, part of “Continuity,” a term that describes several new features slated to ship in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite this fall, lets users begin an activity — writing an email, browsing the Web, creating a document — and then resume it on another device. The feature relies on Bluetooth-powered proximity awareness to recognize Apple devices registered to the same iCloud account. Once that ad hoc recognition takes place, users can hand off in-progress tasks.

Apple will support Handoff on many of its own iOS apps and OS X applications bundled with iOS 8 and Yosemite, including the iWork troika of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. But it will also open up Handoff to third-party developers via several APIs (application programming interfaces), giving them a chance to bake the feature into their own software.

If Microsoft were to add Handoff support to its iOS apps — Office Mobile on the iPhone, Office for iPad on Apple’s tablet — and its desktop edition for OS X, a document begun on the iPad could be picked up on a MacBook Air at the point it was left when the two devices neared each other.

But Microsoft already has its own solution to the multi-device problem in Office, said Miller. “With OneDrive, Microsoft has ‘document continuity,” Miller said. “You can step away from one device and the document is saved in the background. Then you can open it on another device from OneDrive.”

There are differences: When Computerworld opened a Word 2013 document on the iPad — the document was last edited on a Windows 8.1 notebook — it was positioned with the cursor at the top, not at the location of the last edit. And neither OneDrive nor Office spawned an on-screen alert that pointed the user to the document-in-progress, as does Apple’s Handoff.

Microsoft’s desire to support Handoff in Office will largely depend on how the Redmond, Wash. company perceives its rival’s requirements. To use Handoff, an Apple device owner must have an iCloud ID, and be signed into that account on all hardware meant for content forwarding. (That’s how Handoff recognizes the devices owned by an individual.)

Naturally, Microsoft pushes its own identity system for accessing its services, ranging from Office 365 and OneDrive to Outlook.com and Skype.

There should be no concern in Redmond about document storage, even though Apple makes it much easier for developers who use iCloud as their apps’ document repositories. iCloud is not a requirement — as Microsoft’s own Office for iPad demonstrated — and Microsoft can continue to rely on OneDrive as Office’s default online storage service. There were no other obvious barriers in the limited amount of documentation that Apple’s published on the technology.

Microsoft would likely benefit in the public perception arena — or the subset composed of Mac, iPhone and iPad owners — said Miller. When Microsoft took nine months after Apple debuted a full-screen mode to add the feature to Office’s applications, some customers criticized the firm for not putting its shoulder behind the OS X wheel. By jumping on Handoff, Microsoft would shut up those critics.

The move would also let the company again demonstrate that it’s in the game with all players, not just those inside its own ecosystem, a point CEO Satya Nadella has made numerous times — notably when he introduced Office for iPad — since his February promotion. “They’re more open to being open,” said Miller, citing the new regime’s viewpoint as another factor that could tip the debate.

Miller expected Handoff to debut in Office, if it does at all, when Microsoft launches the next edition for the Mac. “I’d expect Office 365 to pick it up automatically, but I wouldn’t expect it on the Mac side until the back-to-school timeframe,” said Miller.

Microsoft would also have to revise Office for iPad and the iPhone version of Office Mobile, and if it decided to support Handoff between native and Web-based apps, modify the free online editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.


 


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Major SSL flaw found in iOS, OS X

Apple has released a patch for iOS and says an OS X fix will be released ‘very soon’

Security researchers revealed late Friday that iOS’s validation of SSL encryption had a coding error that bypassed a key validation step in the Web protocol for secure communications. As a result, communications sent over unsecured Wi-Fi hot spots could be intercepted and read while unencrypted, potentially exposing user password, bank data, and other sensitive data to hackers via man-in-the-middle attacks. Secured Wi-Fi networks, such as home and business networks with encryption enabled, are not affected.

Apple released a patch Friday evening, available to al iOS users. iOS users should have already received a notification of the update’s availability or have had it automatically installed, depending on their device’s iOS version, update settings, and available space for downloading the update.

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But on Saturday, several researchers reported that the flaw also affected OS X 10.9 Mavericks and perhaps other OS X versions. Late Saturday, Apple said it had a fix ready for OS X and would release it “very soon.” On OS X, the flaw is likewise limited to SSL connections over unsecured Wi-Fi networks, though only in Safari.

The update will be available through OS X’s Software Update utility, which is set to download security updates automatically by default in recent OS X versions.

iOS uses the WebKit-based Safari engine even in non-Safari browsers, so all iOS browsers can be exploited. By contrast, OS X lets each browser use it’s own browser engine. A Google security researcher said Chrome does not have the coding flaw; other researchers have said that Mozilla Firefox is likewise safe.


 

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Microsoft unified communications Lync system moves closer to proverbial PBX replacement option

New Microsoft Lync features, services mean the unified communications platform will draw more customers; parity with Cisco, Avaya targeted

Microsoft is talking about its upgraded Lync unified communications platform, revealing client support for more devices, server features for better meetings and collaboration as well as integration with the peer-to-peer voice and video service Skype.

While it is clearly a good UC choice for customers with needs that align with Lync’s strengths, it’s not yet a platform that can jump in readily to replace traditional PBXs in environments heavily reliant on traditional desktop phones, experts say.

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USE CASE: Microsoft delivers missing Lync for telemed project

Still, Lync is getting closer and its new features are bringing it into closer parity with UC leaders such as Cisco and Avaya, they say.

In touting upgrades to Lync 2013 – no release date has been set – Microsoft highlights its adoption of H.264 scalable video coding (SVC), a video codec standard that makes it relatively simple to display video on a range of devices, meaning Lync can support participants on screens ranging from smartphones to room displays, says BJ Haberkorn, director of product marketing, Microsoft Lync.

In addition, video displays by Lync clients has been upgraded to show up to five participants on screen at the same time, an improvement from having just the active talker on displayed. The view of those five is optimized depending on the number of participants and what other conference tools are being used.

Lync 2013 adds voice and video over IP for all devices, meaning that a device connected to a Wi-Fi network can participate in audio and video calls despite being disconnected from a traditional phone link. So users equipped with smartphones and tablets can conference over IP networks.

This is especially important to iPad users, he says, because the devices don’t support cellular phone networks. So they can join conferences, register presence and instant message other Lync participants.

The latest Lync client supports Windows 8 with a reworked interface that embraces touchscreens, which he refers to as the Windows 8 paradigm.

Peer-to-peer voice and video service Skype is federated with the upcoming Lync server. That means a corporate user working off a Lync enterprise network could provide and receive presence information with users of Skype. They could also establish audio calls with Skype users, but not video calls. Microsoft has that ranked as the next feature it will work on after the initial release of Lync 2013, Haberkorn says.

Last summer, Microsoft added Lync to Phone, a service that lets Lync users complete calls to and receive calls from the public phone network using the Lync Online Client. Such services are available only in the U.S. and U.K. through third-party public phone network providers.

Microsoft is pushing Lync to the application developers to include UC tie-ins to the applications they write. An app could include links to information about parties listed in the user’s address book and enable connecting with them directly from the application.

Microsoft has already done this with many of its productivity applications in Office where communications can be tapped via what is known as a rich content card that lists contacts’ name, email, phone, instant messaging and presence information. That can include information about others sharing documents via SharePoint in the SkyDrive cloud.

For example, OneNote is better integrated within Lync meetings for taking notes, and within Outlook it is simpler to send invitations to meetings.

When Lync is upgraded, it will have clients for PC desktops including Windows 8, Macs, iOS, Windows Phone and Android. That will support tablets – used mainly within organizations – as well as smartphones.

Lync’s look will be streamlined, cutting out the chrome that is now regarded as visual clutter, and making the overall look in step with what has been done to Office applications.

All this adds up to an improved Lync, but one that still isn’t for everybody, says Phil Edholm, president and principal at PKE Consulting.

The reason is that not all businesses have uniform communications needs. He divides workers into three groups: knowledge, information and services, Edholm says.

The knowledge workers, such as engineers or financial analysts, are the ones that need the wide array of features UC can provide such as conferencing, collaboration, instant messaging and presence to get their jobs done. They don’t rely on strict business processes as much as the other two categories of workers, but they need to communicate a lot with each other.
 

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They also need to communicate with information workers who do rely on business processes and who need sometimes to communicate with knowledge workers. An example: a contact center worker who uses set business processes to finalize sales but who occasionally needs to talk to a subject matter expert – a knowledge worker – to supply information to a customer before a sale can be closed, Edholm says.

Service workers, such as delivery truck drivers, use information to direct their tasks, but don’t need a UC infrastructure to do so.

“Lync is a toolset, and you need to decide who needs the tools,” Edholm says, and sometimes that means deploying it to a select group

For instance, a Scandinavian police organization client of Edholm’s had 30,000 workers only 3,000 of whom were knowledge workers. Those 3,000 needed unified communications, but most of the rest didn’t, leading the organization to install Lync for some but not all.

In a company with 90% knowledge workers and 10% information workers the situation would be different. It would make sense to install UC for everybody just to avoid multiple systems and their maintenance needs despite the fact that some of the workers would use just the phone capabilities.

In a typical mixed deployment such as the police organization, the legacy telephony system could tie into Lync. Those with just desktop phones could reach those with Lync and vice versa, but the desk phone users wouldn’t require new gear nor would they have to learn new ways of doing things, he says.

Lync becomes a challenge when it is deployed to people who only use its telephony features. “Lync is not structured to be a telephony-only system,” he says. “You can do it but it doesn’t lend itself to being easy to use and easy to install if it’s just telephony.”

That’s because while it may perform all the necessary functions, there may be different ways of carrying them out, which requires training.

For example, multiple line appearances where a phone can ring on an individual’s desk but also at the receptionist’s desk would be replaced functionally by presence, a different way of doing the same thing.

“The biggest resistance comes with going from traditional telephony to Lync,” Edholm says. “This is changing somewhat and will change even more with [the bring-your-own-device trend],” he says.

Edholm says he did a comparison of Lync vs. Cisco’s UC for collaboration, and he found that an important factor is what the UC system has to interface with.

If the organization considering UC has a Microsoft directory system, Microsoft business applications and Microsoft databases, as well as Microsoft personal productivity tools such as Office, it makes sense to use Lync. It was built with Office, SharePoint and Active Directory interoperability in mind, he says.

If an organization doesn’t use Microsoft email, calendaring and productivity apps, then adopting UC from Avaya, Cisco, Nortel or Siemens might make more sense, especially if the existing PBX is made by one of these vendors, he says. “It’s not the UC system alone, it’s the kind of workers you have and the other systems you use,” he says.

Lync itself seems to be moving away from controlling the traditional desktop phone in favor of a UC system that includes telephony run from a desktop PC and a server in the data center or the cloud, which has service providers showing interest in the platform.

BT, for example, is offering a new Lync-based cloud service called BT One Cloud Lync that provides Lync as a service with the infrastructure based in the BT network.

Similarly, West IP Communications offers a Lync service that supports Lync edge, mediation and federation servers in West IP data centers. The upside for customers, says Jeff Wellemeyer, executive vice president of West IP, is quality of service. If these components are located on customer premises for a widely distributed Lync deployment, it makes it more difficult to ensure quality of service to all branches.

Hosted Lync isn’t for all customers, though, particularly those whose media traffic is intended to stay within the LAN, minimizing WAN QoS as an issue, he says.

Wellemeyer says that customers tend to progress in their use of Lync features, perhaps starting with just instant messaging, adding presence, conferencing, collaboration and connecting to the public phone network with some softphone use.

Moving to Lync as a PBX replacement is considered a move for “someday,” he says. “We’re not seeing a lot of customers tearing out their PBXs and putting in a Microsoft infrastructure.”

They might use Lync supplemented by PBX technology. “They think Lync’s not there yet,” he says.

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