Posts tagged Windows 8

Ultimate guide to Windows 8 ultrabooks

Testing of eight Windows 8 ultrabooks reveals that users looking for the slimmest, lightest devices will have to accept tradeoffs

While finding a touchscreen for a desktop computer is nearly impossible, and finding a touchscreen notebook computer takes some searching, touchscreen ultrabooks are readily available. These thin, light and relatively compact computers are intended to be portable and to be used at a moment’s notice. Adding touch seems a natural thing to do.

Nearly every maker of an ultrabook offers a touchscreen, and nearly all of them offer Windows 8 as the default OS. While most Windows users aren’t accustomed to a touchscreen on their computers, the rise of smartphones and tablets has introduced most users to the idea. In fact, by the time I was finished with this review, my non-touchscreen Windows 7 laptop had become frustrating because I kept touching the screen and expecting something to happen.

Intel created and defined the ultrabook market, but we didn’t exclude products simply because they didn’t meet all of Intel’s specs. If the vendor called their product an ultrabook, we reviewed it. (Watch the slideshow version of this story.)


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Which SaaS vendor just passed the billion-dollar mark? Microsoft

Which SaaS vendor just passed the billion-dollar mark? Microsoft
Office 365 seems to be catching on.

Despite a lot of confusion around how it works, it seems Microsoft’s SaaS version of the flagship Office suite has pretty quickly grown into a billion-dollar business. According to the most recent financials from Redmond, Office 365 is now on a billion dollar run rate and continuing to grow at a brisk pace.

For those who have been quick to throw dirt on Microsoft’s still warm body, Q3 showed the company exceeding $20 billion in revenue and $6 billion in profits. This at a time when everyone laments the drop in PC sales. Most companies would give away their CEO’s children to have those kinds of numbers.

Truth be told, $1 billion, in terms of the total revenue, suggests that Microsoft Office is not a major piece of the pie. The division that makes up Office did more than $6 billion this quarter alone, for instance. That being said, the billion-dollar mark is a watershed for this new way to consume Office, and shows Microsoft’s muscle in competing with other online productivity suites like Google Drive. From the briefings, it seems all of Microsoft’s cloud-based businesses, including the Azure Cloud, Xbox Live and Office 365, are doing pretty well.

Another factor that was discussed around the earnings is that many of the Office 365 seats are coming from large enterprise accounts. About 25% of enterprise customers are using at least some Office 365 seats. Also, many of the Office 365 seats are the higher-cost, premium versions, which translates to higher revenue and profit for Microsoft. This bodes well for Microsoft as more and more attention and revenue shifts to the cloud.

All in all, Office 365 has grown about 500% in just one year. Of course, maintaining that sort of growth rate over the course of the next couple of years will be difficult, if not impossible. But it is clear that Microsoft has used its cash cow productivity suite to give itself an anchor in the cloud/SaaS business landscape.

Microsoft has also made Office 365 more channel-friendly, allowing VARs and MSPs to bill customers directly via Office 365 portal. Putting Office 365 into the hands of Microsoft’s sizeable and powerful channel is a surefire way to increase its sales.

As I have written before, I use Office 365 for Home, which allows me to put it on five computers in the house. The only thing missing for me is if I could run it on Android tablets. But at $9.95 a month with 25GB of Skydrive and Skype minutes included, I think it is an excellent value.

Some of the initial confusion that held back earlier adoption of Office 365 is that many people didn’t realize that the applications are installed on the machine. You can access web-based versions of the apps on guest computers, but on your own computers there is little difference between the SaaS-based and traditional versions.

So maybe the old dog can learn new tricks. Good for Microsoft, if it has been able to adopt the new SaaS-based methods. Now, for their next trick, let’s see if they could only sell more Windows 8 phones and tablets.


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Microsoft may backtrack on Start button in Windows 8

Analysts urge company to recant design ideology as nod to customer complaints

Microsoft may recant its Windows 8 design theology, bloggers reported Tuesday, by offering Windows 8 users an option to bypass the “Modern” UI and by restoring the Start button and menu to the beleaguered operating system.

A pair of longtime Microsoft hands, Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet and Tom Warren of The Verge, citing unnamed sources and messages on Windows discussion forums, said Microsoft was considering those tweaks for an upcoming update, called “Windows Blue” by some and “Windows 8.1″ by others. The upgrade, the first of a planned faster development and release tempo, is allegedly slated for an October debut.

Warren pointed to evidence that Microsoft might allow boot-to-desktop with Windows 8.1. Foley added that the Redmond, Wash., developer was also pondering a return of the Windows Start button and associated menu.

Analysts welcomed the news, assuming it’s accurate.

“I don’t see this as a defeat but as a good thing,” said Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. “It’s shows you’re willing to make changes based on customer feedback.”

The tweaks would be a concession for Microsoft. Publicly, the company has repeatedly maintained that its design decisions were correct and its executives have suggested that users would, in time, learn to live without a Start button and grow to appreciate the Start screen.

Today, Microsoft declined to comment on the reports.

But contrary to Microsoft’s assertions that the dual user interfaces (UIs) in Windows 8 were “fast and fluid,” customers have barraged the company’s blogs and the Web in general for more than a year with complaints.

They were most upset about the disappearance of the iconic 17-year-old Start button and menu, but also griped that they weren’t able to boot right to the “Classic” user interface (UI), or desktop, rather than first hitting the tile-style Start screen. Both issues have been sores spots among longtime Windows users, and at the top of virtually everyone’s most-hated lists.

Even Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen took Windows 8 to task, calling it “puzzling” and “confusing” when last year he urged the company that made him a billionaire to offer an option that set the desktop as the default mode on boot.

And they voted with their wallets, either by staying away from Windows 8 — and shying from any new PC purchases — or if forced to the new OS, by supporting a cottage industry of third-party add-ons that restored both boot-to-desktop and the Start button. StarDock, for example, claimed earlier this year that its $5 Start8 add-on had been downloaded 3 million times, with thousands of people trying it daily.

Even with that on the line, StarDock CEO Brad Wardell applauded Microsoft’s presumed move. “I hope Microsoft adds back the Start button and a boot to desktop option,” said Wardell in an email Tuesday. “While we would miss the short-term revenue boost of Start8, it is important to keep the Windows software ecosystem healthy and growing.”

The talk today suggests that Microsoft has rethought not only the design of Windows 8, but also its strategy.

“The feedback they’ve had should tell them that people are not ready to live in the Modern UI, so they need to make [Windows 8's desktop] as good as, if not better, than Windows 7,” said J.P. Gownder, an analyst with Forrester Research. “When the tipping point happens, perhaps in a couple of years as the Windows Store fills up, when all the key apps are there, then they can rethink.”

And withdraw the Start button yet again, Gownder meant.

Most outside Microsoft believe the company’s decision stemmed from a misguided touch-first doctrine, fueled by the belief that only if customers were forced to run apps would they buy apps, and that only by coercing them could Microsoft quickly create a pool of users large enough to attract app developers to the new platform.

Gownder understood that thinking, even appreciated it, but still said it had been wrong.

“I understand Microsoft wanting to drive charms,” Gownder said, referring to the set of persistent icons for chores such as searching, sharing content or accessing the OS settings. “There is an argument toward design purity, to reimagine Windows, and that people must become comfortable with the charms. That’s legitimate. But the overwhelming feedback was that perhaps the train was taking off a little too early.”

Moorhead argued that backpedaling wouldn’t significantly hurt Microsoft’s push toward an app ecosystem.

“This is very positive, because it doesn’t take away from the experience of ‘Metro,’ ” he said, using the older term for the Modern UI. ” It just gives users a way to get back to Metro that’s obvious. It doesn’t say anything about Metro, doesn’t say it’s good or bad. It doesn’t change that argument at all.”

Gownder urged Microsoft to backtrack on the boot-to-desktop and Start button controversies, noting in a longer blog post Tuesday that the horse had left the barn — users were already adopting Start button emulators — and that the company should accept the inevitable, if only to keep its enterprise customers happy.

“Microsoft needs to step back and do this,” Gownder said. “Enterprises are not about to support one of these workarounds. For them, this [functionality] needs to be in the OS layer.”

Redmond has done 180-degree turns before. When customers howled about Windows Vista’s intrusive User Account Control (UAC), the prompts designed to warn of risk when installing and running software, Microsoft dramatically reduced UAC’s impact in Windows 7 three years later.

Now it has an advantage, as it’s committed to a faster release cycle — one executive called it “continuous” — and assuming the leaks are correct, can modify Windows 8 in a third of the time.

“Microsoft misstepped a number of ways with Vista,” Gownder said. “But they did change it. They have an established market and a lot to offer, and [Windows Blue] is, by no means, the last chance for Windows 8.”

What a reversal will not do is magically turn around depressed PC sales, on which Microsoft is reliant for Windows 8 sales. Offering options to boot to the desktop or restore Start functionality won’t change the dynamics of the industry, where consumers in particular are buying less expensive touch-enabled tablets rather than replacing older Windows computers.

But what if? What if Microsoft’s design ideology had been more flexible before it shipped Windows 8? Would it have made a difference? Would Windows 8 devices be flying off shelves?

Not likely.

“Had Microsoft added the option of restoring the Start button and boot-to-desktop, they would be in a slightly better position than they are today, but not much,” said Moorhead. “In fact, Metro app development would be behind the curve had they added the options.”

The UI mistakes, Moorhead added, were secondary to a more fundamental misreading of the market and the available technologies. “In retrospect, Microsoft should have marketed and built a more pervasive and high quality touch pad experience. “They misjudged the number of touch-based devices that would be out, and under-emphasized the quality experience of a good touch pad.”

Apple, for instance, has ignored touch-based computers thus far, instead depending on larger touch pads built into their notebooks and on the gesture support they’ve integrated with OS X.

Had Microsoft taken that approach for Windows 8, it could have avoided the entire touch screen issue — shortages caused by low yields, and corresponding high prices — Moorhead asserted.

“Unlike touch display functionality, which can add $100 to the [bill of materials], a quality touch pad may cost as little as an incremental $5,” Moorhead said.

 


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Microsoft has no reason to save Dell

If I kicked in a few billion dollars for anything, I’d want something in return. But does Dell have anything Microsoft would want?

By now, you’re probably familiar with the reports that Michael Dell is looking to take his company off the public stock market and make it private again. The deal would be the largest leveraged buyout since the economy hit the skids in 2008, and one of the biggest ever. Because of this, the current problem won’t be easy to solve.

As it looks now, Michael is basically going to have to empty his piggy bank, which means his 16% stake in the company, financing by private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners, and arrange another $15 billion in debt financing with banks.

Microsoft is also involved, reportedly ready to contribute $2 billion or more of equity in the form of a preferred security. Other reports put Microsoft’s contribution at between $1 and $3 billion.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft’s role is proving to be a sticking point, which should surprise no one. You don’t hand over $2 billion and let a company go on its way. Word to the WSJ is the key players in the deal still need to work out the ways Microsoft would and would not be involved in Dell’s business after a deal closes.

Looking things over, it would seem there is more downside for Microsoft and Dell than there is upside. The great upside potential for both companies, as I see it, is that they would be the closest thing to an Apple-like scenario of merging hardware and software under one roof. It won’t be as tightly knit as Apple, but it will be closer than it is now.

That said, I’m not sure how much tighter they can get. Dell and Microsoft MCTS Certification are already close and have great integration between hardware and software. There’s not much more the two need.

At the same time, Microsoft risks alienating or damaging its relationships with other OEMs, especially HP and the surging Lenovo. We’ve been through this argument before when talking about Microsoft MCITP Training making prototype smartphones and tablets. It’s risky business, but at the same time, where else would the OEMs go?

And, on that note, will a meddling Microsoft put an end to Dell’s Linux efforts? Dell offers Red Hat and SuSe enterprise servers and is working with Canonical to certify Ubuntu on the PowerEdge servers. What will become of that?

Dell has sworn off smartphones for now, having gotten burned on some earlier models like the Streak a few years back. But Microsoft is anxious for OEM partners. Will it lean on Dell to offer Windows Phone 8 devices? If so, how will Nokia, Samsung, HTC and LG take it, if they aren’t the supplier through Dell?

Taking all of these headaches into account, it’s hard for me to see an upside. In this case, Microsoft might want to just wash its hands of the whole thing. Or give a loan with no expectations of influence, although I kind of doubt that would happen.

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Microsoft brings the Live Tile experience to SkyDrive

 

Windows 8′s new Start screen evokes many emotions from customers, with most falling on either the love or hate side with almost no middle ground. However, one thing that can be agreed on is that the screen has no shortage of information. Users are bombarded with messages from Facebook, email, weather and countless other endlessly updating tiles. Now Microsoft has added one more to the perhaps overloaded mix.

Today the company announced it is pushing an update to the SkyDrive app for Windows 8 that will bring the live tile features to the cloud storage and sharing platform.

In an announcement earlier today Microsoft’s Mike Torres outlined the new feature. “The SkyDrive app from the Windows Store will start showing you notifications on the live tile when you add new files to your SkyDrive”. In other words, this should not be a constantly flickering icon that will be in your face. Torres went on to explain that “whenever you add new files to SkyDrive, the app tile shows you relevant details. If you add a document, you’ll see the document name, along with when it was added, and what folder it’s in. If you add photos, the tile gives you a nice view of those photos”.

I honestly like live tiles. When I walk away from my computer I switch to the Start screen so that when I return, or even pass by, I see relevant information. Its easier than clicking on different tabs. I also realize that I very well may be part of a minority in saying that.

As for the update, it is promised to be rolling out today — apparently on a gradual basis, so don’t panic if you don’t have it yet. I don’t either. Hopefully soon.


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Microsoft alum: Windows 8 “a much deadlier assault weapon” than Windows 7

Former Microsoft senior VP says Windows 8 on ARM tablets is a “scale 9 earthquake”

Windows 8 is just what Microsoft needs to take advantage of the ongoing irreversible shift from PCs to handheld devices including iPads, iPhones and other form factors yet to be designed, according to the company’s former OEM chief.

Just as Windows 7 won instant popularity after the debacle of Vista, Windows 8 is poised to capture business from phone and tablet leaders such as Apple, only to greater effect, says Joachim Kempin, former Microsoft senior vice president in charge of OEMs who worked for the company from 1983 to 2002.

“Windows 7 spearheaded a comparably small rejuvenation,” Kempin says in his just-released book “Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft’s Secret Power Broker Breaks his Silence”. “I predict Windows 8 is readied as a much deadlier assault weapon.”

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He says the main intent of Windows 8 is to push the operating system into low-powered mobile devices running ARM processors vs traditional x86 chips. He says that when Microsoft introduced Windows 8 nearly two years ago it “flabbergasted the IT world by running on a tablet powered by NVidia’s ARM-based CPU. I consider this move to ARM a scale 9 earthquake and wake-up call for MS’s longtime allies Intel and AMD.”

He says that shift potentially signals the end of notebooks and PCs, not just media tablets. A strength of Windows 8 is its common interface and navigation across all devices, he says.

“No need to bother with the annoyance of having to remember different key strokes or gestures when switching between devices or operating them with a mouse or a touch screen,” Kempin says. “Neither Apple nor Google have ever accomplished such uniformity.”

He praises the design of Microsoft’s two Surface tablet models but dooms them to failure.

He thinks they will anger OEMs that were working on their own Windows 8 tablets and notebooks and who now may be driven to make them with Linux or Google operating systems.

In addition, he doubts the devices themselves can be profitable. “MS does not own a factory and has a track record of having trouble with sourcing hardware components and producing devices as cheaply as her competitors,” he says. “I do not know who did the math on this project. The slim revenue gain with not much hope for real profits combined with losing partners’ trust and loyalties seems not worth that risk.”

Instead, Microsoft should spin off a startup with the mission of making Windows 8 devices, putting a distance between the devices and Microsoft itself and creating just another OEM that competes with current OEMs.

Still, he likes Surface RT. “Adding an innovative wireless keyboard makes it a hybrid located between today’s notebooks and tablets,” he says. “When combined with the slick design promises to totally obsolete notebooks in a few years when solid state drives will become cheap and small enough to replace traditional hard drive storage units.”

He admires the strategy of porting Office applications to Windows 8 tablets based on ARM, known as Windows RT. Other tablets can support Office but only via remote services, not locally. “Less need for constant connectivity for 8-powered tablets when running MS-Office applications means a further leg up over Google’s solution,” he writes.

Apparently the book was written before Microsoft’s Windows 8 leader Steven Sinofsky quit the company just after Windows 8 launched Oct. 26. Kempin says the company should tap Sinofsky to champion Surface as a product fanatic as focused as Steve Jobs was at Apple.

“Like others I always wait for a service pack to be released before trusting a new OS version,” Kempin says. “[Sinofsky] will need to correct this notion with product excellence right out of the chute to gain vital momentum. This is in particular important for changing MS’s fortune in the media tablet market where Apple, Google and Amazon are seen as leaders.

Blindly mimicking Apple in order to take sales from it is a mistake, and that means getting rid of its new brick and mortar Windows Stores. “The company needs to get rid of all distractions like her doomed retail stores,” he writes.

He says Microsoft’s investment in Barnes & Noble and its Nook e-reader represent an assault on Amazon and its Kindle tablets and e-readers. He says Microsoft miscalculated the market for them when it devoted research into the devices in 1998. “But the developers involved in this effort were told to shut down because their solution was not Windows centric enough,” he says.

That was the wrong way to look at it, though. “You do not need Windows to read a book – MS-DOS would have sufficed and could have easily been replaced with more advanced technology later,” he says.


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Why I abandoned Windows Phone 8

I recently acquired a Nokia Lumia 920 to experiment with Windows Phone 8. But a few weeks in, I’m already back to my Android-based device.

A few months ago, I forced myself to switch to Windows 8 on my desktop system (and laptop) and ended up liking the operating system very much. Once I got used to the quirks and garish look of the new Start screen and learned many of the shortcuts built into Windows 8, I found myself enjoying the operating system and was more than pleased by its myriad of enhancements and performance improvements.

I initially made the switch to Windows 8 because I wanted to fully immerse myself into the OS before formulating any strong opinions. Considering how much I ended up liking Windows 8 on my desktop, I thought I would conduct a similar experiment with my smartphone. For the last few years, I have been deeply entrenched in the Android ecosystem and have experience with a multitude of devices. I enjoy installing custom ROMs on the devices and have experimented with countless apps and utilities. At this point my smartphone is an integral part of my day-to-day computing, and I’ve grown fond of a handful of apps and the convenience of always having my inboxes and access to the web in my pocket.
I picked up a [Windows Phone 8-based Nokia Lumia 920 and was initially impressed. The hardware itself is excellent. The Lumia 920’s camera is top notch. The device is obviously well-built. The screen looks great, and navigating through Windows Phone 8 was smooth as silk. At first, my Android-based device (currently a Samsung Galaxy Note II) remained my daily driver. I kept the Lumia 920 handy until I felt I was comfortable using its email client, browsing the web. But eventually I customized the Start screen to my liking and got a good feel for what Microsoft and Nokia were trying to accomplish with the phone. I installed only a couple of apps and got comfortable with them too.

After a couple of weeks and a good initial impression, I decided to dive in head-first and make the Lumia 920 my daily device. At first, I was happy with the decision. I dug the Live Tiles and the Lumia 920 never lost its luster; it’s a great phone.

But as I started to install more and more apps and dig deeper into the Windows Phone App Store, I was regularly disappointed. There seemed to be three kinds of apps available for Windows Phone 8:

Apps specifically designed for the OS that showed signs of greatness
Quick-and-dirty ports of apps obviously designed for other platforms
Kludges that were nothing more than wrappers for mobile websites

The apps designed with Windows Phone 8 in mind were mostly great. I especially liked the IMDB app, which blows away its counterparts on other mobile platforms. The Facebook app was also very fast and responsive, but it wastes a TON of screen real estate with larger-than-necessary fonts in the navigation menu and wasted white space in the feed. There were times when I could only see a single post in my news feed because of all the wasted screen real estate. I’m not sure what the app developers were thinking with that one.

Then there were the obvious ports that just didn’t look right on Windows Phone 8. One in particular, Words with Friends, comes to mind. I know it’s an older title and games aren’t a necessity, but I enjoy playing Words with Friends; it’s a nice break in the day. Anyway, fonts (like the one used to display the score) were nearly illegible and the game is just plain broken. As of a couple of weeks ago, you couldn’t use words with the letter “Z” and the main screen wouldn’t update when it was your turn. You’d think with the amount of complaints logged in the app store someone at Microsoft would fix the game, but no such luck.

And then there’s apps like YouTube, which seem to be little more than wrappers for the YouTube mobile site. Minimal effort was put into optimizing the app for Windows Phone 8, and it shows.

As you probably guessed by now, my little experience was a failure. I’m back to my Android device and don’t plan to give Windows Phone 8 another try for a few months. If Microsoft wants people to give Windows Phone 8 serious consideration, they’ve got to get serious about offering quality apps for the platform. It’s not just about the number of available apps, it’s about the quality, and at this point in time Windows Phone 8 trails in both departments.


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Microsoft: What it did right and wrong in 2012

Windows 8: It is the best of Microsoft; it is the worst of Microsoft

At this writing Windows 8 could be the biggest thing Microsoft has done wrong — ever. But it could also wind up being one of the best things it has ever done.

By CEO Steve Ballmer’s own description it is the one of the top three major events in the company’s history, grouped with IBM PCs adopting MS-DOS and the advent of Windows 95.

By that measure, if it’s a flop it’s huge.

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Windows 8 drives users crazy. It’s a two-headed operating system that supports the traditional Windows keyboard-and-mouse interface as well as a touch-centric UI that many say is baffling, at least initially.

Then toss in a separate version of Windows 8 called Windows RT. It’s a hardware/software bundle based on ARM processors that doesn’t support traditional Windows x86 apps — only so-called Windows Store applications that rely mainly on touch. Confusion reigns.

A version of the traditional desktop remains in Windows 8, but it’s different enough to be uncomfortable. Users want an OS that builds on the past, not one that reinvents itself entirely. They lament the loss of the Start button and Start Menu upon which they relied.

When learning the Windows 8 touch interface they find it difficult to find and remember, say, how to turn the machine on and off, close applications, remove applications, switch among four or five apps running at the same time, find Charms, figure out what Charms are, etc., etc. It’s a near-perfect storm of consternation and frustration.

Meanwhile the company’s traditional PC market is being threatened by devices running Linux, Android and OS X even as sales growth of traditional PCs gets slower and slower, apparently headed for decline. That’s Microsoft’s bread and butter.

Compounding the problem, tablets and smartphones are gaining popularity as personal and business productivity platforms and arguably represent the main force undercutting traditional PCs. Microsoft comes in a distant third in both areas.

Windows 8 is supposed to help Microsoft make gains in these areas. But given its slow start so far and comparing it to the wild success of every version of iPad that ever launched, then Windows 8 is lining up to be a disaster.

So what was Microsoft thinking?

Windows 8 is designed to tap into the shift in demand away from traditional desktops and laptops and toward phones and tablets.

Core to this strategy is making a shift to mobility and creating an application environment transferrable from device to device. The advantage: Massive blocks of code from an application written for Windows 8 can be readily repurposed for apps written or Windows Phone 8 — making it feasible for these apps to be available on any Windows device.

Because Windows Store apps are written primarily for touch, their navigation is similar from tablet to notebook to phone. Applications are available for phones, tablets and laptops, and if you master them on one category of device, you’ve mastered them for all.

These applications, called Windows Store apps, represent a new category optimized for touch and for running on lower powered mobile machines based on ARM processors to promote longer battery life.

In addition, Windows 8 heavily promotes use of cloud services. It comes with cloud-based music free and integrates SkyDrive, Microsoft’s 5-year-old cloud storage service that enables sharing data among devices and syncing them with each other. It comes with 7GB of free storage.

The bottom line is customers can access the latest versions of their data and all their stored files from whichever device they happen to have with them so long as they have Internet access.

The problem is that this elegant scheme is lost on customers, analysts and reviewers who don’t buy into this view. With education, customers could be won over, but not in the short-term, and particularly with RT. Business customers will have to adopt Windows Store apps or virtualize, and that takes time.

“It will take 10 or more years before most organizations completely transition to WinRT technology, which, if successful, will represent the next 20 to 30 years of Windows,” says Gartner in its report “Windows 8 Changes Windows as We Know It.”

Beyond Windows 8, Microsoft has scored some hits and some misses this year with new products acquisitions. Here are four of each.

RIGHT
Windows Server 2012

Microsoft’s latest version of Windows Server is to be applauded for how it simplifies many areas of virtualization, which leads Network World reviewer Tom Henderson to write, “What the Windows 2012 Server editions provide is a compelling reason to stick with Windows infrastructure, as many of the advances represent integration of management components that have no competitive parallels.”

The software streamlines live migration of virtual machines for reasons of preventing performance of one instance degrading because it is overwhelmed by demand. Windows Server 2012 removes the need for designating failover clustering ahead of time and a separate SAN to share storage among instances that were required in Windows Server 2008.

Windows Server 2012 also offers replication of virtual machines asynchronously. Called Hyper-V Replica, the feature is ideal for replicating VMs from site to site over limited WAN links.

A new feature called Storage Spaces treats hundreds of disks as a single logical storage reservoir and ensures resiliency by backing up data on at least two physical disks. The feature sets aside a designated storage area — called a space — for a defined category of data within the entire available disk capacity — called a pool.

Storage Spaces can allocate a space that is larger than the actual available physical capacity of the pool that the space is carved out of via thin provisioning. This keeps data from overflowing the space by freeing up capacity whenever files are deleted or an application decides that such capacity is no longer needed.

Windows Server 2012 also enables managing servers in groups and includes an automated tool to periodically check for proper server configuration.

System Center 2012
This management suite offers new tools to better handle closely related cloud environments and virtual data centers, and has expanded the products it can manage to include some of the virtual environments of rivals Citrix and VMware.

The platform includes broad support for managing smartphones based on Microsoft’s phone OS, but also those from Apple and from a range of vendors that base their phones on Android.

The Virtual Machine Manager, Orchestration Manager and Operations Manager can combine to make management of virtual environments simpler. For instance, the management suite streamlines configuring virtual machines to pick up the function of others when they go down so help desk workers can perform the task without escalating.

In a practical sense, System Center can give developers the capability to create and tear down virtual machines for their test environments within parameters set by network executives.

One downside is that upgrading to System Center 2012 requires a lot of network prep as well as education to learn what other Microsoft products are required in order for the various modules to work.

Buying Yammer
Microsoft spent $1.2 billion this year to buy Yammer as a way to beef up social networking and collaboration in its SharePoint, Office, Dynamics CRM, Lync and Skype platforms.

When its integration is completed over the next few years Yammer will add tracking of conversation threads and enterprise search to these applications, aggregate news feeds, manage documents and unify user identities.

Yammer is already available with Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud offering and will gradually permeate the company’s other collaboration and productivity platforms, the company says.

With the purchase Microsoft has bought the tools it needs to set itself up well in support of new ways corporations do business using tools that end users have become familiar with via their use of consumer social networks.

Targeting botnets
Microsoft did itself proud this year disrupting the Nitol botnet with a combination of technical and legal innovation, as well as seizing servers belonging to the worst instances of the Zeus botnet.

These efforts represent the fourth and fifth times Microsoft has intervened to shut down or a least temporarily cripple criminal malware enterprises.

The company’s Digital Crimes Unit started its aggressive action in 2010 and continued steadily since then. While its work won’t halt online abuses, its proven commitment to causing periodic significant damage to them does make criminal activity more difficult, and that steady opposition helps raise the bar for criminals hoping to enter the game.

The effort sends a message to other criminals that Microsoft might strike them at any time, says Richard Boscovich, assistant general counsel for the DCU.

WRONG
Euro browser flap

Microsoft failed to live up to an agreement that it would display a Windows screen giving users the option to pick Internet Explorer or some other browsers.

While Microsoft says the problem was caused by a technical glitch and has worked to correct it, it’s still facing down a possible $7 billion fine from European Union regulators. While Microsoft would likely survive the hefty penalty, it’s really a case of the company shooting itself in the foot. It is also damaging its reputation in not only Europe where customers were directly affected, but worldwide where end users heard about the case and adjusted their opinion of the company accordingly.

Windows Phone
The launch of Windows Phone 8 this fall revealed an operating system that met with generally good reviews and a phone — Nokia’s Lumia 920 — that shows it off to good advantage.

The problem here is that it comes so late after the iPhone and Android phones have dominated the market. The company must now dedicate itself to a long-term effort to scratch its way up from 2.6% of the market, according to IDC estimates, to something more significant.

IDC thinks Microsoft will succeed in that goal by claiming 11.4% of the market in 2016 — a terrific boost. But the company leaves a lot of smartphone money on the table by coming out so late with a compelling product.

Windows Phone 8 itself may pan out to be a winner, but the overall handling of Windows Phone to date racks up as a loss. And with Microsoft’s desire to link all its mobile platforms, a slow start for Windows phone hobbles that larger effort.

Licensing hikes
Microsoft boosted by 15% the fees it charges for licenses that allow users to access servers, squeezing more money out of customers while still giving them a better deal than the alternative.

This is likely good for Microsoft because it means more revenues, but it’s just another reason for business customers to carp about being gouged for software.

Corporate employees are moving toward use of multiple devices in the workplace, making licenses based on numbers of users attractive rather than licenses based on individual devices. Even with the price hike, many customers will wind up paying less for user client access licenses (CAL) than for device CALs. But that won’t eradicate the bad taste from their mouths.

Fanned Flame
The complex Flame espionage malware that infected Iranian government computers earlier this year was in part enabled by a Microsoft security snafu.

A key element of Flame called for exploiting weaknesses of the MD5 hashing algorithm. Microsoft had urged in 2008 that network administrators and certificate authorities stop using the hash because researchers had discovered how to exploit it.

Microsoft officially disallowed its use in 2009 but failed to weed it out of its own products, particularly Terminal Server Licensing Service. Researchers figured out how to compromise MD5 using what they call collision attacks to obtain fraudulent certificates that are accepted as real. This allowed attackers to send malware that victim machines accepted as authenticated Microsoft updates.


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Tablet smackdown: iPad vs Surface RT in the enterprise

IPads are already making their way into businesses via bring-your-own-device efforts with Microsoft Surface RT tablets hoping to follow suit as employees lobby for their favorite devices. But which one makes more sense from an IT perspective?

Read Network World’s other tech arguments.

The two products are roughly similar in price ($500), run touch-centric operating systems, are highly portable and weigh about a pound and a half.

The two most significant differences are that Surface RT comes with both a keyboard and a version of Microsoft Office – Office 2013 Home & Student 2013 RT – which expand the potential corporate utility of the devices.

Third-party keyboards are available for iPads as are third-party versions of Office-compatible productivity suites but they represent more work for IT. A rumor says Microsoft is working on a client that will allow accessing Office from an iPad through Microsoft’s service Office 365.

Office on Surface RT has its limitations. It lacks Outlook but includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, and the Surface RT version requires a business license in order to be used for work. Still, having it installed out of the box is a leg up and gives workers the opportunity to tap into the productivity suite. The keyboard is a big plus.

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When it comes to numbers of applications iPad has far more than Surface RT, and neither one has the number of business applications that support traditional Windows operating systems. Surface RT is a Windows operating system that can’t run traditional Windows apps except for the Office suite specifically crafted for the platform.

Instead, Surface RT has its own class of applications called Windows Store apps, mainly because they can only be bought from the Window Store. They are tailored for touch tablets and must be vetted by Microsoft before they get into the store’s inventory.

They can be developed using XAML, with code-behind in C++, C#, or Visual Basic, and Microsoft has a provision for sideloading custom business apps to Surface RT without submitting them first to Microsoft. Even so, that’s a lot of work to get apps natively on the devices.

Both iPads and Surfaces support virtual desktops, which goes a long way toward making traditional apps available on them. Hosted virtual desktops (HVD) can be costly, Gartner says in a report called “Bring Your Own Device: New Opportunities, New Challenges”. Its research found that “shifting to an HVD model increases the onetime costs per device by more than $600.” Plus proper licensing of iPads for business use is complicated, the report says.

Managing Surface RT is possible via Windows cloud-based management Intune and Exchange ActiveSync for messaging. IPad also supports Exchange ActiveSync. Third-party mobile device management platforms can configure and update iPads as well as monitor compliance with corporate policies. They can also wipe or lock lost and stolen machines. OS X server can do all this as well.

Surface RT comes with security features iPad doesn’t. These include both hardware-based secure boot that checks that the system hasn’t been tampered with and also trusted boot that fires up anti-malware before anything else. That way malware can’t disable the anti-malware before it gets the chance to do its job. The same hardware security module can act as a smartcard for authentication, and Surface RT has full disk encryption.

The iPad has disk encryption but lacks the secure boot features of Surface RT. Its secure boot chain is based on read-only memory and its hardware security module doesn’t do double duty as a smartcard.

NOTE: There is another version of Surface that runs on x86 processors and supports any application that Windows 7 supports. It’s not available until next year, but is actually a tablet-sized full Windows laptop with all the touch capabilities of Surface RT.

That device would beat iPad hands-down if it cost the same, but it is likely to cost hundreds of dollars more than Surface RT.


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Is Windows 8 really a sitting duck for malware?

A report claims so, but given Microsoft’s attempts to harden the OS, that seems dubious.

A new report released by the security firm Websense Security Labs claims Windows 8 will become one of the top three most-hacked platforms in 2013 because of its newness and Microsoft’s efforts to encourage development for the radical new platform.

Yeah, that didn’t make sense to me, either.

It took a chat with the folks at Websense to make, er, sense of what they were saying, but I do see their point. With a new operating system on the market that will hopefully gain significant ground and Microsoft attempting to woo developers like never before, there’s lots of potential for exploit.

“Microsoft’s efforts to produce an extremely developer friendly platform will be embraced by the cybercriminal community, and vulnerabilities will be exploited,” the company said in its 2013 Security Predictions. “If they deliver on their promise, the rate of threat growth on Microsoft mobile devices will be the highest.”

That’s a big “if.” Android, another platform Websense sees as a major target in 2013, is far more insecure. But in the case of Windows, there is, for lack of a better word, an installed base of malicious code and talent who know their way around Windows operating systems, and they are going to bring that to bear on Windows 8.

They will try to get around security systems that have been tightened up. Good luck with that. BitDefender recently ran tests on Windows 8 and found that a system with just Windows Defender, which is hardly a suitable security program, stopped 85% of the malware samples used in the tests.

The bad guys aren’t just about code; they understand how people write code and how malware works. So it’s not just malware samples, it’s accumulated and applied knowledge that they bring to Windows 8, says Websense. And given the common code between PC Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, malware could easily move across platforms.

The other two platforms that will be big targets in 2013 are also mobile operating systems: Android and iOS. According to the firm, Android will be targeted because of its open nature. Websense expects attack techniques used on the desktop platform to continue to migrate over to Google’s operating system.

iOS should be a lot more stable due to its closed nature. However, with the growing popularity of iOS devices in professional environments, IT should consider this a prime platform for targeted attacks, Websense said. And most malware that does exist for iOS targets jailbroken phones.

Websense made seven predictions for 2013, most of them centered around cybercriminals attacking mobile devices. You can find the entire report, in PDF format, here. Free registration is required to view it.

 


 

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