Posts tagged Windows
Microsoft becomes first major browser maker to drop support for world’s most popular OS
Microsoft’s new browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), will not run on Windows XP, now or when the software eventually ships, the company confirmed Tuesday.
The move makes Microsoft the first major browser developer to drop support for XP, the world’s most popular operating system, in a future release.
Although Microsoft excluded Windows XP from the list for the IE9 developer preview, it sidestepped the question about which versions of Windows the final browser would support. In an IE9 FAQ, for example, Microsoft responded, “It’s too early to talk about features of the Internet Explorer 9 Beta” to the query, “Will Internet Explorer 9 run on Windows XP?”
This dialog box pops up during attempts to install IE9 Platform Preview on Windows XP.
That caused some users to demand a straight answer. “Please tell whether the final version will run on Windows XP SP3 or not,” said someone identified as “eXPerience” in a comment to a blog post by Dean Hachamovich, Microsoft’s general manager for the IE team. “If not, please be clear about it. Really, enough is enough of keeping users in the lurch about Windows XP support.”
Others bashed Microsoft on the assumption that IE9 would never run on XP. “Dropping Windows XP support is one of the worst decisions ever taken by [the] IE team, probably even worse than disbanding the IE team back in the IE6 days,” claimed an anonymous commenter.
Microsoft had offered up broad hints that IE9 was not in Windows XP’s future, however. Tuesday, a company spokeswoman said the new browser needs a “modern operating system,” a phrase that hasn’t been paired with Window XP for years. “Internet Explorer 9 requires the modern graphics and security underpinnings that have come since 2001,” she added, clearly referring to XP, which appeared that year.
Windows XP’s inability to run the Platform Preview or the final browser stems from, IE9’s graphics hardware acceleration, which relies on the Direct2D and DirectWrite DirectX APIs (applications programming interfaces). Support for those APIs is built into Windows 7, and was added to Vista and Windows Server 2008 last October, but cannot be extended to Windows XP.
Some users worried that by halting browser development for Windows XP, Microsoft would repeat a current problem, getting customers to ditch IE6 for a newer version. “Those who choose to stay with XP will be forced to [then] stay forever on IE8, which will become the new IE6,” said a user named Danny Gibbons in a comment on Hachamovich’s blog.
Tough, said Sheri McLeish, Forrester Research’s browser analyst. “This is the stick to get off XP,” she said. Windows XP users will solve the browser problem themselves when they upgrade, as most eventually will, to Windows 7. “What are they going to do, go to Linux or run XP forever?” she asked.
Still, IE9’s inability to run on Windows XP will prevent it from becoming widespread until the nearly-nine-year-old OS loses significant share to Windows 7. According to Web metrics company NetApplications’ most recent data, if IE9 was released today, it would be able to run on just over a quarter — 27% — of all Windows machines.
No other major browser maker has announced plans to stop supporting Windows XP, but several have dropped other operating systems or platforms. Last month, for instance, Mozilla said it would not support Apple’s Mac OS X 10.4, known as “Tiger,” in future upgrades to Firefox. Google’s Chrome for the Mac, meanwhile, only runs on Intel-based Macs, not on the older PowerPC-based machines that were discontinued in 2006.
The IE9 Platform Preview can be downloaded from Microsoft’s site. It requires Windows 7, Vista SP2, Windows Server 2008 or Windows 2008 R2.
Microsoft cheaper to use than open source software, UK CIO says
British government says every time they compare FOSS to MSFT, Redmond wins.
A UK government CIO says that every time government citizens evaluate open source and Microsoft products, Microsoft products forever come out cheaper in the long run.
Jos Creese, CIO of the Hampshire County Council, told Britain’s “Computing” publication that part of the cause is that most staff are already familiar with Microsoft products and that Microsoft has been flexible and more helpful.
“Microsoft has been flexible and obliging in the means we apply their products to progress the action of our frontline services, and this helps to de-risk ongoing cost,” he told the publication. “The tip is that the true charge is in the totality cost of ownership and exploitation, not just the license cost.”
Creese went on to say he didn’t have a particular bias about open source over Microsoft, but proprietary solutions from Microsoft or any other commercial software vendor “need to justify themselves and to work doubly hard to have flexible business models to help us further our aims.”
He approved that there are troubles on together sides. In some cases, central government has developed an undue dependence on a few big suppliers, which makes it hard to be confident about getting the best value out of the deal.
On the other hand, he is leery of depending on a small firm, and Red Hat aside, there aren’t that many large, economically hard firms in open source like Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft. Smaller firms often offer the greatest innovation, but there is a risk in agreeing to a significant deal with a smaller player.
“There’s a huge dependency for a large organization using a small organization. [You need] to be mindful of the risk that they can’t handle the scale and complexity, or that the product may need adaptation to work with our infrastructure,” said Creese.
I’ve heard this argue before. Open source is cheaper in gaining costs not easy to support over the long run. Part of it is FOSS’s DIY ethos, and bless you guys for being able to debug and recompile a complete app or distro of Linux, but not everyone is that smart.
The extra problem is the lack of support from vendors or third parties. IBM has done what no one else has the power to do. 20 after Linus first tossed his creation on the Internet for all to use, we still don’t have an open source equivalent to Microsoft or Oracle. Don’t say that’s a good thing because that’s only seeing it from one side. Business users will demand support levels that FOSS vendors can’t provide. That’s why we have yet to see an open source Oracle.
The part that saddens me is that reading Creese’s interview makes it clear he has more of a clue about technology than pretty much anyone we have in office on this side of the pond.
Microsoft will no longer issue security patches for Windows XP
This month’s “Patch Tuesday” includes the final round of security fixes Microsoft will issue for Windows XP, potentially leaving millions that continue to use the OS open to attack.
XP will become an easy target for attackers now that Microsoft has stopped supporting it, said Wolfgang Kandek, CTO for IT security firm Qualys.A The OS will no longer receive fixes for holes that Microsoft and others might find in the OS. Moreover, attackers will be able to reverse engineer patches issued for newer versions of Windows, giving them clues to the remaining unfixed vulnerabilities in XP, Kandek said.
Microsoft has acknowledged the problem and has been pushing hard to get users onto newer versions of Windows.
“If you continue to use Windows XP now that support has ended, your computer will still work but it might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses,” it said in an advisory.
Its efforts haven’t always been successful. Qualys compiled data from 6,700 companies and found that use of XP still represents a sizable portion of OSes running in the enterprise.A About one-fifth of companies in finance, for instance, still use XP — a surprisingly large number for an industry handling sensitive data. A
In retail, 14 percent of PCs still run XP, and in heath care the figure is 3 percent.
Organizations may be holding off on updating for a number of reasons, Kandek said. Some didn’t realize support was closing and are just now putting a migration plan in place. Others may be taking a calculated risk, saving on the cost of an upgrade and trying to minimize exposure by limiting access to the Internet and through other measures.
In addition to ending support for XP, Microsoft is no longer supporting Office 2003 or Internet Explorer 8.
The company released four security updates altogether on Tuesday. They cover 11 vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and Microsoft Publisher. Two of the updates are marked as critical. One of those, MS14-018, fixes a number of issues with Internet Explorer. The other, MS14-017, addresses critical vulnerabilities in Microsoft Word and Office Web Apps. They include a zero day in how Office 2010 handles documents encoded in the Rich Text Format.
Even after that fix is applied, organizations might want to disable Word’s ability to open RTF files, if those types of files aren’t routinely used, Kandek advised.A
The two other updates in April’s round of patches were marked important. One of them, MS14-020, handles a vulnerability in the company’s Publisher program. The other, MS14-019, covers how Windows, including XP, handles files.
Kandek also advised administrators to apply the patch Adobe issued Tuesday for a serious vulnerability in its Flash multimedia software.
Chromebooks’ success punches Microsoft in the gut
Amazon, NPD Group trumpet sales of the bare-bones laptops in 2013 to consumers and businesses
Chromebooks had a very good year, according to retailer Amazon.com and industry analysts.
And that’s bad news for Microsoft.
The pared-down laptops powered by Google’s browser-based Chrome OS have surfaced this year as a threat to “Wintel,” the Microsoft-Intel oligarchy that has dominated the personal-computer space for decades with Windows machines.
On Thursday, Amazon.com called out a pair of Chromebooks — one from Samsung, the other from Acer — as two of the three best-selling notebooks during the U.S. holiday season. The third: Asus’ Transformer Book, a Windows 8.1 “2-in-1″ device that transforms from a 10.1-in. tablet to a keyboard-equipped laptop.
As of late Thursday, the trio retained their lock on the top three places on Amazon’s best-selling-laptop list in the order of Acer, Samsung and Asus. Another Acer Chromebook, one that sports 32GB of on-board storage space — double the 16GB of Acer’s lower-priced model — held the No. 7 spot on the retailer’s top 10.
Chromebooks’ holiday success at Amazon was duplicated elsewhere during the year, according to the NPD Group, which tracked U.S. PC sales to commercial buyers such as businesses, schools, government and other organizations.
By NPD’s tallies, Chromebooks accounted for 21% of all U.S. commercial notebook sales in 2013 through November, and 10% of all computers and tablets. Both shares were up massively from 2012; last year, Chromebooks accounted for an almost-invisible two-tenths of one percent of all computer and tablet sales.
Stephen Baker of NPD pointed out what others had said previously: Chromebooks have capitalized on Microsoft’s stumble with Windows 8. “Tepid Windows PC sales allowed brands with a focus on alternative form factors or operating systems, like Apple and Samsung, to capture significant share of a market traditionally dominated by Windows devices,” Baker said in a Monday statement.
Part of the attraction of Chromebooks is their low prices: The systems forgo high-resolution displays, rely on inexpensive graphics chipsets, include paltry amounts of RAM — often just 2GB — and get by with little local storage. And their operating system, Chrome OS, doesn’t cost computer makers a dime.
The 11.6-in. Acer C720 Chromebook, first on Amazon’s top-10 list Thursday, costs $199, while the Samsung Chromebook, at No. 2, runs $243. Amazon prices Acer’s 720P Chromebook, No. 7 on the chart, at $300.
The prices were significantly lower than those for the Windows notebooks on the retailer’s bestseller list. The average price of the seven Windows-powered laptops on Amazon’s top 10 was $359, while the median was $349. Meanwhile, the average price of the three Chromebooks was $247 and the median was $243, representing savings of 31% and 29%, respectively.
In many ways, Chromebooks are the successors to “netbooks,” the cheap, lightweight and underpowered Windows laptops that stormed into the market in 2007, peaked in 2009 as they captured about 20% of the portable PC market, then fell by the wayside in 2010 and 2011 as tablets assumed their roles and full-fledged notebooks closed in on netbook prices.
Chromebooks increasingly threaten Windows’ place in the personal computer market, particularly the laptop side, whose sales dominate those of the even older desktop form factor. Stalwart Microsoft partners, including Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, have all dipped toes into the Chromebook waters, for example.
“OEMs can’t sit back and depend on Wintel anymore,” said Baker in an interview earlier this month.
Microsoft has been concerned enough with Chromebooks’ popularity to target the devices with attack ads in its ongoing “Scroogled” campaign, arguing that they are not legitimate laptops.
Those ads are really Microsoft’s only possible response to Chromebooks, since the Redmond, Wash. company cannot do to them what it did to netbooks.
Although the first wave of netbooks were powered by Linux, Microsoft quickly shoved the open-source OS aside by extending the sales lifespan of Windows XP, then created deliberately-crippled and lower-priced “Starter” editions of Vista and Windows 7 to keep OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) on the Windows train.
But Microsoft has no browser-based OS to show Chromebook OEMs, and has no light-footprint operating system suitable for basement-priced laptops except for Windows RT, which is unsuitable for non-touch screens. And unlike Google, Microsoft can hardly afford to give away Windows.
But Microsoft’s biggest problem isn’t Chrome OS and the Chromebooks its ads have belittled: It’s tablets. Neither Microsoft or its web of partners have found much success in that market.
Baker’s data on commercial sales illustrated that better than a busload of analysts. While Windows notebooks accounted for 34% of all personal computers and tablets sold to commercial buyers in the first 11 months of 2013, that represented a 20% decline from 2012. During the same period, tablets’ share climbed by one-fifth to 27%, with Apple’s iPad accounting for the majority of the tablets.
“The market for personal computing devices in commercial markets continues to shift and change, said Baker. “It is no accident that we are seeing the fruits of this change in the commercial markets as business and institutional buyers exploit the flexibility inherent in the new range of choices now open to them.”
But when you’re at the top of the personal computing device heap — as Microsoft was as recently as 2011 — words like “change” and “choice” are not welcome. From the mountaintop, the only way is down.
Microsoft was credited with inventing practically everything first, directly through innovation before its time, or indirectly and invisibly because everything runs on Microsoft software.
Well, it seems as if Microsoft is being credited with inventing almost everything.
We’ll start with the post by TechRadar defending Microsoft and crediting the company with inventing practically everything, including the wheel – the mouse wheel. The did-you-know flavored list begins with Google TV, but pointed out that Microsoft did that first in 1997 by acquiring WebTV, then renaming it MSN TV, and eventually using the technology for Xbox and Xbox 360. WebTV was first to allow web access with a computer, but let’s toss in the little-known fact that in 1996, before it became Microsoft’s product, the U.S. government classified WebTV as “munitions (a military weapon)” due to its use of strong encryption. It was a change in law, not Microsoft touching the technology, that stopped the military weapon classification.
The TechRadar article goes on to credit Microsoft with being the first to invent its version of the iPad, dubbed the Tablet PC, which shipped in 2002, but were “too big, bulky and expensive.” Facebook’s walled garden was credited to Microsoft’s 1995 version of MSN. The Redmond giant was first to market smart watches (Smart Personal Object Technology, or SPOT) which took advantage of mobile data. In 2000, the Redmond giant put out the first eReader; also in 2000, Microsoft invented the first smartphone, Microsoft’s Pocket PC platform. In fact, TechRadar compared Microsoft Bob, released in 1995, to the earliest version of today’s Siri and Google Now. The lack of success of Microsoft’s many invented products was attributed to them coming before their time or having no killer apps.
But those examples of what Microsoft invented are just a drop in the bucket if you use the “invisible” supportive structures reasoning presented by Microsoft’s Matt Wallaert, Behavioral Psychologist for Bing. Wallaert, who recently defended Microsoft’s Bing it on challenge claims, mentioned that fight in his Forbes article, before describing the worst part about working at Microsoft. “Every time you take a pot shot at Microsoft just to be a jerk, you distract us from doing the work that makes the world better.”
It is safe to say that most people reading this probably don’t respect Microsoft very much. Asked to name the most innovative tech company, they’ll say Apple or Google. And they’ll do it with a straight face, while sitting in a chair made by Microsoft.
Wait, Microsoft makes chairs? No, not directly. But the part of that chair? Manufactured in facilities running on, you guess it, Microsoft software. Transported in trucks built by Microsoft software, on roads built by Microsoft software, sold by companies running Microsoft software.
Imagine you got out of that chair for a second. Walked across the street to get a cup of coffee. Got hit by a bus. The ambulance that picks you up? Microsoft. The hospital that saves you? Microsoft. The doctor? Trained at a school running Microsoft, using delicate instruments running Microsoft. If you prefer not getting hit by a bus, think about the role that Microsoft has had in making sure your baby was born healthy.
So there you have it; if you consider the “invisible” supportive structures, then, hey, Microsoft can be credited with inventing pretty much everything and we apparently underrate its value.
How Microsoft invented almost everything
By the same token, if you consider the “invisible” argument of Microsoft software being behind all good things, would it also have to be behind all the bad? If you fell out of your computer chair — because you didn’t rest well the night before on the mattress manufactured in a factory running Microsoft software — and decided to go across the street to fetch a cup of coffee, what caused the accident?
Your mobile phone rings as you step onto the street. It’s your distressed non-techy mom describing how Windows crashed, so you close your eyes briefly and smother a curse word. The bus driver, who is busy texting on his Windows phone, doesn’t see and therefore hits you; but no worries because a Microsoft-built ambulance picks you up and transports you to the hospital filled with doctors trained at schools running Microsoft. The delicate instruments running Microsoft software save you, despite running on an OS infected with malware. Your doctor, who is looking down at notes on his Surface tablet, greets you in the recovery room and tells you that your sex change operation went great. But before you can freak out, elsewhere Chinese Army hackers exploited a zero-day to break into government computers running Windows and stole classified codes to launch nukes. The world, running on Microsoft, ends.
Just kidding, but that’s the problem with the “invisible” supportive structures argument; it can be used in far-out scenarios for good and for bad.
“Your privacy is very important to us,” Microsoft is fond of saying. But if a former Microsoft Privacy Chief no longer trusts Microsoft, should you?
Bowden’s statements were made during a conference about privacy and surveillance that was held in Lausanne, Switzerland, and reported on by the Guardian. At one point, Bowden’s presentation slide showed a “NSA surveillance octopus” to help illustrate the evils of surveillance in the U.S. cloud; but this was not a PowerPoint presentation. He was using LibreOffice 3.6 because he doesn’t trust Microsoft software at all anymore. In fact, he said he only uses open source software so he can examine the underlying code.
An attendee pointed out that free software has been subverted too, but Bowden called open source software “the least worst” and the best option to use if you are trying to avoid surveillance. Another privacy tip…the privacy pro also does not carry a personal tracker on him, meaning Bowden gave up on carrying a mobile phone two years ago.
No privacy in the cloud: zero, zippy, none
According to Bowden, “In about 2009 the whole industry turned on a dime and turned to cloud computing – massively parallel computation sold as a commodity at a distance.” He said, “Cloud computing leaves you no privacy protection.” However, “cloud computing is too useful to be disinvented. Unlike Echelon, though, which was only interception, potentially all EU data is at risk. FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) can grab data after it’s stored, and decrypted.”
Bowden authored a paper about “the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs (PRISM) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) activities and their impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights.” While it mostly dissects how “surveillance activities by the U.S. authorities are conducted without taking into account the rights of non-U.S. citizens and residents,” it also looks at some “serious limitations to the Fourth Amendment for U.S. citizens.”
“The thoughts prompted in the mind of the public by the revelations of Edward Snowden cannot be unthought. We are already living in a different society in consequence,” Bowden wrote [pdf]. He again pointed out the dangers to privacy in cloud computing. “The scope of FAA creates a power of mass-surveillance specifically targeted at the data of non-U.S. persons located outside the U.S., including data processed by ‘Cloud computing’, which eludes EU Data Protection regulation.”
Data can only be processed whilst decrypted, and thus any Cloud processor can be secretly ordered under FISA 702 to hand over a key, or the information itself in its decrypted state. Encryption is futile to defend against NSA accessing data processed by US Clouds (but still useful against external adversaries such as criminal hackers). Using the Cloud as a remote disk-drive does not provide the competitiveness and scalability benefits of Cloud as a computation engine. There is no technical solution to the problem.
He concluded that there is an “absence of any cognizable privacy rights for ‘non-U.S. persons’ under FISA.”
Microsoft’s strategy: Grind down people’s privacy expectations
It was Bowden’s position over privacy policies for Microsoft that makes his point of view important. This man, a privacy expert, no longer trusts Microsoft as a company, nor its software.Microsoft ‘your privacy is our priority’ Yet Microsoft (and most all other companies) love to publicize the quote, “Your privacy is very important to us.” But does Microsoft really care about your privacy?
During an interview with Bowden, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) asked, “Do you think the general public understands how much privacy they have in the digital world?”
Bowden replied, “There’s been a grinding down of people’s privacy expectations in a systematic way as part of the corporate strategy, which I saw in Microsoft.”
Regarding the Guardian’s report that Bowden does not trust the Redmond giant, Microsoft sent this PR-damage control statement to CNET:
“We believe greater transparency on the part of governments – including the U.S. government – would help the community understand the facts and better debate these important issues. That’s why we’ve taken a number of steps to try and secure permission, including filing legal action with the U.S. government.”
About that transparency…LSE asked Bowden, “What’s your view on the transparency policies of tech-companies?”
Bowden replied, “It is purely public relations strategy – corporate propaganda aimed at the public sphere – and due to the existence of secret mass-surveillance laws will never be truly transparent.”
Thomas P. Jackson, the former federal judge who in 2000 ruled that Microsoft should be split into two companies as punishment for monopolistic business practices, died Saturday at his Maryland home. He was 76.
Jackson’s demand that Microsoft divide was overturned by a federal appeals court in 2001, in part because the panel believed public comments Jackson made during and after the trial portion of the Department of Justice’s antitrust case showed bias against Microsoft.
Jackson had compared Microsoft’s executives to “drug traffickers” and “gangland killers,” said Bill Gates had “a Napoleonic concept of himself,” and lashed out at what he called duplicitous testimony during the trial.
While Jackson’s findings that Microsoft abused its dominant market position went untouched at appeal, the change in administrations after President George W. Bush took office led to a settlement between the government and Microsoft in late 2001.
That settlement did not include Jackson’s solution: to separate the operating systems side of Microsoft from the rest of the firm to create a pair of corporations.
But what if? What if Jackson’s remedy had been put into place and a dozen years or so ago Microsoft splintered into parts?
Two better than one?
Industry and legal analysts who played along with the counter-factual believed that the collective parts would now be better off than the single entity is currently.
“The Baby Bells each became sharks, and innovated, innovated, innovated,” Robert Lande, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and director of the American Antitrust Institute, said about the antitrust-driven 1982 breakup of AT&T. “You could argue that we wouldn’t have the cellphone industry without the breakup. At the least, it sped that up by several years, because you had seven innovating rather than just one.”
Lande’s point was that the more companies, the more competition, and the more competition, the more likely innovation.
“What if, 13 years ago, Microsoft had been broken into two very formidable companies? Eventually they would have started to compete with each other,” Lande said. “In search, Microsoft was a day late and a dollar short. But with two Microsofts, maybe one of them would have pushed [into search], perfected the search engine, and now be serious competition for Google.”
A breakup would also have put at least one of the resulting mini-Microsofts in the hands of someone other than Bill Gates, in 2000 still at Microsoft as its chief software architect.
“Gates was focused on the ‘black box,'” Lande said. “He personified that part of the company.”
Without Gates, Lande argued, one of what he called the “Baby Bills” would have been more likely to push beyond the confines of Windows and Office, and be more aggressive in trying new markets than did the company in reality.
Others took a different tack to the “what if?” exercise.
“You could argue that a split of Microsoft in 2000, with a company that made Office [but not Windows], it would have supported the iPad from day one because they would have had no concern to protect the Windows client,” said Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC. Office might have made it to Linux in that counter-historical, Gillen added.
Sans the antitrust action, or assuming it happened but that Windows was the sole focus of one of the two (or more) spinoffs, Gillen also thought that the operating system would be different today.
Ruling led to caution
“Indirectly [the antitrust action] created a lot of second-guessing internally,” Gillen said. “They made decisions specifically to not trigger a review by Microsoft’s lawyers. That created a reduction in its agility.”
Gillen recounted examples of briefings a decade ago when he would ask why a feature had not been implemented, and got the impression that the extreme caution was motivated by even technical staff looking over shoulders. “They were always thinking, ‘Oh my God, we can’t do that, it’s bundling.’ If Microsoft had been allowed to act in a fully unregulated manner, they could have done more to increase the ‘stickiness’ of the client OSs.”
The judicial oversight, and the caution it prompted within Microsoft, would have likely been absent or dramatically decreased if the operating system division had been spun off from the rest of Microsoft’s portfolio, Gillen contended. And that, over the years, would probably have made the Baby Bills faster to react to industry changes, perhaps even resulted in, say, deals between the application-centric company and the current devil, Google. Or the Windows-only firm might have jumped sooner into tablets — considering its early interest in slates — either before Apple launched the iPad in 2010, or shortly after the iPad’s appearance.
On the other hand, Gillen said, it’s possible that a Windows-only Microsoft would be in an even tougher spot than it is now, as the traditional PC industry fades under assault from mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets. “Not being allowed to increase the stickiness of the client OSs,” Gillen said, referring to even more focus on the desktop, “may have helped prevent Microsoft from being even more negatively impacted.”
Lande also wondered what might have been had Microsoft split. “[The Windows side] may have focused even more on the box,” he said, to its detriment today.
Split wouldn’t have mattered
Not everyone agreed with Lande and Gillen that it would have been better had Microsoft been rendered into multiple parts. “The split would have had less value than people expected,” said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.
Cherry, who worked at Microsoft from 1994 to 2000, and in the last two years of that span was a program manager on the Windows team, wondered how the divided companies could have escaped the reputation of their ancestor. “How do you separate in the minds of people [these new firms] from Microsoft?” he asked. “If one had been called ‘Acme Software,’ but everyone knew it had been Microsoft, how would they have sold software to customers who didn’t want something from Microsoft?”
Cherry categorized any counter-factual as “a great pub discussion” over beers, but useless beyond that parlor game. “Sometimes I wonder what it might have been like, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking that. It’s only moderately interesting.”
Meanwhile, a Directions on Microsoft colleague of Cherry’s, Wes Miller, echoed Gillen. Like Cherry, Miller worked at the Redmond, Wash., developer — in his case, from 1997 to 2004.
“I think [the antitrust case] harmed Microsoft’s mojo,” Miller said. “That and the EU [antitrust action] harmed Microsoft. Policywise, internally, they created some policies and procedures that made development more complicated, slower and in some ways more ineffective.”
A separation in 2000, however, might have let the Baby Bills move on, Miller suggested, and better put the case and its ramifications in their rearview mirrors.
“Who knows what the [technology] world would look like now?” Lande said. “But I have to think that there would have been a lot more innovation once you had split up Microsoft.”
Military Inspector General report states bluntly: The Army’s chief information officer “did not implement an effective cybersecurity program for commercial mobile devices.”
A report from the Inspector General of the U.S Department of Defense that’s critical of the way the Army has handled mobile-device security has been inexplicably yanked from the IG DoD public website but can still be found in the Google caching system.
The IG DoD report No. DODIG-2013-060, entitled “Improvements Needed With Tracking and Configuring Army Commercial Mobile Devices,” dated March 26, flatly states the Army’s chief information officer “did not implement an effective cybersecurity program for commercial mobile devices.” The Inspector General of the DoD is the independent oversight division in the DoD that investigates whether the DoD is operating effectively and efficiently.
The report was apparently removed from the IG DoD website after a handful of news organizations wrote about it, but so far the IG DoD hasn’t responded to questions about the report’s sudden disappearance.
The report is highly critical of the way the Army in terms of weakness in its cybersecurity program as pertains to commercial mobile devices, aiming the brunt of its criticism at the Army CIO.
Lt. General Susan Lawrence was named Army CIO in 2011.
The report, prepared by Alice Carey, Assistant Inspector General of Readiness, Operations and Support in the DoD’s Inspector General office in Alexandria, Va., summarizes what IG DoD found as it sought to discover how the Army was managing and securing smartphones and tablets, specifically those based on the Apple iOS, Android or Windows mobile operating systems.
The IG DoD report says it received a list of more than 14,000 of these types of commercial mobile devices (CMD) used throughout the Army between October 2010 through May 2012, and went directly to two sites to “verify when the CMDs in use were appropriately tracked, configured, and sanitized, and followed policy for using CMDs as removable media.”
The two sites were the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss.
The mobile devices in question were used in both a pilot mode and in non-pilot mode, the report says. The IG DoD concluded the Army CIO has failed to implement an effective cybersecurity program for these, however. “Specifically, the Army CIO did not appropriately track more than 14,000 CMDs purchased as part of pilot and non-pilot programs,” the report states.
In addition, the devices weren’t configured to secure data stored on them, nor were the devices required to be “sanitized” before transfer or in the event of loss. There was also said to be inadequate training and user agreements specific to the devices.
“In addition, the Army CIO inappropriately concluded that CMDs were not connecting to Army networks and storing sensitive information; and therefore, did not extend current IA [information assurance] requirements to use of the CMDs. Without an effective cybersecurity program specific to CMDs, critical IA controls necessary to safeguard the devices were not applied, and the Army increased its risk of cybersecurity attacks and leakage of data,” the report says.
The report notes that a specific DoD memorandum from two years ago laid out security objectives for commercial mobile devices, including using an enterprise management system, encrypting and sanitizing sensitive DoD information stored on them, e-mail encryption and installing “designated authority-approved software and applications,” plus training.
At the two sites the IG DoD visited, no mobile-device management application had been put into use by the CIOs there, and password configuration of devices often left to individual users. It noted sometimes cadets at the U.S. Military Academy used the mobile devices they’d been given as personal devices and as “removable media to transfer and store sensitive case files and evidence related to Cadet Honor Committee hearings.”
In one instance at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the IG DoD found one user with a non-pilot CMD using it to transfer research documents and personally identifiable information from a networked computer.
The report concluded the Army CIO hadn’t adequately tracked the devices in question, noting in several hundred cases it looked at, the Army CIO was unaware of the devices in use and maintained faulty accounting about it all.
Army and Command CIOs have taken some actions to improve, the report states, either by ordering the activities such as using CMDs as removable media to cease or placing a moratorium on acquisition of new CMDs The report mentions use of the AirWatch MDM software to address some of the IG DoD concerns.
The report concludes the CIO of the Army needs to develop a clear and comprehensive policy for reporting and tracking all commercial mobile devices. The head of the Army CIO Cybersecurity Directorate responded to the IG DoD that it maintained a SharePoint Portal and directed all Army organizations entering into a pilot to register and provide pilot documentation, among other steps. It also said it was working to manage mobile devices through an MDM system. Though expressing some dissatisfaction, the IG DoD indicated it approved of the Army CIO’s response that the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Army would have every mobile device and the applications on them under management—as well as have a Mobile Application Store–at full operating capability before the end of fiscal year 2014.
How Microsoft lost the future of gesture control
Microsoft’s Kinect was miles ahead. Here’s how they’re snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Ten years ago, Windows, Office and Internet Explorer were the only “platforms” that really mattered.
Microsoft historically attained its glory by making end user products for the masses, and only later and secondarily going after enterprise and vertical markets.
But the rise of Apple as a consumer electronics company, Google’s emergence as an everything company, and the advent of Web 2.0, the cloud and the social Internet have left Microsoft struggling to find a way to succeed in the markets of the future.
There was one shining exception to this trend in the consumer market: Xbox in general and Kinect for Xbox 360 in particular.
Kinect is a top-notch, low-cost in-the-air gesture control interface for Microsoft’s console gaming platform that was way ahead of its time and broke the Guinness World Record for the fastest selling-consumer electronics gadget ever.
So when Microsoft later announced a version of Kinect for Windows, everybody (including me) assumed that it would go on to dominate the future of gesture control, and use its dominance as an advantage to regain its lead in the desktop PC market of the future.
But now it looks like Microsoft blew it.
What’s wrong with Kinect for Windows?
Microsoft Kinect for Windows sounds like you should be able to use it with a desktop PC, and you can. Unfortunately, the closest you can get to the cameras is 16 inches away, and that’s when you put it into a special “Near Mode.”
That technical limitation puts the user’s head and body farther away from a screen than usual. So right out of the box, it can’t be used naturally, as we once expected, as an alternative to a mouse on a PC.
Microsoft doesn’t mind, because it isn’t really targeting end users like you and me.
Most of the example photos shown on the Microsoft website show Xbox-like distances where the user is across the room or at least five feet away from the Kinect.
These pictures show commercial and retail applications — a business presentation, a physical therapist, a retail eyeglasses store. Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows blog also emphasizes retail applications of the product.
It’s possible that Microsoft may eventually market Kinect for Windows to consumers. But so far, it looks like it’s not cultivating developers in that market.
Microsoft still hasn’t announced commercial availability of Kinect for Windows, though it did release an updated software development kit (SDK) this month.
Right now, Kinect for Windows ships to developers only and doesn’t come with software for controlling any interface. If you want to control something, you have to build your own software using the SDK.
This strikes me as weird on two counts. First, Microsoft is a software company. Why didn’t it make software for Kinect for Windows, at least to demonstrate basic control of the Windows 8 user interface?
Second, why ignore the consumer market for Kinect — especially since the Surface Tablet and Windows 8 are struggling to stand out as superior to alternatives from Apple and Google?
How Microsoft blew it
Microsoft had a five-year head start. The technology behind Kinect was originally invented in 2005. It took the company five years to move from invention to a fully ready-for-prime-time consumer product.
Kinect for Xbox 360 launched to consumers in 2010 with a whopping $500 million advertising budget.
Since then, Microsoft has sold more than 24 million units and has inspired a huge and active community of hobbyists and researchers who do amazing things with the Kinect.
One of my favorite blogs is called Kinect Hacks, which documents some of these projects.
How Leap Motion is making all the right moves
Microsoft shipped a surprisingly mature, polished mass-market consumer product for Xbox in the same year a small company called Leap Motion was quietly founded and funded.
Microsoft started shipping units in the millions at the same time Leap Motion began the long process of taking an idea and developing it into a product.
So what’s the difference between Kinect and Leap?
The Kinect for Windows gadget is a plastic thing about the size of a large car rearview mirror that has microphones and cameras that double as sensors, which point away from the screen and at the user.
The Leap, on the other hand, is tiny — about the size of a standard USB flash drive. It lies flat on the table pointing up, capturing the motion that happens above it.
In general, Leap is optimized for fine detection of fingers and hands, while the Xbox for Windows can detect fingers, hands, arms, body, face and voice.
While there’s much that Leap can’t do compared to the Kinect, its ability to detect finger and hand movements appears superior in terms of both “resolution” and performance — judging from the demos I’ve seen, anyway.
Leap can track up to 10 fingers. And it’s very fast — hand movements almost instantly affect what’s on screen.
Leap can recognize when you’re holding something, then track the thing you’re holding instead of the hand that’s controlling it — essentially turning any object into a kind of Wii controller. You can even tell Leap to track a pencil you’re holding in your hand, then write very finely in the air to instantly write on screen.
Some 12,000 developers are working with the Leap platform. The company recently announced an app store called Airspace.
While both products superficially do the same thing, the two companies have taken completely different strategic approaches.
Microsoft is ignoring the consumer market; Leap Motion is embracing it.
Leap’s other advantage is cross-platform support. It works on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.
The Leap device is due to ship May 13 at a price of $79.99. Microsoft sells Kinect for Windows devices to developers for $249 but has not announced user pricing or a ship date.
While Microsoft had a long head start in the cultivation of a developer community, Leap has been attracting developers fast.
Leap Motion did three things that Microsoft should have done.
First, it limited the initial feature set to focus on high performance, small size and low price, rather than trying to build a system that could do everything at any distance.
Second, it focused on consumers, rather than retail and vertical applications.
Third, Leap zeroed in on up-close-and-personal use at a regular desktop rather than on activities that involve people standing up across a room.
Combining these advantages, Leap targets the broadest consumer and gamer marketplace: the one made up of people standing or sitting immediately in front of a screen — any screen, regardless of whether their system runs Windows, Linux or OS X.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is focusing on users in retail, enterprise or industrial settings who will be standing some distance from their screens and who (presumably) would be willing to pay much more for a device. Oh, and it’s only aiming for people running Windows.
Leap’s target audience is at least an order of magnitude larger than Microsoft’s.
If you’re a developer, which is the more attractive market?
In short, Microsoft had one of the most successful consumer electronics products in history. In converting it to the desktop, it could have reversed its fortunes in that realm and knocked another one out of the park.
Instead, Microsoft screwed up, focusing on a very small and narrow market with a relatively expensive, complex product that is taking far too long to get into the hands of users.
Microsoft squandered a five-year head start and is now falling behind. By the time the company gets Kinect for Windows into the consumer market, I suspect Leap Motion will already own that market.
Microsoft should hope that Apple doesn’t acquire Leap Motion and build the technology into OS X exclusively — because then it’s curtains for Windows, too.
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.