Friday, September 25, 2009

Microsoft Launches 'Spark' Program for Web Developer and Server Products

By Kathleen Richards09/24/2009

Microsoft kicked off another "Spark' program today to seed the development audience for its Web tools and platforms. The global program lowers the barrier to entry for Web professionals and smaller companies, and allows Microsoft to compete with open source software.

The WebsiteSpark program, which follows DreamSpark for full-time students and BizSpark for software startups, offers free licenses for tools and server applications, along with technical and marketing support from Microsoft and its partner network. Microsoft has signed up more than 50 hosting partners that can also provide software "on parity with the price of Linux," says Lauren Cooney, a group product manager on the Developer Platform & Tools team at Microsoft.

WebsiteSpark targets both Web developers and designers, who work in companies of 10 people or less. Microsoft has been working on the program for about six months, with research and feedback from 200 Web companies, according to Cooney.

"We found out that a lot of Web development companies out there were hybrid shops in Windows and Linux," she says. "And they were frustrated with Linux specifically, although there is that price point that is relatively low, they could not get enough information on the Web or the information was very fragmented. They would be looking for code samples, and the code wasn't right, quite frankly.

"And one of the things that we do with WebsiteSpark," Cooney says, "is we are actually offering up full licenses as well as production licenses. We are breaking down the cost barrier so our software is now free and you get the trusted resources, and the trusted support and the trusted training."

Like BizSpark, in order to qualify, interested participants need a sponsorship from a Microsoft chair or a member of the WebsiteSpark partner network. To be eligible, companies must develop Web solutions--in any technology. Developers can find potential sponsors by contacting

Qualified companies will receive three full licenses for Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, two licenses for Expression Web and one license for Expression Studio 3, which includes the Expression Blend design software and SketchFlow. WebsiteSpark participants will also receive two production licenses for Windows Web Server 2008 or R2 when available, SQL Server 2008 Web Edition and third-party DotNetPanel to manage their sites. Technology licenses will not be updated as newer versions of the tools and applications are released, according to Microsoft.

Participants also qualify for two Microsoft technical support incidents and access to MSDN technical newsgroups. A Microsoft partner recruiting portal is designed to put WebsiteSpark participants in touch with a wider ecosystem that includes design, development and technical support firms such as Aruba Networks, Inc., Bitrix Inc., Elance Inc., Ikoula, PEER 1 Network Enterprises Inc. and Strato.

BizSpark, which was launched in November 2008 in 82 countries, has more than 15,000 startups in the program, including Red Beacon Inc., the winner of the TechCrunch 50.

Like BizSpark, companies, if still eligible, can participant in WebsiteSpark for up to three years. The only cost is a $100 fee, which can be paid upon exiting the program. After the three-year period, developers will have to pay for production licenses and support as needed.

A major incentive in the current economic climate, the program includes the opportunity to participate in a WebsiteSpark marketplace, promoted by Microsoft, which showcases the products and services of participants.

"One of the things that we recognize--and we have been doing a lot of work on the Web platform as well--is that it is really about helping companies build their business, get customers and make money, whatever size they are," says Cooney.

Microsoft also released the Web Platform Installer 2.0 today, a free download tool that provides easier access to the company's Web products: Windows Server/IIS, SQL Server, ASP.NET, ASP.NET MVC, Visual Web Developer, Silverlight and ASP.NET AJAX. The updated installer adds support for the Windows Azure SDK, IIS Media Services and a free Expression Studio trial. "As a user, you can pick and chose what you want, these are not forced installs," says Cooney. Improved package handling in Web PI 2.0 offers the ability to download once, package and repackage components as needed, and deploy them on multiple systems.

With Web PI, developers can also download apps from the Windows Web Application Gallery, which includes free .NET and PHP applications such as DotNetNuke, SugarCRM, WordPress, among others. The Windows Web Application Gallery 2.0, announced today, adds 20 applications.

"We have had over 3 million products downloaded through the Web PI and we have almost over 700,000 applications downloaded," says Cooney. "It is extremely critical to understand that developers' time is very, very valuable and we recognize that and we want to make sure that we are building products and building installation processes to deliver on what they need."


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Google Finds Way To Bypass Internet Explorer Engine

By Kurt Mackie09/24/2009

Google introduced a coding plug-in for Web site developers that instructs Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers to use Google Chrome technologies.

The plug-in, called "Google Chrome Frame," was announced on Tuesday and is still at the early release stage, according to a Google blog. The blog features a video suggesting that IE 8 will pass the Acid3 test while using Google Chrome Frame. It also suggests that developers will see better support for rich Internet applications by using the plug-in.

The switch is triggered by adding a single tag to a Web site's HTML markup. It tells IE to use the open source WebKit Web content engine favored by the Google Chrome browser rather than Microsoft's IE Trident layout engine.

Web developers can take advantage of upcoming HTML 5 technologies and "recent JavaScript performance improvements" by using Google Chrome Frame, according to Google's blog. However, HTML 5 is still at the draft stage. W3C documentation points to a release milestone for the HTML 5 recommendation sometime in 2009 to 2010. A Google spokesperson said that final changes to the HTML 5 spec might happen in October or November, but "it's still a long process after that."

HTML 5 will have offline capabilities allowing calendar or e-mail applications to sync, as well as audio and video tags that don't depend on the browser using Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight, the Google spokesperson noted.

A spokesperson for Microsoft explained in a released statement that "HTML5 is still a standard in progress and the makers of it say it will be years at least before it's done, so no one can standardize on it." The spokesperson added that all browsers support parts of HTML 5. Internet Explorer supports the following features in the current spec:

"The DOM Store -- that allows developers to store content and data on the end users computerCross Document MessagingCross Domain MessagingAjax NavigationContentEditable"

The statement provided by Microsoft suggested that there could be security repercussions to using Google Chrome Frame.

"Given the security issues with plug-ins in general and Google Chrome in particular, Google Chrome Frame running as a plug-in has doubled the attack area for malware and malicious scripts," the statement explained. "This is not a risk we would recommend our friends and families take."

Microsoft referred people to studies by NSS Labs, funded by Microsoft, on the protections afforded by browsers against phishing attacks and malware. Those studies found IE 8 to be one of the safest browsers.

A statement from Google took a different view on the alleged security risks of its browser and plug-in.

"While we encourage users to use a more modern and standards compliant browser such as Firefox, Safari, Opera or Google Chrome rather than a plug-in, for those who don't, Google Chrome Frame is designed to provide better performance, strong security features, and more choice to both developers and users, across all versions of Internet Explorer."

Google's statement cited protections against malware and phishing, as well as its sandbox security technology, plus frequent browser updates to meet emerging online threats.

A Microsoft blog accused Google of messy coding practices with Google Chrome Frame. Felix Wang, a Microsoft Web evangelist, indicated that the use of Google Chrome Frame interfered with IE 8. It also mangled a Windows registry setting, he explained.

"If any googler wants to investigate, just drop me a line and I'm happy to provide MPS report or other troubleshooting data for diagnostics," Wang wrote.

The Google spokesperson said in a phone call that Google is currently working on a bug fix to the problem described by Wang.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Judges Hear Appeal Arguments in Microsoft vs. i4i Case

By Kurt Mackie09/23/2009

Lawyers for Microsoft and Toronto-based i4i LP concluded oral arguments before the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday in a patent dispute case.

The case involves the use of "custom XML" technology in Microsoft Word.

A jury rendered a verdict against Microsoft in May. Microsoft appealed the final judgment in the case, which awarded i4i more than $240 million in damages and penalties. The judgment also enjoined future sales of Microsoft Word, starting on Oct. 10.

Microsoft won a stay of the judgment, pending appeal, on August 16. Now, with the appeal's oral arguments concluded, the next step will be the appeals court judges' decision. It could take two to four months for a decision to be handed down, according to Loudon Owen, i4i's chairman. He dismissed Microsoft's appeals arguments.

"As we expected, Microsoft repeated the same line of argument that was unsuccessful at trial," Owen said in a prepared statement. "We are confident i4i will prevail."

In its appeal, Microsoft contested the patent violation. It also questioned the conduct of the judge as a "gatekeeper" during the trial. The company's lawyers argued that the judgment should be voided or Microsoft should get another trial.

"At today’s hearing we emphasized three points for why a reverse judgment or retrial is warranted: Courts need to construct claims properly, the patent is not valid and we do not infringe it, and common sense can’t be abandoned when it comes to damages calculation," said Microsoft spokesperson Kevin Kutz in a prepared statement. "We are pleased with how the hearing proceeded and we look forward to the Court's ruling."

i4i filed a rebuttal earlier this month to Microsoft's initial appeal. In response, Microsoft filed a reply last week, which can be read here (PDF).

Microsoft's court papers claim that the inventor of the custom XML technology, Michel Vulpe, now founder and CTO of i4i, congratulated Microsoft for adding the technology to Microsoft Word. However, Vulpe disputes that account. He sent an e-mail to Jean Paoli of Microsoft, but the e-mail just congratulated him for using XML generically.

"There's a gentleman named Jean Paoli who works for Microsoft and he used to work for a company that we acquired," Vulpe said in a phone call. "He led the development of a not very successful product at Microsoft, but in 2003 (I believe) when this was launched, it was a big deal. It was Microsoft's first significant foray into XML with a standalone product. The note was congratulations to Jean who was the team leader on that -- on the success of his launch of his new product. And they [Microsoft's lawyers] were trying to construe that as a note congratulating him on putting custom XML into Word 2003."

Paoli is described as a co-creator of XML in a Microsoft Channel 9 video, and is listed as an editor of the W3C's 1998 draft of XML 1.0.

Vulpe said that i4i's patent describes user-defined schemas in XML, which is what Microsoft calls custom XML. He added that i4i's invention predates the W3C's XML recommendation.

"The invention actually came to fruition way before XML even had been conceived of," Vulpe said. "We developed this -- Steve and I -- and filed this patent in 1994. The invention was actually conceived of in November of 1993."

Microsoft's court filings have argued that the custom XML invention was obvious, but the jury found otherwise. Vulpe explained that Microsoft tried but couldn't get the technology to work.

"Microsoft had tried in 1994 through 1996 to make its Word product process SGML, and it failed miserably. It was a disaster," Vulpe said. "Microsoft and a lot of other companies had tried to figure out how to make a generic content tool be able to process either SGML or now XML, and we're the only guys who figured out an invention on how to solve that."

Now, any software program (such as Word, Photoshop, etc.) can take advantage of custom XML, Vulpe explained. Previously, you had to have a tool that was dedicated to processing user-defined XML, such as Arbortext, XMetaL or i4i's Grif, he explained.

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Intel Launches Netbook Developer Program, Adds Silverlight Support to Atom and Moblin

By John K. Waters09/23/2009

Intel this week launched a new program it hopes will spark the growth of a multiple developer communities around devices based on its low-power Atom processors which have become popular components of rapidly growing netbook PCs.

The company unveiled its Atom Developer Program at the annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco. The program provides a framework for creating applications for netbooks now, and handhelds and smart phones in the future. The company is also reaching out to developers of Moblin, Intel's new Linux distribution for netbooks and handhelf devices.

Devices based on the Atom processor run on Windows XP and are slated to support Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 7, as well as Moblin.

The new program will support developers working with a range of operating systems and run-time environments, said Renee James, general manager of Intel’s software and services group. Among those is Microsoft’s Silverlight cross-platform browser plug-in. Silverlight 3 will be supported on Atom-Moblin devices early next year, James said.

“This collaboration [between Intel and Microsoft] delivers on Silverlight’s cross-platform, cross-browser, and cross-device promise by going beyond just the PC to allow developers to reach more endpoints for their applications and services,” the Microsoft Silverlight team said in a blog  posting today. Windows and Moblin-based operating environments will be the first supported on the Atom chips. Intel plans to add Java and Adobe AIR runtime support in the future.

Intel has established a site for the new program, where developers are encouraged to sign up. Members currently have access to technical information and updates, as well as tools for creating components and applications. A downloadable preview of the SDK is available on the site.

Netbook makers Acer, Asus, and Dell will be among the vendors hosting their own Atom app stores, James said. “We envision a wide variety of OEM and service-provider storefronts, all taking advantage of these common application frameworks to bring a whole raft of new applications out to end-users,” said Intel chief executive Paul Otellini during his conference-opening keynote.

“It’s a nice win for Intel,” said Michael Gartneberg,vice president of strategy and analysis at industry analyst firm Interpret, “because they really need these relatively slow processors optimized for things like Silverlight. Netbook and hand-held users want to watch things like streaming media without stuttering or the like. For Microsoft, it allows the company to leverage Silverlight as netbook-friendly media technology.”

Still there was a mixed message coming out of Intel at the IDF this week, Gartenberg said. He pointed to Otellini's keynote where he talked about a “computing continuum” that yields “the same experience on any device.”

But Otellini also declared that his company is evolving from personal computers to “personal computing," Gartenberg said. “On the one hand, Intel is talking about the notion of mobile compatibility up and down their product line based on their architectures. And on the other, they’re talking about netbook-specific applications that are aimed at the Atom processor. We’ll have to see how that shakes out in the marketplace.”

Getting Silverlight to run on Moblin is noteworthy but a less significant component of the overall new development program, said Gartner analyst Eric Knipp said. “Silverlight running on Moblin isn’t really a big deal because Flash already runs on it," he said. "I don’t think this is a differentiator.”

Intel has added Moblin because it complements their products, Knipp adds. “They want people to be able to buy cheap netbooks running Intel processors. This is something that Intel has done for years, and it will probably create more demand for their products.”

Although the new Atom developer program and Intel’s support for Silverlight on Atom-Moblin is focused primarily at ISVs, it applies to enterprise developers as well, said Gartenberg.

“For enterprises that are looking to develop internal line-of-business apps and are going to make Silverlight a part of that experience, they can now count on the Atom family of processors of being able to run those applications,” he said.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Startup Aims to Bring Flash Back to the Web

By Jeffrey Schwartz09/22/2009

Longtime Flash developer Jim Kremens for years was frustrated by the fact that running Flash-based content on Web sites was no longer feasible. So he developed a new markup language that he hopes will change that.

Called FluidHtml, the new language lets developers build interactive Web sites running rich content without requiring the Adobe Flash plug-in. It is effectively an extension of HTML that can generate Flash content, Kremens said an interview.

Kremens earlier this year launched privately funded FHTML Inc., based in Waltham Mass. В "The goal of the project was to capture all of the dynamics of Flash and usability of the Web, from a developers and users perspective," he said.В  Kremens unveiled his new effort last week at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco. (A video of his presentation can be found here).

To make its markup work in Flash, the company uses an interpreter called FHTML.SWF. It reads the FluidHtml markup generated on a page, and then "renders the layout, effects, behaviors and instructions in the markup," according to the company.

The language generates tags and has what it calls a liquid layout engine, which more effectively applies basic Cascade Style Sheet (CSS) concepts. It also includes an animation engine and has no server-side dependencies. It supports basic HTTP requests as well as AJAX, Kremens explained.

Besides simplifying the ability to render Flash on Web sites, a key benefit, is that content created in FluidHtml is searchable as standard HTML. It also supports deep linking, can be built without the need to hire expensive Flash or ActionScript developers, Kremens said.

FHTML released a private beta last week and plans a public beta in November. The company plans a finished release by January 2010.

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Microsoft Releases Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R3

By Kurt Mackie09/22/2009

Microsoft announced the release to manufacturing of Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R3 at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston on Tuesday.

The R3 release is a minor OS update that's notable for adding Windows 7 connectivity to Microsoft's compact operating system for devices. Developers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have access to Windows 7 Device Stage, a kind of device-driver portal that resides in the OS. In addition, the R3 release includes Microsoft Connection Manager to help connect devices with PCs.

The new OS can support consumer Internet devices, as well as "full-featured, small Windows-based notebooks," according to Kevin Dallas, Microsoft's general manager of the Windows Embedded Business Unit.

Microsoft is promising developers and OEMs ways to improve the user experience on devices with the new release. The R3 release features Windows 7 touch technology. In addition, Microsoft added Silverlight for Windows Embedded in the R3 release, which Microsoft describes as an "out-of-browser, native code implementation of Microsoft Silverlight technology," according to its announcement.

The addition of Silverlight technology allows developers to "separate the design of the user experience on the device and the development of core functionality," according to Microsoft's announcement. Designers can add user interface capabilities such as zoom, gesture and touch via Silverlight and Microsoft Expression Blend. Silverlight is a browser add-on for multimedia applications, as well as a Web application framework.

Microsoft also announced at the conference that it is planning to add Windows 7 technologies to Windows Embedded Enterprise and Windows Server 2008 R2 for Embedded Systems (also known as "Windows Embedded Server") when those operating systems are released to manufacturing.

"In Q4, we're delivering Windows Embedded Server and Windows Embedded Enterprise," Microsoft's Twitter feed announced, without specifying the exact dates.

Windows Embedded Enterprise is a full-featured OS for use in devices such as kiosks, ATMs and medical devices. It's based on either Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate. Depending on the OS edition used, Windows Embedded Enterprise supports such Windows 7 features as DirectAccess for remote connectivity, BranchCache for improving data access and Windows XP Mode for legacy app support. The multitouch user interface is also supported.

Windows Embedded Server will include "new virtualization tools" and "management enhancements," according to Microsoft's announcement. It also will have the ability to use Server Core, a feature that can reduce the footprint of the OS on a device. Features such as DirectAccess and Agile VPN will facilitate connections with other devices and services. Microsoft is also planning to improve failover clustering in Windows Embedded Server.

Microsoft delivered a little news about Windows Embedded Standard 2011. The new OS will be released sometime in the "first half of calendar year 2010," according to Microsoft's announcement. Previously, Microsoft had said it would be released in the second half of 2010, so it seems the schedule was advanced somewhat. Windows Embedded Standard 2011 is currently being reviewed as a community technology preview release.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Adobe Extends Flash Across Social Nets and Mobile Devices

By Jeffrey Schwartz09/21/2009

Adobe Systems is adding components and services that will make it easier for developers to extend their Flash-based applications across various social networks and mobile platforms.

The company today released Adobe Flash Platform Services free of charge to developers who use Adobe's Flash Pro, Flex Builder and Dreamweaver tools. Targeted initially at content publishers and advertisers, it includes services designed to simplify the distribution of Flash applications to multiple social networks and mobile devices. It also includes services to measure and monetize those apps.

"Traditional ways you gain eyeballs are waning in their success," said Adrian Ludwig, group product manager for Adobe's Flash Platform in an interview. Social sites and mobile devices are better targets, he added.

The services and components allow developers to embed menus and buttons within Flash applications that make them sharable across various social networking sites, desktops and mobile platforms.

Among those who have tested the new extensions is Brett Cortese, president of Universal Mind, a Denver based developer of rich Internet applications for businesses. Cortese said a growing number of clients are looking to have their content distributed via social networks and mobile devices.

"This saves us as developers an awful lot of time and lets us concentrate on different types of issues that may not already be developed," Cortese said in an interview.

For mobile applications, the extensions initially support three platforms: Nokia's Symbian, Apple's iPhone and Microsoft's Windows Mobile. Developers can embed a link to the application that is distributed via a SMS message. When the user clicks on the link, it delivers the application to the device. In the case of the iPhone, the links will direct the user to Apple's iTunes App Store, Ludwig said.

Asked if Adobe will support other platforms such as the Blackberry from Research in Motion and Google's Android, Ludwig said "these services are under active development, so I'd expect that we would add those kind of capabilities in the future."

While the extensions will be available free of charge, Ludwig indicated over time, there will be fees for those using the mobile capabilities. "We are trying to figure out what the appropriate revenue model is for distributing to mobile devices," he said. "There's a fair amount of cost associated with distributing to mobile devices because we have to tie into the networks." There will also be fees for applications where there are cross promotional applications that require guaranteed distribution.

Through a partnership with content distributor Gigya, developers will also be able to enable and track installs via paid promotions.

Adobe is also offering software called Distribution Manager that will let developers track the usage of Flash-based applications. It is an Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) application with an analytics engine. Ludwig said it can track how many users have downloaded an app, break down which networks are most popular and count how often customers are using an app. "It gives good insight how an application is being used and helps monetize campaigns," he said.

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Alfresco Launches Cloud Developer Program

By Jeffrey Schwartz09/22/2009

Alfresco, a leading provider of open source enterprise content management software, last week launched a developer program for those looking to build ECM applications that can run in the cloud.

The Alfresco Cloud Developer Program gives participants tools to build cloud-enabled apps that can be used for collaboration and document management. The program also entitles developers access to various content, including training webinars. Developers can also receive 24x7 support.

Many customers are interested in piloting cloud-based applications based on Alfresco's ECM technology, said Ian Howells, the company's chief marketing officer. "I think a high proportion is looking at evaluating the cloud today but I think most will be storing their content internally," he said in an interview.

In conjunction with the new program, the company released an open source tool kit designed to let developers program and deploy to Amazon's EC2 cloud service. Called the Alfresco 3.2 Community Edition, it is built on Ubuntu 9.10, which is installed on a Canonical Partner Repository.

"The reason we've chosen Ubuntu is within the developer community, it's the most widely used platform for us," Howells said. "What we wanted to give them was a way to go to the Amazon AMI [Amazon Machine Images] catalog to kick of an Alfresco instance." Alfresco released a link that directs developers to the AWS console.

The company also released an image that includes Alfresco's core ECM features and APIs based on the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification.

CMIS is a standard agreed upon by Alfresco, IBM, EMC (Documentum), Microsoft, OpenText, Oracle and SAP. Intended to provide base interoperability among ECM systems, it is expected to be ratified by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) in the first quarter of next year. "What we are targeting to the developer is a way to develop and a way to manage content," Howells said.

Alfresco posted a guide for developers looking to build cloud-enabled applications based on its ECM technology.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

MKS Adds Testing to ALM Platform

By Jeffrey Schwartz09/17/2009

Application lifecycle management supplier MKS Inc. yesterday released a new version of its flagship ALM platform adding test-management capabilities to the suite.

The company's new MKS Integrity 2009 includes new analytics capabilities and provides real-time views of testing processes, allowing developers to make better decisions about any given process, company officials said.

"Testers can readily see in real-time their testing deficit as the developer is actually doing real-time work," said John Cull, VP of global marketing and strategic alliances at Waterloo-based MKS in an interview.

By incorporating requirements management with testing, MKS' ALM platform will offer a more complete lifecycle management offering, Cull said. "It takes us cradle-to-grave with full end-to-end core competencies within ALM, so we cover all of the core disciplines within a single platform in this release," he said.

MKS is in a crowded field of ALM vendors that include some heavyweights such as Microsoft, IBM, and Micro Focus, which recently acquired Borland's ALM business. The company last week said its revenues for ALM software for the quarter ended July 31 were $14.4 million, a 7 percent year-over year increase.

Integrity targets large enterprises with disparate tools, systems and application platforms including Java, .NET and mainframes software. The ALM platform is targeted at organizations looking to reuse source code, components, mappings and other features. Cull said as demands come from the business to implement changes into applications or processes, being able to test in real-time has become a priority.

"This gives them a better governance management story," said Bola Rotibi, an analyst at U.K.-based MWK Advisors in an interview. Rotibi said MKS excels in shops that have cross-platform systems. "Integrity's appeal is its repository, which is home grown," she added. "I think that resonates with a lot of organizations in terms of consistency and not having to worry about needing to integrate with disparate tools."

Pricing for single users starts at $1,300. A three-year license for a 10-person development team would cost about $26,400, according to the company.

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Microsoft Unveils Office Web Apps Preview

By Kurt Mackie09/17/2009

Microsoft on Thursday announced that it had commenced an invitation-only public technical preview of Microsoft Office Web Apps.

The invitees were a "select group of SkyDrive customers," according to the Windows Live blog. SkyDrive is part of Microsoft's Windows Live online service offerings and provides a hosted space for storing and sharing files.

Those who didn't get an invitation can get a notification from Microsoft when the public beta of Office Web Apps is released by filling out a form here. Currently, Office Web Apps can be tested in English and Japanese, but Microsoft plans to add other language versions some time in the fall.

The hosted apps that Microsoft unveiled on Thursday include Excel Web App, PowerPoint Web App and Word Web App. All are lightweight Web versions of the applications found in the traditionally premises-installed Microsoft Office productivity suite. Office Web Apps will integrate with installed Office versions from Office 2003 onward.

When the Office Web Apps are released as a final product, users will be able to save documents to the Web directly from the desktop-installed Office suite.

Microsoft hasn't yet added all of the features to the test versions of Office Web Apps. For instance, testers will be limited to viewing and sharing Word documents for the time being. However, testers of Excel Web App and PowerPoint Web App will also be able to create and edit documents online.

Office Web Apps run in the browser and retain the same formatting and attributes seen in the desktop app, according to a video presentation in the Windows Live blog post. Supported browsers include Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. The apps work across both PC and Mac platforms.

Users can collaborate on the same document using Office Web Apps and changes will sync across the Internet, appearing in near-real time without refreshing the browser. Office Web Apps use the same Fluent Ribbon user interface that Microsoft first introduced in Office 2007.

Office Web Apps will be an adjunct to Microsoft Office 2010, which is scheduled for general release in the first half of next year. They integrate "seamlessly" with Windows Live via SkyDrive, allowing editing, collaboration and document sharing. Microsoft eventually plans to make Office Web Apps available to its "500 million+ users of Hotmail, Messenger and other Windows Live services," according to the blog.

For business users, Microsoft plans to offer Office Web Apps through volume licensing with Microsoft SharePoint Server as the on-premises hosting option. Alternatively, businesses will be able to access Office Web Apps on a subscription basis through Microsoft Online Services.

Microsoft didn't include the OneNote Web App in this public preview but indicated in a press release that it would be "available at a later date."

After beta testing, Microsoft plans to release "feature-complete" Office Web Apps in the first half of next year.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Google Readies Gov't Cloud Offering

By Joab Jackson09/16/2009

In the wake of the General Services Administration's (GSA's)В launch of its cloud computing storefront, Google has announced that it will soon offer a set of cloud services to government through

Expected to go live in 2010, Google's government cloud offering will offer Google Apps in a dedicated environment within undisclosed Google facilities in the United States, according toВ Matthew Glotzbach, Google's director of enterprise product management, speaking at a press briefing Sept. 15.

The federal offering of Google Apps will be distinguishable from the standard business offering in a number of ways, Glotzbach said. Specifically, the facilities used will meet the security requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). Because federal agencies must comply with FISMA, some agency officials have raised questions about how cloud computing offerings for agencies could be covered under that law.

FISMA compliance could add a number of additional steps for Google. The company will have to put the employees who oversee the operations through specific background checks mandated by agencies. Government services would have to reside on their own servers and be accessed only by approved personnel.

Glotzbach noted that the government services would reside across multiple facilities within the continental United States, though declined to state the specific location of any of these facilities. He did note that multiple live copies of the data would be made for customers. Third-party auditors would verify the integrity of the government-specific data and applications, as per FISMA guidelines.

Pricing for the government-specific offering has not been determined, Glotzbach said. State and local agencies may also use the services, Glotzbach added.

Separately, Google is also planning to submit to GSA a FISMA Certification and Accreditation package for Google Apps by the end of the year, the approval of which will allow agencies to deploy the generic business-use version of Google Apps and remain under FISMA compliance.

In additionl to Google, other companies are preparing their own government-specific cloud offerings. Officials from the federal branches of Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have also indicated that their respective companies may also offer federal-specific cloud offerings in the near future. Computer Sciences Corp. and Terremark already offer a government-specific application hosting service.

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UPDATE: Component Maker GrapeCity Acquires FarPoint

By Michael Desmond09/17/2009

Component maker GrapeCity today announced that it is acquiring spreadsheet component vendor FarPoint Technologies. Details about the deal, expected to be completed by October 1st, were not disclosed. FarPoint's Spread family of products includes Spread for .NET Bundle, Spread for Windows Forms and Spread for ASP.NET, among other products.

FarPoint CEO Rick Williamson said the purchase will enable FarPoint to extend its product development efforts and reach a considerably larger audience than it has in the past. He said FarPoint, based in Morrisville, NC, will gain access to a large pool of offshore developers, as well as to a dedicated QA team.

"It became clear that we did not have the resources to go where we wanted to. With GrapeCity's help we felt we would be able to do that," Williamson said. "Our customers should be a lot happier because now we have a lot more resources behind us. This is a win-win for the customers."

GrapeCity, based in Sendai, Japan, and with U.S. offices in Seattle, Wash., employed 850 people before the FarPoint acquisition. The company has had a business relationship with FarPoint for over a decade, distributing and supporting FarPoint's spreadsheet components in Japan.

"We've always been impressed with the high quality of FarPoint products—in fact, their Spread product is one of the top components used by Microsoft Visual Studio developers in Japan," said Naoyuki Baba, GrapeCity President, in a statement."With our 25-plus years of experience in bringing world-class software solutions to a global client base, we're in a great position to further extend FarPoint's market reach. And their outstanding developer components will help us expand our developer tools offerings across a broader range of vertical markets."

The acquisition of FarPoint is the second significant purchase by GrapeCity in a year. In October 2008, GrapeCity acquired data analysis and reporting component maker Data Dynamics. Like FarPoint, DataDynamics was a long-time business partner of GrapeCity, which distributed DataDynamics products in Japan. In both cases, GrapeCity has said it expects to expand the market reach of the acquired companies.

"Yes, we recognize the obvious synergy in terms of both product lines being very complimentary," said Sanjeev Jagtap, director of product management at GrapeCity. "Reporting/BI and spreadsheets together pretty much make up bulk of the heavy lifting that today's business users need to do in terms of rapid data processing and business reporting/intelligence. So it is an easy fit between the two product lines."

Julian Bucknall, chief technology officer of component maker Developer Express, said the GrapeCity acquisition doesn’t portend a consolidation in the .NET component marketplace.

"It's more of a strategic decision by GrapeCity to take over a product they were already marketing in Japan and, as I understand, had a hand in developing," Bucknall said. "At a stretch you could make the argument that these two acquisitions, DataDynamics and FarPoint, were about carving a niche in the business intelligence component market."

FarPoint's Williamson said he expects the GrapeCity acquisition to energize initiatives in the FarPoint product family. In addition to providing resources for FarPoint to support Microsoft's expanding platform reach -- including emerging WPF, Silverlight and mobile platforms -- FarPoint is working to debut a common code base for its components. The first example of this effort, said Williamson, is present in the charting component in Spread for Windows Forms Version 5, currently in beta.

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Adobe Acquisition of Omniture Adds Flash to Web Analytics

By Jeffrey Schwartz09/16/2009

Adobe Systems said yesterday it will acquire Omniture Inc., a leading supplier of Web analytics technology. The deal, valued at $1.8 billion, raised eyebrows as the supplier of the Flash and PDF platforms paid a premium for a company with only $296 million in revenues last year.

The acquisition promises to extend Adobe, a leading provider of content development, workflow and creation tools, into a new area of Web measurement, performance and analytics. The deal would be Adobe's largest acquisition since it grabbed Macromedia for $3.4 billion back in 2005.

Adobe said Omniture promises to expand its market and growth options by bringing the company into consumer-facing markets such as advertising and digital media distribution. In short, Adobe sees extending the use of its development and content creation technologies and workflow with optimization and measurement tools.

"Adobe will have the opportunity to embed measurement technologies within each of their applications," said Forrester analyst John Lovett in an interview. "It does offer the ability to round out their services with the measurement and the potential optimization of that content. Verses a developer simply putting out information, they now would have an engrained feedback mechanism to see how the consumers of that content use it and where it goes. That's the real opportunity there."

Despite the high price tag, IDC analyst Al Hilwa said Omniture ranked as the fastest growing of any of the suppliers of Web analytics services. "The price they are paying seems high until you recognize that this puts Adobe in a leadership contending position of a hot area now which should bolster profits and revenues as specific synergetic offerings are put together," Hilwa said in an email.

"Adobe likely sees a world where the tools for developing, testing, performance measuring and managing Web content happening as a service through versions of Adobe's tools," he added. "In a way this is a play that puts Adobe more seriously in the cloud and SaaS [software-as-a-service] space if it is able to leverage the potential synergies."

RedMonk analyst Michael Cote said that making money on the Web is increasingly moving toward Web analytics and search engine optimization [SEO]. As such, Web developers will need to focus more on user behavior.

"Ultimately, if the Adobe tool chain -- including services used in production -- help developers make money, it'll be more appealing in the face of other contenders like Microsoft, the 'open Web' crew, Google, cloud-providers, and others," Cote said in an email.

Forrester's Lovett said Microsoft appears to sidelined its Web analytics for now, after closing the beta of its own offering codenamed project Gatineau, was discontinued. It was based on technology it acquired three years ago from DeepMetrix.

The deal, already approved by Adobe shareholders, is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Microsoft to IT: Deploy Windows 7 Now

By Kurt Mackie09/16/2009

Microsoft put out the word on Monday that IT organizations can start deploying Windows 7 now, citing the cost benefits of doing so.

Windows 7 was released to Microsoft's volume licensing subscribers last month. And last week, the company rolled out a set of tools designed to help IT pros automate Windows 7 deployments, known as the "Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010."

In addition, the company plans to release a set of Windows 7 administrative tools in late October for Software Assurance customers, known as the "Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack 2009 R2."

Microsoft has been touting a number of features available in the Windows 7 Enterprise edition that can potentially ease the lives of IT pros. Those features include DirectAccess, which helps remote users connect to the corporate network without a virtual private network. Another is BranchCache, which speeds up data access at remote locations. BitLocker provides security for removable storage devices and laptops, although it was first introduced with Windows Vista.

On Monday, Microsoft released a beta of the "Infrastructure Planning and Design Guide for DirectAccess." as described in this blog.

Still, the main interest for many IT pros will be any possible time or cost benefits to installing Windows 7 in their environments. Many IT departments haven't upgraded to Windows Vista and continue to use the venerable Windows XP operating system, which retains an 86 percent use rate among Windows-based PCs in the enterprise, according to a second-quarter 2009 report by Forrester Research.

So, to assure companies that Windows 7 is ready to deploy now, Microsoft produced its own total cost of ownership (TCO) estimates, as described in this Windows blog. Redmond compiled its numbers based on the experiences of three early-adopter companies.

Microsoft claims that Windows 7 can potentially save IT departments time and money by reducing costs associated with PC management, PC power use and service desk calls, according to the Windows blog. So far, few analyst firms have compiled independent TCO estimates of Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2.

Richard Jones, vice president and service director at the Burton Group, said that Windows 7 will have less strict hardware requirements than Vista, but any benefits in terms of overall maintenance are unclear. He noted that security maintenance issues may become a factor in the near future.

"We suspect that at first it will be less costly (malware countermeasures costs) until the installed base market share of Win 7 surpasses Win XP (expect in about 3 years at the earliest)," Jones explained in an e-mail. "At that point, [Windows 7's] security measures should make the cost of ownership less than XP, especially since XP will no longer be receiving security patches."

Deploying Windows 7 may or may not save money, according to Michael Cherry, research vice president for operating systems at Directions on Microsoft. It all depends on an IT department's deployment plan.

"Organizations should be careful that they are not just moving support costs from one budget line to another," Cherry noted in an e-mail. "So organizations should treat TCO studies like EPA mileage estimates -- your mileage may vary."

While Microsoft's Windows blog cited power savings with Windows 7, Cherry was doubtful.

"I am very skeptical of claims such as power management is so good in Windows 7 that the power savings alone is equivalent to printing money," he wrote. "Power management is improved, but it may or may not result in measurable savings."

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Microsoft Exec Describes Search Ad Strategy

By Kurt Mackie09/15/2009

Microsoft executive Charles Songhurst answered questions on Microsoft's business strategy at the Jefferies Annual Technology Conference in New York on Tuesday.

Songhurst is Microsoft's general manager of corporate strategy, focusing on mergers and acquisitions and overall company strategy. He provides assistance to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and CFO Chris Liddell.

Many of the questions at the event centered around Microsoft's search advertising business, perhaps because Songhurst helped with Microsoft's recent Yahoo search advertising deal, which is still undergoing regulatory review. Songhurst said that search advertising is a very high-margin business. In contrast, Microsoft isn't likely to focus much on Internet display advertising, he said.

Search advertising has two types, Songhurst said: destination searches and casual searches. Microsoft was trying to address a particular search style when it launched its new Bing platform. Bing is designed to facilitate typical consumer searches, such as medical, product and travel queries.

Microsoft is aiming to secure something like 10 to 20 percent of the search market with Bing, Songhurst said. However, Microsoft currently trails other search engines badly, even after launching Bing in May. According to comScore's July results on worldwide search engine use (PDF), Microsoft held fourth place with 2.9 percent search use, just behind the Baidu Chinese search engine. Google's lead was 67.5 percent, and Yahoo held the No. 2 position with 7.8 percent search use.

So far, Microsoft hasn't pushed Bing internationally, and Songhurst would not say when that would happen.

Microsoft is very focused on the mobile search business, which may become a bigger market than PC desktop search, Songhurst said. In that respect, the company is tailoring Bing to be geo-specific.

Microsoft is also using Bing to increase use of its Silverlight multimedia platform, Songhurst said. For instance, the company just launched Bing visual search, which provides a gallery of images to assist searches. Silverlight needs to be installed in the browser to use that service, he noted.

Songhurst tended to dismiss any competitive threats to Microsoft's operating system market share. Microsoft faces little competition from lower-cost alternatives to Windows, especially if the OS can't match Windows' quality, he said. As for the threat of Apple's OS gaining enterprise market share, he said that "it's very difficult to see how Apple will be compelling to the CIO."

Windows competes both on quality and cost, Songhurst contended. He implied that Windows' cost to PC makers was $50, though he didn't explain which edition of Windows costs that much, nor did he discuss the effect of higher pricing with Windows 7. Microsoft hasn't announced pricing of Windows 7 on netbooks, which are low-cost small form factor laptop-like devices. Songhurst did not explain Microsoft's strategy for maintaining Windows revenues with the rise of netbooks on the market.

As for the economy, Songhurst wasn't optimistic about the United States with its consumer debt and unemployment. Microsoft sees opportunities to employ people outside of the United States, he said. The company is particularly bullish about Asia and Microsoft's China business.

The audio portion of Songhurst's talk is available here.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oracle Updates Berkeley DB with New APIs, Performance Boost and .NET Support

By John K. Waters09/14/2009

In a bid to attract more developers to its Berkeley DB open-source embeddable database, Oracle today released two upgraded versions with new APIs for simplifying application development and for the first time, support for Microsoft's C# and .NET Framework.

The core Berkeley DB is an embeddable database for un-typed data in key/value data structures. Essentially, it’s a lower-level database for data that’s not inherently relational in structure. In addition to adding support for C# and .NET, the upgraded database has a new utility that auto-generates Berkeley DB application code based on SQL. It also integrates with the C++ Standard Template Library and multi-process support in Oracle's Replication Manager API aimed at simplifying development of highly available (HA) applications.

The other version, Berkeley DB XML, is built on top of the Berkeley DB system. It provides XQuery-based access to documents stored in containers and indexed based on their content. It includes a document parser, an XML indexer, and an XQuery engine. Among other enhancements, the 2.5 release adds support for external functions that allow developers to extend the behavior of their XQuery statements in the C++, Java or Python APIs. And because it’s built on top of Berkeley DB, it inherits all of the enhancements to that system and the APIs.

Oracle acquired the Berkeley DB technology with its 2006 purchase of Sleepycat Software, a company founded by the developers of the database. Since it acquired the company, Oracle has maintained a Berkeley DB family of products that includes the core Berkeley DB and XML version, plus the Berkeley DB Java Edition.

Berkeley DB is used primarily by developers, who insert it into software applications, hardware devices, and equipment.  "It’s essentially invisible to the end user," said Rex Wang, Oracle’s VP of product marketing who came over to the company from Sleepycat. "And it doesn’t require a DBA, because the database is managed internally within the application."  

Developers who use Berkeley DB have two licensing options: one commercial and one open source. This dual-licensing model -- that’s one product distributed under two different sets of terms and conditions -- has remained in place since Oracle bought Sleepycat, Wang said. "Sleepycat was an open-source company, and Oracle hasn’t really changed the model at all," he said.

Berkeley DB has long supported a wide range of programming languages, from C, C++ to Python, but this release targets Windows developers for the first time with support for C# and .NET. "We’re definitely going after the Windows developers," said Wang. "We’ve heard requests from that community for this support for a long time now. It’s a large community of developers, of course, and we were just finally ready to support them."

Berkeley DB has been around since the early 1990s. It’s in virtually every version of the Linux operating system, BSD UNIX, and Open LDAP. "I’d say it’s ubiquitous," said Wang. "If it seems as though not that many people have heard of it, that’s because it’s embedded; they’re not supposed to know about it. It’s supposed to be invisible, except to developers."

Both the Berkeley DB 4.8 and Berkeley DB XML 2.5 releases also ramp up performance and scalability, Wang said. The new version of Berkeley DB is designed to perform better on multi-threaded or multi-processed application. It adds enhanced locking/latching code, multiple table partitions, a bulk load/delete API, and new B-tree compression capability. Berkeley DB XML 2.5 gets the benefit of the BDB 4.8 performance enhancements, plus a smaller on-disk footprint for XML containers.

"The Berkeley DB is different from a regular type of Oracle database," Wang says. "And it gives the company access to a completely different market. It’s for people who are developing software that doesn’t require administration, where the data format is not neatly organized into tables, rows, and columns -- which, if you think about it, is most of the data in the world."

The Berkeley DB team at Oracle is currently working on an upgrade of Berkeley DB Java Edition, according to Wang.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Tool Opens Windows on The iPhone

By Jeffrey Schwartz09/14/2009

As .NET developers await the release of devices based on a long-awaited update to Microsoft's Windows Mobile, they can now start to port their enterprise apps to Apple's iPhone.

Novell today released MonoTouch 1.0, a tool designed to let programmers who use Microsoft's .NET Framework develop applications for the popular iPhone and iPod devices. MonoTouch is the first tool to come from the Mono Project targeted at a mobile platform.

The Mono Project is an effort organized by Novell to bring .NET and Windows-centric development languages and platforms to Linux, Unix, Macintosh and other operating environments.

Miguel de Icaza, founder of the Mono Project and a Novell VP, said the decision to develop MonoTouch came from a campaign by .NET developers seeking an alternative tool to develop for the iPhone. "We were bombarded with requests," de Icaza said in an interview.

While Apple boasts more than 50,000 applications on its App Store, building applications for the iPhone primarily requires developers to program in C and Apple's Objective-C languages. That is not appealing to many enterprise development shops.

"We are seeing a lot of iPhones work their way into the enterprise yet the number of people willing to make the commitment to bring in people with Objective-C skills is low," said Joseph Hill, a Novell product manager.

"The iPhone is something that employees are using and IT organizations have to figure out how to deal with that," said Philippe Winthrop, director of enterprise mobility requirements at Strategy Analytics. According to the market researcher, one of every four employees within enterprises uses an iPhone.

MonoTouch 1.0 consists of a software development kit that can be integrated into Novell's MonoDevelop, an IDE that allows C# and Visual Basic developers to use their .NET-based use code and libraries for the iPhone.

Travis Siegfried, an IT advisory specialist for IBM Global Services' mobile consulting organization, said the tool promises to enable the development of Windows-centric enterprise applications for the iPhone. "This will allow additional iPhone development in the corporate sector as opposed to games and fun applications currently available in the AppStore," said Siefgried, who has been involved in a number of enterprise iPhone projects.

There are nuances and limitations of the tooling. For one, developers must use an Apple Macintosh to output the code just as they must with Objective-C. Also de Icaza said: "This is the first time that we've taken a dynamic system like .NET and turned it into a fully static system. We had to build a full static compiler that would take .NET code and just generate static code with no JIT compiler. So in fact when you run Mono on the device there is no JIT available at all.

"The only thing you have is object services, garbage collection services, threading services but it is not a traditional .NET runtime," he added. "None of the dynamic features of .NET are present on this. That's the limitation that Apple has imposed at legal level and at a technical level."

That means there will be restrictions to what developers can build for the iPhone. Burning in corporate code based on dynamic .NET code such as Iron Python or Iron Ruby will not be an option, he said. Static code C# and Visual Basic Code, however, will not be a problem, he added.

Furthermore, any applications developed for the iPhone will have to use the iPhone interface. "There's no Windows Forms, no Silverlight or WPF, it must be the C# language," de Icaza said. Novell does plan to introduce a Silverlight compiler for the 2.0 release, he added, though he didn't specify a timeframe. That will allow developers to push Silverlight applications to Apples iTunes App Store.

For now, developers must use the MonoTouch APIs, which ensure the application looks like an iPhone. "It uses all the widgetry and the user interface elements of the iPhone," he said.

Novell is offering two versions, personal and enterprise editions. The latter allows developers to circumvent the Apple App Store for enterprise deployments. The personal version costs $399 per developer, the enterprise costs $999.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

IASA to Launch Professional Certifications for Architects at Conference

By Jeffrey Schwartz09/11/2009

What is being billed as the largest gathering of IT and software architects is set to take place next month in New York.

The Industry Association of Software Architects (IASA) plans to launch a professional certification program at the event, where it is bringing together some leading architects for the first time. Among them are noted architects Grady Booch, Len Bass, John Zachman, Eric Evans, Rob High and Angela Yochem.

"To get them all together in one place was actually relatively challenging. Many of these people have never actually met before which is surprising," said Paul Preiss, IASA's CEO, in a recent interview. Zachman, best known for his work creating the "Framework for Enterprise Architecture" following a 26-year career at IBM, is set to deliver the opening keynote.

IASA intends to use the three-day conference to launch the new certification program for IT and software architects. IASA had recently launched a "foundation" level of its new Certified IT Architect (CITA) program to give architects more career opportunities and recognition of their roles by IT and business executives, Preiss said.

"The foundation program is really meant to bring the aspiring architect up to speed on the concepts and the capabilities of what differentiates architects and give them that entry level of skill," Preiss said.

The new professional CITA program involves more intensive training, according to Preiss. "It is a full board examination by a set of peers that actually tests an architect on their ability to deliver against the IASA skills taxonomy," he said. "So it basically says that IASA claims that this person is not only an architect but a good architect."

The conference will cover five tracks: Enterprise, Infrastructure, Software, Information and Fundamentals (a complete agenda is available here).

While Microsoft had hoped to host the event, renovations in its New York office required IASA to find another location. Microsoft architect evangelist William Zach, who is IASA's New York chapter president, last week announced that a site has been secured, Lighthouse International in midtown Manhattan.

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Court Voids $358 Million in Damages Against Microsoft

By Kurt Mackie09/11/2009

A U.S. federal appeals court on Friday vacated $358 million in damages that had been awarded by a jury to Alcatel-Lucent after Microsoft was found to have infringed patented software technology.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Southern California denied Microsoft's appeal of the infringement charge, but ordered a new trial to reassess the damages portion of the judgment. A copy of the 64-page appeals court order can be accessed here (PDF).

The case involved a so-called "Day patent" (U.S. Patent No. 4,763,356) that Microsoft was found to have violated in three applications: Money, Outlook and Windows Mobile. In assessing the damages, the appeals court examined only how Microsoft Outlook may have infringed. Outlook uses a popup calendar, or date-picker feature, that was found to have violated Lucent Technologies' patent. Lucent and Alcatel merged in late 2006.

The appeals court apparently could not determine how the jury calculated the damages, which were awarded as a lump sum. The court was expecting some sort of royalty figure to be specified when the jury calculated the lump-sum award. Also, it wasn't sure if the jury had based the damages on total Outlook sales -- the court agreed with Microsoft that such a calculation wouldn't be fair.

"In the present case, the jury had almost no testimony with which to recalculate in a meaningful way the value of any of the running royalty agreements to arrive at the lump-sum damages award. [p. 43]," the court stated.

The court had agreed with Microsoft's contention in its appeal that Alcatel-Lucent hadn't provided evidence of direct patent infringement. For instance, Alcatel-Lucent could only cite one person -- its expert witness -- who had gone through the steps of the invention. However, it ultimately rejected Microsoft's noninfringement claim due to "circumstantial evidence" that other Outlook users would have used the application in a way that violated Alcatel-Lucent's patent.

Dell Inc. was also a defendant in the case but the jury found "no infringement by Dell" on the patent claims. The original complaint was lodged by Lucent in 2002 against computer maker Gateway, "and Microsoft subsequently intervened," according to the court record.

Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz told Reuters that Microsoft was "pleased" that the damages were vacated. It's unclear when the next trial, reassessing the damages, will begin. About $8 billion worth of the three products using the technology was sold.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

i4i Rebuts Microsoft's Appeal in Patent Case

By Kurt Mackie09/09/2009

Toronto-based i4i LP filed legal papers on Tuesday rebutting Microsoft's appeal in a patent infringement case involving Microsoft Word.

Microsoft lost the case, which involves so-called "custom XML" technology used in Word and Microsoft Office. However, Redmond appealed the final judgment issued by a U.S. district court and was granted a stay, with a hearing scheduled to take place on Sept. 23.

"i4i's brief refutes each and every one of the same weak defences Microsoft repackaged from the trial and raised on appeal," said Loudon Owen, chairman of i4i, in a prepared statement.

Based on i4i's appeal, the two companies still appear to be contesting how the patent applies. For instance, a bone of contention is whether the patent specifies that the metacode mapping system is stored as a separate file from the document file it describes. i4i claims that the patent doesn't make such specification.

Microsoft has also contested the judge's conduct during the trial and has questioned a survey used by the plaintiffs used to calculate damages. Microsoft has been ordered by the U.S. District Court for East Texas to pay i4i more than $240 million in damages and penalties. Microsoft was also enjoined from selling Word in the future using i4i's technology.

i4i's Tuesday filing before the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. suggests that Microsoft reviewed i4i's patented technology and then later decided to squeeze the company out by building similar technology into Word.

"When it suited its purposes, Microsoft touted i4i as a 'Microsoft Partner' able to provide software that Microsoft could not," states i4i's Sept. 8 appeals court filing. "But behind i4i's back, Microsoft usurped i4i's invention, destroying i4i's ability to compete in the market that it had created. [p. 4]"

Once Microsoft had built the custom XML capability into Word, i4i was deprived of that market, the i4i appeals court filing claims.

"As the district court found, once customers have Microsoft's XML features in Word, they are reluctant to purchase i4i's products. [p. 80]"

i4i's 84-page appeals court finding can be accessed here.

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Microsoft Warns of Another Server Message Block Bug

By Jabulani Leffall09/09/2009

The all-critical patch release of hotfixes served up by Redmond Tuesday hadn't even cooled off yet when Microsoft issued yet another security advisory on late Tuesday night.

This time the flash advisory is for potential vulnerabilities in Microsoft's Server Message Block (SMB). The advisory describes SMB as a "network file sharing protocol used in Microsoft Windows." The company is currently preparing a security update for future release.

According to the advisory, Microsoft is looking into "new public reports of a possible vulnerability in SMB implementation" affecting Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 and the Windows 7 release candidate.

Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 are not affected, nor are Windows XP and Windows 2000.

Redmond said that it is "not aware of attacks that try to use the reported vulnerabilities," nor has it received any direct customer complaints about the issue.

The off-cycle advisory -- the second in as many weeks -- comes on the same day after Microsoft's September patch was made available. That patch addressed five "critical" security issues associated with Web components in Windows and other Microsoft software. Microsoft has also given notice of another yet-to-be fixed bug in a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) component.

SMB is used for client-server traffic handling, and Microsoft's security advisory recommends a workaround that involves modifying the Windows registry and "blocking TCP ports 139 and 445 at the firewall."

SMB bugs have been seen before. In November of 2008, Redmond confirmed that it took seven years to deliver a fix for SMBRelay attacks. That fix finally arrived in Microsoft's November's patch. At the time, Microsoft Security Response Center spokesperson Christopher Budd admitted in a blog post that Microsoft's security staff was unable to "make changes to address the issue without negatively impacting [other] network-based applications."

Independent security researcher Laurent GaffiГ© apparently broke the news about the SMB vulnerability on Tuesday night in his blog and then contacted Microsoft about the issue. Redmond apparently wasn't pleased.

"Microsoft is concerned that this new report of a vulnerability was not responsibly disclosed, potentially putting computer users at risk," the security advisory said. "We continue to encourage responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities."

Microsoft said it is working with partners in its Microsoft Active Protections Program on the issue.

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Microsoft Describes Profit Strategy at Citigroup Event

By Kurt Mackie09/09/2009

Microsoft's chief financial officer fielded questions about Microsoft's business at the Citi Annual Technology Conference on Wednesday.

Chris Liddell, Microsoft's CFO, faced some pointed inquiries about Microsoft profit-generating strategies at the New York City-based event, which was sponsored by Citigroup. The banking concern recently showed some profitability of its own in its second quarter report after receiving $45 billion in U.S. taxpayer money through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in October.

Despite the tough economy, Liddell said that Microsoft has seen good performance in the June quarter (or the end of Microsoft's fiscal year) on enterprise licensing renewals.

"We are incredibly happy that the renewal rates we are able to achieve in the enterprise were in line with what we've been able to achieve historically. But it's a very difficult environment," Liddell said. "People are very much subscribing to the value proposition that we have as a company."

Microsoft has been moving more toward a subscriber-based licensing model with its software-as-a-service business line, which Liddell characterized as a "high-growth area in the next five-plus years." The online services business model, which typically involves monthly fees rather than annual fees, provides a stronger connection to the customer compared with Microsoft's traditional annuity model, "although it hurts us from an accounting point of view up front," he said. However, Liddell admitted that Microsoft's Software plus Services model implied lower margins for the company.

Some of the questions honed into Microsoft's competition in the online search space. Liddell was asked how much Microsoft was willing to spend to catch up with No. 1 search competitor Google. That question was answered by Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer last year, who suggested Microsoft might spend "at least $1.2 billion or $1.5 billion a year to stay competitive." At the Citi event, Liddell replied that Microsoft has already budgeted for search and that it's been flat year over year. Microsoft's launch of Bing and its deal with Yahoo were conducted primarily to gain market share in search, he explained. For Microsoft, "a one percentage share gain [of the search market]… certainly would be a huge share gain for us," Liddell said.

Liddell answered a lot of questions about Microsoft's strategy on netbooks -- which are the low-cost, low-tech, laptop-like devices that threaten to cut into Microsoft's client operating system profits. Liddell noted that despite the low cost of netbooks, people are willing to pay for the Windows experience, citing a 92 percent attach rate. Netbooks are currently sold with either Linux or Windows Home Edition, but Liddell suggested that there's a potential for Microsoft to profit from users of Windows 7-based netbooks who would be willing to upgrade to higher priced editions of the operating system.

Liddell dismissed the threat of Linux against the possibility that Windows 7 will be higher priced than Windows XP on netbooks.

"The average price for Windows … is around $60," Liddell said. "For a four-year experience, it's about $15 per year. There are very few people in this room or that I would talk to who would learn an entirely new operating system with less functionality and less applications for the price $15 per year. So this is not an expensive product."

Microsoft expects to face "relatively tough" times through the rest of the calendar year, Liddell said. Still, people will eventually need to buy computers, and Microsoft expects to see a potential for "hardware refresh cycle" maybe next year.

Liddell may have disappointed the financial analyst crowd by saying that Microsoft's headcount reductions would be "broadly flat for the foreseeable future." He said that Microsoft did not increase salaries this year and has cut expenses associated with travel, contracts and vendor-spending costs.

Liddell's talk at the Citi event can be heard at Microsoft's investor relations Web site here.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September Patch Aims at Windows Web Components

By Jabulani Leffall09/08/2009

Microsoft on Tuesday rolled out its September security patch, which is notable for containing five "critical" security bulletins.

Expect a couple of themes with this patch. First, all of the fixes address remote code execution (RCE) risks. Second, every bulletin deals with Web components, from server connections to corrupt files distributed through e-mail.

The first critical patch is said to plug a hole in the Microsoft JScript Scripting Engine used in every supported Windows OS. The exploit can be triggered via a specially crafted corrupt file or even by clicking on an infected Web page with "malformed script," according to Microsoft. A hacker exploiting this vulnerability could set user administrative rights and could "view, change or delete" data.

The second patch touches an RCE vulnerability only in Vista and Windows Server 2008. It pertains to a single privately disclosed bug in the Wireless Local Area Network (LAN) AutoConfig Service. Client workstations and server systems without enabled wireless cards are immune to this bug, but it's a potential problem for networks with Wi-Fi access.

Potential malicious Windows Media Format files, such as corrupt audio or video files, are a consistent vector for client side attacks. These files are the focus of critical item No. 3. The patch is designed to fix vulnerabilities in Windows Media Format Runtime versions 9.0, 9.5 and 11 in every supported Windows OS.

TCP/IP Bug: A Focus for Security Pros
Fix No. 4 deals with a Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) bug. The patch doesn't apply to Windows XP, but it does apply to all other OSes.

"In addition, it has maximum criticality only on Vista and Windows Server 2008, the newest generation of the OS family," said Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer at Qualys.

The fix deals with a rare server-side function and resolves several "privately" reported vulnerabilities, according to Microsoft. It addresses vulnerabilities in both Windows and Cisco Systems products. Microsoft says there are holes that could allow RCE exploits if malicious TCP/IP packets are sent over the network.

As a fail-safe, Microsoft recommends "firewall best practices," which include cutting hackers off at the pass by limiting exposed connection ports.

"Microsoft hasn't seen a serious bug in its TCP/IP stack in a long time, so it's pretty likely this is the exploit most people will focus on," said Andrew Storms, director of security at nCircle. "This update follows on the heels of a new zero-day 'blue screen of death' vulnerability and the combination of these two serious vulnerabilities will shake a lot of people's confidence in the integrity of Microsoft's networking stack."

The fifth and final patch in the slate describes a vulnerability in the DHTML Editing Component ActiveX control. This control found in Internet Explorer 5 and later IE versions. If a hacker gains control of this function, he could dump code that will execute when a user clicks on a corrupt Web page. The patch is rated critical on Windows 2000 and XP. It's doesn't apply to Vista and Windows Server 2008.

FTP Bug Still at Large
Fix No. 4 should be installed first, said Jason Miller, security and data team manager at Shavlik Technologies, joining a chorus of observers.

He also pointed out what wasn't in this month's slate, namely a fix for a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) service bug, which was disclosed in a security advisory last Thursday. The proof of concept for this bug is less than two weeks old, but the bug has become notable. Microsoft has now updated its advisory to reflect that the vulnerability is being used in "limited attacks."

"Administrators should look at addressing this vulnerability through workarounds provided by Microsoft until a security patch becomes available," Miller said.

Microsoft's Senior Security Program Manager Jerry Bryant said in an e-mailed statement that a patch will be released "once [such an update] has reached an appropriate level of quality for broad distribution."

All of the five patches that were released on Tuesday may require restarts.

Meanwhile, for IT pros who may want to do more housekeeping after implementing the critical fixes, there is the monthly knowledgebase article detailing nonsecurity updates via Microsoft Update, Windows Update and Windows Server Update Services.

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Vendors Rip Microsoft Over Alleged Security Issues

By Jabulani Leffall09/08/2009

Software security vendors like to point to glitches in Microsoft products, but they don't always get much acknowledgment from Redmond.

The latest potshots are coming from Sophos, a security software company, as well as database security firm Sentrigo, plus BeyondTrust, which specializes in enterprise password protection. These vendors recently issued public challenges to Redmond concerning security in Windows and other Microsoft products.

For its part, Microsoft said through a spokesperson that it doesn't comment on the theories and opinions of vendors. Yet Redmond's growing network of executive-level bloggers have gone toe-to-toe with no less than two of these vendors in as many weeks.

Sophos' Beef With XP Mode
Sophos is one of Microsoft's most outspoken little-guy critics, even though it partners with Redmond on many security initiatives. Last week, the feud concerned Windows 7's XP Mode, which provides a virtualized Windows XP desktop running in Windows 7.

Sophos panned Windows XP Mode as a potential security disaster.

"Windows 7's planned XP compatibility mode risks undoing much of the progress that Microsoft has made on the security front in the last few years and reveals the true colors of the OS giant," said Richard Jacobs, Sophos' CTO in a July post.

The problem pointed out by Sophos' CTO (and Microsoft emphasizes it too) is that Windows XP Mode requires the maintenance of two OSes -- both Windows 7 and a virtualized Windows XP. Security patches have to be applied separately for each OS, and there's no centralized management control to simplify such patching. While Microsoft has been clear about this, Jacobs has intimated that Windows XP Mode is a security disaster in the waiting.

Jacobs touted the progress that Microsoft has made with its Security Development Lifecycle but added that "XP Mode reminds us all that security will never be Microsoft's first priority." In an August post, Jacobs added that "Microsoft as a whole needs to be much more open about [security issues] or users are going to get a rude awakening in terms of management costs, unexpected security vulnerabilities and/or performance impact."

In a return shot, Windows developer and blogger James O'Neill said that people (like Jacobs) with the title of chief technology officer should have a "better grasp of the key facts before reaching for the insulting rhetoric." Roger Halbheer, Microsoft's chief security advisor for Europe, Middle East and Africa, also questioned Jacobs on his facts.

Sentrigo Scolds Redmond on SQL Server
Sentrigo announced last week that it had discovered a "significant vulnerability" in SQL Server. The company issued a statement describing a flaw that "allows any user with administrative privileges to openly see the unencrypted passwords of other users," or the credentials presented by applications accessing the server using SQL Server authentication.

Microsoft handled the Sentrigo allegation in a low-key manner but still discounted Sentrigo's claims. Microsoft's response didn't mention Sentrigo by name.

"We checked with the security researchers who reported the issue and they confirmed that this is an information disclosure issue requiring the attacker to first have administrative control of the installation," Jonathan Ness of Redmond's MSRC Engineering team noted in a security blog. "Therefore, we do not consider this a bulletin class vulnerability."

BeyondTrust: UAC in Windows 7
BeyondTrust pointed to Windows 7's User Account Control (UAC), a much maligned security feature that was first introduced in Windows Vista. UAC has ongoing unresolved issues, even in Windows 7, the security firm claimed.

"Despite its good intentions, Vista's UAC was widely criticized due to its frequent user prompting, as well as application compatibility issues for standard users," Beyond Trust said in an e-mail statement just before Labor Day weekend. "Despite its good intentions, Vista's UAC was widely criticized due to its frequent user prompting, as well as application compatibility issues for standard users."

As far back as February, Microsoft countered the notion that the UAC function was fundamentally faulty. In addition, security researchers Rafael Rivera and Long Zheng had described an exploit that could turn off the UAC prompt, which typically notifies the user of changes about to be made to the computer. In response, Microsoft announced two planned changes to the UAC in Windows 7.

Complaints as Marketing?
Complaints serve to keep vendors in the news. They also help Windows users understand problems that Microsoft doesn't want publicized or may have missed.

Such research claims and stabs at Microsoft are "cheaper than buying advertising for products and services," according to Phil Lieberman of Lieberman Software.

"In my experience, Microsoft tends to react proportionately to the amount of ink given to an issue brought up by vendors or the press," Lieberman said. "Real or fictitious threats all get a hearing and a response. They also react in proportion to the real risks but generally pretty quietly."

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Windows: Coming to a Mainframe Near You?

By Stephen Swoyer09/08/2009

IBM likes to promote its System z mainframe as the virtualization platform par excellence, and with good reason. Not only is System z home to z/VM, the most mature hypervisor on the market, but thanks to its proprietary hardware innards and best-in-class software portfolio, it boasts what is arguably the market's most granular and manageable virtualization solution.

It doesn't, however, offer the industry's most comprehensive virtualization solution. For one thing, Big Blue supports only a few hand-picked operating environments (chiefly VSE and Linux) in addition to /OS. Conspicuously missing is support for Microsoft's Windows platform, to say nothing of other enterprise-grade operating systems such as OpenSolaris or Mac OS.

This is in spite of the fact that IBM long ago made its peace with Windows. It's an aggressive Windows OEM, supports Windows -- admittedly, not running in a virtual context -- on its System i platforms and, of course, is an ambitious player in the commodity (x64) virtualization segment. In fact, IBM's System z virtualization story is arguably inferior to that of rival Hewlett-Packard, which supports (or plans to support) many of its platforms -- HP-UX, Tru64 Unix and OpenVMS -- running in a virtual context, along with Linux and Windows. Rival Unisys lets users run Windows, Unix or Linux on top of its ES7000 or ClearPath servers, along with (in the latter case) both flavors of its proprietary mainframe operating system software.

IBM officials tend to demur when asked about the likelihood of running Windows in conjunction with z/VM. In an interview from late last year, for example, Karl Freund, vice-president of strategy and marketing for System z with IBM, said that "very few if any" mainframe customers had expressed a desire "to do that."

Freund didn't flatly rule out a Windows-on-System-z strategy, but instead positioned IBM's System x platforms, running in tandem with System z, as ideal virtual hosts for most Windows workloads. "We already have a solution to offer [mainframe customers] who want to do something like [virtualize their Windows assets]," said Freund, who, toeing IBM's oft-repeated line, likes to position System z as more of a hub -- and less of a one-size-fits-all monolith -- from which to manage and secure an enterprise-wide virtualization effort.

Vince Re, chief mainframe technologist with software giant CA Inc., likewise downplays the desirability of a Windows-on-System z strategy. He stressed that CA doesn't speak for IBM but contends that "the vast majority of [mainframe] customers just aren't interested in that." If anything, Re suggested, the ball is in Microsoft's court: Redmond can't champion the cause of Windows in the datacenter while continuing at the same time to ignore the mainframe, he maintained.

Re, like IBM's Freund, rejected the claim that the lack of a z/Windows offering somehow calls into question System z's virtualization bona-fides. "You also have to consider the cost [of running Windows workloads on the mainframe]. Linux [on System z] is mature, it's proven. You've got 10 years of development behind it, so it's at a point where [workloads] can run efficiently [on System z]," he said, adding, "Windows would be starting from scratch."

It is possible to run Windows applications, if not Windows itself, on top of a number of Unix-like operating systems, including Linux. There's the long-standing WINE Is Not an Emulator (WINE) Project that, after 15 years of development, finally shipped as a version 1.0 release last June. WINE supports most Linux distributions and all three flavors of BSD, in addition to OpenSolaris and Mac OS (via Darwine).

That's the good news. The bad news is that WINE doesn't do emulation, much less virtualization. Because most Windows applications are written for 32- or 64-bit x86 chips, they would first have to be recompiled (for System z CMOS) in order to run in WINE on top of z/Linux. There's another requisite: WINE is by no means a turnkey solution. Windows programs often have to be tweaked or custom-configured to properly run in its context.

What's more, WINE is more of a workstation-oriented offering. Past sponsors have included Corel, steward of the once-dominant WordPerfect Office productivity suite, and Google. It is, therefore, a less-than-ideal tool for workload consolidation on an enterprise scale -- at least for the kinds of adopters who would undertake to do as much on top of System z.

All Isn't Lost
There are alternatives to WINE, such as Mantissa's z/Vos which was announced just six months ago. It runs in z/VM and purports to let mainframe shops run any of several different operating environments (including Windows) on top of z/VM. z/Vos made a big splash at Winter SHARE and, once it ships, could very well amount to the best thing for Big Iron shops since zLinux itself.

Absent z/Vos, there's another compelling solution. Industry veteran Wayne Kernochan, a principal with consultancy Infostructure Associates, highlights Mono, an open source project first conceived by the former Ximian Inc., to create a version of Microsoft's .NET framework capable of running atop Linux, several flavors of BSD, Mac OS and Windows itself. Six years ago, Novell acquired Ximian and became Mono's steward; then, just months later, Novell acquired German Linux pioneer SuSE.

That chain of events paved the way for the Mono of today, which runs in z/Linux.

More precisely, Kernochan explained, Novell markets a Mono Extension for its SuSE Linux Enterprise Edition (SLES) 11, which runs on System z. This combination -- namely, of SLES 11 and Novell's Mono Extension -- makes it possible for SuSE shops to run .NET applications on top of System z. And that, Kernochan maintains, makes for an intriguing proposition.

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