Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Developers To Get Easier Access to Outlook Data

Microsoft this week announced it will be releasing documentation to let developers easily access and use Microsoft Outlook data such as email messages, calendar entries and contact information stored in .pst files.

Developers can now only access this data -- via Messaging API (MAPI) and the Outlook Object Model -- if Outlook is on the desktop, said Paul Lorimer, group manager, Microsoft Office Interoperability, in an MSDN blog posting.

That restriction will be lifted, and Lorimer said the documentation will let developers access the data–which is stored in Outlook Personal Folders–using their choice of programming languages and platforms.
In addition to information on how to access the data from other applications, Lorimer said the documentation "will highlight the structure of the .pst file, provide details like how to navigate the folder hierarchy, and explain how to access the individual data objects and properties."

The increased portability of Outlook data will help organizations moving to a cloud-based architecture, said analyst Sheri McLeish at Forrester Research.

Other benefits will include easier storage and aggregation of the data, for organizations that need to satisfy legal discovery requirements or run analytics such as data mining against the data, she said.

"It eases the effort to cull data from these .pst files, which historically have been difficult to access and move," McLeish said.

"So it’s good news for IT," she said.

Lorimer said in his blog that the documentation "is still in its early stages." When pressed by many readers for a release date, he said the .pst information is planned for release in the first half of next year.

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Microsoft Opens Windows to Eclipse Developers

Microsoft today said it will let developers who use Eclipse-based IDEs integrate their Java and PHP applications with the latest versions of Windows, Silverlight and the forthcoming Azure cloud platform.

At the Eclipse Summit in Ludwigsburg, Germany, Microsoft said it is working with Tasktop Technologies and Soyatec to allow developers using Eclipse IDEs to tap into features of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Silverlight and the Azure, which is set for release next month.

Tasktop and Soyatec are both providers of open-source tools. At the MIX09 conference back in March, Microsoft said it had commissioned France-based Soyatec to develop the Eclipse Tools for Silverlight plug-in based on Eclipse4SL (see related story), which is part of today's release.
Microsoft today spelled out four initiatives where the companies will provide improved interoperability of Java- and PHP-based apps for developers using Eclipse-based IDEs by providing added plug-ins. Microsoft said the projects are all open source. "This is about making Windows 7 an acceptable destination for open source application developers, and in fact is quite consistent with recent strategy," said Ovum analyst Tony Baer, in an email. The support for Silverlight and Azure are also significant, he noted.

In the first of the four projects, Microsoft said it has tapped Canada-based Tasktop to create an Eclipse "next-generation experience" on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, taking advantage of the shared user interface improvements. Microsoft said Tasktop will contribute improvements to the Eclipse IDE, which will be available under the Eclipse Public License in Q1 of 2010.

In addition, Microsoft has collaborated with Soyatec, to develop three solutions: Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse for PHP developers, Windows Azure Software Developer Kit (SDK) for Java, Eclipse Tools for Silverlight.

"Microsoft is providing funding and architectural guidance for all four of the projects," said Vijay Rajagopalan is a principal architect in the Microsoft Interoperability team, in a blog posting today.

Specifically Rajagopalan noted that Microsoft and Tasktop will extend the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP), notably the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) to integrate the Windows 7 features. "This will allow Eclipse developers to take advantage of the new user interface features offered by Windows 7, directly from the Eclipse IDE and from any desktop applications built on top of the Eclipse platform," Rajagopala wrote.

Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond said the choice of Tasktop was a good one. "They do some very interesting things around task management in Eclipse that would be very useful as an adjunct to Team Foundation Server in an Eclipse world," he noted, in an email. В "It will be interesting to see what else Microsoft and Tasktop might choose to collaborate on over the next few years with respect to Eclipse plug-ins."

As for its work with Soyatec, the Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse will create an open-source plug-in that will let PHP developers using Eclipse build Web apps that target Windows Azure. "Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse provides a series of wizards and utilities that allow developers to write, debug, and configure for and deploy PHP applications to Windows Azure," Rajagopalan said.

Microsoft and Soyatec will also develop the Windows Azure SDK for Java developers. A key component of the SDK is Storage Explorer. "The Storage Explorer is really one of the coolest features of Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse -- it allows developers to browse data contained in the Windows Azure storage component, including blobs, tables, and queues," Rajagopalan said.

"Storage Explorer was developed in Java (like any Eclipse extension), and we realized during the Windows Azure Tools for Eclipse development with Soyatec that abstracting the RESTful communication aspect between the Storage Explorer user interface and the Azure storage component made a lot of sense," he added. "So this led us to package the Windows Azure SDK for Java developers as open source."

Finally, the Eclipse Tools for Silverlight (Eclipse4SL) plug-in promised in March is an open source plug-in for Eclipse. Developers using Eclipse can use it to build Silverlight-based RIAs. New beta versions including one for the Macintosh are available for download.

For now, the first version of Eclipse4SL targets Silverlight 2.0. "We are working with Soyatec to add support for subsequent releases of Silverlight [3]," Rajagopalan noted. The plug-in will let developers to integrate their Silverlight-based applications and Java-based Web sites and services, including REST, SOAP, JSON, among others, Microsoft said.

Analysts said today's announcement is consistent with Microsoft's newfound effort to provide interoperability with open source, Java and other key platforms, a notable departure considering that such efforts announced today were once unthinkable by Microsoft. "Microsoft would like more developers of any type using their platforms," said RedMonk analyst Michael Cote, in an email.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa agreed. "It is smarter to get Java developers to continue to use Windows instead of seeing them move to Linux, Mac or other desktops," Hilwa said, in an email. "Microsoft also realizes that it can only do so much to grow the .NET and Visual Studio developer base."

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Updates Help Coders Put Windows 7 Tech Into Vista apps

Microsoft announced the final release of runtime libraries to help developers seamlessly take advantage of new technologies for both Windows 7 and Windows Vista applications.

Called the Platform Update for Windows Vista, the release will be available through Windows and Windows Server update services and manual downloads, said Brandon LeBlanc in a posting on The Windows Blog.

The updates, already part of Windows 7, will let developers improve Windows Vista applications, Microsoft said.
The release updates APIs for Windows Ribbon, Windows Animation Manager and Windows Automation. It also updates DirectX, parallel computing and document printing technologies, along with the Windows Portable Devices Platform.

To use the new libraries, you must have Windows Vista Service Pack 2 installed, according to information on a Microsoft support page.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elop Grilled on Microsoft's Relevance

The president of Microsoft's Business Division got the hot seat at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo event last week.

Stephen Elop faced tough questions from Gartner Vice Presidents Neal MacDonald and Brian Gammage, who suggested that Microsoft had reached a crossroads, accompanied by declining profits. They wanted to know what Elop had to say about what they called the company's "big bang monolithic approach" to current market disruptions.

Microsoft has been providing its users with "diminishing marginal benefits at increasing marginal costs," according to the Gartner VPs. They cited business user adoption of Windows Vista as an example. According to Gartner's studies, more than 83 percent of Windows users chose not to migrate to Vista, MacDonald noted. About seven percent of those who did choose Vista halted the implementation before completion.
Moreover, only 24 percent of Microsoft Office users chose to migrate to Office 2007, according to Gartner's reports.

"We believe Microsoft is at the most critical point in its history," MacDonald told the audience at the Orlando, Fla.-based event. "In the next nine months, Microsoft will be shipping new products that represent more than 80 percent of its revenue."

MacDonald said that the upcoming 2010 versions of Windows, Office, Exchange, SharePoint and their respective online versions represent more of the same, one-size-fits-all applications that Microsoft has offered in the past. He predicted that people will not be willing to migrate to these new versions because there are so many new competitors offering commoditized versions that are either free or that come at a very low cost.

Gammage agreed, saying that customers are now asking where the business value is in Microsoft's products, especially when there are multiple options available.

Elop responded that Microsoft is meeting the challenge head on, as well as working with its competitors through interoperability principles adopted in February of last year. He pointed to recent agreements with Apple, Google and Nokia as examples.

"My read of the situation is much as you described it," Elop said. "It is a disruptive moment in technology and in Microsoft's history…but in times of disruption, it is time to have an impact."

Windows 7 is the beginning of a new wave of technology that will have a major impact with users, Elop said. The day before it was released, more than eight million people were using the "feature-complete" version, he added.

Elop was asked how Microsoft's family of business applications will compete with hosted applications from Google, which currently offers an Office-like productivity suite called Google Apps. He replied that Microsoft will continue to focus on the three things consumers and enterprise users have come to rely on: productivity, security and manageability. The release next year of Office 2010 will demonstrate Microsoft's commitment to a cloud computing future for PCs, browser-based devices and mobile devices, he added.

The philosophy he conveys to his product teams is that of "constructive disruption," aiming to meet the competitive threat. В 

"Microsoft has demonstrated repeatedly that when faced with specific moments of disruption, whether it was the Internet or the graphical user interface, whatever those things are, that it has the unique ability to rally the troops and get things done," Elop said in the closing moments of the interview. "Our goal is to continuously evolve, and it's been that way since the first day the company was founded."

Elop also put in a plug for Windows 7, which was released into general availability last week. Based on Microsoft's studies, the new capabilities in Windows 7 provide savings for companies ranging from $120 to $190 per PC per year.

Elops' interview at the Gartner event can be viewed here.

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Amazon Sets Stage for Cloud Battle With Microsoft

In what could be an escalating war in the emerging arena of cloud-based computing services, Amazon today said it will let customers host relational data in its EC2 cloud service using the MySQL database. The company today also said that it plans to slash the costs of its EC2 service by as much as 15 percent.

The news comes just weeks before Microsoft is expected to make available its Azure cloud service at the annual Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles (see SQL Azure Is PDC Ready). Microsoft initially did not plan to offer a relational database service with Azure, but the company reversed course after earlier testers largely rejected the non-relational offering. Microsoft's SQL Azure Database will be part of the Azure offering (see Microsoft Revamps Cloud Database and Targeting Azure Storage).
Amazon's new Relational Database Service (RDS) is based on a complete version of the MySQL database, the company said, adding that all code and apps that run on the premises-based version of MySQL will work with the new cloud-based version. RDS handles such functions as setup, provisioning, patch management and backup. Users can add compute and storage capacity using a basic API call, Amazon said.

Amazon RDS complements the company's existing database service, called SimpleDB. Though SimpleDB lacked relational functionality, Amazon has targeted it for less complex operations, such as basic index and querying. RDS is intended for customers that require a relational database that may already have existing code and prefer native access to the RDMBS, yet want to turn over database administration and infrastructure management to Amazon.

In addition, Amazon today is rolling out a new line of high-memory instances of its EC2 service that can be used on its Elastic Block Store Service (EBS). The new instances will support workloads that require higher memory instances than the company previously provided, notably its new RDMS offering as well as applications that require caching.

EBS is offers block level storage volumes that are used with Amazon EC2 instances. Amazon is now letting EBS, customers provision their own database instances of IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, PostgreSQL, Sybase and Vertica databases. All of these will be available as Amazon Machine Images (AMIs). Through Amazon's EBS service customers can take administrative control of their AMI-based database or application server, according to the company.

Pricing Play
As for the price cuts, Amazon is slashing usage costs across the board, though it appears the most pronounced savings will be for those hosting their apps on Linux and UNIX servers. For those with extra-large demand, for example, usage will drop from 80 cents per hour to 68 cents on Linux and UNIX. Windows Server usage costs will also drop from $1.00 per hour to 96 cents per hour, Amazon said. A more detailed price list is available on Amazon's Web site.

Microsoft released its Azure pricing back in July, as reported by Redmond Developer News. Microsoft's pricing starts at 12 cents per hour for standard compute, while SQL Azure starts at $9.99 per gigabyte for its Web Edition.

Amazon's pricing move establishes a price ceiling for Windows hosting, said Jeffrey McManus, CEO of consultancy Platform Associates, in an e-mail. "Very few hosting providers are going to price their offerings higher than that of EC2," McManus said. "One of our hosting providers actually gave us a price break when we began investigating moving a Web application we run onto EC2. That's good news for developers."

Nevertheless McManus said he doesn't see Microsoft poised to compete with Amazon for the same customers. "I'd actually be surprised if Azure is even on Amazon's radar," McManus said.

EC2 and Azure are targeting different types of developers, he said. "When Microsoft extended per-minute pricing to Amazon EC2 a year ago, we were taken aback by the difference in price between EC2 for Windows and comparable Linux offerings," he noted. "Microsoft has been extremely slow on the draw when it comes to virtualization and the cloud. It's pretty embarrassing that the online bookstore across town has been able to best them in this area."

Microsoft's slow start, McManus noted, has prompted many of his clients to opt for EC2 on Linux rather than Windows server instances. In addition to the cost advantage of Linux, McManus said it is much faster to set up a production Linux server on EC2 or Slicehost than it is to set up a Windows Server on virtual hosting.

Roger Jennings, principal analyst at Oakleaf Systems and author of the book Cloud Computing with the Windows Azure Platform (Wrox), said Amazon clearly has taken a swipe at Microsoft. "It certainly appears that way," Jennings said in an interview.

The offering from Amazon includes support for larger databases of up to 1 terabyte, compared to just 10 gigabytes for SQL Azure, Jennings pointed out. "Larger SQL Azure databases must be sharded, but distributed queries and transaction aren’t supported yet," he said in a follow-up email.

Jennings also noted that Amazon MySQL instances scale up resources with an hourly surcharge and scale out by sharding, if desired. "SQL Azure scales out by sharding but not up," he said. "SQL Azure instances have a fixed set of resources not disclosed publicly."

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CollabNet ALM Upgrade Adds Dynamic Planning

CollabNet will let development teams using its TeamForge application lifecycle management platform manage and model a project's scope and timeline through a single user interface.

The capability, which the company calls "Dynamic Planning," will be added to the next version, dubbed TeamForge 5.3, set for release in December. CollabNet, best known for starting the open-source Subversion project, unveiled the new release at its annual ALM EXPO 2009 online conference last week.

В "About eight months ago we decided that we really needed to bear down on the particular patterns required for Agile development," said Chris Clarke, CollabNet’s VP of product management and strategy. "So we did an extensive and competitive analysis of a lot of different tools, to see which features were вЂmust haves’ and which were вЂnice to haves.’ We ended up zeroing in on a fundamental agile architecture that involves the way you manage time and scope in your agile development lifecycle. Dynamic Planning came out of that analysis."
Dynamic Planning maps the stream of project scope -- which in Agile would include things like epics, stories, tasks, defects, and tests -- into a flexible hierarchy of what Clarke called вЂtime boxes,’ which are similar to an Agile-development component called "backlogs." In the SCRUM Agile development methodology, backlogs are evolving collections of prioritized requests for work the team will do sometime in the future. SCRUM teams use product backlogs and sprint backlogs, for example.

"We concentrated on the mechanics of what were essentially two hierarchies -- the feature tree, which tracks the scope of development, and the planning tree, which tracks development backlogs," Clarke explained. "And we came up with a single compact interface that allows you to manage these two trees in a seamless way."

The TeamForge 5.3 release comes with a best-practices project template designed to help dev teams kick-start their Agile projects, Clarke said. The template includes pre-defined tracker types (epics, stories, tasks, and defects), a set of Agile roles and some process guidance. All aspects of the template are customizable, he added, and can be used as the foundation for new templates as companies refine their development methodologies.

This release also allows dev team managers to create sets of planning folders for their particular release management practices, including Agile, waterfall, or others. That flexible methodology support might be seen as an acknowledgement of the mixed environment in which most enterprise development takes place today. Forrester Research analyst Dave West said that pure Agile projects are still a rarity in the enterprise.

Speaking recently at an online conference held by Hewlett-Packard, West cited a Forrester survey that found Agile methods were more often used in combination with sequential methods, such as waterfall, in enterprise app-dev shops, creating a hybrid approach.

Butler Group senior research analyst Michael Azoff agreed. "Although Agile is now mainstream, it has not simply replaced the waterfall process," he said. "Most organizations will continue with some form element of waterfall, and the balance is still in favor of non-Agile, including waterfall, RUP/Spiral/RAD/iterative processes, and ad hoc and custom methodologies."

CollabNet is late to the Agile party, Azoff added, and may not have appreciated the impact of Agile on ALM at first. "I believe they are now correcting that situation and are able to exploit its products in this market," he said.

CollabNet’s original ALM product, SourceForge Enterprise, was rebranded and released as TeamForge 5.2 in April (see CollabNet Bolsters ALM Platform). With that release, the company began providing developers with tools for defining and modifying profiles and software stacks provisioned on both physical and clouds. The company’s OnDemand Cloud service uses Amazon’s public EC2 cloud service, but also works on private clouds. 

CollabNet’s core platform is based on Subversion, the open-source version control system, and is designed to connect geographically distributed software development teams, said Victoria Griggs, CollabNet’s senior director of product marketing. The Subversion project was started in 2000 by the company’s founders, technology book publisher Tim O’Reilly and Apache project co-founder Brian Behlendorf. CollabNet continues to be an important contributor to the Subversion project, Azoff said. Griggs added that the Subversion code continues to lie at the heart of CollabNet’s products. "We continue to be the primary sponsors very involved in the Subversion roadmap and direction," she said.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

CA Adds Real-Time Visibility to Distributed and Mainframe Systems and Apps

CA intends to provide real-time visibility into its disparate distributed and mainframe application performance management platforms.

The company today said its forthcoming CA Wily APM release will come with a connector that links to its CA SYSVIEW mainframe application monitoring system. Both are widely used by enterprises as dashboards to closely monitor transaction-oriented systems and applications, according to industry analysts. By integrating the two, CA aims to give developers and administrators more holistic views of systems and applications, notably those used for transactions that remain in information silos.
While Wily APM already was able to view mainframes running z/OS and Linux, the new 8.2 release scheduled for release November 20 will bridge directly to SYSVIEW 12.5. The latter was released last month.

"It's the first offering in the industry that provides real-time visibility into application environments that span distributed and mainframe environments," said Jeff Cobb, CA senior vice president of product strategy.

Gartner Research Director Bill Malik pointed out in an email that CA's offering is not actually the first to span mainframe and distributed environments. "Many job schedulers did so in the late 1980s, and most began providing some information about aggregate job performance in the early 1990s," Mailik noted.

"The key words here are 'real time,'" said Julie Craig, research director at Enterprise Management Associates, in an email. "CA has architected the solutions in such a way that combined distributed systems-mainframe status information is integrated in real time. Other vendors have products that span distributed and mainframe environments, but the real time nature of CA's approach is definitely a differentiator," Craig said.

Wily APM users will be able to tap into SYSVIEW where they can monitor the resources of z/OS, CICS, WebSphere MQ and CA's Datacom database on a common dashboard. It also provides tracing of CICS-based transactions, allowing developers and administrators to track issues on the CICS Transaction Server. CA Wily users will also be able to map CICS transaction loads to specific applications, providing a universal view of resources.

"Essentially what we've done is build a connector that lives on the mainframe side, which allows the data that SYSVIEW knows how to gather to characterize the transactional behavior of the CICS traffic, and to convert that data into a format that is understandable by the CA Wily APM product and to move it back over to that product so it can present a uniform view," Cobb said.

"There is a transaction trace data format that we use to move data back and forth," Cobb continued. "We also have an open API for moving data from one place to another."

Applications running on CA Wily are typically either .NET- or Java-based and run on respective application servers. Those systems that are .NET can connect either through Microsoft BizTalk Server or natively to Internet Information Server (IIS).

"We see application structures where IIS is used as the main execution framework to serve up the Web apps and to host the .NET-based application business logic, and then the application business logic can talk directly to the mainframe," Cobb said.

Both Wily APM and SYSVIEW are widely used and in their respective segments, Craig said, and are often preferred over products from the likes of Hewlett-Packard and IBM because they are vendor neutral.

"Wily, in particular, is the 'product to beat' in competitive situations, according to many of the vendors I speak to," Craig noted. She noted IBM is investing in distributed application management across the ITCAM line. Another key option is from BMC, which recently acquired MQSoftware.

Craig said CA's bridge will give it an edge. "These new capabilities definitely keep CA among the leaders in this space, and I would expect that they will provide impetus for both new and existing customers to invest in CA's solutions."

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Microsoft Holds Down Losses in 1Q 2009

Microsoft disclosed its fiscal first-quarter results, reporting an 18 percent decrease in net income compared with 1Q 2008.

The report was bad tidings, but relatively so considering the overall prolonged economic downturn in the world economy. Net income was $3.6 billion in the company's first quarter (which ended on Sept. 30, 2009) compared with $4.4 billion in the year-ago quarter. Still, analysts briefed by Microsoft on Friday generally congratulated the company for having a good quarter.

Chris Liddell, Microsoft's chief financial officer, offered a message that doubtless was music to the ears for the number-crunching analyst crowd. Overall operating expenses declined between the quarters to $8.4 billion in 1Q 2009 vs. $9 billion in the year-ago quarter.
"We realized a 10 percent decrease in operating expenses over the prior year due to lower number of people employed, lower cost per person, lower vendor spend and lower marketing costs," Liddell said in a Webcast. "Our headcount at the end of the quarter was four percent lower than the same time last year -- the first time that a reduction of that significance has been achieved in the company's history."

The first-quarter report came on the heels of big news: Microsoft's public launch of Windows 7 on Thursday. Consumers can now buy Microsoft's newest operating system, as well as PCs running it, at retail and online stores. In addition, Microsoft launched its first retail store in Scottsdale, Arizona. Other product highlights for the quarter include Microsoft's earlier launch of Windows Server 2008 R2 and the "release to manufacturing" of Exchange 2010.

Microsoft's overall revenue figure of $12.9 billion for the first quarter is somewhat askew because of $1.5 billion in deferred revenue resulting from the company's Windows 7 Upgrade Option program offered to Vista buyers in June. When that revenue is factored in, Microsoft's overall revenue showed just a four percent decrease, year over year, according to Microsoft's report.

Liddell credited "strong consumer demand for Windows" plus the company's "cost discipline" for Microsoft's financial results in a down economy. In a Q&A session with financial analysts, Liddell suggested that people will still buy PCs in bad economic times, citing "the robustness of the PC." Commercial retail sales of Windows have increased two percent so far due to Windows 7, he said.

However, Liddell did note that slumping business demand for new PCs have dragged down Microsoft's numbers. Microsoft sees a potential for a corporate PC refresh cycle happening sometime in 2010, he added. Feedback from corporate customers on Windows 7 has been good, and preorders have been "extremely good" but have had a "modest financial impact," Liddell said. Part of the business PC spending slowdown can be attributed to corporate budgets being set in December, he added.

Many businesses deferred buying Windows Vista, Microsoft's last OS. They stuck with Windows XP after encountering initial driver issues with Vista. However, analyst firm Gartner has suggested that IT organizations should plan to get off Windows XP, which currently runs on the majority of business PCs, by the end of 2012. Gartner suggests that a PC refresh cycle at the corporate level could start late next year.

"The Windows 7 release will generate renewed interest in hardware upgrades in consumers and small businesses following its release, but corporate demand is not expected to gain momentum until the end of 2010," said Charles Smulders, managing vice president at Gartner, in a released statement. "An overdue PC hardware upgrade cycle, and the economic environment, will be as equally important as Windows 7 in determining final demand in 2010."

Gartner expected to see a worldwide decline in PC shipments in the third quarter of 2009. Instead, its preliminary results showed a "0.5 per cent increase" compared with last year's third quarter.

Other Microsoft divisions -- such as Server and Tools, Microsoft Business Division, and Entertainment and Devices Division -- showed flat revenues quarter over quarter. Liddell suggested that server shipment trends might improve by the end of the year.

The Online Services Division appears to be the money loser at Microsoft. The division took in $30 million less revenue quarter over quarter. It showed an operating income loss of $480 million vs. a loss of $321 million in the year-ago quarter.

Microsoft's ad revenues overall were down three percent in the first quarter, according to Liddell. However, search revenue was up by "single digits" in the U.S. market, he added.

Microsoft is still seeking regulatory approval for its Bing search advertising deal with Yahoo, which Microsoft hopes to see happen in "early calendar-year 2010." As part of the deal, Microsoft will pay for setup costs ranging from $100 million to $200 million and will see "virtually no revenue contributions" in the fiscal year. If the deal goes through, Microsoft could see revenue earnings in its fiscal-year 2011, Liddell explained.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Windows 7 Programming Finalists Vie for $17,777 Grand Prize

Microsoft on Monday will announce seven finalists in its its Code7 Contest, which features applications designed for the just-released Windows 7 operating system.

Contest entries range from fun, consumer-oriented applications such as a Touch Rubik Cube game to development-oriented apps such as a Source Code Library Manager and a Dotnet Solution Manager – along with potential enterprise-oriented programs such as a Windows 7 SharePoint Integrator.

The grand prize winner, to be announced at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference next month in Los Angeles, will receive $17,777 in cash and numerous other prizes and perks.
Finalists in the contest, which started July 13 and ended Oct. 10, will be chosen from seven geographical regions around the world. Contestants were instructed to take advantage of five Windows 7 technologies, such as Windows Touch, Shell Integration and the Sensor and Location Platform. The entries address six different “scenarios,” including Gaming, Work from Anywhere and Applications for a Better Tomorrow.

The Code7 Contest page features a gallery of dozens of submissions with short developer-produced videos describing the programs.

The apps mentioned above that might be of special interest to developers include:

Source Code Library Manager
Developer: fallafab
Geographical region: Japan, Korea, Australia, Antarctica, and New Zealand

Description: “The source code library manager helps developers to group their code inside a new library. It provides extra preview handlers to quickly look inside a source file without opening it and give quick access to the search via an icon in the notification area. Although this application is for source code, it is also great for other types of libraries.”

Dotnet Solution Manager
Developer: weiliang
Geographical region: China

Description (edited for clarity): “As a result of daily work that involves a large number of VS.NET coding efforts, which form very large number of solutions, looking for the history of a project or resource is very time consuming. This tool uses Windows 7’s library technology to integrate source code and unified management code libraries and uses the Windows search feature to find VS.NET solutions and content quickly.”

Examples of potential enterprise-oriented apps include:

Windows 7 SharePoint Integrator
Developer: brad.porter
Geographical region: North America

Description: “This application was designed to utilize Federated Search Connecters to find documents stored in SharePoint. Once a document is found it can be downloaded to a Windows 7 Library for modification and offline viewing. Once changes are complete the document can be sent back up to SharePoint and found via the federated search connector.”

Developer: kmarshall
Geographical region: North America

Description: “WhiteboardFlow is a multi-touch, multi-user prototyping application similar to SketchFlow. Whiteboard flow uses gesture recognition to identify shapes and convert to XAML. Users can simply draw controls on a giant whiteboard to generate an application. The shapes can be resized or moved using the multi-touch capabilities of Windows 7.”

ZBuget C/S
Developer: zcs
Geographical region: Europe and United Kingdom

Description: “ZBuget C/S is a client server software application and represents the perfect solution for the simplification of employees’ work in the budget-accounting departments.”

In addition to the $17,777 in cash, the grand prize winner will get to discuss the winning app with Microsoft executives at PDC09 and will receive an invitation to visit with members of the Windows 7 development team at the Microsoft campus in Redmond. The winner’s video will be featured on MSDN Channel 9.

The runner-up will receive $7,777 in cash.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

October Patch Disables Office Communications Server

After a mammoth Patch Tuesday rollout last week, Microsoft now finds itself responding to problems with a fix for Office Communications Server (OCS) and Live Communications Server (LCS).

Right now, the cure may be worse than the bug. The patch causes OCS and LCS licenses to prematurely expire. Microsoft is recommending that IT pros hold off on applying a certain security bulletin until the kinks are worked out, or apply the patch to a test installation.
The security fix -- MS09-056: "Vulnerabilities in CryptoAPI could allow spoofing" -- is aimed at a bug in Windows cryptographic technology. Developers rely on CryptoAPI technology to help ensure security in Windows-based applications.

Users discovered the problem after OCS -- one of the main components of Microsoft's unified communications product line -- failed to start after applying the fix. Thus, a patch designed to thwart spoofing gave some IT pros a spoof of a different kind.

Upon investigation, some IT administrators noticed that the OCS product had expired -- as if it had passed its 180-day trial period. However, these installations were licensed and not a trial versions. The patch code somehow resets the product expiration date, apparently.

Phil Lieberman, president and founder of Lieberman Software, speculated that the way some enterprises have configured OCS in their stack allows for this type of mishap to happen.

"This patch disaster is a perfect example of why phone equipment is generally provided as an embedded system that does not receive automatic updates over the Internet," Lieberman said. "The whole way that OCS is installed, packaged, updated and interfaced represents a break from the rest of the telecom industry. In my opinion, tying telecom systems (like OCS) into the public Internet and allowing them to autonomously receive updates is nuts."

For its part, Microsoft cautions in an updated knowledgebase article 974571 that "services required by Communications Server are not started after users install the security update and then restart the computer." This is particularly the case, Redmond said, for users running Live Communications Server 2005 or Office Communications Server 2007.

On the whole, this is a case where a patch broke the functionality of a product, according to Jason Miller, security and data team leader at Shavlik Technologies.

"This is a prime example of why administrators should test each patch before rolling it out to their networks," Miller said.

If administrators don't want to risk OCS freezing up or going down, then they shouldn't install the patch and should wait until Microsoft releases a new one, Miller advised. For those applying the patch, Miller said that even though installing it may "break functionality" in OCS, it will still mitigate risk with a potential downside to organizations.

"There are a lot of reports of companies uninstalling this patch on these systems," Miller added. "These companies rely heavily on voice over IP, conferencing and instant messaging. Having this asset nonfunctional for any amount of time cannot be accepted in those organizations."

A similar product expiration issue was seen in May with SharePoint Server 2007, although it happened with early installations of Service Pack 2. The update reset the product's licensing, making it seem as if it were a trial version of the software. Microsoft has since fixed that problem.

‘Zombieland’ Kills At Box OfficePatch Tuesday To Address Multiple Microsoft Bugs

SharePoint 2010: Beta Arriving This Fall

Microsoft officials described additional details about the upcoming SharePoint Server 2010 product at the Microsoft SharePoint Conference, happening this week in Las Vegas.

SharePoint 2010 was first unveiled in April, along with other new Microsoft server products slated for release next year. On Monday, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer and Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of SharePoint, took to the stage for a keynote address. They described what to expect with SharePoint 2010, announcing a "feature-complete" public beta to come in November, with release to manufacturing expected around mid-2010.
SharePoint 2010 will offer more opportunities for both partners and users to customize applications in the last mile, they said. The collaboration platform will help unify communications across the Web and enterprise.

"This is the biggest Swiss Army Knife of information software that anybody has ever developed," said Teper in a telephone interview after the opening presentations on Monday. "We are unveiling features that cover the entire spectrum of communications, from wikis to workflows."

Those features include integration with Microsoft Office and Office Web Apps, as well as a new SharePoint Workspace Mobile client. There's also improved enterprise search capabilities using a new FAST Search for SharePoint option.

Despite an earlier rebranding effort, SharePoint 2010 will stay tight with Microsoft Office. In April, Microsoft explained that it planned to drop the "MOSS" (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server) branding with SharePoint 2010 since users tended to consider Office to be a separate product. Despite that talk, Microsoft is promising continued integration with Office.

For instance, SharePoint 2010 will work with earlier versions of Microsoft Office, according to Teper's team blog post. In addition, SharePoint 2010 can be used as a server to host the new Office Web Apps, which will let users run applications such as Word and Excel within a browser.

"Office has always been a pillar of the SharePoint community," Teper explained. "We've always tried to make it easy for Office users to use SharePoint with open protocols and APIs that are designed to work together in a standalone or Internet environment."

Another SharePoint-Office tie-in will be the integration of the Microsoft Groove product. In May, Microsoft announced that Groove would be renamed "SharePoint Workspace 2010." This peer-to-peer collaboration and document-sharing product, while bearing the SharePoint name, will be included as part of the Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010 product.

Teper said that current Groove users will be able to migrate to the new SharePoint Workspace 2010 product without a problem.

SharePoint Server 2010 will also include enhanced social tagging features that will make searching faster and easier.

"This release makes it much easier to customize and style documents without writing code," Teper explained. "It has advanced features that provide flexibility for both partners and IT departments in the last mile."

He noted that the new release will be designed to cover the spectrum of business needs -- from large enterprises with extensive IT departments to small-to-medium businesses with minimal IT support.

"SharePoint has always been a good business app for our partners in the enterprise and midmarket segments," Teper said. "Now, it has added opportunities for partners. And with SharePoint Online, there is extensive support for smaller companies as well."

SharePoint 2010 will be available only as a 64-bit platform. Users can upgrade from SharePoint 2007, but Microsoft recommends having Service Pack 2 installed first. Microsoft added features into SP2 that will check for upgrade readiness across server farms.

Additional tips for IT administrators are described in this Microsoft blog, which describes overall system requirements for SharePoint 2010. The blog also includes links to a SharePoint 2010 evaluation guide as well as MVP videos.

Microsoft is particularly focused on adding PowerShell administrative support in SharePoint 2010. The product will ship with "hundreds of commandlets," according to Microsoft's blog.

SharePoint 2010 will also feature several perks for developers. More information on the product's dev support can be found in this article.

Microsoft Gives SharePoint A Facelift‘Zombieland’ Kills At Box Office

Zend Advances PHP and Cloud Effort at ZendCon

Zend Technologies, creator and commercial maintainer of the PHP dynamic scripting language, Wednesday released the first public beta of its Zend Server 5.0 Web-app server.

The company announced the release as it kicked off its fifth annual ZendCon developer conference in San Jose, Calif.. Zend Server is an enterprise Web application server designed for running and managing business-critical PHP applications in production. It comes with a pre-integrated PHP application stack. The Zend Server Community Edition (CE) is available as a free download; Zend Server 5.0 is the commercial version.

Version 5.0 comes with two major new features: the Job Queue, which allows developers to employ asynchronous execution in their Web apps for functions such as long-running report generation, order processing, database cleanup and pulling of RSS feeds; and Code Tracing, a new debugging/analysis tool. It’s also fully integrated with Zend’s Studio IDE and the open-source Zend Framework.
Also, the new version fully supports PHP 5.3, which was released by the open-source community in June. The Zend Server CE already included support for PHP 5.3, but the company typically waits a few months to support each release of the PHP language in its commercial releases, said Zend CEO and co-founder Andi Gutmans.

Gutmans is especially proud of the new Code Tracing feature, he said, which he personally helped architect. Code Tracing is designed to allow developers to pinpoint problems by providing a kind of "digital documentary" of the execution of an application, he explained. He compared it to the black box flight recorders used on airplanes.

"We have very deep knowledge in the company on how that was done for Java and .NET," Gutmans said in an interview. "So we took a similar idea and did it for PHP. Now, with this black box, there is no more doubt. You have a problem; you know exactly what it is. I have said that we are revolutionizing how PHP developers manage their production servers by significantly reducing the time spent on root cause analysis and resolution."

The release comes as PHP continues to grow in popularity, making significant inroads into enterprises, said RedMonk analyst Michael CotГ©. The popularity of PHP among enterprise coders reflects the growing importance of Web development in those environments, CotГ© said. "There's a generation of developers out there whose primary UI is the Web," he said.

The public beta of Zend Server 5.0 is available now for download from the Zend web site. The production release is expected by year’s end.

Reaching for the Cloud
Zend also announced a partnership with cloud management provider RightScale. Zend-based PHP apps can now be deployed across multiple clouds and managed via RightScale’s automated, Web-based management platform, Gutmans said.

 "The gap between production and development is closing, and that’s where PHP has always been very strong," he said. "We wanted a good partner that could take a product like Zend Server and make sure that it could easily be deployed and provisioned in a lot of these cloud environments. If a customer wants to deploy on Amazon [E2] and they don’t know how to do it, we can just send them to RightScale."

RightScale provides ServerTemplates, which are pre-built templates for common server configurations. "It’s a way to assemble a machine configuration out of building blocks," explained RightScale’s CTO Thorsten von Eicken. "What we have released is essentially a building block for Zend. It’s a set of ServerTemplates for different ways to deploy Apache with PHP -- the open source version -- and now you can pull that out and plug in Zend Server."

The RightScale partnership comes on the heels of the launch of the Simple API for Cloud Application Services project. Announced in September (see Simple API Opens Up Cloud Storage), the project is an open-source initiative that, its sponsors say, aims to let developers to use common application services in the cloud. Zend is hosting the project. Founding contributors include IBM, Microsoft, Nirvanix, Rackspace and GoGrid.

Von Eicken participated in one of the more well-attended ZendCon sessions, a panel discussion called "Developing on the Cloud." Moderated by RedMonk co-founder Stephen O’Grady, the panel also included Vijay Rajagopalan, principal architect on Microsoft’s Interoperability Technical Strategy team, who touched on the Simple API project.

"To really enable support for PHP full-blown in Windows Azure, we wanted to go all the way," he said. "There were a lot of proposals in the beginning. We wanted to come up with a PHP speed dial in the form of an SDK that PHP developers can use to code against Azure storage. But we soon realized that that’s not enough. We decided that we should have something that the developer experienced locally before they migrated to the cloud."

Microsoft is now making that SDK, which the Redmond software maker was working on with ICT solutions provider RealDolmen, available as part of Zend Framework.

"The Microsoft partnership is very important to us at Zend," Gutmans said. "First because a large amount of the developer community is on Windows, but also because Microsoft has a very deep understanding of the developer community," he said. "When you look at the software development landscape now, it' .NET, Java, and PHP. We know that 35 percent of the Internet runs PHP. All the players now want to work with it."

‘Zombieland’ Kills At Box OfficeMicrosoft Gives SharePoint A Facelift

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Office Starter 2010 Unveiled, Replacing Microsoft Works

Microsoft has devised a way to introduce new PC buyers to its Office productivity suite through a "Starter" edition.

The company has developed a "reduced functionality" version of Office called Microsoft Office Starter 2010 that includes just Word and Excel. It replaces Microsoft Works, and will be provided to PC manufacturers for imaging on new PCs only. It won't be available via download, according to a Microsoft spokesperson by e-mail.

Microsoft's announcement of Office Starter 2010 on Friday made no mention of a Mac version. Apple sells its own productivity suite for Macs called iWork '09, which costs about $80. In contrast, the full Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 edition costs $150.
Full versions of Office 2010 products are expected to appear in the first half of next year, and that's when new PCs will begin appearing with Office Starter 2010, the Microsoft spokesperson confirmed.

Office Starter 2010 will be "ad-supported," with an advertisement popping into the bottom right corner of the application. It's not a timed trial. Microsoft doesn't use the word "free" to describe Office Starter 2010, so the cost is either associated with buying the new PC or viewing ads, or both.

One caveat to using Office Starter 2010 is that the user has to be connected to the Internet to get security patches and updates. Microsoft plans to introduce a new technology called "click-to-run" that will stream updates to Office Starter 2010, as well as manage upgrades to full paid editions of the productivity suite. Click-to-run uses virtualization technology so that users can have Office Starter 2010 running on the desktop alongside other Microsoft Office editions, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Office Starter 2010 users will have a "purchase" option in the application enabling them to upgrade to any of the three full editions of Office 2010 that Microsoft plans to release next year, according to the Microsoft spokesperson. Those editions include Home & Student 2010, Home & Business 2010, and Professional 2010.

The upgrade process is speeded up because of the preloaded Office Starter 2010 bits on the machine. In addition to using the purchase option to order an upgrade, users can get a product key card that will be sold through Microsoft's retail partners, such as electronics stores. The card is not a DVD but it contains a number to unlock all of the bits.

Exactly how much disk space is used by Office Starter 2010 on new PCs isn't exactly clear at this point.

"We are still in the development process for Office 2010 and do not have details on how much disk space the product will take, but yes, the Office image will be preloaded onto PCs and customers will be able to activate it based on the product key card they purchase," the Microsoft spokesperson explained.

The spokesperson added that click-to-run versions of software "are nearly half the size so it is a much lower impact on hard drive space." So far, Microsoft plans to use click-to-run as a custom-designed solution just for Office 2010, but it's evaluating the technology for other Microsoft products.

The decision to limit Office Starter 2010 to include just Word and Excel was based on customer surveys of Microsoft Works users, according to an Office team video. The aim was to provide tools for everyday tasks but also introduce users to Office 2010's user interface. Office Starter 2010 will have the same Fluent Ribbon menu system, as well as Backstage View, a page-like screen that provides details about Office 2010 document files.

Word and Excel files in the Office Starter 2010 product will be capable of working with Microsoft's cloud-based cousins, namely Word and Excel Office Web Apps, according to the Microsoft spokesperson. However, automatic synchronization between Office Starter 2010 apps and the cloud-based apps isn't in the picture.

"People will be able to access their Word documents and Excel documents whether working online or offline," the spokesperson explained. "They will not be able to automatically sync their docs from Office Web Apps to copies saved on their desktop."

Office 2010 is currently undergoing a limited technical preview, but Microsoft plans to release a public beta of the software some time this year.

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Silverlight Streaming Beta Ends for Paid Azure Option

Microsoft said today it is discontinuing its beta of a service that lets developers building Silverlight-based applications host and distribute them free of charge.

The Silverlight Streaming by Windows Live Beta will be removed and replaced by a paid service based on Microsoft's forthcoming Azure cloud-based service by year's end, said James Clarke, a program manager on Microsoft's Expression Encoder team in a blog posting.

Silverlight Streaming was billed as a companion service allowing developers to host and scale their Silverlight apps including videos using Microsoft's Expression Designer and other third-party tools. Developers and designers could use the service to integrate Silverlight-based apps into their own sites.
Microsoft gave those using the service up to 10 Gbytes of В freecapacity. The company is curtailing new accounts effective immediately, according to Clarke. Likewise the company is no longer making available the Silverlight Streaming publishing plug-in for Expression Encoder. "The new Windows Azure functionality will not be a direct replacement for the Silverlight Streaming service and will be a paid subscription service," Clarke noted.

Given it was a a beta service offered free of charge, it was to be expect that Microsoft would ulitmately pull the plug on it, said RedMonk analyst Michael Cote in an email. "Generating revenue from video streaming is a logical path to take," Cote noted. "It's nice that they're collapsing it under the Azure brand to get all their cloud eggs in one basket."

Microsoft is expected to launch Azure at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next month. The company released the final Community Test Preview last week, which is feature complete, Microsoft said (see SQL Azure Is PDC Ready in CTP 2).

In his blog posting, Clarke posted instructions on how developers can retrieve their content from the Silverlight Streaming site, which will remain available until the new offering is launched.


Microsoft Gives SharePoint A FaceliftJustin Timberlake Grows Out His Curls For ‘The Social Network’

Microsoft Gives SharePoint A Facelift

Microsoft today previewed the next generation of its popular SharePoint Server family, which will sport a new user interface, tighter integration capabilities, a cloud-based version and much-needed support for the company's Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE).

The new release, dubbed SharePoint 2010, will be available for general beta testing in November and should be released to manufacturing in the first half of 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in the opening keynote address at the SharePoint Conference 2009 in Las Vegas.
During a detailed presentation, Microsoft offered a rundown of SharePoint SKUs and versions. With the 2010 wave, Microsoft is renaming Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) SharePoint Foundation, while the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) product becomes simply SharePoint Server. The new release will also come with an improved SharePoint Designer, the freely available tool for building custom SharePoint sites and behaviors. Designer will gain the Office Ribbon UI and other enhancements to help end users build mash ups, connect to external data and enable workflows, said Jeff Teper, Microsoft corporate vice president for SharePoint Server, in a blog post.

Microsoft will continue to offer SharePoint Server in both Standard and Enterprise versions, and customers can purchase the FAST Search for SharePoint add-on, which incorporates the advanced enterprise search technology acquired from FAST in January 2008. In addition to traditional on-premise SharePoint Server licensing, Microsoft will offer SharePoint Online in the cloud. Ballmer, in his keynote remarks, said that customers will be able to "mix and match" SharePoint Server and SharePoint Online deployments, across both public facing Web sites and internal intranets.

Ballmer also outlined SharePoint Workspace. "This is the successor to Groove technology that really gives you rich client capabilities to take SharePoint information offline, to work on an airplane or over slow links," Ballmer said.

Developer Picture
For developers, the SharePoint Conference provided plenty of welcome news.  For one, Microsoft used the event to announce the release of the second beta of its next-generation IDE, Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework 4 (see VS2010 and .NET 4 Beta 2 Go Live).

As Microsoft had previously announced, Visual Studio 2010 will add a SharePoint Explorer for accessing SharePoint project templates, as well as a Windows SharePoint Package in the Visual Studio Solutions Explorer. Visual Studio 2010 will also provide one-click deploy and debug capability, as well as a new Map folders feature to allow developers to map image URLs to SharePoint environments. Tom Rizzo, director of SharePoint product management at Microsoft, noted in during the keynote address that developers would no longer need to hand code Web parts and XML.

The integration of SharePoint development within Visual Studio has been a sore subject for SharePoint developers for years -- as Ballmer alluded when he said, "I know that's been an area of a lot of feedback, shall we say."

SharePoint developers will also gain access to the expanded source code and ALM feature set of Visual Studio 2010, which now provides Team Foundation Server (TFS) functionality at all tiers. To take advantage of these new features, developers need Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2, the SharePoint 2010 Designer and SharePoint 2010.

Rizzo confirmed that SharePoint 2010 developers will be able to build solutions on the Windows Vista or Windows 7 client operating systems. The change ends the requirement that developers work on server-hosted instances of SharePoint -- an onerous burden given that Windows developer workstations are almost always running a client OS. The announcement brought a round of applause from the audience.

Developers will also welcome enhanced diagnostics from the SharePoint Developer Dashboard, said Rizzo. He demoed a SharePoint Web part project, showing how the dashboard provides immediate data on response times, stored SQL Server calls and a history of SharePoint calls. The facility should make it much easier for developers to zero in on problem code, Rizzo said.

SharePoint also gains new business connectivity services for Office, SQL Server and Access database services, while the new "sandbox solution" feature will enable safe deployment of custom code and Web parts to shared environments, such as cloud-based SharePoint Online or on-premises deployment. The sandbox allows untrusted code to be deployed, without impacting the integrity of the host environment.

Microsoft Plans Scaled-Down Team Foundation Server‘Zombieland’ Kills At Box Office

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Microsoft Unmoved by Published SMB Exploit

Microsoft's security team didn't flinch this week, even as a proof-of-concept exploit for Windows Server Message Block Version 2 (SMBv2) was published on Sunday.

Redmond said that its earlier released workaround for the vulnerability, which involves disabling SMBv2, will suffice for now. The workaround was described in Microsoft's Security Advisory 975497, released last month.

SMBv2 is a file sharing protocol for Windows systems. In theory, exploiting the SMBv2 bug can lead to a worm outbreak on client-server systems that run a combination of Windows Vista (SP1 and SP2) client and Windows Server 2008 (SP1 and SP2) operating systems. Windows 7 release candidate was also affected by the bug, according to the security advisory.
Microsoft spokesperson Christopher Budd explained that the software giant is currently "investigating the issue as part of its Software Security Incident Response Process and working to develop a security update," according to an e-mail.

He added that the published exploit code was addressed by Microsoft's Security Advisory 975497 and that the advisory's workaround would apply to this code as well. The workaround is described as a "one-click fix."

The proof-of-concept code was published on the Metasploit security test Web site by Stephen Fewer, a senior researcher at Harmony Security. Dave Aitel, chief technology officer at security firm Immunity Inc., congratulated Fewer for coming up with the code, and speculated on whether a patch would arrive.

"Working around this issue in the current public exploit is probably two weeks of work," he wrote in a blog post. "At that point, we're nearing Microsoft [Patch] Tuesday and the need for an out-of-band patch is moot."

If a patch arrives, it might show up in Microsoft's October security release, scheduled for Oct. 13. Microsoft is mum on whether a SMBv2 hotfix will arrive this month.

Patch Tuesday To Address Multiple Microsoft Bugs

Microsoft Extends Office Mac 2004 Support

Microsoft extended mainstream support of Office 2004 for Macintosh computers for another five years.

Mainstream support actually ended on Oct. 13, but Microsoft extended it to Jan. 10, 2012. Microsoft made the change to help customers who continue to use Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) with Office for Mac.

Customer interest in continuing to use VBA apparently had a side effect. It kept them from upgrading to the current Office 2008 for Mac productivity suite, which dropped VBA support.

"While most customers have upgraded to Office 2008 for Mac, some have remained on Office 2004 in order to take advantage of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which is supported in Office 2004, but did not make it into Office 2008," explained Mike Tedesco, in Microsoft's Mactopia blog.
Microsoft plans to resume support for VBA in the next version of Office for Mac, which is scheduled for public release in the "2010 US holiday season," according to the blog.

"Mainstream support" is Microsoft's technical term for the first phase of product support. For business applications such as Office, this support phase usually lasts five years. Mainstream support includes the delivery of security and nonsecurity hotfixes for free, as well as free incident support.

After mainstream support ends, the product enters the "extended support" phase. In this later five-year stage, users have to pay for requested hotfixes and no longer get free incident support. However, Microsoft will still deliver free security patches.

On top of extending support, Microsoft is also working to integrate its browser-based Office Web Apps for the Mac platform. Currently, these applications, which run in Safari, do not integrate with Office 2008 for Mac, but Microsoft is working on the problem.

"Today, Mac users can view and edit documents stored on Windows Live SkyDrive from the browser only," stated Kurt Schmucker in a Mactopia blog post. "However, the team is developing ways to work with the Web Apps direct from Office for Mac."

Another problem is that extended fonts on the local machine won't transfer upward into the Internet cloud. To maintain document fidelity, Schmucker recommends that users select fonts from the "Windows Office Compatible font collection" that was installed with Office 2008 for Mac.

Microsoft unveiled Office Web Apps in mid-September. They are currently undergoing private beta testing and will be publicly launched in the first half of next year, Microsoft has said.

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Report: IT Should Plan for Windows 7 Now

Microsoft will hatch Windows 7 as a full-fledged commercial operating system this week, and IT professionals should be making plans for it.

That's the main message from Forrester Research, which published its "Windows 7 Commercial Adoption Outlook" report last week -- just in time for the Oct. 22 Windows 7 launch. The report provides lots of tips on how to think about moving to Windows 7.

Many IT organizations resisted upgrading to Windows Vista, Microsoft's current flagship OS. Vista required upgraded hardware; it lacked a lot of driver support when it was first released. Instead, organizations continued to run Windows XP.
XP's staying power among organizations is almost legendary. Today, about 79 percent of PCs in small-to-medium businesses are running XP, according to Forrester's report, which polled 655 PC decision-makers in North America and Europe. With such resistance, why should IT organizations consider switching to Windows 7?

Forrester's report gives some answers, noting that the clock is ticking on XP, which has been available for about eight years. One sign of XP's age is that the Service Pack 3 version of the OS will enter its "extended support" phase on July 7, 2010. After a few more years, extended support will end -- on April 8, 2014. At that point, no security patches will be issued by Microsoft for XP. No patching teams will plug the holes when new bugs are found, except maybe through Microsoft's paid "custom support."

Another factor to consider for IT pros is that downgrade rights from Windows 7 to XP will eventually end. Downgrade rights will end 18 months after Windows 7 gets released, or when the first service pack appears -- whichever comes first. After that time, to get new PCs running XP, IT pros will have to purchase "volume license copies of Windows" with those new PCs, according to the report.

IT pros will need some time to test Windows 7 for application compatibility. Forrester's report suggests that about 12 months to 18 months will be needed. Such testing involves "image development," as well as "application packaging and testing," according to the report.

The bottom line, according to the study, is that "firms should plan to completely migrate away [from XP] by the end of 2012 due to application incompatibility concerns."

In its many reports on Windows 7 migration, Forrester has typically recommended that IT organizations upgrade to Vista from XP before moving to Windows 7. However, IT pros tend to disagree. In a poll of 596 PC decision-makers, just seven percent said they planned to upgrade from XP to Vista. Most (61 percent) planned to move directly to Windows 7 from XP, skipping Vista altogether.

Forrester's report recommends a gradual move toward Windows 7, based on hardware considerations. PCs with more than 2 GB of memory represent candidates for a Windows 7 upgrade, the report says. IT pros should consider making Windows 7 upgrades coincident with the PC refresh cycle, the report adds.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Microsoft and Capgemini Ink ERP Partner Deal

Microsoft and Capgemini announced a partnership deal on Friday that aims to better integrate Microsoft's software with SAP's enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

The partnership, called "ERP+," centers on the integration of Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Windows phone and other Microsoft applications with SAP's ERP and NetWeaver middleware solutions.

Capgemini will create a Center of Excellence and train 1,000 of its architects on integrating the technologies. The Paris-based consultancy also will develop industry-specific solutions based on SharePoint and the Windows Mobile platform, according to the joint announcement.
"This alliance addresses our customers' need for integration beyond Microsoft .NET and NetWeaver and enables seamless integration that really drives role-based productivity and cost reduction," said Olivier Picard, Capgemini's chief sales officer, in a prepared statement.

The deal also has larger enterprise software competition implications -- in particular, Microsoft's and SAP's competition with Oracle, according to industry analysts.

"Microsoft is trying to come up with new ways to sell its portal and Office productivity products and SAP is a natural platform for Microsoft to capitalize on since both of them [SAP and Microsoft] have a common enemy -- i.e., Oracle," said Albert Pang, research director of enterprise applications at IDC, in an e-mail.

Microsoft and SAP have previously collaborated on Duet, a suite of business process and business intelligence applications that work with SAP systems while retaining "the look and feel of Microsoft applications like Word and Excel," Pang noted. "This deal with Capgemini is consistent with that move," he added.

SAP competes with Oracle, but it's also a big seller of Oracle's database management products through enterprise ERP sales -- to the tune of about "a billion dollars in resale through SAP a year," according to R. "Ray" Wang, enterprise strategy partner at Altimeter Group, in a phone call. So there's a competitive reason for SAP to support other database apps.

"Now, most customers do want Oracle in that marketplace," Wang added. "But if [SAP] can push out [Microsoft] SQL Server [and] they can show a cost savings, or in other areas like IBM DB2, they're going to do that."

Another advantage to the deal is integration around Microsoft's .NET Framework rather than working with SAP's platform. Wang said that SAP has not been successful in "making NetWeaver an industry standard." Moreover, NetWeaver has not been easy to use for many of SAP's partners.

"What we're seeing is a lot of people starting to move towards .NET for a lot of the expenses and a lot of the development going forward," Wang said. He added that it's much easier for developers to find .NET resources.

The Capgemini deal likely will not be a way for Microsoft to expand its own Dynamics ERP solutions into this enterprise market, according to Pang.

"I don't think this is going to have any impact on the sales of Microsoft Dynamics applications since we are really talking about two different customer sets," Pang said. "Capgemini is going to offer it to some of the biggest SAP customers, which are not likely to use Dynamics. Nor would this deal have any impact on SAP ERP sales. If anything it would simply add more value to SAP systems."

Pang described the Microsoft-Capgemini deal as more of "movement to upstage Oracle, which now stands to be on top of the game when it comes to ERP integration with its recent Application Integration Architecture strategy." Oracle is promising easy integration, but if that's the case, Capgemini's help might not be needed, he noted.

Capgemini describes its NetWeaver integration efforts here.

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IBM Extends BPM and SOA in WebSphere

IBM last week expanded its WebSphere middleware offering with a slew of new tools aimed at facilitating business process management and service oriented architectures.

At the heart of the new rollout is BPM BlueWorks, a set of cloud-based tools and content that IBM said will let developers learn how to build and deploy dynamic processes.

BPM BlueWorks enables modeling and simulation that ultimately is designed to help dev shops learn how to build and roll out capabilities that can respond to dynamic business processes, according to IBM.

"The inclusion of tools and services offers which are really about helping customers bring their business and IT people together is something that we find is very important for BPM initiatives to succeed  and also about delivering value in smaller tactical projects," said Neil Ward-Dutton, research director and MWD Advisors in an email.
"These two areas are places where IBM’s competitors in the BPM and SOA spaces have historically really been able to perform very strongly," he added. "So it’s interesting to see IBM coming out of its comfort zone and being more aggressive regarding its 'specialist' competitors with these announcements."

To help extend these deployments, IBM also added several tools and platforms. Among them are WebSphere Business Events and Extreme Scale v7, designed to respond to heavy amounts of real-time events; WebSphere Registry and Repository, aimed at monitoring change management; BPM FastPath, tools designed to expedite BPM deployments, notably departments that require significant interaction by individuals; and WebSphere Industry Solutions, a set of tools focused on vertical markets.

The later consists of  WebSphere Industry Content Packs V7, which provides vertical industry solution templates, WebSphere Transformation Extender V8.3 rapidly deploys industry transformation, which consists of EDI interchange packs for health care applications, and the WebSphere DataPower B2B Appliance XB60 V3.8, a platform for  connecting trading partners adding new B2B messaging protocol support, IBM said.

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Huge October Security Patch Arrives

October has proved to be the month of record, landing one whopper of a Patch Tuesday.

The sheer girth of Redmond's October slate of security updates eclipses all others before it. The patch contains the most security bulletins ever, according to the Microsoft Security Response Center's blog. We have to look back to October 2008 for the last record-setting patch.

Microsoft released 13 security bulletins, with eight deemed "critical" and five considered "important, to address 34 vulnerabilities. The software giant is also re-releasing one bulletin to offer new updates.
Not only are the vulnerabilities large in number but there is a wide swath of applications affected in this month's rollout. The products targeted for patching this time include Windows, Internet Explorer, Silverlight, Microsoft Office, Forefront and SQL Server.

IT pros should consider tackling this patch one step at a time, according to Sheldon Malm, director of security strategy at the Rapid 7 security services firm.

"Start with operating systems, Internet-facing systems and SQL Server database boxes," Malm said. "This [patch slate] may take weeks or even months to test and deploy in larger environments, so prioritizing by most critical assets within this update will be key to reducing risk as quickly and effectively as possible."

Remote code execution (RCE) once again rules the day as a top patching concern. As many as 10 bulletins have RCE exploit implications. Spoofing, elevation-of-privilege and denial-of-service risks round out the batch of incursion considerations to be patched.

Critical Fixes
Critical item No. 1 is the long-awaited patch for Server Message Block Version 2 (SMBv2). It only touches Vista and Windows Server 2008.

"IT administrators should pay attention to this critical vulnerability as its reportedly is currently being exploited in the wild and impacts both Vista and Windows 2008 platforms," said Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst at Lumension.

The second critical item affects every OS except for Windows 7, addressing two privately reported vulnerabilities in Windows Media Runtime.

Critical item No. 3 affects Windows Media Player running on every Windows OS except Windows 7, Vista and Windows Server 2008. This vulnerability could "allow remote code execution if a specially crafted ASF file is played using Windows Media Player 6.4," according to Microsoft.

The fourth critical item is yet another cumulative security fix for Internet Explorer, resolving three bugs and covering IE versions 5.01 through 8.

The fifth critical fix addresses all supported versions of Windows. This security bulletin finally resolves the Active Template Library (ATL) bug issue of the last few months. It's a fix for an ActiveX vulnerability that could lead to an RCE attack.

In that vein, the sixth critical fix represents part two of a very comprehensive ATL hotfix. It resolves "several privately reported vulnerabilities in ActiveX controls" with vulnerable ATL components. The patch affects Microsoft Office components sitting mainly on XP operating systems. Outlook, Visio and Visio Viewer are all affected by this patch.

Critical fix No. 7 touches on Microsoft Silverlight developer tools, resolving vulnerabilities in the Microsoft .NET Framework.

The final critical item involves those pesky Graphic Device Interfaces (GDI) and is by far the most thoroughly wide-reaching of the slate. If users click on a corrupt image or corrupt Web page, remote code execution could be triggered in Internet Explorer, Microsoft Report Viewer, SQL Server, Forefront, Visual Studio.NET and Visual Studio FoxPro.

"The primary danger the GDI+ graphics library and Internet Explorer vulnerabilities pose is that these vulnerable components are present on the majority of Windows machines," said Ben Greenbaum, senior research manager at Symantec Security Response.

Important Fixes
The first important item resolves two publicly disclosed vulnerabilities in the File Transfer Protocol for Internet Information Services (IIS), the subject of numerous off-cycle security advisories in recent months. Redmond says that IIS 5.0, 5.1, 6.0 and 7.0 could all be affected by RCE bugs.

The second important item is designed to thwart spoofing attack vulnerabilities in Windows CryptoAPI.

Important item No. 3 is an RCE fix for ActiveX components used in Web traffic indexing in Windows. The fourth important item is a Windows kernel hotfix with elevation-of-privilege implications.

Watch out for important item No. 5, which addresses a potential headache for enterprise IT pros. This fix is aimed at thwarting potential denial-of-service attacks in the Local Security Authority Subsystem Service, which assigns and allocates access parameters for enterprise users.

All five important patches address Windows 7. Four of them affect every Windows OS that's currently supported. The only exception is the fifth important patch, which covers everything except for Windows 2000 Service Pack 4.

All 13 patches may require a restart.

The October security release represents the busiest patch release for IT pros in the history of Microsoft security bulletin rollouts, according to Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle. On top of that, Adobe Systems is releasing patches on the same day, he added.

"Compound today's Microsoft release with the impeding Adobe quarterly release and we are certain to see some enterprise teams become flustered," Storms said. "The key for security and IT organizations managing today's deluge of patches is to maintain focus and diligence with patch management practices."

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ballmer Promotes 'New Efficiency' Vision for IT

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer gave a keynote talk at a Microsoft event called "The New Efficiency" on Tuesday.

The presentation, broadcast from San Francisco, was a marketing pitch featuring comments from several of Microsoft's early-adopter Windows 7 customers. The event was billed as a launch of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange 2010, among other Microsoft products. A recorded version of the talk is available here.

Ballmer took the position that IT pros can do more with less and still innovate by using Microsoft products -- even in the present down economy, which he described as "a reset" or "the new normal." His position was supported by on-stage testimonials from executives at Continental Airlines, Ford, Intel and Starwood Hotels on the efficiencies to be derived from Microsoft's products.
Ballmer said that IT budgets "have been reset down" and that Microsoft would have to demonstrate how its products can help IT departments do more with less. In a Q&A session, Ballmer even suggested that restricted budgets represented a kind of "freedom" for IT departments looking to set priorities.

"One of the interesting things about budget reductions is once the new budget's in place…in a sense, the budget sets you free," Ballmer said. "You know you can't petition. We don't live in a world where it'll be very easy to petition the business for more money. So it really gets to be a question of tradeoffs. Within the new normal, the new IT budget, what really is of highest priority -- what migrations, what transition?"

Ballmer paused his talk for an on-stage presentation demonstrating how Microsoft's Office Web Apps, scheduled for release in the first half of next year, could be used to boost worker productivity while complying with corporate security requirements.

A presentation of the Outlook Web App showed how company security policies could be enforced for remote workers using DirectAccess, a feature available in the Enterprise edition of Windows 7. Per the demonstration, DirectAccess allowed a remote worker to access a document on the company server without having to use a virtual private network (VPN) connection. The remote worker used Microsoft's Excel Web App to manipulate charts -- all done using a browser.

"There was no VPN, yet the level of security was as good as a VPN," Ballmer commented about the demo.

He also gave a pitch for Microsoft's hosted applications, which amount to a form of outsourcing for many IT organizations.

"We've seen an incredible wave of interest in what we're doing with Exchange Online and SharePoint Online," Ballmer said. "The biggest part of the IT budget in every company is in running the things that you do today. Every dime you can save in the run budget becomes a dime you can reinvest in the innovate budget."

Ballmer was asked whether the down economy implied that innovation would be diminished in businesses, replaced by the concept of "good enough."

"No," Ballmer said. "The truth is, you will get pushed to be efficient. Which means you are going to take the cost out of some things [that] you are doing today to do new things -- innovative things -- for tomorrow."

Ballmer acknowledged a tough sales job ahead. He noted that most in the audience, in a quick show of hands, thought that future IT budgets would be on the decline.

Software actually appeared to be one of the better-off segments when Forrester Research took a poll of IT spending trends in the enterprise in North America and Europe. Forrester estimated that software spending would "hold steady" in the enterprise in 2009 compared with a year ago.

The report, "The State of Enterprise Software: 2009," found that enterprises had allocated about 16 percent of their IT operating budgets toward software costs in 2008, with plans to boost that spending to 17 percent in 2009. Forrester predicted a similar flat trend for "new software initiatives and projects," with spending rising from 33 percent in 2008 to 34 percent in 2009.

A separate Forrester Report, "US Enterprise Versus SMB IT Budgets in 2009," predicted that small-to-medium businesses would decline as promising business target for software vendors. The current bad economy has changed that dynamic.

"Contrary to past experience, small and medium-size business (SMB) IT spending will decline more than enterprise IT spending as SMBs bear more of the pain from the housing sector collapse and the financial crisis," wrote Andrew Bartels, author of the report.

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Bridge Connects Java to ADO.NET Data Services

Noelios Technologies released a bridge designed to let Java developers utilize Microsoft's ADO.NET Data Services.

Microsoft, which collaborated with the French consulting services firm and provided funding for the tool, announced the release on its Interoperability Blog yesterday. The bridge is based on an extension to the open source Restlet Framework, designed to allow Java developers to create RESTful applications when building Web 2.0-type applications.
ADO.NET Data Services, formerly known as Project Astoria, is a set of new features of Microsoft's .NET Framework designed to make it easier for developers to expose data sources including relational databases and XML files through a RESTful interface. It is available in Visual Studio 2008 SP1 and planned for the forthcoming Visual Studio 2010 release.

"The Restlet Extension for ADO.NET Data Services provides a high-level client API that extends the Restlet Framework’s core capability by providing access to remote data services that are hosted on ASP.NET servers or the Windows Azure cloud computing platform," said Jean-Christophe Cimetiere, a Microsoft  senior technical evangelist in the blog posting.

Java developers can use the extension’s code generator to create Java classes that correspond to data entities exposed through ADO.NET Data Services, he added. "The Java application is then able to access the data via a simple method call," he noted. "The runtime components in the Restlet engine and the extension take care of the communication between the Java client application and ADO.NET Data Services."

Jerome Louvel, a Noelios co-founder, said in a blog posting that the company's new Restlet 2.0 M5 is a high-level client that can generate Java classes from exposed metadata and manipulate those remote entities as though they were local. "The current feature scope covers most of the use cases, but keep in mind that we don’t cover all the available features available yet," Louvel noted.

Wayne Citrin, CTO of JNBridge, a competing supplier of .NET to Java bridges emphasized that point. Citron argued Noelios' bridge will offer "narrow" appeal. "If you are writing Java and are calling ADO.NET Data Services, great, but if you are calling something else or you're writing .NET code and want to call Java code, you're going to be disappointed," Citrin said in an interview.

"Not just that, this isn’t even real ADO.NET but ADO.NET Data Services, which is really pretty new," he added. Citrin said his company's JNBridgePro 4.1 already provides links to both ADO.NET and ADO.NET Data Services.

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Adobe Mobile Flash Blitz Includes iPhone Support

Adobe Systems' popular Flash platform will soon run on every major mobile device including Apple's iPhone.

The company made the surprise announcement of its iPhone support today at the end of a 90-minute opening session kicking off its annual Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles, where it launched a version of its Flash Player with a common runtime for both desktop and mobile device platforms.

A forthcoming public beta for developers of its new Flash Player 10.1 will support Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Palm webOS and early next year on Google Android and Nokia's Symbian OS.Also, Adobe and Research in Motion have agreed to co-develop a version of Flash that will run on the Blackberry. "Getting Flash on all these mobile platforms is quite a coup," said IDC analyst Al Hilwa, in an interview.
The iPhone support will be more limited than the cross-platform compatibility with the other mobile platforms announced today. Adobe's Flash Platform tooling will not let iPhone users run Flash-based content within a Web browser. Instead developers using Adobe's Flash Professional CS5 will be able to port their apps to run on the iPhone platform to run natively. 

"Within Flash Pro, I [will] have the ability to compile to the ARM processor within the iPhone," said John Loiacono, senior VP of Adobe's Creative Solutions business during the keynote presentation, attended by 4,000 designers and developers and streamed online.

"It's sort of a shim approach to be able to cross-compile native applications," IDC's Hilwa said. "If you are a developer, you can build something for the iPhone by leveraging the code you have for Flash- or Flex-based applications but that's not the same as browsing sites and being able to run that automatically."

Hilwa believes Apple will ultimately support a Web-based version of Flash for the iPhone. "I get a sense that once all those devices begin supporting Flash and everybody's behind it, it's going to be very hard for Apple not doing it," he said.

The new Flash Player 10.1 represents a key upgrade of Adobe's near ubiquitous rich Internet application runtime that includes support for HTTP streaming of video across the Flash platform.

In addition to the Flash runtime, which is nearly ubiquitous on desktop systems, Adobe is looking to give its AIR desktop runtime more appeal. The company previewed AIR 2 and said a beta will be released later this year. Adobe said 200 million have downloaded AIR to date.

The new AIR 2.0 release will add support for peer-to-peer and UDP networking and support for mass storage devices via access to the APIs of USB devices. That will enable a user to plug in say a USB-based camcorder and upload video into an application. Like Flash, Adobe's next goal is to get AIR running across both mobile and desktop devices.

"Our mission ahead with AIR is to support standalone applications for mobile so you will be able to build an app once and have it work across a variety of devices and via many application stores," Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch said during the opening session.

Adobe officials said its Open Screen Project, which now includes 50 members, should facilitate that effort. The company credits its year-old OSP in helping develop the new Flash runtime for mobile devices, desktops and optimized performance on netbooks.

"We are opening all these devices with the Flash platform, continuing to expose new capabilities on Flash Player and AIR," Lynch said.

Looking to advance the Flash developer tooling, Adobe also released the second betas of its Flash Builder and Flash Catalyst IDEs. The company released the first betas back in June (see Adobe Revamps Flash Platform). Based on the Flex Framework, Flash Builder is Adobe's Eclipse-based IDE for developing RIAs that run in Adobe's Flash and AIR environments.

Flash Builder 4 is intended to offer drag-and-drop editing, support for data-centric applications by allowing for the binding of components and grids and a more conducive tooling environment for handling workflows between developers and designers. That is enabled by Flash Catalyst, Adobe's forthcoming platform designed to let designers build user interfaces without coding.

"We made a number of improvements to the IDE to help developers better understand the component models, how to use them and what they can do," said Dave Gruber, a group product manager in Adobe's Platform Business unit, in an interview. "We' also made important refinements for the new data centric capabilities which included the data services browser where you can intersect different services in the back end, and then be able to drag, drop and bind those services directly to visual components on the surface."

The new Catalyst beta offers new feature sets designed to let developers implement video within projects. Gruber said the new beta also sports a refined user interface and an improvement in performance. "It's a much more stable release," he said.

Also today, Adobe launched LiveCycle ES2, a framework for building customized RIA interfaces to business applications and the release of ColdFusion 9, along with the beta release of a new ColdFusion Builder client and a private beta of a cloud-based version of ColdFusion Builder.

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