Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oracle Outlines Sun Integration Plan

Redwood Shores, Calif. -- With its acquisition of Sun Microsystems completed, Oracle Corp. on Wednesday laid out its plans for integrating Sun's software and hardware systems into its own product lineup.

During a five-hour press and analyst conference held at the company's Redwood Shores, Calif., corporate headquarters, Oracle executives, both old and newly arrived from Sun, revealed the fate of a number of technologies that could impact enterprise software developers, including the Solaris operating system, the NetBeans IDE and the MySQL database.

Here's a rundown:

Java: Oracle intends to not only continue supporting the Java platform and language fully, but to "revitalize" the Java developer community and to "enhance and extend the reach of the Java programming model to support emerging application development paradigms," said Thomas Kurian, Oracle's senior vice president of product development. Oracle plans to add modularity and support for multicore processing to Java Standard Edition, for example, and to provide new levels of support for Java Micro Edition with "new interaction paradigms" for mobile apps, such as multiple-touch. The Java Enterprise Edition will also get some modularity enhancements, he said, as Oracle drives the evolution of the Java EE 6 implementation.

Solaris: Sun's open source operating system will get a big boost from Oracle in the form of investment in the SPARC-Solaris server and storage bundle. Both the Solaris OS and the SPARC hardware will be integrated into Oracle's technology stack, said John Fowler, Oracle's executive vice president of hardware engineering (and a former Sun exec). Oracle is planning for four generations of UltraSPARC processors, and will enhance Solaris to support them. Ultimately, according to Fowler, Solaris will scale to run thousands of CPU threads simultaneously and handle multiple terabytes of memory.

JVMs: Oracle plans to integrate the Sun HotSpot and Oracle JRockit Java virtual machines, Kurian said.

JavaFX: Kurian said that Oracle will continue to support Sun's runtime-and-tools combo for content authors and Web developers building rich Internet applications (RIAs). JavaFX "fills a vacuum created when Oracle terminated BEA's former arrangement to bundle Adobe Flash/Flex development tooling," wrote Ovum analyst Tony Baer in a post-press-conference blog post.

MySQL: Edward Screven, Oracle's chief open-source architect, said that his company will continue to support the open-source MySQL database. Oracle views MySQL as complementary to its core database technologies, he said, not a competitive product. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison insisted that his company will do a better job of improving MySQL than its previous stewards, without mentioning Sun or the open source community. Oracle will offer MySQL through a separate sales team, while enhancing its compatibility with other Oracle software applications. "Oracle will make MySQL better," Screven said.

NetBeans: Kurian referred to Sun's well-loved integrated development environment as a "lightweight" Java IDE. He said Oracle plans to focus NetBeans on dynamic scripting languages, such as PHP and Python, while supporting its JDeveloper IDE as its strategic development environment. "There really is no need to do scripting in a Java IDE," said Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. "This might just be a way of sunsetting NetBeans."

Glassfish: Sun's Web app server will continue to get support from Oracle, but it will be offered primarily as a departmental solution, Kurian said, while Oracle's own WebLogic Server will continue to be marketed as the enterprise solution.

OpenOffice: Rather than being abandoned as some predicted, Sun's free productivity suite will continue on Oracle's product list. The company plans to invest in the applications and manage them in a separate business unit. The company plans to integrate OpenOffice with its business intelligence and content management products.

JavaOne: The annual gathering of Java jocks in San Francisco will continue as a stand-alone conference, said Oracle co-president Charles Phillips, but co-located with Oracle Openworld. Both shows are scheduled this year for Sept. 19 through 23.

Phillips kicked off the event by addressing the elephant in the room: three billboards picturing him and a woman with whom he later acknowledged having an affair that went up in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta recently.

"Hopefully you've had a slightly smoother week than I have," he said, drawing laughter and gentle applause from his audience.

Phillips said that Oracle plans to invest heavily in the integration and continuing development of Sun technologies, and to keep the brand on some products. The $2.8 billion Oracle spent on research and development in the fiscal year that ended in May will jump to $4.3 billion this year, he said. And he voiced Oracle's renewed commitment to standards and open source.

After lunch, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison took that stage solo and answered questions from the audience. After one questioner asked him about Oracle's cloud computing strategy, the occasionally hyperbolic Oracle exec indulged in a short tirade on the term. "What does cloud computing mean?" he asked his audience. "It's just computers, databases and networks. If I'm missing something, please tell me now!" He added that Oracle has been doing cloud computing for 15 years.

Ellison also harshly criticized media outlets that published recent rumors that Oracle would be laying off Sun employees. "We're hiring, not firing."

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Office 2010 Hits RC Stage

Microsoft Office 2010 reached the release candidate (RC) milestone this week, bringing the development process one step closer to the product's planned June release.

"Microsoft made a release candidate available to members in the technology adoption program (TAP). This is one of Microsoft's planned milestones in the engineering process; however they do not have plans to make this new code set available broadly," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail.

The general public currently has access to Office 2010 only as a beta release.

Release candidates follow the beta testing stages, and Microsoft typically does not introduce new features during the RC phase. Microsoft sometimes creates several RC versions before release to manufacturing (RTM), which marks the shipment of final code to the channel. The spokesperson declined to provide an estimated date for the RTM.

A month ago, Microsoft detailed pricing for Office 2010. The product will come in four main SKUs: Office Home and Student for $149, Office Home and Business for $279, Office Professional for $499 and Office Professional Academic for $99.

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Google Looks To Create Enterprise 'Buzz'

When Google launched its Buzz social networking service on Tuesday, it was clearly aimed at providing the best of Twitter and Facebook to Gmail users. But the company also said it intends to target a future release of Buzz at the enterprise.

Google launched Buzz at its Mountain View, Calif. headquarters in an event that was broadcast over YouTube. Buzz is a service centered around the Gmail inbox that automatically follows individuals via their address books. It brings many features of Twitter and Facebook using the inbox as the key entry point.

Horowitz told attendees that Google has been using Buzz internally. "We've found it invaluable. It's changed the way we communicate in the company," he said.

The company was vague about its plans to offer an enterprise edition of Buzz other than to suggest it would be an extension of its Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE).

"Our intention is to launch this as an enterprise product," said Google Vice President Bradley Horowitz. "It will change the way businesses communicate around the world."

Analysts are skeptical that Buzz will make a huge dent in the consumer market, much less the enterprise market. But even if it does take off in the consumer segment, it could face an uphill battle against the forthcoming Microsoft Outlook Social Connector, which will be offered in the upcoming Office 2010 suite.

"Google is already up against a product installed in 90 percent of all enterprises," said Burton Group analyst Guy Creese. "In fact, I see Microsoft's Outlook Social Connector much more in line with what an enterprise is looking for because it gathers information that's much more enterprise-centric."

Horowitz said Buzz will use Gmail, Google Docs and Google Sites in a "more corporate context." But Creese said enterprise adoption of GAPE to date has been small (though Google has announced some major wins, such as the city of Los Angeles late last year).

In addition to bringing together GAPE, Buzz will incorporate other Google services including YouTube, Google Voice and the Google Wave collaboration service (the latter is in beta and has received mixed reviews). By doing so, Google could also be going after SharePoint, according to observers.

Creese said GAPE has the highest potential of gaining traction among SMB users, universities and students. CMS Watch founder Tony Byrne agreed. "If there is potential for Buzz, it is likely among Google's core business clientele of very small organizations and indie consultants," Byrne said in an e-mail.

"Google is developing a habit of throwing different services against the wall to see what sticks, and lately things haven't been sticking -- at least as far as meaningfully improving enterprise information management," Byrne added.  "See, for example, Sidewiki and Wave, both released with major fanfare and then followed by dissipation of interest."

First, Google has to convince Gmail users to embrace Buzz. Jeffrey McManus, CEO of Platform Associates and the developer of, as well as a Gmail user, was already looking to shut off Buzz from day one.

"Buzz brings very little that's new to the table," McManus said. "My hope is that Google doesn't plan on rolling out this product to their Apps customers in the same way they did with their Gmail users. Tossing a new, superfluous social attention-grab right next to the inbox you use for work and then making it very unintuitive to shut off is something I'd call borderline 'evil.'"

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Microsoft Unveils Office 2010 System Requirements

Microsoft described the hardware requirements for Office 2010 late last week, and the good news is that the productivity suite should run on machines that were capable of running Office 2007.

Office 2010 will have nearly the same system requirements as Office 2007, although Microsoft added a requirement for graphics processing units (GPUs). Office 2010 should even be capable of running on netbooks, according to Alex Dubec, a program manager on the Microsoft Office Trustworthy Computing performance team.

"One of the pieces of feedback we've received from customers is that they really, really hate having to buy new hardware every time a new version of Office is released," Dubec wrote in a blog describing the new requirements.

CPU and RAM requirements did not increase this time for Office 2010. That approach contrasts with the near doubling of those requirements between Office 2003 and Office 2007 versions, Dubec noted. Microsoft plans to release Office 2010 in June, although it's currently available as a public beta release for testing.

Dubec listed Office 2010's minimum system requirements, which he defined as describing "the kind of computer that an average Office customer needs to have in order to have an acceptable experience performing typical tasks." The company is not releasing "recommended" hardware requirements because having two requirements is just too confusing to users, Dubec explained.

The minimum system requirements for Office 2010 include: Intel Pentium III processor, 500 MHz; 256 MB PC100 SDRAM; and Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3. In contrast, Office 2003 specified a 233 MHz processor and 128 MB of RAM.

Office 2010 takes up more disk space compared with Office 2007 and Office 2003, with the suites occupying an additional 1.0 GB or 1.5 GB. Reasons for the expanded disk use include the code requirements of 64-bit Office, the inclusion of OneNote, optional free trial versions of Office Professional 2010 and the use of the Ribbon user interface throughout the suite.

Unlike Office 2007, Office 2010 has a GPU requirement. Office 2010 assumes a minimum of Microsoft DirectX 9.0c-compliant graphics processors with 64 MB of video memory. This added capability helps to increase graphics rendering in Excel, as well as graphics and video integration features in PowerPoint. Computers with multicore processors will run Office 2010 even faster, Dubec said in the blog. The requirements are relatively low, he added, and will not be an issue for netbooks, which generally are capable of using up to 224 MB or 256 MB of memory.

The 32-bit versions of Office 2010 will run on a variety of 32-bit operating systems, including Windows 7, Windows Vista Service Pack 1, Windows XP SP3, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003 R2 with MSXML 6.0.

The 64-bit versions of Office 2010 will run on all 64-bit versions of Windows 7, Windows Vista SP1, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2008. They will not run on Windows Server 2003 R2 with MSXML 6.0 or Windows XP SP3.

Enterprise customers considering moving to Office 2010 likely will be interested several new features, according to Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish in a recent report. Features of note, according to McLeish, include external document collaboration in SharePoint, the option of accessing Office apps from a private cloud and the use of social networking through Outlook.

Company needs and expectations around the use of multimedia content is another factor to consider. "For marketing or companies focused on highly professional content, these capabilities [in Office 2010] will help."

In her report, McLeish wrote that there were three issues about Office 2010 that enterprises should understand:

Some applications that were written for 32-bit Office will not work in a 64-bit process.Because the Visual Basic for Applications language was upgraded to support 64-bit, and the object model has been updated, more effort for remediation may be needed for bulk conversions and migrating content.Initial use of new features may not be seamless.

Enterprises typically consider upgrading hardware and software every few years, but factors such as the economy can affect that timeline, as well as considerations about using hosted services. "There is an understanding that these are the types of investments that can probably be pushed out, so the cycle is rather delicate," McLeish said. "On the heels of the recession, we're seeing the rise of the cloud, which is disruptive to the product release cycle."

Large enterprises that have existing upgrade agreements with Microsoft should not hesitate to go ahead with Office 2010, McLeish said in an interview. Office 2010 is expected to be "relatively painless" to learn for workers already familiar with the Ribbon menu format introduced in Office 2007.

While there are alternatives to Office 2010, "the expectation is that Microsoft is investing heavily to stay ahead of the competition," she said. "It has a lot banking on Office 2010."

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Report: IT Workers May See a Bump in Pay

IT organizations are budgeting to give employees a small pay increase in 2010, according to a recent report.

Computer Economics' "2010 IT Salary Report" found that the typical IT worker will receive a 1.8 percent pay raise this year, with employees "in the trenches" receiving the highest increases. Mostly, the aim is to boost morale and retain workers during a time of budget cuts and layoffs. Developers likely will receive the largest raises, while executives and directors can expect the lowest pay hikes.

Compared with years before the recession, the 1.8 percent median pay raise could be considered meager. However, Computer Economics claims that these results show that the picture is improving for IT workers.

John Longwell, vice president of research at Computer Economics, said that the results can be seen as a positive or a negative.

"We see the beginning of a recovery in IT operational spending and hiring this year," Longwell said in an e-mail. "Raises may not be keeping pace with inflation, and there is still a lot of unemployment, but a recovery is occurring. From my perspective, wages are holding up, maybe better than expected. We think the outlook is getting brighter."

Median pay raises for IT workers increased from 2006 to 2007 (3 percent to 3.8 percent) and then declined in 2008 (3.5 percent) before plummeting in 2009 (2.0 percent), according to the Irvine, Calif.-based research firm. In comparison, a projected decline from 2.0 percent in 2009 to 1.8 percent in 2010 is much less dramatic.

Still, the expected 1.8 percent increase is not keeping up with the U.S. Consumer Price Index, which rose 2.7 percent last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Computer Economics annual salary study projects that developers will receive the highest pay raises (2.1 percent), which includes application programmers, data analysts, database administrators, business analysts, architects and others involved in the development of new systems and the maintenance of existing systems.

After developers, operations groups are expected to receive the next highest pay raises (2 percent), including computer operators, production control analysts, technical support representatives, help desk representatives, technical writers and trainers.

Near the median of 1.8 percent is network and systems support personnel, including network administrators, system administrators and Webmasters (1.9 percent), and then managers (1.7 percent). Finally, C-level executives and directors are expected to receive the smallest raises (1.3 percent).

Lower salaries for senior positions may be partly due to incentive pay and compensation packages, according to Computer Economics. However, the study indicated that this also was an acknowledgment that the recession was harder on lower level employees.

For comparison, an August 2009 study by Hewitt, an HR consulting firm, found that base salary increases for salaried exempt employees in 2009 were 1.8 percent and were expected to increase to 2.7 percent in 2010. The Illinois firm based its findings on a survey of 1,156 companies in a variety of industries.

A recent report from consulting firm Janco found that IT salaries flattened after peaking in 2007 and then they started to decline in the fall of 2008. According to that report, salaries for IT personnel increased by 0.38 percent in 2009, while midsize enterprise salaries grew by 0.11 percent.

The Computer Economics report noted that even if most IT workers receive raises, the median total compensation likely would not increase at the same rate. As companies hire new workers at lower salaries than those of the employees who were laid off, that factor could contribute to a decrease in the median salary levels.

Longwell said the report does not give insight into which job skills are most in demand. However, as development activity revives, programmers, business analysts and project managers will be in demand, as they were before the downturn, he explained.

Still, potential jobs dampening prospects loom on the horizon, especially with regard to infrastructure-type jobs.

"Longer term, infrastructure jobs like system administrators, computer operators and other people in the datacenter remain threatened by developments like cloud computing, datacenter automation and datacenter consolidation," Longwell said. "There are efficiencies to be gained."

An earlier report from Computer Economics, "Outlook for IT Staffing and Spending in 2010," published in December 2009, estimated that IT budgets would rise by a median 2 percent this year. That report predicted that 2010 would be a period of stabilization and rebuilding. Moreover, 52 percent of IT organizations surveyed in that report expected to increase their IT operational budget in 2010 over 2009. Computer Economics predicted that as long as the number stayed above the 50 percent mark, the IT spending recession was over.

"We think many IT organizations are understaffed after all the budget cutting and [are] looking to restore some of those lost positions," Longwell said. "Not all of the lost jobs will come back, but some will. We don't anticipate much wage growth, though, while the unemployment rate remains so high."

Computer Economics uses statistics collected and published by the U.S. Department of Labor to estimate median salaries, bonuses and plans for pay raises for IT personnel. The firm projects compensation for 70 specific IT job titles in 73 U.S. metropolitan areas.

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PC Makers Prepare To Challenge iPad

Now that Apple has launched its slate-based iPad computer, it remains to be seen whether the product will help or hurt the prospects of PC-based alternatives with a similar form factor.

On the eve of Apple's iPad launch last week, Hewlett-Packard released a video touting its own forthcoming slate-based PC, which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showcased in his keynote address at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Both the iPad (which won't ship for another two months) and HP's slate are thin devices with 10-inch touchscreen displays.

In the HP video, CTO Phil McKinney said his company has spent years working on its slate device, but the goal was to release something that would have mass-market appeal. McKinney argued that HP could have unveiled such a device earlier, but it would have cost upwards of $1,500.

"Our target was to get this down to be a mainstream price point, mainstream product, not a niche offering, and really be something that transforms how people enjoy their content," McKinney said.

HP's offering and Apple's iPad boast similar form factors and target applications, providing devices that let users access Web content, games, video, music, books, photos, magazines and newspapers, as well as personal productivity applications. However, there is less known about HP's entrйe than Apple's. Though it will be based on Windows 7 and incorporate the touch-based features of Microsoft's new OS, HP still hasn't disclosed what kind of processor will power its device, whether it will use flash storage like the iPad or how much it will cost. And HP is saying only that it will be available some time this year.

"PC makers are understandably hedging their bets as people decide that tablets are a form factor they want," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff. "It's amazing that Apple has reawakened this market again because tablets have been around for a long time but they've never taken off. They occupy a weird middle ground between a smartphone and a regular laptop, and in most cases, a touchscreen doesn't make sense."

Among the most notable criticisms of the iPad is that it will not have a camera, support for Adobe Flash or multitasking capabilities. But at least for now, there is pent-up demand among Web developers to bring their apps to the iPad. According to 554 respondents to a survey by Appcelerator, which offers a platform for rapidly developing native applications for mobile and desktop apps in JavaScript, HTML and CSS, 90 percent of developers intend to develop an app for the iPad within the next calendar year. Furthermore, the iPad ranks third behind only the iPhone and the Android in platforms the respondents find very interesting.

"This product is having crossover appeal between mobile and desktop developers," said Scott Schwarzhoff, Appcelerator's vice president of marketing.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from Apple last week was the iPad's entry-level price of $495, only slightly higher than many netbooks today. Though it remains to be seen whether Apple has set the "mainstream" price point referenced by HP's McKinney, it could put pressure on PC-based vendors to match with similar pricing. Consider Lenovo's forthcoming IdeaPad U1 with a $1,000 price tag or Fujitsu's LifeBook 4410, a Windows 7-based device launched in October 2009, with a starting price of $1,200.

But analysts were quick to warn against making such comparisons because all three devices have substantially different capabilities. Forrester analyst James McQuivey described the iPad in his blog as simply a "nice upgrade" to the iPod Touch, adding, "My most withering response is this: the iPad is priced lower than expected, because it is less revolutionary than expected."

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Microsoft To Disclose IE 9 Details in March

Microsoft plans to talk about Internet Explorer 9 at its MIX 10 event for Web developers next month.

IE 9 is currently unreleased, and Microsoft provided no new details about its experimental Web browser. Instead, a notice was posted indicating that Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team, will provide an update on IE 9 at MIX 10, scheduled to take place in mid-March.

IE 9 first appeared publicly in a demo at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference in November. At the PDC, Microsoft mostly demonstrated smooth scaling type in a prototype of the browser using "Direct2D" technology, a subset of Microsoft's proprietary Windows DirectX technology. Direct2D uses accelerated graphics capabilities in hardware to produce the smooth scaling effects.

Windows President Steven Sinofsky said at PDC that Microsoft was focusing on standards compliance with IE 9. He added that IE 9 would use an "accelerated JavaScript rendering engine," according to a report from the event. The Internet Explorer team planned to improve IE 9's test results using the Worldwide Web Consortium's CSS 3 recommendation and show improved performance on the Acid3 test, Sinofsky added.

The IE 9 prototype showed poor results initially on the Acid3 test, scoring 32/100 on its overall pixel rendering capabilities, according to Microsoft's IE blog. However, Microsoft has tended to be critical about the various tests used to determine browser compliance with W3C recommendations.

Lately, Microsoft has been contributing tests to various W3C working groups. The company recently joined the W3C's Scalable Vector Graphics Working Group, which develops recommendations for two-dimensional graphics rendering in browsers. Microsoft was also asked to lead the Testing Task Force for the W3C's HTML5 Working Group, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Web developers no doubt will welcome seeing a greater emphasis on standards in Microsoft's browsers. They still struggle with the legacy of IE 6, which is widely considered to be a non-standards-compliant browser and a security risk. Various campaigns asking people to stop using IE 6 have popped up, and Google recently announced that it will end support for IE 6 in March for its Docs and Sites Web applications.

Microsoft has also been encouraging users to upgrade their browsers from IE 6. However, some enterprise users still stick with IE 6 to maintain compatibility with older Web applications.

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Microsoft's Azure Cloud Service Now Available

Microsoft's Windows Azure and SQL Azure cloud services are now generally available, ending the free test period for those who signed up for commercial accounts last month.

The launch represents a key milestone for Microsoft, which has had Azure under development for several years and released it to its developers for beta testing in late 2008.

Though the platform went through numerous changes over the test period, Windows Azure and SQL Azure represent Microsoft's official challenge to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service, among other rival offerings.

"Starting today, customers and partners in countries across the globe will be able to launch their Windows Azure and SQL Azure production applications and services with the support of the full Service Level Agreements," Microsoft said on its Windows Azure Team Blog.

Microsoft's AppFabric Service Bus and Access Control will remain free until April 2010 for those that sign up for commercial subscriptions, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft last month also began offering packages for partners to deliver to customers. The company has released a comparison table of offers. Nevertheless, it's still the early days for services such as Azure and EC2, analysts note. Many large enterprises remain concerned about security and compliance issues, saying they are awaiting private cloud offerings.

"It's going to take years -- probably five years -- for customers to get comfortable enough to move some serious stuff out there," said IDC analyst Al Gillen in a recent interview.

However, a recent survey of 670 IT executives by Saugatuck Research suggests the move might happen sooner. The survey found that while only 3 percent of executives currently see cloud services as an extension of their existing internal IT infrastructures, 50 percent believe it will steadily progress into their portfolios by the end of next year. That number is expected to rise to 76 percent by year-end 2013. Only 14 percent of executives were uncertain if the cloud would become mainstream in their operations. В 

The release of Azure also sets the stage for Microsoft partners to develop and commercialize applications that they may not have had the resources to build until now, said Directions on Microsoft's Paul DeGroot.

"I don't know if it will be a big profit maker for Microsoft but it's potentially a great deal for the partner channel," he said. "Not only will you have people developing on Azure but many of them do not have delivery mechanisms."

While the official date for Azure's commercial release is today, billing will officially kick in Feb. 2 to ensure that no one in any of the different time zones across the world is charged for usage on Jan. 31, Microsoft said.

Dan Kasun, a senior director for Microsoft's public sector business, posted tips on how to keep usage costs down.

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Ballmer Pushes Cloud for Public Safety Agencies

Public safety managers must begin moving into the cloud, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Wednesday atВ the company's annual Public Safety Symposium in Redmond, Wash.

"What is the thing that's coming? What is the thing that is underdeveloped from a technology perspective?" Ballmer asked rhetorically. "There's no question that the big thing that is going on today is the shift to the cloud."

According to Ballmer, the key virtue of cloud computing that makes it especially well-suited for many organizations is that in addition to being cost-effective and scalable, "it has a fundamental assumption that software is built from the get-go with collaboration."

At the same time, Ballmer said, "the flip side to everything moving to the the development of richer and richer client-side devices that have a more natural user interface." Specifically, Ballmer pointed to the integration of speech, touch and biometrics into devices.

"So these two colossal shifts -- the shift in the cloud and the shift to a more natural interface -- are vital for industry," he said. "They will shift the way we think about software and hardware."

AlthoughВ Ballmer did not have any deployed implementations to point to, he did say that Microsoft was currently working with a number of countries and cities around the world to move its Child Exploitation Tracking System -- an information-sharing application employed by law enforcement -- into the cloud.

"If ever there was an application that would benefit from coming to the cloud so that data could really be shared by law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions, this is the application," Ballmer said. "A database of child exploiters, where you lose people at country borders, is far less effective that what we think we'll be able to do with this collaboration with a cloud-hosted solution."

Ballmer did not, however, address the primary concerns of organizations with respect to cloud computing: security and legal issues surrounding data stored on third-party servers.

Ballmer also cited other "cloudless" initiatives Microsoft had undertaken in the public safety arena in recent months, including the development of online collaboration portals employing new Bing mapping tools to respond to the crisis in Haiti. Microsoft's research team has also launched a project to deliver machine translation of Haitian Creole. In all,В he said, the company has contributed about $1.25 million in cash and software to the rescue and relief efforts in Haiti.

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Microsoft Sells the Cloud at Goldman Sachs Event

Bob Muglia's talk at a Goldman Sachs technology event on Tuesday was chock full of forward-looking statements.

Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, answered questions from a Goldman Sachs software analyst and the audience, mostly about Microsoft's cloud computing and virtualization business plans. The Q&A talk, which took place at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco, stepped over the sort of hard numbers beloved by the number-crunching crowd.

Instead, Muglia laid out Microsoft's broad vision for emerging technology trends in the next few years. Along the way, Muglia managed to work in a few digs against Microsoft's competitors.

For instance, Muglia had no kind words for Oracle, calling it the "back to the future" company. Oracle is highly vertical and limits customer choice, he said.

"Some things Oracle is doing, I just shake my head at," Muglia said. "I just don't know what they are doing with SPARC." Muglia described the SPARC processor technology, which Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems this year, as "a dying architecture."

"It's fine if they want to go off and spend a lot of money on doing it," Muglia said. "We'll just continue to sell x86 systems to our customers."

Microsoft, in contrast to Oracle, has taken a more horizontal route, he said. Oracle's approach provides an opportunity for Microsoft to strengthen its partnerships, such as with HP and Dell.

Growth areas for Microsoft over the next three years will include its Windows Server and SQL Server products, Muglia explained. He added that Microsoft's management products (such as System Center) are growing strongly. Moreover, security products (such as Microsoft's Forefront suite) are becoming substantive revenue generators.

Microsoft changed its price structure to move customers toward buying more premium products, and that change has driven revenue for the company, Muglia said. Enterprise and datacenter products have grown "north of 20 percent" since the price changes were made, he added.

Microsoft is also looking for a rebound in Windows desktop sales as companies upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. Muglia said Microsoft expects to see that happen "over the next three years."

Muglia stressed the advantages of Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud computing platform during the talk. However, he cautioned that it represents a long-term prospect for the company. Cloud computing will not be a revenue driver for Microsoft over the next three years, he said.

The important aspect about the cloud, from Microsoft's perspective, is that it will transform "the way applications are built over the next five to ten years" and "create a new model for the way hardware is built," Muglia said. Applications should always be available and be capable of scaling upward to meet an organization's needs. Microsoft is aiming to help companies transition to the cloud and it will reduce some costs along the way, such as reducing the operator-to-server ratio. Systems need to run continuously and deal with failures, and that's what the cloud does, Muglia explained.

When pressed on the question of profit margins from cloud computing, Muglia said that Microsoft would be able to extract profits by providing value-added services. Windows Azure is a platform-as-a-service play, he said. It's a step above cloud computing leader's EC2 offering, he suggested.

"Amazon, in contrast, really provides a raw virtual machine and it's roll-your-own after that," Muglia said.

Lastly, Muglia answered a lot of questions about desktop virtualization, or the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) server computing model. He was very clear that companies should not engage in desktop virtualization to save money. Instead, the principal benefits of VDI include security and control, Muglia said.

Additionally, few companies currently use VDI. Muglia said that about 1 percent of desktop virtualization is happening in the enterprise.

Muglia slammed virtualization leader VMware for suggesting that VDI saves organizations money. He said that studies do not back up such claims. There are some hardware savings, but the costs associated with managing desktops for users is the same, he said. VDI entails higher power costs as servers are built out in datacenters. Muglia also dismissed the idea of VDI for mobile use.

"The other point I'll continue to make is you don't use VDI for portables. So, for mobile workers, VDI is not a viable solution," Muglia said.

Muglia also claimed that in side-to-side comparisons between Microsoft's Hyper-V and virtualization offerings from VMware that Microsoft has a "90 percent win rate." Microsoft, although behind VMware, has a "substantial advantage" in the small-to-medium business segment, he asserted.

An audio recording of Muglia's talk can be accessed here, and a transcript (Word document) can be downloaded too.

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CA Acquires 3tera

In its latest move to beef up its portfolio of tools to manage cloud-based systems, CA on Wednesday said it has agreed to acquire closely held 3tera Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

3tera has 80 customers, primarily managed service providers but also a growing number of enterprises. By adding 3tera's AppLogic software to its mix, CA gains a well-regarded solution for building, deployingВ and securing apps that run on public, private or hybrid cloud infrastructures.

CA has made clear in recent months that building, deploying and managing systems and applications that run in the cloud are key to its strategy moving forward. To get there, CA has also recently acquired Cassatt, NetQoS and Oblicore.

3tera's AppLogic provides a graphical user interface (GUI) that lets enterprise architects, developers and systems managers provision and deploy applications across virtualized cloud infrastructures.

Those looking to design and deploy composite applications can use the GUI to draw from a catalog of virtual server components, said Vince Re, senior vice president of CA's cloud products and solutions business line "They give you that discipline and provide a really complete solution so you have a way of designing end-to-end applications," Re said.

"3tera is noteworthy because of its focus on vertically packaged applications along with relevant infrastructure parts -- so that it creates a logical package that can be scaled quickly and easily to support wide ranges of users and deployed in different geographical locations easily," said Enterprise Management Associates analyst Dennis Drogseth.

Re said AppLogic also simplifies the provisioning of apps by providing an intuitive means of creating a virtualized infrastructure. It comes with the open source Xen hypervisor, though Re said CA may add support for VMware's ESX and Microsoft's Hyper-V.

Using the GUI's drawing tool, which is similar to Microsoft's Visio, an administrator or developer can provision an app or components. AppLogic automates the movement, deployment and configuration of apps to the cloud infrastructure.

"So if you say this application runs on one app server and is connected to a particular database, it will start instances of those three components," Re said. "It will make sure they are configured correctly so they are all connected properly, and then it maps that to the underlying cloud infrastructure."

Michael Dortch, director of research at Focus, said that CA -- with 3tera and its other recent acquisitions -- will be able to offer enterprises a full suite of solutions for building, deploying, scaling, managing and securing cloud-based applications and services.

However, even if CA successfully integrates 3tera, it faces numerous challenges, including persistent negative perceptions about the company's past business practices, despite significant positive changes in recent years. Also, CA still faces the challenge of newer competitors being seen as more agile.

"3tera and CA's other recent cloud-related acquisitions form the foundation for a strong portfolio of solutions, but it remains to be seen whether CA can build upon that foundation successfully," Dortch said.

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Microsoft and Amazon Ink 'Confidential' IP Deal

Microsoft issued an announcement on Monday stating that it had signed a "patent cross-license" deal with regarding Amazon's Kindle e-reader device and the "use of Linux-based servers."

Amazon will pay Microsoft an unspecified amount of money to settle intellectual property (IP) matters. The exact terms of the deal are considered to be confidential, but the announcement still put open source Linux in the cross hairs.

"Microsoft chose to focus on Linux and open source -- distinctly calling it out from 'proprietary software' and wasn't specific about any patents," noted Jim Zemlin, executive director of the nonprofit Linux Foundation, in his blog.

Zemlin discounted the deal as a "non-news event," saying that companies make such deals all of the time and don't issue press releases about them.

Microsoft's announcement stated that the Kindle electronic book-reading device relies on "both open source and Amazon's proprietary software components," plus it uses Amazon's Linux-based servers.

Microsoft elicited controversy among open source Linux advocates when it announced a deal with Novell in November of 2006 over IP used in Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server operating system. In May of 2007, Microsoft was accused of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt over Linux licensing after a Microsoft executive claimed that Linux violated 235 of Microsoft's patents.

Until this latest announcement with Amazon, Microsoft had been relatively quiet about alleged IP violations concerning Linux. Its last effort centered on TomTom's use of Microsoft's File Allocation Table technology in TomTom's Linux-based GPS devices. The case was settled in late March of 2009.

Not all of Microsoft's Linux deals have been about remedying IP violations. The company has tended to stress Linux interoperability with Windows as a means of meeting customer needs. To that end, Microsoft signed a deal in October of 2009 with Red Hat concerning Windows Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux running on each other's virtualization platforms. No licensing or compensation agreements were announced with that deal.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Windows 7, Internet Explorer Tracked in Report

A marketing report released this week profiled two important Microsoft products, with mixed results.

The good news for Microsoft is that Windows 7 is quickly gaining in popularity. However, Internet Explorer's share of the browser market has continued to wane in the last year.

IE still retains its lead among Web browsers with a 64.8 percent market share in February of this year, according to a report by Park City, Utah-based Janco Associates. Still, IE has lost more than 6 percent compared with its position in the market in February of 2009. Meanwhile, Windows 7 has gained 12 percent of the operating system market in less than seven months since its release.

"The last six months have been a mixed bag for Microsoft," M. Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco Associates, wrote in the report announcement. "Their browser market share has fallen to [the] level that they [were at] back in 1998 with no end in sight." However, the popularity of Windows 7 has been a major factor in Microsoft's improved earnings, Janulaitis wrote.

"Windows 7 is viewed by many users as one of the better product releases that Microsoft has created in the last few years," Janulaitis noted.

Second in line in the browser competition space is the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser, which has remained steady at 17.4 percent in the last year. Google Desktop and the Chrome browser have a 5.8 percent market share (a 2.12 percent increase). Mozilla SeaMonkey and Apple Safari each have less than 2 percent, representing a slip for SeaMonkey and an increase for Safari.

Figures in the Janco Associates report tracked somewhat with those measured by Net Applications. According to Net Applications' online database, IE's market share was 62.1 percent in January 2010, having slumped from 69.2 percent in February 2009.

The browser market may soon stabilize, according to Janco Associates' report, particularly since interest in Google Desktop and Chrome has decreased with the release of IE 8.

"We feel that Microsoft will continue to see an erosion of its IE market share until it stabilizes at a level that sets a market equilibrium with room for Firefox, Chrome and the other browsers," Janulaitis wrote in an e-mail interview. "We do not yet know what that level will be -- perhaps a good guess would be between 55 and 60 percent."

While Firefox has challenged Microsoft's dominance, the report found that adoption of Firefox has stalled as IE and Chrome now offer many of the same features. Still, the report suggests a few reasons Google could gain greater browser market share. First, Chrome has a "clean" user interface. For enterprises looking for alternatives to Office 2010 and Office Web Apps, Chrome offers a way to integrate the desktop apps with the Internet. Nonetheless, the report still portrayed Google's Chrome results as disappointing.

"The door was open for Google with both Desktop and Chrome -- however, we think that door is closing," the report states.

Data from Net Applications provides a different view, showing that Google's browser market share had more than tripled over a year's time. Chrome had a 5.2 percent market share in January 2010 vs. 1.5 percent in February 2009 -- a sign of success.

Microsoft faces some stumbling blocks in the browser market, such as the release of a browser "ballot option" for the European Union, Janulaitis noted by e-mail. In addition, Microsoft must deal with equipment manufacturers aiming to get their own customized browsers loaded on new PCs.

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Microsoft Adds Virtualization Apps to MDOP 2010

Microsoft unveiled two new desktop virtualization applications as part of its bundle of tools for managing Windows 7 deployments.

The new solutions, announced on Monday, include App-V 4.6 (for application virtualization) and Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization 1.0 Service Pack 1 release candidate (MED-V SP1 RC). Both are part of a collection of six tools for Windows 7 in an updated package called "Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack 2010" (MDOP 2010).

MDOP is available to Microsoft customers with volume licensing agreements in place -- particularly those who have signed Microsoft's Enterprise Agreement and opted for Software Assurance.

The big news is that MED-V SP1 RC is now supported on Windows 7, both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Previously, it just supported Windows Vista. Microsoft plans to release the final version of MED-V SP1 in April, but the RC version is available now for general testing through the Microsoft Connect portal.

App-V 4.6 now supports 64-bit Windows client and server operating systems and is available in 11 languages. Microsoft plans to enhance App-V 4.6 by adding support for 13 more languages in April. Existing volume licensing customers can get App-V 4.6 by downloading MDOP 2010 at Microsoft's volume licensing service center. It's also available for testing by Microsoft TechNet and MSDN subscribers.

Microsoft also released terminal server support with App-V for Remote Desktop Services 4.6, which also supports 64-bit systems, available here. App-V for RDS 4.6 consolidates remote host servers and helps avoid application conflicts.

In general, Microsoft has been promoting the use of MDOP tools to overcome application compatibility issues as many organizations weigh the issues when migrating from the venerable 10-year-old Windows XP operating system to Windows 7.

App-V can be used to help resolve app compatibility issues, but it also enables faster installs (with no reboots) and quicker removals of applications, Microsoft officials claim. End users can train on a newer application without IT administrators having to remove the older version. Two different versions of the same application do not conflict on the same desktop when application virtualization is used.

Scott Woodgate, a Microsoft director of product management responsible for Windows, MDOP and desktop strategy, provided a few examples in a telephone interview. He said that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has used App-V and found that it took far less time to install an application -- from five days to five minutes.

App-V also adds some benefits when used in conjunction with Microsoft Office 2010, which is currently at the release candidate stage but scheduled for general availability in June. Woodgate claimed that Office 2010 will launch 80 percent faster when deployed using App-V. Also, App-V enables different versions of Office to coexist side by side, including 32-bit and 64-bit versions, he said.

Rather than install an application on a PC, IT pros can use App-V to create a package on the user desktop. The application then streams to the desktop when the user clicks on the package. Woodgate said that Microsoft added "share cache" technology as a new feature with App-V 4.6.

Another reason to use desktop virtualization is to support legacy applications. For instance, a common problem for IT organizations is moving off Internet Explorer 6. It's an aging browser with security issues, but many organizations still use it because of a reliance on custom-built Web-based applications based on IE 6. One solution is to use MED-V to create managed virtual machines. The virtual machines can run the older OS and older browser versions without conflict with Windows 7.

Windows 7 users will also find that neither IE 6 nor IE 7 will run on the OS -- only the IE 8 browser is supported. That's another reason to use MED-V, which allows centralized management of virtualized apps. IT pros in smaller organizations can use Windows 7's XP Mode to run earlier versions of the browser, but XP Mode doesn't allow centralized management and depends on hardware virtualization capabilities being present in the PC's CPU hardware. MED-V does not depend on chip-based hardware virtualization, so it can be run on older PCs.

More information on MED-V SP1 and App-V 4.6 can be found at Microsoft's MDOP blog and Springboard blog.

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Windows Mobile Share Drops Despite Smartphone Growth

More than 172 million smartphones were sold in 2009, an increase of nearly 24 percent from 2008, but the number of devices based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile declined 8 percent. These findings were revealed Tuesday by Gartner, which released its annual report on the mobile phone market.

Apple, Google, Nokia and Research In Motion were the biggest gainers, according to the report. Only devices based on Windows Mobile and those based on Linux mobile operating systems saw declines.

For 2010, Gartner is forecasting low double-digit growth and a competitive market specifically around mobile operating systems.

Carolina Milanesi, Gartner's research director for mobile devices, predicts Microsoft will face an uphill battle in the smartphone market, despite announcing its new Windows Phone platform last week.

"I believe that Windows Phone is a competitive platform but not a platform that stands out among what is already in the market today," Milanesi said in an e-mail. "Hence, Microsoft will have to work on advertising around its brand as well as around enriching the ecosystem offering starting with [Windows] Marketplace. By the end of the year, the OS market will be very competitive."

Apple sold nearly 25 million iPhones last year, more than double the amount it sold in 2008, and captured a 14 percent share of the global market, up from an 8.2 percent. RIM, the No. 2 provider of smartphones behind Nokia, sold 47 million BlackBerrys, a 47 percent increase. There are now 6.8 million units based on Google's Android platform, which used to be a non-factor in 2008 when it just entered the smartphone market.

Android had a late-year effect on the market with the release of the Motorola Droid. During the fourth quarter, both Apple and RIM saw fourth-quarter share declines, seemingly a result of Google's gains, according to Milanesi.

One platform that hasn't made a huge dent in the market is Palm's new webOS. Only 1.2 million new Palm devices were sold since the release of the Pre in June. That accounted for less than 1 percent of the market. Only 1.1 million devices based on "other" platforms were sold, down from 4 million in 2008.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Microsoft Promises New Approach With Windows Phone 7

Microsoft further explained its mobile strategy in a Webcast today aimed at investors.

The talk by Andrew Lees, Microsoft's senior vice president for mobile communication business, largely recapped Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 (WP7) announcement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week. At that event, Microsoft talked about executing "hard reset" on its mobile offerings.

Lees said in the conference call that WP7 is the first product resulting from a top-down shakeup in the way Microsoft will deliver its future mobile offerings. The new strategy involves setting standard hardware controls for OEMs, providing a new set of tools for ISVs and delivering a more standardized platform for mobile operators to add their own value to Windows phones.

"In the past, we've had a very closed, vertical environment in the smart phone industry where sometimes applications competed with the operating systems, and the hardware did not support certain functionality," Lees explained. "We've integrated the user experience in Windows Phone 7 and developed not just a product, but a whole new way to work together within the ecosystem."

Lees began the Webcast with a review of the new features and functionality in WP7, including the Zune-like "smart design" UI comprising "hubs" for music, photos, video, people and Office applications. Hubs, he explained, are a new way to browse the phone that results in a "delightful user experience."

WP7 will have a new operating system (vs. the current Windows Mobile 6.x OS line) and a new development platform, both of which will be detailed further at Microsoft's MIX 10 Web developer event in mid-March. Lees said that WP7 will also sport a new Web browser with enhanced elements for readability, search, mapping and using multiple tabs.

"We anticipate a very positive and a new round of evangelism at MIX," Lees said. "We are very confident that we have the right pieces in place."

An audio recording of Lees' talk can be accessed at Microsoft's investor relations Web site here.

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Microsoft Updates Azure Provisioning Tool

To help IT pros automate the provisioning and management of services deployed to the recently released Windows Azure cloud offering, Microsoft released a new version of its Windows Azure Service Management (WASM) Cmdlets for PowerShell last week. The tool is available for download on Microsoft's MSDN site.

The tool lets IT pros who script in PowerShell add new Azure management functions, such as deploying, upgrading and removing hosted services, and managing storage accounts and certificates.

"Many people have been asking for this toolset for quite a while," said Jeffery Hicks, a Windows PowerShell expert and Redmond magazine contributor. "Amazon's S3 service has had third-party PowerShell support for a while and Microsoft's offering eliminates one more adoption hurdle."

Ryan Dunn, a Microsoft developer and platform evangelist, said in a blog post last week that IT pros were looking for an "automation API that would fit into the standard toolset for IT pros. Given the adoption and penetration of PowerShell, we determined that cmdlets focused on this core audience would be the most effective way forward."

Furthermore, he noted that "since PowerShell is a full scripting language with complete access to .NET, this allows these cmdlets to be used as the basis for very complicated deployment and automation scripts as part of the application lifecycle."

Each call to the Services Management API requires an X.509 certificate and subscription ID, Dunn noted. Those provisioning apps must upload a valid certificate and have it installed on a local PC. Microsoft posted a Channel 9 video that describes the procedure.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Red Gate Launches .NET Reflector Pro, Updates Community Edition

Red Gate Software released that latest version of its free .NET Reflector 6.0.0 tool, which adds support for .NET Framework 4 and Visual Studio 2010. The company also introduced a commercial Visual Studio add-in called .NET Reflector Pro that debugs third-party assemblies even if developers do not have access to the source code.

A popular tool that's been around since the inception of the .NET Framework, .NET Reflector uses a process called 'reflection' to enable developers to decompile and disassemble code to C#, Visual Basic and IL to better understand the inner workings of .NET assemblies. The tooling is most often used to debug source code and diagnose performance issues. The latest version of the free tooling adds support for .NET 4 assemblies and enables developers to go directly to a class or method in .NET Reflector as they are working on code in Visual Studio.

According to Andrew Clarke, author of .NET Reflector: Soup to Nuts published by Red Gate's simple-talk community service:

"This current version supports query expressions and other concepts introduced in C# 3.5 but only if you select ".NET 3.5" as the optimisation within the menu (under View |Options | Disassembler | Optimization). NET 4.0 is now supported but it doesn't yet decompile to C# 4.0 language features. However, all the .NET 4 assemblies can be browsed. The Open Cache dialog now shows you all the assemblies in .NET's Global Assembly Cache (GAC)."

Red Gate Software took over development of .NET Reflector from its creator Lutz Roeder in August 2008. Licensing is still free for anyone who registers. The software is not open source, but several open source add-ins are available on Microsoft CodePlex.

.NET Reflector Pro is an optional module for purchase that allows developers to debug third party assemblies (without obfuscation) using Visual Studio tooling, including the new IntelliTrace feature that supports historical debugging in VS 2010. The professional tool is part of the .NET Reflector V6 download, and can be accessed from within Visual Studio as an extension.

Like the community version, .NET Reflector Pro supports .NET 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 3.0, 3.5 and 4, but the professional tool requires VS 2005, VS 2008 or VS 2010. Developers can trial the technology for a 14-day period before purchase. .NET Reflector Pro is $195 per user. Download .NET Reflector V6 here.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Survey Shows 60 Percent of Organizations Plan Database Upgrades in 2010-11

Database developers may be more in demand for the next year or so, judging from a new survey of 450 organizations worldwide about their database deployment plans.

That’s because more companies may be forced into infrastructure upgrades to remain competitive after 2-1/2 years of a severe economic slump, according to survey results released today by Information Technology Intelligence Corp.

The ITIC 2010 Database Deployment Trends Survey, conducted in December 2009, found that approximately 56% of respondents plan to upgrade or expand their database systems in the 2010-2011 timeframe.

Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, said in an interview that "much of the developer activity will center on building custom applications – particularly in the legal, healthcare, financial and insurance verticals.

"When it comes to mainstream developer activity, the survey found that many ISVs are focused on extending the management and security capabilities of SQL Server 2008 to provide more granular functionality," DiDio said. "There is also a lot of activity around building extensions and increasing the integration between SQL Server and other mainstream line of business server-based applications."

During this time of increased upgrades, the ongoing wars among the Big Four database vendors (Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and Sybase) are likely to escalate, according to an ITIC blog posting on the survey's findings:

"Anytime a company decides on a major upgrade, there's always a chance that they may switch providers. The DBMS vendors know this and will do their level best to lure customers to their platform, or at the very least get a foot in the door."

That may be good news for Microsoft-centric developers because the survey found that while most companies don’t change vendors during an upgrade, Microsoft SQL Server was the top choice for organizations that did switch platforms during the last three years: "Database defectors chose to migrate to SQL Server by a two-to-one margin over the nearest competitor, Oracle."

Generally speaking, DiDio said, "the survey respondents expressed enthusiasm and high regard for the continual feature/function and performance enhancements in SQL Server. They also gave Microsoft high marks for providing excellent documentation and development tools for the platform."

However, DiDio said, independent software vendors will be challenged by "the inherent degree of difficulty in building, testing and debugging third party or customized applications to run on the newest version of SQL Server 2008."

DiDio said other challenges faced by developers include:

Trying to get third-party application providers to support the newest versions of the market leaders SQL Server, Oracle, IBM’s DB2 and Sybase in a timely fashion.Designing redundancy for SQL Server applications -- many third-party applications do not yet support the SQL Server 2008 mirroring capabilities. Developers have to build workarounds and then make sure that the code works and seamlessly interoperates with the rest of the environment. This is extremely design and work intensive, consuming precious manpower and R&D resources. Many third-party applications lag at least one version behind the latest version of the database. Developers have three choices: to try and pressure the specific ISV to hurry up and support SQL Server 2008; to build custom extensions to the application; or wait for the ISV to provide support.

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Microsoft-Yahoo Search Deal Gets Regulatory Approvals

Microsoft and Yahoo got approvals from U.S. and European regulators to proceed with their search-advertising business deal.

The companies announced on Thursday that they will now begin implementing the terms of the agreement. Microsoft plans to integrate its Bing Internet search technologies into Yahoo's Web sites. Yahoo, for its part, will become the "exclusive" sales agent for both Microsoft's and Yahoo's search-advertising efforts.

At one point, Microsoft had floated a proposal to buy all of Yahoo, but that deal collapsed over the price.

Under the current arrangement, Microsoft will allocate $100 million to $200 million for turnaround costs in the first year to help with the technical integration details. The deal will bolster Microsoft's Internet search market share, which greatly lags market-leader Google. Monetization of search comes through scaling up market share, which is the main aim of the deal, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer has explained.

Google currently has a commanding search lead, with about 86 percent of searches worldwide using its search engine, according to a Net Applications' Marketshare estimate. The Microsoft-Yahoo deal will add Yahoo's 6 percent global search share to Microsoft's current search share.

Marketshare estimates Microsoft's Bing use at just 3 percent use, and it's currently measured for the U.S. market only.

Microsoft's Online Services Division, of which Bing is part, has been a consistent loss leader for Microsoft. Still, Bing has gained market share every month, according to a recent talk by Bill Koefoed, Microsoft's general manager of investor relations. Microsoft built Bing after hiring away several key Yahoo executives and engineering talent, including Dr. Qi Lu, who now heads Microsoft's Online Service Group.

According to the joint Microsoft-Yahoo announcement, the two companies expect to complete an "algorithmic search" transition in the U.S. market by the end of this year. Microsoft and Yahoo plan to move U.S. advertisers and publishers onto the new search-ad platform by the holiday season at earliest.

Worldwide, customers and partners are expected to transition to the new search-ad platform by "early 2012," according to the announcement.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Report Profiles Top Software Security Coding Errors

A new study describes the top 25 programming errors that can open up security holes in software.

The free study, published on Wednesday, lists oversights that can lead to denial-of-service attacks, data theft, or control of a system by hackers. The document, "2010 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors," aims to educate programmers and software users about the security risks that may arise from such errors.

The study is a collaboration between the nonprofit MITRE Corp., which manages cyber security research for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the SysAdmin, Audit, Network and Security (SANS) Institute. It includes information collected by the SANS research group as well as MITRE's Common Weakness Enumeration data.

The top five programming errors include:

"Failure to preserve Web page structure," which leads to cross-site scripting attacks;"Improper sanitization of special elements used in an SQL command," which leads to SQL injection attacks;"Buffer copy without checking size of input," leading to buffer overflow problems;"Cross-site request forgery," where Web server requests can masquerade as if from another user; and "Improper access control," which can lead to compromised user authorizations on a system.

Cross-site scripting is the practice of embedding malicious script into a Web page that can execute when users visit the page. To ward off such attacks, the report recommends using frameworks and libraries to control output, including "Microsoft's Anti-XSS library, the OWASP ESAPI Encoding module, and Apache Wicket." Programmers should use strong character encoding and set the browser cookie session to HttpOnly.

SQL injection attacks come via "improper sanitation" during the execution of SQL commands, according to the report. They can change the logic of queries used for authentication, allowing security to be compromised. The report suggests using "persistence layers such as Hibernate or Enterprise Java Beans." Developers should implement a whitelist of acceptable query strings for the application, rejecting all strings that don't conform.

Buffer and stack overflows are old and common problems for coders. The program tries to move more data into a buffer than the buffer can hold. The report recommends using languages with built-in memory management, such as Perl and Java. Programmers can inadvertently disable the overflow protections that exist in other languages, such as C#. They should double check the buffer size in memory when writing their applications.

Cross-site request forgery allows requests to a Web server to masquerade as if from another user. It can lead to "data disclosure or unintended code execution," according to the report. To ward off such exploits, anti-CSRF packages should be used, such as OWASP CSRFGuard.

Access control problems in software can lead to information leaks and other security problems. Programmers should set privileges and map roles associated with data access and software functions.

Roger Halbheer, Microsoft's head of software security for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, called the report "scary" in a blog post. Microsoft -- which is no stranger to patching security vulnerabilities in its own software -- has implemented an in-house development approach to ensuring software is properly built called the "security development lifecycle." Halbheer recommended using that approach for all organizations developing their own software.

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Microsoft To Disclose IE 9 Details in March

Microsoft plans to talk about Internet Explorer 9 at its MIX 10 event for Web developers next month.

IE 9 is currently unreleased, and Microsoft provided no new details about its experimental Web browser. Instead, a notice was posted indicating that Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team, will provide an update on IE 9 at MIX 10, scheduled to take place in mid-March.

IE 9 first appeared publicly in a demo at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference in November. At the PDC, Microsoft mostly demonstrated smooth scaling type in a prototype of the browser using "Direct2D" technology, a subset of Microsoft's proprietary Windows DirectX technology. Direct2D uses accelerated graphics capabilities in hardware to produce the smooth scaling effects.

Windows President Steven Sinofsky said at PDC that Microsoft was focusing on standards compliance with IE 9. He added that IE 9 would use an "accelerated JavaScript rendering engine," according to a report from the event. The Internet Explorer team planned to improve IE 9's test results using the Worldwide Web Consortium's CSS 3 recommendation and show improved performance on the Acid3 test, Sinofsky added.

The IE 9 prototype showed poor results initially on the Acid3 test, scoring 32/100 on its overall pixel rendering capabilities, according to Microsoft's IE blog. However, Microsoft has tended to be critical about the various tests used to determine browser compliance with W3C recommendations.

Lately, Microsoft has been contributing tests to various W3C working groups. The company recently joined the W3C's Scalable Vector Graphics Working Group, which develops recommendations for two-dimensional graphics rendering in browsers. Microsoft was also asked to lead the Testing Task Force for the W3C's HTML5 Working Group, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Web developers no doubt will welcome seeing a greater emphasis on standards in Microsoft's browsers. They still struggle with the legacy of IE 6, which is widely considered to be a non-standards-compliant browser and a security risk. Various campaigns asking people to stop using IE 6 have popped up, and Google recently announced that it will end support for IE 6 in March for its Docs and Sites Web applications.

Microsoft has also been encouraging users to upgrade their browsers from IE 6. However, some enterprise users still stick with IE 6 to maintain compatibility with older Web applications.

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Microsoft To Release New SQL Server Service Packs

Microsoft on Friday announced when it will release new service packs for two of its SQL Server products.

The company plans to release new service packs for both SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2005. Service Pack 2 for SQL Server 2008 will be released sometime in the third quarter of this year. Microsoft plans to release Service Pack 4 for SQL Server 2005 in the fourth quarter of this year.

The release of SP4 for SQL Server 2005 likely will be the last service pack for this product, according to Matthias Berndt, group program manager for Microsoft SQL Server, in a blog post. SQL Server 2005 will enter its five-year "extended support" phase on April 13, 2011. During the extended support phase, Microsoft drops support associated with licensing programs, as well as no-charge support, although security updates will continue to be delivered. The details are described at the Microsoft support lifecycle page.

Longtime Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley claimed in a story posted on Tuesday that Berndt revealed "Denali" to be the code name for the next version of Microsoft's relational database management system after SQL Server 2008 R2 (which is code-named "Kilimanjaro"). However, at press time, that name was missing from Berndt's blog post. Possibly, it was a mistake that was corrected, as Foley herself acknowledges that Microsoft has used Denali before as a code name for Active Server Pages.

A compendium of Microsoft product lifecycle support dates, produced by an exiting Microsoft employee, predicted that SQL Server 2011 will be released to manufacturers on July 1, 2011. That list may or may not be accurate for Microsoft products yet to be announced. However, at least one item tracks fairly closely; Microsoft has confirmed that it will release SQL Server 2008 R2 in May of this year and the list shows an RTM date for that product of "Tuesday, June 1, 2010."

In other SQL Server news, Microsoft released its "SQL Server 2008 R2 Update for Developers Training Kit" earlier this month. The kit includes a number of resources for developers, such as demos, hands-on labs, presentations and videos. It's supported on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and works with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate 2010 Beta 2.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Microsoft's Embedded OSes Get Windows 7 Branding

Microsoft changed its product naming scheme for its embedded operating system family, taking a cue from its Windows 7 desktop OS.

Embedded Windows products will follow the numbering approach that Microsoft adopted with Windows 7, the company announced on Tuesday. To underscore that change in approach, Microsoft has given Windows Embedded Standard 2011 a new name, calling it "Windows Embedded Standard 7."

The name change comes after Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 on Monday, yet another "7" product in what appears to be a lucky 7 streak -- at least in the game craps. Microsoft has followed various product naming conventions for Windows, favoring names (such as Vista and XP) instead of numbers for the last eight years.

Microsoft also announced on Tuesday that Windows Embedded Standard 7 is currently available as a release candidate (RC) build, meaning that most of the features have been baked into the OS. The RC can be downloaded now by signing up to test it at the Microsoft Connect portal. The final product will be released to manufacturers sometime in the spring of this year, according to a Microsoft spokesperson via e-mail.

The earlier community technology preview version should be removed first before installing the RC version of Windows Embedded Standard 7, according to a Microsoft blog.

The new naming scheme also applies to Windows Embedded Compact (formerly known as Windows CE). The name of the compact OS now gets changed to "Windows Embedded Compact 7." It will be released sometime this year, the spokesperson indicated.

Similarly, Windows Embedded Automotive is now called "Windows Embedded Automotive 7."

Microsoft's embedded OSes are designed to run on devices and kiosks, with developers selecting only the components that they need to make them work. This componentization enables developers to create smaller footprints for specialized hardware.

Windows Embedded Standard 7 is based on the Windows 7 client OS and will support both x86- and x64-based hardware. Windows Embedded Compact 7 is designed for smaller footprints (300 kb) on consumer and enterprise devices, supporting x86, ARM, MIPS and SH4 processors. Windows Embedded Automotive 7 is an open embedded OS platform specialized for car equipment manufacturers.

For its partners, Microsoft plans to issue "new product logos and marketing materials" reflecting the name changes "soon," the spokesperson indicated.

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Microsoft Issues Fixes for Outlook 2010 Beta Bug

Microsoft on Thursday announced fixes for its Outlook 2010 beta to address an e-mail message bloat problem.

The bloat stems from the use of numbered and bulleted lists in e-mail messages. Outgoing messages containing such lists will bulk up with "redundant CSS definitions." Consequently, mail services that limit the size of incoming messages may not display the messages correctly, according to Microsoft's Outlook 2010 blog.

Patches for both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the Outlook 2010 beta can be accessed here.

The fixes actually apply to Microsoft Word 2010 beta and are also available via the Microsoft Download Center as Knowledge Base article KB980028. Microsoft's Jeanne Sheldon explained in the Outlook 2010 blog that "though the problem is most readily manifested in Outlook, the root cause is in Word 2010."

Applying the patch will eliminate the bloat caused by future incoming messages, but it does not fix e-mails already received. Microsoft recommends running Outlook 2010's "conversation clean up" feature to reduce the mailbox size. The clean up feature removes older message threads while retaining the most current message in a thread, as described in this blog.

Microsoft fixed this bug in the release candidate version of Office 2010, according to a blog. However, the general public doesn't have easy access to the release candidate version as it was privately released to testers earlier this month.

The Office 2010 beta can run on the same hardware that was used to run Office 2007, according to Microsoft. Older versions of Office do not have to be removed before installing the beta, but Microsoft adds a couple of caveats. First, the Outlook 2010 beta does not play well with other versions of Outlook installed on the same machine. Second, SharePoint Workspace (formerly known as "Microsoft Office Groove 2007") does not coexist with earlier versions.

Microsoft recommends selecting the "custom installation" option of the Office 2010 beta installation program if users want to exclude Outlook 2010 and SharePoint Workspace to avoid conflicts with older versions of those programs. Otherwise, the "express installation" option will add those applications.

Important details to know before installing the Office 2010 beta are described in this blog.

Office 2010 is expected to become generally available in June. Betas for a number of Microsoft's 2010-branded products were released in November.

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Developers Await Windows Phone 7 Specs

While Microsoft gave a long-awaited preview yesterday of its next-generation platform for smart phones, it plans to effectively scrap Windows Mobile 6.x  in favor of  the Zune-centric Windows Phone 7 Series, raising new questions for ISVs, partners, developers and enterprise customers.

Critics of Microsoft's mobile efforts to date praised the concept of the new Windows Phone 7 Series, though they said it remains to be seen whether the company will execute on its strategy. Fueling skepticism is a lack of information on the technical underpinnings of the new platform and what it means for applications based on the current Windows Mobile platform developed by enterprises and partners.

Microsoft said yesterday those details will be disclosed at next month's MIX 10 conference in Las Vegas. "At the end of the day, I think we all understand that in the business of information technology, software and creativity and the innovation of developers is absolutely fundamental," said Microsoft CEO Ballmer during a press conference held at the World Mobile Congress show in Barcelona. "We really raised the platform on which people can build, the operating system and the set of integrated services that people can extend; a new foundation with a rich set of development tools."

But Microsoft is intentionally refraining from providing any details about those tools and code underneath the new platform, emphasizing that information will come out at MIX. "We’re gonna be keeping the wraps on the full developer story until then," wrote Microsoft's Charlie Kindel, who is responsible for overseeing the application platform for Windows Phone 7 Series, in a blog posting.

Microsoft officials all but suggested Windows Mobile 7 Series is not based on the Windows Mobile 6.x code. "You will see us continue to invest in our Windows Mobile 6.5 offering but we start a whole new generation here with the arrival of Windows Phone 7 Series," Ballmer said.

"I think probably what's going on is it’s a complete break with Windows Mobile 6.5," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff. "They know that news might not be received well by application developers so they are trying to figure out what the portability story will be."

While some developers may bemoan a strategy that affects backward compatibility, others suggest Microsoft needed to start with a new slate. "I’m really impressed that Microsoft went back to the drawing board with Windows Mobile/Smart Phones," said independent developer and Microsoft MVP Julie Lerman, in an e-mail. "Integrating Microsoft-specific apps like the Zune, OneNote, Xbox is a brilliant move."

The lack of details was nonetheless unnerving to some developers. "While the device displayed at WMC was impressive, I'll need to reserve judgment until MIX when the developer and marketplace stories are unveiled," said developer, speaker and Microsoft MVP Jim Wooley.

It has been presumed that Microsoft's next mobile platform would support Silverlight but Microsoft did not disclose whether it will appear in Windows Phone 7 Series. "If they were to add Silverlight support, they would have a robust compact framework with a large developer base ready to build a variety of gaming, social and business apps," Wooley said. "This would allow the platform to explode. This is the key piece that I'm still waiting to find. Once that appears, then the puzzle should be complete."

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Office for Mac 2011 To Get the 'Ribbon' UI

Microsoft's controversial "ribbon" user interface will be coming to the Apple Macintosh platform when Office for Mac 2011 arrives sometime this year.

Microsoft provided fresh details about Office for Mac 2011 in conjunction with Macworld 2010, which is happening this week in San Francisco. In addition to the ribbon UI, Office for Mac 2011 will have a bevy of new Windows Office-like features and functionality, including co-authoring tools, Office Web Apps and "Outlook for Mac," which replaces Entourage. Microsoft's announcement did not specify exactly when Office for Mac 2011 will be generally available.

The sometimes maligned ribbon interface was introduced in Office 2007 and now is incorporated in a variety of Microsoft offerings. It has elicited mixed reactions among users.

"Any time you change a user interface, there will be users who are disrupted," said Sheri McLeish, an analyst at Forrester Research, in a telephone interview. "I think the jury is still out on the ribbon interface, but at the time it was introduced, there were few alternatives [to Office], so people have had to adjust to it."

In a telephone interview last year, Kirk Koenigsbauer, general manager for the Office Business Platform Group, said that Microsoft received "tremendous support for the Ribbon UI….This common navigational element makes it much easier to navigate multiple programs." Koenigsbauer made the statement after Microsoft rolled out its various 2010 product betas, including Office 2010, the Windows version of Office that is expected to be generally available in June.

Office for Mac 2011 will utilize features popular in the current Office for Mac 2008 version, including the "elements gallery," a floating pallet of formatting tools.

"I use, and actually prefer, Mac Office Word for my work," said Michael Cherry, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, in a telephone interview. "It has a floating pallet of formatting tools that I find very convenient. The pallet does not exist in Windows Office Word."

Microsoft is replacing its Entourage e-mail, calendar and contacts application with Outlook for Mac when Office for Mac 2011 is released. In addition, Office for Mac 2011 will let users import Windows-based Outlook files (.PST) into the Outlook for Mac version, according to Microsoft's announcement.

"One of the best improvements in the new Mac Office is the ability to port .PST files from Outlook [Windows]," McLeish said. "That was a little known, but critical, feature that allowed Windows users to port contacts and files to other machines, or versions of Microsoft programs. In current versions of Mac Office you can only save those files locally."

The new co-authoring tools in Office for Mac 2011 will allow multiple users to work on Word, PowerPoint and Excel files from multiple locations and across platforms. Office for Mac 2011 will also connect to Microsoft Office Web Apps, allowing users to share Office docs through any machine with a browser.

"Microsoft Office is one of the best-selling applications for Apple computers," said Cherry. "This version, which looks to provide better compatibility with Microsoft products and across platforms, bodes well for users like me that use both types of computers on a daily basis."

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Hefty February Security Patch Arrives

Microsoft's February security update marks another notable Patch Tuesday, with 13 patches addressing more than 26 vulnerabilities in Windows and Microsoft Office.

Of the 13 fixes on the slate, five are rated "critical" and seven are considered "important," with one lone "moderate" item included in the patch. Nine of the patches have remote code execution (RCE) exploit considerations. The remaining fixes address either elevation-of-privilege or denial-of-service risks.

As one security observer pointed out, this February release could have been the biggest in Microsoft's history. However, Microsoft left Internet Explorer out this month's slate of fixes, even though Microsoft issued an off-cycle patch in January and a new advisory for Internet Explorer in early February.

"Microsoft's February 2010 [security update] was slated to be the biggest release for Microsoft patches in the last two years -- 14 bulletins addressing 34 vulnerabilities," explained Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer at Qualys. "But the Google/CN Internet Explorer zero-day forced Microsoft to accelerate the testing of the planned IE bulletin and release it early, still in January. That leaves 13 bulletins covering 26 vulnerabilities for the February release, which constitutes one of the bigger patch Tuesdays."

Critical Items
The five critical fixes in the patch affect pretty much every supported version of the Windows operating system family. The first critical item returns to familiar territory --namely, the Server Message Block (SMB) component in Windows.В В 

"Based on the number of SMB bugs fixed in 2009 and the recent disclosure of a bug in SMB affecting Windows 7 and 2008 -- plus the two bulletins today -- it's a safe bet that Microsoft is making a focused effort to eradicate SMB bugs in its products," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle. "A lot of people will be disappointed that the public SMB bug disclosed in mid-November was not patched today. The obvious answer to 'why' is that this bug is not the most important. It makes you wonder, though, what else could be looming on the horizon for SMB."

The second critical item affects Windows Shell Handler. This fix resolves a privately reported vulnerability in Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Critical item No. 3 is a cumulative security update for ActiveX killbits, addressing a privately reported vulnerability affecting Microsoft Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Microsoft deems this fix to be important for Windows Vista and Windows 7 and moderate for Windows Server 2003, while it's ranked "low" for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

"Killbit is back again, now affecting not only Microsoft but third parties," said Josh Abraham, a security researcher with Rapid7. "The new affected software includes Google Desktop Gadget, Facebook Photo Updater, Symantec WinFax Pro and Panda ActiveScan Installer."

The fourth critical item addresses an RCE vulnerability associated with TCP/IP in Vista and Windows Server 2008. The fifth and final critical item deals with DirectShow, in which the exploit in question could allow an RCE attack if a user, according to Microsoft, opens a "specially crafted Audio-Video Interleave (AVI) file." This fix affects every known Windows OS.

Important Items
First up in the important slate of security updates is a cumulative fix for vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office. The vulnerabilities, left unpatched, could allow RCE attacks if a user opens a specially crafted Word, Excel or PowerPoint file.

Important item No. 2 addresses six privately reported vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office's PowerPoint presentation app. However, a fix for PowerPoint Viewer 2003 isn't included in the February patch.

"It is important to note that PowerPoint Viewer 2003 is affected by this vulnerability, but Microsoft is not releasing a patch for this version of the viewer," said Jason Miller, data and security team leader at Shavlik Technologies. "Microsoft is stating the product has reached the end of its lifecycle and will not have any future security patches. You should identify all PowerPoint 2003 Viewers on your network and upgrade them to PowerPoint 2007."

Important item No. 3 is said to resolve privately reported vulnerabilities in Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor, which comes with Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

The fourth important item targets vulnerabilities in Microsoft's Windows Client/Server Run-time Subsystem (CSRSS) in Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Important item No. 5 is another SMB fix. Left unpatched, this vulnerability could allow an RCE attack if "an attacker created a specially crafted SMB packet and sent the packet to an affected system."

The sixth important item will be especially useful for Windows helpdesk specialists. It addresses maliciously configured ticket renewal requests sent specifically through the Windows Kerberos domain from "an authenticated user on a trusted non-Windows Kerberos realm," according to the bulletin.

The seventh and last important item addresses elevation-of-privilege attack risks in the Windows kernel. Microsoft explained in the bulletin that "the vulnerabilities could allow elevation of privilege if an attacker logged on to the system and then ran a specially crafted application."

Moderate Item
Lastly, the lone moderate item describes what might happen if RCE exploits were triggered by a user opening and viewing a specially crafted JPEG image file using the graphics program Microsoft Paint. This fix only addresses vulnerabilities on the Windows 2000 and Windows XP operating systems.

All of the fixes in this February security update may require a restart to complete.

IT administrators who still have time after applying all of these fixes can check out this Knowledge Base article. It describes nonsecurity updates arriving via Windows Update, Microsoft Update and Windows Server Update Services.

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