Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Windows 8 Preview Unveils New App Model


Windows 8 Preview Unveils New App Model

Microsoft offered a first look at its Windows 8 operating system and its new touch-enabled interface designed to run apps based on HTML5 and JavaScript.

Microsoft unveiled its next operating system, code-named "Windows 8," at the All Things Digital D9 Conference this week. Windows 8 is designed to run on multiple form factors including tablets, laptops and desktop PCs.

Windows 8 applications will be optimized for a touch-screen user interface. The Start screen looks a lot like the tile-based interface found on Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. The familiar Windows start button no longer exists. It is replaced with "live tiles" that show updated information from social media, services and running apps. One of the tiles connects to what appears to be an app store.

Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live Division, said at D9 that Microsoft is introducing a new app model for Windows 8 applications based on HTML5 and JavaScript, which will be discussed in more detail at Microsoft's BUILD conference in September in Anaheim, CA. BUILD is a one-time event for developers, according to Microsoft, that will replace this year's Professional Developers Conference.

Windows 8 will support applications that currently run on Windows 7, and users will see that same familiar Windows 7 interface for those apps. The Windows 8 applications will be optimized for a touch-screen user interface, and other sensors in devices, although keyboard and mouse inputs will also work, according to Microsoft. Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps describes this approach as a "touch first" emphasis for developers. Windows 7 supports touch, but it lags somewhat in current tablet designs, she indicated.


Windows 8 Preview Unveils New App Model

[Click on image for larger view.]  

The Windows 8 start screen uses a tile-based UI approach, like the Windows Phone 7 OS. 

Microsoft described new libraries and controls for developers "designed for fluid interaction and seamless connectivity." For instance, the file picker control can be used to get info from an independent software vendor's application or from another Windows 8 application, and also tap the "local file system and the network."

Microsoft's Sinofsky told All Things Digital reporter Ina Fried that Microsoft had been planning the new OS ever since Windows 7's completion in July 2009 and that Microsoft was "influenced" by mobile phones in creating Windows 8. Sinofsky, along with Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president for the Windows experience, told D9 Conference hosts and journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher that Windows 8 represents the biggest Windows change since Windows 95, according to a transcript.

As noted in January at the Computer Electronics Show, Microsoft has designed Windows 8 to run on system-on-chip architectures, including x86 (AMD, Intel) and ARM Holdings designs. Chip partners include AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. It's thought that Windows 8 on ARM chips will open up new possibilities for low-power devices with different form factors. However, it's not clear if current Windows 7 applications will be easily ported to the new ARM-based hardware. Intel last month raised questions on that point, but Microsoft objected that Intel's comments were inaccurate and misleading.

Microsoft has not yet said when Windows 8 will appear on the market. CEO Steve Ballmer dropped the year 2012 for Windows 8's release, but Microsoft spokespersons later characterized his comment as a "misstatement." Epps suggested that if Microsoft can get Windows 8 to market in 2012, it will "stave off defection from OEM partners to alternative operating systems, and from consumers and enterprises tempted by Apple's platform."

Microsoft's bloggers have just gotten started sending out additional information about Windows 8. For a summary thus far, check out this Microsoft blog. Information on Microsoft's new upcoming Build conference for developers can be found here, where registration is currently open.

Microsoft describes Windows 8 in greater detail in this video.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Microsoft Plans to Support USB 3.0 in Windows 8


Microsoft Plans to Support USB 3.0 in Windows 8

The company is tasked with supporting the emerging USB 3.0 technology while also trying to stay compatible with its earlier USB software efforts.

Microsoft announced on Monday that it expects the Windows 8 operating system to support emerging Universal Serial Bus 3.0 (USB 3.0) technologies.

USB 3.0 is a high-speed interface specification for data transfer between devices, promising data transfer rates of up to 4.7 Gbps, or about 10 times the speed of the current USB 2.0 standard. The technology is also called "SuperSpeed USB."

Dennis Flanagan, Microsoft's director of program management for the Devices and Networking group, explained in the Building Windows 8 blog how Microsoft approached engineering issues on emerging USB 3.0 technology while also trying to stay compatible with Microsoft's earlier USB software efforts.

Flanagan didn't exactly promise that new PCs running Windows 8 would support USB 3.0. However, since Windows 8 is estimated to arrive in mid-2012 or 2013 sometime, the timeline for delivery seems about right.

Intel released important technical specs for USB 3.0 in August of 2008 as part of a USB Promoter Group. That technical group also included the efforts of AMD, HP, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, Nvidia, NXP Semiconductors, Texas Instruments and Via Technologies. Since that time, it had been a race to market by hardware vendors. At the January Computer Electronics Show this year, the first certified USB 3.0 products were announced.

Microsoft, for its part, collaborated with hardware partners on the USB 3.0 designs. An in-house device called the "Microsoft USB Test Tool" (MUTT) was created to simulate device behaviors and test USB 3.0 compatibility. According to Microsoft's blog, MUTT is representative of about "1,000 devices on a USB thumb drive." Later, Microsoft shared MUTT with its hardware partners, the blog indicated.

Such a massive degree of testing was indicated because USB 3.0 is designed to be backward compatible across earlier USB 2.0 and USB 1.0 specifications.

"Our customers have grown accustomed to expecting new version of Windows to work with their existing devices and drivers," explained Flanagan in the blog, adding that Microsoft was extending that commitment across Windows 8.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Microsoft Office 2010 SP1 Released


Microsoft Office 2010 SP1 Released
Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint Foundation 2010 on Tuesday.  Service Pack 1 (SP1) rolls up the fixes and updates since the Office suite and SharePoint were released in June 2010.

The release of SP1 comes on the same day that Microsoft officially launched the latest version of its cloud-based Office suite, now called Office 365. The cloud based suite is available today in 40 markets worldwide, according to the company. Licensed users can collaboratively use Office 365 with Office 2007 SP2 and later versions of the desktop suite.

Microsoft already released SP1 for Office for Mac 2011, according to an announcement by the company in April.

SP1 for Office 2010 includes a roll-up of previously released updates, plus some new fixes, according to Microsoft's announcement, which provides the download links listed by program. With regard to the new fixes for Excel, Word, PowerPoint and other Office 2010-associated apps to be found in SP1, Microsoft describes them all in this list (Excel download). SP1 for Office 2010 contains "Cumulative Updates released through April 2011 and all Public Updates released through June 2011," according to Microsoft.

SP1 for SharePoint 2010 and the free SharePoint Foundation 2010 includes cumulative updates through April 2011. The service pack adds new support for Microsoft's next SQL Server, code-named "Denali," according to Microsoft's documentation (download required). On top of that, continued support is provided for SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2005.

SP1 for SharePoint 2010 now offers browser support for "Internet Explorer 9 in Internet Explorer 8 Standards Mode," according to Microsoft's documentation. In addition, new support for the Google Chrome browser was added.

Microsoft added a new "shallow copy" data migration capability in the SP1 for SharePoint 2010 that will move structured data across databases while leaving the BLOB store as originally configured. Shallow copy functionality is carried out using the PowerShell "Move-SPSite" command. To use this feature, the Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Remote Blob Store must be installed.

Microsoft added a site recycle bin in the SP1 for SharePoint 2010. It allows site collections to be restored if they have been inadvertently deleted by users.

The StorMan.aspx page, which helped users estimate their site storage quotas, originally had been removed from SharePoint 2010 by Microsoft. However, the company has now restored it with SP1, calling it an "improved" version.

For those with Windows Automatic Update turned on, Microsoft will deliver SP1 "as a manual download" at first. However, after a 90-day "grace period," it will be delivered automatically. Users of Microsoft's click-to-run technology will get SP1 automatically delivered starting in July, according to the announcement.

Microsoft recommends that users who install SP1 for SharePoint 2010 also apply the June 2011 cumulative update, which will arrive "in the coming weeks," the announcement explained.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Windows Phone SDK Release Candidate Goes Live for "Mango" App Submissions


Windows Phone SDK Release Candidate Goes Live for "Mango" App Submissions

The Mango 7.1 SDK Release Candidate supports a Go Live license that enables developers to submit their apps to the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Microsoft promised Windows Phone developers in July, when the first major update to its operating system was released to manufacturing, that the App Hub would start accepting Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" apps for Marketplace certification in late August.

The company appears to be on schedule. Microsoft released the Windows Phone "Mango" 7.1 SDK Release Candidate, which includes a Go Live license on Tuesday and announced that it is now accepting "Mango" app submissions for the revamped Windows Phone Marketplace.

Developers who used the earlier version of the SDK may have to recompile and test their apps before publishing them to the Marketplace via SDK 7.1 RC, according to a Microsoft blog post.

This new RC version of the kit will support the previous build 7712 of Windows Phone 7.5, according to the blog. That build is described by Microsoft as a "beta 2 refresh" version of the mobile OS, which Microsoft released in late July. However, SDK 7.1 RC uses an emulator that supports the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) build of Mango, which is build 7720.

If all of that is confusing to think about -- that is, getting an SDK 7.1 RC that uses the RTM build -- Microsoft has issued the ultimate caveat to developers.

"It's important to remember that until the phone and mobile operator portion of Mango is complete, you're still using a pre-release on your retail phone -- no matter the MS build," explained Cliff Simpkins in a Microsoft blog post.

That comment appears to mean that developers need to know what multiple hardware partners and multiple mobile service providers have done to Mango during their testing in order for developers to complete their apps. It's not clear how developers get access to such information beforehand.

For consumers, the pace of Mango's release will be determined by Microsoft's hardware and mobile operator partners. It can take a month or so from the time Mango is released until the download is available on consumer devices from mobile operators. Rollouts to consumers might be seen next month, although a Toshiba device running Mango was shown last month in Japan.

Windows Phone 7 consumers are promised a number of advances with the Mango release, which will be a free upgrade. When it is released to the general public, Mango will add features such as multitasking, Twitter integration and the use of IE9 Mobile, which incorporates the same browser engine that's used on PCs. It will also add multimedia storage and file sharing via Microsoft's SkyDrive service, among other benefits.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Microsoft Previews SQL Server 2008 SP3


Microsoft Previews SQL Server 2008 SP3

The company has managed to reduce the changes in Service Pack 3 by about 65 percent.

Microsoft released previews of Service Pack 3 this week that support various editions of its SQL Server 2008 relational database.

The Customer Technical Previews (CTPs) contain improvements based on customer feedback and Service Pack 2 hotfixes. Service Pack 2 was released in September 2010.

Despite the improvements, Microsoft has managed to reduce the changes in SP3 by about 65 percent, according to Abhishek Sinha, a program manager for the Microsoft SQL Server sustained engineering team. Sinha explained in a blog post that introducing fewer changes into the service packs adds greater sustainability for customers. Microsoft has improved its product development processes with an eye toward achieving that goal, he said.

The changes highlighted by Sinha included an improved upgrade experience. SQL Server Integration Services will now show the total rows sent in data flows. There are also some functional improvements. Users get a warning message during a maintenance process "if the Shrink Database option is enabled," Sinha explained. A SQLAgent.exe shared memory problem that prevented the program from running from the command line has been fixed, he added.

A list of the flaws that were fixed in SQL Server 2008 SP3 CTP can be found in this Knowledge Base article.

CTPs are not-for-production test versions of Microsoft's products designed to get user feedback before the final release. The SQL Server 2008 SP3 CTPs are available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions for the Evaluation, Standard, Enterprise, Developer and Workgroup editions of the database. The SQL Server 2008 SP3 CTP can be downloaded here.

The new SQL Server 2008 SP3 Express edition CTP (32-bit and 64-bit) can be downloaded here. The Express edition is free to use, but Microsoft only recommends it for supporting smaller server and desktop applications, or just for learning purposes.

SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1 was released in July. Microsoft also released a CTP3 test version of its next-generation SQL Server, code-named "Denali" last month.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Microsoft Counters Android Patent Attack Claims


Microsoft Counters Android Patent Attack Claims

General Counsel Brad Smith says Microsoft invited Google to "bid jointly with us" for the Novell patents.

Two Microsoft executives contested Android patent attack complaints by Google's chief counsel via Twitter.

David Drummond, Google's senior vice president and chief legal officer, claimed in a blog post last week that Microsoft, Apple and Oracle have teamed up to attack the the Android mobile operating system with patent lawsuits, and even colluding to hoard Intellectual Property. Drummond cited two examples to back up his claims: First, Microsoft, Apple and Oracle worked together to buy Novell's patents. Second, Microsoft and Apple teamed up with a coalition to buy Nortel's patents. In both cases, Google was outbid.

In response to Drummond's claims, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and senior vice president for legal and corporate affairs, issued a Twitter post on Thursday claiming that Microsoft had invited Google to "bid jointly with us" for the Novell patents. Google had declined that offer, according to Smith.

Frank Shaw, Microsoft's corporate vice president for corporate communications, echoed Smith's claim in a second Microsoft Twitter post on the topic. Shaw implied that Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president and general counsel, had sent an e-mail declining the Novell patents joint bidding offer. This e-mail, which lacks specifics, was apparently given to media outlets, such as the Business Insider.

Drummond updated his blog post, describing Microsoft's offer as akin to a legal trick or ploy.

"A joint acquisition of the Novell patents that gave all parties a license would have eliminated any protection these patents could offer to Android against attacks from Microsoft and its bidding partners," Drummond explained in his update. "Making sure that we would be unable to assert these patents to defend Android -- and having us pay for the privilege -- must have seemed like an ingenious strategy to them. We didn't fall for it."

Google claims to be generally dismayed with low-quality patents being used to discourage innovation. Walker took that position in an April blog post. He claimed that Google has long advocated patent reform, but that it is also working to develop a "formidable patent portfolio" as a defensive measure. A possible example was Google's purchase of 1,030 IBM patents late last month, although that purchase was unannounced, and unexplained, by Google.

Walker implied in a recent TechCrunch interview that mobile device makers using Android have enough patents to fend off legal attacks from Microsoft, citing Samsung with its 30,000 patents and Motorola with "thousands more." However, that scenario appears not to be happening for other mobile device companies. Microsoft early on announced a royalty agreement with HTC over Android use, and other companies followed suit. Only Motorola and Barnes & Noble appear to be putting up prolonged legal fights against Microsoft's claims.

Meanwhile, Apple is also battering mobile device makers on the Android legal front. A court recently found that HTC infringed Apple's patents. Apple's legal victories over Android use may be even more trouble for device makers than Microsoft's efforts. A ZDNet article noted that Apple doesn't necessarily license its technologies to other companies, for instance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Microsoft Inks Four Android License Agreements, Adds Chrome


Microsoft Inks Four Android License Agreements, Adds Chrome

This week Microsoft added Wistron Corp. to a string of patent license agreements with manufacturers associated with the use of the Android open source mobile operating system. What's unique about the Wistron deal is that it includes the design manufacturer's use of the Google Chrome operating system.

Microsoft on Tuesday added Wistron Corp. to a string of patent license agreements with manufacturers, in the last nine days, associated with the use of the Android open source mobile operating system. What's unique about the Wistron deal is that it includes the design manufacturer's use of the Google Chrome operating system.

In addition to Wistron, Microsoft has signed Android-related patent license agreements with Velocity Micro, Onkyo and General Dynamics Itronix.

Microsoft has shown a propensity to get device makers to pay for IP associated with the Android OS, which was originally fostered by Google. Android was released as free open source code for others to use, but Google did not offer legal indemnity on patents.

"Google has lost all credibility concerning 'patent-unencumbered' [regarding Android]," wrote Florian Müller, an IP analyst based in Starnsberg, Germany, in a Twitter post. "If they make such claims again, people will just laugh."

Wistron Corp. has signed on to "broad coverage" under Microsoft's patent portfolio. The deal was associated with Wistron's use of "Android or Chrome" platforms in a number of consumer devices, according to Microsoft's announcement. Those devices included tablets, smartphones and electronic readers.

Microsoft will get royalty payments from Wistron under the terms of the deal, which weren't disclosed.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and senior vice president for legal and corporate affairs, sent a Twitter post on Monday reading, "Our Wistron deal today makes for four Android #patent license agreements in nine days. (No need to calculate pi to figure that one out.)."

Smith's allusion to "pi" likely refers to Google's failed bidding strategy on Nortel patents, which could encumber Android's IP even more. Google reportedly placed three arbitrary bids reflecting the numbers for pi, Brun's constant and the Meissel-Meertens constant.

What's new with the Wistron deal is Microsoft's reference to the Chrome platform. Microsoft confirmed through a spokesperson today that the Wistron patent coverage is associated with the use of Google's Chrome OS Internet operating system. Google announced in May that Chromebook products running the Chrome OS would be available on June 15 from Acer and Samsung.

Taipei, Taiwan-based Wistron is an original design manufacturer that provides services to original equipment manufacturers in Asia, Europe and North America. The company once served as Acer Inc.'s design manufacturing services entity, but it was spun off from Acer years ago in 2002.

Meanwhile, a Reuters story indicated that Microsoft wants Samsung Electronics to pay $15 for each of its smartphones sold using the Android OS. That claim was reported by "local media," according to the Seoul, South Korea-filed Reuters story. Samsung's flagship smartphone product is its Galaxy S device, which uses the Android OS. That device is also the target of a patent infringement case filed by Apple on Tuesday, according to a Bloomberg story. Apple is claiming seven patent infringements before the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Samsung thus faces legal pressures from both Microsoft and Apple, and it's likely tied to its Android use, Müller indicated in a Twitter post today: "Samsung *may* find that its adoption of #Android was a huge strategic mistake, *potentially* costing Apple as customer, MSFT as supplier."

Microsoft reached an IP licensing agreement with mobile device maker HTC in April of last year over Android use. Supposedly, Microsoft gets $5 for each HTC Android phone sold, according to Citi analyst Walter Pritchard. Pritchard also stated that Microsoft has been seeking "7.50 to $12.50 per device" from other Android smartphone makers.

Some device makers have resisted the pressures on Android IP claims. Microsoft is pursuing legal actions against Barnes & Noble's use of Android in Nook e-reader devices, along with Foxconn International Holdings and Inventec Corp., which are Barnes & Noble's manufacturing partners. Microsoft also filed patent infringement claims against Motorola's use of Android in smartphones. Both Barnes & Noble and Motorola have initiated legal defenses to the claims, but Microsoft's string of Android deals doesn't bode well.

"Microsoft's new patent license deals with Android makers increase the pressure on others to pay, especially Motorola, Barnes&Noble, Foxconn," Müller stated in a July 5 Twitter post.

Barnes & Noble also preemptively sued LSI Corp. in January to prevent that chipmaker from asserting royalty claims on Nook devices, according to a Bloomberg story. The case isn't associated with Android claims. Rather, Barnes & Noble asserts in advance that it isn't violating patents associated with LSI's technology.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Microsoft Releases Source Code Used to Collect Wi-Fi Data


Microsoft Releases Source Code Used to Collect Wi-Fi Data

In a bid to promote greater transparency about its data collection practices, Microsoft released some of the source code for its Windows Phone 7 location information software last week.

In a bid to promote greater transparency about its data collection practices, Microsoft released some of the source code for its Windows Phone 7 location information software last week.

The data collection software is used to gather Wi-Fi, cell tower and GPS information as part of its Windows Phone 7 location services.

In a blog posted last week, Reid Kuhn, Microsoft's partner group program manager for the Windows Phone engineering team, indicated that Microsoft was sharing "relevant portions of the source code for our managed driving data collection software." The effort was initiated so that Microsoft can be even more transparent about its data collection practices for enabling location-based services.

Recent U.S. Congressional debates have put a spotlight on privacy issues associated with location tracking services used with mobile devices. Perhaps as a consequence, Microsoft declared in May that it will no longer use device identifier information with such services, which is the only way that individuals can be tracked when using Windows phones, the company contends. Microsoft plans to dispense with the use of device identifiers with the next Windows Phone 7 update. That possibly means the so-called "Mango" update, which is currently at beta. Mango is expected to be released sometime this fall.

Microsoft uses managed driving data collection software to create a positioning database for Windows phones. The software doesn't collect personal user data, according to Microsoft's MSDN download page description. The software does not attempt to connect to open networks. Instead, it checks for information broadcasted from Wi-Fi access points, cell towers and GPS satellites.

"The information we collect includes elements like latitude, longitude, direction, speed, mobile country code, mobile network code, location area code, cell identifier and only specific Wi-Fi information such as BSSID (i.e., the Media Access Control aka MAC address), signal strength, and radio type," the download page explains.

Part of the Congressional uproar over the issue was stirred by allegations that Apple iPhones enabled their users to be tracked. Apple denies that it tracks users, saying that its service tracks the location of Wi-Fi access points and cell towers. An iOS update announced by Apple in late April will stop backing up location data onto users' phones. Apple provides its explanation of the matter in this Q&A press release.

Google received a certain degree of infamy and strong condemnation for its war-driving practices used in conjunction with creating street views in Google Maps. It turned out that Google scooped up data from unencrypted Wi-Fi access points along the way, the company explained in a blog post last year. That practice has been ended, Google stated in the blog.

Microsoft attended a Location Based Services Forum in late June that was conducted by the Federal Communications Commission. One of the topics explored in that forum was "privacy by design," which Microsoft claims as its own approach in developing software and products. The approach anticipates customer privacy sensitivities beforehand, according to Brendon Lynch, Microsoft's chief privacy officer.

"Recent examples include location-sharing limits and controls in Windows Phone 7, local storage and prompt deletion of biometric data that helps control the Kinect for Xbox 360 gaming system, and Tracking Protection Lists for the Internet Explorer 9 Web browser, which provide groundbreaking capabilities to limit online tracking," Lynch explained in a blog post.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Microsoft Releases Windows Phone 'Mango' Dev Tools, Nokia and Other Phones Expected this Fall


Microsoft Releases Windows Phone 'Mango' Dev Tools, Nokia and Other Phones Expected this Fall
Microsoft on Tuesday announced plans this fall to release Windows Phone "Mango," the code-name for a major Windows Phone 7 upgrade with more than 500 new features, on handsets from the three current Windows Phone 7 manufacturers and four others, including Nokia.

In conjunction with the announcement, Microsoft released Mango tools for developers. "Developers can start writing their applications today so that they're available when Mango is ready in the fall," Andy Lees, president of the Windows Phone division said during a launch event in New York City that was also available via Webcast.

"For the ecosystem, the stars are aligning, and we think that Mango will be a tipping point of opportunity," Lees said. Calling partner momentum "fantastic" for Windows Phone 7, Lees said, "We started out seven months ago with zero applications in our marketplace and today we have over 18,000... In Mango, we're expecting a significant acceleration with the support we get from our partners."

The Nokia phones would be the first fruits of the partnership announced in February by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft senior executive.

"Nokia brings scale and innovation to the ecosystem," said Lees, adding that Nokia sold more than 400 million phones, including 100 million smartphones, in the last 12 months. "I'm pleased to be able to say that Windows Phone Mango will be the release that is used for the first Nokia Windows Phones. We already have Nokia phones running Windows Phone Mango in our labs today."

Current Windows Phone 7 handset makers HTC, LG and Samsung will all have new phones for Mango and the platform has drawn commitments for Mango-based phones from Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE.

New devices won't be required for current Windows Phone 7 users to get the new OS.

"Users will get this through a free upgrade, they'll receive a notification on their phone just telling them to simply plug it into their PC and that all of these capabilities will come down and their phone will be upgraded," Lees said.

He spent most of the presentation demonstrating the enhancements to the phone OS that Microsoft executives hope will deepen the differences between Microsoft's tile-based interface and the grid of apps that dominate the Apple iPhone and Google Android experiences.

"Seven months ago, we launched Windows Phone 7 into a crowded smartphone market. And we did so with a new perspective -- phones were just becoming application launchers where consumers were presented with a grid of applications," Lees said. "We know that applications extend what you can do on a phone. In other smartphones, applications are just silos. You're presented with a grid of applications that don't integrate into the total phone experience."

Lees said the tile approach, which will become even smarter in Mango, was the main part of Microsoft's answer to the issue. Another part of the answer coming in Mango was the multitasking capability previewed at the MIX conference in April.

Major new features demonstrated on Tuesday fell into three categories: app improvements, communications improvements and Internet experience improvements.

App Connect will connect apps to search results and make their integration tighter with the Windows Phone Hubs -- pulling data from the apps for other usage scenarios and making each app less of a silo.

Live Tiles will be improved in a way similar to App Connect to pull real-time information from apps without opening them. Each Live Tile in Mango will be more dynamic and hold more information than the Windows Phone 7 versions.

Multitasking, which was discussed at MIX, will allow quick switches between apps and allow them to run in the background.

Threads is a concept to allow users to switch between text, Facebook chats and Windows Live Messenger inside one conversation. Derek Snyder, who ran the demonstrations on Tuesday, showed a Facebook conversation coming into his phone. "It's giving me intelligent information: Andrew is offline, I should go ahead and text."

Groups is a feature for organizing people in a contacts list. A group can occupy a personalized Live Tile, showing status updates from the Start Screen and allowing the user to send a text, e-mail or IM to the whole group.

Face Detection Software speeds up the process of posting tagged photos to the Web through Facebook (among other apps). Pictures will also be people-centric now, automatically appearing with the contact, along with other Facebook and Twitter conversations, phone call histories and other data points, Snyder said.

Linked inbox will allow not only for seeing multiple e-mail accounts in one linked inbox but will also be flexible. In Snyder's demo, a Hotmail and Yahoo! account were grouped under a personal account, but a work e-mail account remained separate.

Hands-free messaging will be built-in for both voice-to-text and text-to-voice. In one smooth demo, Snyder showed how a driver could listen to and respond to an incoming text without taking his hands off the wheel or his eyes off the road.

IE 9 will be the browser in the phone, and Lees vowed there would be no compromises as far as the user experience. Speaking of Internet Explorer 9 and some other Web features, he enthused, "Finally, the phone has become a first-class citizen on the Internet."

Local Scout is a new feature with "hyperlocal" search results and recommendations for nearby restaurants, shopping and activities.

Quick Cards provide a new formatted summary of relevant information, including apps, that come up during a search for a product, movie, event or place.

Bing on Windows Phone will bring more ways to search the Web. In one example, Snyder used the phone camera to photograph the cover of Miley Cyrus' 2009 book, "Miles to Go." Bing searched the image and brought up a Quick Card about the book. An App shortcut automatically handed off the data to Amazon Kindle for Windows Phone, which gave Snyder a prompt to download a sample. "I've gone literally from taking a picture with Bing Vision, handing that off into an application and now I'll be reading that book, all in a matter of seconds," he said.

Lees said the demonstration Tuesday was only able to scratch the surface of the 500+ new features coming in Mango. "We'll be going through and taking these in more depth over the coming week, including new capabilities in music, maps, calendaring, OneNote and social networking," he said.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Microsoft Research Secures Windows with SAGE Fuzz Testing


Microsoft Research Secures Windows with SAGE Fuzz Testing

Most fuzz-testing tools use the blackbox approach of throwing random inputs at a program without knowledge of the code. For the last two years, Microsoft has used a whitebox fuzz-testing method developed by Microsoft Research to reduce security flaws in its Windows x86 software.

Most fuzz-testing tools use the blackbox approach of throwing random inputs at a program without knowledge of the code. For the last two years, Microsoft has used a whitebox testing method developed by Microsoft Research to reduce security flaws in its Windows x86 software.

The testing application, called "SAGE" (Scalable, Automated, Guided Execution) relies on symbolic execution based on the actual code to find flaws. SAGE is built on other Microsoft tools, including the iDNA trace recorder, the TruScan analysis engine and a Disolver constraint solver.

Microsoft's Windows security test team has been running SAGE nonstop on an average of 100 machines since 2009 to test "hundreds of applications" automatically. It's caught bugs that were missed in shipped software that had been tested by blackbox methods. For instance, SAGE early on detected more than 20 software flaws in shipped Windows applications, such as file decoders, image processors and media players, according to a Microsoft research paper (PDF).

Software flaws are expensive to chase, both for Microsoft and its customers, said Patrice Godefroid, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, in a video report from last month's TOOLS conference in Switzerland. There are more than a billion Windows machines worldwide and SAGE is one way Microsoft has been working to reduce the number of security patches it issues each month, he added. One goal in using the tool is to eliminate buffer overflow problems in Microsoft's software, an old bug problem that continues to persist. SAGE is not currently available to the public.

"An exploitable buffer overflow can override a stack pointer or function pointer in a heap and you can hijack the execution of a process," Godefroid noted in the video.

"SAGE attempts to generate only those tests that exercise unique control paths in the program, thus maximizing the opportunity of finding defects," Microsoft explains in its SAGE description. "This contrasts with the approaches taken by existing fuzz-testing tools, which employ black-box techniques of randomly generating input data without any knowledge of the target program's code."

Microsoft's Windows security test team has been running SAGE nonstop on an average of 100 machines since 2009 to test "hundreds of applications" automatically. It's caught bugs that were missed in shipped software that had been tested by blackbox methods. For instance, SAGE early on detected more than 20 software flaws in shipped Windows applications, such as file decoders, image processors and media players, according to a Microsoft research paper (PDF).

Microsoft is still refining its SAGE tool, so it's a work in progress. The company has other measures in place, too, such as its "security development lifecycle" (SDL) approach that went company-wide as a process in 2004 and is available for use by other software developers. The SDL approach is designed to add security assurance to Microsoft's software build process, but its effectiveness recently has been questioned. Meanwhile, IT pros continue to grapple with Microsoft's monthly patch distributions, experiencing a light security update in July.

Industry-wide, there has been a general downward trend in application security vulnerabilities since 2006, according to Volume 10 of the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Developing Microsoft's New SkyDrive Architecture


Developing Microsoft's New SkyDrive Architecture

Microsoft has redesigned the file browsing features in SkyDrive using "intelligent AJAX" technology.

Microsoft has redesigned the photo viewing and file browsing features in SkyDrive, the cloud-based storage and file sharing service.

The new architecture is based on AJAX technology, according to Steve Bailey, a development manager for Windows Live, who described the client-side page loading improvements  in a blog post on Thursday.

Microsoft had tried using AJAX in past years but found that approach to be too slow due to browser limitations. Other problems in the past included slow end-user connections, slowness with JavaScript and XML parsing, plus "a lack of client-side caching," Bailey explained. The new SkyDrive is particularly focused on improving client-side caching as a way to speed up the experience for users. Techniques include an "in-memory cache" for a current SkyDrive session, plus pre-caching of some items to improve file views.

For accessing user data, Microsoft's new SkyDrive architecture uses a protocol based on HTTP and JSON, which filters some data for caching on the client side. The Microsoft team is currently trying to make this approach "work well across all of the major browsers," Bailey said. He added that the data format approach in JSON "is network efficient, and browsers can cache it really fast." Microsoft previously used a method that pulled a bunch of data from SQL Server and ran it though ASP.NET servers before delivering the data to the client, Bailey explained, but that server-intensive approach was less efficient.

SkyDrive also supports "virtualized list views," which will pull only the data or HTML that's needed for a current view in a browser. This technology will work as the user scrolls through lists on the screen by "dynamically fetching data and rendering the list view," Bailey stated.

Microsoft is using HTML5 capabilities to improve animations in SkyDrive, but it has stuck with Silverlight for upload controls "because it allows us to resize a photo to a smaller size before it's uploaded," Bailey explained. In addition, Microsoft likes to build JavaScript on top of the open source JQuery JavaScript library simply because its developers find that approach more effective.

SkyDrive is turning out to be a prominent part of Microsoft's connected devices architectural approach on the consumer side of its general cloud computing push. For instance, the "Mango" update to the Windows Phone 7 operating system, planned for this fall, will add SkyDrive access for smartphones, allowing photo storage and file sharing via Microsoft's cloud. According to Bailey, Microsoft reuses its SkyDrive code between the PC and mobile SkyDrive views, so users get performance improvements across both devices.

SkyDrive also serves as a hub for document sharing using Microsoft Office Web Apps, which are free for use by consumers but not so for organizations. Earlier this month Microsoft enabled Word Web App coauthoring for SkyDrive users. Real-time collaboration is currently possible using the OneNote Web App over SkyDrive. In addition, simultaneous editing is possible using the Excel Web App via SkyDrive.

Office Web Apps are still limited compared with their full-featured Microsoft Office cousins, but Microsoft has been slowly adding improvements.

Friday, August 19, 2011

HTML 5 Ready for Broad Testing and Review


HTML 5 Ready for Broad Testing and Review

Ratification of HTML 5 is on track for 2014. The Last Call milestone, reached on May 24, opens up the HTML 5 Working Draft specification for final testing and broad public comment.

Microsoft is among the organizations working on the HTML5 publishing language for creating standard Web pages, alongside participants from Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Mozilla Foundation, Nokia and many others. 

HTML 5 is the W3C's next spec for Web technologies since HTML 4.01 was released in 1999, according to a blog by Paul Cotton, cochair of the HTML Working Group at the W3C and group manager for Web services standards and partners in the Microsoft Interoperability Strategy Team. Last Call is the stage at which the W3C gets final comments on what they consider to be relatively stable code. This comment period for reporting bug issues with HTML 5 ends on August 2. The W3C's full timeline for completing the Last Call milestone is published here.

The next major milestone after Last Call will be the Candidate Recommendation period, scheduled for completion in the second quarter of next year, according to the W3C's timeline, which is subject to change. A Proposed Recommendation period follows, scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2014. The actual Recommendation, expected to appear in the second quarter of 2014, is the phase where the W3C formally endorses the spec.

Even though HTML 5 currently is not feature complete, the W3C says in its FAQ that HTML 5 can be used today. "One can use HTML5 today, knowing the existing limitations and using fallback mechanisms," the FAQ states. HTML 5 notably has some accessibility issues to be addressed, according to the W3C.

Cotton noted a few features that have already been popularized, including HTML 5's support for video in browsers, which previously have relied on using browser add-ons, such as Adobe's Flash or Microsoft's Silverlight. He also pointed to audio support and the use of the canvas tag for two-dimensional graphics. Cotton previously floated the idea in an interview that many applications could be written entirely in HTML 5.

Six parts of the broad HTML 5 spec are up for testing and comments, including "HTML5," "HTML+RDFa 1.1," "HTML Microdata," "HTML Canvas 2D Context," "Polyglot Markup: HTML-Compatible XHTML Documents" and "HTML5: Techniques for providing useful text alternatives," according to the W3C's announcement.

The W3C currently has 1,276 approved test cases and 28,858 submitted tests for HTML 5, according to a blog by Philippe Le Hégaret, who is described as the "W3C manager responsible for HTML5, CSS, SVG, WOFF, and other user interaction technologies."

Also last week, the W3C published its report on Web tracking and user privacy, based on an event held at Princeton University in April. Attendees agreed that some sort of "do not track" Web technology should be standardized, and that there should be an ongoing focus on Web privacy issues at the W3C.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Microsoft: Despite Doubters Office 2010 Sales on Track


Microsoft: Despite Doubters Office 2010 Sales on Track
Microsoft touted the adoption of Office 2010, calling it "the fastest selling version of Office ever" in a blog marking the one year anniversary of the latest version of the productivity suite, which shipped June 15 of last year. The first service pack for Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 is expected later this month.

According to Microsoft, businesses are deploying Office 2010 at rates five times faster than Office 2007 during its first year.

A Q1 survey by Forrester Research showed that the use of Office 2003 and Office 2007 still predominates in businesses, however. Data from Forrester's "Q1 2011 Global Desktop Innovation Online Survey" of CIOs and IT executives showed that IT departments supported "Office 2003 and earlier" at 74 percent, "Office 2007" at 72 percent and "Office 2010" at 52 percent. The survey included responses from 150 decision-makers in North America and Europe.

Consumer adoption of Office is strong, with about "67 percent of U.S. online consumers" surveyed found to be using Microsoft Office, according to Forrester Research, which reported that figure at the time of Office 2010's release.

Most of Microsoft's Office revenues come from business users. Microsoft said at the time of Office 2010's release that the company gets about 80 percent of its Office revenues from enterprise users and 20 percent from consumers.

Office is produced by the Microsoft Business Division (MBD) and represents the cash cow of that division. Here's how Microsoft describes it: "MBD offerings include the Microsoft Office system (comprising mainly Office, SharePoint, Exchange and Lync), which generates over 90% of MBD revenue, and Microsoft Dynamics business solutions."

Office 2010's appearance a year ago essentially marked the rollout of Office Web Apps, which are browser-based versions of Excel, Word, OneNote and PowerPoint for the PC. These Office Web Apps had been announced as far back as the 2008 Professional Developers Conference, but their full release got delayed. Office Web Apps represent an answer to alternative online productivity suites, such as Google Docs, which still represents a tiny threat to Microsoft, accounting for just eight percent of IT deployments, according to Forrester's Q1 2011 survey.

Despite Microsoft's huge lead in the productivity suite market, Google Docs regularly gets panned by Microsoft's product managers and other employees. For instance, Google's lifecycle practices with Google Docs get critiqued here.

Microsoft's Office Web Apps come with a price for organizations, although they are free for use by consumers in conjunction with free storage via Windows Live SkyDrive. To use Office Web Apps, organizations will need to have licensing in place for SharePoint 2010 or they can use the free SharePoint Foundation 2010, which requires Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2.

Microsoft early on recommended that organizations deploy the 32-bit version of Office 2010, rather than the 64-bit version. The problem, noted over a year ago, was getting some of the add-ins, controls and Visual Basic for Applications programming code compatible with a 64-bit Office 2010. It's not clear if those limitations are still in effect or not.

Microsoft plans to release Service Pack 1 for Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 sometime around the end of this month, according to an announcement made at this year's Tech-Ed conference. Possibly, the SP1 release will be close to the rollout of Office 365 on June 28.

Office 365 represents a consolidation of the various services currently offered as part of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Services offerings. The Office Professional Plus application that will be offered as part of the Office 365 service will be the one component installed on premises, rather than accessed online, according to an analysis by Directions on Microsoft.

Much of the credit for managing the early development of the Excel and Word components of Microsoft Office in the 1990s is attributed to Charles Simonyi, who currently chairs Intentional Software Corp. In Part 2 of a two-part Channel 9 video recounting Microsoft's history, Simonyi noted that Office represented a cultural shift at Microsoft because the company moved more toward producing software focused on what features users wanted, rather than the pure technical aspects.

Back in the 1990s, Microsoft stuck with the graphical user interface approach in Word, which was ahead of its time relative to the leading word-processing contender, WordPerfect, Simonyi noted. WordPerfect served market needs at that time with its keyboard-driven approach, but the GUI eventually won out, he explained in the Channel 9 video.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tech-Ed: Microsoft Previews Windows Phone for Business


Tech-Ed: Microsoft Previews Windows Phone for Business
Microsoft executives focused on plans for Windows Phone 7 during the keynote at its Tech-Ed North America conference on Monday, but the Skype acquisition, which was announced last week, was not part of the 90-minute presentation.

During the keynote, Robert Wahbe, Microsoft corporate vice president of Server and Tools Marketing, and Jason Zander, corporate vice president of Visual Studio, also highlighted enhancements to Microsoft's virtualization and Windows Azure cloud platform and Visual Studio application lifecycle management.

The next release of Windows Phone 7, code-named "Mango" and scheduled for release later this year, will offer a big bump in business functionality compared to the current version. Wahbe talked about plans for Mango as well as for Microsoft's business intelligence tools.

Mango will offer access to Microsoft's Lync Server, the company's platform for unified communications, Wahbe announced at the show today. Users will be able to manipulate, share and save documents in Windows Phone 7 via Office 365, giving mobile and non-mobile users access to the latest version of each document. Mango will also feature pinnable e-mail folders, an e-mail conversation view and a host of other features, including complex password support and Information Rights Management, Microsoft officials said today.

Microsoft's planned $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype seems aimed, in part, at giving the company a mature video client for Lync server, but the word "Skype" never came up in this morning's keynote. Microsoft Senior Product Manager Augusto Valdez did demonstrate Mango's Lync interaction, though, as well as some of the more significant upcoming upgrades to the mobile operating system's interface.

Wahbe also discussed enhanced business intelligence capabilities forthcoming from Microsoft, including Project Crescent, a set of self-service reporting capabilities that use PowerPivot for Excel to allow users to quickly and easily create reports based on Excel data. Project Crescent will ship as part of the next version of SQL Server, code-named "Denali," for which Microsoft has not specified a release date. Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Amir Netz demonstrated Project Crescent at this morning's keynote.

System Center 2012 also got a demo workout, and Wahbe confirmed that the forthcoming version of Microsoft's popular management suite will support competitive mobile platforms iOS, Android and Symbian. Microsoft also demonstrated how it has worked with NASA and used its Kinect gesture-based gaming tool to build a spectacular telescope navigable by a user's hand gestures.

Another star of this morning's show was Visual Studio, which Microsoft hopes to bring to a wider IT audience with vNext, the forthcoming version of the development environment. Microsoft demonstrated vNext this morning in a presentation led by Jason Zander.

vNext will include application lifecycle management, which Microsoft officials say will help enmesh non-developer IT pros and application stakeholders into the application-development process. The company also announced today the first community technology preview (CTP) of Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 connector for Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010.

Other announcements at TechEd included additional virtualization support for Exchange 2010 and improved Linux interoperability.

A crowd of about 10,000 IT and development professionals is in Atlanta this week for TechEd; this morning's keynote began with an overflow audience that seemed interested in talking about Windows Phone 7 but thinned a bit during the Visual Studio demonstrations. The show continues through Thursday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Microsoft and SUSE Agree to Extend Linux Partnership


Microsoft and SUSE Agree to Extend Linux Partnership

This latest deal is basically the same one that was established between Microsoft and Novell in November of 2006.

Microsoft is renewing its server interoperability and patent-protection agreement with SUSE Linux and investing $100 million in the program. Under the new terms, Microsoft and SUSE will continue their interop and IP licensing arrangement through Jan. 1, 2016.

When Microsoft and Novell first struck this deal almost five years ago, it was controversial among the open source Linux community. Many Linux vendors refused Microsoft's offer to indemnify at cost. The goal of enabling interoperability between the Windows and Linux operating systems in enterprise environments was eclipsed by Microsoft attorney claims that Linux violated 235 of Microsoft's patents.

The latest agreement is with SUSE, now a business unit of the Attachmate Group. Attachmate acquired Novell in April and split the company into SUSE and Novell business units. This latest deal is basically the same one that was established between Microsoft and Novell in November of 2006.

Under the renewed agreement, however, Microsoft will invest $100 million in "new SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates." These certificates are bought by customers electing to receive Linux support from SUSE, but they also provide interoperability support for mixed Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise environments, as well as legal protection from Microsoft.

Microsoft promises not sue SUSE's customers for patent violations, vaguely ascribed to using Linux, if customers buy these certificates. Microsoft's announcement cited "more than 725 customers worldwide" that have bought into this joint Microsoft and SUSE program.

The program offers "expanded support," which appears to be a way to migrate away from Red Hat Enterprise Linux, according to this page. There's also interoperability support and "complementary management tools" from Microsoft partner BridgeWays, according to a blog post by Sandy Gupta, general manager of the Open Solutions Group. Microsoft is working on facilitating "cross-platform virtualization" as organizations move to the Internet cloud, according to Gupta.

One of the notable holdouts from Microsoft's interoperability and patent indemnity program was Red Hat. However, Red Hat later joined Microsoft in establishing a hypervisor interoperability collaboration deal, minus the IP licensing aspect. According to an account by open source advocate Matt Assay, Microsoft first courted Red Hat for years before turning to Novell and inking that deal. Red Hat balked when Microsoft inserted its patent indemnity scheme along with the interoperability terms.

Microsoft's lawyers have been less sparing of Linux on the mobile device side, where they have been suing Microsoft's hardware partners over the use of Linux-based Android mobile operating system. Microsoft is not alone; Apple is doing the same. Oracle is suing Google directly, with mixed results, over the use of Java in Android.

Despite the legal animosities, Microsoft has an internal group and an outreach campaign wholly devoted to addressing interoperability issues associated with Linux.

A happier view of the long-time Microsoft vs. Linux struggle recently popped up in the form of a cartoon video. The video had been contributed to a Linux Foundation event celebrating Linux's 20th "birthday." It shows a Bill Gates look-alike offering a cake to a Linux penguin peeping from an igloo.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Developer Build of Mango "Close Enough" To RTM


Developer Build of Mango "Close Enough" To RTM

The latest developer build of the Windows Phone "Mango" OS works with the Windows Phone SDK 7.1 beta 2 refresh released this week.

Microsoft released its Windows Phone "Mango" OS to device manufacturers this week but app developers will get an earlier build, compatible with the latest refresh of the beta 2 tooling.

The developer build of Mango (build 7712) works with the Windows Phone SDK 7.1 beta 2 refresh, released today on the Microsoft Connect portal.

Build 7712 isn't the RTM version released to device and mobile service providers on Tuesday. Instead, developers will be getting their hands on a partial "release candidate" via their Windows Phone update service, according to the Microsoft Windows Team blog.

Previously, developers just had access to a beta 2 version of Mango. Microsoft plans to make the finalized release candidate version available sometime in August.

"What you have here is a build in the early part of our Release Candidate cycle -- the end result of which should be in your hands in the coming month," stated Cliff Simpkins in the blog. The SDK 7.1 beta 2 refresh corresponds with build 7712, he explained.

Simpkins argued in the blog that developers can be assured about using the SDK 7.1 beta 2 refresh of Mango because the "APIs are now locked." The new software development kit also comes with some perks, such as the NuGet package management app designed for developer use. There's also an early version of the Marketplace Test Kit, which verifies compiled Silverlight apps.

Developers who were expecting to bite into the real Mango with yesterday's RTM debut shouldn't be disappointed, Simpkins argued.

"What we are providing is a genuine release candidate build, with enough code checked in and APIs locked down that this OS is close enough to RTM that, as a developer, it's more than capable to see you through the upcoming RC drop of the tools and app submission," he wrote.

The release candidate tools will be required for developers to upload their Mango apps to Microsoft's App Hub, Microsoft has explained, and Mango Apps should be uploaded to App Hub starting in August.

Simpkins also suggested that everything should be considered to be at the prerelease level until after device manufacturers and service providers have completed their reviews.

"It's important to remember that until the phone and mobile operator portion of Mango is complete, you're still using a pre-release on your retail phone -- no matter the MS build."

That idea might not seem to go over too well, since there has sometimes been a month's delay between Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 update releases and installations by end users. Windows Phone 7 customers have griped in the past, but the delivery of updates doesn't strictly depend on Microsoft.

One odd aspect of that seemingly chaotic release cycle is that a single hardware vendor was apparently the first to unveil a Mango-loaded smartphone. The Fujitsu Toshiba IS12T, running Mango, was unveiled on Wednesday in Japan. Still, Japanese buyers will have to wait after September to get it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Windows Thin PC Released to Manufacturers


Windows Thin PC Released to Manufacturers

Microsoft released Windows Thin PC to hardware manufacturers on Tuesday. Windows Thin PC is virtual desktop infrastructure technology, based on the Window Embedded Standard 7 codebase, that can run on any PC that is capable of running Windows 7.

Microsoft released Windows Thin PC (WinTPC)to hardware manufacturers on Tuesday. WinTPC is virtual desktop infrastructure technology, based on the Window Embedded Standard 7 codebase, that can run on any PC that is capable of running Windows 7. It is designed to repurpose older PCs as thin clients.

General availability of the thin client solution is expected July 1, according to the company.

Microsoft describes WinTPC as a "locked-down version of Windows 7" with a user interface that's similar to its Windows 7 desktop operating system. WinTPC is able to take advantage of some of Windows 7's security features, such as BitLocker and AppLocker. It features a smaller footprint, resulting in a smaller attack surface. It also uses write filters that prevent users and applications from writing to the device's hard disk, so the OS reverts to a "pristine" state on reboot. WinTPC instead writes to a virtual hard disk that gets discarded when the session ends.

Microsoft's hardware partners Hewlett-Packard and Wyse Technologies have created new thin-client devices that can run WinTPC. However, those devices were available before Microsoft's official RTM date. The RTM date for WinTPC was June 1, according to a Microsoft FAQ (PDF).

Microsoft previously released WinTPC as a release candidate test version back in May. A beta test version is still available via the Microsoft Connect site here (requires Windows Live ID and signup). The beta will continue to be available until July 1, according to Microsoft's announcement.

For the RTM version, Microsoft incorporated community technology preview feedback, adding three new features. IT pros can now lock down certain keys, such as Ctrl + Alt + Delete (which provides access to Windows Task Manager). Microsoft also added support for international keyboards with the RTM. Finally, IT pros can now activate using the key management server or multiple activation key process, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Despite now having international keyboard support, the RTM will only be supported in English, according to Microsoft's FAQ. Microsoft did not provide additional information on whether other languages would be supported.

Microsoft plans to add Forefront Endpoint Protection support for WinTPC sometime in the third quarter of this year. The solution can already be managed using System Center Configuration Manager and Windows Embedded Device manager 2011. Citrix's Receive technology also works with WinTPC, allowing access via Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop.

There are a few caveats to using WinTPC. For instance, it doesn't support running productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office. The only applications supported by WinTPC are those that can run on terminal emulation and Remote Desktop Services, plus apps based on the .NET Framework and Java Virtual Machine. Other supported apps are document viewers, instant messaging clients, media players and Web browsers.

WinTPC is a benefit for those who have the Software Assurance (SA) licensing option in place. However, the PC used as a thin client running WinTPC has to have SA licensing rights plus an existing Windows 7 client (Professional, Business, Ultimate or Enterprise editions). If it doesn't, organizations would have to purchase a Windows Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license for the PC or buy a Windows Intune subscription for the PC, according to Microsoft's FAQ.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

CORRECTED: Microsoft Strongly Denies VB 6 Going Open Source, Sources Retract Statement


CORRECTED: Microsoft Strongly Denies VB 6 Going Open Source, Sources Retract Statement
Redmond Developer News has retracted its earlier report that Microsoft had told MVPs at the Tech-Ed Conference that it planned to open source the Visual Basic 6 programming language.

Microsoft's Doug Seven, director of product management for Visual Studio tools and languages, strongly denied a story reported here earlier that Microsoft planned to open source VB 6.

"There's no more solid source than me. It's not true," he said.

The statement was in response to a story published earlier on this site that said that the rumor of VB6 being opened source, first heard at Tech-Ed and then spread on Twitter, was confirmed by an independent source.

After a Microsoft spokeswoman provided a statement from Doug Seven, RDN contacted the independent source again to re-confirm the reported information. The independent source then retracted his statements.

The original poster on Twitter has also retracted his statement.

RDN regrets for the error.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Microsoft To End Hohm Power-Monitoring Service


Microsoft To End Hohm Power-Monitoring Service

Microsoft is calling it quits on Hohm, its free power-monitoring service for consumers. The decision to shutter Hohm resulted in part because it didn't fit the business model of the Windows Embedded Business segment, according to a developer who worked on the project.

Microsoft is calling it quits on Hohm, its free power-monitoring service for consumers. The decision to shutter Hohm resulted in part because it didn't fit the business model of the Windows Embedded Business segment, according to a developer who worked on the project.

The company's official announcement pointed to "slow overall market adoption of the service" as one reason for its discontinuation. Microsoft also indicated that it plans to focus on more capable products in a still evolving market.The Hohm service will end on May 31, 2012, according to Microsoft.

Google announced the discontinuation of its PowerMeter effort just a few days before Microsoft called it quits on Hohm. Google cited disappointment that the PowerMeter service had not "scaled as quickly as we would like," and indicated that it will end the service on Sept. 16, 2011.

Microsoft blogger M.J. Miller explained on Tuesday that Microsoft decided to end its Hohm utility because "it didn't fit into the Windows Embedded business model." Miller claims to have worked on the Hohm project since its early days.

Miller said in his blog post that the Hohm project first started at Microsoft in November of 2007. It was later moved over to the Windows Embedded Business side of the company. It lasted nine months there before being killed.

"How we ended up in WEB is another, longer, probably more twisted story, but that's where we ended, and that's why the product is being shut down next year," Miller wrote. "We certainly didn't call it quits because Google shut down PowerMeter. Believe it or not that was simply a coincidence."

The service discontinuations by Microsoft and Google come just after the Obama administration announced stepped up efforts to support "smart grid" technologies, including an effort to help consumers save energy through the use of "enhanced information." For instance, the government has fostered a Grid 21 private sector initiative to "help consumers get better access to their own energy usage information so that they can take advantage of new tools and services to manage their energy use and save on their utility bills," according to a White House press release (PDF).

Microsoft's hardware partner on Hohm was Newfoundland, Canada-based Blue Line Innovations Inc., a maker of energy-monitoring hardware. Blue Line had also partnered with Google on its PowerMeter software. The Blue Line devices worked with both power-monitoring software products to automatically collect and track power usage statistics, instead of having to manually enter data. (Microsoft's Hohm requires users to manually enter data about their home appliances to generate power-saving suggestions.)

Blue Line recently announced (PDF) an as-yet-unspecified software partner to replace the phased-out Microsoft and Google solutions. The new partner will be disclosed "at the end of the month."

Automatic tracking with Hohm was also possible for consumers who used the services of certain participating utility companies. Miller discounted the idea that Hohm had been discontinued because utility companies are now producing their own smart meters.

Hohm worked by providing a score from 0 to 100 to estimate a home's energy efficiency. Its calculations were based on analytics solutions licensed from the Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley Labs.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Visual Studio ALM vNext Announced at Tech-Ed


Visual Studio ALM vNext Announced at Tech-Ed

The next version of Microsoft's Visual Studio application lifecycle management will expand beyond development and QA to integrate IT operations and input from stakeholders.

Microsoft unveiled what's coming in Visual Studio ALM vNext at its Tech-Ed North America conference for developers and IT professionals, which is taking place in Atlanta this week.

The next version of Microsoft's flagship integrated development environment (IDE) will expand beyond dev and QA to integrate IT operations and input from stakeholders, announced Jason Zander, corporate vice president of Visual Studio, during a joint keynote presentation with Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president of Server and Tools Marketing.

While Wahbe talked at length about Microsoft's evolving public and private cloud solutions and management, Zander focused on the expanding reach of the upcoming version of Visual Studio. The new features aim to address a common challenge facing projects.

"What makes software projects fail? The number one thing that comes back is collaboration," Zander told attendees during his keynote.

He noted that Agile dev projects are often hampered by inexact communications between the stakeholders and customers championing an application, and the developers tasked with build it.

"How many times have you built exactly what your customers asked for, but not what they wanted?"

Microsoft General Manager Cameron Skinner demoed the new requirement management features coming to Visual Studio, including the new storyboarding feature accessed from the Visual Studio ribbon. The demo showed how tasks can be manipulated and tracked in Team Foundation Server (TFS) and TFS Web Access, providing real time feedback on progress as changes are reflected in TFS.

On the operations side, Microsoft Principal Program Viktor Mushkatin showed how Visual Studio links to Microsoft System Center, via the new System Center Conductor, available today as a community technology preview (CTP). IT managers can identify an issue flagged in System Center and send it directly to the development team. Developers immediately gain access to all the information around the event, including the complete call stack.

"Essentially I turned an exercise that would take hours or days into mere seconds," Mushkatin said.

Visual Studio Magazine columnist Mark Michaelis is excited about the new features. During the keynote he tweeted: "Wahooo! IntelliTrace will be enabled for production code. You will be able to create TFS work items from System Center 2010 that even includes application stack trace information."

Zander also showed off the new suspend feature coming in the next version of Visual Studio. The new feature lets developers back up all their current work, including breakpoints and tool positions across multiple monitors, so that it can be restored at a later time. The feature makes it possible for developers to set aside work to address an urgent request or interruption.

"You snapshot the whole thing and you are ready to go," Zander said.

IE9 Economic Impact: Forrester Taps into Early Adopters


IE9 Economic Impact: Forrester Taps into Early Adopters

The top benefits of moving to IE 9, beyond the extended cost savings, were described by interviewees as "malware protection and improved security," as well as "some improvement in productivity for power browser users."

Companies can cut IT costs by migrating to Internet Explorer 9, according to new research, commissioned by Microsoft.

Forrester Consulting conducted interviews in April with six companies that participated in Microsoft's IE9 Technology Adoption Program (TAP). To compile the data, Forrester consultants talked with representatives from unidentified organizations that had upgraded from IE8 to IE9.

The study's conclusion, based on a total economic impact analysis, was that moving to IE 9 represented a net present value (NPV) of $3.3 million over three years' time, with payback occurring after 15 months.

"The three-year risk-adjusted total NPV of $3,349,000 represents the net costs and benefits attributed to using Internet Explorer 9 versus Internet Explorer 8," the report explained.

The study's author postulated a 60,000-employee "composite organization," based on the six companies, to derive that cost estimate. This IE 9 upgrade effort occurred in conjunction with the PC refresh cycle as the composite organization transitioned from using Windows XP and Vista on PCs to using the Windows 7 operating system.

The time that it would take to deploy IE 9 was estimated by the organizations interviewed to be about 12 to 18 months. That estimate included time for "testing, application remediation, pilot, and distribution," according to the report. The composite organization took an estimated 2,020 hours for the labor associated with this IE 9 move.

Various tools were used to move to IE 9 by the six organizations interviewed. Those tools included the "Internet Explorer Compatibility Test Tool, Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK), Configuration Manager, System Center Essentials 2010 (Essentials), [System] Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010, Application Compatibility Toolkit, and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS)."

The prep work to catalog the apps and determine if remediation was needed turned out to be just a mental hurdle, according to the report.

"Interviewed customers reported that one of the biggest hurdles they had to overcome prior to making a decision to upgrade the browser was gaining an inventory of applications in their environment and determining the scope of application remediation," the report states. "Companies frequently saw this as a bigger problem than turned out to be the case."

The report cited a "historical" estimate that 80 percent of apps would not require remediation after a move to IE 9. However, based on the interviews, the experience was more positive that that rule of thumb, according to Forrester's report.

The top benefits of moving to IE 9, beyond the extended cost savings, were described by interviewees as "malware protection and improved security," as well as "some improvement in productivity for power browser users."

The study, "The Total Economic Impact Of Windows Internet Explorer 9," can be downloaded here (PDF) for free. Microsoft also offers a synopsis of the study at this blog.

One participant in Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program was Siemens. During its test phase, Siemens deployed IE 9 to "more than 2,100 global employees participating in a pilot deployment of Windows 7 Enterprise," Microsoft explained in another blog post. Siemens is now planning a broad rollout in the next year or two to all of its employees. The rollout will include a mixture of both Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Office 2007, plus Windows 7 Enterprise.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Infragistics Charts a New Course for Windows Phone


Infragistics Charts a New Course for Windows Phone

The XAML mobile controls are based on the same APIs as the desktop and are consistent, from a developer standpoint, with the company's UI controls for Windows Presentation Foundation and Silverlight.

Infragistics Inc. released a suite of its data visualization controls for Windows Phone developers at the end of June, after previewing the mobile UI technology in April. The XAML mobile controls, which support Windows Phone 7 gestures and the Metro UI, are available to licensed users of the company's NetAdvantage Ultimate 2011 Volume 1 suite, which shipped in early June. NetAdvantage for Windows Phone 2011 Volume 1 is also available as a standalone suite.

The Windows Phone controls, many of which are mobile versions of the company's widely used desktop counterparts, include a bar code and bar code reader, data chart, bullet graph, gauge, info box, treemap, message box, slider and dialog window. The XAML mobile controls are based on the same APIs as the desktop and are consistent, from a developer standpoint, with the company's UI controls for Windows Presentation Foundation and Silverlight. Volume 1 offers a heavy dose of data visualization and interactive charting capability for mobile dashboards, app navigation and analytics.

"We took some of our data visualization controls that you see across our other suites, specifically in the XAML suites, and ported them and made them optimized for the Windows Phone experience," said Jason Beres, vice president of Product Management at Infragistics. "With the mobile form factor, we looked at where there was a gap in the market and data visualization was a key area."

With the popular data chart control, for example, Infragistics modified some of the rendering capability so that it made sense for the smaller CPU of the phone. The data chart consists of 15-20 charts and most of the trend lines that you would expect in a financial or trend chart. A financial charting control also provides more than 20 chart types. "We allow anyone to build their own custom indicators in the chart to show various trending," said Beres.

The mobile UI suite bridges some gaps found in Microsoft controls, according to Beres, with more customization supported in controls such as the dialog window and message box, for example.

"The goal is to allow developers to use our controls to build those applications that are a little bit beyond your standard line of business, a little bit beyond just showing data in a list box," he said. "If you want to have any sort of visualization, you don't get that in the box with Microsoft or really from anyone on the market today."

Mango Update
NetAdvantage for Windows Phone controls support the current release of Microsoft's mobile operating system but will be updated to support upcoming versions of the platform, according to Beres. Infragistics has done smoke testing with the Windows Phone "Mango" update, which was released to Windows Phone developers last week. The Mango update is expected on Windows Phones before the end of the year.

"The important thing about Mango, why people are excited about it," said Beres, "is the performance enhancements in the API…. For example, if you need to figure out what is inside of a list using techniques like reflection, Mango has better support for that, so some of the code in the current components and applications goes away to a simpler model that is way more performant."

Windows Phone is a natural extension for many companies that have already invested in Microsoft technologies, according to Beres. "A lot of the developers that I'm talking to aren't in charge of making those decisions so it's really the executives or IT at a lot of these places looking at a phone for multiple reasons. It is not just necessarily because it is the coolest phone or it has the better app store. It could be because of the security features and integration with other tools and Windows Phone really does have all of those characteristics."

NetAdvantage for Windows Phone supports Visual Studio 2010 and Windows Phone 7. As a standalone SKU, the MSRP is $995 or $1,495 with priority support.

NetAdvantage Ultimate 11.1 includes updated UI toolsets for ASP.NET, Windows Forms, Windows Presentation Foundation and Silverlight. It also marks the debut of a new JavaScript framework based on jQuery, which offers the first Infragistic controls that support HTML5. As part of NetAdvantage Ultimate 11.1, Infragistics also released a preview of its NetAdvantage Reporting for generating reports on WPF and Silverlight clients – no server is required. NetAdvantage Reporting is expected to ship sometime in Q3, according to Beres. The MSRP for NetAdvantage Ultimate is $1,895 or $2,395 with priority support.

Info-Tech Research Group Inc. gave Infragistics a "Champion" ranking among component vendors that offer Web, desktop and mobile toolsets in a June report, Vendor Landscape Storyboard: Application Development Tools. Infragistics and ComponentOne were both ranked in the highest quadrant. Among Infragistics' strengths, according to Info-Tech are "strong components, controls and tools for Windows Phone 7."

Challenges include a slightly higher price point for the Ultimate package than competitors "but ROI increases with time due to lower renewal costs," according to the researchers. Support for other mobile platforms is another challenge, according to Info-Tech, although iPhone and Android specific-functionality is on the way.

Info-Tech's recommendation to developers who are considering component vendors and the NetAdvantage Ultimate UI tooling: "The inclusion of automated UI testing, report writing, support for HTML5, and platform independent visual designers make Infragistics a top choice for any development group."

Monday, August 8, 2011

French Security Firm Hacks Chrome


French Security Firm Hacks Chrome

Google Chrome has survived hacker contests for more than two years. Now a security firm claims it's found a zero-day exploit of Chrome running on Windows.

Google offered $20,000 to any programmer, who could find a vulnerability in its Chrome Web browser in February. Chrome survived that contest without being hacked.

After two years of escaping hackers' exploits, Chrome's luck may be running out. This week French security firm Vupen claimed that it discovered a zero-day exploit of Chrome running on Windows.

Vupen used its "most sophisticated codes" yet to successfully hack Google Chrome, as described in a video posted to YouTube today. The exploit enables a user to bypass all security features, including ASLR, DEP and the sandbox, in all Windows versions.

The attack on Google Chrome "is silent (no crash after executing the payload)," according to the security company. Furthermore, the zero-day exploit is tapped using "undisclosed vulnerabilities discovered by Vupen and it works on all Windows systems (32-bit and x64)."

More bad news for Google Chrome (along with Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari) comes from Context Information Security. The security firm found a handful of issues associated with WebGL, a new Web standard for displaying 3D graphics. All three browsers use the WebGL standard, which can permit malware to be loaded in a browser.

"These issues can allow an attacker to provide malicious code via a web browser which allows attacks on the GPU and graphics drivers," according to the company's findings described on its Web site. "These attacks on the GPU via WebGL can render the entire machine unusable."

WebGL has this vulnerability because it uniquely communicates directly with system display drivers. The problem is that "the current hardware and graphics pipeline implementations are not designed to be pre-emptable or maintain security boundaries," according to Context.

Google Chrome notably has avoided hacker exploits up to this point. Google even offered $20,000 to those who could find a vulnerability within its browser during the February Pwn2Own hacker contest. Chrome escaped without being hacked at that time, as with the previous two years.

Due to the damage both these exploits can cause, the security firms responsible for the discoveries will not publicly disclose how to take advantage of them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Microsoft Drops Fees for Data Transfers to the Cloud


Microsoft Drops Fees for Data Transfers to the Cloud
Starting July 1, Microsoft will offer free inbound data transfers to its Windows Azure cloud computing platform.

The cut in pricing,announced this week, is available to all Windows Azure customers, according to the company.

Users of Windows Azure still get charged for outbound data transfers, which are region specific. Outbound data transfers are priced at $0.15 per GB in North America and Europe, as well as $0.20 per GB in the Asia Pacific region.

The pricing structure for Windows Azure remains rather complex ever since its introduction in July 2009. Essentially, organizations using Windows Azure pay for the compute time, data storage and data access, plus the bandwidth of the data transferred in and out of the cloud. The various cloud computing phases get priced at specific rates, usually per GB. There's also a monthly fee rolled into the overall cost if an organization uses SQL Azure.

Microsoft offers different monthly plans and discounts, as well as pay-as-you-go plans. To get an idea of the pricing complexity, see Microsoft's "Windows Azure Platform Offer Comparison Table" here.

Microsoft has attempted to make the process of calculating Windows Azure costs a little easier by introducing a Windows Azure Pricing Calculator, which apparently was first released in May. Users of the calculator will get a warning before using it that the calculator's results don't imply "a commitment on the part of Microsoft." Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst with the Directions on Microsoft consultancy, described the calculator as "a starting point."

"The estimation tools are getting better, but organizations should be wary of usage when first deploying cloud-based applications to determine whether there are unexpected resources required," Sanfilippo stated via e-mail. "Variables such as the number of users, types of usage, length of deployment, and development architecture can affect costs in unexpected ways if they are not carefully considered and tested."

Microsoft offers a free 90-day "extra small" trial of Windows Azure, which is available until Sept. 30, 2011.

In other Windows Azure news, Microsoft this week announced the release of the June Community Technology Preview (CTP) of Windows Azure AppFabric. AppFabric is a middleware platform used to develop, deploy and manage Windows Azure cloud-based applications, according to Microsoft's description. The new CTP contains developer tools for Visual Studio, an application manager program and .NET Framework extensions, among other enhancements.

Microsoft provides a demo of some of the new CTP's features in a Channel 9 video here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Microsoft's May Security Patch Is Light After Massive Load in April


Microsoft's May Security Patch Is Light After Massive Load in April
Microsoft's security update, which is expected on Tuesday, May 10, is relatively light compared to last month's massive patch load.

The one "critical" item will address remote code execution vulnerabilities in Windows Server 2003 and 2008. The important item will be designed to plug an RCE security concern with PowerPoint in Microsoft Office. Office XP, Office 2003 and 2007, and Office 2004 and 2008 are among the affected versions.

"While the light patch load for May will be disruptive, it isn't out of the ordinary. What we do need to worry about is that in light of recent mega-breaches, we are obviously not getting it right when it comes to protecting ourselves," said Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst at Lumension. "People need to reevaluate their security infrastructure and perhaps even their priorities."

IT pros could take advantage of the light load this month by checking out this Microsoft Knowledge Base article. It describes nonsecurity patching being delivered through Microsoft's client update services and Windows Server Update Services.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Microsoft's Nadella Talks about Azure, Office 365


Microsoft's Nadella Talks about Azure, Office 365
The new head of the Microsoft Server and Tools Business, Satya Nadella, took the stage today at the GigaOM Structure event to talk about Windows Azure and cloud computing adoption. Nadella talked publicly about the company's strategy for the first time since replacing longtime Microsoft executive Bob Muglia in February.

The live Q&A, which lasted about 15 minutes, focused on Microsoft's business model for Azure and software as a service for products such as Office 365 (now in beta) that will get a "preview" rollout on Thursday. General availability of Office 365 is planned for June 28.

Nadella noted generally that the IT industry is in the midst of a "sea change" from the client-server world to a connected world of mobile devices and connected services. It's early in the process, but the operating system on the back end now no longer focuses on a single machine. Instead, the focus is on a datacenter with 250,000 machines and a million cores. Mean time to failure is no longer the approach to build for since the guiding principle has shifted to building for mean time to recovery. The OS has to be resilient, he added.

Nadella was asked about any stumbling blocks that might exist in businesses moving to widespread cloud adoption. He cited reliability/availability, security and compliance as the top three concerns, but those concerns aren't universal since organizations use mixed environments, such as public clouds, private clouds and a hybrid approach. Next, Nadella was asked pointedly whether security might be the largest concern for organizations considering cloud services.

"It's really the soft core vs. the hard shell [traditional approach to security], which is as much of an issue wherever you are -- it can be in the enterprise, it can be in the hybrid, or it can be in the public cloud," Nadella said. "So I would claim that it all comes down to having a lot of compliance that enterprises are putting in place or the public cloud folks are putting in place. And then having great encryption technology for anything that's moving over the wire. The extreme management is a big issue because that's sort of the thing that can easily be compromised. So I think security will remain a big topic for the industry at large, but it's not just primarily a cloud issue. It's an issue today for anyone with any kind of network."

The cloud is being used in a hybrid manner by businesses to support Web site transactions, while still calling back home for things like identity, data and synchronization, Nadella said. He cited the example of Ticketmaster in New Zealand, which used Windows Azure to spin up databases for some of the more popular ticketed events.

In terms of Microsoft's SaaS offerings (both its Business Productivity Online Services and Office 365), Nadella said that "over 50 percent of the Fortune 500 businesses that have used us, are now using our online offerings." He added that "tens of thousands of customers are playing with [Windows] Azure."

Nadella was asked whether the cloud represents an opportunity for Microsoft, or is it more of a threat. He said that Microsoft has always sought out the low-price, high-volume market, so that the cloud is structurally beneficial for the company and not a threat. He saw some overlap with the various cloud providers, as with Amazon Web Services, which is a Microsoft partner. To the extent that people might use multiple clouds, that would be the kind of case where Microsoft's approach would be to form partnerships, he explained.

The commoditization that may occur with cloud computing, with its value proposition of reducing costs for enterprises, will not necessarily lower Microsoft's revenues, Nadella contended. He expects cloud computing to increase the appetite of organizations for the consumption of data.

Nadella's talk was just a small part of the GigaOM Structure event. A live stream of the event can be accessed here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Microsoft Acquires ERM Partner Prodiance


Microsoft Acquires ERM Partner Prodiance

On Monday Microsoft announced it had acquired Prodiance Corp., a Microsoft Certified Partner that specializes in enterprise risk management software, which integrates with Office and SharePoint.

On Monday Microsoft announced it had acquired Prodiance Corp., a Microsoft Certified Partner that specializes in enterprise risk management software, which integrates with Office and SharePoint.

The company's Enterprise Risk Manager product line works with Excel. The ERM solutions are designed to help organizations with compliance issues, inventory, discovery, risk analysis, management and remediation.

Under the terms of the deal, Prodiance remains in Pleasanton, Calif. and becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft. Microsoft is currently working with Prodiance management "to bring a number of Prodiance employees to Microsoft," according to Microsoft's FAQ. The companies aren't disclosing the financial details.

Microsoft intends to integrate some of Prodiance's technologies into future Microsoft Office and SharePoint versions, according to Microsoft's announcement. The integration" will add "increased security and control over critical business information in spreadsheets." It will enable auditing and policy enforcement via "continuous monitoring of documents." It's also expected to enable "automated risk assessment."

Microsoft plans to disclose further details about its product integration at a future date. Existing Prodiance customers, as of June 6, can buy more Prodiance licenses. In addition, Prodiance support policies for current customers will continue through their expiration periods. Customers wanting to purchase Prodiance solutions today should wait for Microsoft to disclose pricing and licensing details to be offered with the Office product line at a later unspecified date, according to the FAQ.

A "Microsoft Pathways" page here lists additional transition details associated with the acquisition.

Microsoft's 'License Mobility' Extends to Amazon Cloud


Microsoft's 'License Mobility' Extends to Amazon Cloud

Microsoft launched its License Mobility with Software Assurance program this month, enabling companies to move on-premise application servers to public cloud hosting services, such as Amazon Web Services, without incurring additional software licensing costs.

Microsoft's License Mobility with Software Assurance (SA) program, which started on July 1, can be used to move on-premise Microsoft application servers to Amazon Web Services, according to Amazon.

License Mobility enables organizations with volume licensing and SA agreements, flexibility on how to use Microsoft application servers without incurring additional licensing fees. Microsoft announced the License Mobility with SA program in March.

In many cases, organizations can transfer application server licenses into a hosting company's public cloud, including leveraging Amazon's infrastructure-as-a-service offerings to run applications as services, without incurring additional licensing costs.

Microsoft's license mobility with SA program applies to select application servers. It doesn't include Windows licensing. Organizations paying to use a public cloud, such as Amazon Web Services, typically get access to Windows Server through the Service Provider Licensing Agreement (SPLA) that the service provider signed with Microsoft. In addition, Windows is licensed per device, which is another reason why an organization's on-premises Windows licenses aren't transferrable to public cloud infrastructures.

Licenses for the following Microsoft application server products are eligible for Microsoft's mobility program, provided that they are covered by Microsoft's SA licensing option: Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Lync Server, Microsoft SharePoint Server, Microsoft SQL Server (Standard and Enterprise Editions) and Microsoft System Center.

Amazon claimed in its announcement that companies with volume licensing and SA agreements in place have been upgrading to the cloud using Microsoft's mobility licensing option. For instance, they may move from using SharePoint 2007 on premises to using SharePoint 2010 on the AWS cloud.

Amazon lays out the eligibility requirements to use Microsoft's mobility licensing option on this page. The license mobility program is described by Microsoft here.

An important caveat is that SA agreements also have to be in place with Microsoft for the Client Access Licenses, or CALs, used to access the application servers.

Microsoft had announced back in March that the licensing mobility program would apply to service providers with SPLA agreements. Consequently, the program is opened up to AWS or any other authorized public cloud hosting company or value-added reseller that may want to participate.

U.S. Regulators Approve Microsoft Skype Acquisition


U.S. Regulators Approve Microsoft Skype Acquisition
The Federal Trade Commission indicated on Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice has cleared Microsoft's bid to buy Skype in a deal estimated at $8.5 billion.

Luxembourg-based Skype provides IP-based voice and video communications services over the Internet. In order to proceed, the acquisition still requires international regulatory approvals.

Under the terms of the deal announced on May 10, Microsoft plans to run Skype as a division of Microsoft, headed by current Skype CEO Tony Bates. Skype's technologies may be rolled into certain Microsoft products, such as Outlook, Xbox, Kinect, Messenger, Hotmail and Lync, according to comments made last month by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Skype has claimed it had "an average of 145 million connected users per month" in the fourth quarter of last year. Skype's ownership is led by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Silver Lake investment partners. Other owners include eBay Inc., Joltid Ltd. and Skype's founders, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Andreessen Horowitz, according to Skype's description.

Skype's management terminated the employment of about eight executives before the merger, as noted by the independent Skype Journal blog here. The reasons for the job cuts aren't clear, but the Journal speculated that Tony Bates wants to hand pick the team or that Microsoft has its own team in place.

A Bloomberg article posits another possibility for the executive dismissals, with a source speculating that the cuts will lower Skype's stock option price should someone want to buy them. Silver Lake floated a list of executives to cut, according to the Bloomberg article. The investment company may hold about 70 percent of Skype, which is what it purchased from EBay in 2009.

One of the terminated Skype execs was David Gurle, who formerly served as vice president of the company. Previous to joining Skype, Gurle had founded Microsoft's Real Time Communications business group, according to a Skype bio.